Saturday, 31 March 2012

About Me, Part 49: Got To Be There

In mid-2007, my fiancee and I finally hosted a housewarming party for our friends. It was also a going away party for two of my bi friends. It was also a chance to debut my idea for a music trivia game that I had been mulling over for a few months. Our landladies were invited also. We split up into teams of two for the game which lasted for about an hour and a half. After words, our departing friends opened their gifts.

By that time, my fiancee and I were in the middle of repainting our suite. We stripped the brown paint off of our kitchen cupboard doors, the painted them with primer and three coats of periwinkle blue. Our idea was to create a Provence-style kitchen. The room got very little light and needed something to brighten it up. We did the doors and painted some of the adjacent walls an off-white. By the end of the summer, we had not yet gotten around to getting a sunflower yellow. Our dining room, despite being carpeted, had a slightly rustic look with the white and varnished wood combination in the table, chairs and hutch. Our bedroom was a white and lavender combination as it was our favourite colour. Our bed was a lush queen-size with a floral duvet and pillow cases. In short, it was starting to feel a lot like home: a home that we both were creating, together.

But, at the same time, things were beginning to unravel. The dynamic between us had sometimes been strained. Sometimes, seemingly out of nowhere, I would find myself in a discussion about whether or not we were going to continue with the relationship. Then, suddenly, everything would be good again and we would go out to a movie or to get things for the wedding. With my fiancee working full-time hours at the clothing store, I thought that soon we would be able to contribute equally to the wedding fund. In the meantime, I was handling that, along with payments for the diamond ring. There was also rent, food and transit expenses for both of us. My fiancee had quit smoking months earlier which helped us in more ways than just financially.

My fiancee's health had improved a lot since she had stopped smoking, but she had a tendency to blame me for pressuring her to stop. Our only rule, mutually agreed upon, had been that she smoke outdoors. This was a requirement in our new place as it was a non-smoking unit.

I had begun to withdraw for a number of reasons: feeling over-burdened with responsibility in the relationship, the same old fear that was inbred in me of intimacy, and my dysphoria was surfacing again after about a year and half on hiatus. On the surface, it seemed like my fiancee accepted me, but in reality, my gender variance scared her. Why couldn't I be more of a "man"? Men often feel this pressure regardless. In my case, as a closeted transwoman, the "man" posture was just that, a posture and it was starting to wear thin. The more I became exposed in the relationship, the more my femininity surfaced and the more I felt the dislocation between it and my body. In the bedroom, things became tense and problematic. Many times, I was caught drifting away mentally, my eyes wandering away from my fiancee. On many occasions, I tried hard to imagine my self in her position instead of mine. She would get quite upset and, not knowing what was happening, would ask me if there was someone else. Soon, my spacing out happened outside of the bedroom as well. I would apologize, trying to bring myself back. I also was raised by parents who thought and worried a lot, and often drifted away in the middle of a conversation or would get drawn in to whatever was on television. I had those tendencies as well, though meditation had reduced them somewhat. But, this was much deeper.

My fiancees true feelings about my latent identity were very clear when we went clothes shopping in late August. Most of what I bought for myself was for guys, including a fedora. I had been steadily getting rid of my old ``drag`` clothing. In came the argyle sweaters and sweater vests and buttoned down shirts. We began to resemble a ``normal`` couple with all the subterranean anxities to go with it.


For my thirty-seventh birthday, we decided to have a 50s food theme. Corn dogs, ice cream floats, marshmallows and a lemon meringue pie for dessert. It was another rare sunny day that summer. My fiancee and I set up the umbrella and patio table in the backyard. The vegetable garden that we were tending and picking tomatoes and lettuce from grew nearby. Music, obviously, was no problem. While saxophone R&B, surf and cool jazz drifted from a portable CD player near us, we welcomed the handful of party guests that showed up. My fiancee looked adorable in a ponytail, red-and-white striped shirt and denim capris. I had my new fedora, a white t-shirt and a blue sweater vest and a pair of black jeans. My fiancee`s mother took a few pictures of us, one of me standing arms folded outside the entrance to our suite. The following Thursday, on my actual birthday (and the day Luciano Pavarotti died), my fiancee took me out to dinner at a local Tunisian restaurant. The mood, unlike the patio party, was subdued. 



My show had been on for nearly a year and I thought that a social media presence would help promote it as well as build a community of soul music listeners online. I started the group not long after my fiancee and I got Facebook accounts. There were those, even then, who were suspicious of what Facebook was all about, but the opportunity to touch base with friends and promote creative interests seemed too difficult to pass up.

For one of the fall issues of Discorder magazine (put out by the station) I wrote for their new ``Hey DJ!`` column, talking about how I started the show, my year on air and the new classic soul renaissance with artists like Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings and Amy Winehouse. Sharon Jones had just come out with a new CD called 100 Days, 100 Nights which I had been giving a lot of airplay to. I also contributed two CD reviews, one of which got published.

