During the second week, running the bistro became much easier. Marty was an incredible catch. He became a veritable waffle chef, turning out incredible looking waffles slathered in berries and whipped cream and he came up with the idea of dusting them with icing sugar – a brilliant finishing touch. He worked so hard at bussing tables and keeping up on the dishes that I actually started to feel guilty. I wondered if he was only working so hard because I was the first person in his life that fully accepted him as being gay without looking to exploit him in some way. If so, then I felt I just might be exploiting him by letting him work so hard.
This isn’t to say that having Marty around made life at the bistro a bed of roses. His coming out was a lengthy process and his initial steps were sometimes awkward. He tried to adopt a more flamboyant gait and gestures which sometimes came across as an embarrassing impersonation of a prime time television comic relief homosexual. Marty just wasn’t that flavour of gay. His boyish looks and skeletal thin body definitely gave him the delicate look of some gay men but his country upbringing had conditioned him to other ridiculously exaggerated faux-macho behaviors.
I noticed a slight change in afternoon traffic as well. There were a few more afternoon coffee regulars, all men, who sat alone sipping on Americanos, watching Marty bus tables. These men never made eye contact with one another, however. Then one afternoon a lanky, scrubby-looking young man came in as I was standing at the register and Marty was doing dishes.
“What can I get for you today?” I asked.
“Uhm, yeah. There used to be a bookstore around here,” he said, leaning over the counter.
“I wouldn’t know. I’m not from here,” I said.
“Uhm, yeah, do you have a guy named Marty working here?”
This guy had a really creepy demeanor and I began to worry that he was going to lean even closer and ask me if I wanted to buy a letter ‘s’. He rolled onto his side on the counter and stared out the front window continuing his hum’s and hah’s. Another customer came through the door and approached the register and I didn’t want this weirdo creeping her out.
“Yes, there is a guy named Marty working here,” I answered.
“Uhm, yeah, he might know about the bookstore,” he said.
“Well he’s working right now,” I blurted.
Just then Marty came through the swinging doors of the kitchen with his hips swinging like an ice skater. The fellow in front of me bolted straight up and his eyes nearly burst from their sockets. He spun on his heels and sped out the front door. After serving the lady that came in behind him I went into the kitchen to ask Marty if he had any idea what had just happened.
“Marty, did you know that creep?” I asked, ever so tactfully.
“Uh, yeah. It’s a long story,” he replied.
“Give me the Cliffs Notes.”
“You remember I mentioned the part about me being with other men?”
“Yes. He was one of them?”
“And what does the bookstore have to do with it?”
“That’s one of the pickup spots.”
“So there IS a gay scene in Humbug after all,” I declared.
“NO!” Marty exclaimed, “These guys aren’t gay.”
“Oh shit. This IS going to be a long story,” I lamented.
Marty went on to tell me about the Humbug ‘Non-Gay’ scene where ‘Non-Gay’ men ‘hooked up’ and ‘helped each other out’.” Apparently the idea was that they weren’t gay because all of them were either married or had girlfriends, but sometimes a woman just isn’t interested in keeping a man ‘well taken care of’. These Non-Gay men had ‘no other choice’ but to seek out other men in similar situations so they could ‘help each other out’. The old fashioned way was to frequent certain locations – the sort where most redneck men wouldn’t be caught dead - and pass a series of ‘signals’.
“You gotta be shittin’ me!” I exclaimed.
“No. That’s just the way it is here,” Marty explained.
“These guys aren’t ‘Non-Gay’. At very least they’re bisexual.”
“That’s not the way they see it,” he further explained.
“So what part of having another man’s cock in their mouth is ‘Non-Gay’?” I demanded.
“Well, they don’t kiss or cuddle – EVER!”
“Ok, so a guy can give you a hand job – but as long as you don’t kiss he still thinks he’s straight?”
“That’s about it.”
“You do know that they are gay, or at least bi, right?”
“That’s how I look at it but that’s not the way it works.”
