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17 May 2012

Shakes Plays Risk

This morning was sunny but cool and windy. Joy’s plastic box was there, but Joy wasn’t. I checked with Metro to ask if she had been at her spot this morning.

“Hi, Dennis,  Joy was here earlier. I don’t know if she’s gone to the bathroom, or if she’s left for the day. There she is! She’s coming now!”

“Thanks, Metro, have a good day.”

“Hi, Joy, how’s everything this morning?”

“I don’t know why I have to pee so often. Hippo’s across the street shrugging his shoulders, Again! It’s girl stuff.”

“Does it have to do with your kidneys?”

“Yes, but I’m okay as long as I keep peeing.”

“You mentioned before that it was a dark color. Are you concerned about that?”

“No, it seems fine. I think I just needed to drink more water.”

“I saw Alphonse and Maggie last night, after work. I couldn’t tell if she’d had an abortion or not, but it was good to see them so happy together. Alphonse seems like such a good man.”

“Yes, he is. I don’t know what it is about Inuit women. Inuk went out with another guy the night before Bearded Bruce went to prison. An hour and a half after he signed himself in, she came down and expected us to be friends with her. Maggie acts the same way.”

Joy and I were discussing various bars that we both had frequented in the past. I said, “My friends and I would often meet at the Continental for beer and spaghetti.”

Joy said, “The last time I was at the Continental was with Jake. There was a woman there playing pool. She was wearing a low-cut blouse and every time she bent over to take a shot, her boobs nearly fell out on the table. I walked over to her and said, ‘I’m going to ask you nicely, to stop flashing my old man here. It’s very rude.’ People don’t need to see that when they’re eating. She kept doing it, so I picked up the cue ball and threw it at her; caught her right in the middle of her forehead. She was out cold. The bartender came over and said, ‘Joy, this is probably a good time to leave.’ I said, ‘Cool, dude. We’re on our way.’ ”

“I’m going to go over and talk to Hippo,” I said, “He looks lonely.”

“I told him to use that spot. That’s where Crash used to pan. As long as he’s in that alcove they shouldn’t be able to touch him.”

“Hi, Hippo!”

“Hi Dennis, how’s it going?”

“I’m doing fine. Have you found any more lawnmowers?”

“No, I found that last one in the garbage. It was a Craftsman 650 with a 170 c.c. motor. All I had to do was add oil and gas and away she went.”

“Have you heard anything more about your inheritance?”

“No, I signed the papers last August. That’s eight months ago. I don’t know why it’s taking so long.”

A woman wearing a gray suit came over to us and said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to move. You’re sitting in front of the hotel property.”

“Okay,” we said and left.

At noon it was still chilly, with the wind blowing. Tonight there is a frost warning. On Sunday Environment Canada is forecasting eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit. Go figure!

Sitting on the curb at the park were about a dozen people and Bear.

“Hi, Shakes, how are you doing?”

“I’m getting there, slowly but surely. Last night we were up until two in the morning playing Risk. I finally asked, ‘Aren’t you guys getting sleepy?’ ”

Hippo said, “We used to play that game, my mother, sister, and me. My dad never wanted to play. He’d go out to the garage. Another game we used to play was Clue.”

“It’s nice to wake up in the morning,” said Shakes. “If you don’t, you know that something’s wrong.”

“We were worried about Luther yesterday,” said Hippo. “He usually joins us, but he just sat on the curb and fell asleep. We thought he might be sick.”

“He’s back on the rubbing alcohol,” said Deaf Donald.

I said, “He also drinks Listerine.”

“Both of those really mess up your mind,” said Hippo. “I’ve tried them once, but never again.”

Donald said, “I’ve heard of people drinking Old Spice, Aqua Velva, Purell, shoe polish, melted and strained through bread. I’ve heard of people ‘huffing’ Lysol, Clorox bleach, and gasoline. They’re all poisonous.

“I’ve been looking at the plants in the flower garden over there. One of them looks like marijuana. I know it isn’t, but it sure looks like it.

“If you grow marijuana in the woods, it’s best to pick a place where there are a lot of trails. People looking for it can get lost, and if someone surprises you, there are lots of escape routes.

“Where do you live, Hippo?” asked Donald.

“I’m staying at the Salvation Army now, but I’m hoping to get a place of my own.

“Where do you live?”

“Now I’m living in Mississauga. I have to take the Go Train into the city for my methadone (used to treat opiate dependency for drugs such as morphine, heroin, and oxycontin). It takes me about an hour to get downtown.”

I asked, “Why did you choose to live so far out?”

“My mother lives in Mississauga. I have a bachelor apartment with a fireplace just a few blocks from her. I live on Lakeshore Road right across from the Urban Ink Tattoo Parlour. I used to live on Sherbourne, near here. There was too much crack.”

