A short story by Mike Dickson I've had an interesting life, so it only came as a slight surprise what happened today.
I was looking for a place to sit in the sun and have a coffee. Today is definitely one of the last semi-warm days to be able to do this in Vancouver. Soon, the rain will start and the temperature will drop down to seven or eight degrees celcius, and close to three to four overnight, on average. Basically, we get the same weather as Seattle does, if that means anything.
I went over to Starbucks, which was the best place that would serve the purpose for today. Normally, I will go to any other coffee shop - just a personal taste on coffee. Today, however, they get my business because of the perfect outdoor seating.
I had only been sitting for a few minutes, when I glanced over to the table next to me, and noticed a man who was working away writing something. I could tell that he was probably homeless, or at least quite down on his luck. I say this, not just because of his scruffy appearance, but his cart/buggy that was parked next to him, a few feet away. Just as I brought my glance back to my cell phone, the man asked me if I knew how to spell something. I asked him what the word was again, as I had not heard it clearly."Tether," he responded . "Hmmmmm,"I replied, "I'm pretty sure it's T,E,T,H,E,R."
He asked if I was sure, and I said that I was pretty sure. Interesting word, I thought. I did have to think about the spelling for a second, being that it was not a word I can ever recall writing.
We then chatted for a few minutes about what he was writing. He was open enough to tell me that it was a poem for a friend. This friend of his had asked him to write it for her birthday. " No pressure," he said a couple of times, telling me that it was just today that she had asked him if he would do this. We continued to talk for a couple more minutes.
He continued writing, and I sipped on my coffee, while enjoying the last bit of warm sun for the year. As you might guess, I enjoy writing, so I was impressed that he was doing this. Creativity in any form has begun to impress and influence me more over the last 15 years or so.
As I leaned back in my chair, Robert, it turns out his name was, asked me if I'd like to read something that he had written. I guess he could tell that I was open to this, from my reaction to the fact that he was writing a poem. The truth was that I had been tempted to ask if I could read what he was writing, as it appeared he may have been finished. It was a duotang-type folder that he handed me. It was in perfect shape, which I thought was pretty neat, considering what were probably his living conditions.
The story he had written was about his time on a fishing boat, off the west coast of British Columbia. It detailed, in a humour-filled way, a few days spent with the owner of the boat. At the end of the nine pages, it turns out that he caught a full grown goat in his net. It was a decent read, and showed that he was a good writer, and could tell an interesting story.
By now, Robert had moved over to my table, and was sitting across from me. We continued to chat for probably another 30-40 minutes. He told me a little about about how he had lost his job, and lost his house in Ontario. He said that he had "Had it all," and then "Bang" ( as he put it ), within one year, everything had changed. Now his house was the doorway in an alley, a few blocks away from where we were sitting. It is funny how much things can change, I thought to myself. "Funny" would definitely not be the right word here - "Sad, or "Terrible" is probably more appropriate. It also made me think to myself how lucky I am to have the parents I have, and friends that I do. I could be in his shoes, if things hadn't worked out Okay for me.
It also made me think of all the people in the U.S that have lost their homes in the last few years, and what has become of them. How many of them are just hanging on to what they have, including their sanity?
Robert referred to himself earlier in the conversation as a crazy old guy, though it was hard to tell how serious he was. He seemed quite normal to me, or as normal as could be expected in his situation. He seemed to be hanging on, anyway. I did my undergradute degree in Psychology, so I was aware of some of the conditions that he coud be suffering from. I had also heard a statistic that somewhere around 70% of the homeless are mentally ill. Who was to say how long this guy could hold on for?
Robert told me that he had had a place to live up until two years ago. He was living at his best friend's shop, just a few blocks from where we were sitting. I couldn't help but ask what happened. He told me that there was a fire at his friend's place, and that he was lucky to make it out alive. His friend, it turns out, wasn't so lucky.
What the hell had this guy done to deserve this, I thought. Probably nothing, was most likely the answer. Whoever said that life was fair? Now there's one of the greatest understatements ever! This guy had a good heart, I was pretty sure of that. I'm a decent judge of character, and this guy was decent, at the least. Look at the all the indecent people out there - the fat cats on Wall Street whom would buy and sell their own families. The dictators in communist countries that live in palaces while the majority of the country lives in poverty. The Saddam Husseins that don't get what's coming to them, committing horrible acts, and never having to suffer themslves. No, life definitely is not fair.
I wasn't sure whether or not to include this next part. The thought occurred to me after about the third or fourth paragraph of writing this. Being someone that tries to live according to the quote " It's not usually the things you do in life that you regret, it's usually the things you don't do," I thought I may as well include it. I'm also not really sure how to put this, so I will just write it as it comes.
There were two reasons that I decided to write of this event, I guess. The main reason was to try to help Robert in some way. I wasn't sure how to do this, as I was walking home. I just told him that I would try to help him, in whatever way I could, to get his work out there. I mentioned the internet, and how it might be of help in finding someone or an organization. His response cracked me up:" I don't know about that stuff," referring to the internet and computers. I'm like Fred Flintstone, living in the modern world." I'd never thought of it like that, but I'm sure that there are many people that would fit that description in society.
My first thought was to put an ad on Craigslist, which I still may do. Something to let people know about Robert - both his talent and his current situation. Then I remembered this website, as I had been doing some other writing myself, and thought of submitting an eBook.
To be clear, my intial thinking was to help Robert to find someone that can help him to derive some income from his writing. He has many short stories, poems, and a couple of children's books. I'm no writing critic, but believe me when I say that this guy has talent. He wrote a poem that day for a friend of his. As I mentioned, he let me read it, and it was better than many I've read. He deserves a shot anyway. How many peope in his situation are just drinking all day, or doing hard drugs. The fact that he is still writing is testament to his character.
So, if you can help in any way- either financially or with regard to his writing- please do get in touch. I would give you Robert's contact info., but you will have to get in touch with me for now. I'm not even sure when I will see him again, but I'm sure it will be in the next week or two. He told me that he is usually where I met him every morning around 5:30. He said that the alley starts to get wet and cold, so he likes to get moving.
One other thing I'd like to say is that an interesting and admirable quality Robert has is that he doesn't come across as needy, or a mooch. Maybe down and out, but not a mooch or begger. He didn't seem to be looking for sympathy either, even when he told of losing his job as a machinist, and his house in southern Ontario. Perhaps some respect and understanding, but not sympathy or condolence. He still has a certain level of self respect.
I've decided a more important goal is to help find Robert a place to live by the winter. All he really needs is a garage; I'm sure that would at least help. If possible, I'd like try to get him a room in a house, or small apartment. My plan is to put up some ads on local message boards, in the neighbourhood, and on the internet.
Again, please do get in touch with me, if for no other reason than to say hello and that you read this. Any feedback would be very welcome, as this is the first bit of writing that I have ever submitted in any way.
If, by chance, you read this and happen to live in Vancouver, and would like to meet Robert and read any of his work, I would be happy to help arrange that.My contact info:
103-6001 Yew St. Vancouver, BC Canada