Susan's Super Citizen Showcase

Monday, August 31, 2009

Merchant makes time for curious kid

Edward Gutierrez answered a slew of questions from my son today when we visited his store in Chinatown. He showed us healing stones and described their attributes - obsidian, coral, jet, jade, a type of meteorite found in China, and more.

I felt so happy and grateful that Edward took the time to answer so many questions from a curious little boy. This type of spontaneous education is exactly what I love.

We will go back to Edward's shop - Artistic Arts and Craft Ltd. at 107 East Pender St. Vancouver B.C. Canada. They sell fine gem stones and jewelry at affordable prices, like pendants starting around $12.

As I glanced at Chinese horoscope necklaces, charms, bracelets, rings, and collectables I made a mental note: "Remember this place next time I want to buy a gift."

My son is saving $49 for an obsidian wand. Son said he felt a cool wind come from the wand when Edward pointed it above the palm of his hand. He told Nana about it on the phone tonight and she was skeptical. My mom describes herself as "down to earth" and she only believes in things commonly believed by Western science and medicine. She is a smart, skeptical Nana who asked my son a few times: "Are you sure you felt something when the stone pointed at you?"

He said to me later: "Hmph! So much for supporting my new interest. She should be more open-minded."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Curtis Brick dies in the sun at East Vancouver park

I know the exact spot in Grandview Park where Curtis Brick died. I've stood there many times watching my son play in the kids water park on Commercial Drive by Britannia Community Centre. Curtis lay right in that spot in the park for eight hours on July 29 - "the hottest day on record" in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

I first met Curtis on Commercial Drive around 2006. He was sitting with some friends on the sidewalk near Spartacus Gym on Grant Street and our eyes met while I unlocked my bike. We chatted for about 10 minutes and I gave him a granola bar. He told me people used to give food to artists like him, and after that day, we always said hi.

It sickens me to think of him laying there, suffering.

Now people are talking about why no one helped Curtis. Was it racism? (Curtis was Aboriginal.) Or was it because nobody realized he needed help? We often see people laying in the park and rarely see a reason to disturb them.

According to news sources, local man Eric Schweig saw Curtis laying on the ground around 9 a.m. Schweig left the neighbourhood and returned at about 4 p.m. to find Curtis was still there - and by then, he was twitching and convulsing.

"His skin was like a furnace," Schweig told CTV News. "He was baking in the sun."

Schweig and Jennifer from the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society (VATJSS) put cool, wet blankets on Curtis while they waited for emergency crews. Witnesses say fire crews made racist comments and ambulance crews treated Curtis roughly. Vancouver Firefighters and the B.C. Ambulance Service deny it and they are launching reviews of what happened. Curtis was taken to hospital and pronounced dead around midnight.

Some people believe Curtis was treated with less care because he is Aboriginal. And of course we have to ask how Curtis ended up in that situation in the first place. What kinds of systemic racism led Curtis down a path of life that ended in the park that day?

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is calling for a coroners inquest and the Indigenous Action Movement held a memorial rally at Grandview Park on Aug. 19.

"My brother wasn't a piece of garbage you just walk by on the street," Brick's sister Karen Bullshields said, reports News 1130 online. "My brother was a family man, he was a hard worker. He fell on hard times as so many people do."

Christine Smith-Parnell is the executive director of VATJSS and she published a press release on the death of Curtis.

Smith-Parnell said at the rally: "We're grateful that the aboriginal community would stand up in the park and say that's not acceptable that one of their own would sit and die in a very busy park and nobody would do nothing." (reports

The Georgia Strait published photos of the memorial. Seeing the photos confirmed it was the man I knew from Commercial Drive.

Why did so many people walk past Curtis laying on the ground? Was it racism? Or was it the fact that many people in Vancouver have grown accustomed to seeing people sleeping outside? (And how we can grow accustomed to that is a whole other story...)

Veteran journalist Gary Mason tackled this question in his Globe and Mail editorial "Uproar over homeless man's death is hypocritical."

Mason points out that people ignored Curtis while he was alive. Only now, after his death, are we showing concern for him. "Before, he was someone we stepped over on the way to work."

Mason gives his opinion on why people ignored Curtis - and I've heard a few other people with this view: "There are homeless people sleeping in parks all over the city. How do we know any of them are dead or alive? How do we know they aren't dying before us? Are we to call 911 every time we see a homeless person sleeping on a bench?"

"How was anyone supposed to know Mr. Brick had been lying in the park for six hours or longer? People in that park that day came and went. I doubt any of the parents using the water park were there for more than 30 minutes. They had no idea how long the man seemingly asleep on the grass had been there... how is the average person supposed to tell the difference between someone sleeping it off and someone quietly dying?"

I agree with Gary Mason that it can be really hard to tell if someone is "just sleeping" or in distress. Is there more we can do to recognize when to call for help? What can we look for? What should we do? Who should we call? And what can we do to stop such a tragedy from happening again?

I think people ignored Curtis simply because they didn't realize he needed help. But whatever the reason, it's too late for Curtis, who was only 46.

Rest in Peace Curtis. Condolences to your family, friends, and community. xoxo

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Denise / Pygmy hosts the "We Survived" Punk Rock Reunion Party

“We absolutely could not have done it without Facebook,” says Denise Fantinato, also known in the Vancouver punk scene as Pygmy Paisley. "It was a way to connect with everyone."

