Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Story of My Other Life




I hadn’t opened this address book in more than 20 years.

Believe it or not, it had just sat there on a shelf, mostly never moving. All this time.

It was as if not much time had passed – one day at a time.

And one day, it suddenly stayed there long enough to become an antique. Right next to my first Blackberry (a pager without a phone) junked after discontinued use.

* * *

The paper address book has been sitting there since my first email.

It surprises me that contacts inside have been preserved better than data in any digital address book I’ve had ever since. For all its wonder, technology doesn’t save personal things well long term. Technology breaks sooner than later.

Today I open this paper directory and it is like I once lived a totally different life two decades ago. Knowing me today, you would never know that was me.

Nothing in it is really private anymore. Privacy two decades ago has no relevance 20+ years later. Even home addresses have changed.

As if pickled in a time capsule, each name represented something I did 20+ years ago. Much of it for the first-time with people I'd met in places I’d been. I have been to 20+ countries and 100+ cities in my life.

There are many names to whom I’d written letters with only one original copy. You don’t get to see what you’ve “sent” ever again.

* * *

This address book existed once upon a time when the only way to connect long distance was to write a letter.


She sent me this polaroid from a fashion shoot in Tokyo

I sent my last personal letters I think in 1997 – love letters and musings handwritten to my kid’s mom. 1997 was also the year of the last cassette tape car. The last soundtrack time-stamping my life in analog. The internet was taking over. Where it would go, no one knew. No one still knows.

* * *

Recently I saw data visualization guru Nicholas Felton talk about how to digitally track the story of one’s life. He influenced the "new" Facebook Timeline with his methods. He collected his father’s analog sources and compiled data to represent the story of his life. Among sources were date-books chronicling where he went and photos.



Felton posted one photo on Flickr to ask where in Taiwan it was. It turned out I had been to Ali Shan too (in 1978). That was my first dialogue with Nicholas Felton on Twitter.

I then got inspired by Felton to track inspiration in my life using his app Daytum. My stats were very revealing – what I was high on or low on.

* * *

As I looked inside this analog address book, I thought of Felton’s work to trace his father’s past from analog source materials. Receipts told him where his dad went. I was curious to track my first years as an adult represented by this paper address book.




I opened up this pandora’s box when I needed to look up an exact address where I had lived in Colombia in 1988. We have been geo-tagging stories for a site called Jump2Spot.com and I thought it would be neat to geo-tag stories tracking the past. "Who lived here before?" "What were they like?"

The amazing thing about this paper address book, unlike Facebook, is that I have exact addresses written down. Where I met these people is no longer a mystery of the memory.

I'd not remember a town like St. Agatha, Ontario, otherwise.

* * *

I will see if I can decipher the first and last person entered into the book to pinpoint how old this book is. I would estimate this address book takes place in 1986-1992 while living in Windsor ON, Waterloo ON, Barranquilla (Colombia), Toronto ON and Vancouver BC.

* * *

During the historical period of this address book, the Internet barely had a presence on university campuses. The 9600 baud rate modem existed in our college newsroom for national bulletin boards from Canadian University Press (CUP) but there were no browsers. Emails existed on campuses, slowly growing in popularity among journalists and science students. Douglas Coupland had just written Generation X.

* * *

The inside cover has my grandparents names “YJ Huang” and “Peng” written down on two separate occasions (one followed the other within 12 months) – as they were listed in the hospital (“Toronto General”). I marked down their phone numbers and Wellesley subway station. Inside covers were often for urgent situations. 1986-1987 was a very profound time for me seeing what the end of life meant in acute care. I was reading a lot of Samuel Beckett (Endgame).

* * *

The once blank cover page inside also has an urgent notation: “AExpress 881308100.” I had been kidnapped in Barranquilla, Colombia, outside of El Prado Hotel, after being pushed into a taxi at gunpoint. Hours later, I had to negotiate my way out in Spanish with this traveller’s cheque. I tracked the cheque being cashed in Panama.

