I spent the bulk of 2007 traveling from clinic to clinic, hospital to hospital, in a tiring and ultimately pointless search. This I didn’t mind. There were two other factors that tinged 2007 with an unpleasant shade of regret: a swing of the pendulum a little too far into extroversion, and a lack of notable achievements.
If there’s one thing that can’t be said about 2007 me it’s that I lacked confidence. It may have been the wrong kind of confidence, but I had it in spades. Before returning to school for the start of the second semester I made the inexplicable decision to revert to full emo, at least externally. This time I dyed a red streak into my hair and bought an entire wardrobe of scene clothes complete with striped shirts and ties over T-shirts and even a studded belt.
It was strange because at this point, emo’s big moment in the spotlight was done. Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance had transitioned into mainstream alternative rock and the MySpace mall emo revolution was still about a year away. I had absolutely no interest in any emo music at the time, I just wanted to be a sad sack.
I became belligerent with my complaints about my total lack of success with girls; if I wasn’t regaling my classmates with stories of recent rejections, I was purposefully scrawling broken hearts and wilted roses in my notebooks in the middle of the student lounge. I got really into drawing this year, even as my webcomic output came to a complete halt. I opted instead to just draw individual panels of myself with gloomy song lyrics as captions.
The only difference myself and the bobo I’d been in 2004 was a sense of self-awareness. Where in that year I’d thought I was an edgy rebel and nobody saw my (non-existent) genius, I now had fully owned up to be a perpetual loser. “You look like Annie Lennox,” Janesh said when he first saw my makeover. “Yeah but I don’t have any sweet dreams,” I replied.
Not that the self-deprecation absolved any of my yammering. Neither did my strangely obsessive attempts to get people to like me. I started making trading cards of people at school and work, not only drawing them but printing them on deluxe photo paper and laminating them as well. They weren’t unsolicited- every card was made by request- but I put a little too much effort into these things.
It was probably the symptom of having too much time on my hands. I had a light schedule that semester and spent a lot of it wandering the empty Eaton Centre in the early hours of the morning, buying stuff like deluxe photo paper and inking pens and bass pedals.
No Frills had become kind of a drag. The store was going through renovations and the back room was a disaster zone with health and safety violations on every corner. I found a 5-year-old pail of salted beef tucked away in some long forgotten nook.
The bleak conditions only exacerbated my mood, and I began to write more and more music. Although I didn’t see Jethro much due to different shifts, we met up regularly in his basement and he helped me record higher-end music than I’d been making thus far.
One moment of inspiration came when the Viva bus I was on got stuck on an icy patch on my way to a health clinic and filled up with smoke; I had to walk through the snow the rest of the way before sitting in a dark waiting room for an hour. It was at this time that my stomach pains had become really frequent and noticeable, forcing me to find out what the cause of them was.
Another moment of inspiration was when I randomly decided to explore some hotel lobby near Yonge and Finch to pass the time before the next bus arrived. It was the day after The OC ended its run and I reflected on everything that had happened since I’d started watching it and the rough times it had gotten me through.
The OC would also be the inspiration to the one and only group project in a class called Comedic Television Production, which was notable for being the only course I ever took in which I – very literally – did not learn a single thing. We did the project (dubbed “The YYZ”) early on in the semester and then that was essentially it. I had Tuesdays free after that. I did else notable at school that semester, other than a few intentionally awkward presentations that got a decent amount of laughs from the class.
I spent a lot more time working on my “debut album”, going so far as to stage a recorded interview with Jethro about it. This album and the YYZ video were two things that intrigued Ameena, the rocker cashier that had started working at No Frills at the end of 2006. She’d become my favorite at the store, spending every lunch break talking about music with me. For some reason it would be a few months before I got “the feelings” for her, as at the time I was interested in Taylor from Ryerson.
I’d had a small crush on Taylor when I started at Ryerson, as she had been one of the first people I’d connected with online through the school’s message board. She was now single, and we had talked a bit over the course of the second semester. There really was very little chemistry, and the only reason I was into her was because Janesh had told me that he’d been in a room where she was talking with some friends and my name came up, at which Taylor had blushed.
That’s it. That’s all it takes to win the Dustman over. The fact that a girl liked me first? I’m in.
But then nothing really happened. She didn’t show any sort of interest towards me, even as I pined away for her. She just acted like she always had, a casual acquaintance. I wrote a song for her on my first album (and to be honest it was actually a pretty decent song), and she said something along the lines of “aww that’s cute” and that was it.
I played Janesh the song too, and while he was surprised that my songwriting had improved he was more surprised when I told him the song was about Taylor.
“Wait, her? Why?? You guys have nothing in common.”
“But you told me she blushed when someone said my name”
Janesh began to guffaw. “Oh my God, are you for real? I made that up, it was a joke.”
The semester ended with me coming back from my final exam and being stuck on the Viva bus for three hours after a tornado passed in front of it and knocked over a power line.
