Gays - African Americans & Women (Part 1 of 3)
Part 1 - GAYS
Over my next 3 blog posts, Danny Klecko is going to talk a little about 3 very different groups of people that have made major contributions to the Twin Cities Hospitality industry. The one thing each of them share in common is.....their groups have been persecuted and seldom thanked for the contributions to the metro's dining options.
In opening what could be a sticky can of worms, I would like to state for the record that I am in the debt of each one of the forementioned communities.
When I first got into the baking industry I was a mere teen. My development was broadened by learning how to scrub muffin tins, mixing bowls and packaging products. Within a couple of years I headed over to Dunwoody Instatutue and signed up for the Professional Bakers course.
While enrolled (and I am going to date myself now) I also took on a part time job as a "bakers helper" at Sherman's Bakery, at their hub location in the South Town Mall. I got the job because I was referred by a school class mate named PHIL.
I had heard of "being gay" and called teamates "gay" when dropping ground balls during our baseball games, but I guess it just never registered in my mind that people actually were gay.
Phil was meticulous, well spoken and very kind. In most ways he was the bi polar oppisite of my other baking classmates. Sometimes I would eat lunch with him and he would tell me stories of how he enjoyed competitive ballroom dancing, sewing and doing floral arrangements.
On my 18th birthday I had to work that night and was a little dissapointed because back then...18 was the legal drinking age. Some of the shops resident thugs encouraged me to move swiftly so if perhaps I finished quick enough...they just might take me to the Rialto to catch my first full screen porno. That made me blush, but not nearly as much as when Phil walked into the shop (it was his night off) wearing his tight black disco slacks and a studded shirt.
In his hands were a homemade birthday cake (he had spent his whole day off making it for me) with candles ablaze. In a clear falsetto he lead the crew in singing me happy birthday. I was kind of touched by the gesture.
After blowing out the candles Phil seemed a little nervous, after most of the crew went back to their tasks, he approached me as I inserted flavorings into croissants. Then he asked me if i wanted to go to the bar with him after work. I told him I might be getting out late and I wasn't sure, but I did say that maybe I could meet him for a couple in downtown Mpls (this is were my apartment was during Dunwoody).
Phil's eyes lit up, and to his delight.....he suggested that perhaps we should meet up at the Gay 90's. This suggestion hit me in the head like a 5 ton anvil.
"Phil, we don't want to go there.....thats for gay people!"
I think the Earth's clock stopped because everything seemed all suspended. Phil stood there motionless, he didn't flinch, he didn't say a word.....and then it hit me "OMG - really? I didn't know. dude you go ballroom dancing with hot chicks all the time."
Phil laughed and mentioned that thats how he thought I would know he was gay.....according to him "What straight guy would do that?" I would be a flat out liar if I said I was'nt a little freaked out. I was, but not so much because Phil was gay. I was freaked out by my ignorance. I had never had a friend that was openly gay.
I was pretty up front that I kind of liked girls, but I would be willing to stop in with him, and he agreed. As all this was taking place, my supervisor Mikey Hall just snickered and watched us with his peripheral. when Phil left, Mikey came over and started filling croissants with me, after a little silence he asked..."So, what's up....you turning queer?" then he started to laugh.
All of a sudden I became embarresed, I was a young kid and bankrupt of confidence, I wondered how much grief I was going to get. I liked Mikey, he was cool, maybe the fairest boss I ever had. He took us into the parking lot and smoked his weed with us while listening to the Talking Heads. He always had good weed.
But Mikey ended up telling me that he liked Phil and as I got older (and ecspecially if I lived in Mpls) gay guys would approach me pretty often. Mikey went on to mention that it just wasn't a deal. While he was telling me this the rest of the crew heard the conversation, but nobody ever chimed in. I thought I was going to get crucified. It was good for me to have Mikey Hall as a mentor while a was a young man because his point of view is seldom in the majority in the Food Show.
Restaurants, Bakeries, Hotels and Casino's....it's all the same....you are usually surrounded by crews that lack education and are intimidated. How many Homo Phobe's have I seen running down the line swiping the hand vertically with some guys butt crack while screaming out "CREDIT CARD" or "VISA DENIED".
