Category Archives: randoms

Foggy 2016

So summer and fall just kind of flew by before I could blog again. Quick how that happens.

Ok, right into it.

The roads had never been more icy in Vancouver when I woke up at 530 this morning to head to work. While most everyone else had finished their week on friday, my weekend starts half way through saturday. It’s hard not to think about that and gripe when I’m scraping the ice from the windsheild of my car. Visions of the warm bed I just left flash in my mind.

If only.

Soup line starts at 730. I have about 90 minutes to whip up a soup for 150-200 residents of the downtown eastside. Veggies are prepped already from the day before but that’s it. The magic of turning water, veggies, spices and special ingredients (I’m not sharing) happens between the moment I turn the drop-in lights on at 6 and our 730 serving time.

And yes, it’s magic. Well, most of the time. Sometimes I lack the magic touch and the soup is gets a verdict of “not bad”, as the round table lined with old men tell me in the morning. Thumbs up, thumbs sideways and every now and again “you’ve done better” – the thumbs down. I’ll boast a bit and say I get mostly thumbs up.

Maybe I missed my calling in life.

Maybe I was supposed to be a famous soup maker like Campbells or Liptons.

Adam is on laddling the soup, Ron is on coffee while I spoon and bun at the end of the assembly line. Everything is as efficient as we can make it. The three of us are a well-oiled machine.

Until today.

A debate starts about whether to have the music on while we serve. This turns into Ron abruptly abandoning his station and leaving the drop-in. Just like that we have no coffee man. Not the first time a volunteer has quit mid-shift and probably won’t be the last.

Many of the guys who volunteer are men who are residents of the neighborhood. They have various mental health issues, addiction problems and family backgrounds. Rich turned poor because of crack; born to awful parents who scarred them; mental health failed and so did the system that’s supposed to help them; workplace accident that left them unable to function properly; and all the other cases you can and cannot imagine.

So when something or someone blows up and storms out the doors, everything is just as it normally is.

When asked how it all works, I like to call it “controlled chaos.”

I pull a guy (Nick) from the line who lives upstairs in the SRO’s and he happily jumps into Ron’s place and seemlessly pours hot java for the clamoring line of cold, frosty men. Like a rabbit out of a hat. More magic.

Jake is in for breakfast this morning again. He usually shows up early and beats the line but wheels himself in later than normal. Jake gets himself around in a wheelchair. He is missing the lower parts of both legs, an accident from his much younger days. Jake is a mild-mannered old man with a love for books and feeding birds with bread from The Dugout he picks out of garbages or collects off the floor. I enjoy talking with him because he is always in a good mood. Even when he comes wheeling in from a cold, hard rain, the smile that lights up his face doesn’t ever seem to leave. In spite of his many obstacles, he’s happy.

He’s my constant reminder that thankfulness is a decision worth making.

Soupline wraps up smoothly and the three of us clean up and eat breakfast together. Nick tries to convince us that he’s the best poker player in the world, recounting past moments of glory. Adam, stories telling the opposite We laugh and eat our eggs and bacon while attempting to properly caffeinate ourselves for the busy morning to come.

Lots of deliveries. Tons of sweets – cake, muffins, cookies, struddles, pie – pile into the drop-in and are served over the counter. A couple more guys offer to volunteer for the day and I put them to work cutting up veggies for tomorrow. Everyone wants a coffee today since it’s so cold outside. No, not cold compared to back east where I used to live, but it’s a damp cold that somehow creeps into your bones and if you’re outside long enough, will make you feel painfully numb.

Coffees all around.

Indian Jones is playing on the tv in the corner of the dining/living room holding a captured audience of close to 25 visitors. Indian Jones reminds me of parts of my childhood. I mention this to the guys and we all begin talking about movies and characters who influenced us as young boys. We laugh and tease each other like guys tend to do.

Laughing together gives you a feeling of belonging.

We try to laugh often.

Tomorrow we’re hosting a big turkey dinner for Christmas/New Years. Some 3-400 people are coming into eat a bunch of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes and there’s lots left to prep. A couple board members for The Dugout come in to help out with the last push. Chopping and dicing and prepping and cooking, the kitchen is rocking and rolling with 101.1 (rock station) in the background.

No coincidence.

