They Call Me Red


21 August 2013

Another beautiful day at the park. Mariah spread a newspaper for me to sit on the grass. Shakes was wearing a marijuana tee-shirt with the slogan ‘Live Slow, Die Laughing’. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so close to the truth.

He said, “I may be a drunk and a stoner, but I’m still here.”

I asked Mariah, “How are you feeling since the food poisoning?”

“I feel better.  The last of the boils came out today. It was really uncomfortable sleeping; I was flip-flopping all night. They were itchy and burning.  With my sharp fingernails, I cut myself a couple of times.

“Since the weekend I’ve been eating vegetarian. I’ve been popping baby cucumbers, snow peas, carrots and berries.  I love all kinds of berries, everything but meat.”

Steve said, “I can’t eat raspberries. They get stuck in my teeth. I’ve just been to the dentist.”

Mariah said, “Yeah, you really got to really crush those little suckers.”

Shakes asked, “How about ‘shrooms, Mariah?”

“No, I’m allergic to them. As soon as I eat one my tongue swells, my throat closes and I begin to itch.”

“How about the magic kind?”

“Them too. The next day I’ll be scratching all over.”

I said, “Joy has the same problem with bananas and carrots.”

Mariah said. “I haven’t seen Joy today. Jake left some cards on her table with his probation officer’s telephone number. She was wondering if she should call and see what’s happening. I said, ‘If he left them it must mean that he wants you to call.’ The police were over one night at eleven o’clock and again the next morning trying to serve her, but she didn’t answer. It must have something to do with Jake. Maybe they want her to appear in court, but she hasn’t done anything.”

Little Jake said, “Everyone was trying to get in contact with Joy. Rodent called me, I called Jacques, he called Mariah. Nobody could get through because Big Jake had unplugged the phone.”

I asked, “Why wouldn’t Jake keep his appointments with his parole officer? He’d know that  by missing them, he’d be going back to jail.”

“Beats me. All he’d have to do is take the bus, it would drop him off right in front of the office. He’s done that before.”

I said, “Even if he’s having problems with his wheelchair, he could always call Para Transpo. They’d pick him up at his door.”

Steve said, “I’ve got a really good dentist. She’s just over there in that big tall building.”

Mariah said, “Speaking of dentists. I have to make an appointment to see my dentist. He pulled my two fangs out. That was quite a job. They were in so deep he had his knee on my chest trying to pull them out. I think I’ve still got bruises. Now I’ve got to get a bridge to fill in the missing spaces.”

Steve said, “My dentist kept telling me to open my mouth wider.  I had it open so wide I could feel it cracking at the edges. It was bleeding. She wanted to pull my front teeth and give me a plate, but they aren’t hurting me, so I don’t want to have to deal with a plate.”

Alphonse walked away. Shakes said, “Sometimes I just have to get mean. I get tired of people asking me for cigarettes and never paying me back”

Jake said, “I can’t imagine you getting mean, Shakes.”

“Oh, I can get mean, if I have to.”

Gaston said, “I had to get mean last night. My neighbor upstairs had the music playing so loud that all I could hear was the ‘thump, thump, thump’ of the bass. I took a broom and pounded the ceiling. I said, ‘If I hear that music again, I’m coming in.’ He said, ‘You can’t come in here.’ ‘Just watch me!’ I said.  I’ve got a temper and I can handle myself. Yves, my bitch, is more physical, but I’ve put him in the corner. Oh, yes!”

Shakes took his sneaker off and was waving it in the air. A hoard of fruit flies started circling around his shoe, everybody laughed.

I said, “Shakes is the only one who can clear a room with just one shoe. Shakes, watch where you point that thing. You could hurt someone.”


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They Call Me Red


20 August 2013

From the corner of Queen and Parliament, I could see Joy. She stood up from her plastic crate, waved and gave me a big smile.

“How are your legs feeling,  Joy.”

“A little better, I was using a cane this morning but forgot it on the bus. Oh well, I have more at home. It’s been so long since I’ve used the bus, I didn’t realize that they’d raised the fares and changed the color of the tickets. All I had was two of the old purple ones. I snuck them in, hoping the driver wouldn’t notice. Then I noticed a lady pointing at me, gesturing and pinching her nose. Then the smell hit me. The man in the front seat reeked of b.o. That’s what the lady was trying to tell me, to move farther back. I waved at her to let her know I understood.

“Someone was banging on my door at eleven o’clock, one night. It was really loud, like cops. Anybody who knows me knows not to call on me late at night, so I ignored it and they went away. The next day Mariah, asked me, ‘What was that ruckus in the back yard last night? There were two cops with flashlights. They were looking around the yard.’

“I couldn’t think why cops would be banging on my door. I don’t have any outstanding warrants, not from Toronto anyway. The ones from Montreal are twenty years old. Anyway, they checked my record the last time I was taken to the Don Jail.

“Little Jake said he came by my place but didn’t want to disturb me. He was going to tell me to contact Rodent because the cops were after him. Why the fuck would I care if the cops were after him? I couldn’t figure that out. Little Jake was too timid to knock on my door, but he wasn’t too timid to break into Bearded Bruce’s place. Bruce found him sitting on his bed, eating a cold pork chop.

“I think Rodent’s been arrested now, along with Big Jake, for parole violations. I think they picked them up at the Mission, or wherever they were staying.”

I asked, “What violations would he have had?”

“He’s been drinking, that would be a violation. Also, I don’t think he’s been keeping up with appointments to see his parole officer. That would be my guess. I haven’t talked to him for a while.”

