Friday, August 15, 2008

Day 23: Homeless

I have reached Lake Diefenbaker. There is no longer any current and the speed and direction I go depends solely on the wind and my paddling. And I have paddled hard all day, stirred on by a wind which tries to pin me to the lefthand shore. I reach Saskatchewan Provincial Park's beach about three hours to sunset.

I wondered about abit before realizing that the park was too big for me to get anywhere by walking. So, it was back to the boat to pull out my bicycle. I ride down to the registration office, and ask for a spot on the lake, so I can be by my canoe. The girl in the office is quite accomodating, and says I could set up my tent near the beach where I am already parked, or on in the Lakeside campground quite aways down. I take the latter option, thinking that would get me a head start when I wanted to go.

She then asked the standard questions when paying for a campsite: what is your address and telephone number? And the truth is, I have neither. I don't tell her that, I just give her my old address and old telephone number, knowing that this information isn't really used for anything anyway.

But it does hit home. I am officially homeless. At this point, I have been on the river more than three weeks and my face is shaggy with an unkempt beard. My face, which has not been washed for more than a week, has been attracting gnats and flies. All of my clothes are covered with dirt and mud.

At this point I am worn out from a day of paddling, and slow of speech from hardly talking to anyone for three weeks. The counter girl hands me a packet of something, and I try to figure out what it is. Instead of asking her, I just stare at it until she tells me, "It's Off. Bug repellent." Homeless people are rude.

A singular event comes to mind regarding an interation I once had with a beggar. I was in Boston, visiting my brother. We are going to get some bagels after some church service. I was not actually going to be paying for any of the bagels, mind you; I was just standing in line to give an order so my dad could pay.

A guy comes off the street and singles me out. He asks me to give him money for a bottledd water, with a sense of entitlement. Feeling threatened and put upon, I refuse. He becomes so angry that he storms up to the cashier, where he gets a free cup of tap water. So there!
I was completely befuddled. He got his revenge on me for not paying for his bottled water by... just getting free water? And why is he begging for water when it is free all around us, anyway? This is North America.

I think I can begin to understand part of his attitude, now. A bottle of water is not such a great cost to me, so why shouldn't he have it? And he is so used to being lied to, and treated as scum beneath contempt, that he does not know what to do when I refuse. Anything, in a blind search for dignity.

During this trip I have a couple of times, outside of the canoeing context, received the "scum" treatment. A person has a way of saying you don't matter, you are beneath me. If you are talking to scum it is okay to lie, because you can only "lie" to a person, and scum hasn't quite risen to that level.

And what can you do? You walk away, thinking of all the clever things you could have said or done to throw it back in the person's face. Anything, really.

Day 23 ended: 50*41.278N, 107*55.400W


Jessica said...

You have reached more of a heroic standing in my children's eyes than anything near scum. Ruby has talked about you nonstop to all of her acquaintances today. You're the "one pulling the canoe with your bike". She feels akin to you having pulled Denny in the trailer much of this summer. I am enjoying your story. Jessica

Kevin Saff said...

Thank you for reading and commenting on my posts!