Monday, October 31, 2011

Not that there is anything wrong with that

I had first encountered Kim at a Blues Society function. I had been going to blues gigs all over town. Any gig really.
It started by complete accident. I had just moved to my new apartment but I had a crappy low paying job and money was tight. Most of the time I stayed in and entertainment consisted of walking my dog Minnie, going to the horse races, betting to show so I wouldn't lose, and watching a lot of television.
One night while flipping channels I encountered a program on the local cable tv channel called 'Stormy Monday'. It was a half hour show that featured clips of blues performers from the Monday night jam at Albert's Hall. I had never been to Albert's Hall but I knew of it because it was legendary.
Not being a drinker I rarely went to bars anyways. Each week though I would make sure to watch this show and each week it was filled with great local performers. The host, Danny Marks, mentioned that anyone was welcome to come down to this jam, but it was on a Monday night and I played floor hockey on Monday nights. The jam started around 10pm, and floor hockey finished at 11pm so I decided one night that I would go down and see what it was about.
The first thing that was apparent when I got there was how hard it was going to be to park. Being in an old neighborhood and on a main street, there was nowhere to park and it meant going into the residential and leaving it there. I was risking getting a ticket. But I was there, so I did it.
I made my way to the main street, Bloor Street, and noticed the neon sign. It of course looked exactly as it did on the tv program.
Albert's Hall was above The Brunswick House,  was a drinking bar for University kids from The University Of Toronto, which was just down the street. As the years went by,  I went in there once, but for the most part, I never went in there. Hanging around drunk frat boys and horny teenage girls wasn't ever my scene. But you had to pass The Brunswick House to get to the stairs up to Albert's Hall, which was on the second floor. There was no cover charge because it was a jam, so you just went right in.
As you turned the corner to go in it was immediately apparent that this place had atmosphere and presence. It was dark, it was smokey and in certain spots it was bright. Being an old venue where many of the legends of the blues had played over many years, it had that 50s feel to it, like it had been untouched by time.
I sat down near the back, on a stool, not a table, as I had come in after it was already started.
I really didn't know what to expect because this wasn't tv, it was real. I guess I hadn't realized that the tv show was staged and taped specifically for tv. This was certainly much different and livelier. One by one, performer after performer would just get up and sing a couple of songs, and it was a free for all. Musicians would just get up and join in pretty much at any time. I saw a few of the performers that I had seen on the tv show, plus many others I had never seen. It was a true jam, and it was captivating and fantastic.A 2 hour ride that was high intensity right until last call.
After that night, I attended pretty much every Stormy Monday for about 3 years, and continued to watch the tv show. I also began to write blues songs, and other songs, and would also start going to see some of the performers from those jams at their own gigs.
As I got into the scene more and more I learned of The Blues Society and their gatherings. I decided since I was now thinking about writing and publishing my songs that I would I went down early and sat through the whole thing. Many of the artists at this event I had never seen. Some I knew of but had never seen live. They were all great. One in particular, Kim Doolittle,caught my eye. She was one I had completely missed along the way.  I had never seen or heard of her before. She was so talented and so unique that she stuck in my mind. Later when I got home I read The Blues Society flyer and saw she had a gig on Church Street.  It was not an area I went to often, but I had to see more of her.
It was a Sunday night, I remember that much. I rarely went to gigs on Sunday nights because I had to work very early Monday mornings. I usually went Friday and Saturday nights, and then of course on Monday nights to Stormy Monday. This place was also very classy, a lot more upscale than any bar I had been to listen to live music. There also weren't very many people in the bar, so unlike Albert's Hall it had no energy and seemed vacant. I made my way to the bar. I didn't drink much at all, but I couldn't hide in here as I could at  Albert's Hall.  I had to order and I did. I ordered a screwdriver. I had always been able to tolerate a screwdriver, because I liked orange juice and vodka was the one alcoholic beverage that I could stand the taste of.
I didn't know Kim and she didn't know me. As I would come to find out in the years to come, that wouldn't matter. Kim has always been the type to talk to everyone and I was no exception to that. The gig had not started yet and it was a solo gig. Just her. Not much equipment. Just her and her guitar. She had already tuned her guitar and plugged in, so she made the rounds before she got started. There weren't many rounds to make, because as I said the place was pretty empty. She approached me and introduced herself.
