2012 – July

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Fish Sticks 

3 July, 2012

At the park today I sat next to Shark.

“I lost my phone last night,” he said. “The guy who found it had a heavy European accent. He must have gone through my entire contact list. I know he phoned my landlord, he phoned Irene, she said, ‘Who are you and what are you doing with my husband’s phone.’ He finally called Jacques, who was with me at the time. The guy had an appointment near Sherbourne and Shuter at ten forty-five, so he asked if I could meet him there at ten forty. It was good for me, because I had to go to the liquor store anyway. So, I went there and got it back.

“I was going to get a new phone. The billing date for this one is near the end of the month. By that time, I usually don’t want to spend money on a phone — I want to eat. If I get a phone with a billing date at the first of the month I can pay it on check day, along with my rent.

“I also got thrown in the can last night – charged with being drunk in a public place.”

Shakes said, “Shark, we both arrived at the Shep at the same time. The Sally Ann dropped me off just as some fine piggies were throwing you out of a cruiser.

“I said, ‘Hey, don’t treat him like that! He’s my friend.’ They said, ‘Stay back, Shakes!’ ”

Shark said, “They went through everything in my bag. I had a bottle of wine and five grams of pot in there. I showed the cop my license for medicinal marijuana. He said to the guy at the Shep, ‘Don’t give him the pot until he’s ready to leave, or else he’ll smoke it on your property.’

“It’s a good thing they didn’t give it to me. There would have been a line up of people wanting some.

“I phoned 311, run by the Salvation Army. They’ll drive you home, provide you with a sleeping bag, or take you to any of the shelters. They close at three o’clock. I guess I phoned at five minutes after. I just got a recording. It took me about an hour to walk home.

“Irene was pissed because I didn’t take her home from bingo, but I had to meet with George. By the way, do I have any dobber marks on me?” He took off his cap.

“Yes, you have one right on top of your head.”

“Trudy, why don’t you have any dobber marks on you.?”

“I just stayed far away from the people with dobbers.”

“This is my meds day,” said Shark. “I have to walk to Yonge and George. That’s where I get my morphine and marijuana.”

“Andre,” I said, “how was your weekend?”

“Good, great even! On Canada Day (July first) I was panning on Yonge and Dundas. There were a bunch of women around, so I started belly dancing. One woman gave me a couple of beer, another gave me some pot. I got drops of five dollars, ten dollars. It was great!”

“Shark,” I asked, “how are you and Irene getting on?”

“It’s iffy. You know women.” Shark’s cell phone began to ring. “She’s just phoning me now. Here talk to her. Ask her if I’m a complete asshole.”

“Irene, is Shark a complete asshole?”

“Shark, she says you’re a partial asshole.”

“Ask her if she wants me to bring her a lobster”

“Do you want Shark to bring you a lobster?”

“She doesnt’ like lobster,” I said.

“I knew that. Ask her if she wants some shrimp. She hates shrimp.”

“How about shrimp?”

“No, to shrimp.”

“Ask her if she wants fish sticks.”

“Do you want fish sticks?”

“Fish sticks are a go, Shark. Here she is . I’ll let you talk to her.”

“Irene asks if you’re going to be here tomorrow?”

“Only if she brings me some fish sticks.”

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Staggering  Somewhat Straight 

4 July 2012

I was walking along Queen Street towards Moss Park, when I met  Serge sitting on a park bench. “Hi Serge,” I said. “How are you feeling? You still have bruises around your eyes.”

“I’m okay.”

“Did you see the fireworks on Canada Day?”

“I saw them, but I didn’t stand up. I just watched from the bench here. You won’t find anybody up top, maybe under the bridge.”

“Thanks, Serge, you saved me a trip.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you.”

I checked everywhere I could think of, but couldn’t find any of my friends.

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5 July 2012

This afternoon at the park, sitting in a circle, were Shakes, Andre, Larry and his brother Charles. Wolf and  his dog Shaggy were just leaving. As I sat down, Larry handed me a copy of the Sun to avoid grass stains.

Shakes was laying on the grass as usual. I bent to shake his hand, then noticed that he had a cigarette in one hand and a wine bottle in the other. “Don’t bother shaking my hand,  Shakes. I see your hands are full.”

“Dennis, ” said Shakes, “do you know what a smoothie is?”

“You tell me, Shakes.”

“It’s when you’re expecting a Hershey bar, and you get a squirt instead…ha, ha, ha.”

“Now I know, Shakes.”

“Thanks for not asking me to shake your hand, Dennis,” he laughed hoarsely.

I asked, “Was anybody here yesterday?”

Andre thought for a while, “No, they turned the sprinklers on. That’s one way to keep us away.”

Charles offered me wild blackberries from a large plastic basket.

“I got those as a drop this morning,” said Andre. “I was sitting in front of Tim Horton’s on Dundas and this dude asks me, ‘Do you want some fresh blackberries?’ I say, ‘Sure!’ He goes into the back somewhere and brings this big basket of blackberries. He says, ‘There’s enough here to bake four pies.’ I say, ‘Thanks, but you’re talking to a guy who lives on the street. I don’t have a pot to piss in, let alone an oven to bake pies. I’ll share these with some friends in the park. They’ll enjoy them. Thanks again. I love blackberries.’ ”

It’s Thursday, so the ‘sandwich ladies’ had made their appearance. I saw juice boxes, a pair of white socks, and cellophane wrapped cookies. Larry unwrapped a sandwich and looked inside. “Does anybody want some of this?”

“What’s in it?” asked Andre.

“I think it’s minced ham, I’m not sure.”

“I’ll pass on that,” said Andre as he pulled out a Tim Horton’s bag. “We’re eating high-class today!” He offered me part of a cheese burger, but I had just eaten. Torn in four parts, he passed one each to Shakes, Larry, Charles and saved the last for himself. Shakes passed around his bottle of wine. Charles sputtered and nearly choked.

Larry said, “Dennis, don’t mind my brother. He gets silly when he’s drunk.”

“He’s silly when he’s not drunk,” said Andre. “He’s silly all the time.”

Andre, who was shirtless, then demonstrated his belly dance. “I was doing this on Canada Day on Yonge and Dundas. One woman gave me a Sourpuss, one gave me two beer, one dropped five bucks and another dropped a knob of weed. She asked if she could videotape me and put it on YouTube. I said, “Sure!” I must be on there about ten times. There’s one from St. Patrick’s Day, 2010, labelled bum fights.

“It had over seven hundred hits the first week. Since then it’s had over twenty thousand. I wish I was getting royalties.”

Larry said, “One time I was sleeping under the Old Eastern Avenue Bridge, around the time they were putting up the chain link fences. I was asleep in the corner when I heard someone rattling the fence. They said, ‘Do you want a drink?’ I was half asleep, so I didn’t answer. Then they said, ‘Do you want some bottles of wine?’ My ears pricked up then. ‘Sure!’ I said. I came out and sure enough they had all these bottles lined up. They said there had been a wine tasting event nearby and any opened bottles had to be disposed of.

“A bunch of us met the next day and passed the bottles around the circle. Anyone who liked the taste, kept the bottle. If they didn’t they passed it on. I tried some Dom Perignon, but didn’t like it. I know it’s over two hundred a bottle, but it tasted awful.”

Andre said, “I had a job at the Banff Springs Hotel and when they had a function, any opened bottles, even if they only had an ounce out of them, were given to the staff. The full bottles I had to take down to the basement. When I was working down there, a huge mother of a bug  dropped on my shoulder. I don’t know what it was called but it was about two inches across and had pincers, like scissors in front. I was wearing rubber gloves when I picked it off my shoulder and it nipped the end off one of the fingers. If I hadn’t been wearing the gloves it would have been my finger that was nipped off.

“Whenever I saw one of those bugs I hit it with a shovel. I may have broken the odd bottle of wine, but I wasn’t getting anywhere near those bugs.

“In the forests they also had wood-boring insects (Mountain Pine Beetles) that would drop from the trees, sometimes three or four at a time, and could bore into your skin. They would post signs advising hikers to keep off the trails at certain times of the year.”

