Thursday, February 01, 2007

ON BEING A GENTLEMAN

My sore throat has miraculously vanished, thanks to The Frank Sinatra Cure: a tumbler full of Jack and a hot shower, and I am ready to welcome a special guest from Toronto, actor Shawn Roberts. Shawn has come all the way here, on his own dime mind you, to help me out by replacing the previously mentioned Fingerless Fireman in our movie. (For those who haven’t been following along, an actor had been cast to play a Fireman but at the last moment I discovered that he had, unfortunately, no fingers on his left hand, making it a bit tricky to, oh I don’t know, maybe HOLD AN AXE or something?) That, and hang out for a couple days in Montreal which is, in spite of the misinterpretations of some of my more deranged critics, still one of my favorite cities in North America and definitely the only Canadian metropolis worth making a three hundred mile drive just for dinner.

After an hour long “freshen up”, consisting of a shave, a shower and a well chilled Belvedere martini, we slid into a couple of suits and made our way out into the frigid night, our intention to be Gentlemen on the Town.

It started off well enough. The W Hotel in downtown Montreal is truly one of the coolest spots in the city, and although the bar was empty the drinks and the music were perfect and it was just the right place for catching up with an old friend. We moved on from there to an exquisite restaurant called The Globe (http://www.restaurantglobe.com - GO HERE if you ever visit Montreal), a couple more martinis and a delicious dinner served by a series of stunning women, in a city filled with stunning women. (Note to the Reader: no, I haven’t suddenly “joined the other team”; just because I have a credit card at Macy’s doesn’t mean I don’t admire the store windows at Bloomingdale’s.)

While two guys dining in suits would normally stand out like whores in church (to quote my dear friend Leslie Jordan) in our ghastly “casual Friday” society, this city seems to be the exception to the rule. People dress for dinner here, at least in the finer restaurants, and the hockey sweater wearing riff raff be damned! It’s funny, for a culture which obsesses over its own version of a socialist democracy, there is definitely a class distinction in Montreal, a huge gulf between the elegantly beautiful people one sees sipping wine while they debate whether or not Celine Dion has sold out by going to Vegas and the surly, grunting poutine eaters who hang around outside the old hockey Forum, chain smoking and waiting for the day when “Quebec is finally free!”

(Another sidebar: for those unfamiliar with the tediously drawn out Quebec/Canada situation, about every five years the province threatens to leave the country and become an independent state unto itself. On the world stage, this would have the same impact as if The Bronx left New York City but a small, vocal minority insists they need to be “free”. Frankly, unless somebody invents a car which runs on strippers and maple syrup, an independent Quebec would wither on the vine and end up being purchased by Disney. Coming soon: FrenchLand!)

Lest anybody calls me on “snobbery”, I should clarify something: it’s not about money, it’s about style. I’ve seen struggling college students in this town dressed as if they just fell off a Milan catwalk
and multi-millionaires who look like overdone trailer trash. In this respect, Montreal truly is a European city.

After our meal, we decided to hit a couple of nightspots. My dedicated readers know this usually means a visit to one of my favorite “cabarets” – and by “cabaret” I mean, of course, Gay Strip Bar.

However, in spite of the fact that he has weight-lifted, tanned, plucked, shaved and primped himself into a picture of glowing masculine beauty that would make even Helen Keller moist, our young Mr. Roberts is an avowed heterosexual. Heaven knows he’s had the opportunity to stray; over the years I’ve taken him to dozens of gay bars where he’s endured more attempted hits than the Sopranos, but he still can’t sing a show tune to save his life. So tonight, it was HIS turn to choose the entertainment.

Given that Shawn’s taste in women runs from the predictable to the obvious – ie: women who look like underage porn stars – it should come as no surprise that I found myself in a cab next to a slightly inebriated thespian, hurtling through the excruciatingly cold Montreal night on my way to a “straight” strip club. Now I haven’t been in the same room as a naked woman since my last trip to the Louvre, and she was made of marble, so a certain apprehension hung in the air. But I figured, if Shawn could endure the stares of my gay brethren every time he bent over to pick up his car keys, I can suffer through a breast or two.

The cab driver took a decidedly leering interest in our destination, recommending one specific corner in a rather seedy part of town, where flashing neon and fluorescent signs promised Le Sexe and Le Strip and Les Nudes Girls. Disembarking to the ominous sound of the cabbie chuckling, we randomly chose what looked like the most upscale of the strip clubs and headed inside. The place was utterly dark, the sole light coming from slick, life size photographic murals of buxom blonde women, airbrushed to an almost alien quality and as we stumbled up the dimly lit stairs and I was suddenly reminded of the grotesque bordello scene in David Fincher’s “SEVEN”.

But I kept climbing anyway, following the ever-more eager Shawn up into the shadows and imagining that once I had a drink or two in me at the bar, things would sort themselves out.

Sadly, such was not to be. Pushing through the greasy double doors into what was advertised as “Le Lounge”, we were accosted by the overwhelming smell of cheap perfume and talcum powder, and the distant sounds of bad porn music. Suddenly, out of a dark corner lunged a sad faced woman with a Russian accent as thick as her eyebrows. She was, I suddenly realized, “The Hostess” and this was, to be blunt about it, a House of Ill Repute.

With barely a “bon soir”, and in a display of pantomimed gestures that would have impressed Marcel Marceau, this sexual Used Car Saleswoman graphically detailed what part of “Les Girls” we could touch, where we, “Les Boys” would be touched, and what we could “insertez” into which “L’Orifice”. As if this weren’t enough, she also explained that we didn’t need to use protection – which in these circumstances could be anything from condoms to hollow point bullets – and then offered up a deluxe package for 75 dollars which would involve full intercourse AND one free beer. Domestic, of course.

I turned to Shawn and was startled to see he had turned as pale as I felt. But we both kept listening attentively even as, while we backed toward the doors, this Morticia Addams of Sleaze actually began to lower her price, promising that for as little as forty dollars (Canadian, mind you!) one of us could get “le satisfaction” while the other watched and ostensibly “le satisfied” himself.

Trust me, the only thing I was interested in “beating” was a hasty retreat. We thanked her “no” and then, inexplicably, we both shook her hand before leaving, gentlemen to the end. As we fled to the street, squinting in the bright lights and ready to sell blood for a cab, all I could think about was where I could find the nearest bottle of Purell…enough to bathe in.

Later that night, in an attempt to cleanse our eyes of what we’d just seen, we watched Cary Grant – the ultimate gentleman - save the world in a flawless grey suit as he romped through Mr. Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”. Shawn admitted over one final martini that he had been completely mortified by the entire experience. I felt for him; the ultra conservative religious types are always attacking gay culture as being immoral and against nature but after seeing the inside of La Bordello Heterosexual, I am serious worried about entrusting the continuation of the species to straight people.

I’m not saying homosexuals are above moral reproach, but at least our whorehouses have better lighting.

ALL HAIL JACK DANIELS!

Woke up this fine snow-swept morning feeling as if somebody had wrapped barbed wire around a baseball bat and shoved it down my throat while I was asleep. My first thought was that whichever background kid’s mother has been sending hate mail to my blog had in fact put some kind of voodoo curse on me to drive me out of Montreal before finishing the movie.
I struggled to find the phone before remembering that it hasn’t worked properly since I checked into Barbie’s Soviet Whorehouse--constantly ringing and beeping for no apparent reason, and it was currently buried under a towel in the hall closet. So in a classic Hollywood Idiot moment, I used my home cell phone to dial our Set Doctor, listening as the connection sniffed its way across the three time zones from Montreal all the way to Los Angeles and back again to Montreal. I can already hear my mom saying “You’re wasting all that money on a local call when there are poor, phone-less children in Africa who can’t even afford to DIAL 411?” but I don’t care – I’m sick and I want somebody to make me better NOW!

Our Doctor, an endearing eccentric who knows more about me than my last seventy eight boyfriendspatiently listened to my hypochondriatic wailings and got me an appointment with a specialist at the Montreal Jewish Hospital, despite the fact that I’m not a Jew. I am, however, Jew-ish, so off I went across town in yet another disturbing cab ride – this time, the driver was a maniacal Jamaican lady who sang religious hymns at the top of her lungs as she drove, probably to make up for the fact that she was working on a Sunday.

Having been spoiled by my private doctor in California – a guy so hip he’s got a mid-century designed office inside a gym - it’s been a long time since I’ve visited a public hospital, and almost two decades since I’ve patronized the much-touted Canadian health care system. I am however glad to say not much has changed since the eighties.
The hospitals themselves usually have all the architectural charm of a Russian cellblock and smell like a cross between cheap disinfectant and day old baby urine. If you actually manage to find your way through the rabbit warren of hallways and torture chamber/examination rooms, you still have to fill out umpteen forms and then, in spite of having a fixed appointment time, you end up waiting anyway for about two hours in a dingy hallway, dodging the chunks of asbestos falling from the rotted ceiling tiles while sitting on plastic chairs deemed hazardous to your spinal health in at least a dozen government reports and thumbing through four year old magazines as your fellow patients wheeze and hack up phlegm balls the size of armadillos while they tell you about their last nine surgical procedures and how they’re thinking of launching a malpractice suit against their doctor – the same doctor you’re about to see.

But hey, at least it’s free.

When my turn at the chopping block finally came, the Doctor looked at me sideways and asked: “So, what’s the problem?” I started to tell him about my throat when the phone rang. He answered it, barked a few choice "mots francais" into the receiver, and then slammed the phone down. Looked at me again. “So, you’re from the States?”

I nodded, starting to explain what I was doing in Montreal, but he stopped me by shoving a form across the desk: “Sign this.”

I asked what it was and he sighed as if he was talking to a two year old hamster. “Legal form. Prevents you from suing me. All you Americans ever do is sue each other.”

I explained I was actually a Canadian and assured him I had no interest in suing him, but he wasn’t interested. I signed, he stuck a swab down my throat and gave it back to me in a plastic baggie. “Drop this at the lab downstairs on your way out. That’ll be a hundred dollars. Canadian.”

So much for my birthright. Apparently free health care is just for the locals.

There was another line up outside the lab door and frankly, at that point, my throat wasn’t bothering me as much as blowing a C note on a glorified Q-Tip had. I decided to cut my losses. I tossed the baggie into the trash, grabbed a bottle of "medicine" at the local boozery and engaged in a little home remedy of my own.