City of Valleys – 1 



Kevin longed to press his face against the airplane window to get closer to the city that sprawled under the thin clouds. But the last thing he wanted was to appear any younger than the nineteen-year-old he was. He did manage a “Holy Shit” under his breath.

Amazement turned to fear as he felt his aloneness amongst the millions of people in the jumble of houses and high-rises that flashed beneath him. Not total aloneness, as his cousin Mitch had moved to Toronto about two years ago.

“I’ll be your beachhead,” Mitch told him.


“Toe-hold in a new city.”


“A contact, for fuck sake. Someone you know who can show you the ropes.”

“Why didn’t you say that. Fucking beachhead.”

“What did you think I meant? Suckin’ dick in the sand?”

Not a bad idea. 

Holy shit! Holy shit! Holy shit! He nudged his face inch closer to the window. Not that I care if there’s sand as long as there’s dick.


Steven glanced at his watch. Ten minutes left of his shift. That idiot Brad better show up. He had an audition at seven which he could make if he got out of this hell-hole when he was supposed to at six.

“Lubba’s” wasn’t a hell-hole, but after a long lunch, one man short, it sure felt like hell. This was Steven’s first audition in six months and that was three months too long. His skin ached for stage lights.

Five to six and no Brad. The supper crowd would start in soon and Luke would expect him to stay.

Steven slipped into the staff room to change out of the white shirt and black pants that was his table jockey drag. He made a quick swipe at the day’s sweat on his chest and underarms. A swift spray of deodorant and he reached for a fresh shirt. The door behind him swung open.

“No.” He didn’t turn.

“Give me the chance to ask,” Luke purred. “Brad called and he’s on his way. Could you …”

“No can do. I’ve covered for his sorry ass twice this week.”

“Almost as many times as he’s covered for yours.”

“Luke, you know I have an audition at seven.”

Luke lifted an eyebrow. “Jesus, why are all waiters actresses?”

“It gets us better tips when we pretend to really, really like the special of the day.”

“Which can’t be easy when you call cannelloni, cantaloupi.”

“I forget levity is frowned upon by upper management.”

Steven threw his work pants into his gym bag and pushed past Luke. Their eyes locked.

“I’ll cover for Brad.” He caressed Steven’s ass.

“Mr. Kwan, being co-owner of this two-bit joint don’t give you the right to grope me when you feel like it.” Steven used his best tough-gal attitude.

“What time’ll you be home?”

“Luke, haven’t you had enough of me for one day?”

“Honey, ain’t no such thing as enough. Good luck.” They kissed quick. “Or should I say break a nail?”

Steven flew out the door and hailed a cab.


David saw the movement out of the corner of his eye. Why does this always happen to me? He caught the woman’s eye. She knew that he’d seen her slip the book into a pocket.

“Can I help you?” He stepped towards her.

Her initial fear hardened into a brassy fuck you.

“Listen,” he whispered, “the books are electronically tagged. An alarm will go off if you try to leave without paying for it.”

“Are you accusing me of somethin’?” She extended her neck. “Just because I’m … I’m …” She faltered as she saw no one paid any attention to them. She tugged the book out and dropped it. “Shove it up your ass … nigger.” She smiled and left the store.

Tense with anger, David picked up the book. At least she didn’t call me faggot too. They don’t pay me enough to take this kind of crap.


The train pulled into the platform. Yves quickened his steps only to be faced by a rush of people up the stairs. Once again the escalator was shut down for repairs.

Was there some sort of escalator flu that struck at rush hour? Did their innards enjoy it when men in grimy coveralls and grease-blackened hands worked them over? 

He watched the guys at work on the escalator’s gears while he waited for the wave of people to wash up the stairs. One of the workers wiped his hands with a blue hanky. Hum, never seen one of those used for that. 

If he hadn’t stopped to clear a spot for his “Room for rent in a gay household” flyer he would have been there for this train.

He walked down the stairs. He had time before his shift at the hospice. He liked to be early to drop in on his current pet patients. He wasn’t supposed to get “involved” but after five years he hadn’t learned the trick that shut off his heart.

He couldn’t massage without sharing more than the friction of his hands with the stubborn, fragile bodies of the HIV’s on whom he worked. Each touch needed a bit of the heart to convey any healing. He tapped the cross around his neck, it held the heart of Christ that passed between his hands and the hearts of the men he touched.


Steven was breathless after he sprinted up to the studio. At the top of the stairs a printed sign pointed the way: “Thicket Auditions around the corner.” “Corner” had been crossed-out and “bend” scrawled underneath it. He smiled at the joke as he turned the corner and was in the room.

At the far end a bald man picked up some papers that had scattered on the hardwood floor. He pushed his glasses back, “Steven Thomas?”


The man extended his hand, “Evan Daniels. Pleased to meet you. Pic? Res?”

“Oh yes, yes.” Steven unzipped his gym bag and took out an 8-by-10 with his résumé stapled to the back. “The pic is about a year old. I can shave my moustache or do whatever with my hair. There’s a misprint in my height. As you can tell I’m 5-foot-6 and not 6-foot-5.”