From beside Joy, we saw a small mouse streak across the street. Some people on the sidewalk stopped to look at it. Then it went under a parked car.  Joy and I were hoping it would either stay there or run down to the parking garage. No such luck. It tried running back across the street and a big orange truck passed over. The turbulence from the wheels threw it off-balance. He limped away behind a car. We watched for it but didn’t see it come out. Neither of us felt spry enough to dodge the traffic. Joy was going to check to see if it was still there when she left for home.

Joy said, “I’m not a big fan of mice, but I hate to see any animal injured. One time I was sitting here and a tiny little bird was fluttering nearby.  A sea hawk swooped down and grabbed him right out of the air. I could hear the sound of cheeping as he flew away with the bird hanging from its claws. I didn’t know they ate other birds.

“This morning I ate a banana. I know I’m not supposed to have them, but I haven’t had any problems with my kidneys lately.  After I ate it I got this tingling sensation on my tongue, then my throat started to swell. A lady stopped to see if I was alright. I said, ‘Yeah, I’m just trying to scratch my tongue.’

“I haven’t seen many of our friends around. I was expecting  Jacques this morning. Tuesday they have the big breakfast at the Mission. He usually comes down for that.  Chester will probably be sniffing around, picking up butts. Most people are housed now, but I thought that we’d at least try to stay in contact.

“Mariah is fighting with Charlie again. She kicked him out. He has his own place near Chester. Deaf Donald and Tall Paul came by, they were arguing in French. I gave Donald shit for wanting to bum a cigarette. I can’t afford to supply these people.

“I haven’t seen Shakes for a while. Some of us were talking the other day about who would be the next to go. Little Jake was saying that Shakes is going downhill fast.  I hate going to funerals.”


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They Call Me Red




15 August 2013

A beautiful summer day.  Adding to my pleasure, in the lobby of the building where I work, the management company was giving out free ice cream. I walked to the park expecting a crowd; there was only Mariah and Big Chester. After asking for bus tickets he left. Shortly after, Little Chester arrived.

“Happy vacation, everybody!” he welcomed.

I asked Mariah, “How has Joy been doing lately?”

“Her legs are a little better, she managed to climb the stairs to my place the other day. Her worst problem is getting rid of Big Jake. He’s paranoid because he can’t contact his parole officer. He’s been phoning but never gets an answer. I don’t know why he doesn’t just go to their office. I know it’s difficult for him, getting around in a wheelchair, but he should be able to manage; other people do. He keeps the door locked, the blinds pulled and is worried that people will be able to track him through the GPS on his phone. Joy feels like she’s back in prison.

“At first he’d go back every night to where he was staying; either the Shep’ or the alley, wherever; but when Joy’s legs got bad he started staying the night, and for the past two weeks he hasn’t left. He doesn’t even go outside in the afternoon for some fresh air.”

I asked, “He hasn’t been drinking and beating Joy has he?”

“Not that I’ve heard of. They can’t afford to drink.”

How have you been lately, Mariah?”

“Whew, I bought myself a treat on Friday, some fresh lobster. I got them from the Chinese place on Dundas near the beer store. He keeps them live in tanks, in the front window. You can pick whichever one you want. There must have been something wrong with it. After boiling, the flesh seemed a bit mushy. I thought that was odd, but I didn’t want to waste food, and I love lobster. I started puking and couldn’t stop. I’d poisoned myself. Charlie called an ambulance. I spent the weekend in the hospital.”

“I guess they gave you antibiotics, did they?”

“No, I don’t take any pills. I let my body take care of itself. After a few days without eating, I wasn’t puking anymore, so they released me. When I got home I had a glass of vodka and started puking again, so no more vodka for a while. I’ve got my mix with me, just in case, but, so far, I’ve been sticking with straight water.

“I’m feeling better now, but I’ve been getting these lumps around my knees and ankles. I squeeze them and a lump of pus pops out. I guess it’s the body’s way of isolating the poison. It has to come out somewhere — either you throw it up,  poop it out, or it comes out somewhere else. With me, It’s my knees and ankles.

“That reminds me, I have to go for one of those exams, you know, where they go up your behind.  It’s for acid reflux. Last time they went in fifteen units. This time they’ll have to go further. Whats really uncomfortable is the air they pump into you. It really hurts.

“My guy, Charlie is back staying with me. I kicked him out about six weeks ago. He’s nearly killed me before.  He has PTSD. He woke up in the middle of the night and tried to strangle me, tried to pull my face apart. I said to him, ‘That’s it!  You hit me,  you hit the road!’ ”

I asked, “Was he in the military? Is that how he got PTSD?”

“Yes, he’s being treated for it, but it’s when he’s into the booze that he has the flare-ups.   I had a twenty-six of vodka. He asked if he could have a drink. He downed about six ounces in one gulp, straight from the bottle, went down just like water.

“He also has complications because of a collapsed lung. He had double pneumonia and had the tubes coming out of him to drain the fluid. I looked after him while he was going through that.

“I saw him a few days ago at the Mission. He asked if there was any chance he could come home. I said, ‘Let’s walk and talk. I told him what he had put me through. He said, ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry.’ I let him come back.

“When he’s sober he’s the nicest guy in the world. He’s gone into burning buildings to help someone get out. He even went back for their luggage, then I had to go in after him.”

Little Chester said, “That’s what we have firemen for. They have the protective suits, the masks, the fire hoses.”


