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Sunday, May 31, 2015

How Twenty-Seven Was The "Big" One

Today may be the last day of May, but this retrospective is set to last at least one more week.  After all, I am a lot older than twenty-seven years old.

As much as I hate to admit it sometimes.

Anyway, this is the story of my twenty-seventh year on this earth, and I have to say that 27 could have gone a lot better for me.

Then again, I suppose my 27th year went a lot better than Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.  All of them died at 27.  So, right off the bat, I'm grateful that I even made it past 27 in the first place.

But let's just say that 27 was a year in which I came to a realization about myself.  And, it wasn't a very good one at that.

Now, I'll get to that story in a second.  But before we do that, I have a few things that I want to share with you that are pop culture related.

I do have a photo taken of me from my 27th year...but I think I'll share that photo a little later on.  You'll understand why as we proceed.

For now, let's see what was hot around my 27th birthday...

#1 SONG THE WEEK OF 5/18/2008
"Bleeding Love" - LEONA LEWIS

Now, I can't remember if she won Britain's Got Talent, or the X-Factor.  I know that she was a contestant on one of those shows.  The ultimate result was this worldwide smash hit.  It's a shame that she never really had much success in North America, but she's still a star in the UK from what I hear.

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"

Although I loved reading as a child, I never really got into The Chronicles of Narnia series, which is probably why I never watched this movie.  I heard it did very well though.

"American Idol" know what?  I'm bored with talking about this show.  Let's just skip it for now.

Okay, so 2008.  What was happening in 2008?  Well, not a whole lot.  I mean, I was still working my full-time job and I was enjoying it.  I had friends who I could hang out with and who liked me.  And as the holiday season approached, I had thought that things were going well.

I still remember the holiday celebration that we had at my workplace back then.  It was just after I celebrated my fourth anniversary with my workplace (I started two weeks before Christmas in 2004), and it was at a time in which our workplace uniforms were dark blue (they're now a lighter blue).

As part of the festivities for the holiday season, we were allowed to dress in Christmas colours, and for the occasion I wore a green polo shirt, green khakis, and a red sweater vest that I had bought myself some time earlier.  All I needed was red socks, and the entire outfit would have rocked!

In our employee lounge there were all sorts of treats for all of us employees.  If I remember correctly, I was working a day shift that day, so we were treated to pancakes, sausages, fresh fruit - after all, it was a holiday breakfast.  And naturally, all of us employees - especially yours truly - took advantage in a big way.

Well, I think someone from management was going in and out of the lounge periodically taking pictures of all of the employees and somehow my picture was snapped.  I didn't realize this until I saw a collage of all of the photos that were posted on the wall outside the lounge.

And when I saw my photo, I felt so sick inside.  Have a look.

First things first, contrary to what you might think, I do not randomly drink an entire gallon of store-bought maple syrup.  It just happened to be placed on the table that I was sitting at.

Secondly, I thought that my green polo and red vest would have looked fantastic, but when you throw the blue vest over top of it, there was clearly too much going on, and it just looked bad.

And lastly...and more painfully...I realized just how much I let myself go.

I was huge.  I was enormous.  And, here's a bit of a confession.  I was probably at the 300 pound mark, if not completely over it.  And, it just made me want to break down and cry.

The sad thing never made me feel that way before. 

I don't know if any of you could tell based on my childhood photos that I've posted over the last month, but I was always a husky kind of kid.  I needed a big and tall store before the days of Destination XL.  In first grade, I was four feet, five inches tall.  By seventh, I was five foot seven.  And by my eighteenth birthday, I was already at 6'1".

The height I could deal with.  The weight was always a problem.

You see...I am what you call an emotional eater.  I ate to fill the void of things that I didn't have.  When I was in high school and all the other kids were going to dances, I was raiding the refrigerator at home and gorging on whatever food there was that contained sugar, fat, or both.  And well, by 2008, it had all caught up with me.

It got to the point where I didn't recognize the person who I was looking at in that photo.  It certainly wasn't the best representation of who I knew I could be.

But, who was I?  At 27, I didn't know the answer to that question.  All I knew was that when I was growing up, people were mean to me for being overweight - both kids and adults.  When they weren't calling me "Fatty Matty", they were giving me unsolicited advice about how to lose weight.  One kid actually lectured me by saying that I should stop eating junk food and maybe, just maybe he would have something to do with me.

Clearly he and I were never going to be friends.  Not with his holier-than-thou attitude.

Though, admittedly, my attitude sucked as well.  I basically had the "I give up" attitude where I just binge ate over and over.  Food filled the relationship void, the friendship void, and the general life suckage void.  And all I had to show for it was a three hundred pound body that I was convinced that nobody would love.

I suppose it was sort of an insane way to show self-preservation.  Self-preservation through self-sabotage.  At least by being heavy, I ensured that people who could potentially hurt me would stay away.

But it's not a great way to live life.  And I suppose that you could call this a two-part piece...because at age 28, I decided that I would change all that.

But it also made me come to a rather sad realization.  One that I will be one hundred per cent honest about.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Age Twenty-Six - Hi Ho The Dairy Oh!

