Day 213 - Martin (3rd person I approached)
August 01, 2014 - Martin was on his motorized chair just off the walking path, near a gaggle of geese that were sitting in the grass. I caught Martin’s eye and he nodded and said
“Hello.” I took that as an invitation to approach! When I told Martin what I was doing, he was completely agreeable to chatting, and me taking a picture. He had a radio in the front carrier basket of his chair blaring out classic pop songs. He reached over and turned it down so we didn’t have to raise our voices over the music.
He was born in Toronto, Ontario and grew up about two hours northeast of Toronto, near Peterborough, Ontario.
“I have eight siblings, four sisters and four brothers. It’s a little confusing. My mother had me when she was young and she had some problems of her own. My grandparents adopted and raised me. So when I say I have four brothers and four sisters, they were actually my aunts and uncles. But I called my grandparents Mom and Dad, so I called the others brothers and sisters. It used to really confuse people when we went out to dinner with friends or neighbours,” he said, laughing at the memory. Martin has one of those suddenly very loud and hearty laughs, that take one by surprise. Each time.
“My real mother, the one who gave birth to me, went on to have seven more kids, all with different fathers. I guess I lucked out really, having my (grand)parents to raise me,” said Martin. Over the years, he lost contact with all of his mother's children, his half siblings.
“They all ended up in care. Then you lose contact and that’s that.”
When he was about 13 years old, his parents sold the house near Peterborough and bought a place on the Trent Canal, a little over an hour southeast of Peterborough.
“A lot of people used to have places there for the summer, but we lived there all year round. My father liked to compete with the neighbours which meant we had a speed boat, and water skidoos, and all kinds of toys. In the winter the canal would freeze over and we’d use a snow blower to create a skating rink. It was an incredible place to be a young teenager growing up,” he said with a slightly cocky smile. In school, Martin tells me “everything was fine.” Until Grade ten.
“I was working on a car that my brother had bought me. It was a class project in shop. We worked hard at rebuilding that car all year long. Where the shop was located in the school, the road in front of it was a no car zone. As we were pushing the car out of the shop, the Principal came driving around the corner and I guess neither of us expected a car to be there and he drove right into my car. It was a complete write-off. Later on, he wouldn’t accept responsibility for it and I got angry and tipped his desk over. I finished school in Grade ten,” said Martin.
Martin got a job in demolition and did that for about five years. He told me a story about going out for his eighteenth birthday.
“This was kind of weird. My father took me to the Playboy Club in Toronto. Of course there were all these lovely ladies dancing and removing their clothes. Then it turns out it was the one night that they also had a male dancer performing. He came out and did his thing. Afterwards, my father says to me ‘I thought you’d enjoy that. Happy Birthday!’ I didn't understand that my father was trying to tell me something. He knew more about me than I did. When I asked him what he meant, he said ‘Oh come on now. You’re gayer than pink ink!’ I was shocked. It wasn’t even something I had figured out for myself yet,” said Martin, giving another belt of laughter.
“I would go out to bars and I’d get beaten up for being gay, and I’d tell people that I wasn’t and they’d still beat me. Finally, when I was about twenty-one, some guy comes over and says to me ‘Are you gay?’ and I told him ‘Yeah I am! What the fuck business is it of yours?!’ He walked away. I thought ‘Shit, I could have done that years ago and saved myself a bunch of beatings!’ So I came out when I was twenty-one,” he says, laughing. Martin wears two necklaces. One that has the male/male Mars symbol and the other is a small cylindrical silver tube, with cut outs showing a rainbow inside. He’s a proud man.
He went to Calgary one year with a friend and ended up staying there.
“Over the years I’ve moved between Calgary, Trent and Vancouver a few times. But I’ve been here in Vancouver for years now,” he said. Martin has worked in construction, car auto body repairs, car painting and house painting as well.
“I’ve always kept busy and had jobs. The one that I loved the most was as a line cook. I really enjoyed cooking for other people. That was the one job that I showed up for everyday,” he said.
"I worked in a restaurant and lived in the Westend (of Vancouver) with my lover. He and I were together for thirteen years. He passed away from AIDS in 2004. I’ve been alone since then. I’m HIV positive myself, but I’ve never gotten sick. That seems to be the least of my worries these days. I’ve got some heart issues and my knees aren’t doing so good. That’s why I use this chair. I can’t walk that far, and I don’t want to put strain on my heart. But I get out everyday and I’m usually down around here. I often bring a stale loaf of bread and feed the geese. I can get them to eat out of my hand,” he says while looking at the geese near by. As if on cue, they get up and start coming toward us, and then keep on going right past. They have their routines as well.
Martin continues talking.
“I’m happy with my life and where I’m at in life. I just wish I could do something about where I live. Because of my heart, I’m on disability and that doesn’t give me much money. I’ve got my own little bachelor (one room) apartment, but it’s in a nasty building on Hastings Street. That neighbourhood is sad, everyone is so poor. And of course there’s so much drug addiction and mental illness. There’s always someone screaming and yelling, or fighting in my building, or on the street out front. I’ve been there for nine years,” he says.
"At least I have my own place though, right? I’ve got my own little kitchenette and a small living room area and my bed.”
We talk about the annual Pride Parade happening this Sunday downtown, and I ask if he’s going. He is and I say maybe I’ll see him there.
“Well you never know, you just might, but there are a lot of people that will be down there. I’m usually always around here though, on sunny days, so more likely I’ll see you here again some time.” As I say goodbye and turn to leave. he raises his beer can in the air and says
“I am Canadian!” #notastranger