1) I was born exactly 11 days after Hitler died. Someone was once unkind enough to say "11 days? That's the amount of time you spend in the Netherworld before being re-incarnated!" But really, I'm much nicer than that! When I started school, there was a newspaper tacked to the wall, with the headline "HITLER IS DEAD". Five years after the fact, it was still the biggest news story to date. I was a little shocked. I knew Hitler was a bad guy, but I wondered, how bad do you have to be, for people to be rejoicing your demise?
2) My mother had the strange habit of uttering strange, meaningless phrases. I seem to have inherited this characteristic, but I'm a bit quieter. Sometimes Margaret asks: "Who are your imaginary friends, and why don't they like you?"
3) One of my first memories (age 2, 1947) was looking out the back door and seeing a flock of geese in a V formation. I wondered what they were advertising, and thought it might be Viau cookies!
4) My father was still in university when I was born, living on his $90/month veteran's pension. He got his first real job when I was 2, at Columbia University in New York. My parents had to teach me my "real" name for the first time, so the immigration folks wouldn't be suspicious. I won't repeat the cute pet name they had for me.
5) I have always been striving for "normalcy", but never seem to get there. When I first entered school, my parents dressed me in long stockings held up by suspenders. They were under the impression that this was the norm, but really I was the only kid dressed like that. When I complained that the other kids were making fun of me, my parents said "Don't be silly! All the kids dress like that!". Finally, after several months, my mother went to the school and came back shocked. She told my father that the other boys were wearing regular socks. After that, they bought me some regular socks, which was a great relief.
6) In school, we got to play with asbestos, for free! They were very proud of the fact that it was a major Quebec export, and we used it as modelling clay! We'd hold it up to our noses and smell the strange aroma! Years later, I worked in a new building where they'd just installed air conditioning. It used asbestos filters, and the fibres were everywhere. We worried about the fact that they got in the cel paint, and stuck to our paint brushes. The fact that we were breathing them in hardly concerned us! Why am I still alive???
7) When I was a kid I had an invisible imaginary friend, a huge gorilla that lived under the sink. The reason I had this friend was that I had sneaked a peak at my parents' child-rearing book, and it had said that it was normal for kids to have giant, invisible imaginary friends, and I wanted my parents to think I was normal.
8) My family was not the touchy-feely type. Another peek in the child-rearing book, and I found: "Although it is natural to feel the urge to hug and kiss your baby, you must resist, or they will grow up weak and dependent." So I didn't get a lot of hugs, but I still grew up kinda wimpy!
9) In the more violent days of yore, beating the young was considered quite laudable. The High School Principal had a leather strap which he kept in a miniature coffin. One day a teacher, who was trying to deal with an unruly class, suddenly turned on the quietest and most obedient kid, little Eddie. "You! It's you! You're the ringleader!" He was sent to the office and given 6 whacks on each hand. The rest of the class thought this was hilarious, but when Eddie came back, he was weeping with humiliation and pain. I doubt he ever entirely recovered.
10) Whenever I cried, my mother told me the story of the Spartan boy who allowed his stomach to be ripped out by a fox without showing any emotion. Boy, did I hate that story! Once my mother caught me getting a bit "misty" watching "The Ugly Duckling" on TV. I sure caught hell for that! "Sentimentality is always wrong!" yelled my Mum.
11) My father was the boxing champ of Montreal High, and I think he was a bit disappointed to have sired such a peaceful, wimpy kid. I used to run away from fights. "When someone socks you, sock them back!" he'd say. One day, I was grabbed by five kids. Four held me down while another dropped bricks on my stomach. When I finally got free, I decked the brick-dropper. I was kinda proud, and told my dad, but that evening, the kid's mother showed up at the door and yelled at my mom, calling her names and calling me a "little thug." So I was in the soup again. You can't win!
12) I once fell out of a tree, but didn't really hurt myself. I landed smack on my butt, and had the wind knocked out. For a few minutes I couldn't move, or even breathe. The other kids looked at me in horror and ran away. Later, I found one of them and asked why they'd run. "We thought you were dead, and that we'd get in trouble." Some friends!
13) I used to have a cousin Bobby who was a psycho. I was forced to play with him because he was my cousin. When he visited, he would get in lots of trouble, break stuff, steal stuff, and I'd get blamed too, since I was playing with him. One day, he knocked me down and started piling discarded Xmas trees on top of me.
I asked: "Why are you doing this?" He replied, "I am Frankenstein's monster. I cannot think! I can only act!" Which pretty much sums it up.
