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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Lou The Butcher – November 1983-December 1984

One topic, which several of my stories will address is that of mentorship. I have been fortunate to have worked for, or studied under many fine men and women who were instrumental in helping me develop my values and work ethic. While I did not fully appreciate the efforts of some at the time, I have come to regard several of these people with fondness over the past several years. Some I have managed to maintain relationships with, while others have faded into obscurity, and I often find myself wondering what has become of them, and indeed whether some of them are still alive. This story is about one such man, Lou, who ran a gourmet butcher shop in my local shopping mall in Subiaco, which was a suburb of Perth, Australia, where I lived from January 1983 until we moved to City Beach, another suburb of Perth in December 1984.

The school year in Australia runs from January to December, rather than September to June, as it does in North America. Summer holidays down there coincide with Christmas and with school almost out, I was hungry for a way to make more money to supplement my $5 weekly allowance, which was enough to go see a movie and eat a meal at McDonalds, or Hungry Jacks, which was the Australian name for Burger King (the exact same food and logos as Burger King). But it was not quite enough to do this and have money left over for stamps or anything else I might want. One lucrative source of money came from birthdays and Christmas gifts, with my relatives giving me $25 each usually, so that I could usually save $100 or so per year, which was a lot of money back in 1983.

I’d had a job before, back in 1981-1982, when my family lived in Kelowna, BC. Located there was a prominent 1930’s resort called the Eldorado Arms. It was a beautiful Tudor style beige and dark brown stucco building on several acres of waterfront by Okanagan Lake, and surrounded by a number of smaller Tudor style cottages. I worked for the manager there, Kirk who was a tall man who looked a lot like Tom Selleck in the early 80’s with his dark brown mustache, 70’s 3-piece suit and gold rimmed dark sunglasses. I did odd jobs like rake the leaves that accumulated on the 3-acre lawn. I made $2 per hour, plus I was allowed to go into the bar and order a free Shirley Temple and come for the Sunday brunch. It doesn’t sound like much now, but I would earn two or three weeks allowance in one day. So from my perspective at 11, I was “rolling in it”.

I hadn’t really started looking seriously, but one hot Friday afternoon, just about a week or so before the end of the school year, I was wandering through my local shopping mall, which was called Crossways. It was an open air mall, at the corner of Rokeby Rd. and Bagot Rd,  in which all the shops were located around the perimeter of the centre, which was a large white stucco building, and they all looked out into a central common area with benches and garbage cans. There was no roof covering this area, and only a partial roof covering the walkways on the inside perimeter, just outside the store entrances. It was a small mall with about a dozen shops including the large grocery store, a newsagent/tobacconist, a few clothing stores, a record store and a butcher shop. As I approached the butcher shop, I saw a large sign taped to the front sliding door that read “Help Wanted”. So I figured, “Hey, what have I got to lose?”.

I walked in and a tall, olive skinned man with black hair and a black goatee beard appeared behind the counter. “Yes?” he asked, as he surveyed my adolescent frame with his dark brown eyes. I immediately noticed his olive forearms, covered in wispy black hair. He was just a dark, but well groomed man. “I saw your sign on the window.” I said. “Do you still need someone?” I asked. “Yes, we need someone to sweep the floors, clean the counters and keep the saws and mincers clean. Does that sound like something you’d be able to give a go?” he asked. “I think so” I said. “I’ve had cleaning jobs back in Canada when I lived there.”. “Ah, yes, I thought you sounded like a Yank.” He said. “Have you ever worked in a butcher shop before?” he asked, in a somewhat stern voice. “No, never. But I’m sure I can learn.” I said. “Fair enough” he said. “When can you start?”. “Now, if you like.” I said eagerly. “Why don’t you start tomorrow after school? I will pay you $2.50 per hour.” He said. “I’ll be here.” I replied, barely able to contain my excitement. “I’m Chris” I said. “Hi Chris, I’m Lou.” said the man. Ah, if only all my job interviews as an adult were this easy!

And so I showed up the next day, and every week day after school except Thursday, I went to the shop and worked for 1 hour, as well on Saturday from 8 o’clock in the morning until they closed at noon. Most stores in Australia closed at noon on Saturday. On Thursdays stores would stay open until 9 o’clock at night, so I would work 2 hours on Thursdays. On a good week, I would make $25-$30, which as alluded to before was a shit-ton of money back then. My job was generally to clean the meat cutting equipment, which included a large bandsaw, the mincers, the meat trays and dividers, and the sausage filler. As Australia is a very warm country, large blowflies are a major problem and it was especially critical for food safety to keep every nook and cranny of these machines clean and free from rotting meat.

I was a fairly typical 12-year-old though. I was very defensive, and while I was open to criticism, I took it all to heart and got very upset when criticized.  I was always on time though, and I worked very hard. It wasn’t long before Lou began to get annoyed with my “sass” and my “lip”. A typical scenario would go something like this: I’d be scrubbing the inside of the bandsaw with a large scrub brush and a 5-gallon bucket of very hot, soapy water. Lou would say “Chris! Get over here!”, beckoning me over to the mincer, the tenderizer, or the sausage filler. I would immediately drop the scrub brush into the bucket and think to myself “What is it this time?”, as I headed over to where I was being called. “What is this?” Lou would ask sternly as he plucked a bit of meat out of some recess of the machine. He would shove his hand up towards my face. “See this? Do you want to eat that? Look at that! I don’t want to see this again!”. “But Lou, I checked it carefully and thought I got it all” I would say. “Don’t answer back!” he would usually bellow.

This one time, a similar situation was unfolding. By now, Lou had gotten frustrated with me enough times, that he really did not have a whole lot of patience with me, so it really did not take much to make him frustrated with me. On this particular day, I was sweeping the floors. Now in that environment, where you have blood, entrails and bits of meat ending up on the floor that can stick, you didn’t just grab a broom and start sweeping. You would take scoops of coarse sawdust, spread them on the floor and then sweep that up. This would prevent meat from sticking to the floor and drying in place. At the end of the evening, you would then spray the concrete floor with water, spread caustic soda all over and scrub the whole thing with a stiff broom and hose it all down afterwards. I knew that even if I missed something on the sweep, I would likely catch it on the final scrub at the end of the evening, so occasionally I got sloppy with the sweeping. This was one of those times.

“Chris! Get over here!” shouted Lou pointing at a spot on the floor near the main butchering table. “What’s this? How many times do I have to tell you to be more thorough in your sweeping? I had had enough, so I said “Look! Even if I miss it, I’m still going to get it when I scrub, so what is your problem?”. He looked at me for a second like I had just shot his pet dog. “Right!” he said as he came towards me. He grabbed my ear and pulled on it – hard. “March!” he said as he led me toward the meat locker. He marched me inside and stopped at the large plastic tub that held the brine in which the brisket and corned beef was kept. This tub was about 40 or 50 gallons at least – probably the size of a small hot tub. Brine is highly salted water, and the ambient temperature of a meat locker is between 1 and 3 degrees Celsius. So the brine was well below zero degrees. “Put both hands in there until I tell you to take them out!” Lou ordered. Not knowing what to expect, I complied. Within seconds, both my hands felt like they were going to snap off at my wrists. “This hurts!” I cried. “Please!”. “Are you going to give me any more lip again?” he asked. “No! No! I promise!” I pleaded. “Take your hands out and when the feeling returns, go back and do a proper job. I’m sorry about this, but you will learn that can’t talk to your elders this way.” He said as he walked away. I just stood there for few minutes with my hands throbbing with pain, before I got back to work.

Naturally, after this I really didn’t want to get into trouble. I started being really, really careful and fastidious with my sweeping and scrubbing. Things started to get better and I was going for several days at a time with my work passing inspection, without a single problem. However, all good things must always come to an end eventually.

One of the things that Lou sold was liver pate. It came on these large plastic plates and would be a large circular wheel about 8 inches wide and 6 inches tall, and would be topped with a layer of gelatine. Lou would sell a whole wheel for $30 or a small wedge slice from the wheel for $2. Most people bought the slices of course, because a whole wheel would probably not keep for the amount of time it would take to consume it. He would display it on the metal trays that he kept in his refrigerated display cabinet at the main counter. At closing time, I would cover the pate with plastic and carry it into the meat locker, placing it carefully on the shelf.