Everything gets done. Fridges are all full for tomorrow, some literally busting at the hinges holding all the prepared food. My caffeine buzz that was supposed to make up for my poor sleep from the night before has long faded away and all at once overcome with a desire to take a nap. I close my eyes at my desk as I finish up a bit of paperwork before calling it a day and think back to the warm bed I left behind this morning.

Happy new year.

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criticism and flawed intentions

criticism

this is going to be forced but hopefully not sound forced.

i can’t seem to enjoy writing these days. it’s been nearly pleasure-less for me. all the joy and passion i’ve often felt in writing seemed to just dry up a year ago. all of a sudden my desire to write disappeared.

and i think it’s all because i couldn’t take some criticism.

it started with a conversation with a friend about social media. pros and cons of each platform were weighed and hashed out, likes and dislikes compared. then came the question:

“why do you post your blogs on (insert social media name?” he asked.

i didn’t have an answer initially.

why do i post my blogs on social media? i asked myself.

“actually,” he continued,”i stopped following you because i couldn’t stand seeing all the sappy blog titles you posted.”

my defensive side went on auto-pilot immediately and we verbally jousted for a short exchange. others joined the table and the discussion was over. we never spoke about it again.

and like a tick that borrows into your skin and makes itself at home, this criticism bothered me more than i care to give it credit for. i hate even mentioning it now but, not sure how to move past it without processing here.

but, it did serve a purpose. it made me rethink why i began blogging in the first place.

why i first started “life with luke”.

in part, it was my most useful form of self-care. it gave me an outlet for all the experiences i was having on the streets in the downtown eastside of vancouver. it helped me vent better than any conversation could. wordpress was my best therapist.

it gave me a place to rest.

blogging also became a place i could share my experiences with others, showing them a side of society many don’t often encounter. showing them a close-up look of what our society has sought to sweep under the rug instead of dealing with head-on. as i did, more and more people wrote me to tell me how a certain story i wrote had affected their lives in a positive way.

this only made me want to share more of my stories, but sometimes, i admit, for the wrong reasons.

pride is a heck of a drug.

and this is why that small criticism from my friend stung as badly as it did and caused me to feel too self-conscious to blog anything for the last year. i think i was too wrapped up in what people thought of my stories/writing than i cared about actually writing for myself.

feels better just admitting that.

so now what?

i’m simply going to start writing again and attempt to forget all “that” stuff. easier said than done but that’s my best (and only) resolution to this thing i’ve been mislabeling “writer’s block”. i’m at the point in this season of my life where i really NEED to start writing again. i need my electronic therapist back. far too much left unprocessed and unvented of. too many stories pinging around in my head like lottery balls waiting to be chosen.

i’ve moved back from the east coast to the west coast 7 months ago. i find myself once again in the downtown eastside of vancouver, working as the general manager of a homeless drop-in center. it’s not as crazy and overwhelming as working in a shelter, but it’s proving to be a close second. i’ve already met some incredible people, hired my first employee, perfected a soup recipe (for those who know me well, you can stop laughing), dealt with a knife-wielding man AND helped a man experiencing a heart attack. those last two happening in the same day. in the same hour.

ahh, release.

this hasn’t felt as forced as i thought it might be. maybe this is going to be easier than i had imagined.

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as seen on tv

a-man-with-a-broom-1881(1)_jpg!xlMedium

from as far back as i can remember my favorite chore around the house was sweeping. not sure why but sweeping always relaxed me and put me in a good mood. cleaning my room?

ha! yeah right.

not much as changed over the years. give me a broom and a ground full of dirt and i’m as happy as a pig in the mud. ok, maybe i’m overstating this a bit, but not by much.

i got to flex some of that sweeping muscle tonight at work.

we recently had to evict one of our clients at the rebuilding. my manager and all the staff worked hard with the client in order to keep him in the building but it just didn’t work out. unfortunately for the client that means (most likely) he will have to go stay at the men’s homeless shelter again.

it’s most regrettable. this building exists to give affordable housing to men who are harder to house than most, not make them homeless, but that’s exactly what happened.

one of the stipulations for living at the rebuilding is going through monthly apartment inspections. the apartments are fully furnished with a bed, couch, fridge and other furniture. a worker drops in once a month to make sure everything is still in good condition (except regular wear and tear) and that the living space is kept in a healthy way for the client.

the client we had to evict was a hoarder.

now, i’ve watched shows on tv before on hoarding but it’s a whole other thing to witness it in person.

