While driving around the west side looking for objects and junk to use for sculpture, I happened upon two guys in the park at Fourth and Blenheim. With them were three bike-and-trailer rigs, loaded to the gills with all sorts of trashy treasures. I figured if anyone knew where to find the good stuff, it would be these guys. The older one didn’t want to talk to me, but the younger – Chubba – “It’s Hungarian”, he told me – was fairly voluble about life on the streets. He said that Kits was pretty good for junk collecting, because “all these people are rich”, but that it was not as good as in the old days (he’s been in the area since 1997) when folks threw away way more stuff. These days, even on blue box days, there’s not as much stuff and more competition for the stuff there is. Even so, he asserted, the laneways of Kits were still pretty good. “Sometimes I get so much stuff that I just have to give some of it away because I can’t carry it all”.
I asked him about food and he said that when they hang out at Jericho Beach, they get lots – “One day, two guys offered us hot dogs but we couldn’t take them because we were already so stuffed”. I mentioned that the Granville Island dumpsters have lots of disgarded food but Chubba said he doesn’t go down there since it’s not “his territory”; his territory runs from Mcdonald Street all the way out to UBC and up to 16th Avenue. Winters they sleep in the park and summer sees them down at Jericho Beach. To a question about whether they get hassled much, he replied “No. We’ve been here a long time and I guess people are just used to us”. The only thing he spends money on is beer, a can of which he and his friend were drinking as we chatted. Of the monkey attached to his rig, he said, “Be sure to get the monkey in your picture – it’s my signature”.
I didn’t find much in the laneways but did come away with some wooden bookcase parts that may prove interesting parts of a large sculptural construction.
My encounter with Chubba made me think about the differing views of family responsibility and individual independence here in North America and in Asia. In Turkey, for example, the friends I made were astonished to hear of homelessness and the mentally ill wandering the streets unloved and unlooked after. “But where are their families?”, one friend asked, astounded at what he percieved to be such callousness towards other human beings. That people here should choose to live on their own apart from family and indeed to celebrate such independence and see it as a core value was incomprehensible. And, that those who really can’t look after themselves wouldn’t be looked after by family brought a snort of derision. There, such people would be cared for in the bosom of the family. In my travels through Turkey I only saw one street person, that a woman whose solitary wanderings on the beaches and byways of the southern Mediterranean town of Side, one hour east of Antalya, caused surprise and consternation to those who noticed her. You can see her slowly making her way down the beach, laden with bags, in the picture below, ignored by the visiting sun-worshippers.
She was only there for two days, then gone – perhaps her family came for her.