I’ve long looked back at this year through rose-coloured glasses, regarding it almost as highly as 2005 in terms of formative moments and general good times. A closer glance reveals that while it was still an eventful and important year, the best part wouldn’t come until all the way into September. There was a lot of mundane filler on the way there.
This was a year heavy on Big Existential Moments; it seems like every other day would end up burrowing into my subconscious to haunt me later on. Nearly the entirety of the first semester of school was just one big montage of me listening to sad songs and staring at various horizons.
A lot of that can be owed to the fact that I once again created my school schedule not by taking classes that interested me but taking classes that would give me the most time off. Janesh even helped me with this plan, urging me to drop “On-Air Presentation Skills”.
“That’s not something you can learn,” he told me, “it’s something you either got or you don’t got. And you don’t got it.”
So I dropped that and enrolled in his suggestion of “Business Management”, which I also dropped after sitting in on one lesson.
All this rearrangement and indecision led to my first few weeks being rather empty affairs. I didn’t want to tell my parents about my truancy though, so I spent my days going to the Cineplex or drawing at the Richmond Hill library to pass time. One evening I went to the costume shop and got some wigs for my videos. The next I visited a psychic who refused to give me a reading, after which I bought the worst chicken sandwich I ever ate.
It was a nice time in life, mainly because there was an extended thaw that year. I had no stress, and even being on the Viva bus was calming. I remember looking at the Rogers TV tower in the distance on January 8th while listening to Neverending White Lights’ “The Warning” and wondering what it was like up close.
Of course this wouldn’t last forever, as the enrollment deadline came around I had to make some definitive choices. I made some weird ones.
My program’s structure made third year a largely unnecessary cash grab, so it was mainly electives and specialty classes in the second semester. There was the option of heading into advanced levels of the four main streams (Studio TV, Single-Camera TV, Audio, and Digital), which most of my classmates did.
I just reached in the bucket, scooped up a bunch of random courses, and went with it.
The courses themselves ended up being really interesting and useful, but there were very few people I actually knew in them. That led to me spending a lot more time alone than I had in the past, which in turn led to….yes that is right, more Big Existential Moments in and out of the city. My animation course had me take a few trips over to the National Film Board’s headquarters at Richmond and John Streets, an intersection which would end up becoming the nexus of so, so many pivotal moments of my life.
One of my favourite places became the Ryerson library, where in between drawing I developed a strange affinity for the Diaries of Samuel Pepys. He was just like me with the whole writing everything about every day down, and it filled me with a profound sense of melancholy.
Another book I read nonstop was the textbook for my animation course, Scott McCloud’s Making Comics. To this day it remains one of my favourite books of all time, an instructional guide with all the emotional heft of any narrative.
So what else was there to my life other than walking around being sentimental and then drawing myself walking around being sentimental?
Not really too much.
I made one more episode of Grocery Store Murders at No Frills. And I was still enamoured with Ameena, who was still playing hot and cold every other shift. Things seemed to be going my way in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, and so on the 14th I bought a bouquet, skipped my last class, and rushed over to No Frills…just to find out that Ameena had finished her shift early and gone home, leaving me flushed with embarrassment and having to give the flowers to my mom.
The Ameena situation would continue on in roughly the same pattern for a few months, so let’s leave it for the moment.
One of my classes at Ryerson involved an assignment where I had to contact a high school teacher and do a brief interview with them. I reached out to my old computer coding teacher who had given me way too generous grades and found out that, in a strange coincidence, he was now teaching Comm Tech. He and I chatted for a bit through email and I offered to come back to the school to take a look at their equipment.
That visit ended with me…. accepting a volunteer teaching position for the whole semester.
As in, I was making the assignments, the lesson plans, the grading rubrics, along with helping the school upgrade their resources.
Inspector L and I became closer friends, hanging out a lot and making our own sketch comedy video series.
The rest of my own school year was largely uneventful. There was no tornado capping off my studies this time, only a trio of junkies who mugged me for a box of donuts I’d bought for my study group.