Evan glanced at the picture as he handed Steven three pages. “Read these over and we’ll take it from there.”

A cold read. God I hate this business. He took a breath and scanned the page. He sensed Evan’s eyes on him. 

“Mind if I … uh … go around the bend and read these?”

“Certainly,” Evan chuckled.


David sat heavy on the sofa, clicked on the TV remote, slipped his loafers off, closed his eyes to enjoy that first moment of cool on his feet. The man who invented air-conditioned shoes would make a fortune. He opened his eyes to the clutter around him. Where was the TV Guide? It’s listings were a more reliable guide to important future events than astrology.

It was in the little dining nook by the remains of his breakfast. He didn’t want to expend the energy to get it. He put the remote down and took off his socks, tie, shirt, t-shirt. He lifted his butt an inch off the couch to slip off his pants and underwear and took them to his bedroom.

He stroked the red, white and black H’matta mask on the wall. The wooden tribal totem had been handed down from his great-grandmother, it was the dual-sexed spirit of abundance. “What do have planned for me tonight?”

The door buzzer rang. It was Robert Ing, aka Miss Ing Thing.

He buzzed Ing in and slipped on sweat pants and a T-shirt. He glanced at the mannequin in the corner that nagged him to finish what he had fallen asleep in the midst of two nights ago. The inspiration had ebbed, and as he studied it, the gilt patina of gold weave sent him a guilt signal. The over-wrought piece was for Miss Ing Thing, one of the drag stars of the city, who was there to check on the gown’s progress.

David had designed special costumes for several years. When he had started, he hoped it was an entree into the fashion world.

Ing lit a cigarette and looked over the work.

“I promised you something with a collar bigger than your ego.” A three foot gold collar jutted up around the neck of the dress.

“In that case I’d have to wear the CN Tower and my neck isn’t  that thick.”

“You can always use it as a butt plug,” David retorted. “But we wouldn’t see it.”

“Are you saying my butt is a bottomless pit?” Robert stubbed out his cigarette.

“It’s a hard reputation to live up to, but you’ve got what it takes.”

Ing was small, around five foot, and demanded gowns to help him tower over the giant drag queens in the city. 

“Big collar means lower heels.”

“If my heels get any higher I’ll be wearing chairs. David, baby, I love the collar, but will they see my little face in there?”

“As long as you keep your mouth open they will.”


“Thank you.”

“Will it be ready for Pride Day?”

“Sure. A few more stitches and a fitting.” Stitches! Ha, more like welds. These gowns weren’t dresses but sculptures to catch the wild spirits of the wearers.

“I must run. I have to check the flyers for my hospice benefit next week. You will be there? I’ll be wearing your road-kill number. They love it when I wear the Leader of the Pack on my back. Remember no one else is to set eyes on this till they see me enter in it.” Ing shut David’s balcony curtains. 

“Tata.” With a quick peck on David’s cheek he was gone.

David remembered this was the night he had promised to drop in on Mark at the hospice.


Kevin, in the middle of the Terminal, was unsure which direction was which. He didn’t want to drag his bags any farther and was afraid to leave them to look for a phone. His Mom had warned him that she had seen on TV, how people turned to talk on the phone and then turned back to find their stuff gone.

Mitch was supposed to meet him here forty minutes ago. Had Mitch got the time wrong? Was that Toronto time or east coast time? His watch was still east coast so he reset it. Was he an hour late, early or what? And he had to piss bad on top of everything. Where was that goddamned Mitch?

Over the crowd he heard his name. A moment later Therese appeared.

“Mitch is at the bar.”

“How unlike him.”

“Tell me about it.” She pulled back her thick black hair and pushed it into an elastic hair band. “How was the flight?”

“Good. I gotta take a leak, bad.” He was about to dart to the toilets, but where were they?

“That way honey,” Therese laughed. “Just past that gap after the broken pop machine.”

“Be right back.”

The washroom was cool and silent. Several men were there and he had to wait for a urinal. He wasn’t sure where to look. Someone exited a stall and he dashed in.

When he was done he went to the sink and while he washed his hands he looked at the reflection of the people behind him. The moustache he had started three weeks ago had began to fill in as reddish fuzz. It matched his freckles but not his dark brown hair. His eyes met the eyes of someone in the mirror. Was that an invitation? 

He blushed and rushed out. It took a minute for him to reorient himself. When he got back to Therese, Mitch was with her.

“Well cuz, welcome to the big bad city.” He gave Kevin a huge hug. “We’re gonna have to get some meat on them bones.”

Mitch was a big guy. At 6-foot-2 he was at almost a head taller than Kevin. He’d been a high school wrestling champ and his job had kept his muscle from the decay into fat. He worked construction as a cement finisher and promised to get Kevin a job.

“Let’s haul ass while the light shines,” he barked.

They gathered up his suitcases, duffel bag and guitar case, and went to Mitch’s van in the parking garage. 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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