On May 10, Bruce Christie and his wife Lori invited friends to their Norwood home to watch Game 7 of the Winnipeg Jets’ second round playoff series versus the Nashville Predators.
At some point that night, after it became clear the Jets were going to triumph and advance to the Western Conference final against the Vegas Golden Knights, the topic of conversation switched from breakaways to birthdays — a common occurrence, it seems, whenever Christie is in the room.
Christie, you see, has a somewhat quirky hobby: for years, the retired math teacher has devoted his spare time to memorizing thousands of individuals’ birthdays — everyone from movie stars to historical figures to musicians to friendly, neighbourhood newspaper scribes. (Each year since we first met in the early 2000s, the father of two has sent me a message on my birthday, wishing me well and cluing me in on others born the same day as me, such as cyclist Lance Armstrong, actor Greta Garbo and ‘50s heartthrob Frankie Avalon.)
That evening, as Christie began informing their guests about various people they share a birthday with, Lori suddenly remembered May 10 was in fact her brother’s birthday; except because she’d been busy all day preparing their house for company, it had completely slipped her mind.
"She turned to me and said, ‘Bruce, you have to remind me of these things. If you have one job in this marriage, that’s it,’" Christie says with a chuckle, mentioning when he and Lori tied the knot Sept. 28, 1985, the person performing the service prefaced his opening remarks with, "We are gathered here today, on the birthday of Brigitte Bardot and Ed Sullivan..." as a nod to the groom’s birthday predilection.
"My side of the room broke out laughing, while poor Lori’s family all had this perplexed look on their face," he says.
Although Christie has no problem instantly rattling off the names of eight persons born the day this story is scheduled to run in the Free Press ("Let’s see, on June 2 you have Larry Robinson and Gary Bettman... Abby Wambach, Freddy Adu and A.J. Styles, as well as Velvet Sky, Charlie Watts and Dana Carvey."), he draws a blank when asked when this whole birthday biz began, in the first place.
"I guess the simplest way to put it is I’ve always had a strong sense of time, in that I can remember very specific things from way back. My best friend Gregg once asked me if I recalled when the two of us met and I said, of course, it was June ‘66, we were in Ted Flood’s car and Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones was playing on the radio."
In the early 1970s, Christie began paying special attention to people born on the same day. He found it fascinating, he explains, to learn a date such as May 12 "belonged" to folks as diverse as Johnny Bucyk, the former captain of the Boston Bruins, Steve Winwood, at the time a member of the rock band Traffic, and nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale. And that folk musician Joan Baez and former U.S. president Richard Nixon were both born Jan. 9, or singer Cass Elliot, of the Mamas and the Papas, and British-born model Twiggy shared a Sept. 19 birthday.
"By reading encyclopedia and whatever else I could get my hands on, I began to gather more and more birthdays, assigning them in my head to what I refer to as ‘teams,’" he says, citing professional wrestler Ric Flair and ex-Beatle George Harrison as two people who share a Feb. 25 birthday, as well as pop star Boy George and U.S. President Donald Trump, both of whom accept birthday congratulations on June 14. "But fairly quickly, it went from just remembering celebrities’ birthdays to remembering birthdays of people I encountered in my everyday life, and putting them on ‘teams,’ too. Like my plumber, Roger, who was born Oct. 25, the same day as Picasso, Wendel Clark and that crazy basketball coach who used to throw chairs onto the court." (We think he means Bobby Knight, ex of the Indiana Hoosiers.)
Before cellphones made it possible to verify any fact under the sun in a matter of seconds, Christie was forever being asked how somebody could be sure he wasn’t just making things up on the spot, when he informed them they shared a birthday with so-and-so. To prove he knew what he was talking about, he began turning the tables, so to speak, by inviting them to disclose the name of somebody famous they already knew they shared their birthday with, as opposed to divulging the actual date.
"This one guy I was taking a course with said, ‘OK, you’re on: Cher.’ To which I immediately replied, ‘that’s an easy one: May 20. And while we’re at it, that’s also the birthday of Jimmy Stewart, Joe Cocker and Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese home run king.’ He was like, ‘OK, I give up.’"
Hardly a day goes by when Christie doesn’t add a name or two to his arsenal. For example, prior to our 10 a.m. interview at a St. Mary’s Road coffee shop, he played squash against a fellow named Jacques, whom he can now proudly report was born Oct. 30, the same day as Happy Days’ star Henry Winkler, the Jefferson Starship’s Grace Slick and Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit.
"As soon as the Jets traded for (Paul) Statsny, I looked him up and found out he was born Dec. 27. Then, after watching (Vegas Golden Knights forward) Jonathan Marchessault in the semifinals, I researched him, too, only to discover he and Statsny were born the same day," Christie says. "But the person whose birthday I memorize has to capture my interest. Like when I was watching this year’s Academy Awards ceremony and was impressed by Allison Janney’s speech, after she won for best supporting actress in I, Tonya. I paused the broadcast and looked her up on my laptop only to be like, ‘Nov. 19? Are you kidding me? I’m already loaded that day with Calvin Klein, Patrick Kane, Jodie Foster, Larry King, Indira Gandhi..." (When asked to put a number on just how many birthdays he has committed to memory, Christie says his pursuit has never been about quantity. Still, he admits he was mildly insulted when an acquaintance once introduced him as "Bruce, my friend who knows 5,000 birthdays." "I didn’t want to rain on his parade but in my head I was thinking, you know, 5,000 might be a little on the low side.")
Christie, who, during his teaching career, habitually took roll call by birthday instead of by students’ names, says "it’s more of a mind thing, not a brain thing," when pressed for his secret to not only knowing Oct. 5 is the most commonly shared birthday in North America ("C’mon, it’s nine months after New Year’s Eve"), but that people born that day include NHL hall of famers Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy, as well as guitarist Steve Miller, Winnipeg radio personality Ace Burpee and "good, old" Ken Taylor, the Canadian diplomat known for helping six Americans escape Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
"It may not make sense to most people, but what I tell them is for whatever reason, thinking of birthdays frees my mind, the same way as people whose pastime is surfing or mountain-climbing or gardening. I find it relaxing to make associations of people born the same day, and sort them out in my head.
"Sure, there have been a few times my wife has looked at me and said, ‘Gee Bruce, it’s really too bad you can’t make money off this,’ but to me, it’s always been just a highly pleasurable thing to do."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
Updated on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at 10:31 PM CDT: Fixes wrong date.