The Doc Project

19 years ago, these two friends made the weirdest swap ever

In 1999, Mark Trenwith and Pasha Malla traded stories about themselves. The deal was that from that point on, they could only tell each other's story, and not their own. They haven't spoken in 19 years. So how did the stories hold up?

University friends trade the exclusive right to tell the other's most epic personal story

In 1999, Mark Trenwith and Pasha Malla struck a strange deal: they traded stories. (c/o Mark Trenwith (left) + House of Anansi Press (right))

By Acey Rowe, with a contribution by Pasha Malla

This documentary originally aired on January 23, 2018.

In November 2017, The Doc Project's senior producer, Jennifer Warren, reached out to Hamilton-based writer Pasha Malla (pictured above right). We had been wanting to work with him, and we thought he might have an essay we could turn into a short piece for the show.

Pasha got back to us with a story. It wasn't an essay, but was downright delightful. And what really caught our attention were the circumstances under which Pasha claimed the right to tell the story. Because the story wasn't his. 

Pasha had won it in a trade. 

Pasha's email went like this:

This isn't my story. Not really — though I did earn the right to tell it honestly.

    I spent 1999 on a study abroad program in Adelaide, Australia. In that entire year I made one Australian friend, a guy named Mark who ran the student radio station. Before I left, Mark suggested a strange trade: "We're probably never going to see each other again," he said, "so I want you to tell me your best story, and I'll tell you mine, and then you can only tell mine ever again, and I can only tell yours." So here's Mark's story. (Mine's just as good, and I hope Mark has found some use for it.)

    This happened the day of Mark's grade eight graduation, which was also the day that Michael Jackson was coming to Adelaide. And Mark was — and remains — the biggest Michael Jackson fan I've ever met.

    But since it was his graduation, Mark was going to miss the concert. He was devastated, so his dad agreed, on the way to the ceremony, to take him by the hotel where Michael Jackson was staying. Michael was going to appear briefly to sign autographs, and if they timed it perfectly Mark would get to meet his idol.

  First they had to pick up Mark's tuxedo, which Mark put on at the shop, and then his dad drove him downtown. Except traffic was terrible. Eventually, realizing he was going to be late, Mark got out of the car, told his dad to pick him behind the hotel and started running down the street in his tuxedo. 
Pasha Malla specifically thought his friend, Mark Trenwith, was wearing a white tuxedo the day he met Michael Jackson. Mark was actually wearing a sparkly pink suit jacket that day (pictured below). However, Mark did wear this white suit to a different formal. (c/o Mark Trenwith)
   But at the hotel the crowd was dispersing. Michael had come and gone, and Mark had missed him. And now, totally dejected, he had to get to his graduation. He headed around back to the hotel's loading and disposal area.

    Parked between the dumpsters was a car — not Mark's dad's car, but a limousine. And, before Mark knew what was happening, the door of the limo opened and out stepped Michael Jackson.

    Mark was stunned. Michael was on one of those old car phones with a spiral cord connected to a terminal in the backseat of the limo. At first he didn't notice Mark standing there, just a few feet away.

    But then he did. They met eyes. Michael lowered the phone, put his hand over the mouthpiece and said, "Hey, kid."

    Something took over — some primal instinct, something subconscious. Without fully realizing what he was doing, Mark started singing "Beat It" at the top of his lungs. And not just singing: Mark went into the full "Beat It" dance routine — the moves, the spins, the crotch-grabs, while Michael Jackson watched.

     Four and a half minutes later, Mark faded out with some jazzy snapping. Michael nodded. "That was great," he said. "Keep it up. One day you're gonna be a star." And then he got in his limousine and drove away.

    Mark still cites this as the defining moment of his career in show business. These days he works as a successful children's entertainer, comedian and actor. He's a regular feature on Australian kids' TV and has played stand-up clubs around the world. In 2010 he won the People's Choice Award for Adelaide Comedian of the Year. Whether or not it's all because of Michael Jackson, I can't say. After all, this isn't my story.

Pasha Malla

It's quite embellished.- Mark Trenwith

That was Mark Trenwith's laughing reaction to this story, when he heard Pasha tell it a few weeks later.  