It was time for Andre, Shakes and Little Jake to go to work (pan handling). Shakes was having trouble with his pants falling down. I asked Andre, “Are those new pants?”

“They must be, ” replied Andre, “They’re clean.”

“I’ll get you fixed up, Shakes,” said Andre. He tore a two-inch wide strip from a garbage bag in one of the sidewalk containers. He started feeding it through the belt loops, then he noticed that Sparky had a belt around his waist, but under his pants, over his underwear.

“It’s alright folk, we’re not doing anything disgusting here. We’re just trying to help our buddy, so he won’t do something disgusting all by himself.” Andre fed the belt through the loops and Shakes was good to go. Unstable, but vertical and able to stagger somewhat straight.

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Wolf Rants

6 July 2012

Another hot day at the park (39 degrees Celsius, 102 degrees Fahrenheit). As I approached the group I saw Larry and his mother, Anne seated on the grass. Trudy, Buck and his dog Dillinger were standing by his bicycle. Wolf and Debbie were in a heated discussion while Shaggy lay panting by the railing.

I shook hands with Larry, waved to Anne then extended my hand to Trudy. She hugged me instead. I extended my hand to Buck. He said, “What? I don’t get a hug?” I hugged him and said, “Share the love, brother.”

I walked over to Wolf. He said, “Go away, I don’t want to talk to you right now. I walked back to sit with Larry and Anne. Larry said to me, “With this hot weather I guess you’ll be going to your cabin this weekend.”

“Yes, I’ll be leaving at six tonight and will be coming back Sunday evening. I hope the weather stays like this.”

“Dennis, ” said Wolf, “I didn’t mean to be rude. Well, yes I did. Anyway, I can’t break my train of thought or I won’t get it back again. I need to have eye contact. See, now Trudy is standing between us. Trudy, couldn’t you go around the other way? Can’t you see we’re trying to have a conversation here?”

“I’m sorry, Wolf,” said Trudy.

I moved closer  so I could hear him better.

Buck said to Wolf, “Your German team didn’t do too well in the Euro Cup.”

“We didn’t do well in the last two world wars, either.”

“Dennis,” said Wolf, “We’re about the same age, so you know what I’m talking about. That murder in St. Isidore — that’s what Debbie and I were  discussing — have you been following that in the newspaper.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t know anything about it.”

“Come on man, it was on the front page of the Sun, yesterday. You’re smart.  I thought you kept up with what’s going on in the world. A twenty-four year old guy was murdered in St. Isidore. He was lured behind an elementary school by three  girls, where he was stabbed and murdered by three boys. The oldest was twenty. The headline read, ‘Seven Lives Wasted’. Can you imagine what those families are going through? Not only the family of the murdered guy, but the others as well.

“I have a son. I don’t see him any more. When he was nineteen years old he murdered someone. What’s with these kids? There’s no discipline, that’s what’s the matter. When I was a boy, I had to set the table, the knives would have to be just so, the forks over here — none of these people would know what I’m talking about. If I got something wrong, I’d get a smack across the back of my head. That’s my Germanic background. Yours is similar, I think. What is it, Scottish?”

‘No, Irish.”

“That’s not it.”

“Icelandic.”

“Icelandic, that’s it. Vikings, raping and pillaging, just like the Huns. Anyway, back to St. Isidore, the armpit of Quebec. What’s with these kids? Did they think they would get away with it?

“That’s one of the reasons I don’t come here on weekends. You just never know what’s going to happen. Hippo’s been jumped. Rocky’s been jumped. They’re a lot bigger and tougher than I am. I’ve slept at ‘the heater’ and I was darn glad to see Andre and Hippo come along. I was glad to have — what’s the word I’m looking for?”

“Protection?”

“That’s it , protection. When I’m anywhere in this area, I know I can call out and someone may come to my rescue.

“This heat is bad. When I cross that line of shade, where it meets the full glare of the sun, it’s like walking into a wall.  Shaggy’s not going to be riding much today. Of course, she’ll be in the cart going up the bridge.”

I said, “Maybe you should get in the cart and have Larry push.”

“That cart wouldn’t hold me. It’s meant to be pulled behind a bicycle. Jacques, big Jacques, you know how strong he is. He’s fixed it a couple of times for me. That cart’s getting old. Shaggy and I were hit by the car when she was three years old, so that’s over eight years.”

“I notice that the front has been changed. Don’t these carts usually have wheels in front?”

“Yes, the wheels stuck way out in front. It was hard to turn. Jacques cut it shorter and replaced the wheels with the blade of a hockey stick. Now it slides.

“Anyway, on my way here this morning I stopped to buy Shaggy some dog food. She eats well. It reminds me of when Little Jake first got sick. I fed him well, maybe too well, it seemed to make him worse.”

I asked, “How is Jake now?”

“I don’t want to talk about Jake. Getting back to the dog food. I remember being at the counter and getting four five dollar bills as change.  Later, I wanted to buy five grams of weed and I couldn’t find my money.  I had to take everything out of my pockets and at last, in this tiny little pocket of my jeans, I found the four bills stuffed inside.

“So, I talked enough. Do I rate a chapter in your book? Fuck off then, go away. I’m just kidding. But, seriously, it’s time for me to go before it gets too hot.”

Before Chester left, he said to me, “By the way, Joy was here earlier, but she had to leave because of the heat.”

“Thanks, Chester. Have a good day.”

I went back to sit with Larry, Anne and Trudy. I heard Larry say to Anne, “Chester asked me if I thought there was any chance of you and him getting back together. I told him, ‘Ask her yourself. It has nothing to do with me.’ ”

It’s like a daily soap opera — lives and loves exposed for all to see.

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Sleeping Rough

9 July 2012

I was walking along Queen Street, toward Moss Park, when I saw Serge, sitting on a bench. “Hello Serge, how are you doing?”

“You startled me. I didn’t see you coming. I’m okay. I was feeling sick before, but now I’ve got my booze, I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll see you later, Serge.”

“See you.”

As I continued I met Joy and Chester. “Hi Joy, how is everything going in you new place?”

“It’s great. Living at Chester’s is awesome. It’s so quiet. I hear kids and cars, but nothing like the noise at Chuck’s.”

“There’s not the people coming in and out,” added Chester.

“I’ve got the whole house cleaned,” said Joy. “Now were going back. I’ve got some laundry to do. I’ll probably see you tomorrow.”

“You’re a good man, Chester. Bye. Bye, Joy.”

Further up the sidewalk were Trudy, Buck and his dog Dillinger, Shakes and Little Jake. We shook hands all around.

“How have you been feeling, Jake?”

“My legs are sore.”

“I notice you have a lot of bruises.”

“Yeah, I’ve got bruises all over. I’ve been throwing up every morning — the dry heaves. I’ve been drinking a lot of water just so I have something to throw up. At Weasel’s place the bathtub is really close to the toilet. Sometimes I’ve got it coming out both ends. I feel better now, though.

“I slept over there in the bushes last night, along with Weasel, his dog Bear and Andre. I woke up next to Bear. I think I kicked her during the night. I was the first one up at about six. The sun coming up was orange. It was really picturesque. I went down to see Silver, but he wasn’t there, so I panned in his spot. I didn’t stay too long because I’ve got two charges against me. The cop, the big one with the tattoos — he’s really got a hard on for me — he said that if I get caught again, I’ll be going back to prison.”

“Just ignore them,” said Shakes. “I’ve got two charges as well. I was charged with vagrancy. When have you last heard of that charge — back in the sixties? They’ve been saying for ten years now that they’re going to put me back in jail, but it never happens. Just go out there on Parliament and start panning. You’ll see, nothing will happen.”

“Parliament is a red zone for me.”

“Every street is a red zone. I slept in the Scotia Bank last night. I just couldn’t hold it any more, so I dropped my pants and used the waste basket. There was a garbage bag inside so I took it out, tied it up and placed it outside. The cops came by and said there had been a complaint that I had taken a dump in the bank. I said, ‘Look officers, there’s just me, my sandwich and a broken cigarette. I don’t know what these people are talking about.”

