26 February 2008

Top 30 of 30 - Part 3

As I am currently convalescing from an old nemesis (see #17 in my list), I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to finish out the list. After all, many a writer has been known to produce their finest work while confined to the sick bed. I of course have no quantifiable research to defend this statement, but it seemed a propos for the moment.

Life, as I reflect from this list, is not always clear driving, but involves some patches of turbulent weather. Thanks to all of you who have hitched a ride along the first 30 years, and I hope you can enjoy the next 30 years.

#10 Welcome to Cornell - April 1997
In a letter I received in April of 1997, Cornell University informed me that a space would be held for me in the class of 2001 at their fine institutions. Of course, as tuition, room, board, books and other fees would run me to about $50K Canadian, the really important letter that arrived on that day was the 2nd one in the package from Cornell financial aid. Although I don't remember the exact details, safe to say that it was staggering to a little family from Cornwall. The school was essentially telling me that it would give me an amount of money equal to about 1/3 the value of my parents house if I simply went to their school. Huh? How does that work? You can visit dozens of schools, and hear speech after speech about financial aid, but until a school tells you that they will basically rebate your education to around the tune of 85%, you may start to wonder what kind of crack they are smoking and please can I get some. But this is quite simply what Cornell did for my parents and myself.

I had to work - at one point I had 3 jobs at Cornell; I also had student loans; and finally, I had to volunteer hours, but when all was said and done, I could afford an education that should have been out of my reach. Finances certainly seemed the important issue for that day. But being accepted to Cornell was the first step in the next five years of my life. Cornell would be where I would meet some of the very best people of my life (Josh, Craig, Evan, Katie, Jill, Dana, Lindsay, Jeff). It's where I would experience the highs and lows of my athletics career. It's also from where I would earn an engineering and political science degree, becoming the first college graduate in my family - from either my father or mother's side (and my dad has 11 brothers and sisters). I suppose if there was such a thing as the American dream, that it would have started with my acceptance to Cornell. Of course, I'm no American, and I don't see this as a dream, since it really did happen. Plus, in my dreams, people are usually naked - although there was quite a bit of nudity that took place in Risley come to think of it.

#9 Trip to Japan - January 2005
When I came back from Japan, people asked me what it was like. I would often answer that it was like the future. But then again, I'm not from the future, so i don't know what the future is like. So, I'm going to now retract that statement. Japan was very Japanese. Yes, I'm sure you are laughing. Not that I am an immense world traveler, but having been to a dozen countries or so on 3 continents, I can say that Japan was the most intriguing place that I have been to. This is related to the fact that it is the furthest place to which I have traveled. Japanese culture is also the furthest removed from my own experiences. I didn't speak the language, nor did I grow up with Japanese foods or Japanese friends.

The trip was great - not least of which because I visited Joanne. It was memorable in that I got strep throat and was very sick during our trip to Kyoto. I also wouldn't let Joanne be in peace and harassed her constantly to find Japanese baseball paraphernalia, which is notoriously difficult unless the teams are in season. We visited Hiroshima where I saw the A-bomb Dome, and Mya Jima with the floating torii. Tokyo was certainly a technological marvel, but Kyoto is the definite jewel of Japanese culture. Although Joanne will certainly agree that we may have had a little temple overload, the entire experience was tremendous. Well worth the 15 hour flight.
#8 Canadian Juniors for me, Gold for Bailey. July 27, 1996
I went to the Canadian Junior championships for Athletics twice. Both times were a flop, in terms of performance. Although I finished in the top 10, I didn't perform well, and one year, the highlight was beating a friend - Sasha - simply because he fell down. Sorry about that one man.

