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Street Heart

Street ArtLook what popped up on Slater Street today: Ye Olde Apothecary, starring MAYOR LARRY O’BRIEN!

The Box
Here’s a closer look. (All the pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them. You probably knew that already.)

Conversation Starter
“This piece of art is intended as a conversation starter.”

This is what they sell at Ye Olde Apothecary: Medicines and Tonics for the Love-Seeking.

Manufacturing charm
And this is how it’s made:
For Attraction: Essence of Mayoral Swagger.
For Virility: Cat Scrotum.
For Charm: Pompousness and Obscurity harvested from local hipsters.

Tears of an Emo Kid

Swap Box
And look! There’s a swap box on the wall of Ye Olde Apothecary!

Signed Maks
If there was ever any doubt that Maks (aka Elmaks, and aka The Swap Box Artist) created the Mayor Larry Nativity Scene or this piece, I’m happy to report he actually signed this one.

Maks book

You should go downtown and see it for yourself, because it’s fantastic and I didn’t manage to capture everything with my camera, and besides, it’s just better in real life. It’s on the south side of Slater Street just east of Bank Street.

When I discovered it, Ginette, who is one of my favourite panhandlers, was standing right beside it, panhandling. Needless to say, most of the passers-by weren’t even noticing the Apothecary because they were making a point of walking past Ginette without looking at her.

She and I chatted while I took pictures of the Apothecary.

She told me she just had dental surgery a couple of weeks ago and had all her front teeth removed. She hasn’t been able to eat much since then.

I asked her where she stays, and she told me she’s got a place, but after she gets her cheque and pays for rent and other fixed expenses, she’s lucky if she’s got $100 left for the month. That’s why she panhandles.

I think she’s probably in her forties. Anytime I’ve seen her, she’s been quiet and inconspicuous, standing out of the way with her hat out, softly asking passers-by for a little help.

She said on a good day she might make ten dollars. Most people ignore her, but some people are nice and help out if they can, or at least smile and say hello. Some people aren’t very nice though: they just tell her to get a job.

“I guess they think it’s easy standing in the cold asking strangers for money,” she said, “It’s not. But I always smile at people, even when I don’t feel much like smiling.”

She smiled a bit sadly.

“I haven’t felt much like smiling lately,” she said, “ever since I got my front teeth out.”

“You still have a beautiful smile,” I told her. And she does. Her smile is not just her mouth: her eyes and her cheeks and her whole face light up, even when she smiles just a little smile.

I wish Mayor Larry could have seen Ginette today, standing in the cold beside the Mayor Larry Apothecary, smiling self-consciously and asking strangers for money.

I’d like to see if he could look her in the eye and still call her a pigeon, and then go put a dollar in the Kindness Meter instead of giving it to her.


18 comments to Street Heart

  • Carmen

    Zoom, you’re so right. I’ve been working downtown (contract work) since November. I come in from Elgin and Confederation Park. There are a few panhandlers and regulars I rather like….one man looks like a poet and I feel my day will be charmed when he says hello and smiles at me. Lately though, with the Bal de Neige, the Iron Horse Security people have been patrolling the park. No dogs are allowed even on leach (sp???) (city regulation, $100 fine, minimun) and it is understood that panhandlers and those who regularly haunt the park are as unwelcomed. Yesterday morning, a street person was looking at the ice sculptures and one IH Security person was following him like glue. I decided it was worth being late for work and quietly got between the Security Guy and the “visitor”, got out my NON CAMERA cellphone (but who knows, right?) and pretended to take pictures of the ice scuptures and the Security Guy. He decided to go work on the other side of the park…..

  • Deb

    Is there anything that we can do for Ginette?

  • Great post. We all need to be reminded from time to time that panhandlers are, in fact, people.

    Love the box pictures, too.

  • and this writing proves yet again why you won a prize in the canandian bloggers comp.

    great pics, that’s a fabulous box. do you think it will stay there for long?

  • I second Deb’s question, is there anything we can do for Ginette? It would be nice for her to have a reason to smile, if only for a little while.

  • That’s an excellent question, is there anything we can do for Ginette. Off the top of my head, I think there is one thing we can all do, and it wouldn’t cost us anything: look at them. See them. Make eye contact. Smile.

    But maybe there’s something more concrete we can do too. If any of you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

    Carmen – that’s interesting. I wonder if this extra attention on the part of the security guard was his own idea, or if it the security guards were told to keep a close eye on the street people. Good for you for getting involved.

    Toni and nursemyra – yeah, the box is fabulous. I love street art and this is really superb work. I hope it stays there awhile, but I can’t even begin to predict. I’ll keep an eye on it and let you know how long it lasts.

  • Still want to know what a swap box is. We have street people here in San Diego. I was taught not to give to street people because they are probably using the mone for drugs or alcohol.

  • Janet, I’m going to quote elmaks (the swap box artist here) from a comment he left on this blog. However, you can also click on the tag “swap box” which is a hyperlink at the bottom of this blog post, and it’ll bring up all my posts about swap boxes. These have pictures, descriptions, discussions, the works. (As for the drugs/alcohol argument, yup, it’s a common one. Some panhandlers no doubt use the money for drugs and alcohol; many others do not. My own feeling about it is that if I give money to someone, it is theirs to use as they wish, and I trust them to spend it on whatever is most important to them at this time.)