“And so why was he so shocked to see you then?”
“He was probably freaked out to see me gaying it up.”
“Oh! So it was ok to have sex with you as long as you both acted all tough about it but as soon as you start moving your hips he’s freaked to see you acting like a fag?”
Humbug had just launched to a new level of weird. I couldn’t believe that this little inbred town had actually managed to develop a gay scene based on a set of protocols that declared all same sex encounters to be justified as ‘Non-Gay’ based on a predetermined absence of affection. My imagination couldn’t begin to stretch to encompass this and I needed more information.
“How do you even find out about this in the first place?” I asked Marty.
“I was lucky. I ran into someone on the internet.”
“Ok, you can find everything on the net - but the Humbug Non-Gay hookup scene? How the hell does that work?”
“Well I started out by finding men from Humbug on chat channels. We’ld talk about sports and stuff and they would offer to send me a picture of themselves when they used to play football or wrestle or whatever. They’ld send a naked photo and then say, ‘oops, that was for my girlfriend,’ and I would say it was ok but that they had a pretty good build. We’ld talk about how women just can’t always please a man and stuff like that and eventually it would lead to a hook-up.”
“So they’ld give you their address then?”
“No!” he exclaimed, “It always remains anonymous.”
“So how would you meet?”
“They would tell me where to park and then give me directions to an alley or something. Usually I wound up knocking on the door of a shed that lead into the alley.”
“Christ! You could get killed doing something like that!”
“I never really thought about it that way,” he said.
He went on to tell me that with each new guy he would learn more of the ‘signals’ for hooking up the old fashioned way. Apparently there was a real trust building process in the Humbug Non-Gay community and new members had to ‘help out’ a lot of old members before they could gain access to the Non-Gay signal corps.
“And no one has ever been jumped by bashers?” I asked.
“It’s happened,” he admitted, “but no one ever does it twice.”
“What the hell?” I exclaimed, “There is some sort of Non-Gay mafia?”
“Sort of. Whenever some farm boys pull something like that they usually go to the bar and brag about it. If one of the guys hears about it he’ll put the word out and they get jumped even worse when they leave the bar. Sometimes a couple of them are taken into an alley and taught the big lesson.”
“They are beaten really badly then?”
“No. Well they are beaten – but also fucked.”
“Christ! Don’t say one more fucking word!”
My head was reeling. Non-Gays raping gay bashers in an alley in defense of gay rights was more than I could absorb. You hear about things like this sometimes, in twisted stories that you never believe are actually true, but to hear it in this way nauseated me. Not only was this little town so homophobic that the gay men had to create this bizarre Non-Gay culture, but there was a systematic Non-Gay justice system doling out male rape.
“Marty,” I continued, “you need to get the hell out of this town.”
“No kidding. I love working here, and I really am thankful you are so cool about me, but I just want to earn enough money to move to Cuspidor.”
“You’re working fulltime now, kid.”
As if the Non-Gay hookup scene wasn’t enough to worry about, I began to witness the influx of yet another Non-Gay paradigm. A ridiculously flamboyant fellow walked in just as the coffee leeches were leaving. He had his left hand in the air, palm up, with his knuckles as close to his shoulder as humanly possible. As he walked he swung his elbow and with his right hand he flung the loose end of his scarf over his shoulder. I found it odd that Lyle Duerr didn’t even give the chubby little flamer a second glance, what with homophobia running so high in Humbug.
“Hello,” he lilted, “I’m brother Th-teven.”
“Oh my. Are you here to speak with Marty?”
“Yeth, if you wouldn’t mind.”
This guy was the most ridiculous parody of a gay man I had ever seen. I had no idea how he managed to walk the streets of Humbug without ending up at the end of a rope behind a pick-up truck. I wondered if he might not be the Godfather of the gay mafia. I had to start cooking lunch so I just called Marty to the front and went back into the kitchen. I only caught snippets of their conversation as I transferred lunch to hot holding up front, but what I heard was as strange and bizarre as the ‘Non-Gay’ scene. Once again I began looking around for hidden cameras.
