Jim trudged up the four flights of stairs to his room at the Cobalt residential hotel on the Downtown Eastside last Sunday night. After setting down his bag of potatoes, he darted down the hall to the washroom. He didn’t bother to lock the padlock he has on the outside of his door.
He knew better.
Jim has lived at the Cobalt Hotel for almost a decade. He is occasionally bothered by other tenants knocking on his door to ask for a light for a crack pipe. Once he returned to his room to find a woman rummaging through his things. She took off and his large collection of tapes of Art Bell radio shows took off with her, even though she would get nothing for them on the street.
Jim would like to move from the Cobalt Hotel, although he has enjoyed the view of the False Creek sunset until it was obscured by a new condo building that went up. He’s been on the waiting list for social housing at the Downtown Eastside Residents Association for six years but his name has never come up. He lacks the real politik prerequisite: he sits for example at Carnegie, within earshot of DERA people, loudly complaining, “That gaaaaaaad dammed Libby Davies; she’s destroyed this neighbourhood.” His name will never come up.
I know about Jim’s potatoes because he told many of people at Carnegie what had happened. Knowing Jim, he may have spent the last few dollars in his pocket for the potatoes. Smoking and knocking back a few beers at the Pacific tend to take priority over food.
For Jim, potatoes are a full meal. He cuts them into long strips, bakes them in the toaster oven. As he waits for them to bake, he smokes cigarettes and listens to Art Bell or George Nori on Coast to Coast radio. When the potatoes are ready, he sprinkles them with a little oil, salt, pepper, and garlic.
After returning to his room from the washroom, “I was looking forward to having some potatoes,” Jim later recalled. He looked around for the potatoes. He kept looking. The potatoes were gone.