Sunday, December 05, 2004

Grey, grey, grey, grey * Cornelius

This must be at least the fourth totally grey day in a row, and it's amazing that I haven't gone berserk. My brain is just starving for the sight of a radiant blue sky and geographical features for my eyes to settle on. TV is not good enough, photos on the computer are even more ridiculous. Gigantic cinema screens are a help, but gosh, I know at this time of the year, if I stepped off a plane into even just the winter sunlight of Southern Spain, my head would explode with the things that I'm struggling to keep alive.

Much as I hate the decorating I'm struggling with, the necessity of using a halogen worklamp is genuinely helping my SeLLIC (Seasonal Low Light Intensity Condition). I've had moments when I think I'm going down, but for this time of year, I'm actually relatively more alive than usual. But not by any means happy.

Beer is a big, big help. At the Angel on Friday night, 3 cans of Stella were enough to get me to the point where I actually took in the gaudy Christmas decorations, could have a dance, enjoy the present, and then depart into the past. What a bizarre effect that is: it is a very tame version of the maudlin state. Tame because of my usually self-limiting genetic tolerance of alcohol.

So at the end of the evening, in the company of Col and Nick, and the reckless assortment you find in an East End joint, where did my mind disappear to? In that moment when suddenly I remembered something that made me aware that I have nowt in common with anyone else in the bar?

To Toronto in 1983, at Cornelius, a bar upstairs above the Gas Works, on Yonge Street a block or two north of Wellesley. The Gas Works was a totally rocking straight bar, full of young baseball-cap-wearing long-haired blue collar workers. In this era, Yonge Street was a cruising strip of vice and iniquity, and the industrialized Great Lakes were still focussed on mind-numbing, dirty, intensive, semi-skilled-labour manufacturing. Heavy metal music was all the life that some of these people could cling to, after their weeks of soulless Metropolis-style factory drudgery. And into Toronto, to Yonge Street they would head on a Saturday night, driving their trucks with furry dice hanging from the rear view mirror, looking for trouble, alcohol, a woman or two to do, and even harder stuff like heroin.

Above this, a gay bar that was the most sexy, (without being seriously sleazy like the others), Cornelius was the dancebar destination for the early Eighties clone in Toronto. They were averaging in their 30's, with moustaches and sometimes beards, and many of them were stunningly, stunningly handsome. They were after all, gathered from not just Southern Ontario, but often visiting from Montreal, New York, and the dreary sprawling towns around the Great Lakes.

And they all could dance, just as in Andrew Holleran's book, Dancer from the Dance. And they all were genuinely celebrating the freedom they had, because behind them were conservative, restrained upbringings, and outside was a social structure that was still so homogeneously effective and nurturing, that they could AFFORD to rebel against it.

I doubt many of them are still alive, for they were the ones that were most knocked down by AIDS. Their good looks and pleasure-seeking lifestyles, their mythical Seventies belief that Doctors could cure anything with antibiotics, meant that they were the among the first to be affected. And if I had been born any earlier, and more good looking, neither would I be here today.

So give me sunshine, a blue sky, and something to look at, and memoirs are unnecessary. By the way, nothing in Toronto today remains of that pre-Aids celebratory indulgent atmosphere. If you find a social holdout anywhere, it will only be ridiculous nostalgia, like Cliff Richard.

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