Frank said, “The cops came by yesterday and there was Shakes pissing through the rails of the fence. They said, ‘Shakes, you just can’t do that in a public park.’ He didn’t care.”

Shakes asked Trudy, “Will you roll me a joint? My hands are too shaky.”

“Sure, do you have papers?”

“Do you need scissors, Trudy?” asked Jake.

“No, this stuff isn’t too fresh.”

“I’ve had my first drink of the day,” said Shakes. “Now, I’m going to have my first joint. Then, I can get my mind right.”

Jake said, “You’ll be able to stagger straight. Is that it , Shakes?”

“I’m leaving now,” said Trudy. “They’re having a memorial service for Alistair at St. Paul’s. It starts at one o’clock.”

“Ask them to play some Ozzy for him,” said Shakes. A soldier was passing. “Thanks for defending our country, sir.” To me he said, ” I respect the military. One time I was at a bar and I saw an old veteran. I said to him, ‘Come over and join us.’ I had a 1942 penny in my pocket. I gave it to him. He started crying. He said, ‘I was in the war then. That’s the year my brother was killed.’

“Some people say that men don’t cry. I can be arrested, beaten up, stabbed, shot and I’ll never cry. But when it’s something sentimental, like the service for Alistair, or that old veteran bawling his eyes out, that makes me cry.”

“I remember back at ‘the Haven’ (Millhaven Maximum Security Penitentiary), I was training this guy to box. I told him, ‘I’ll keep training you as long as you don’t mess up. If you mess up, no more training.

“Do you know where I learned to box. It was when I was six years old, on the farm. In the barn we had one of those heavy farm bags, hanging from a rafter. My uncles showed me how to use it.”

Buck was playing a scratch and win Bingo card. “I won,” he said.

“How much did you win?”

“Three dollars and fifty cents.”

“I’ll pay you for the card.” said Shakes. He pulled out a plastic zip lock bag full of quarters. “Here I’ll even pay you for one extra.”

“This is a nickel, Shakes.”

“How much do I owe you, now?”

“One quarter.”

“Okay, here’s one quarter.” To Jake he asked, “How much money did Joy say I have here?”

“Thirty-seven fifty”

“Buck can you go on a run for me and get two bottles of sherry?”

“Sure.”

Buck left and headed toward the liquor store.

Jake said to Shakes, “Aren’t you worried that he’s going to head south with your money.”

“No, I’m not worried. I trust Buck.”

He returned about twenty minutes later and handed Shakes two bottles of sherry.”

Jake said to Shakes, “Don’t forget you owe me twenty.”

Shakes passed Jake a near empty sherry bottle. “That’s great, ” said Jake, “He owes me twenty and he offers me a buck’s worth of sherry.”

Shark and Irene came by. “Well, I got a new apartment, a three bedroom for eleven hundred  a month, all-inclusive. It’s really large. Officially, I move on the first of August, but the landlord said I can start moving stuff over beginning tomorrow. They’ve still got some repairs to do. It’s on Parliament and Power. Now, I’m at Parliament and Queen, I’m just moving across the parking lot. It’s the same landlord. I’ve been with him a long time now. My present place and the one before were both with him. Now, we just have to arrange for a truck to bring Irene’s stuff over.”

I said, “Irene was concerned that, with your morphine and medicinal marijuana, the police may come over when you’re away and she might be charged, because the licence is in your name.”

“We’ll have three bedrooms, one for me and one for Irene. The morphine and marijuana will be in my room. As long as it’s in my room they can’t touch Irene. I can just get another licence for when I’m not home.”

Irene said, “That means we won’t be neighbors any more, Dennis.”

“Don’t worry, It’s not that far away.” Buck was leaving. We shook hands. Dillinger licked my face.

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Shaggy

10 July 2012

At the park today were Andre, Little Jake (asleep in his sleeping bag), Shakes, Wolf and his dog Shaggy.

“Dennis,” said Wolf, “I’ve got something to show you. I want your opinion on it. Here, can you read this without your glasses?”

 “keep your pet away from fountains and shorelines (pets are not allowed to be within 3 metres of any shoreline on City of Toronto land.”

“What do you think of that. Be careful of what you say, because Shaggy is listening. Does this mean that I can’t take her in the Don River near my place? She’s been going in there, every hot day, for the past ten years.”

“That seems to be what it means.”

“Do you agree with that?”

“No, they don’t do anything to prevent wild animals, such as otters or beavers, from going in the river. Why would it be different for dogs?”

“That was my thinking as well. I talked to about ten women about it and they said, ‘You’d let your dog go in that dirty river?’ They weren’t dog owners.”

“I even think that, on these days where it is over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, that Shaggy should be allowed to go into the fountain to cool off. What harm is there in that? Are they afraid that she’s going to steal some pennies?”

Andre said, “I’ve noticed that store owners, along Yonge Street, are putting dishes of water out for dogs and other animals.”

Buck came by and Wolf asked him, “Would you go on a run for me? The problem is I only have ten dollars. Can you spot me the other ten fifty.”

“Sure.”

After eighteen months of daily conversations with people living on the streets, in shelters or sharing accommodation. I have made the following observations. A full-fledged member of the street family is one who has been with the group for over ten years. Jacques and Joy are the matriarch and patriarch. Everyone else is a newbie — on probation. To gain acceptance one must be vouched for and have proven themselves not to be an asshole.

The group expects honesty and sincerity. That may see strange when you consider that most of these people have prison records. Many have been involved in scams of one sort or another, but if you’re family they expect the truth. How else, they explained, can they help you.

They’ll share with you what little they have, even the jackets off their back. The same is expected in return. The people who come around only when they’re in need of money, cigarettes, booze, drugs or food are soon put on notice. On check day, all debts are paid in full.

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Conversations With God

11 July 2012

This morning I was passing the library. Inside, I saw a man sitting on a bench, a backpack was at his side. His hair was long and stringy, he looked half asleep. I wondered whether or not I should approach him. I didn’t know what his reaction would be. I decided to take a chance. “Hi, would you like some breakfast?”

He was drinking from a dark plastic bottle. He didn’t acknowledge me, or stop drinking. “If you want breakfast, there’s a Tim Horton’s on the next corner.”

I held out a Tim Horton’s card. “I’m just offering, no obligation.”

“No, thanks.”

“Have a good day.”

At the park this afternoon, Gaston said, “I was talking to one my private clients. We have been working with her a long time doing odd jobs, anything she needs help with. She has houses in Arizona and California. We’ve been invited to come down with her and manage one of her houses. All of our expenses will be covered. She’ll even arrange for Molly Maid to come in, while we’re away, to handle our existing clients who need their houses cleaned.”

Larry and I discovered that we were both born and raised in Saskatoon. “I lived there for seventeen years,” he said. ” After that we moved nearby to Osler and Warman. I wasn’t with my real mother and father, but lived with a white, foster family. I always felt bad that other kids had parents but I didn’t, but that’s the way it was. I stayed with that family until I saw the guy hitting his wife. Then I moved out. I went to Winnipeg where I grew up quick.” He lifted up his tee-shirt and pointed to his ribs, “This scar is where I was stabbed — a souvenir of Winnipeg. Then I went to prison.

“I had a wife, we split up, but we have a son. Whenever I’m straight and sober, I visit him. He’s seventeen now and he loves me. I’ve never had anyone love me before. We’re neighbors. My ex wife’s boyfriend doesn’t like me to come around. He probably thinks that we’re having sex together.

“I’m educated, I used to be a very religious person, went to church every sunday. Man, I really jumped in with both feet. Then I had an epiphany. It was a dream or a vision where I saw two books on a table, one white , one black. I kept trying to reaching for the black one –the bible is usually black — but I was guided to the white one. Shortly after, I came across the book ‘Conversations with God’ by Neale Donald Walsch  It’s a book where the author asks questions of God and God answers. It opened my eyes. Previously, I felt guilty all the time. Now, I feel free. I can create my own destiny.”

