Reprise: A human wreck at ‘Wreck Beach’

It was my first visit to the west coast, that summer of 1996, and – given my fragile health – I was determined to make it the trip of a lifetime. I would fly to Vancouver and then take the train across Canada to return home.

My purpose in being out there was to attend the XI International Conference on AIDS. As a “scholarship” recipient, with registration and basic expenses covered, I stayed with others on similarly limited budgets in the residences at the University of British Columbia. A more beautiful university campus I have not seen, built on a large, elevated point of land overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the city’s west end.

Campus maps clearly showed several beaches nearby. They did not, however, indicate changes in elevation. So it was that I set out to find Wreck Beach, a place of some considerable legend, in Canada anyway, that I knew to be “clothing optional”. I left my room, at the Gage Residence and Conference Centre, in the early morning of my first full day there, skipping breakfast – as was my habit back then – even though it was already close to noon by my jet-lagged body clock.

I took my time, walking around the campus to establish some landmarks in my mind, being admittedly wasteful of physical energy which was at a premium. I continued to recover from a serious AIDS-related illness, cryptosporidiosis, a parasite which gives understated meaning to the expression “feeling shitty”.

Crossing NW Marine Drive, loosely wrapping its way around the tip of the campus, I found myself in  which, for what I mistook to be a more urban park, did not seem to have a lot of signs. Looking for a path to the ocean, which I could unmistakably hear through the sky-high Douglas fir trees, I came upon a trail I would only later discover had been created by nothing more than rain run-off. It seemed like a path to me. I could forgive the Parks Department for such a primitive trail, given the unspoiled nature evident everywhere the eye could see.

I began my hike downward, stepping over fallen branches, carefully walking around patches of mud, all the while trying to absorb the sheer beauty of the lush plant-life; the unfamiliar songs of the coastal birds. The terrain was becoming progressively steeper and this path I had found did not zigzag across the hillside the way I would have expected. It soon became necessary to grab hold of trees just to keep my footing. I was glad to be wearing comfortable sneakers, although hiking boots would not have been an overly cautious choice to have made. As the grade of the slope increased – calculating such things has never been my strong suit – I began to let myself slide from tree to tree, grabbing on for dear life. Then I fell – still upright, such was the steepness – and began a precipitous plunge. As alarmed as I was, and I cannot overstate my initial sense of panic, I kept my wits about me and watched for obstacles that might injure me. I don’t recall how long this took but I don’t think twenty or thirty seconds would be an exaggeration. Finally I felt my back brush lightly over a patch of rock and I landed in a thicket of ferns, small twigs, coming to a stop with sand kicking up between my legs and spraying my face. I lay there quickly doing a mental checklist of any injuries and, finding none, I stood up only to realize that – somewhere between standing upright and falling upright – I had let go of more than a few trees. To my horror my pants were, uh, soiled.

After quickly forgiving myself, given my health and the excitement of the last few moments, it seemed quite fitting that I should need to wash my clothes on this clothing optional beach even if my very first walk in to the Pacific was to do laundry! I cleaned myself up, using the clothes as I peeled them off, and then tip-toed in to the pounding surf, scrubbing as I went. Now, completely naked and with no dry clothes to wear, I claimed an isolated part of the beach and draped my jeans and shirt across a couple of large rocks. It would be a few more minutes before the sun would come from back behind the trees I had just fallen through. It would be some time more before my clothes were dry. That’s how I got one of the worst sunburns of my life, on parts of me which had not seen the sun for an extended period of time, and how I learned – later from another delegate to the conference (who did not get the whole story of my first day at Wreck Beach) – that vinegar works wonders on taking the sting out of a sunburn!

Much more could be written on the time travel-esque atmosphere created by some of the Wreck Beach regulars. 


No offence to ‘black dogs’ but I got real today

Bright and early this morning, before I could slip into dishonesty, I volunteered to my diabetes specialist that I was depressed.  Actually it was more like joining in conversation with her as she wondered aloud if any ‘black dogs’ were about.

There’s always something cathartic about admitting this after circular self-arguments about whether I am or am not.  What’s with the shame? Jeez, I’ve been treated for major depression for over twenty-five years – what’s the big deal if I have a flare-up that meds, at least temporarily, don’t seem to be helping?

She asked if I had a friend I could talk to when I’m feeling down.  Several came to mind.

Not unrelated, my diabetes is not controlled at this time (it would help if I did what I was told).  I promised her I was already back on track and showing positive results. That’s true.

My weight is down about three kilograms.  This is not good as my bony ass feels tremendous discomfort in typical meeting chairs.  I can’t find a good cushion.

