Day 195 - Wesley (1st person I approached)
July 14, 2014 - It's been said there’s a fine line between madness and genius. Wesley tells me he lives on that line. I was walking down the street and admit that when I first saw Wesley ride his ‘bike’ past me, I was mesmerized. I turned around, hoping he was going to stop. He did, and I ran after him. I just knew there was a story there, and I wanted to hear it. He got off his bike outside a large hardware retailer. I approached him and started with ‘Excuse me…’ Without even looking at me, Wesley says
“Is it ok if I park here?” I laughed and told him I don’t see why not. Then I told him what I was doing and before I could even say ‘Will you chat with me?’ he says
“I would love to be your next Stranger!” He’s good with me asking questions and fine with getting his picture taken. Score!
He tells me his full name is Wesley second name, Van family name, the third.
“But you can call me Wes if you like.” He points out that he is offering a public service on his bicycle, and points to the front windshield of his bike. There’s a digital clock, surrounded with large rhinestones, front and centre of his elaborately festooned vehicle. It's just above the six inch disco mirror ball. We talk about his bike for a little bit, and he tells me it’s too bad he doesn’t have his flame thrower on today. By flame thrower, he means a golf club that gets mounted to the back of the bike like a flag pole, and from that, he flies a flag of flames. I noticed that people passing by either stare, or pretend that we're not there.
Wesley was born in Brantford, Ontario.
“I’m the oldest boy, I have two younger brothers and an older sister. There’s only a year between each of us boys. My mom was like boom, boom, boom. We’re much closer since we’ve grown apart, yeah. We actually like each other now. But not as kids. One of my brothers is a musician and for six months of the year, he travels on cruise ships as a John Lennon impersonator. He is a master of licks on the guitar. He also plays in a heavy metal cover band. Man is he ever a good guitar player,” he says, almost in amazement.
He tells me he was a forceps delivery baby.
"I was diagnosed at seven years old with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Then at age nine I was reverse diagnosed. I was admitted to a hospital for about six months for testing and observation. They thought that I might have suffered some kind of frontal lobe damage (brain injury) during birth. Damage to that part of the brain affects decision making, risk taking, memory and can result in mood swings. They conducted a bunch of tests. Some think if the part of the brain that's damaged regenerates, then there’s a possibility for a heightened skill set to develop. (*Fact Check - see link below). They kept me for six months, and then did the same again when I was fourteen. They were only able to tell me my brain was responding the same as a brain that hadn’t been damaged. I spent another six months in hospital getting all kinds of tests,” he said, very matter-of-fact. Wesley never went back to school after Grade seven.
“I taught myself to play guitar and the flute. I would sit in the park all day long just playing music,” he said. I asked what his parents thought about him not going to school.
“Oh they were just happy I didn't end up in jail,” he says laughing. He starts to fiddle with things on his bike as we’re talking. He has several different cup holders and each of them has a thermos-type cup in it. He drinks from one then puts it back in it’s home and grabs another from a different cup holder. Wesley later lived in London, Ontario for a while.
“It was a girl. Moved there for a girl of course. Same reason I moved to Vancouver. For a woman. I’ve been here in Vancouver since ’92,” he says.
I ask what the first item was that he attached to his bicycle.
"It was a pink Barbie accessory kit. A friend gave it to me thinking he was teasing me, but I rocked it. I thought it was cool so I attached it to my bike. And it just started from there. I don’t have that bike anymore, I had an accident and lost the bike. Oh man, that reminds me, I had a sweet brass drum too that I lost. I loved that thing, I would fill it with water and just bang out on it. It sounded so amazing. I find a lot of stuff and use it for my bike as decoration,” he says. Wesley shows me a little jack-in-the-box type cube that is red on the outside. He puts two fingers in the bottom and pushes upward and a little mouse character wearing a top hat pops out of the box.
“I gotta find a way to mount this for sure.” He has an exuberance that is exciting to watch. It’s both childlike and enthusiastic.
“I like to be creative. It helps me sort out the sounds of the universe.” I ask him to explain what he means by sounds of the universe.
“You know the sounds, the things that go around inside your head,” he says. I ask politely if he hears voices.
“No man! I’m not fucking nuts or anything. It’s like when you close your eyes and your thinking of things and sometimes you feel like your underwater and you have to swim up to the surface to breathe, to catch the light. Those are the sounds of the universe.” He thinks like an artist.
I ask if he makes other things.
"Yeah, I make digeridoo’s. I make them from bamboo. I’ve been really lucky with those. I’ve made hundreds of them and traveled around the west coast and down into the States playing, selling and making them. I’ve played at concerts on Vashon Island in Washington State, and at Pike Street Market in Seattle. I’ve even played with Stephen Kent (a renowned digeridoo performer ** see link below). There’s a whole group of players that I’ve become friends with over the years. It’s incredible listening to those guys play,” says Wesley. He then launches into a vocal rendition mimicking the digeridoo. He has no inhibitions and I notice a man about ten feet away from us laughing. If you closed your eyes, you’d think he was playing a real instrument, other than using the instrument of his voice. I’m not sure if he’s going to stop, and then he does. I tell him that I’m impressed with his ability to mimic the sound.
“I do some throat singing as well,” and he launches into two short pieces, of throat song. I wonder if these are written by him, or learned from a throat singer. When he is finished, he tells me
“No, I just wing it. It’s best for me and more natural to make it up as I go along.” Raw talent.
Wesley lives in a SRO (Single Room Occupancy) hotel in Gastown. It's an area of town poplar with tourists, home to many low-income and underemployed persons, and facing the challenges of gentrification.
“I’ve lived in the same room for nine years now, except there was a fire upstairs a couple of weeks ago and now there’s water damage. I need to find another place to live, but it’s hard because I need a place with a garage, to store my bike and to work in,” says Wesley. He buys old beat-up bikes and parts and rebuilds and fixes them, then he sells them.
“And no, they’re not stolen. Everybody thinks that, but they’re not. I don’t do that kind of thing. I just like fixing things.” He pulls a couple of spiral metal eggcups out of one of several little bags and boxes he has attached to his bike.
"These are great, I’m thinking I’m going to put lights in them and put them somewhere here on the back of the bike,” he says fiddling away.
I take a few pictures of Wesley on his bike and show them to him.
“Oh man, that’s great, will you take my picture for me?” and he pulls a small digital camera out of his pocket.
“I’m so glad I fixed this. I had to rig a charger for it, but I made it work,” said Wesley. I take a couple of pictures and hand him his camera.
“Thanks man. Listen, I should give you my email address and let’s hang out sometime.” I take his email address, and we shake hands. A woman on another bike comes over and is taking a picture of Wesley and his eye-catching bicycle.
“Hey,” he says to me, “if I don’t see you later, maybe I’ll see you on the last Friday of the month. I always ride in Critical Mass.” The woman taking his picture asks ‘is that the naked bike ride?’ Wesley and I answer in unison,
“No, it's not.” #notastranger