* * *

On the cover page I also see 439 Sherbourne (I think it's the Toronto home for grandma after the hospital) and 2666 Sasamat, where I first lived in Vancouver for $195 a month. I literally took the train across Canada and found that place the day I arrived homeless. I stayed at the Clarence Hotel for $20 my first night in August, 1988.

* * *

I wrote down “Lee’s Palace”in Toronto on this cover page but I actually don’t remember ever being there in 1986-1992. It also says I saw a keynote speech at 6:00-7:30pm at Oakham House, Ryerson. I can’t recall who I saw, but likely it was a journalist in 1990. I’d worked at the Toronto Star that year as a reporter.


1990 - Wrote story about son of mayor in affluent Richmond Hill living inside a leaky crate above a creek.

* * *

The first page of contacts brings back a lot of memories in many countries. I met Kati (Catherine) Augereau from Trelaze, France, in Barranquilla, Colombia, when she visited Denis Vignolet at Alliance Française (Allianza Cultrual Colombo) on Calle 52.

Denis was a film buff who graduated from La Sorbonne in Paris. He painted his apartment black. He bought a greek column for US$144 as a centrepiece for his apartment hangout. We’d listen to Sisters of Mercy, The Police (Greatest Hits) and Art of Noise sound-tracking and time stamping that time in his apartment. He had either a green light, purple light or other colors lit which you could see from the outside. We had no cell phones back then and these lights symbolized whether or not we could drop in for a visit. I remember thinking, "like Gatsby's green light." Kati moved to “Les Courtineres” 49460 Soulaire et Bourg in France. I remember her writing a letter to me showing a castle and a baby.

* * *


I wanted to chronicle living in the street and lived in the street for a few days, writing under a pseudonym. The above are two incomplete columns to glimpse a slice of street life.


I found my first place in Barranquilla, Colombia, the day I arrived homeless. I walked into Eastern Airlines (now defunct) thinking people there would speak English and someone working there had a room in January, 1988.

That’s how I ended up living on Calle 91, No. 64B-10 Apt 4E for US$150/month room and board. I became good friends with Belinda Diaz Granados who worked for the airline. I still remember celebrating Carnaval in Cartagena dancing with thousands of people in a bull ring and in the streets.

It was good to know airline people. Newspapers sometimes arrived from America so we could get the news. Outside of that, we were totally cut off from news in America. Crazy when you think about CNN today.

* * *

I have an address for Amnesty International in Dublin at 8 Shaw Street and London England at 5 Roberts Place. I was into helping developing nations back then. Live Aid was a big influence. So was U2.

* * *

Michelle Adams from Trinidad and Tobago is the first name listed on the first page. I met her in Windsor, Ontario, where I’d lived for 12 years. There is no order of relevance in an address book or chronology. It is just alphabetical. Random.

* * *

Further in are numbers for my first room-mate Thor Andersen in Vancouver who moved into the Outback of Australia in the late 1990s and kept on sending me post cards for me to come. Thor named his film company Bluetooth Films after the Danish king of communication. Next thing I knew there was soon a new wireless movement called "Bluetooth" surfacing. His friend Leonard and his brothers Eric and Glen also have their numbers nearby. “Adjacencies.” Glen once posed as Jesus in the final piece of his art exhibit at Taf’s Café on Granville Street in Vancouver. They used to say Emily Carr fine arts students were a "little crazy." Glen crucified himself using a tree on Granville Street. A police officer on horse had to bring him down.

* * *

Ted Aussem was our typesetter at our Vancouver college paper The Ubyssey (UBC + The Odyssey) who had a boat moored in New Westminster. In the old days, populations started where boats would go. That's why New Westminster preceded Vancouver. Ted used the first Pagemaker program on Macintosh and taught me a lot of what I know today in graphic design and typography.

* * *

Wow – I have my first lawyer listed – Brad, a law student. Someone owed me money - $1600. A lot for a student back then. I went to court for my first and last time and got it back. It took 2 years.

* * *


David Beattie is like a page in my heart. I met him in Gastown in Vancouver while he was collecting cans on a rainy night. I used to hangout at the Classical Joint - as its youngest regular - where Joni Mitchell and BB King would sometimes sing. Columbia Records would record live. It later closed down, and 20 years later, had a reunion which I missed.



In December, 1988, David told me of his history of being subject to residential school abuse in Kamloops. I went to his apartment at 12-146 East Cordova. As I interviewed him, a rat jumped through the window and went under the bed. Mandel Ngan photographed David. Years later, I visited Mandel in Hongkong. Today Mandel works for Agence France-Press (AFP) at the White House.

TWENTY YEARS LATER, on behalf of Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology for the residential school abuse on June 11, 2008. I don't know if David Beattie was still alive.

* * *

I see a very brief friend named Michelle Bombardier whom I met briefly in Toronto. Spontaneously, we decided to go to Detroit together to see Iggy Pop and the Pretenders. Lead singer Chrissie Hynde was then Mrs. Kerr (written on her guitar strap after Simple Minds lead singer Jim Kerr).

* * *

My high school French teacher is listed (French was my highest grade). I visited him once after graduating. There’s also a Colombian high school listed where I sought employment. I wanted to teach statistics in Spanish.

* * *

I met Joceline Beni on the train across Canada. At Banff, my car filled up with Japanese tourists. Joceline was the only person not Japanese boarding. She sat next to me and became my first Vancouver friend. She was French.

* * *

I see a gang of people listed where I finished university in Vancouver. A guitar player from Halifax. Two student presidents. An engineering student councillor. A writer I mentored who later worked for the Japan Times.

* * *

An old girlfriend is listed. That didn’t work out too well. We didn’t speak again after 1991. You can't unfriend anyone in a paper address book though. What's written down stays. Strangely in 1997, she wanted to show up at my wedding. I bumped into her that day strangely near where I picked up the rings. I married a celebrity. It was a strange day. Lady Diana died that day.

* * *

My best friend from Windsor, Ont, is listed. I’ve known him since 1975. I don’t think I know anyone outside my family longer than that. True story - he flew to Vancouver for my wedding in 1997 and we climbed the Squamish Chief that weekend. He had climbed it before in 1984-86. We recently saw each other at his son’s basketball game in Hamilton, Ontario. Told his son Joshua, I’d never forget the game. He shot so many free throws in a row to win the game.

* * *

Sebastien Castillo Buelbas is listed at Calle 15. No 61-40. He was 10 years old then. He assisted me counting cars passing us in the street by model and make for a statistics project. He invited me into his hood one day where it was dark or candlelit. He taught me Spanish in Barranquilla, Colombia.

He reminded me of Le Petit Prince I told my French friends.

Sometimes Sebastien took my notebook and communicated to me visually.



* * *

Some 1988 Waterloo college friends are listed whom I visited in Sudbury, Winnipeg and Victoria as I traveled across the country by train. Those were days I'd take off and land anywhere. But it brought me to interesting places.

* * *

The first movie director I interviewed for a newspaper is listed. In Vancouver, Janis Cole gave me an address to meet up in Toronto. I think I interviewed her for a film festival. She had chronicled prostitutes in Vancouver in Hookers on Davie. She was now releasing a documentary about the highest-ranked women in Hollywood called Calling The Shots. There were not many women directors or executives back then. Deepa Mehta in 1990 asked me to sit next to her by the director's seat to see the view for a Toronto Star interview. She was directing her first feature film Sam and Me which won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.


Strangely in 1989-90, I also interviewed an alternative animation producer championing an unknown animation short called The Simpsons. Looking back I had a good year in entertainment. I interviewed surrealist director Guy Maddin for his first feature film. I reviewed an unknown documentary film-maker named Michael Moore for Roger & Me. I loved movies (topped my film history class) but was a very marginal entertainment writer - everyone around me had said so and so I quit. But looking back - if I knew what I knew was actually bang on, I probably would have kept on going. I said crazy things like The Simpsons would change the animation game and Michael Moore would radically change documentary film-making. My editor got tired of the over-blown hype. I had no authority to call the shot.





Things happen for a reason I guess. Today I chronicle things that I should have done back then.

