Extended surreality…

August 10, 2007 at 8:47 pm | In homelessness, just_so, scenes_victoria | Comments Off on Extended surreality…

I had a very strange experience today, lasting over the course of about an hour or two. I don’t normally ride the buses here — either I walk, or I walk, or sometimes I walk. When that doesn’t work, I will drive. Today I had to ride the bus to pick up the car from a regularly scheduled service so that I could drive it home.

As I wait by the bus stop — downtown, at the Fort and Douglas intersection — I see a girl I just know I’ve seen in a TV show. That is, she looks exactly like someone I’ve seen in a TV show …and never mind that I don’t get TV. But you know, …there’re video rental places, right?

A million buses go by, and finally “my” bus arrives. As I board, I see this guy get on who I swear is the 200% double of Rudy on Shop Around the Corner. Spitting image, total body double. A short while later, another guy gets on who is the double of a peculiarly crazed character on The Avengers. I think. (In this episode — he played the maniacal homocidal blacksmith.)

And so it went.

Everyone looked like someone else. Very very bizarre.

The guy who looked like the fellow on The Avengers especially spooked me. Why? I had seen him yesterday. He was in front of me at the Bottle Depot, where I had gone (driving, yes, in my car) to drop off two or three or more weeks worth of “empties,” including Tropicana OJ containers, many wine bottles, and several Tetrapaks of apple juice.

An aside: In BC, we pay a $0.05 to $0.20 deposit on all returnable/ recyclable containers, excepting milk products — the Milk Board made sure they were exempt. This deposit is returned if/ when we return the containers either to the store where we bought the item in the first place, or to a generic Bottle Depot. The latter have become magnets for the increasingly large army of “binners,” marginal or a-social people who pick through other people’s cast-offs, looking for “returnables.” The binners are often homeless, often drug- and/or alcohol-dependent, and they typically use (stolen) shopping carts to wheel their goods to the Depot. In some ways they perform a useful function since they do salvage returnables that some people simply throw out, although people typically throw these items into the curbside recycling bins. And if they’re in recycling bins, they get recycled. If they’re taken to Bottle Depots, they get recycled. The only difference is that the Bottle Depot pays you for the empties (or, more factually, reimburses you your deposit, which you paid at purchase), while the recycling service doesn’t pay you. When the binners snag returnables that you’ve decided you’re not going to redeem because it’s too much bother, they “earn” the refund money.
Many people are fed up with standing in line to redeem their empties’ deposit, and after yesterday’s experience, I’m one of them. I returned $13.65 worth of stuff — it was a trolley full of bottles and plastics. I thought it was a significant amount of change. But the guy in front of me — the one who looked like he had been on a bender for the past ten years and had washed perhaps once in all that time: the same guy who got on the bus with me today looking like the mad blacksmith in “The Town of No Return” — he returned over $80 worth of scavenged returnables. He hauled an incredible amount of stuff into the Depot, which on top of everything was swarming with wasps trying to feed off the rims of soda cans and wine bottles. Everyone and everything seemed to be feeding off something else: the great chain of garbage, nature at its finest. And yes, this is natural.

My plan has always been never to stand in line at the Bottle Depot again: I plan to build a small recycling station next to my garage where the binners can scavenge the empties. They can have the $0.10 per bottle, and I don’t have to take them to the Bottle Depot (or return them to the grocery or liquor store). But after seeing this guy yesterday, with his $80.65 in scavenged bottles, I wonder what exactly I’m supporting if I do that.

Meanwhile, as the bus continued, the whole Felliniesque circus played on. Everyone had at least two roles, some had three or more.

My service bill for the car was also surreal: $500.

But hey, I can drive to the Bottle Depot…

Johnny Five: “Life in Transition” and “Johnny’s Cave” on NYTimes video

June 15, 2007 at 2:42 am | In cities, homelessness, social_critique | Comments Off on Johnny Five: “Life in Transition” and “Johnny’s Cave” on NYTimes video

It’s only 9 minutes long (not counting the 15 second commercial that comes first), but Life in Transition, a video produced by the New York Times about Johnny Five, a homeless man also known as The Mayor of Ogden Avenue (in the Bronx), who probably has schizophrenia as well a drug addiction, is one of the most compelling, informative, and illuminating documentaries on chronic homelessness I’ve ever seen. If you watch this video, another will follow immediately afterward: Johnny’s Cave (~7 1/2 minutes long).