“Joy, Shark, and I lived just off Parliament, at different times. I was on Spruce near Carlton, Joy was closer to Dundas. It’s a small world.

~~~

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16 May 2012

Rain on the Street 

This morning was slightly overcast with light, scattered showers. Joy was in good spirits. Little Jake was panning on the corner where Silver usually sits. Silver was at the medical clinic having his blood tested. Hippo waved from across the street. A strange-looking man was seated directly across the street from Joy. He was holding a sign that neither of us could read.

Joy said, “I don’t know what that guy is all about. Earlier he motioned me to move on, but that’s not going to happen. I’ve been here too long, and fought too hard for this spot, to take shit from some newcomer who doesn’t know how things work. I may have to go over and talk to him.”

A light rain started. Joy said, “If it’s just small drops I don’t mind. If it’s those big ass drops, then I’m taking cover. There is an overhang so, depending on the wind, if I move back to the wall I can stay dry.”

“I asked, “Do you have any news about getting an apartment with Loretta?”

“I haven’t seen or talked to her since the other day at the park. I don’t know what’s going on with her.”

“Are you feeling better today?”

“I feel a lot better. I’ve been asking a few women, regulars of mine if they have any spare tampons because I started today. Apart from that, I feel fine. Debbie and I were at Outcast’s place yesterday afternoon. He made a stir fry. It was a bit too sweet but really good. Later on, at Chuck’s place, I cooked spaghetti. Chili, Rocky, and Raven came over. Rocky was really wasted on something. He had spaghetti sauce all over his shirt, his face, and his hands. I said to him, ‘Rocky, go to the bathroom and clean yourself up.’ Before he got up, he wiped his sauce-covered hand across Carl’s wall. Chuck hauled him outside and told him to get lost and never come back.

“Later, after supper, Raven said, ‘Okay, where’s the beer?’ Chuck said, ‘We don’t have any beer.’ She started swearing, so I grabbed her by the hair and threw her out the front door. She was swearing all down the block saying, ‘You fuckin’ bitch this, you fuckin’ bitch that.’ I just closed the door and let her rant.

“Chuck told me, ‘I’m glad you did that because I couldn’t have.’

“Chili was looking better after being straight for the last month. I said to her, ‘I’ll bet your mom wasn’t too pleased to see all those track marks on your arm.’ She said, ‘No, she wasn’t pleased at all.’ Her family is taking her to Sudbury to visit relatives, and then back to Prince Edward Island, where her parents live. It’s such a shame to see someone her age so messed up. She’s only twenty-one years old.

“I told you earlier that I was feeling fine. A wave of nausea just came over me. I’m going to have to go.” Joy stepped into the alley and threw up.

“I’m glad I just had water this morning, otherwise, it could have been messy. I think that came from eating so late at night.

“Ann is staying at Chester’s place now. He really likes her, but with Ann comes her daughter Trudy and her son Larry. That’s a lot of people to feed. Chester has a couple of pensions coming in. He does all right.

“If it’s not raining at noon, I’ll be up on the lawn with the guys. I’m not going under the bridge. It’s like a wind tunnel there. Look out your window before you come, you’ll be able to see if any of us are around.”

~~~

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15 May 2012

This morning was warm, sunny, and pleasant. Joy was in her usual spot. All was as it should be.

“How are you feeling, Joy?”

“I’m a lot better than yesterday. I went home, lay down, and drank a lot of water. I was able to sleep most of the afternoon until Chuck came home at four-thirty. This morning, I was able to keep my breakfast down.”

“How is it going with you and Loretta, getting a place together?”

“She’s going to phone them today and, hopefully, we’ll be able to see it this afternoon. It’s furnished, that worries me a bit. I don’t want to be in a place with bed bugs. There are mattress covers, that have a very fine weave, that the bedbugs can’t get through. A friend of mine has one, but you can still see the bugs crawling around underneath. It creeps me out.

“Some people have told me that I shouldn’t move in with Loretta. They say she can get wild when she’s drinking, but she’s cut back quite a bit. I think we’ll get along fine.”

“If she does get wild, I’m sure you can handle her.”

“No problem there.”

“Have you heard anything more about the funeral for Dennis ‘Fingers’?”

“That was a mistake. I talked to a friend of his and he’s doing fine. He just hasn’t been downtown for a while. He was in the hospital and is still very weak. He prefers to pan in the east end since he’s been robbed several times around here. You’d think they’d pick on someone with more money. Panhandlers just make enough to get by. Whenever I get my check at the end of the month, you won’t see me on the street for a couple of days.

“Silver is down here almost every day. I asked him, ‘What are you hoarding your money for? Are you that greedy?’ He’s not here today, though. There was someone else sitting in his spot this morning, but it wasn’t very long before a gray-haired man chased him off. I don’t know what that was about.”

“I saw Nick yesterday, panning on Queen Street.”