Mark Trenwith poses with his Senior Formal date, Susan Lauber Wright, in the pink suit jacket he was wearing when he met Michael Jackson in 1999 in Adelaide, Australia. (c/o Mark Trenwith)

After receiving this pitch from Pasha, we (obviously) reached out to Mark Trenwith. Not only did we want to know if the story was accurate, but we had to know more about the deal the friends had struck. What exactly was this deal? Also, what was the story Pasha had given to Mark? And how had both the stories held up after almost two decades?

We brought Pasha into our studio in Toronto, and booked Mark into a studio in Melbourne, Australia. When the line opened it was the first time the guys had spoken in 19 years — having, in the years following Pasha's return to Canada, only vaguely followed each other's lives. 

Pasha said he didn't remember all the details of original trade perfectly, and he clarified that the deal was made largely in jest, but he said it went something like this, "Mark and I were saying our teary-eyed goodbyes and he, clutching me in his arms, said, 'You tell me one story, the most important thing about yourself, and I will tell you mine. And we shall never tell our own stories again and tell each other's until we are dead.'" 

You tell me one story, the most important thing about yourself, and I will tell you mine. And we shall never tell our own stories again and tell each other's until we are dead.- Pasha  Malla  on the strange trade he made with his friend Mark  Trenwith  in 1999 

After explaining the parameters of the trade, Mark and Pasha compared the stories. And the results were totally bizarre. 

Mark had indeed met Michel Jackson, but it went down completely differently. "That story is so different than the one that I told, and have been telling for a long time. [...] I can't belive how different those are." said Pasha after hearing Mark's version.

That story is so different than the one that I told, and have been telling for a long time.- Pasha Malla

What we ended up with is one of the most fun and bizarre episodes I have ever worked on. A delightful romp with two friends discovering how the stories we tell about ourselves — and each other — are completely fallible.

And I haven't even gotten into Pasha's story, the one Mark got out of the trade. But I will say this: it's about KFC, and why you always need to put mayo in a chicken sandwich.

It's impossible to re-tell all of the stories here, but to hear Mark's version of his own story, and listen to the story Pasha gave Mark, click the Listen link above. 

And, if you want to find out how good a listener you are, you can TAKE OUR QUIZ here to find out if you can remember sounds as well as you can remember images. 

Listen to the documentary, "The weirdest trade ever," by clicking the Listen link at the top of the page, or download and subscribe to our podcast.

About the producer

Acey Rowe
Acey Rowe is an award-winning radio producer and host of The Doc Project.

Hailing from Gatineau, Quebec, she got her start in broadcasting co-hosting the afternoon drive on 103.9 PROUD FM in Toronto, the world's first LGBTQ commercial station. From there, she joined the CBC as a producer for DNTO in Winnipeg, where she told stories and helped other people tell theirs. Acey's work has also been featured on Now or Never, The Current, q, Podcast Playlist, Tapestry, and Day 6.

About the contributors

Pasha Malla
Pasha Malla is the author of six books. His debut novel, People Park, was shortlisted for the First Novel Award. Pasha won the Trillium Book Prize for his debut collection of stories, The Withdrawal Method. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.
Mark Trenwith
Mark Trenwith is odd. This is why he got into comedy. A festival favourite and Comedian of The Year Winner (Adelaide Comedy 2010), Mark's energetic and personable style has seen him earn parts in many Australian film and TV projects including "Peaches" starring Hugo Weaving and a major role in ABCTV's "Being Me." An Australian based actor and stand up with over ten years experience, Trenwith is known for interweaving video and digital technology into his act. Mark also regularly sells out shows at the  Edinburgh Fringe and Melbourne Comedy Festival and Adelaide Fringe including the Moosehead Awarded show 'Ghost Sharks,'  and his much revered children's comedy creation, Mr Snot bottom. Mark also regularly teaches comedy and improv skills through community programs such as "Cracking Up" & "Stand Up With Confidence" and also appears as "Captain Starlight", a super-hero who visits sick children at the Melbourne Royal Children's Hospital.