Long-Haired Lettice: A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time there was a husband and wife, and they were very sad because, try as they might, they could not conceive a child. Then one day the wife said, “Husband, I have some good news and some not-so-good. The good news is … we are going to have a baby! The not-so-good is that I have a craving for that lettuce growing in the garden next door. I must have some immediately or I will die.” This was not so good news because next door’s garden, which was surrounded by a high wall, was owned by a witch who was not the friendliest of neighbours.
But the husband said, “Don’t worry, dear. When night falls I’ll climb over the wall and fetch you some of that lettuce. The witch will never know.”
When it was dark the husband climbed the wall and picked a few choice leaves of lettuce. But as he was about to climb back again, he found the furious witch barring his way. The husband explained that his wife was expecting and craved the lettuce. At that, the witch changed her tune. “In that case, you may take her the lettuce. But in exchange, you must swear to give me the child as soon as it is born.”
The husband swore, and when the baby girl was born, he handed her over to the witch.
The witch was a good stepmother to the girl, who grew into the most beautiful creature under the sun and had a sweet nature besides …
… Wait a minute!, you say. What did her birth mother have to say about this “exchange”?
Well, at this point, all I can say is, the story never mentions her again. The witch named the infant “Lettice” with an “i”. But when Lettice had celebrated her twelfth birthday, the witch locked her up in a chamber at the top of a tall tower in the middle of a forest. The witch would feed her stepdaughter once a day by means of a basket that she would fill with food and hoist up on a rope to the one window of the chamber. The girl was very sad, but what could she do? She passed the time gazing at the view, all the while singing sad songs, for she had the loveliest voice you can imagine. Meanwhile her hair, which was blonde, grew longer and longer as there was no one to cut it …
… I thought you said the witch was a good stepmother?
She was, until Lettice turned twelve.
A few years later, a handsome prince happened to be travelling alone through a forest. Suddenly his ears were filled with the sweetest song he’d ever heard. Following the sound, he came to the foot of a tall tower, and there at a high window he saw the most beautiful maiden, singing. Lettice had never seen a young man before, and stopped in the middle of her song to look at him. For the pair of them it was, needless to say, love at first sight. But what were they to do? Lettice called down to the Prince that she was the prisoner of her stepmother, a powerful witch. The Prince thought for a moment. “My darling,” he said at last, “let down your beautiful hair and hold tight onto the window frame. I will use your hair to help me climb the tower, and then we can be together until your stepmother returns.” So Lettice let down her hair, which reached to the ground, and the Prince used it to climb the tower. Once he was up and through the window, the pair gazed into one another’s eyes, fell into one another’s arms, and one thing led to another, as always happens in such cases.
The Prince continued to visit Lettice in her tower secretly for the next three months. The witch did not suspect a thing. But one day, as the witch was filling the basket with daily provisions, Lettice called down to her, “Stepmother, next time you are in town, would you please buy me a new dress? This one seems to be getting too small for me round the waist.”
Hey, that’s not how the story goes!, you say. It’s a fairy tale intended for innocent children, for heaven’s sake!
That is exactly how the story goes, as I will explain in due course.
Immediately the witch suspected what had been going on. She decided to lie in wait in the bushes nearby, and soon she saw the Prince arrive and scale the tower by means of Lettice’s hair. When he had disappeared through the window, she unlocked the door at the foot of the tower (did I forget to mention this door?) and crept up the spiral staircase inside. It led to another locked door that gave into Lettice’s chamber. Unlocking this, she burst in and found the two lovers in … well, you get the picture.
The Prince, struggling to get his pants on, bravely attempted to confront the witch, but she was too powerful, and by force of magic she hurled him straight out of the window. He landed far below in a patch of thorns, which broke his fall but put out both his eyes. Otherwise unhurt, he wandered sadly off, and it took him several months to grope his way back to his kingdom. There he told his story to his parents, the King and Queen, who were furious that their handsome son, the heir to the throne, should have messed up his life in such a way. They warned him that the people of the kingdom would never accept a blind monarch.