I'll never forget one shop I worked in, most of the bakers were Irish, and most of these guys were also drunks. This crew showed absolutely no mercy to anybody new. One day a recent hire walked onto the floor. Typically it is protocol for an admin or supervisor to usher them in, but on this occasion it didn't happen. Little Tony entered into thr middle of the production space and waited for somebody to tell him what to do. I was a new hire myself, so i just waited for a superior to hook him up.
Little Tony was frail looking, his hair was bleached and feathered and his body was David Bowie thin , he was kinda a spindly waif. He also wore thick rubber gloves that were somewhat transparent and it appeared that he had wounds on his hands.............
within seconds guys were spinning their aprons around so they would cover their butts instead of their front side, and Devaney started singing the chorus from the Lion King. In the commercial baking industry, reciting Elton John lyrics is code for "I think that guys a queer - don't you?"
Little Tony ran out of the shop and never came back. None of the supervisors had the decency to even aknoledge him. When the door slammed closed many of the guys laughed and Devaney challenged Little Tony to see if he could take over Macauley Culkin's spot in Michael Jacksons bed.
That's right folks, I could continue to rattle off dozens of other examples were gay men and women have been berated in the Hospitality Industry and nobody has done a thing about it.
The default response is that they need to grow a thicker skin, after all.......it is the Food Show and nobody gets out unscathed. I simply don't buy it.
A few years back I hired a guy who lived next door at the Mission. He had lost everything to drugs. The guy was young, good looking and was up front when telling me that he didn't want to be a lifer....he just wanted to work long enough to save for a car. Eventually he wanted to move back to Mpls and work at a hotel.
The guy's name was Tarrack, and let's just say he was really dainty. The way he moved made you think that he had been raised with a silver spoon in his mouth. He didn't know how to find that "extra gear" and could only lift bread pans 2 at a time, but I liked Tarrack, and I usually don't let charity interfere with business decisions, but I really wanted to be part of the solution.
I thought back to all the gay guys that got hammered on over the years, back then I wasn't in a position to make a real difference, but now i was.
When I hired him, most of my crew were shocked. The majority of them were Hispanic, and often times in their culture, being gay is frowned upon....it goes against that Catholic thing, But I reminded mas familia that a lot of Americans feel about the Mexicans like they feel about the gay community, and further more the bakery is not a democracy, but a dictatorship.....and I was Fidel
The first thing I had to accomplish was to put Tarrack in a position where he could gain street cred quickly, so I made him an oven guy. This is by far the toughest / nastiest job you can imagine.
On his first day we heard him asked across the bakery in a high pitched voice......"Do these hamburger buns need steamy weamy?"
My bench foreman looked like a dog when you pretend to throw a hot dog but really palm it. With a blank look on his face he asked "WTF......streamy-weamy, c'mon boss enough is enough."
I walked over to Tarrack's area and mentioned that kind of vernacular could launch the crew against him for life. He laughed really hard and then he stopped for a minute and said...."I am not really religous, but I did pray to God that I could find a job and get that car I wanted. I am thankful."
I smiled and then walked away thinking how sad that a man like Tarrack needs God to intervene in his dreams and asperations, but I guess.....sometimes if you are gay in a blue collar setting you just won't get a fair shake.
God doesn't need to give gay people an oppurtunity to find oppurtunity, the rest of us can do that, and it cost's none of us a thing.
This story has a happy ending. Tarrack worked with the crew for close to a year. The boys took him into the fold until he eventually left us. Several months later, it was snowing out and I was walking to the 74D bus stop when all of a sudden a big sedan pulled over. The passenger window rolled down automatically and a voice told me to get in.
When i bent down and looked in, it was Tarrack with a big smile on his face. I did hop in and he drove me cross town all the way to my front door. His life was on track, he found a new partner and was working full time at a Mpls hotel.
The outcome of this experience and my involvment in it made me feel so good about myself. Sometimes just not being a complete jerk can be enough to let somebody elses life or career flourish. Seriously....do you want to stand in the way of that?