Jeremy Hatt and I met at the University of Guelph. We both wrote for the student newspaper and our first conversation, whilst munching free pizza at a meeting, was about the Academy Awards. Toronto and I are fortunate that he moved here after graduation. If friends are determined by how long you can spend talking to them, weaving from politics and environmentalism to reality TV and plastic surgery, without running out of things to say, then Jeremy is one of my best.
MM: Describe growing up on a farm for us Toronto people.
JH: It blows me away every time I visit home just how different it is on the farm than here in the big city. I look at where I am now and sometimes I feel so removed from my childhood. When I was young, our concession was still a dirt road in the country and on an east wind, you could smell the pigs from our next-door neighbour’s house and hear the cows from the farm across the road from them. My Dad still owns a large flock of sheep but we used to raise chickens as well. I was driving a beat up old Ford truck before I could see over the steering wheel and driving tractor at an even younger age.
Through the summer when my friends always seemed to be vacationing, my brothers and I had daily chores to do like hoeing fields, sweeping the shed, bailing hay, feeding the sheep, painting fences, or driving tractor…except for Sundays of course. I always loved winters on the farm, too, when there was so much snow you could play outside for hours and never get bored. It was a lot of hard work and I hated it sometimes but I look back on it now and can’t help miss it. Our farm is getting pretty rundown but every time I go home, I make a point of taking a good long walk around the barns and the fields to remind myself how lucky I am to have grown up there.
MM: What’s it been like as a country boy in the city?
JH: It’s actually only since I moved to Toronto that I really embraced growing up on a farm near Leamington. I spent my years at the University of Guelph silencing the country boy in me. I didn’t even realize I sounded any different from everyone else until someone told me I had a subtle “country accent”, which I guess they equated to bad grammar. That’s when I noticed things in my speech like adding an ‘s’ to ‘all’, like alls I know or using ‘seen’ instead of saw, like I seen that movie. Even pronunciation sometimes: Detro-it. I quickly got rid of the “accent”. I hardly ever talked about living on a farm. I mean, we literally had hayrides at Christmas and I was shovelling manure during the summer breaks between semesters and working in a greenhouse. I used to be so mortified at the thought of people knowing all that.
Guelph was a good stepping stone from the small town life, but Toronto was still hard to catch up to at first and every tall building I walked by I’d crane my neck way back to see to the top and get nervous on the subway and get overwhelmed by the speed of everything. I’m completely comfortable with it all now. Love it, in fact. I don’t talk about the farm much but people seem genuinely interested if they find out that I grew up on one. I think it’s because I tell them with a bit more pride in my voice instead of…well, shame. But there are still those that react with a look of incredulity and reply with something like, “YOU grew on a farm?” And when I visit Leamington, I feel like I almost don’t fit in there cause I’m so much a city boy now, which I find pretty ironic.
MM: What was the most insane thing that ever happened at a past job?
JH: Where to begin? I guess if I had to answer the MOST insane thing, it would be hearing the words “I’m going to bring back a gun and shoot you all!” while I was working at a thrift store on Queen West in Parkdale. A woman had tried to steal a pair of shoes from our store by hiding them in her purse and the assistant manager stopped her as she was leaving to ask if she could see inside her bag. The woman immediately got all defensive so it was obvious she’d taken something. The assistant manager wouldn’t relent and they ended up getting in a tugging match over the purse. The woman then used her teeth in defence and started to bite employees; the assistant manager on the arm, and another co-worker (toothless Eddie was his nickname) on the leg, drawing blood.
While this was happening, I was being yelled at to call 911, which I had never done before. I called and shakily described what was happening in front of me and the next question was the address of our store, which I didn’t know. I actually fumbled around the drawers around the cash register looking for a business card with an address on it and thought how ridiculous all of this was and that when it was over, I was quitting. The woman got away after enough bites and the police got involved and we were all questioned separately and the store was put under lockdown. I quit that day, only to be offered a dollar raise if I stayed. I lasted another two months.
MM: Describe your current job.
JH: That’s a tough one because I’m all over the place. I just finished up an internship with the Canadian Community Economic Development Network, which works to strengthen Canadian communities by providing improved economic opportunities and enhancing environmental and social conditions. I also just finished a short-term contract helping write a funding report to be sent to Citizenship and Immigration Canada and I’m starting another one day a week contract with the Ontario Social Economy Roundtable doing anything from taking minutes in meetings to editing policy reports. Also starting this week I’ll be assisting with species-at-risk research in Six Nations territory for 3-4 days a week doing point counts and finding nests for at-risk birds in the region. I’m really excited for that contract to start.
