April 29, 2015 - Ancuta

 April 29, 2015 - Ancuta (3rd person I approached)
The thing about meeting strangers is, you don’t get time to research their idiosyncrasies and mannerisms before you perhaps fall into labelling, categorizing and determining factors about them, based on what's presented. I’ve worked hard to keep an open mind towards strangers. I have for many years, but certainly more so as I’ve continued going out and meeting people for this project. Today I found myself sitting on the fence of judgement, and just when I was ready to jump into that which is comfortable because of familiarity, intrigue held me up by the collar. 

 

I saw Ancuta crouched down outside of an abandoned building on East  Hastings Street, in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). She reached into her purse and pulled out a package of cigarette rolling papers, and then reached into her purse again, pulling out a plastic bag. She was about to roll a joint. 

I crouched down next to her and asked if she would chat with me. I explained that I’ve been talking with strangers for over a year, and sharing their stories. “Well, it depends,” she said with what sounded like an eastern European accent.

“What sort of stuff would you want to ask me?” I said I was interested in her life story, where she was born, what her childhood was like and anything else that she wanted to chat about.

“That could take while though,” she said, looking at me with some concern. 

 

I told her I was hoping she would join me for a meal and we could chat while we had lunch together. She stopped rolling the joint, carefully placing the paper and marijuana back in the plastic bag, rolling it up neatly and then putting it back in her purse.

“Will be eating at the takeaway window?” she asked. When I said we could go in and sit down and order from the menu.

“Anything?” Yes, anything, except alcohol. 

 

As we walked the four blocks to the diner, Ancuta talked the entire time. She speaks quickly, has a rather high-pitched voice, and the thick, heavy accent. Because of having no teeth, her diction is particularly unique as well. I probably understood about every tenth word. Even as we weaved in and out of the folks selling their belongings on the sidewalk, and with her four feet in front of me, I could still hear Ancuta's voice. 

 

She occasionally looked back at me as if to check in that I was listening. I heard “the poet,” “Greg guy,” and “Beverly Hills. That was his mother’s name.” I tried as hard as I could to understand what she was saying, but resigned myself to the fact it would be easier once we were seated in the diner. Or so I thought. 

 

Ancuta wasn’t sure that her name meant anything, but told me that it was a Romanian Italian name.

“I was born in Romania, in Timișoara. I have two older sisters, and one younger brother,” she said. When I asked if she was close with her siblings when they were kids, her face changed and became serious.

“No. Not close. I was the third daughter, and they wanted a son. I was an outsider. They didn’t want another girl,” she told me. There was no anger or self-pity in her voice, it was said all very matter-of-fact. 

 

“We were in church, and I had to pee. I went to the washroom, and when I came out they were gone,” she said. Ancuta was five or six years old. She told me they gave her away. We ordered our food; pirogues with bacon for Ancuta, and a classic BLT with avocado for me. I asked Ancuta what she remembered during that time when her parents left her. I heard bits and pieces and sat quietly, listening to her. 

 

She was speaking rather fast, and very animated. I wanted to see if I could make sense of what she was telling me if I just listened.

“I had one chromosome missing and had to give blood sample and that’s how they find out. My father’s eyes are brown but mine are this light colour,” she said pulling the skin below her left eye, and opening it wide. Her eyes are green.

“But they changed their mind.” It sounded like they had attempted to abandon her, but couldn’t go through with it. I couldn’t find out how long that process or decision took. Ancuta would smile and continue to chat, and after a little while, I realized she kept bringing the conversation to more recent times and memories.

 

“Well, the poet would hear these voices,” she told me.

“He lived in the house with Greg guy, and Beverly Hills. It was her house. But I liked the poet, because he would stay and keep me company. He would tell me the stories of the things he heard. The voices,” she said. Ancuta had continued to tell me stories about various people in her life. What astounded me was she used their full names each time she referenced them. There was, for her, a real distinction between people with two names, like Beverly Hills, and people with three names. She used one of her sister's names to explain.

“She has three names, ‘Nadia Anastasia Romania’ and not just two names.” (Yes, I made her sisters name up - because I couldn’t grasp what name Ancuta actually said, even after she repeated it three times). I wasn’t able to determine the significance or distinction that was important to Ancuta, about two names versus three names.

 

‘Greg guy’ was a one-time boyfriend who lived with his mother, Beverly Hills, in her house. Ancuta lived there, as did ‘poet guy’.

“Then Greg guy brings home this woman, China Doll, and he expects we will have a threesome. That never happened. We all lived in the same house. He gave me a ring. But I had to go for a blood sample to get it.” To punctuate her sentences, Ancuta would reach over and gently place her fingers on my hand, or on my arm. I couldn’t help but notice how warm and soft her skin was. As her stories became more animated, her taps became gentle little slaps. They seemed to almost indicate an expression of  ‘Can you believe that?’ I wasn’t sure about the connection to, or existence of, the ring and blood samples.

 

The family had moved to Canada when Ancuta was ten years old. Her mother had given birth to a son, and the family had stayed together.

“My father came ahead of us. He came here because he had Lupus, and wanted to find a cure for that. He had left us in Romania from time to time, travelling to find a cure. We moved here and lived in North Surrey,” she said. Ancuta didn’t speak English when she got to Canada.

“I had to learn fast. I stayed in school ’til grade twelve,” she said. 

 

School seemed like a non-event for Ancuta. Although she told me that she had to be careful because she couldn't feel pain. I understood her to mean physical pain.

“Yeah, it’s my minus zero chromosome. I don’t feel pain.” I asked if I was to pinch her, would she feel anything.

“Yes, because I would see you and then I know it should hurt. But if I don’t see it, I don’t feel it. I had wire put in this side here,” she said patting the lower left side of her jaw. After some back and forth, it became apparent she had damaged her jaw.

“I was kissing a boy and he gave me a hickey. And then I got punched!” she told me. Her laughter is very physical. She threw her head back, and then fell on her side, landing on the bench she was sitting on. Turns out the boy that kissed her and gave her the hickey, was not her boyfriend. Her boyfriend gave her the punch when he saw the hickey. One quarter of her jaw was wired in place.

“I didn’t feel anything,” she said, taking another bite of her pirogues. 

 

Blood samples came up fairly often throughout the conversation.

“I have a rare blood type. So they want to test it all the time,” she said, repeatedly. We continued talking, with Ancuta reaching over and tapping my hand with every sentence.

“I was a white slave in that house. The house of Beverly Hills. Because my teeth were so bad,” she said, covering her mouth.

“I couldn’t go out, or get work. So I had to clean and do whatever Greg guy’s mother, Beverly Hills wanted.” Ancuta told me she was there for seven years. Then she had all of her teeth removed. 

 

“I got this from a man at the shelter,” she said pulling a small, circular, yellow plastic container out of her purse. She carefully opened it up, and I could see some small pieces of folded paper inside. She lifted those out and pulled out a small ring.

“This is my ring. China Doll wanted it, but I got it for going to give blood samples. The poet told me stories when I went,” she said placing the ring back in the container. When I asked, Ancuta told me the shelter was a “facility” that she stayed at maybe three or four times a week, “just to help look after the people who have some problems.” Otherwise she stayed couple of nights a week at Greg guys place, with Beverly Hills. She had gotten a job working in a massage parlour in a nearby suburb.

“I got the job from a woman from Romania. It was in her apartment. I would talk on the phone and then the men would come over.” The job allowed her to be more independent. 

 

All of her personal belongings are in a secure storage locker.

“I keep you know, my things. My burned CD movies and boxes, and a sword.” She put her arms up to her head, like the sky was falling and started to laugh. There was no inhibition that she has no teeth; it was a full-on, throaty laugh. And then she threw herself down on the bench again. I found myself laughing involuntarily all the while being aware that I didn’t have a clue what she was laughing about. There’s nothing wrong with a good infectious laugh session.

“I keep my movies there because I can’t see,” she said, again pulling the skin beneath her left eye and opening both eyes wide.

“My genetics and my light coloured eyes, I can’t wear contacts or anything, so I keep them in storage,” she said. I had been leaning in close to hear what she was saying and got a good close up of her left eye. It was the colour of her sweater.

 

Her mother died a few years ago, and her father has gone back to Romania, without finding a cure for his Lupus.

“Sometimes I speak to my sisters. They are still here. But one of them, she has three names, and her children will answer the phone and tell me she’s not there. If you only have two names, you can never go to three names,” she said, shaking her head back and forth.

“No, only two names, or three names.” 

 

Our waiter had packed her leftovers in a brown takeout container. As Ancuta made sure it was closed properly, I asked why she comes to the Downtown Eastside.

“Because, I like it down here. Where else would I go? The people are nice, and they talk to me. I hope one day to meet someone for a relationship. He has to be bad, cause a good man just wouldn’t work out for me. I like them to be a bit bad,” she said, with a smile and a wink of her left eye.

“I hope I’ll see you again, and we can talk some more,” she said, putting earphones into her ears. I asked what she was listening to.

“Oh, just my iPod.”

 

As I watched Ancuta walk out of the diner, all I could think was how sweet she was, and how I was going to tell this story. It immediately felt like I had watched a foreign film. One that had me completely captivated, while skipping some scenes, rewinding and repeating others, and in a foreign language without subtitles. As I walked home afterwards, I thought about all the things I had heard. I felt like I hadn't quite gotten in there, that I was missing something, some piece that would make it more understandable. Ancuta had told me she didn’t drink or do drugs, other than “smoking weed.” She couldn’t drink because of her ‘minus zero’ as she called it. 

 

When I got home, I did some research about chromosomes, and missing one, minus one and a few other variations of what Ancuta had told me. Then I combined it with no pain threshold. I came across an article from the National Geographic News, dated October 2010. It outlined a rare genetic disorder that renders people insensitive to pain. Across the world, a few hundred people suffer from one of a variety of diseases that make them completely unable to feel pain from the time they're born. Scientists have tracked down the mutated gene responsible for the condition. The article also noted that ‘These patients usually have a variety of physical ailments, including (developmental issues).’ 

 

This evening, I was reminded of the lesson of grace. 
#notastranger #beinghungrysucks

 

Today’s story is sponsored by the Save On Meats diner, and their charitable organization, A Better Life Foundatio

April 27, 2015 - Viviane (an update)

April 27, 2015 - Viviane (an update)

I was invited to speak at the Vancouver Immigrant Youth Leadership Forum today. Their biggest presence is where they are the most accessible to the youth demographic - online. 

 

Vancouver Immigrant Youth (VANITY) Blog is an online space made for youth, by youth (*see link in the comments below). There are stories and experiences written by immigrant youth, who once felt how challenging it was to be a newcomer in Vancouver. The goal, through shared stories, is to empower young immigrants to bring out their full potential. The theme of today's forum was stories to encourage story-telling, and sharing.

 

I was running late, and of course the bus stopped at every stop along the way. That’s how it goes when you’re in a hurry, right? When I arrived at the venue, an elementary school, all the doors were locked. I knocked and knocked until I got someone’s attention. One of the staff told me it was professional development day (Pro D day), hence the locked doors. 

 

I was lead to a room where there was a meeting already in progress. I had been told the audience was going to be a group of young people. Here I found myself in a room with about fifty teachers discussing strategies to better support their students. 

 

After about ten minutes or so, I leaned over to someone sitting nearby and told her discreetly, that I thought I was in the wrong room. We stood up, distracting everyone, and went on a scavenger hunt to find the youth forum. It surprised me just how much activity was going on behind the scenes on a professional development day!