I’ll see my HIV doc on Friday when more of my blood test results will be revealed.  I can’t say I’ll be surprised if there’s a problem.

Affirmation: I deserve to take the best possible care of myself.

Remembering “The Romans” – The Romans II Health and Recreation Spa


just an illustration🙂

I found it in the Yellow Pages, which I was checking out at the Toronto Coach Terminal on Bay Street. I had just arrived from Niagara College. It was 1979. I was 19. I thumbed through the book, checking “Baths”, which brought up bathroom fixtures mostly, then I think I tried “Saunas”. I can’t be sure how I found it; only that there it was, complete with a not-to-scale map. Turns out it was very close.

This was well before the mass bath-house raids by police of 1981, “Operation Soap” – well before I took that occasion to come out to my family.

So everything about Toronto at that time of my life was huge. But I found my way to The Romans, where I stood in line briefly to hear how men entered, what was said, what, if any, identification was required.

I rented a room, a real bargain, I thought, at less than $20. Once inside the facility, I noticed an active gym, showers, a lounge, a pool, two saunas (wet and dry), a whirlpool and a lot of faux pillars, statues and plants. This small-town boy was impressed.

Turns out the room was about the size of a train roomette, with a single bed and a locker, a small table and an ash-tray. But as I made my way through the maze of hallways to find it, it was clear that the decor was not uppermost on the priority list of my fellow bathers.

I do not recall all I got up to that night, perhaps for the purposes of this blog that’s for the best, but I have a vivid recollection of being with a guy I swore could have been Gino Vanelli who, at that time, had wild, dark curly hair (and all over his body!).

There were lots of men, in lots of states of undress, cruising the hallways, checking out the various facilities.

It was a pleasant initiation, the experience I would expand over subsequent trips over the years into the city by visiting other bath-houses.

I’m back, breaking my blogging fast

Facebook, with its at-best superficial ways of linking me to my world, has taken me away from greater reflection possible in this blog so…I’m back – on my journey here.

The past few weeks I have been involved with the Youth/Elders Project, a joint effort of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the 519 Community Centre and the Senior Pride Network. We are a group of queer-identified people – youth, up to 25 years old, and elder folk 55 years and up.

We have been meeting separately in our age cohorts, either at Buddies or the 519, and will continue to do so except for occasions like this past Saturday when we met en masse for the first time.

The highlight of Saturday, for me, was a speed-dating style exercise in which youth sat with the rest of us, one-on-one, to discuss things such as early queer role models, or lack thereof, early cultural markers (or landmines), and things such as favourite films and TV shows.

F. asked me about films about AIDS.  I could only come up with two – Philadelphia, which I saw with my friend Chaz the week that Jim died, and Longtime Companion, which Jim and I reviewed over and over in our minds the night that Terry died.

I forgot all about Angels in America – which I loved!

We spoke of friendship – intimate friendship; Jim and me separated by death and F. separated by geography from his best buddy. No modern means of communication can match being in person. Tears were shed, hugs exchanged – it was a genuine moment of connection which I treasure still now, thinking about it.

Oh and we each have/had a gay brother.

It was an amazing three hours.

We return to our separate work-shopping this week, eager to meet again as the project evolves.

I am reminded

I am reminded of December 6, 1989 at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique.

I am reminded of February 5, 1981 – Toronto’s bath house raids, the catalyst for my coming out.

I am reminded of stolen innocence as a child at the hands of a stranger.

I am reminded of the “flu” I couldn’t shake in May of 1989 when HIV was settling in.

I am reminded of the impact of a taxi cab as it rolled me on to the street on April 30, 2003.

I am reminded of a street preacher verbally assaulting me following the opening ceremonies of World Pride 2014.

I am reminded of AIDS vigils when I was incoherent with grief as I thought of the scores of people I knew who have died.

I am reminded of my connection to the human family and, in the context of the Orlando massacre, my LGBT family and friends in particular.

Medical update: It’s all good

While showing me a graph, with the trajectory of my health over the past few months, my endocrinologist  remarked, “I wouldn’t have sold you life insurance in January!”

Point taken.  It was a rough patch, to be sure.

But now…

CD-4 count: 400 (the same level as when I was first diagnosed HIV+); up from 270

Viral load: undetectable (no change)

A1C (blood sugar): 8 (above the ideal 7 but greatly improved from my insulin overdose episode)

Weight: up (I can’t remember either the former or current weight)


I’m still feeling a little wobbly on my legs so I’m using a cane, more often than not, and I have a walker to take with me to the grocery store for heavy loads.

All in all, I am shaping up nicely for spring!