When I moved to Vancouver in the late '80s, I became friends with Dale. Dale and I met when I answered a personal ad he placed in "The WestEnder," looking for a relationship. After dating a couple of times, and somewhat to my relief, Dale announced that I wasn't what he was looking for in a partner. Instead, we became the closest of friends over the next several years. Had it not been for him, I don't know what I would have done by myself in the big city.
Dale played a key role in helping me to realize myself as a gay individual, which excited but scared the hell out of me. He took me to gay clubs, like the Gandy Dancer and the Odyssey, where we had some of the best times two gay friends could. He took me to my first drag shows at Doll and Penny's, where I saw just how serious good drag queens took their craft. And he introduced me to Hamburger Mary's (which he affectionately called Hamburger Fairy's), one of the biggest greasy spoons for gays on infamous Davie Street. I lived in Burnaby at the time, and, had it not been for Dale, I probably would have spent my weekends at home, going nowhere near downtown, and missing out on everything that was fun and wonderful and exciting and intriguing and enlightening about being gay in your 20s.
To say that Dale was a character is a gross understatement. He had the quickest wit of any person I've ever known. He found something genuinely funny about anything and everything, and there was no end to the comments he made about people and things and situations that were so hysterical, he'd have us both doubled over in tears for much of the time we spent together.
Dale was filled with favorite expressions, like when we talked about whether someone was gay or straight, and Dale knew he was straight, he'd say he's "as straight as the hem on Lady's Di's dress"--this when Princess Diana was still alive and famous, in part, for her fashionable attire. Or when Dale thought that some gay fellow wasn't attractive, he'd describe him as having "a face like a can of smashed arseholes" (I can't tell you how many times I heard that one, to the point that it ceased being funny). Or when a gay fellow he knew thought he was better than anyone else, Dale would say expressively, "Well, smell her," which he used on me more times than I care to remember.
Yes, Dale had his campy and ribald side, making sexual comments that both shocked you and had you holding yourself to ensure you didn't have an accident in your pants. But he could also be very proper and respectful too, especially in social situations. I was never once embarrassed to be in Dale's company, whether at a fancy restaurant or at the Meridian Hotel for the decadent chocolate buffet. His etiquette was impeccable in those environments, and he was an example of charm and manners. It was from him that I learned you never go to someone's house for dinner without bringing over a suitable and tasteful gift. That bit of advice has done me well over the years.
For all Dale's insane ability to make people laugh--he even talked about performing on amateur nights at Yuk Yuk's, a comedy club in downtown Vancouver, which never happened because he relied too much on being unpolitically correct in order to be funny--he was difficult to be around. Many times, he didn't seem to want friendship from me as much as he wanted a willing audience to laugh at his jokes. Dale had to be constantly "on," performing for anyone and everyone within hearing distance. The bigger the crowd, the better. Dale was only truly in his element when he made people laugh, which made him both personable and annoying as hell.
Sometimes, I just needed a friend, someone to be quiet with, someone I could confide in, someone who would let me be sad or reflective, who would commiserate with me. But that wasn't Dale. And, not long after I met Chris, I spent less and less time with Dale. I wasn't comfortable around him anymore. I'd heard most of his witticisms before, countless times, and I needed him to be more serious than funny then. The energy he required of his audience to keep up with him and to laugh non-stop was exhausting. As fun, exciting, and vivacious as he was, I got to the point where I could only take him in small doses.
Dale worked for a beauty supply company in downtown Vancouver. The company provided everything necessary to operate hair styling salons--from combs and brushes to styling products, and from curling irons and dryers to chairs.
It should be no surprise that the beauty business attracts it's share of gay men, from stylists to shop keepers, and Dale, as a sometime flaming queen himself, was in the perfect position to get to know many of them. Being around other gay men all day not only gave Dale lots of interesting and amusing stories to share when we got together, but also allowed him to come into contact with lots of gay men, many of whom he found attractive and wanted more than anything to get to know on a personal basis.
