I'm heading to Canada today for their first-ever Halloweek festival. I'm sure it's going to be a blast though I have to say I'm not crazy about the invented word "Halloweek." It doesn't roll off the tongue the way you want it to. It doesn't bug me half as much as "Hotlanta," though. That word's always made me cringe a little. I'm hoping Halloweek wins me over, the word and the event.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, I've already had one scare. My flight from Los Angeles had to turn around about an hour out of L.A. and return to the airport. The captain's announcement said it was an issue having to do with fuel, or something mechanical. He assured us that we'd be able to land safely in L.A., but that proceeding to Toronto was not an option, even with Robin Williams on the TV screens keeping everyone laughing in "License to Wed." God, I can't stand him in movies. The only thing worse than going down in a plane would be having Robin Williams be the last thing you ever see.
So when the pilot announced that we were going to back to L.A., I'm pleased to say that no one on the plane freaked out. There was no turbulence, no weird noises. I was feeling very blase about the whole thing, until a fellow traveler told me while we waited in line for lunch at Chili's Too at LAX that there were fire engines on the runway rolling along with us as we landed. Sheesh. I didn't notice the fire engines.
Wednesday night is the centerpiece of Halloweek, a massive block party in the gay village named Boo! I did not pack a costume, so my plan is to buy something there. Of course, after this harrowing day, I'll be happy to go as a person who made it to Toronto in one piece.
On an up note, I watched two episodes of my new fave show, "Mad Men," during the flight on my iPod. God, I love that show. That would be a fun Halloweek costume, to dress up like the cast of "Mad Men." All you need is a group of guys, some groovy suits and a tube of Brylcreem.
Before we landed, I spotted Jessica Alba sitting in first class, looking beautiful and low-key. I found her presence on my troubling flight reassuring. My number could be up any moment, but God's nowhere near ready to take Alba yet. She's still gotta get that Oscar.
I missed the welcome dinner tonight, but tomorrow is going to be a very full day of sightseeing. We're going to a shoe museum and popping by the gay village where scenes from "Queer as Folk" were filmed. I want to see the diner where Sharon Gless slung hash and told gross gay sex jokes like, "Hey, Brian, you should try to eat some of your protein off a plate." I love it when I go to a diner and the waitress makes a sperm joke.
On a related note, I could always tell when an actor in a small "QAF" part was Canadian. Their accent would give them away. They'd say, "What's Sunshine so angry aboot?"
On the ride to my hotel, the Courtyard Marriott (475 Yonge St. 416-924-0611), the town car passed by the gay strip club Remington's (379 Yonge St; www.remingtons.com). I paid a visit there back in 2003 when I came here for the Toronto Film Festival. I remember being with a friend and buying a private lap-dance for like $25 -- I was single then -- and basically wasting it because I spent the whole time talking to the guy about his work and his life. It's like I thought I was Larry King, and before you knew, it my song was over. Typical.
More news tomorrow!
Tuesday, October 30, 2007: DISTILL MY HEART
I met my fellow journalists as well as local tourism reps for breakfast today in the Yonge Street Grille in my hotel. The most titillating feature of the breakfast buffet was the do-it-yourself waffle station. Canadians are so live-and-let-live that they trust you to pour your own waffle batter onto the waffle iron and then tend to it. I didn't have the courage to try it today -- I fear I'd start a fire -- but I may tomorrow.
Over breakfast, I got to hear about some of the Halloweek activities that happened this past weekend, like the storefront decorating contest and pumpkin carving competition. Though the winners of the latter haven't been announced, word on the street is that a local group of gay bears made a strong showing with a pumpkin carved to look like, what else, a bear. As legend as it, one burly gay was scraping out the sloppy innards of the giant pumpkin when a fellow gay happened by and shouted out, 'Deeper! Deeper!' That's like a deleted scene from "Queer as Folk."
Speaking of which, one of the first stops on today's city tour was Church Street, or the gay village, which often doubled for Pittsburgh on "QAF." I sipped on a vanilla latte from Timothy's-tastier than Starbucks, while Deb Parent from Rainbow High Vacations (www.conxity.com) regaled our group with stories of the city's rich gay history. She still remembers that watershed night back in the early 80's when the police raided several local bathhouses and the gay community was so outraged that 3,000 of them took to the streets to protest. It was like Stonewall in terrycloth.
We meet another Deb-radio host Deb Pearce when we visit the Church St. studios of ProudFM 103.9 (www.proudfm.com) a radio station that's all gay all the time. It's heard throughout the Toronto area and all over the world via on-line streaming. Deb told us that since the station launched earlier in the year, she's received no hate mail or homophobic prank calls. "Canadians are too polite," she explained. I love that.
Our next stop was Casa Loma (1 Austin Terrace, 416-923-1171, www.casaloma.org) a medieval-style castle that was built by financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt over three years in the early 1910's. He lived there with his wife for about ten years before financial misfortunes forced them out and the government took it over. We weren't able to visit much of the inside because Mike Myers is here shooting his new movie, "The Love Guru" (with Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake). The rooms we did see featured small beds -- folks were shorter back in the day -- and lots of Jane Austen-esque furnishings. My favorite touch was the miniature cannon positioned at the foot of Sir Henry's bed. I like to think Henry used the cannon as an indicator of how horny he was on any given night. Today, it was pointed down. I blame Mike Myers.