“He, Hippo, and Little Jake were kicked off Parliament, but Queen is even worse. The police don’t like you panning on Queen. They’re patrolling it all the time. The same with the park. That’s why they’ve been by so often. It’s the same every summer.”

I said, “I was talking to Serge yesterday. He’s in the Wet Program at The Shepherd, but he doesn’t like it.”

“On that program, they give you a bit of homemade wine every hour, sometimes it’s watered down. Serge is used to drinking rubbing alcohol and Listerine. He wouldn’t like drinking wine. He doesn’t panhandle. I don’t know where he gets his money. He probably just has a small pension.

“He’s another one that won’t be around much longer; another one to add to the list.”

A man stopped and handed Joy a banana. She said to me, “Do you want this? Since my kidney failure, my doctor said I’m not allowed to eat bananas. They have too much potassium.”

At noon I talked briefly with Serge. He was sitting in his usual shaded place, on the curb of the sidewalk leading across the bridge, adjacent to the park. “Hi Serge, how did you sleep last night?”

“I slept at The Shepherd.”

“Yesterday you mentioned that someone was opening and closing the door all night. Did that happen last night?”

“Yes, he did that for a while.”

“How about the other man who shit on the floor. Did he do that again?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure. I changed beds, so I’m near the kitchen. I like it better there. They have me on the Wet Program. I don’t like that.”

“I hear they give you wine every hour. Is that right? Do you like wine?”

“No, I don’t like it. They give me cheap wine, and the beer they give me has no alcohol. It’s awful.”

“How is the pain in your hands and legs?”

“My hands are worse in the morning. If I try to move them, before I’ve soaked them under hot running water, the pain goes right down to the bone. I have pains in my legs, and I can’t walk fast, but apart from that I’m okay.”

“Can you talk to the doctor? Maybe he can give you pills for your pain.”

“I’ll just wait. I’m going to move to the Salvation Army.”

I said, “I’m going up to talk to the others. I’ll see you on my way back.”

A group of people was standing in a circle on the lawn. As I approached, I heard Outcast was giving advice to Silver, “For your blood test tomorrow, don’t eat after six tonight, and drink only water.”

“What do you mean, ‘drink only water?’ I can have juice and coffee in the morning — can’t I?”

“No, Silver, only water and lots of it. It’ll make your veins stick out, so they’ll have an easier time extracting your blood. They love to see addicts come in because they have such large veins.”

“Here, Silver,” said Joy, “have a swig from my water bottle so you’ll know, in advance, what it tastes like.”

Silver said, “My doctor wants to prescribe some pills for my alcoholism. If they make me better will I have my O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program) cut off?”

“Silver, You’re too far gone,” said Joy. “You’re not going to get better.”

“Outcast told me that they might cut off my O.D.S.P. if I get better. If that’s the case, I don’t want to get better.” (He died 29 September 2012 from cirrhosis of the liver. He was a good friend. I attended his funeral.)

“Silver,“ said Outcast, “if I said that, I was only joking. Get the doctor to prescribe as many pills as possible, and while you’re at it, tell him that you have a bladder problem and you need a diaper allowance. Wet your pants right in his office if you have to.”

Joy said, “You can let a juicy, wet fart that stains your underwear. Wear white, so the stain shows. It would have worked great yesterday when you split your pants.”

Outcast asked, “Dennis, how long have you been around this area?”

“I’ve worked around here for the past five years.”

“You wouldn’t remember it then. This whole area used to be covered with bushes. Now, they’ve cut them back. Shark and Irene lived here for nearly a year. They had a tarp stretched out to keep the rain off. We could all sit under there and keep dry. It wasn’t even visible from the sidewalk.

“There was a rumor going around, about a ‘tent city’ being erected; part of ‘Occupy Toronto’. It was supposed to start last Saturday. The city tore up all the grass like they did last year. It’s not so pleasant camping in the mud. I haven’t heard what’s going to happen next.

“So, how did you come across this group? You don’t drink, you don’t smoke. Did you just stop by one day and start a conversation with someone?”

“It’s not that I don’t drink or smoke, I just don’t do it during working hours. I’ve known Joy for about a year and a half. She invited me here, in January, to meet some of her friends.”

Joy said, “Dennis asked me if he could buy me breakfast. He does that most mornings when I’m panning.”

‘Wolf called me over, “Dennis, you’re really looking dapper today.”

“I’m wearing Second Chance from top to bottom.” (Second Chance is a used clothing store, similar to Goodwill or the Salvation Army Thrift Store.)

“I don’t care what you’re wearing. I just wanted to say something nice to you. I just celebrated my fifty-seventh birthday. I wanted you to know that. I’m more miserable and grumpy than ever. I’ve been really nasty to Debbie. Half the people here I don’t talk to at all. I just like to come down some times to have a few beer, talk to my friends.

“How is Shaggy doing under her trailer? I can’t see her.”

“She’s got her head out, watching what’s going on. Trying to decide who to bite next.”

