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Friday, August 3, 2012

Watashi No Namae Wa Josefu Andoryu Desu

I was once out strolling one very hot summer's day
When I thought I'd lay myself down to rest
In a big field of tall grass
I laid there in the sun and felt it caressing my face
As I fell asleep and dreamed
I dreamed I was in a Japanese movie.

And that I was the star of the movie....

Okay... I replaced Hollywood with Japanese, but these are teh opening lyrics from the classic War song Spill The Wine.Allow me to spill the beans on what I was like - or rather what helped form who I was when I first visited Japan.

Ugh. Naked to the world...

In the 1960s, I was born in London, England of parents from India. We moved to Toronto when I was not yet four. I had pretty much only known Canada, except for a brief vacation in The Bahamas, and the odd sortie into the U.S.

I was a brilliant over-achiever as a kid, entering Grade 1 at the age of 4, getting to skip junior and senior kindergarten. I remained brilliant and fast-witted and universally loved until I entered Grade 5 in Etobicoke, where we had moved a month earlier - in the same house I am writing these stories out for you in 2012 (40 years later I moved back in with MY family with gratitude to my dad for allowing us to do so - a big empty house - mine again).

My one failing grace back then... I was shy. I had friends, but I was an introvert and decidedly shy around people I didn't know - especially girls whom I had already decided I like quite a bit. 

In Grade 5 - after acing the first test of the year, one kid said, "Of course you got perfect, all you brown people are like that."

Hell... I was brown? I thought I was just Andrew, the Canadian boy.

With that, I stopped studying so as to not fit a stereotype.

In high school, I was nearly 2 years younger than everyone else - starting at age 12 - not quite into puberty - though I do recall propping up my desk in math class that year earning me a 23% overall average and a healthy respect for teenaged girls.

I hated every single minute of high school. Every single effing minute. No girl ever looked at me. I could have burst into flames in the cafeteria and no one would have noticed. Maybe that's not true, but that's how I felt.  

I remained 5-foot tall until I was 17. I wore thick glasses, dressed in whatever clothes my mother bought me (ugh!) and had size 9 floppy feet - so I knew I would grow. I was shy and introverted because I was picked on - bullied. I understand those kids who go nuts and kill everyone in their school. Guns are notoriously hard to find at that time in Toronto.... and that was just idle fantasy... but I understand even if I don't agree.

I survived... and when I was 17, I grew nearly a a foot taller and added a couple more shoe sizes. I developed an attitude and carried a pocket knife with me and got to use it when I turned 18. A friend and I were jumped on New Years Eve, by four guys in a car after I stupidly shouted out: "Happy New Year, you faggots!"

I have nothing against anyone of any race, creed, religion or sexual orientation. I was drunk for the first time on whiskey and wine. That's not much of an excuse, I know. Anyhow, I am a firm believer that you get what you deserve.  

Knocked on my back, I was getting the sh!t kicked out of me - shots to the head and body. So I pulled out my knife and plunged it into the thigh of one of my attackers. Screaming and freaked out, they left dragging their friend away... but not after he sprayed his blood all over me.

I was fine, but my friend Scott was in bad shape, so I hauled him up and we made our way to a pay phone and called my friend Derek who was having a party... the same party we were going to crash. No much of a friend, I admit, if I wasn't invited... but I wasn't overly popular back then.

They came and picked us up and took us to the party... but his mom saw us and drove us to the hospital.

Scott was in a gurney dry heaving, and I leaned against a hospital wall watching him when my father came and nearly passed out after seeing me covered in blood. After reassuring him that it wasn't mine, we waited for Scott's mom to show up and then went home.

Interesting, but not very cool, eh?

The thing is... when I went back to school in a few days... things had changed for me. I suddenly had the respect (or fear) of everybody in the class. Suddenly... I was popular. All I had to do was get drunk and get the crap kicked out of me and stick a blade in someone. How stupid is that?  By the way... I checked... no one died from the wound they received.

I barely graduated high school, and somehow got into university with a 68% average... not bad considering I never cracked open a book. But it was music and Phys Ed where my marks excelled in the high 90s to get me that 68% average.

Jack of all trades.... I could play any keyboard, brass or woodwind instrument well. I excelled in soccer, loved baseball - though I never even threw or caught a ball until Grade 5.

In university, I wanted to be an advertising man - having loved the glory days of Derwood (Darrin) in Bewitched. I wanted a hot-looking witch of a wife, too.

I failed math in University - a prerequisite for the business program because I no longer knew how to study. I then barely graduated with a degree in political science. Of course, while I was in university, I was doing night school taking advertising and marketing courses at college.

With nothing to do after graduating university, my mom tried to set up her virgin son with a cute blonde named Iris, who, though we hit it off, wasn't into me. She was going to Humber College for public relations, so I thought I would at least go and do the same, giving me more time to convince her to put out for me.

