People are always surprised when they find out this One Shocking Fact about me: I had a regular childhood.
That’s why I won’t bother delving back any further than this year for these retrospectives- there are few details worth writing about that have any sort of significance to who I am now.
I didn’t live on a hippie commune, I didn’t have eccentric artists as parents, and I had no traumatic experiences that scarred my psyche. Those are all assumptions people have made about me and been subsequently disappointed to find out that I had a boring suburban upbringing. I liked Lego, action figures, video games, and all the other kid stuff.
If there are any facets of my life prior to my teens that inform who I’ve become as an adult it’s these three:
- I was excessively theatrical. Everything I did had to be framed as a production, a narrative. I still have binders full of episode lists and seasons I wrote for my various toy sets. I would even try to mold my friendships and life experiences into a serialized format, viewing people as characters and years as different seasons of a television show as far back as the first grade. For show-and-tell in kindergarten I didn’t bring in a toy, I recorded an audio drama based upon the Indian folk tale Dorani complete with a synthesizer soundtrack and candles for ambience. Of course this leads me to the second fact…
- I was a gifted child. This would change almost immediately upon entering high school, but I’m not at all bashful in saying that I was the smartest kid throughout all of grade school. It’s something that got me into a few precarious situations, because of the third fact…
- I was a hardcore contrarian. I have always had an insatiable desire to be different for the sake of being different. When every other kid in the class would name their favourite dinosaurs as T-Rex or Triceratops, I’d pick the obscure (but real) Troodon. Not because Troodon was my favourite dinosaur, but because I didn’t want to have some pedestrian choice like T-Rex. Same went for modern animals. I didn’t pick a cat or a dog or a tiger. I picked a zorilla- an African member of the skunk family. This attitude often put me at odds with less tolerant staff, and two of the four detentions I ever got in school were because of this trait.
The rest is just sledding and beaches and tag and Nintendo and Kool-Aid.
Nearly every other aspect of my personality formed in 2001, which is yet again not because of some life changing event but simply because…I finished grade school. Just like everyone else. And like nature dictates, I changed.
The tail end of elementary school was noteworthy for only one reason- I had an exceptionally lazy teacher who really, really did not care. He was absent a lot of the time and April through June of that year contained very little education. Mr. Malorfo would literally just make up grades- or ask people what they felt they deserved- and write them in. In fact there were days we’d be sent home early, leading to a strange period in my life I call the “Quozl months”. Quozl was one of the books I read during these completely directionless and stress-free months, and the combination of the unorthodox nature of the situation and the strange content of the novel has led to me remembering those months as a hazy dream.
That book, and the many cereal box CD-ROMs I’d play on the very first home computer my family got that April. Those were followed by emulators loaded with old Nintendo games.
My mom wasn’t pleased with me being so carefree, so she got me a job in the Canadian Tire garden centre. Before I even entered high school I was already a working man, making my friends jealous with my tens of dollars. It was a short-lived job, ending with me driving a forklift into a pallet of mulch bags and tearing several because the older kids said it would be cool.
So paper route it was. It was an oddly calm and peaceful gig, walking down a nice street during quiet evenings and feeling independent.
Summer came, I graduated grade school, went to see the Academy Award winning Shrek in theatres to celebrate, then went to Poland with my family for a vacation.
There’s one moment that summer which stands out. I was lying in the inflatable pool in the backyard one late August afternoon, floating serenely as the sun set on the neighbourhood, and I had a feeling. A weird feeling that I never had before and never had again. It was indescribable, a bizarre sensation of experiencing every part of the Universe at once, of knowing past and present and future and trying to comprehend it all.
Then summer ended and I started high school, except not really because as I found out on my first day, I wasn’t enrolled at the school for some strange reason. So I went to all the wrong classes, had no locker, no student ID, and no bus pass. It was not the most fun afternoon walking for an hour and a half in the hot sun down a busy trucking route.
That was all sorted out within a week and normalcy resumed. I didn’t really make many new friends, mostly just sticking with the grade school crew. My best friend from grade school and I drifted apart as he fell in with a different kind of crowd, and I learned that I’d once again would have to work for my grades. All very typical Degrassi type stuff. Oh, I also found a gold ring illuminated by a sunbeam lying under a tree outside a portable, putting it on and never taking it off again.
There was also that one morning of the eleventh of September where I got into a heated argument with another guy about the merits of the Mr. Bean movie.
The single most important and life-changing thing that happened in 2001 was at some point in those autumn months when one of my friends showed me a new phenomenon on the internet: file-sharing services. More importantly, Dragonball Z music videos on file-sharing services.
It’s incredibly ironic that as I was losing all the last vestiges of childhood interests, one of them would lead me to my future career. That is exactly what happened though, as my friend showed me a video he’d downloaded off KazAa featuring Linkin Park’s “Crawling” dubbed over footage of DBZ. That song became subconsciously wedged in my brain, but by the time I asked my friend months later about it he’d forgotten which song I was referring to.
So I began listening to 102.1 The Edge religiously. The station had always been a preset in my household, but now I was glued to the radio deep into the night hoping to hear the song again. All the live-to-air club nights became an institution for me, and I became exposed to everything from 80s goth to deep Brit-pop cuts to turn-of-the-millennium industrial rock. Every piece of music that I heard shaped me, and it was all thanks to the curating skills of DJ Martin Streek. The man redefined my life.
You see, up until that point I’d been a contrarian on this front as well.
“I don’t listen to popular music,” I’d say proudly. “It’s for jocks and it’s vulgar and inappropriate. I’m quirky and different and my favourite artist is Weird Al Yankovic because he makes FUN of all those bands.”
Luckily my dad had a massive record collection and catching up wasn’t too difficult; I managed to amass an MP3 library of thousands of songs before the year’s end. And yes, I managed to track down Linkin Park.
There was one other interest I developed during my first months in high school, and that was girls. I developed my very first crushes in ninth grade: Rose and Corinne. Rose was a quiet, bookish girl in my computer course who was one of the smartest people in the grade. Corinne was also pretty smart, but more outgoing. She was part of the cool punk crew, and sitting a few seats down from her in math class I was intrigued by her wristbands and “alternative but still preppy” style. So a few days before Christmas I made the trek through a snowstorm down to Mastermind and got her a small stuffed giraffe as a present. “Look at me, braving massive snowdrifts for a girl….this must be true love,” I thought to myself.
I gave it to her after class on the last day before holiday break.
“Aw, thanks so much,” she said, “I already have a boyfriend though.”
“Oh, that’s ok, have a nice Christmas,” I replied.
My friends were very supportive of me when I told them about this, as none of them had even approached girls yet. “You were a lot braver than I would’ve been,” said Ursus. “Don’t worry, there are plenty of other fish in the sea, you’ll find someone soon.”