Well, 2011 has it's first 'viral' sensation (does anyone else find this term unnerving?) in Ted Williams, better known as "The homeless man with the golden voice" which has ignited a whole new powderkeg of revolting behaviour in celebrity-obsessed North Americans, sending all types of news crews and TMZ wannabes to the streets in search of the next great homeless talent.
Sad that it took the vocal talents of Ted Williams to encourage people to stop and talk with those that many of us ignore on a daily basis, but what is even sadder, is the mentality that is driving this new-found curiosity in people who live on the streets. If the deplorable segment that aired on CBC last night is to be believed, then what homeless people want out of life more than anything is to be 'discovered' and to become famous. But, not only did CBC miss the mark terribly on this story (the best example they could find was a man singing country tunes outside the Granville Skytrain station who is not only gainfully employed, but also has a home and a loving family), they encouraged Canadians to participate in the same type of celebrity obsession that has been devouring America for decades.
Here in Vancouver, the idea of actually stopping to talk with a homeless person, (rather than just drop change in the hat and keep on walking), was brought to our attention at the end of last year when the First United Church placed statues around the city that were meant to look exactly like a typical street person except with no face. The idea was to bring awareness to the facelessness of the homeless, and to encourage people to pay more attention to the people we all pass on a daily basis. There was no solipsism in this venture and nobody was suggesting that you might just discover then next great singer/actor/voiceover guy. The idea behind it was that you might give more to someone living on the street just by saying hello and getting to know them instead of getting anything out of them for your time.
I'm not trying to be self-righteous here, but I started talking to a homeless man last year and ended up befriending one of the most interesting people I know. It all started when I stopped in front of the Hyatt Hotel outside the Burrard Skytrain station one day to give a man, whom I saw regularly sitting on a milk crate and holding out his hat, a McDonald's coupon for a free Big Mac that someone had given me. I suggested he use it to get an Angus burger instead of a Big Mac because the coupon was transferrable to any entree sandwich and the Angus was more expensive. The next day he told me that the manager had given him a hard time about it, even though I had performed the same feat earlier in the week with no resistance. We formed a friendship after that day, and even though I don't always have change to give Jeff, I always say 'hello' and 'good morning' and I'm pretty sure it means more to him than a quarter.
Side note: Since that day, Jeff has shared many stories with me about his life including the time he had a beer with Paul Bernardo and Carla Homolka and the time Stompin' Tom Connors bought him a cheeseburger and fries and then proceeded to beat the piss outta his old man behind the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto.