9 May 2012

“Hi, Joy, how’s it going? I didn’t know whether or not to expect you today because the weather channel forecasted rain.”

“Yeah, it did rain a little bit, earlier. I did my little rain dance, you know, ‘Rain, rain go away, come again another day’, I brought Bruce’s raincoat, just in case, but it was nothing to be concerned about. I don’t mind light rain, it’s those huge raindrops that I hate.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Last night my stomach was doing flip flops. When I got out of bed I threw up. I try to eat a bland breakfast, so I had a poached egg on toast. As soon as I got it down, I puked it up.”

“Have you heard anything from Nick, since the paramedics took him away?”

“He was fine once they got some insulin into him. Yeah, he’s back. He’s really pissed off with the cop, Constable B. Slovak. He even tried to prevent Chuck from phoning 911. Nick is in bad shape with his diabetes and cancer. I’m not sure, but I think it’s all through his internal organs. He’s on massive doses of oxycontin. The cop apologized, asked if there was anything he could do and handed him his card. Nick just flicked it back at him. He’s going to press charges.”

“The cop kept poking Jake with his baton. I don’t know what that was all about.

“Jacques told me that yesterday the R.C.M.P (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) rousted everyone from under the Laurier Street bridge. They’d gone there to get out of the rain. Everyone was given liquor violations. I’m glad I wasn’t there. That’s the first time I’ve heard of the R.C.M.P getting involved. I’ve always acted like, ‘Nya, nya, nya, can’t touch me.’ I guess they can.

“I have an appointment on the 15th at Bronson Centre to meet with an anger management counselor. It’s better than going to Horizon House and being in a classroom full of women. I’d probably go nuts and kill someone. I don’t like being around a lot of women, especially Inuit women who used to hang around the bench. The yapping would never stop. And they’d keep asking me for a drink out of my bottle. I had to learn to say, ‘No, get your own. This is all I’ve got.’

“Chuck and I were talking about getting an apartment together, but the more I think about it, the more I think I should get a place of my own. Chuck has a heart of gold, he’ll help anyone, but it costs a lot in groceries. Like the barbecue we had on Saturday. I can’t believe the amount that Chuck eats. That’s why he’s so fat. He says, ‘I have a big appetite.’ I say look dude, that doesn’t mean you have to eat fifteen times a day. When he serves me a plate of food it’s enough to keep me going for three days.

“We’ve got a problem with mice. Chuck keeps bugging the landlord about it. I said to Chuck, ‘Make sure he knows that you’ve got a dog.’ V gets into everything. He’s supposed to bring some traps over. He said to Chuck, ‘If you keep bugging me I’m going to throw you out.’ Chuck said, ‘I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here.’ We’ll see what happens.

A man stopped and put an apple in Mo’s cap. Mo asked me, “Do you want an apple? I usually give them to Jacques, but he’s getting too fat. He doesn’t need any more to eat.”

“Sure, thanks, I’ll take it.”

“I’ve made over forty bucks today. That’s more than I’ve made for a long time. You must be good luck for me.

A tall, good looking black man passed by, smiled and said hello to Mo. “Hi, handsome, gimme five.” He slapped Mo’s hand and mine. “One day he threw some folded bills in my cap. I spread them out. It was four twenties. I said, ‘Hey man, this is too much.’ He just kept walking and said, ‘You keep it.’ That’s the most money I’ve ever got at one time.

“I talked to Jacques on the phone this morning. He said, ‘So, little one — he calls me little one, because I used to be a lot bigger — are you going to come down and visit us today?.’ I owe him thirty bucks, but he’s going to have to wait until the end of the month. That’s what I was talking to Jake about. He’s owed me seventy for about a year. I asked him about it and he said, ‘I thought you said to forget about it. “Dude, I didn’t say forget about it, I said, shove it up your ass. That’s not the same thing.”

“Do you go to the library?” I asked.

“I used to go there to use the washroom. My eyesight is not so good any more. I’m near sighted, I can see things far away, but up close everything is blurry. Jake is farsighted. When we’d be waiting for the bus together, he’d ask, ‘Is that our bus coming?’ ‘No,’ I’d say, ‘not that one, the one further down the street.”

“Did you get to spend a night in the motel?”

“No, I should have. Maybe I will next month, but who knows what’s going to happen next month?

It was muggy today at ‘the curb’. As I was approaching, Barry came up to me and asked, “Hey, can you spare two bucks, that’s all I need.”

“I said, I don’t have any cash, but I can give you a Subway card worth $5.00.”

“Would you be offended if I sold it for two bucks?”

“Do whatever you like.”

“It’s tempting, but I wouldn’t do that to you, bro.”

Sitting or standing on the sidewalk were  about a dozen of the regulars. Handshakes all around.

I said, “We can all just pretend there is a bench here.”

Jacques said, “They take away our bench, we’re still here, They take away the garbage container, we’re still here. They mow down our trees, we’re still here. What are they going to do next? Are they going to mow us down?”

I sat between Jacques and Joy. “I’m really buzzed.” Said Joy. “Look at all the people here. Some of them I just can’t put up with any more. Shakes was a good friend a couple of years ago, but he can’t even speak sense now. He’ll be asleep before you know it. Makes us all look bad. The last thing we need is to attract attention.

”This is one of those days when I’d rather not be alive.” Joy was crying and started coughing. “Tomorrow I’m going to Oasis to get my forms filled out. They say it will take two or three weeks for me to get my medical card. They’ll want me to quit drinking.”

“What kind of symptoms do you get with alcohol withdrawl?”

“I throw up a lot, lose my appetite — what little I have — get the shakes really bad, sweats, nausea, headache, anxiety, a rapid heart beat, increased blood pressure, halucinations. Last time it looked like the ground beneath my feet was crawling with bugs.”

“I smell something burning,” said Jacques. “Has Ellen fallen asleep with a cigarette? Maybe her clothes are burning.”

Joy checked, “No, she doesn’t have a cigarette.”

Jacques said, “I smelled something, but maybe it was over there. I don’t know. There is something falling. Is it snow? No, it’s coming from the trees. It’s green. Is that what they call pollenization? These green things fall on the earth and they grow. If they fall in the leaves over there there’s not enough light. If they fall on the grass they get mowed. Is it the maple leaves that fall like helicopters?”

Ellen awoke and said, “Did somebody mention something about maple bacon?”

“That sounds like something that Chuck cooked the other day. Maple, anything, is just wrong. I don’t even eat pancakes any more. French toast I’ll do, but with only a tiny bit of syrup.”

“They’ve got Honey Jack Daniels now,” said Ellen. “That’s good.”

Joy whispered to me, “I’d like to kill her.

“See my rings? This one on my thumb is a spinner ring. The inside stays still and the outside spins. On my other thumb is Jake’s twelve step ring. Well, it’s mine now. We were in Trillium Jewelry when he bought it. He said, “Do you see anything you fancy?’ I said, “No, not really.” He said, ‘I saw you looking at a ring over there. Do you want it?’ I said, ‘Okay.’ They’re so big, I have to wear them on my thumb. Jake wanted me to put it on the fourth finger of my left hand. This other one, was given to me by a girlfriend, Joanne. She’s passed on (Joy crossed her heart). It’s my birthstone, amethyst.

“When I’ve been panning people have said t me, ‘If you want money, sell your jewelry!’ These are only silver. They’re not worth anything to anybody else.”

“I was talking to Outcast the other day,” said Silver. “He feels like he’s being pushed out of the group.”

“Well,” said Joy, “if he’d quit stealing from us… There’s nothing worse than someone who would steal from his friends. Well, a jailhouse thief is worse. Everybody has their tiny ration of coffee, or toothpaste. It really sucks when somebody takes it on you. If they get found out they end up, a pile in the corner, beaten by somebody’s bitch.”

Shark said, “Outcast was at Irene’s the other day. He drank six of her beer and every time he went through the kitchen he took some of my pot and put it in his cigarette pack.”

“Joy said, “I was at Jacques’ place when Outcast was there. Jacques went to the bathroom and Outcast grabbed a stack of DVD’s and was going to put them in his pack. I said, ‘No you don’t!’

Jacques said, “It was the next night that he stole pot from me.”

It was time for me to go. I said to Joy, “They’re forecasting rain for later on.”

“I’m okay, I’ve got Bruce’s raincoat. It even covers my feet. When I pull the hood up I’ll stay nice and dry. He’s so big that it fits me like a tent. Before he went to prison, I told him to ask for the high protein diet. He’s going to really gain weight there. That’s what I’ve asked for whenever I’ve been inside. You get a lot of different kinds of meat, peanut butter. I used to put that in my pocket and save it until later, when I was back in my cell.”

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7 May 2012

On a low concrete wall, facing Elgin Street, were Rocky, Shark, Irene, Loretta and Joy.

I walked up to Irene and said, “Hi neighbor!” She and Shark laughed.

I said to Joy, “On Friday Shark, Irene and I took the number 14 together. It turns out that Irene lives about four blocks from me, and Shark, Shakes and I all lived a few blocks from each other in Cabbagetown, Toronto.

I said to Joy, “Irene also mentioned that she had lived near Lacasse Avenue in Vanier. That’s the street I lived on.”

“You lived on Lacasse? So did I! I was in the pink house, nearer to Blake Boulevard.”

“I was in the basement of a four-plex, in the second block from Montreal Road.”

“So, we lived about three blocks apart, cool. It’s a small world. Maybe, we walked right by each other.”

Shark  said, “Did you see what they’ve done, ‘the bench’ is gone. We’re stuck with sitting here in the sun. Even the wrought iron garbage container is gone.”

Joy said to me, “Nick passed out due to insulin shock, so Chuck phoned 911. Nick should carry extra insulin with him, but he doesn’t. Also, he hasn’t eaten. He was more concerned with having a joint. The same thing happened at the barbecue Saturday. He has cancer and has pretty well given up on life. I’d never do that, no matter what condition I was in. I’m too much of a bitch.”

The paramedics arrived with an ambulance. They loaded Nick onto a gurney, into the ambulance, then he was gone.

The police arrived and complained to Jake about garbage near where the bench used to be. There was one plastic soft drink container, that some one had used to carry water for their dog. He said to the police officer, “For one thing, it’s not our garbage. For another thing the garbage container has been taken away and there’s nowhere for us to put the garbage.” The officer responded by pushing Jake across the sidewalk. He staggered and nearly fell.

Everyone was wondering what Chuck was saying to the police. Joy said, “That dude has verbal diarrhea. It starts first thing in the morning and doesn’t end until he goes to sleep. I’m going up there to get V. That’s all I need is for Chuck to go to jail and I’ll be stuck with that dog. I don’t even like him.”

Joy went up to get V. Chuck said, “I’m not going to jail!”

Chuck phoned 911 again and said, “Officer B. Slovak pushed my friend, and I’m scared he’s going to hit me with his billy club. I wish to make a formal complaint. Yes, I’ll stay on the line.”

Joy said to the officer, “Look dude, my friend is on a lot of pain medication for AIDS. That’s why he’s staggering. He’s very sick.”

“And how would you know that?” said Officer Slovak.

“Because he’s my friend, dude. I know the medical histories of all these people here.”

“Why is it you’re not messed up like this guy?”

“Because, I choose not to be, dude!”

Jake was forced to walk to the opposite end of the bridge.

Joy, Chuck and V. returned to the rest of the group sitting on the wall.

Outcast said to me, “You should complain to the National Capital Commission about the removal of the bench and the garbage container. As it is, the closest place to put garbage is at the far end of the bridge. Also, the remaining benches are all in direct sunlight. You should tell them that you work in the area and like to sit in the shade to eat your lunch.”

“I could do that.” I said.

“How are you Rocky? Where are you sleeping now?” I asked.

“I’m staying at the Mission.”

“You’ve really got a great voice. Has it always been like that? I wish I had a deep voice like yours. Do you sing?”

“A lot of people have said I should be a blues singer, but I don’t sing that well. I just sing for fun, when I’m alone.”

“How was your weekend, Joy?”

“It was good. Saturday, at Chuck’s place, we had a barbecue for Noreen’s birthday. She’s Inuit. We didn’t know that her birthday wasn’t actually until Sunday, but it didn’t matter. Her boyfriend, Nicholas came and Chuck’s’s dad. Chuck cooked some delicious pork chops. We had macaroni salad and regular salad. I can’t believe how much I ate. Usually I just pick at my food, but this was so good that I licked my plate.

“I have a real bed now and V sleeps with Carl. Saturday, Chuck will be leaving for a few days and he’ll be taking V. I’m looking forward to having the whole place to myself. I’m looking forward to the quiet.

“On the 29th of this month, I have a court appearance for the breach I got while I was in hospital. My P.O. (Probation Officer) wants to meet with me after court, but she’s going to be the duty officer that day. I could wait forever to see her. I said to her, ‘Why can’t you tell me in court, what it is you have to say?’ I’m going to phone her and say I’ll come in the following day.

“I’m going to have counseling for my anger management. I’ll be seeing a counselor one on one. It’s the place where chicks go for addiction treatment.”

At 6:00 pm, as I was waiting for my bus home, I saw Alphonse walking towards me.

“Good evening, sir,” he said.

“Alphonse, it’s so good to see you! How’ve you been? How’s Magdalen?”

He put his fist to his forehead. Lines appeared between his eyes that welled up with tears. “I’m so agitated! Not frustrated, agitated! Magdalen is four months pregnant and tomorrow she’s going to see about an abortion.

“That’s why I’m drinking. That’s what we do, where I come from, when things get to be too much.”

“I understand, Alphonse, drinking helps to numb the pain.”

“It doesn’t though. I hurt so bad inside. I don’t know how she can do that to my child. I’m hoping that tomorrow, they tell her she’s too far along and they refuse to give her an abortion.”

“Alphonse, perhaps that will happen. I’m sure that will happen.”

“I’ll take care of the child myself if I have to.”

