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16 March 2012

Metro and Two-four, the newspaper vendors, greeted me this morning, “Hi Dale, don’t drink too much green beer this weekend.”

“I’ll be into the scotch whiskey, myself.”

“Have a good weekend, Dale.”

“You too Metro, Two-four.”

In the next block, I met Nick, who was sitting cross-legged on the wet sidewalk in his usual place in front of the church. I said, “I guess it’s too wet for Joy. She’s getting soft in her old age.”

“She may have been here earlier. If she was here at six o’clock, her usual time, it was pouring rain. I got here about forty-five minutes later and the rain had stopped. The weather’s fine now.”

“Have a good morning, Nick. I’ll see you Monday.

“Bye, Dennis. Have a good weekend.”

At noon I was invited out for pizza with friends, so I didn’t take my normal noon hour route. On the way, I met Weasel and two other street people that I hadn’t seen before. One was a sweet little old lady with a squeaky voice. Since I was following four of my friends I didn’t have time to stop and chat.

On my way back I stopped at ‘the benches’ where a half dozen people were milling about.

“I’ve been sober for two days now, said Hippo. I’m going to stay that way. I’m on the second floor of the Salvation Army now.”

“Is that better?”

“No, not really. I want to get a place of my own where it’s quiet, I can lock the door and lay down.

“Someplace without bed bugs?”

“Even some of the rooming houses have bed bugs.”

“I’ve heard that they can be killed with heat.”

“No, by freezing. When I had them they took all my clothes, put them in a plastic bag, and threw it in the freezer for twenty-four hours.”

It was time for me to return to work. On my way, I met Ian.

“Hi, Ian. How have things been going for you since I saw you last.”

“Not so good. I haven’t seen Marlena for two days, and I don’t want her to think I’m stalking her.”

“Has she been staying with her parents?”

“Either with her parents or at St. Michael’s.”

I checked on-line and found the following description of St. Michael’s:

“St. Michael’s Hospital is a Catholic teaching and research hospital founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1892 to care for the sick and poor of Toronto’s inner city. Affectionately known as the Urban Angel, St. Michael’s is renowned for… care of the homeless and disadvantaged…”

~~~

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15 March 2012

This morning was cold and windy. Joy was covered in a blanket, her hood pulled up, sitting on a piece of cardboard.

I mentioned to Joy that I had been talking to Shakes yesterday, “He didn’t want me to go back to work. He wanted me to keep him company. Everyone else had left.”

“If you stayed, he would have gotten so drunk that he couldn’t walk. Then he’d ask you to help him to Mom and Pop’s. That’s why his other friends go south on him. The last time I helped him, he fell down three times. I’m not strong enough to pick him up. I had to ask someone to help me to get him on his feet. We got him up and leaned him against a wall at Parliament and Queen. We left him there.

“I’ve been sitting here since six. I’m freezing, and miserable. I was so nervous this morning that I smoked a joint before coming here and I’ve been drinking. I was doing so good before. I don’t know what’s going on with Roy. I have to find a new place. I’ve made appointments to see five apartments in Regent Park; three on Saturday, two on Sunday.

“There’s been a police car parked in front of our house for the past few days. The cop will look at his computer, then look at the house. He stays there all day. It’s really got me freaked out.

“I hate kids! I don’t hate all kids, I have five boys of my own. I hate other people’s kids! Leon, who lived in the house where I am now, had two teenage kids. Neighborhood kids would come over and just hang around. They’d want to see the lizards, the snake, Harley the pit bull. Harley doesn’t like kids. He bites them. I don’t want to have to take him to the basement just so the kids can come in. I don’t want them here.

“They still come to the door. I tell them, “Leon doesn’t live here anymore. Go away!’ They say, ‘Come on, Joy, let us come in for just a little while.’ ‘No!,’ I say, ‘This isn’t a zoo. You can’t just come around here anytime you want.’

“I bought groceries yesterday: margarine, chicken, pork chops. I could really pig out. I like to have some food in the fridge for when Roy’s son comes over, but he always brings a couple of kids with him. I can’t afford to feed these neighborhood kids.

“When I took Harley for his walk this morning, he pulled me face down on the sidewalk. Roy is sixty pounds heavier than me, but even he has trouble controlling him sometimes.

A strange-looking man came by carrying a backpack. He said something to Joy, I couldn’t make it out. She replied, “Whatever.”

“Who was that?” I asked.

“One of the ‘bugs’ from the Mission.”

“What’s a bug.”

“One of the crazies. I don’t pay any attention to them.”

“All this time I’ve been venting. I’m sorry.

“Hi, handsome.”

“Hi Joy,” said a well-dressed man, with an Australian accent. He bent to put a five-dollar bill in Joy’s hat.

“Thanks, honey! Next time you go back, save some room for me in your suitcase. I’m small, I won’t take up too much space.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said as he walked away.

“Well, I should be heading to work,” I said. “I’m finished here too”, said Joy. “I’ll get up first, then I’ll help you up. Look at us, two old farts helping each other up.”

