Goodbye, Dear Sweet Raymond

Raymond Taavel

Normally, my workday doesn’t allow me to take much of a break, but today was different: a call took less time than expected, so I could have a late lunch before my next call while reading the CBC News and CBC Nova Scotia websites. The story that greeted me at the latter was this one:

Gay activist’s beating death prompts murder charge

Of course I clicked on the link and my heart stopped as I read the caption for the photo at the top of this news story: “A memorial is being set up on Gottingen Street in Halifax to honour Raymond Taavel.” I stared at the name: Raymond Taavel. My brain refused to believe it. There must have been some mistake. My eyes wanted to see that it was Raymond kneeling in that picture, but it didn’t compute: it definitely wasn’t Raymond, showing respect for a fallen comrade; it was a woman I did not know, setting up a memorial for Raymond.

Raymond is dead?

Raymond is dead.

Worse, Raymond was murdered.

Image upon image flashed before my eyes in an instant, as did thought after thought, memory after memory. One distinct memory: that of getting hugged by Raymond. Tall and very slim, Raymond somehow still managed to give bear hugs. In that instant I remembered and felt his skinniness and his warmth. And then I thought about how I would never feel that again.

I tried to remember the last time I saw him, the last time I spoke to him, the last time we e-mailed each other, the last time we commented on each other’s Facebook status.

I think the last time I saw him was in Halifax, on Grafton Street, with NowEx just a few days before we wed. It was cold outside that night so we didn’t stand there long to chat.

The last time we spoke was when he called me in Montreal so we could talk about transferring control of the Halifax Pride site to people back in Halifax.

The last time we e-mailed? That one makes me sad right now. He was on some pan-Canadian vacation tour last year and mentioned he might be in Montreal in mid-June. He asked me how I would feel about having “a blue nose couch surfer” at my place. But last year, as those who could endure reading this blog know, was not a good year for me and I didn’t have it in me to entertain. So, after delaying a few days, I wrote back to tell him that I couldn’t entertain but would love to see him when he’d be in town. I think his plans changed and he didn’t make it to Montreal after all, so that “bite to eat” never happened.

In addition to being a GLBT activist, Raymond was a political junky for as long as I can remember. I recall a conversation we had once in the late ’90s or early ’00s at the original Menz Bar — not the one in front of which he was murdered — about the NDP which had dwindled to a dozen MPs in the House of Commons. “The NDP has become irrelevant,” he declared, “it has to change.” But as many have said in various tributes over the past 24 hours, Raymond was persistent and optimistic. He stuck it out with the NDP and lived to see it form the government in Nova Scotia and the official opposition in Ottawa.

I also remember being a little pissed off at Raymond when I thought I might have a chance to get something on with a guy whom I’ll call Mr. Sailor, only to find a few days later the Raymond had snagged him first. Now, as I think back to that, I smile. I have to say, Raymond: I always thought you had good taste in men.

I look at your picture, Raymond, and I still can’t believe you’re gone. It hurts to look at your Facebook page. Yet, as I think of you right now, I have an image of you with a martini glass in your hand. I don’t know if I ever actually saw you with a martini glass in your hand, but that’s still the image that comes to my mind.

“And Oh, I Wrote a Book, Too”

Writing at keyboardOne day when I first started coming regularly to Montréal from Halifax — maybe in 2000 or 2001 — a bespectacled goateed man a few years older than me came up to me at the computer I was renting at the Presse-Café in the Village. He bent down at eye level with me, and delivered without a hint of irony what to this day remains the corniest come-on line of my life.

“Are you always this gorgeous or do you take a break once in a while?”

I’m even embarrassed to type that line, as much for having been its recipient (and admitting to it!) as for Arme who delivered it. But that over-the-top flourish is central to this story I’m about to tell you.

I would see Arme out and about in the Village each time I would come to Montréal in the subsequent years and I would always speak to him, if only to say hello, for he really is a nice guy despite his penchant for hyperbole. But one of the last times I saw him about a year before I moved to Montréal, I overheard a very small part of the conservation he was having with someone else and I got the impression that his work situation had taken an unexpected turn for the worse. That time, not wanting to interrupt the conversation he was having, I merely said hello to him and went on my way.

When I moved to Montréal three years ago I never saw him around, so I assumed that he had moved elsewhere. That was until one warm evening early this summer, just days or weeks after the main drag through the Village was closed off to car traffic: I noticed him sitting by himself on the terrace as I was entering the Second Cup at the corner of Rue Panet, so I joined him and we caught up on our news of the last few years.

