Day 52 - Nigel (3rd person I approached)
February 21, 2014 - When I’m chatting with someone for The Stranger Project 2014, we usually stand and chat, then go on about our way. When I asked Nigel if he’d talk to me, the traffic light at which we were both waiting to cross changed, and he turned to me over his shoulder, and said “Sure I’ll talk to you, if you can walk and talk. I’ve got to be someplace.” And off we went! Nigel told me he was going to a friend’s place, and had to pick-up paper towels on his way there. He lead me down an alley that then cut across a parking lot, to the entrance of a mixed-purpose building. I wasn’t sure if we were going into the building or what was happening. “I have a lot of little places around the city, where I keep things,” Nigel told me as he grabbed a piece of paper from seemingly nowhere under a fire hose standpipe. He kept moving. Next he darted in front of me and grabbed an empty bag from a shopping cart that was on the sidewalk. “Perfect,” he says. “Let’s go this way.” I realized that I had to go along for the journey.
Nigel was born in Vancouver, on the east side of the city. “I was born at St Mary’s. Is there a St Mary’s in the city, around the Main Street area? I told someone once that I was born there and he told me there wasn’t a hospital by that name on the east side.” I think he might have been referring to Mount Saint Joseph’s, but I was still trying to keep up, hear what he was saying, and process my first chat-and-follow story (unlike with Wynne from Day 20, she was a fast mover, but at least I knew where we were going). Nigel continued talking, so I didn’t correct him. He did all of his schooling here in Vancouver, and the last couple of years he was in a Spectrum program, a senior secondary alternative program. “I did okay in school, but classes bored me, I liked the alternative approach that Spectrum offered.”
After completing high-school, Nigel moved to Nanaimo and attended Malaspina College. “I was studying to became a PE teacher. That lasted about a year. I had been drawing things since I was a kid, cartoons, characters, monsters. I liked drawing. I wasn’t really that good at it, but I kept at it. I got my first tattoo, a portrait of two of my kids.“ Nigel then proceeds then to take off his jacket, unbutton his shirt and show me the line drawing tattoo on his shoulder. “Dude charged me $250 bucks and I thought, ‘Hell, I can draw better than he can,’ and if he can charge that amount of money, maybe I could at least make some money.” So Nigel bought a tattoo gun from a magazine. Like many a tattoo artist does when learning to ink, he tattooed his own thighs. “ I have a serpent on my right leg, I’ll show when we get out side (I declined). It doesn’t have a head. I may never give it a head, it looks pretty good as is.” We talked about how he started tattooing friends. “I told some friends I was starting and they got excited and told me they wanted like hearts with wings, and I’d draw them, and then they’d look at these drawings and find a reason to change their mind. Not all of my drawings were that good back then. I feel sorry for some of the work I did when I started. I’m much better now.” Nigel has been tattooing for 10 years. He is also homeless. “I spend time sleeping at friends, or when I can’t, I sleep outside. I don’t mind it really. I keep blankets and things stashed around town for those nights.” Nigel has three children, ages 6, 8 and 10. “My kids mother is a bit of a revolutionary. She stand up for First Nations issues and fighting against the government and poverty, and human rights. I’m glad she’s their mother. She’s a good strong woman.” Between tattooing friends, getting some client’s word-of-mouth and “doing what I can” to keep things together, Nigel is trying to overcome a drug addiction. “Heroin. It was pretty bad. I’m grateful there’s a Methadone program, or I don’t know where I’d be. I’ve been good for quite some time now. I’m trying to get the money together to go see my kids in Lillooet. It’s tough. I want people to know I’m doing ok, and I tell them I am. But sometimes, you just have to wait, be patient and let people see you’re doing ok. It takes time.” #notastranger