Chapter 20: “NO, I’M NOT HIGH!”

MONDAY, 16TH NOVEMBER, 2009

Britney’s purring woke me up, and I found her on my chest. I picked her up and cuddled her. She smelled of the lingonberry pet shampoo that I had used the night before, after I came home from Mykhaylo’s family home. They say that cats hate water, but not Britney. I’ve seen her meow longingly at the window when it is raining outside. Whenever I give her a bath, I feel like going to IKEA and having a plateful of Swedish meatballs and gravy… before I shop for pillows and things like that.

After ten minutes of cuddle time, I headed for the kitchenette. Brandon had already gone to work, and he had left me breakfast on the counter. It was a plate of pea-meal bacon, fried to a crisp yet tender consistency, with a side of softly-scrambled eggs. Next to it was a glass of orange juice, freshly squeezed, with a Post-It attached:

Here’s a little token of my appreciation.

I smiled. And then it hit me: this was the first time since Evan died that anyone had made breakfast for me. Nadine and Joseph never bothered with breakfast when I was growing up, so I made my own from an early age. Nadine was often too hung over to even see me and my siblings off to school in the morning, and Joseph didn’t even bother staying in the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Throughout our relationship, Evan made breakfast for me at least once a week. I did the bulk of the cooking other times of the day. Coincidentally, the first thing that he made me was a plate of pea-meal bacon and softly-scrambled eggs.

I ate my breakfast as I watched Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa chat about something insignificant. As Britney rolled around the carpet, playing with her toy mouse, I wondered about my plans for the day. I figured that it was time for me to find work. Brandon didn’t mind me not having a job, but I wanted to at least prove to him that I could be a productive member of the workforce.

But I needed to organize my closet first. The clothes were all right, but there were some boxes that hadn’t been accounted for since I moved in. As I took out the boxes, I noticed that one of them was chock-full of gay magazines. I put them to the side, and attended to the rest of the boxes. When I had finished turning my closet into a tidy storage space, I sorted the contents of my gay mag stash: a pile of Fab, a pile of The Advocate, a pile of Instinct, and a pile of Fugues, which is a gay magazine from Montreal.

For thirty minutes, I perused through my collection, which had about five years of back issues. I soon wondered about my relationship with the gay community. I had gone to Pride events, I had donated the odd loonie to AIDS charities, and I never denied my sexuality to anyone who asked, not even old Italian women on Corso Italia. But I still felt like I was a passive participant. I had initially made many friends in the community, but time and distance had reduced our relationships to the Facebook variety. Worse, I was the only Italian-Canadian gay person that I knew. And if there were gays in the stripper scene, then I didn’t know it because I rarely interacted with my co-workers.

But I wanted to change all that. I not only wanted to find work, but get back in touch with the community. So I put all the magazines away, gathered copies of my resume, and headed out. The weather was overcast and a bit nippy, but still good enough for a walk to Union Station. From there, I took the subway to Wellesley. A short walk later, I found myself at 519 Church Street, the home of the LGBT Community Centre. I had been there before, but not as of late. I noticed that the old building was being renovated, and that there was a new wing.

I walked into the lobby, and a sense of awe swept over me. I stood there for a few moments, taking it all in, and then:

“Can I help you?”

I didn’t respond. I just stood there.

“Can I help you?”

I snapped out of it. A brunette woman with a lesbian haircut sat at the reception desk. She was wearing an orange sweater.

I walked to the desk. “Umm…”

“Is this your first time here?” she asked.

I couldn’t find the words. “Umm…” It was so humiliating.

“Okay. What’s your name?”

I sucked it up, just. “I’m Graziano… and… umm… I haven’t been here in a while… and… umm…” But I was still fighting for words. I had no idea what was going on. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. I kept breathing heavily and heavily. I began to sweat like a pig. And then, the woman just asked me:

“Are you high?”

“NO, I’M NOT HIGH!” I exploded.

She looked at me funny. I expected her to press the panic button under her desk any moment, if there was one in the first place. I steadied myself and took a few deep breaths.

“I’m Graziano, and I haven’t been here in a while, and I don’t know what I’m looking for,” I finally got the words out of my mouth.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” she said, extending her hand. “I’m Deirdre.”

I shook her hand.

“Excuse me,” she continued, “but aren’t you Graziano Buonfiglio from Earl Haig?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“I was in some of your classes!”

I thought for a moment, and yep, Deirdre had been in some of my classes at Earl Haig, at least one per year. We weren’t friends or anything, but we did see a lot of each other.

“What have you been up to?” she asked.

“A lot, really,” I said. “I’ve been through some things, but I won’t bore you with the details. I’m just here to find some work and resources.”

“Well, we don’t have any openings right now,” Deirdre said, “but volunteer work always looks good on a résumé. And there are job listings on the message boards.” She took out a volunteer application and a list of resources from under her desk, and handed them to me.

“Thanks.” I sat down and filled out the volunteer application. It took all of ten minutes, and meanwhile Deirdre was answering phone calls and talking with other people. After attaching a resume to the application, I handed it back to her.

“Our Volunteer Coordinator will be in touch with you about the next orientation session,” Deirdre said. “Hey, I remember when you had that fight with Mandy Manriquez.”

“Yeah?”

“You didn’t hear this from me, but last I heard, she was doing the ho stroll in Vancouver.”

I chuckled. “Thanks. I’ll see you soon.”

“Take care, Graz.”

I left the Centre rather pleased with myself. I went over to Cawthra Square and walked around for a few minutes. I had a sopressata and provolone panino in my backpack that was screaming for attention, so I took it out and ate it while walking around. Save for the birds, I was the only one in the park.

After I finished my sandwich, I walked a short distance to the Employment Centre on Wellesley. I had never been in any Employment Centre before. In fact, I was very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, the staff treated me with respect and encouragement. They helped me refine my résumé and gave me pointers on job interviews and other stuff. When I left two hours later, I felt a lot better.

Before going home, I stopped at Priape to buy some underwear. Of course, at Priape, you’re not just going to stop in and buy any old pair of undies. Now, I NEVER ever wear white underwear. It may be classic, but I just don’t feel comfortable in it. I almost always wear black or red ones. Anyway, at the check-out counter, the cashier, who was a short but muscular thing, asked me this question:

“Excuse me. Have you done modelling before?”

I initially thought, What a lame-ass question. But I instead replied, “No. Why do you ask?”

“I have a friend who’s a photographer.”

And then I thought, Okay. This is not going to end up good. “Porn or non-porn?”

“You’ve ever seen Steven Underhill’s photos?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, she does similar work. She’s always looking for new subjects.”

Well, I thought about it as I went through my wallet, looking for my debit card. I remembered how Aparecida had suggested I get into stripping. I remembered that Mykhaylo had done porn. After a few moments, I thought, You know what? What do I have to lose?

I handed the cashier my debit card and he rang up my purchase. “What’s her name?”

He handed me a glossy card. The name read NIAMH WOODSIDE PHOTOGRAPHY – NUDES AND SEMI-NUDES, Niamh being pronounced Neve.

“I’ll give her a call.”

I left Priape with two pairs of black underwear and the chance of joining Mykhaylo and Aparecida in the “get naked for cash” camp.

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