I turn the individual numbers until the row reads 86709, and they are aligned. The large, heavy lock clicks open. I take it off the thick latch and open the metal container. The watering buckets are inside. Across the street, a garage door opens and a car drags two dumpsters to the bin. This happened yesterday and the day before. I walk to the water tower where I fill two buckets. Cold water splashes onto my sneakers. One bucket per plot today. The air is cooler than yesterday though the sun is equally strong. No clouds in the light blue sky.
I walk to the nearest plot. The lettuce are wild, some seeding. Bees buzz around purple sunflowers and nasturtiums nearby. Everything is in full bloom. I water the ground and watch it change from light grey to deep brown. The second plot is near the end of the garden. I pass many plots to get to it and think of only a year before when it was still a place of few plants and many hypodermic needles. The needles are still here but less. Now in mid-summer, the garden feels full of life from a grassroots upswell of interest by apartment dwellers, an upswell like the plants and vegetables are experiencing. Our tomato plants are small and slow. I water them then walk back to the metal container where I put away the empty watering cans. The heavy lid clangs shut. I push the large latch back into place, slide the lock onto it, move the numbers, gather my backpack, thermos and bag and walk away from the garden, down the driveway that belongs to the antique store and SRO next door. I look up at the roof to see if the smokers have gathered yet. Then I gaze down again, cautious of needles, happy that beans grow up the fence like a guard for the garden and that somehow purple sunflowers break through cracks in uneven asphalt.
I pass the Cobalt, a dingy club that attracts hipsters, and Pizzaria Farina, a trendy pizza place. Both are quiet and dark as I walk toward the viaduct underpass where a stream of speeding bikers head west on Union Street toward their jobs downtown. Construction workers hover on the streets, and move in and out of buildings in Chinatown. The clammer of work trucks is jarring.
I turn off Main to Keefer Street and look toward the “Keefer Apts”, the words written both in English and Chinese on the side of the neglected, red-brick building. Words and building are caked in filthy brown debris. The building is the width of two narrow railroad apartments, or of the two bay windows, one with broken glass. A ginger shop and a coffeeshop occupy the ground level. Two flights up in the building’s westside window a round-headed, bald man in a white t-shirt that’s turned grey from age,and is too small to cover his bulging belly sits near a table with a broken bowl on it. He looks out the window, and is like a mother pigeon on her eggs, rooting, roosting. He is there every day, and when the day comes, if I am here to see it, that he is no longer there, I will worry and think the balance of the universe has shifted.
I turn up the alleyway between Main and Gore, pass a tiny, tidy, older woman who lives in cardboard boxes and crates and won’t talk or make eye contact. I know she won’t make eye contact because I tried once; I reached out with oranges in my hand…trying to give them to her, but she wouldn’t look up. I had to rest them on top of a crate for her to pick up later. She is older than most people living on the street. Her gray hair is cropped in a pageboy, her skin darkened from exposure to the sun. I think of bird bones — lightweight, hollow — as I pass her. She is busy moving her boxes and sheets, arranging her structure which she has located next to electrical outlet boxes in a small corner across from a row of dumpsters. She has lived here for weeks. Across the alley, garbage spills from the dumpsters, litters the alleyway. Today there is a mountain of toilet paper. Homeless people use the spaces between the dumpsters as a bathroom. The toilet paper is just garbage that’s spilled, though.They don’t use toilet paper…it’s a luxury.
I turn down the next alley, heading east, now steps from my studio entrance. These are Vancouver's secret passageways. I have never lived in a city with back alleys before. The underworld live in them, or the underseen or the unseen or the disappeared. They live with the dumpsters - the people without homes, the people with addictions, the people with stories and secrets. The alleyway near the studio entrance is empty. In the last week, there has been less early morning activity, but it is obvious this alley is busy at night. I am careful where I step, wondering how many needles I will count today. If there will be bloody gauze or used condoms. One needle is in the doorway, plus one condom, a torn plastic bag, a blue plastic container the size of a syringe, the orange syringe top, gauze, and paper used for wrapping the needles, now torn and scattered. The entrance smells of urine. A new graffiti mark is on the door. I step over the debris, the life of the night before, glance over my shoulder to see if anyone is sitting across the alley by the loading dock to a Chinese butcher. No one is there. I go inside where I will hear the sounds of the alley pick up with the day.
Not really a Biography
I have always been inclined to move forward, roll the stone, down, and often up, hills. I've tried to write through it all. Everything on this blog is written by me.