Anyone who knows me knows I am very approachable. I don't go looking for contact, but I don't shy away either, and when prompted I am not short of things to say or the will to say them. As we started to talk we hit it off right away. I mentioned that I had noticed her at The Blues Society gig and came specifically to see her here. Kim was always very perceptive and she quickly realized that I didn't know the type of place I was in. That would become relevant later on. She mentioned she also had a jam on Tuesday nights at Quinn's on the Danforth,  and I should come out to that. I said I would certainly do that, and I did attend that jam for about 2 years while it lasted.
After 10 minutes, she got up and started playing. She was great, just as I had expected. A true talent. A natural storyteller and had a voice like I had never heard before live. She also just made up songs on the spot, which was something I had never seen before either. I have known her now for almost 20 years and to this day I don't know anyone who can do what she does on that level. We actually wrote songs together after that for a while.
About 30 minutes into her first set, the bartender brought me another screwdriver. I had not finished the first one, nor had I ordered another. I asked him why he brought it to me. He said that it was sent to me and had been bought for me. That had never ever happened before. I looked around the bar and I guess I hadn't noticed that every person in the bar was male, except for Kim. I looked at Kim and nodded to her, thanking her for the drink. She nodded back.
At this point it dawned on me.  I was in a gay bar. I guess I knew that since I was in the Church St. and Wellesley area, which was a well known gay part of town, that this was a gay bar. It just had never occurred to me. Anyway, what did I care? Gay bar or straight bar, I was there for the music. Even if it was sent by a woman it would not have mattered. I loved women, but on this night I was there to see Kim sing.  Not to get laid.
I accepted the drink and paid no more mind to it.
Kim finished her first set and came back to sit with me and chat. I thanked her for the drink. She said she didn't send it. Okay, now I was startled. If she didn't send it,  who did? She knew what was going on, but I did not. At this point I was 28 years old and in very good shape.  I still played a lot of sports and worked out, so I did get hit on a lot at bars by women and was used to it. But if Kim didn't send me the drink,  obviously it had come from a man. I started to become uneasy and Kim realized it.
It was now time for her to go up and start the second set. As she did I asked the bartender "who sent me this drink?" He said that guy over there at the end of the bar. He also now sent me a second one. I told the bartender I didn't want it, but he said it was paid for and just set it down in front of me.
The man at the end of the bar came up to me and said hello. Being the nice guy I was,  I said hello back. Everyone at the bar, which was now about 20 people, knew what was going on. It was obvious to them he was gonna try and pick me up for a one night stand. It was also obvious to all of them that I was not in the least bit gay, or even curious to try it once and find out if I liked it. I have nothing against anyone who is gay, but it is not my thing and I have not then, or now, had any interest in any contact with men. I always make that clear.
In this case, that did not seem to matter or phase this man. He was intent on making it happen. We talked for a bit, and he was hinting at what he wanted. He was in his late 50s and obviously this was something he had done before. As he continued to hit on me, I continued to give off the vibe that I was not going to play ball with him.
Kim's second set now ended and I was a bit pissed. This guy had monopolized my time  so much that I missed most of the songs from the second set. I didn't know Kim at all but being the perceptive woman she was she decided to come to my rescue. She sat down beside me and joined the conversation. Kim and I have now known each other for almost 20 years,  as I mentioned before, and have never had any physical attraction to each other. In spite of that, she decided to do what she thought she needed to do in this case. As she was talking to this man, she put my hands on her hips. When he got distracted for a few seconds she whispered in my ear to play along. He got up and went to the bathroom.When he came back to sit down, she moved my hands a little higher and turned and laid a big passionate kiss on me. She acted like we were a couple. That should have been the end of it. He should have gotten the message.
But he didn't.
She went up to play her third and final set, and he was still there, trying to get me to go home with him. At some point I just flat out told him "Buddy, I am not gay". That was still not enough for him.
He explained to me this is a known gay bar and that if I was in it, I had to like men. I explained to him that gay men also go to straight bars and no one expects them to date women. Still, he was not deterred. He insisted that I had to be gay and that I was just not interested in him.
Finally it took the bartender to tell him to back off, as I was so stunned by it all that I really didn't know what to say.
The next Tuesday I went to see Kim sing at Quinn's. It was a great experience and we laughed about it all. At that jam I met her friend Michelle. She was super hot and when she came at me, there was no hesitation as there had been at the gay bar on Church St. I went home with her that night and it was one of the best one night stands I ever had.
Horses for courses I guess.
I have never since been back to a bar on Church street. Nor will I.

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