Well, I hope you enjoyed the little trip back to "Hogwarts" in yesterday's blog entry.  I have to say that despite the bad weather, the Halloween party was the talk of the town in 2006.  I think everyone who attended the party had a great time, and I hope to be able to throw a party like this on my own one day.

After all, I always wanted to throw a murder mystery dinner theatre.

But now we go on with the retrospective, and this time around, we're at year twenty-six.  And twenty-six was a year in which I did a lot of chilling out.

Quite literally, might I add.

Sorry.  I have no snapshot of me taken in 2007 - which is probably a good thing since 2007 was a year in which I simply did not look good at all!  Things would eventually improve though.  The whole losing weight, gaining weight, losing weight, and gaining weight has been going on since...well...2007.  I'll eventually find a weight I'm comfortable with.  It just hasn't happened yet.

But I do have some pop culture tidbits to share.  Have a look at what was hot the week I turned 26.

#1 SONG THE WEEK OF 5/18/2007
"Makes Me Wonder" - MAROON 5

Okay, I'll admit it.  I really like this one.  Maroon 5 is one of those bands that people really, really love or really, really hate.  I guess you could say that I'm in the like camp, but only for their earlier stuff.

"Shrek The Third"

Okay.  The first movie was wonderfully splendid.  The second movie was a rarity in that it was better than the first one.  But what were they thinking with the third film?  Too many supporting characters, a lame villain, and Justin Timberlake as Artie?  What a mess.

"American Idol"

Again with American Idol!  Sheesh.  I don't understand the obsession - especially since it was recently announced that 2016 would be the show's last year.  Highlights include the topless photo scandal surrounding Antonella Barba, the astonishing rise of Sanjaya Malakar...and oh yeah.  Jordin Sparks won the competition.  

And as I turned twenty-six years old, I had something huge happen to me in my professional career.

Full-time status!

(Well, okay, it's not that big of a deal.  But considering how rare full-time jobs are in this world - thanks free trade agreements and outsourcing - I couldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.)

And even better?  The full-time job did not involve shopping carts, bathrooms, or loading giant things into cars!

No, in the summer of 2007, I was hired as a full-time dairy and frozen worker.  It really was the coolest job in the world - both figuratively and literally.  Every single day I would face temperatures of minus 25 degrees Celsius - even in the middle of July!  Though when the winter winds began to arrive in November, the job wasn't as much fun.

But there were a lot of perks to working full-time frozen and dairy.  I got to be the first one to discover all of the delicious new ice cream flavours.  And really, being privy to such information is always a good thing.

I also got the chance to work in relative obscurity.  Oh, sure, I had to go out on the sales floor to stock merchandise like cheese, yogurt, sour cream, frozen pizzas, and Swanson frozen dinners...but I had an entire walk-in cooler that I could hide in if things were going badly.

Not that I did this all the time, mind you.  It was just nice to have a space in the store where I could be alone with my thoughts.  Even if you did have to wear a jacket.

In all seriousness though, I loved my job in the dairy/frozen section.  I must have if I spent seven years in that department!  Nobody spends seven years in a department if they hate it, right?

And there were a couple of reasons why I loved the job so much.  Two very special people who made coming to work so much fun.

I'm talking about my former dairy companions and co-workers, Alex and Graham.

Now, as far as personalities went, Alex and Graham were quite different.  Alex was loud and boisterous at times and he was never afraid to make his opinion heard.  Graham, on the other hand, was more subdued and laid back.  Graham was soft spoken and thought about what he wanted to say, while it seemed as though every seventh word out of Alex's mouth was the F-bomb!  Graham was quite tall, and Alex challenged.

And yet somehow, these two men became two of the best friends that I ever had. 

I think part of it could have been the fact that Alex and Graham were older than I was.  Graham was a dozen years older than I was, while Alex was considerably older than Graham!  But they had so many wild stories to tell and life experiences that listening to both of them was never boring.

And not once did they ever make me feel like I wasn't worth anything.  There were times in which we did clash, but it was never anything out of maliciousness.  More like them bringing me back down to earth.  I admit that at 26, I was a little cocky about life, and I guess I needed Alex and Graham to keep me grounded a bit.  Whatever the case, it worked.

I think that part of the reason why Alex, Graham, and I got along so well is because we were friends both on and off the clock.  There weren't a whole lot of people that I could say that about, but Alex and Graham were those friends.  I still remember that Alex and Graham took me out to Boston Pizza with a group of other people from work, and Graham was doing everything in his power to try and get me drunk!  Seriously, every time I turned my back, my beer glass magically refilled itself!  I don't doubt that my intoxication would have amused both Alex and Graham, but the joke was on Graham.  My alcohol limit is insanely high!

In short, I am not a cheap drunk.  Not that you really needed to know that, but it's the truth.

Besides, they got me back at the pool hall that we went to later on that night.  They cleaned my clock at the billiards table.  But I still maintain that it was one hell of a night.

Alex and I also competed in the 2009 Bowling for Miracles event in Ottawa, where we entered a team from our workplace to bowl for CHEO.  All the money raised went to the children's hospital and we all had fun - even if my score was abysmal.  I did manage to beat Alex's score though, and that was all that mattered in the end to me.  Bragging rights?  Why not!