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They Call Me Red




2 August 2013

The weather was perfect in the park. Shakes, Mariah and Little Jake were sitting quietly in the shade. I made sure Jake saw me before I went to shake his hand. Yesterday, he nearly freaked out,  He said, ‘Jesus, Dennis, don’t sneak up on me like that.’

Jake said, “I been alone most of the morning. Before Shakes showed up at ten, there was nobody but me. Since then a few people stopped by, for about ten minutes, then left.”

Mariah said, “I just came down to pay a bill, but they’re in the middle of upgrading their equipment. They asked, “How do you want to pay this bill?” I said, ‘Cash.’ The guy looked in the till. He said we’ve got no money to make change. Can you use some other method.’ I asked, ‘How about my debit card?’ The guy checked the machine and said, ‘Sorry, that’s not working either. Do you have a credit card?’ I said, ‘Yes, but it’s maxed out.’ So that was a waste of time. That’s when I came here to visit with Jake and Shakes.

“I had something weird happen today. I was doing my laundry when I heard a dog barking. I looked outside and my friend was on her balcony with his dog, some kind of a pit bull mix. When he saw me he said, ‘I’ll be right down.’ We were chatting near the gate when this guy, from across the street, came over with a stick in his hand. He demanded a cigarette. My friend said, ‘I told you a hundred times, I’m not giving you any smokes.’ The other guy started swinging the stick near me. My friend took his dog inside, then came out with a stick of his own. They were going at it in the middle of the street, swinging these sticks. I got on the phone and called the cops. They got there really fast, in about five minutes, but the other guy had already gone back to his apartment. When the cops confronted him he denied everything. Said he wasn’t even outside.  I pointed to the sticks on the ground and said, ‘That’s evidence right there.’ Anyway, he took our statements and said they’d had other complaints against this guy, so they’d keep an eye on him. Can you imagine that? You’re not even safe in your own yard.”

A man walked over and shook the hands of Shakes and Jake. He asked, “And who is this lovely lady here?”

“I’m Mariah,”

He said, “They call me Peanuts. Don’t ask why. It’s a long story. Anyway, the last time I saw Shakes was on Yonge Street, in front of the liquor store. I saw this young kid, about twenty, punch Shakes. He must have hit him about six times in the face and was trying to go through his pockets. Shakes had a black eye.  I ran over and grabbed the guy. I said, ‘Do you know who you’re hitting? Shakes is a legend. It’s like hitting Muhammad Ali. You just don’t do that.’

“Shakes got up off the ground and fists started flying. He was like a whirlwind — ‘floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee.’ Soon the cops came by. The first thing they did was put Shakes in handcuffs. I said to them, ‘Hey, Shakes is the victim here. He’s the hero, not the villain. Take those cuffs off immediately’ Store employees came out and said, ‘We saw the whole thing, officers. He’s right, this guy had been in the store and when he left we saw this other guy punching him. We’re the ones that phoned you guys.’ At that point, they removed the cuffs and told Shakes he could go. The other guy was thrown in the back of the squad car.

“Did you have much money on you, Shakes?”

“Yeah, I had two hundred and twenty dollars, I’d just cashed my check and still had the money in the brown bank envelope, but he didn’t get it. Nobody steals money from me.”

Peanuts said, “I just came through some hard times. I was at the Shepherd and met this woman. She was beautiful, fifty-two years old, same as me. We got on really well. We went out and had a few drinks and she said to me, ‘I got eighteen hundred dollars. We could rent an apartment.’ We looked at a few places and found a really nice one for nine hundred a month. We moved our stuff in. I don’t want to get gross here, but we made love at least twice a day, in every room of the place.

“One morning I woke up, she was wrapped in my arms, I looked down, there was a rat curled up at the bottom of the bed — a big fucker, about a foot long. The place was infested with them.

“Her sister came over and while they were talking a rat ran across the floor. She screamed and said, ‘My sister can’t live in a place like this.’  To her, she said, ‘You’re coming home with me.’

“I went back to the Shepherd. After a few days, I was feeling really sick, had the sweats, the shakes, the DTs, because I hadn’t had a drink for about four days.”

Mariah said, “I know. I’ve been there.”

Peanuts continued, “I couldn’t buy a drink, because I’d given all my money to this woman, three hundred dollars. I’ve always given my money to my women to look after. They give me some to spend each day. I’m no good at looking after my own money, never have been. I went back to the apartment and all her things had been moved out. Didn’t leave a forwarding address, telephone number, nothing.”

I asked, “So, she didn’t leave you any money?”

“No, but the money wasn’t a worry, I can always get more money. I packed all my clothes, my leather jacket, into a recycling box and went back to the Shepherd. When I woke up the next day, all my stuff had been stolen. All I got to my name is what’s on my back.

“I’ve had three wives before, but I didn’t love any of them the way I love this woman, even though we hadn’t been together that long. She broke my heart.

To me Peanuts said, “I think I’ve seen you around before.”

‘Yeah,” I said “I’ve been coming around here for a couple of years. I work in that tall building over there.”

Peanuts said, “I think the last time I saw you was on the corner of Queen and Jarvis. You were charging fifty bucks.”

I said, “You must have me confused with someone else, I’ve never charged as much as fifty bucks. A twenty could get me anytime.”

Peanuts laughed. He said, “That’s what I like, a guy that can take a joke. Hey, if you ever need anybody rubbed out, keep me in mind.”

I said, “I’ll call Mariah first, then you. This guy has to get back to work. I’ll see you guys some other time. Have a good weekend.”

