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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Japan Didn't Make Me

I have often said here in this blog, that Japan made me grow up... but after a recent flurry of e-mails to my buddy Vinnie, my constant state of self-examination would have me adjust that statement.

I really hate self-examination... 

Before moving to Japan to be a junior high school assistant English teacher (AET) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, I had never lived away from home.

Not for university, college or whatever reason people have for first moving out of their parental unit's house.

I went to university and college in Toronto—both reasonably close enough to travel via subway and bus (it took 90 minutes there and 90 minutes back for university), and 30 minutes by car for university and later college.

I also paid my own way through seven years of post-secondary education - 100% paid my own way for tuition, books, travel and gas money. My parents did buy me a car and did pay the insurance, but I did pay for my own gas. Still... I get it - a huge bonus from my parents.

Then again... my parents didn't have an issue with contributing to my education in that manner, nor in providing me a place to live and food to eat.

They had done it for 18 years previous, and it wasn't like they weren't used to it... and to be honest, I wasn't exactly in any great hurry to leave home where meals were prepared for me, and my laundry was taken care of.

I still cut the grass at our place - backyard was 120 feet deep x 50 feet wide... plus the front yard... and I also cut the lawns of four other neighbors, as everyone there was well-past retirement age, and I was still the oldest and most dependable teenager on the block of silver-haired retirees.

I also did the driveways, when it came time to push the snow out of the way.

Did I get paid by those people - er...... yes... sorta. It was the 1980s, but they seemed to think it was the 1940s when it came time to pay up... $2 and some cookies or a cake, when I would have "expected" something like $10 to 20 per driveway... as these babies could place a minimum of six cars on them. Plus we would get lots of snow back then. Wet, heavy, groin-pulling snow.

I was still a non-gym lad at that time... having just grown a foot taller between the summer after I turned 17 to nearing my 18th birthday.

Yes... I was pretty damn short through high school. I wore glasses, and my mother dressed me funny - though I did get contact lenses when I was 17, and wore sunglasses in school, as I claimed the previous photo-grey glasses had made me susceptible to bright lights when I switched to contact lenses. Actually, none of the teachers knew or cared. Maybe. We'll see below.

I worked every summer from the time I was 14 to earn money for myself... having enough money to easily pay for my education after high school. Being a non-scholastic smart guy who could wow in a personal interview, I always worked for a provincial government ministry, making okay money... never anything over $7.45 an hour. I think I started at $2.45 an hour when I was 14.

I have no idea how I squeaked into university. In Ontario at that time, we had Grade 13. I was already a year ahead, and nearly two years younger than most people in school owing to my late birth date (I was 12-years-old when school started for me in Grade 9 - and 4-years-old when I started in Grade 1).

Until about Grade 7, I was usually the smartest kid in the room - at least scholastically.  By the time I got to Grade 7... and seeing what puberty had done to my female classmates... I may not have been near puberty, but I knew what I liked... and my grades dropped like my voice hadn't. My voice seemed to have cracked twice... getting deeper and then deeper still.

Being the youngest, smallest kid with glasses and the wrong skin color, in high school I was picked on quite a bit.

My school grades suffered as I gave up studying, relying on my poor short-term memory to get me through... which I did, until I decided or had it decided for me, that I should repeat Grade 12.

Yes, I had failed math, chemistry, accounting and English and probably something else. Yup... English. I had actually skipped a week of school that first time through Grade 12, and after being caught, was suspended for an additional week. Win. :)

Fug high school and everyone in it. I was angry at being picked on... and if I didn't have my head screwed on so tightly... well... you read about crap like that all the time...

Staying back a year in Grade 12 was the first time I was ever in a grade with people around my own age. No one picked on me... and I began to thrive... I was almost happy.

Still... I was no great guns as a student, and ended Grade 13 with marks in the mid-60s... not good enough for university, but perhaps college?

I applied to three of each... and got into three of each... no idea how that happened, but apparently THAT year, you didn't need to be smart academically to get into university.

I continued to prove that through my first year of university (York) as I flunked out of a math course—I'm the only brown guy who can't do math—and changed my major from business to political science... because even though I got near perfect in Astronomy, I didn't want a career where I had to work nights. So political science - whatever the fug that is - that was what I was going to get a career in.

To be honest, I just wanted to fulfill the terms of some deal my father made with me when I was flunking out of high school... "you'll not see a penny of my money if you don't get an university degree." I'm paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

My dad was pretty soft when it came to me, but for whatever reason, I believed him about the degree thing.

So... while in university and quite aware that I wasn't going to get any type of real job with a BA in political science, I began taking night school courses at college in marketing and advertising, while continuing my own piano lessons and coaching of soccer - WHILE I was doing my last year at York University.

I had always wanted to be a guy who wrote commercial advertising... or maybe did cartoon voice-over work - I was a fan of Bewitched, and The Trouble With Tracy - one a great show that had an ad exec husband, and the other a funny, but ultimately crappy Canadian show that had an ad exec husband. Maybe I liked the job because I liked the fact that both ad execs had a really sexy blonde wife.

Nowadays, some 27 years later, I'm still a credit short in marketing and advertising at Humber College.

Since that time, it's the only thing I have never completed, as I'm a guy who always finishes what he starts.