Meanwhile, the witch ordered Lettice to put on her clothes, leave the tower there and then, and never darken her door again. Weeping, Lettice obeyed. For months she wandered, surviving only because people, noticing her swelling belly, took pity on her and gave her food and shelter. Eventually, after many tribulations, she found her way to the castle of the Prince’s parents. One morning, the Queen saw a beautiful young woman, heavily pregnant, her still uncut blonde hair trailing far behind her, weeping at the castle door. Recognizing Lettice from her son’s description, she gave orders that the maiden be admitted. The lovers were at last reunited, and Lettice’s copious tears, falling on the Prince’s eyes, restored them to sight. Soon they were married, after which Lettice gave birth to a pair of beautiful twins. In due course the Prince and Lettice became King and Queen, and they all lived happily ever after.
This tale is of ancient origin and appears in many forms and under many names: it is “Rapunzel” in the well-known version by the brothers Grimm, Tangled in the Disney animated feature. Often the maiden’s name is associated with the stolen vegetable that sets off the plot: Rapunzel is German for rampion, a plant whose leaves are similar to spinach. Because it’s a fairy tale, we assume it was intended for small children. But this one wasn’t: it was meant for the mothers of teenage girls. Lettice’s biological mother and her witch-stepmother are really the same person: a good mother until her daughter reaches puberty. Then she makes a big mistake: she locks up her daughter to keep her from knowledge of men and sex. We see how badly that goes: Lettice gets pregnant without even knowing it’s possible. Both young lovers must suffer … because mother, instead of teaching her daughter about sex, tries by force to keep her in virginal innocence. The tale implies that knowledge of the facts of life is a better moral guardian than ignorance.
In the end, of course, love conquers all and they live happily ever after. But then, what else do you expect of a fairy tale?
In 1954, as the Cold War, was just beginning, uranium was discovered in Northern Ontario. A lot of uranium. The discovery was found close to a body of water known as Elliot Lake. And the United States wanted it. Bad. It was to start what became known as the uranium rush, quite like the Klondike gold rush in the previous century. Only instead of finding gold, the Americans were looking to make nuclear bombs and nuclear energy out of uranium. I was six years old at the time.
I lived in Brantford, Ontario, famous for Mr. Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone. I lived, with my parents. in a new part of the city known as the Henderson survey on Henderson Avenue. It was a typically middle-class neighborhood with the occasional stately elm tree growing in backyards. There were neatly paved sidewalks lined with other typical looking houses. We lived in a split-level home with a garage and an in-ground swimming pool that my father had built, by himself, from wood. My father loved building things out of wood. I, on the other hand loved swimming. I could spend all afternoon splashing around in that pool if my mother would’ve let me. If I wasn’t swimming, I was bouncing on the big sofa in the living room to the rug on the floor, and back with my Roy Rogers cap gun fighting off imaginary bad guys or spending my mornings watching Captain Kangaroo or Howdy Doody on our black and white television in the den.
One day my mother told me that I would be starting school. Okay, I thought, that might be fun, although she explained to me that I couldn’t go dressed as a cowboy. I had to wear clothes that were more appropriate. I stayed for all of grade one. But then, when I had just started grade two my father came home from a long business trip, over the summer months, to announce that we were all moving to Elliot Lake, me, my new baby brother and my mom. He said that it was five hundred miles north of Brantford. That it would take twelve hours to drive there in our car. It would be like the wild west when we got there, he told me. It would be an adventure, and we’d make it rich. I was super excited.
For the long twelve-hour trip, my mother let me wear my cowboy hat and hold on to my Roy Rogers cap pistol, just in case we came across any bad guys. We sang songs in the car most of the way, like “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain When She Comes.” We all were happy and laughing and having a great time. And, I didn’t see any bad guys at all along the way. Finally, my Dad announced, “Only eighteen miles to go!”
Then, he turned off the Trans-Canada Highway onto what looked like a dirt road. The car started to bump and rattle, as we rode through the forest. I could barely see the sky because of all the trees surrounding our car. Occasionally we would pass the shells of other cars that had been stripped and abandoned. Suddenly, I was thinking maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Then the trees cleared to reveal a long-graded roadway ready to be paved. On our left, out of the car window, I saw a large sign that said BILLIARDS, with a bunch of men sitting in front, definitely, bad guys. Then as I looked to my right there was another large building made out of wood with a larger more impressive sign above it, with bigger letters. It read ELLIOT LAKE LAUNDRY AND DRY CLEANING SERVICE, SINCE 1956. “Isn’t this great!” my Dad said proudly as he steered our car onto the sloped parking lot in front of the wooden paneled building.