Jake said, “You hear that? He’d call a woman first, then you.”


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They Call Me Red



31 July 2013

Warm, clear and breezy, a perfect summer day at the park. Shark and Spike were standing at the rail. Sitting in a circle, in various states of inebriation were Manisee, Debbie, Little Jake, Jacques and Mariah. I hadn’t seen Shark for a few months so I walked over to him.

“Hi Dennis, haven’t seen you for a while.”

“I’ve been around, but you don’t come down much anymore do you?”

“No, there’s not much here for me. I came down to buy some native cigarettes and a few prescriptions.”

“How are you feeling?”

“I’ve got a pain in my shoulder and my right leg. It’s been twelve years since I’ve had this (HIV). There’s a cocktail of pills I take twice a day, then my morphine three times a day. I’ve got blood work to be done. That’s going to hurt. There’s only one type of pain medication that works for me. Sometimes, because I’m a junkie, they don’t want to give it to me. That’s when I get on the phone to my doctor and have them explain to him why they want to change my meds.”

“How’s Irene?” I asked.

“She’s fine. She never wants to come out, at least not when I want to come out. I can understand, we have the air conditioning there. She hates the heat.  If her friend Sue comes over then they both want to go shopping. I hate that. What is it about women and shopping?  For me, I know exactly what I want and where it is, so I get my own cart and I’m in and out. I tell Irene to meet me at the van because I got beer in there. She has to read all the labels, she walks slowly then she can’t decide. I hate it.

“I bought a little dinghy that I use at the bridge near the Don Valley Parkway. I can’t remember the name… the Queen Street Viaduct, that’s the one. I really enjoy it, in fact, I’m thinking of getting a bigger one and towing the other behind.”

Mike said, “You have paddles for that, don’t you? I mean, you don’t have to paddle with your hands or anything, do you?  That would be exhausting.”

“It came with paddles. I started paddling with just one, otherwise, it kept going in circles. I got it worked out now. I was out with a couple of friends a few days ago. They jumped in the water and got their feet cut on some sharp rocks. I gave them some alcohol to clean the cuts with.  There’s stuff like E. coli in that water. You gotta be real careful with stuff like that or you could get a blood infection. That’s painful. A friend of mine had that and was in the hospital for six weeks.”

I said, “I’ve had blood poisoning before, but I went to the doctor as soon as I saw the red line going up my leg. It was the most painful experience I’ve ever had.”

Jake said, “That makes me want to jump off the bridge. I’ll end up doing it sometime this summer.”

Debbie said, “You wouldn’t really do that, would you Jake? Don’t do it when you’re drunk. That’s a no-no.” He was looking at three young women wearing tight pants and tee-shirts in the park below.

Mariah said, “What are you looking at Jake… fresh meat?”

I said, “It’s a good thing they aren’t on the other side of the river.  Jake might just dive in like he did last September.”

Gaston and Yves came by. Shark said, “Here come a couple of queers!”

Mariah said, “Shark, be nice. They’re our friends.”

“I know, but that’s what they are.”

“How are you doing, Yves?” I asked.

“Exhausted! I cleaned three apartments today, then I’ve been running around.”

“Do you run?”

“I meant I’ve had a lot of errands to run. I think I may be coming down with some kind of virus. They mentioned it on the news today. At the apartment building where I’ve been working, a bunch of ladies is down with it. I didn’t catch the whole broadcast, maybe they’ll have it on the news at six. It seems to affect mostly people over forty. The symptoms are flu-like with sore muscles, tiredness. I hope I haven’t caught that.”

I noticed a DVD in Jacques’ backpack. I asked, “What movie are you going to watch. He pulled out a handful, mostly pirated. “This is a funny one, ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ with Clint Eastwood. It’s the one with the monkey or orangutan. Then I got a bunch with John Wayne: ‘Blue Steel’, ‘The Dawn Rider’, ‘True Grit’. This one looks good,  ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ starring James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan.  I think I got enough to keep me going for days. Of course, I’ll have to put it on pause, every once in awhile, to take a piss.

I asked Mariah, “Have you seen Joy today?”

“No, I rushed down here to pick up some cigarettes and some other stuff (marijuana) then I’m heading back.”


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They Call Me Red


30 July 2013

At the park today were Little Jake, Shakes (asleep),  Mariah, Wolf and Shaggy (asleep). Joy hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks. I asked Mariah if she had heard from her.

“Joy hasn’t been too well lately with her fibromyalgia and headaches. At first, her right leg and left arm were stiff, then it was her two legs. She was thinking that she’d have to go back to the hospital, but she’s getting around with two canes. Every once in a while she manages to climb the stairs to my place. She hopes to come to visit everybody shortly. She was asking about you. I’ll tell her you said hello.

“I don’t know how Joy will make out when I leave. I’m looking for a different apartment. It’s just getting too bad.”

Little Jake said, “You mean you want to get out of Regent Park. I don’t blame you.”

“No, Regent Park is alright, it’s just our landlady. She does nothing for us.  It used to be I’d keep everything under control tenant-wise.  We used to have a lot of riffraff, but I let her know what was going on. I helped her get rid of this schizo guy that lived where Joy is now. He was a real nut case. Every crack he saw he put duct tape over it; every seam in the tile floor, the seams around the door, cracks in the wall. He always carried around a bag of rotten potatoes. That was really smelly and gross. He took a hammer to the counter, the cupboards the walls. He destroyed the place, but he had a really good lawyer. It went to court and his lawyer claimed it was all wear and tear. The guy did it again before he moved out.