Qualifying however is a different story. In 1996 the standard for the 400mh was lowered to below 57 seconds, which was fairly quick for juniors, considering that less than a dozen athletes could probably achieve this standard. To be honest, I don't quite remember the specific time, whether it was 56.5 or 56.7 or 56.9. It was an odd number, that much I remember! Anyway, I was struggling making the jump from 300mh, where I excelled, to 400mh, where I basically sucked. July 27th was the date set for a meet at Claude Robillard in Montreal. It was also the same date as the 100m final for the men in the Atlanta Olympics. Meets in Montreal tend to take forever, and this meet was no exception. The 100m final in Atlanta was scheduled for around 10:30pm, and the track meet in Montreal started around 9am. Needless to say, the meet dragged on and on. By the time it came for the evening session, the officials took a break to eat and watch the Olympics. Eventually they got to the intermediate hurdles and were running the races in between watching the Olympics on a small television that was down on the track (high jump apron). When it came time for my race, it was time for the men's 100m finals. If you remember, there had been some delay, due to Lindford Christie's notorious double false start followed by his refusal to leave the area in Atlanta.

I was stuck between the nerves of my own race, as this was my last chance to qualify for Nationals, and my nerves for the Canadian sprinters. Both Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin - who trained at Claude Robillard - had advanced to the Olympic finals and both of whom I was big fans of. The meet officials - the ones in Montreal - finally decided to delay our race to watch the race in Atlanta. Meanwhile, the officials in Atlanta finally got Christie off the track. The stage was set for Donovan Bailey's gold medal run. With about a dozen athletes and officials huddled around the 11 inch portable black and white television, we watched on as Bailey made Olympic history. Although many were Surin supporters, we were all Canadian supporters and we went crazy. Shortly thereafter I had to calm down in order to take on 10 hurdles and 400m - not the easiest of tasks at any times, let alone immediately following such an emotional event in Atlanta.

Running the race, I knew it was the best one I had ever done, as I had more confidence than ever. I can clearly thank Bailey for this moment, and now don't mind having had to wait for so long. It was all worthwhile when I crossed the line in first in a time that was below the standard. My coach brought me the forms directly on the track where I filled them out - I would be going to National Juniors!

#7 Girl problems - January 1992 (I think)
As an adolescent, I was pretty awkward around girls. Come to think of it, I guess that not much has changed! In all seriousness though, like 99% of boys at that age, I either didn't know how to act or what to say to girls. I was also convinced that everyone else not only knew what to say, but were constantly making fun of me behind my back. I probably became interested in the fairer sex a bit later than most guys, as my first date was only last week (ok, I was kidding about that one).

I wish that I had a number of stories to demonstrate my ineptitude, but lack of moves actually results in more stories about Star Wars and Nintendo - as proof by my list -as opposed to stories about antics with girls. Nonetheless, a worthwhile story did occur in the winter of 1992 -I think. It was either grade 9 or grade 10, and was definitely the winter. I was interested in Marj Gratton - yes, the same girl who broke her arm from dodgeball in grade school. Her arm had healed nicely and she was looking peculiarly hot in that year (the year I don't remember, right). Of course, by this I mean that she was an attractive female who didn't intimidate me too much, so I thought I would try out my non-moves on her. Of course, I had no moves, and she wasn't interested - or not enough anyways.

She worked at Samson's corner store in Cornwall. One Friday night my parents were out of town so I went down to Samson and hung out there with Marjorie. This basically involved walking around the store while she helped the paying customers. I probably did buy some penny candy, so I don't get blamed for loitering. At the end of her shift, she invited me to her place to watch a movie. By this point, I had probably told an innumerable amount of geeky jokes, used up all my good "do you want some candy" lines, and basically achieved in charming nothing. But a movie did seem like something. Exulted, I said yes. We watched Lethal Weapon - I think it was #3. I distinctly remember being turned on, excited, nervous and sick all at once. I was certainly panicking, as heretofore, I had never kissed a girl. And Marj was holding my hand! I should pause here to say that this is not a story about my first "kiss". Who knows when that really is. I mean, I kissed girls at spin the bottle parties, but that doesn't count. And more to the point, I didn't actually kiss Marj that night. I remember her handling the situation in much more control to me - surely she would have been aware of my feelings. But it seems as though she was simply interested in sharing her thoughts on Mel Gibson, and Dany Devito.