~~~

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14 March 2012

Joy was cheerful today, singing her rain dance song, “Rain, rain go away / come again another day.”

I held my umbrella over her, but she said, “Don’t bother, I’m soaked through to the skin already.

“I’ve been sick since Friday. I was at Jacques’  house, cooking him supper and drinking his homemade wine. Usually, it doesn’t bother me, but this must have been a bad batch. I’ve been throwing up ever since.

“I was expecting Trudy and her dog Mitzie to come by today. Mitzie is cute, but I don’t touch her. She could be carrying fleas, bed bugs, or anything. I even stay clear of some of my friends because the shelters are full of bed bugs. I invited some friends to stay over because they had no place to sleep. When I next used the mattress it was crawling with bed bugs. I threw out a twenty-five hundred dollar mattress. I won’t do that again.

“I saw Andrea, my probation officer, Friday. She told me that Big Jake (six feet, four inches) is being sent to Millhaven Maximum Security Prison for assessment. Later, they may move him somewhere else. I don’t care as long as he’s not here.

“They are supposed to notify me when he gets out, but he’ll still find me. We have the same friends, but now there are a lot of them who are anxious to beat him up, especially Sausage Fingers. He has my permission.

“I’m looking for a new place. There are a couple that I’m going to view Saturday, in Vanier. It will be close to where I used to live.”

As I approached ‘the benches’  I saw Hippo rolling a cigarette.

“Have you been sleeping outdoors lately, Hippo?

“Last night I stayed at the Salvation Army. It was too wet to sleep outside.”

“How was it?”

“It was okay, better than sleeping in the rain.”

“Were there any bed bugs?”

“I didn’t notice any. I’m going back there at two o’clock for my P.N.A. (Personal Needs Allowance). It’s based on how long I’ve stayed there. I think I should get twenty-eight bucks this time. That’ll be good, especially since I don’t have any money now.”

I told Wolf that Joy had gotten sick drinking Jacques’ homemade, rice and raisin wine.

“That stuff is powerful, about twenty-eight percent alcohol. Jacques hasn’t been drinking lately, so I think that this last batch has had longer to ferment. I drank four twelve ounce glasses of that stuff. When I was going down the stairs I slipped and hit the back of my head on one of the steps. I got a big bump. I can still feel it.

“Weasel brought his dog, Goldie, to my place last night and he hasn’t been back since. Ar five-thirty this morning I had two dogs to walk.”

Shaggy bit Little Jake’s shoe and wouldn’t let go. Jake was dancing on one leg trying to get his foot out of her mouth.

“She bit my thumb Saturday,” said Wolf. “I bled like a stuck pig. You can still see the mark and it hurts like hell.”

“How old is Shaggy?”

“She’s ten and a half years old, come September. I can’t remember her birthday.”

“Do you think she is in any pain, perhaps from arthritis.?”

“No, she’s not in any pain.”

“I can run pretty fast.” said Little Jake, “I had Shaggy on her leash and was running with her. She was pulling me the whole way. She’s a strong dog.”

Wolf said, “I’d better get back home to check on Bear (part golden retriever, part boxer) and Bowser (a full-size stuffed dog that Shakes won at the fair, but he doesn’t remember). Maybe, Bowser has eaten Bear.”

“Shakes,” I asked, “has Shaggy ever bitten you?”

“Only once. For some reason, she didn’t want me to leave. She bit into the back of my pant leg and wouldn’t let go.”

“On Friday I saw your daughter Bettie with your grandson. What is his name?”

“Tomorrow, at least I call him that because I can’t pronounce his real name. I just say, ‘I’ll see you, Tomorrow.’ ”

“How many grandchildren do you have?” Shakes held up his hand with outstretched fingers indicating five.

