It’s always difficult to come back to work after some time off (even if it’s only a week!), but I’m fortunate in that my days tend to fly by. This week was hard. It started out with the photocopier breaking down and jamming, while an on-call staff person scrambles to pump out the 150 crossword puzzles and Sudukos expected by our patrons. Sure enough, my first patron of the week is the grumpy man who snarls at us that we should “learn to do our job,” which apparently includes fixing photocopiers. One of my dear patron snaps back that he should get a job. Oh man. The day snowballs from there as I plow through the 90 odd emails waiting, the Security reports and news of our Collective Agreement.
The week improved, although like most work-weeks at the Carnegie Library it was a total rollercoaster. For my records…
- I met this super cool patron. Her name is “Elissa” and is probably around my age. She was ordering a TV show on DVD and I noticed in her hand was Steve McQueen’s “On Any Sunday.” I said it was pretty rad, and she explained that she had watched it tons of times and just loved it. She then shared that back in the day she had her own dirtbike, a Suzuki that she got for $50. I asked if she still rode, but she said not as much as she would like. Elissa was raised all over BC because her dad was a logger, and the two of them were essentially gypsies roaming the province. She would rip around on the logging roads and had a CB radio to check in! I mentioned that I had a 1994 XR650 and she got super pumped, saying I was going to have a great time on that, and she thought it was a perfect bike for roadtrips. Elissa had a long dark braid, and when she left my Supervisor said she was my soulmate! We looked quite alike, although she had seen a bit more street action. I hope that she comes back soon.
- Reminisced with a patron about volunteer, Marvin Dennis who passed away while I was on break. He had been sick for awhile, and had run out of patience with life and treatment. It was sad, but perhaps his time to go and not be in pain. We laughed about how he was a relentless ladies’ man, always trying to sweet talk us. The patron remembered on the first day she met him, he tried to sit her on lap and his sister had to pry him away. She would joke around and call out for “Security!” when he chatted her up, and everyone would laugh about Marvin’s latest flirtations. He always tried to convince me to give him a ride in my bicycle basket – the running joke. There’s some great stories about him in the latest Carnegie Newsletter (July 15, 2017), as well as memories of Steve Edwards – a long-time musician and music co-ordinator who also recently passed. RIP.
- Two sad interactions with patrons. An elderly man, so distraught over his late DVD and he could barely hold himself up sitting at the check-out counter. He was bemoaning that he was dying, and I tried to convince him to let me call for help, which he refused. Security checked in, but not much to do. I cleared his account, and he sadly decided not to take out anything else, since there was “no point.” This interaction was followed by “Jean-Luc”, wearing his leather mask (which typically indicates he is in a dark place). He announces that he has just risen from the dead or been buried alive, etc. etc. He knows he must be quiet in the library, but even reading the newspaper can’t seem to mute his mutterings. Another patron scolds him, so he soon leaves.
- Helped a patron (B.G.) who reads the free newspapers and likes to track down the addresses of local professionals and even celebrities like Celine Dion and Drake, so that he can mail them his story of injustice for being laid off due to his mental disability and ethnicity. We were admiring Clara Hughes the Olympian, who is a humanitarian and B.G. decides not to find her address, since he fears he would be bugging her with his story. I notice that Clara has the same birthday as myself – September 27th and I share this fun fact with B.G. His jaw drops because his birthday is also September 27th! He suggests we celebrate. I explain that my parents are coming to town to take me out, and he says, “I can’t wait to meet your parents!” Good times ahead.
- The Short Story Book Club has proven to be a great success, and patron-led. Ten participants this week, all reading, discussing and responding to a selected article from The New Yorker magazine. I am so impressed by the turn-out and level of engagement, and am grateful to Joseph for initiating and hosting.
- Carl visits and has had his latest photograph printed up on canvas from Costco. It looks pretty cool, and is a kind of grim reaper looking out at the grand red “W” from the Woodwards building – a building that symbolizes protest and gentrification. Turns out the grim reaper is actually a huge sun umbrella, but the dark lighting makes it look like a cloaked figure. Very clever. He will contribute the photo to a group show in the Carnegie gallery this fall.
- The Bishop comes by to talk about Dawson City, the Yukon and grizzly bear attacks. He has some crazy stories about a motley crew finding gold under the local garbage dump (the last staked out area in Dawson City), and how his buddy was at a bar there, and how it was protocol to hand over his gun and weapons to enter. At the end of the night they wouldn’t return his gun, so he wanders home without protection. Sure enough he is attacked by a grizzly, who typically don’t intend to kill but do tend to scalp their victims, drag them into the forest by their hair and bury them. The Bishop’s buddy survives, stumbles into town to the RCMP, who then airlift him out and to the nearest hospital. He now has a gnarly scar like a crown around his head, and ended up suing the bar and the RCMP for a significant sum.
