After a few miserable years in high school, Marc Lalonde moved to Toronto for college, to study journalism at Ryerson. He lived in a tiny apartment on Jarvis and Dundas, just outside the gay village. It was what you’d call a gritty neighbourhood, if you were trying to be nice about it. The place was a mess of misery, with open drug use and plenty of prostitution. And not the classy kind of prostitution either.
After getting his degree Marc started working at Xtra, the local queer newspaper, as a general reporter. The publication was a tiny one back then, in the late 1980s. It wasn’t fancy, and the pay was commensurate. But the experience was invaluable. Marc learned to interview difficult subjects; gay tourists, sauna patrons, bar owners. He wanted to know everything that was happening in the gay village. But mostly he was interested in the why. Why were they there. Why were they… them?
After a nearly two years of this underpaid experience he applied to the Montreal Gazette and La Presse, and to his great surprise got hired by the French daily to cover city hall. Less than a year later he got poached by The Gazette, which offered him a monthly column on gay nightlife for the city pages as well as reporting on alternative events for the arts section. He became sort of a vadrouilleuse, in the mold of the legendary Francine Grimaldi, always turning up where the cool kids were and writing about the people who made his city come alive with their work.
Marc had always been a fan of repertory cinema and funky foreign-language films. He wrote about them as though they were breathing, living beings. Sometimes, his news stories read like graffiti, weird and eclectic, colourful and bold. This didn’t always please Victor the Unsexy Editor, by nature a risk-avoider who pretended to be edgy and had no clue how funny that was. But enough readers liked it that Marc was able to keep his boss at bay and his gig rolling.
Marc didn’t miss municipal politics one bit. In 1994 and 1995, as a distraction from the second referendum and Lucien Bouchard’s brush with death, his editor decided it was time for something different. A series of hooker confessions.
“You don’t like the idea?” Victor seemed genuinely surprised. Why wouldn’t an artistic guy like such a brilliant idea? It’s never been done!
“Yes, interview them. See what they do — I mean, other than the obvious — why they do it, who they are, how much of their lives they want to spend doing this, etc. Find some decent women; don’t get crackheads, please. That’s just too sad.”
“So you want me to play voyeur?”
Victor almost looked offended. “No, no. Just find some smart women, people with options, who’ve actually chosen to sell their bodies as a valid career choice.”
Marc wasn’t convinced. “You’re not worried we’ll look like we’re endorsing prostitution? It’s still illegal, you know…”
“Technically, it isn’t….”
“Oh, I know, technically it’s only the solicitation that’s illegal. But come on. That’s a distinction without a difference. How could you sell your body without asking other people to pay for it?”
“I just know your readers will love it.”
Marc shrugged. “I think what you really want is the competition smacking their forehead for not having thought about it.”
“Oh, that? It may have crossed my mind…”
Victor looked mighty pleased with himself, for a guy with no actual charisma. “But seriously, it’s true. Our readers will love to hear the human side of hookering — is that even a word, hookering? We should make it one. What’s it like being a prostitute? Who are the clients? How dangerous is it? Is it fun? Is it gross?”
Fun, Marc thought… probably not that much. “And where do you think I’ll find smart non-drug-addicted valid-career-choice girls willing to talk to me?” He didn’t really like the sound of this assignment, but he knew better than to object too directly. His boss liked his ideas too much for direct confrontations to be very productive affairs. But sometimes, a little sideways gnawing helped plant a tiny seed of doubt in his mind. Alas, not this time.
“Use your charm,” the least charming person on earth replied. “Give it a shot, yes?”