Larry is affected by a pigment disorder (non-segmental vitiligo) above his upper lip. He let his moustache grow, one side came in white, the other black. He had been teased about it, so he shaved it off. “Now I remember why I stopped shaving,” he said. “I must have cut myself three times. That’s what happens when you use those cheap disposable razors they give you at the Mission. I think they get them at a discount because the blades have nicks in them. I remember using one of those to shave, and I don’t mean my legs, It made a bloody mess. If I buy one of those five blade razors it will last me three months.”

Loretta said, “Do you see the self-mutilation job I did to myself? Her legs were covered with bruises. “I’ve got other bruises on my ribs. Larry and I and some others were going to Bluesfest, but we had some booze to drink first. We walked across the black bridge. I’m afraid of bridges anyway. We were on our way back, nearly across the bridge, when I lost my balance and fell over the edge. I landed in the river on some really sharp rocks. I could have killed myself. Larry helped me to get out of the water.”

“How many lives is that you’ve used up?” asked Larry.

“Two, I have seven left.”

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Bear Gets a Ticket

12 July 2012

As I got off the bus this morning I was greeted by Metro, “Good Morning, Dennis, Joy’s here today.”

“Thanks Metro. Have a good day.”

Next, I was greeted by Two-four, “Good morning, Dennis. Joy’s here today.”

“Thanks, Two-four. Have a good day.”

I could just barely see Joy’s cap and her two feet sticking out behind the concrete partition. “Hi, Joy.”

“Hi, Sunshine, how are you today?”

“I’m great. How do you like staying at Chester’s place?”

“I like it. he’s quiet, not like Chuck. I have the house all cleaned and it’ll stay cleaned. There’s no dog tracking in mud all the time. The fridge is full of food. We had bacon and eggs this morning. I have all my laundry done. The only thing I’m waiting for is my GST (Goods and Services Tax) check from the government. I don’t think Chuck would hold that back on me. He says he hasn’t received his yet, either.”

I said, “I haven’t seen Silver or Hippo lately? I heard that Silver is panning near the Mission.”

“That’s strange,” said Joy, “I can see Silver going to the Mission for meals, but he’s had his spot for over ten years. He has regulars that come by. One that drops him a twenty. I can’t see him sticking his nose up at that, to pan near the Mission. As far as Hippo is concerned, I think he’s probably visiting his folks in Oshawa.

“Another couple of people I don’t expect to see are Daimon and Lucy. He wouldn’t dare come down on crutches. He’d be too vulnerable and he’s made a lot of enemies. I think he’s going to be lying low for quite a while.”

“I have an appointment to see my probation officer today. On the card she gave me, the date reads Thursday, July eleventh. The eleventh was yesterday. I just noticed it this morning. There shouldn’t be any problem. I’ll tell her I was going by the day of the week, not the date.”

At the park this noon were Shakes (asleep), Lucy (asleep), Little Jake (barely awake), Andre, Hippo, Ian, Danny, Joy, Chester, Wolf and his dog Shaggy. I asked Hippo, “You look all cleaned up, you’ve shaved. Have you been home visiting your folks?”

“No, for the last week I’ve been staying at the West End Hotel (the West End Detention Center).”

“Hippo, did they remove your stitches while you were there?” asked Andre.

“Yeah, the nurse took them out.”

Shaggy was contentedly eating dog treats and licking Joy’s toes. “I’m not sure I like her that close,” said Joy, “Last time she bit my ankle, and she drew blood.”

Danny said, “One time, when I had my work boots on, Shaggy bit my boot. Her teeth went through a quarter of an inch of leather and left a mark on my foot.”

“Did you hear that Bear got a ticket?” said Wolf. “Can you imagine giving a ticket to a dog?”

“I can imagine it,” said Andre, “She’s going to defend herself, your honor.”

“Why would they give her a ticket?” I asked.

“Maybe because of the holes that have been dug in the lawn,’ said Wolf. The cop asked me if it was Shaggy that dug them. I said, ‘No, it was the black one, not the white one.’

Andre said, “You should have seen the breakfast I had this morning. It was all stuff I got while I was panning last night. I had calamari, octopus, all kinds of seafood, nachos and fajitas. I was at The Greasy Oven and the owner pumped up the tires on my bicycle. I was holding the bike, my hat was on the ground. Some women came by and asked me, ‘Do you think the man who was here would mind if we left him some food?’ I said, ‘No, ma’am, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. He would probably appreciate it. I’ll guard it until he comes back.’ ”

Joy said, “I walked by you guys around six this morning, Ian was asleep and his pecker was out of his pants, just blowing in the wind. What a revolting sight, first thing in the morning.”

Ian said, “I must have gotten up in the night to pee and forgot to zip up. I was really wasted.

“My people (the people of the Heiltsuk Nation) have had an offer of a billion dollars if they allow an Alaskan pipeline company to go under our waters. We’re on an island off the west coast. We have over a million miles of water rights. We turned down their offer. Can you imagine what would happen if there was an oil leak? It would wreck the fishing industry, kill the ducks and waterfowl. We’d have nothing to live on at all.”

Andre said, “I was drinking with this guy last night. We were sharing my bottle. After it was finished, he brought out a bottle of his own. I said, ‘Now you bring out your bottle? You can be sure that we’re going to stay up until this is finished. If you fall asleep, I’ll finish it myself.’ ”

Joy was having trouble with her phone. “This is useless.” she said, “I’ve got the phone plan that Jacques recommended. For one thing, I only have free calling after six at night and on weekends. I never phone anyone on the weekend, unless it’s seeing if any of you guys are down here. If you’re not, I don’t come. The rest of the time I have to text. I don’t know how to do spaces, so everything comes out as one garbled line. I just got a text back from Glen. He says, ‘Who the fuck is this?’ I answered, ‘Joy.’ he understood that.”

A woman walked toward the group and spoke to Jake. He put on his backpack and walked away with her.

“Who was that?” asked Danny.

“That’s his social worker.”

“You mean, a social worker will come looking for her client?”

“Not many will, but she does.”

.

Ian The Mooch

13 July 2012

The sprinklers were on at the park today, so the group was sitting on the curb. Shakes was asleep. Andre rode in on his bicycle. I sat between Anastasia and Andre.

“Today is so hot and humid,” said Anastasia. “I can’t wait until Buck arrives, then I’m going to meet some of the others at the Don River, near Jacques’ place. It’s always cooler there.I love being by the water. My mother has a cottage on Georgian Bay. I’m going there this summer, but I can’t afford it right now. I’ll have to wait until my check arrives, August first. It doesn’t have running water or electricity. I love to relax in nature. I also paint, mostly landscape scenes and rocks. I paint in oils, I love the spontaneity. My daughter — she’s thirty — just got engaged. They’ve bought a house in Brantford. It’s going to be a bit more difficult for me to visit her.

“Here comes Buck and Dillinger. I’ll be off now.”

Andre said, “I had a good time last night. I was riding my bicycle and saw a woman asleep on a bench. I thought to myself, ‘I know that ass.‘ I peeked under her cap and recognized Betty. We were making out on the bench until about midnight. She handed me her apartment keys and said, ‘I’ve got some things to finish up, but go to my place, have something to eat, have a shower. I’ll be there shortly.’

“I fried a pork chop, some potatoes. Had a great meal, but what I really loved was the shower. It had a lot of pressure. I washed my hair twice. The first time the lather was black. When Betty came in she opened the fridge and plunked a bottle of wine in front of me. We had a great time.”

Hippo said to Buck, “How much do I owe you from yesterday?”

Buck checked on his smart phone and said, “Eight bucks.”

“I thought it was seven.”

“No, eight.”

“Well there’s no arguing with a computer. Can you add another ten on that?”

“Sure.”

Jake said, “I wondered where everyone was last night. I’m not used to sleeping alone.