- M. found herself in the library and was wandering off with books in her hand, triggering the security gate alarm. She is special needs, and while she has had a library card in the past, it resulted in multiple fines of lost items. The library sharing concept doesn’t register. So, I sidetracked her with the suggestion that she would help out at the book giveaway in an hour, with the promise that I would give her a big bag to fill. This idea was enthusiastically received with a big hug and sloppy kiss. We went for lunch upstairs, and M. insisted on saying grace. She prayed that “no one would ever hurt me or my family,” and if they dared she was essentially going to slit their throats and literally kick their butts. It was a heartfelt, although slightly violent prayer, and I felt blessed. The book giveaway was wild. The contents of the first four boxes disappeared after 5 minutes, and I had to get a fifth to sustain the program. The highlight was meeting the cutest brown mutt named “Whoopie.” She gave my hand a lick and accepted some pats. I love it when I meet people’s pets on the street.
- I return to the library from Hastings street and the worst fight I’ve seen in awhile erupts near the computers, while I’m helping a local punk artist (“Boy”) photocopy his work. Two grown men are punching and pile-driving each other into the floor. I hit the emergency buzzer and Security calls out for 9-11, which I respond to. It’s a bloody mess. Fortunately the Police came within five minutes. Both guys get banned for two months, no charges laid, no one is hospitalized, and no one has an explanation as to the point of the fight in the first place. Exhausting! My patron kindly returns to me the over-ride key for the photocopier… I give him the copies for free.
- A lovely patron who has a favourite chair just outside my office recommends a book to me called, God in my head: the true story of an ex-Christian who accidentally met God, which he found on our new books shelf. He says he always finds such fascinating titles on that shelf, which was nice to hear compared to my one embittered patron. I placed a hold on the book, although he’s not ready to bring it back yet because he doesn’t want the book to end.
- A little worried about regular patron, R.S. Her medication is off, and she confided that she swapped in four of her pills for a valium on the street. It calmed her down, but is so risky. She shares with me and my staff that, “I love the library. I like coming here because the Librarians remind me that there are sane people, compared to the street. I feel comfortable here.”
- D.W. comes in for his Interlibrary Loan requests on the history of Liberia. He is planning a trip to Bloomington, Indiana where there is a University department specializing in the topic, and has contacted the local homeless shelter to see if he can stay for several weeks in a row. We take a look at a U.S. map, and I share that I hope to ride my motorcycle around the National Parks, as I’ve hardly been to the States. D.W. then confides that he actually owns a 650cc dual sport (a Suzuki?), stored at his friend’s place but his body is too broken to get on it. I suggest he could always sell it to fund the Indiana trip but he replies, “I would rather be a bum with a motorcycle, than just a bum.” He was raised in the rocky mountains, and as far as he can remember has always had a motorbike. Turns out he has an Aladdin’s cave as well. Over the years, during his wild travels around the world from Peru to Israel, he would send strange things back to his buddy in Vancouver to put in a storage unit. He can’t bring himself to sell the things because it gives him a sense of identity and history.
- Carl comes by to showcase his new t-shirt, which he bought at the Chinatown market for $5 with a huge, rainbow-coloured cobra. He explained that he had a sleepless night since folks were partying in the alley playing rap music. He was going to throw firecrackers at them, but knew they could identify him since he sometimes lights fireworks off the top of his building. He was super mad when I told him that someone threw a used needle from an SRO window above at myself and the janitor in the morning, when I was entering the building through the alley entrance. He reported it to the Security on my behalf.
- Received tickets from the Co-op Radio to go to the Vancouver Folk Festival for Sunday night. Strangely enough, the festival and its musicians were the topic of my latest newsletter column, but I never imagined I would get to go. Thank you Wanda and Bruce of “Accordion Noir”!
- V.B. arrives just as I’m preparing to leave for the day. She is a quiet-spoken, yet feisty Aboriginal grandma, and I can see that something is weighing upon her. It is shared that Tracey Morrison has died of overdose the night before. We cry together and hug. Tracey, like V.B. was adopted and raised by white parents and while they were good to her, it was never easy. The two women were also both featured in the book Invisible Heroes: Aboriginal Stories from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
V.B. explains that Tracey was once shy, but then became vocal, driven and determined. She established a sub-group of VANDU called WAHRS (Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society) and came to the Alley Health Fair the last few years. I remember bumping into Tracey occasionally when she was selling bannock, and only recently she also gave me a copy of this academic article that she contributed to, “They treated me like crap and I know it was because I was Native”: The healthcare experiences of Aboriginal peoples living in Vancouver’s inner city.
V.B. said she could feel this wave of sadness in the community as she walked down the street. And yet, there was still words of hope spoken and memories of inspiration. V.B. believes Tracey is at peace now, with her Creator. RIP Tracey.