    From Elmaks:

    What is Swap Box?

    A musing on the characteristics of the Swap Box… and a manifesto on what street art itself should be.

    1. Swap Box improves its immediate environment and adds to its use characteristics. Where previously there was a telephone pole or a sheet of plywood there is now a piece of interactive art. Swap Box is also interactive. People are free to place items within the Box and take what they wish.

    2. Swap Box adds beauty, wonder and an element of ever-changing uncertainty to the urban landscape. One does not know what will be in the Swap Box unless one looks inside.

    3. Swap Box reduces all to equals in their use of it. President Bush and a six-year-old child both have the same relation to Swap Box when they open it and look inside. The creator of the Swap Box, likewise, has no idea of what will be inside.

    4. Swap Box is capable of being easily adapted to any city and any situation…all it takes is a few things and a bit of work. Likewise, Swap Box can be decorated any way which the Swap Box creator wishes

    5. Swap Box creates something within the urban landscape which keeps people coming back to check on it. It becomes a destination in itself.

    6. Swap Box draws people’s paths together and provides a potential meeting-place for strangers.

  • Kelsey

    That was a beautiful post Zoom. Sorry I don’t have anything else more substantial to add…

  • I agree with the other comments — great post. I’ve only been reading your blog for the past month or so, but already you’ve given me lots to think about.

  • Liz

    Thanks Zoom for a post so close to my heart and feelings you made me cry. People are real; I have a sort-of passer-by relationship with a woman who pushes a cart and yells at pretty much everyone that they will not be stealing her hat without a fight: sometimes she is calm enough to accept some food or money though my daughter is afraid regardless; another is no-legged and in a wheelchair: I pretend to like coffee and sausage mcmuffins but am full and give them to him because he simply won’t take charity. Life goes on.
    Thanks again, and congrats on your stats in the Blog Awards: sooner people read you the more they’re going to vote for you. Whatever happens there in future, you’ve earned your place in many hearts and minds, mine and my kid’s at least.

    If I may, though I don’t want to intrude, an update on Lady Black of Crosstown. She yowled and keened one night three weeks ago to go out, and she never came back. No-one claimed her through the SPCA, tattoo or not. We had always given her her freedom; she came and went as she pleased, came to us and then went. We are sad she is gone but hope she is having life as she wants to live it. We would expect nothing less ourselves.

    Peace to you and Duncan and yours,

  • Lynn and Kelsey – thank you very much. I appreciate your kind comments.

    Liz – I was wondering where you went! Welcome back. I’m happy to hear that you’re helping out your neighbours on the streets. As for Lady Black – how interesting. Maybe she goes where she’s needed most? Or maybe she’s a travelling cat, never staying anywhere long enough to put down roots. (I’d love to know what her story is. Cats oughta blog.)

  • Zoom, back to Ginette, I was thinking something along the lines of would she like something pretty knit for her? If so, does she have any needs, wants and/or colour preferences? Not that it would solve her problems, but sometimes the small things mean more to us than the big ones. (and in my case it would have to be fairly small, like mittens, a scarf or hat or maybe squares for a blanket if anyone was interested in collecting and sewing because I live too far away. Shipping here is horrendous.)

    I remember when I was a college student visiting friends in Berkeley. There were a lot of pan handlers but we had no money and couldn’t really help. Sometimes we would give them our sandwiches or a cigarette and you’ve just never seen anyone more grateful for something so small in your life.

  • J.

    Where on Slater is the picture box?

  • Liz

    Thanks for the laughs and good feelings Zoom.

    Yeah, Ms Black is a travelling cat I think. She’s big enough for it…
    In fact she was the best thing that ever hung around, ate my food, trashed my bed, left, and is missed ‘)


  • Another beautiful piece of art by Maks. Thanks for the great photos, Zoom!

    Carmen – as far as I’m aware, Confederation Park is public property, and they can’t kick people out unless there’s a special event you have to pay to get into or if you’re breaking the law. (But then again, in Ottawa there’s lots of crazy laws and things-that-are-enforced-but-aren’t-actually-laws)

    If you want to…ahem…give the security guard a break from the boredom, ask them for their identification card. These cards (which look like knock-off Mexican passports) are issued to security guards by the government, and say right on the back that they have to show it to any person who asks to see it. (If they don’t or can’t show it to you, you can really be a prick and report them!)

    – RG>

  • Melinda, that’s very kind of you. I love the idea of knitting Ginette something. She holds out her hat for change while panhandling, so her head must get cold. I have no idea what her colour preferences are, but she does strike me as the kind of person who would be touched by a handknit gift, and genuinely appreciative. If you would like to knit her something, please let me know – soozoom at yahoo dot com – and I’ll send you my address.

    Liz, maybe Lady Black was the universe’s way of telling you you’re ready for a new cat in your life. 😉

    RealGrouchy – you’re welcome!

    J – it’s just east of Bank Street, on the blue wooden wall. I hope it’s still there!