walking through the door of the apartment a few weeks ago was a task in itself. stuff piled around the door made it hard for me to squeeze between the door and the door frame. the amount of stuff piled high along the walls, practically spilling over, made me nervous walking through the hallways. i reflexively used my hands as a makeshift hard hat in case anything fell. random items pulled from trash bins plastered on the walls and spilling out of the closets. clothes thrown everywhere and anywhere, hanging from doors, curtain rods and makeshift closets. more clothes than i’ve ever owned in my entire life.

because bed bugs have been a problem in our building (and really, the whole city), making sure our clients keep their apartments relatively clean is of paramount importance. their apartments don’t have to be spotless by any stretch, but they do have to keep them tidy.

interviews are being done down at the shelter this week to see who will be coming up and filling the vacant apartment. before that happens we have to clean it up. thankfully we were able to hire a local company to come and take most of the stuff out (i’m told 3 full pick up truck with trailer on the back loads!). that leaves the cleaning for us.

so with a broom and a dust pan in hand i attacked the apartment with some serious zeal.

it didn’t take long for it to hit me. the man who used to live where i was now sweeping had no home anymore. tonight when i leave work and walk home, i have an apartment to go to.

he doesn’t. not anymore.

one of the hardest things i’ve found about working with guys on the street is keeping them housed. whether it’s mental illness, conflict with landlords/neighbors, unwisely spending rent money on something else (like addictions), etc, there’s always a few problems that arise that make it hard to keep my friends adequately housed.

after all these years of working on the streets with people dealing with homelessness, i’m no closer to a solution than i was when i first started.

i’m frustrated and sad, puzzled and mad, wishing there were easier answers.

but i suppose life is not like that.

no easy answers here.

 

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the rebuilding

beginning the week by showing up late to work on monday isn’t my idea of getting off to a good start, but that’s what happened this morning. i hate the feeling of rushing around the house in a sleepy daze trying to get organized, forcing down a bowl of dry cereal because i didn’t put enough milk in it, only putting deodorant under one armpit, tripping over everything and anything as my eyes get adjusted to reality.

today i’m working down in the hood, not at my group home. here, i mostly sit behind a desk in an office that faces the street corner where many familiar faces from the street pass by at least once, sometimes many times per day. right in front of me is a large window and through it i can see a graffitied building with slogans like ‘don’t stop’ and ‘bring the funk’.

‘bring the funk’ is motivating today when my energy level is feeling rather low.

the rebuilding offers permanent residence to men who have been living at one of the men’s homeless shelters in the city. many of the men who live here now are long-time residents of shelters and street life. this housing-first approach gives them an opportunity to focus on other important things (health, addiction, family, employment. etc), knowing they have a safe, comfortable space to go home to.

i wish there were more of these buildings in the city. more men and women need this opportunity.

on my desk sits two computer screens. one has 20 different screens relaying all the security camera feeds so we can make sure things are safe. the other computer is for paper work and for surfing the internet during the quiet times in the day.

one client is doing laundry today and i can see him pacing around the common room waiting for his loads to finish. this particular client thinks he’s God and that he runs the rebuilding. i don’t bother to correct him when we talk and even pretend to take his authoritative commands when he gives them to me. he calls me one of his best employees.

a lot of the men living here deal with some of the more severe mental health issues, not to mention physical health troubles. schizophrenia, bipolar, hoarding, hep c, hiv.

mental illness and addictions are typically part and parcel with the street life.

another client stops into talk with me. he’s been up since early this morning collecting bottles and cans. him and i know one another from my days dropping into the men’s shelter to hang out. he’s a little boy in a man’s body. understands how the world works well enough but because of his learning disability he has been stunted in his maturity. he has trouble looking after himself, eg. his health, personal grooming, what to eat, what not to eat, etc. he complains to me about his neighbor playing his music too loud at night but offers that he really enjoys his taste in music so he doesn’t want to tell him to turn it down.

i have to laugh. fortunately he thinks it’s funny too and laughs with me.

it’s raining pretty hard outside but that doesn’t stop guys from going out for the occasional smoke or expedition to find something a bit harder than nicotine. they wave at me through the window and head off on their way, sometimes with a bright smile on their face, other times with a sullen, sunken, expressionless look that says to me, ‘i don’t want to do this anymore..’

what do you do when you see someone in slavery? but instead of a slave owner or pimp, the master is a drug, an addiction, an unquenchable desire and lust for something that kills, enslaves, destroys.

it’s quiet here now and my shift is about to end. some of the kids i coached at the local high school are passing by my office window on their way home from school. many of the kids i coached live here in the hood. my prayer for them as they pass by is that they won’t end up like these men at the rebuilding – broken, forgotten, enslaved – but i know that some of them probably will. some will fall through the cracks at some point and wind up on the streets or in jail or, heaven forbid, worse.

i notice from the corner of my eye a string of words amongst the graffiti on the wall across from our building.

