My dad was a very funny man who loved to tell stories. He repeatedly told us how he swam from Anguilla to St Kitts back in the 30’s, on his back no doubt. He swam with the sharks that were afraid to attack him because he was COC, that’s how he referred to himself. We knew the stories where not true but we enjoyed them nonetheless. I made up similar bed time stories for my kids about swimming to Canada, I navigated past Jamaica, Cuba, up the Florida Coast , the Eastern seaboard to the St Lawrence and then Lake Ontario; of course I swam using breast strokes, as I can’t float.
Dad told us a story about his dad and grandfather, one of them owned a boat and was in the transportation business during the rum running days. The story goes that the authorities caught up to them and they burnt the boat in the harbour in Anguilla. Not sure if I believed the story completely, like I said my dad told a lot of stories. That was one of the ways he communicated with us, through humour.
My dad went to St Kitts at a very early age; I think in his mid teens carrying a bag of clothes, he said just an extra pair of pants. If you know anything about Anguilla, the early part on the 20th century was not good times for the island. He would have to go to Santo Domingo to find work, later he settled in St Kitts. Within a few short years he accumulated quite a portfolio of assets and all dept free. His story is not unique, but it’s his story so ill tell it my way. He did quite well, great achievements in any era.
So why am I bragging about my dad?
He set quite a high bar for his kids. He would preach to us about being self employed, he told us never to work for anyone. He built a great foundation and expected us to continue to build. I could not see myself in the retail business. He never told me I had to be in retail but I am sure that is what he wanted. He was quite a man.
In life everyone is different and has to follow his or her own path.
My dad had prepared me well for business. I knew all about purchasing, stocking, mark-ups and discounts and how to treat the customer right, skill that I was able to call upon later in life. He made sure I had a good education foundation. He paid for the best education money could buy in St Kitts.
But first I had to find my own way.
When I landed in Canada, one of my dreams was to build something bigger than my dad ever did. I was just 19 years old and full of energy; my ambitions included going to school and furthering my education and playing professional soccer. I didn’t realize that Canada was so poor at soccer. I should have gone to England.
But first I had to find a job.
Looking for work was the biggest job of all and was quite frustrating. I kept hearing:
‘You don’t have Canadian Experience.’
As the months went by I kept lowering my expectations.
Luckily looking for a job was not my only preoccupation. In my last post I wrote about being lost the first day I was alone in Toronto. Seemed overwhelming at first but when I had time to think about it, wow, the potential for quite intriguing. As a kid you probably played hide and seek. Here was a great opportunity for me to play ‘ride the bus and try to get lost’. I would leave home, get on the bus, get off at random places and try to get lost. Also I would sometimes ride the train for hours, the subway system in Toronto covers a lot of miles, oops KM. I would go to the library and look at maps and make plans to get lost. Within a few months I got to know the city really well. I had spent just about all my money on transportation.
This seemed like child’s play at the time, but knowing where businesses were located and what kind proved to be important knowledge later on in my travels.
It was winter time when I arrived in Toronto and it took a while to find other Kittitians. I lived with my sister and her two roommates. One of them had a TV but she kept it in her room. She was dating my cousin and I was not allowed in her room. In those days, televisions were really expensive.
I wanted to relax and look at TV so badly.
One day I discovered Yorkdale Shopping Center. Every afternoon after getting lost; of course I told my sister I was job hunting, I would go there and hang out. I would just walk around and look at the people, especially the females. I didn’t have any money so I would not go into the stores, I don’t like shopping anyway.
One evening I was sitting on a bench outside the Sears store when I saw the most beautiful girl working the perfume counter. She looked like the models on the posters put out by Jamaica Tourism. I would go every afternoon and just sit there and look at her for a while. That would always brighten a cold winter day. Today I would probably get arrested for stalking. After a while I notice that she only worked every other night so that was when I would go there. I was able to save quite a bit of bus fare.
It took me about 3 weeks, but I finally went and talk to her on her break. Yes she was Jamaican, although back then all blacks in Toronto were Jamaicans and she was engaged to be married. Bummer. I asked her if she had any sisters, no she didn’t. She asked me where in Jamaica was St Kitts. I said she was pretty.