“I worry about panhandling, now that I have two charges against me. I’ve got one coming up on the twentieth and one August fifth. I get sentenced September fifteenth. I’m sure I’m going to get jail time.

“I’m trying to decide what I’ll have to eat. I think I’ll to go to Dollarama, steal some smoked oysters and crackers. I’ll pay for a bag of chips.

“I owe Buck fifty-six, but other people owe me fifty. If they’d pay me I could pay off him. I didn’t see Ian last night. He owes me ten, Hippo owes me ten, Wolf owes me ten and this guy owes me twenty. SHAKES, YOU OWE ME TWENTY BUCKS.” Shakes slept on. “And I haven’t even had a drink yet!”

“That got his attention,” said Andre. “He made eighty at the Burlington Jazz’n Blues Festival last night. I think he drank most of it already.”

“Hippo, throw me that bottle,” said Jake.

Hippo threw a half full, plastic wine bottle to Jake, but it hit his radio. The radio, playing little more than static, got worse. Danny fiddled with the dials to try to get better reception. Nothing he did made much improvement.

Jake said, “There’s a difference between a bum and a mooch. I’ll bum smokes off people, but I pay them back. Sometimes I’ve even paid a debt twice. When I ask someone how much I owe them the nicest thing to hear is, ‘It’s okay, Jake you’ve already paid me. I hope Shakes doesn’t think that by giving me a drink, every now and then, it’s going to erase the twenty bucks he owes me.”

“No way, man,” said Andre. “If you borrow cash, you repay in cash. If you get someone drunk, they’re expected to do the same for you, in return.”

Jake said, “Every time Ian comes around he’s mooching cigarettes, money or booze… mooch, mooch, mooch. He never comes around when he has money of his own. We’re going to have to put him straight on that.”

Danny said, “I saw Shakes at the Blues Festival last night. The police were harassing him. There was a couple, sharing a drink, on one side of the road. The cops ignored them, but they crossed the road and ordered Shakes to dump his bottle. It should be the same law for everyone.”

.

 

‘Shrooms 

16 July 2012

As I approached Joy this morning, Christine, ‘the religious lady’, was squatting beside her, programming Joy’s telephone. “There,” she said, “now you have my phone number and I have yours.”

“Thanks, I’m so bad at keeping track of phone numbers.” They both promised to keep in contact. Christine left shortly after.

“This phone is useless,” said Joy. “As soon as my billing period is over, I’m getting a different phone that plays music as well. I need my music.”

I asked, “How has it been living with Chester?”

“He’s a sweetheart, except when he’s drunk. He’d keep asking me, ‘Is everything alright, Joy?’ over and over again. He even yells up the stairs at me. Then he’ll start crying, ‘I  miss Anne, I miss Ipeelee.’ Now he’s met a woman who speaks French and drinks like he does. I’m so relieved.

“Yesterday I barbecued some ribs with a sweet and sour sauce. We also had boiled potatoes. Chester wanted them mashed, but I told him, ‘If you want them smashed, you smash them with your fork.’ When I was getting the ribs ready — I boiled them first, then put them in marinade — Chester came down. Since I was already in the kitchen, I asked him if he wanted me to fix him something to eat. ‘Sure,’ he said, ‘I’d like a fried egg, bacon and toast.’ I had in mind to make him a sandwich.

“We don’t have air conditioning. You’d think that, in a building for seniors, they’d have air conditioning. I have a door to the balcony, but it only has a screen at the top. I leave the door wide open to catch any breeze. The only problem is the mosquitoes. As long as I can get to sleep before they start biting, they can feast to their heart’s content. You can see I have a few bites on my legs.

“Chester asked me, “Why don’t we have Jacques over?’ I said, ‘Because he has bed bugs. He sleeps on his kitchen floor because that’s the only place there is no carpet. Bed bugs love carpet. I’m sure they can walk from the carpet to go over and bite him. They must be in his bed as well. They can hide in a pant cuff and lay dormant for eighteen months, then they drop a bunch of eggs. Soon, you’ve got ten thousand of them.”

I asked, “Isn’t there any way of getting rid of them.. Aren’t there sprays, or something?”

“There are sprays. You have to use them over and over, and the bugs can be anywhere. You never kill them all. Orkin sells a mattress cover that they can’t chew through, but that means that any that are in the mattress are going to be crawling around under the cover. That gives me the creeps.

“The best way to get rid of them is to rip out all the carpets and throw out the mattresses.”

“How about foam mattresses?”

“They can get into everything. Some people think they are safe if they use goose down pillows, but they get into them as well.”

I said, “I haven’t seen Silver for a while.”

“I’ve heard,” said Joy, “that he’s been panning down near the Mission. That’s crazy! The spot he has here is a gold mine and he’s been here over ten years. I think he’s smoking crack again. People have seen him sitting with the crack heads down at the Mission.”

“I said, “It must be hard to get off that stuff, once you’ve started.”

“I was fine when I was just dealing it, but when I started to smoke it I was hooked. What got me off it was my mother threatening that, unless I quit, I’d never see my kids again. I quit right away, no programs or anything. I used to be a lot heavier. When I quit the crack I also stopped eating so much. When my mother saw me losing weight she thought I was back on drugs. I just didn’t want to be fat anymore.

“Wolf and Weasel are both crack heads. I don’t know why Wolf puts up with the abuse that Weasel gives him. Wolf always gives him a place to stay. He even has a sign on his door that says, ‘gone fishing’, which is the same as saying, ‘fuck off’, but Weasel will just keep hammering on the door. One time he kicked it in.”

I said, “That was the night that Wolf and Shaggy slept at ‘the heater’. Wolf said he was so glad to see Andre and Hippo, just for protection.”

“Shaggy would never let anything happen to Wolf. I was over at his place with Outcast. It was an absolute mess. Wolf said, ‘Don’t lecture me, Joy. I know it’s a mess. I’ll get around to cleaning it.’ ”

“I saw a lot of crack heads further down on Queen Street, where my son lives.”

“There are a lot in Regent Park as well. I remember one time I was running from the cops. In my building they used to have crash doors. I didn’t know they had changed them. Anyway, I was running down the hall, lickety split, hit the door and knocked myself out. I woke up at the cop shop. I said to them, ‘Okay, you caught me, write me up and I’ll get out of here.’ They let me go and I went right back to doing what I was doing before.

“I went to The Womens Center to see about my identification. They said, ‘We’re sorry, Joy. We’ve run into a bit of a snag, but we should have your papers shortly.’ It’s as if I don’t exist, but I get my G.S.T. (Goods and Services Tax) check. See here it is. Joy K. Sturgess.”

“What does the K. stand for?”

“Kathleen, well actually, Kathlee. My mom ran out of room on the birth registration form. I thought that Kathlee was kind of neat, it was original, but people kept adding the ‘n’ anyway.”

The weather at noon was hot and muggy.

Serge Beaten Again

17 July 2012

This morning there was a brief shower. Joy was partially protected by the overhang of a building, just her feet were getting wet. I held my umbrella over her. She said, “Don’t worry about the umbrella. I don’t mind getting wet. It’s better than the heat. When it’s hot I have trouble sleeping. I’m on a fold out couch in Chester’s living room. Sometimes, I take the mattress off and put it next to the open balcony door. If Chester wants to watch TV late at night, I put the mattress back.

“I don’t know why he doesn’t get air conditioning. It would only cost an extra twenty-five dollars a month. I told him, ‘We can afford it.’ He said, ‘No, no, it’s too much money.’

“I’ve noticed a lot of fat people lately. I was fat for most of my life. Kids especially, but adults as well, can be really cruel.”

“What caused you to lose the weight so quickly?”

“I was gutted (with a saw-toothed machete). They put a cage to hold the parts of my stomach together. They also made it smaller. For a long time all I was allowed to eat was baby food. I tried eating scrambled eggs, but I threw up so violently that I pulled out some of the staples, so back to the hospital. I still have to be careful about what I eat. I hate any pureed food.”

I said, “I had a long talk with Gaston yesterday. He seems very intelligent.”