On Saturday, August 8, 2009, Denise and her husband Alessandro opened their East Vancouver home to more than 100 people from Vancouver’s late 70s and 80s punk scene. Plans for this epic reunion party started in June when Denise reconnected on Facebook with Kiva Lane, a former Vancouver punk now living in Portland, Oregon.

"Kiva and I were talking on the phone and I asked her: 'Do you ever get up to Vancouver?' and she said: 'Yes I come up every summer,'" Denise explains. "I said: 'Let's get together and do something' and Kiva said: 'Yes! We'll have a reunion' - and we meant just a few people."

But, thanks to Facebook, the party grew... and grew... and grew! At first, Denise and Kiva shared the idea with old friends Dianne Reyes, Judy Insall, and Coco Moon, and together the group started a guest list. Kiva posted a private Facebook event to get more folks on board: The "We Survived" Punk Rock Reunion Party - with an invite that reads: "If you're Alive, then you Survived, and friendships of old should be Revived!"

Guests confirmed their attendance via the Facebook invite, announced what they would bring to the potluck, and volunteered for tasks to keep the party running smoothly. When guests thought of others to invite, they told the new invitees to friend one of the hosts on Facebook so they could be added to the growing guest list. This level of organization is quite a contrast to the parties of yesteryear - when people ran around at the end of a punk gig yelling: "Party at Pygmy's!!!"

Sadly, Kiva and her family were turned away at the Canadian border because they did not have the right paperwork. Denise announced this disappointing news via Facebook, and a flurry of upset wall posts appeared in response. However, Kiva responded with grace and acceptance on her Facebook page - noting there will be more opportunities to reconnect in the future.

On the big day, people arrived with their casseroles, salads, veggie trays, and bags of chips. Many - including me - brought our kids. My son Toby wore my old Kill City t-shirt Ron Reyes gave me in 1983. After the party, Ron did something he had been avoiding for a long time: he actually joined Facebook! "Here's a big fat good bye anonymity!" he wrote. I was very touched by his comment on the photo I posted: "this little guy made my night with his Kill City T Shirt. I screen-printed that shirt about a quarter century ago in my little studio @ 311 Hastings street. Susan kept it clean all these years I was soooooooo impressed and moved."

Throughout the night, gasps of shock and delight blasted through the party as guests spotted each other for the first time in 25 years. The din of conversation and laughter rose above any party I've attended in recent memory. "Remember when so-and-so did blah-blah-blah! Ahhhhhh!"

We enjoyed music by Jonny Swenson and the Vice Kings, The Manglers, and Theda Baras - with lots of jamming and guest spots by Vancouver musicians including (in no particular order) Randy Rampage, Ron Reyes, Brian Goble, Randy Bowman, Simon and Phil Addington, Jen Wold, Doug (Donut) Proulx, Zippy Pinhead, Stevo Knauff, Nadja Feutlinske, Gerry-Jenn Wilson, Mark Godfrey, James Mark, and more. No doubt I am missing people, so please leave a comment and tell me who I left out. Photographer Bev Davies was there, camera in hand. Incidentally, you can see Bev's exhibit of concert photography from the past 30 years at Chapel Arts (304 Dunlevy Ave. Vancouver, BC) til Aug. 16.

Some people compared the party to a high school reunion, but others said it was more like a family get-together. Back in the late 70s and 80s, many of the younger punks came from dysfunctional homes, so they joined together at gigs and parties in a group that felt like family. In my case, I was lucky enough to come from a stable, middle-class family - but, like many others in the punk scene, I felt like a misfit within my group of peers at school. I hooked up with this crowd after transferring to Ideal School in 1983 when I was in Grade 10. This alternative program was for kids who were strong in academics but looking for an escape from the oppressive atmosphere of the conventional high school.

So many of my former Ideal School classmates were at the reunion - like Jim Sigmund and Maria Turner, in this photo on the left, with Randy Rampage in the background. Back in the 80s, we hung out with students from other alternative schools - Total Ed and City School - and went to see bands at all-ages shows and parties.

For many of us, we made it to adulthood relatively unscathed, aside from a bit of under-aged drinking and risky dabbling. Some of us went to university, others went into the trades. Some had kids, started businesses, wrote books, travelled the world, played in rock bands, and did all kinds of things during the past two decades before we met again.

Many others died.

DOA's Randy Rampage stood on the back yard stage and proposed a moment of silence for everyone who did not survive. Most of the missing folks (RIP) were lost to drug overdoses, and I overheard a few groups of people trying to count how many had died. Someone counted 15, and another counted 26, but I don't think anyone reached a conclusive number. This tragic fact of life - and death - reminds us why it was called: The "We Survived" Punk Rock Reunion Party.

Denise guessed that about half the party was in recovery from addiction - hence a lot of pop was consumed alongside the beer and wine! One guest (rumoured to be dead) announced his one-year cake that was "18 years in the making" after he survived a battle with heroin for most of his adult life. He was referring to a tradition within Narcotics Anonymous in which recovered addicts have a birthday-ish celebration - complete with a cake - to recognize the number of years they have been living drug-free.

Thanks to Judy Scully for creating a Facebook group - Vancouver punk rock reunion 2009. As of this blog post, the group has 62 members who posted more than 200 photos of the party. Many, many thanks again to Denise and Alessandro for getting the ball rolling and hosting this huge event! Check out their cool business: SeeSpotRun Canine Services.

I've heard some whisperings about making it an annual event... Any volunteers for next year? ;-)