The story happens when I get home. By this time, it is late, perhaps 2 am. The front door is locked and I have no key. It is the winter and I have no way to get into my house. Only my brother and sister are home. Since the porch is locked, no one will hear me. So, I go into our garage and take out a 10 foot ladder. I put this on the side of the house up to my sister's room. I climb up the ladder, in the cold, and knock on the window. My sister wakes up screaming, as she feels there is a robber trying to break in. This makes sense, why would you expect your brother on the roof, knocking on your window at 2am in the middle of the winter. She runs to Marc's room, who comes over screaming at me to get the hell off the roof or that he would call the cops. I think he also had a baseball bat. Folks, I wish I was making this up, but sadly it is the farce that is my life. Eventually, some how, I convince them -in their sleep induced stupor, that I am not a robber, but am, indeed, their brother, who has limply returned from his night "out". I believe that I came in through the window, returned outside to put the ladder away, and went to bed. I may have failed at being a romantic, but life was looking up for my chances of breaking and entering.
#6 Cowboys and Indians. October 1994 (I think)
In the early and mid 1990s, Cornwall unfortunately gained national notoriety for a smuggling problem. Cornwall is located on the St Lawrence river, directly across from Massena, NY. Between the two towns is a Akwesasne Mohawk reservation. Due to differences in tax law, and a sudden increase in tobacco taxes, it became quite well known that a number of people were smuggling tobacco and alcohol between the borders here. Although I am not at all placed to make any sort of investigative comment here, it is clear that both whites and natives were involved in the illegal trade. This led to animosity and tension between the two groups. Unfortunately, too many people were demonstrating a racist and unbiased view. Somehow, my friends and I got involved in the middle of all this.

It was a school dance at Saint Lawrence High School, which my friends and I were going to attend. To get the night started, Marc, Paul P, Brian V and myself headed "downtown" (if you are from Cornwall, you will know why i put this in quotes). Either Brian or Paul was driving and we stopped in at a video arcade. As we headed in, I noticed a gang of natives that were checking on us. We were certainly not regulars at this place. We were just looking to hang out a bit before going to the dance. We were only 16 years old remember. None of us felt comfortable there so we left after a little while. As we were walking back to the car, this gang of natives followed us. They proceeded to ask us where we were going and upon hearing that we were headed to the dance, asked us to tag along. Of course, if you have ever been in an uncomfortable situation, you know that maniacal laugh that gang leaders have. This guy would chuckle a little as he asked us questions and look around to the rest of his gang, who would repeat his chuckle.

The four of us seemed to be of a common mind and were set on getting to the car and then getting the hell out of there. By the time we reached the parking lot, which was in a fairly public place, one of the gang jumped Marc. The 4 of us were walking in front with this gang of about 6 behind us. Marc somehow saw the guy coming and sidestepped him. He then, unbelievably slammed the guys head into the front hood of a parked car. This sounds all heroic, but it was little more than a quick side step and reaction. There was nothing forceful about it. The four of us then bolted for the car while in chase. From here, I only know of my own experience, which went as follows. One of the guys caught me and had a hold of me. Two other guys were going to gang up on me but I managed to escape my captor and basically ran away. I can't say that I am proud of what I did, but this gang had swollen to at least 10 members by this time, and there was no way I was sticking around. This is essentially the only fight I have ever been in (outside of scuffles in sports), and my best asset is to run away from people, so that's what I did. I ran with my heart thumping for over an hour all the way home wondering what had happened to my friends.

For his part, Marc did pretty much the same thing. After slamming one of the gang into a car, he took off running. Most of the gang gave up chase and doubled back to take the remainder of us on. Paul and Brian made it to the car, and as I learned later, did not manage to get into the car. As there was a gang of natives, they managed to beat them up pretty badly. Both had swollen eyes and bruised faces from the incident. Of course, the parking lot is in a public place, so there was very little of a trashing that could take place. The entire event probably lasted less than 5 minutes once it started, but it is most definitely the most intense and disturbing moment, not to mention the only violent moment, of my life.
#5 Baby seals all lubed up. May 2002.
Words can only ruin my greatest acting performance. Visit Google video, type in Exxon Valdez and at #3, you will see a hilarious film about the Exxon Valdez.