“I won’t keep you, Dennis. I just wanted to shake your hand, and I’m not sure I can get up.”

Silver asked Joy, “What’s Debbie’s problem? She hasn’t said more than three words since she’s been here.”

“She’s got the same problem I’ve had all week; she’s starting menopause. Since September, my period hasn’t been regular. It’s all over the place — four months off, one month on. It leaves me feeling miserable.”

~~~

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Team Rubicon

Posted: November 29, 2020 in Prose

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14 May 2012

The weather at noon was perfect. As I was walking down Queen Street I met Nick. He was panning near Jarvis Street. Nick is diabetic and was taken to the hospital by paramedics last week. I gave him a wave as I passed.

“How’s it going, bro’?”

“Great, Nick!”

As I turned right on the sidewalk, toward the lawn, I saw Serge sitting by himself on the curb, in the shade. “Hi, Serge, How are you today?”

“Everyone is up on the lawn. I’m not so good today. I have pains in my legs and in my hands. It feels good just to sit here and stretch my legs out. It’s because I drink too much. What I drink (rubbing alcohol diluted with water) costs me two, thirty-five a bottle. That’s all I can afford, but it’s not good for me. I think I have arthritis in my hands.” He stretched his fingers to show me how stiff and swollen they were. “In the morning, I have to hold my hands under hot, running water for a while, just to get my fingers moving.”

“Have you tried hot baths, for your legs?” I asked.

“I don’t have a bathtub. I’m staying at the Seaton now, but I have to find a new place. They have me on the Wet Program. I don’t know why? I don’t like it. I used to be on the other side.

“The Seaton House Annex Harm Reduction Program, a ‘wet shelter’ operated in conjunction with staff from St. Michael’s Hospital on the harm reduction principle. Previously, Seaton House banned alcohol forcing many homeless alcoholics to stay on the street using unsafe sources of liquor such as rubbing alcohol, cleaners, and industrial products. Under the new “managed alcohol” policy clients enrolled in the program are served one drink every ninety minutes until it is determined that an individual is too inebriated at which point he is denied another shot. The clients have been found to gradually reduce their intake under this regime and many have quit entirely. The 130 beds in the annex are reserved for homeless chronic alcoholics.” (Wikipedia)

“There’s too much noise. One guy there, he opens and closes the door all night long: open, close, open, close. The man in the bunk beside me, he speaks French, so that’s good, but in the middle of the night, instead of going down the hall to the bathroom, he sits at the edge of his bed and shits on the floor, not once, but twice. That’s no way to act, shitting on the floor like that. I’m going to move to the Salvation Army. I think it will be better there.”

The next person I met, walking down the sidewalk was Hippo. “Hi, Hippo. How did you make out selling that lawnmower?”

“I took it down near the Mission. A taxi driver stopped and asked me if I wanted to sell it. I said, ‘Sure!’ He gave me ten dollars for it.

“Today, I got kicked off Bank Street. A cop gave me half of a Subway sandwich. Five minutes later, another cop came along and told me to move away from there. I only made a dollar, seventy-two, plus the sandwich.”

Sitting on the lawn were a half dozen of my friends. I shook hands all the way around. Tracey said, “Dennis this is my friend, Donald. He’s deaf, but he can read lips.”

“Hi, Donald,” I said.

“God bless,” he said.

Standing near the railing were Loretta, Outcast, and Joy. Loretta borrowed Joy’s cell phone and walked away.

“Hi, Joy. How’s it been, finding a new place?”

“Loretta found a two-bedroom apartment close to downtown. She walked by, it looked good from the outside. She may be phoning about it right now. There’s also a friend of Chuck’s that would rent me a room for $450 a month.

“I’m not feeling so well today. Yesterday I was drinking vodka and cranberry juice. It didn’t agree with me.

“You couldn’t buy me a bottle of sherry, could you?”

“I’m sorry Joy, I don’t have any cash with me. I can give you some bus tickets, but I don’t have any Subway cards. They ran out and won’t have any more until next month.”

“I probably couldn’t handle the sherry anyway. The thought of it makes me feel sick.”

I asked Outcast, “Did you have a birthday on Friday?”

“No, it was Wolf, the one with Shaggy. We had a party at my place. Irene and Shark brought over some spaghetti sauce. We sat around playing dice. Wolf, Irene, and Shark left early. I’ve been eating spaghetti since Friday. I’ve had so much It’s coming out my ass, literally.”

“Silver said, “I bet that Joy doesn’t remember the first time we met. I was panning in her old spot. Of course, I moved when she came along. That’s only right. I remember, Crash Test was panning on the other side of the street. You’d throw hand fulls of pennies at him. One time you threw a pear. It splattered all over the wall, and all over Crash. The pigeons loved it, they were all over him pecking at pieces of pear. He said, ‘You didn’t have to throw it so hard.’

Silver started packing his bag to leave. “I’m concerned that the cops will come again and I’ll lose all my beer. I’ve got more to lose than anybody.”

When he was out of earshot, Joy said, “That guy really annoys me. He talks even more than Chuck, and what he says doesn’t make any sense.” Fifteen minutes went by and Silver was still saying his goodbyes.

“Hey, Silver!” said Joy, “I thought you said you were leaving. Why don’t you quit saying goodbye and just go away.”

“In that case,” said Silver, “I’m not leaving, so ‘Liar, liar pants on fire, kissed the boys and made them cry.’ ”

“Silver,” I said, “I think you have your nursery rhymes mixed up.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I guess that was Georgie Porgie. Oh, well.”

Joy said, “Get out of my face, Silver, or I’ll kill you!  Silver, I will kill you!”

“Okay, Joy, take it easy.” Silver quietly left.

“Dennis,” said Outcast, some Saturday you’ll have to come over. All but two of us here have our own places, or else we share. We can have a couple of beer, smoke a few joints, maybe play some dice.

“Sounds good.”

