#1: Perfect Day, Perfect Stranger


“You’re going to get the shit kicked out of you”, Peter advised me as I told him my aspiration to make it in the entertainment business. I met Peter on the patio of the Friar & Firkin, on Queen Street, across from the Much Music Building. I knew June 6, 2011 was going to be a special day; I had my very first real job interview in Oakville to be a Field Marketing Representative for an event-planning firm, and afterwards, I planned to meet my friend Christina at her place near College and Spadina before she had to go to class. At 6 pm, my best friend Victoria, I had to be at a training session for another job as a promoter for an event in Toronto, so I decided in advance to explore the city for a few hours in my spare time. It was a packed day, with a lot of promise, but June 6th wasn’t just a busy day; it would have been my Dad’s 61st birthday. He died on Easter Monday this year, and I knew that even from beyond the grave, he’d make his special day worthwhile and joyful for his loved ones, just like he always did when he was alive.

I’ve lived in the same suburban house all my life, and the city is still a gigantic question mark for me, but I made a conscious decision to get to know it better, despite the distance, and the pain in the ass journey it always takes to get there from Markham. My interview in the morning took me farther than I have ever been driving on my own, and I confirmed something that Google Maps first made apparent: Oakville is really, really far. When I got to the interview, they told me that they had an office in Scarborough. Really? So I didn’t have to sacrifice a half tank of gas for this? I better get this job. Anyhow, I don’t regret the long trip – it showed me that, after all, I am capable of getting to and from places on my own. Well, at least with a GPS. Another reason why I enjoyed the drive was that on my way back East on the Gardiner Expressway, there’s a sweet spot where you see every beautiful part of the city of Toronto gleaming with sunshine on the backdrop of a cloudless sky. When I saw it, my heart almost stopped and felt heavy with longing to someday be in the middle of things – to be able to call it my own city and to know every corner of it, inside and out. I would have taken a picture of it if it wasn’t highly dangerous and illegal to do so while already driving pseudo-recklessly on the Freeway.

This entire year my best friend and partner in crime, Victoria, and I have been planning to move out into the city in August, but due to my Dad passing away, and us not having nearly enough money to sustain this fantastic dream so soon, we have decided to push it back another 9 – 12 months - a time where both of us will hopefully not be destitute and can afford to serve our guests a selfless dinner, instead of inviting them and telling them to bring the food as well (which was a house rule that our friends and family, if they loved us like they said they did, would have to abide to). We came to this agreement to move out when we are a little more prepared, but the week prior was chalk full of uncertainty and frustration at the prospect of not going through with an idea that both of us were looking forward to so much. So, on my exploration down Spadina, and then down Queen Street East, I stopped and found myself on the patio of the Friar & Firkin drinking an ice cold beer, while writing a handwritten letter to patch things all up with Victoria. Half way through my letter I spilled beer on the note and was frantic to clean it up as much as possible. Then I heard: “That’s unfortunate”, from the table behind me. It was Peter, my guardian angel.

There are some people you meet and you just know that they are badass. Peter looked like a retired filmmaker – possibly adult movies. He looked about late fifties or early sixties, had a black fitted tshirt, black track pants, and slip on sandals. His glasses we’re frameless and half transparent, and maybe it was his attitude and disposition, but his curly, salt and pepper hair reminded me of a lion’s mane. Let’s get one thing straight: I’m no stranger to being hit on by much older men, and I know to ignore and deflect their advances down to a science. This being the case, for some reason, I continued to converse with Peter despite my initial discomfort, being alone on the patio with him, only a sip through my beer. We talked about how my future is uncertain – how I’m graduating in two days, and how I desperately want to fit my talented self somewhere in the entertainment industry but don’t know how. It turns out that Peter worked in post-production and did freelance work for a number of networks in his career, before he started his own business building super computers. He and I sketched out the game-plan for the rest of my life: (1) send my work to every single editor in Toronto repeatedly, until they either tell me to fuck off leave them alone, or alternatively, give me a job, and (2) to above all else “sell” myself, and “convince” them that they need me (I first said “swindle” my way into a job, he corrected me, saying that those who swindle don’t have real ability.)

I believe with all my heart that positivity is a lost art, and I think that it’s my Willy Wonka Golden Ticket to a bright future. There are two kinds of people: Tiggers and Eoyores. I’m a Tigger, and everybody would rather hang out with Tigger because he’s bouncy, fun, and doesn’t bring you down with problems. There’s a lot going on in my life, and a lot of challenges I have to face in the coming years, personally and professionally – I am on the verge of adulthood and it’s scary but wonderful at the same time. I’m excited to figure things out and put the pieces together into something that will eventually make sense. I have never considered myself a victim to life, and I don’t think negatively about anything that has happened to me in the past, present, and in the future. Things happen in life and how you act and respond to them makes them either positive or negative. I choose positive. I’ve always thought my life has had loads of potential, and that when I was finished school, I’d jump into a career of my choice, no problem. It turns out that life after university is much harder than I thought it would be. I know that I want to entertain and teach people, but I don’t necessarily know how I can achieve that. Peter told me to make a video reel – to get in front of a camera, get comfortable and to just keep harassing people until they notice me and take me seriously. He said that my positive attitude towards life would take me far and that, just sitting with me for 40 minutes made him more inspired. Its impossible to capture the profundity of the conversation and reiterate all the fantastic nuances we shared, like a scene out of Before Sunrise, but he told me that this was my hook. That I’m a bildungsroman and should document my growth into a (semi-)functional adult.

I think meeting Peter was my Dad’s birthday present to himself; my Papa Tong always wanted me to use my talents and not squander them. In some ways, I thought maybe this was my dad speaking to me through Peter, especially when I found out Peter had been a motorcycle fanatic, much like my father (who raced professionally), and had recently broken his ankle in an accident (he showed me the scars, and the x-rays that he carried around in his briefcase. Yes, we were that close by the end of the conversation.) It was the best day-beer I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t help but feel more confident by the time we parted. I was sad to see him go, even though we exchanged contact information, but before he left I asked him if he really thought I’d write a good column, and asked him how I should go about starting it. All he said was, as he took a drag of his cigarette: “Maybe this is how it starts.”
Arianne TongComment