Tuesday, August 08, 2006

ETC: Overheard in Vancouver

One of the things I love about this city is that, if homelessness has to exist (and trust me, I'm not endorsing it, but that's a topic for another conversation), so many of our street folks have such moxy. They're often personable and charming, and frequently quite funny. Maybe it's a west coast thing. I don't know.

I once walked past someone's temporary streetside encampment. There was a sleeping bag and blankets, a duffel bag, and various lifestyle accoutrements arranged neatly nearby. There was no person to be seen, but in their stead they'd left a neat business-like sign that read "Back in 5 minutes."

Then there's the guy who, in lieu of a can or cup to collect his earnings, uses a small wishing well lawn ornament, and who encourages you to "Make a wish!" as you pass by.

And last fall we had this classic exchange with a local gentleman, which still cracks my shit up every time I think about it.

This brings me to the following exchange, which I just overheard on my walk home from work:
Cranky Middle-Aged Businessman: Get a job!
Homeless Guy: Okay! Can I have yours?


Claire said...

First! And I think that homeless guy is my hero!

trophycase said...

That motherfucker stole my wishing well!!

I love (I italicized that to show sarcasm) living on Vancouver's east side. The homeless have such "moxy".

We were having dinner one night when the police knock on our door. "Can you describe your bike?" Total confusion, but sure... Turns out the police follow known criminals around town, this one walks into my yard goes into the garage and steals my bike. He comes out, turns the corner and is nabbed. So I got my bike back. I didn't have to go down to the corner and buy it back for twenty bucks. (I'm regularly offered bikes on the corner for twenty bucks. Didn't they once hang horse thieves in the west?)

The other day I lock up my bike but not the trailer. I get anxious and say to my wife, let's get back to the bikes before they get stolen. My four year old son thinks the police will get the bike back for us. I tell him they probably won't and he asks "Why won't they be able to solve this case?"

My four year old also knows about needles, AIDS and condoms. What an educational place! Who could blame you for moving to an island? But you might end up changing your minds when you think of all the moxy you'll be missing.

Tammy said...

Well, trophycase, nobody's making you live here, you know. And for the record, in the past ten years I've had two bikes stolen, my car broken into, my house robbed while I was sleeping in it, and a machete attack down the street. But I've never felt unsafe, and I love so many other things about this neighbourhood that I consider the trade-off worthwhile.

Also for the record, I'm not moving. The property we bought is for recreational purposes.

ALSO for the record, not all homeless people are thieves. I'm not sure if that was what you were implying, and my apologies if I misinterpreted your words, but the actions of a relatively small minority shouldn't be blamed on an entire subsection of the population, blah blah blah.

And yes, your four-year-old may know about AIDS, needles and condoms, but I return to my first point: no one's making you live here. On the flip side, growing up in a neighbourhood like this is probably also teaching your child about diversity and tolerance, things that people in more sheltered neighbourhoods would do well to learn.

Anonymous said...

I was walking down the street in Toronto a few summers ago when I saw a homeless guy with an adorable Cairn terrier. I stopped and asked the dog's name, and the guy said, "Spare Change!" I gave him a dollar, because that's awesome. -Cranberry

trophycase said...

Well doppelganger, if that machete attack was down your street, we live in the same neighbourhood. And yes, no one is making me live here (so cliche I'll say it twice), but I am here. (forever the existentialist, no reason, only I am here.) And today when I got to the house I'm renovating, it had been broken into and tools were stolen. Well part of my tools. I know where I live and work so I always lock everything up. Now a thief working in the area and I have parts of a tool we can't use. (Remember that song, I've got a brand new pair of roller skates you've got a brand new key?)

I guess my comment was a little provacative. I was just venting (I know, I know, get your own blog, but you did provide the talking point, and seriously thanks). I actually read your post and can see from your opening line and promise of another conversation that you weren't in any way endorsing homelessness under the banner of tolerance and diversity. When I see street people, and I see a lot everyday, with things like the wishing well in front of them, I don't think it's cute they stole that from someone's lawn. I have been provoked (Not so much by the lawn ornament, as my car's windows and contents, strollers, wallets, pedophiles in Grandview park. See I'm off topic again, but why's all this shit got to be here, where I live, remember I live here, I live here.(Oh, here's a question. We live in the same area. Our shit gets stolen. I complain. You tell me I don't have to live here, (huh?!?) list the things you've had stolen, like "I'm not complaining." And the question is --> Are you happy to have your things stolen?)

I have something to say (shocker) about your last two points.

Second last point: And not all thieves are homeless.

Last point: My son lives here too. And it's not so much the education he's getting, as the reality of it. All, yes for the record, all of the needles you see have hep c in them. And many have AIDS. I don't mind him knowing about those things. But I will not tolerate the potential that he contracts that kind of death from a dirty needle. I like to think of diversity as an extension of consciousness, that's not an easy thing, or endorsed by government institutions.

Homelessness (and all that it entails; addiction, violence, illness, contagiousness, and yes bon mots and thievery) is a social illness that should not be tolerated, or euphemized (if that's a word). It is not a colour in the rainbow of diversity. (and I don't know about neighbourhoods like this being fertile ground for tolerance. I've read that New York is possibly the most intolerant city in North America.) And while government doesn't endorse homelessness either, no one is doing much about it. (Oh, and it's funny you said sheltered neighbourhoods. The homeless could use one of those.)

If you've made it this far, I guess we're already having that conversation about homelssness.

Tammy said...

I made it this far! And I get that your original comment was, as you say, on the provocative side, and that you were venting. I hear you. Some days I'm less than happy about some aspects of this neighbourhood, and I vent, too. I guess in my original post I was seeing the shiny side of the coin, in that, if homelessness has to exist (which for now, I guess, it does, because hey, here it is), it occasionally has a quirky (an annoying word, I know, but humour me -- I'm tired) power to amuse. It's a teeny little straw, but I like to grasp what I can.

I think that, when things get down to the wire, we probably agree on most things, so I'm not going to reiterate and respond to all the the points you mention, other than to make the blanket agreement that homelessness = not good.

I did, though, want to respond to one point you made, about how I feel when my stuff gets stolen. I'm certainly never happy about it, but can tell you about a total hippy-dippy revelation I had after our house was broken into? We learned about the break-in at around 5:30 in the morning, when our housemate came downstairs to get a drink of water. He and my husband did a quick check to see if we still had our TV and stereo (we did -- all the thief/thieves stole was a crappy old laptop and a jar of change), and I called the dog and cats to make sure they were inside and okay. And then we all stood in the kitchen and tried to think of any other items we should check on... and we couldn't think of anything. It was an amazing realization to discover that, apart from our pets, I just don't CARE about any physical possessions that much. It felt strangely liberating, and that feeling has stuck with me.

I will, however, be brutally honest and tell you that if that kind of break-in were to happen now, with Sam in the house, I'd feel a lot differently. It makes me feel violent just thinking about it. So I'll definitely grant you the fact that kids sure do change how you perceive things. As a friend once told me, nothing turns you into a conservative faster than parenthood.