Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Toolbox


In my previous blog about homophobia, I mentioned two of the prime ways by which gay men meet each other. While I do not like alcohol, for me the 'Gay Bar' worked the best.

There are different types of gay bars which cater to different groupings of gay people. While there are Lesbian bars, this blog is about the ones catering to gay men.

There are dance bars, wine bars and other places catering to different groupings in the Gay Community. The ones which have always been attractive to me are the 'Leather Bars' and the clientele that is attracted to them. Most larger cities have at least one of these bars - often more than one - and the one about which I am now writing is/was The Toolbox.

In the earlier days of settlement in Toronto a number of factories and mills were constructed east of the Don River and housing for the workers was nearby. On Eastern Avenue between Logan and Pape was a bar which - according to legend - was as much a brothel as anything else. The building was a two story brick structure perched upon a shallow basement. The bar and dining room were on the main floor with 'guest rooms' upstairs.

Out back was an enormous double patio (a lattice work 'wall' separated the two parts) and, after dark, it WAS dark. The space nearest to the door out from the bar had tables and chairs and that was where brunch was served during the summer months.

When I first arrived in Toronto 23 years ago the potpourri of aromas was interesting. A block to the west was a major bakery, four blocks north was the Colgate/Palmolive factory, somewhere to the south was a tannery  and, added to this, was the stench of oil and grease.

Legend has it that the forerunner to the Toolbox was a brothel and there was talk of at least one 'ghost' - if there had been strife among the staff during the evening, at closing a woman would appear who would be walking around wringing her hands. A former 'Madame'? Much to my regret, I never knowingly saw that ghost.

When one walked into the bar via the door on the side (Morse) street, one entered the vestibule. Immediately to the right were the men and women's washrooms and to the left was the dining room (which served as the cloakroom as well). Ahead, and against the outside wall, was the bar. and to the right of the bar was the large kitchen and a buffet style serving area.

Once past the dining room the wall turned at right angle and, along that side, there was a set of bleacher seats.

To the left of the bar was the doorway to the outside patio and then, next to it, the railing which separated the rest of the room from the pool table. To the left of the 'pool room' was a doorway leading to a flight of stairs going up to some bedrooms which were let out to weekend guests. 

Beyond the doorway was an auxiliary coat check area and  the 'back room' which was no more than a very dark place where 'hanky-panky'  could go on.

I am a creature of habit so I usually follow a set routine. When I arrived at the 'Box and purchased my beverage I would go to join a group of friends who always stood along the railing by the pool room.  On the Friday evening, January 26. 2001,  I accepted an invitation from a friend to go to his place to watch some movies. However, on Saturday, I was back at the usual place. While standing in the group of friends the door from the upstairs rooms opened and out came one of the most intimidating looking men that I had seen in quite some time,

He walked past us, went to the bar and purchased a beer and then stood across the way staring at us. After a few minutes I realized that he was staring at me. I became very shy and could not make up my mind as to what to do?

Shortly before this a neighborhood cat had adopted the Toolbox - the place was overrun with mice - and a box with a blanket had been placed on the top level of the bleachers. After a few minutes the stranger went over, peered into the box, and began scratching Genghis' ears. Here was my chance so I went over too.

The rest, as they say, is history. Richard D. Reed is now my spouse.

That evening we went up to his room for a while and then I went home so I could be up for church in the morning. In the 'Leather World' of the Gay  Community there were/are very few who have an interest in church and I assumed that Ric would feel this way. How wrong I was!

I returned for brunch after church but didn't see Ric - I was looking in the wrong place. Like I was afraid that he would not be interested in pursuing the friendship, he was assuming the same thing.

When I found him we left to go shopping in some of the second hand clothing stores on Queen Street West. Here I was - 64 years old and walking hand-in-hand with a man who was 28! There were two preteen boys who were sitting on a rock in front of the City Hall skating rink obviously waiting for a parent to come by to pick them up. They saw us holding hands and they stared at that phenomena.

Ric and I are now married to each other and have been on a number of trips together. Descriptions of those trips - along with photos - will be included in future blogs.

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