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bench

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11 October 2013

On my way to the park I saw Shakes sitting on a low wall near the sidewalk.

“Hi, Shakes, is nobody up the hill?”

“Oh, there are some people up there. I was on my way to the liquor store, but this is as far as I could walk. My legs gave out. Would you go on a run for me?”

“Sure, I’ll go , Shakes.”

“Here’s the change, a bottle of Imperial, please. I’ll see you up top.”

It was only a block out of my way, so I didn’t mind the detour. Later, I met with the rest of the group. Chuck was leaning against his sleeping bag. Inuk had earphones on listening to Chuck’s music. Mariah was standing,  Shakes was sitting on the curb.

“Thanks, Dennis, I appreciate that.”

Chuck said, “Bruce and I have been working the past two days and we got work for Monday as well. Stella hired us to do some landscaping. They had a big load of gravel dumped. We’ve been taking the big rocks out and raking the rest. Bruce keeps telling me to slow down, but once I start a job I want to get it finished. That’s why they like to hire us. They know the job will get done. Last time they hired high school kids. They were too slow. They didn’t know how to work. We worked right through the rain on Monday, it didn’t matter to us. They liked that. So, I’m going to have lots of money for food, booze and weed.”

Pierre came down the hill on his roller blades. He said to Mariah, “I’ve got a present for you.” He handed her a plastic bag of weed. “Smell it, what do you think?”

Mariah said, “It smells like Tangerine.” To me she said, “I like buying from Pierre, because I know everything is natural. He uses natural cow manure, no chemical fertilizer. Also, it’s mellow. It doesn’t make me choke when I inhale, like some of that other shit. He’s got a bunch of strains going. Every time he gets something new he brings me a sample, just to try. ”

Pierre said, “I’m so happy today. My parents are moving and they’ve offered me all their old furniture. I asked, ‘Even that new bed you bought?’ They said, ‘Everything, take your pick.’ It’s going to be nice having new, or at least different, furniture.”

Mariah said, “Six, at the bottom of the hill. He’s on motorcycle.”

Chuck said, “I saw a cop on nearly every corner. I think there must be some dignitaries in town. They’re probably coming in a, what’s the word, cascade? I don’t think cascade is the right word. Dennis, what is it?”

I said, “Maybe, cavalcade, or procession?”

Mariah said, “Yeah, it could be procession.”

Chuck said, “I didn’t want to use the wrong word and look stupid.”

Mariah said, “What else is new? Joy is still sick, puking and diarrhea. She doesn’t seem to be able to shake that. She’ll be better for a few days then it’s back again. I’ll stop in to see her when I get home.

“I saw Jacques, but he was in a bad mood, just passed by. I guess he didn’t get his check today.” To everyone she said, “I see lots of empty cans in the bushes. Is no one collecting?”

I said, “I’m sure Chester will get them on his next butt run.”

Mariah said, “It won’t be today. I just talked to him on the phone. He’s not coming down.”

I said, “I talked to Little Jake, yesterday.

“How has your back been, Mariah?”

“It’s better today. I’m still wearing the heat pack. I get the refill pads in a box of three for three bucks. They heat up as soon as they’re in contact with air. I’ll show you what they look like. See, little gel packs. Not bad for a buck each.

“I’ve kicked Charlie out for a while. Sometimes I just need a few days to myself. He’s been trying to be nice, he’s even being nice to my friends, but they know what he can be like. He’s a big guy with a lot of military training. It scares people when he gets in one of his moods.”

Shakes pulled a half roll of toilet paper out of his jacket pocket and blew his nose.

Chuck said, “Shakes, you didn’t get it all. Try again.”

Mariah said, “Chuck be nice.” To me she said, “Someone has to side with Shakes’ sometimes.”

Chuck said, “I am being nice. If I turned my head away, it wouldn’t be nice. As it is I’ve got my back to Inuk, but she’s in her own world listening to music. It’s only polite to tell Shakes when he’s got snot hanging from his nose. I don’t want to look at that.”

It was just about time for me to go back to work, so I stood up and said my goodbyes. Mariah said, “I’m going to the Lord Elgin. I’ll walk with you part way.” We crossed the street. Mariah said, “Let’s stay away from this guy taking photos. I’m a bit camera-shy. When pictures of me get out, bad things happen.”

I said, “Yeah, there are a lot of crazies out there.”

She said, “That’s one way of putting it.”

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group3

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9 October 2012

Joy was huddled in her blanket with her hood pulled close to her face. She was rocking back and forth. When I came closer, I could see that she was shivering.

“I’m freezing, ” she said. “I didn’t see you on Friday.”

“I was at Silver’s funeral. I met his sister, his three brothers, nephew, son and granddaughter. She’s a little sweetheart, just four years old.”

“I know that Outcast, Shark and Irene went.”

“Yeah, I saw them there. They didn’t stay for the service. Stella was also there.”

“We were too bummed out. Chester was crying. He got me crying. He took it really hard. He said, ‘What am I going to do with the dvds that Silver lent me.’ They’d often get together to watch movies, game shows, eat pizza and drink beer.”

“How was your weekend?” I asked.

“Quiet, I went to visit Loretta for the weekend. She’s renting a room in a house near Mer Bleu. It’s out in the country, a gorgeous house. Her landlord doesn’t like her boyfriend, Vance. He’s been really ignorant on the phone when the landlord has answered. He said, ‘Why the fuck are you answering Loretta’s phone?’

“The landlord was away this weekend. Vance came to visit. I hardly saw Loretta at all. When I woke up Sunday morning they were gone. I had no bus fare, because I’d given tickets to Loretta. I had no cash, because I spent the last of it on a bottle for her. So, I was stuck. The landlord had change in a dish near the door. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to get home.”

“So, you and Loretta are friends again?”

