Photo of American poet Walt Whitman holding a ...
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The waiter at Bibi’s Brunch & Lunch was clad in regulation white shirt, black pants and Doc Martens. A spotless white cook’s apron was wrapped around a waist smaller than one of my thighs. The artfully messed hair and the wispy flavor-saver under his disapproving mouth had been bleached to a rusty blond. My guess was, he had a BA in Representational Art and was waiting for his first big break exhibiting cast iron fetish pieces at a local gallery.

Alicia smiled as she pointed towards the front of the restaurant. He shook his head, no, but when we didn’t follow him to the spot he had picked for us by the open kitchen, he grudgingly came back and sat us at a table for six with a great view of the sidewalk action.

“While we wait for our friend Julie to arrive, may we have some water?” Darla batted her eyes but it was a wasted effort.

He sniffed, “Your server will be with you in a few moments” and huffed off.

“Snobby little shit.” Patrice draped her faux-pashmina over one of the empty chairs.

While we waited, we critiqued the comings and goings of the beautiful people, the people who thought they were beautiful and the downright scary as they paraded by on Queen Street. There’s something about being on the inside looking through a double-glazed window that lends a special sharpness to being bitchy after Sunday mass. A squadron of fashionably attired smokers puffed in the noon glare on the outdoor patio, lounging at dinner plate sized plastic tables, unencumbered by umbrellas, sunscreen or too much common sense.

“Ladies!”  He looked just like that Rodriguez character from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but with styled chest hair and lots more makeup. An excess of silver jewellery made music when he moved, which was almost constantly. His name tag said Alain. Darla kicked my ankle. I kicked her back. “I’m Alain.” He pronounced it ‘Ellen’ which, if his MAC Moody Blue manicure was any indication, had a loud ring of truth. “How may I serve you lovely women today?” Patrice snickered at his offer of service, her mind on other things.

Alicia tapped the chunky silver bracelets on his right wrist. “Alain.” She pronounced it the way he did, but in her deep, mistress-is-speaking voice. “Darling boy.” He leaned over, gazing into her eyes. “Could you please bring us something soothing, with lots of liquor and a blush of pomegranate juice?”

He arched one hip and both eyebrows, grinning widely, with his palm pressed against his chin. “Why, of course, Madame!”

“And we’ll have the quiche of the day with salad,” I added, looking at my brunch buddies for confirmation. They all nodded.  Bibi’s was notorious for negligence. Rumour had it some waiters slipped off to auditions or sewed up dance costumes after dropping customer ‘requests’ for food off at the service counter (orders were not permitted). If Cook was in a funk, you were liable to get grilled sheep liver and sweet potato poutine frites, even if you had asked for a poached egg with vegan hollandaise on whole wheat brioche.

“And some bread,” Darla added. “The hell with Dr. Atkins! I’m starving for something warm enough to melt butter into.”

“I hear you, Girlfriend!” Alain rolled his eyes, pressed a shapely index finger against her shoulder and swanned off. He returned right away with a heaping basket of assorted fresh breads and four small pots of flavoured butters. After a minute, he was back with a quartet of tall sunset-coloured drinks onto the table.

Ah, booze and bread. Once the brain freeze wore off the hit of pungent gin and sweet fruit juice warmed the tongue. We sipped and chewed for a while, easing away the day-after Saturday-night edge.

“How was your workshop yesterday?” Julie – our missing companion – had badgered me into joining her at the library for a lecture on Animal Symbolism in Whitman’s Poetry, given by a local literary guru who’d twice been published in the Globe and Mail. Now old Walt was one of my favorite poets, so as much as I loathed fusty almost-famous don’t-move-your-lips literary poseurs, I went.

“Bruce Worthington-Finney was eminently forgettable,” I said. “Although he did present an interesting analysis of wolf imagery and the relationship between the physical and the spiritual in Song of Myself. He had a thing for words like ‘hard’ and ‘climax’ and ‘ultimately coming’.” Patrice snickered – she had a low booze threshold and I think she was on her way to being loaded.  “There were about twenty people there, mainly older women in funky outfits, a few earnest college kids and a hairy newspaper reporter named Elise. But let me tell you about the librarian.” Alain dropped off another round of drinks and more bread, giving us the ‘it’ll be a while’ head shake and sham smile. “Her name is Lola. Not a bad looking woman. Great hair – shiny brown, good cut. Not enough makeup. About five foot ten – but she’s a size twenty and she was wearing a size sixteen blue flowered outfit with a long red scarf and comfortable brown shoes.” I took a big sip of water. “I think she’s in love with Bruce.”

“What?” Darla handed me a piece of rosemary cornbread. “How could you tell?”

“She simpered.”

“No!”

“Yes! Bruce is about five foot eight and he was wearing a cravat, for God’s sake, and a brown tweed jacket with suede patches on the elbows. And black leather pants – I haven’t seen those on a sixty year old man since university! Lola stood real close to him while she read his introduction and made some suckhole comments about his genius and his craft. But it was so yearning, so heartfelt — I felt like suggesting she get them a room. And he lapped it up like it was his due and he rested his hand on her shoulder. Jesus, he bites his nails to the quick – what does that tell you? Anyway, when she was finished he gave her one of those tipped-head, crinkly-eyed little liar smiles.” I shivered. “I swear she was glowing. Her face was sort of hidden behind the wings of her page-boy but she had that smile, like she was thinking of some hidden meaning in his talk about ‘wet glistening beards’ and ‘bay mares’ and ‘voluptuous nights’.

“Wasn’t Walt Whitman gay?”

Just then, Alain bustled up with his steel service tray. “Did you say Walt Whitman? My hero? He was queer as a three dollar bill and his wife had a beard!” He laughed a dirty laugh and, with a flourish, arranged our cutlery and plates of pretty food on the table. “There! All set.” It seems Cook didn’t have PMS or man-o-pause today.

Just as we started to eat, Julie tapped up to our table in her too-high Winners’ Sunday-best shoes and slipped into the empty chair beside Darla. We did the smiley, hand-touching, happy eyebrow-raising thing because no one wanted to get up and do the cheek-kiss thing and risk getting stray bits of clothing into our food.

Alain appeared immediately. “I’ll be right back with yours,” he said, making it sound suggestive. That was a scary thought – four middle-aged hetero women and a gay waiter with nicer nails than ours.

I continued with my story. “She brought him a bottle of water during the break and some sliced oranges and asked him if he’d like a warm muffin.”

“Warm muff…in,” Julie snorted. “Right.”