This one Saturday, I was clearing away the pate and walking towards the meat locker. I got in there and started looking for a shelf on which to place the pate. It was a brand new wheel. Just as I spotted an empty slot on which to place the tray, the plate on which the pate was sitting slid forward, off the tray an onto the floor, landing with the gelatin side on the floor and a resounding “Plop!”. “Oh no!” I thought. I can’t afford to pay my whole week’s wages to replace this. So I carefully picked it up, cleaned off the gelatin and tried to smooth it out, so it wouldn’t look like I dropped it, and placed it back on the shelf. I collected my $26 pay that day and through nothing further of it. However, on Monday, when I came back to the shop after school. Lou took me into the meat locker and pointed to the pate on the shelf. “I found this today. You dropped this on the floor didn’t you? Please don’t lie to me.” He said. I thought for a moment and my heart sank. Defeated, I said “Yes sir. I didn’t want to tell you because I was doing so well lately and I really didn’t want to lose a whole week’s pay.”. He looked at me for a second leaned down to my level and put his arm across my shoulder. “Chris, accidents happen. I would never make you pay for dropping this. But I need you to tell me because I cannot sell this to people once it has fallen on the floor because it is not safe. Do you understand?”. He said this in an uncharacteristically soft tone – not the usual harsh tone. I remember being completely stunned with surprise. “Yes.” I said, “I do”.

Lou and I continued to work together for a few more months and we had a very good understanding and working relationship. I got used to his working style and I was on time, honest and very careful. However, after a few months, he went into partnership with three other butchers: Adrian, Reg and Warwick. This completely changed the dynamics, and would eventually make the job intolerable for me for a while; so much so that I would quit once, before returning for the last few months of 1984. Adrian, was a tall, lanky dark haired guy, who often had a cigarette dangling from his lips as he worked in the back. He was much harder on me than Lou was, even though he was just an apprentice butcher. Reg and Warwick were both very lecherous men, often rushing to the painted window that hid the carving room from the public and peering through small car-key-etched spots in the paint looking at the women passing by if Adrian gave the signal that an attractive woman was passing by. It was only a matter of a few weeks before the entire back wall of the carving room was plastered with Playboy centrefold pictures. Both men must have been in their late 40’s at the time, and were both married, which makes their behavior all the more surprising. But this is how it was back then.

Both men were also hard on me – in many ways much harder than Lou and much less sensitive to my feelings. Warwick was a silver haired balding guy that would say things like “If you don’t clean this better, it retains meat bits and it stinks. Clean it again”.  Reg was this reddish brown haired buy with a mustache. He’d come up to my back sink where I was washing the trays, put his hand in, pull it out and say “That water won’t wash my dick. Fill the sink with hotter water and start again.” Working for four bosses was very hard, and it wasn’t long before my defensiveness returned. Again, it didn’t go over well at all, though I must say that I never got my hands shoved into the brine tub again.

Despite the difficulties, I had fun most of the time and made good money for the better part of a year. I learned a lot of very important lessons in that year and came to regard Lou as an important figure in my development. So important was he to me, that I visited him when I came back to Perth from Hong Kong in 1988 for a holiday, just before I was due to head to Vancouver for my studies. Even though it had been over three years since I had worked with him, he remembered me vividly and invited me in the back to hang out. By then Warwick and Reg were long gone, but Adrian was now Lou’s full business partner. We just hung out and chatted until closing time, for a few hours before I shook their hands and bid them both farewell. I see that as I write this today, the store is still there in the same little shopping centre, though it is now called “The Meat Safe” rather than “The Gourmet Butcher” as I knew it. Lou must be long retired now, but I wonder what happened to him. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

One More Concern - April 2013

Our next date came within a week and we decided to go for sushi, which is Steph’s favourite food. I like it as well, but I am not quite as adventurous as Steph is with the sashimi. However, we are pretty compatible in terms of our tastes in food, which makes eating out a very enjoyable experience for both of us.

After work, I drove east across town to the office where she worked as a coordinator, scheduling patient visits for home health care, and waited outside in my car. After a few minutes, she came sauntering out, with a big smile on her face and her long, brown curls flowing in the light spring breeze. She got in and directed me to drive downtown to the same restaurant where we had our first date, which had become somewhat of a favourite for us, Sushi Time on Queen Street.

We arrived a short while later, sat down at our table and were served our green tea almost immediately. We already knew what we wanted, so we ordered right away. I then broke the ice to continue our conversation from the previous date. “So you said that you had other concerns that we had not discussed last time, right?”. Steph smiled with relief at the fact that I brought it up before she had to.

“Yes,” she said, “I really, really like you Chris and I want to date you as more than just friends, but I’m really worried about getting hurt. You have only been out of your marriage for a few months and then there is this whole business of you having been unfaithful in your marriage. I appreciate you being honest and upfront about it with me, but how do I know you won’t do it again?”

I had been expecting this question for a long time. Indeed, I had spent the last several years, even while I was married thinking about how to reassure my ex. So I was fully ready for it now. “I completely understand your concern Steph. The truth is you will never really know. I can explain to you why I went down that path. I can explain to you why I know it was wrong and the work that I did to fully internalize that life lesson. But in the end, you have to listen and decide whether or not you believe that I learned from what I did.” I said.

Steph looked impressed with my answer, but then her expression got serious again. “So why did you cheat?” Steph asked.

Again, I knew this was a question I would have to answer eventually, so I had an answer that I had thought very carefully about:

“A lot of reasons, none of them good. For starters, my sexuality was seriously fucked up from a very young age. I lost my virginity at 14 to a prostitute in Hong Kong. Sex for me became an instant stress release rather than an intimate experience that I shared with another person. For me sex was a largely disconnected, solo activity that I did by myself with someone. My first wife, Lea was one of the few exceptions to this. I had tried to form this same connection with Kay, but our problems very early in our relationship prevented this from happening. In choosing to be with Kay, I alienated my entire family to the point that by the time we lived in New Brunswick, I was completely cut off from all of them. So I had no support network. Then Kay lost her job and got depressed. For almost six years, all of the responsibility of supporting the family fell to me alone. I was lonely, scared and stressed all the time, and I hated my chosen career. So eventually after about three or four months of this, Kay and I had a huge fight in the middle of the night and she went off to Victoria to see her friend. I really thought she was breaking up with me and so the night she was gone, I got drunk and later went out to an escort service. I had this defiant “I’ll show her” attitude when I did it in my drunken state. Then she got back from Victoria bearing flowers and my heart sank. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her what I did, especially when I knew for a fact how she would react. It was extremely selfish and wrong of me to keep it from her. Because I got away with it and the problems continued, my journey down the rabbit hole began.” I explained.

Steph didn’t seem entirely satisfied with my answer. “Well that explains the first time, but you said you went on to cheat another nine or ten times over the next six years. How do you explain that if you knew it was wrong after the first time?” Steph asked.

I wasn’t ready this time. I paused for what felt like several minutes and then finally spoke.

“You have to remember that six years is a long time. It is long enough for there to have been months, and sometimes almost a full year between the incidences. I tried very hard to stop doing it, and when we lived in New Brunswick, I was completely successful. The problem with the city is that there were just too many outlets close at hand and too much opportunity to cheat. Mind you, these weren’t premeditated, long-term affairs, but were usually spur-of-the-moment stops at massage parlours. I know I won’t do it again for several reasons. For one, I spent almost three years in a 12-step program and I worked all the steps including making amends to those I harmed over the course of my life. You don’t go through a program like that, and complete all the steps without coming to some real, life-changing realizations about yourself. You develop better living habits. When I was cheating, I really believed that what Kay didn’t know couldn’t hurt her. But by the time I was done with Program, I could see that I was hurting her, myself, my son, the prostitutes, and a lot of other people. Once I saw this clearly I just made a decision that while this is who I was, it didn’t have to be me going forward and that I just wouldn't do that anymore. It has been over 7 years now, so I’m pretty confident that I won’t even be tempted ever again. “I said.

Steph looked at me for a minute and finally she spoke. “Ok, you sound pretty sure. But what about your relationship and your readiness to date again? Are you sure you are ready?”

This was another question that I knew was coming eventually, and I had also thought about it quite a bit:

“Again, that is a very understandable and reasonable question Steph. Although my marriage ended only a few months ago, there were many points in the last few years where I knew it might not be working, and I was forced to think about what I would do if it didn’t. One of those moments was back in May 2012, when Kay got physically violent with me while we were on holiday in Mexico. It wasn’t the first time that she hit me. She did this”. I held up my left hand and showed her the two-inch gash that runs across the width of my left palm. I continued:

“After a number of years of marriage and my work in Program, I came to realize that marital fidelity – honouring those vows, has many facets. Sexual fidelity, while very important is only one of those facets. I failed to be faithful, but I tried very hard to make amends to Kay and I kept all my other promises as well as being faithful once I had started Program. A much more important aspect of marital fidelity to me is honouring and loving your spouse. If you are constantly criticizing or belittling your spouse and comparing them to others, you are breaking that vow. You can’t love and honour what you don’t understand – at least not easily. Thus, in my view we had a duty to one another to understand each other’s limitations; to accept them and work with them. It was Kay who pointed out the fact that I have Aspergers. She had read it in a newspaper article. She had lots of opportunity to educate herself about it: I bought many books home about neurotypical-AS marriages, but she refused to read every last one. On the other hand, I read many books about depression, which she hated by the way, because she thought I was doing it to invalidate what she was telling me about it.  Kay did not understand my limitations from being on the autistic spectrum and because of that she broke every single vow she made except for the one about sexual fidelity, and she did so for most of our marriage. I was hopeful that she might approach me in these past few months with some contrition in her heart, but she has been utterly unrepentant. So I know it is over.” I looked at Steph very intently. I felt like a tennis pro at Wimbledon after delivering a serve, just waiting for the person on the other side of the net to hit it back over.