“I’m a father myself, Alphonse, but I can’t even imagine how much pain you are feeling right now. I’ll say a prayer that everything works out as you wish it to. You’re a good man, Alphonse. You’d make a good father.”

“It’s helped a lot being able to talk to someone about it. Thank you, my friend.

“Take care, Alphonse. My heart goes out to you. Perhaps, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

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4 May 2012

Today was muggy, overcast and warm. The fog of earlier had lifted, but the humidity remained. Sitting on the communal park bench were Shakes, Andrew and Joy. On the curb were Little Jack, Loretta, Sparky’s daughter Fran, Ruth, her son Harry and daughter Nancy.

As I approached I said, “Hi Joy, did Shakes tell you that he and I were panhandling together yesterday?

Shakes turned to Joy and said, “Yes, we went to ‘my office’.”

“Shakes,” said Joy, “do you mind turning your head in the other direction, Your breath is foul. It smells like you’ve been chewing on a dirty sock all night. You really should consider brushing your teeth once in a while.”

“Okay, If you say so, Joy, I’ll turn my head.” He laughed.

“It’s not funny, Shakes, you should start taking care of yourself, and change your clothes.” He got up and sat next to his daughter Fran. Before long he was laying back on the grass.

“Dad!” said Fran, “don’t go to sleep here!”

I asked Joy, “How’s everything where you’re staying? Are there still a lot of people at Chuck’s?”

“Jeff is moving out today. Bearded Bruce signed himself into prison Wednesday morning. He and Inuk have been together three years and she didn’t even come home to spend their last night together. She owes Chuck money. She saw him Wednesday and didn’t mention anything about paying him back. She said she’s coming over tonight, but Chuck may have something to say about that.

“V, Chuck’s dog, is going as well. Carl is trying to sell him. He’s a biter. I reached under the bed to get my bottle of water and he chomped on my hand. I didn’t even know that he was under there. With my free hand I punched him right between the eyes.

“Barry, what was V’s name before Toothess got him?”

“Star,” said Barry.

“When I get home I’ll see if he responds to that. He doesn’t pay attention to anything else, especially V. I think that dog has been abused. He’s only six months old. He shouldn’t be vicious like that if he had been well treated. Chuck doesn’t have the patience for him anyway.

“He was talking to some guy yesterday from Kanata. Chuck is asking $100. If the guy is at all interested, but can’t afford the price, I think he should drop it to $50. It would be nice if the dog could go there. He needs fields and a place to run.

“You’d better be careful spending time with Andre  and Shakes. That’s a sure way to get into trouble.”

“I’ll be careful. Joy.”

“So, this weekend Chuck and I may have the place all to ourselves.

“I have to go to court next week about my breach, but my lawyer says it will be thrown out. I have all the medical records showing that I was in hospital.

“I saw my probie this morning. She arranged for me to take the anger management course with a counselor one on one. That’s the only way I’d be able to take it. Audrey knows I can’t do another prison term. The last time, they had me in the psych ward, in solitary under suicide watch.

“You may have noticed that I can be a bit mouthy sometimes. When I go through alcohol withdrawal,  it’s worse. You don’t want to be around me then; I’m not a pleasant person. That would also cause me problems in prison.

“How is your pneumonia?” I asked.

“It’s still there. I’ve been procrastinating about going to the clinic, but I need to go there to get my medical card. I could go to my old doctor. He’d give me a prescription for antibiotics, but I have a hard time dealing with him. He’s one of those guys under a turban. Half the time I don’t know what he’s saying.

“He also checks my blood. If I go there after I’ve been drinking my levels are normal. If I go there when I haven’t been drinking my levels are high. Go figure?

“My kidneys have been kicking me, so after I finish this bottle it will be a dry weekend. Either that or I go back to hospital for dialysis. I don’t want that. As it is my sherry is so watered down, nobody else will drink it. Chuck calls it “goof”. He and Shakes drink it straight. I couldn’t do that now.

“When Big Jake and I were drinking beer we got along fine. We used to drink Labatt Blue, which is 5% alcohol. Then we switched to Labatt Maximum Ice at 7.1%. That’s when our problems began. It was even worse when we switched to Imperial sherry at 20%. I could drink any of these guys under the table, but Jake just got mean and nasty. That’s when he started beating me.

“We’ll probably get together again. my probie said, ‘He’s not allowed within 1600 yards of you, or he’ll go right back to jail.’ I said, ‘When has a restraining order ever stopped him before?’

“I don’t want to be in a relationship with anybody. To have Jake as a fuck buddy would be okay, but I don’t want to live with him again.”

At 6:00 pm I left work and caught my usual number 14 bus. I was surprised to see Shark  and Irene. They were going to Irene’s place, about four blocks from where I live. “I guess you missed all the excitement this afternoon. Shakes  and Shamus were passed out on the lawn and somebody phoned the police. They sent three squad cars and the paramedics. They let Shakes go, but they took Shamus away. He couldn’t even walk. They’ll probably take him to the Shepherd’s to let him sleep it off.”

“Joy has been after Shakes not to pan handle at ‘the bench’, since it attracts attention, and when he lies down, she kept telling him to sit up. His daughter, Fran, was sitting beside him. I thought she would take care of him.

“I guess Fran went shopping. Everyone else just stood around, pretending like they didn’t know what was going on. I’ve known Shakes for fifteen years,  since we both lived in Toronto, near Allan Gardens.”

I said, “Cabbagetown, That’s my old neighborhood too. I lived on Spruce Street near Parliament and Carleton. We used to be neighbors and didn’t know it.”

“Shakes is slowly killing himself, but he doesn’t care. It’s his choice.”

“I spent my noon hour yesterday with Andre and Shakess. They were both staggering in different directions. Andre was saying things like, ‘Drunk man walking,’ and ‘White man on a program’ and ‘Don’t get in the way of my staggering.’ We went to what Matches calls his ‘office’. I sat with Shakes for a while, then went across the street and sat with Andre. He sure is a character. I don’t think he repeated himself once.”

“He must have had his rubber legs on. He’s been staying up in Vanier lately. Probably into that Chinese cooking wine. It’s 37% alcohol. It’s great for stir frying, but it’s powerful stuff to drink.”

“Do you miss living in Toronto.?” I asked.

“Toronto has changed so much I wouldn’t even recognize it. I’d prefer to live in the country. I studied horticulture for four years. I didn’t do well with the chemistry, all those symbols. I like to grow things. Mike, a friend of ours has a place in Quebec on a lake. You met Mike the other day. His double pneumonia has cleared up, but he’s still feeling very weak. He was looking white as a ghost. His mom is keeping a close eye on him. Anyway, he’s invited us to stay for the summer. It has a row boat, a boat with a small motor for trolling. The only problem is we couldn’t get any liquor up there. Maybe it would be good to dry out for a while. We’d still have our pot. We haven’t decided.

“When I grew up in Toronto, my grandmother had a farm a few miles out of town. If any of us kids misbehaved, my mom would threaten to send us to the farm. We preferred to stay in the city.”

By this time we had reached Irene’s stop. It turns out that we’re neighbors, living just five blocks apart. It’s a small world. We said good bye and agreed to see each other at ‘the bench’ on Monday.The adventures will continue; same time, same place.