And then there was the time that I got sick.  Really sick. 

You all know that I had my gall bladder removed a few years ago.  And you know that the surgery was so complicated that I ended up hospitalized for two whole weeks.  Well, would you believe that Alex and Graham both came up to visit me on more than one occasion?  Alex and Graham actually came up together on the day that I was admitted and actually made fun of the fact that I was on the maternity ward (apparently February is a really bad month for hospitals being at overcapacity).  I joked that I was set to give birth any day now!

Seriously though...their sense of humour helped me get through the surgery.  And after I had the surgery, did I tell you that Graham somehow got access to the ICU and visited me while I was recovering from surgery?  I never did find out how he did it, but the fact that he cared enough about me to visit...that's how I knew that I had real friendship with him and Alex.

Friendships that began in 2007, age 26.

Now, here's the part that doesn't have such a happy ending.  You see, sometime in early 2012, Alex had been suffering from an injury that he had gotten in January or February, and in May 2012, he stepped down from his job in the dairy department.  And of course, I wanted to give him a send off that he would remember, so I arranged to give him a retirement speech and had everyone at work sign a card for him.  Everything went perfectly, and I wanted him to enjoy his retirement.

It almost seems so unfair that just four months later, Alex would pass away.  You see, Alex had been terminally ill for some time, and he knew that there was no cure for what he had.  But he chose not to tell Graham or I because he didn't want us to worry about him.  That was just Alex's way though.  He didn't want people to fuss over him.  He wanted to go out on his own terms, and I guess this was the way to do it.

With Alex gone, Graham and I worked together for a few months after that, but in April 2013, I was transferred to the Garden Centre area and later moved to electronics while Graham stayed in dairy.  And right around this time, Graham was having health issues of his own, with him taking on seizures - a side effect of a surgery he had when he was in his early twenties that until 2013 he had been able to control with medication.  But Graham was determined to not let that stop him from living his life, and even though we worked in different departments, we still found a way to hang out.

And that's why when Graham died in November 2013 - it was really a loss that hit me hard.  Within fourteen months, I had lost two of my best friends, and when you have losses like that in such a short time period, it completely changes you.

I know that in many ways, I feel like there's something missing in my life.  Alex and Graham were good people, and it wasn't fair that I no longer had these wonderful people in my life.  It wasn't fair that their lives had to end right when things were going well for them.  It wasn't fair that two people who I was proud to call my friend were no longer here.

At the same time, my life is so much better for having known them both.  They taught me so much about myself, and so much about life, and I know that somehow they will live on, even if only in my memories.  They will always be my friends no matter what, and even though they are no longer here physically - I know that they're out there somewhere.

At least, I have to believe that.

At any rate, Alex and Graham became my friends when I was 26.  And that's why I will always look at 26 as being a year that was bittersweet. 

Coming up tomorrow, I have a story to tell you about turning 27 - and how one holiday snapshot made me realize something about myself.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Spending My Quarter Century Year At "Hogwarts"

All right!  Of all the entries that I have done for this blog entry today, I am the most excited for this one.

Not just because this was the year that I turned twenty-five years old.  I mean, let's face it.  Turning a quarter of a century was a big deal, but that wasn't what I remember the most about that year. 

No, I'll get to that in a moment.

But first, I actually have a picture to show you!  After a four or five year hiatus, I actually have a photo taken of me from my 25th year!  Have a look!

Well, okay.  I didn't look THAT much different.  I did wear different glasses and was a lot pudgier in the face, but other than that, I look about the same.

And in pop culture news, let's see what happened the week I turned 25...

#1 SONG THE WEEK OF 5/18/2006

Rihanna is one of those artists who is all over the place.  Some songs I absolutely love ("Pon de Replay", "Shut Up And Drive").  Some I absolutely hate ("Rude Boy", "Diamonds").  This one is one that I can take or leave.

"Mission Impossible III"

Ugh.  Pass.  I've never bought Tom Cruise as being a stealthy super spy.  Of course, this was right around the time that he had that Oprah couch jumping incident where he announced his love for Katie Holmes.  What a difference nine years makes.

"American Idol"

Well, since this show seems to want to stay on top, I may as well talk about it.  This season was best known as the year that Chris Daughtry should have won, the year that Taylor Hicks DID win, and seemingly disappeared shortly after that, the year that Kellie Pickler tried to become the next country sweetheart and the year that Katharine McPhee wowed people with her rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow".  Don't feel too badly for runner-up McPhee though.  She is a star of the CBS drama series "Scorpion".

And, what happened to me this year?  Well, it was the year I got to go to Hogwarts!

Or, at least I went to a party that looked like it was held at Hogwarts.

It was a week before Halloween night, 2006, and my sister had decided to throw a Halloween party for her two kids (also known as my niece and nephew).  And the whole family had a role to play in the party.

You see, everybody in my family became huge fans of the Harry Potter books and movies.  They were so fresh and so out there, and I think my sisters and I could probably quote every single line from the first few movies. 