Steph smiled. “Ok, well you have definitely given this a lot more than just a few months thought. But if at any point, you start to feel like you aren’t ready, all I ask is that you please don’t be a dick about it.”

“I won’t. I said.

We enjoyed another plate of chicken Karaage, and after we were done I signaled the waitress for the bill, which I paid promptly when it came.  I drove Steph to her place, dropped her off with a kiss goodnight and headed up to my place in the northern part of the city. I would normally have felt very apprehensive, but this time I felt completely sure that Steph and I understood one another and this was the beginning of a fantastic relationship. Little did I know that three and a half years after this, we would be getting married.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Re-Working The Stories Posted So Far

Steph and I had a lengthy discussion yesterday about my writing and the stories I have posted so far. I have always known that my writing is far from perfect. It isn't horrible, but I am under no illusions about being the next Hunter S. Thompson or anything like that. One thing that Steph has pointed out is that I mix tenses all the time and that my writing can be a bit dry, as I am most comfortable with technical, non-fiction writing.

So we decided that in addition to posting one new story every week or so, we will go back and re-work the old stories and try to improve the way in which the stories are told. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

I Have Some Concerns and I Wrote Them Down – March 2013

“Chris?” Steph was starring at me intently as we strolled past the priceless Krieghoff paintings through the Art Gallery of Ontario. “What’s on your mind?” I asked as I stopped us in a quiet corner of the room.

“I have some concerns and I wrote them down,” she said calmly as she looked at me with her lovely brown eyes.

I felt a little twinge of apprehension fearing the worst. “Ok, please tell me what they are.”

“I’ve noticed that you seem a little…well, off and I can’t put my finger on it.” She paused for a second as if deciding whether to continue then blurted out, “are you a sociopath?”

I threw my head back and howled with laughter. “No, darling! No. I can most definitely assure you that I am not a sociopath. I can spell sociopath, but that is about it. I think that we should go somewhere where we can talk and I will explain everything.” 

She suggested a pub across the street and we headed in that direction. It was a small gastro-pub that was open on the two sides that faced out toward the sidewalk, as it was on the corner of the building that it occupied. It had a nice old-English feel with small tables and plenty of dark wood that surrounded us. I ordered my favourite strawberry-cherry beer and our conversation resumed.

I decided to get straight to the point and asked “so why do you think I am a sociopath?”

Steph flashed me a little embarrassed smile and said “well, I’m usually pretty good at reading a person’s emotions from their body language, and I find that nearly every time I think I know what you are feeling I’m wrong. Remember the other day when I thought you were mad at me and you said that you weren’t even feeling mad at all?” I nodded remembering that I was confused when she asked me about it at the time. “Well, that’s what I’m talking about,” she said.

“Have you ever heard of Asperger’s?” I asked. It was like a light went off in her head as her eyes grew larger.

“Yes, I met a guy with Asperger’s recently but, he doesn’t seem…” She stopped and appeared to be struggling with how to word the next sentence.

“He doesn’t seem to function as well as I do in society?” I asked as if anticipating her thought. She nodded and explained that although he was a lovely person he just seemed to need a lot more help and didn’t seem as well adjusted. I thought for a moment about everything my mother had done to help me function on my own and I silently thanked her.

I went on to say, “You know Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory? She nodded with a laugh, “he is an extreme example of someone with Asperger’s. I’m nowhere near that extreme, and in fact Asperger’s and autism are on a continuum. Some of us can almost pass for ‘normal ‘with an awful lot of hard work. My parents spent years training me on how to behave in most ordinary social situations, and I had to work very, very hard.” She put her hand on mine and gave me a reassuring look. “I have managed to get to the point where I can hold my own in social situations for at least a few hours. But after that I start to shut down, and the abnormalities begin to appear. Another huge aspect to being on the spectrum is that most of the time my facial expressions do not match my emotions. I’ve been told more times than I can count that I usually appear pissed-off and serious and I can tell you that I seldom feel this way. So you see, you and other people that are not on the Autistic spectrum cannot read me accurately by looking at my body language. If you want to know how I am actually feeling or what I am actually thinking, you have to ask me and trust that I am telling you the truth.”

She sat back in her chair and nodded as if to confirm that asking me “what was up” was the right choice and asked “did this impact your second marriage to Kay?”

I thought about it for a moment and said, “Kay didn’t understand this in all the years we were married. I’m sure this was the reason for 90% of our problems. Of course, my infidelity destroyed the trust that was between us, and I don’t believe that the hard work I did in trying to rebuild it was very successful.”

We sat in silence for a time thinking about everything that was said both looking and feeling a little relived. I finally broke the silence, “you said you had more than one concern, right?”

She smiled at me in that way that always melts my heart, “Yes, but perhaps that is a conversation for another date. Want to get another beer?” I laughed and called the waiter over thinking I could spend the rest of my life with this woman and I smiled back.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Slowdown in Posts

I have seen a lot of traffic on this blog since I started it just under a month ago - almost 1,600 visits! I am very thankful for the interest shown by all of you so far. I don't want to let you down in terms of content, so I should let all of you know that I have posted my entire backlog of written stories and am now having to write new stories, which as you can probably appreciate takes a fair amount of time to do. So I will probably only post one story a week, and it will probably come on Saturdays or Sundays now. I may post occasionally during the week, but it won't be anywhere near as frequent as it has been during these past few weeks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Unpacking These Last Three Stories

Except for the story about getting drunk, these last three stories are both very personal and very heavy. One of the difficult questions I have had to wrestle as a writer is deciding how open I want to be about the personal details of my life. In my view, openness is absolutely essential to deliver the message that I want to convey. I want to:

  • Let neurotypicals know that there is a lot more to people on the spectrum than they realize and that they are potentially missing out by not including these people in their lives because they do not understand they way in which the think and behave.
  • Tell those who are on the spectrum that their lives need not be anything less than successful in the way that they choose. You can be on the spectrum, but this need not define you. 
With most self-help books, the #1 question that I have as a reader is:

"Why should I spend my time reading what you have to say? Who are you? What do you know of what you speak?"

I do not have an actual on-paper diagnosis that says I am on the spectrum. But what I do have is:

  • The letters from the BC Children's Hospital in which they stated that I had a schizoid personality and severe social deficits.
  • Results from online tests I have taken that indicate that I am indeed on the spectrum.
  • A lifetime of experiences that I have compared to what I have read (extensively) about the Autistic Spectrum and concluded that there is no way that I couldn't be on the spectrum. 
The only reason why my message would have any value at all is if I have managed to succeed despite being on the spectrum. I have made some very bad choices in my life, as you can see and suffered greatly as a result of those choices. But, as my future stories will show, I have also made some very good choices, and while I may not be rich, I am now doing what I love every day, and I am about to marry a very lovely woman who treats me like gold. 

However, as a reader, I do not believe that my writing will speak to you unless I show you just how far I sank. Somehow, "I had a troubled life." just doesn't quite cut it. My story is a smack-down, no holds barred honest account of my experiences that were pivotal in my life and my development into the person I am today. While I have done a lot of things that I am not individually proud of, I am not ashamed of the overall direction that my life has taken. I might well be making myself unemployable by publishing this stuff. But hopefully that will not be an issue. 

The second two stories illustrate what a mess my life was between late 1990 and 1991. Both of these stories took place within just a couple of months of one another, and in between there were at least 5 or 6 attempted relationships with other people. I was absolutely insecure of my own worth and convinced beyond doubt that I was not worthy unless I could win the love of a woman. And so that was what I set my very mis-guided sights exclusively on at that time. The Near Marriage, illustrates the glaring contradiction that those of us on the spectrum can display on occasion: one the one hand, I was able to show astute judgement when it was clear that the whole thing was a sham, but at the same time I can be naive enough to think that I can meet someone from a different culture at a dating agency and have it end well. 

All of this was taking place while I struggled with an addiction to use of the sex trade. I knew that what I was doing was both wrong and that it was probably hurting my chances of finding a healthy partner. I was gambling with my health, even though I was using protection and I consider it an amazing miracle that I made it through that period of my life without getting AIDS. I have been completely free of that addiction for many, many years now, to the point that it is a distant memory that I can look on with wonder. 

