Day 356 - Fido (1st person I approached)
December 22, 2014 - I’m very much a morning person. I love getting up really early and enjoying the prospect of the whole day stretched out in front of me. Today I was out the door early, packed in a few event’s, and was back home before noon.
I met with the film crew for the documentary ‘Not A Stranger,’ and we filmed a radio interview I did first thing this morning. After that, I went out and met a stranger for today’s story, which was also filmed.
I had walked downtown and home again as well. A productive morning like that makes coming home and napping all the more enjoyable. Even if the nap was involuntary and unintended.
I spotted Fido across the courtyard of the Public Library, in downtown Vancouver. Usually the courtyard is a busy gathering place. People sitting drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, eating snacks. There's often tourists taking photographs and looking at maps. Today, Fido was the only person there. He was sitting off to the side, in front of what looked like a large air vent that might contain the warm air exhaust for the building. A good spot to huddle on a chilly, first full day of winter. I approached Fido and told him about my project. I also explained about the documentary, which meant asking his permission to film the chat as well. He laughed, telling me
“I’m not in a witness protection plan or anything, so sure, why not?” His voice was very deep, rich and gravelly.
He was born in Calgary, Alberta.
“I have one older sister, a younger brother and a younger sister. We were all born in Calgary, and got along pretty well. I’m still in contact with them all,” he said.
“I played a lot of hockey when I was younger. I didn’t really care that much about school. I was so tuned into hockey. I was playing triple A hockey (elite competition) in my teens. That’s all I cared about," he said.
"When I was about fourteen, my family moved from Calgary to the Mission (British Columbia) area (about an hour east of Vancouver). We moved because of my father relocating for work. I was told, or ‘persuaded’ that it would be good to make the move. I had been getting into trouble at school, and my parents thought the move might do me some good,” he said.
“School just wasn’t for me. I had gotten a job at a lumber mill out by our house and worked there weekends. I left school in Grade eleven to work full time. It was hard work, for sure. But my mother had a degree and I was making more money than she was.”
Fido worked in the lumber mill for about five years.
“I met a woman and we decided that we wanted to live somewhere there was sunshine, and warmth. We ended up down in Florida (USA). I knew a few tricks that allowed us to be able to stay in the States. It was different back then as well. In those days it was easier to stay once you were there. That all changed after 9/11. My girlfriend became my common-law wife, and we started a company. Doing marketing, producing materials for other companies. Flyers, brochures, rack cards, that sort of thing. I ended up getting involved with the sales side of the business,” he said.
After a number of years in Florida, his common-law wife decided she wanted to come home to Vancouver. Fido wasn’t ready to do that.
“She left and I moved on. I tried Texas for a little while. I got some work in construction. If you were willing to do hard labour, it was easy to find decent paying jobs. But I didn’t care much for Texas. I wasn’t there for that long. I moved on to Louisiana. A guy I knew from Florida was looking for someone to doing some metal work and welding. I had always worked hard, said I’d do it, and basically learned what I needed to, on the job," he told me.
"There’s not the same 'ticket' system down there like in Canada. You get certified in one particular aspect of a job there. In Canada, you get your ticket for a broader approach to all areas of that job. Plus, I was moving from job site to job site,” Fido said.
“I’m definitely a bona fide ironworker now.” He moved around from state to state, spending close to thirty years in the USA.
“I spent some time in New Orleans after (hurricane) Katrina, working there. I was in Georgia, Arkansas, New Mexico, California. I travelled all around,” he said.
Fido returned to Canada a year ago.
“I went to Calgary first to see some family. I heard there were lots of jobs going there, with the oil. But there’s no housing, and what is available is so expensive. And it was too cold, after all those years in the sunshine,” he said, with a shiver.
“I had last been here in Vancouver, I guess around the time of Expo (1986). I kept in touch with my family, but my parents are getting older now, and I wanted to see them, so I moved back to Vancouver,” he told me. His parents still live out in Mission.
"I spoke to both of them just yesterday," he said. He had gotten work in construction here in Vancouver.
“Then I did this,” he said, nodding his head toward his left leg, which was in a boot cast. I asked him what happened.
“Oh we won’t go into details about that. Let’s just say it involved alcohol, a woman and me falling thirty feet off a fire escape,” Fido said, with a self-deprecating laugh. He went on to tell me that when he fell, there wasn’t anyone around to help him. He was “self-medicated” enough that even though he was in a lot of pain, he went back to his night of drinking.
“It was a few hours later that I figured I should get it checked out. It was hurting so bad. Turns out, I shattered my heel. The doctor doesn't think I’m going to need surgery, but we won’t know for sure for about another six weeks,” he said, shaking his head.
“I’m an alcoholic," he said when I asked if alcohol or drugs had ever been an issue for him.
“I’m a functioning alcoholic. I can get up and drink three or four beers for breakfast. Or I can skip it if I’m working. When I’m working, I don't drink before, or on the job. But with this foot, what else is there to do? I can drink beer for breakfast and not even really get a buzz on, where others might get intoxicated. Some days I drink just because if I don’t, I get pretty sick without it. I’ve drank for years, and you become dependent on it,” he said, honestly. “I tried drugs, years ago. I’ve done everything, but I grew out of that.”
“I’m homeless right now. I’m not working. I’ve got a claim going in for disability because I can’t work with this cast on, but the paperwork isn’t going through as fast as I needed it to. I could get a place, but they’re like four hundred dollars a week downtown. When I’m working I can afford a place, right now I can’t,” he told me.
Fido has been staying in a men’s hostel run by the Catholic Church.
“They do the best they can, and try to make it decent and comfortable enough so you can get a good night’s sleep,” he said.
"There’s so many of the guys at these shelters that need more than a place to sleep though. There’s so much more that needs to be done for people with mental health and addiction issues. They need care and attention,” he said. The shelter requires persons staying there to be in by eleven at night, and out again by seven in the morning.
“I just sit around, have a few beers and pass the time away. What else can I do?”
"I’ve travelled all around the US, and I’m telling you, I’m kind of disappointed with Vancouver. I mean, this is my home town, I grew up here. But I’ve never seen any place as bad as this, for drugs, anywhere. In the States you’d get arrested for the things I see on the streets here, every day. These people who are wondering around smoking crack pipes out in the open. Turning a blind eye isn’t working. There needs to be so much more done to help people. Housing is just one part of it,” said Fido.
He had told me when we first started talking, that his name was Mike, but that people called him Fido. I asked where the name ‘Fido’ came from.
“Oh,” he said, laughing.
“It’s been a nickname that friends have called me for years. My second common-law wife had three kids. I helped raise them for many years. Some of the guys at work would call me Mr Mike. I'd tell them they could just call me Mike. The kids got me a teeshirt, and it had a drawing of a dog and a doghouse on it. Above the door of the doghouse, it had the name ‘Fido’ written over it. The guys joked around and started calling me Fido, and it just stuck,” he said. Even his laughter had a deep, husky rasp to it.
I took Fido’s picture and thanked him for chatting with me, and for his honesty.
“No, thank you for asking me. That was great, I enjoyed our talk. You know, you’re right, people don’t take enough time to talk to one another. Everyone is so busy looking at their phones or have headphones plugged in. It was nice to just have a conversation. Thank you for that.” #notastranger