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3 May 2012

The weather today was overcast and muggy. I talked to Kenny from Iqualuit. “Could you help me out a bit?” he asked.

“Sure, Kenny,” I replied and handed him a gift card for a restaurant near by.

“Actually, I was hoping for some change towards buying a bottle.”

“Sorry, Kenny, I don’t carry cash or credit cards.”

The area of ‘the bench’ was deserted. Andre and Shakes approached me on the sidewalk. Andre said, “Shakes is going to work. I’m going to keep an eye on him.”

“Do you mind if I tag along?” I asked.

“Sure, come on along. We’ll show you how it’s done,” said Andre.

Manoeuvring the sidewalk with Shakes and Andre was an adventure. They were both staggering in different directions. “Drunk man walking!” shouted Andre in his gravelly, carny voice. “Don’t get in the way of my staggering!” followed by “White man on a program!” He spun around a sign post and did a pirouette. “You know you want to give some change to me.” he said, with his cap out and a sad, puppy dog expression on his face. “Could I have a bite of your sandwich?” Someone made a disparaging remark and Andre replied, “If you think you’re life is so good, why is it that I’m so happy?”

He walked between the cars with his cap out asking for change. He came to an empty car at the curb and said, “Hey, a free car! I wonder if they’ll want it back?” At an office building with an outdoor sand ashtray he picked out the longest butts and put them in a plastic ‘baggie’ that he kept especially for that purpose. He was wearing a metal necklace with ball bearing like beads. He pulled the necklace up tight under his chin and said, “Look, I’m a drain plug.”

Tom  had his art display on the sidewalk which included images of deer burned into wood and skateboarders burned into wood then painted. He also had some heart felt poems describing his lost childhood and abuse at the hands of a priest.

Shakes took me to ‘his office’, a doorstep near the entrance to a parking garage “I’ve been here since 1995. There used to be a tree there.” He pointed to a spot where now stands a ticket dispenser. “They had a parking lot, but it was in the open air. I used to clean up the paper and trash. They’d give me five or ten bucks every day. Then they put up this condo.

We sat, Matches’ hat was upturned on the sidewalk.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.

”Good afternoon, sir, have a nice day.”

A man stopped and put some change in Shakes’ cap. “It is a nice day isn’t it,” said the man.

“It’s a bit humid, but it’s nice. God bless you sir.”

“And you too,” said the man.

Andre was panning on the other side of the street, so I joined him for a while. “Hi, Andre, I haven’t seen you for a long time. Where have you been?” I noticed that he had a black eye.

“I was in hospital for a while. Also, I’m going out with seven women. They all know about each other.”

I said, “That’s good, to keep it honest.”

“Yeah, I sleep someplace different every night.

“Hi beautiful, I’d settle for just a smile.” he said to a woman walking by. She turned and smiled.

“Thanks, sweetheart!

“Thank you, gentlemen, for defending our country,” he said to some soldiers.

“You’re not ready to throw that cigarette away are you?

“Hey, I didn’t always look like this. I didn’t get to be a bum overnight.” To me he said, “That guy gave me a dirty look.

“Ma’am, that purse is so shiny, I can see my face in it.”

“Yes, it is shiny, isn’t it? You have a nice day,” said the woman, with a pleasant smile.

“Good evening ma’am. You’d look so much more beautiful if you smiled.

“Ma’am you’re just too beautiful. You make me look ugly.

To me he said, “I just love this, watching people. Every face has a different expression. This is like reality TV.”

I said, “A lot of them seem to be hard of hearing.”

“Yeah, it’s like we’re invisible. I’ll put my cap out a little farther.”

Someone threw a cigarette butt on the street. Emile jumped up and grabbed the still smoking stub. “It’s about time! Will you look at that woman. Looking that good should be illegal”

“You’re so beautiful, ma’am, you made me look at you.

“Can you spare some change, sir.

“Ma’am that orange bag looks like a pylon. Can I borrow it so nobody steps on me?

“I’m a lawyer, ma’am. I’d be glad to take your case for you.

“I know you’d like to talk to me, but you have your mouth full.

“Sir, it takes a real man to wear pink. Gimme five!” The man slapped Emile’s hand in passing.

“Those are beautiful boots, ma’am.”

So passes the time of a pan handler. It was an educational experience. The adventures will continue tomorrow; same time, same place.

Sample my books for free — To date $1945.00 has been donated to the homeless:
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2012 April 17

I wore a windbreaker to the park bench today. The weather was relatively warm and sunny, 48 degrees Fahrenheit with a 15 mile per hour wind. Shark was passing around a bottle of Fireball to Hippo, Longjohn, Katy, Jacques and Peter. Loretta was asleep on the grass. Serge was sitting off by himself.

Shark  said, “I took a demerol earlier, later I have to go to the doctor to get a morphine shot for my liver. I wonder how that’s going to mix with the Fireball?”

I was standing next to Peter, who has long blond hair and a guitar slung on his back. “I can’t believe that this still hurts so much.” he said to me. He he lifted his sweater to reveal a partially healed, two inch, stab wound in his side. “This happened over a month ago. The blade went in six inches, and just missed my vital organs, I saw the x-rays. I’ve got another up higher, but it was deflected by my rib cage.

“A crack head named Roy did this. He lived downstairs in the same building as me. He knocked on my door at 10:00 pm. I’d been sleeping. I answered the door and he said, ‘I’m going to buy some weed. If you give me $5.00 we can split a gram.’ I said, ‘Since I’m awake now anyway, I might as well.’ He never came back.

“The next morning I heard him trying to do the same thing to my neighbor. He was even bragging about ripping me off. I argued with him and said, ‘Since you ripped me off, I want $10.00, or a gram of weed. He refused and went into his apartment. I walked away and he came up behind me and hit me twice in the side. At first I thought he’d punched me. Then I felt something warm running down my side. My neighbor handed me a hammer and I started chasing after him, but then thought better of it. I decided to go to the hospital.

“Because I was a crime victim there was a cop posted in my room. I was hooked up to an I.V. I said to the cop, ‘Watch this!’ I pushed the bedside button and a nurse came in. ‘It hurts!’ I said. She gave me a shot of morphine. I saw a Doctor walking past, I said, ‘Doctor, it hurts!’ He gave me a shot of morphine. The cop said, ‘If you do that once more I’m going to have to report you.’

“The cop drove me home. Just as we were leaving the parking lot I said, ‘I forgot to get a prescription for pain medication.’ He said, “You’re probably going home to smoke pot anyway. I think you can do without a prescription.’

“Since then, Roy has been evicted from our building. There’s a sign by the front door saying he’s not allowed to enter. He’s being held in jail, pending his court appearance. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

“So, what kind of music do you play?” I asked.

“A bit of everything, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Cat Stevens. If you mention a band I probably know at least one of their songs. If you mentioned the Eagles, I could play “Lyin’ Eyes’. If you mentioned Creedence Clearwater Revival, I could play ‘Proud Mary’. I can play for about six hours without repeating myself. As I get older my memory gets shorter. If I learn a new song; I forget an old one.

