A spotty teenager and a stern grandfather watch a tennis match together. No, this isn't a start of a joke - it's the start of Habzyz III's self-esteem...
In a past life, I was a young acne-ridden teen, freshly brainwashed after a two-year stint living in Saudi, I was suddenly uprooted into high school life in the Canadian suburb of Kanata. After living two of the longest years of my life in an all-boy Islamic elementary school, I was unprepared for the puberty-stained jungle that was entering a Canadian high school. At the start of that journey, I walked the halls with my head hung low, a small, shy, awkwardly scrawny boy with a boner, in search of an identity. But by the end I would prove to be adaptive as I would emerge from its gates as a confident, artistic and, at times narcissistic, student council president who confidently kept his erections in check.
Let me explain; living in Saudi Arabia, I was unsurprisingly deprived of the company…well, actually ,the mere sight of the finer sex. Everything was censored; lady-heroines in comic books were reduced to blackened blocks and gender separated facilities were the norm. So when I entered high school and was tossed into an open-minded, free-spirited, Britney Spears imitating community, it was a definite shock to my system. It was as though I had been kept blind folded in a cage somewhere in the deserts of Saudi Arabia only to emerge in the green and frigid, virgin(ish)-filled paradise.
The first couple of months were the hardest. My Saudi brainwashing had me trained to be excessively polite and deferential to authority figures, in fear of physical punishment. Though Canadians are known for their politesse, I was that awkward kid in the corner of the room wearing the ugly denim shorts and Calvin Klein shirt raising my hand to say “Sir, may I go to the bathroom, Sir.” Little did I realise that I was informing the class that I was someone to be ignored; just a twisted, malfunctioning robot, unable of properly communicating with homo sapiens. I wanted more than anything to just have a few friends but I knew I would have to completely change everything I thought, build a new identity and adapt to this completely new environment if I were to successfully entice one of these lovely, liberal females that were so appealingly opposite from the passing shadows that were my only previous exposure.
The first obstacle I would have to conquer was my constant boner. Embarrassingly, it took almost half a year until I could comfortably sit in a class filled with miniskirts without having to, ahem, hide my shame. Luckily, the winters were long (and stupidly cold), and were not exactly conducive conditions for arousal. With my penis no longer an issue, I began adapting to late 90s Canadian high school scene.
Upon months of careful observation (and probably in part to watching the film Rushmore), I decided that the best way to emerge from my shell was to find clubs to join at school. With a love of films and the guidance of Mike, the first person to acknowledge my existence in the halls, I found myself on stage as a skinny, out of tune and visibly un-Italian chorus actor in the musical Grease. Even though I hated musicals I loved feeling like a part of something, and at my high school nothing was bigger than the annual musical.
I stuck with the drama programme and began exploring identities through performances. Every character I played left a fingerprint upon me, a mark on the person that I was becoming. In those impressionable years, it seemed as though I had broken free of my former shackles, and with each new revelation, my teenage angst grew. I slowly learned that a majority of what I was told to believe as truth was, in fact, bullshit. As I took on the roles of some theatres most twisted characters, it became very obvious to me that the world was shitty place. With all the genocide, rape, misogyny, racism and Nickleback, any injustice or anything from of the polluted mainstream sickened me. To demonstrate my solidarity with the underground counter culture, I walked the halls wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, listening to Rage Against the Machine on my Sony Discman. Looking back, this clichéd episode of teenage angst was cut short, mainly due to the reappearance of the General; my stern grandfather. His sage words, as always, caused me to re-evaluate myself, and begin the transformation from a follower into a leader.
Living in London, Ontario, my grandfather, tired of silently grieving his wife’s death alone, decided to stay with our family for a couple of months. It was during this visit that I realised that the General had aged. I vividly remember returning from school one day to find him silently watching women’s tennis, a new-found fascination I would never come to understand. As I entered the room, I noticed his eyes widening, accompanied with a proud grin as his eyes focused on my Che t-shirt. The General nods with approval and says: “I really liked Che… he was a very respectable man, but I did not like Fidel.” Immediately curious, I asked him why, and he replied “Fidel’s handshake was very weak, but Che was a strong man, with a strong handshake, he knew how to talk; how to lead.” Previously unbeknownst to me, the General had met both Fidel and Che on their trip to Egypt in the 50s. It was during those days that the General would find himself learning more about a man’s heart with a handshake than anyone could with a book.
The General was never one for the arts and when I told him about my day, he seemed disinterested, telling me that I spent my day following orders rather than giving them. His words didn’t sink in immediately, but as we watched Venus Williams crush her opponent, I had an epiphany. I shouldn’t act anymore; I should direct. For my first attempt to direct, I chose Woody Allen’s God. At the time, teachers were on strike and all extracurricular activities were cancelled. I knew I was on the right path when I held my first casting call. All of sudden, the girls I had problems talking to were coming to me and asking to be in the play. With an investment of only a $120, which I borrowed from the drama department, I returned a profit of $3000. Impressed with the margins, the principal approached me to co-direct the annual musical, as many feared the beloved annual tradition would be cancelled due to the strike.
What started out as me telling a few dozen actors what to do in a play became me telling over a hundred volunteers and actors what I wanted for a set, lighting, sound, choreography and acting. It seemed like I was working with a third of the school and I was in charge. In the middle of the chaos, I noticed that student council election were to be held a couple of weeks before the musical. Thinking back to the General's words, I realised there was no higher position than president.
I figured my chances were decent considering how many people were involved in the musical, but I knew that I would need more votes if I was beat the popular blonde field hockey star and the ambitiously nerdy, cute brunette. The key to victory would be stealing both the jocks’ and the nerds’ votes away from my opponents but figuring out how to appeal to both at the same time posed a challenge.
I knew that I needed to find something to promise them that they could both care about. I must have floated a million ideas through my brain only to discover the answer while taking a much needed dump at school. When it came time to clean up, I increasingly became frustrated at the amount of fragile single ply toilet paper was required to get the job done. It was in that moment that I realised I was not alone; that this was a problem that affected everyone.
On election day, each candidate was given a three minute speech. The blonde took the stage and played a video of her doing a terrible rap to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song, promising to try and find a way for students to save money at the mall. The nerdy opponent took the stage by pretending to do a strip tease behind a blanket that her parents held up. Just when you thought she was naked, it turned out she wasn’t and that of course she wouldn’t do that in front of her parents. I was so baffled by the opening that I couldn’t tell you what she was promising. Finally, it was my turn. Surprisingly I wasn’t nervous and after witnessing what I was up against, I knew I would be okay. I began with introducing who I was and who I wanted to become. I listed equal accomplishments to failures, and ended with three simple promises; more chairs, ice-cream and two ply paper.
Needless to say I won the election in a landslide, the musical was a success, and the General was proud of me for taking the lead. I felt like I was #winning, long before Charlie Sheen was but like every past life I’ve lived, I realised that wins don’t come without losses, which is why I was able to turn humility into accomplishments.