“What is your other daughter’s name?”

“Fran, Francesca.”

“So does Bettie have two children and Fran three?”

“Roughly.”

“Are you planning to go to work at three o’clock?”

“Around there. Right now I just want to get drunk. I still have a bottle of sherry in my coat pocket, I have ten dollars in my wallet. I’m enjoying myself. I’m contented. Life is good.”

~~~

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12 March 2012

There was a full house at ‘the benches’ today, over a dozen adults, one baby, and a dog.

Shaggy was the first to greet me. She came bounding up to sniff my hand and nearly bit my knee. I scratched her for a while then she ran off barking at someone. Wolf said that she has been going crazy today. He gave her some biscuits, she ate them then wanted more. He offered her dry dog food and a bowl of water, but she just barked. Eventually, she lay down beside me. She allowed me to scratch her neck for a while, then indicated that she’d had enough. I thought she was going to bite my hand but she didn’t close her teeth. Little Jake has scars all over his hand where she has bitten him.

Shaggy limps due to a car accident. I asked Wolf about it. He said, “I don’t want to go there.”

I asked Jake about his weekend. “I had some ups and downs,” he said.

“I threw him out of my house Friday night,” said Wolf, “at three o’clock in the morning. I guess that would be one of the downs he’s talking about.”

“Yeah, I got a lot of people pissed off at me that night. I don’t know what happened.”

I asked Wolf about his weekend. “I had a barbeque. I was eating a piece of steak and I didn’t chew it well enough. Somehow it got stuck in my esophagus. I asked my friend to do the Heimlich maneuver on me. He did it wrong and I thought he broke some of my ribs. I was in so much pain that we sent for the paramedics. The hospital staff sure had a laugh at one drunk trying to help another drunk. I should say, they had a good laugh at me, since my friend didn’t stick around. They said the Heimlich maneuver wouldn’t have worked, even if it had been done properly, because both air passages would have to be blocked. Only one of mine was blocked. I was able to breathe through the other one. They shoved some kind of tool down my throat and were able to extract the piece of steak. They sure had a laugh.

“It turned out that I didn’t have any broken or cracked ribs. A couple have been bruised and separated. It hurts so much I can’t bend over to tie my shoes.”

I asked Hippo about his weekend. “I slept outside last night under the bridge. There is an exhaust fan overhead, I’ve got a good sleeping bag, the weather was mild, so, it wasn’t too bad.

“I’ve had it with the shelters. It’s really bad there now, mostly crackheads. Things get stolen, it’s noisy, fights start, there are bed bugs. I’d like to get a clean place that’s quiet, no bugs, and a lock on the door.”

I mentioned to him that I’d visited his Facebook site. “Then you saw the picture of the D11 Cat that I ran. That’s the world’s largest bulldozer. I operated that one at the Peace Canyon Dam near Chetwynd, British Columbia. The reservoir is Dinosaur Lake, thirteen miles long.”

I asked Shark about his weekend. “I’ve been sick. I’ve had a lot of pain in my legs, my right hip, and my shoulders from my HIV. Morphine makes me sick. I take the pills and sometimes they stay down, most times they come right back up. Marijuana and booze work better than morphine.

Bettie, Shakes’ daughter, came by with her baby. Everyone crowded around and commented on how cute he was, not at all like his grandfather. The baby started crying, so Bettie thought it best to move on.

~~~

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9 March 2012

I sat next to Shakes on ‘the benches’ today. Donny was collecting wine bottles and beer cans, from the trash barrel, to return for a deposit, “Hey, I got at least a buck here!” He’d stand the beer cans on the sidewalk and stomp them with his foot so they’d take less space in his backpack.

Jacques and Outcast (without his dentures), were enjoying the sun.

Wolf came over to show Donny how to stomp the cans properly. “We used to do this in my apartment, with a hardwood floor. You should have seen the circles it left.”

Outcast asked me, “You’re here almost every day. Do you work close by? We were trying to figure out what kind of work you do.”

“I come most days, not every day. I work in that tall building down the street. I’m in the mailroom. I fetch and carry, do what I’m told. I find the conversations here more interesting.”

“Right on, man! I used to work in the mailroom at Unemployment Insurance. It was back when they issued those cardboard checks. I worked in a room where they cut the checks. It was really high security. Not even the guards were allowed into the place where we worked. We used to smoke pot, do anything we wanted. Who’d have thought that the people cutting those checks were stoned all the time.”