 

Eventually, I was lead to a small gymnasium where the group I was speaking with, were waiting. Fortunately, they weren't waiting only for me. They were just about to begin, and so my timing worked out well. I met a lovely woman by the name of Tasha who was there to perform three spoken word poems she had written. 

 

I’ve done a number of presentations for The Stranger Project. I still wonder what the reaction will be from the audience when I introduce depression as part of the reason for me starting to talk to strangers. When I think about why it causes me to pause, I recognize it’s still somewhat rooted in stigma, my own and societal; the implications of talking about mental health. It does get easier though.

 

Tasha, a wonderfully personable and outgoing artist, presented her spoken word poems first. Her language, diction and presentation was like watching a dancer perform, even though she stood in one spot. Her hands floated into gestures and punctuated her words, which flowed like a song without music. The room was instantly transfixed. I hung on every word. For her second piece, wouldn’t you know it, Tasha’s poem was about depression (*see link in the comments below). Resounding applause.

 

I was next. After introducing my project, I asked the students if they felt awkward meeting strangers. Half the room indicated they did. I gave them an activity. They were to find someone in the room that they had never met before, and were to share a few things about themselves; an opportunity to listen and to be heard. There was lots of great chatter in no time at all. Barrier, broken.

 

I showed a series of photographs, of strangers I’ve met since last year. I asked the students to consider their first impression of the person in each photo, and to see if they could come up with a story about them. Then I went through the stories of each of these people, as they had told me. 

 

The point was to highlight that we all have perceptions about other people. If we don't stop to connect and communicate, that’s all we have, perceptions. I also shared how doing this project has helped me living with depression. To get out of the house every day, simply to meet others. 

 

As the project has grown, I’ve received countless messages, emails and notes from people. Many of them saying how their perceptions, approaches and thoughts about strangers have changed. The students understood the value of hearing others stories. 

 

I left them with a challenge. We are all different and unique individuals, yet we have a common human trait. That is a need and want to feel and sense belonging. To be heard. To connect. And if we want that, if we want to be a part of a community, we have to accept responsibility for our own contributions. We have to be the community. 

 

Talking with these young people, the influencers of tomorrow, who are engaged, proactive, interesting and interested, is so inspiring. Truly, a gift.

 

Some hours later, I was heading home, and I saw a familiar face. It was Viviane, who is pictured above. She told me she remembered who I am, and that we had chatted, although she couldn’t quite recall about what.

“Oh, my life?” she said, with a sympathetic smile on her face.

“Really?” 

 

I had met Viviane back in February of this year. We had chatted for about thirty minutes, Viviane recalling bits of her life so filled with experiences. After I had posted Viviane’s story back in February, I tracked down her daughter, Nora. Viviane had told me she was an actor. The first person I asked about Nora was an actor friend of mine, who knew who she was. Bingo, first try! 

 

Nora had shared the story I wrote of her mother, and it was very well received. Even Nora said she had learned a few things about her mother that she didn’t know! 

 

Today I asked Viviane if I could take a photograph of both of us.

"I suppose, why not?" she said to me. When I got home, I sent the photo to Nora, saying ‘Look who I ran into today. It was a good day, and we had a lovely little chat.’ Nora replied to my message with “Great photo! Can you post to FB? YAY!” 

 

It is an honour, and a privilege to be where I am right now. Today. Right here. I am a conduit to other people's stories, and my life is richer than it has ever been. #notastranger #YIF #youthimmigrantforum

 

http://vanimmigrantyouth.blogspot.ca

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-asZVB_Sn4

April 24, 2015 - Edgar Allan

April 24, 2015 - Edgar Allan (3rd person I approached)

Every day is a new beginning. A new opportunity, and a window of chance to doing something, anything, differently. I was downtown and had planned to meet with a friend, then walk around and find someone to have lunch with me. A late lunch.

 

By the time I had finished my meeting, it was already 5pm, and then the skies opened up. It got dark and stormy looking. It started hailing. And hailing, and hailing. From the warmth and comfort of the coffee shop, I watched people dodging in and out of doorways to avoid getting wet. Other than that, the sidewalks were empty. It created the perfect canvas for the hail to cover everything in it’s frozen whiteness.

 

I wondered what the chances of finding someone on the street to chat with would be. I waited it out in the coffee shop long enough, that the staff actually cleared my cup and replaced it with a glass of water.

 

In between the changing degrees of light, I decided to make a break for it. Friday evening, downtown, heading towards the DTES (Downtown Eastside), the sidewalks were mostly populated with people waiting for busses, taking cover under awnings, in doorways and at bus shelters.

 

There’s an eight block radius that I usually walk when I’m out to meet someone to join me for a meal. The sidewalks are always busier than the vehicle traffic on these blocks. Today was a little different. The sidewalks weren’t deserted. There were people still out selling cigarettes sheltering under umbrellas. Other people selling all sorts of random items were certainly fewer than on a non-rain day, but there was still some industrious folks with assorted wares for sale. 

 

Most of the people that were still out in the rain had created shelters for themselves. Tarps made out of black plastic garbage bags, odd pieces of tarp-like material held up with rope forming shelters. Some tarps were stretched between a collection of shopping buggies. People huddled together under their makeshift shelters. For many, it’s just another day on East Hastings Street. Inclement weather does not allow people to suddenly find shelter out of the cold wet of an April downpour. 

 

The first person I approached was a woman selling cigarettes. She listened intently to what I had to say. Shaking her head no, in an accent that sounded Italian, she told me her English wasn't too good, and told me she didn’t want to chat.

 

The second person I asked to chat was a man sitting on the sidewalk, under the cover of a pub's awning. He’d found the only dry patch of sidewalk. He was gazing intently into space, and had a small, fresh cut on his face. While I was telling him about my project, I wasn’t sure he was taking in what I was saying, even though he was making direct eye contact.

“Nah man, not today,” he said, apologetically.

 

There was a man nearby who had been listening to me, while I was describing The Stranger Project to the guy with the cut on his face. He asked me what the story was for, and when I told him, he volunteered to chat with me. I asked if he’d let me take his photograph, and explained it would be posted online.

“Sure that’s fine. I’ve been on the news before,” he said. I told him I was hoping we could chat over a meal at the nearby diner. Edgar Allan, who uses both first names, gathered his belongings and we headed off to have something to eat. He had three small, unframed paintings and a wood carving with him.

“I’m a painter and carver. This is my work,” he said. He sells his work on the streets to supplement his income. 

 

We were about two blocks from the diner when Edgar Allan asked me if he could bring his girlfriend along, while we chatted. He explained that he lived nearby, and he could go and get her.

"We’ll share a sandwich or something, and she’ll be quiet. But I’d like her to be there. Would that be okay?” Ordinarily, I prefer to chat one-on-one. I find when there’s a third person, the dynamic and potentially the story, change. But I figured it was a thoughtful, and nice of him to consider his girlfriend, and want her to join us. I said I’d go ahead and grab a table while he dropped off his artwork and brought his girlfriend. 

 

Edgar Allan never showed up. This was a first, new, and unexpected. Once before had I made arrangements to meet someone via telephone. The lady wasn't able to chat with me on the day I had approached her, but she said I should call her in two days time, and she'd meet with me, and chat then. She didn't make it that day either. 

 

I waited about thirty minutes to see if perhaps Edgar Allan was just delayed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to leave the diner and head out to find another story, or if I was going to go home. I wasn't sure what I was going to do. After thirty minutes, I started to write while I waited. I ordered some food, and decided I’d write a story about how today story had unfolded. Perhaps it’s a little like an episode of Seinfeld - all about nothing.

 

That’s the beauty of being open to the unknown, allowing things to unfold as they will. Fluidity and ambiguity. Embracing change and being open to things happening, doesn’t guarantee that things happen as I would want them to. But being open to whatever it is, allows me to accept that things happen as they will. 

 

Everyone has a story. I hope I’ll see Edgar Allan another time, and perhaps find out what kept him from going me for a chat. Thankfully, the only feeling I’m embracing now is that I hope everything was okay. #notastranger #beinghungrysucks

 

Today’s story is sponsored by the Save On Meat diner, and their charitable organization, A Better Life Foundatio

April 21, 2015 - Henry

April 21, 2015 - Henry (1st person I approached)
“It’s Henry with a ‘Y.’ The English version,” he told me when I asked about the spelling. I always ask.

“Will this be on a blog or something somewhere, where others can read it?” I told Henry that if he agreed to chat and let me take his photograph, it would be on my website, my Facebook page and various social media sites.

“Well, as long as it doesn’t take too long, I suppose that’s ok. Go ahead, you can start then.”

 

Henry was born in Windsor, Ontario.

“Actually, it was in a small town called Walkerville, but it doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. Walkerville, founded by the owner and producer of ‘Canadian Club Whiskey’ and referenced in the television show ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ was amalgamated into Windsor.

“The Mayor of Windsor wanted to live in Walkerville, but there was a prohibition against Jewish people owning land from way back. He fought it all the way to the Crown court in England, and won. So Walkerville was incorporated within Windsor. That removed the restriction against Jewish people owning land,” Henry told me.

 

“There were a total of eight children in our family. I am the second youngest. My twin brother is the youngest,” he said, with a slight smile.

“I was born twenty minutes before he was.” His mother was a full-time homemaker, and his father was an illustrator for print magazines, newspapers and advertising.

“His office was in Detroit (Michigan, USA), and he commuted daily,” Henry said. 

 

“I went to elementary and high-school in Windsor. I wasn’t very outgoing or social. You see these awkward kids today on the bus or walking home from school, on their own. That was me. I was just awkward around other people. If my parents had any awareness of psychology, they would have sent us (twins) to separate schools. We were always being compared to one another, not treated as individuals. My mother used to dress us the same as well. It wasn’t until I was a bit older, maybe around the time of puberty that I said I didn’t like it, and started to dress differently from my brother,” he told me.

“We had a Christian upbringing, read the Bible at the dinner table every night.”

 

“I did well in school,” he told me.

“If you looked at my student card, it had the number 'thirteen' where it stated years in education.” I thought Henry was alluding to a typo.

“No,” he chuckled, “I was a professional student. I did post-secondary education for thirteen years after graduating from high-school. I worked for a year right out of high school. For the Chrysler Corporation of Canada. I was in the mailroom. Then one of my bosses gave me a series of aptitude and intelligence tests. I still have the report from those. They suggested I should be back in school. I suppose someone else might have just spent their life working in the mailroom. I went to university,” he said. 

 

“My major changed about six times. I started with psychology, then sociology, and psychoanalysis. I even did some zoology before finally settling on English Literature as my major.” Henry mentioned he had gone through some psychoanalysis and found it interesting, but he didn’t say anything about why he had been in therapy.

“I did two years at the University of Toronto, but most of my education was at Windsor.”

 

Henry got his Master’s degree, and had almost completed his doctorate in English Literature.

“I did very well in the written examinations that would get me out of school,” he said, with a hint of exasperation. We both laughed at him implying he needed to get out of school, rather than complete it. 

 

“I did so well in the written examination, that I had to go before a panel of professors. It was an oral examination, where they asked me all kinds of questions. This started at 8am, and was to end at noon. With about five minutes left, one of the professors asked my opinion on a novel by Virginia Woolf, ‘The Lighthouse.’ The required reading list was almost fifteen hundred books. I hadn’t read this one particular book. Well. They were all up in arms and suggested that perhaps I should redo the program. I had done all this psychoanalysis and worked very hard. I just knew I wasn’t going to repeat the program,” he said.