‘there is hope’.

as bad as things seem, it’s true, there is hope.

 

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crying shame

leonard moves slow.

really slow.

leonard moves quite a bit slower than most other guys on the streets. it’s not his fault that he was born with a bum leg and arm, both on his right side. heck if he’d let it limit him, though.  he can still be found biking around the city on one of his makeshift bikes or pushing around a heavy cart-load of bottles and cans.  i’ve tried to help him push one before.  they aren’t light.

he does what he’s going to do, even if it takes him longer than most to accomplish.

i admire that in him.  he’s a determined man.

so yesterday, when i walked into st andrews for street soccer, there’s leonard, sitting in the middle of the gym eating dinner. all by himself. every other table and chair put away. every other dinner guest gone. all around him my players passing the ball around, being careful not to hit him as he eats.

we don’t rush him, even though he is holding us up from playing. i make sure of that, no matter how impatient my players get. leonard has a soft spot in my heart and he gets as much time as he likes. i’m told you shouldn’t have favorites in life, but you can’t stop what the heart sets out to do.

leonard is one of my favorites.

“how are you, my friend?” i ask him.

his head turns revealing a giant smile that only leonard can wear.

“i’m good! just packing up to go home for the night.”

“no rush. take your time,” i tell him.

he offers up another giant smile and continues packing his leftovers into his backpack.

one of our more brief talks but one that lifts my spirits a bit (and i wasn’t feeling low).

i see another one of my first nations friends, patrick, slowly making to the front door. i haven’t seen or talked with him in a while.

“how are you doing, my friend? it’s been a while, eh?” i say to him, extending my arm for our customary secret handshake that he taught me.

he embraces my arm but his usual grip isn’t there.

“not too good,” he answers in his relatively thick migma accent, his face sullen. “two good friends have been murdered this month… and on top of that, i just found out my cousin is being taken off life support. i’ve had better months, you could say.”

not the conversation starter i was expecting, especially not right before i begin leading street soccer for the night, but these conversations  are hardly ever anticipated.

i motion over ryan, the player we sent down to mexico city to represent canada, and tell him to lead the team through warm up. ryan loves coaching so he accepts with great enthusiasm.

patrick and i stand off to the side and talk about his past month. his glassy eyes speak to his broken heart. his story confirms what i see. he’s sober enough to speak clearly and (hopefully) remember this talk so i can follow-up with him some time.

he tells me he missed the memorials of his friends because he couldn’t stay sober long enough. he feels bad about it and tells me as much. i place my hand on his shoulder and reassure him that his friends knew his heart and how he felt. he nods and sniffles a bit.

my heart breaks for him and i just want to sit and cry alongside. i can feel his pain and it doesn’t feel good. it feels awful, it’s gut-wrenching. his tears make my eyes want to cry in unison.

i don’t though.

i tell myself, this isn’t the time. i come up with enough excuses to placate my rational mind and push those compassionate emotions back inside. street soccer is just starting and i have to get back to it, i tell myself. these players look up to me as their coach and leader. they can’t see me like that.

reflecting back, i missed it.  i missed an opportunity to truly live authentically with another hurting person. i missed a chance to show true compassion and enter into someone else’s grief and be a support that they needed.

and why?

because i didn’t want others to see me cry?

because tears aren’t ‘manly’ or ‘strong’ or whatever other lies my culture has force-fed me over the years?

i’ve always liked and resonated with this quote by charles dickens:

“heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. i was better after i had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”

it’s too bad the shame can get the best of me at times, because the rest of what dickens said holds so true in my experience.  i’m more repentant, more thankful, more gentle, more alive when i allow myself, in those moment of grief and suffering, to cry.  more human, even.  in those moments it strips away all that doesn’t matter and reveals all that does.

may we all learn to cry together without feeling ashamed.

hunghead

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silent hospitals

silence

the hum of the hospital elevator still buzzes in my brain. one of those sounds that puts you at ease and into a comfortable, deep sleep. i remember the furnace in our basement gave off a sound just like the hospital elevator’s hum. i was 7, maybe 8, and i wouldn’t fall asleep until i heard the click of the furnace, then the hum that followed after.

mental thumb-sucking, probably.

dave is sitting up in his bed when i arrive, attempting to eat his dinner. pork chops and mashes potatoes. looks decent for hospital food. small cartons of milk and ensure line the right side edge of his hospital table. he really likes milk.

