Back when I was in my early twenties, I moved out to Vancouver from Saskatoon. The chaps that I lived with had a shitty, roach and mouse infested studio/house in the infamous downtown eastside. It was an incredible eye opener for sheltered little me. I went from my heart bleeding with pity at the sight of the homeless and junkies around me to being able to step over a sleeping drunk and more than once yelling “Go piss on someone else’s doorstep!” Good times.
Not by design, I became a hairdresser in the fancy, wealthy part of town. (For clarity, I took my training and was quite good. I just never wanted to do it. Some jobs we fall into.) Twice a day, I had culture shock. I’d get dressed up and go catch my bus. Inevitably, some dirtbag would cruise me and ask me if I “wanted to go for a beer.” I’d lose my shit and respond with a shrill “No, asshole. It’s 7:30 in the morning and I’m on my way to work. This is a bus stop. I smell like hope and beauty and if I was a hooker, you couldn’t afford me. Now fuck off, twatsmack, before I put one of my heels through your eye.” Okay, not really. I’d normally say “Um, not a Ho, friend. Have a nice day and good luck with everything.” Respect went further than aggression in terms of safety. It was still sort of insulting, though.
As I was getting ready one morning, I walked into the main part of the house and smelled the most heinous, throat-closing, nose-leaping-off-your-face-to-escape odour. It hit me like a wall and I called out “Jesus Christ!” (Why do we call him when something is yucky? FYI, he didn’t show up to save my olfactory glands.) I couldn’t figure out what had been horrifically killed by shit, wrapped in stinky cheese and left to rot around the house. As I gagged over my hand, I walked up to the window and peeked out. And there, on my step, leaning against my door, was a very overweight and smelly man eating his breakfast.
I knew that the restaurant down the street would sell their leftovers the next morning for a couple of bucks to the bums. I knew he likely needed the meal. I also knew that he was sitting in front of the only viable way out of the house and that my bus was coming in 15 minutes. Fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck. Now what?
I sucked up my courage and thought, “To hell with it.” I knocked on the door, yelled “Coming out!” and opened the door. He leapt to his feet, his take-out in his hand and with a deep Southern drawl said “Oh! So sorry, Mam. So sorry!”
I locked the door and as he was walking away, I called him back. I said “Hey! It’s okay. Sit down and finish your breakfast. I wouldn’t have interrupted you but I have to go to work.” He came back and yes, he was as smelly as you think. “Aw thanks, Lady! Where you work? Where your man at? I hear them fellas playing music here sometimes. I write some songs! I got some fine Blues songs I can sell to your friends.” “I’ll let them know. Gotta go catch my bus.” “Y’all shore is pretty. And you smell so good.” “Um, thanks. See ya.” “Where you work at? I come visit you sometime.” “Um, well, I do hair and it’s across the bridge so…” “Oh! You do the Gerry Curl? Like Little Richard? I’d like that on myself!” “Well, no, I’m not too good at black hair but I’ll ask around.” “Okay, Lady, y’all have a good day. I hope your man takes good care o’you. Tell him I said to!” And he sat down to finish his meal and I caught my bus.
A couple of months later, in the pouring, pissing Vancouver winter rain, I saw him downtown. I’ve never seen such a miserable looking human being in my life. He approached me reluctantly and asked for some money. I asked him how much he needed for the shelter and he told me ten more dollars. I gave him fifteen (which he didn’t want to take), and told him to get over there before it was full for the night. He barely met my eye as he said thank you. He then said, with his head sheepishly down, that if I ever needed some “luvin” that I could come and find him anytime. I thanked him with a polite no.
Shortly after that, I saw him once more. He was with some people who were already half dead from drugs. It made me sad. He never did come to sell us a song. And all I wish is that I could remember his name.