Joanne premiered her documentary, The Litter Guy, last night at Angell Gallery and she invited me to take in the evening with her. She said it would be an intimate gathering. I brought a bottle of cheap Argentinian wine (I’m told the Argentinians and Chileans make the best cheap wine – in fact, a high scale restaurant back in Regina uses this same wine as their ‘House Red’).
There were five of us all together. Two I met previously at a script reading I filmed back in October at a completely unrelated event. This was the first time that I ever experienced my small circle of Toronto acquaintances, acquainting themselves with each other, purely through coincidence. This happens all the time in Regina. In the Sea of Toronto – not so much. I take it as the Universe affirming my decision to make Toronto my home.
The documentary itself was a slow burner. If I were watching on TV, I’d have flipped the channel after 30 seconds. As a captive audience member in a screening however, I was accorded the time to let the documentary wash over me. Verisimilitude at its most naked. It was about a recovering addict who took it upon himself to clean up garbage on the streets of Toronto, rain or shine, for whatever pocket change people walking by could spare. It was his alternative to panhandling. As the movie progressed, we began to see the very subtle details of this guy’s life unfold. We began to see how the everyday ordinary, when examined on this intimate level, could reveal such a rich underbelly. This man was a fascinating and tragically flawed character whom we grew to care about.
I was quite moved by one idea in particular that fell out of this documentary. Never encountered this idea anywhere before – not in any book, not a movie, not even in real life. We’ve all heard stories about how the simplest words of encouragement can raise our fellow human beings up – move them to soar above the chains that weigh them down.
We associate this sort encouragement with positive vibes. So easy to crush a person’s headspace with negative words. And sometimes with just a sentence or two – a small handful of words – we can do just the opposite.
And sometimes, with those very same words of encouragement, those heartfelt good vibrations, we can imprison someone – chain them to a path towards their own self destruction. That’s the never-before-encountered idea I was exposed to in this documentary.
The Litter Guy obviously needed the small amounts of pocket change he raised everyday cleaning up garbage on the street. As previously mentioned, he worked rain or shine for that pittance. But as much as that money paid for his meagre lifestyle, it was the strong words of encouragement that came with each loonie, toonie, and quarter he received that drove him.
Perfect strangers would walk up to this guy with a smile and a warm vibration, expressing their gratitude for how much his small contribution to the world moved them. The Litter Guy fed off this gratitude. It was his new drug. Gave meaning to the meaningless. Raised him up. Moved him.
Kept him on the street, picking up garbage for a pittance, looking for more gratitude from perfect strangers.
So many people have reached out to this guy, who know him well. They’ve tried to give him opportunities to escape his poverty. Their hearts have genuinely gone out to this guy. But for all their best intentions, they couldn’t help The Litter Guy passed his demons. He is incapable of managing his life. Every genuine effort fails. He pushes those who know him well away – leaving him with only the gratitude and pocket change of perfect strangers to fuel him further.