“Besides, I already had a job teaching English Literature in another university. I just never completed my doctorate. There wasn’t any point.”

 

After teaching at several universities across the country, Henry came to British Columbia (BC), to teach at UBC (University of British Columbia).

“Well, yes, I came to teach at UBC, but also, it was the '60’s. Everyone was travelling around and moving to various places in Canada,” he told me. Henry spent the rest of his career teaching in BC.

“I travelled for vacations and did trips, but I taught here for the rest of my time.”

 

Having once offended an older woman by asking if she had ever married, I’m always a bit apprehensive when I ask about this. Besides, I don’t want to presume that a fulfilled life has to include betrothal. I asked if Henry had ever been married, or had any children or been in a long-term relationship.

“No, I’m gay,” he said.

“My family outed me when I was about twenty-one. They sat me down one night at dinner and told me I was a homosexual. And I agreed. Being raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, them approaching me about this did not indicate they were okay with it. No, not at all. Reading the Bible every night. There are three or four verses that can be interpreted to speak against homosexuality,” he said.

“But I wasn’t ostracized for being gay.”

 

I wondered how Henry’s family felt they knew he was gay.

“Wow. That’s an interesting question,” he said, pondering his answer.

“I think because I would come home late at night drunk,” he said, laughing.

“In those days the only place to meet other gay men was in a gay bar. My family didn’t drink at all. Teetotallers, both my parents. I would also get telephone calls from gentlemen. I had gone with a girl in my teen years, but then realized I wasn’t interested in women that way,” Henry said. 

 

"My father told me he wished he could go to hell for me. What a dreadful thing to say to your child,” he said, emotionless. Perhaps as I wasn’t quite emotionally attached to his story, I wondered if there wasn’t some great beauty in the words of his father. An expression of love, in that he would rather go to hell himself, than have Henry go.

“Yes. I can see that. He was saying that he would rather suffer, than have me suffer... We corresponded for years. The rest of his life. He wrote me the most extraordinarily beautiful letters.”

 

I asked Henry if he had any opinions or gratitude about how things have improved for people who are gay. He's seen many changes, even though there is still work to be done.

“It means very little to me nowadays, even less as I get older. But yes, I was born illegal, and for many years, even being gay was illegal. I imagine that on the day I die, it will mean nothing whatsoever to me. In the last 75 minutes of my life, my sexuality won’t even be in my thoughts,” he said. Henry is eighty years old.

 

“For the most part, I’ve lived a satisfying life. I’ve been in relationships, but I’m not now. I don’t want to live with someone else. No. I have a lot of friends who are gay, and some who are straight. I was talked into getting on Facebook for a little while. Some people who I don’t even remember, apparently I went to high-school with them. They would send me messages and ask how I was doing. In time the interest wained of course. I’m not on there any longer. Too many. Oh what do you call them? Passwords. Too many passwords and things to remember,” he told me.

 

I asked Henry if he minded telling me why he underwent psychoanalysis when he was younger. He quietly contemplated this, and I assured him that if he didn’t want to discuss it, that was perfectly fine.

“Childhood issues, deep seated things from the past. The things everyone has to a certain extent. We could all benefit from some form of therapy,” he told me. I agreed, telling Henry that I’ve been sober for sixteen years and that I've always said anyone could use a twelve step program. Just insert whatever the issue is, and repeat as required. He chuckled and nodded in acknowledgement.

 

“I’ve lived a number of years as a clean addict. A drug addict,” Henry said. This took me by surprise, and was most unexpected. We talked about the many people I’ve chatted with and the stories that have been shared with me. I’ve certainly learned not to judge a book by the cover, and here was Henry, yet again, another example of that truism.

 

“I was a drug addict, from my thirties until I was fifty-four years old. Heroin and cocaine. I preferred to inject, rather than smoking them. It was the sixties. I did psychedelics as well,” he said. We both were of the opinion that, for us personally, LSD and Magic Mushrooms were not in the addictive drug-use category, and were recreational rather than addictive usage.

 

Henry, for the most part, was a functioning addict. He continued to live his life, and teach and not be outwardly restricted from his life by his addiction. When the time came for him, Henry told his employer he was going to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and that he was a drug addict.

“They said it had come to their attention that something was amiss. The next semester, had I missed any more time from teaching, there was going to be a conversation. They would have recommended treatment for any staff, rather than dismissal, at that point. Although one or two of my colleagues were let go,” he told me.

 

In the twenty-six years since getting clean, Henry has on occasion used drugs.

“The last time was about, oh, eight months ago. But I don’t use in the same manner. I can’t. My eighty year old body can’t take very much. If I took too much, I’m sure I could easily overdose. I don’t do it often and certainly not much at all, in terms of quantity,” he said.

“It’s more of a recreational thing. It’s not about escape.”

 

We chatted about how comfortable Henry was with what he had told me, and whether there was anything he didn’t want me to write about.

“When I was younger, I used to bother about that, but in all honesty, I don't care if others judge me. It makes no difference to me,” he said. 

 

I told him I wouldn’t write anything he asked me not to. There wasn’t anything he wanted left out. My intent, I said, was a hope that the stories I share, help to break down barriers, and perhaps even shift perspectives.

“Yes, I can see that happening. Good for you! Go ahead, you can write about any and all of it. I’m sorry I never asked you any questions about yourself, though.” #notastranger

April 18, 2015 - Tony

April 18, 2015 - Tony (1st person I approached)
I love this time of year. The flowers, the perfumed air, the warmer days and the trees all surging forth with new leaves. It’s a time of renewal, and optimism. I left the house yesterday fairly certain I’d head to a park or two looking for a story. Tony was sitting on a bench just off of the main road. A good vantage point for watching people. I’ve heard a number of stories sitting at this bench.

When I told Tony what I’m doing and asked if he’d talk with me, he replied, “I’ve got all the time in the world. I’ll talk with you, why not. I’m just sitting here taking in the sights and watching all the people go by. Getting used to the feel of the city.”

 

Tony was born on a First Nation reserve in Bella Coola, BC (British Columbia).

“I have two brothers and two half brothers. But one of my brothers died,” he said.

“I went to school, a white school, but I didn’t really like it. I only went until grade eight. I remember coming home one day, my Dad had been away in camp. He and my mother were drinking some Canadian Club. He told me I should go to the store and buy some cork boots, and some work clothes. I was confused. He showed me my report card, and said ‘It doesn’t look like you’re enjoying school too much,' which I wasn’t. My Dad said ‘If you’re not liking school, you’re going to work instead.’ And that’s when I started working. I was sixteen,” Tony told me.

 

“My brother was my best friend. We did everything together. He committed suicide when he was fifteen. They say he shot himself, but I don’t know about that. We would go hunting and fishing together. We spent most of our time together. I think something happened to him. That’s what I think. I don’t believe he shot himself,” said Tony.

 

“I started working as a rigger, in forestry, making $4.30 an hour,” he said. Within two years, Tony had made his way to falling lumber.

“I wanted to be a faller. I would watch the guys who did that. I liked the look of what they did and seeing the tree fall exactly where they planned it to go down.”

 

By the age of 22, Tony was in a relationship with a woman from Bella Coola.

“She had two kids when we got together. Then we had two kids together, a daughter and then my son,” he said. Tony felled lumber from his reservation to build his house.

“I selected it, felled it, bucked it, cut it. I did everything to build the frame of the house with wood I felled. I got used windows and doors. I picked up some bits and pieces from demolition sites. I built the house until it was sixty percent completed. I’m not a carpenter, but my brothers are. They helped me finish the house,” he told me. Tony built his house on the same reserve he was born on. 

 

“My son committed suicide. He was fifteen. Shot himself,” he said. It was a repeat of Tony’s childhood.

“He was a good kid. We had a great relationship. I’d sit him down and tell him that now he was a young man, he could still come to me to talk about anything. He had been drinking a little bit, and smoking marijuana occasionally. But he was a good kid. It was hard as fuck man. I drank. And I drank. And I fucking drank. I did acid (LSD, a psychedelic drug). Anything to try and numb the pain. I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling. But it never goes away. I spent the better part of a year drinking,” Tony said.

“I’m an alcoholic. I do everything full on. I work hard, and don't drink. Then I’ll drink hard. I do everything in spurts. But the drinking has been going on for years. About a year after my son died, I started going for walks in the woods, on my own. I’d talk to myself, to find a way to deal with it, the pain. He was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. He’s gone. I was able to pull myself together. I still drink, and I’m still an alcoholic,” he told me.

 

Tony’s common-law relationship lasted off and on for twelve years.

“I had worked in forestry for about twenty years. I had gone out into the woods by myself to cut some firewood. I was drinking and fell asleep at the wheel. My car went off the road. It was a new-to-me ’76 New Yorker. Damn I liked that car. Fortunately, there was a couple of guys driving not that far behind me. They came around the corner, and couldn’t figure why the car they were behind was nowhere to be seen. They turned their vehicle around and came back to look for me. I probably would have died if they hadn’t found me,” he said. Tony was flown to Vancouver General Hospital, where he stayed for two weeks. He had broken a vertebrae in his back, broke his leg and seven ribs.

“That accident really slowed me down at work, that’s for sure.” 

 

Eighteen months later, Tony had just purchased a new motorbike.

“I was out for a ride about a month after buying it, and drove right into the back of my buddy’s truck. I was all messed up again. But I went to the bar first. I got drunk and then went to the local hospital. I broke another vertebrae, this time in my neck, broke my shoulder and my wrist. The two accidents brought me to a crawl with falling lumber. I started making money by cutting lumber for firewood and selling it. That’s what I’m still doing,” he said.

 

Tony has spent the majority of his life living on the same reservation he was born on.

“I went to Edmonton for a little while when I was thinking of becoming a Mormon. And I spent some time in foster care as a kid, but otherwise I’ve been in Bella Coola all my life,” he says. I sensed that Tony didn’t want to talk about either of those subjects. I remained quiet and just listened.

 

“Except the time I did a trip with my buddy. There was a big parcel of land that had been sold to an American company, for logging. It pissed me off, it was taken away from my people, with no information or anything. Just sold. So my buddy and I got a claims map, and plotted where the land was. We went in during February. No one’s around in winter. No one on the claim, no one on the roads and no planes in the sky,” he told me, a wry smile on his face.

“We logged the shit out of that claim. Selective logging of course, we weren’t going in to clear cut. But we took out the best lumber. Made several thousand dollars. Took it right back from those fuckers!”

 

“My buddy and I went down through the States and then flew to Korea. We made our way down to the Philippines and travelled around there for about a month. Another month in Thailand and than back to Korea. We were gone for almost four months before heading home again. It was such a great trip,” he said. 

 

I asked Tony what brought him to Vancouver this time.

“Cancer. I’ve got cancer and I’m here for treatment. I’m getting radiation. It doesn’t take long, only about ten minutes. But I’m here for another twenty-one sessions. So that means staying in Vancouver for about five weeks. I got here last week. That’s why I’m sitting right here. Just taking in the view. I was here the other morning, real early, and sat here watching the city wake up,” he said. 