I was also developing a rapport with other show hosts. I had been friends with the host of Queer FM for sometime through the bi community. There was the host of the long running Jazz Show, the host of a psychedelic music program called Stereoscopic Redoubt, Folk Oasis and a show that had been, over the summer, temporarily scheduled right before mine: a 20s-30s-40s jazz and popular music program called Sweet & Hot. When I first heard it, I fell in love with the format: second to soul music, that earlier era ranked high on my favourites list. It had a novelty that soul music did not as I did not grow up with hot jazz and swing: it was new to me. The host of Sweet & Hot and I co-hosted a few episodes, concentrating on 40s and 50s R&B. My musical horizons were expanding.


I took vacation in October, ultimately my days added up to a whole month. I took at as time to spend with fiancee and to get reconnected. She had just quit her clothing store job, having suddenly had a falling out with her boss. Suddenly, we were even more strapped for money. Nonetheless, we went away to Victoria for a few days. Compared to our first time there together, it was much more melancholy. Part of it was the grey fall weather. The other part, as we stayed at the same bed and breakfast we had stayed in the last time, was that something, the light, the humour, the fun was gone. We spent a lot of time walking around the city and through Beacon Hill Park. Also in some of the used book shops. We also headed north of downtown on Douglas Street to the Value Village for costume ideas for Halloween. By the time we got back, our sadness was deeper.

During the week leading up to Thanksgiving, my fiancee asked we could adopt a kitten. We had had her adult cat up until that point. I was a bit leery of bringing in a kitten, the extra expense, the responsibility, the shock to our adult cat whose health was becoming more fragile. A year earlier, we had brought him to the vet for a urinary tract blockage. He had been weaker since then. Nonetheless, I went against my better judgement and we took on the new resident after clearing it with the landladies who had three cats of there own upstairs. Almost immediately, there was a conflict between our two cats and the kitten turned out to be a domineering handful.

We had my fiancee`s mother, sister and sister`s boyfriend over for Thanksgiving dinner. My fiancee`s mother showed me how to make a very light flaky pastry for the pumpkin pies. Her relationship with them was good. With her eldest sister, it was unstable. During that same month, she had another falling out with eldest sister and told her to keep the money that she was going to put into the wedding; I literally found out one afternoon that this fight had taken place. Suddenly we were short a few thousand for the wedding. I began to panic. I tried to think of a solution to this and could not. The wedding was now at risk. I began to feel resentment to my fiancee for being so volatile.

I also felt that there was no space for my own issues. Earlier that year, I had tried to convey how stressed I was about my career, how I felt like I was an automaton at work. Seeming ill at ease, she told me that I sounded ``melodramatic``.

By the fall, she was on anti-depressants. She often said that she was concerned that I was burdened with her recovery issues. I often disagreed. Perhaps it was true. We began to look around for a couples therapist. The therapist that I had been seeing a couple of years earlier was available but, I was wanting to have therapy covered under my work health insurance; he was not a clinical psychologist, hence he was not covered. We looked around for others, then, suddenly, we had forgotten about it.


My fiancee`s NA group was hosting another Halloween party at the Elk`s Club Hall across from Mountain View Cemetery on Fraser Street. We had eventually gotten our costumes at Bazaar and Novelty; my fiancee was dressed as geisha (using one of my wigs) armed with a sword while I was dressed as a crusades era knight, also with a sword. We were at the party for a few hours before heading home. On Halloween night, the following Wednesday, and dressed in costume, we handed out candy upstairs at our landladies`front door. We had also carved out a few jack o`lanterns for the front steps of our house. Afterwards, we all went out for a walk through the trick-or-treaters in the neigbourhood. When my fiancee and I got home, we made love and fell asleep. I hoped that things were on the mend.

But they were not. In November, after I had my fiancee included on my health insurance group plan at work, we found out that she was no longer eligible for debt relief for her student loans. She asked me if I could pay the next installment. I agreed, feeling my stomach drop. Out of work chronically now, my fiancee began to stay home, curtains drawn under comforters on the futon in the living room. I usually found her watching television when I came home often drowsy and melancholy. Soon I began to feel the same.


I had used up my vacation by the time the Christmas holidays began. I would have only the actual holidays off. This year, we planned to eat at my fiancee`s mothers and we were going to be contributing some food. Her mother had moved into the same condo complex in south Vancouver that my fiancee`s sister and her boyfriend had been living in. The plan was to start cooking that morning and have everything ready to bring on Christmas Day.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, my fiancee and I decided to do some community work by volunteering to prepare food for an NA holiday breakfast at an east side church. We re-gifted from some things we had, wrapping some very elaborately, including a pair of fairy wings that I used to wear at Illuminares Lantern Festival. It was a fun event and it finally gave us a chance to do some volunteer, something we had been meaning to do for sometime. By lunch time we headed over to my fiancee`s mothers reeking of fried hot dogs. I took a bath immediately while my fiancee and her mother went out to get some holiday shopping done. Having gotten up early, I was exhausted and fell asleep in the bathtub. When I woke up, I dried off, out new clothes on and napped on the couch. When we got home, we put the Christmas decorations up. In an instant, the house became cheerier.