“Yeah, we’re fine. It’s just when she gets drunk that she acts crazy. When she’s relatively sober she’s okay. She has to go into rehab, sometime soon. She’d previously said, that she was going to come back to the house after she finished. Vance gave her an emerald ring on Friday. I could see that it was an antique ring. I talked to her landlord on the phone yesterday and he seemed really pissed off. Now, Loretta is saying she’s going to find a new place to stay after rehab. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vance had stolen the ring from her landlord.”

“Irene was really upset Friday, after Silver’s funeral. She had been going out with Silver for about six years. She dumped him for Shark. She and him have been together now, for about five years.”

“Silver mentioned that. When I told him that Shark and Irene were going to share an apartment, he said, ‘He’d better have a place to hide when she gets crazy.’ He also mentioned that Irene was the reason he started smoking again.”

“It hit Silver really hard when Irene left him. He didn’t go out with any women since her. He’d say, ‘I still love Irene, I have no interest in other women.’ ”

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salvationarmy

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5 October 2012

At 10:15 this morning I entered the Kelly Funeral Home, Somerset Chapel, to attend the viewing and memorial service for Silver. Most of the viewing rooms were empty. I heard voices and walked into one of the rooms. I didn’t know if I was in the right room until I saw, at the front, two boards of photographs with Silver lettered on top. There must have been a dozen photos on each board. Many of the photos I wouldn’t have recognized. They were from Silver’s childhood, teenage years and as the adult that I had considered my friend for the past nine months. As I was looking, I was approached by a woman with blond hair, and a welcoming smile.

She asked, “Did you know Silver well?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I sat and talked with him nearly every day. In the mornings, in front of Starbucks, and at noon at ‘the benches’ at Confederation Park.”

“I’m Silver’s’s sister, Cathy, by the way.”

“Silver spoke fondly of you,”

“Did you also know that he has three brothers, a son and a grandchild? Did Silver mention that? I’ll introduce you to them when I see them.”

“Silver may have mentioned the rest of his family. The last time I saw him was about two weeks ago. He showed me the swelling of his ankle and varicose veins he was worried about. He said he had an appointment with his doctor that same day. Jacques mentioned that Silver’s stomach was swollen. We all noticed that he had lost weight, especially in his face, and were worried about him. Sometimes, he would sit alone and just gaze into the distance. It just seemed to be his way. It was a great shock to hear that he had passed away.

“What was given as the cause of death?”

“Liver failure. Swollen ankles and abdomen are symptoms of liver failure. Luckily the whole family was able to be at his bedside for the last week. His son and granddaughter, of course, his mother and father, his brothers, his nephew. We all had lots of stories. It was good to see Silver laugh.”

“Here’s Cody now, Silver’s son, and Cody’s daughter Jennifer, Jenny for short.”

“Hi, Cody, and Jenny. I knew your father well. I’m so sorry for your loss. You have a striking resemblance to your dad.”

“I know. I’m proud of it.”

Cathy said, Dennis have you met Steve?”

“Hi Steve.”

Linda said to Dave, “You saw John fairly regularly too, is that right?”

“Every day or so we’d go for a beer together. I lived next door to him at the Lafayette.”

Cathy said, “We’d lost contact with Silver. We didn’t know he was so close. He didn’t have a phone. If we’d know where he was we would have whisked him away.”

“Steve, how long was Silver at the Lafayette, about four years?”

“Nearly five years.”

“Dennis,” asked Cathy, ” what was your impression of Silver?”

“He was the sweetest, kindest, gentlest man. He always had a smile to greet me. It was always a pleasure talking with him.”

Cathy said, “He was a glass-half-full kind of person, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” I said, “He was always cheerful and optimistic.”

I saw Danny, Outcast, Spike, Shark and Irene. Outcast walked over to the photographs and said, “Here’s me with Silver, this other one is of me also, but my head is cut off.”

I said, “Outcast I’d recognize your crotch anywhere.”

Shark said, “We’re not staying for the service. We just came to pay our respects to Silver’s family, then we’ll raise a few glasses to Silver.”

Irene and I walked over and signed the visitor’s book. I saw Danny sitting down, so I went over and sat with him.

“I’m just on my way to Thunder Bay,” he said. “After I leave here I’m, going to the bus depot to pick up my tickets.”

I asked, “Is that where you’re from. Do you have family there?”

“My mother’s in hospital, so I want to spend time with her. She has had part of her colon removed. Now they’ve found more polyps in the remaining colon. Doctors want to remove another two inches. She doesn’t want to go through that again. She said, ‘I’m ready to go. Why won’t they just let me die at home.’

“She’s had a hard life. My dad passed away a while back. He was on life support. The family was asked for permission to stop the machines that were keeping him alive. I was talking to my mom, on my cell phone, when they pulled the plug. I heard laughing in the background. The family thought that after he was removed from life support that he would die immediately. He drifted off to sleep for about ten minutes, then he awoke. He said, ‘I must be in heaven, I see all the angels of my family around me.’ Everyone laughed. I think he was trying to hold on until I arrived, but he didn’t last long enough for me to see him alive. At least I got to talk to him, and tell him that I loved him.

I met Silver’s brothers and his nephew. I also met Spike. I introduced myself. I said, I think we’ve met before at ‘the benches’, or at the ‘heater’. “Maybe, he said, I go to those places.”

Shark said to Spike, “What do you think of this place?”

Spike said, “It’s handy to the Somerset Street Beer Store.”

It was time to go upstairs for the memorial service. I’m guessing there were about fifty to seventy-five people in attendance. The Minister, who hadn’t met silver, started the service with a reading from  the Book of John:

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 

Jesus the Way to the Father

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know [b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

The minister added a personal note. “I am getting on in years. I know that when my time comes that my Lord will have prepared a room for me, even though in my life I have made mistakes. I am human. We all make mistakes. The dead are not gone, they live on in our hearts and memories, and in the genes of Jesse and Abbie.

He then went over and blessed Silver’s cremation urn with holy water.

A family member read a poem she wrote for John.