“Yeah, he’s a nice guy. We live right across the street from him. I’m not sure if he has full-blown AIDS or not. He’s opened an HIV drop-in center, even some in other cities.”

“How are you and Pierre getting along?”

“I don’t know. He’s such a drama queen. One day, he just wants to be friends. The next day he gets all hissy if I don’t text him. He said, ‘I’m going away for a few days, so you’d better collect your pot.’ Well, it’s been a few days and he’s still here.”

Hippo stopped by. “We got soaked last night. The puddles were about two inches deep. There was me, Andre, Little Jake, Weasel and Bear. At noon we’re going to some church. They put on a free meal. We can get free haircuts and other stuff. After that I guess I’ll just go back to the hole.”

The garbage man stopped by. “Hi, handsome,” said Joy. “I don’t know how you can do that job, with all the smell. What does your girlfriend say when you get home?”

“Right now, I’m just working with cardboard and paper. That’s not too bad. I tried the regular route. I was lifting a garbage can over my head and some of the liquid waste spilled on my face. It was awful. I quit right away. I can’t even work with the recycled bottles and cans. The leftover liquid goes bad and smells like rotten fruit.”

“Bye, handsome.

“I took another look at old Serge’s eyes. There’s no way that he got those bruises falling off a bench.”

I said, “He told me that he tripped over his shoelace.”

“There you go — he’s lying. I said to him, ‘Serge, I’ve been beaten enough times that I can tell the difference between a bruise caused by a fist and one caused by a fall. You were beaten, weren’t you?” He said, ‘I don’t want to cause any trouble, or have anyone come after me.’ ”

I was walking along Queen and I heard someone shout, “Hey!” I looked around and saw  Serge sitting on a park bench in the shade.

“Hi, Serge,” I said. “I didn’t see you there. Your eyes are looking better. How do you feel?”

“I’m just waiting to get my booze.”

“How was your weekend?”

“I forget.”

“Take care, Serge. I’ll see you on my way back.”

At the park were Hippo, Little Jake, Shakes, Wolf and his dog Shaggy.

Shakes said, “Andre’s just gone on a run.”

I asked Hippo, “Did you go to the church to get your haircut?”

“No, we didn’t make it there, maybe next year.”

Andre rode up on the lawn on his bicycle and handed Shakes a brown paper bag. Shakes took out the bottle of sherry, unscrewed the cap, filled the cap with sherry and threw it on the lawn. Then, he passed the bottle around. When it got back to him he poured the remainder into a plastic drinking bottle. He threw the empty bottle to Wolf, who put it in Shaggy’s cart.

Andre asked Wolf, “So that’s forty cents you got?”

“No, I only get twenty cents a bottle.”

“Yeah, but you got one earlier.”

“I know I got one earlier. That was twenty cents too. I didn’t know you were asking how many twenty centses I had. I’ve also got a bunch of beer cans.”

Shakes asked Wolf, “Can I buy a smoke off you?”

Wolf said, “Now, where on my way home am I going to find a place to buy more smokes? Yes, Shakes I’ll sell you a smoke. Here’s two, just give me a quarter.”

Hippo was smoking.  Jake asked him, “Can I have a drag?”

“Sure,” said Hippo, “lay back and I’ll drag you around the park. What did we eat last night?”

Andre said, “We had double cheeseburgers and fries.”

Hippo said, “I was wondering what I pooped this morning.”

I said to Andre, “I heard you guys really got soaked last night.”

“Yeah, Hippo was the first to wake up. He was just standing over his bag saying, ‘Oh fuck, oh fuck!’ He didn’t bother to wake us up or anything he just kept looking at his bag.”

Jake said, “I thought it wouldn’t last more than a few minutes. I just pulled my sleeping bag over my head and planned to wait it out. Almost immediately, I was soaked. We went over to where Weasel was sleeping, at least it was partially covered.

“I can’t wait to find out if my housing is approved. I was shown a place this morning. It was fabulous. It’s on the second floor. All the way up the stairs are Leafs posters. I was wearing my Leaf shirt.”

I asked, “When will you find out if you get it or not?”

“It depends on my worker. There are other people interested in that place. I don’t know how they come to a decision.”

“Your worker seems really nice,” I said.

“She’s super!”

Shakes said, “I was talking to Lucy-in-the-Sky today. She said, ‘Shakes, I tried drinking and smoking while laying down like you do, but I would either spill my drink or drop my smoke. I don’t know how you manage it.”

Andre said, “I fell asleep with a smoke in my hand last night. I always keep my hands crossed on my chest, that way if I fall asleep I’m the one that gets burned. You can see the mark right here.”

.

At the park Shakes laying on the sidewalk, the rest were sitting on a curb. Tempers were short. Shakes and Andre nearly got into a fight over whether or not Shakes had any wine. “I must have told him six times,” said Shakes, “I don’t have any wine.”

“I wasn’t asking if you had wine, I asked if you have any cigarettes. If you want one I got some,” said Andre.

Shakes said, “Andre and I went to the Jazz’n Blues Festival last night. Andre rode his bike and I walked. I arrived a few minutes before he did. I met an old friend there. He said, ‘Let’s get together around eleven.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ We got together sometime between eleven thirty and midnight. We went to his place. We had some beer, some wine, some pot, did some lines, ate some ‘shrooms. I woke Andre at eight o’clock. I said, ‘Let’s have some LSD.’ ”

Andre said, “I partied with the band last night. All I had to do was show them some of my belly dance and I was in.”

Gaston said, “Next week I’m attending an AIDS conference in Chicago from July twenty-second to the twenty-seventh. I return home, then leave again for Arizona.

.

Jake Ticketed Again

18 July 2012

Noon at the park was pleasant. The weather was warm with a refreshing breeze blowing. Many of the regulars had gone to the Don River, near where Jacques lives. On the sidewalk were Jake, Loon, Hippo, Andre, and Danny.

“How do I get to the Don?” asked Loon.

“Fastest way,” said Andre, “is to take any of the long buses  on Queen and get off at Bayview. Make sure you don’t try to jump any of the short buses.”

Loon said, “What if I take the streetcar. Won’t that take me there?”

“For one, “said Andre,”The streetcars are harder to jump.  Two, it’s a two hundred and thirty-five dollar ticket if you get caught.”

Jake said to me, “I can’t panhandle any more.”

“Yeah,” I said, “You told me that yesterday.”

“No, I got charged again last night. I don’t know why they have such a hard-on for me, but I was at my usual spot and a cop car pulls up. He writes me a ticket and says, ‘This is the last time, Jake. I know that as soon as I’m gone you’re going to be panning again. I won’t be back, but the next time I catch you, you’re going to jail.’

“I asked, ‘Was anyone following him?”

“No, not as far as I knew.”

“It wasn’t ten minutes before a cop on foot patrol came and wrote me up. He said, ‘Next time, Jake, you’re going to jail.’ It all started with Peterman, that’s what we call him. Now, I’m on probation and have two breaches against me. I’m going to start fighting back.”

“What are you going to do, Jake.”

“Spit on them!”

“Don’t do that Jake,” I said, “You’ve got AIDS, the charge will be assault with a deadly weapon. Because of Joy’s hep. c, she did eighteen months for spitting near a cop. It didn’t even hit him.”

“What am I supposed to do? It’s still two weeks to check day and I’ve got no money. None of us have been doing very well, except for the Jazz’n Blues Festival. I’ve got a hearing tomorrow. That’ll just be in and out. Then I’ve got a court appearance on the twenty-ninth, I think. I’ve got it written down someplace. I’m going to fight it.”

Hippo said, “When you go to court, Jake, ask for legal aid. At the legal aid office, get an appointment with Sherry. Tell her you’re an alcoholic and that you’re living on the street. She’s an alcoholic herself.”