The irony, that this was the year 1956, and that the sign said “SINCE 1956,” totally escaped my eight-year-old mind. Attached to the laundry connected by a slatted wooden sidewalk above the caked, cracked hardened ground was another building that looked to be constructed out of cardboard. This was to be our new home, he told us. When inside, I looked around. Under the front window there was a kitchen sink with a wooden counter supported by wooden legs. There was a table, a sofa, and a television all in the same room. There was a bathroom with a flush toilet, apparently the first flush toilet in Elliot Lake, and two small bedrooms with just enough room for two beds. The television had a brown flat wire dangling upwards loosely leading out the window to an antenna on the roof. I was very disappointed when I turned on the television to find that we could only receive one channel from Sudbury, a CBC affiliate. No more Captain Kangaroo or Howdy Doody in the mornings.
We lived in that cardboard shack for almost two years. On summer afternoons we would go to Elliot Lake beach with my mother and my baby brother having a blast in the sun, the sand, and the water. Life was pure happiness. Until, when I noticed as I was watching some girls playing in the sand, in their bathing suits, I was getting a hard on. I tried to suppress this boner that was stiff and growing out of my bathing suit by turning my eyes away from the girls and thinking of other things like Mickey Mouse cartoons or something. I draped a towel around my waist to hide the bulge in my bathing suit and asked my mother if I could go home. When I got home, I was changing into some dry clothes when I found a five-inch black snake-like eel inside my bathing suit. We call them bloodsuckers. I thought maybe the bloodsucker was the cause of my erection. I also thought it might be the cause of the hairs that were growing down there too. But the next day, the erection appeared again without any blood suckers, just girls. I decided to quit swimming. My mother never understood how just overnight I didn’t want to go swimming anymore. Anyway, since I wasn’t going to go swimming, my Dad thought that I might be growing up, so he put me to work learning how to fold shirts in the laundry, at least until school started again.
Meanwhile, the town was growing fast. Downtown the wooden sidewalks were turning into cement walkways. The roads were being paved with asphalt. A movie theatre sprang up. Elliot Lake was becoming a real town. My Dad started working out of an Elliot Lake Laundry and Dry-Cleaning Service Depot, on the main street. We moved to a house on Dieppe Avenue on the outskirts of town in a developing survey with stumps of trees in the back yard on the edge of the ever-looming forest. The house was brand new that we shared with a French family that lived downstairs in the basement.
As the summer of 1959 came to an end, I started going to a brand-new school at the other end of our street, called Dieppe Avenue School. I would walk the long trek between my house and the school every day. It was at this school where my eyes first rested upon Brenda O’Carroll. She sat two seats in front of me in the front row of Mrs. MacMillan’s sixth grade class. Her raven black hair hung down past her shoulders in shining dark ebony locks. Her eyes were the most beautiful eyes that I’d ever seen in my life, like emeralds. I was in love. I found out that she lived on the same street that I did. Every morning I would pass her house hoping her door would open and she would come running out to greet me so that we could walk to school together the rest of the way. But that never happened. I also heard during recess that David Chapman, an older kid in grade seven had taken Brenda to see a movie. He was a brawny blonde kid that had bright eyes and a nose which I would have liked to have punched. But instead, I rationalized this predicament thoughtfully, that we were only eleven years old right now, and yes, I could let her date other boys, just until we grew up. I was going for the long term, when we could marry each other and live happily ever after. And then, hey, Valentine’s day was coming up, I thought. I’ve got an idea! It was then that I would begin my campaign to win her over.
I knew the routine. Mrs. McMillan would announce that today was Valentine’s Day. That we were all to walk around the class placing a Valentine’s Day card on everybody’s desks. I would have none of that! I was going to put one Valentine on one person’s desk and that person’s desk was Brenda O’Carroll’s.
So, I went home to ask my mother if she would buy me one Valentine to give out on Valentine’s Day. She smiled then walked away to do the dishes or something. I went outside on the roadway to build an igloo in a snowbank.
