Kenk: The World’s Most Batshite Bicycle Thief
Rare are teachers whose lessons we agree with completely. In fact, they may not exist. I know I’ve never encountered one. It’s my experience that it’s up to me to find my own truth–be it in political or philosophical doctrines, books, movies, or conversations. I reject ideas inconsistent with my reasoning and emotions, and I embrace the ideas I like.
Kenk: A Graphic Portrait, a journalistic graphic novel written by Richard Poplak and illustrated by Nick Marinkovich, tells the story of Igor Kenk, a man whose beliefs are complex and inconsistent. Kenk was born on April 7th, 1959 in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which is now part of Slovenia. He moved to Toronto, Ontario in 1988. He opened The Bicycle Clinic, a bicycle repair shop, in 1992. In 2008, he was charged with 58 counts of bike theft and 22 counts of drug-related offenses. These charges stemmed from a police raid that uncovered 2,865 bicycles amassed by Kenk, as well as 56 grams of cocaine and 8 kilograms of marijuana. According to the police, around 900 of those bikes have been reclaimed by their previous owners as stolen property.
While on bail, Kenk is alleged to have swung a metal pipe at a pregnant woman. During his tenure as operator of The Bicycle Clinic, he knowingly supported the black market for stolen bikes. In fact, his arrest came about after he was observed instructing an associate to steal a locked-up bike, which he then purchased. For these actions, I condemn him.
But as Cory Doctorow points out in his review of Kenk, every secondhand merchant deals in stolen merchandise, purposely or not. In St. John’s, my current city of residence, the flea market held in the Avalon Mall was shut down due in part to this reality. This is the bad that comes with the immeasurable good associated with secondhand markets.
Igor Kenk recorded the personal information of everyone who sold him a bicycle. His business–like any business that sells secondhand goods–was conducted according to the principles of reusing and recycling; not the unnecessary extraction of new materials. He believed Western society has already produced more products than it will ever need. Accordingly, he bought next to nothing. Instead, he harvested the materials and tools he needed from dumpsters, in which companies and private individuals had discarded objects he considered still valuable.
Kenk encouraged his customers not only to buy secondhand but also to learn how to keep their bicycles in good repair. At home, he collected the water he showered with to water his plants, flushed the toilet only when strictly necessary, and triple dipped tea bags. If Western society’s wastefulness ends up having terminal consequences for our civilization, nobody will blame Igor Kenk.
All life’s teachers behave admirably in certain instances and poorly in others. It’s our job to discern which behaviours serve human interests and which do not.