I applied, but during the interview process, a gentleman, one Geoff Spark, said in a posh English accent: "Oh no, no, no, Andrew... you don't wish to go into Public Relations! That's for women. About 95% of the people in that class are female!"

I looked at Geoff and said: "You gotta get me in!"

Non-plussed. Geoff suggested I try journalism, "a man's profession" he said. What the hell... I'd still be near Iris.

School started and I never saw or thought of Iris again until this moment... and I was enrolled in a 2-year journalism programmed I wasn't that keen on being in.

It was at that moment, however... that very first day while standing in line to get my schedule, that I had two guys standing in front and behind me talking to each other, as they recognized each other's voice from having worked at different stores for the same company.

Something snapped in me right then and there. I spoke up and joined the conversation. I haven't shut up since.

I did well that first year, but thought about dropping out as I felt the school newspaper's students who were the editors didn't know how to put a paper together... I felt they were wasting my time as a contributor.

Teachers convinced me to stay on - notably Curtis Rush, my newspaper instructor who worked (and still does) at The Toronto Star.

They made me the Managing Editor that second year, and we changed the look and feel of the newspaper giving a voice to the other campuses, as I had the ear of the Lakeshore's Connie Ryan, a vivacious, big-boobed blonde with a killer smile and baby blue eyes. I fell in lust with her immediately, and though we went out, our dating dates were just friend dates for her.

Still, my virginity persevered. While running the paper, I taught piano and clarinet and did baby-sitting to pay for my schooling and other social activities. I also coached the college's woman's soccer team. We didn't do as well as we had hoped, but they did give me a coveted Harley Hawk sports award for coaching. I also played indoor soccer and indoor hockey. I was the loudmouth yapper who was psychotic enough to slide tackle people on a tiled floor. Owtch. I also played net in hockey.

I also fell in love with every woman I saw. And there were a lot of them... and still, with few dates, I kept my virginity.

In my journalism class, one Stefanie Lovie was the hot babe I lusted over. We went out a few times - me on a real date, her thinking it would shut me up and get her off her back, though I only wanted to be on her back.

During a school strike, about nine of us students came in - and with the permission of the school - were allowed to put out our own newspaper (it came out of the journalism department's budget). I still think this was cool of them to have given us a chance to hone our skills. I created the newspaper's name: the Ad Hoc (because we were the Humber Hawks), and we put out two newspapers that were - without teacher supervision - good enough to get nominated for some Canadian college awards.

Stefani, had by now, mentioned she wanted to go to Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. What the hell... if Stef was going, I should too.

That was my ONLY reason.

She also said she was going to try and get into The Toronto Star Summer Internship Program. What the hell... if Stef was going, I should too.

Again... that was my ONLY reason.

I played each interview off the other, and each seemed impressed that the other was considering me, and my journalism leadership skills were good, as was my writing (back then). As well, my communication skills were superb, so much so that JET knew they had a Superman. Of course, if they had known that back then that women were my kryptonite, I never would have been accepted.

I got into both programs. In fact, I was the first - and I believe one out of two - ever Canadian College students to ever get into this prestigious journalism program at The Toronto Star.

I left school a month before graduation to be a reporter at The Toronto Star, though the school did actually graduate me, since it was obvious that if one of the top newspapers in North America liked me, I should get a pass on the graduation. Humber College also like me, as I had a decent relationship with the president (Squee) and his secretary Doris.

At the paper, I even had a few front-page stories - unheard off for a neophyte. I snuck into places - using my skin color as a hidden benefit - and got stories that the rather white Toronto Star reporters could not.

Torn between possibly never getting back into Canada's top newspaper again should I go to Japan for a year and actually broaden my horizons, I quit The Star five weeks early to go to Japan.

Even still... I tried to convince my father the night before that I should NOT go to Japan, as I might never write again. He convinced me otherwise. See HERE.

I went to Japan and reinvented myself... or maybe I had just been given the push I needed to be the real me.

I was no longer picked on (though I often felt that I was), I had everyone's respect (though sometimes I felt that I had no ones), I was always happy (on the outside) and never moody (except on the inside or when dating Ashley), I loved my work (yeah, that's pretty much true), loved the people of Ohtawara (yeah, that too), loved my students (except for the Hitler Youth at Kaneda Kita Junior High School), and loved damn near every minute I spent in Japan (why do you think I write about it all these years later!)

Oh yeah... and I lost my virginity many times over - sometimes more than once on the same day with different women. It's the only thing I have ever lost that I hope I never find again!   

And, all of that is his story, I mean history. It's the short version, because if I told you what happened in greater detail, we'd have a book, a movie deal, and a comic book series. This blog will have to suffice about what happened over the next three years.

Watashi no namae wa Josefu Andoryu Desu (My name is Andrew Joseph).

Somewhere spilling the whine,
Andrew Joseph    

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