The next day when I got home from school, at my chair on the kitchen table there was a huge book of twenty or so perforated valentines that I could punch out from a book to sign the intended person’s name on, twenty or thirty times, plus my own name near the bottom, twenty or thirty times. My mother didn’t grasp the one Valentine part of my request. She must have known my teacher, Mrs. MacMillan’s Valentine’s Day routine.
Anyway, Valentine’s Day arrived. I trudged in the falling snow to school with only one Valentine past Brenda O’Carroll’s house, my heart beating like a bass drum. I had chosen the least sissified Valentine I could find in the bunch. It read, “Will You Be My Valentine?”, with a picture of Cupid on it shooting an arrow through a heart. I also had found a small flattened cereal box to put Brenda’s Valentine at the bottom of my lunch box so that it wouldn’t get damaged during the trip. Furthermore, I had written “TO BRENDA, FROM PETER,” in capital letters on it hoping it would stand out from all the others.
The time came when Mrs. MacMillan rose from her desk and announced to the class it was time to walk around slowly, in single file, to distribute their Valentines. While everyone else was parading around delivering their Valentines, I jumped forward to drop my Valentine two desks in front of me on Brenda’s desk. Then I slunk back to my seat to sit down.
I counted the number of Valentines Brenda was getting on her desk. She must have got about fifty! When Brenda sat down, I waited for a reaction from my Valentine, but there was none. She just lifted the top of her desk, then shoved all her Valentines inside.
A few days later my father came home to make another big announcement. We would be moving again, back to Brantford. What? I was more than devastated, I was in shock. Apparently, he had heard the news that the United States was not going to purchase any more uranium after 1962. The town was going to close. In a few years, he said, Elliot Lake would be nothing but a ghost town. It would be best for us to leave as soon as possible.
The next day in Mrs. MacMillan’s sixth grade class she rose from her desk at the front to ask her students if any of us knew if they were moving. I dutifully rose from my seat into the centre of the aisle to tell her that I was told just last night that we would be leaving as soon as possible back to Brantford. Brenda O’Carroll’s head snapped around, her shining black hair waving in the wind. I was sure I felt the breeze. Her gorgeous emerald eyes along with her mouth were wide open. My eyes and her eyes locked. My Valentine had worked! In that silent moment of our gaze, many thoughts were shared between us. There was no need for words. We held that gaze for what seemed like forever. Until I shrugged my shoulders in silence and slumped back into my seat.
Not long after that my father told me that I should come home from school at lunch time that day, that I didn’t need to carry my Roy Rogers lunch box to school. The car would be packed by noon and ready for me when I returned home. At school I went up to Mrs. MacMillan’s desk before class to tell her I would be leaving at lunch time. Some of the desks had already emptied of students. I guess Brenda O’Carroll overheard me because she stopped me as I was going back to my seat to thank me for the Valentine I had given her. She told me that she too would be leaving with her parents, back to British Columbia soon.
At noon hour I dawdled home alone along Dieppe Avenue. As I rounded the final bend in the roadway surrounded by snowbanks, I saw both my parents waving at me. The car was in the driveway with the motor running. My Mom had made some peanut butter and jam sandwiches to eat along the way. I settled in our car along with my little brother and my new baby sister. During that long twelve-hour drive back, watching the forest fade away, I learned that we would be living with my grandmother for a while when we got back to Brantford. I then, scrunched as I was, in the back seat of our car made a solemn irreversible vow to myself, that somehow, some way, Brenda O’Carroll, in British Columbia, and I, in Brantford, Ontario, would be reunited again to live happily ever after.
The Pussy Palace
Almost 20 years ago I was working in television broadcasting in Toronto and was a member of BIWOT – Bisexual Women of Toronto.
BIWOT’s next “field trip” was the Pussy Palace. The Pussy Palace was a semi-annual women’s bathhouse event. It was held at Club Toronto, a gay men’s bathhouse in Toronto’s queer village.
For the uninitiated a bathhouse is a space frequented by men who want to have sex with men. There might also be a pool, hot tub, steam room, sauna and other facilities on the premises, but the whole reason for being there is to have sex.