Kirk my friend who reads my blog will get pissed off at that statement. Don’t care.
In hindsight it was a great relief, I was able to go on with my life, although that was very close. I would have married her if she had a TV and had asked me to. I quit going to the mall.
Still no job, I need Canadian experience, I began to wonder if I would ever find one.
Spring came so I did not have to spend so much time indoors. By accident I had found out from a newspaper story that the only professional soccer team in Canada, the Toronto Metros was starting their spring training at the Lamport Stadium. They played in the North American Soccer League. I made plans to be there.
I had brought my well worn soccer boots with me from St Kitts so I was set. On day one of training I made my way all excited to the stadium. I believed that if I was given a chance I would be able to wow them with my left foot. I introduced myself to this guy who seems to be part of the team. He went over and talked to this other guy then he disappeared. I waited, no one seemed interested.
I attended the training for a week. Every day I would show up and do wind sprints, I was fit, I would run around the track, showing off, I sometimes imagine this was probably what it would be like for a prostitute, showing her booty and no one was interested. Whenever a stray ball came my way, I would kick it back as hard as I could, showing off the strength of both feet. Yet nothing.
At the end of the week I mustered up the courage to approach the coach. I introduced myself and asked for an opportunity. He did not waste any time, he said I was too small. I stood there for a while totally dumbfounded. I looked around, the players were huge, didn’t notice before. I could not argue with him, I was probably 110lbs by now and vertically challenged. Still I was crushed. I sat on the bleachers for a while, thinking that my soccer career was over. It was a bit of wishful thinking; even if he showed interest in me I was damaged. The last year in St Kitts was quite painful, my ankles were shot. I remember going to Antigua with the National Team and lasting 15 minutes on the field.
I decided to take a year off and try to get healthy then return the following year.
Something else happened that day, on the way home on the bus, I saw a help wanted sign on the Bad Boy furniture store window on Dufferin Street. I got off the bus and walked into the store to inquire about the job. You may recall from an earlier blog that I stutter when I get nervous and resort to my Trafalgar lingo. Before going on job interviews I would always practise the first 20 seconds of the meet and greet. I remember someone once told me that people judge you in the first 20 seconds of meeting you. I forgot the rule that day.
Me to Person in Store:
Blah blah blah blah (I assumed that is what he heard based on the look on his face)
What I may have said was:
‘ah com to see bout the job in de glass window’ or something like that, it’s been a while.
What I should have said was ‘I would like to apply for the position advertised for in the window’
Person in Store. `Do you have any Canadian experience?’
My accent must have given me away.
I didn’t even answer, just turned and walk away. As I was leaving I was thinking that it would have been a great place to work, lots to TVs everywhere. I really wanted to relax and look at TV.
Damn, I had to use another bus ticket to get home. Not a good day.
Soon after that I connected with the Esdailles from the Village, the preacher kids. Get this, David had a car, he could cook, chicken soup mostly and he had a TV. On Saturdays we would look at wrestling. In those days wrestling was real, today they are a bunch of fakers. For the rest of the year I would hang out at their place as often as I could.
The summer was nice, met a lot of new people, explored the city, at one point I looked at joining the reserves, they actually paid money but it turned out that they were too far to travel to daily.
The summer came to end and I must tell you I was not looking forward to the winter. I thought of contacting my dad and asking for help, but he probably would have seen it as failure. When it seemed totally hopeless my resume found its way to a company not far from where I was living, it was the end of September, 9 months after arriving in Toronto. The guy who hired me told me that although I had no Canadian experience, he would hire me because I was Kittitian, go figure. As luck would have it another Kittitian worked there, he said she was an exemplary employee so it follows I would be also. Humans. I will always be grateful.
I was hired to pack school text books in boxes. I was not sure how Canadian experience was an asset for that job, maybe it had nothing to do with work. If my dad could have seen me then I think he would have been heartbroken.
Would you like to know what I purchased with my first cheque? A 14 inch Sylvania Back and White, rent to own, $100 deposit, $21 per month, ‘we will pick up when you die’, TV. I now had credit.
I was on my way!!!!!
The only Kittitian couch potato in Calgary.
P.S. I have a great cartoon but my artist says he does not have time, something about school coming first.