Cathy talked about stories from their childhood, stories that they had recounted at Silver’s bedside:

In the winter, Silver loved ‘bumpering’. To go bumpering, you grab the bumper of a moving vehicle and allow it pull you as it careens along the icy roads. This is dangerous and not at all recommended.

Silver enjoyed board games such as Monopoly and Clue, and playing cards. He and his older brother, Don, played a game called Hi-Lo. The loser of each hand would have to do push ups. What Silver didn’t know was that Bob was stacking the deck against him. Don was ahead in the short run, but Silver developed massive shoulders, that gave him the advantage in wrestling.

Our father died when Silver was nine years old. The three oldest siblings had to take turns minding the two youngest. Silver wanted to go riding on his bike, but it was his turn to care for his younger brother. Silver found a way to do both things at the same time. He tied his brother to the front stair railing and hopped on his bike. He rode around and around the block, waving at his brother each time he passed.

Cathy read the following poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye,

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

The service ended, and as the congregation arose and left the chapel the following song was being played:

 

Spirit in the Sky

by Norman Greenbaum

When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best
When I lay me down to die
Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best

Prepare yourself you know it’s a must
Gotta have a friend in Jesus
So you know that when you die
He’s gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
Gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
That’s where you’re gonna go when you die
When you die and they lay you to rest
You’re gonna go to the place that’s the best

Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus
So you know that when I die
He’s gonna set me up with
The spirit in the sky
Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best
Go to the place that’s the best

At the door leaving the building I had a chance to speak with Stella, who has known Silver and the rest of his friends for the past sixteen years. I hope to collaborate with her and share information. She had the following to say about Silver:

I met Silver at the beginning thru Tom, who used to pan at the Metcalfe & Albert corner. They both decided they would hitch-hike up to Timmins for some reason, but only got to Carp and came back. Guess there weren’t many beer stores along the way. Very funny. Tim passed away a few years ago. 

This was a very emotional service. Over the past nine months silver had become one of my family — my street family. It filled a void in me where my own family once was. They have all passed away, or are living in different parts of the continent. I too am a father and a grandfather.

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group3

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4 October 2012

Sitting on a curb near the park was the regular congregation. Serge, who had been sleeping on a park bench on Elgin Street, came walking up the sidewalk with William.

I asked, “Does anybody know any details about Silver’s funeral? I’d like to attend if I can.”

Andre said, “From what I’ve heard, it’s at Kelly’s Funeral Home on Somerset. The viewing of the body is at 10:00, and the service is at 11:00. You won’t see me there. I’ve been to too many funerals, dozens of them. I want to remember Silver the way he was, not the way they’ll have him in his casket. I can’t take that.”

I said, “Hi Serge, William. Serge, have you seen the doctor yet. You mentioned that you wanted to see him about your stomach and your shoulder.”

“My stomach is okay. I have an appointment with the doctor next Thursday. It was arranged through Center 507, with a doctor at the Clinic on Cooper Street. William and I are just going for something to eat now.

“Shakes, how are you today? You didn’t look too good yesterday when the fire truck and the paramedics arrived.”

“I’m fine, I’m just tired that’s all.”

“How are you Andre?”

“Last night Joy, Jake and I were drinking at Jake’s new apartment. Joy and I got into a little tiff. We were both drunk. I decided to leave and I woke up in somebody’s garden. I was eating carrots, some kind of squash. I used a Tim Horton’s card to slice a tomato. That worked really well. I killed a pumpkin, a big sucker. I just wound up and ‘kapow’. Now, I got all these stains on my pants.”

I asked, “Did Joy find out when she’s going to be able to see a doctor?”

“Yeah, she’ll be going tomorrow.

“I’m just waiting for my worker, she’s supposed to be here at 12:45. She’s going to take me to see an apartment. Next week she’ll take me to see a doctor. She asked me, ‘Do you have any medical problems?’ I said, ‘How much time do you have? I can keep you writing for an hour with all my medical problems.’

“I walked into a clinic one time, there were all kinds of people in the waiting room. I walked up to the counter and said, ‘I’m in the middle of one of my mood swings. I want a doctor NOW! I guess I looked real freaky. The doctor saw me right away and gave me some medication. It was potent stuff. I felt like a zombie for three days. I don’t want to take that again, I couldn’t do anything but sleep. When I was awake, it was like I was in a fog. I smoke pot instead. It keeps me mellow. If I don’t have any for about three days, I start to get wired up.

“One time the cops were chasing me and I pulled myself over a five foot fence. What I didn’t realize was there was a thirteen foot drop on the other side. I broke some ribs that time. I had a floating rib for a while. That really hurt. Sometimes, I wouldn’t be able to catch my breath.

“Another time I jumped out a second story window. There was a wooden shed below that broke my fall and my ribs on the other side.”

Wolf said, “Did I tell you that Shaggy bit me this morning. That’s why she’s over there in front of Nick. She started the day well, she walked all the way down here on her own. For a thirteen year old dog that’s pretty good. These guys get her all wound up. I reached in front of her and she chomped down on my wrist. It didn’t break the skin, but it’s so sore.

“That’s all I got to say to you.

“Andre, can I have a drink from your bottle?”

Andre said, “Yes.”

“You know, I don’t often ask you for anything, do I?”

“No, you don’t, Wolf. I don’t remember the last time you asked me for something.”

“Alright then, just so we have that straight.”

A skateboarder went by and Shaggy started barking and chasing him. Andre grabbed Shaggy’s leash, just in time. He said to the frightened kid, “She doesn’t like skateboards.”

Andre said to  a woman passing by, “That’s a beautiful shawl you’re wearing, sister. Has anybody told you today, that you’re beautiful too?”

To me he said, “See how tall she is, she must be six one or two. I love tall women. They can wrap their legs around you twice.”

Nick was chattering away to nobody in particular, mumbling something about, “I know how to survive. I’ve even slept in a snow drift with a piece of cardboard, newspaper inside my pant legs and in my sleeves. I was fine until the cops kicked me in the face.