And since this party was thrown between "Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Goblet of Fire", it was smack dab in the middle of Harry Potter fever.

My sister planned this party for what seemed like six months straight.  She invited every single kid in my niece and nephew's classes, as well as my other two nephews to take part in the festivities where she literally turned her whole house into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

In this entry, I thought that pictures would tell the story better than words.  I snapped some photos of some of the decorations, how the party was planned, and of course, the victory celebrations.  And, hey, if you decide you want to do a Harry Potter themed party, take some of these ideas to heart.  It turned out fantastic!

Now, I assume that the kids all received handwritten invitations inviting them to become students at Hogwarts.  But they had to imagine that they were from owls.  Owls are expensive to rent, you know.

So, the preparations were simple.  We had to decorate each room like a classroom that could be found in Hogwarts.  One way to do this was by taking a bunch of grapes, putting them in water that was dyed green, and using these jars in our potions classroom.

And here is our potions classroom.  I don't know if they ever had NASCAR at Hogwarts, but we certainly had lots of old bottles that made it seem authentic.

Oh, and here's my niece and nephew fooling around with Sybill Trelawney's crystal ball in the divination classroom.  As you can see, every lamp in the house had a coloured light bulb inside of them so that it made the house glow.  As for who played Trelawney?  You'll see that a little later.

This room - actually my sister's garage - was meant to be the main dining hall at Hogwarts.  We have Dumbledore's pedastal, the twinkling lights up above, and even floating jack-o-lantern heads floating above.  After all, this was a Halloween party.  You can't see it in the photo, but there's also a snack table filled with punch and bags of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.  Oh, and look at the left hand side.  That's the House Cup!

Okay, so let's take a tour outside.


Actually, these Dementors are perfectly harmless.  They're just skulls with black cloth draped over them.  But hey, you have to admit.  They do look scary.

It was only a shame that it poured down rain at the actual party.  You see, the party was supposed to take place outside in a couple of areas.  As you can see, my sister has a huge backyard that kind of looks like the Forbidden Forest.  The plan was to have golden snitches and Quidditch brooms hanging from the trees to simulate a Quidditch match, but again, the rain caused a bit of a kerfuffle.

Not to mention that the guy who was to play Hagrid was a no-show.  Had we had a Hagrid, this would have been his hut.  But it rained anyway, so it was made redundant.

Now, I mentioned that all of the adults had major parts to play in the party.  My eldest sister played Professor McGonagle, as you can see in this photo of her teaching one of the classes.  She doesn't look a thing like Maggie Smith, but at least she had fun playing the part.

My other sister played Trelawney.  And, I have to say...she really does look like her!  She even talked in a British accent too!

As for my part?  Here it is.

Yes, I played the Sorting Hat.  And how they did it was really cool.  I hid behind a black curtain with a karaoke machine and a microphone that made my voice booming loud.  They wanted me to play the Sorting Hat as my voice was the only one loud enough for everyone to hear.  I think I did a pretty decent job too - even though I had to make sure that two of my nephews were in the same house.

And how the party worked was simple.  There were five different classrooms and five different groups of kids.  Each group had at least one representative of each of the four houses at Hogwarts (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin).  And at each of the classrooms, the teacher would ask Harry Potter related trivia based on magic spells, the books, the movies, and other things.  If they guessed right, they would earn 10 points for their house.  And to ensure that all the kids behaved, we threatened to take five points away each time they misbehaved!  Hey, look at it like this.  Better to have a team of Ron Weasleys than a team of Draco Malfoys!

At the end of the night, the points were tallied up, and the winners of the House Cup was...Ravenclaw!  Congratulations!

Really, the whole party was fun, and I was glad to be a part of it.  I couldn't think of a better memory to add in for year 25 than this one.  I want to do something like this again sometime.

Before I go, I'll share a couple more photos of the party.

And do tune in for year 26 - the year where I met two of the best friends that I have ever had.  Friends who are sadly no longer with us.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

24: Maintenance Wishes and Shopping Cart Dreams

I am so happy that I got through year 23.  Remembering how hectic that year was in general, I got exhausted just typing out everything that had happened!  It was ridiculous just how life kept twisting and turning that year.  I didn't even know what the heck was happening half the time.

At least in comparison to year 23, twenty-four was a nice journey into stability. 

Yeah, by twenty-four, I had finally settled into more of a routine.  I stopped moving around from place to place, I landed a part-time job (which would turn into a full-time job), and things were finally beginning to calm down. 

But things were not exactly far from perfection.  As happy as I was that I had landed a part-time job, it wasn't exactly the type of job that one would deem glamourous or even fun.  And my personal tale from the 24th year of my life comes from some of the worst moments from that particular job.

The lesson here is...everybody has a job that they consider to be one of the worst ones they've ever had...but we all have to have that experience to appreciate any future opportunities that may come our way.

Before we get into what the worst job that I've ever had was and what I took away from it, let us look at what was happening in the world of pop culture during my 24th birthday week.