A boy, who didn’t appear to be old enough to shave, came by on a skateboard. He stopped and asked, “Do any of you guys want to buy some weed?”

Shakes replied, “We’ve got our own, but thanks for asking.

“Jacques, dial ‘Shakes 1’, I want to speak to my daughter. Jacques speed dialed and handed Shakes the phone. “It’s me. If I’m not at ‘my office’ by three o’clock, I’ll be at Mom’s.” He then handed the phone back to Jacques.

Outcast asked, “Hey Jacques, how much are you paying for your phone plan?”

“I pay twenty-five a month. It’s the cheapest I could find. I can call anywhere in the city day or night. If I pay another ten a month I could call anywhere in Canada.”

“I was checking some rates this morning. Let me get the brochure out of my pocket.” With the brochure, also came his dentures, falling on the sidewalk.

“Don’t anybody move! Damn! It looks like I broke a tooth.”

Shakes pulled a plastic toy baby out of his pocket. He flicked a switch on the baby’s back and held it to my ear. I heard laughing, then, “Time to wake up!” He laughed and said, “Isn’t that funny? It belongs to my grandson.”

I said to Shakes, “Tell me about your boxing days in Toronto.”

“I learned to box when I was six years old. We had a heavy bag in the barn. My dad taught me, my dad and my uncle. Later, I sparred in the ring with George Chuvalo and there was another guy. I forget his name. Oh, I remember, it was Shawn O’Sullivan.

“Where did you fight?”

“Sully’s on Dupont. I lived in Parkdale, I was always fighting.

Hi ladies! Have a nice day.” To me, he whispered, “Nice rump roast on that one. Hahaha.

“I got some pot, but I need a cigarette roller. Donny, will you roll a joint for me?”

“I’d love to man, but I got the shakes. Your pot would end up all over the sidewalk. Ask Outcast, he’s good at that.”

“Outcast will you roll me a joint?”

“I can’t, man. I got my hands full. Use Jacques’ pipe. Jacques, give Shakes your pot pipe.”

~~~

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8 March 2012

A woman came by and put two pennies in Joy’s cap. She took them out and placed them behind her on the sidewalk. “I’ll leave them for Chester, he’ll take them. The pennies I left yesterday are still here.

“Do you see that fat guy, across the street, talking to the security guard? He tried to take my spot yesterday. He said, ‘You’re only here a few days a week and I’m sleeping on the sidewalk with my dog.’ I said, ‘That’s not my problem. You made your own choices.’ Then he punched me in the head. The security guard saw it and raced across the street. He had the guy down on the sidewalk in seconds. I have a lot of friends around here.

“I have to find a new place to live. Roy says he’s going to raise my rent. It’s just because he owes a lot of money. The electricity hasn’t been paid, the heat hasn’t been paid and he’s probably behind on the rent. He asked me to have cable hooked up for the TV, but I can’t. When I was staying with Fat Richard, he ran up a bill of $270.00, just on porn. What a sicko! He left and I was stuck with the bill. I couldn’t pay it, so I can’t go back there.

“When I see those young girls at the Mission, it makes me so mad. We call them ‘twinkies’ or ‘candy kids’. I’d just like to slap them and tell them to go home while they still have the chance.”

When I arrived at ‘the benches’, Shakes was sitting alone, with a snow shovel.

“Do you know why I have this shovel? I went to The Mission and they wouldn’t feed me, so I took their shovel. I wasn’t sneaky about it. I took it right in front of their faces.

“I’m barred there for life. I was sleeping there one time and the staff kicked me. I call them ‘the steroid monkeys’. How would you like to be kicked at six o’clock in the morning? They could have said, ‘Hey Shakes, it’s time to get up,’ but they didn’t, they kicked me. I said, ‘Okay, just wait until I get out of bed. I used to be a boxer. I’ve sparred with Shawn O’Sullivan and George Chuvallo. It wasn’t long before ‘the steroid monkeys’ were lying, out cold, on the floor.

“I lost one of my mitts. I have a right, but no left.”

“Where were you born, Shakes?”

“On the Curve Lake reservation, that’s my ‘rez’, but mostly I grew up on the streets of Parkdale in Toronto.

Since time immemorial the Anishnaabeg ancestors of the Mississauga’s of Curve Lake First Nation have inhabited North America. Written history, spelling, and grammar misinterpretations have led to confusion of what we have been called over the years. To avoid argument we will go with the fact that we speak the Anishnaabeg language we are Ojibway by description and of the Mississauga Nation because we resided in the general area of the Mississauga River.

“I’m just waiting for Rhino to come back with my run. He’s getting a bottle of wine for me. I hope he doesn’t try to boost it. If he does, he’ll go back to jail and I won’t get my wine. I haven’t had a drink for two hours now.

“One time a guy took a photograph of me. He said he’d bring me back a print. What he brought back was a poster. Can you imagine me on a poster? Ha, ha, ha. I gave it to my mom. She loved it.

“My mom still owns a restaurant. I go there for lunch every day. If she doesn’t see me she worries.”