 

“But I’m looking forward to getting back home. I’ve got to get on with the firewood. My firewood for myself. It takes time to prep it all so it will be ready for next year.” #notastranger

April 16, 2015 - Preethi

April 16, 2015 - Preethi (1st person I approached)
As much as I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, I had to be downtown early. I didn’t sleep well last night; it seemed to be a night of run-on dreams. I’m an early morning person, except on those days that I ‘have’ to get up early. Yet I somehow managed to leave the house earlier than planned, and was fifteen minutes ahead of my appointment time.

 

Afterwards, I went for a coffee and sat at a bench in the coffee shop's window, and people watched going up and down davie Street. I walked towards home along the seawall. I saw Preethi sitting on a bench, taking in the view from a small park near the Cambie Street bridge. She readily agreed to chat, once I explained my project to her. 

 

“I was born near Madras (also known as Chennai), in southern India. I have a younger sister, who is five years younger than I am,” Preethi said.

“We got along well as children. Until the teen years. When I was fifteen, my sister was ten and she looked up to me as her cool older sister. Now the tables have turned. She’s the cool one and I’m not!” she laughed.

“There was definitely sibling rivalry, come on, two sisters, yeah. But we get along very well.”

 

“My mother worked as a technician in a medical lab, and my father was a doctor,” she said. Preethi learned to speak English in school.

“Everything was taught in English. We learned to speak Tamil, our mother tongue, as a second language. I also learned some Hindi. I’m fluent, and  can write and read, in Tamil,” she told me. Preethi’s parents separated when she was twelve years old. Both children continued to live with their mother, seeing their father less frequently.  

“Our mother encouraged both of us that the way to a good job in life was through education.”
 

“I loved chemistry and biology in school, but not physics,” Preethi told me.

“We moved from India when I was fifteen years old. It wasn’t the easiest of transitions. I joined the calculus club right away, but it was a completely different system. I didn’t know what the teacher meant when he kept referring to a T51. We were told we could use it in exams. I didn’t know that it was a calculator!” 

 

I asked Preethi why her mother chose to come to Vancouver.

”Oh, I’m not from here. I’m just visiting. We live in California,” she said, smiling. Never assume.

“My mother knew people that had long ago come over to California and so that’s how we ended up there,” she said.

“When we first moved to California, I wanted to go back to India. I went for three months every summer, for the the first few years. I went under the premise of seeing my father. And then I started getting busy with school, and working. My father died and there wasn’t any reason to go there anymore. I have been back with my mother once.” 

 

Preethi thought she wanted to be an engineer. She went to college and took engineering, but also took pre-med classes, “Just in case,” she said.

“My mother lost her job and I wanted to finish school and get to work. I accelerated my courses, went to summer school and worked hard. I finished college in two years and three months, instead of four years,” she said. And took pre-med classes!

 

“I had seen my mother work hard to provide for us. We had everything we needed. I wanted to do what I could to help out. I started working and moved in with my mother and sister, so that I could help financially. I was working at a large medical lab facility. I would get bored, it wasn’t very intellectually stimulating. I’d keep moving from department to department, so I could keep learning,” Preethi said. 

 

“I wanted to apply for med school, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. I did some research and chose four schools to apply for. Well, that was a ludicrous number. Apparently I needed to apply for something more like thirty schools. I didn’t get accepted at those first four schools. I applied for a lot more, and got into the University at Albany, in New York.” Preethi spent four years becoming a medical doctor there, and stayed an extra year for further studies.

“It was my first time ever seeing snow. It was nice at Christmas. Then it was there for Valentine’s Day. And St Patrick’s Day. After five winters, I was done with that.”

 

“I’m at Stanford (University) now. I did my residency and now I’m doing my fellowship in Critical Care,” she told me. Preethi was elected by her peer group of about fifty to be one of two Chief Fellows.

“I still work in hospitals. I want to keep working in my job, because I love it so much. Working in critical care, I’m in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). The patients are the sickest of the sick,” she told me.

“I’m about halfway through my fellowship, with about a year to go.”

 

Preethi is considering going back to school, at some point.

“I’m thinking business,” she says, her eyes getting bigger as a smile breaks out across her face.

“I’d like to open my own ICU one day. You don’t need an MBA in business to do that, but I’d like to continue learning. I don’t feel like I’m ready to settle down into one field quite yet,” she says.

“When working with people who are that sick, their relatives, friends and family are focussed on their loved one. Sometimes they’re not happy with how things are going. They have their own grief and emotions. Medicine can be a thankless job at times. Even though we know we’re doing a good job. The biggest acknowledgement of doing a good job comes from the people I work with. They know what we go through on a daily basis. It’s about supporting one another. We’re there for each other.”

 

Preethi is single.

“I’ve been single for some time. It’s really down to being so busy and focussed on my education,” she tells me.

“But of course, my mother wants to see me married and having children. She advocates for an arranged marriage, even though hers was arranged and that didn’t work out. So she set me up on many first dates throughout my twenties,” Preethi says, half laughing. 

 

I ask if her mother meets the suitors through the Aunties.

“Oh no. I wish it was Aunties. When my mother left my father, she sort of was shunned, for leaving. She doesn’t have that network. She finds these men online. I’ve been on, I kid you not, so many first dates. At least over one hundred, if not one hundred and fifty,” she said.

“It’s always a phone call first. You don’t even have enough time to hear the stories I could tell you. One guy asked me what I did. I told him I had worked at the medical lab facility. He asked me if I still knew people there and could I get him a job? I said yes, I know people, but I don’t know YOU,” she said, with a justified dismissiveness. 

 

“Another guy, remember he doesn’t even know what I do. He tells me that it’s okay if I want to stay home and not work. Really? As if I’m going to not work after all this. And then he says ‘But you can’t take naps during the day!’  This is the first conversation we’ve had. I will take as many naps as I want. In fact, he better be able to cook, make dinner when he gets home, I’ll get up, eat and then go for another nap!” she says, adamantly, and with laughter 

 

“But then I hit my thirties and my shelf life is expired now, so my mother doesn’t arrange any more dates for me. I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, so I went on those dates. Now I take care of it myself. But I’m pretty picky, and I’m not ready to settle just yet.”

 

Preethi had four days off, and wanted to go on a trip.

“I was thinking either Seattle, Vancouver or Hawaii. I’ve never been to Vancouver, and it’s far enough away without having to spend too much time travelling. It’s so nice to get away by myself every now and again. I arrived yesterday morning, and walked around Gastown and Chinatown. I went for a lovely lunch. It's so nice not to have to answer my pager, or take a phone call. I don’t have to think about this patient getting that medication. I don’t have cellphone coverage here so my phone hasn't even rung. The toughest decision I had to make yesterday was should I buy that dress in coral or teal?” #notastranger

April 14, 2015 - Robert

April 14, 2015 - Robert (1st person I approached)
If ‘guilty by association’ can be true from mere perception, could the opposite perception of ‘not guilty by disassociation’ also be true? Does that even make sense? We see someone in a particular part of town, and we jump to the conclusion that they somehow belong there. So then, if we see someone in a particular part of town and we perceive them to be out of place, do we jump to the conclusion that they don’t belong there?

 

It was a nice sunny day and I walked downtown to meet a friend for a visit. We haven’t seen each other for months. It’s one of those great friendships that I’m seemingly blessed to have few of. Sitting down and chatting is like no time has gone without connecting at all. The rhythm just flows. After my friend went back to work, I decided to head to the Downtown Eastside (DTES), and find today’s story. There’s a two block stretch of East Hastings Street that is always busiest on the sidewalk. There’s a lot of souls selling all kinds of random items; cigarettes, jumper cables, random tins of food, clothing, mirrors, old CD’s. It’s how many of the people in the DTES scrape together enough money for their daily needs.

 

I had gone about five blocks when I saw Robert standing outside a skateboard shop. He caught my eye and nodded at me, saying hello as I walked past. It was a genuine, warm greeting. Like you’d expect to hear in a small town or village, if you’re the visitor. I walked over and told Robert what I was doing and asked if he’d chat with me. 

 

At that moment, a gentleman came over and offered us each a lollipop and a religious pamphlet. I declined the offer, and Robert told the gent he already had the pamphlet. The man handed him another one, regardless.

“Where would you like to go and chat?” Robert asked me.

“If we stand here, we’re going to get interrupted for the entire time!” I asked if he’d like to join me for something to eat.

“Sure, that would be nice,” he said. 

 

We made our way back through the busy, two block stretch of sidewalk, heading for Save-On Meats diner. Robert said hello to a number of folks we made our way along the crowded sidewalk.

“I usually walk down the alley. Just to avoid this,” Robert tells me.

“Too late now. But I sure am glad you asked me to talk to you.”

 

We went into the restaurant, sat down and ordered our food. Robert has eaten food from the diner before, through their token program, but he's never sat in the diner and had lunch.

“I was born in The Hague, in the Netherlands,” Robert said. I had one of those flashback moments and wondered if I’d already met him, even though I knew I hadn’t. I know that I’ve chatted with people for this project from the Netherlands, and specifically The Hague. It just seemed so random. Searching back over all the stories I’ve collected as I write this, Robert is the third person who was ether born in, or lived in The Hague.

 

“I have six brothers and three sisters. I’m the oldest son, but second oldest child,” he told me. Robert became so good at baby-sitting, he told me he used to make money doing it for other people as well. When he was six years old, his family moved from the Netherlands to North Vancouver.

“August 20, 1955. We spent six days on a boat and six days on the train. I was excited but a bit nervous too. I liked the wilderness, but we lived in a small fishing village in the Netherlands, so I was used to nature. I was afraid that some wild animal would get me when we got to North Vancouver,” he said, laughing at his childhood concern. I was amazed that he knew the very date of their departure, and asked why he remembered that. With furrowed brow he answered

“Because I have a good memory.”

 

Robert didn’t speak any English when he arrived in Canada.

“I learned what I could, as fast as I could in grade one. It wasn’t that hard to settle in here, and I made friends at school,” he told me. Mathematics and Science were his favourite subjects in school.

“It just all made sense to me. Though nowadays not much of it makes any sense. Modern technology is confusing,” he said. 

 

“I left school two weeks before graduating. I had missed a lot of shop time. I was in hospital quite a bit when I was fifteen and sixteen. And I didn’t have what I needed to graduate. But I went back later and got my GED (General Educational Development) diploma,” he said. Robert was diagnosed with depression.

“I was a diabetic. I was depressed and a while later, I was also diagnosed as schizophrenic. It was tough living with all of that. I spent time in and out of hospital. It started when I was around fifteen. I got electroshock treatment. That was tough. My mother would come and pick me up afterwards and I didn’t know who she was,” Robert said.

 

“After I left school, I did a bunch of different things. I worked in carpentry for a while. And spent some time as a dispatcher. Then I was an apprentice machinist. I did that for five years, the apprenticeship. I would work for eleven months and then spend a month learning theory. It was like that throughout the apprenticeship. I was the head of my class in theory, every year,” he said, proudly.

“That was my favourite job, being a machinist. I liked the precision needed. You really need to know what you’re doing.” 

 

“My father died on June 07th, 1990. Ever since then, my family have rejected me. I’ve never been able to figure out why exactly. My mother used to meet me for lunch, but none of my brothers or sisters would come with her,” he said. His mother passed away in 2007.

“It was hard. Having to grieve alone.”

 

Robert first started hanging around the DTES in 1998.