“is it snowing again?” he asks.

i shake my head. “not today.”

he reaches over and removes a couple of books from the visitor’s chair.

“here, sit down,” he tells me.

i thank him and sit. a trio of nurses looks over our way and talk amongst themselves, about which i can’t be sure. i’ve met a couple of them since i’ve been visiting dave. they seem friendly and caring. dave tells me some of the older nurses don’t even acknowledge him, even while administering to his medical needs.

i wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that he’s a homeless man.

dave tells me he received good news from the doctor. one of three infections surrounding his heart is successfully being treated by the cocktail of antibiotics he takes everyday. still two more infections to fight off, though but he seems up to the challenge. i don’t get the impression he wants to lie down and die.

not yet.

somehow, him and i begin talking about ancient historical leaders and the times in which they lived. dave has a few things to tell me about alexander the great. the brief history lesson draws in one of the younger nurses and soon there’s three of us discussing and debating and laughing.

dave has a good hearty laugh at one point, but it’s interrupted by a cough that echoes deep in his lungs. it puts a halt to the conversation. he puts his head back against the upright bed and closes his eyes.

“i could really do without those,” he says.

everything is quiet for a while. the nurse goes back to her station, i listen to the hum from the elevator still trapped in my head and dave rests his eyes.

i lean back to check the clock on the wall.

“you got somewhere to go?” dave asks me.

“actually, i do, but not for a while.”

he slowly nods and smiles, his eyes fixed on the ceiling tile above his hospital bed.

“i stare at the tiles on the ceiling for hours,” he explains to me. “i try to count the black marks on each one, then try to estimate how many ceiling tiles there must be in the entire hospital. i’ll figure out how many black marks this hospital has by the time they discharge me.”

i’m almost certain he will.

i notice a new necklace he is wearing. it’s made of fabric and has something written on the back of the square-shaped wool pendant. it says something to the effect that ‘anyone who is wearing this when they die will not go to hell’. it’s an old roman catholic superstition from what dave tells me.

“a priest brought it by for me. i figured ‘why not?’ it couldn’t hurt, right?”

“you scared of dying?” i ask him.

“not yet,” he says, eyes fixed on mine. “but i’m sure i will be if or when things get worse.”

“ya?”

“ya..”

silence.

i’m hit anew with the gravity of dave’s situation. this is happening right now. this isn’t a movie i can turn off and return to watch later if i want.

“if i grab that necklace from around your neck, yank it off and run out the door, would you feel any different about your present condition?” i ask him.

he laughs at the idea and tells me, “no. this necklace isn’t going to save me. God restored my soul many years ago. i may have been running from him these past years, but he’s not going to undo what’s been already spiritually done in me. it was grace that changed me and it’ll be grace that keeps me until my final hour.”

his back seems to have gotten a bit stronger after saying that because he’s sitting up straight now in bed, not slumping like he was. his face looks resolute as he turns towards me, courage seems to beam from his eyes. i’m not sure what to say or if any words are even necessary.

more silence.

when i was in grade school we had to read john steinbeck’s book ‘of men and mice’. my teacher’s love for the book inspired my classmates and i as we read through the novel together. it was the first book i remember having such an emotional impact on me. during a particularly important moment in the book, steinbeck writes:

“as happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. and sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”

and, so it was for dave and i as we sat there together in his hospital room, letting the silence do all the talking for us.