The Monday before Christmas, I came home from work to find my fiancee looking tense. ``Your uncle called,`` she said, ``He said to call him back. It`s urgent.`` When I did, he told me that my grandmother had died. Her heart had gone. I felt numb, my knees trembled. She had been old. She had suffered with Alzheimer`s for years. She had been very frail for most of that. Now her suffering was over, but it was still so sad. When I hung up, I looked at my fiancee. I had not idea how we would get to Montreal with no money for it. But, the weather was making other plans for us anyway. A snowstorm in eastern Canada was shutting down all the airports for the rest of the week. The funeral was set for Friday. The worst thing, I felt the anguish of not being able to go home and say goodbye to my grandmother. I called up my father and told him the situation. I asked if he and my stepmother could go to the service in my stead. He agreed. I felt some relief, but still, regret. As that week passed, I tried to think of some way that I could see my grandmother off. Then, an idea came to me.

My show`s annual Christmas episode usually contained holiday themed soul music. This year, I would do it differently. I did the show the usual way until there was about a half-hour left. Then, I announced that my grandmother had died and played selections from Mahalia Jackson`s Silent Night album: traditional gospel for the remainder of the show. My grandmother had always pointed out the importance of remembering our roots and in playing Silent Night, not only was I remembering the roots of soul music in gospel, but also my own roots courtesy of my grandmother, our matriarch with the photographic memory I inherited.

The night before Christmas I began to cook for the following evening`s meal, making the curried meat filling for the patties that I was going to be making. It occurred to me to try, for a second time ever, to make my grandmother`s coconut bread. That night, coconut water in hand, I did just that. This time the result was sublime. It was warm and crumbly just as she used to make. And it was a gift that I wanted my fiancee and her family to taste. Watching them enjoy Christmas night at my fiancee`s mother`s house while it snowed gently outside filled me with the warm family feeling that I new deep down inside I needed. I had spoken to my cousins and uncles from home earlier in the evening. But, family could be chosen as well. I knew it could be. I was learning how.


On New Year`s Eve, my fiancee and I got dressed nicely and went out to a Greek restaurant for dinner. During dinner I found myself spacing out again much to my fiancee`s annoyance. She seemed very unsettled about something. We went back home and saw the new year in with our landladies and their friends. As we began to mentioned our goals for 2008, mine and my fiancee`s were noticeably vague and unsure.

Partway through January, I finally confessed to my fiancee how much I (we) were in the hole consumer debt wise as a result of all of our expenses. She was stunned. We had to talk about the wedding and what we were going to do about it. We decided to postpone the wedding. We had been preparing to send out invitations. We realized that a wedding this year was just not viable. I called my father and stepmother to tell them and that we had some debt to pay off first. My father called back a short time later, wondering if there was anything that he could do. I told him that we could handle it. Next, my fiancee and I sought debt counselling. We went to see someone at an agency based on Columbia Street in New Westminster. We came away with a debt payment plan involving pay down our debt with our wedding money the core of which had been the last of my inheritance money from my mother. I began to feel some relief.

But, something had finally begun to sink in to both of us: our worlds were separating, we were less and less a couple and more and more two lost individuals.

To be continued ...

Friday, 30 March 2012

About Me, Part 48: Lucky Me

The night after my radio, my fiancee and I had a few friends over for dinner. One couple, now expecting a child, was the same lesbian couple that hosted my "Miss Penny" night over drinks a couple of years earlier; the other, including another coworker, lived a few blocks away. A party of couples, a completely new experience for me. After dinner, the conversation was light while a tape of the previous night's show played on the stereo.

The following Monday was a bright sunny, late summer day. I felt not a care in the world. When I came home from work that evening, my fiancee greeted me with a note from our landlord. We were being evicted.

Of the many social issues that concerned both of us, affordable housing was one of them. And like for many in a region with high rents and low vacancies, it was personal to us. Reno-viction had been happening in my old neighbourhood on the west side for some time. It was happening on the east side as well. Everyone from very low-income to students, seniors and urban professionals were scrambling for places to live and moving further and further out into the suburbs and new developments. In our case, the original landlord and his wife had sold the property to a young couple from the Interior just after I moved in. Over the summer they waffled on what to do with our suite as it was the main one in the house. Eventually they decided to renovate it and move in, having already renovated the basement suite that they were inhabiting. They could then boost the rent of the basement suite. Not even six months since I had moved in and we had suddenly joined the scramble.

We spent the last two weeks of September going to houses with secondary suites all over East Van and North Burnaby. One suite on the east side looked like it was rat infested. Another suite under renovation in Capitol Hill, Burnaby was in a very sketchy area and separate from many amenities. One not far from where we lived was new, but also dark and claustrophobic. Another was new and brightly lit, but the owners (pot smokers to my and my fiancee's chagrin) chose someone else. By the beginning of October, we still had not found anything. After seeing a suite in a house near the PNE and not getting that one either, we had to consider the possibility of moving far out of town, something neither of us wanted to do. Travel time to and from work and other things was important.

Then, my coworker who lived with her partner a few blocks away spoke to me at work. They wanted to offer us a garden level suite in their house. They invited us to go over and have a look. One evening, while I was at work, my fiancee went over to check it out. She called me to say that it was a nice, clean place that was worth considering. We both went over the following night, just after it rained. It was a nice place; it needed a little work, but that was something we could manage. It did not have the multiple repair issues that our current place had. We would get to use half of the garden in the summer. It was on one of the quiet streets that we had strolled along when my folks had flown out for our engagement. We took it. We returned a few days later to sign the rental agreement.

By then, my fiancee and I, and a few of my friends were reeling from a tragedy in our ranks.


I got home one very rainy day in October after stopping off for something at a local health food store. My fiancee met me at the door. After we kissed, she told me a friend (from the bi community) had called and wanted me to call him back; it was urgent. I nodded and continued to put my work stuff away. Our place was filled with boxes by that point. A few minutes later, my fiancee repeated her message. I picked up the portable phone receiver and dialed. When I got through, my friend relayed the terrible news; one of our friends in the community had been found dead a couple of days earlier. It was suicide.

Another friend picked me up a short time later and we drove downtown to a restaurant. A few others were waiting there. Together we spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out how to break the news to our friend's ex. We headed out to the suburbs to tell him. When we finally told him, he became very distraught. Our deceased friend was estranged from his family who were very homophobic. When we got the details on the funeral, we were told that we would not be welcome at the wake. The service, held in Surrey on the last Thursday of October, was incredibly sombre. Afterwards, myself, my fiancee and a few other friends went to a Starbucks. Our talk was sparse still the conversation of a stunned group of people. When my fiancee got home, she went to an NA meeting and I went out to by a Crosley portable turntable at London Drugs, something to comfort myself. Then, I went back home, feeling flu-ish all of a sudden and dressed for bed, wrapping myself in blankets and watching episodes of my newly acquired copy of Ken Burns' Jazz documentary on DVDs. Moved by the melancholy vintage jazz, haunted by thoughts of loss and failed love, I suddenly became concerned about my fiancee and I. I began to cry. When she did not come home until late, I panicked. When she got in, I told her that I was worried about her. Then, we had the strangest conversation. "Promise me, if we don't work out," she sobbed, "That you won't harm yourself." I promised. But, I still had no concept of us not working out.


The Saturday before we moved, we went to bed early. I was working that weekend and it was also the weekend that our clocks went back one hour. Overnight, my fiancee had one of her restless episodes, waking up and walking downstairs to sleep alone on the futon in the living room. I went downstairs, and she went upstairs. Briefly, I stepped outside the side entrance of the house and sat on the steps. Partly because of fatigue, I found myself thinking about my fiancee leaving. I spent a sleepless night on the futon. This had happened once over the summer. I was truly worried

On Halloween 2006, we moved over to our new home. It took from 8:00 am to about 9:00 pm, after the trick-or-treaters were finished. The following day before I went to work, I helped my fiance clean the walls and carpet in our old place. There were a few belongings left to move.

We spent November unpacking and arranging furniture. Now, when I came home after work, it was to our new home on a quiet street in our choice neighbourhood as tenants to friends. We could relax now.


By the last weeks of the year, it would not be an exaggeration to say that I had two loves: my fiancee and my love for soul music which had become my program. I continued to buy music for the show. I felt that I was finally developing my passion. And unlike my previous ideas (performing, etc.) I had followed through this time. I strongly believed that my fiancee needed to pursue her own creative dreams in music; her voice was a gift. At an NA talent show that fall, she sang Gershwin's "Summertime" to a thunderous round of applause. I presented her with a huge floral bouquet afterwards. Others encouraged her. Nonetheless, by the winter, she had stopped practicing at home.

I sensed her starting to become more resentful of my show around that time. A week before Christmas, a couriered package arrived at our house. I had ordered a copy of the limited edition Complete Motown Singles: 1959-61. It was a small investment, but I liked that the six-CD box set was so exhaustive in its details and complete run of chronological releases. My fiancee, once seeing the invoice, was not thrilled. I tried to explain what the music meant to me. She had not worked for some time. I was now handling most of the household expenses. Our money became tighter and she seemed unwilling to find and keep a job or pursue her interests. She continued to hang out at home, becoming very depressed in the process. She then decided that she wanted to live as a housewife while. I was unwilling to support this as I felt that she would be doing herself an injustice by not going out and pursuing her life. Soon, dinner time conversation became very one-sided: me and my goals and the radio show. Her with her NA program, but whose friendships began to disintegrate because of her mercurial nature.