Andre said, “I don’t know why they bother you guys. I’m at my usual spot in front of Tim Horton’s. I’ve got some regulars. One buys me a large coffee every morning. Today, I shared it with Hippo. There’s another who buys me a bagel or an English muffin. A cop came by and asked me what I was doing. I said, ‘Officer, I’m eating my breakfast.’ He said, ‘You’ve got your hat out.’ ‘Yes I do,’ I said, ‘I live on the streets. What else am I supposed to do?’ He left me alone.

“I worked at this bar in Calgary once. I was the cook, the maintenance guy, the bartender and the bouncer. When customers would come in I’d tell them, ‘We only got one rule here — don’t piss off the cook. If you piss of the cook, you won’t get anything to drink, and you’ll be thrown out.”

Danny said, “I have a regular who brings me heart-shaped cookies every morning. She calls them love cookies. This morning she said, ‘I’ve never given you money before, so take this.’ She dropped a twenty. She’s cute too.

“I found a lot of booze at the Jazz’n Blues Festival. I brought my flash light to look for empties and I came across a bag behind a curb. In it was half a twenty-six of V.S.O.P cognac. It wasn’t Remy Martin, or anything special, but it sure was good. I almost threw the bag out when I noticed this can of weed. I also found sixteen full beer cans that people had stashed in the bushes and the hedge.”

Andre said, “Shakes and I didn’t make it through the gate until the last night. It’s a bit harder when you’re riding a bicycle. You can’t just jump the fence. Anyway, we were coming by one of the back trails and I saw an empty bottle of vodka. Nearby was a water bottle, but it had something orange in it. I thought to myself, That’s odd, what do people usually mix with vodka?. I put two and two together and took a sip. It was powerful.”

Jake said, “People think I’m lucky because I get to sit in the sun and get a good tan. The only reason I do is because I have to sit for hours, in the sun, waiting to get my price.”

Andre said, “I’ve still got a full bag of food left over from last night. I’ve got a slice of pizza, some steamed rice and half a sub.”

“I’m getting hungry,” said Hippo. I’m going to have to make another trip to Freshco. Yesterday, I got seventeen bucks worth of food and only paid a dollar for a bag of chips. That canned ham I brought over last night — that’s where I got it.”

“There’s the Farmer’s Market south of Dundas between Sumach and Sackville Streets.” said Danny.

Jake said, “I don’t have any batteries for my radio. I’m going to have to steal four double A’s.”

“You really are in a hurry to go back to prison,” said Andre.

.

Gene Goes to Prison

19 July 2012

This morning was cool and breezy. Joy was wearing a hoodie, with her hands in the pocket, and hood pulled over her head.

“You’re looking good, Joy,” I said.

“Thanks, it was too hot to drink yesterday. I didn’t sleep much. The people downstairs were out on their balcony, talking loud. They were also smoking pot.”

“Are they the neighbors directly below you?”

“Yes.”

“You could always spill something on them.”

“I thought of that. Chester’s also being a real pain, especially when he’s drunk. I was doing the laundry yesterday, he came in and said, ‘I’m hungry. Will you make me something to eat?’ I said, ‘Dude, you know where the fridge is, make something yourself.’ I’m not his housekeeper.

“Outcast was over last night. He brought twelve beer and gave Chester six. After a while Chester came to me and said, ‘I want him out of here, and he’s not sleeping over.’ ‘Look dude,’ I said, ‘If you want him out, you tell him, and tell him why.’

“Later on he said to me, ‘Joy, will you sleep with me? I won’t do anything. I just want to be close to you.’ ‘Chester,’ I said, ‘we’ve been over this before. I’m not sleeping with you. It’s not going to happen, not now, not ever.’ Guys always try that. They say they just want to sleep next to you, then they start touching you. I hate that.”

“You can see why Anne left him,” I said.

“I sure can, but he still goes on about her, ‘I miss my Annie,’ he says. She’s never going to take him back.”

“There’s nothing worse than jealousy, to spoil a relationship,” I said.

“That’s for sure. Outcast isn’t getting along with Debbie. She wants to up his rent because her daughter is pregnant again. Why that should affect his rent, I don’t know. I told him that, if things with Chester get any worse, we could find a two bedroom somewhere and share it.

“I saw Little Jake this morning, he’s over at Silver’s spot. He’s got a huge bump on his forehead. Fran’s new boyfriend head butted him last night. Jake was wasted, he doesn’t know what happened, or why.”

“Fran’s new boyfriend? Isn’t she with Gene any more?”

“Gene is in prison. He jumped Fran and she has two hairline fractures in her back. The doctors are going to monitor it for a while to see what happens. She may need surgery. This new guy may be the father of one of her sons. He’s a big guy. Sounds a lot like Daimon. I can’t wait to meet him to see how tough he is.”

“How is it going with Pierre?”

“I don’t know. He sent me a text at eleven thirty last night. I just read it this morning. He says he won’t be coming by the park. I know why he hasn’t been coming to the park, it’s because he owes Outcast a hundred dollars.

“I also saw Weasel this morning.”

I said, “You know why Silver hasn’t been using his spot, don’t you?”

“Yeah, because Weasel accused him of stealing two beer from him. Weasel is a real mess. His eye and the whole side of his face is a massive bruise, with strange marks across it. He said he was boot fucked. He doesn’t remember who it was, or why. Probably some of the crack heads at the Sally Ann.”

Sitting on the curb near the park were Serge, Shakes, Chester, Joy, Hippo, Little Jake and Levi from Arizona – just passing through. Andre arrived on his bicycle shortly after. Hippo said, “Six up, coming up the hill.” I turned to see two bicycle patrol officers stopping.

One of the officers asked, “What are you people doing, just congregating?”

“Yes, officer,” said Shakes.

“Does anyone have any booze?”

“We can’t afford it,” said Shakes.

One of the officers got off his bike. I could read his name tag, Budmiester. He walked around the group and noticed an open can of Old Milwaukee behind Serge. He picked it up and emptied the contents on the sidewalk. “I’m going to have to charge you with this. What’s your name?”

“Serge Martin, just like Steve Martin. You can write me a ticket, but I’m not going to pay it. You might as well save the paper. I’ll just throw it out.”

“You can do as you wish, but the courts have been giving thirty-day jail sentences, depending on how many outstanding charges you have.”

Andre said, “I’m looking at your name tag, does it say Budweiser?”

Officer Curtis said, “We’ve had a complaint. You’re going to have to move somewhere else.” We all stood except Jake who said, “I’m supposed to stay here to meet my worker. I have to appear in court this afternoon.”

“On what charge?” asked officer Curtis.

“Panning. I was charged by officer Lang.”

“You’d better appear then.”

We walked to the far end of the park and sat on the grass. It was still damp from the sprinklers. Andre reached into his backpack and pulled out a bottle of sherry and threw it to Shakes who opened it and passed it around. When it got to Levi, he said, “I don’t drink, I only smoke.” Shakes reached into his pocket and pulled out a small round can. He threw it to Joy. Andre handed her a rolling paper. Soon, a joint was being passed around.

Levi asked, “What are the laws concerning marijuana in Ontario?”

Marujuana posession laws in Ontario:

Currently, it is against the Criminal Code to possess any amount of marijuana anywhere in Canada, unless you have received a medical exemption from Health Canada.

For a first conviction, if you had less than 30 grams of marijuana, the maximum penalties are a fine of $1000 or 6 months in jail, or both. But the penalty for a first offense is usually much less.

In practise, police agencies are reluctant to charge individuals for simple possession preferring to target dealers and grow-ops, and the courts would prefer not spending time prosecuting these cases. Even if one is charged, it is very easy to have the case dismissed in exchange for a charitable donation. There does however continue to be convictions in Ontario courts for simple possession.”

Joy said, “It all depends on the cop who stops you. You just saw Serge get a liquor violation ticket, while Sparky had a bottle right in front of him. Frank got a ticket for panhandling, I’ve been panhandling for fifteen years and never got a ticket.

“If a cop stops you and you’ve got five grams of weed, he’ll probably just throw it out on the ground and grind it with his heel. He may give you a warning, he may give you a ticket.”

“Dennis,” said Jake, “what time is it?”