“Can somebody throw me that bottle?”

Wolf said, “It’s not mine. I’m not going to throw it to you.”

It was time for me to go. I said my good byes and said that I would see everyone tomorrow.

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salvationarmy

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3 October 2012

As I got off the bus this morning, I was approached by Metro. He had a grim look on his face. “Dennis, someone just told me that Joy is in hospital. I’d like to visit her, but I don’t know her last name.”

“It’s, Wolford,“ I said, “Joyce Wolford.”

“Thanks, Dennis, I’m not good at hospitals. There are too many sick people there, but I’ll try to get over to see Joy.”

“Thanks for telling me, Metro, I really appreciate it.”

“No problem.”

Nearly beside me, sitting at a patio table outside Tim Horton’s, drinking coffee from a paper cup, was Deaf Donald.

“Dennis, something really bad happened to me. I just got out of jail. The police, all they say is lies. My landlord phoned them last night. He said I was making too much noise. I wasn’t making a lot of noise. It’s just that my landlord doesn’t like me. The police say I assaulted them. I didn’t do that. They came to my door; when I opened it they grabbed me, put me in handcuffs and pushed me to the floor. I spent the night in jail. My mother posted bail for me. I have a ticket for disturbing the peace. It says I have to pay $350.00, within fifteen days, or I go to jail. On top of that, I’m not even allowed to go back to my apartment. My rent is paid until the end of the month, but my mother and some friends are going to have to move my things. I’m not allowed. That’s not right.

“I’ve stopped taking drugs. I can’t go to jail again. Do you know the name of a good lawyer?”

I wrote down, on a piece of paper, the name of a lawyer I’ve used in the past and handed it to him. I said, “Contact this person, if she can’t help you she’ll refer you to someone who can. She’s very pleasant. There’s no charge for the introductory visit. She’ll explain the charges to you, and what your rights are. Any information needed for your court appearance can be collected by her office. If you want, she’ll represent you. Don’t worry, you won’t go to jail.”

“Thanks, Dennis, I’ll walk there after I go for my methadone treatment.”

“Take care, Donald.  Everything will work out.”

At noon I was relieved to see Joy. I said to her, “I’m so glad to see you. Metro said that you were in the hospital. He said that someone gave him the message to pass on to me. Are you alright? Metro didn’t know your last name, but wanted to visit you in hospital.”

“I’m fine, thank him for me when you see him next.”

I shook hands with Chester, “How are you, Chester?”

“Not so good.” He then turned and walked away.

“We did get some bad news,” said Joy. “Silver died on Monday at the Mission Hospice. He and Chester were really close. Silver checked himself into the Mission, they moved him to the Salvation Army, then he was moved to the Hospice. There’s something not right there. He should have gone to the hospital, not the Mission. They have no trained medical staff there.”

Bert pulled out a photo of a very healthy looking  Silver, sitting by the canal. “I must have known him for ten, twelve years, maybe. It was strange. He had a swollen ankle, then his belly swelled up, his face became skinny. He died so soon. I think he must have had some sort of virus or an infection. I wonder if they’ll do an autopsy. I’d like to know what he died of.

“We were just talking about all the people we know who have died. Just in one year, Rip died…”

Shark said, “Rip’s still alive.”

“Oh, I meant Tim, he died at Easter, Digger died on Canada Day and Hobo died on Labor Day, all in the same year.”

I said, “I saw some of those people in a video.”

Shark said, “It was called ‘Under the Bridge’. Most of those people have left town or are dead.”

Jacques said, “I had an uncle. He retired and stayed home with his wife. He had nothing to do, nothing to keep him busy. He died within two weeks of retiring. Me, I don’t have to worry about that. I’ve never had a job, so I’ll never die from stopping work.”

I said, “That’s good preventative medicine, Jacques.”

Andre said, “I out drank Hippo; he’s gone. I out drank Shakes; see he’s going fast. He’s giving me the evil eye, pretending he’s not falling asleep; he’s gone.”

“Where is Hippo?” I asked.

“He’s at his apartment,” said Jacques. “Didn’t you know? I saw his place. It’s a one bedroom, the size of a bachelor. The bedroom is so small, there’s only room for a single bed. When they brought it to him he said, ‘Hey, I wanted a double bed.’ They said, ‘There’s no room.’ He’s over in Vanier. I was there but I don’t know what street he’s on. It goes in this way, out that way, before you know it, you’re lost.”

I said, “He told me he was moving to Lavergne Street.”

“Yes, Yes that’s the name, Lavergne Street.”

Joy said, “That’s the place I should have gotten. I know why I didn’t get it, my worker told me; they thought I was a hooker. If I was a hooker, I wouldn’t have been wearing that cheap, polyester dress.

“I told Chester I wouldn’t be coming home tonight. Last time, he waited up for me. I said to him, ‘Chester, I’m forty-six years old, nobody has to wait up for me. If something is going to happen, it’ll happen. If I’m not home by eight o’clock, figure that I’m going to be gone for the night.

“He’s invited Raven over, can you imagine? She’s worse than Loretta. At least I won’t have to deal with getting her out of the apartment.”

I asked, “Have you seen Loretta lately?”

“Not since I threw her out, Monday. I took her down in the elevator, bounced her around the walls a bit. Nothing was broken. She was able to walk away from the building.”

We saw a fire truck pull up. Jacques said, “We better leave, soon the police will be here.”

Firemen came over to Shakes and tried to wake him up. Shortly after, a Paramedic truck pulled up. It was time for me to be back at work. I expect that Shakes will be taken to Hope Recovery, at the Shepherds of Good Hope. He’ll be allowed to sleep the night and will be back in his usual place tomorrow.

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group3

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October 2012

At noon today, I met Serge in his usual place sitting on a curb in the shade of a large oak tree.  He said, “It’s my old friend, Kenny Rogers.”

“Hi Serge, how are you feeling today?”

“Not so good. I have an appointment with my doctor, this afternoon, at the clinic on Cooper Street.”