~~~

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11 May 2012

The sun was shining this morning and Joy was in better spirits. I said, “I see that you don’t have V with you today.”

“This morning Chuck said to me, ‘V needs to go out for a pee.’ I said to him, ‘Dude, she’s your dog. It was you that wanted exercise, so you walk her, you feed her, you train her, or you get rid of her.’ I was so angry yesterday that I didn’t say more than five words to him.

“I’ve got to get away from Chuck. He woke me up at twelve-thirty in the morning with the sound of him smacking his lips as he ate. He’s always swearing, it’s pussy this, asshole that, blow job something else. I said to him, ‘Dude, if you want any woman to come anywhere near you, you need to do something about your hygiene, and brush your teeth.’

“He’s a redhead, as you’ve noticed. I’ve never liked the smell of redheads. Even after he showers, he has an odor about him.”

I said, “I was talking to Luther yesterday. I’ve met him, on at least four previous occasions, where we talked at some length. He had me mixed up with a priest; a radio talk show host; a judge, before whom he’d appeared; and a guy, in some bar, who ignored him.”

“Yeah, I talked to him yesterday. I found that he was acting weird. That’s what happens when you drink Listerine and rubbing alcohol, and the smell stays with you for days. He came on to me, he said, ‘Joy, I’ve always found you attractive. Since Jake is in prison, do you think we could get together?’ I said to him, ‘Dude, I’ll tell you the same thing I told you last time you asked me that. No, never, nada, it’s not going to happen.’

“I saw Shakes, Fran, and her asshole boyfriend yesterday. Did you see her eye? It was bruised and nearly swollen shut. That’s why she was wearing the shades all day. She said, ‘I fell.’ I said to her, ‘You’re talking to a woman who was beaten on a regular basis. Don’t tell me that you fell. I know what a bruise from a punch looks like.’ Then she admitted that he’d hit her. It’s a shame she’s such a sweet girl.”

I said, “I’ve heard people say that they ran into a doorknob.” Joy laughed, “Yeah, you’d have to be on your hands and knees for that to happen.

“I have to see Buck,  so I may see the guys this afternoon, maybe not. Lately, I’m turned off with all of them. The only one who doesn’t try to touch me is Chuck. Jacques is the worst. He said, ‘Little one, why don’t you come over to my place. You could even spend the night.’ I said, ‘No, dude, I’m not interested.’

“I have to pee again. That’s another reason I can’t have a dog here. I can’t just leave her here alone while I go to the restaurant to use their washroom. I’m going to leave soon, so will I see you at lunch?”

“I’ll be there. If you’re there fine if not, that’s fine too. Do what feels good for you. Take care of yourself first.”

At noon the sun was still shining, I didn’t wear a jacket, but found it a bit cool with the wind. The first person I saw was Serge. He said, “You know, yesterday on Parliament Street, I thought I saw you. I went up to shake your hand, but when I got up close It wasn’t you.”

I said, “There must be someone else in town that looks just like Kenny Rogers.”

“Like Kenny Rogers, yes.”

When I got to the lawn, there was a big crowd. The first to approach me was Hippo. “Dennis, how you doin’?”

“I’m good Hippo, how about you.”

“You know, I’m okay, I’ve been around. I found this lawnmower. It was just sitting there. It does mulching, side discharge or rear bagging. It runs. I started it, but it ran out of gas. I’m going to try to sell it.”

I met Juan, who I haven’t seen before. He was wearing a cowboy hat with plastic flowers around the brim. He said, “I have my name tattooed on my wrist in case I forget it. I’m sixty-five and my memory’s not so good.”

“I’m sixty-five as well,” I said. “I have difficulty remembering names, so I may have to check your wrist the next time we meet.”

