Richmond, British Columbia, the place of my birth. Born on a mountain top, during a thunderstorm, I launched from my mother’s loins through the air like a cannon ball, into my father’s hands, who promptly lifted me above his head, and proclaimed, “You are the mighty son of a janitor! The common man will adore you! The elite will revere you! Steeped in the adoration of all those who come to know you, a life of paramount nobility is your destiny!”
Back in the 60’s and 70’s, Richmond largely consisted of modest homes with quaint charm, and individual character, surrounded by farm land, wild animals, and grass – endless expanses of grass. It was an underdeveloped city suited for its low population, and a paradise for any nature enthusiast, which is a diplomatic way of saying it was a small city with little to do. A boom in immigration during the 80’s (to the present) dramatically altered the landscape. The main demographic, or at least the most pronounced, were well-to-do families from China. Property values soared as Beamers and Benz’s swiftly became as commonplace as Civics and Camry’s. Some Canadians cursed the changes happening to the burgeoning city, deciding to move elsewhere in pursuit of more familiar ground. Personally, the changes were not a problem. Being born in the 80’s, at five years old, fears of ghosts, and monsters living under the bed superseded any xenophobic impulses.
There was still little to do in the city for those seeking adventure, or fast lane thrills, or for those who were not connoisseurs of binge drinking, and sleeping, but the ethnic diversity gave the city a distinct identity from the rest of Canada. But life is full of irony. While Richmond did develop a distinct identity from its city neighbors, everything within the city itself became quite homogenous.
As the quaint homes began to fall one by one, modest mansions were resurrected in their place. Every other house became a clone of every other house, sterile in charm and appeal. Typically featuring a small strip of concrete in the front, and a small strip of grass posing as a yard in the back, the houses could barely be contained inside their established property lines. The endless drone of overweight homes provided a fonder sense of appreciation for the smaller, now endangered houses able to survive the rush of new development, for their aesthetically unique personalities. It was as if nearly every woman on Earth resembled a Barbie doll, generating a fervent desire to date the plus sized brunette, because of her exoticness. Not to claim that appearances are most important, or that dark haired, voluptuous women cannot be attractive, because they can, especially if they are eight months pregnant… couldn’t resist. Beauty is not a finite quality based on a standard rule of measurement, although you do not need me to tell you this, although you might need a reminder, considering all of the societal nonsense that would have you forget anything to the contrary, but getting back to the story…
My parents moved into a demure duplex, before the era of modest mansions began to take siege. It had a unique personality that stood out among the other unique personalities, in that it was the only place around to suffer from serious dilapidation, mostly around the back porch, and kitchen area. The stairs and kitchen were eventually renovated. The renovations were never completed. Deteriorating stairs were of little concern at the time, for it was a house made of love. It was a house constantly strained by the mental fatigue it took to maintain that love, but a house of love nonetheless. It was my grandma’s house to be precise. She lived in one side, while my mother, father, brother, sister, and I were crammed in the other.
A car accident had taken away my grandma’s ability to walk when I was two years old, forcing her to rely on crutches from then on. This accident also took away something far more precious in the form of her only son. Her tender, warming disposition never gave way to the fact anything tragic had ever taken place. She had an ingrained wisdom, and courageousness developed through years of life experience; a wisdom that is no longer simply attained with age, if it ever were.
We had our difficulties living in a tiny home with barely enough oxygen to share. Abrasive arguments were of the norm, but nothing out of the ordinary. Like most people I loved my family. I just loved them more from a distance, like a grizzly bear, or an alligator, or any other creature that would devour my life for sustenance, should I get within striking range.
It was an embarrassment to have a school janitor for a father when I was a kid. When friends would ask what my dad did for a living, and vaguely telling them that he worked at a school did not suffice, I would say he worked as a counselor. Surely this was more of an exaggeration than a lie. There had to have been at least one suicidal mouse who my father gave sudden, end of life counseling to. By the age of thirteen I became ashamed of the shame once felt, because of his career path. After all, he worked hard, day in and day out at a job he did not like, because of the security provided belonging to a union protected by the government. His steady routine granted him the peace of mind needed to raise us. It can require a high level of understanding to maintain such a job for years on end, without one day gunning on the gas pedal, plowing through a crowd of innocent bystanders, and straight into a brick wall, with a middle finger scotch taped upright for the paramedics to see.