What I have not written about yet is how I went from being the carefree little kid who ate dirt and ran around naked, to being the insecure, depressed addict that I was at 18 and 19. That will come, as will my account of my first marriage, which was really the first time that I turned my life around. It was a period of great progress that lasted for almost a decade, ending with near ruin and resurgence. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Near Marriage - January and February 1991

About a month before the end of the Gulf War in January 1991, I joined an Asian dating agency. Chiho and I had broken up just a few months before, and just after my 19th birthday. In my mind, it was important to get out and meet new prospective dates, if I was ever going to be able to get over her.  My attraction to Chiho was not an anomaly – years of growing up in Hong Kong had contributed to me developing a strong attraction to Asian facial features. For me, the face was always the most important physical characteristic in a person followed by their figure. My attraction at that time was for the most part, to the Asian facial features. Therefore,  if I was going to join a dating agency, it made sense to me that it should be an Asian one. It turned out to be primarily Filipino, and was run by two Filipino women.

I went down to some second floor office at a non-descript building on West Broadway Ave in Vancouver  to apply for membership to this agency. After handing over the $325 joining fee that I raised by selling some of my stamps, I completed a questionnaire about my dating preferences and then one of the women, Rosa interviewed me. She then made three recommendations for prospective dates and proceeded to set up the dates for me. I went on two dates and in both cases, the women involved told me that they had no interest in pursuing things further with me. Naturally, I felt that this was the fault of the agency for setting me up with incompatible dates. My, oh my, how naïve I was – to actually think that these outfits actually did any real screening and matching! This was yet another example of my Asperger’s induced naivete. So I went back and spoke to Rosa, who was visibly annoyed with me. After much discussion, she came back with two more prospects: Perla and Ronalyn.

Perla was a very short and slender Filipina woman who lived up on Main and 22nd, which at the time was a somewhat seedy part of the city. She was all of about 4’10 or maybe 5’, but she was sweet and easy to talk to. We went on several dates and talked on the phone for hours. She really seemed to like me and after having encountered so much rejection to that point, I was hooked. I never really stopped to think about why it was this easy. There were some indications though, that all was not what it seemed even early on. There was this one time, I think it was our third or fourth date, where she would not hold my hand in public because as she put it “People talk and they will see me”. But then when we got into a movie theatre to watch a movie she literally put her hand in my pants and told me that she was “feeling heat”. Talk about a mind fuck.  I knew it wasn’t quite right, but I just couldn’t get away.

After about 2 weeks of dating, she began to invite me into her place, where I was to meet her family -  her sisters, her uncle and other relatives. I would sit and sip tea and chat sometimes for hours. Little did I know that what was really happening was that I was being sized up – evaluated for my suitability as a husband for this girl. Then in the third week of dating we all went out dancing together and to another event together, which was odd to me, because Perla and I were not alone together that week. Then after another week Perla called me and told me to come over because her uncle wanted to talk to me. I got to the house and was told to wait in the living room for her uncle. I should mention at this point, that the entire family lived in a basement suite that had five and a half foot ceilings, so you had to stoop over to avoid banging your head. The rooms were criss-crossed by clothing lines that had clothes hanging up to dry as well. Finally,  there were futon mattresses strewn on the floor in the main living area in front of the TV. So most of the time, when I was asked to wait, I waited on one of these mattresses. This time I waited for about 20 min and then her uncle finally appeared and motioned me over to a small table where he sat and poured himself a drink. He looked at me seriously.

Uncle:  “Chris, I can tell that you are a responsible man. I’ve watched you and how you are with Perla. I am concerned about what your intentions are though. Perla is a nice girl who can have any guy she wants. But she is also naïve and needs to be with someone who can protect her and defend her honour. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Me: ”Yes, I think so.”

Uncle:  “I know you and her have a thing for each other – she tells me everything. Now it’s ok. Don’t worry. I don’t mind, as long as you do right by her. I think that the time has come for you to ask her to marry you. You do want to do the right thing don’t you? Be a real man rather than a boy?”
These were potent words. I did want to do the right thing. But the problem was that I didn’t know what that was. I barely knew this girl, and while she seemed sweet when she wanted to be, I wasn’t sure if she really liked me for me. But what this man was saying had so much power over me I found myself almost in a trance, agreeing with him and saying that I would marry her in a month’s time.  I left the house feeling a mixture of excitement at finally not having to live alone and worry over what my life with Perla would be like. I remember being out at the Mountain Shadow pub in Burnaby on their Karaoke night and calling Chiho to tell her I would be getting married (she and I were still talking as friends). Chiho of course was concerned, but I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I then called Mom to tell her after I went home. Mom was really, really against the idea and told me that I wasn’t allowed to do it, which really made me mad – my parents still trying to control me from Hong Kong! Never mind the fact that I was so lost and pathetic at this point that I really did need to be controlled. So I did what all defiant 19 year olds do: I told my mom that I was going to marry her and that was that. She hung up on me she was so angry.

A couple of more weeks went by, with me seeing very little of Perla, which was odd. Every time I called her she was either too busy with work, or she had prior arrangements to see some other guy who she assured me was just a friend. When I objected to this she asked me if I was always going to be this jealous after we were married. I felt bad, so I sheepishly said “no”. It was pathetic really. Then finally, and I remember this day very clearly, because the U.S had announced that victory over Iraq was at hand and it was all over the newspapers that morning, she told me to come over and meet her at her place. It was a cold, rainy Sunday morning. I headed on the bus up to Main and 22nd and got off. I went over to her place, descended the steps to her basement suite and knocked on the door. One of her cousins answered and ushered me in to the living room. I took a seat and waited. Finally, Perla appeared and seemed really off. She didn’t sit next to me, nor did she hold my hand, or hug me – none of the things you would expect from someone you were about to marry. I asked her what was wrong. She told me that her uncle had “grounded” her. I asked her why and was completely unprepared for what was to follow.

She explained that she had not come home until 5:30 am. She had apparently been out with that other guy on a strictly platonic date. They had been out late, past her 11pm curfew and he had apparently driven her home and stopped right outside the house. She didn’t want to wake anyone in the house up. So rather than do that by knocking at the door, she simply had this guy park the car right in front of the house and went to sleep in the car. “Nothing happened” she said. And then, just for the briefest of seconds, a micro-expression  flashed across her face. You know the kind that flashes across someone’s face when they are lying. It’s impossible to describe, and if you aren’t paying attention, you will miss it because it comes and goes in a flash. However, once you know it, and you see it, it is impossible to miss. In the space of about 30 seconds, I went from concerned, to realizing just how much of a fool I’d been played for. I calmly got up and told her that I didn’t believe her and the wedding was off. I added that I never wanted to see her again. There was a single tear down her cheek, but underneath the feined look of sadness was a sneer. I’ll never forget that look. She just looked up and said. “I never loved you. Goodbye”. And that was that. I left and didn’t look back.

My Lowest Point Ever - April 1991

The year after Chiho broke up with me from September 1990 until the summer of 1991, was the loneliest, most difficult and depressing time of my life. Looking back, I think I may have been suffering from situational depression, as I was never in a good mood and my only relief came from going out to karaoke bars, getting drunk and belting out tunes. However, one night in particular just took the cake as being my lowest point ever – a depth that I have not sunk to since.

Several months before this, I would sometimes meet Chiho for platonic dates – or at least, that was what I told her they were. The truth though, is that I was hoping that I could eventually win her over. Looking back, I cannot imagine what I was thinking: Chiho was clearly not interested in me on a romantic level, and I don’t think that the language barrier was the sole reason. Of course, it wasn’t – it either had everything to do with my being on the spectrum, or plain just not her type. It’s just that it took two or three weeks for her to figure out that I wasn’t what she was looking for in a boyfriend. I had tried on several occasions during these dates to make advances towards her and to otherwise convince her to get back together. She of course refused every time, much to my despair. However, I did continue to see her on these dates.

One place that she took me on one of these dates was a Japanese restaurant on the second floor of a building on Alberni Street in downtown Vancouver, in the heart of the tourist district.  It doesn’t exist anymore, but it was in business for a very long time. It was one of the best Japanese restaurants in Vancouver and you could instantly sense this the moment you walked in and saw that the clientele was almost exclusively Japanese. It was one of the few restaurants that had a Robata grill that prepared the most delicious grilled mackerel and grilled asparagus wrapped in beef that you’ve ever tasted. This stuff literally melted in your mouth. It was manned by two senior sushi chefs who were still there 12 years later, when I went back once before Kay and I moved to New Brunswick.  Chiho took me here because she said it was one of the best places to get sushi and she really enjoyed the true Japanese sushi: the stuff with cod roe on top, or eel, or sashimi. None of this California roll business with her – although this place did make great California roll.  

Anyway, there was a waitress who worked there that I found strikingly beautiful and friendly. I was just getting to the point where I was beginning to accept that Chiho and I would never be more than friends and so I was beginning to look afield for other potential girlfriends. In retrospect, this was a stage of my life where being alone was terrifying to me and I was grasping at straws to avoid having to be alone in my own skin. Of course, I had no idea that I was on the spectrum at this time and people generally had no idea either – all they knew was that I was “weird”. So being alone between the ages of 19 and 20 was really, really painful for me because my perception, from watching what other people were doing and experiencing during this time was that I SHOULD have a girlfriend and other friends. I SHOULD have someplace to be after work on a Friday night. It was under the weight of those “shoulds” that my psyche collapsed into an abyss of depression.

After that first trip with Chiho to the restaurant, and that first time that I met Nanae, I kept going there for dinner and of course being served by her. She was always very friendly and always stopped to make conversation. This brings me to what is probably the most definitive trait of us Aspies: our mind blindness. It has many facets, but one of them is we often completely misinterpret the significance of human behavior and body language. Those of us who are trained to behave properly in social situations learn to look for appropriate cues to judge a situation, but our judgement is often completely off. In this situation, I completely failed to realize that Nanae was only being friendly towards me because it was part of her job to be. She had not given me any clear cut signals that she could be interested in seeing me outside work. However, one day she did tell me that she was having a birthday party at her apartment and invited me to come. She said for me to come around 10 at night (it was a Friday) and gave me her address. I had already made advances at her before this and was rebuffed, so I was naturally wondering if she had changed her mind. See? This is what I am talking about. We aspies are very black and white in our thinking. To me this invitation had to have a significance that went past a casual invite to a party and it never occurred to me that Nanae might have other reasons for inviting me there, but it would become apparent later.

I worked on my stamps that afternoon at home and then a good 3 hours before I was due to show up at Nanae’s place I took a shower and got dressed up in my best clothes. Then I headed downtown for dinner and a few drinks before 10. I was already on my way to getting drunk when 10 rolled around, but I could still pass for relatively sober. I went to the address in the West End (where many of the young Japanese girls who would visit Vancouver on their yearly sojourns would often live) and rang the downstairs buzzer. I was let in and made my way upstairs. Once there, I found her apartment and knocked on the door. Nanae greeted me with a smile and ushered me to sit at her kitchen table, where there were four or five other young Japanese people seated. I can’t fully remember the breakdown between males and females, for reasons that will soon become abundantly clear, but they were all drinking beer. Nanae offered me one, I think it was Heineken.  The other people at the table were keen to talk to me as I drank and got more and more drunk. For much of the time they were passing around a camera and taking pictures of me. I was flattered by this attention, again completely failing to recognize that I was essentially their source of entertainment for the evening.

Around 11:30 the doorbell rang. I was in the chair closest to the door, so I got up to answer it. Much to my surprise, when I opened the door, it was Chiho, looking very dressed up and beautiful. Almost immediately I began to feel uncomfortable I still wanted her so badly, I thought. But I knew I couldn’t have her and I couldn’t have Nanae either. It seemed like I could never have anyone. So my mood began to descend into self-pity as I continued to drink with the others. The dynamic changed a bit once Chiho was there but I tried to act relatively normal. Shortly after Chiho sat down at the table, my 4th or 5th beer had run out and Nanae bought out a large bottle of Crown Royal whiskey. To this point, I was unaware of the expression: “Wine before beer in the clear. Beer before liquor, never been sicker”.  I would learn about it first hand though in a big way. I accepted a glass and Nanae got four small porcelain sake cups out of a cupboard.  She poured a cup for me to the brim and I drank it, much the way I was drinking my beer. I would drink four of those cups full of straight up Crown Royal before the night was out. I don’t know how much that was exactly, but I would guess now that each sake cup was probably a good half cup. So I drank 2 cups of Crown Royal – about 500 ml, or 16 ounces. Chiho had tried a couple of times to persuade me not to have more, but I just dismissed her concern and kept going.

Around 1:30 am, Nanae indicated it was time for everyone to leave. I stumbled out towards the bank of elevators. Chiho begged me to come with her to get a ride home, but I declined her offer, insisting that I would be fine on my own. I of course was starting to develop other ideas by now. One of the side effects to being drunk for me was that I did not want the party or evening to end. It was a horribly acute feeling that once started would not leave me alone until I passed out from the alcohol, or sheer exhaustion. Even in this falling-down-drunk state, I still felt that I had more in me and in my mind I still had at least another hour to grab another drink somewhere. Never mind that I had to be at work for 8:30 the following morning – I just wasn’t thinking clearly by this point.

I managed to stumble into Shenanigan’s on Robson St. , about a block away, and grab a drink before they closed and as they were ushering everybody out, I was finally beginning to accept the evening was well and truly over – a sinking realization. It was now long past the point where the last busses had stopped running, so I began the long walk up Robson Street, to Hastings Street, and then up Hastings toward Sperling Ave., where I rented a small basement suite. Hastings is the main east-west street that traverses the northernmost end of the city that is south of the North Shore (a large inlet, Burrard Inlet separates North Vancouver from Vancouver proper). The whole trip was probably between about 6 and 8km in total, but at that time of night it was a very long walk. I got as far as about a block and a half past Main St. heading east (about 1 km), when I began to notice all the street prostitutes posing provocatively. Slowly, but surely, my lust was awakened, and it grew with every step I took on the pavement. Unfortunately for me, I actually did happen to have money on me, so I was especially vulnerable. I can’t remember exactly where it happened along Hastings, but a very slender, dark haired girl approached me and offered me the “works” for $60. I accepted and followed her back to her place – a small, dilapidated house. Almost as soon as I entered the house everything went black.

The first thing I saw when I awoke was the long, thin trail of red, running along an arm. As I adjusted my eyesight to the immensely dingy lighting, I could see the girl crouching and hoisting her arm up by a long rubber hose held in place by her teeth, while she was injecting herself with a needle held in her other hand. Oh My God! I thought. “I just had sex with a drug addicted hooker”. I sat up and surveyed my surroundings – one of those dirty blue and white striped mattresses with the little pinstripes – like the kind you would see on beds from the 19th century; dirty walls and filth on the floors. I got up and put my pants on and said “I’m sorry. I’ve got to go”. The woman didn’t even look up as I calmly walked out of there, past two or three junkie guys who were standing in the main hall. As soon as I cleared the doorway, I ran. I ran to the nearest quiet place I could find, sat down and began sobbing at what I had just done. Even in my very drunken state, I knew, just knew that I couldn’t possibly sink any lower. To this day I still don’t know what I actually did with that prostitute: for all I know, it could have been nothing at all. It is 30-60 minutes of my life that I can never get back.

By now, it was 4 am. There was no point in going home, since I would have to get up and head out to work shortly after. So I walked to 420 West Pender St. where the Weeda Stamps was, where I worked – about 15 min away and once I got there, I headed to the back of the building. There was a graveled area by the back door, which was relatively clean. I buttoned my long, navy blue trench coat up all the way over my clothes and lay down on the gravel to try to get some sleep. I set my watch alarm to go off at 7:30, so that I would have some time to freshen up before work.

The next thing I knew my watch alarm went off and I awoke to the most acute pain in my abdomen and torso that I had ever experienced. I felt as if I had been kicked by hard boots while I was on the ground. I had an ear-splitting headache and a completely dry and pasty mouth. I wanted to die. I was sure that I must be dying. I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to get through the day. I shuffled off to the café next door and ordered a cup of black coffee to try and jolt my system into functioning at least somewhat normally. I lit a menthol cigarette. These two things were not helping me” toxins on top of toxins. But they made me feel better – at least for a minute while I attempted to muster up the strength to go into work. After I sat there for about half an hour, I went to the washroom to attempt to straighten up and at least look somewhat presentable. I could barely walk without groaning, but I went into work. Chris and Bev were by now, tired of seeing me hung over and this time Chris specifically told me that I needed to get a handle on this. I don’t know how I did it, but I did manage to get my work done and serve the customers throughout the day.  All I wanted to do was go home and go to bed.

I eventually went home and stopped at the corner store along the way and picked up two large bottles of 7-up to ease my stomach. I also thought that drinking them would help with my hangover. I arrived home at about 6 pm on the Saturday and went straight to bed. I stayed there until the morning on Monday when it was time to go back to work.  By Sunday evening the hangover began to subside, but it was easily the longest and worst hangover I have ever had in living memory and while I lay there in bed, my mind kept racing. All I could think of was how I needed to change things drastically, or I wouldn’t make it to 30. Little did I know that in only two months, I would  meet the woman who was to become my first wife, and she would be my salvation from this pitiful existence that I led to this point. 

Getting Drunk For The First Time - Happened in Spring 1986

Although the legal drinking age in Hong Kong was 18, it was very easy to buy alcohol there even if you were underage. You could buy it at grocery stores, at 7-11 corner stores and even the leading drugstore, Watsons would have entire flats of Carlsberg and San Miguel on the shelves. What’s more, the cost of beer was on a par with pop and juice, so it was relatively easy to get a hold of. The only problem was that there weren’t many places to consume it, where it wouldn’t be noticed by other adults.  