“What are you seeing your doctor about? Are you having problems with your stomach again.”

“Yeah, it’s my stomach, and I have a pain in my shoulder.”

“What’s the pain in your shoulder from?”

“The cops came by. I smashed my bottle so I wouldn’t get a ticket. They put my hands behind my back, put handcuffs on me, then pushed me to the sidewalk. It hurt something in my shoulder.”

I said, “I know what those cuffs feel like. They always put them on too tight, don’t they.”

“I don’t know why they did that. I didn’t get a ticket. This morning a guy saw me drinking out of my Listerine bottle. He said, ‘I’ll give you twenty dollars if you throw that bottle away.’ ‘No way,’ I said. ‘Keep your money.’ He gave me the twenty anyway.”

“So that worked out well for you. I hope everything goes well at the doctor’s office this afternoon. I’ll see you later.” I moved on to say hello to Shakes and Wolf. Shaggy barked the whole time.

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” said Wolf, “she’s just saying hello. She doesn’t make much of a guard dog; she barks, but she’s too lazy to lift her head off the sidewalk.”

I sat on the sidewalk in front of Joy. Chester was just leaving to go for Chinese food, at the mall food court. “How’s everything going today, Joy?” I asked. She gestured with her head toward Chester and rolled her eyes.

“Dennis, I’m losing it. I met with my P.O. (Parole Officer) this morning. I didn’t think that I was talking loud. All of a sudden two cops came in. They said, ‘We thought there was a disturbance.’ My P.O. was upset, she said, ‘There’s no disturbance. If there had been, I have a buzzer to press, or I would have called you.’ After a while, I had to pee. When I got outside her door, sure enough, the two cops were on either side. They followed me to the bathroom and waited outside. I stayed an extra long time, just to piss them off. I also had a drink. “When I finished my appointment I took the elevator down. The two cops went with me. I said to them, ‘What is it with you guys? Is it that you just don’t like me? I wasn’t put on this earth to be either liked or disliked by you.’ I said to the big one, ‘I remember you. You’re the one who smashed my cheek.’ He said, ‘You didn’t lodge a complaint.’ I know better than to charge one of Ottawa’s finest. I learned that lesson in Toronto.”

I asked, “How did he smash your cheek?”

“Feel both of my cheeks. See if you think they feel the same.” I noticed that the bone structure felt different. “Part of my cheekbone was broken off. They were called to our apartment when I was still with Big Jake. One cop was talking him outside, the big one was with me in the kitchen. He opened the fridge and started taking out beer. I said, ‘Excuse me.’ Notice that I was being polite. I said, ‘Excuse me, but those are my beer. You’ve no right to be taking them.’ That’s the last I remember. I woke up in the hospital. I still have a scar, but it’s nearly faded now.

“I also met with my worker this morning. She may have an apartment for me to see tomorrow. I just hope I get it. Chester is driving me crazy. I’d never hurt him, but I just don’t know what I’m doing some times. I think I freaked out my P.O this morning. Hopefully, she’ll get me back on my anti-schizoid medication. I haven’t had it since I was in the hospital last January.”

“Joy,” I said, “I can understand some of what you’re feeling. If I wasn’t on medication I’d be a mess.”

“Last night,” she said, “I was at a party at Chuck’s place. I was having a good time. I’m entitled to have a good time, once in a while, aren’t I? I’d been there about an hour when I got a phone call from Chester. Even though I told him not to, he invited Loretta over for some Mukmuk loving. I don’t think it worked out the way he planned. He was drunk and she gets crazy when she drinks. Chester said that she was hitting him and he didn’t know how to get her out of his apartment. ‘I said to him, ‘Chester, go over to the fridge. The number for security is on a card there. Phone them and tell them you want someone removed from your apartment. They’ll take Loretta out. If you don’t want to do that, dial 911 and the cops will deal with her.’ I must have gotten half a dozen calls from him. I phoned security, told them that my father was having trouble getting someone out of his apartment. I said, ‘I’ve seen you guys, you’re big enough to handle a hundred-pound woman. I’ve also seen that you have handcuffs if she gives you any trouble.’ Chester called back again. He said that security had gotten Loretta out of the apartment, but later he heard a knock and opened the door. It was Loretta. She barged back in. Who in their right mind opens a door, when they don’t know who’s on the other side? It could have been thieves, ready to invade his home and take all he’s got. I came home and Loretta was passed out on the couch. This is my home. I saw red. I really laid into her. I’m not exactly sure what happened, I was fairly wasted at the time. I know I threw her out. This morning, I saw that there was blood on the couch. My knuckles are sore. My foot is sore, there was blood all over my white shoe, and I found teeth prints in the leather. Marilyn doesn’t have teeth, but whoever removed them did a lousy job. She still has nubs. I don’t know what kind of shape she’s in.

“Tomorrow, I go for my second anger management counseling session with E. Fry (The Elizabeth Fry Society). I’ll have someone messing with my head. I just can’t take much more. I feel like I’m dying from the inside.”

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bench

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1 October 2012

I walked toward the park. I recognized Jacques’ bushy white beard and waved to him. While I was still about a dozen feet from the group an attractive, young woman, with long black hair, approached me.

She said, “We haven’t met before. My name is Doreen.”

“I’m Dennis,” I said.

“Do you happen to have a cigarette?”

“No, sorry, I don’t smoke.”

“Good for you. I wish I didn’t smoke. It’s bad for you and it smells bad.” Doreen then sat on the curb.

I shook hands with the woman beside her and said, “Hi, I’m Dennis.”

“We’ve met before, “she said, “I’m Jenny.”

I shook hands with Chester, “Joy will be here shortly, ” he said.

The rest of the group were either sitting on the curb or standing nearby. I sat between Shakes and Doreen.

“How was your weekend, Shakes?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute.” He was counting coins and putting them in a plastic pill bottle. “My weekend was good, except for the rain on Sunday. I was walking in that. My leathers didn’t dry until about three this morning.”