#1 SONG THE WEEK OF 5/18/2005
"Hollaback Girl" - GWEN STEFANI

That song is bananas!  B-A-NANANANANANA-S!  Seriously, I was a little concerned about Gwen Stefani when she decided to take time away from No Doubt (one of my favourite bands from high school) and release her own solo album.  I have to say, the album was a big hit and was filled with lots of great songs.  But, this song isn't my favourite from that album.  I prefer "Cool" myself.


Yeah, watching Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez get into verbal and physical sparring matches looked really good on paper.  Just a shame this film ended up being one bland motion picture that some might call a "chick flick".

"American Idol"

Surprise, surprise.  American Idol was the top show once more.  For what it was worth though, season four was considered one of the better seasons, and Bo Bice came so close to winning the whole competition.  Unfortunately for him, a gal by the name of Carrie Underwood took home the crown of American Idol that year.  Wonder whatever became of her anyway?

You know, it's just dawned on me that I turned 24 years old TEN YEARS AGO.  That's quite sobering, knowing that I've also been at my current workplace for a total of ten years.  And the fact that I've also been living at my current residence for ten years.

I guess I wasn't kidding when I said that 24 was the age where I became addicted to stability, huh?

One thing that I can say about my current job is that is has been anything but stable - not that this is a bad thing, mind you.  Having all the experience in all the departments that I've been in will likely open up a whole lot of doors at other places.  At least, that's what I keep telling myself, anyway.

But seriously, I worked in hardware, sporting goods, electronics, dairy, frozen, dry grocery, meats, produce, and the garden centre area.  That's a lot of stuff to add onto a resume, and certainly having all that experience in all those departments can only be an asset to a lot of people.

However, there is one department that I did not list.  And it is a job that I would rather never do ever again.  And it happens to be one of the very first jobs that I ever worked at my current workplace.

Have any of you ever heard of a "store standards associate"?  Well, essentially, what a store standards associate does are jobs that are designed to keep the store's standards high and to make sure that customers are given the best shopping experience ever.

The duties of a store standards associate are plentiful.  They have to empty out the garbage cans, clean up the bathrooms, repair broken things around the store, gather up the shopping carts in the parking lot, sweep the floors, organize the fixture rooms, bring shopping bags to each cash register, load up heavy items into people's vehicles after they paid for them, etc, etc, etc.

If that sounds like a lot of work - it was.  And I hated every single minute of it.

Though, surprisingly enough, it wasn't because of the work itself.  I grew up in a blue collar family where hard work was a necessity.  There was never any time to slack off because there was always something to do, and that blue collar work ethic has rubbed off on me from my parents in a big way to the point that I get easily irked when people do not put in their fair share of the work.

If there were shopping carts that needed to be collected, I went out and got every single one out there, whether it was sunny, cloudy, raining, snowing, or hailing.

(The only time I refused to get carts was during thunderstorms with lots of lightning.  Metal carts in a lightning storm?  Bad idea.)

I also didn't mind loading things into people's vehicles either.  Most of the time, the customers were very helpful and appreciative of the help I gave them, and in most cases, the cars or trucks that they had come in with were big enough to load the items that they bought.  But I'll be the first to admit that I was cursing on days in which I had to try and cram a barbecue in a Sunfire, a patio set in a Mitsubishi, and a television set into a Volkswagen Beetle.

(Keeping in mind that in 2005, there weren't too many flat screen televisions...if any at all.)

And, you know what?  The bathrooms were not even that bad.  Granted, cleaning bathrooms is not exactly my idea of fun.  Actually, I don't think that they would be ANYONE'S idea of fun.  I still remember the time that a little kid threw up in the washroom, and there were three of us on duty at the time.  The other two were wimps and refused to clean it up, but I had a stomach of steel and cleaned the whole mess up myself. 

(Truth be told, the only thing that I would have a hard time cleaning up is blood.  I have never been able to stomach the sight of my own blood, let alone anybody else's.  I guess that's one reason why I never went to medical school.)

No, what frustrated me about working store standards was the fact that when it came down to some people that I worked with, I felt like I was taken advantage of.  A lot.

Fortunately, I feel free enough to talk about those experiences, as A) enough time has passed, and B) all the people who were the worst with me are no longer employed at the place I work at.  So, I consider this to be my opportunity to be a real open book about my store standards experience.

You see, I get that when it comes down to maintaining the standards of the store, you had to do a lot of work to make it happen.  Basically, every single time something spilled on the floor, I had to be there with mop and bucket to clean it up.  And it was fine if the spill was worth cleaning.  Like, if someone spilled a whole case of V8 all over the floor, that would be a substantial spill to clean up.  If someone accidentally spilled a container of motor oil all over a cash register, you can bet that it will take a couple of hours to clean up (and it did - believe me, I know).

But if you have a spilled cup of coffee - and you have seven people standing around it, waiting for a store standards associate to clean it up.  I'm sorry, but go and grab a paper towel and blot it yourself!  I maintain that store standards associates are some of the busiest employees in the whole store!  Seriously, if people are able to, help them out!  They'd probably be more receptive to you if you tried your best to meet them halfway.  Trust me.  I know.

