Merry Christmas Kenneth
After meeting with Sandra, I decided to check up on Kenneth again. Part of his life story was actually published in the Vancouver Magazine titled The Caretaker, but Kenneth didn’t like that label. He felt that we are all caretakers of the earth. His role is to keep this alley clean; others should be responsible for different areas. The end goal is to preserve this beautiful space for everybody to enjoy and live in.
His sleeping space was covered by a movable metal gate. I approached it and said, “Kenneth, it’s me Nima. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas.” A soft voice replied and told me to slide the gate over. There he was, hiding under his blankets on Christmas Day. Kenneth seemed reserved and quiet.
We had an excellent conversation about life, school and everything in between. I shared some of my street experiences with him. I told him about John the Firefighter. He acknowledged the validity of the story and commented on the others as well. He seemed to know most of my characters. Later on, I would refer to Kenneth as “the Godfather” of the streets, because all my questions and problems were addressed to him. He had all the answers. After living on the streets for so many years, Kenneth had the experience which I lacked.
Next, we discussed what it means to have a good debate and concluded that a great debate is being able to follow logical statements without the use of emotions. Logic and emotions are like oil is to water. There should not be any anger, happiness, hate or love in a purely logical debate. Once you get feelings mixed in there it becomes very difficult to discuss freely.
Kenneth was a smart man. He worked for the Department of National Defense with an annual income of $120,000. His duties included entering data and maintaining networks in the late 70′s. Later on in his life, he “took himself off the grid” to be where is he now. When I asked him why he came to this very specific alley, his answer was simple; God.
As we continued chatting, a car passed by, slammed on his breaks, and then reversed. This was going to be my second experience with the Vancouver Police Department. Earlier in the day, I was questioned by an officer on Granville Street. In this case, it didn’t take long for the officer to call for backup. In a few minutes, two police cars and three officers were surrounding me and Kenneth.
Later on Kenneth would tell me that if this was a noise violation then the officer would have known where we were sitting and therefore would have stopped earlier without backing up. Also, the backup officers would have been with him already, but they weren’t. The backup officers were called in after the officer started his “preemptive strike” on two civilians who were minding their own business. We had the right to be here.
To be fair, police officers are never get called in to blow out candles at a birthday party while on duty. Whenever they get called into a situation, they come face to face with danger, anger, theft and violence. They have to be cautious when they interact with strangers. As far as they know, I can be dangerous as well. However, nobody called the police on us because we were not noisy nor were we breaking any laws.
“Well officer, I have a home but I chose to be homeless over my Christmas holidays. I want to spend time with the other family. I’m keeping a journal of all the people I meet, so that I can give a more accurate representation of who these homeless people really are. The documentary Streets of Plenty did an OK job, but I want to dig much deeper than the documentary did itself.”
“Do you have a criminal record? Let me search your pockets.” He went through my bag and started reading the first few pages of my journal. A police officer is supposed to intervene in public affairs when a person is a threat or is causing a violation of the law. However in reality, we were just chatting about life.
This reminded me of the police officer that interrogated me earlier in the day, not long after meeting John the Firefighter at McDonald’s. While I was sitting on the side of the street, a police officer came up to me and asked me similar questions. Just like the current incident, I told them the truth about why I was here.
“Do you have a criminal record?”
“Are you mentally ill?”
“Are you sure you don’t have a criminal record?”
“Are you sure you are not mentally ill?”
This questioning was quite ridiculous and insulting, but I can see how my story could raise an eyebrow. These officers probably haven’t heard of such a story before. The cop on Granville Street was actually very nice to me. He asked me if I needed anything before he left and took down my blog address. The current officer that I am faced with is much more serious than the last one.
This officer had a really hard time believing my story. I asked him the following, “How will I ever know how anything feels like until I actually try it? For example, how do you know what Yogurt tastes like when you have never tasted it yourself?” He replied, “well then why don’t you start doing drugs to get the complete feel then?”
I know that the maker of Streets of Plenty, Misha Kleider, ended up doing crack and heroin in his documentary, but drugs are a stereotypical by-product of these people’s lives. I do not support the recreational or addictive usage of drugs. I like reality the way I perceive it; I do not need to change it. And besides, by doing drugs my senses will be warped. I am here to experience homelessness with an untainted sense of reality.
The police officer pulled me to the side. “Listen kid. I’ve known Kenneth for a long time. He has a very violent history. I don’t know who you are, but you should keep your distance from him.” First of all, why did he have to pull me to the side to tell me this? Couldn’t he have just said it in front of Kenneth and the other two officers?
So we both walked back to where Kenneth and the other two officers were standing. He told everyone that he reminded me to be careful on these streets. Kenneth replied saying “yes officer, I have told him that as well.” This was true, Kenneth did tell me that a few times actually. In fact, he even said that I shouldn’t trust him!
After Kenneth said those words, the officer replied with “yeah but you are a good one Kenneth.” The officer just contradicted himself here! When he pulled me to the side, he said that Kenneth was a dangerous man and that I should be careful around him. When the officers left, I told Kenneth what the officer told me in secret. We both laughed at the incident.