One Saturday, a group of my friends and I decided to go to watch “Nightmare on Elm Street”.  In Shatin, where I lived was this large shopping centre called New Town Plaza. It had, what at the time was considered a large movie theatre – 6 different screens.  Back then any place that showed more than 2 or 3 different movies was a large theatre – not like the 20 screen theatres of today that show every current movie. The Plaza also had a McDonalds, several other restaurants and of course a large Watson’s on the second floor.  In our group were my friends Alex and Caroline, who you will read about elsewhere in this book, Michael and Jason – another guy I was almost, but not quite friends with.  We met up in the central area of the shopping centre at the agreed upon time and proceeded to head to McDonalds where we pigged out on many, many Big Macs and orders of fries.

After dinner it was time to head over to the theatre. Just as we were about to go, Mike and Jason suggested that we go to Watson’s and buy beer to take into the movie theatre. This sounded like a great idea, so we went to Watson’s and noticed that a flat of San Miguel was $100 HK, which worked out to be $20 for each of us. Think about this: 24 cans of beer split among 5 teenagers. We were sure to get drunk. The most alcohol I’d ever consumed to this point was a single glass of wine that my dad had let me drink every now and again. I didn’t even think I liked beer. So I wasn’t thinking at that point of getting drunk and I had no idea what the impact of drinking that beer was going to be. I would find out soon though. We bought the beer and paid for it with our pooled money, but were immediately faced with a problem. How do we get it into the movie theatre? Mike came up with the idea to ask the counter staff for extra bags. We simply took the beers out of the plastic rings that held them together and dropped them into four bags, making it look like we had simply bought toiletries and were carrying those into the theatre. It was brilliant. Although we were a bit nervous as we stood in the ticket line, nobody noticed what we were bringing in with us. We made our way over to some seats near the back of the theatre on the left side and settled in.

I barely remember the details of the movie, except that Freddie Krueger was mildly scary. The focus for the first hour of the movie became the consumption of copious amounts of beer.  By the time the first hour of the movie had passed, I’d already consumed four entire cans of beer and in the second half of the movie I began to feel the effects. I was sitting in the seat closest to the aisle, while Alex, Jason, Caroline and Mike were seated to my left. It wasn’t long before I noticed one of Mike or Jason (I can’t remember which now) and Caroline making out next to me. I started to experience the feeling of missing out that I suspect nearly all drunk people experience in this situation. Now, I had never made any moves on Alex before: we were just friends. But as the alcohol induced stupor began to take hold, I suddenly began to feel great affection for poor Alex. I leaned over and slurred something that sounded very charming in my head to Alex and proceeded to try and kiss her. I was promptly rebuffed and I got upset, to which Alex immediately apologized and said that while she liked me as a friend, she never saw me that way.  Needless to say I was mortified.

A short while later, we left the theater and went our separate ways. I was very drunk by this point and staggered home, after leaving the train station at Fo Tan, which was a good 45- minute walk from my apartment. I had decided that I needed to walk it off, because I knew that my parents would be waiting for me when I got home. My parents had this ritual. We owned two large Queen Anne Wingback chairs from the 1700’s. These things are 5 feet tall and almost 4 feet wide, and they sat in our living room facing one another. My parents would wait up for me, one in each chair and when I came home they would ask me to sit on the couch and would proceed to ask questions about the evening’s events – where I had been; who I was with; what I had been up to.  I knew that if I took the normal bus route home from New Town Plaza, I was surely a dead man.

I figured that if I walked home, somehow I would be sober when I got home, or at least sober enough that I could avoid my parent’s suspicions and just shuffle off to bed. Unfortunately as I was soon to learn, it doesn’t work that way with alcohol, and when I walked through the gates of the housing estate, I was still noticeably drunk, perhaps even more so as the physical exertion had distributed the alcohol throughout my system. I made my way into the elevator, hit “18”, and prayed a silent prayer as the doors closed. When I got up to the 18th floor, I got out slowly, collected my composure and took out my key and slowly unlocked the front door. Much to my surprise, the only parent who was sitting down was mom. It was enough though.

Mom: “Tell me about your evening darling.”

I began to speak and after about two sentences mom stopped me.

Mom: “Chrissy, have you been drinking?”

Me: “No…. Well I had one beer.”

As I could see from the look on mom’s face that there was no way I was going to successfully fib my way through this one.  

Mom: “Christopher, you smell like a distillery. You know this means I will have to tell your father."

Me: “No! Don’t tell dad. Please. I can do something for you in return - like maybe you have extra dishes that need washing.”

As I said this she got up from the chair and begin to walk toward the hallway that led to the bedroom where dad was. I followed after her a few steps repeating my pleas, but to no avail. Resigned, I wandered back to the wingback chair and took a seat, awaiting my fate.  Dad came out with an angry look on his face and proceeded to chew me out something fierce for getting drunk telling me what a stupid thing it was and was this really how I was going to show my parents how trustworthy I was with my freedom.  After a few minutes of this he ordered me to go to bed. I shuffled off to my room and crashed on my bed, passing out almost immediately.

Within a few months, my parents admitted that it took everything they had not to burst out laughing when they saw me like that. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Postscript to the Last Three Stories

Each of these last three stories illustrates a different aspect of life on the Autistic spectrum, as well as behaviors that would be completely normal for a neurotypical at the same time.

In Backflop!, there is nothing abnormal about using the high diving towers or even wanting to show off my diving abilities. What is unusual for that age is the single-minded focus apparent in diving again and again until I was able to perfect the technique and then never getting tired of doing the same dives over and over again once I had perfected them. A very high tolerance for sameness and routine in the things we enjoy is a very central part to being on the Autistic spectrum. Most neurotypicals will eventually grow tired of the things they enjoy if they experience them too many times without a break in between. This would seem to apply to almost everything. For example, I like to think I am a fairly good cook. I know I make a mean eggs benedict - we're talking proscuitto, tomato, fresh croissants, copious amounts of rich lemony hollandaise sauce, and capers on top. I usually like to serve this with a nice glass of lemon spritzer or orange juice. Sounds pretty tasty huh?Back when I was married to my second ex, I used to make eggs benedict on weekends, which she and my son really seemed to like - for about a month. After that time, the next time I made it, my ex looked at me and said:

Kay: "Can you please never make that again?"

I know she didn't mean it literally, but she was just that sick of it. As I turned to look at my son, his head nodded gently in agreement with his mom. But I am sure that I could eat eggs benedict every Saturday morning for the rest of my life and never get sick of it - die from heart disease perhaps, but not get tired of it. I have also noticed that I can listen to the same 5 or 6 music albums while I work, every day for months. I kid you not.

The Party, illustrates the most normal aspect of being a teenager; the overwhelming desire to be accepted by one's peers, and how far most of us are prepared to go to gain that acceptance. Most of us will go very far, even if it means snubbing those who are actually more like us than those we wish to be accepted by. I included this story because I just couldn't resist the part about Mike peeing out my 18th floor window, and because it does illustrate that while I was very different from my peers in a lot of ways, there were some ways in which I was very similar in the end. I was not always a victim of prejudice - I could also dish it out as well. I am not proud of that, even all these years later. However, it is how I was at the time, so I have to be honest about it.

Ronnie, Next President of the United States, shows an example of how I can completely fail to recognize that a person is kidding, take them literally, but react in a manner that is not socially inappropriate - a pure fluke of sorts. In this story, I laughed at the prospect of Ronnie being President, which was how most people would react. Yet Ronnie sensed that I was reacting that way for the wrong reasons and decided to pull my leg by pretending to be serious. The rest of the story is really just about three very normal 16 year old young men enjoying a night on the town in an area that is really the stuff of legend now. I hope I described it in a way that lets the reader really see what those streets looked like, and allows them to experience the atmosphere in those bars. It was really quite unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else and it was one of the memories I have of Hong Kong that I have come to cherish oddly enough.