Unfortunately, while Dale was one of the most exciting personalities you could ever meet, he wasn't particularly attractive. His teeth were long and discolored--although a male stripper in a club once complimented him on his smile--and his body was tall, skinny, and grossly over-hairy, so much so that he often imitated Grover on Sesame Street, drawing a comparison between how the two of them looked and acted. Out of necessity, Dale relied more on his outgoing personality and wild sense of humor than on his physical appearance to attract other people and to befriend them.
Perhaps Dale thought of himself as a jet-setter, although not one who travelled the entire world. Instead, he left town for points south of the border as often as he could. Sometimes, work required him to travel to cities on the west coast of the United States, where he attended business conferences and product shows. In those cases, his expenses were fully paid for. But, most of the time, he travelled for pleasure, spending more money than he earned on an adequate but limited income to attend vintage car rallies and to link up with friends he'd made over the years.
I can't tell you how many times Dale returned from a week here or a weekend there, more animated than usual. He'd talk about how much fun he'd had, all the things he'd seen and done...oh, and all the attractive men he'd met. Then, he'd tell me he'd fallen in love--again. Yes, he'd met the man of his dreams. "Oh, Rick, if you could just see him," he'd say, "you'd think he was so handsome. And he has a hairy chest, just like you like." Dale knew how to get my attention, but, after awhile, even that reference failed to interest me.
"I'm in love," Dale would declare. How many times had I heard that before? I tried not to roll my eyes. It seemed every time he was away from Vancouver, he'd meet someone, fall in love, and have the time of his life. Then he'd return home, having charged much of his trip's expenses, brokenhearted that he and his man lived thousands of miles apart, when they were so perfect for each other.
Dale would try to think of ways he and his betrothed could be together again. When he'd saved up enough money (or more likely after he'd paid down his credit cards so he could charge more), he returned to San Francisco, Palm Springs, or San Luis Obispo, hoping to continue where they'd left off. Or maybe his new love interest would come up to Canada to spend time with him and to be shown a good time in Vancouver (and in Dale's bedroom). Either way, Dale was sure he'd make it work with whatever young man he'd most recently taken a liking to.
But none of his affairs ever lasted long. The logistics of maintaining a long distance relationship with someone he scarcely knew weren't realistic, and, soon enough, Dale settled back into his usual life at home--taking on the role of social butterfly, comedian, and life of the party. Only to start the routine all over again the next time he was out of town. I got so fed up with one story after another about how he'd found the perfect man, except he lived somewhere other than Vancouver, that I didn't want to hear about them anymore. I tried to be supportive where I could, but encouraging him to keep up with this predictable fantasy did him no good at all.
I couldn't understand how he'd do that to himself, over and over again. How could he put his heart out there, for all these different men, in all these different places, and not see what damage he was doing to himself by being unrealistic in his expectations of what could possibly come of what they so briefly shared? I didn't understand how he could set himself up for being in a continuous state of brokenheartedness.
The toll it took on him, emotionally, but especially financially, finally caught up to him. Around the time I met Chris, early June 1992, Dale told me he was broke. Not only was he broke, he was severely in debt. He'd racked up all of his credit cards to the limit, and he'd been in to his bank recently to talk about what he could do to get himself out of the massive hole he'd fallen into.
The bank wrote up a debt consolidation loan, pooling all of his credit card debt so he'd avoid paying outrageous interest charges, instead making one manageable payment to the bank every month. He was told his personal trips out of town had to end immediately. Dale was a different person then. Oh, he still had his sense of humor and his roving eye for every attractive man who crossed his path, but he was more of a home body now. He knew that if he didn't crack down immediately, he'd get into an even worse financial mess, and he might even lose his beloved apartment on Beach Avenue, not to mention his gay lifestyle in the West End.
