Warning: Some readers may be offended by the graphic content.
I was photographing on the street one day when I met Pete who is a homeless man in my community. He may be homeless, but he shines shoes for a living. He was sitting in his makeshift living room anticipating his next customer when I met him. Being a small business owner, I couldn’t help but notice Pete’s ability to reach out to potential clients. He would talk to them and try to connect with them; I could learn a thing or two about marketing from this apparent social outcast. Our initial contact was a jarring at first but eventually I realized we not only shared commonality in entrepreneurship, we also viewed drug addiction among the youth as a serious issue in our community.
On the surface, Pete seemed a little rough around the edges. Every now then, he would rant at passers-by, frustrated at those who would make promises to bring him something only to find out they were “just flakes”. As I was getting to know him, he shouted in a harangue, “CALGARIANS ARE SO DAMN SELFISH!”. It prompted me to find out what he really meant by that.
It took a while for Pete to settle down and for me to understand that his rant was really about how the economic downturn had hurt his bottom line. When times were good, customers would dropped a twenty dollar bill without hesitation. Despite being homeless, he earned a good keep and could afford a healthy supply of shoe polish and brushes. Unfortunately, the good living was also the onset of Pete’s cocaine addiction.
Pete had a “runner” who would regularly pick up discounted polish from a repair shop, and he would pay the runner a small stipend for the errand. Over time, the runner managed to make a consistent living so out of gratitude and in good faith, he gave Pete a small gift in return.
It was the first time Pete had ever tried cocaine. The experience as he recalled, was as if surrendering to a long orgasmic fifteen minutes (a typical amount of time a body takes to process one shot of cocaine). As Pete rambled on about how cocaine is consumed, how much should be consumed, and typically who sold the best stock on the market, I stared at him as if listening intently but all I could imagine was how this drug must have completely gripped his life. If Pete was well into adulthood when he became addicted to cocaine, how was a youth to resist the lure?
Just when I thought I could visualize the devastating effect cocaine could have on a person, Pete leaned into another story about a nineteen-year-old boy whom he had met at a house party. He had just arrived when he saw the boy sitting on the edge of a table. It was dark and smoky, and as they exchanged hellos the scrawny young man with eyes half closed leaned over to inhale a heap of white powder.
“How long have you been at this?”, Pete struck a conversation. “About a year and a half,” the boy replied, “and look what I can do!” With a big grin and groggy eyes, the boy takes another big whiff of cocaine from one nostril provoking a puff of powder to gust from the other. He laughed as Pete gawked in disbelief—the cartilage between boy’s nostrils had completely depleted from excessive sniffing. As I listened to Pete’s story and feeling awkward not knowing how to respond, he sat quietly for a moment afterwards, still affected by the shock, still needing to process the experience, and still needing to let it sink in.
It is difficult to fathom the devastation cocaine has on young people. Pete is free from this addiction today, but not a day goes by he does not think about those beguiling fifteen minutes. The only difference between Pete and the boy he met at the party is that Pete was older, slightly wiser, and in a much better position to help himself. The road to recovery remains a way of life for Pete. If only the same could be said for the boy and others like him.
Photographs by Soul Image Photography. All rights reserved ©2018.