I had a few more Big Moments downtown running errands, one of which included a visit to the Passport Office to find out why they’d rejected my application twice. I never got a solid answer, but I did finally manage to get a new passport.
I met with Janesh for lunch afterwards and we talked about our upcoming final year, with the conversation obviously drifting to “What’s Next?”. It was a scary thought, and after giving me his carefully laid-out career plan he asked me what mine was. I didn’t have a solid answer for him.
“I dunno, there’s a TV station close to me, maybe I’ll do something there,” I said dismissively. I wasn’t ready to think about that big step, but the conversation stuck with me. One of the most vivid and intense yet inconsequential Moments of that year was on the bus ride home that day. I was somewhere near Jefferson between Oak Ridges and Aurora, listening to M83’s “Skin of the Night” and wondering where I would be ten years from that moment.
My dad seemed to think that I’d decided to be a teacher. I’d gotten really invested in the TA gig at my old high school, and with my own school year done I spent my days building a green screen, installing a soundboard, and marking assignments for four classes. I must say that it was pretty rewarding work in itself, but I also must say that this was kind of me getting the high school experience I’d never had.
I was confident in my craft and knew stuff. I was entirely in an environment where I could thrive. I was also just three years older than all the students, so I could totally relate to them even though I ate my lunches in the staff room instead of the cafeteria. I was the cool guy, and although I didn’t get to relive prom or graduation, I still got a satisfying redo of my teen years. At the end of the semester I was gifted a yearbook signed by most of the students, and I finally had closure on that era of my life.
Things between Ameena and I had almost entirely fizzled. There was no more flirty potential; I’d become the “creative guy” to her. My music and videos were no longer cool talents to her, they were “wow very good job Dusty let me put your neat project on the fridge so everyone can see”. She told me she was quitting No Frills, and the last time I saw her for a while was at my birthday get-together where she gave me a card that said “Have a good one DUDE. You’re so talented BUDDY.”
I do think I saw her leaving No Frills on her final shift, just missing my opportunity to give her a letter detailing my feelings. I gave that letter to her friend and asked her to deliver it, but I’ll never know if it actually made it into Ameena’s hands.
My friendship with Inspector L also started to suffer, as he got frustrated that I wanted to do so many videos instead of just hanging out like normal people. I also didn’t see him for a while after my birthday, which incidentally was the final get-together for my birthday for at least twelve years.
Summer started off pretty bad. I had some image issues, and felt very unlikable. I made a few one-off videos with random people from No Frills and my “students” from high school, but I lost a lot of my creative spark.
Over the course of the year I had slowly been replacing all the things that had been in the wallet I’d lost in December, and one day in July I decided to finish off the collection by getting a new Health card and driver’s license. Walking to Tannery Mall, I somehow, by some unreal coincidence, bumped into Ameena. We made some nice small talk, she mentioned that this was where she’d moved to, and that was that.
But it made me think about how this meeting had been the direct result of losing my wallet, and that it had to have meant something. After I got my new Health card I went to the Ministry of Transportation Office in Aurora and got a new driver’s license, then went home and signed up for driving school. If Ameena lived so relatively close I could visit her, but I needed to learn how to drive.
If nothing else, at least driving lessons gave me some purpose in life for the rest of July. My instructor was a foul-mouthed maniac, but very funny and patient.
In late July I saw The Dark Knight and my creative spark was reignited. I immediately wanted to do a Batman parody in No Frills and even shot a fake trailer for it. It was called Dairyman and I had so many jokes ready.
But then I went to Europe with my mom for what would be my final vacation trip for at least twelve years. It was very fun, and I got to experience wandering around listening to music and thinking on a whole different continent. Big Existential Moments just hit different abroad, you know?
I came back, and things had changed at home.
My high school friend group had completely fractured due to some romantic drama. I didn’t want to get involved in it, so I stepped back completely.
Meanwhile No Frills had hired some new employees for the end of summer, including The Rival.
The Rival was funnier than me, wittier than me, and more personable than me. He just had a knack for being charismatic without resorting to grand creative projects. And he quickly became the store’s most popular employee, something I’d been wanting for years.