~~~

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7 March 2012

The sun was shining, the weather was warm and most of the snow had melted from the sidewalk. There was a large group near ‘the benches’. Someone was waving at Toothless Chuck across the street, but he didn’t come over.

Ryan came over to me and thanked me for the Subway card I had given to him and Ian the previous day. He wanted to reimburse me for the five dollar value of the card.

I said, “Lots of people have helped me in the past. You can do the same for another person some time in the future.”

Ryan said, “I was walking along the street this morning and I met an elder. We talked for a while. He reached into his pocket and handed me a hundred dollar bill, so I bought beer and cigarettes for the guys. I can give you five dollars for yesterday.”

I assured him that it wasn’t necessary.

“Have a beer then.”

“If I came back to work smelling of beer, I’d lose my job, but we’ll go for a beer sometime when I don’t have to go to work.”

Shakes said, “I saw my daughter and my grandson this morning! I have two daughters and seven grandchildren. They’ve been busy.”

Someone said to me, “With your white hair slicked back you look like either a politician or a mafioso. Which is it?”

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

Jacques was lighting his carved stone pipe. He passed it to Shakes who took a hit then passed it to me. I thought of a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t take it. I could be arrested for possession of marijuana. I could lose my job, if anyone smelled it on me, or if I acted stoned. If things got out of hand I might not have a place to sleep, like most of the people here.

“Come on, Dennis, you can’t break the circle.” All eyes were on me. I’d already turned down a beer. Generally, people who don’t drink aren’t trusted. I thought I’d lose all credibility if I was afraid to do what all of these people do on a daily basis, and are doing right now.  I took the pipe, inhaled, and passed it back to Jacques.

I was noticing Weasel’s hair. It was freshly washed, cascading over his shoulders like a L’Oreal commercial. I could just imagine him shaking his head, his hair flowing in slow motion, because you’re worth it.

Shark was telling me about the problems he was having with HIV. One benefit is that he gets free marijuana.