In preparation for this upcoming event I went to my then on and off again “boyfriend” for some advice. At the time I had still not had sex with a woman.
I asked him to give me some “pro-tips” on oral sex with women. I had been on the receiving end of his “mad skills” and felt it was only fair that he share his knowledge with a friend in need.
He told me to spell out the letters of the alphabet with my tongue. Which now in retrospect makes me wonder if every time he went down on me that inside his head he was saying A, B, C, D …
I waited in line at Club Toronto early that evening with my fellow BIWOT peeps. I came prepared. Ticket in hand. Overnight bag. Cash. ID. Condoms. Lube. Sex Toys. While we waited in line we were each given a pamphlet that let us know what do if the police showed up and which sex acts were technically illegal. Interesting side note. Illegal: Another person in the room if two people were having sex. So I guess threesomes were out at this event.
Canadian law … you are such a kill joy. By the way this is still on the law books.
Since I got there early I was lucky enough to get a private room. My “room” was more like an unadorned stall to keep a barnyard animal in. It had a bunk with a mat on it along with a locker.
Us “newbies” were given a tour of the space by the organizers. I do remember a dark and labyrinthine area filled with glory holes where gay men could have super anonymous sex. Mind blown!
You were encouraged to write a number on your body with a marker. This helped to identify you so women could leave you “love notes” to let you know they wanted to hook up with you.
There was a dance room and various activity rooms where either kink workshops or sex games were happening.
When I told some of my gay boyfriends about my experience they were stunned.
YOU TALKED TO EACH OTHER!?!?!?
That is not how things go down when its just men. We silently sit in the sauna and wait for someone to make eye contact with us and grunt in our general direction. Then we have sex. Then we go back to the sauna, not talk and wait for another man to signal grunt to us again.
Toxic masculinity … apparently also a thing in the gay community. But I digress.
I found the High Priestess Room. There was a sign up sheet. I had no idea what seeing the High Priestess would mean. I let her know that I had not had sex with a woman before and was a little nervous.
She told me not to be nervous and kindly allowed me to spell the alphabet with my tongue.
I felt for a first timer I didn’t do too bad since she did seem to sincerely appreciate my efforts. I’d like to hope she wasn’t just putting on a show for the newbie so I’d feel good about myself.
There was another room where they would take sexy Polaroids of you. I still have those photos to this day.
There was a line up to get into the pleasure cave. Again. I had no idea what I was getting in to, but decided to just keep riding the sexual adventure wave. You had two options. You could watch or you could be blindfolded. I chose blindfolded. Let’s just say that to this day the snap of latex gloves gives me a little quiver of excitement.
To say that I was somewhat over stimulated is an understatement.
I heard that there were lap dances going on somewhere.
I ran down bare bottomed in my short cotton dress to the front desk and loudly asked: “Where are the lap dances happening?” The front desk clerk didn’t answer me. Then I notice some men behind her. I asked if they were pool repair men. She retorted “They are not pool repairmen. They are cops!”
I then slowly slinked backwards away from the cops to my room and locked myself inside. I could hear women whispering to each other that the cops were here. Lots of women were packing up and leaving. Some women decided to stay tell the cops to Eff Off. At one point a cop started pounding on the door of my room demanding that I let them know who was in there. Thankfully I had read my pamphlet while I was in line and knew that I did not have to open the door or let them in, so I let them keep on pounding until they eventually gave up and moved on.
I wish I could have said I was one of the brave ones that night, but instead I stayed locked in my room for over 2 hours until I heard that the coast was clear.
In the days and months that followed, the queer community would take part in rallies, marches, demos and fundraisers to protest the illegal raid and trumped up charges against the event organizers.
It took years, but the charges were eventually dropped. The judge said the police violated the charter rights of all those in attendance. Organizers later filed a class action lawsuit and an Ontario human rights complaint and won.
Sadly, the Pussy Palace as we knew it, no longer exists. And the gay men’s bathhouse, Club Toronto, is now a swingers club for straight couples called Oasis Aqualounge, that occasionally has queer focused events.
Still there will never be an experience quite like my first time spelling the alphabet with my tongue at the Pussy Palace that was raided by the police.