Fourth year began and with it, practicum. The entire semester largely revolved around one massive project that would encapsulate everything we’d learned in the program so far. That project would be determined by a pitch made to the entire student body as well as a panel of four industry experts. Kind of like Dragon’s Den with a live studio audience.
Janesh urged me to sign up with a sketch comedy show like the one I’d done with Inspector L, and I did. But later that week I went back into the student office and scratched that entry out, writing in “Grocery Store Superhero Film” instead.
I was going to make The Dairyman come to life.
The day of the pitch came around and I was up first, alone, and nervous as the prof incredulously read my idea thinking it was a gag.
“No,” I said, “that’s a real idea.”
I walked up to the front of the auditorium and drew a plastic banana from my pocket.
“In the right hands, this is a harmless banana. But in the wrong hands…it’s a deadly weapon.”
And so I told them of my plan, a short film about a grocery store based superhero where the dialogue and sound effects would be entirely dubbed in. I answered all the experts’ questions and made it clear why this idea was fully realized and would stand out among all the cooking shows, music documentaries, and sketch comedy shows everyone else was pitching.
A few days later I got one of the best emails of my life: my pitch was accepted and going forward. To this day I still feel faint remembering how happy I was reading that.
This was legit. I had to everything as I would if this was a short film being made in the real world. Script, location scouting, release forms, equipment rental, and of course casting. I’d bluffed my way through the pitch when asked about this, saying that I’d reach out to local talent agencies to find actors. What I really did was:
“Hey guys, wanna be in a movie????”
No Frills was my talent agency. All the characters from my previous videos were returning, and I added a new character to be played by The Rival. If this guy was gonna move in on my turf I was at least gonna show everyone that I was part of the cool crowd. The fact that I would be playing the hero and he was the villain was entirely a coincidence.
Word about the project spread like wildfire in the store, and my popularity crept up once again. This was no silly YouTube video filmed with a camcorder. This was a big time silly video filmed with $100000 cameras, a lighting rig, and crew. Sylvia started talking to me again, and new cashier Anna-Lisa did too.
I had nothing in common with Anna-Lisa, and other than making her laugh a few times I didn’t really interact with her much. But I needed a rebound crush after Ameena and so I set my sights on her, thinking it would be easy to woo her being a big shot movie man in a small town grocery store.
Making The Dairyman was tough, but it was a good kind of tough. It was a rewarding kind of situation that I thrived on, the logical culmination of my video experiments over the past year. So even though my crew was saddled with THAT Guy as an editor (THAT Guy being the kind of guy every single program in every single school has- you know the type), hauling equipment was a chore, storyboarding was tedious, and planning shoots around the cast’s availability was frustrating- I was more than glad to be doing it all.
The big shoots at the store went off without issue, and were some of the most fun I’ve ever had. The foley work at Ryerson’s sound studio also went pretty smooth, despite the extremely long day.
My driving lessons continued in the meantime, and eventually it came time for me to take my G2 test. I did and failed thanks to an adjudicator who forced me to take a faulty car out on the road. I might have failed that test but that was you know cuz I was trying to keep us alive. I failed once more because of an indecisive, creaky-voiced whiner before finally succeeding on my third try
Weeks and months passed and soon it was Christmas break and production on The Dairyman paused. I headed home from Ryerson with a few treats and souvenirs from various wrap parties on campus, including one special bundle I was saving for Anna-Lisa.
I knew, though. It wasn’t in the open but my intuition told me that she was seeing The Rival. It was just the sort of thing life liked to hand me, an almost scripted twist of fate.
It still didn’t make it any easier when I was invited to the bar with No Frills’ inner circle (Sylvia, The Rival, Anna-Lisa, and some other popular staff) on New Year’s Eve and waited for hours for them to show. They never did.
So my first -and almost only- experience with alcohol was sitting by myself at the back of a bar, drinking a rum and coke while Death Cab’s “Cath…” played over the speakers before the countdown to the new year started. It was the most cliche scene you can imagine, a bittersweet coda to the indie dramedy that was 2008.