“Thith ithn’t really you, Martin. You are only doing thith becauthe you are lonely….”
“…Come back, Martin. Jethuth can fill that void for you.”
I have known a lot of gay people in my life and I’ve never been one for taking the low road on gay innuendo but my mind was tugged by an anchor to the lowest thought. It wasn’t Jesus that was going to be filling any voids at the monastery and those voids weren’t located in the heart; but I digress. Eventually a few customers walked in close to the Flintstone whistle and the little gay brother pranced out the door, turning to say, “Jethuth won’t give up on you, Martin!”
After lunch I asked Marty how this little gay brother managed to prance about so excessively without setting off homophobia alerts throughout Humbug. Marty explained that people in town just refused to believe that the brothers were gay. They had developed a mythology that explained their flamboyant ways as the result of their relationship with god. It was thought that these men lived so close to heaven that they lost all aspects of their sexuality and took on non-gender personas. Their flamboyance was considered to be a direct measure of their piousness.
“You gotta be shittin’ me?” I exclaimed.
“I’m not, I assure you.”
“So no one in town thinks these guys are gay?”
“Nope. Just pious. Close with god.”
“And you had NO suspicions when you joined the monastery?”
“None at all. I truly believed that their total devotion to their relationship with god had in some way made them eunuchs. I wanted so bad to be like them – to not have to be all macho anymore. I prayed everyday I was there to have god make me like them - to remove all my sexual urges.”
“So you basically hoped to be psychologically castrated?”
“I guess that’s one way to put it. I wanted to be pious like them. I wanted to be free of all physical desire and to live that life. It was the only way I could avoid having to get married but still have a great relationship with my family.”
“I can see now why you were so upset about what was really going on out there.”
Over the next few days, a few more brothers came prancing in to try to convince Marty to return. As I looked at each of these old withering pederasts I came to see just why they were so eager to have a young, healthy, gangly boy like Marty return. To these lonely old souls Marty must have looked like filet mignon.
By the time Jeffrey returned at the end of the week, Marty was getting just a little bit better at gaying it up. Marty and I agreed that Jeffrey should know that Marty was gay in order to reduce the chance of awkward slips. To Marty’s surprise, Jeffrey was almost as indifferent about Marty’s homosexuality as I had been.
“So you’re just fine with me being gay?” Marty asked.
“Of course!” Jeffrey said.
“I’m glad I don’t make you uncomfortable,” Marty sighed.
“Heck,” Jeffrey said, “just remember to come to me when you want to get married!”
“What?” I exclaimed, “Did you just propose to him?”
“What? No!” Jeffrey exclaimed, “I’m a pastor with the United Church! We’re the church that performs gay marriages!”
We all burst out laughing for several minutes. It was then that I saw the humour in me, an atheist, working with a gay ex-brother and a pastor. There had to be a joke in there somewhere. An atheist restauranteur, gay ex-monk, and a United Church pastor walk into a bar….
We all kept working on a punch line for the joke but the best we could come up with was, “And the bar was in Humbug, the most Catholic, homophobic town in Canada.” Then Jeffrey asked me if I had noticed a strong homophobic element in town. Without relating the details of the Non-Gay hook-up scene or the predatory pederastic monks, I said I had picked up some interesting vibes.
“Yeah,” Jeffrey said, “Not too many people in town are crazy about the United Church.”
“No?” I asked.
“Actually they burned down the first one,” he said.
“What!” I exclaimed.
“Well,” he said, “they blamed it on some troubled kid, but it seemed odd that he was so efficient with his first arson. The church burned to the ground in less than an hour. Apparently the pastor at the time had gotten some weird negative vibes from a lot of people in town the week before the fire.”
“So they burned down the United Church for marrying gays?” I asked.