“Have you been sleeping behind Starbucks, or inside somewhere?”

“Both, it all depends on who kidnaps me, ha ha ha ha.”

“I guess you mean that in a good way?”

“I stayed at Danny’s place last night. He lives in Little Italy.”

Doreen asked me, “Where did your family come from?”

“My grandparents came from Iceland in 1902.”

“I know people from Iceland. I’m from Baffin Island, not far from Iceland.”

I said, “My mother didn’t learn to speak English until she went to school.”

“Where I went to school,” said Doreen, “If we spoke Inuk to anybody we got a slap on the head. When I went home, if I spoke English, even to someone who spoke English, I’d get a slap on the head. I got it from both sides.

“Do you know whose land were on?”

I said, “I was told it was Algonquin land.”

“There is a dispute about that. It’s Huron and Algonquin land. It makes me so mad to think about it, but this land was a native burying-ground. How would you like it if they built over the place where your grandmother was buried?

“I may live in the city, but I still make my stamp on the ground.” She demonstrated by hitting the sidewalk with the side of her fist.

To some women passing on the sidewalk, Doreen yelled, “Will you please give me a smile?”

The women turned and smiled. Doreen, replied, “Thank you, you did give me a smile. That makes me so happy.”

To me she said, “I just want to be happy. I think that is what most people want, just to be happy.”

I agreed, “If everybody expressed love to each other, the world would be a happier place.”

I could see Joy walking up the sidewalk. She didn’t look happy.

“Hi Joy, how was your weekend?”

“It was okay — quiet. I’m so fuckin’ pissed off right now. I haven’t been able to get my check yet. It was supposed to be ready Friday, but my worker said that because I switched to the Salvation Army it was going to be delivered to a different office. I phoned this morning. They said, ‘Your check will be ready any time you want to come down and pick it up.’ ‘Great,’ I said. I used my last bus ticket to come down to the office. When I got there they said, ‘Come back at two o’clock.’ What a run around.”

Jenny stood up and tried to give Joy a hug. Joy said, “Jenny I’ve had a bad day and I’m not in the mood for a hug. I just want to be left alone for a while.”

Jenny said, “Joy, don’t be like that. I just want to be friendly.”

“Jenny, what did I just say? Now, sit down or I’ll knock you down.”

Danny said, “Joy, that’s no way to talk to your friends. Whether you’ve had a bad day or not, there’s no excuse for taking it out on the rest of us. I’ve talked to you about that before.”

“Danny, keep your mouth shut, before I come over there and smack you.”

“Come on over. I’ll smack you right back.”

Joy was quiet for a while, then she said to Minnie, “I’m sorry for talking to you like that. I had no right. I apologize.”

“It’s alright, Joy, I understand.”

“Danny, I apologize to you too.”

Minnie, walking with a cane, stopped and asked Doreen, “Aren’t you cold, with bare arms?”

Doreen said, “Since the accident, I’ve lost all feeling of heat or cold, in my arms and legs. If I wear too many clothes I get itchy all over.” (major spinothalamic or spinal cord injury)

“Let me give you a hug,” said Minnie.

Doreen stood up and they hugged. Jenny said, “Can I have a hug too, Skinny Minnie?”

Minnie hugged her and said, “Jenny, you’re skinnier than I am.”

It was nearly time for me to go. I walked over to Jacques to shake his hand. He said, “You know, I woke up in the middle of the night with such a sore throat. Then I had to go to the bathroom. An hour later I had to go again. It was back and forth, back and forth, all night long. You better not get too close to me.”

I said good-bye to Joy, she said, “Do you have to go already?”

“Yes, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Not in the morning. I have a meeting with my P.O. (Probation Officer), but I’ll see you here at noon.”

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group3

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28 September 2012

When I arrived at the park I noticed that there were a bunch of separate groups. Danny and Shakes were sitting together, Joy and Chester were together. Andre, Rodent, and Bear were together. In the back was Shark, Outcast, Anne, Wolf and Shaggy. If Bearded Bruce had been there he would have said, Everyone must have got up this morning with a gut full of grumpy juice.

I could see that Joy was upset, “I’m so pissed off. I’m drunk too. My check hasn’t arrived yet. I phoned Jan, my worker, she said that because information arrived after September 16 some checks would be delayed until Monday.’ I said to her, ‘Look, I owe one guy $200. I owe another guy $250. What am I supposed to do?’ She asked, ‘How did you get so far in debt?’ I said ‘I’m an alcoholic and a pothead. What do you expect?’ Right now I’m kind of in hiding. I guess I will be all weekend.

“Chester is supposed to buy groceries, but I know that isn’t going to happen. He ate this morning, so I won’t be eating. He was drunk for two days. He’s sober today and drank about a dozen cups of coffee. He’ll probably be awake all night.

“Outcast is picking on me because I had some of the guys over.”

“He picks on a lot of people,” I said.

“He thinks that he’s so superior. I’d like to walk over there and punch that smug grin right off his face. Of course, then he would go over the railing backwards. He’d probably break his neck, or his back, and die; or he’d be severely fucked up. He had the nerve to ask me, ‘I suppose that means you’re not coming over to my (Debbie’s) place?’ I’m never having anything to do with him again.

”I think, right now, I’d just like to be alone for a while.”

I walked across the sidewalk and sat beside Andre, Jake and Rodent. “How did you sleep last night, Andre?”

“I was cold. I passed out across the street for a while, then I went downtown. Some guy was mouthing off to me so we got into it. He kept poking me in the mouth. When I didn’t get up, he went away. After that I went back to the hut. These other guys have been at it since this morning. I just woke up.”

I noticed that he was drinking a Smirnoff vodka cooler. “You’ve changed brands, haven’t you, Andre?”

“These were given to me.”

He rolled one across the sidewalk to Hippo, who said, “Thanks, man.”

