Werq the stairs: days 624 — 630

In which I reminisce about bookstores past

The weather in Vancouver is still mostly good: sunny when I go buy slip covers at Bed Bath & Beyond; or when I stroll to work in the morning; or when Vancouver House is framed by the setting sun and wispy cirri, and when I turn around and see Yaletown towers all tinted gold.

That one’s going in my 2018 retrospective for sure!

Things turned a little wetter on Thursday, though that also brought RAINBOWS. Believe it or not, I don’t remember seeing many rainbows in Vancouver. Maybe the conditions aren’t right, because if it’s overcast all the damn time you won’t get proper refraction? Don’t ask me, I’m not a rainbowologist.

But speaking of rainbows, it’s time for a stroll down queer memory lane…

1221 Thurlow Street was torn down last week. Not a big deal, I thought at first; the little Korean ribs place had been vacant for a while, and it’s far from the only West End spot to suffer this fate. However! I picked up on my social media feeds that this address was a very special one, for between 1983 and June 1996 it was the home of Little Sister’s, Vancouver’s LGBT bookstore. And then I did remember looking up the place when I moved out west in August ’96, because of course I did. And I vaguely remember being confused about which address it was at. I probably checked out both just to be sure.

Funny coincidence: the Vancouver Men’s Chorus sang a specially commissioned song about Little Sister’s in their summer show this year: the store was on the second floor above a restaurant, and on the landing was a little bulletin board where you could post classifieds, catch up on what was happening in the community, or cruise other book-lovers. Though I’ve never known the store at its old Thurlow Street location, I can easily imagine what it was like. Let’s travel further back…

After coming out in 1992, one of my my favourite places to hang out was After Stonewall, Ottawa’s LGBT bookstore. David Rimmer, the owner, was the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet; he was the first to tell me what “Stonewall” meant, and sold me the freedom rings that were all the rage back then, and which I still flaunt ever year at Pride. It was on the second floor too! 105 Fourth Avenue, just off Bank Street. A quaint little house in a quiet neighbourhood, easily accessible by transit. And am I dreaming, or was the House of Speculative Fiction located on the ground floor? Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was. Boy, there’s a gateway drug for you: grab all the curious folks and fill them with tales of other worlds, other genders and sexualities, then get them curious about the other bookstore upstairs…

After Stonewall was a safe space, where a young queer nerd could stop and relax and learn and try to find himself. It was cozy, and crowded with books and magazine racks and greeting cards and the little table with jewellery across from (ie: 5 feet from) the cash register. Their new space at 370 Bank St was bigger, more accessible and closer to downtown, but maybe it lost some of that cozy familiarity? Then again, maybe that’s just nostalgia talking. I believe both After Stonewall and Little Sister’s gained more than they lost by moving to their new digs. We don’t need to hide our bookstores away on second floors of small old houses anymore.

Still… yeah, I get it. If I heard 105 Fourth Avenue was torn down, I’d mourn. And first chance I got I’d visit the spot, and try to listen for the ghosts, the sounds of pages being turned, of baby queers hungering to discover a history and culture they never knew.

But hey, let’s end this post on a happier note: RuPaul. I remember reading about her for the first time in The Advocate (probably) and being very confused with how articles mostly used “she/her” but sometimes “he/him”—hey, we’re not born knowing the nuances of gender and drag, right?—She was at the ’93 March on Washington, which I still probably have a VHS tape of somewhere. I remember clearly one bit where she said “People always ask me where I see myself in ten years. I see myself in the White House, baby!” Which, well, didn’t quite happen. But Ru did go on to superstardom and, as problematic as the show is, RuPaul’s Drag Race has elevated many, many queens to stardom as well, and brought drag into the light.

A few of these drag stars were in Vancouver Saturday on the Werq The World tour: the top four of Season 10 (Eureka, Asia O’Hara, Kameron Michaels and Aquaria); Valentina from Season 9; Kim Chi and Bob the Drag Queen from Season 8. It was an awesome evening. Bob is hilarious, Kim Chi is gloriously nerdy, Kameron is beautiful, and I guess Asia will never live the butterfly thing down.