Quite some time into our conversation, he dropped the line I’ve had several other people drop on me before: “And I also published a book last year.” I have to admit that my heart always drops a little whenever I hear someone say that but invariably I respond enthusiastically and ask about it. He briefly outlined it as an unusual love story set in Montréal featuring a Lebanese immigrant (“Oh, just like him,” I thought), a Québec architect, and an assorted crew of people whose lives unexpectedly came together. He also talked about the difficulty he had in getting his novel published and the harsh criticism one of his distant acquaintances levelled towards it. “But you should read it,” he added — a line I expected to come at any moment just as one always expects the proverbial other shoe to drop.

About a month later, after seeing him a few times at the same spot in the Village, I had a crisp new $20 bill on me and he had a copy of his book in his backpack. For this post, I’m choosing not to reveal the book’s title nor Arme’s real name. I’m feeling a bit guilty about not doing so because that might help him sell another copy or two but, if search engines were to lead him to this post, he might not like what I have to say about his novel.

As is my habit, however, I would like to start with what’s good about his book.

Many years ago, someone gave me a book as a gift, a murder mystery in French set in Ottawa. Twice I tried to read it and each time I wasn’t able to go beyond the first 60 or 70 pages. One of the numerous things that drove me crazy was the author’s choice of adjectives to describe the protagonist, such as referring to him repeatedly as “the Franco-Ontarian sleuth.” I found such word choice heavy-handed and unimaginative, as there could have been many other ways of showing the protagonist’s regional identity rather than constantly telling the reader what it was.

Thankfully, Arme’s narrative is not like that, so, as a consequence, I read through his novel very quickly, picking it up every chance I got until I reached the end. I did so despite being turned off by the book’s astonishingly cliché title and the rather immodest and inappriopriate author’s bio. I did so despite repeatedly finding the coincidences of how the characters met to be overwrought, unlikely, or, yes, over-the-top in several instances. And I did so despite the editor in me getting annoyed with not only incorrect grammar and syntax in some spots, but also some troublesome lack of transition and problems with continuity, not to mention bad translations of some French words or expressions — all things a dispassionate content and copy editor could have flagged as requiring adjustment before submitting the manuscript for consideration.

When I was a young adult, I had this crazy notion in my mind of writing a novel. I was still living in Moncton at the time. I even started writing it — longhand, no less — and I was setting it in Halifax. But I quickly dropped the project, for I came to realize my shortcomings in writing fiction. Indeed, I realized that, on the one hand, developing a distinctive narrative voice and, on the other hand, giving the characters a distinctive voice of their own was not only a monumental task but also a talent I did not have. I admit that wasn’t how I articulated my self-critique at that time; I just knew that it “wasn’t good” and that it “didn’t sound authentic.”

Think of the acclaim Wally Lamb received for She’s Come Undone: that a man could give such a believable voice to the female protagonist is nothing short of a master coup. Also think of good novels you have read, when you would wish you could slap a character for thinking or behaving in a particular way, all the while remembering to cut the character some slack because, unlike the narrator or the reader, that character doesn’t have the full picture of everything that’s happening or what the true thoughts and motivations of the other characters are.

To his credit, Arme manages very well at crafting a complex plot. However, where he comes short is in giving his characters a sufficiently distinct voice that would give them more depth. Sadly, if not in content then certainly in sound, the characters’ inner voice is similar, at times to the point of interchangeability. Sometimes I even thought that all the male characters sound like mini Armes, which is a similar thought I had about my aborted attempt at writing a novel, in that I noticed that the characters sounded like what I wished I sounded.

The other difficulty I have with his novel — and this is a major difficulty — is the way it lacks irony while playing into the greatest gay man’s cliché of them all, namely that, deep down, all guys are gay if only they would get to meet the right guy. It’s the reversal of parents’ anguished cry upon a son’s announcement that he is gay: “Maybe it’s just a phase. Maybe you just haven’t met the right girl yet.” Indeed, the novel begins with only one fully “out” gay character and one who is repressing his coming out until he cannot resist the beautiful gaze of the fully out character’s rivetting blue eyes. All the other main male characters, safe perhaps two or three, start off in the novel being straight and end up becoming involved in a same-sex relationship — all long-term except for one guy who sufferred a fatal heart attack upon being outed by his wife holding photographic evidence of her husband’s recent foray on Team Gay while on a business trip in Vegas with a Lebanese assistant who turns the head of all females and males, irrespective of sexual orientation, who happen to set eyes on him.

Enough said.

In the past while, I have been telling you about how I discovered my extreme inability to deal with confrontation; imagine, therefore, my great discomfort in seeing Arme now, who would like me to express my impressions of his novel. I realize that I mustn’t view this chat as a confrontation, yet I admit that I’ve been going out of my way to avoid both this talk and Arme. Indeed, while keeping in mind that I’m patently incapable of lying, I will just have to find the words so that they come off as I intend them, namely as constructive criticism, for I do think there’s potential for him to become a better author and I recognize that I, myself, could not have managed to do so well the parts that he did do well.