On Christmas, the day James Brown died, my fiancee's mother, sister and sister's boyfriend came over to our house for dinner. It was a scrumptious meal, complete with pumpkin pie for dessert. In the early weeks of 2007, I began to cook meals and desserts prolifically. It seemed effortless. I was wanting to become the homemaker myself. Bu there was only room for one of them.

I continued to push my fiancee to keep singing. In early February, she decided to enter the Canadian Idol competition. When she did not pass the Vancouver auditions, I treated her by buying Greyhound tickets to Calgary for the auction there. The lengthy bus ride got us there by about 11:00 pm. She did not pass the Calgary auditions, but I felt that she had given herself a chance this time.

That same month, she got a job at a women's clothing store downtown. She also began taking voice lessons at UBC in preparation for auditioning for their undergraduate Music program. With her working full-time hours and taking singing lessons seriously, I felt that we were on a level playing field again. When her audition came around, I took the day off to go see her. The interviewers actually would not let guests into the auditorium, so I sat in the waiting area. I could her voice soaring, yet it was a bit shakey from nervousness. She did not pass the audition, however the music faculty sent her two letters urging her to try again next year. She would not do it. She had become discouraged. I begged her to try again, knowing how depressed she would get without her gift to focus on, but she would not hear of it. I began to dread what would become of us as I continued to have my show and my career, as stressful as it was sometimes. That spring was the first time that I got that sinking feeling about where we were headed.


In June 2007, the National Campus/Community Radio Association Conference came to UBC. The last time I had been involved in an NCRA Conference was in 1991 at McGill University; that had led me to radio in the first place. This time, as a program host and volunteer, I got more involved, convening a couple of sessions. I found out that my show had fans all over North America, thanks to the podcasts CITR had been making since the previous fall. I was honoured. A week after the conference ended, there was a volunteer appreciation barbeque at the coordinator's house, in my neighbourhood. In the middle of a lousy summer, weatherwise, it was a wonderfully hot summer evening. I realized how much I enjoyed community and giving back to it. My show, and my relationship with music in general, was no longer just about me, but about giving back to the community. As someone who was brought up to believe that either I was happy or others were, this was a revelation.


We eventually set the wedding date for July 20, 2008. So, at the first signs of spring, my fiancee began to drive around looking for spaces to hold the banquet. We decided after a long drive to Maple Ridge that was too far to go for a wedding hall.

We found a hall in Queen's Park, New Westminster complete with its own chairs, tables and a small kitchenette. Then came trying to find a caterer. My fiancee's eldest sister, with whom she had a love-hate relationship, said that she would help with finances. In the summer of 2007, we signed an agreement to rent the banquet hall. And then, we began to shop for our wedding outfits. I also bought my fiancee a new engagement ring, with a Canadian diamond, financing it with monthly installments as money was becoming tight. We then got two wedding bands.

We decided to do a regular photo session for the wedding album, but also do another set of photos with me in a large crinolined ballroom gown. I was glad that that side of me seemed welcome in this relationship. Seemed. I did not realized how fragile our relationship had become

To be continued ...

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

About Me, Part 47: Shake a Tail Feather

Throughout April 2006, I repainted and cleaned my west side apartment and began to pack my stuff into boxes as rhythm and blues songs from The Complete Stax-Volt Singles: 1959-1968 and the series Blowing The Fuse played on my sound system. My hair had become shaggy over the winter and I was also growing a beard, something my girlfriend liked. She had been hinting at me wearing lingerie, but with all my body and facial hair as well. That idea turned me off. I usually tried to change the subject whenever it came up.

I got rid of furniture and other old things, some of which I had bought not long after arriving in Vancouver, by giving them to thrift shops. Broken things were picked up by a junk disposal company. My last night was spend on a mattress watching Rebel Without a Cause on my TV set, now resting on the floor. The next day was bright, sunny and very warm. My girlfriend showed up in her mother's car and helped my sweep up the floor and move some things downstairs. The moving company arrived and began to remove my furniture. Bit by bit, my single life was dissolving. One of the happiest moments of my life was when my apartment was empty and clean and the moving truck had left for the east side and my girlfriend and I drove off, leaving my old life behind for good.

At her house, her mother's furniture and things were gathered in a corner in the living room to be removed once my stuff had been moved in. It was tight for a few hours while things moved in and out of the house. Finally, after lunch, the furniture was all sorted out and the moving truck left for Burnaby where my girlfriend's mother was moving. Her mother stayed behind to help clean and move her personal belongings into her car. Then, just before dinner, my girlfriend and her mother hugged and said goodbye tearfully. Her mother drove off down the back lane and out into the street. I held my girlfriend close and kissed her forehead.

For dinner, we ordered pizza from Lombardo's on the Drive. The pizza reminded me of Montreal Italian pizza. We sat in our living room eating and watching Billy Elliot on our "new" TV. The story of a dancer whose father has difficulty accepting him made me teary. Now it was my girlfriend's turn to hold and kiss me.