All of the stories so far are very simple stories, but told with a lot of the extraneous details, all of which I remember very clearly, even though many of these stories were of events that happened over 30 years ago. I have always taken my memory for granted, and assumed that it is nothing special. But my partner Steph has told me that this kind of memory is not normal at all. I still remember the first and last names of all my teachers since kindergarten, and she says that this is extraordinary. I'll take her word for it, but I never thought so for all these years. I cannot comment on whether or not this is another aspect of being on the spectrum, or whether it is just one of my attributes.  I still have many stories left before I get to writing about the first of my three lives: my marriage to Lea: I have not yet written about Australia, where I lived from 1983 to 1985, and I still have a few more stories about life between 1975-1983 and 1985-1991. However, the stories so far hopefully give a good indication of who I was and what my issues were as I came up to the night I met Lea on June 30, 1991

Ronnie, The Next President of the United States - Happened in March or April of 1988

Wan Chai was the seedy bar-ridden area of Hong Kong on the Island. It was where both British and American sailors would go out drinking at night and where they would all too often get into drunken fights. It was also a forbidden fruit in the sense that I was expressly forbidden from going there at night by my parents over concerns that it was too dangerous. In reality it wasn’t really that bad. It looked more or less like a street you would picture in downtown Hong Kong: wide, garbage on the streets, crowded and with a plethora of large, multicoloured neon signs piercing the dark of the night, with animated Chinese characters.  There was this main street in Wan Chai whose name escapes me now, but it looked just like I have just described, but in addition it was punctuated by above ground and below ground bars and nightclubs. Many of these had crowds spilling out onto the streets.

The legal drinking age in Hong Kong at that time was 18, just like in the UK. In addition, every person in Hong Kong above a very young age was required to carry photo ID on them at all times in case any police approached them to enquire about their legal status. You see, Hong Kong at that time was a very popular destination for refugees, given the political situation in China and other Southeast Asian countries in the 1980’s. This coupled, with the fact that it had a legendary reputation as the place to make it big, even though this was often far from the reality for many who settled there. Hong Kong simply didn’t have the space to accommodate all these people, so they needed to come up with a system to make sure that only those who were approved to live there actually got to stay.

That being said, getting into bars there was not very difficult for us as 14, 15 and 16 year olds. Sure the bouncers would tell you that you were too young and you couldn’t be there, but then would make no attempt to prevent you from coming in as you walked right past them. Ex-pat teenagers with nothing better to do on a Friday or Saturday night and plenty of disposable income given to them by their guilt-ridden parents were simply too good a revenue source for most bar and club owners to pass up. Indeed many of these places would entice teens with their infamous “beer Buffet” nights, where $25 HK, which at the time was about $5 CDN would buy you all the beer you could drink. Needless to say, the police would conduct regular raids to flush out the underage teens. But soon after these places would be back up and running and serving teens once again.

In my last year before I left the colony to return to Canada, I went to school at the Canadian Overseas Secondary School (COSS). On a social level it was the best time of the three years that I spent in Hong Kong. The reason was that my classmates were predominantly all local Chinese or Indian students who were there to get the highest GPA’s that they could in Canadian recognized courses, so that they would be able to go to Canadian universities. I managed to make quite a few friends there, none of which I kept in touch with unfortunately once I came back to Canada.  Two of those friends were Suhail and Gianluca. Suhail was a tall man from Pakistan, who had a reputation as a womanizer, but was actually a very nice guy when you got to know him. It was Suhail that introduced me to the amazing flavour of Chai tea, which he would always have served to him at his place with copious amounts of milk and sugar. He was at least 6 feet tall when we were 16 and looked like a fully grown man. Gianluca was also a very tall Italian guy who only spoke broken English, but enough so that we could understand each other.

One Saturday night, I was invited to Suhail’s place for a sleepover. Gianluca was to join us. Suhail lived over on the Island, while we lived in the New Territories, which was near the border with Mainland China. Mom and dad had no issues with me going over, provided that I gave them Suhail’s phone number and address, which I did. By now I had figured out that even though my parents could call the number I gave them, they never had up until now and so it was highly unlikely that they would.

I arrived at Suhail’s around dinner time after my usual Saturday routine of buying stamps, playing video games and eating out, and his mother served us a lovely vegetarian dinner with the usual Chai tea afterwards.  Unlike westerners like myself who were accustomed to eating at a dining table, Suhail and my other Indian friends usually sat on the floor to eat. It took some getting used to, but I actually came to enjoy it quite a bit. After dinner we decided that we would go out – to Wan Chai! Suhail said he could easily get us into any club we wanted. We even talked of going to hit on girls. Who knew where the night might take us? I was aware of the fact that I would be breaking my father’s rule if I went, but I really wanted to go and decided to take the chance. So around 10pm, we ventured out. We went into and out of a lot of different bars as we made our way down the main road. Then we came to a street corner that had a large underground club right at the street corner. There were large red neon signs at street level that enticed us to make our way onto the steps that lead to the club below. So after much discussion at the street corner, we decided to give this place a try.

We descended the concrete steps past a few expats, dressed in the popular 80’s garb of white slacks, button down monotone shirts festooned with slender 1 inch pointed, dark coloured neckties. I think at the time one of the most popular combinations was white pants, pink shirt and black tie. Anyway, we get to these large, heavy wooden double doors and open them to find no bouncers!  We look in and see a hazy, smoke filled room, spilling over with the sounds of dozens of conversations coming from what must have been at least 20 different tables, all packed with young men drinking. The tables were large wooden rectangular tables that looked like they sat about six or seven guys on each side.  As we made our way cautiously past the first two tables – one each to our left and right, a large group of American sailors sitting at the third table to our left called out to us and motioned us over. After eagerly introducing themselves as American sailors, they asked us if we wanted to join them at their table. We agreed and sat down. I was at the end of the table and looking right at me was a guy who looked like Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. He was dressed from head to toe in studded leather, sported a Mohawk and had several piercings in his face.  He looked right at me and a wide grin escaped his face as he held up his hand to shake mine. “I’m Ronnie! I’m going to be the next President of the United States.”. I laughed out loud at the absurdity of what he just said. “No, I’m serious!” He said, his smile gradually disappearing and being replaced by a serious look that could easily be interpreted as the look of someone who was about to take offense.

To understand why I had laughed, you have to understand that Ronald Reagan was the President at the time Ronnie uttered those words. That, and the fact that this guy basically looked like a punk rocker and not the clean cut, immaculately uniformed guy from “An Officer and a Gentleman” that we all imagine when we think of an American sailor. Oh No! I thought. I’ve just offended this guy. I hope this doesn’t start a fight. As I think this I imagine the ensuing bar room brawl, just like you see on the movies, with bottles being broken on people’s heads and chairs being smashed on people’s backs. I am looking right at Ronnie’s now serious expression as I imagine this. Within a few seconds, his serious look turns to a smile again as he says. “I’m only kidding man!  Do you really think anyone would vote for me?”.  Then, over what seemed like pint after pint of beer, Ronnie proceeded to regale me with tales of his exploits as a sailor. I was fascinated as I listened to him tell me about the places where he served, which among other places included the Philippines, South Korea and Hong Kong, where he was now.  

After he was done the guys at the table asked us what we were doing out in the bars given how young we were. We told them about what it was like to live in Hong Kong, and how there wasn’t much to do there except go out and drink.  The guys were quite sympathetic, saying that they enjoyed visiting but didn’t think they could handle this place as teens. Pretty soon the conversation turned to what we were doing later on and were we planning on picking up any girls. I’m not sure what Suhail said, but I know he would have quite confidently told them about his prowess with the women. Gianluca just sat there smiling and chiming in occasionally when his broken English would permit.  I got ready to try and fake a confident response, but Ronnie picked up on my lack of confidence and reached across the table and grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me as he exclaimed “We’ve got to get this boy laid!”. Yeahhh sure thing, I thought. Little did they know...

As much fun as we were having, we eventually decided that it would be best for us to go, as the guys were getting very drunk now and we did not want to find ourselves in the middle of any fights. So we thanked them for their friendliness and for the drinks they bought us and got up to leave. We would  visit one other bar before we all got tired and just decided to go back to Suhail’s to crash.  It was one experience that changed my perception of the sailors from a bunch of aggressive rowdy men to fun guys who were also friendly to a group of teens who they knew were not supposed to be where they were.  Ronnie never did make president, but every now and then I have found myself wondering what became of him.

The Party - Spring 1986

When I lived in Hong Kong and was going to school it was common for my classmates to host dance parties. These could be for someone’s birthday, but quite often, they were held for no reason at all other than to have fun. Invitations would be sent out and they would generally consist of lots of dancing and consumption of junk food and pop. For many of these, the parents would be present in the house or apartment, in which case, the party would be a “dry” party, in which no alcohol would be served by the hosts and only a few people would sneak alcohol in. But if the parents were not present, as was often the case, then there would be a large amount of alcohol consumed, along with everything else that accompanies teenagers and booze.  You know those teen movies that show wild house parties? These parties were not far off the mark, with the only differences being the lack of property damage, and open teenage sex. Your popularity and social status within the school community was influenced in large part by how good your parties were. There was no official roster of who would or should host what, and it often seemed like most of the parties were hosted by only a handful of the students. The best ones were those in which many of the guests would sleep over at the host’s place afterwards because then we would often wake up late, have breakfast and then hang out for a good portion of the day.  I remember that one of the best parties I attended was at Caroline W’s place. She and another girl, Alex W. are the subject of another story in this book, but I digress.  Caroline lived in one of the few housing estates in the outskirts of the New Territories, rather than a high rise apartment, like so many of us did. Her place was a split level condo that had a back yard with a pool, and her parents were never home during the parties. My first kiss actually was with Caroline herself, sitting on the patio beside her pool. The weird part was that I was not a virgin when I did this, having passed that milestone almost two years before.