“We got this one old lady who wears diapers and she leaks if you know what I mean. It’s not her fault and she can’t clean it up herself, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to clean that shit every day. It’s disgusting to find that in the hallway all the time. I’m usually the one who phones the landlady.

“We got this other guy who just moved in. He bought some kind of air conditioner/dehumidifier and it’s always tripping the breakers. It’s a damn nuisance if you’re in the middle of cooking supper, or relaxing in the evening watching a bit of TV. Only the landlady has access to the breakers. Now, every time she picks up the phone she asks, ‘Has he done it again?’ Actually, it hasn’t happened for about two weeks.

“Then there’s this problem of the floor sagging. There’s a pole in the corner of my bedroom, that used to be the living room.  When I first moved in there was a gap above it of about a half-inch. Now it’s about four inches. I told her that if my floor collapses, my lawyer will sue her for alternative accommodation, for the whole time they’re fixing the floor. That has her scared shitless. I better not call her again or I’ll be out. A rat lives down beside the pole. I see him every so often.

“The thing is they just bought this other sixteen unit building that they put money into fixing up. Got it all freshly painted. They rented it to a bunch of crack heads;  now it looks like a disaster area. If they had money to fix that place, why didn’t they put some money into our place where we have decent tenants.”

Luther walked up the sidewalk, “I just got out of court.”

Jake asked, “What did you steal this time?”

“I didn’t steal anything. I broke into an Anglican church.”

I said, “…and stole a jar of peanut butter.”

“Yeah, I told you that already, didn’t I. I’m allergic to peanuts. I just had a craving. When I was a kid, I was abused by an Anglican minister in Saskatoon. Anyway, at court, I told them I had a fit at the front of the church. They let me off. I just have to pay a hundred dollars for the door I smashed.”

“Luther,” asked Jake, “did you pawn your guitar again?”

“No, I got two guitars now, but I left them at home. It was too much trouble bringing a guitar in the cab and I’d have no place to leave it in court.”

“You look naked without your guitar, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I’ll have it next time. Gotta go.”

I asked Jake, “You’re looking for a new place aren’t  you?”

“No, I worked that out with my social worker. I’m going to stay there for the winter.”

“Has she arranged furniture for you yet?”

“No, I’m on a waiting list. I think a hundred and fifty-seven people are ahead of me.”

“Why is that, You’ve been there nearly a year now, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, but I missed a few appointments. Each time I miss an appointment I get moved to the bottom of the list.”

Mariah said, “You’re going to have to get that place cleaned up. Get all that garbage out of there.”

“Yeah, I know.

“Well, I paid all my debts and I got a hundred and thirty dollars to last ’till the end of the month. Jacques owes me fifty bucks.”

I asked, “Does he still owe you fifty bucks?”

“No, he paid that back. This was fifty he borrowed yesterday, just until he gets his check. I always get mine a day or two earlier.

“Whaddya know, here comes Little Chester and he’s dragging his foot. That means he’s drunk. He was dragging his foot at eight-thirty this morning. AND HE’S ALWAYS CUTTING MY GRASS, THE BASTARD. YES, I’M TALKING TO YOU, CHESTER!”

Chester said, “I love you too. What do you mean I’m cutting your grass. When you come along I move.”

“Yeah, you move fifteen feet up the bridge. THE BRIDGE IS MINE. That’s been my spot for ten years. Go downtown or find some other spot. How about going for a swim? I’ll push you off the bridge.”

“No, thanks.”

“Actually, I love jumping off that bridge, especially when it’s hot.”

Mariah said, “You gotta wait until they cut the weeds, otherwise those things can pull you down.”

“Yeah, I know, the last time I dove in there was last September. I was drunk and stoned out of my mind. I saw this gorgeous girl across the river. She had one of those big dogs with the blue tongue. What are they called?”

Mariah said, “Maybe an Airedale or an Akita?”

“Yeah, one of those. Anyway, I just took my shoes off and dived in, pants on and everything. I got caught in the weeds and the more I struggled the further down I went. I saw a cop standing beside the river and I yelled at him, ‘Help! I’m caught in the weeds!’ Before he pulled me out with a pole he asked, ‘If I pull you out are you going to dive back in?’ I said, ‘No, for Christ’s sake, just get me out of here before I drown.

“When I was living with Weasel and Bruce, sometimes I’d wake up with Bear right in my face. Weasel had his face in Bear’s ass.”

I said, “I remember you saying  you woke up one time licking Bear’s face.”

“Yeah, that’s what happens when you live under a bridge.”

Shakes woke up, “Dennis, how’re you doin’? I haven’t seen you for ages. Where you bin? Dennis, do you have any bus tickets?… Great, now I’ll be able to get home tonight and get to the bank tomorrow. My check should be in my mailbox.”


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They Call Me Red


17 July 2013

After I got off the bus I was approached by Two-four who hands out the free newspaper.  He asked, “Have you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“Sun Media is shutting down the newspaper. I’ll be out of a job in two weeks.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Well, it’s not like I haven’t been through this before. I’ll pick something up. Maybe,  Metro is hiring. Who knows, I might be back at this same spot. It’s not the job I’ll miss it’s the people. I’ve really gotten used to my regulars. They make the job seem worthwhile.

“That’s the way it goes.”

“Best of luck, Two-four.”

When I approached Joy, she had her head down on her knees. “Joy?” I asked, “Are you feeling alright?”