14) Cousin Bob didn't improve over the years. He actually got worse, but at least it was easier to avoid him.
One day, ten years ago, I got a phone call from my Cousin Peter.
"How are you doing?" I asked politely.
"Better than your late Cousin Bob," he replied.
It took me a second to absorb the implication... ...and then I could barely conceal my relief.
"Yep. Tried working out at the gym and had a massive coronary."
I tried to think of something neutral to say: "Uh, is there going to be a... ...memorial?"
Peter laughed. "Don't worry, I'll dispose of the remains." And that was the last I heard of Cousin Bob.
15) As a kid, I would never steal or shoplift, but for some reason, vegetable gardens didn't count. Cartoon characters (like Bugs Bunny) were always stealing carrots, as were various real garden pests. Why not kids? We loved to sit around the carrot-patch of a guy we called Baldy Basket... ...sweet young carrots pulled fresh from the ground, yum! He'd come flying out the door and chase us for miles. Such fun!
16) Once (around age 8) I was running down a steep incline, tripped, and went flying. I bashed and bumped every part of my body, including my head (I later developed a huge lump over my right eye.) I lay at the bottom, waiting for the pain to come, but, instead, I suddenly went into a mysterious state of pure bliss. The Universe was perfect, everything I could see was beautiful, even my scrapes and bruises felt delightful! For 20 minutes, I didn't move, afraid that I'd break the spell. Eventually I got up and limped home, but for days felt pretty good about the whole experience. Since then, I've wondered how many "spiritual" experiences are caused by a mild concussion.
17) I was a voracious reader, and often read things quite inappropriate for children. I was reading a magazine article about back-alley abortions, and found some of it hard to understand. I asked my Mom, and she decided it was time to tell me about sex, which she did in hushed and horrified tones. Odd that I found out about getting foetuses out, before I discovered how they got in!
18) I once had a sister named Leslie. You know those warning labels they sometimes put on prescription drugs: Avoid Alcohol, or, Do Not Take with Alcohol? Apparently, they mean it! I also once had a Cousin Joan. When they tell you not to play with matches, they mean that too!
19) In High School I chose to take typing with the girls rather than woodworking with the boys. I was terrified of the power tools. I was lousy at typing, too, and got 14% as my final mark! Everyone considered me a real wussy for taking typing, but I still have ten fingers!
20) When I started working at the NFB, I got a two-week contract, followed by 36 consecutive 3-month contracts. They didn't want anyone feeling secure, or having vacations or sick-leave. I still have a contract for being an "animation assistant" on Spinnolio, a film I wrote, directed, and animated. That way they didn't have to pay me as much. Eventually, after a decade, I got on staff. After another 20 years, I got fired, then re-hired 4 days later. (Several nice people spoke out in my favour.) I lasted another 2 years before I quit. I can't bitch too much about the place though. As Chris Crilly used to say: "It's a drag, but it beats working!"
21) A film-maker once assaulted me in the courtyard of the NFB. (I'd called him an asshole.) We rolled around for a while while he screamed and tried to hit me, but his friends pulled him off and I escaped with little damage. After, I told the studio administrator I'd been attacked, and wondered if I should tell the security guards. "No," she said, "Knowing you, you probably deserved it." Some time later he jumped on another film-maker who'd criticized his film. The rolled into the cafeteria kitchen, and pots and pans went flying. He became famous for these attacks, but never got in any trouble for it. Later, he got into the ring with former heavyweight contender and Canadian champ George Chuvalo. He came out second best. Ha!
22) The last few years at the "plank", my hip-joints hurt like hell every day! After I retired, they stopped hurting. In fact, I think I gained a full decade of health by leaving!
23) Some people seem to be born musicians, but not me. I was born knowing algebra, though, so I guess everything balances. Still, it's not as much fun at a party, hauling out a pad and doing equations.
24) The algebra teacher wouldn't let me into class, because I was bored and disruptive. I spend that period in the boy's lavatory. A lot of teachers didn't like me much. They had their favourites, but I wasn't one. The downside was I didn't get special "favours". The upside: I didn't get sodomized, either.
25) Hanging on my wall is a souvenir of my closest brushes with death. It's an old pressure cooker lid. When I was a little kid, the damn thing would explode surprisingly often. The lid would hit the ceiling, and then land on the floor near me. It didn't stop my mother from using it. I think, in those days, pressure cookers were a substitute for birth control.