Day 231 - Toad (1st person I approached)
August 19, 2014 - As I was walking past a small neighbourhood park, I saw what at first I thought was a family picnic gathering. I got closer and realized there was just one person sitting beneath the bright red umbrella, with bags and belongings spread about. So that I didn’t sneak up on the man sitting under the umbrella, I walked around from behind him and positioned myself in front of him. I told him what I was doing and asked if he would chat with me. He said yes right away. I noticed he had a small single propane burner, a pot and was cooking what looked like soup. There were bags of belongings, pure white socks and his shoes nearby. He had some bread, a mixed salad container, and a to-go coffee cup. He was tasting the soup as it cooked. Under the blanket he was sitting on, was a sheet of cardboard. HIs bicycle was attached to a wagon that had a large padlocked toolbox and a few tote bins on board. It was topped off with the bright red umbrella.
At first he introduced himself as Chris. I asked how he spelled his name.
“Well, it’s actually C-h-r-i-s-t-o-p-h-e-r, but I also go by Chris. Most of my friends call me Toad,” he said. I asked why ‘Toad’?
“I thought at first it was because I wore a green (bike) helmet, but it was actually because I hop in and out of dumpsters so quickly!” He doesn’t have any teeth, but had a great laugh that made his entire face light up.
“I was born right here in Vancouver, at Burnaby General Hospital. I’m the oldest of three, with two sisters that shall remain unnamed,” said Toad. I asked if he was close with his sisters when growing up.
“Let’s just say I had a very fractured family.”
Toad left school in Grade nine.
“I wasn’t really that interested. Drugs and alcohol. I didn’t like going. Peer pressure. All of the above. I wasn’t getting anything out of it, so I left,” he said.
“I started working. I got a job building children's playgrounds and equipment. I was sixteen or seventeen, and getting into cocaine use about then as well. That was my drug of choice. Always has been,” said Toad. He moved on and starting working in the printing industry.
“I went in as a lackey and worked my way up. Did that for a number of years. Then I had an industrial accident and had to take a couple of years off,” said Toad. He showed me the back of his left hand which had a large scar, somewhat similar to that of a burn. It covered the majority of his hand from just below his knuckles to the wrist. He appeared to have full dexterity and movement.
“I was working on the press, and it was running at (high speed). I have short fingers and even when I wore small sized gloves, there was always a bit of glove hanging at the end of my fingers. I got a bit too close to the rollers, my glove tip got caught and it pulled my hand in and crushed it. I had to use my foot to brace myself while I yelled for someone to stop the press,” he said.
“They wouldn’t let me see it when they managed to pull my hand out of the press. I didn’t feel anything. I must have been in shock.”
During his two years recuperating from his accident, Toad took up sound production.
“I persuaded my father to buy me a soundboard. I knew a guy that made his living as a sound man in live music. I took him on vacation for a week to Vancouver Island, and had him teach me as much as he could. The live music scene was hopping in Vancouver in the eighties. It was easy to get work and I did that for a while,” he said. When the live music scene started to slow down, Toad went back to work in printing.
“Work was getting harder as I got more and more into the drugs,” he said.
In the early nineties, Toad started collecting pop bottles and beer cans.
“It took sometime to get used to it. It’s definitely not something everyone could do. But I was doing it to feed my drug habit. I started sleeping out around then to. I was spending a lot of time down around Skid Row in the Downtown Eastside (DTES, the poorest neighbourhood in Canada). Things were pretty rough down there. I try to stay away from that part of town now,” said Toad. He has a few regular places were he goes to sleep.
“I find a apace and do what I can to not cause any problems. I keep my things tidy and don’t leave any mess behind. Sometimes I get asked to move along. I’ve been sleeping where I am now for a couple of years. No one seems to mind.” Toad tells me he prefers sleeping on the streets.
“It’s easier. There’s more freedom. Even when I had a place to live, I had a full basement suite with kitchen, and living room and bedroom. But I only ever used the one room. I don’t need space the same as others do,” he said.
“I went to the hospital today to check the ashtrays for cigarette butts. I gather what I can and then roll my own cigarettes. I used the washroom there to shave. You’ve got to look good for the public, you know,” he said.
“I eat food out of the dumpsters. It’s amazing what people throw away. I know where to go to get vegetables. There are bakeries that will put out their day old goods for us binner’s. I know people who know where to get good meat. They eat meat everyday. When you find that kind of place, you don’t want to share the information with everyone. Then the supply and amount gets less and it's less likely that you’ll get any meat. If you’re starving in this city, then you’re a lazy motherfucker. There’s no need for it.”
Toad has been managing his addiction. He tells me he’s been in detox and recovery houses dozens of times over the years.
“All voluntary, nothing court mandated,” he says with a laugh.
“The more money I make, them more I’m likely to spend it on drugs. The stuff that’s out there nowadays is only 4% pure. It’s shit. I don’t like paying for that kinda crap, why bother. I intentionally don’t make too much money, cause then I do less drugs. As I’ve gotten older, I do less anyway. I haven’t had any drugs for probably over a week and a half,” he said. I asked if he drank alcohol.
“Sure, I had a beer last week. But I’m not an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict.”
Toad pulls a potable computer out of one of his bags. The coffee shop across the street has free open wifi. Toad knows several spots to get wifi. He asks me for the address of my website. “A few years ago, I started a blog,” he says.
“I was just writing about myself, it was kind of like a journal. A friend dared me to do it. He didn’t think I’d be able to stick with posting things. I looked at some other blogs and I came across one that was about poetry. I would copy her poems and post them but I’d rewrite some of the lines, or add lines of my own. That got me into writing my own poetry. I didn’t think I my vocabulary was good enough to write poetry. But there’s no rules, right?” he says. Toad also likes to photograph 'tags' - the names of graffiti artists around town and then posts them to his blog. (*Fact Check - see link below.)
He turns the computer screen around to me and asks if what he was looking at is my website. I said yes, to which he replies,
“Good, I have to bookmark things. I’ve got a lousy memory!” I told him that I was impressed that when he asked me about my website, he had used my name. He looked at me with surprise.
“I did? Really? That must have been subconsciously then. That part of the brain is amazing. It happens all the time, the subconscious brain takes over from the conscious brain. I wish I could learn more about it. It happens all the time, but the two are never on the same playing field!” #notastranger