The People the Internet Forgot

For people of my generation or younger, basically anyone born in the mid-60s or later, it is expected that we all have some level of internet presence. Whether it’s a Twitter or Facebook account, or a history of posts made back in the days of usenet, our activity, our lives, has all been documented. Facebook’s Timeline even encourages people to go back and add photos and events from their pre-Facebook years to create a full picture. Pretty much everything we do is documented in some way.

But the generations before us, from the Boomers back, do not really exist online unless someone else puts them there. Either through genealogy resources, or someone who has taken the time to post old stories and photos, unless people are really famous (and thus deserving of continued adoration), we have no recollection of them other than our own memories.

I’ve been thinking of this recently because I’ve been trying to track down anything I can find about someone I used to know – someone who should, by rights, be famous enough to warrant some historical respect – but the internet continually tells me No.

I met Max when I first moved to Toronto. He worked for Lynn, at the vintage store Exile, in Kensington Market. When Lynn opened a second shop and gave me a job, I spent a lot of time with Max, both of us running the day-to-day aspects of our respective shops.

Lynn had a habit of collecting people who could only be defined as weirdos – punks, strippers, old junkies – we all had a place and a job when we needed it. Hell, she knew Divine, which, in the eyes of my Halifax crew, made her damned near famous herself. Max, who could best be defined as flamboyant, fit right in.

Dressed to the nines in a sharp suit, or a silk shirt and bolero pants, or an embroidered cowboy shirt, he knew the vintage business like nobody else. An Hermes scarf tied around his balding head like an upscale pirate, he’d either terrify or charm customers as they tried on the wares.

“Oh, no Darrrrrrling, that’s not for you at all. Try this gorgeous cashmere number, that’s what you need!” he’d gush at a customer, swishing off to another part of the store, cigarette dangling from his lips, to return with the most expensive item in the shop. And he’d sell the thing, too.

Selling old coats was not Max’s true calling or his claim to fame, however. Max, aka. Mr. Max, was a famous hairdresser. He boasted of working with Judy Garland. My roommate, Gordon, who was a hairstylist at the time, was agog when he met Max for the first time. At the salon where he worked, they had a picture of Mr. Max on the wall.

I only knew Max for about a year. He died in 1988 of a drug overdose. He was sick the whole time I knew him, and while AIDS was never mentioned, as a gay man and a junkie in the 80s – not to mention having a constant brutal cough – it was assumed but never talked about.

He was buried in Toronto, in a Jewish cemetery. To my knowledge, he had no family here, and Lynn took care of the details and the estate. I didn’t attend the funeral – someone had to stay and run the store – and after Max, the market was far less colourful, but we continued on, because that’s what you do.

Every once in a while I think of Max, and waste an hour or so poking around online trying to find some reference to him. If I ever knew his last name, I’ve long forgotten it, and searches for “Mr. Max + hairdresser + Judy Garland” generally bring up references to Max Factor. It’s doesn’t help that there’s a UK chain of barbershops called Mr. Max.

I could do some serious digging, I suppose. I could track down Lynn, my former boss, and jog her memory of Max to see what she can recall. I could join a Judy Garland message board and question the die-hard fans (although there’s never a name, I have found lots of references online to Garland doing drugs with her hairdresser, even some that blame the unnamed hairdresser for getting her hooked). I could trek to the library and come home with all the Judy Garland biographies I can carry to see if any mention Max by name.

But what I really want is for him to be here. Online. Some reference, or a photo, some entry in one of those famous stylists to the stars websites. Max obviously had a messed up life – as fun and cool as working in a vintage store in Kensington is when you’re 18, it’s not where most people expect to find themselves in their 60s after a flourishing career in another field – but there were plenty of people who admired his work. And plenty of people who would probably find his story incredibly interesting.

And yet, he’s not here. He doesn’t exist. I know I didn’t imagine those days, the two of us working side-by-side, him smoking stinking Gitanes, me with my gold-tipped pink Sobranies, sipping cups of coffee that were mostly whisky, a haze of smoke around us as we sorted through bags of dirty clothes from the raggers. “Oh, Darrrling, don’t let that one go on the rack, that’s yours, you have to have it!”, and he’d hold up some frothy 50s ballgown. “With the biker jacket and Docs, of course,” he’d drawl. “No need to be too sweet about it.”

We all have people in our past who we think “whatever happened to”, and often we can look them up, track them down and reconnect or at least satisfy our curiosity. With Max the story was always “how’d you get from there to here?” and I deeply regret not asking.

And since Max had the unfortunate timing to pass away before every single person in the western world had a web presence, we’ll never really know his story. It’s lost. And even if he was a horrible bastard, even if he was the one responsible for Judy Garland’s eventual downfall, it’s still sad that, in the eyes of the internet, his story will never be told, and his memory will die.