And then there's the idea that you have to work together as a team to ensure that everything runs smoothly.  All of us store standards associates had to work as a team in order to make sure that carts were stocked, customers were served in a decent amount of time, and that the store was kept clean.  And all it took was one person not to do their job and everything would fall apart.

One perfect example of this took place the day before Canada Day, 2005.  I was working the 4:30-10:00 shift, and it was scorching hot outside.  Believe it or not, temperatures in Ontario in late June can get as high as 32 Celsius with humidity.  And I found out that the person who was supposed to be with me that day called in sick.  So, I had to go outside in the scorching hot weather to collect shopping carts and load heavy items into people's cars.  Because I was the only one on duty, it made getting a break near impossible as nobody else in the store could do the job.  So by the time I had gotten my lunch period, it was almost seven and I was about ready to pass out from dehydration.  My first destination was to the water fountain and on my way there, you'll never guess who I saw.

Not only did I see the guy who called in sick shopping in the store - but he had the nerve to ask me if I wanted to take any of his shifts!

I tell you, if I had the energy, I probably would have decked him right in the middle of the store.  Yes, I would have likely gotten fired.  But I told myself that it would have been so worth it. 

Ultimately, I decided against it.  But I will say this.  I never really spoke to him after that.  He ended up quitting the job a month later, and I have to say - I was almost relieved.  And after slugging it out for thirteen months (which included two Christmases), I asked the store manager if I could move to a different department because I was getting frustrated with the work.  I felt as though I had more than proven my work ethic and that I would like to challenge myself a little more at the job.  To my surprise, the store manager agreed, and by January 2006, I had been moved to the grocery department!

So, what did I learn from store standards?  I learned that I was a lot more physically strong than I thought I was.  I learned that I have the stomach to clean almost anything.  I learned that when people screw me over, I tend to get extremely ticked off, but luckily I have the self-control to stifle my urges.  But most importantly, I learned that sometimes hard work pays off.

Next entry, we talk about my 25th year.  Did I mention that I went to Hogwarts that year?  Believe me!  It's true.  Kinda.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Year Twenty-Three: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

And that's about the time she walked away from me
Nobody likes you when you're 23
And you still act like you're in freshman year
What the hell is wrong with me?
My friends say I should act my age
What's my age again?
What's my age again?
     - Blink 182

Of course, that's not to say that I was acting anything but my age at 23 years old.  But let's just say that the age of 23 was one of the more...complex times of my life, filled with so many changes that I had a really hard time trying to keep up with them all.

That's particularly why I call year twenty-three the year that everything changed.  Because it did. 

It was like everything was coming at me all at once, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect next.  Sometimes it was exciting, and other times I wanted to press the pause button.

I'll talk about that in a moment.

For now, let's see what was happening in the world during the time that I turned twenty-three.  Consider it the soundtrack/television show/epic blockbuster of the craziest year of my life.

#1 SONG THE WEEK OF 5/18/2004

2004 was an incredible year for African-American artists.  All the songs that hit #1 that year were all recorded by them!  And 2004 was a fantastic year for Usher.  Not only did he have a huge smash single with "Yeah!", but he is one of the few artists to replace himself on the top of the charts!  His song "Burn" hit #1 the week of May 22!  I have to admit, I liked "Yeah!" better.


I would love to comment on this movie, but I have never seen it.  So, I'll just go ahead and say that it made $46 million dollars its opening weekend.

"American Idol"

Sigh...I can see this being a trend for television.  Yes, American Idol was the #1 show of the season.  That was the year that Fantasia Barrino won the coveted title.  It's just too bad that Jennifer Hudson eclipsed her success and won an Academy Award.  I can't even remember the last record Fantasia released.

Now, twenty-three was a rather intense year, and looking back on it, it's a wonder I survived it at all.  Lots of changes.  Too many changes to keep up with.

I honestly don't even know where to start.  I guess I'll do the divide and conquer approach.

Twenty-three was the year that I held no less than four different jobs.  Though, three of them were paying jobs, so I suppose that it was worth it.  The first job was getting hired on at a daycare center at a well-established community hub (I got the job through a program called Job Connect, and used my volunteer work at my old elementary school as a reference).  And, well, I have to say that while I loved the kids, and learned a lot from them...I couldn't stand the vast majority of the staff that worked there.  They seemed to have chips on their shoulders, and they sort of froze me out of a lot of the activities.  I wonder if it had to do with the fact that I was male?  Who can say, really?

The thing that really turned me off of that place was the fact that I heard some of the people who worked there actually making fun of the children who were enrolled in the daycare program.  Even though they were talking about the children away from them, it still rubbed me the wrong way.  But, since I was only there on a temporary basis, I figured that I would at least stick it out.  Besides, I needed the job experience.  But you can bet your bottom dollar that I would not enroll any children in that daycare program anytime soon!  It was a good experience because of the kids, but I hated the politics behind the job.  More professionalism could have been an asset.

After that position ended, I returned to my volunteer job for at least a few more weeks.  That was always fun.

Then I had another Job Connect placement at another daycare centre, which went a little better, but while I admit that I do love working with children, the two placements helped me come to the decision that it really wasn't for me. 