“Yeah, I was just laughing. Did you see the guy who walked by with the Hawaiian shirt and the faux hawk hairdo? The lady I was talking to was saying what a womanizer he is. I said, ‘He’s gay!’ She said he’s always coming on to all the women in the office. He even asks them out. He’ll usually cancel at the last minute.’ I said, ‘That’s because he likes penises.’ The lady said, ‘Why would he go to all that trouble? We all know he’s gay.’

“I wasn’t here yesterday because I was still feeling sick. I didn’t go to the park, I just went straight to Giant Tiger. I threw up three times in there —  great gobs of phlegm. ‘Cleanup in aisle 4!’ They didn’t have the hamburgers I wanted, so I got bacon instead. I threw that up too.”

I asked, “Do you think you’re suffering from withdrawal?”

“No, I’m drinking. It’s just the heat. I can’t take it.”

“Did you see an outreach worker to arrange for your health card?”

“Yeah,  I filled out all the papers. They mailed them. I should get my card in two or three weeks. Then, I’ll be all set.

“I’m half in the bag today.”

“Did you have trouble sleeping?”

“Yeah, Big Jake and Hippo were over yesterday. I said to them, ‘You guys can’t just drop over here anytime you want.’   Jake said, ‘Yeah, well, they kicked me out of the Sally. I’m over at Shepherd now and they don’t have storage space for my boxes.’ I said, ‘Jake, I got a small place here I don’t have room to store stuff for people.

“It’s all his paper stuff. He can make a Harley out of folded paper —  little handlebars and everything. Something he learned in prison.  He’s really good at it.  One sale was for a hundred bucks. He’s making one for me now. I said, ‘I want it purple with silver flames.’ He said, ‘I do them with black flames.’ I said, ‘Either do it the way I say, or I’ll paint over it with yellow.’ That changed his mind. I even showed him how to make a v-twin engine. He was just making two boxes, but the way I did it looks really neat.

“He was asking if I would take care of him when he has his hip replacement surgery. I asked him, ‘You want me to take care of you? After what you did to me? No way! I don’t do that care shit.’  I’ll help him out a bit when he gets out of the hospital, but I told him, ‘You gotta get out of that chair and exercise. You can’t just sit there all day. Your joints need to move around or they’ll get stiff.”

I asked, “Does he know when he’s going into hospital?”

“He’s on a waiting list, but his situation is critical, so he’s at the front of the line.”

I asked, “Did you hear that the free newspaper is shutting down? Two-four will be out of a job.”   “Yeah, he said he’s going to try at Metro. I hope he replaces that asshole they got now. He’s always asking me how my day is going. I’ll say, ‘Okay.’ He says you should be having an EXcellent day!  Bye now and have an EXcellent day!’ I’d like to ram that newspaper down his throat.”

Chester came by and said, “Hi Joy, hi Dennis.” He waited for a while without speaking then asked Joy, “Do you have some money for a coffee?” Joy handed him a Tim Horton’s card with five dollars credit on it. “How about bus tickets?”

“Chester, It’s Wednesday, seniors ride free all day.”

“Well, there’s always tomorrow.”

“You’ve had enough, Chester. I’ll see you later.”

After he left I asked, “Why doesn’t he panhandle, if he needs extra money?”

“I don’t know. He picks up butts and eats at the Mission, the Salvation Army or the Shepherd. He can be a pain in the ass sometimes. He’s too proud to ask the public for money, but he’s not too proud to ask us, who have hardly any.”

“Hi sweetheart!” Joy yelled to a woman crossing the street. “I haven’t seen you in ages.”

She said,  “I don’t work around here any more. I’m just dropping something off.” To me Joy said, “She’s lost half her ass. I notice everything.”

A ragged looking man wearing shorts walked by. Joy said, “Hey, Buddy, want a smoke?” She held one out.

“Yeah, thanks.”

“There was another woman by earlier who was really nasty, she had a kid with her too.  She said to me, ‘You’re no better than dirt.’ I said to her, ‘How would you like to see your hair on fire?’ That shut her up pretty quick. At first she wasn’t sure if I was serious or not, but the look I gave her told her I was.’ Sometimes I just like scaring people.

“After I leave here, I’m going to meet Tracey. She has a phone for me. I’ll really feel human then.”


Sample my books for free — To date, $1945.00 has been donated to the homeless:

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They Call Me Red: ($.99 Download)


They Call Me Red



15 July 2013

When I approached Joy she was doubled over, holding her knees. When she lifted her head her face looked pale and gaunt.

“You don’t look very good,”  I said.

“I don’t feel very good. I’ve been this way for five or six days now. Can you spare some change so I can get some Gravol. I can’t seem to keep anything down. I even tried my grandmother’s remedy of burnt toast scraped into water. It’s supposed to have the same effect as the charcoal they give you when you o.d.

“One time I got picked up by the police and I had a bunch of prescription drugs on me. They didn’t check, they just threw me in the back of the cruiser. I wolfed down these pills, I nearly gagged. When they got me to the station I was kind of dazed. They said to me, ‘You weren’t like this when we picked you up. What did you take?’ They found the empty pill bottles on the floor of the cruiser. The Desk Sargent asked the cops, ‘You didn’t check her for drugs?’ They didn’t know how many pills I’d taken so they sent for the ambulance. I went to the hospital and had my stomach pumped.

