Vancouver’s back alleys and dumpsters became playgrounds where we worked, played, socialized, shopped, wined and dined and yes even slept. Every dumpster was like one of those Russian Matryoshka dolls, but full of Christmas presents waiting to be picked and unwrapped. Computers, bikes, drugs, electronics, furniture, clothing, food and jewelry were there for the taking. All were either unwanted, of no use, couldn’t be fixed or thrown out by partners in fits of jealous rage. All rewards of a disposable society. And yes, there was garbage too (I’d almost forgotten about that!) In the end, the Universe did truly provide! All it took was getting over the stigma of being seen pushing a shopping cart and dumpster-diving in public.
Unburdened by the restrictions and responsibilities of a home, I tapped into my own Matryoshka-like evolutionary path, specifically the hunter and gatherer aspects. Cursed to tread paths that’d make me look like a throwback to modern man, I had to make sure I was on the right path – my path. The funny thing was we were still doing the same things, yet packaged differently: shopping for food, clothing, shelter and security. I hunted just like my forefathers had, but now in dumpsters and not stores gathering the discarded remnants of a disposable society. No wonder society despised us so much, we were like vultures in human form feeding off the remains of a dying society. Yet vultures were natural too.
Unlike ‘Neanderthal’ drug using and escapism, life now had purpose. My master plan: to put my doll-set back together by treading evolutionary paths back to where I used to be and onwards to wherever that might lead. Hopefully, love, companionship, a home and money would appear along the way. The only thing I could see stopping me was if I started using harder drug and egocentric pride.
Keeping the proverbial stiff upper lip, I held onto whatever remained of my pride to create a new game. If my path involved binning, pushing shopping carts and eating from dumpsters then I had to find a new way to do it. And so I became like a ninja in the night, skulking stealthily from alley to alley, bin to bin with darkness as my protective shield. the bottom line was it really was nobody’s business, but my own. Yet society didn’t always work the way I wanted it to. One day while binning a woman said: ‘look at yourself. You should be ashamed of yourself digging through garbage and making a mess.’ Looking her in the eye, I agreed. “Yes I am ashamed of myself for being in a dumpster, but you and your kind should be even more ashamed for not recycling things, especially when they’re right there,” I responded pointing to the bins next to the dumpster. “Look! Bundles of newspapers, bottles, cans, toys, electronics and so many other things…. At least I’m helping to save the environment in my shameful way. Are you! No, you’re not. No one here is. Lazy bastards.” Nearly shouting, I untangled myself from cursing her. She lowered her head and stormed away. I smiled, my garden fertilized with self-esteem.
Was it wrong for me to feel so good? Maybe, but just that once I lapped it up. Sometimes it felt good to be a little bad, especially when blamed for things we didn’t do like crows making messes in the dark of night. I couldn’t blame people for being angry. It was easier to blame and get a justifiable reaction from a binner than a crow much like in the Taoist tale of the Empty Boat. Yet it went far deeper than that. We became scapegoats for anything society couldn’t and didn’t know how to take responsibility for. Adrift in a ship of fools, ‘haves‘, ‘have-nots‘ and ‘didn’t-want-to-haves‘ tried to put out fires with gasoline. But who’d listen to a homeless drug addict?
I had to choose between multiple backpacks or the convenience a shopping cart offered. If I didn’t have to take care of Tom, I might’ve just stuck with backpacks, but I needed other things like pillows, toiletries, band-aids, towels, soap, paper, pens, etc. Sure I hated it, but I had to choose between my pride and the loving care of another. They were like portable homes and a start on my journey to understanding what a real home was.
Taking care of Tom made every day seem like Christmas. Now I had to choose between pride and resourcefulness, multiple backpacks or a shopping cart. Not wanting to become a hoarder, books had to be read, pens had to write, watches had to tell time, etc. Everything had to not only have a practical use, but an immediate one as well. How many people did I know who collected things just because they looked good or might have some futuristic value? In respecting its functionality I also respected my own. It was aligning materialism and consumerism with the natural rhythms of existence. By respecting material functionality mine was reflected back to me.
I started to see other rhythms like people utilizing resources to evolve from lying in doorways, to begging for change, to binning around the block, to getting a bike, to buying and selling anything to getting on with their lives. People learned to be thrifty. I used to believe money was the root of all evil, but now saw how people were learning thriftiness and so many other rules of money, ,yet with materials and substances deemed illegal. Why was making use of whatever was available so wrong? If that was wrong then survival was wrong. Yet survival had to be one of the single most prime directives of every human being on the planet! Through gratification, society lulled itself to sleep from its own history of taking things through dubious business deals with indigenous peoples. Yet civilization as we knew it was just an idea, a construct of only a profiteering mind. Yet the mind contained infinite possibilities – if anyone cared to look.
Even dealers got into the act, Recruiting people to seed bins with merchandise to be traded for drugs was like firefighters creating fires to stay employed. One time when I didn’t call one specific dealer because he’d thrown out some clothing specific to his personal ego, I had to remind him of a lesson I’d been taught: things eventually got to their rightful owner in the long run, whether through me or not. All it took was a little patience. Needless to say patience was not his strong suit. We used to laugh at the price people paid to stay in fashion. What better way to market new fashions to the public than to make homeless people public mannequins for yesterday’s fashions? After all, if wearing the same style of clothes as someone else was barely tolerable, on the homeless it had to be unthinkable. Such was the price of vanity and consumerism.
Yet all things must come to pass. I had to learn to stand on my own two feet and not depend so heavily on Tom. I had to learn how to depend yet be independent of Tom and society to be truly free!
© Michael J. Varma, The Gong Show, 2011 –
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