* * *

Another Vancouver room-mate is listed in the paper address book. I stayed with her, her twin sister and her mom. She moved to the Yukon to teach aboriginal communities. We’ve since found each other on Facebook. Before this, I'd often hear verbal stories of her legend - the only "white woman" in Old Crow. Anytime I'd meet anyone from the Yukon, I'd ask about her. Her community often was only accessible by canoe, snowshoe or a plane landing on snow.

I last saw my old room-mate on a ferry to/from Vancouver Island in 2002 while I was with Nicole Vienneau traveling along the West Coast. Nicole Vienneau has since gone missing and I search for her with this blog:

http://xthespot.blogspot.com/2010/04/criminal-mind-tracing-disappearance-of.html

* * *

I see an old friend, an entertainment writer Greg Davis. We’ve seen many movies together. I remember hanging out with him in the green room of the Town Pump in Vancouver with singer Stephen Fearing. I photographed Stephen that night for a newspaper review Greg wrote. I hope he finds me again one day. His name is too common to search online. I wouldn't know how to begin.

* * *

I see a photographer listed who photographed one of the Tiananmen Square student leaders in 1989 fainting from exhaustion. I remember trying to refrain from listing Tiananmen Square contacts while I was in China. E-zines were transmitted over the internet to share what happened there. Film canisters were smuggled out. The Cold War was ending, at times, tragically. The Goddess of Democracy statue is still at our college in Vancouver to memorialize the massacre of students in China. We wrote the first tri-lingual editorial in our college's history. I went into China after the massacre of thousands of students after most of the foreign correspondents had fled.




* * *

I see a Windsor high school and college buddy now living near Toronto who had two kids early on in life. I recently found out his wife had passed away from cancer. I didn’t know what that was like until my own brother died from the same cancer.

* * *

A musician Janis Giffen (keyboards) I met in Windsor is listed. I don’t know if she continued on in music. She inspired me to manage a band. Knowing very little, I tried to help book a gig in a major theater. And this is a true story. Years after I failed to book them, this big theater called me, remembering the passion I had, and asked if we would still want to gig. But by then we had disbanded.

* * *

A few friends of ex-girlfriends are listed. Such is the palette of an un-erasable, paper address book.

* * *

A photographer friend who wanted to win the Pulitzer Prize is listed. I did sit across photographer Paul Watson at The Toronto Star in 1990 who would win the Pulitzer in 1994 for his spot news photo in Somalia. I met this other photographer in Vancouver, Kuala Lumpur, Hongkong and Singapore. He works for Reuters now and managed the first photographers going into Afghanistan after 9/11. We used to try and meet as many Magnum photographers as possible, learning from them. Henri-Cartier Bresson, still alive then but no longer taking pictures (just painting), was my biggest influence. I shot with a 50mm lens only. And today I try to catch the "decisive moment" via cell phone.


Written in the 1990s

* * *

The address of my mother’s childhood home in Fanling, Hongkong, is listed. My grandpa – her father – is still alive at 88, and fought for the British in those hills in World War II. He lives near Toronto now, relocated by life. I visited him in Hongkong in 1989 (when I covered the Tiananmen Square aftermath) and in 1993 when I participated in a Canadian elections simulcast.

* * *

For two summers, I also worked in a factory for Bacardi Rum (1987-88). Assembly line friend Anthony Hughes is listed. We probably packed a million bottles of rum.

I can still clutch 4 mickeys fast.

* * *

For more than a decade, I stayed at a family’s house for Christmas in Richmond, British Columbia, which is listed. The siblings there now live in Richmond, San Francisco and Tokyo. I met one sibling in Hongkong in 1993 and this is a true story. We were walking in Repulse Bay and suddenly a woman comes up to kiss me. An old girlfriend from Vancouver whom I'd thought was in Italy!

* * *

I see a Vietnamese friend who travelled to Ghana for Crossroads and wrote about water diseases. Good ol’ Hai Van Le. We used to have Vietnamese noodles in Vancouver Chinatown.

* * *

I see names of people I hung out with on a street corner in Colombia. Octavio sold hot dogs. So did Odulfo. Juan was a street kid. Miguel was a deaf street kid. They helped cars back out into traffic for spare change.