“I sort of knew I’d end up living down here. I started smoking that crack cocaine. Did that for close on ten years,” he said.

“My friends were always telling me that wasn’t good for me, and telling me I should stop smoking it. I would see people all around me ripping off other people. I didn’t want to get like that. I didn’t want to live my life always looking over my shoulder. I gave it a lot of thought and started to wean myself off it. I didn’t go into treatment. I did it gradually over time. It wasn’t easy. I’ve smoked crack a couple of times over the years since giving it up. But I don’t want to get back into that. So I don’t do it anymore,” he said. 

 

“Someone asked my mother if I did drugs. I was standing right next to her. She told them ‘Yes. Once.’ I laughed and she asked me what I was laughing at. I said she was asleep all the other times!”

 

Over the years, Robert has lived in SRO’s (single room occupancy hotels).

“I lived at the Lookout for a while when I first came down here. Then the Balmoral for about eight months. Then I moved into the Sunrise Hotel. That was next door to where you and I started to talk. By the Skate shop. They closed it down to renovate it, so we all had to move out. I was there for fourteen-and-a-half years. It wasn’t so bad. But now I’m in a brand new place, just built. I’ve still got my own room. I think even when they finish renovating the Sunrise, I’ll stay living where I am now,” he told me.

 

“I was married, yeah. For eight years. We had a daughter. She’s forty-four now and a doctor. A general practitioner, I think. She’s working in the States (USA). I don’t know how she can handle that. If you can’t pay for healthcare down there, sometimes you don’t get it. That must be brutal for her to deal with,” he told me. It was clear just how much pride and admiration he holds for his daughter, by the way he spoke of her. 

 

“I met my wife in North Vancouver. She worked at a restaurant. Then she met another guy. I came home one day and everything was gone,” he said quietly. I didn’t say anything and watched Robert take a gulp of his coffee. He then took his napkin, and carefully folded it before wiping his mouth. We men and our beards. 

 

“I asked her to come back. I wanted to forgive her. I asked if she would come back with our daughter. She did, but it had changed. Things just didn’t work out after that,” said Robert.

“I haven't seen my daughter in over twenty years. That was hard, and took a long time. But now, it would just open old wounds,” he said, wiping with the folded napkin at his mouth again. 

 

There’s a small, almost empty, community garden in the same block where I met Robert, on East Hastings Street.

“I was working there, mainly as a gatekeeper, but doing a bit of cleaning up. The guys in the skate shop, that’s the store I was standing in front of when we met? Those guys offered me a job. It’s more of an honorary thing. I work for three hours, a couple of times a week,” he said.

"I'm like the doorman."

 

I asked if he had been working when I approached him.

“Yeah, I was, but that’s okay, I can come and go as I please. Those guys are really good to me. They care about me and they respect me. Sometimes they’ll lend me my wages and then I pay them back when I get my pension. And they pay me for working there too,” he said, smiling.

“It keeps me busy and gives me something to do.” 

 

“Everyone one down here gets labelled. Most people think we’re all drug addicts. The one thing everyone has in common down here is loneliness. Everyone is lonely. But we’re also family. You can’t choose your birth family. I may not know everyone’s name, but I know most people to see them, and say hello,” Robert said. 

 

He doesn’t do any drugs, he smokes cigarettes and enjoys an occasional Rusty Nail cocktail.

“I don’t even like beer anymore. You know what I do like? I like eggs! These eggs I just had were delicious,” he said, with a big grin.

“I like them poached or sunny side up. And fresh.”

 

Robert’s made two trips back to The Hague to visit relatives.

“In 1972, and 1976. Canada is the best country in the world though,” he said with gusto. Robert is sixty-six years old.

“My birthday is the same day as Abraham Lincoln’s. I like that. He’s a good man to share a birthday with. Honest Abe they called him. I try to live an honest life too.” His birthday is on February 12th. I asked Robert if he did anything to mark the occasion of his 66th birthday. He thought about it for a moment or two.

“YES! The guys at the skate shop threw a surprise party for me. Right there in the shop! It was great. And then the next week they took me out on a boat,” he said. I couldn’t help but smile from his genuine, enthusiastic glee. 

 

“I’ve got my mental health under control. I take medication, I have to. Life is good. Actually life is exciting. I live in a beautiful building that is my home. There’s lots to do in the city. I try not to think about the things I want to do in the future. I just want to enjoy what I’m doing right now.” #notastranger #beinghungrysucks

*Ironically, I just learned that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated 150 years ago today.

Today’s story is sponsored by the Save On Meat diner, and their charitable organization, A Better Life Foundatio

April 12, 2015 - Gabriela

April 12, 2015 - Gabriela (1st person I approached)
It was one of those weekends where the plans were all made, and then almost everything changed. Learning to let go and to run with the flow makes things easier and less frustrating for sure. It's an ongoing process. I’ve had a few low-energy days but knew I wanted to get out and find a story today. I was going to take care of a few errands and then walk around, to where, I wasn’t sure. Before even getting to my first errand, I saw Gabriela reading a book and having a coffee. She agreed to chat with and let me take her picture, before my phone had even loaded my website. Trust is such a gift.

 

Born in Mexico City, Gabriela is the second oldest of five children.

“My parents separated when I was still young, and my mother raised all five of us. She worked full-time in the Canadian Embassy as a book keeper. We had a woman at home to help my mother,” she said. Gabriela’s mother went on to become a published author, with three books of poetry.
 

At the age of fourteen, Gabriela started to attend theatre classes.

“It was a friend who was taking classes and told me I must go as well. I loved it. I wanted to be there more than at home, for various reasons. I was one of the youngest in the group, with everyone else being in their early twenties. They supported me, protected me and encouraged me. It felt safe and became a place where I felt at home,” Gabriela told me. She has a strong accent, with very clear diction when speaking. 

 

“I went to university after completing high school. I didn’t pursue theatre though,” she said, shaking her head.

“My mother wanted me to be able to study for a profession. She didn’t feel theatre would be a good career choice. So I studied International Relations for two years. I wasn’t enjoying it, and after the two years, I switched my program and spent four years studying theatre. My mother wasn’t so happy, but I was getting paid work as an actress. She would come and see me in these plays, and my mother soon forgot about business studies,” she said, laughing. 

 

Gabriela got her undergraduate degree in Theatre.

“I loved acting and theatre. I was doing okay with it too. I even worked on a few short films. But then I started to experience times when there wasn’t any work. You know it’s true when the season ends, and there isn’t any work. It can be a very unstable career,” she said. 

 

“When I was about sixteen years old, I was seeing a therapist. I was experiencing some depression and not feeling so happy. I found therapy to be fascinating. I unfortunately started to develop feelings for my therapist. Emotionally I was become attached. And then he passed away. It was a very difficult time for me. My mother took me to see another therapist. His office called me one day to say the doctor wouldn’t be able to see me for my upcoming appointment. When I went the following week, they told me that he too, had died,” Gabriela said. We spoke about the challenges associated with having two therapists die while you’re seeing them for therapy.

 

With her thoughts of a career in acting changing, Gabriela decided to go back to school. She got her Master's degree in psychoanalysis.

“I loved it. I love therapy and especially psychoanalysis. It is incredible,” she said. After working as a therapist for a few years, Gabriela once again went back to school.

“I took a two year course in psycho-drama therapy. So combining theatre with therapy. It was the best of both worlds. During this time she had also given birth to her daughter.

“I was doing play-therapy with young children, who were at risk. They would be at the place I worked at for the week, and their mothers would take them home for the weekends.”

 

“My sister was living here in Vancouver, and I came here with my daughter for a vacation. We were to be here for two months,” she said. Gabriela met and feel in love with a Canadian man.

“I stayed here and we ended up getting married, and I had a son with my husband. We had applied for me to be allowed to stay in the country, but I was rejected. We went back to Mexico. It was funny because my husband fell in love with Mexico. He wanted to stay there, and I wanted to come back to Canada. He would go out and explore things in Mexico. He introduced me to places I had never been, in my own city!’ she exclaimed.

“There were restaurants and parts of town that I said he should avoid. He would come home and tell me he had eaten at one of these restaurants and how good the food was.” They spent three-and-a-half years in Mexico, waiting to be granted status to return to Vancouver. 

 

“In order to find a home and get things established, my husband returned to Vancouver two months ahead of us,” said Gabriela. It was when Gabriela returned to Vancouver that she started to notice a difference in her husband.

“He didn’t seem at ease, and his mood would change suddenly. He would get so angry. Over a period of a few months, I watched him deteriorate,” she told me. Her husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

 

“I was still doing some acting, and I was offered a role in a film being shot in Mexico. I asked my husband if he would be okay if I took the part. He said yes, that it wasn’t a problem. The film company made arrangements for me, and I was bringing our son. We were going to be gone for a month,” she said. 

 

Her husband took a turn for the worse while she was in Mexico and things became difficult.

“When I returned to Vancouver, he met us at the airport. My daughter, who had been living with her father while going to school in Mexico, was with my son and I. It was evident that my husband was not well. I took the children and we stayed in a women’s shelter house,” Gabriela said. It took some time and a lot of patience, but in time, her husband found treatment and was getting the help he needed. 

 

“We went to therapy together, to try and repair our relationship. But so much had happened, the marriage was over,” she said.

“He’s doing very well now, and we’ve worked to maintain a good relationship, for the sake of our son. We work to communicate, and if I sense my son’s father isn’t doing so good, we talk about it. I have to make sure my son is going to be okay and to be able to have good time with his father.”

 

“I work now as a support worker for (a mental health organization), working with people with mental health issues. It doesn’t matter what I see, or what the issue is for the people I’m working with. It all seems to stem from a need for connection. I try to provide that connection. I work to maintain a relationship with my son’s father, not only for my son. But that his father knows he has the two of us with him. So that he knows he is not alone.” #notastranger

April 08, 2015 - Brad

April 08 & 09, 2015 - Brad (1st person I approached)
I wasn’t going to write a story yesterday. I’m a bit of a news hound. I watch the news at least twice a day on average, and if I’m home, I watch at an hour of 'Power and Politics' on CBC News Network. I may or may not have a crush on Evan Solomon. I decided I’d have an afternoon of news, news and more news. Then a friend offered to take me out for dinner. As I was walking home after dinner, I thought I’d swing past the downtown library. I told myself that if I saw anyone sitting there alone, I’d approach one person. I ended up having a wonderful forty-five minute chat with Brad, and came home intending to write. Then I fell asleep on the couch. This is yesterday’s story, today.

 

Brad was born in Guelph, Ontario. He is the seventh of ten children.

“I was never lonely as a kid. But contrary to that, I also felt I sometimes didn’t get enough attention,” he said, with regard to growing up in such large family.

“It’s competitive when there are that many of you!” The family lived on a farm until Brad was four years old, then moved to a house in the city.

“My parents separated when I was eleven. My mother left my father and took us kids with her. Some of the older kids helped out when they could, but she raised the rest of us by herself.”

 

“I was really into sports in school. Track and field,” he said.

“The 100-yard dash was my best event. I played football when I was in grade twelve as well. I didn’t do so well in class though. I was shy in group settings. I did however like writing. I was always happy when the teacher would give us writing assignments,” he told me. 

 

“After finishing school, I got a job with an insurance company. I soon got bored. It was repetitive work and didn’t hold any interest for me. I was very fortunate though. My boss noticed that I didn’t seem that interested. He helped by giving me some aptitude tests to see what type of work I’d be best suited for. Funnily enough, writing came up for me. My boss encouraged me to go back to school and pursue work that I’d enjoy. That was the single best piece of advice I ever got,” said Brad. 