It was then that I tried to get serious with Dale. Perhaps now he'd listen to me, since his financial circumstances had gotten as bad as they were. I wanted to know why it seemed like he always had to go out of town to find the man of his dreams. Why, in all the time I'd known him, had I never seen him with the same local fellow more than once or twice? Vancouver had a huge gay community, and there were plenty of attractive men that he could meet and develop relationships with. More than anything else, he wanted to find the right man, to settle down, and to build a life together. Why couldn't he do that with someone from Vancouver?
A week before Chris and I moved to Victoria, in August 2000, I received a phone call from a friend Dale had introduced me to years earlier. Paul asked me if I'd been in contact with Dale recently, and I told him I hadn't. Occasionally, when Chris and I had been out walking or bike riding, we'd seen Dale on the street. He was always happy to see us, and, sometimes, we stopped at a coffee shop for refreshments and to get caught up. But it never took long for me to learn that Dale hadn't changed much--that he still demanded an audience to feel good about himself, and he still told many of the same hackneyed jokes. Often, I couldn't wait to get away from him and to return to the quiet and peaceful life Chris and I had made for ourselves.
Paul asked me if I had the latest issue of "XTRA! West," the local GLBT newspaper. I did. He asked me if I'd read it, and I said I had. Then he asked me to get it and bring it to the phone. I put the phone down, found the paper, and returned. Paul told me to open the cover and look about halfway down the first page.
What I saw jolted me. There was a small black and white photograph of Dale, with the heading "Proud Lives" above it. I went on to read that he'd passed away recently; that his quick wit and sense of humor would be missed by all those who knew him; and that a memorial service was scheduled to be held at a church he'd attended for a year or so.
To this day, I don't know how Dale died. I knew he had a brother in town, Gary, but I didn't know where he lived or what his phone number was. I knew Dale had been sick, with cancer and heart problems, but I hadn't really known a time with Dale when he hadn't been sick. The only thing worse than his non-stop attention grabbing was his chronic hypochondria.
For as long as I'd known him, Dale always had something wrong with his health. Any time he had my ear, he loved to describe his ailments in detail, and, strangely, he seemed to always know the medical term for every health issue that beset him. Where his health was concerned, Dale had cried wolf so many times that I'd learned to tune him out. He always overcame everything that afflicted him, looking the picture of health whenever I saw him.
Now he was dead.
I've had a lot of time over the years since to think about what must have claimed his life before he turned 50, the age I'll be in less than a month. And I have my own idea of why Dale passed away. Yes, he'd had heart problems, not to mention all kinds of other health challenges, and any one of them may have caused his death. But, more than anything else, I suspect the real issue Dale had with his heart was one his doctor couldn't diagnose or treat. I'm convinced that Dale's perpetually broken heart finally did him in. I'm convinced that he had set himself up for failure in the relationship department so many times, falling in love with men that could never be his, that his heart exploded in a million tiny pieces, never to be whole again.
I'm also convinced that Dale, for all his outgoing personality, and quick wit, and sense of humor, was a homophobe, especially where he was concerned. I believe he allowed himself to fall in love, to the degree he could, with men from out of town because only then was he comfortable enough to face the reality of his sexual orientation. It was so much easier for him to put himself through the temporary misery of breaking up with yet another man who would never be his, than it was to settle down with someone from Vancouver, someone with whom he might be continuously disappointed when the fantasy of being in love wore off, and when he had to look at himself in the mirror and see that he was the same fag he often criticized others for being.
To this day, I know that for all his talk of being in love with men he'd met in American cities, Dale never experienced real love in the truest sense of the word. He never experienced the deep, rich, and textured love that comes over time from giving yourself completely and thoroughly to another human being. That starts with loving yourself and who you are, and extends to accepting love from someone else because you know you deserve it.
As I look back on the Dale that I knew all those years ago, I'm saddened that he never had the relationship with another man that he said he always wanted. I'm saddened that he never accepted his homosexuality enough to open his heart to a man who was available to love him back, and not another fantasy he spent a few days with in yet another American city. And, above all, I'm saddened that he never learned to love himself, not as the funny man that everyone else tuned into, but as the special and wonderful and beautiful human being that he really was. What a shame and a tragedy.