The next day, May 1, was another bright, sunny one. I headed to the SkyTrain station which now took a refreshing fifteen minutes by foot to get to. On the way I passed a Buddhist temple, a fire station and a school. The next few weeks were a bright blur of optimism and hope. With me working full-time and my girlfriend working regular hours doing office jobs and cleaning houses, we were able to consolidate our money fairly well.

I remember the summer of 2006, our second summer, as our best. She later told me that she preferred our very torrid first summer, but liked the stability and comfort of settling in and down with someone that I left and what a solid commitment added to our love for each other. It was the best of both worlds. And it only lasted for a short while.


While I began to fill our new home with music and shared meals, work was becoming less stressful. I began to use my newly rediscovered head space to work on my radio show demo. I booked two production studio sessions in June and one in July to record my music selections and me doing the show intro and station IDs and song intros and background ("enrichment" it was called in the radio biz). Back in January, my girlfriend and I had gone to an NA dance near Kingsway, when we bumped into another guest coming downstairs from the party for some fresh air. He was clearly having a great time. "Wooo! Shake a tail feather!" he exclaimed. That's it, I thought, that's what I'll call the show. It was originally going to be called Soul 101. Shake a Tail Feather, the name of a 1963 tune by the Chicago group The Five Du-Tones, was a classic, sung by many others: James and Bobby Purify, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, Ray Charles in The Blues Brothers movie and Taj Mahal on a children's music CD called Shakin' a Tail Feather. It was official. In July, when I finally recorded my own voice on to the demo, I knew how to introduce the show.

When I finished editing the demo, I saved the digital copy in the station exec's file folder and recorded a copy on cassette for myself and to play for others. Then, I waited to hear back from the program coordinator. I did, in August. He liked it, but felt that it needed more "pep". I had been tired when I recorded my own voice. Nonetheless, he asked for my availability. Normally, new programmers filled in for others away or sick: one off spots here and there. He promised me that he would contact me when someone needed coverage. After that, as the summer continued, I heard nothing. But, my energies were elsewhere by then.


I came home one evening that summer after work to find my girlfriend home bundled up in a blanket in front of the TV. She seemed more than just tired, but depressed. I asked her what was wrong. She said that she had quit her cleaning job. I felt a slight panic as I knew our finances were delicately balanced. I asked her what had happened. Sighing, she replied that she no longer wanted to do it. She still worked temporary office jobs, but they were sporadic. Within a short time, we went from splitting the rent, to me paying most of it and sharing the groceries and other household expenses. What I found more bothersome, was that the extra time was spent hanging around at home. She became more depressed and began to question our relationship. She had stopped singing and had no plans to study it at any point, which was a shame given her voice.

Our bedroom life became strained. I saw settling down with a little less frequency, but more cuddling and sweet things as ideal. She wanted more activity. Neither of us were wrong. We knew that, but we struggled with it, even by experimenting with role playing somewhat.

For the Canada Day long weekend, we drove to the Tsawassen Ferry terminal and went to Victoria for a few days, staying at the Coach House B&B in the charming and quaint James Bay neigbourhood. We stayed in the old coachhouse which had been remodeled into a split level room with a bath/hot tub and loft bedroom. We had lunch with our mutual friend, who had introduced us, at a Mexican restaurant not far from the wax museum. My girlfriend and I ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant and had one of those old west style photos taken as a souvenir. We did a lot of walking and spent Canada Day night watching the fireworks over the inner harbour. We then hurried back to the B&B as a riot broke out in front of the Empress Hotel. We took a lot of photos of ourselves around town, in Fan Tan Alley and, on our last day after lunch at Paggliacci's, as we drove around the coast line to Oak Bay Beach. We spent a couple of hours there before heading for the Schwartz Bay Ferry Terminal. It was the high point of a high summer. But, just like the rest of the summer, it had its tensions. On our last night at the B&B, we had watched an old VHS copy of Mississippi Massala. We talked about the attractiveness of the two lead characters; soon, we were having an argument about why I found the leading lady attractive. I had meant nothing about it, but my girlfriend seemed to sense that I might be losing interest. As far I could see, I had not.

Our politics had always seemed complimentary. We shared some progressive values. But, her father had been a very bigoted man (he was deceased), and he had left his mark on most of his family. We had sympathized with the BC teacher's union when the went on strike the previous fall (I had done some picket duty for them); she had been out of town that time. But, when it came to racial issues, we had some disagreements. Ever since college, I always commemorated Black History Month by educating myself about current issues and reading up on civil rights history. I would watch documentaries on PBS. In August of 2006, I took Roots out of the library to watch it again for the first time in years. Some of this alienated my girlfriend, but I was always careful to remind her that I was only trying to remind myself that ordinary people had stood up for themselves, so could we. I am not sure that it ever got through. I did not blame her for anything, it was just something that I needed to do. I encouraged her to celebrate her own Irish roots which she refused to do. She was not proud of them, I think because they were linked to her own family history. I was content to leave the issue, but it would not be the last of it.