 

“I went back to school. In Ontario they have grade thirteen, so I completed that before going to Kitchener (Ontario) for college. My mother didn’t think it was such a good idea. She felt I had a paying job, and should stick with that. But I was able to get a grant and a student loan, and moved out, so it was down to me,” he said. Brad studied photo journalism for three years.

“I should look up that guy, my boss from the Insurance company, and thank him for that advice,” Brad said after thinking about for a minute.

 

“I got a job with a small community paper right out of college. It was writing the stories and taking the photographs for those stories. I covered anything I could. In a small community there wasn’t that much going on, really. But the editor had an incredible work ethic and was very well respected in the region. I learned so much from her. It was a great training experience. I covered everything from culverts to court appearances. It was mostly local driving under the influence charges,” he said, laughing.

 

Brad was coming to terms with his sexuality, and after a year at the community paper, felt it was time to move on.

“I knew someone that worked in Lethbridge. Of course there wasn’t much of a gay community there, but I landed a good job with a well-respected local weekly paper,” he said. 

 

We could hear lots of chanting, singing and noise coming from a couple of blocks away. It got closer and I realized it was the fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps, our local football club. There was a match starting in less than an hour. The Whitecaps core group of fans are known for being some of the loudest in the league. Brad saw them coming down the road and went to run off and take some photos of the three-block-long parade of revellers. He had left his bag behind and I shouted after him. Brad thanked me, grabbed his bag and we both ran off to take some photos. 

 

After the crowd had passed by, we went back across the street, to the steps outside the library and continued our chat. Brad laughed as he thanked me again for noticing his bag.

“I have to tell you, I’ve lost four bags that way. Just getting up and leaving them behind. You know how people talk about having peripheral vision, or no peripheral vision? I have a peripheral brain. I can only focus on what’s directly in front of me!”

 

“Prior to living in Lethbridge, I hadn’t had much opportunity to connect with First Nations people. Here I was now living next to the Blackfoot reservation, one of the largest in the country. I started to take a real interest in First Nations people, stories and their issues,” he said.

“I met a woman in Lethbridge, Marie Small Face-Marule and her business partner George Manual (then President of the National Indian Brotherhood). We became friends and I learned so much from Marie and George. She was involved in creating the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP)." 

 

"I took courses at the University of Lethbridge that Marie taught, about the history and rights of Indigenous people as well,” he told me.

“I would spend time meeting with people on the reservation. In time, all First Nations coverage for the paper was assigned to me. I’d talk with Marie about the issues I was learning about."

 

“I stayed in Lethbridge for five years, before coming to Vancouver. I had come out here for a vacation during my years in college. I was amazed. I stayed out at the University (of British Columbia) in student dorms there. I would go to the gym in the mornings, have a good lunch and then spend the afternoons on the beach. I always knew I’d end up living here one day,” he said. 

 

Brad had decided he didn’t want to work for another weekly paper.

“It was difficult to get on with the daily papers here. I got a job working for the Hospital Employees Union. I was writing for them, doing communications work. I travelled around BC (British Columbia) covering events and things,” he said.

“It was a very challenging, and stressful job. It paid well, but it also took it’s toll. Union work is very demanding.” Brad went on to work as an administrator of a program that helped nursing staff to upgrade their skills.

“When there was a shortage in one specific area of nursing, we set up programs that would give specialized training. This training would help the nurse to qualify for that job, rather than having to re-do the entire nursing program,” he said. 

Fourteen years ago, when Brad was forty-four years old, he had a heart attack.

“I think it was a combination of a few things. A genetic predisposition. A history in the family of heart issues. Plus working a stressful job. I’m also HIV positive,” he told me. 

 

“I was diagnosed HIV positive in around 1988. A friend who was a doctor told me I needed to get tested. It was important to know. I wasn’t sick or anything. I had seen what was happening around me and it scared me. I’d seen so many people get sick, and then die. They were all taking the only HIV medications available at that time. So much toxicity in their systems. I refused to take medications. My Doctor told me I couldn’t expect to live more than five years, because I wasn’t taking medication. I feel in part the reason I am still alive today, is because I didn’t take those early medications. I think they killed more people than they helped,” he said. Brad has been on disability since having his heart attack.

 

“I volunteered as a crisis line operator for three years. One of the main lessons that you’re taught when learning to help on a crisis line, is the skill of listening. I felt fortunate that as a journalist, I had already acquired the skill. But so many people think that listening is more. To be a good listener, we don’t need to fix anything, or solve their problems, or be a cheerleader for them. Listening means people just want someone to listen to them, and to be heard. Working on a crisis line, there’s a lot of repeat callers. They’d call on a regular basis because they didn't have anyone to listen to them. Listening to people and having them feel like they've been heard, is a gift,” he said.

“And I give good phone!”

 

Brad spends much of his time riding his bike everywhere he goes.

“I can relate to what you’re doing,” he told me.

“I always say hello to strangers and when possible have conversations with people. There’s three types of reactions to my greeting people. When I say hello to people, ninety percent of them say hello back. Nine percent nod their head in acknowledgement. And the remainder look at me like I’m weird or ignore me all together. Some of the best conversations I’ve had, are with strangers,” he said.

“I spend a lot of time on the DTES (Downtown Eastside) speaking to people. Everyone has a story. I feel I’m living the happiest days of my life now.” #notastranger

April 07, 2015 - Nathan (an update)

April 07, 2015 - Nathan (an update)

I first met Nathan back on October 12th last year (*Day 285). We live in the same part of town, and as such, I see him around quite regularly. We often just say hello and keep going about our days. It’s a great feeling to see more and more people in the neighbourhood that I can say hello to. It lends itself to the feeling of community; exactly that which I was seeking out when I started all of this, unbeknownst to me at the time.

 

Occasionally Nathan and I will stop and have a chat. We’ve become friends on Facebook and throw random comments at each other from time to time as well. Today we had made a plan to meet and spend some time together. Nathan is working on a project that I offered to help him with. More on that later…

 

When I met Nathan last year, he had not long since had a serious injury. He had fallen asleep on his couch at home, and then woke up in hospital.

“I don’t have any memory of what actually happened. I had been having a few dizzy spells, you know when you get up too quickly and things spin. The only thing I can think of is I woke up and was heading to bed and I fell. I hit my head on the tiled floor,” he told me last year. When he came to, in the hospital, he had just had surgery on his brain. When he was telling me this the first time we met, I would never had imagined him to have so recently gone through such a major trauma.

 

At that time, Nathan wasn’t working, as he was at the tail end of physical recuperation. He told me he was considering getting a 3D printer and using the down time that he had, to experiment with some printing. I remember reading a post of his on Facebook shortly after we met, saying he was deciding between getting a (third) roommate or getting a 3D printer. He chose the printer.

 

Fast forward six months, and Nathan is still experimenting with his 3D printer. He’s almost making a full-time living, from his choice.

“I’ve made enough money to easily have paid for the printer three times over. I could use making a bit more money, but printing is what I do for a living now,” he told me today. 

 

Nathan makes 3D prints for business demonstrations, product launches and engineering students.

“I get a lot of work from the engineering students who are in university. It’s all been word of mouth and without any advertising. There’s a website that hosts information about 3D printing and I’ve gotten some work from there as well,” he said.

“The most unusual thing I’ve made? It would have to be for this business demonstration and the guy wanted a foot-and-a-half tall ice cream cone! I gave him a really good deal on it, just because it was so unusual,” he said laughing.

 

I asked Nathan where his interest in the printing was heading. Did he have, for example, any desire to further science by making replacement body parts?

“I’m interested in the aspect of 3D printing as an art form,” he said. I had seen another post of his that showed a pair of 3D ears that Nathan had printed.

“Those are for a binaural project I’ve been working on,” he told me. The best way I can describe ‘binaural’ sounds if you’ve not heard of it, is from an actual experience I had with a soundscape. A friend told me to put on a pair of headphones, and close my eyes. He then played a ‘binaural track’ which was the sound of someone shaking a box of wooden matches. It started in my right ear and then, with my eyes closed it was truly if someone was walking behind me shaking an actual box of matches. It went from my right ear, behind my head and over to the left side of my head. Binaural sound is like you're hearing something in three dimension. 

 

The idea for Nathan’s 3D printed ears is to create binaural soundscapes. He installed a microphone in each printed ear. The idea is to put them over his ears and walk around recording sounds, which will then become a binaural soundscape. I'm always listening to music, and am interested in sound and soundscapes. Nathan’s project with the 3D printed ears fascinates me. We talked somewhat excitedly about the potential use for binaural soundscapes. Geeks, geeking.

 

I wanted to know what Nathan’s thoughts on his injury were now, some seven or so months after it happened.

“A lot of the things that I’m left with are very similar to depression,” he said.

“Actually, it’s like a mini depression. I have difficulty getting out of bed most mornings. I just don’t want to. I have issues with my memory, like appointments and dates, that sort of thing.” 

 

When Nathan and I made plans to meet today, he had told me that I should send him a message this morning to remind him that we were meeting. I thought it was good that he knows himself well enough to ask for that support.

“I have to. It’s the only way I know I’ll get to something. I’ve had to adjust the way I live. Things that are common with respect to a brain injury.” I laughed saying that memory issues aren’t only related to brain injuries, and that he had more to look forward to over the coming years. I spent almost four minutes looking for my glasses the other day, before realizing I had them on. Yay for getting older.

 

“The other thing I’ve changed is how I do things now,” Nathan said.

“Before my injury, I had been thinking of getting a printer. My family didn’t think it was viable. I would never have given up my job or anything to do something like this. I was always concerned with having work, and paying my bills and being far more cautious about life. I remember one of the first things I decided when I woke up after surgery was that I was going to get a 3D printer and pursue doing this. I probably wouldn’t have gotten it yet, if it hadn’t been for the injury,” he told me. 

 

Nathan has also worked on his social life.

“It’s getting better now. I’ve found myself recently seeking out friends more, and making arrangements to hang out, that kind of thing. Spending time being social. And not just focussed on only working,” he said.

“I want to do things that I feel good about.” #notastranger

*Nathan October 12, 2014 Day 285 - http://on.fb.me/1IGS4s1

April 05, 2015 - Debbie

April 05, 2015 - Debbie (1st person I approached)
The easter bunny hasn’t visited me for many years, and I’m okay with that. This year, for some reason, Easter seems to be ‘bigger.’ Across all social media platforms (and I’m plugged into most of them), everyone is talking pancakes, brunch, or chocolate. It's seemingly become a large, rather commercial event.

 

I didn’t have any of these treats on hand, but did manage to gorge on a few too many peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (my weakness) for breakfast. They joys of living alone. I needed to get out of the house and move, feeling somewhat sluggish after the inhalation.

 

The mall near my house was closed, except for it’s anchor tenants; a grocery store, a coffee shop, and a gym. I wasn’t crossing any of those thresholds. Even the escalators were switched off. I didn’t really expect to meet anyone as I walked through here. 

 

I spotted Debbie, sitting in an almost deserted food court, reading a magazine and having a snack - and a healthy one at that! I asked if she’d chat with me for a few minutes, and there was a little hesitation in her voice,

“Ahhh. Well, it depends on what you’ll do with the information.” I showed Debbie my Facebook page, explaining that I was working with the art of conversation, by chatting with strangers.