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if excuses were only enough

i had all the reasons and excuses i could think of not to go and still, there i am covered head to toe in snow, walking down my street in the middle of a blizzard. excuses begin to poke and jab my mind, trying to convince it to turn around and head back to my warm apartment. each snowflake that scrapes at my eyes gives the excuses more confidence to continue their harassment.

i almost buckle.

the walk isn’t long. at the end of my short street sits the queen elizabeth hospital. it, too, is covered head to toe in snow.  i avoid the sidewalk snowplow and then a sliding car on my way to the entrance.

my years of athletics pays off again.

knock on wood.

the wide glass doors open as i’m approaching the entrance. another set of doors open as well and welcome me into the hospital lobby. i see a few people busy hurrying to separate places in the hospital.  a quick pause to de-snow myself a bit.

i don’t like hospitals.

i push the big white elevator button with an arrow pointing towards my feet. automatically the door to my right slides open. a large coffee spill accompanied by a bright cone indicating ‘slippery surface’ are my ride mates to the next floor.

i start thinking about what i’ll say..

the elevator door opens to a large corridor that makes me instantly recall  creepy movies i’ve watched in the past.

hospital-corridor-bwweb

more excuses come rushing in, though these of the more irrational variety.  as gripping as the picture in front of me looks, these excuses are much easier to shrug off and i make my way down the hallway.

IMCU.

i flick on my phone to see if this is the place.  it is.

i have no idea what the ‘m’ stand for but i’m fairly certain that the other letters spell out ‘intensive ____ care unit’. i’m not really sure what to expect when i enter. i take a deep breath and open the door.

‘hi, may i help you?’ asks the short, kind-eyed rn.

i ask her where i can find my friend.

she points down another corridor, though much shorter than the last. i thank her and make my way towards bed 7.  i see him before he sees me.  he doesn’t recognize me at first. he wasn’t expecting company.

who visits homeless guys in hospitals?

‘hi, dave. how are you?’ i ask.

‘hey, lucas! i’ve been better but i’m alive,” he replies.

we talk and catch up on the past couple months. i know dave from the streets of halifax. i wrote about his incredible survival about 5 months ago, when he was jumped by a couple of punks and left for dead, and his fight with a garbage truck when it scooped up the bin he was sleeping in.

after updating me on all the injuries he received from those incidents, he brings me back in time a bit.

‘i was born almost 10 weeks premature. they didn’t think i’d make it. well, i’m here now!’

it appears dave has the nine lives of a cat, because, by all rights, he should be dead by now.

i put it off question longer than my mind can take until it can’t take any more.

‘why are you here?’ i blurt out.

his eyes drop and he explains how a head cold he got while staying at the men’s shelter turned into an infection surrounding his heart. and if one infection wasn’t enough, two more have since jumped on board.  he now has 3 separate infections surrounding an organ than we can’t live without.

dave is rather casual while describing it. he doesn’t seem depressed by the diagnosis nor overly thrilled about it. he says it hurts when he coughs. like thousands of needles poking out his lungs and esophagus.

right then he coughs, and i can almost feel the pain he feels by the look on his face.

his optimism makes me feel optimistic, too, even if i know it’s only make-believe. the vicious kicks to the head from the robbery and the crushing steel walls from the garbage truck couldn’t kill dave, but these infections probably will.

this is what i was afraid of.

i was afraid i’d have to say goodbye to another friend from the street.

and it looks like i was right..

i track down the nurse who was attending to dave earlier in our visit and ask her his chances. she shakes her head,’i’m technically not allowed to tell you anything without his consent, since you aren’t family.’

‘is he going to die?’

i ask but i don’t really want to hear the answer i fear is coming.

her eyes drop.  people’s eyes always drop when they give bad news.

‘it doesn’t look good..’

i head back to dave’s bed to say goodbye for the night. i pray with him and say i’ll see him tomorrow.  i tell him to get healthy so we can move him into the new apartment he just got before he became sick.

‘..you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  what is life?  for you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.’ james 3:14

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just being boys

my sleep sucks.

again.

need to write.  writing helps.  it’s an escape at the very least.

anyone still reading this blog since the beginning (almost 5 years) knows that sleep has been quite elusive in my life.  shift work in shelters and group homes doesn’t probably help much.  having a couple sleep disorders doesn’t, neither. sleep apnea and insomnia combine to wreck most of my attempts to sleep.

right now i could use two days straight.  i’m just getting home from doing a back-to-back shifts.  first shift was at the rebuilding, a transitory, harm-reduction building housing men from the main men’s shelter in the city, metro turning point.  i recently go hired on as a client support worker.  my second shift was at the group home.  11-8am.

now it’s time for bed… if i can fall asleep.

ugh.

it’s not all bad, though. i like to believe there’s some positive in all the negativity my sleep problems bring to the table.

i get more time to read.

maybe you don’t see that as much of a trade-off.  i guess i’m odd, then.  i’m a big fan of reading. always have been. history, religion, politics, psychology, philosophy, etc, etc.