We always had the necessities, yet I found it hard not to feel like less of a person in the eyes of those I grew up with, who always appeared to have more. My dad used to drive an old beat up car, with a paintjob I called, “skin” colour. Basically, he went to a dealership with all the money he had in his pocket, where the sales guy broke it to him that this was the best car he was going to get. I do not recall what make of car it was, and neither does anyone else in the family, but the purchase left a sour taste in my dad’s mouth more than any lemon he could have imagined. It was a peach coloured, clearly discontinued model of some sort, because I have never seen another like it. It was not the kind of car to be considered a classic, considering it must have been 20 years old by the time it was ours, and I have yet to see a similar vehicle showcased at a high end car auction. I doubt that a scrap yard would even have wanted it. Not only was it skin colour, but it had a severe acne problem to boot; tiny bumps of rust rippled across the entire hood, trickling down along the sides of the wheel wells. It must have been hard on my dad to drive that wreck with his head held above the dashboard. The only place that monstrosity should ever have been driven is straight off a cliff.
Discussions of financial debt among my parents were commonplace. There were fiscally tough times, but nothing that ever threatened to cross into poverty or squalor. My parents knew how to masterfully manage the little money they had. Growing up modestly definitely helped to build character, which is something I had to tell myself more and more as time passed, but at five years old, overall, the meek house, the peach colour car, and the lack of disposable income were inconsequential.
Most of the free time at my disposal from five to twelve years old was spent drawing. For a couple months I exclusively drew zombie arms bursting out of the dirt, behind their tombstones. The fingernails filed to pointed talons – the leafless, winding branches of dead trees scattered in the background – the gravestones of forgotten loved ones cracked and worn from ages of neglect – a suitable backdrop for any cliché Halloween special. (Never forget, an unkempt plot leads to unruly zombies.) For the most part I focused my artistic talents as a kid on nude drawings of the female form, and existential abstracts. I just thought sharing the zombie thing would add to my mystique as a brooding artist. Not having many good friends, drawing became a safe haven from loneliness and boredom.
It was during these impressionable years that I discovered what I would call my favorite animal, the chameleon. I could relate to the standard chameleon’s ability to blend in with its’ surroundings, remaining unnoticed, while clearly standing out from other lizards when observed. I like to think I display the same bizarre beauty it does. From the way it lives in trees, to the way it builds nests, to the way it catches insects with its’ tongue, I could see a lot of myself in this animal.
But this is dragging on, (because it was a part of a 50,000 word autobiography I was developing) so I’ll wrap it up, quick.
And now an ode to the most important animal in my life.
Life would not have been the same without my beloved Shitty Kitty. For 17 years, since I was 5, you were the most loyal lady in my life. I chose you on my fifth birthday, for the many colours that splotched your predominantly grey fur. A kaleidoscopic mess representing the common tabby in the eyes of most adults, these childish eyes in contrast beheld the dazzling rainbow of a rare beast, and that would never change. You were the scrappiest, bad-assiest cat on the block. Battling the neighbor’s Rottweiler through a chain link fence, you took s**t from no one. Though others could not see it, you were full of love and affection, exclusively conferred upon me, and for your exclusivity, I was all the fonder. Without you, I would strictly be a dog person.
To include the cat leaves a feeling of guilt for excluding the dog. Alright, here is another obligatory homage.
Rusty the dashing family dog – or more appropriately – the small, effeminate, frisky Pomeranian who was loved no less than any other member of the family. You let the neighbor’s Rottweiler pee on you through a chain link fence, but you kept on happily panting away, only serving as further proof of your indelible, happy-go lucky spirit. Nothing ever phased your inspirational, good-willed nature. In old age your fur fell out, your pant turned to a hacking cough, and your body began to whither down from cancer, but your spirit remained the same. For the last couple years of your Earthly existence, you were the happiest little zombie dog around. How we all miss you.
And so this is the environment that raised me, and I’m sick of writing about it. I would rather talk about the first time I masturbated than to indulge in this any further.
Way back in the 1990’s, before internet porn dominated the world, cable channels were blocked by scrambling images so to appear as wavy, blurry photo negatives. This is how many of us as young adults used to learn about the birds and the bees. (Certainly not through our parents, thank goodness, or through the school board.) On special occasions when the moon was full, and the planets were aligned just right, a glorious thing would occur; about 10 minutes of a soft-core porn flick would come in completely unscrambled. During one of these nights while trying to settle my male curiosity, fully awake and fully erect, I began to… make use of my stiff form. The Circle of Life from the Lion King could be heard playing somewhere far off in the distance. Having no cognitive recognition for my actions, it was an act of pure instinct. I remember thinking, “Wow does this feel good! But I think I have to pee. Screw it! I’ll piss my pants right here!” It was that day I discovered erections have a purpose. I felt like Nikola Tesla discovering the light bulb. Truly, I was clueless about sex, and would be for a very long time, just not in theory. All I would really knew about sex for years was insert column A into slot A, or slot B if she’s frisky, and slot C if she’s really wild. Yeah, discussing that was more amusing than detailing life as a kid.