“It’s tough to say,” he went on, “not many people in the church will talk about it much with me. They are really trying to put it behind them.”
I was now getting deeper into the bowels of Humbug than I cared to tread – and the descent would only continue. On Saturday we had a pretty good flow of customers. Anna was getting better at redirecting the Humbuggers who inquired about the ‘SUPE’ and I was getting better at diverting the inquiries as to my ‘FRUM’. All of us were learning to reboot them from their inevitable Humbug Huhs. Then a man walked in with his adolescent son. As the boy came through the door his head jerked back like it had been tugged by a shepherd’s hook. He had spotted the menu in the foyer and declared, “Dad! It’s Siesta Saturday!”
“What’s that mean, son?” the father asked.
“Uh, I d-don’t know,” the son stuttered back.
Cute little naming conventions on a menu were definitely not the Humbug way. Several of the younger customers reacted similarly – not having any idea what Siesta Saturday meant but quite eager to find out and try something new. One after another, the adolescents with parents were stifled rather quickly. The boy and his father approached the register and decided to each try the ‘bah-ja’ burrito. As I prepared their baja burritos, the boy stared down in wonder.
“Would you like black olives on that?” I asked.
“Oh! Ye..” the boy began to answer with wide eyed enthusiasm.
Just then his father barked, “We’re not a black olive sort of family!” jerking his son’s arm.
I was so startled by the forcefulness of his declaration that I stumbled back a few steps.
“I don’t even know what that means!” I exclaimed.
“NO BLACK OLIVES!” the man barked, even louder.
“Ok, ok, no black olives. Got it, ten four, yes sir.” I said in an irritated tone.
This odd reaction confounded me almost as much as the woman who demanded tacos without shells. This time, however, I would receive an explanation. At the end of the day Marty and I sat down for a beer. I had cut off his hours at 5:00 p.m. but he told me he just wanted to stay and help me finish so we could chat some more. With his help the store was immaculate by 6:30 p.m.
As we sat and drank and laughed about, amongst other things, rednecks ordering ‘SUPE’, he got an uneasy look about him again.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Well, you remember that black olive guy?”
“How could I forget?”
“Be careful asking the real born-and-raised Humbug people if they want black olives.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“It’s one of the signals,” he explained.
“One of the hookup signals?”
“Yeah. And that guy’s son is a real tease in town. He’s too young for anyone to hookup with – they have serious rules about that – but he has good gaydar and knows when he’s being watched. He likes to pose, if you know what I mean. His nickname is Bambi.”
“Damn, so the Non-Gay men know this boy wants it, and know that he poses for them, and they nick name him Bambi, and they still don’t find anything gay about that?”
“I know. It’s an odd situation. They haven’t seen a young one like this before. He’s like the day-walker out of that vampire movie. They always knew one like him would come along but never knew what they would do about it.”
“Obviously his father knows – judging by his reaction.”
“Yeah, and he doesn’t want his son picking up any of the signals.”
“So his father knows the signals?”
“He used to hookup but stopped when his son was born. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Bambi is one hot item here in town and doesn’t know a thing about the scene. I think his dad is scared he’ll actually like black olives and order them without knowing what it means.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake! What the hell happens to other young men who just happen to like black olives in town? Does ordering black olives without knowing lead to dirty old Non-Gay farmers hitting on them?”
“Well most people in town don’t eat black olives. They don’t eat anything different. That’s why it’s used as a signal. No kid is just going to decide he likes black olives if he’s never eaten them before. You might also notice that even some of the fast food places in town that should have black olives on the menu always seem to be out of them.”
“The sub shop was out of them a few weeks ago when I was in there. I never thought anything of it.”
“Yeah, well they are permanently out of them. It causes too much confusion. I just hope the new sub shop opening up on the highway figures it out really quick.”
“Ha, yeah. Otherwise the Humbuggers will be trying to buggerize every tourist who likes black olives on their pizza sub.”
Once again our laughter echoed through the empty restaurant.