The people and random events that shape our lives (Part 3):

I don’t remember much about public school other than a vague memory of standing around a lot during recess. In high school it was more obvious. I day-dreamed my way through most of my classes – getting caught occasionally with a question from the teacher when I was pretending to listen but wasn’t. I didn’t interact with the other students in class and only hung around at lunch with a few other outsiders/oddballs who felt equally out of place.

I would never go to a high school or university reunion because no one knew who I was when I was going there so not much point in trying to catch up later. In first year university I bumped into one of my classmates from grade 12. She had no idea who I was. Even later, after teaching 7 years at the small Lees Avenue Algonquin College campus, I walked into the small administration office and they tried to throw me out because they thought I was a student. I was invisible then and now that I’m old, I’m even more invisible and I’m fine with that.

At home it was the same. I was like the fly on the wall – the invisible observer who had nothing to say. Interactions with my mother were at the level of “don’t forget your hat”. With Dad, it was the occasional lecture which I also day-dreamed through. I had no interactions with my sister. We only appeared to live in the same house but actually lived on completely different planets. Years later, I became good friends with both my Dad and sister but in those days, they were just other alien life-forms who happened to live in the same house.

After school I would come home, do what I had to do, eat supper, do what I had to do and then head for my bedroom. My parents hoped that I was going to study but I was either reading a book or listening to the short-wave radio.

Brian Hassard and I gradually drifted apart through high school although we still had a couple of projects on the go. We both had photo darkrooms – him in his closet, mine in the basement; and we both had our amateur radio licenses. His equipment was army surplus; mine consisted of Dad’s shortwave radio and transmitters that I built myself.

In first year at Carleton University Brian and I occasionally saw each other at the radio amateur club which was mostly a hangout for engineering students who liked to play their guitars and avoid going to classes. Almost all those students failed first year and both Brian and I stopped going there.

I don’t remember seeing Brian after first year but reconnected years later when his sister happened to be sitting behind Kim and I on a train; we were going to see my sister in St Catharines and Brian, who was a professor of applied math at Buffalo University came up to see us. We connected for a few years after that until his mother died and he stopped answering his emails.

Engineering school was a disappointment. Carleton University didn’t specialize until 4th year. The engineering faculty thought that you should get to understand basic engineering principles by learning about all the other engineering disciplines (civil, mechanical, chemical) – none of which I had any use for. The only courses I remember enjoying were psychology and a survey literature course.

At the end of the first year, Dad talked to his brother Fred who through his contacts got me a summer job as a boiler-maker’s helper building hydro generators on the Manicouagan river near Baie-Comeau. I was an even bigger oddball in that environment and got a bad review from the foreman (“lacks initiative”) but I didn’t really care. I made enough money to leave home and had no intention of working on hydro generators anyway.

The University of Alberta in Edmonton specialized in 3rd year so I stayed at Carleton for my second year and then headed off to U of A for the third.

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