“Even granny’s remedy didn’t work. I couldn’t hold that down. Since last Tuesday I’ve been going from the sofa to the garbage pail. Half the time I don’t make it. I’m tired of mopping my floor. At least I don’t have the runs, but since I don’t have any food in my system there’s nothing to come out.”

A lady stopped by and handed Joy a blister pack of Gravol and two slices of dry toast. ‘Bless you,’ said Joy.   To me, she said, “I didn’t think she was going to come back. I’m going to save the toast for later. I can’t face the idea of eating right now. I  think I’ll just stop for a cup of tea.”

She took two of the tablets and waited a few minutes. “These are supposed to make me feel better, but I feel horrible. They have an orange taste, like the Tang we used to mix with vodka. Remember that orange powder stuff? Supposedly the astronauts drank that —  Yuck!  I think I’m going home.

“I have to stop at Giant Tiger on my way. They have those frozen burgers on sale. I can just fry them or nuke them. If I can’t eat them it’s not much to throw in the trash. I hate going to Giant Tiger this time of day. It’s when all the skids are there. They smell so bad. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to take it.”

“I haven’t had a drink for six days. Jacques is the same way. We just can’t face it. I feel chilled, then I feel hot. Jacques gave me this purple hoodie. I put it on, then take it off.

“I was really pissed off last week. I told you the cable guy was supposed to come by Tuesday. I waited around all day, but he didn’t show. He came Thursday — that meant I missed my appointment with the outreach worker to see about my health card. Greg was acting all pissy about that, but I couldn’t phone him to cancel or explain because the phone guy didn’t leave me a phone. He said, ‘We don’t do that anymore. Too many phones were being stolen.’ I have to admit I’ve stolen a few in my time.

“At least I have television now. That makes a big difference. I don’t have to watch the same old shit all the time.”


Sample my books for free — To date, $1945.00 has been donated to the homeless:

Gotta Find a Home: Conversations with Street People ($2.99 Download) ($.299 Download) ($.99 Download) ($2.99 Download)

They Call Me Red: ($.99 Download)


They Call Me Red



09 July 2013

This morning when I neared Joy’s spot I saw a Paramedic Vehicle parked close to where she sits. I thought the worst, then I saw her feet sticking out from behind a concrete pillar. Joy said, “I feel so bad. That poor woman was one of my regulars. She was reaching in her purse for change when she tripped on that uneven sidewalk — I don’t know how many people have tripped there. Anyway, she fell face down with her arm across her chest.  Her knees were scraped, her hand was scraped and swollen. I jumped up and helped her, then I held her hand until the paramedics came.  She acted so surprised that I stayed with her.  I said,  ‘I’m human, I feel bad when somebody gets hurt.’ She said, ‘But you people…’ I asked, ‘What do you mean, us people…street people… panhandlers? Just because people treat us like shit doesn’t mean we don’t  have feelings.’ At that point, Joy’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“I think I freaked her out a bit. When I get nervous I start signing and scratching. I explained to her that I’m deaf in one ear and learned to sign when I was young. I don’t know what she thought of that.

“The paramedics arrived, checked her over and wanted to take her to hospital, but she refused to go. The van has been here for about an hour. I thought by now that the fat driver would have gotten out to get a donut at Timmy Ho’s, but he hasn’t moved. The woman is long gone. She’s gone to her office or somewhere.

I asked, “How are you feeling? It must have been upsetting for you.”

“I’m alright. They installed my landline and my cable. I still have to buy a phone. I didn’t know that Bell didn’t install their own phones, but the installer said that too many have been stolen. I guess I’ll try to get one at Giant Tiger, or someplace. I just want something really simple, but I want call display. I’m not sure I can get that at Giant Tiger. I want to know who’s calling. If I don’t know them, I won’t answer. Having a television and a phone makes me feel scared for some reason. It makes me feel too human, most times I just want to hide away.”

I said, “You don’t have to answer the phone. Maybe, you can find a used answering machine somewhere.  I never answer the phone. You don’t have to watch the television. I watch very little. I never watch the news, it’s too depressing.”

“I guess, it’s staying alone that I’m scared about.”

I asked, “Have you thought about Jake moving in with you?”

“No, not the way he smells. Even if he did clean himself up I’m not ready for a relationship.”

“How about having Loretta move in with you. She’s been sober for five months now. You seem to get along with her.”

“No, I’d kill her. I think I’m better off by myself. I’ve got my name down on a couple of different housing registries. I didn’t put down any restrictions as far as the neighborhood is concerned. I just want someplace clean, with no bed bugs.

“I was over at Chester’s the other day. I checked his mattress. Besides the piping at the bottom, where that crease is, was black with bed bugs; big black ones. He said to me, ‘I don’t know where they come from.’ I said, ‘Did you ever think that they may come from the people who stay over. It just takes one bed bug to lay about a thousand eggs. I read up on them. I also had a friend whose husband was an exterminator. She told me all about them. They’re nasty.

“When I had them I put two in a sealed bottle and put it in the freezer. When my friend came over I showed her the bottle. They were still alive and crawling up the sides of the bottle. My friend said, ‘I’ve going to put these in my purse and show my husband.’ I said, ‘You’re going to put them in your purse just like that? I think you should double-bag them. I gave her a couple of Ziploc bags to put the bottle in. When her husband saw them he said, ‘Get that bottle out of here! Put it outside somewhere! I don’t want it in the house!’ That’s from a guy who knows bed bugs.”

I said, “You can spray for them, can’t you?”

“You spray the first time, wait two weeks, spray again, wait another two weeks then do the final spraying. If I was married to an exterminator I’d spray every week.”

