Sunday, June 22, 2008


So, I was walking through Mont Royal on Rue St. Denis today, looking for Altitude Plein Air so I could investigate their selection of ceramic water filters, when I saw a dude with a table full of clothes.  That were all $5.  That saves a lot of hassle for him, and I found the world's most awesome purple coat.  For five dollars.

Alas, I did not have my camera with me, so was unable to take pictures of the general festivities that a sunny Sunday brings out in Montreal.  Instead, you will have to be satisfied with word pictures:

- A tiny Korean girl wearing the most fluorescently blinding yellow dressed with ruching all over so she looked like a fat, unstriped bee.
- A terribly self-indulgent store called Cruella...guess what kind of clothes they sell?  Hint: it's not pinafores.  Well, probably there were pinafores.  Only they'd be made of patent leather and have pierced tongues.  They had a gloomy, PVC priest's costume in there.  
- A cheerful guy who saw me carrying the purple coat in today's 25 degree heat and said, "That's kind of heavy for today, isn't it?"
- Dogs.  Dogs everywhere.

A few days ago, when I went to see Peg-Ass-Us, I passed a guy in a tiny park downtown.  At least, I think it was a guy...he was lying down, surrounded by dogs and one lithe cat who turned her head to glare at me, sitting atop a stack of belongings that were covered with a tarp.  Behind him was a makeshift shelter, also created from tarps; there was a sign taped to it that said, in French, "Ganja Research Station."  

It made me think about the concept of homelessness.  This guy was homeless; he was living in a park.  We passed a clinic where people with no money can be treated for free, in Vermont; Christine, my host, pointed out that it was the homeless clinic.  There was another one downtown for the street kids, she said, and I remembered the street kids S and I saw here in Montreal, across the street from Studio 303.  They had that ratty look common to street kids everywhere: the ripped jeans and multiple layers, the safety pins and asymmetrical haircuts, the cardboard-and-Sharpie-marker sign that asks for a dollar in a creative way.  A girl in the park during the farmer's market in Burlington had a sign that said, "Hungry Hungry Hippie."  She decorated it with peace symbols.

This seems such a world apart from me, but I'm homeless too.  I'm not asking for a dollar to buy some weed, or sitting in the shade on the corner of Ste-Catherine Ouest and Bleury; I don't have a pack of dogs or a cardboard sign.  But I'm still homeless.

Technically, I have an address in Pittsburgh, mind you.  My mail goes there, and occasionally follows me around the country.  My friends start conversations with me by saying, "Where are you now?"  It doesn't help that my cell phone doesn't work in Canada -- well, it does, but to the tune of $2 a minute roaming charges, a little ditty I'm not willing to dance to -- so I have to give a series of bizarrely area coded numbers to people who want to reach me ("514?  Where's that?  902?")(Of course, it works the other way; I had to give my cell number to someone here in town the other day and he stared at it blankly and said, "412??")

Homelessness as a concept carries such a patina of shame; I don't say I'm homeless.  I say I'm "on tour".  That's technically true; I am on tour.  And I have places to go, and I'm not mentally ill, or have been thrown out by my family, or have to sleep under a bridge with only a two month old puppy to protect me from rape and robbery.  I wash my clothes.  I have a car.

But I don't have a home.  I don't know if I ever had a home, really; in Canada, I was always the one rooting for Americans, and in the States, I'm the Canadian defender.  My childhood home was sold long ago, and the apartment I spent my youth in has become a real estate office; my father's apartment features in none of my memories before 2003, and my mother's moved since I left.  The place that I mean when I say "home" is J's house, where I sometimes disorientingly think I still am; I close my eyes in darkness wherever I am and reach out expecting to find my bedside table here and the stairs going down and the handle on the toilet just so.  I can find my way in the dark through that house, but it's not my house anymore, although I guess it could have been my home.

I'm reminded, both by this and by an email from my friend J, of a quote from the poem "Silence", by Marianne Moore, about her father:

Nor was he insincere in saying, "Make my house your inn."
Inns are not residences.

Where is home for you?


(412)244 5370 Ext *2 said...
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Purple Rose Tearoom said...

You're not homeless--you're a vagabond! Homelessness implies passivity; something more thrust upon you than chosen. What you are doing is active and expansive.