#4 Little League Provincials. Summer 1993
As previously alluded to, our little league baseball had made quite a stir by finally achieving decency (at least on the field). By the senior little league championships, ages 14-15, our team was ready for the big time. In 1993, my last year in little league, we played Brockville in the divisional championships, which was a recurring theme for both teams. The game was to be played in Cornwall and I was the starting pitcher. If memory serves me correctly, the first batter of the game hit a double at the Bob Turner field. The ball actually rolled under the fence and he had already contoured the bases as there is quite a bit of space out in that field (the standard fence does not apply here, on the right field for instance it is probably 1000 feet until the ball encounters a fence - he hit it on the left side where it is about 300 feet). Luckily for us, he was held to a double, to which the Brockville coach vociferously complained.

As the game went on, it was clear that it would be a tight one. Normally only 7 innings, we went into the 8th tied at 2 and I was still on the mound. As a theme that will repeat itself shortly, the minute I left the game, our offense decides to score. I ptiched 8 innings, left the game, we scored to take the lead, Al Lefebvre comes in to shut them down, and we win. It is the first time that we advance to the provincials. So, a couple weeks later, a train load of 14 and 15 year olds hop on a train for Windsor.

When we arrive, we are definitely the new kids on the block, most teams having qualified on many previous occasions. In our first game we draw Orleans, the defending national champs. I will start the game and am supremely confident in our team. The game is a chess match, with the teams feeling one another out. In true Greg Maddux fashion, I give up all my runs in the first inning. One of their first hitters gets on with a hit, steals a couple bags and is at third with one out. Their clean up hitter comes up and I throw him a big curve ball. He hits it to center field, which yields a sacrifice fly. As he is heading back to the dugout, this guy whispers to me that the next time I throw him a curve that he will hit it out of the park. Alrighty then Mr. big shot. Next time he comes up, a few innings later, and the score is now 1-1. I proceed to throw a curve ball on the first pitch to Mr. super star. He proceeds to miss it. He then graciously is given 2 more curve balls by yours' truly - I was only giving him what he asked for - and he misses both of them too.

Later in the game, it is the 8th inning by now, again, extra innings for little league, and they have the bases loaded with 1 out. The score is still 1-1. Our offense has decided that I should just do all the work and keep them to one run (come on guys, score a freaking run for me!). They put in a pinch hitter, who , when I throw him a 1st pitch fastball, looks like the fastest thing he can hit is his grandfather taking a morning jog. Believe me, I didn't throw hard, he just sucked. So, I get overconfident and throw him another fastball. He proceeds to look just as retarded on my pitch. On pitch #3, I wave off our catcher and throw him another fastball. This is a mistake. Little leaguers face about 10,000 fastballs in a pitching machine every year. Even the weaker hitters can hit them once they get their timing down. The pinch hitter smashes the ball. In my head, I am certain it is over - Orleans is the home team, and we are in extra inning. My stomach is in my throat. Miracle of miracles, Trevor Shaylor is playing the ball exactly right. It is hit right at him, and he then proceeds to tag out the runner. We are safe.

I go on to pitch the 9th. In the 10th inning we score (of course, I stopped pitching, so our team decides to score). In the bottom of the inning, Trevor comes in to shut them down and we win. Our first game and our first win at the provincials. The next day we would play Windsor, the host and favourite team. Unfortunately, Al falls ill from pancakes or heat or combination of the two. He is a our other top pitcher and we need him. Amazingly young Yves Ruest pitches a gem and holds us close for most of the game. But our offensive woes hurt us and we lose. Still, this is easily the top moment in a long list of outstanding times for our rag tag team of ball players from Cornwall.

#3 Becoming a Phi. November 2000.
I can't reveal the secrets of our organization. But it was kick ass times. Bet you wish you were part of an organization with a secret hand shake?

#2 First day of school. September 1982.
I chose this moment for one simple reason. St Croix is the elementary school where I met Joanne. (Ok now don't let that go to your head Joanne!) It's where I met all of my really good friends in life; no wait that is wrong. It is where I met all of my first really good friends. Obviously I met really good friends since that time! But elementary school is the institution of learning that the vast majority of us will spend the most time at. Even most PhD students spend less time at their University then they did at their elementary school. And yet we are remembered as a such and such grad. Why? The education we receive in our formative years will set us up for life - both in and out of the class room.