Jake said, “I think that I lost the master-key to my apartment. I don’t know how that happened. Sometimes I black out. I guess I’ll have to have the super buzz me in.”

Andre said, “They’re probably going to charge you for a lost key, especially one of those electronic ones.”

Danny said, “Joy just gave me the finger. She shouldn’t treat us like that. We’re family. You don’t give the finger to family. I haven’t done anything to her.”

Shakes said, “Just leave it, man.”

Joy asked, “Has anybody gone for a run yet?”

Andre said, “As soon as I finish this, I’ll go. It seems odd, me being the soberest one here.”

I asked Hippo, “How is it going with your place?”

“I’m all moved in.”

“Do you have a bachelor apartment?”

“No, I’ve got a one bedroom, with kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. It has hardwood floors.”

“Do you have any furniture?”

“I got a few bits of stuff, the rest I’ll have to wait for.”

Rodent went back to talk to the other group. As he was coming back he said, “Wolf, if you ever talk to me like that again, I’m going to punch your face in.”

Joy said, “Rodent, I’d really like to see that. I’ve never seen you go against anybody in my life.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, Rodent, that’s so. Go ahead, prove me wrong!”

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shelter

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27 September 2012

Five of my friends sat on the curb, near the park today.

Outcast said, “Dennis, before you sit down, here’s a copy of the Metro to keep your cheeks dry.”

“Thanks, Outcast.

“How’s everything going, Hippo?”

“Great, I get the keys to my new apartment tomorrow.”

“Where will it be?”

“Vanier, on some street starting with ‘L’, a French name. It’s really nice.”

Outcast asked, “That’s in one of those projects, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Where did you sleep last night, Hippo?” I asked.

“We all slept behind Starbucks, the old place.”

“Were Bruce and Weasel there?”

“Yeah, and Bear. I slept next to the dumpster, nearly underneath it. I was the windbreak.”

Andre said, “You should have seen it, Dennis. Bear’s nose was about an inch from Hippo’s.”

To Hippo, he said, “It’s a good thing you didn’t make any sudden movements in your sleep. You could have lost part of your face. I don’t know how you could have put up with Bear’s breath, or how he could have put up with yours.”

“Bear and I are good,” said Hippo.

“Don’t get too friendly,” laughed Andre.

A female police officer, followed by a male, rode up the sidewalk.”

“Hello gentlemen, does anyone have any open liquor.” Outcast had kicked his can over the railing. She noticed an open can of beer between Hippo and Andre. “Who does that belong to? Is that your’s Hippo?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He held up the can.

“If I dump it, do I still get a ticket?”

“If I don’t see anything, you don’t get a ticket” Andre put his cap in front of the can and took a swig.

Hippo said, “This is my last beer. I’ll take the ticket.”

The ticket was written and handed to Hippo. He took it, folded it and handed it to Jacques. “Another one for your wall, Jacques.”

Andre said to the police officer, “You guys know that we don’t pay these things. Does that bother you at all?”

The officer said, “We do our job, the courts do their job. We’ll be back in fifteen.”

After she left Andre said, “She’s my cousin.”

Outcast said, “That’s the second beer I’ve kicked over the rail today.”

Andre said, “I’m just glad they haven’t changed the law, so we’d have to do jail time for unpaid tickets. I know I’m over $8,000.”

Shakes said, “I’m over $10,000.”

Outcast said, “It would be ridiculous to have us do jail time. It costs over $70,000 a year to keep a man in jail. We’ve got no assets, no houses, no cars, no jobs. There’s nothing they can take from us.”

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26 September 2012

Ottawa Citizen

Acclaimed Inuit artist comes to terms with her greatest work.

Acclaimed Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook has given birth to a baby girl, a month before she was due, at a Lowertown shelter.The premature child, named Napachie Marie Pootoogook-Watt, was born about 4 a.m. Friday in a washroom of the Shepherds of Good Hope on Murray Street. Pootoogook says she was in the washroom, experiencing labour pains. Suddenly, her water broke and out came the baby.

Pootoogook’s cries were heard by staff and others staying in the shelter, who rushed to help. They had her lie on blankets on the floor until an ambulance arrived to take the mother and baby to the Montfort Hospital.

William Watt, the baby’s father and Pootoogook’s boyfriend, says Napachie is only 1.64 kilograms (three pounds, 10 ounces) and is in an incubator at the Montfort, where she is expected to remain for a month.

“But) she’s doing fine,” says Watt. “Her motor skills are fine. She’s a perfectly healthy baby. She’s just tiny.”

Pootoogook says she “feels good. I could go dancing.” Watt says his girlfriend doesn’t look any worse for wear. “She was in labour only five minutes.”

Pootoogook says she was released from hospital at 4 p.m. Friday, had dinner at a native drop-in centre on Rideau Street, and then stayed the rest of the weekend with friends, until she was reunited Monday with Watt. He had spent four nights in jail. That’s why Pootoogook went to the shelter late last week, he says, as “she didn’t want to be alone” because of her pregnancy. Coincidentally, Watt was in jail last January for theft when Pootoogook found out she was expecting.

Tuesday afternoon, Pootoogook was back on Rideau Street where the artist has been seen drawing during the past three months. The parents visited Napachie earlier in the day. It was the first time Watt had set eyes on his daughter.

“I’ll be (at the hospital) every day,” says Watt. “I heard on the Oprah show that you have to hold them, nurture them and show you love them.”

Pootoogook, 43, and Watt, 49, have a meeting with her social worker today. They think the possibility of giving up the baby to the Children’s Aid Society for adoption will be raised.

“The CAS is involved,” says Watt, who is optimistic they’ll be able to keep Napachie because “I’m a good fighter.”

CAS involvement was expected after the couple detailed months and months of homelessness as well as drug and alcohol abuse in a Public Citizen story in July. But the couple claimed they were cleaning up their lives for the baby’s arrival, and, at that point, had not had any drugs or alcohol for six weeks. They were also looking for a home.