In my first year at Shatin College, I struggled socially, as could well be expected of someone on the autistic spectrum. I remember being so overwhelmed with all the new stimuli around me that I often shut down. Most of my classmates would have seen a young man who was tired all the time and seemingly “out of it”, as I tried to make sense of everything going on around me. I had also lost my virginity under circumstances described in another story and the emotional aftermath of that was weighing heavily on me for those first four months. After Christmas had passed during that first year, we had our first major set of exams, which I did not do too badly in. I started to get invitations to parties, started to attend them and slowly, but surely, I began to gain what I perceived to be a modicum of acceptance from my peers. I had a kind of mischievous friendship with Alex and Caroline, and had formed a fairly close friendship with a guy by the name of Mike R. Eventually, some six or seven months into the school year, I decided that the time had come for me to host a party of my own.

After much wrangling with my mom and dad, they agreed to allow me to host a party at the apartment. They agreed not to be in the apartment during the party, but would go stay with their friends in their apartment, 3 floors below us. So after making sure that the Hi Fi set was working properly and that we had adequate music, I went about buying pop and chips and other goodies as well as actual invitations for it, which I distributed at school the following week.  I honestly had no idea what to expect in terms of attendance and its ultimate success and I sent the better part of two weeks eagerly anticipating and hoping it would go at least OK. I had invited pretty well everyone in my form as well, except for a few of the kids in my class – something I very much came to regret later.  So the place would be completely packed if everyone that was invited actually came.

Much to my pleasant surprise everyone came and had a fantastic time. To this day I am not sure what it was that made everything go so well. For just a few hours, my normal social awkwardness was replaced by a great sense of confidence and belonging that I’d not felt up to that point. I didn’t spend a lot of time partying, drinking or dancing myself, but rather I attempted to play the dedicated host to all who came. I had hoped for a slow dance with the one girl in the class that I had a very strong crush on, Gina, but alas while I exchanged smiles with her in the hall, I never did get to dance with her. That would not come until a few parties later. One problem did quickly become apparent and that was the bottlenecks around the bathroom. Even though our apartment did have a second ensuite bathroom off my parents bedroom, it was off-limits to my guests. So everyone had to be content using one bathroom, which was fine until 2 or 3 hours into the festivities, after people had consumed a lot of pop of alcohol. Indeed the defining moment of the party was still to come.

I had gone to the back of the apartment to check on people and the state of the bathroom and was just coming down the hall back into the living room, when my best friend at the time, Mike stepped off the concrete window ledge and zipped up his pants. The bugger had gotten tired of waiting in line for the bathroom and so he simply stepped up onto the window ledge in the living room where the party was, opened the window and took a piss from 18 floors up. I never did find out whether anyone was coming into or out of the building at the time, as our living room apartment faced the front of the building.

Shortly after that, the party wound down. People started going home and a handful of my guests who had brought sleeping bags rolled them out onto the living room floor and we all laid down to go to sleep. I slept out there with them of course, rather than staying in my room because I didn’t want to miss out on my newly elevated social status, which lasted for about a month or so afterwards. After that, it gradually went back to me being awkward with most of my classmates, except for my friends. It was good while it lasted, but one of my regrets to this day is that I did not invite some of the less popular kids in my class – kids who I actually had a real shot at making friends with. Such are the lessons that are lost on a teenager who is trying so desperately to fit in. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Backflop! Happened in Spring 1981

SFU had a large aquatic centre right in between the bus loop and Louis Riel House where we lived with our parents. My brother and I would often go there to swim and to dive off the large diving board that they had. There was a separate diving tank where all the diving boards were. This special pool was very deep – almost 20 feet, to provide adequate safety to divers using the very large towers. The pool had a 1 metre, and 3 metre spring board on one end of the tank, and on the other end of the tank were the massive 7 metre and 10 metre diving towers. Surprisingly, there were no restriction on who could use these boards – another fact that I am certain would not be the case today.  I remember thinking that I could not imagine how anyone could be brave enough to jump from such a height, let alone dive.

When we first started using the pool, my brother and I were quite happy to limit ourselves to the 1 metre board, doing all kind of different dives and backflips. We did manage to do a few bellyflops, which hurt like hell and deterred us from even attempting to use the higher boards. The massive towers were completely out of the question of course, and we could not possibly imagine who could jump, let alone dive from such a height.

Then one day, brotherly competitive spirit being what it is, my brother decides to start jumping off the 3 metre board. Of course, not wanting to be left behind, I went to the diving board to jump. I ascended the ladder and walked with trepidation to the edge of the board. As I reached the edge, I froze in fear: It felt like I was 20 feet up. The waters of the 16-foot diving tank were crystal clear, and you could see to the bottom of the pool. This gave the illusion that you were really higher off the ground than you were when you stood on the diving board looking down. My brother had to continually reassure me of this before I felt comfortable enough to jump – holding my nose. When I jumped, the descent was fast and very exhilarating – like nothing I had felt before. I did not take long for me to become hooked on the feeling, and soon my brother and I were jumping off the 3 metre board only, to the complete exclusion of the 1 metre board.

But soon we got tired of this, as it just didn’t feel that exciting anymore. So again my brother took the lead and began to dive. He managed to make many successful dives before I could even work up the courage to attempt mine. However, I eventually did find the courage to attempt a dive. I positioned myself at the end of the board, stretched my arms out in front of my head and pointed my hands straight out. With a sharp thrust from my toes, I was off. I glided through the air for a few seconds before slicing through the water. It felt amazing! I was so pleased with myself for being able to complete this dive. I just had to try it again, and again.

Eventually the novelty of this board too wore off and it wasn’t long before my brother had his sights on the lower of the two diving towers: the 7 metre tower. Again, I did not want to be left behind and after watching my brother complete several jumps, I made a successful attempt after promising myself not to look down. The feeling of free-falling through the air was jut incredible and soon, we were doing jumps from the 10 metre tower as well. Eventually, the fear of heights started to dissipate as we completed more and more successful jumps. I started looking down, and I started wondering what it would be like to dive.

So one day, I decided to try a dive from the 7 metre tower. I placed myself in the same position and stance as on the 3 metre board, took a deep breath and thrust myself off. I sliced cleanly through the water as before, much to the amazement of a growing group of spectators, which consisted mainly of the men’s swim team. I was hooked on the feeling, and every day when I went to the pool I would attempt several dives. My brother eventually dove as well and it wasn’t long before I was regularly diving from the 10 metre board. I found the stationary dives harder to judge, so eventually, I started running off the board and getting into diving position just as I was reaching the edge. This helped ensure that I would fall in a way that would allow me to slice through the water. Occasionally though, I would still dive from a standing position at the edge of the board. I continued to dive alone, long after my brother had stopped coming to the pool with me, and I really enjoyed it – partly for the exhilaration of the dive and if I’m being completely honest, partly for the attention, which I got a considerable amount of. I must have completed over 100 successful dives, when one day I told mom that I wanted to show her my dive.

She came with me to the pool and waited anxiously for me on the wooden bleachers as I changed and emerged from the pool entrance. I made my way over to the tower and climbed up to the 10 metre tower. The men’s swim team was practicing in the main pool and their captain Roscoe waved to me and I waved back. I made my way confidently to the edge as I prepared for a stationary dive. I positioned exactly as I had so many times before and thrust off. Immediately I knew something was horribly wrong. Instead of falling outward toward the water, my body rotated around so that I was now facing the ceiling and falling straight down. I felt like I was falling for an eternity. I knew it was going to hurt – I just didn’t know how bad. Eventually I hit the water with a very loud crack. The pain that shot through my body was overwhelming and I was overcome and in tears as I gently swam to the ladder and hauled myself out of the pool. Roscoe and a couple of the other members of the swim came to see if I was okay and to help me over to where mom was sitting. She tried to comfort me and assure me that she would come and watch me the next time. Eventually the pain had subsided enough for me to leave the poolside and descend into the change room.

I had a bruise that extended all the way up the side of my right leg up to my waist and it took almost two weeks for it to go away. I went back to the pool again within a few days much to Roscoe’s surprise, and was told by him that I was the bravest little guy he’d ever seen, which was some consolation I suppose. I continued to do jumps from the towers, but I could never bring myself to attempt a dive ever again. Years later in 1983, when we moved to Perth Australia, we went to a community pool that had these same towers. I was able to jump, but again, could never bring myself to reattempt the dives.

Again, I would doubt that 9 year old kids would be permitted to use those towers these days.