During the last week of August, we spent an evening at the PNE roaming around eating donuts and playing for stuffed animals. We then sat in front of the main stage to watch that evening's entertainer. Once home, we began to plan for my folk's arrival the following week. The reason why they were coming was because of an announcement my girlfriend and I had made a couple of weeks earlier. We were engaged. I gave my fiancee my mother's ring which I had kept in my safety deposit box. Soon, our families knew, my co-workers knew and my friends knew. We hosted a housewarming that month in which my bi friends and a colleague of mine along with her partner, who lived a few blocks away, attended. It was a lively potluck. It was great how we all got along.

My father and stepmother flew out the day before my thirty-sixth birthday. We spent a week all getting acquainted. My folks bought us a juicer and a rice cooker as engagement gifts. They met my fiancee's mother. My fiancee met my relatives in White Rock. During that week, I felt as if I was finally welcoming her into my family, both sides. One night, my folks made a pasta meal; when we were in White Rock, we ate the kind of meal my Barbadian grandmother would have made. I was honoured to welcome her in. We spent an evening at the Richmond Night Market.

But, there were secrets to keep as well. My fiancee bought me lingerie for my birthday and gave it to me when my folks were downstairs in the kitchen. When my fiancee had an NA meeting, I did not tell my folks where she was going; I feared their judgement. I know now that I should not have. However, when my folks flew home after a week in town, I still felt that all of our relationships were on the mend. I began to feel my family finally loosening their over-protective grip.

The next day, my fiancee started work at a downtown cafe/sandwich shop. I turned on the TV to see that a shooting had happened at my old college back in Montreal. Dawson College was in lock down. The same campus I used to attend all those years ago.


During my second week of vacation, I got an email from CITR. They wanted to give me a regular weekly spot, Fridays from 10:00 pm to Midnight. I could start that week. I phoned my fiancee to tell her. She was jubilant. I emailed my folks to tell them. They promised to listen to the live internet stream (three hours ahead for them) when I was on.

My fiancee and I took the bus to UBC that Friday night and waited in the station lounge. When I finally went on air for the first time (the first song was "The Whole World Is a Stage" by The Fantastic Four), I was very nervous, but played a vast number of songs, beginning with a feature on soul divas of the 60s and then switching to a Chicago soul spotlight. The two hours flew by. I dedicated the show to my fiancee who sat blushing in the lounge. My dream, thanks to her, thanks to music and to all the years that it had moved me, my dream of sharing my dream with others had come true.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

About Me, Part 46: Approaching Lavender

Our first Halloween together was at an NA sponsored party in Gastown. It was held in a large loft space near the port. We spend the couple of weeks leading up to it looking for ideas in dollar stores and at Dressew, a fabric and costume materials store on Hastings Street. We eventually decided to go as a lunar and solar couple, sporting a golden sun and a moon mask each along with a gold and black embroidered fabric wrapped around us like togas. Many of the other guests loved our costumes, but there were some other great ones as well including someone costumed as a newspaper box.

November saw my girlfriend getting a job at a children's clothing store in Kerrisdale, just in time for the holidays. I would often meet her after work and we would head back to one of our places for the night. I had four days off the last weekend of the month. Vancouver was covered in deep fog. I spent Wednesday into Thursday at her house and then, we went to see a Harry Potter film at the Dolphin Cinema in North Burnaby that afternoon. I had begun to come down with a fever and chills. By evening, I prepared to go home, and my girlfriend to her NA meeting. I suddenly became very anxious about going home to my apartment; I had usually felt some sadness when it came time to go, but this time it was fear. My response was, unfortunately, to become irritable. My girlfriend was obviously hurt by it. I apologized and it seemed to blow over. I spent that night at home recuperating; I took a hot bath with a healing essential old and then, dried and clothed for bed, I wrapped my self up tight and sweat out my flu all night. By the next morning, I had some energy back, but had developed a cough and stuffy nose. I was well enough on Sunday to put up my Christmas tree.

I was off for two weeks at Christmas and spent nearly a week at my girlfriend's house, the whole place decorated with rustic looking ornaments and a real tree. We all went out shopping for food for Christmas dinner. I had decided to make a vegetarian tourtiere. There would also be a turkey, a ham from a Czech deli near the house and pumpkin pie. Come Christmas day, we were all set. My girlfriend and I had bought each other a bundle of gifts. I had also bought something for her mother and sister and her boyfriend. We had sent something to Montreal to my father and stepmother (my father was turning sixty, he had just retired earlier that year) and they had sent something for us. Even the cat got gifts. It was such a warm, cozy Christmas that it brought tears to my eyes. It had been so long since I had felt at home.