MM: How and why did you get into bird watching?
JH: I really have to give credit to one of my best friends from back home, Marianne Reid. She was my neighbour and we went to the same church and the same elementary school so it was only natural that we would become close. She’s like a sister to me. She started birding a few years before me and introduced me to the hobby so at 9 years old I borrowed an ancient pair of binoculars from my grandma and went for a walk around the farm. I was immediately impressed by how many different birds I could find just on our property. My parents picked up on the interest and bought me the Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds. Marianne then invited me to Point Pelee National Park during spring migration and I was overwhelmed by the diversity of shapes and colour and sound. I was hooked.
MM: What book should everyone track down and read?
JH: If you haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, you really should read it. I try to read it at least every other year and I experience something completely different with every read. But I can’t answer this question without throwing out a couple authors everyone should read, too. Ian McEwan, John Updike, and Tom Wolfe are all musts.
MM: You have a lot of fun people on twitter, like Roger Ebert and Sarah Palin. What’s all-time your favourite tweet from someone on your list?
JH: Right now I’m following 108 people on Twitter so that’s quite a difficult question but I started to follow a woman who Roger Ebert often re-tweets whose account is nancygandhi. Her bio describes herself as a “Paragraphist. Amateur. American, living in India.” She often posts poetry and it’s pretty amazing how much feeling she can get into 140 characters. One of my favourites was, “Rain in the night. The grey stone garden pathways are still gleaming. Greenish-grey leaf-light, soothing on a summer morning.” Oh, another really good one was from a friend who tweeted a link where a baby was given a cochlear implant and they videotaped him hearing for the first time. They turn on the implant and his mother starts talking and the baby’s eyes widen and his mouth opens in a big smile and he just looks at his mom with that big smile on his face. Their eyes never leave each other’s… and that big smile. That really choked me up.
MM: Describe your bedroom.
JH: My rooms have always been plain and my current room is no different. Off-white walls empty of art, white curtains, a small wooden bed that I’ve had since I moved from the crib, a desk passed down from my brother, a dresser that my parents bought when they first married. I spend as little money on my room as possible. It’s a pretty boring room, really. There’s little in it that would reveal it to be my room except for my bookshelf, which is filled with bird guides.
MM: What would you like to be doing in ten years?
JH: I’m not really a “reach-for-the-skies” kind of guy so I’d be happy with a job that I feel fits my values and morals and that has some kind of positive impact on the world. I want it to be in the non-profit sector and as long as I have the free time to birdwatch, read, write, and spend time with the important people in my life, I think I’ll be happy.
MM: You’re a big movie person. If you had James Cameron-levels of budget and time, what kind of film would you make?
JH: You know, as tempting as the big budget is, I would probably make a small, independent film that deals with gay themes, especially the relationships between gay and straight men and issues of identity. I would want to show the relationships in an honest light: that it’s not always easy for either side involved and how it can sometimes be awkward and all that. And I’m sure the main story would be about unrequited feelings because I feel I have a story to tell there. The movie would probably tank but I would at least make sure that it stars Elizabeth Mitchell so I would get to meet and work with her because I love her.
MM: Describe five movies that you thought were going to be horrible and you ended up kind of loving them.
JH: This question is actually really hard for me because I try my best to not go into a movie thinking it’s going to suck. That just doesn’t seem nice. I’ll try my best though.
One good one would be She’s the Man. I admit I went in thinking I’d hate the thing but it’s just so darn strange and quirky and Amanda Bynes is so ridiculous and Channing Tatum is so dreamy as the sensitive jock. I ended up loving it. I’ve seen it a million times. Should I be admitting that?
I went into the Devil’s Rejects thinking that if it was anything like Zombie’s first film, House of 1,000 Corpses, I was going to hate it. Anyone who knows me knows that I have an unexpected love of violent, graphic, and transgressive films. Devil’s Rejects certainly fits the bill and I loved it for how deranged and brutal it was without ever apologizing for it. Way better than his directorial debut.
I didn’t think it would be horrible per se but someone did tell me that 2001: A Space Odyssey was one of the most boring films they’d ever seen and I wondered if that would turn out to be true. They were dead wrong and it’s one of my favourite films of all time and one of the best science fictions films of all time.
Another guilty pleasure of mine is Jurassic Park III, which everyone loves to pulverize. I own it and watch it all the time without shame. That Spinosaurus is just so darn cool and you’ve gotta love William H. Macy.
You know what, I think I’ll be a rebel and stop at four.