“Sure, I guess so, for a few minutes,” she said.

 

“I was born in a little place called Bella Coola, on the (North Central) coast (of British Columbia),” she told me. It's known as the gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest, home of the Kermode, or ‘Spirit’ Bear, noted for it’s white fur. Debbie is the middle of five children.

“We were all born fairly close, with only six years between the oldest and the youngest. My father was in logging, and my mother was a house-wife,” she said. With five children born within six years, we agreed that being a housewife was definitely more than a full-time job for Debbie’s mother.

“Growing up I had a bit of a feeling of being the one that was, sort of, left out. Having two (siblings) on either side. I always felt like I was the one who had to be funny. I didn’t have to, but I did.

 

Debbie attended both elementary and high school in Bella Coola.

“I was kind of the arts child. I always liked art. Although I wasn’t the only one. My sister got accepted to an art school, but she didn’t go. I don’t even know why. And my younger sister sews and makes things,” she said. While growing up, Debbie went to church with her family.

“We weren’t a religious family, but we did go to a united church regularly. I did that until I was in high-school. Then I decided it wasn’t so cool anymore, and stopped going,” she said.

 

“I left Bella Coola not long after graduating school,” said Debbie.

“If you weren’t going to get married and have children, there wasn’t much reason to stay there. I came down to the city and got a job. I started working as an office temp, doing secretarial stuff. There were some problems in that office, and I left and went back home,” she said. I asked what it was like to go back to Bella Coola, after having been in a bigger city.

“I felt like a bit of a failure going back. I didn’t stay there for long.”  

 

“I came back to Vancouver, and took a medical office assistant course. I was working mostly in a secretarial capacity. I got a job working with the school board, and I’ve been there ever since,” Debbie said.

“The job is good. It can be stressful and is always challenging.”

 

Debbie mentioned she had been to church this morning, and was going out to a family gathering at her brother’s home.

“I had some health problems about six years ago, and that’s when I started going back to church. I go to a Unity church now,” she told me. 

 

“I was corresponding with my brother earlier this week about going to visit him. His daughter is here from out of town visiting. Our father passed away about twenty years ago, and my mother isn’t in the best of health. We don’t often have a chance to all get together, so I thought I’d go and visit. Then my brother suggested I come out for dinner. It’s more about seeing my family than it is about celebrating Easter,” said Debbie.

“It’s just nice to see everyone.” #notastranger

Today’s story is sponsored by Moii Cafe, 2259 Cambie Street, Vancouver

April 03, 2015 - Dave

April 03, 2015 - Dave (6th person I approached)

Today was my day to meet someone to have lunch with. When I’m looking for someone to join me for lunch, I still go in with the same approach. It’s still will you chat with me, will you tell me about yourself and will you let me take your photograph. If it’s yes to all of these, then and only then do I ask if they’ll have lunch with me. I’m not interested in offering a lunch and then suggesting the price would be they have to talk to me. Personally, that would be a different project.

 

I wandered around for a good forty-five minutes. I was walking up Richards Street, towards West Hastings, and I saw Dave a few hundred feet ahead of me. When I got to Hastings Street, I had narrowed the gap. I’m a pretty fast walker. Dave, not so much. He was carrying a large sports bag, but the way he was holding it, I guessed it to be practically empty. I made a joke about that as I was walking past. He smiled.

 

I told him what I was doing and asked if he would chat with me.

“Sure, okay. We can talk right here if you like,” he said, with an agreeable tone. I asked if he’d let me take his picture.

“Yeah, I suppose that would be okay,” he said. I suggested that perhaps he’d like to join me for something to eat.

“Well,” he said, “I’m just heading to Save-on Meats as it happens for some eggs.” Meant to be, that’s who sponsors the lunch stories for my project. I told him if it was okay, we could eat together, chat, I’d take his photo and the meal would be covered by the diner.

“I’m looking to have three poached eggs, and toast. Can I order that?” I was happy to tell him he could have whatever he wanted from the menu, with the exception of alcohol. Deal.

 

We were about four blocks from the diner, and I was intent on making conversation on the way there.

“I have to tell you something, and this might change everything for you,” Dave said.

“I’m a Satanist.” I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. I asked him to repeat himself by way of ‘Sorry?’ He smiled, just an ordinary regular guy, and he was telling me he was a Satanist.

 

We chatted about what that meant, and the varying levels of interest. I’m a fairly open-minded fellow. I've certainly become even broader in my outlook during the fifteen months I’ve been chatting with strangers. The gist of the conversation however, turned around. I felt a natural need to clarify that nothing was going to happen to me or him, if I wrote his story, and published it online with his photograph. He assured me we’d be okay. I felt completely safe, at ease and dare I say intrigued to hear Dave’s story, and learn. I knew there would be learning involved.

 

“I was born in Murrayville, in (the township of) Langley. My parents were from the Penticton area of the BC (British Columbia) in the Okanagan area,” he told me, after we ordered our food.

“My parents owned a five-to-a-dollar store. My father was a wholesale distributor at the time as well. Until he went bankrupt.”

 

Dave was the second oldest of six boys.

“We grew up in Aldergrove. We never close. I was always the odd one out. My older brother and I had classic sibling rivalry and never got along. And the younger boys always looked up to me, but also felt a need to be better than I was,” he said.

 

“When my father went bankrupt, we moved to a forty-acre hazelnut farm on Sumas Prairie (BC),” said Dave.

“We didn't work the farm, just rented a house that was located there,” he said.

“I went to elementary school in Aldergrove and then I did high-school in Abbotsford. I majored in pool hall,” he told me, with a grin so big his cheeks became like little apples.

 

I noticed his eyes were extremely clear, and sparkled.

“I missed a lot of school. I didn’t see the need for it. My principal told me that according to his records, I attended on average two out of every five days one year. I had snooker to play,” he said with a chuckle. Dave left school after the first semester of grade nine.

“The second time I did grade nine,” he added. “I was sixteen.”

 

Hitch-hiking to Kitimat, in the North Coast region of BC, Dave got a job working at a smelting plant.

“I worked with the effluence, tending the smoke stack and on salvage. I did that for about six months,” he said.

“Then I joined the Royal Canadian Navy. It was something that my older brother had done, and he liked it, so I wanted to give it a go. I signed the paperwork when I was sixteen, and started basic training when I turned seventeen. But I didn’t last," Dave said.

 

"When I was thirteen, I was messing around with a couple of friends. We had built a fire and were dancing around and running through the flames. One of the boards we were burning had a nail in it, and it went right through the joint of the big toe on my left foot,” he told me.

 

Dave’s foot got infected, and he had a red trail running up his leg. He had gotten blood poisoning.

“I almost lost my foot. I spent six weeks in hospital. So when I was in basic training, we were doing marching drills and they kept making us stomp our feet on the group. I injured my foot again, and was deemed unfit for the navy,” he said. His naval career last just two-and-a-half months.

 

Over the next number of years, Dave moved around and did a number of different jobs.

“In Terrace I couldn’t find work, so I fought a forest fire to earn some cash. I worked in a brick plant in Abbotsford making bricks, for seven months. I had saved some money. I bought a brand new, BRAND N-E-W, 1968 V8 Ford Mustang. I bought it in 1967,” he said with pride, and a slight suggestion of machismo.

 

“I took off to Crow’s Nest Pass, in Alberta. I was back to hitchhiking. My car had broke down and I left it at my parents place,” he said. Dave went to southwest Alberta.

“I worked in a colliery for six months, packing timber for the miners to reinforce the mine’s roof. You needed to work six months under a certified miner to get your certification papers to become a miner yourself,” he told me.

 

He went to Sparwood (BC) to work in another mine, and then Grand Cache, Alberta.

“The town was just opening up. I was working for the Macintyre Porcupine Mine. They were hiring miners like crazy. Anyone and everyone was getting hired. The guy who ran this particular machine was out sick and I told them I could run it. I lied. But I had seen enough guys do it before, so figured I’d give it a go. I pulled a few tricks that I had seen, and they promoted me to head miner,” Dave said, his cheeks becoming rosy red apples again with his grin.

 

“I was twenty-one and making good money, working 21/7. Twenty-one days on, and seven off. Then I got into drugs. I bought a brick of pot, some MDA (an amphetamine) and a bunch of LSD (aka acid - a psychedelic drug). I got caught and sent to jail for eighteen months,” he said. I asked if the drugs were for personal use.

“No, I was selling them. I’m a business man,” he said. We both laughed.

 

“I spent a bit of time in jail, and then got sent to a bush camp. It was hard work, but I liked it better than jail. We cleaned the side of roadways, cleared brush and spent time splitting wood. There was a good group of guys there. No drugs or anything. It was all clean, and all work,” he said. I asked Dave how he had gotten caught in the first place.

“My room mate had gone to the police. I guess he didn’t like drugs.” I asked if Dave held any ill-will towards the room mate “Not now, but I sure as hell did at the time, yeah!”

 

Not long after completing his sentence, Dave went back to selling drugs.

“It started with six pounds of pot. Then I made some good connections and within three months, I was getting quantities of amphetamines,” he said. Once again, Dave got caught, this time with over two pounds of amphetamines, twelve pounds of pot and $10k in cash.

“I got three-and-a-half years. That’s federal prison. Maximum security.”

 

Ten months later, he was transferred to a medium security prison. I told Dave that while it seemed naive, but I wondered what federal prison like was like for him.

“The most hardened guys would hit on you. Homosexuality (he annunciated every syllable) is going on a lot. Even the guys who weren’t homosexual. They’re called gearboxes. So these two gearboxes suggested I move into the dorm they were in. I told them right then, ‘NO way.’ For some reason, everyone left me alone after that. I’ve got nothing against anyone who is a gearbox, or a homosexual, but I wasn’t having anything to do with it,” he said. Dave served “Every. Single. Day” of his sentence.

 

“In federal prison, if they can’t reform you, they try and break you. Every situation, every single day, they tried to break me. I was under constant pressure. I saw a psychologist who said that if I had gone any further down in my morale and spirit that I would need professional help. I learned to be solid though. I never snitched, never told them what they wanted to know, and never got into anything,“ he said.

 

After getting out of prison, Dave started ‘importing’ hundreds of pounds of pot.

“I was driving a Corvette and making lots of money. I got wind that the cops had three warrants being prepared for me, and I took off back to BC. At that time, the provinces wouldn’t extradite you from one province to another,” he said.

“I gave up selling drugs for a year and went to work in another mine. Once I felt the heat was off, I was back at it. I got some high-grade pot at a good price, and turned it around for an even better price. But I knew it was just a matter of time before I’d get caught again. I broke out in this rash all over my hands from the tension and stress. If I got caught again, it would be a minimum sentence of ten years. I didn’t want that. I just wanted to go home. I didn’t want to do that anymore,” he said.

 

“I moved to the coast (of BC) and started a cedar shingle business with one of my younger brothers. I’ve been doing that for the last thirty-seven years,” he said, sitting back in his seat. Dave had spent some time with a group of BC Forestry workers when he started the shingle company.

“What I saw was just how fair and honest those guys were. I wanted to be like that. I became completely legitimate. I got my forestry license, I don’t steal green lumber, nothing. It’s all legitimate. I used to have a problem with authority, but after meeting those guys, that went away as well. I respected them,” he told me.

