Condenser of Loneliness: re-post of the past

Condenser of loneliness
July 9th, 2006

Condenser of loneliness

I’ve been away for a while – lost in swampy mess of depression, trying to find my way out, while presenting an artificially constructed presence to those around me.

My social skills essentially evaporate, my tolerance for other people is diminished, and my patience for their attitudes and activities rapidly shrinks to near zero. Just finding the mental space to write indicates some form of return to normalcy, and welcome it is.

While out on my own as it were, I am fortunate in being able to ‘fake’ engagement with my fellow citizenry, often amazing my self in the fluidity and competence with which I pull off a fraudulent engagement. Almost like serial marriage.

The obverse of this situation however is a grim and dismal examination of the society in which I find myself. I watch, critique, and criticize those people, events, and social realities that exist for those who will see them.

The breakdown of the vaunted Canadian ‘social contract’ is vividly displayed in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side; human misery openly displayed, the mentally ill and physically handicapped left to fend for themselves. The drug dealers, which no one will openly proclaim to be illegal immigrants from Central America seem to have an unnatural affinity for an ethnic food restaurant in the neighbourhood.

The open dealing of drugs must be countenanced by police and politicians – they certainly do nothing to curtail the open flaunting of the law. While the Supreme Court of Canada worries its tiny minds over whether a certain act on the part of police will bring “the law into disrepute;” I can only surmise that the top jurists in Canada have never actually had to live within this tangled morass called the Downtown East Side, nor have they actually ever had their comfortable middle-class lives challenged by the authority of the drug dealers to enforce territorial claims. And the Vancouver
City police seem happy enough in their own tiny little boxes, living in Delta, or Surrey, anywhere but my neighbourhood.

But the police seem to miss a vast array of other events, all part of collapse of the social contract.

They miss the four cars parked on Wall St, in Vancouver’s Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood, that all carry Alberta license plates. And they have all had Alberta plates for years. They also seem to miss the unlicensed, 36-foot, motor home. I guess because it is parked on the sidewalk it isn’t their ‘beat’ so to speak.

Then again, I’m not sure what the police actually consider to be ‘their’ beat. They seem to miss, again and again, the guy on Wall St (the house directly across from the ‘solo’ tree in the park, where stolen goods get stashed, to be retrieved by the guy in the house. Again, and again, and again.

But this is a middle-class community, and everyone knows that members of the middle-class don’t do anything illegal. And they certainly seem to be willfully blind to what their neighbour does on Wall St.

And, as I walk my routes through the messier parts of the city I see other, even more disturbing, evidence of the collapsing social contract Canadians have had for the last couple generations.

There have ‘always’ been working girls, members of the world’s oldest profession, even if some of them masqueraded as members of genteel society in Victorian English novels – hidden in plain sight, they were trying to ‘marry up,’ though one had to be careful not to be entirely too forthright about the process. But today’s street workers are never going to ‘marry up,’ if they marry at all. And I’m not all that convinced that marrying is all that good a deal at the best of times. But that is probably not half as important to these women as getting another fix, another hit, another trick, and a long way down the list, another meal.

In the last few months I have noticed something I never saw before; something that may have existed, out of sight, out of mind, out of my mind at least. Groups of women, usually two, three, or four, huddled around some temporary shelter – a reminder of how close Vancouver’s homeless are to the residents of favelas or barrios the world over. And, almost always there is one guy, just one lone male.

Is it easier to huddle together, out of society’s sight, with some lone male to offer some supposed security, than it is to maintain the façade of normalcy?

What does society owe these women? Does it owe them decent housing, a sense of self-respect, God-forbid perhaps it owes them the ability to ply their trade in peace and quiet. If only this peace and quiet would include the sense of safety that the crème de la crème deserve in Vancouver, and the sense of privilege that the crème claim as a matter of course.

There is no one sleeping in the doorways of businesses on Vancouver’s ‘West Side,’ the good citizens of Point Grey don’t go to sleep at night with the homeless camped (or passed out) in their ‘upper 10th Ave.’ doorways. God, the Mayor (“better a cripple than a woman” a woman said with some scorn) would be all over the police force if such a transgression were to slip past the donut-eaters on patrol.

But, if you live in the Downtown East Side, the police (who, remember don’t live anywhere near the area) just shrug.

So, about that contract, eh?

It seems the contract, fraying a bit at the edges, only applies to the rich (the modestly middle-class can go fuck themselves, they can’t buy enough influence at City Hall). It seems the middle-class, essentially a creation of the post-war economic situation moderated by a grim remembrance of the Depression, is nearing its own end, sliding in to irrelevance nearly as fast as the urban poor.

It also appears that Vancouver’s police have once again become virtually unanswerable to the vast electorate, who, in return, view the police with ill-concealed distaste, remarkably resembling something you might have stepped in.

And, watching the performance of police, it doesn’t take long to realize that they are solely interested in defending their own tiny bit of turf. I don’t see any action at all on the drug dealers, most of whom have been standing at the corner of Hastings and Columbia for years. And, interestingly, both the police and the dealers enjoy the Mexican food on Cordova St. So they can’t say they haven’t seen one another around.

The Canadian federal government seems unwilling, unable, or impotent when considering what do, broadly speaking, about a variety of ills. The last minority government, formed by the Liberal Party of Canada, was headed by a guy whose riches were protected in offshore havens. The current minority government, headed by the Conservative Party (they dropped the progressive part of ‘Progressive Conservative’) run by Stephen Harper, a cloned albino spawn of the Fraser Institute, our very own home-grown right-wing think-tank bunch of self-righteous neo-conservatives.

Neither the last Government, nor this one, seems prepared to ‘just’ legalize illegal drugs. Tell the police to go to hell. Tell the trial lawyer’s association to go to hell. Legalize dope. Take the money so saved, probably billions of dollars in policing, prosecution, incarceration and spend a tiny fraction of it on dope. Give the dope away, for free, trading it for a fingerprint.

And make dealing dope so prohibitively expensive that no one even thinks of bootlegging it – and for those who do give free enterprise a shot, put them in the joint (jail, eh) until Hell freezes over.

Addicts know what they are getting. Ambulance crews know, with some assurance, what the ‘subject’ of their call may have ingested. The hospital has a fighting chance of countering intentional overdoses – if we decide that intentional overdoses are something we want to counter.

The dealers are out of a job. The theft of anything that can be sold for $5 will drop. The cost of doing ‘business’ will plummet for a vast array of small, and large, businesses that currently lose huge sums of money to small-scale theft and pilferage to shoplifters and smash-and-grab theft. The auto-glass business will, unfortunately, suffer as cars get broken into far less frequently, the dope being free rather than paid for by grabbing some tourist’s camera out of their car.

And those working girls, huddled under a couple ratty old pallets? Well, the dope is free. If the dope is free the decision whether to turn tricks changes from an imperative, driven by one drug hunger or another, to some other set of decisions.

And, perhaps, with their time freed up a bit, the police would look after the guy on Wall St., and maybe, just maybe, they could turn their attention to the people who exit a parking garage at Cordova and Columbia just after shift changes at, coincidentally, the local police station. Just part of the ‘social contract,’ eh?

And, ‘condenser of loneliness’ is from Robert Hughes 1990 ‘Nothing If Not Critical,’ page 229, in reference to cities through history.

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