The next week or so I spent back at my place and hanging out with some of my bi friends exchanging fun, dollar store novelty gifts. But, New Year's Eve I was back at my girlfriend's house; we went out to an NA New Year's Eve party in Queensborough. There was a buffet dinner followed by a dance. We got back at around 2:00 am and quietly got into bed. I remember hoping that the New Year would bring us even closer; maybe I would even move in. I could not wait. Snuggling real close we fell quickly asleep.


It was in January of 2006 that I finally decided to act on an idea that had been germinating in my mind for nearly a year and a half. A radio program on UBC's radio station. Once upon a time, in another life, I had hosted a literary program on CKUT Radio McGill in Montreal. But, this time, I wanted to do a music program. At one point, I had entertained the idea of doing a vintage reggae show, but I had discovered that, between the three main alternative stations in Greater Vancouver (CITR, CJSF at SFU and CFRO Co-op Radio in the Downtown Eastside), there was already enough reggae programming. Another kind of music, the kind that I had heard since I was a small child around the house, the kind that I always heard inside whenever I fell in love, had a loss or felt very happy, was soul music. 60s and early 70s soul music. My girlfriend and I both loved it and I had begun to play it more and more. I felt deeply that I wanted to share it with others. As one of my New Year's resolutions, I signed up for training at CITR. I had once, while a graduate student, done the same, but had been too busy to follow up on it. This time, with so many of my other creative ideas gone, I wanted to give this a fair shake. And my girlfriend was right there with me, making sure I followed through with my commitment. I owe my eventual show to her.

The first training session, in late January, was in using the studio's DJ equipment, at that time being upgraded. The second, in February, was in production, learning how to make public service announcements and show promos. The last session, an explanation of the station's policies and practices took place much later. I had almost given up by the time it rolled around, but my girlfriend encouraged my to keep at it.

In the meantime, I pushed her to finish her college credits and finish her courses. When she was laid off from her store job in January, I encouraged her to finish her assignments and helped her gather her sources and organize her notes. I also encourage her to get singing lessons. A great voice like she had needed to be nurtured. And she seemed so happy when she was singing. I wanted us to both to have our own pursuits and activities, that way there would be more to bring back to the relationship. I would soon find out that it was easier said than done.


I went over to my girlfriend's house one rainy, windy winter morning (one of my days off from work) and she answered the door crying. She had been having PTSD symptoms and was needing to be held. I held her very tightly, told her that I loved her. I felt incredibly helpless, but was there for her as much I could be. I could be very difficult. One acting out episode involved her seducing me when I was sick, coughing and with a temperature. Reminding her that I was sick and did not have the energy for making love only made her angry and suspicious. We did later that day, but I felt nothing but guilt. Mistakenly, I tried to bury it.

I had been seeing a therapist (recommended to me by a colleague) regularly for months by this point. His office was a few blocks from my house. My girlfriend did not want to join these sessions and could not for financial reasons. I was on my own, to do counselling work. I worked on my own issues of self-worth, loneliness (even in a relationship) and helplessness with my girlfriend's issues. January was a hard month, mood wise, for me. I became depressed, although not enough to require medication. By February, my mood had lifted somewhat. I began to keep a journal in which I recorded my feelings about myself and about my girlfriend and the love, sadness and tenderness I felt for her. Unlike later on, at that point, I could only feel the soft emotions for her.

Not long before Valentine's Day, I agreed to dress as "Miss Penny" for her. The whole drag experience had long ago lost its luster for me, but I did it to show her that side of myself. She liked how I was dressed, but it became clear to me that she saw my self-presentation as a fetish. I did not. I had no interest in wearing women's clothes for a thrill, I wore them because they felt like me. Deep down, I knew that she feared that.


During the Winter Olympics in Torino, I spent a few days at my girlfriend's house developing my radio show's concept. As it would be on station which featured indie music, it would have to be an indie soul music program. It would include all of the tiny, obscure soul labels of the late 50s to early 70s, getting away from the same well-known hits that oldies stations played. I thought that it had a lot of potential. I had begun taking a liking to 50s music, early rhythm and blues as well. My music buying increased dramatically. But, I knew that it was not just for me. I wanted to share this with the world.

When I finally did my last training session in March 2006, I mentioned my idea to the music director who loved it. I began selecting music for a demo  recording which I would then submit to the station executives for review. I could hardly wait to get started. That would not happen until the summer.


One evening in late March, not long after we celebrated our first year together over dinner at the Afghan Horseman restaurant, I got a call from my girlfriend. She said that she had been having a conversation with her mother about their living arrangement which had been showing some signs of strain over the previous month or so. She asked me if I wanted to move in. I had to pause to make sure that I had actually heard what I thought I had heard. When it finally sunk in, I said yes, jubilant. I handed in my notice to my building manager later that week. I had lived in that apartment on the West Side for seven years, and alone for longer. Now I was moving in with the woman I loved. I could hardly contain my joy.

To be continued ...