“Today I’ve been busking on the bridge, in front of the mall. I had to sing over the noise of the busses. My throat was getting dry so I stopped here for a few beer. I’m going to try a mall down the street later on.”

Peter had to rescue his bicycle from Shakes, who could barely walk; riding a bicycle wouldn’t have been a good idea. The adventures will continue tomorrow; same time, same place.

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1 June 2012

Labatt Logo

Labatt Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The weather today was uncertain; It was overcast, but not quite raining. At the park were ten of the usuals and one dog.

“Hi Hippo, How have you been?” I shook his broken hand very gently.

“My head hurts.”

“How is your hand?”

“It hurts too. Jake and I slept at ‘the heater’ last night — not together, just in the same place. The streets aren’t safe anymore.”

“Hi Jake, How are you?”

“I’m drunk. Hippo and I started early.”

“I guess that’s a good thing.”

Shakes was sitting on the lawn and was having trouble getting up. “I’ll use this wine bottle and this container as a crutch to help me up.” He made it half way then tumbled over. Jacques stood up and took Shakes’ arm to help him to his feet. “Did you know that Rocky got jumped last night. It was the same guys that jumped me. He’s in about the same shape as I am.”

“Do you know why they jumped Rocky?”

“Because they’re assholes.”

“Hi Donald, how are you?”

“I have my methadone treatment at one o’clock. Everybody hates me. I don’t know why. They make fun of me.”

“I’ve never heard anybody say anything against you.”

“I appreciate you being my friend.”

“Hi Shark, how is Irene feeling today?”

“She’s with Anastasia. They’re drunk to the tits. They bought a case of Labatt Maximum Ice. It’s 7.1 % alcohol. I bought myself a 26 ounce bottle of watermellon vodka. It’s 37% alcohol. I thought I should get something to catch up. You don’t need any mix with it. Have a swig.”

“That’s smooth. I’ve never tasted that before.”

“I had to kick Irene out at eleven o’clock last night. She was drunk. When she gets like that her mind goes on retard. She’ll have about five conversations going and she keeps repeating them. I guess she forgets that she’s said the same thing five minutes before.

“We’re planning to get an apartment together, the problem is she wants to go through the Salvation Army. I want to get something through my landlord. He has a bunch of buildings. If we get these workers involved, one group doesn’t talk the same language as the other group. I’ve been in the Welfare system for twenty years. I know what to say to them, so they’ll understand it, and I’ll get what I want.

“Maybe it would be better if Irene and Joy got an apartment together. The only problem is that Irene drinks more than Joy. Joy has her drinking fairly well under control.

“Anastasia wants us to go with her to her mother’s house near Goderich. It’s on Georgian Bay, so there would be boating, swimming, fishing. The water isn’t very deep but you can still catch bass. The only problem is Anastasia is a bit nuts. You must have noticed that yesterday.

“I have to be back every week to see my doctor and pick up my meds.”

“How old is Anastasia, and how old is her mother?”

“I guess Anastasia is about 61, her mother is in her 90’s.

“The problem would be getting back. I guess we could arrange something with the bus. It’s a long trip. Something to keep in mind though.”

Chester and Outcast were going over Chester’s bank statement. Outcast said, “We were playing cards last night and then I left. What’s the last thing you remember buying.”

“I bought beer at the Beer Store.”

“Okay, that’s listed here. Then, there’s a purchase in Gatineau. Did you go to Gatineau?”

“No.”

“There’s also a purchase at an Exxon gas station. You don’t drive a car, so that’s not you. There are withdrawals of $200., $300. These are since you lost your card. Do you remember giving your card to anyone?”

“No.”

Silver said, “Look at Donald, he’s never going to make his methadone appointment. I’ve been drinking since 4:30 this morning and I can stagger straighter than that. I get up at 4:30, have a shower — yes, I drink beer in the shower. It’s okay as long as I don’t fall and hurt myself.”

“Hello Wolf” I said.

“Have a look at my dog.”

“Is that a different dog? That doesn’t look like Shaggy.”

“That’s Shaggy, they clipped her, did all kinds of stuff to her. I brought her blanket and her bed so she’ll get acclimatized. Is she breathing?”

“Yes, I can see her chest going up and down.”

“I was just joking. I guess I haven’t known you that long. You haven’t seen Shaggy when she’s been clipped? I have her done once a year.”

“No, I only met you in January, so it’s been about five months.”

Donald didn’t make his methadone treatment. He was too drunk to walk. Even if he had made it there, they wouldn’t have taken him in his condition. The adventures will continue tomorrow; same time, same place.

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30 May 2012

This morning I was happy to see Hippo, he had stopped to talk to Silver at his usual spot. Hippo had a bandage on his forehead.

“Hi Hippo. What happened?”

“I got into a little scuffle.”

Hippo was having problems obtaining a copy of his birth certificate, because he is adopted. I downloaded the appropriate application form for ‘Post Adoption Birth Information’ from the internet. I also gave him forms to apply for a Social Insurance card and an Ontario Health card. I offered to help him to fill in the blanks and to mail them. He was happy to receive the information.

Silver had a plastic box for me to sit on as we chatted. He said ‘After we left the park yesterday Hippo and I went to my place at the Lafayette, had a few beer and ordered pizza. The rest of the time we spent watching television. They have live music every Tuesday and Wednesday night. ‘Lucky Ron’ has a regular gig there. When I hear a good song being played, I turn the television down to listen. It’s a great place to live. I get along great with the landlord. I’ve been there about four years now. It’s now the oldest hotel in Ottawa, they’ve torn all the others down.”

“From classy tavern and hotel to restaurant, pub, dive and everything in between, Lafayette first opened its doors in 1849 and although it’s never closed since, this Ottawa establishment has gone through many changes. The current inception is The Laff: a comfortable pub and tavern in the heart of Ottawa’s Byward Market.

Your server will gladly take your order and bring your sub back to your table for you. Wood floors, tables and chairs that are scuffed and worn; and a long vinyl bench along one wall provides a little extra padding for the delicate customer. There are live bands every Tuesday and Wednesday night as well. In the absence of live entertainment, the tavern has a huge jukebox in the back so you can hear your favourite song as often as you like.”

“I’ve had jobs near by at the market, in some of the flower stalls. They open at 5:30 am and close at 5:30 pm. I’ve also worked on construction and at a fruit and vegetable store. My shift there was from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am. I’d have to count everything coming in, then sort it for the various clients it would be delivered to. Toothless Chester got me that job.

“Joy invited me to a barbecue at their place Saturday, but Chuck still owes me $20.00. I didn’t want to go there and get paid off with a few hot dogs or hamburgers. I want my money. Joy was pissed off. She was ready to take a swing at me. I’d never hit a woman, but I’d get one of my ‘street sisters’ to. I guess I can kiss that money good-bye.

“Joy went off with Chester yesterday. I hope she doesn’t rip him off for money the way Sara did.”

“Joy was upset with the way Sara treated Chester. As far as I know, she’s always paid her way, and more, with Toothless Chuck and with the other Chuck before.

