Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lazy, thoughtful

I have a day off again, since G and U are in deepest Bavaria on a site visit. I had thought to do all manner of pleasant and useful things today, from drinking cappuccino to cleaning the kitchen, but have done very little of anything so far. It's drizzling outside (well it wouldn't be drizzling inside, now would it?) and the energy requirement for kitchen-cleaning exceeds my reserves. So I drink coffee and poodle about in the Internets.

I'm reading an odd-but-true tale, Alan Bennett's "The lady in the van" about a woman who lived for fifteen years in a delivery van parked in his driveway. (She had already been living in the van for ten years before it was moved onto Bennett's property, at his invitation, to prevent the local authorities from having it towed away.) It's a strange story about an unusual life—or pair of lives, because the reader unavoidably begins to wonder about Bennett himself, the oddness of his own life and person that let him live for fifteen years with a stranger's van obstructing his front door. Recommended; try to get a recent edition that includes his 1994 postscript. (There's a simplistic and factually inaccurate short review online; alas, it's the best that I found.)

There aren't many things things that actively worry me, but sharing the fate of Miss Shepherd does. The billion-to-one shots like 9/11 or the bombs in the London Underground are not worth worrying about, your chance of being run over by a hit-and-run driver on the way to work or the Tube is millions of time higher than the chance that you might be there at the wrong moment. No, I worry about this radical dislocation because it happens often and easily, and I know the circumstances under which it could happen to me. It takes so very little to fall through the cracks in society, and one falls such an awfully long way.

My parents told me in September about a homeless man (call him "H") who sleeps in the recessed entry to a local video rental place. H is apparently a local man of about my age, whose parents still live in the neighbourhood; every once in a while they pick him up for a wash, haircut and change of clothes, then he goes back to the doorway. I was curious about H, because if they were right about the age, then I must know him from school or at least by sight; but he was never at his post during my two weeks in Toronto. I had my theories about who it should be were there any natural justice in the world (the bully, the thief, the various juvenile drug addicts and dealers), or who it might be were life as randomly and wantonly cruel as I sometimes suspect.

On the last day, as we went to Tim Horton's for morning coffee (my parents are self-confessed Tim's addicts) my father suddenly pointed out the window to the street corner, where H stood with his back to us waiting for the lights to change. I walked casually down to the lights, and then slowly past him and around the corner to Tim's backdoor. He was no-one that I knew, and on closer examination probably only thirty years old: he would have been a baby as I finished grade thirteen and left the neighbourhood.

What makes someone choose such a life? I could understand leaving home swearing never to return, then falling into troubles; but H stayed in the neighbourhood where he grew up and has remained in contact with his parents. It's a mystery.

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Blogger alan said...

I don't know if you've seen these Udge, but I can highly recommend them:

February 7, 2007 at 10:54:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

??? doesn't work for me: page not found.

February 7, 2007 at 11:58:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger alan said...

sorry, don't know why. they usually do... anyway

February 8, 2007 at 12:18:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger alan said...

well, that seems to have gone off the page... try again...

February 8, 2007 at 12:35:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Jean said...

That's my main real fear too. Thanks for writing about it so well.

February 8, 2007 at 11:47:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Philip said...

I find the story of the man living homeless near his parents fascinating. Thank you for sharing it.

Perhaps you could leave him a care package anonymously from time to time with shaving goods, food, a blanket . . .

I imagine you as something of a guardian angel already.

February 8, 2007 at 5:35:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous sis said...

be careful, there are rumours on the internets

February 9, 2007 at 5:38:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger rb said...

When I was a social worker, I spent time with these sorts of homeless people (as opposed to the ones who were temporarily homeless and looking for a way out)

I knew a man who lived in a van with pet chickens, parked in front of his parents' home. He told me a 'root doctor' had put a hex on him. His parents accepted this arrangement. None of the parties felt there was any choice in the matter, that this was the best they could do under the circumstances.

I'm sure there was more to the story but an outside observer can only know so much. Appearances are not always what they seem.

February 9, 2007 at 10:20:00 p.m. GMT+1  

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