And, this brings us to December 2004, when I was hired at my current position as a store standards associate.

(Spoiler alert:  You will be hearing more about that in the next blog entry.)

What else happened at 23?

Oh, well, I also lived in three different places at 23.  I had to leave the first place because the sewage system kept malfunctioning, and it was becoming uninhabitable.  (Now you see why I had so much stress back then).  So for three months I moved in with my older sister's family before finding the place where I am currently living.  A place that was fine for the time being, but am now desperately trying to flee.  I'm sure I'll have a story about that in a future blog entry as well.

Twenty-three was also the year that I threw my back out.  And, let me tell you.  I do NOT recommend it.

And for the life of me, I cannot even remember how I ended up doing it.  One day, I was fine, and the next, I was walking with a kink in my back so strong that I had to walk sideways.  It was as if I was a real life penguin, it ached so bad.  And to make matters worse, the incident happened right around the time I was working one of my Job Connect placements.  So uncomfortable to try and explain to a bunch of 3-6 year olds why you had to walk so slowly and why you couldn't keep up with them.

In the end, I had no choice but to get a prescription for muscle relaxants, as after two weeks, there was no improvement whatsoever.  It took a while, but the pain eventually went away, and I was fine after that.  But let's just say this.  Don't ever throw your back out.  It hurts.

I also think that twenty-three was a complicated year as well because I was coming to terms with everything that had happened over the last few years.  I was out of school, but still owed the money from the experience.  It was a harsh lesson to learn, but learn it I did.  I also came to terms with the fact that my life had taken on a whole lot of twists and turns - some of which I was prepared for, but other times I was anything but - and I did my best to try and navigate myself through it all. 

Four jobs, three different homes, and a back injury in one year would be enough for anyone to go crazy, and believe me, it was a very stressful time in my life.  But I got through it, and ultimately, I think that I became a lot stronger and more prepared for the uncertainty that life had in store for me over the next few years. 

So, yes...23 was a year in which I struggled, but I never gave up and ended off that year on a good note.

Coming up tomorrow, year 24 - the year that I never wanted to see another shopping cart ever again. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May 26, 1995

We interrupt this edition of "A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S GUIDE TO LIFE" retrospective to bring you a special edition of the Tuesday Timeline.  I made it a mission to do one Timeline entry for each day of the year, and I think I'm getting fairly close to making that happen. 

Of course, to keep with the spirit of the month long feature, I have decided that every Tuesday Timeline until June 9 will feature a date between 1981 and 2015.  After all, those are the years that I've been alive for!

That being said, I found it difficult to find a suitable topic for May 26.  All the good events that took place seemed to happen before I was even born!  I had to get a little creative, and take a look at the box office listings of the last thirty-four years to get inspired.

So, that's your only clue.  The Tuesday Timeline has to do with a movie.  But which one?  Well, we'll get to that in a moment.  In the meantime, what's say we have a look at the other events of May 26.

1293 - 30,000 are killed in Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan after an earthquake strikes

1647 - Alse Young is hanged in Hartford, Connecticut - the first person in New England to be executed after being accused of being a witch

1783 - A Grand Jubilee Day is held at North Stratford, Connecticut, celebrating the end of fighting at the American Revolution

1805 - Napoleon Bonaparte assumes the title of King of Italy

1822 - In Norway, the Grue Church fire takes place, killing 116

1857 - American slave Dred Scott is emancipated by the Blow family - his original owners

1896 - Charles Dow publishes the very first edition of the Dow Jones Industrial Average

1897 - Bram Stoker's "Dracula" is published for the first time

1906 - London's Vauxhall Bridge is opened to the public

1920 - American singer Peggy Lee (d. 2002) is born in Jamestown, North Dakota

1923 - Actor James Arness (d. 2011) is born in Minneapolis, Minnesota

1926 - American trumpet player Miles Davis (d. 1991) is born in Alton, Illinois

1928 - Controversial pathologist Jack Kevorkian (d. 2011) is born in Pontiac, Michigan

1942 - The Battle of Gazala takes place during World War II

1951 - Astronaut Sally Ride (d. 2012) is born in Los Angeles, California

1972 - The United States and the Soviet Union sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

1977 - George Willig becomes the first person to climb the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City

1983 - Thousands are injured and at least 103 people are killed when a 7.7 earthquake which spawned a tsunami strikes Japan

1998 - The very first "National Sorry Day" is held in Australia

2004 - Terry Nichols - an accomplice in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings - is found guilty of 161 state murder charges

2008 - Actor/director Sydney Pollack passes away at the age of 73

2010 - Radio/television show host Art Linkletter dies at the age of 97

And for celebrity birthdays, we have the following people turning one year older; Roy Dotrice, Alec McCowan, Brent Musburger, Stevie Nicks, Pam Grier, Philip Michael Thomas, Hank Williams Jr., Kristina Olsen, Margaret Colin, Doug Hutchison, Genie Francis, Bobcat Goldthwait, Lenny Kravitz, Helena Bonham Carter, Kevin Moore, John Baird, Matt Stone, Patsy Palmer, Nicki Aycox, Lauryn Hill, Jason Manford, Isaac Slade, and Kerry Ingram.