The couple spent most of the summer sleeping outdoors in Lowertown and eating at shelters. A social agency recently found the couple a one-bedroom apartment near Bank and Walkley streets, where they moved on Sept. 15.

Watt is paying for the unit with income he receives from the Ontario Disability Support Program. Watt says rent and hydro will take most of his monthly cheque, so the couple will have to depend on food banks and shelter kitchens until they can get into a subsidized unit.

“It’s very nice,” Watt says of their new digs. “It’s an upper-class building.”

Pootoogook is considered one of Canada’s most pre-eminent Inuit artists and began her career in Cape Dorset, Baffin Island. She was discovered about 10 years ago by a Toronto art gallery that began buying her work through the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset.

Pootoogook’s work, often depicting disturbing and chilling scenes of Inuit life, has been exhibited in major shows in Europe and the U.S. She was given glowing reviews by various American papers, including The New York Times, and honoured with the $50,000 Sobey Art Award in 2006. Her earlier drawings, done with coloured pencils, sell for as much as $2,600 at Feheley Fine Arts, the art gallery that help her raise her profile as an artist. Limited edition prints go for as much as a $1,000.

But Pootoogook, who has fought demons all her life — beatings, sexual abuse, alcohol and drugs — disappeared from view for the past few years. She has lived in Ottawa since 2007, with a variety of acquaintances and at homeless shelters. She started drawing again this summer, while awaiting the baby.

Passersby on Rideau had been paying her $25 to $30 per drawing when the Citizen caught up to her in July. The money paid for her cigarettes. She says she now receives upward to $300 per piece and was trying to sell a drawing Tuesday for $260. Many people just stop to say hello. Some give them a few dollars to help them by.

The couple say they do not expect to hang around downtown as they used to, mostly because they now have their own place and then a baby to look after once she’s released from hospital. But Watt says sleeping outside over the summer didn’t bother them.

“I know it sounds sad, but we slept good. In retrospect, it was nothing because I was with the love of my life.”

Accommodation was offered to the couple by Citizen readers. However, they turned down the offers.

They say their apartment is sparsely furnished. They have been sleeping on a couch left behind by the previous tenant. Watt says they expect to be getting a bed as early as today, and then they can start worrying about furnishings for Napachie.

Says Watt about his daughter’s birth: “It’s a happy ending to the story

This afternoon at the park, I sat with Andre, Shakes and Little Jake.

“Hi, Jake, how is everything at your new apartment.”

“Fine, but I still don’t have any furniture, just an air conditioner still in its box; that’s what I sit on.”

“When will they be getting your furniture?”

“Around the first of November, that’s what my worker said.”

“So, you’ll be without any furniture for over a month?”

“That’s the way the system works. Yesterday, my worker — you’ve met her before — took me to the doctor. I’ve been having raging migraines, ringing in my ear, pain in my sinuses and behind my eyes. When I try to roll a cigarette, I notice that the skin on my fingers is very dry. I think I’m a bit dehydrated. The doctor had me close my eyes, stand with my feet together, with my arms straight out at my sides. I nearly fell over. He’s going to send me for a CAT scan to see what’s going on in my head — I hope it’s not a tumor.”

“Did the doctor suggest to you that it might be a tumor?”

“No, he wants to see some pictures first, before he tells me what’s wrong. Yesterday morning I took a Seroquel. It was a drop. This guy said to me, I’m sorry, I don’t have any money, but here are three Valium and two Seroquel. Joy and I shared the Valium, I took the second Seroquel before lying down for the night. That knocked me right out.”

“I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions about having a tumor. There may be a lot of reasons for balance problems. Perhaps, you have an ear infection. It may be something simple that can be treated with antibiotics.

“Shakes,” I asked, “Did you find your bag?”

“No.”

“What did you have in it?”

“My clothes, my bottle, my cigarettes, my weed, my house — everything.”

“How are you doing, Andre?”

“This is kind of an off day for me. I was drinking last night, then at 3:00 am I was wide awake. I drank a couple more bottles and slept until 5:00. I came down here and haven’t moved more than six feet since. See that sweater on the curb? That’s mine. It’s there in case anybody wants to sit down. That’s where I started this morning. I’ve been watching and thinking about people. I try to figure out where they’re coming from, what their motives are.

“Joy said to me yesterday, ‘if you point your finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at you. So, you shouldn’t point at people.’ By the way, do you know where Joy is today?”

“She had an appointment with her worker. They were going to take the bus to the Elizabeth Fry Society for Joy’s anger management course.”

A woman walked by. Emile said, “Hi darlin’, blue really works well on you, it brings out the color of your eyes.”

“Andre,” I said, “her eyes were brown.”

“Doesn’t matter. This is what I do all day long. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

A soldier in uniform passed by. Andre said, “Thank you sir, for protecting our country.” The soldier waved.

To me, Andre said, “I really mean that. I have a lot of respect for the military.”

Lucy passed in her motorized wheelchair and waved. We all waved. Andre said, “Hi, sister, take care.”

Shakes reached for Emile’s insulated travel mug. “No you don’t,” said Andre. He threw Shakes an unopened bottle of sherry. A few minutes later he asked, “Did you honor it, before you took a drink?” (Honoring means to fill the cap of the bottle with liquor and to throw it over one’s shoulder.)”

“Yes, I did”

“Good, ” said Andre. “I don’t know where I slept last night, but I have green stuff all over my pants. I’ve been picking it off all morning.”

I asked, “Did you sleep outside?”

“Yes.”

Jake said, “I’m going home now.”

I asked, What are you going to do, Jake, watch your air conditioner?”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Andre said, “I’m just sort of floating right now. Everything is mellow. I don’t have a plan. I don’t know what I’m going to do for the rest of the day.

“Shakes, I’m going to take you someplace where we can get something to eat.”

“That sounds good.”

“Eating is good,” I said.

It was time for me to go back to work. I shook hands with Andre and Shakes.

“See you, brother,” they said. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you, brothers.”

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