“I go to a lot of Karaoke bars. I love to sing. I was in the Pro-Life parade yesterday. I don’t have an opinion, one way or the other, but I love to sing and dance. They had some great music.” He moved on to talk to Joy. They’d met before.

Larry said to me, “I see you’re having problems with your leg.”

“Motorcycle accident,” I said. “I had seven breaks in my right leg. I have a steel rod from my hip to my knee.”

“Do you still ride?”

“No. Do you?”

“I’ve had a lot of problems, starting when I was nine months old. I’ve got a bad back. I had learning difficulties in school. I have some mental problems. Now, I’m alcoholic.”

Joy came up to me and said, “Dennis, could you do a big, big favor for me. I know it’s your lunch hour, but I owe Bert forty bucks and he’s watching me like a hawk. If I give you the money could you buy me two bottles of Imperial sherry from the liquor store on Yonge Street? It’s seven forty-nine a bottle.”

“Sure, no problem.”

When I returned, the group was standing on the corner of the street. Joy motioned to me in the direction of the lawn. “Police!” Joy whispered, “Someone yelled six up (the police are nearby, so whatever you are doing that is illegal you’d better hide it) and everyone took off. Most, because they were carrying either liquor, pot, pills, or cigarettes smuggled from the U.S.”

“Most of the cigarettes come from the American side of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, the reserve straddling the borders of Quebec, Ontario and New York state. The cigarettes are removed from their packages and put in clear resealable plastic bags. Natives, or someone driving for them, will load the trunk of their car with illegal cigarettes for sale in other parts of the province or central Canada. Legal cigarettes would have a government seal on the packaging to prove that Canadian taxes had been paid, and they’d have a cancer warning.” (Wikipedia)

Everyone from the lawn relocated to the low concrete wall at the edge of the park. I talked to Irene. “The cops were just talking, they didn’t take anyone away. When I was leaving, the woman cop said to me, ‘Don’t forget the bag with your beer.’ Actually, I’d hidden my beer, but I had cigarettes in my pack. Since I’m native I’m allowed, but it looks suspicious having them in clear plastic bags. I’d just say, ‘I bought them at the mall.’ You can get anything at the mall. Right?” (The mall is a meeting place where illegal substances, and services, aren’t regulated by the chain stores or the law.)

There was sadness as the news circulated that Dennis ‘Fingers’ had passed away. The regulars had known and loved him for over fifteen years. I never met him, but I know that he will be missed.

Joy, V, and Chuck we’re sitting together. V snuggled up to Joy. “Now you’re being friendly.” Joy reached around to pat him and V bit her arm. “Did you see that? He bit me. He bit one of my regulars yesterday.”

Joy said to Chuck, “Why are you being so cheesy?”

“Oh, now you’re going to talk to me. You haven’t said more than five words to me since yesterday.”

“So, why are you in a bad mood?”

“I’ve only had a six-pack of beer this entire week. I’ve got no pot, no money, nothing to drink.”

“We’ve got pot.”

“You mean, you’ve got pot.”

“I mean, we’ve got pot and I’ll buy you some beer later. Now, stop pouting. Do you want a sip from my bottle?”

“That goof, no thanks.”

“It’s just watered down, it tastes the same.”

“I got a bottle coming.”

“If you’d get your sorry ass out of bed in the morning, you could come down with me and make some money.”

“I will tomorrow.”

“I’ll hold you to that. Come four-thirty I’m going to be flipping the lights on and off. I’ll be yelling, “Chuck, get the fuck up.”

Two young women came by from the Salvation Army. Joy said, “I hate those bitches, especially the blonde one. When I was sleeping behind the dumpsters, behind Starbucks, with Jake. Trying to bathe in the washroom of the restaurant. They said to me, ‘We can’t help you, because you’re not a man.’ They helped Jake. They helped Irene and they helped Loretta. I think it’s because Irene is native and Loretta is Inuit. I don’t have my status card that says that I’m Metis.”

Loretta came over. She is a small pleasant woman, always polite, always smiling even though she has no teeth. Joy said, “You talk to that bitch.” Loretta said, “Sheena? I have to, she’s my worker.”

Joy said, “The Salvation Army is the biggest fucking organization in the country and they do nothing. That blonde one is the worst. You see, she stays away from me. She knows what she’ll get.” Joy bared her teeth, hissed, snarled, and gnashed her teeth at the woman. “Of course, if I hit her I’d go straight to jail. She’d better keep her distance.”

Loretta said to Joy, “I heard that you’re getting your own place. Would you like a roommate?”

“That would be great. I would have asked you, but I thought you were still with your old man.”

“No, I kicked him out. I said, ‘Until we can go for six months without an argument, I don’t want to live with you.’

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m so looking forward to moving in with you.”

I thought they were going hug each other,  jump up and down, and scream, but that may have been seen to attract too much attention, especially with the police so near. They were parked on the curb, near the lawn to see if people came back.

Joy said, “It will be so nice, for a change, to have a place that smells feminine, instead of one that’s full of men’s farts.”