And now for today's date.

Ah...looks like twenty years ago.  May 26, 1995.

So, I already mentioned beforehand that today's date is linked to a movie.  And May 26, 1995 was the date that one particular movie was released.

And I have a personal story to tell you that is linked to this movie - although at first, it might seem like a story where I was being picked on.  Trust me, it wasn't the case.

For starters, the person who was doing the picking on was a second grade kid.  I was in the eighth grade at the time.  He would always come towards me and run up to me and call me "Fatso", which at first I didn't know what the heck that was all about.  I mean, I have always had issues with my weight for as long as I could remember, and certainly back in 1995, I was considered "chunky".  I was after all just under six feet tall back then.

But still, this mystery of this second grade kid calling me Fatso was a little bit strange.  Even more strange was the fact that this didn't start happening until the end of the school year - right around May 26, to be exact.

So, I did a little bit of investigating, and I come to find out that this kid had a sister in the seventh grade.  And being that all of our Grade 7/8 classes were split that year, it was really easy to find her.  So, I point blank asked her what was up with her kid brother and why he kept calling me that name even though I never knew him.

She laughed, and explained that it was not meant to be taken maliciously at all.  You see, he had gone to the movies with his family and one of the characters in the film was named "Fatso", and since he saw that movie, he kept running around the playground, calling people "Fatso".

Or sometimes, he'd call someone "Stretch", or "Stinkie".  Yeah, I suppose being called "Stinkie" would be much worse than "Fatso".  I could have ran with "Stretch" though.  I was one of the tallest students in the whole school.

So, I basically allowed the kid to call me "Fatso" for the rest of the school year.  After all, it was over in thirty days anyways.  Besides, I don't believe he was being mean about it.  He was just trying to play with the ghosts that appeared in the movie.  Kids have wild imaginations, after all.

(At least...that's what I TELL myself, anyway.)

I tell you, that kid was so into the "Fatso/Stinkie/Stretch" thing that I am amazed that he didn't start calling himself Casper!

After all, those three ghosts appeared in the movie adaptation of "Casper", which was released twenty years ago today!  Fatso, Stinkie, and Stretch just happened to be the names of Casper's uncles - known by most people as the "Ghostly Trio".

So, a brief history of Casper.  Casper the Friendly Ghost was one of the flagship characters of the various titles published by Harvey Comics along with Baby Huey, Little Lotta, Wendy the Good Witch, and Richie Rich.

(Come to think of it, there was a time in which I believed that Casper and Richie Rich were the same person, given that they look exactly alike in the comics.  Maybe poor Richie Rich ended up drowning in his own vault of cash?)

Now, the Casper that you saw in the comic books was slightly tweaked for the film version.  Sure, the spirit of the late Casper McFadden was still friendly, and all he really wanted was to have some friends.  Unfortunately, all he got were his uncles, who basically are so obnoxious and disgusting that they keep everybody away from their home.

In the movie, we learn that a vicious, self-centered young woman named Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty) has inherited the very house that Casper and his uncles call home - Whipstaff Manor, situated in the town of Friendship, Maine.  She is initially upset that she has been left the house and only the house by her late father, until she discovers that there is a hidden treasure somewhere inside.  But with Stretch, Fatso, and Stinkie (Joe Nipote, Brad Garrett, and Joe Alaskey respectively) causing all kinds of havoc, Carrigan is discovering that even getting inside the house would prove difficult. 

It is Casper (Malachi Pearson/Devon Sawa) who decides to intervene by manipulating the television so that Carrigan will contact a paranormal therapist named James Harvey (Bill Pullman), which Carrigan arranges to bring to the house so that he can use his skills to get rid of the ghosts.

Now, you probably are thinking that Casper has lost his mind.  After all, he basically sealed his own death warrant - um, no...wait.  Eviction notice.  Yes, that sounds better.  After all, Casper is already dead.  Well, the human version of Casper, anyway.


The real reason why Casper has such a fixation on the good doctor is because he happens to have a crush on the good doctor's daughter, Kat (Christina Ricci).  And as it turns out, there's conflict happening between father and daughter.  Before the events of the film, James' wife Amelia (Amy Brenneman) passes away, and James can't seem to let go.  He is convinced that because she died so young that she has unfinished business in the world, and he will not rest until he can resolve things with her.  This means that James has moved all over the country to try and find the spirit of his wife, meaning that Kat has a rather lonely life because of it.

So, you can probably expect the lonely in life Kat to befriend lonely in death Casper.  It's certainly a feeling that all of us have felt at one time or another, feeling completely alone and finding it difficult to make new friends because of the influences of other people.  I think that's why I enjoyed this movie a lot when I first watched it.  It truly is a story about friendship and how strong a bond it truly can be.  And believe me, Casper and Kat will need that bond to get through the rest of the story which includes an increasingly angry Carrigan, an incredibly stubborn James, and increasingly wacky antics by the Ghostly Trio.

Seriously check the film out.  At 20 years old, it's a real classic.