Who knew all this would be possible twenty-five years ago? Who would have thought parents would ever bring small children to a drag show? Who would have thought a year ago I’d ever be a Drag Race fan? But it is, and they did, and I am. Just goes to show, you never know what the future will bring.

Fringe and foilage: days 611 — 623

[sic]

It’s still summer—technically—but you wouldn’t know it from looking around. The sky’s greyer, the air is cooler, and the trees are turning all sorts of lovely shades.

We start off late Labour Day evening, as I went on one of my impulsive walks and ended up at the A-Maze-ing Laughter public art thing by English Bay. I’ve shot a few public art pieces in this challenge so far, but never this one. Maybe because it was out of my way? But I walked around the laughing men, noting how the light changed when cars turned from Davie on Denman. Tried to use that but there wasn’t enough traffic late at night… oh well, I didn’t need the extra light anyway.

The first photo of fall foliage marks the end of summer, right? These half-orange leaves up the street had been taunting me for a few days, and I finally gave in on the way to work. Other fallen leaves beckoned, and eventually I started seeing red everywhere.

I’m told film folks call this “the magic hour”: that time when the setting sky tinges everything with just a hint of gold. It looks especially lovely on Vancouver’s silver towers, and the little patch of reflected light in the water is a great bonus. I’d say I was lucky to catch it, but this was just one of about ten photos I shot on Granville Bridge. Luck had nothing to do with it.

Another way I know summer’s over? Indoor volleyball is starting. Whether that’s drop-in at Britannia or with VGVA, no more burning my feet on sand, or slipping on goose poop at David Lam. I’m gonna miss all that, but I’ve also missed indoor 6’s play. So it’s all good.

(Also: Jeebus, my 18th year! They’ve been pretty good years overall.)

Mid-September is Fringe Festival time, and one of the shows I planned to see was a Die Hard parody. Problem, though: I’d never seen the movie! Solution: watch Die Hard with my Fringe-going friend so we’re both ready!

So let’s talk about the Fringe Fest. I saw a total of 9 shows: 4 on Saturday the 8th, 1 on Monday the 10th, 3 on Thursday the 13th, and 1 on Saturday the 15th. In order:

Fake Ghost Tours: a very silly and definitely 100% true peek behind the veil at Granville Island’s supernatural past, complete with stories of horny sailors, man-eating seals, burning bees, tragic crinoline and ghost gentrification. Some parts could have used a little more planning (walking around on narrow streets, and getting in people’s way when we stopped), but even the goofy janky stuff was clearly rehearsed and polished. 2 irreverent thumbs up, and I’m glad it wasn’t raining.

Dyck Spacee: an improv number in the style of an old-timey radio show about a daring detective and his tough-as-nails secretary sidekick… which fell flat. Maybe other performances were better, but in this one they had a lot of trouble keeping up the energy, the narrator (I felt) took too much control of the action, and the other players couldn’t play off each other since they were all facing the audience and their mics. So it seems to me the show’s very format was working against it.

I posted a hashtagged selfie to enter some draw but I felt kind of bad about it.

Die Hard: The Musical-ish: Oh my sweet Eighties, I Eighties loved this Eighties song and dance extravaganza to all things Eighties. A fourth-wall-breaking retelling of the movie’s plot, with the expensive scenes papered over, drizzled with Top 40 hits from the era, it was a delicious feast for the eyes and ears.

Hullaboo and the End of Everything asks “what happens to imaginary friends when their human stops believing in them?” It’s a quirky and affecting piece about growing up, gracefully accepting the inevitability of change, and facing the moral choice to become a monster. Awesome.

I picked Trevor and Margaret mostly because it was playing at XY in my ‘hood. It’s the… interesting tale of an unrepentant abusive asshole, his girlfriend and his father. I liked it? Kinda? Well done, though it was unpleasant to sit through sometimes.