Shaggy was walking around the circle of people. Wolf said, “Shaggy, make your mind up. Decide who you’re going to bite, and get it over with.”

~~~

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7 March 2012

I handed Joy a sheet of bus tickets. She, said, “Thank you so much. You’ve saved my life. I got another $150.00 fine for sneaking on the bus, at the back door, without paying. The guy said, ‘So, what name are you going by today?’

“I asked, ‘What name was I going by last time? Just give me the paper!’ I can’t remember what name I gave him.

“I haven’t been out much. The weather has been too cold. I was out for a while yesterday, but I had to come into the restaurant to get warm.”

“All these guys keep hitting on me! I’m lonely. I miss Jake! I was a hooker and bought my mother the house that she died in. If I’m with some guy, I want a long-term relationship. I don’t want some fly-by-night stuff. I’d rather shoot myself in the face.

“I haven’t had a drink in nearly two weeks, until yesterday. I was over at Jacques’, playing dice when he starts rubbing my back, then my thigh. I said, ‘Jacques, are you trying to get it on with me? It’s not going to happen!’ He said, ‘Well, you’re in my house, you’re drinking my vodka, eating my egg rolls!’

“You’re not getting my bod for that! Think again!

“I could tell you some stories that would make your hair curl. When I was about four, my dad, and Uncle Doug, took me and my sister to Lake Miskwabi, near Haliburton. My grandfather had a place on an island. My dad and Uncle Doug decided to take my sister into town. My grandmother made me a sandwich and told me to run as far and as fast as I could. She knew what my grandfather was like.

“One time he caught her sending me off and he started beating her. I jumped on his back, but he just threw me against a wall.

“I ran to one of our tree forts, our most recent one. It wasn’t even on my grandfather’s property. When Mr. Jones saw him he said,  ‘Bruce, you’re not coming on my land with a shotgun!’

“Why would a grown man be chasing a four-year-old with a shotgun?”

An attractive couple approached us. The woman, with long black hair, an expensive coat and long black leather boots looked like a movie star. She bent gracefully from her knees and put change in Joy’s cap, then kissed her on the cheek.

“So this is your new husband?” inquired Joy.

“Yes Joy, this is Dave. Dave this is Joy.”

“This is my friend Dennis. Dennis this is Katrina and Dave.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you,” I said and shook hands with both of them.

Joy asked, “So, how long have you two been married now?”

“It’s been two months.”

“So, I guess you’re still on your wedding thingamajig?”

“We’ll always be on our honeymoon.

“So, how have you been doing, Joy?”

“I still have problems with my fibromyalgia. I’m sore all over. I was in the hospital a couple of times. My kidneys shut down, It could have had something to do with my epileptic seizures. It could have been because I wasn’t eating properly.

“You’ll have to come over to visit me in my new place.”

“We’d love to Joy.” Then they left.

“She’s gorgeous,” I said.

“Yeah, isn’t she. That’s the religious lady I told you about. The first time I met her I was standing up. She gave me a big hug and kissed me on the cheek. I wasn’t sure if she was just being kind or if she really liked me.”

“What religion is she?”

“Christian.”

“Do you know what church she goes to?”

“I don’t know. Are there a lot of Christian religions? I was brought up Protestant. I’ve been to a lot of different churches. I like the ones where they do lots of lively singing, like spirituals. That’s my fave.

“I have an appointment with Andrea, my probation officer. I hate her. I thought I had an appointment with her March first. I went to her office and she wasn’t there. The receptionist checked her book and said that I was supposed to have been there the day before. I said, ‘I had an appointment for March first,’ She said, ‘This is March second!’ I had the dates mixed up. I asked, ‘So, are you going to breach me because I missed an appointment?’

“A breach would mean thirty days in jail wouldn’t it?”

“If the judge is an asshole, he could make it sixty, but I’m not going to jail. I still have until November until my probation is finished. Andrea wants me to go for anger management counseling.  I don’t think I need anger management counseling.

 

~~~

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6 March 2012
Spring is gradually approaching, but after standing outside for an hour at ‘the benches’, my cheeks are so stiff I can barely talk. Ian and Ryan were there.
I asked Ian, “How have things been going since I saw you yesterday?”
“Marlena and I had a rough night. We started off sleeping at the Royal Bank. We were rousted by the police. We moved on to the Canadian Imperial Bank. After a few hours, we were rousted again. I said, ‘I know where we can go; to the Toronto Dominion Bank.’ We spent the rest of the night there. The manager woke us up when she came in. ‘Okay Ian, time to move on,’ she said. ‘Okay, just give me a few minutes to wake up and clear my head. I’ll clean up my cigarette butts.”
“How does Marlena like sleeping in the bank?”
“She was a bit scared, but I told her, “You’ll be safe. I’ll get some shut-eye, but my ears will be open. If anybody tries anything, I’ll give it to them, believe me.’ She also found it too hot. I’ll have to get my tweezers and turn down the thermostat again.”
Ian introduced me to Ryan.“I’m just out of jail. I was coming across the bridge and I said, ‘Hey, I know that guy, it’s Ian. So we’ve been sharing a beer. I grew this beard in prison, but I’m going to shave it off. Ian looks fine with a beard, but I look ugly. I look like a hobo.
“I was talking to my old boss. I can go back to work once I clean myself up. I do events. I installed the Christmas lights at The Eaton Center. I’m also a painter and a carpenter — that’s my trade.”
“When do you think you’ll be going back to work?”
“Maybe next week. I’ll have to ease off the booze. I got a friend who will help me out with a place to stay for a hundred dollars a week. He’s got a few places, but the crack heads he puts in his place on Queen. I’ll be staying near Bloor on Parliament.” I’m originally from Belfast, Ireland. My parents brought me over when I was nine months old. We lived near the old Maple Leaf Gardens. My dad coached hockey, all the teams I played on when I was a kid. He’d see some guy rough me up and he’d say, ‘Get back in there and fight him!’ That was before they curbed the violence in minor hockey. He was a good coach, but he never learned to skate. Whenever there would be a father and son skate I’d have to hold him up so he wouldn’t fall. He would be all wobbly. I sure miss him. Bless his soul.

