The cherry blossoms were falling from the trees and a group of young people were passing around a joint when a gum-chewing Jody Claman pulled up to Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the window rolled partway down. In the back of her black Escalade were eight pots of chicken corn chowder (organic), dozens of slices of multigrain bread (home baked) and a pile of bowls and spoons (plastic).
Since last June, Claman, now known as the villainous West Vancouver boutique owner on Real Housewives of Vancouver, has been bringing homemade soup to the park on some Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“Last time we wore gloves and they were mad” said Claman, dressed all in black and sans her usual high-priced bling. “They said, ‘What do you think, we have a disease?’”
The gloves were off on Thursday – in an entirely different way from Wednesday night’s episode. Did you see Jody tearing into Christina over her behaviour at her 30th birthday party, and threatening legal action if she criticized her daughter, Mia, again?
“You stripped. It’s pathetic,” she chastised Christina during the episode’s dramatic coffee shop climax. When Christina countered with a comment about Mia, Jody shot back: “My daughter? Don’t ever bring my daughter up. I will sue your ass. ... It will be on fire.”
On this spring afternoon in the park, there was nary a hint of the meddling witch who reduced Christina to tears on national television. Minus her fashion-forward tiara, Prada slippers and the possibly reality-altering editing of reality television, Claman appeared more real housewife at Oppenheimer Park than she does on the show.
“I made a really yummy bread today, sweetie. You’ll love it,” she said to one man. “Put on some weight. You’re so thin,” she told another.
(Lest this sounds like a publicity stunt, there was no invitation to attend from any broadcaster or production company, but rather a reporter’s recollection from an earlier interview that Claman does this on some Tuesdays and Thursdays – which was confirmed by the show’s publicist. The Globe and Mail was the only media outlet there and Claman requested that the Globe be sensitive about photography.)
“She’s awesome. She’s fantastic. A good person.” said Claman’s friend Shelley Harmatny, who drove in from Burnaby in her silver Mini Cooper convertible (top up) to help out. What does she think of her pal’s portrayal on TV? “Terrible, but, you know, it is what it is. I mean, you can’t take it to heart. I know Jody and she’s not like that. Not at all.”
A handful of people – all women while we were there – recognized Claman from TV; among them, Kiara Katcheech-Williams, 21. “I like the attitude on TV; it looks to me like you speak your mind,” she said, while Claman cooed over Katcheech-Williams’s 2-year-old brother’s Adidas tracksuit, and promised to bring him a pair of Uggs (now outgrown by Claman’s 4-year-old daughter) next time she’s at the park.
“It stretches my soul,” said Claman about her Larry Lunch Bucket society. “I grew up normal. I grew up basic. My parents were both very, very privileged, born both with silver spoons in their mouth. And they taught us to believe in equality and treat all people the same. Sincerely. Just because you’re wealthy you should be treated differently?”
She said she wants to turn the society into a registered charity and create infrastructure for employment and housing. “We want to buy buildings,” she said, pointing across the street in the direction of businesses such as Double Happiness Foods Ltd. and Payle$$ Meats.
She did not seem distressed about her portrayal on television the previous night.
“A very large part of the show is editing. And people don’t realize the hours of which you’re inculcated to of nonsense. And then I speak my voice, and that’s how they portray me,” she said, behind a huge pair of sunglasses.
“I’m not concerned. It’s a show. It makes people giggle ... and they watch.”
At the park, most of the takers – and Claman figures she served about 250 people Thursday afternoon – had no idea she was anybody other than the gregarious woman who serves them soup on occasion.
“Her? Jody?” asked Chris Carew, when told she was one of the cast members of the Real Housewives of Vancouver. “I’m divorced. I don’t have a housewife.”
John Brown, originally from Montreal, didn’t know she was on television either. “I don’t get very many channels on my TV,” he said, adding that he lives in a Downtown Eastside SRO hotel.
The main thing for Brown, 57, was the soup (he gave it a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10) and the fact that someone – TV star or not – had taken the time to prepare and serve it.
“It’s a wonderful feeling. The people of Vancouver are the greatest. They just won’t let you give up on yourself. They’re always there to pick you up, you know? They’re like angels.”