Fun fact: in the director’s notes, Trevor is identified as a gay man, though he’s played by a straight man and doesn’t himself identify as gay (he has a girlfriend / fiancée and sleeping with guys is just “a hobby”). Interesting bit of casting.

Precious Little: I’m a sucker for stories about stories. About language and communication and consciousness and memories and difficult life decisions and oh my god this was so good. Hard to summarise since there were so many interweaving plotlines and layers, but trust me, it was wonderful.

Bonnie & Clyde: The last days of the notorious outlaws, as they reminisce about their lives and we flash forward to their deaths. My friend was bored out of her tree, but I loved the acting, the contrast of gritty reality vs soaring legend, past dreams vs precarious present. Maybe not everybody’s cup of whiskey, but I liked it, and that’s all that matters.

The Shape of Things: a tale of art, truth, betrayal and transformation. Beautiful, cruel, infuriating, hurting so good in all my heart’s tender spots, it was all those things, and smarter than me, because I seriously did not see the twist until it was right in front of my face. Great job.

Angels and Aliens: an awkward hookup leads to a universe-controlling game as two roommates process their feelings for each other while competing to shape human destiny. Smart, sweet, funny and wonderfully acted. Many thumbs up.

Goodbye grey skies hello blue: days 597 — 610

I can breathe again

The smoke hit its peak in Vancouver right after the VQFF ended. Even at night the smog was visible, and the moon very orange. Sunsets were very, very orange. The North Shore Mountains were very, very grey.

Tuesday was the worst; for whatever reason I wanted to see what Lost Lagoon looked like, and I was not disappointed. I do love this photo—and I am planning to including it in my Year 2 retrospective—but I hate what it represents. I don’t want this to happen next year, but I’m scared that this is the new normal until we run out of forest to burn.

The very next day, things were looking up! And kept looking up that evening as I enjoyed a drag show at XY in support of Positive Living BC. Look at all these lovely ladies!

Visually, sunsets were back to normal too, which means a lot of sunset pics. Here’s Digital Orca, one of the many public art pieces around the Convention Centre! And here’s a nice little one taken from Prospect Point. I’d been wanting to make the trek there for a while, and now I know (a) the best way to do it, and (b) that I can walk under Lions Gate Bridge. And (c) there’s a pedestrian walkway under Second Narrows Bridge, overlooking the train tracks! Now that’s one for my bucket list.

But also, in this late August week, I saw many hints that the summer was ending. I call this series “Shadows on Buildings in the West End”. You wouldn’t see these angles if the sun weren’t so low in the sky. The annual end-of-summer BBQ and croquet evening at my friend Kenn’s house in the burbs is another sign of the times, as is my annual pilgrimage to the PNE to check out the horsies and cows and pigs and assorted critters; and also, the main exhibit which seems to always be some permutation of nerdy sci-fi stuff, and an excuse to trot out old arcade games. One year it was Missile Command, this year in happened to be Donkey Kong. Not that I’m complaining (too much), but it does get kinda repetitive. One year they had a whole thing on the history of candy, that was original. I’d like to see something like that again.

The seagull framed by the setting sky, I don’t know what that portends.

So here we are, heading into September. I’ll miss summer, with the outdoor volleyball and Pride and all those fun activities. But I’m okay with this. Cold and rain and snow will help me appreciate the summer more when it comes around again. And hey, rain has its own beauty, as does fall foliage of course! Not to mention that indoor volleyball starts next week. I’m looking forward to this new season, and to see what I will make of it.

PS: because I couldn’t find a way to fit it anywhere else, here’s a photo of a bee landing on a flower. It was one of half a dozen I took around the Maillardville Village clock, and I didn’t realise later just how gorgeous it is. Look at those wings, they’re only a little blurry! According to Wikipedia a bee’s wings beat 230 times / sec, and according to the EXIF metadata on my phone, the shutter speed was 1/3906 s. Holy cow, I didn’t know my phone could do that! Thanks Pixel 2, I got to marvel at a bit of Nature I never thought I’d see just with the phone in my pocket.