it all fascinates me.

my addiction.

my escape.

my mom was a single parent growing up. dad lived far away, at first, because he played pro football in other cities, and then because he remarried an american woman. mom and i often lived with a roommate to make things cheaper.

that’s how eric entered our lives.

eric was an old man who had served in world war 2 with the canadian airforce. he was there on d-day peppering the nazis on normandy’s cliffs with gunfire, trying to give his fellow soldiers a fighting chance when they hit the beaches.

he was a hero.

he told me lots of stories of his days in the military.  some were really funny stories of jokes they played on each other, while other stories were more serious. some times he cried after telling me one of the more serious one. i would cry, too. i could tell by the expression on his face that he was really hurting inside.

at first, eric was just a friend of a friend who needed a room for rent, but eventually became a part of our family. kind of like a surrogate grandpa.

and i loved him like a grandfather, too.

he would teach me how to take things i found in the forest behind our house and make all kind of different tools and (to my mother’s dismay) weapons.

eric would teach me how to find the perfect stick to bend into a bow with some string. in a matter of minutes we would be shooting arrows at targets in my backyard.

i became a pretty good shot from what i remember.

though, maybe it’s selective memory.

when the hit cartoon series teenage mutant ninja turtles filtered into my life, eric showed me how to make another weapon: nunchucks.

nunchucks

in case you aren’t sure what those are, i’ve provided a picture for you here.

we were just being boys.

unfortunately for me, as soon as mom found out i had made them she took them away. she wasn’t too impressed with the nunchucks and probably figured i’d crack someone’s head open.

or my own.

probably for the best.

eric would also read to me at night. but instead of reading me books for my age group (5-6) he would read me war books or aviation manuals full of physics equations and flying jargon.

ya know, typical little boys books.

my mom asked him one time, “eric, why are you reading him books that are way over his head? he’s only a little boy.”

“darlene,” he said. “children can learn to understand much more than we give them credit for. besides, he asks ME to read them to him.”

eric was a loner. he didn’t really have any family or friends left.  he covered his tv set so “they couldn’t watch him” (he had pstd from the war).  he walked all over the place, collecting nuts and bolts and other thingamabobs he would find on the road. he had dozens of containers for everything he found.

a very organized pack rat.  everything had its own, particular place.

except his books.

i’ll always remember the giant book shelf in his room.  it stood like a triumphant trophy case over his small abode. i could see books with pictures of planes, tanks, ships and soldiers scattered all about his room. i can still see the influence he had on me then when i look around my apartment and see my books all over the place.

monkey see, monkey do.

i credit eric with not only my love for reading today but helping my mom to educate me and develop my young mind.  young single moms need that sort of help from their communities.

everyone wants to help in ways that are big.  end poverty.  end homelessness.  end world hunger.  end war.  end slavery. all these are great but i got one better:  help a kid read.

i’ll be so bold to say that there’s nothing more impacting on our society and future than helping others read.  you get the next generations to read their history books, maybe they won’t repeat history over again like us and our parents and grandparents.

maybe then we won’t still be plagued by homelessness, starvation, war, poverty, slavery, because they won’t wilfully remain ignorant of the world around them.

confucius, the ancient chinese philosopher and wandering sage, said it best. “no matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

eric died when i was 6.

i don’t really remember that time very well. either time has stolen it away from me or i’ve simply blocked it out. i’m not sure.

i do remember feeling a deep sadness. like i had lost my best friend.

i guess in many ways i had.

miss you, eric.  thanks for the support and love. i hope you’re resting in peace.

bedtime.

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the lies we buy

greatness

greatness awaits.

that’s the new catch phrase being used by sony playstation to promote their new gaming console. a series of scenes showing men  in medieval times battling each other with swords and battle axes, racing fast cars and leading futuristic armies against one another make up the bulk of the commercial. the men sing the late lou reed’s ‘a perfect day’ as they do all this, adding a bit of humour while alluding to the ‘connectedness’ of the on-line gaming culture.

i get it. its smart advertising on sony’s part. men have a natural inclination towards exploring and conquering. it seems to be in our genes. so in one fell swoop, sony was able to portray a product that enables its users to explore new worlds, save humanity from an alien invasion and score the winning goal in fifa world cup.  and you can do it all in one afternoon with your buddies, if you like.

smart.