I said, “Oh, I forgot, women don’t fart.”

“Not as much as men do  (it’s been scientifically proven that men and women fart the same amount), we don’t pee on the toilet seat, or leave the seat up.”

“Women rule!” I said.

“You got that right, mister!” said Loretta.

“Joy said, “I just know that we’re going to get along great. There are none of these other women that I’d want to share with, and definitely none of the guys.”

“My boyfriend won’t even be sleeping over.”

Joy said, “I don’t care if he does. With Jake in prison, I can’t see anyone staying over with me, except perhaps Outcast.”

“Aren’t you worried about him stealing from you?” I asked.

“I’ve nothing to steal, except my bed.

“I’ll go to the Mission tomorrow to see if there are any listings.”

“I’ll go to the Shepherd,” said Loretta. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” then she walked away. Joy said, “You know, she reminds me of myself when I was with Jake. I was always saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ With Loretta it’s, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ I’ll have to get her to stop that, it’s getting on my nerves.”

I said, “I’m glad to see you happy, Joy.  I’ll see you Monday.”

~~~

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10 May 2012

The weather this morning was cold and damp. I saw Joy sitting on her plastic storage container with Bruce’s raincoat wrapped around her knees. V was tied up to a gas meter attached to the building. Neither Joy nor V looked happy.

“Chuck has an appointment with his dentist and his probation officer, so I’m dog-sitting V. I’m not happy. V chewed a hole in my sleeping bag and generally wrecked the house. Right now, I’m ready to kill her. She’s driving me insane with her barking. I told Toothless he should get rid of her. She’s a biter.”

Joy’s telephone rang. “Chuck your dog is driving me nuts. She’s eaten all her dog food, all her treats and she’s just knocked over her water dish for the second time. Oh, you find that funny, do you? She’s scaring people away. I’ve only made two dollars this morning. So where are you now, and when will you be back? Hurry up will you? You’re still laughing! Oops, she ran away. She pulled the knot loose and she’s running down the block. How do I know where she’s going?

“Okay, she didn’t run away, but she’s your dog! You walk her! You take care of her!

Joy wasn’t wearing her spinner ring today. I asked her why she didn’t have the ring from Jake resized, so it would fit her finger. She said, “I’m not ready for that. I think I’m better off living alone. This other ring is from Joanne, she died of AIDS.

“I’m going to The Women’s Center today, to have the forms filled out for my medical card. Perhaps, I’ll see you at lunch. I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

At the low concrete wall, I met half a dozen people.  Shakes was there with his daughter, Fran, an attractive young woman, friendly, happy, and sober.

Ian said, “How are you doing, man? It’s been a long time. My best friend just died, that’s why I’m messed up like this.” Marlena was concerned about the time, so they left.

I’ve met Luther at least three times before, but he mistook me for a priest, a judge, a radio talk show host, and someone who ignored him at a bar. He is an alcoholic, but he seemed fairly sober.

“I have ADHD, that’s what they tell me. My mother is in hospital on a ventilator. I lied to her. I said I was coming home to visit her. I tried, but I was thrown off the bus because I was drunk. She wants to die naturally like my grandmother did, but they have her hooked up to all these tubes.

“I’m from Regina, 1409 Retallack Street. I haven’t told that to anyone, not even the police. Do you see them over there, across the street? They’re just waiting to try to arrest me for something (in fact, they were there to supervise an anti-abortion rally).

“I’m a demon, I’m the devil himself. Will you hear my confession?”

“Luther, I’m not a priest, I’m not even an expert on Christianity, I practice Buddhism. I’ll hear your confession if you want. I’ve heard lots of confessions.”

“Father, I don’t know how to start. It’s been such a long time. I’ve killed people.”

“Luther, that’s in the past, it’s a memory. It’s time to forgive yourself. I can see that you’re a good man. You care for people. Now, is the time you can do the most good for others.”

“I can’t forgive myself. I want to be an artist. I am an artist. I made a dream catcher and took it to the Cedar Basket Gift Shop to sell it. The owner said it was no good, so I spat on it and left it. The next night his front window was kicked in. The owner thought I did it. The police came over and checked my shoe size. They said, ‘No. it wasn’t him.’

“I have spiritual powers, I’ve studied to be a shaman for my people, but I’ve lost my way. I need to be on the radio for an hour to explain my theories about how the system should be changed. Can you arrange that for me? We need a school for aboriginal children. Do you agree with me?”

“I agree with you, Luther, but I don’t know anyone in radio. I’ll do some research. I’ll try to come up with some names.

“You take care, Luther. You’re a good man.”

“How are you, Shakes?”

“You know me. I’m always the same.”

I said to Gene and Fran, “Shakes, Shark, and I used to be neighbors near Allan Gardens.”

“Actually, I was more in Parkdale,” said Shakes.

“Where did you sleep, Shakes. Do you have a regular place where you go?”

“I sleep wherever I choose. If I feel tired I lay down and sleep wherever I am.”

I gave him some bus tickets, “Make sure you share those with Fran.”

Fran said, “If he doesn’t, I’ll just wait until he’s asleep and take them.”

“You know your father well,” I said and then I left.