Then we took a drive down Yonge St., which our guide claims is the longest street in the world. Yeah, but how thick is it?
We passed a theater where the new musical of "Dirty Dancing" is set to open in a few days. I so want to stay and see it. The tag line on the poster, of course, is "Nobody puts baby in a corner." My secret fantasy is that Baby actually loves to be put in a corner, that that's her secret turn-on, being shoved into a corner and left there until she wets her Capri pants.
Then we went to my favorite stop of the day, the Distillery District, a relatively new arts, culture and entertainment center (55 Mill Street, 416-364-1177, www.thedistillertdistrict.org). The center is made up of over 40 brick buildings that were originally part of Gooderham and Worts Distillery built in 1832. Walking through the green metal gates, as Russell Crowe did in "Cinderella Man" and Renee Zellweger did in "Chicago" is like taking a trip back in time.
Our group got the grand tour by one of the development's owners, Matthew Rosenblatt. He's the Mr. Rogers to this neighborhood, brimming with pride and passion at the wonderland of high-end shops, galleries, eateries and performance spaces he had a major hand in creating.
It's obvious that a lot of love, sweat and tears went into reinventing the place. My favorite story Matthew told had to do with finding matching antique paver bricks for one street that didn't have them. He tracked them down on the Internet and had thousands of them shipped up from Cleveland.
There's even a spa on the property -- Canada's largest, the Oasis. Alas, I can't tell you what Midnight at the Oasis is like because I wasn't there that late but my bet is it's pretty wonderful and rejuvenating. Put your camel to bed.
What's so cool about the place is that fixtures and equipment from the property's distillery days are integrated into the designs of the buildings, giving the visitor an experience that is both contemporary and timeless. By deliberately not pandering to tourists and eschewing the big franchises that make so many shopping areas interchangeable, Rosenblatt and his colleagues have created a one-of-a-kind destination that locals and visitors alike can't help but fall in love with. I can't wait to return.
Tomorrow's the big Halloweek street fest, Boo! and I still don't know if I'm dressing up. I'll keep you posted.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007 - Toronto, Canada: HALLOWEEK: TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
I just got back to my hotel after the big street party that wrapped up the seven days of goings-on that is Halloweek in Toronto. A ghoul time was had by all -- except perhaps for the drag Amy Winehouse who seemed pissed that she didn't win the costume contest. Or maybe she was just cranky because the heroin hadn't kicked in it.
I spent the first half of the day by catching up with three cool and creative Toronto friends -- Paul Bellini, Vincent Wolfe and Warren Dunford. Paul writes a column for the local gay paper, Fab, (www.fabmagazine.com). Over coffee at Second Cup, a local alternative to Starbucks, Paul recalled for me what Halloween was like for gay people in Toronto in the 70's and 80's. "There used to be a club called St. Charles Tavern where the drag queens would come to celebrate Halloween and straight people would show up and throw eggs at them," said Paul. "Now, straight people celebrate Halloween on Church Street and bring their kids in strollers. So much has changed."
Then Paul told me about a statue that was erected in the gay village a few years back of Alexander Wood, a controversial figure from Toronto's past. The story -- if I got it right -- goes something like this; a young woman was raped by a soldier and claimed she was able to scratch the rapist's balls during the attack. So Wood lined up all the soldiers in the garrison and checked their balls for telltale scars. Paul didn't tell me if Wood caught the rapist, but as a result of his strip-searching, he got labeled gay-whether he was or not -- and was even given a nickname, Molly Wood. Now he has a statue. I wonder if anyone ever wanders by and shows the statue their balls.
For lunch, I had a thick and juicy burger outdoors on the patio at Wish (3 Charles Street East, 416-935-0240) while Warren (author of the novel "Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture") and Vincent (jazz singer extraordinaire, www.vincentwolfe.com) shared their own observations about gay life in Toronto. Vincent recalled inadvertently finding himself in the bathhouse riot I wrote about yesterday when he was just 16. "I remember being on someone's shoulders, screaming, 'Fuck You, 52!' which was the police station division number," he told me. "There was so much anger."
After lunch, I decided I needed to find some kind of costume for tonight, so Warren gave me directions to Kensington Market (www.kensington-market.ca), a funky, cool area near Chinatown that features fruit stands, vintage shops and lots of good deals. I found a $15 cowboy shirt and $10 Stetson hat at a store called Sam's Vintage Clothing (206 Augusta Ave., 416-260-5766) so I was going to cowboy up for the big party. Not that inspired, I know, but it was better than nothing.