Disconnected Ideas

  • It’s a beautiful, mild, sunny late-summer day, just like it was 10 years ago.
  • This is also the last Sunday of Aires Libres, when Rue Sainte-Catherine from Rue Berri to Avenue Papineau through the Village is closed off to traffic. Some restaurants have already begun removing their terraces; traffic will resume on Tuesday. It would be nice if this would continue into early autumn, but with evenings like last night becoming quite cool already, I suppose it’s time to accept that it’s over for another year.
  • I had brunch at Lafayette early today. At a table not too far from me were three guys, two of whom were married to each other. Both were extremely handsome; both exuded quiet contentment. No, I wasn’t jealous; maybe I was a tiny bit envious. There was a kind of warmth and ease between them that I suspect never existed or was never so visible between NowEx and me, and that made me feel a tinge of sadness. At the same time, I’m torn because I don’t see myself settling with someone. It’s not that I think I couldn’t; it’s that I’m not convinced that it would make me happy.
  • Tomorrow I have an appointment with Gary in the morning and the one for Junior in the afternoon. Aside from an appointment with Lucy late Thursday afternoon, I have no other commitment this week — just a lot of stuff to get done.
  • I finally met up with Cleopatrick for coffee last night. I guess we’ve both been preoccupied with life.
  • I keep getting a thought over and over these days — more so than usual: Thank god I’m in Montréal! I am SO in the place I need to be right now! And I say this despite recognizing that I’m a bit lonely, that I don’t know very may people in this city after more than three years. But then, the first 15 months or so were one kind of fog, and the last nine to twelve months have been another kind of fog. I emerged from the first and I’m only now slowly emerging from the second. However, I’m not so sure I would be able to if I were not in this city.

It Feels So Good

So, yeah, I’m one of those suckers for high-energy anthems like this.

This was Day 1 of my 2011 summer vacation. To be blunt, this was one of those bad days …up until tonight’s fireworks, the last of this year’s annual competition in Montréal.

I know I’ll be going to the Maritimes, but I still haven’t decided the dates of my itinerary. When I got up late this morning, despite it being a beautiful summer’s day, my motivation to get anything done was sub-zero. I still have the winter tires on Junior and I would rather not do this long trip with them, plus he needs an oil change. What’s more, in the past month, the 10 Plagues of Egypt have nearly all played out in the apartment, and with only a few minutes’ warning, yet another workman — another one of the Irish super‘s sons — showed up at my door. I was civil with him, but barely. I just can’t take one more unwanted intrusion when I get in this mood. When he finally left, I mustered up the energy to go to the nearest WalMart to see about getting the work on Junior done. But “shoes” fitting Junior were out of stock and I found myself in the Saint-Léonard WalMart where, to make a long story short, I have an appointment tomorrow afternoon to get the job done.

Back home, my foul mood turned to nostalgia and I began looking up stuff on YouTube. Last weekend while out at Le Stud, I heard this song (posted above) that’s been haunting me for over a decade. I got lucky: I knew neither the title nor the singer, but after a few crafty searches, I found Sonique’s It Feels So Good. I don’t care if it’s not profound; it gets my spine all tingly each time I listen to it and, so, true to its title, it feels so good.

That wasn’t all that felt so good. So did my old standby, Michael Franks. This song brings me back to 1988 when one time at the Sacateria at Mount Saint Vincent University, I got Tina to listen to this tune on my Walkman. Indeed, I was remembering how she was floored by the lyrics and sound of Michael’s Innuendo.

Michael Franks — Innuendo (mp3, 8.45 MB, 5:52)
By the way, Torn, if you’re reading this, I suspect this might be completely up your alley…

And, of course, I also wandered to an earlier time with another Mike — Mike Oldfield, that is — alongside Sara during those odd times in the mid-’80s we spent together in Moncton. I realize Oldfield isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but for those of us he is, his masterworks like Crises can arouse the full range of emotions.

As late afternoon blended into early evening, I peeled myself from the computer to head to the métro to see the fireworks. I decided to go early to avoid the mad crunch and stay on the orange line to Berri-UQAM instead of transferring on the green line and going directly to Papineau. Being early afforded me the time to grab a few slices of pizza in the Village and call it supper before heading under the bridge to see the fireworks, which tonight were a tribute to the Beatles. But still early, I stopped in a park along Ste-Catherine for a smoke, whereupon a conversation was struck with me by he whom I shall henceforth dub in this blog Greco.

We ended up going to the fireworks together, and then returned to the Village for coffee, ostensibly to let the crowd dissipate before taking the métro back home. What I didn’t expect is that I would be returning home on the very last métro of the day, which fortunately is after 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, let alone the stuff he and I ended up talking about and could have talked about if I hadn’t been stuck on the idea of not taking night buses back home instead of the métro.