At St Croix I met the friends that would follow me for the next 10 years. I also met Joanne, who will be moving in with me next week, so I guess this moment is reflecting on my current situation and is fairly timely. To be honest I don't remember the moment that I met her or any of my other friends. Joanne and I did meet up at a bar one faithful day in the summer of 1997, which planted the seeds for our eventual dating.

I have a picture of Marc and I on our first day at St Croix. To be honest, I'm not sure where it is. Also, since Marc and I were born at the end of the year, we were pretty young and sleepy. So much so that we were asked not to return in kindergarden. We couldn't handle the stress of the whole day. So we waited until grade 1 to start full time. I also have a report card from back then; let me tell you, it's not too pretty. I had like Cs and Ds across the board in cutting, gluing, drawing, making friends, being in a team, following orders, all the skills that I have defiantly mastered over the years despite this early warning that I might be a dud. Other than drawing inside the lines, I guess I showed them!

#1 Marc's death. December 18th, 1999.
If you know me at all, then there should be little reason for sadness at this item. Yes you should be sad that the list is over, but do not be sad for me since this is my number one moment. It is the only moment in the list that will be on my list, no matter how short the list becomes or how long I live. Marc was everything in my life - heck in the 2nd grade they put us in separate classes and I cried until they put us back together. For the first 10 years or so we dressed alike almost every day. We enrolled in nearly identical activities, had identical results, and took identical classes. I didn't eat carrots so I had to wear glasses, as Marc said, and to which I agreed. That was the biggest difference.

As such, many of the moments of my life on this list include him. Anything prior to his death included him, and this is many of the important moments of my life. Some moments are easy to spot for their importance; others will only reveal their importance over time. Since his death, I have not made any conscious effort in my actions, but I am aware over time that I strive to be a better person. Marc was the best person I ever met, and many people will corroborate this statement. Prior to his death I was perhaps more self centered and egotistical than today. Now I have tried to make life as fun and meaningful as possible every day. Again, this is not some sort of silly promise I made to myself, it has just happened that way. I have tried to be nice all the time and to everyone I meet every day.

You hear the phrase often that when something tragic happens that you realize the importance of life. I don't actually believe this. I don't stop now and realize how great life is. What I have done is simply not stopped my own life. I have lived life laughing and loving it, rather than morbidly feeling sorry for myself. Again, none of this is planned or a promise or any sort of faith based approached - although yes I believe in spirituality, but that is another discussion. It simply living my life and experiencing what it has to offer.

Well there you have it, my life. I hope this list has inspired you, made you laugh, made you reflect on your own life and what moments have been important to you. Certainly there are easily 30 more moments I could add. I tried to chose an array of moments and experiences that best reflect my life as I see it today. In another 10 years check in for another countdown. Until then, hope you enjoy the moments :)


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. You are a great writer and if this is what you can come up with at 30, I can hardly wait to see what your future writing contains. And yes, you had better keep writing (and sharing it).

Anonymous said...

I can't start to tell you how much I've enjoyed reading your top 30 Rich... thanks for giving us a glimpse into what makes you the man that you are today... you know... the guy we want at every party!

Looking forward for the next 30!

Anonymous said...

Wow...plain and simple (unlike the writer himself, of course). What a wonderful way to reflect on one's life. Thanks Rich!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Richard, tu es incroyable! Une vie déjà bien remplie par d'incroyables expériences et souvenirs.

Anonymous said...

Great list, Rich. I laughed and I cried. You've inspired me to think about my own list of important moments in life. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Love it. Thanks for sharing, Rich...I`ve thought about my own list, but am sure I couldn`t write about it so clearly, or so openly. Or make it as interesting and heart-warming. You`re so talented!

Anonymous said...

Wow, rich, that had me in tears. I was reading along in your list and wondering if you were going to say anything about Marc in your top 10... although i didn't know him well, i knew enough to realize that he was the nicest, most genuine guy there ever was. It's great to know that you have taken something positive from your experiences and strive to be a better person every day. I'm sure Marc is having a great time watching your life.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Wow all I can say is that you are a great writer! Where can I contact you if I want to hire you?

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