 

“I’m a hermit,” Dave said. He lives in the forest in the Fraser Valley.

“I look after a cabin there, and in return, I get to park my camper on the property. It first started when I was working the shingles. I couldn’t afford the gas to drive in and out, so I’d sleep in my truck for three or four nights. I’ve been living as a hermit for close to I guess, twenty-three years now. I’ve always been a loner,” he told me. Dave comes out of the forest about once a month, to get supplies.

“I haven’t even had a radio for the last ten years.”

 

There’s a large population of people of Christian faith that live in the Fraser Valley.

“I call them heretics,” he said, with no malice in his voice.

“I don’t know what I ever did, and no one has ever told me, but I’ve had nothing but trouble with them. I can’t get served in their businesses and there’s always a sense of aggression when I’m in town,” he told me.

“I know one person that is a good and honest business man. He always treats me right, so I go to him and him only with my business.”

 

“I’ve been skirting around Satanism for a number of years. I was inspired by those that oppose me. I’ve always been of the occult, and the way for me is Satanic,” he said. This is where the learning started, for me.

 

“For example,” Dave says.

“There’s a creature that I see out where I live, the Orange-throated Marten (a member of the weasel family). They run through my (hunting) lines. I don’t take (catch) those,” he said. Dave told me how he could use an elaborate multi-layered area of sawdust encased between plastic tarps. Mice would then nest in that, and in turn entice the marten.

“But their fur is no good, so I don’t take those. Then there’s the Bobcat. In certain parts, it’s a protected species. Many people believe that Bobcats are territorial. These days, with the decline of their habitat, they’ll go to where the food is, wherever they can find fish spawning. They’re not so territorial. Now, if I didn’t take a few Bobcats, the supply of fish as food for the others would diminish, and then the Bobcat and the fish would be in danger. So by taking a few bobcats, it’s actually helping the others,” he told me, speaking with great patience.

“We cull to enhance.”

 

“I am all about Return of the King. Have you heard of that?” he asked. I said I was sure I hadn’t heard about it in the context that he was referring to.

"There are forests riddled with Maple trees, where they shouldn’t be. There should be Douglas Fir trees growing there. We want abundance. So I girdle the Maple trees. I cut into the bark all around the tree, twice. Two cuts, about ten inches apart. Eventually that tree dies, and collapses in on itself,” he said. Dave described the other steps necessary to replace maple trees, using sawdust and seedlings.

 

He talked about efforts happening in Australia to rid the east coast of a specific poisonous frog.

“Someone introduced a species of spider that is deadly. The frog eats the spider which thrive on the frogs lily pads, and in turn, die. Satanists are naturalists. We want to replenish. There’s another effort going on in Australia to replenish the Barracuda fish, using seals. There’s so much more I could say, but I can’t tell you. But as a Satanist, I am also a naturalist,” he said. I was okay with this level of information.

 

“I’m just in town for the day. Tomorrow, I’ll hitchhike back out to the forest,” he told me. I took Dave’s photograph. He had removed his red and black work coat while we ate. When I held up my phone to take his photo, he held up the work coat.

“Those are the colours of Satanism, and I wanted the representation to be included,” Dave said, smiling. He meticulously unrolled the sleeves of his shirt, fasting the buttons of each cuff, and put his work coat on. We shook hands. I noticed that the skin on the back of his hands was remarkably smooth, especially for a man who is sixty-five and lives in the forest. It must be from working with fur would be my guess.

 

Dave thanked me for lunch, and the conversation. He was about to leave, and I noticed he had forgotten his large, apparently empty bag.

“Thank you very much,” he said, smiling. He turned and walked slowly out of the restaurant. #notastranger #beinghungrysucks

Today’s story is sponsored by the Save-On Meats diner, and their charitable organization, A Better Life Foundation

April 02, 2015 - Jean

April 02, 2015 - Jean (2nd person I approached)
I had some errands to run this morning, and along the way, had to make a facilities-based stop. I was near Vancouver General Hospital, so thought I’d give the waiting area in the main lobby a walk through. After using the facilities, I spotted Jean sitting in the lobby, surrounded by luggage and various bags of personal belongings. She was sitting on a couch directly under a huge skylight and the sun shone brightly down upon her. If it wasn’t for the fact that we were in a hospital, it could easily have been a scene from an airport.

 

I approached her cautiously; the last thing I wanted to do was startle her. I started by saying ‘May I ask you a question?’ A good approach I figured that wouldn’t imply I wanted to steal her baggage. I was a little surprised by the clear and strong voice as Jean replied

“You most certainly may!” She explained she was waiting for a ride to take her home, and that we could chat while she waited. I explained I would also want to take her photograph and without hesitation, she replied

“That’s not a problem.”

 

“I was born in London, England on December 31, 1927,” she said proudly. Jean, was the middle child of three children, with a brother and sister.

“We all got along very well, indeed. We were a very close family.” Her father had served in both World Wars.

“He was badly injured in the first war, and then during the second war, he was retired from service. England was desperate then, and so he joined the Royal Navy and went to cook for twenty-six men. He had never cooked before. But you know, with England so desperate, you did what needed to be done,” she said with her strong, and elegantly sophisticated English accent. 

 

“We children were evacuated of course, just before the start of the war. We were living in Hampstead Heath and all got sent off to southern Wales. Well, it was marvellous. They’ve got mountains, you know. It was very lovely there,” she told me.

“Mother managed to come and visit frequently, and we stayed there throughout the duration of the war.”

 

When the war ended, the children returned home to Hampstead Heath, and their parents. Jean completed secondary school, and then went to university.

“I attended London University, but it was a special program that I was in. I was training to become a teacher and you know, it used to be all about sitting in a chair and looking at a board all day. Well, they taught us in the Froebel method of education. That’s the education standard that is across Canada now. It was very new at that time. I was learning to teach from kindergarten to grade seven,” she said.

“I spent three years in university studying. In Canada at that time it was only a year of schooling to become a teacher.”

 

“I went to Montreux, in Switzerland to do my teacher training. We didn’t have much money then. So my friend and I would hitchhike everywhere,” she told me, putting her left thumb out in front of her.

“It was safe then. And if you didn’t like the look of someone who stopped, you simply said ‘no thank you’ and waited for the next car that stopped. We went all the way, from Montreux, close to Lake Geneva on the french side, a-l-l (said as a long, exaggerated sound) the way to Spain!” she said, with an air of ‘can-you-believe-it?

"We didn’t have much money, but that wasn’t going to stop us from having adventures. That has been my main focus all my life. Adventure. I’ve always looked at it all as an adventure, and that makes it all the more enjoyable,” she said, excitedly.

 

“On another adventure we,” she said, waving her thumb in front of herself again, “hitched a-l-l the way back and right around to the very tip of the boot of Italy. I used to write all about these adventures in binder notebooks. I love to sit and read through them, recalling all the many trips, adventures and fun I’ve had.” Jean had the loveliest smile on her face, recalling some unspoken memory.

 

“I worked in schools in some of the roughest parts of town (in London). The children, oh my. The children could be incredibly unruly. Classes often times with as many as fifty students. My goodness.”

 

At the age of thirty, Jean was traveling around England, visiting grammar schools.

“I was working with camps, you know. Holiday camps for the children. One of my friends that I worked with told me ‘If you go to Vancouver, in Canada, just off the coast there is an island called Thetis Island. They have a holiday camp there that is very similar. You should go there. It would suit you.’ And I said to her ‘Okay,’ and I came to Canada,” Jean said, as a matter-of-fact. 

 

“I spent a month on Thetis Island working at this camp. More unruly children. I had figured I’d spend one year working in a government school, and one year working in a private school. And that would be my adventure time for Canada,” she said. The mountains in Vancouver reminded Jean of the mountains she saw in her childhood, while evacuated during the war, in south Wales.

“I loved the mountains.” 

 

“Well then, I was fortunate to be offered a role as a Principal of a junior school. It was because of my Froebel training,” she said.

“I became Principal of the junior school at Crofton House (a private school for girls, in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood of Vancouver). I was there for eighteen years. I retired at age fifty because, well, I won’t say it was years of yelling, but my voice was completely gone,” she said, smiling.

 

Those two years that Jean intended to stay in Vancouver are now at fifty-seven years and counting.

“I've gone back to England to visit. When my mother was sick, and my sister was looking after her, I’d go to give her a break and help look after mother. I’ve been back forty times. And mother made it over here twelve times herself. She used to love it here,” said Jean. Otherwise, Vancouver has been home. 

 

“No, I never married. I was engaged,” she said, pausing.

“A couple of times. But not for very long. I never really met anyone that I liked enough to marry. There was one chap, he was a lawyer. We were engaged for three months. But he passed away ten years ago, so I would have been a widow anyway. So there you go,” she said.

“His mother never liked me. It’s just as well.” She looked at me, her face expressionless, but I could see the smile in her eyes. Adventure. 

 

“There was a reunion last year for Crofton House that I attended. Thirty-five of my students were there. They were all smiles and and happy. They told me I hadn’t changed at all. I was still just as vivacious and as funny as I ever was, they said,” she told me, with an affectionate smile. 

 

Last year, Jean began treatment for colon cancer.

“It was last July. They had to cut in and remove a part of my intestine. That’s when the trouble began. I was knocked over with a very deep depression after that. They gave me medications to help. Oh how I perspired. Buckets of perspiration,” she said, feigning the discomfort. I was able to fully align with Jean at this point. Vividly. One of the medications I take causes me to constantly overheat and perspire heavily when I’m out walking.

“It’s miserable isn’t it?” she replied.

 

“I received electro-shock treatment for the depression. Now we’re talking serious stuff here,” she said.

“Ten sessions. I was at home and I reached over to get something, and fell and broke my shoulder,” she said, putting her hand on her right shoulder and rubbing it gently.

“I’ve had such a time with it. That's the thing that really has caused the most difficulty. I’ve been in this hospital for such a long time. I am so very delighted to be going home today. I like my independence.” 

 

Jean had been in hospital for the past two months.

“There's two of my students I had from that time back on Thetis Island that I’m still in contact with. They came to visit me here in hospital,” Jean said with gratitude, in a soft gentle voice.

“Of course, they’re in their seventies now.”

 

“They had me so heavily medicated. I told them ‘I’m over-medicated. I don’t want to be taking all these pills. I want to stop everything to see how much mobility I have left. I wanted to see how I could move my hand and my arm. I stopped all the pain medication. I’ve got more mobility than I would have thought, although I can’t carry my bag in this arm,” she said, moving her wrist back and forth.

“It’s still painful of course and some times are worse then others. I’ll take medication if I feel a need to, but I don’t want all those pills. I wanted out of this hospital and to be going home!”

 

Jean’s friend Margaret arrived to collect her. I reminded Jean I wanted to take her photograph.

“Oh I look at my worst right now. My hair isn’t even done. But alright, go ahead.” I took a photo and showed it to Jean.

“Oh, I say. Yes, I don’t look so bad after all. Let Margaret see that. Look at this photo, Margaret,” said Jean. 

 

She was clearly excited to be that close to getting in a vehicle and heading home. Margaret asked to take a photo of Jean and I. After a couple of photos, I said thank you, and we shook hands. Hers was soft, gentle, warm and comforting. I clasped her hand with both of mine. I was enchanted, to say the least.

“Thank you so very much. It’s been delightful chatting with you, Colin. Do take care.” #notastranger