The rest of April was uneventful. I went to a few gatherings of my high school friends and found that I really didn’t like being at them anymore. I didn’t relate to them anymore. Also I was That Guy who brought the acoustic guitar to some of them, and to make that even sadder I realized there was no point because there were no girls there because these guys were losers.
The defining moment of the year (and many years to come) came one morning at the finally renovated No Frills when I found a juice carton that had been mangled by some careless truck driver. I’d been watching a lot of CSI:New York after school had ended and the image reminded me of some grisly murder scene you’d see on the show. So I called my sister and asked her to bring me my camcorder, asked new guy Inspector L to be my star actor, and secretly filmed the first Grocery Store Murders.
(Yes, his pseudonym is his name from the videos)
The videos were a hit and my popularity surged; everybody in the store wanted to be in the subsequent episodes. I typed up scripts, I brought props, I planned schedules- these things became a legit project. They were absolutely amateur and at times cringeworthy, but they lit a creative fire in me. I’d film scenes during lunch breaks, before and after my shifts, and maybe also a few when nobody was looking during the shift.
I ended up making four of them before the novelty wore off, and then the rest of the summer was pretty lame. More visits to various doctors cuz of the stomach stuff, no real adventures or achievements, just a very blah time.
The music that summer, and really most of the year, sucked. My most listened to songs were all artists I’d skipped over the previous year and selections from my penpal Mallam’s mix CDs from Iowa. She invited me to a folk festival that summer, but having no passport I couldn’t go, and we lost touch after that.
At this point I was really into Ameena at No Frills, even recording a cover of Silverchair’s “Tomorrow” as a bonus track on my “debut album”. She was a fan of it, and absolutely loved my videos, but just wouldn’t give me that green light of reciprocation I needed. One day she’d spend the entire shift talking with me, the next day she’d seemingly avoid me, the day after that she’d sit beside me outside the store after the shift and play with my hair- a moment that would be one of my favorite memories for a long time. It was back-and-forth like this for the rest of the year.
But she didn’t come to my big annual house party. Not many people did, even though Jethro and I spent hours setting up a full band in the basement. It was kind of a blow to my ego as I’d thought the No Frills videos would have made me a big deal, but the turnout was about a third of the giant crowd I’d reeled in two years earlier. Nevertheless Jethro’s band played a full set, and even invited me up to sing Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”.
Before September came around I decided to drop the emo look for good. I got rid of the red hair dye and started dressing like a regular guy again, toning down the “I’m so Lonely” and toning up the “I Work at No Frills”.
Yeah, for some bizarre reason, I decided to make my entire personality revolve around the fact that I worked at a discount supermarket. Nearly all my creative projects were grocery store themed.
Considering the amount of time I spent there, it does make some sense. I arranged the schedule for the first semester of third year almost entirely into one day. Mondays I had wall-to-wall classes, and I had one class late on Thursdays, but the rest of the week was mine.
Mine to work at No Frills, and to go the million different appointments that had been set up for me by doctors. My guts were scrutinized by every physician in the region from September to December. Ultrasounds, X-Rays, CT scans, bloodwork; I had all the medical procedures. I didn’t mind too much, the journeys to Newmarket and Richmond Hill were kind of fun in a way.
School was mostly uneventful. I introduced my Ryerson classmates the world of No Frills by making another video there but with the skills I learned in one of that semester’s classes.
Jethro quit No Frills that fall to go back to school, and Inspector L became my closest friend at the store. Janesh tried to help me on the music front, but our recording sessions were kind of….prickly. Our creative processes just didn’t gel. I opted to start doing more music entirely on my own with the new software I’d gotten from school.
My final medical appointment was in early December, and the final verdict from the doctor was: “Don’t eat anything spicy, fried, baked, fatty, greasy, dairy-based, egg-based, tomatoes, or onions.”
Basically, all those tests amounted to “don’t eat anything”.
I had two Big Existential moments that very day. The first was walking up Davis Drive in Newmarket under a bleak grey sky listening to Arcade Fire’s “My Body is a Cage” and very much relating to the lyrics, wondering how my health was going to be going forward. I remember walking across a bridge and looking down at the stream below, thinking of where I’d be in ten years.
That evening I got a burst of energy as I realized that I was done both with school that semester and with all my medical tests, so I decided to get some Christmas shopping done at the mall. One of the things I bought was a gift card from HMV for Ameena, and as I left the mall I imagined how I was going to give her the gift.
I reached into my coat to get my bus pass from my wallet and found…no wallet. I’d lost it somewhere in the mall. A surge of nostalgia went through me as I remembered that almost exactly two years before I’d also lost my wallet in Newmarket and through a strange twist of fate managed to remember the number of the bus I’d been on and track it down, retrieving my wallet. I looked up at the stars and hoped for a similar stroke of luck this time around, but was ultimately left disappointed and wallet-less.
Other than that, Christmas went fine. I gave Ameena the gift card and she gave me a hug, later posting a message with a heart on my Facebook wall.
And one of the last memories I have of that year is spending hours on the phone with my high school friend Aimee about what that heart could possibly mean.