The month of June has kicked off with some weird vibes and energy down at the Carnegie Centre and library. I’m not surprised. The Balmoral Hotel, a Single-room Occupancy in the Downtown Eastside has been in the news since the City finally took action, investigating the building and condemning it considering how the slumlords, the Sahota family has allowed it to disintegrate for decades.
The sinks and bathtubs were boarded up (as they were sinking into the floors), there was mould everywhere, bed bugs, rats, broken windows, and much more to contend with. The crazy news was that the residents were told to leave as of June 12th, while the City took the Sahotas to court for 150 building violations, to force them to pay and renovate. That would have been 140 people potentially homeless including many of my regular library patrons. Anxiety was high.
Fortunately, CCAP and awesome people like Wendy Pedersen and Jean Swanson were there to lead protests, involve lawyers, news outlets, and reassure the residents. They are true advocates and heroes, calling for accountability! A CBC news release came through yesterday that alternative social housing units and safe places have been found for almost all the residents! That’s a minor miracle in Vancouver.
During the time leading up to this news, it felt like something had shifted, that hope was on the line. I had a man scream at me that I was a “c*nt, whore, slut” for refusing to assist him in making fake I.D. on the photocopier. We had another guy try to lunge with clenched fist at my Supervisor, after barking and screaming at everyone. Security was unavailable to help us because there had been a stabbing at the outdoor bathroom, and the victim was being attended to in the lobby, along with a mob scene of six Police trying to create order. The alleys surrounding the Carnegie have become increasingly busy, with temporary set-ups and constant drug-use, more so than I’ve seen in the last three years.
Strangely enough, this drama didn’t phase me compared to another patron screaming at me that I was the worst librarian, and he was going to get me fired. Apparently, I should be ashamed of myself for not having “new” fiction available for him to read. He has confronted me before, and I’ve tried to explain that I was happy to request new books for him (the topsellers often have hundreds of requests placed on them, so we don’t see them on the shelf for months). But, this was not good enough. He was comparing the Carnegie to other larger branches, where theft is probably not an issue, there is way more space, and material stays cleaner for longer, but he would not reason or collaborate with me.
I know the man is simply using me as a target for some other pent-up rage, but it’s triggering me. He is not stable, and possibly just hates women considering his jovial behaviour with male staff. He is pitiable. And yet, I still took this all home with me, and my imagination flares up on how I might appeal to him or condemn him.
I should remind myself that standing beside me during the nasty man’s rant was my wonderful patron, Carl MacDonald. He turned to me and said, “Well, you can’t please everyone, so please yourself!” We ended up having lunch together in the cafeteria, and a really great chat. We started talking about Bud Osborn, and Carl confided that when he was a full-time binner Bud “made mention of him” in a poem, and Carl was even there when the poem was read out loud at the Central Library.
Carl reminisced about his life as a binner. For awhile he had a great relationship with the Manager of the local Kentucky Fried Chicken. The staff would often wait for him with a bucket of chicken wings, and after he did some dumpster diving, there was a broom and dustpan provided, as Carl was very conscientious and liked to clean up. This all ended because he was away for a few weeks, came back and discovered that some other negligent binner was making a huge mess so the bins got locked up. Carl commented how disappointed he was, but understood that among every culture or group, including binners there are the good and the bad.
Carl proudly told me that his nickname was Mr. McBinner! I found the poem in Bud’s poetry collection, Signs of the Times (2005), which features some awesome prints by local artist Richard Tetrault. The poem is called, “A Binner is a True Spiritual Guide” and is dedicated to Carl! A well-deserved tribute.
Carl’s new passion is photography. He recently had several of his photos printed and framed at Costco, after receiving a DTES Small Arts Grant, and they are looking amazing, especially some close-ups of flowers from Van Dusen garden. What a guy.
People like Carl rise above the darkness. He radiates good light. Obviously he has his struggles, but when things look gloomy he likes to go to beautiful places by taking a bus out to Richmond, watching the water, the planes, and the birds, and disconnecting. I will follow his lead.
I’m hopeful that the days of slumlords are over, but this is a cautious hope because Vancouver’s path of renovictions and privileging of the rich has proven to be a disaster. In the meantime, the Carnegie library is stuck with me. I will continue to do my best, and savour the good moments. I also feel humbled by folks like Carl, and my patrons (former Balmoral residents) who are so joyous that they simply have somewhere to live. Here I am with a regular paycheque, a loving husband, a home, good mental and physical health, and a stable family. Forgive me.