At noon, on my way to the park, I met Irving and Hippo. I asked Irving how he was making out. “I’m still on the streets, still sleeping in the ATM kiosk of a bank. Last Wednesday, Shakess woke me up there and asked me if I wanted a drink. I said, ‘Sure!’. He slept there that night as well. There is a new lady manager who kicks Sabrina in the foot to wake her up. I don’t like that. Does she treat her customers like that? I don’t think so. The other lady manager would sometimes bring me coffee. She’d say, ‘Okay Irving, time to get up.’ I’d say, ‘Okay, just let me get my eyes open. I’ll clean up my butts, then I’ll be gone.’

“I’ve been having trouble with my back from the time the cops threw me down the concrete steps of the church. Just the other day, I climbed over a wall and jumped to the other side. When I landed I could feel something crunching in my back. I went to the hospital, to get an x-ray and to have my eyes checked. They said I need glasses, but they wouldn’t do the x-ray. I had my health card and my status card. I don’t know why they wouldn’t check my back.

“I’m going to see the doctor that was in charge of my alcohol recovery program. I’m sure he can give me a prescription for an x-ray.”

I left Irving and Sabrina and proceeded to the park where I met Andre, Little Jake, Chester, Hippo, Rocky, Joy, Toothless Chuck and his dog V.

I was especially glad to see Andre, who I haven’t seen for several weeks. I asked, “How have you been, Andre?”

“I’ve been in hospital. I kept getting acid reflux. Bile would come up and burn my esophagus. I felt a lump in my throat. It became infected and then I had trouble breathing. I went to the Sally and by that time I could barely breathe. I could breathe in, but not out. They rushed me to the hospital. I was worried that it might be a tumor, because my dad had tumors. I’m on antibiotics now. I may have to have my tonsils out. There are a lot of things they want to do to me, but I don’t want an operation.

“I’ve had problems with my lungs since a guy stabbed me in the side at a party. I held a towel against the wound and fell asleep. When I awoke, I yelled for someone to help me. One of my friends from the party heard me. He said, ‘Party’s over, Andre, time to go home.’ I said, ‘Man, I need to get to the hospital.’ He said, ‘No problem. You want to go right now, or can we smoke a joint first?’ I said, ‘I’ve been like this since last night, so waiting a little longer isn’t going to make a difference.’ When I inhaled the joint, smoke came out of my side. I figured then that I better get to the hospital right away. At the hospital they told me that my lung was collapsed. Now, I only have partial use of it. I’m prone to getting pneumonia — too many nights sleeping outside in the rain. Apart from that, I’m the same fun-loving guy I always was.”

I said, “We’ll have to go panning together again. That was a blast!”

“On Easter I panned in front of the Cathedral. They had two masses. I panned through both of them. My buddy and me made $44.00. After that, I said, ‘That’s it. No more panning today.’ ”

I sat next to Joy and scratched V’s neck. She rolled over and let me scratch her belly. Joy petted and Z bit her arm. “I don’t like that dog,” she said.

“Chuck has invited Steve and Coreen over for a barbecue. He wants to buy steak. I told him, ‘I can’t afford to feed these people. Let’s save the steak until it’s just me and you. We’ll have a nice meal, some baked potatoes.’

“I’ve paid all my bills, paid the debt I owed to Jacques, now I’m free and clear. I’ll do my little dance now. Later, I think I’m going to shop for something nice for myself, maybe a ring. I got this gold nose ring last week. Do you like it?”

“It looks great, Joy.”

“How about some macaroni salad?” asked Chuck.

“Fine,” said Joy, “buy anything you like. I’m not cooking it.” To me she said, “I may not even come home that day.”

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31 May 2012

At noon there were cloudy periods, with a cool breeze blowing. In the sun it was warm, in the shade it was cool. Yesterday was check day for all the people on government assistance. At the park were Serge,  Heartless, Loretta, Mariah, Anastasia, Little Jake, Andre, Hippo, Shark and Irene.

Today there was a motorcycle parade from Parliament Hill down Elgin Street in view of the park. RIDE to REMEMBER “say never again” Ottawa 2012. Motorcycle clubs from around the world are riding from Ottawa to Toronto in remembrance of veterans and to say “never again” to the Holocaust.

Some Jewish and Christian bike clubs have made the trip from as far as the UK and Australia to remember those lost in the Holocaust and to support Israel.

Anastasia, white-haired, probably in her sixties was jumping up and down. “There’s one with ‘ape hangers’, one with a side car, some BMW’s, a few Indians, on the trailer is a 1939 Knucklehead Bobber. I’ve ridden one of those.

Little Jake said, “This is Harley heaven, man. Listen to that rumble. There must be hundreds of them.”

“Settle down you two”, said Andre, wearing a women’s, hot pink, peaked cap. You’re going to have an orgasm.”

I talked first to Irene. I knew that she had been to the doctor, so I asked how she was feeling. “Not so good. I’m on antibiotics, but they gave me the wrong kind. I’m menopausal, borderline diabetic, I have cirrhosis, hep. c, cancer. From the head up I’m okay, the rest of me is falling apart. Yesterday, I didn’t even get out of bed. I needed a beer to get me feeling level. Shark with AIDS is in better shape than I am. He’ll far outlive me.

Shark  said, “You’re going through alcohol withdrawal. That’s the way I feel when I haven’t had my morphine. I take medication for AIDS, but I only take two tablets a day. Some people take about nine pills and they have to be at different times during the day. I’ve been this way for about seven years.”

Irene said, “We’re looking for another apartment, a two bedroom. We can afford it, and it doesn’t make sense us each having our own places. We’re either at one or the other. I want something closer to downtown. I can’t take the long bus rides from where I am now.”

“How about a place near where Joy is?” I asked.

“In the market? No, I know too many people there. Maybe in Vanier, but I know too many people everywhere.”

“Did I tell you that Joy, Donald and I, all lived on Lacasse Street in Vanier? It’s quite a coincidence. I was two blocks from Montreal Road, Joy lived a few blocks further down, and Donald lived further still near Blake Boulevard.”

“I’m giving my two months notice where I am, so we have quite a while to look for a place. I want to make sure it’s in a nice neighbourhood.”

“That’s important.” I said.

Little Jake came up to me, “Do you see how everyone is broken up into little cliques today.” Shark, Irene and Heartless have moved away because they think this is the place where the police will come first.”

Silver said, “I’m not sitting with those women, they’re the ones that took Chester’s money. They got him drunk and then went through his pockets. He had an $8,000 inheritance that they went through in a month. Now that he’s run out of money they won’t have anything to do with him.”

Loretta was holding on to Matches. “Can you give me a hand?” she asked.

“What’s he trying to do? Get up, or sit down?”

“He says it’s slow motion.”

I held Sparky’s hand and he gradually lowered himself to a sitting position.”

I asked him,”How did you get the cut on the bridge of your nose, Matches?”

“I was jumped by two guys on Rideau Street last night. I’ll remember their faces. They even wanted to press charges against me. It was them that started it.