Back home, I posted a new status on Facebook: “Sometimes you just have to wonder why fate places someone on your path while you must simultaneously suppress the other thought that’s roaming through your mind, namely ‘What a waste.'” Indeed, cue to this posting last year. At the same time, I feel bad for thinking that. I feel it’s a poisonous thought in many ways and on so many levels.

It’s forcing me to think about, if not reconsider, the uneasiness of my relationships with straight guys. The catch, however — and I don’t think Greco would be offended by my saying this — is that I would not have known that he is straight if he hadn’t told me. Tonight certainly was a great lesson in debunking identity politics, that’s for sure! And by this I’m referring not simply to stereotypes and conjuncture, but to legitimate narratives of the fluid nature of forging one’s identity.

Back in my 20s, I could hardly stand being around straight guys. For me back in the ’80s, there seemed to be only two speeds between me and a straight guy: rejection or unease from the straight guy toward the gay guy. Hence only a very few straight guys were “okay” if sometimes begrudgingly, namely the partners of straight female friends and some work colleagues. Despite evolving attitudes generally, mine clearly evolved very little. Furthermore, they have been kept from evolving whenever I would come upon straight guys who are my age or even younger and they would often strike me as so old and so boring compared to me. In other words, I simply couldn’t (and often still can’t) relate to them at any level.

Then, when you least expect it, someone comes along and promptly debunks these preconceived notions. Yet you feel bad because some of those notions persist, like the “what a waste” idea. In fact, it’s downright infuriating when it happens because they can get in the way of a delightful human contact.

That aside, however, I feel that this day has come full circle, back to “It Feels So Good.” No, I’m not getting stuck on the specifics of that song’s lyrics, as that would be ridiculous to the highest degree. But I am thinking about how it does feel so good to have so unexpectedly encountered something and someone at this precise time when I suppose I needed it most. For as BeeGoddessC is fond of saying, people are usually placed in your path for a reason, and I’m already sensing that this was not only one evening’s pleasant conversation. At least, I’m hoping that’s not all it was.

Dreaded Dreadful Insomnia

It’s 2:40 a.m. as I’m starting to write this blurb that I know not where it will go nor if I will even decide to publish it.

Easter Monday. At my workplace, we don’t get “Pâques off” — that is, we don’t get this day off. It was a weird day at work in that half our clients were at work as well but the other half wasn’t. But it was a weird day in other ways, too.

A colleague at work came out to me today. I would be lying if I said I was totally shocked. Several months ago, he made a reference to life in Montréal that set off the proverbial alarm bells. I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly, plus given that he’s given to making flip comments and that he’s quite colourful in some of his figures of speech, I just let it slide. Meanwhile, although I never formally came out to him, I figured he was in the know. (He was.)

His confidence to me led me to one of my own to him: that I have never before felt so disconnected and inert, to the point that I’m seriously considering getting help. This sentiment, in fact, is why I cannot sleep tonight even though I have a big day ahead of me at work.

After much thought, deliberation and procrastination, I decided to let my mother in as well. For the longest time, I didn’t want to do it: she’s getting old and she shouldn’t have to worry about her 45-year-old baby boy. But, at the same time, not talking to her frankly seemed to make me feel worse — seemed to add weight on my shoulders, additional weight I couldn’t carry.

When I do fall asleep, I can sleep 8, 9, 10, even 11 hours. That’s one sign of something being awry. But there’s also the realization that, through inertia — literally not doing anything except my job and showering every morning when I get up — and neglect — not taking care of even the most basic things the ordinary people take care on a daily basis — I seem intent on taking a path of self-sabotage.

I know it’s both a over-simplification and a bit of self-aggrandizing, but the basic feeling is nontheless very real to me at this time: I feel like I have for so long tried to be there for others (not always successfully and sometimes, in hindsight, with questionable motives) that I haven’t the energy any longer to be there for myself. I know that only I can pull myself out, but at the same time, I have never felt so needing of others — friends, family — to simply speak and, yes, get a reality check (not to say a kick in the ass).

I figure hardly anyone reads this blog anymore, and that’s okay. Sad, because this was a fun place once upon a time, but okay. However, if there are still readers out there, there’s one thing I want to make perfectly clear: I am not — I repeat, NOT — entertaining any kind of fantasy about turning myself into a projectile from a bridge! (That’s a joke, by the way.) But I am thinking about doing whatever is necessary to seek help, and to preserve the many blessings life has granted me and that I can still very much recognize and appreciate. In other words, after speaking with my colleague at work and my mother today, I realize that I’ve made an important step towards recognizing the difference between a “phase” and something more significant.

This isn’t just a phase. And it’s something I need to deal with, without overtaxing friendships. I don’t want to turn all maudlin on people! But to borrow an overused phrase from the current election campaign, I need to create the “winning conditions” to emerge better on the other side of the hurdle I need to get across.