It was time for me to go to work.  I asked, “Are you going to be at the park at noon?”

“I don’t know. If nobody’s there when I go past, I think I’ll just go home.”

Sample my books for free — To date, $1945.00 has been donated to the homeless:

Gotta Find a Home: Conversations with Street People ($2.99 Download) ($.299 Download) ($.99 Download) ($2.99 Download)

They Call Me Red: ($.99 Download)


They Call Me Red



8 July 2013

Joy was smiling when I greeted her this morning. “How have you been doing? I haven’t seen you for a while.”

“I’ve just been chillin’ in my apartment. I didn’t feel like coming downtown. Last Wednesday I had a fight with Magdalene, so I didn’t stick around. Butthead was over once.”

“Which Butthead was that? Jake Butthead or someone else?

“My Jake, he reeked. I told you he gained a lot of weight in prison because of his bad hip. First, he used a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair.  I asked him, ‘Babe, don’t you ever take a shower?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I had one yesterday.’ I said, ‘You need to take one every day, being stuck in that chair. You smell like piss. Have you been pissing yourself? He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘You can take a shower here if you like.’ He said, ‘No,’ so I left it at that.

“When he was ready to leave I went out to the hall to get his wheelchair. I could smell it from ten feet away. He had a folded blanket to sit on. I asked him, ‘Where did you get this blanket?’ He said, ‘The Sally Ann.’ I asked, ‘Was it clean?’ He said, ‘No.’ I haven’t seen him since then. Maybe I hurt his feelings. I don’t know; I don’t care. He phoned once and asked if he took the bus to my place would I push him up the hill. I said, ‘No, dude. You’ve been in that chair long enough, you should be doing wheelies. I can after all the time I’ve been in a wheelchair, for my broken ankles and my fibromyalgia. You really need the exercise.”

“Is he still drinking?”

“After his piss test, he drinks as much as he used to. That’ll never change.

“I’ve been picking away at the stitches in my head. Sometimes, I’ve scratched some hair out — they didn’t shave my scalp where they stitched me. Mariah was looking at my head the other day and said, ‘You’ve got a bald spot!’ All-day long she was calling me Spot.”

I said, “I’ve got a scar on my head where I had eight stitches as a kid.”

“Yeah, “I’ve got a scar from my forehead right to the back of my head. My sister pushed me down the stairs on a stuffed lion. I’ve got another one on the side where Buddy hit me with a crowbar. My scalp isn’t a pretty sight. It’s like a road map. There’s no way I’m going for that shaved look.”

A lady stopped to put some change in Joy’s cap. “Thanks, Sweetie, I haven’t seen you for a long time.” It’s true, I wonder if she changed departments or something.

“I’m still getting those headaches and dizzy spells from, the concussion I got.”

“Have you seen a doctor? Do you have your health card yet?”

“I’ve been leaving messages with my workers, but they don’t get back to me. I’m hoping to see one of the outreach workers on the street. They haven’t been around lately either.”

Another lady stopped, smiled and dropped some change, “Bless you, dear,” she said.

“Bless you too,”  said Joy. “Have a nice day.”

Joy asked, “Have you been up to the park lately? I haven’t been keeping in touch with anybody.

“I hope Chester doesn’t come by. He’s been getting really cranky lately. I don’t like being around him.”

I said, “I saw him Wednesday. It was after you had the fight with Magdalene.”

“Yeah, I went after her because she was harassing Chili, in her walker.”

“I was talking to Magdalene. She was drunk and nobody else would talk to her. I didn’t know the circumstances from before. Anyway, Chester asked me for some bus tickets. I said, ‘Okay, Chester, hold on, I’ll get to you.’ Magdalene was sobbing and talking about going home on the weekend.  I agreed with her and said it was a good idea. Then I went over to talk to Shark and Matches. Chester  was getting so agitated, he was shaking.”

“Magdalene didn’t go home. I’ve seen her since then, but she needs to get straightened out. I don’t know how old she is, but she seems like just a kid.”

I said, “She’s twenty-four. Alphonse is forty.”

“I thought she was young,  just like Sinead, who sometimes hangs around with Ricky. I think she’s twenty. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen her passed out in the bushes with her panties around her ankles.  She probably doesn’t even know what happened while she was unconscious. I never let myself get that wasted. After I get a little buzz I go home.”

I asked, “Have you seen Shakes lately. Lucy has been staying at his place. Little Jake was worried that she’d beat and rob him. I thought that maybe she had split with Daimon, but I saw Little Jake on the bus, he told me that he’d seen them together. They were both wired.”

“That’s bad news. Lucy told me they had their own place… Why would she be staying with Shakes? She’s smacking that stuff in her arm… I’m worried about Shakes.”

It was time for me to go to work, Joy said, “I’m off vacation now. I’ll be at the park for most of this week except for tomorrow. I’m getting a land line hooked up and cable installed. I’ll be human again. I’m tired of watching the same DVDs over and over again. Last night I watched Pirates of the Caribbean for about the hundredth time. I have all the dialog memorized. That Johnny Depp is weird.  Did you know that he based the Jack Sparrow character on Keith Richards? Now there’s a pot headed, druggie to have as a role model.”

Sample my books for free — To date, $1945.00 has been donated to the homeless:

Gotta Find a Home: Conversations with Street People ($2.99 Download) ($.299 Download) ($.99 Download) ($2.99 Download)

They Call Me Red: ($.99 Download)