“I’ve lost something. Can you help me? I’m looking for two brown envelopes.” He pointed to a plastic grocery bag. “Whenever I go to the bank, I put my money in a brown banking envelope.”

“I’ll have a look, Matches. You’ve got lots of brown paper napkins, packs of pepper, plastic knives and forks, a muffin, your bottle of wine. Here’s one brown envelope. I can’t find a second one. I’ll put your bag near the fence.”

Loretta said to me, “Did you hear my good news?”

“No,” I said, “what’s your good news.”

“I’m going to be moving to Gatineau. I have permission from my probation officer. I came here today to collect my clothes from all my friends. Tomorrow, I move. My roommate is going to be a woman I’ve lived with before. She’s six months pregnant. We’re getting a two bedroom apartment.”

“Congratulations!” I said, “You must be excited.”

“Yes I am. Have you seen Joy today?”

“No, she wasn’t on Metcalfe Street, but I wasn’t expecting her. She usually stays away for a few days after she gets her check. She likes to be on her own for a while, where it’s quiet.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the way you get to know yourself.”

“I agree. It’s a good idea. I enjoy doing that as well.”

I walked over to where Hippo was standing alone. I shook his hand, he winced. “Did you break your hand?”

“Yes.”

“Shouldn’t it be in a cast like Nick’s?’

“No, they said it wouldn’t help.”

“I see that you have stitches above your eyebrow.”

“Yeah, they stitched it on the inside then on the outside. I can’t wait to get my hands on the guy who did this to me. He was a crack head.

“I also got barred from the Sally again. I was eating my dinner, when a guy came and said, ‘You can’t eat here. You’ve already eaten.’ I said, ‘Okay, you eat it then!’ I tossed it into the bubble (the information desk).

“I really liked the poem you wrote. I made copies and gave them to all my friends. Some people think I’m kinda slow, but here I am.”

“I love you, man,” and gave him a hug.

“I don’t want to cry, but I feel it coming. Someone still loves us.”

“Take care, Hippo. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As I was leaving, a man came up to me. I shook his hand and said, “Hi my name is Dennis.”

“Yeah, we’ve met before. I shaved off my beard.”

“I haven’t seen you for a couple of months.”

“Yeah, I’ve been away. I bought beer for the guys. Would you like a beer?”

“Thanks, but I have to get back to work.”

“Do you need any money?”

“No, I’m good, but thanks anyway.”

“You’ve always treated me like gold, man. I appreciate it.” He gave me a hug and I returned to work.

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31 May 2013

Last week the temperature was below freezing (28 degrees F) today it’s hot (90 F) with the humidex reading it feels like 110. Nobody in the park had much energy. Hippo had a bad sunburn on both of his legs.

I said, “I heard of Hippo’s adventures last night. What else happened?”

Joy said, “It was hilarious, I got a phone call from Mariah, she said, ‘You’ll never guess, but Hippo phoned. He just got out of jail.’ I said, ‘I’d wondered what happened to him. He was in my apartment, I went out to get some honey garlic wings, when I came back he was gone. I ate four and put the rest in the fridge.’ ”

“How can someone, going from point A to point B, end up in jail?”

Hippo said, “It was because of that bitch.”

“What bitch? You mean that crazy Portuguese woman down the hall?”

“No, the bitch cop. Sorry, I meant woman cop.”

I said, “Hippo, you could have been shot.”

“She had her gun out, alright. She said,  ‘Get down!’  I got down. They put the hand cuffs on and dragged me to the back of the cruiser. That’s how I got these scrapes on my arm.”

Joy said, “I’d rather be shot that tazed. When they get you down they always give you a few extra zaps to increase the pain.

“Let’s back up a bit, Hippo, I don’t mind you calling her a bitch. I got no problem with that, but you chased a woman with a hammer?

“I guess I did. I don’t remember.” Joy smacked his left sunburned thigh, Mariah smacked the other.”

Joy asked, “How do I know that some time you won’t hit me with a hammer?”

“I’d never do that, Joy.”

“You just keep talking and I’ll do to you what I did to Brian yesterday. He just wouldn’t stop talking.

“Yesterday, you and me went to the bank. You could only get $120.00 out.”

“Yeah, that’s all the bank machine would let me take. We’ll go back today and I’ll talk to a teller.”

Joy said, “You mean go inside the bank, just like humans?”

“Yeah, just like humans.”

“Then we’ll go to my place and finish those wings.

“Before this night’s out I’m going to get your PIN (Personal Identification Number) for the bank machine.”

Hippo said, “What year was the first Harley built?”

“1903?”

“That’s my PIN.

“People always say I’m full of shit, but down a quart.”

Joy was looking beyond the railing into the park, “Jacques, take a look. Doesn’t that dog look just like Harley; you know, Rosie’s dog — Big Titties Rosie?”

“Ah, yes, I remember her. Harley looked something like that but didn’t have the white on his nose. Also, he was skinnier.”

“I know it’s not the same dog, but the same breed.”

“Yes, maybe you’re right.”

Deaf Donald was sitting beside me. He’s been deaf since birth, so he sometimes has trouble communicating. He said, “I can read lips, you know. Even if two people are across the street I can tell what they’re saying. It nearly got me in trouble one day. I walked across the street and repeated word for word what these people had been saying. The guy got really pissed off.

“I’ll show you. I’ll go over to the fence and you mouth something. I’ll tell you what you said.”

I mouthed, “Hi Donald, are you having a good day?”

“You said, Hi Donald, you’re deaf. Is that right?”

“No, I said, ‘Hi Donald, are you having a good day?”

“You move your lips too fast. Let Joy try it. Say something to me, Joy.”

You said, “I’ve got shit stains on my underwear?”

Joy said, “That’s right. That’s what I said.”

Donald said, “I got news for you. I’m not wearing underwear.”

Joy said, “I’m not sure if I really want to go there, but why aren’t you wearing underwear?”

“Because I’m wearing white pants and I’m clean.

“I have to go for my methadone treatment, but after that I’ll buy some chicken and maybe Hippo and I could come over to your place for supper?”

“That ain’t hapennin’, dude. You’re never coming to my place. I’m down here, dude. Look at me.”

Donald left, Joy said, “That guy gives me the creeps, especially when he does that thing with his eyes. I think he was dropped on his head too many times when he was a baby.”

I said, “He told me that — while his mother was pregnant with him, his father beat her up and threw her down a flight of stairs.”

“Yeah, I heard that. Just before my second son was born, my ex beat me something fierce. The baby was born with a broken leg and two broken ribs. Jay did two years for that.

“I can also read lips and sign. When I was a kid I had lots of ear infections and got a perforated ear drum. I can’t hear with my right ear. It’s handy sometimes even with Donald. I watch his eyes, and can say things when he’s not looking.”

Sample my books for free — To date $1745.00 has been donated to the homeless:
Gotta Find a Home: Conversations with Street People
http://buff.ly/1SGzGCY ($.98 Download)
http://buff.ly/1qLHptc ($4.99 Download)
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Podcasts: http://buff.ly/1Pxlf9p
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21 June 2013

Joy was all smiles this morning. She was seated on her box, but any minute I expected her to break into dance.