i don’t want to critique video games or even the people who play them, though i must admit that’s my first inclination. i used to play video games when i was younger so i’d only be a hypocrite if i took that approach. i’d prefer to critique the motto driving this current product – greatness awaits.

video games used to be for kids and youth. today, the demographic has shifted to men in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. with the demographic shift has come a shift in content for games. video game companies focus more on marketing to the older crowd using war, racing and sports.

again, i get it. it’s smart to go after this demographic since they have both the money and time to invest.

smart business.

what gets me is that men are more willing to spend their hard-earned money on, invest their precious time in and build community around/within video games when real greatness awaits them outside of all this.

i agree with sony that “greatness awaits”, but i disagree where we will find it.

i like the quote by martin luther king, jr where he says, “not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”   instead of entertaining ourselves with great things, shouldn’t we be employing our gifts, talents and resources in great service to those that need them?
issues to give your gifts, talents and resources to:

a growing movement of people are standing up against all the forms of slavery in our world, but more are needed.  human rights groups estimate that anywhere between 12.3 million and 27 million people are enslaved in forced or bonded labour, child labour, sexual servitude, and involuntary servitude at any given time.

world hunger and poverty still needs a lot of hands on deck. the united nations food and agriculture organization estimates that nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.

how much does a video game console cost? this latest sony product is pushing $1000.

there is still a large need for big brothers or sisters everywhere. many youth are growing up without any positive role models to help them navigate their lives – education, employment, health, drugs, etc. mentoring can go a long way in the life of a child.

i could also mention the unnecessary wars being fought with corporate profits and not people in mind, or the environmental degradation and exploitation happening all over the globe, or the racism, sexism and prejudice that need people actively working against.

but these things don’t get the sexy commercials and airtime that sony money can buy.

great things do await us, but i don’t think it’s found in the escapism of video games (or any other things – alcohol, sports, tv, politics – we use for escapism) but involvement in the real issues that affect the communities we live in, the countries we inhabit and the world we must leave to our great-grandchildren.

true greatness awaits us, if we choose to pursue and sacrifice for it.

/rantover

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giving back

basketball

‘hey, coach. can you show me how to improve my shot?’

it doesn’t feel that long ago. wasn’t it just yesterday that i was the skinny teenage boy playing basketball trying to improve my game?

5-6 hours a day of basketball. as many hours on the weekend as i could get gym time. when the gym was closed i’d just roll out my portable net and shoot for hours on my street.
our neighbors must have come to hate the sound of the bouncing ball.

i lived, breathed, slept, ate, dreamed basketball. dozens and dozens of pictures and posters lined my walls. i awoke to motivational quotes said by my favorite players written on my ceiling and went to bed repeating them to myself, drilling them deep into my subconscious.
my friends thought i was obsessive. i was. i was determined to make it to the next level.

i really miss being a gym rat.

i’m a coach now. started coaching junior varsity basketball at the local high school. the team is made up mostly of kid’s from the square and mulgrave park, the poorer, historically black (there’s more diversity today) public housing communities. that’s just to say that these kids can ball! most of them play for the school and one or two other club teams.

most of these kids live, breathe, sleep, eat, dream basketball just like i used to.

being around them transports me back 15 years.

how i came to be coaching was so random it had to be a divine thing. one of the kid’s from the square approached me at my gym to help him train for his upcoming senior year. he wanted to end his high school career going out on top. in order to do that he knew he needed to get better.

i ran his ass off on the court and laid waste to him in the weight room. i bet he was regretting ever asking me to help him by the end. but he got stronger, quicker, smarter on the court and we fixed his jump shot. not bad for just a couple of months.

during one of our sessions in the weight room, a guy in my gym asked me what i was doing. i told him i was training the kid for the upcoming high school basketball season. he himself was had just become a coach at the same high school my young protegé attended.

coincidence?

i don’t believe in those.

‘you like coaching?’ he asked me and before i could answer, ’cause i need some help coaching this year..’

and a coaching career begins.

i never thought i’d like let alone want to coach basketball. maybe it’s because i gave my coaches such a hard time when i was a young, cocky kid, who thought he knew all there was to know about basketball. i know i’d never have wanted to coach me.

but these kids are great. they’re focused, hungry and suck up everything i say like sponges. they call me ‘coach’ and ‘sir’ and are eager students of the game.

so far so good.

we played our first game last week and won!

i’m 1-0 as a high school basketball coach. if only my 17-year-old self could see me now.

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