~~~

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9 May 2012


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

“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 D. Dubrovnik. 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 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 fifteenth at The Women’s Center to meet with an anger management counselor. It’s better than going to the other place 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, ‘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 anymore 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 Joy. “Hi, handsome, gimme five.” He slapped Joy’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. No, wait, a biker chick once stopped and slipped me a hundred.

“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.’ I said, ‘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 anymore. I’m nearsighted, 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, Larry 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 five bucks.”

“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 were about a dozen people. 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 anymore. 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 The Women’s Center 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 withdrawal?”

“I throw up a lot, lose my appetite — what little I have — get the shakes really bad, sweats, nausea, headache, anxiety,  rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, hallucinations. 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 anymore. 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. When we were in the jewelry store he asked, “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 to me, ‘If you want money, sell your jewelry!’ These rings 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 a 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

Police and Paramedics

On a low concrete wall, near the park, sat six of my friends.

Shark said, “Did you see what they’ve done, ‘our 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 away.

The police arrived and complained to Jake about garbage near where the bench used to be. There was one plastic soft drink container, that someone 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 his dog. All I need is for Chuck to go to jail and I’ll be stuck with V. Did I tell you how he got that name? Chuck was drunk when he bought the dog. He couldn’t remember what the previous owner had called it, so he just picked a letter from the alphabet.  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 D. Dubrovnik 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 Dubrovnik.

“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 in the opposite direction, away from the group.

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

Outcast said to me, “You should complain to the city about the removal of our bench and our garbage container. As it is, the closest place to put garbage is at the far end of the park. 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 Scott 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.”

I asked Joy, “How was your weekend?”

“It was good. Saturday, at Chuck’s place, we had a barbecue for Jennifer’s birthday. She’s Inuit. We didn’t know that her birthday wasn’t actually until Sunday, but it didn’t matter. Her boyfriend, Steve came and Chuck’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. 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 twenty-ninth of this month, I have a court appearance for the breach I got while I was in the 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 on the following day.

“I’m going to the Womens’ Center 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.”

After work, 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 Magdalene?”

He put his fist to his forehead. Lines appeared between his eyes that welled up with tears. “I’m so agitated! Not frustrated, agitated! Maggie 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. I hope that 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 for you, that everything works out as you wish it to. You’re a good man, Alphonse. You’ll 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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RRBC Interview, Eyes on the Book hosted by Rox Burkey  https://buff.ly/2OJjaKx

 

4 May 2012

Today was muggy, overcast, and warm. The fog of earlier had lifted, but the humidity remained. I approached the bench, “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 on the grass.

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

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

“Jeff is moving out today. Bearded Bruce signed himself into prison, Wednesday morning. He and Inuk have been together for 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 is going as well. Chuck 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 there. With my free hand, I punched him right between the eyes.

“Larry, what was V’s name before Toothless got him?”

“Star,” said Larry.

“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.

“Yesterday he was talking to some guy from Scarborough. Chuck is asking a hundred. If the guy is at all interested, but can’t afford the price, I think he should drop it to fifty. 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 the 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. Angela 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 Public Health, 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 the 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 five percent alcohol. Then we switched to Labatt Maximum Ice at seven point one. That’s when our problems began. It was even worse when we switched to Imperial sherry at twenty percent. 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 sixteen hundred yards of you, or he’ll go right back to jail.’ I asked, ‘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.”

After work, I caught my usual bus. I was surprised to see Shark and Irene. They were going to Irene’s place, about four blocks from where I live. Shark said, “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 to let him sleep it off.

“Joy has been after Shakes not to panhandle at ‘the bench’, since it attracts attention. When he lay down, she told him to sit up. His daughter, Fran, was sitting beside him. I thought she’d 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 near Allan Gardens.”

I said, “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.”

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

I said, “I spent my noon hour yesterday with Andre and Shakes. They were both staggering in different directions. Andre was saying things like, ‘Drunk man walking,’  ‘White man on a program’ and ‘Don’t get in the way of my staggering.’ We went to where Shakes calls his ‘office’. I sat with him 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.”

Shark said, “He must have had his rubber legs on. He’s been staying up in Chinatown lately. Probably into that Chinese cooking wine. It’s thirty-seven percent alcohol. It’s great for stir-frying, but it’s powerful stuff to drink.”

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

“Montreal 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. Spike, a friend of ours has a place in Quebec on a lake. You met Spike 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. There is a rowboat, 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 Montreal, 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 goodbye and agreed to meet at ‘the bench’ on Monday.

~~~

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