* * *

I see a photographer friend Heather Jenkins who became a Vancouver doctor. Small world, once the doctor for my kid’s mom was away and Heather substituted in. I wasn’t there but I saw Heather's name on the prescription. A long way from a photo credit.

* * *

I see a female University of Waterloo friend listed. That’s rare. There were not a lot of females back then at this school. I think she dated an NHL hockey player once – Shayne Corson. I went to four universities in four years...that is a true story. I just kept on transferring to get to a better spot. I don't know what that got me, but I ended up in Vancouver for 18 years.

* * *

Wow-that’s incredible…I have the mafia pilot I interviewed in Colombia listed in code.

* * *

Another Grade 4 friend is listed. He became business partners with me after college. His dad is my Irish godfather.

* * *

One of the few other Chinese students at my high school is listed. Whether I knew it or not, race factored into what I could do or not and how I did it. I didn't become an actor. Roles are still bad for Asian men two decades later. A recent article in the Toronto Star said anyone with a name like mine would have a 35% lower chance of getting a job of any kind. To test this, they submitted the exact same resumes with different names - English vs non-English.

* * *

In this address book, every name is equal. There are names from many countries. But the world is not like this address book.

* * *

A good friend – we addressed poverty issues together in the press – later became a professor at McGill University. I re-united with her in Montreal in 2005. There are stories I could tell about the things we did to help the impoverished. But I won’t. She was also a 911 operator part-time. We knew the score.

* * *

My mother’s first address in Brampton is listed. She moved two more times. One thing I notice, places I knew off by heart are not listed. But I no longer know those addresses today.


* * *




One day I hope to find Jessica McArthur. Again, her name is too common to search online. She lived in Japan. She studied theater at the University of British Columbia. And she wrote at our college paper. She sent me post cards before from Shizuoka.

Ed. ~ Just now, at 10:58 am, October, 19, 2011, less than 24 hours after posting this piece, I found out what happened to Jessica McArthur. This is after years of searching for her online after Google launched. This post dated September 25, 2011, reports her life ended August 15, 1998, at age 32. I last saw her early on in her struggle with an illness in 1990. She battled it for 8 more years. I am very sad for this loss. She was a big light in my life. RIP JM - http://www.titanrainbow.com/nwteammcje.html

"BORN:
October 12, 1965
London, Ontario, Canada

PASSED AWAY:
August 15, 1998
North Vancouver, B C, Canada

Graduated:
Palmer Jr Secondary,Richmond, BC
McNair Sr Secondary, Richmond, BC
Graduated UBC

ODDS & ENDS:
from her TITAN data sheet
Height: 5' 6 1/2" (168cm)
Shoe Size: 7 1/2"

I wonder why they collected her shoe size - wardrobe? In good times, we'd laugh over this. There's audio of her voice in the link. Though I struggle to say this, knowing her illness, she was one of the most uplifting people I've ever met in life. A sun in your room. I still remember saying my last goodbye to her on West 10th Avenue outside of her Vancouver suite. Somehow I knew from the look in her eyes that she knew this would be the last time. It was just a matter of time with such an illness. I gave her a pleading look, wanting to see her again no matter what the condition. She returned a look of compassion wanting what was best for me. I have never forgotten that look.

These are some inspiring well-written edgy words my dear friend Jessica McArthur left behind. The Butterfly Girl is genius:

http://www.titanrainbow.com/nwteammcje1.html


* * *

A long-time photographer friend is listed. We’ve been through a lot of adversity and camping. His son was born on the same day as me.

* * *

My first Toronto friend Jeanne Ng is listed. I last saw her in Hongkong in 1985. She sent me a laminated poem called In The Field when I was living in Taiwan. So perhaps this address book goes back to 1985. Or maybe I copied down her info in 1986 to have it.

* * *

A sports reporter is listed. A Windsor professor is listed.

* * *

My good friend Miguel Pascoe who struggled to find the balance between truth and money is listed. I wonder if I can say that today. It seemed like we said it all the time, just not in those words. He was highly valued at Oracle as a technology consultant. But he loved music more. That college debate we had in Waterloo lasted a decade more.