“When I was a lad. I was born in 1956, you know. We had a 1969 Volkswagen, a bug, just like in the Herbie movies. My mom and dad went out to the neighbors, one time, and I found the car keys. A friend and I decided we’d go for a ride. I was grinding gears. I didn’t know what I was doing. We went up a steep hill and the car stalled. My friend was pulling back on the emergency brake. I started the car revved the engine, but the car was in second gear. We rolled back down the hill into a bus, smashed the back bumper of the car. I drove it back to our driveway and didn’t say a thing. My parents didn’t notice the damage for a month or so. They blamed my brother Adam. He got a beating for it.

“I have a twin, you know. My sister, Jessica has breast cancer. She was even written up in the Globe and Mail newspaper. When she was first diagnosed they removed her breast. She was cancer-free for seventeen years, then it came back. She doesn’t talk to me, but I still love her.

“My brother, Adam had breast cancer when he was young. He had surgery and he’s been fine ever since. They cut out his left chest muscle and even the muscles at the bottom of the arm (the triceps).

“My mom wants me to come back home. I’ve always sent her money when I had it, and she’s helped me out when she could.”

~~~

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5 March 2012

The sun is shining, the temperature is minus fourteen degrees Celsius (seven degrees Fahrenheit), with a wind of twenty-four kilometers per hour (fifteen miles per hour). It feels cold. I have a scarf over my face to protect from the cold breeze. I see Ian and Hippo standing near the benches at Orphan’s Green. Ian looks at his watch, joking that I always arrive at the same time, 12:10 pm and leave at the same time, 12:50. He could set his watch by me.

I said, “It’s okay, I have an appointment. Am I late?” Ian and Hippo laughed.

Two men Spike and Brent came and shook hands with everyone. “Spike, you’re looking great!” said Ian. He was freshly shaved, He took off his cap to show his fresh haircut. He was wearing a red jacket.

“I’ve got a meeting to go to. When it comes time for ‘panning’ I’ll put my panhandling clothes on.” They left.

“I gave Spike that jacket,” said Hippo, “I wish I had it now.”

I asked if they had seen anybody else today.

“I saw Chester at the Salvation Army for breakfast this morning. We had bacon, eggs, and home fries. I’ve been staying there for the past week, but I hate it. I’m staying tonight because I get my P.N.A. (Personal Needs Allowance) check tomorrow. If I stay there for a full week they give me a  check for twenty-eight dollars. I hate it there. Everyone is all cracked out. Things get stolen. Last night I just stepped out back to have a drink and a guy tried to stab me with a knife. It sliced the whole sleeve of my outside jacket and a three-inch cut on my inside jacket (he showed me the cut on the outside of his sleeve). Luckily, it didn’t reach my skin.”

“How did the fight start?”

“I don’t know. The guy was crazy in the head, but I took care of him, biff! bam! pow!. That was the end of it.

“What place do you prefer, The Salvation Army, The Good Shepherd, or The Mission?”

“I don’t know about The Mission since I’ve been barred. The Shepherd has the best food.”

Ian said, “I don’t eat the food at The Shepherd, they serve too many carrots. Sometimes I’ll get a plate for Marlena and take it outside since they only allow women at certain times. It is a men’s shelter. I’d prefer to panhandle and buy my own food.”

“When did they start calling you Hippo?”

“I think It was Joy who first started calling me Hippo. Before that, they used to call me Farm Boy. My name is actually Nathan. I’m from Oshawa. Those were the days when Rip, Tim and Hobo were still around. They were old guys. They’re dead now.

“I’m waiting on an inheritance from my grandma. She passed away. When I get the money, I’m heading to British Columbia — Vernon, Salmon Arm area. I got a call from my old boss. He said my old job is waiting for me, driving a big grapple skidder for hauling logs out of the bush. The tires are this high (he reached above his head). If you look in Facebook I have some pictures posted of the equipment I’ve run. It’s great to be out in the bush. I’m by myself, the cab is heated and air-conditioned, with a CD system. I get twenty-nine dollars an hour.”

~~~

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