The Budget Inn Patricia is situated in downtown Vancouver in an area filled with vagrants. Yesterday night on my way home I saw a guy with his back to the sidewalk in the entrance nook of a store that was closed. At first, I thought he was doing something with the door, but I saw that his left arm was straight and his right arm was bent. He seemed to be taking care to do something with his right arm. Shooting up? I wondered.
Approaching the hotel, and getting ready to cross the street, there was a woman on the corner in jeans and a black tank top, looking around as if she were looking for someone. She would turn her head quite suddenly as she scanned. She turned and looked at me as I was crossing the street. Just then, there was a woman she knew who approached from the right, who called out to her, and they talked animatedly. As I neared the kerb, there was a tall skinny guy walking a erratically, but singing a jingle. The second woman seemed to like the jingle, because she laughed out loud. As I stepped on the curb, the man passed in front of me, continuing to sing, but eyeing me out of the corner of his eye with caution. I smiled in a relaxed way, and he responded by continuing on his way, but turning his head more toward me and nodding a little bit.
I’m staying at this hotel because it’s the only one in downtown within the company budget.
Sunday night, on my way back to the hotel, there was a man yelling at a group of people lined up outside a pizzeria. He was mostly incoherent to me, but I understood the words “all of you can fucking go starve.” He was very animated and loud. As I crossed the street, I heard him say something about communism, but all of his anger was directed through me to the group of people behind me. He had deliberately put the street in between him and the people he was yelling at, and was directing all of his energy forwards, so that as I crossed the street and passed him by, it was as if I did not exist for him, as if he did not see me at all. Like I’m a cameraman and they he and his antagonists are acting for me.
When I checked in on Sunday afternoon, my cousin, her son, and my aunt came with me. After check-in, we stood in the shade on a street corner a ways away from the bus stop. We were talking about how funny we thought it was that the young clerk (from Brazil by his accent) and the older clerk kept talking about whether another guest was interested in the young clerk, while the young guy was preparing my check-in paperwork. They had continued to talk about it while my cousin, her son, and my aunt waited in the lobby while I took my luggage to my room. Just then:
“Yo. Can you guys move?” Asked a man who just arrived.
I looked at him. “Why?” I asked. He lowered his head a little, crossed his arms, and pulled his shoulders in ever so slightly. He did not face me full on with his body. I was closest to him. My cousin with the stroller to my left, my aunt to my right. They stepped slightly back.
“Because I work here and I’m about to open this store, okay?” He gestured behind himself with his thumb. “And I can’t open it with you guys blocking the door.”
I looked. Ng Suey San Florist, said the sign. I wondered if Mr. Ng would hire someone like this. Probably not.
“We’re waiting for the bus. It’s hot. We wanted to wait in the shade.” I stepped laterally, putting myself between him and my aunt.
“Well, can you wait at the bus stop? I need to open this store.” The man had a scar on his left forearm that looked like the scars that my friend Arji has from a bar fight that he got into, where the guy he was fighting had fought him with a broken beer bottle. Only with this man, he was wounded in a strange place – the inner, upper surface of his left arm, which indicated that someone had got him with his hand down.
I looked toward the bus stop. The sidewalk was clear. I looked at my cousin and nodded. She started moving toward the bus stop, my Aunt followed, and I brought up the rear.
“That’s why they make bus stops, you know?” He said, wanting to get a last word in. I was amused. No cursing, and no racial slurs. He’s a polite vagrant, I thought. It may have been because I was so calm and polite with him, that he had to stay in character.
There came a shorter skinny guy with long blonde hair. They bumped fists in greeting and talked. Opening shop. Drug dealer? I wondered.
Our bus came, and we were off.
For much less than the Hyatt, and the same price as staying at a duller hotel in the suburbs, I get to stay here. In twenty minutes’ walking radius are where the rich people park their yachts, the young people go out partying, and immediately outside, where homeless and vagrants do their thing, until (one can hope) they get things sorted out. The rooms are clean, comfortable, and do not smell.
Fucking brilliant! I feel alive – walking, observing, interacting confidently. Save for putting my cousin and aunt in an uncomfortable situation on Sunday afternoon, all of this is amusing for me. It is a chance to practice being relaxed, aware, and masculine.
Monday morning, as I am getting ready to cross the street away from the hotel, I hear a motorcycle horn honking from my right. He waits until a car passes, then makes a u-turn in the street in front of me. He has the tatoos, a black motorcycle skull cap, and round sunglasses, but he is on an electric motor scooter resembling a Vespa. He is wearing a silly grin. It seems like he saw someone he knew. He accelerates steeply and silently in the direction from where he came. It occurs to me that he is aware and having fun. For me it’s like this place is allowing me to open up my awareness, and detect it when others are. I feel aware and am having fun, too.
How could I possibly want to stay anywhere else?