As for the street party itself, it was similar to Halloweens I've spent in West Hollywood, except with just two blocks of party to contend with it was much more manageable. A though in some spots, the crowd was packed pretty tight, the people were so polite. If someone needed to get by you, they said stuff like, 'Pardon me' or 'Excuse my tentacles.' At one point, my $10 cowboy hat blew off and three strangers bent to pick it up for me. It's like the entire country lives by the Boy Scout oath.
Deb Pearce, the deejay I met yesterday at ProudFM, was the mistress of ceremonies for the costume contest and delivered my favorite line of the night: "I was going to dress up as Britney Spears tonight but I was afraid I wouldn't show up."
I terms of costumes, there were some pretty great ones. My faves included a Willy Wonka (the Depp version), a gaggle of Flamingos and a giant red Ipod. The song in the display was "Smooth Criminal" by Michael Jackson, which was an interesting choice.
There were far less 'Look how buff I am' costumes than you'd see in Weho, although there were a few "300" inspired get-ups. One shirtless warrior was in line behind me at Pizza Pizza. He ordered himself two slices and a Coke! I found this comforting.
I saw several Facebook pages, lots of ghouls and goblins and few Supermen. One trend I noticed is that there were less sort of 'sick and wrong' costumes than you'd see in the states; no corpse Anna Nicole Smiths. No Crocodile Hunters with stingrays coming out of their chests, no Larry Craig's with wide stances. A Marilyn Monroe with crabs who called herself, "The Seven Year Itch," was about as edgy as it got.
Just before midnight, it started to rain, which made me glad I had my $10 hat. Rather than head straight back to my hotel, I decided to check out this club Paul Bellini had told me about over coffee and said he would be going to tonight. It's called Goodhandy's (120 Church St, www.goodhandys.com) and it's like "Twin Peaks" meets SeanCody.com. When I walked in, two young guys were naked and wrestling on a mat in the center of the room, while the tart-tongued tranny mistress of ceremonies, Mandy Goodhandy, commentated on the mic.
Then after the wrestling match, the guys sat on the stage and proceeded to show the audience exactly why the place is called Goodhandy's. Mandy explained that the first one to get aroused was going to getsome kind of prize or bonus or something. It took a while to get a winner. Finally, the guy named 'Scratch' made it happen, which was a relief for everybody because it was looking like it might be a draw. I'd have stayed around to congratulate him but I was spent. So I headed back to my hotel.
Tomorrow, I have half to day for more Toronto fun before flying home. Hope your Halloween was a blast.
Thursday, November 1, 2007 - Toronto, Canada: Homeward Bound
Today was my last half-day in Toronto before flying back home. I grabbed breakfast at The Village Rainbow (477 Church street), a casual, unpretentious diner in the heart of Gayville. I was joined by my friends Paul Bellini and Josh Levy, two TV writer/producers who created the world's first gay sports show, "Locker Room" a few years back. (Check out the fun clips on YouTube)
Afterward, we walked to the nearby statue of Alexander Wood, the legendary testicle inspector that I wrote about yesterday. This statue doesn't disappoint, aesthetically speaking. First off, Alex is sporting a long, flowing International Male opera cape. Then on one side of the statue there's a sculpted illustration of Alexander doing the actual genital inspecting that made him famous. The soldier's naked ass is right there for all to see and enjoy. Paul told me that it's become a tradition in the 'hood to rub the naked ass and make a wish. A lot of people must have been making wishes because that ass is already a little tarnished. And it's only been a couple of years.
After leaving Paul and Josh, I hit this fun downtown T-shirt shop called Bang-On (350 Yonge St., 416-598-4884). This place sells groovy old-school graphics that you pick out from books and then they iron them on the shirt-of-your choice right there in the store. If I were super-rich, I could buy gifts for everyone I know in this place. But I'm not so I limited myself to one "Dukes of Hazzard" shirt for my boyfriend whose first man-on-man TV crushes were Bo and Luke Duke. They also have Michael Bolton, Ron Jeremy and David Hasselhoff if they're more up your alley.
Then I grabbed lunch at the Queen Mother Café (208 Queen St. West), a funky, cool eatery that my friend Jeremy tells me was one of the first places in town to serve healthy veggie burgers. My Pad Thai was delicious although I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to meet the Queen Mother herself. Maybe she was too hung-over from the block party last night to show up for work.
On the way back to the hotel, Jeremy drove me past this amazing building, the Ontario College of Art and Design, that's like something out of a sci-fi movie. It's like a giant, checkered box floating above the ground on a bunch of multi-colored stilts. Check it out: http://www.designbuild-network.com/
Then it was off to the airport to fly home. While visiting the Alexander Wood statue in the morning, I rubbed the soldier's ass and wished for a smooth flight home. My flight out here, which I wrote about in blog one, had to turn around and going back to LA for technical reasons about an hour after take off. It was both scary and a drag.
Well, my rubbing paid off because my flight home went off without a hitch. Even better, the in-flight movie was "Hairspray" -- yippee! -- and not something starring Robin Williams.
A big thanks to the good folks of Toronto for showing me such a good time. Toronto is one city that truly gets what Halloween is all aboot. I mean, about. Hope to be back soon.