The reason I stopped taking the courses, was because after completing my university degree (ha! Gotcha dad!) I was enrolled in the journalism program during the day at Humber College, running the school newspaper as Managing Editor, spending two days a week at a real newspaper for an internship... lived through a near six-week school strike and starting up our own replacement newspaper, and I cultivated some nine people to teach piano to in order to make some extra cash for all of that extra partying I was involved in.

Still... it's a wonder I didn't crumble, with everything I had going on at that time. I was also taking piano teaching lessons, coaching girls and women's youth soccer, coached the college's women's soccer team, and playing in a men's hardball (baseball-like) league on the weekends.

I never missed anything, either. I even did my homework. First time ever. Apparently writing was easy for me, so it didn't take me as much time as it would others.

Even then... I never thought of myself as mature... but I was becoming responsible... something I can see with old man eyes decades later.

Apparently (who knew?), being put in a position of power at the school newspaper, writing real articles for The Brampton Times, Aurora Banner and Newmarket Era..., doing that other strike-time college newspaper (I named it the Ad Hoc, as the Humber College nickname was the Humber Hawks and ad hoc means... well... fee free to look that up.)... teaching music, babysitting, cutting grass and shoveling snow - all to earn enough money to pay my way... I was mature enough to handle what Japan would throw at me. I just didn't know it.

While it would appear as though I didn't have any time to date, I was dating three women... all of whom thought of me as a friend (but they were all gorgeous and dammit, I enjoyed their attention - friendship thought it only was)... so I still had that other concern whereby I would give my virginity for a fug.

Aside from that... I lacked that one true mentor... that one older person who could take me under his or her wing and teach me about the world.

Sure... I had good people around me, like Michael Yaworski my music teacher who taught me how to be my own business (it sounds funny, but I wanted to write it like that); the many teachers at Humber College (like Cutis Rush and Geoff Spark) who encouraged me not to quit because I thought the then school newspaper was a piece of crap (they told me they were making me a leader in my second and last year, "so don't quit and you can help determine how the magazine should look and how it should be run").

I had parents who seemed to like the fact that I was now someone who tried in school.

I had floated through elementary and high school through university, without ever having to study... ohhh...

I did have a high school English teacher who showed my short story work around the teacher's office, and there was a Grade 13 phys. ed teacher—Pam Lawton—who told me to stand up for myself to not let people bully me.

I really would like to be able to tell her how much her words meant to me... even now.

There were lots of mentor instances, such as my buddy Doug McIntosh the taxi driver whom I met before leaving for Japan, while on assignment for the Toronto Star (I'm still the first Canadian College student to get into the Star's summer internship program)... but Doug, he was a guy who I decided to write a form letter to (others too, obviously)... but he was actually one of the few people who actually wrote back... so I wrote a real letter... and he wrote back... and back... 66 or so real letters before the Internet. He and Rob were the two guys who wrote the exact same number of times to me and helped keep me from being too homesick while I spent three years in Japan.

I'm not so stupid that I don't learn from the people I talk with - physically and via the Internet... so yes, some of you people, too... are mentor-like.

I have tried over the years to create a mentor-protege relationship at work... but every time I start to create one, I'm like a crapstorm... and that mentor gets laid off. I'm afraid to try any more... and besides... I think I'm too old now to be a protege...

Anyhow... while IN Japan... after surviving my first year on the JET Programme, the Tochigi-ken JET leadership asked if I would be one of the leaders to come and help get the new Tochigi-ken JET recruits acclimatized to Japan during their Tokyo initiation.

By that time I had already slept with a number of women on the JET Programme and a female Japanese phys. ed teacher... so I was no longer thinking with my brain... unless the male brain exists in his penis... I'm not sure... brain not work swell anymore.... just swell.

I hit on a number of new female recruits... I did... but wasn't as obvious about it as others... as I let them come to me for advice and whatever.

Really... with the 70+ women I dated in Japan, and the 30+ I slept with, I only ever asked out one... Noboko, the woman who became my fiance ... and the woman who made me grow up even more... as though she was my mentor... and I, as she once said, her diamond in the rough.

Like all mentors for myself, that imploded when she decided that listening to her father was better than a life with me...

When you come to that conclusion... and you realize that you are someone's second -choice... and it has happened to me sooooo many times after that, well one's ego takes a huge kick to the groin.

After Noboko's disappointing decision, my mother died... why bother saving for a rainy day, when you may not live long enough to enjoy it?

I wanted to enjoy myself now... no thinking about tomorrow.

I began a period of self-loathing back in Toronto, going to the gym six times a week, two-plus hours a night... grew muscles and grew my scalp hair halfway down my back... and began many years of dating women involved in occupations ranging from exotic dancing, to well... you name it, I dated her.

To be fair... I'm no snob... their world was just work... and everybody hates work. 

Just like Japan, I never asked anyone out... but the muscles, the hair... and the one-on-one conversational ability... I would provide a home business card... and one out of 10 times would get a call back.

Ohhhh the stories I could tell... screw 50 shades of grey. But it no longer has anything to do with Japan... so perhaps in some other blog title...

Strangely enough... I grew tired of this life... it wasn't normal to me. At least not 24-7.

Anyhow... if you think me writing about my three-year life in Japan was interesting, pity we can't discuss the five-year period after it.

Though... I'm not even sure I care to any more. I don't want to be a mentor either.

Just listen to the lyrics to The House Of The Rising Sun. You'll be okay.

Heck... I just realized that I am actually a mentor now for all the sports stuff I coach... oh crap... and that whole I'm a dad thing.  

Just rambling today...
Andrew Joseph

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