Do watch both.

(via Archinect News.)

If we lived in medieval times, Johnny Five would count as a holy fool, both clairvoyant and blind. He’s quite exceptional, and seems to know what he’s talking about when he describes himself as a newborn babe. It would be easy to romanticize him because he’s so unique (yet simultaneously “everyman“). It’s less easy to make sure he has a decent roof over his head, though, as the film makes obvious.

Rough draft for a Black Friday Rag

November 25, 2005 at 1:07 pm | In guerilla_politics, homelessness, ideas, justice, local_not_global, offspring, politics, scandal, scenes_victoria, social_critique, street_life, victoria, writing, yulelogStories | Comments Off on Rough draft for a Black Friday Rag

This morning I read an interesting article about a singing iceberg, but more importantly, I heard the iceberg (link follows, to audiofile). Combined with the general level of continuing insanity, I was inspired to get the following rough draft onto paper (and now, inter-textually, onto the blog). Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not exactly Howl, I’m not a poet, but that don’t mean I don’t feel like howling along with singing icebergs, either….

The Sound of An Iceberg Singing

I heard the trash-trawler’s purloined shopping cart
Rattling past my house at eight.
The man pushing by, one of
A thousand in Victoria, drug-addicted,
Mentally ill, or simply
“Hard to house,”
One of the thousand
Homeless, he collects refundables
To trade for cash at the Bottle Depot recycling place.

Workers with earplugs, protection
Against the constant crash of breaking
Glass shattering, the empty wine bottles,
The softer thud
Of extruded plastic, now empty, once fruitjuice-full,
Tossed by earplugged workers into appropriately sorted bins.
But mostly it’s the hard, hard sound
Of glass — bottles of beer, bottles of beer,
Rivetting noise
Recycled into new bottles.

My son has been listening to the radio,
A Seattle station —
He comes to my room to spread the fantastical news
Police were called when earlybird “Black Friday” shoppers,
Mobbing a Renton, WA-Walmart’s electronic section,
Caused major damage to the aisles,
Crashing shelves, fragmenting TVs stereos computers,
Assembled in China
Where city centres relocate
To newly-paved-over farmland
The ageing infrastructure of the old centres
Abandoned to further decay.

Assembled in China where a factory explosion
(Would the trash-trawlers on the Pacific Rim have heard it?)
Pumped benzene into the Songhua River.
Harbin the city and its 4 million residents have
No clean water now rushing by.
The loud injection of chemicals into the river
Silently kills anyone who drinks from it.

In other news (still incredulous),
He tells me that a one-hundred pound woman
The twelve-minute, ten-pound turkey eating competition
By gorging four pounds three-plus ounces of flesh.
This was news-worthy — previous winners
(As well as this year’s runners-up)
Were invariably heavy-weighted, veritable behemoths
Embodying the outsized rapaciousness
Of The Very Large.

A one-hundred pound woman seems anomalous,
A shifting centre, perhaps
A blurring line between the very fat
And those more slim.
AP News leads the news like this:
“It’s a question just begging to be asked: How much turkey can a person gobble down in 12 minutes?
But two hundred people die in twelve minutes
Of starvation. Every twelve minutes of everyday
(Did you think that was a question just begging to be asked?
Victoria, too, is full of beggars…)
…Even when Black Friday shoppers cause
Walmart shelves to crash and
Chinese manufacturers relocate entire cities
Poisoned by water, or not,
To paved-over farmlands where
Food no longer grows,
Even when the International Federation of Competitive Eating
Registers yet another Thanksgiving Day Triumph,
Even when the actually slim are able to join
The ranks of the utterly unbalanced,
Even when it all comes crashing down,
Unbalanced as it is.

A bit of fast-flowing water,
Perhaps the Songhua River’s,
Adds its sound to all the world’s sounds,
And that hell freezes over in Antarctica,
Although it will all thaw out soon enough,
And that’s what the iceberg’s singing.

(If you made it to here, that last link is to the audiofile of the singing iceberg. Make sure you listen to the whole thing, it’s interesting.)

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