“How did it go with getting your furniture?”

“Great, The place is huge. I got a new sofa, a shelf that will go on one of the tables I have. I took the legs off my bed because of the seizure I had, but I wanted to get a wicker headboard that I saw there. I didn’t get it. I also wanted a silver frame in the shape of three hearts. I didn’t get that either. My worker was so impatient. I wanted to look around to make sure I got things I wanted to live with, but she kept checking her watch. I think we were only there half an hour.

“When I got home and we got everything set up I did a little dance. I’ve waited seven months for this stuff, now I’m going to enjoy it.

“I haven’t seen many of the guys lately, not even dickhead.”

I asked, “Who would dickhead be?”

“Jake, he’s been over a couple of times. He wanted me to push him from the Salvation Army to the park. I said, “No way!”

“Has he apologized for beating you?”

“Yeah he has, he was even crying. He said, ‘Joy, I’ll never hurt you again. I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t want to go to prison again.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I bet you learned a lot in prison. I don’t want to hear about it. Instead of being sorry now, you should have thought before you broke my ribs, especially since you’d broken them just two weeks before.

“‘You’re whining like Antonio.’ He asked, ‘Who’s Antonio? Is that someone you’ve had living over here? I said. ‘No, you dumbass, it’s Mariah’s boyfriend! She kicked him out six months ago. For the last twenty-two months I’ve enjoyed living by myself and sleeping by myself. Jake said, ‘I could help you with that.’ I said, ‘For now just consider us friends. We’ll see how it goes.”

I said, “You mentioned that he had to have a piss test as a requirement of his parole. How did that go?”

“It was funny. There was a new parole officer there, who didn’t know Jake’s, medical history. After the test he came back and said, ‘You’re in trouble, Jake. The test came back positive.’ Jake said, ‘Positive for morphine, right?’ The guy says, ‘Yeah.’ Jake pulls out of his pocket a piece of paper and waves it at the guy. ‘Prescription!’ he says.

“His regular parole officer is a really hard case. He can pounce on Jake anytime  and have him tested. If Jake has any advanced warning, all he has to do is drink a cup of vinegar. That’ll get any trace of drugs or booze out of his system. My brother was in prison. He had the same booze and drug prohibition on his parole. He used to carry a bottle of vinegar with him all the time.

“What time is it now?”

“Eight thirty.”

“That means I’ve been here two and a half hours. I even made sure I got the early bus. So far, I’ve made four dollars and twenty-six cents.”

I said, “On Wednesday, two cruisers pulled up on the sidewalk. The male cop demanded that Debbie give them her last beer. She was pissed off and shoved it into his chest. She was handcuffed and thrown into the back of the cruiser.”

“Was she arrested?”

“No, they let her go with just a ticket.”

“That’s assault, and she’s been in and out of jail a dozen times. If that had been me, I would have gone straight to prison.

“I’ve got no use for that stupid, loud-mouthed bitch. When we were up at the bridge one time she was going on and on about something. I was ready to throw her off the side. I had her back to the railing. She was whimpering, ‘Please, Joy, please don’t push me over.’ Sometimes I think I should have.”

“Maryjane just got out of jail.”

“Yeah, that was because she had three no shows at court. She’s been charged with assault. There again, if that was me I’d be in prison.”

 
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I sat on the sidewalk beside Shakes and in front o f Debbie, Little Jake and Joy. Wolf had gone for a piss. I gave a used copy of the book “Women Who Run With the Wolves to Joy. It seemed appropriate since she was wearing a sweatshirt with a wolf on the front.”

She thanked me and said, “Sorry I have to run, but I have an appointment with my landlady to fix my toilet.”

I pulled out another book, Mob Rule, that I intended to give to Wolf. Matches looked at it and asked, “Are you going to give this to Wolf?”

I said, “Yes.”

He said, “I like to read too, you know, especially since I don’t have television.”

I said, “You take it then, Shakes.”

Shortly after Wolf returned. He saw the book Shakes was holding. “That looks interesting. Mind if I read that after you’re finished?’ ‘Sure,’ said Matches.

I said, “It’s about Paul Volpe, the boss of the Toronto Mafia from the early-1960’s up to his death in 1983. It mentions his bootlegging days as a young man, to his initiation into the Mob, his stints in jail, and then the details of his death. Maybe you’ll recognize some of the names.”

Jake said, “We don’t remember names, we remember faces.”

I said, “There are pictures, too.”

Wolf reached into Shaggy’s cart and pulled out three books. One was by Danielle Steele, “We all know what this one’s about. This one’s by Catherine Cookson, I don’t know her. This last one is a murder mystery. Doesn’t look like there’s much shooting, but it’s more my style. Anyway, I got lots to read for the weekend. I’m going to Tim Horton’s, have a coffee, a couple of donuts and read my books.”

Debbie asked, “Dennis, how do you like my new summer haircut?”

“It looks very nice. It suits you.”

“Jake cut it. We were both stoned, but it came out alright, didn’t it.?”

I said, “It looks professional. Nobody would ever know that it wasn’t done at a salon.”

Jake said, “Yeah, it’s a lot better than the haircut that Jacques gave me.”

Wolf, whose white hair is almost to his shoulders said, “There’s no way that any of you guys are going to cut my hair.”

Shakes asked me, “Dennis, are you going to the Rib Fest?”

“No, ” I said, “are you?”

“I’ve been two times already and I’m going again tonight. I should do pretty well I always go to the Blues Fest, the Jazz Fest and the Folk Fest. My favorite is the Blues Fest. I can’t get past the gate, but people always give me booze and get me stoned.”

Shakes was wearing a pair of shorts. Debbie asked, “What’s that scar on your leg?

“Which one?”

“The one that runs from your knee to your hip?”

“That’s where I got shot. The bullet went in here,” pointing to a circular scar, “it broke my femur and came out here.” He lifted his leg to show the scar from the exit wound.They had to cut me open to put the rod in.

“I didn’t mean to be nosey,” said Debbie, “I was just wondering.”

“I got it at a house party. I knew there was going to be trouble so I went to my street sister and asked for my nine millimeter. She didn’t wasn’t to give it to me. She said, ‘If I give you this gun, you’re going to get into trouble. I just know it.’ I said, ‘That’s why I need my gun.’ I was at the party, there was lots of booze, drugs, but I decided to leave. My bro asked for my gun. I took it out of my pocket, took the clip out, but forgot there was still a shell in the chamber. It had a hair-trigger, much too sensitive. When my bro took my gun, he accidentally shot me in the leg.

I asked, “Why did your friend want your gun?”

“‘Cause he wanted to shoot the guy.

“The last time I was in prison was in 1995. I was in Collins Bay for nearly five years.”

I asked, “What were you in for?”

“Bank robbery. I was just seventeen, selling drugs, robbing banks, boxing. That’s when I was sparring with George Chuvallo and Shawn O’Sullivan. I still got it.”

I said, “I guess it’s just like riding a bicycle. You never forget it.”

“I don’t get into fights any more, but if I’m backed against a wall, watch out, the fists are going to fly.”

 

 

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