* * *

I haven't coded complex computer programs again since Waterloo where I had my first email address. Life might have changed for me if the internet was prevalent then. This is where I work now.

* * *

A math classmate in Vancouver is listed. There were only 7-10 students in my university honours math class! Two of the students were tops in the school (one year apart). This was a very tough program. Most people don't even know I have a math degree. My name is spelled wrong in the math department graduation photos where I am not photographed.

At graduation, one prof told me I would never be in mathematics after reading my writing. No one's ever asked me for my college degree.

* * *

A grade school Windsor hockey friend is listed. I played hockey nearly every winter day in Windsor. I pushed it into spring and summer.

* * *


All the college editors I worked with in Vancouver are listed. I nick-named my kid K after Katherine Monk, now a national film critic. True story - I have bumped into K at the craziest places. Hemingway's in Toronto during TIFF. At a Vancouver street intersection at a light - both of us in cars. At the Roundhouse before a hockey game. And while she was talking to some director during a filmfest (I think Jane Campion).

* * *

My German high school friend in Windsor is still single, still a lawyer, and still lives in Munich today. We touch base every few years. He once worked at Toronto’s largest law firm and then moved to Germany. We ate at the old Le Sélect Bistro when it was on Queen Street by the Rivoli in Toronto...when bread baskets hung from the ceiling. I house-sat his parents’ house in Windsor one summer and studied their vinyl records (a great collection). They had U2's new vinyl Joshua Tree. How I learned to sing like Bono. I don't recall many vinyl records after that year.

I took care of their dog Poppy.

My last time in Quebec City was visiting this friend staying there one summer.

* * *

I still owe Eldon Sprickerhoff a steak. In college at Waterloo, I said he’d never last with someone. I never found out what happened until 10 years later. I lost the bet big time.

* * *

I see Windsor friend Dave Sobocan listed. He used to climb walls around the time Vancouver's Mountain Co-op started getting big in Ontario. To this day, I've never seen anyone as passionate about one thing as he was about rock climbing. If you wonder why I know some vocabulary there, that's why.

* * *

A Colombian friend Clara Spitz used to hang out with us a lot in Barranquilla.


* * *




Artifacts from 1981 - As kids Pete and I pretended we were spies and owned land. Our spelling was not that good. We locked up our docs in a brief case which I recently opened.

Peter Schaffer (not the hockey player) was my closest friend in grade school (lived on my street). He was part of Canada's elite Canadian Airborne Regiment - 3 Commando. He was easy to track until they disbanded the CAR after another unit had a scandalous incident in Somalia. Not sure where he went since. Bumped into one person who saw him in passing through Toronto once. For such a small town, Windsor actually spreads around the world in funny ways. I bump into Windsorites everywhere I go.

* * *

There's a piano player who used to play for Dave Brubeck in the address book. I spent a Christmas with him in a trailer in the middle of the mountains of British Columbia. Many people in this book, I don't know if they are still alive.

Sometimes I can look them up online - like Michael Ventrella with whom I stayed in Windsor one summer.

Other names are like ships passing in the night in a 20-year timeline. Like Debi Wainwright who worked at CBC and shared her Canadian Literature notes with me.

* * *

-Z-

The last name in the book is an old girlfriend I dated for four years. She worked for Rupert Murdoch and FedEx after she moved across the ocean. There's a smiley face from her in the address book - the only one. I bumped into her randomly in Vancouver many years ago with her first kid and husband visiting during Christmas. She looked very happy. Small world, in Hongkong, her grandpa, when he was alive, worked with my grandpa (still alive).

* * *


One thing is for sure. This address book said more than anyone knows about me.

I named some people I hope will find me again. If you're not named, "Look me up."

3 comments:

El Don Sprickerhoff said...

I hope you haven't been blackballed from Peter Luger's.

EWS

El Don Sprickerhoff said...

Keens' was also looking like a good candidate (as of yesterday).

El Don Sprickerhoff said...

Still waiting for that steak, mang.

I'm not that difficult to find online .