The Man in the Wooden Bow Tie

I have a story to tell you that involves $5 red wine and a room filled with power gays; but first I must confide to you that after months of searching, I have settled on a coffee shop. Designated by myself, I have officially become the writer-in-residence at Café Artigiano on the corner of Main Street and King Ed. Any day I am not hungover, you can find me here, sipping on dark roast and seated next to the first available outlet.

As I have always said, "home is where the coffee shop is." It has not been since my fellowship at the Starbucks on the corner of River and Osborne in Winnipeg that I have felt this connected to Vancouver. Who would have thought it would take me six years, four postal codes and one major wardrobe change before I felt like I was finally at home?

Out of all the obstacles this city has presented me with - managing to feel settled has no doubt been one of the most difficult. Now please knock on wood so i don't set off an earthquake with this post.

Now on to the story about the cheap red wine and attractive gays.

Two weeks ago, I received a delightful Facebook message from the Patron Saint of the West End inviting me to a fundraiser for a local queer theatre company, Zee Zee. Saint West (for short) is the club owner of two of the hottest gay bars in town: 1181 and XY. As if strobe lights were not enough, she also plays host and sponsor to a number of VIP community events including fundraisers, improv nights, talent shows and just this past summer, my 30th birthday party.

After begging Hot Ryan at the restaurant to cover my shift, I happily RSVP’d and purchased my ticket to the event.

Fast-forward to 6:30pm last Wednesday and you will find me at home in a pair of Joe Fresh sweatpants and a Winnipeg Jets t-shirt. Standing in front of my closet with a tuna sandwich on multigrain and a glass of red wine, I debated which outfit I was going to wear to the event. 

No problem Rugged, I thought to myself, now that you are a new man who has exchanged surface values for deeper principles, you will simply wear your plaid shirt and blue jeans and trust that people will see the real you.

Finishing the last bite of crust, I changed into the same outfit I wore at the restaurant the previous night. Doing up the top button, I noticed a tomato stain on my right sleeve (some things never change) and suddenly remembered that I had RSVP'd to a first class fundraiser and not trivia night on Main Street.

As CBC radio played in my bedroom, I glanced at my alarm clock and noticed that I was running short on time. Sifting through all of my dress shirts, vests and blazers, I pulled out my go-to outfit for A-List events in the city: a black collar shirt with black, dress pants, shoes, socks and a belt. Rugged! My neurons fired, you are not working the event, you are a guest at it! 

After three additional outfit changes that ranged in temperature from butch lumberjack to flaming queen, I finally decided on a semi-formal ensemble that simmered on a medium heat. 

At 7:42PM, I arrived fashionably late for the main event. Unzipping my jacket, I revealed a pistaschio dress-shirt that popped out from underneath a forest green sweater. Pulling the two layers together was a wooden bowtie that I purchased from a local designer. La pièce de résistance suggested that not only was I dressed-up strong and silent like a tree but also that I like wood. From beneath my belt a pair of dark denim blue jeans casually cascaded into brown leather boots. 

Strutting down the hall and into the main room, I visually checked off a guest list that was signed by the city's most attractive people under the rainbow. Ready to get set and network, I placed one foot in front of the other, but then -! without warning -! I was struck by a tidal wave of anxiety! Frozen at the starting gate, I inhaled one deep breath, slowly turned around and sought refuge in the gender-neutral washroom.  

Locked inside the centre stall, I cursed myself for forgetting one major weakness that I learned years ago when I first started managing the Meatball Hut: I am terrible at networking! Blast! When it comes to social events like this calibre, I only feel comfortable when I am walking around with a tray of canapes in my left hand and stack of cocktail napkins in my right. When I am left on my own accord, I typically enter a revolving line-up to the bar that ends with me drunk and talking to a flower-pot outside. 

Rugged, I reasoned with myself from inside the stall. It is ten to eight, which means it is time to get your shit together. Now unless you are going to toe-tap your way out of here, you are going to have to find another way out. Here is the game plan. First, you think of every mantra from every sports film you have ever seen. Second, you put yourself in front of that mirror on the other side of this door and recite the heck out of them. For the final play, you get your ginger ass back out there and crush it! 

Opening up the door, I caught glimpse of my reflection in the mirror and started to whisper, "I see pride. I see power." Crescendoing into a double fortissimo I belted, "I SEE A BAD-ASS MOTHER WHO DON'T TAKE NO CRAP OFF ANYBODY."

Bouncing up and down, I came to a full-stop when another man walked in the door and then slipped out casually behind him. From there, I made a b-line for the bar.

Three glasses of $5 red wine and one temporary ban from all cell phone privileges later, I was finally ready to interact with another human being. By the grace of Meryl Streep I did not have to look far because as soon as I stood up, a lady appeared with shoulder length blonde hair and a 5-gallon black top hat.

“Do I know you?” she asked, extending her free hand to shake.

“No, I don’t think so,” I replied, clearing my throat.

“You remind me of a movie star.” She continued, taking a sip of white wine.

“You must be able to see in the future then," I grinned. "My name is Rugged, Rugged Fox.”

In the next half-hour, this wonderful angel in a top hat introduced me to all the major players at the fundraiser. First I met the owners of the Elbow Room Café, a restaurant insitutiton in downtown Vancouver and the inspiration behind one the theatre company's upcoming plays. Next, I was swept into an introduction with the company's charasmatic artistic director as well as his husband, a distinguished playwright. Following that, I proceeded to meet a whole cast of well-dressed characters who shared an interest in theatre and a passion for supporting local art.

"I don't know how to thank you," I said to the magical lady in the top hat. She had saved me from drowning in a plastic cup of red wine.

"Just pay it forward," she said, tipping her hat and disappearing into the crowd.

When the night ended, I stepped outside on to West 8th avenue and hailed a cab with a happy buzz and three business cards in my right jean pocket. Seeing my breath plume into the frosty air, I started singing the words, "Nuff people say, you know they can't believe, Jamaica we have a bobsled team."



@1181Lounge - Vancouver's Top Boutique Lounge. 1181 Davie Street.

@XYYVR -  Jaw-Dropping Nightclub in heart of Davie Village. 1216 Bute Street.


@getyourbo - BÖ by Mansouri - Local designer, exquisite wooden bow ties.


@zeezeetheatre - Check out the upcoming works at the 2016 Push Festival in January.