“Twelve, forty-five.”

“Court starts at one, my worker hasn’t shown up. I’m never going to make it. It’s all the way across town, even if I took the bus I wouldn’t get there in time.”

“Sounds like a failure to appear,” said Joy.

.

Poster Boy 

20 July 2012

“Hi Joy,” I said, “Did anything exciting happen after I left yesterday?”

“Yeah, there were cops all over. You saw the one who pulled up as you were walking down the sidewalk. I was standing at the curb and he said, ‘Am I too late for the party?’ ”

“I said, ‘Yeah, and I’m not even drinking.’  I walked to the bus shelter to catch a bus or a streetcar and on the way I met Weasel. We sat down and he pulled out a beer. I took a sip and right then a cop car pulled up. He wrote us each a ticket for a hundred and twenty-five bucks. After he left we tore them up and put them in the trash barrel. The cop must have just driven around the block, because he stopped and charged us again. He said to me, ‘You have some outstanding arrest warrants from Montreal.’ ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I keep meaning to go back there to take care of those.’

“I saw Outcast last night. I told you that he and Debbie aren’t getting along too well. He came right out and said, ‘Joy, I love you. I’ve always had feelings for you.’ I like him too. He’s not bad looking, we’re the same age. Right now he’s looking for an apartment for us. I told him, ‘I want a room of my own.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I understand. We’ll take things slow and see what happens.’

“Then Debbie came home. She had a really sour look on her face. I guess she thought that Outcast and I had been fuckin’ around. I felt really flustered, because of what we were talking about. I told her, ‘Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t like men. I’m more into women, myself. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, then kissed me again closer to my mouth, then just at the corner of my mouth. I said, ‘Whoa, I’ve already got a girlfriend, and I should be getting home to Chester.’ I nearly bolted for the door. I talked to Outcast on the phone. After I left, Debbie said to him, ‘I think Joy really likes me.'”

“The boys took Levi out to show him the ropes. I don’t know how that’s going to work out. He seems like a sweet kid. I gave him a joint before I left. I said, ‘This is just for you.’ ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘I’ll share it with everybody.’ I think he’s a bit naive. I hope those guys don’t roll him for his gear.”

Cathleen, ‘the religious lady’ came by. Joy said, “Was I supposed to phone you, or were you going to phone me?”

“What’s best for you?”

“It’s best if you phone me, because I only have service after six and on weekends.”

“Okay, I’ll phone you. Maybe we can get together.” Then she left.

“She’s such a beautiful person. Did I tell you about how we first met? I was sitting here, she stopped by and said, ‘Is everything alright? You look as if you’ve been hurt.’

“I said that my boyfriend had been beating me, then I just burst into tears. I still had the pneumonia then. When I started crying, I started coughing. She placed both hands on my chest and it felt like electricity going through me. After she removed her hands I could breathe better.

“Chester’s done that as well. When I was having trouble with my knee he rubbed his hands together really fast, then placed them on my knee. It felt better after that. Chester always wants to put his hands on me. I don’t like it.”

At noon in the park I talked briefly with David. He said, “I found my car. I lost it for two weeks. I couldn’t remember where I parked it. It was in front of the beer store on River Street, right where I left it. It’s in the market now. Last night I was too drunk to drive.”

I sat next to Wolf and Shaggy. “Finally,” said Wolf, “someone to talk to, who can talk back to me. I’ve had a run in with nearly everyone here this morning, but when I talk to you, I can see the wheels turning. It’s not just going in one ear, going out the other.

“This morning, as usual, I took Shaggy down to the river. You know where I live, near Queen and Bayview. The river is shallow, so Shag can go out twenty feet, lay down, and the water is still just up to her neck. There are rocks there that are just the right height for me to sit on and have my feet in the water. It works for both of us.

“Anyway, I stopped in at the beer store to buy a six pack. I tied Shag to a post outside. Andre, the beer store guy, asked me where I’d been. I pointed to Shaggy, who was still dripping water. Where do you think I’ve been? He told me a sad story. He said that someone had been walking in the river a while back, they tripped and drowned. I hadn’t heard about it, or seen it in the paper. It takes the beer store guy to tell me what’s going on in my own neighborhood. A guy would have to be falling down drunk to drown in that shallow water. I guess if he hit his head on a rock, he could drown. Anyway, that’s the end of my story.

“I was playing with Shaggy this morning, roughhousing, like we always do and she bit me. She’s never done that before. She’s bitten lots of other people, but not me.”

I asked, “What books are you reading now, Wolf.”

“One of those Ken Follett books. I have a friend who gives them to me every once in a while. I like it because it has large print. It’s easier on the eyes. I’ve been thinking of getting some reading glasses, the kind they sell in the drug store. Do you think they’re any good?”

“Yeah, I’ve used them. They worked fine for me. Do you go to the library? They have a whole section of large print books?”

“No, I owe them money. I lost some books, so I owe them thirty-two bucks. I checked with them five years ago, they still had it on their records. I don’t think they forget about things like that.

“How do you like my new shoes? Well, they’re new to me. A friend gave them to me. He gives me lots of stuff, he works at the Sally Ann. Anyway, I’m walking down Yonge Street and this kid says to me, ‘Hey, Mister, you’re wearing skateboarding shoes and shorts. Are you a skateboarder?’ I can barely walk and he thinks I’m a skateboarder. I thought it was odd that the shoes had so much padding. That’s the reason.”

A man and woman stopped by and introduced themselves as Noel and Jennifer, Salvation Army Housing Outreach Workers. Wolf said, “I got my apartment through you guys. I was a poster boy. They photographed me and Shaggy on the balcony of my apartment. It’s right over the front entrance.”

“What’s your name?” asked Joel.

Wolf thought for a moment whether or not to give his real name, finally he did. Noel said, “My boss, Gavin, has been trying to contact you. It’s a matter concerning your rent. I guess that’s a sensitive subject.”

“I haven’t seen Gavin for a long time.”

“He’s in management now, so he doesn’t get out much.”

“Yeah, I’ll stop in and see him.”

I said, “He probably wants to tell you that your rent has been reduced.”

“No,” said Noel,  “I don’t think that’s the case.

After they left Wolf said to me, “When I first moved in there my rent was six hundred and fifty a month. After a year they increased it by eight dollars. I know they’re allowed to raise the rent, but I refused to pay the increase. I kept sending them checks for six fifty. They called me to a tribunal. As soon as I got there I said, ‘What’s the idea of raising the rent on that bug infested, crack house!’ The lawyer said that they should drop the matter, so they did.

“The next year they sent me a notice saying the rent was going to be raised by eight dollars a month. I sent the checks for the original six fifty. It’s three years now that I haven’t been paying any increase, so that’s eight, plus eight, plus eight. I don’t know how much that works out to, but it’s a lot of money. Long story short, that’s why Gavin want’s to see me.”

As I was leaving, Hippo called me aside. “I hate to ask you,” he said, “But do you have any more of those Tim Horton cards? I haven’t eaten all day.”

“Sorry, Hippo, I’ve run out, but I’ll be sure to bring you one on Monday.”

.

Cops Go Easy 

23 July 2012

“Silver’s back, ” said Joy. “I asked him where he’d been. He said, ‘I was just tired of Weasel’s bullshit.’ I said to him, ‘Weasel said that you’d stolen two beer from him and were hiding.’ Silver said, ‘That’s a story I haven’t heard before.’ I said to him, ‘Why don’t you just punch him. You’re bigger than him and probably stronger.’ He said, ‘I know, I just don’t want to cause trouble.’ I said, ‘I know, you’re not a fighter. Anytime you want me to fight him, just let me know.’ He said, ‘You’d do that for me?’ ‘Sure,’ I said.

“I guess Andre laid into Weasel and Little Jake on the weekend. Weasel called Andre a goof and Jake backed him. Andre gave them both a back-hand. Weasel said it again, so Andre punched him on his already swollen cheek and broke a couple of his ribs.

Andre stopped by and said, “I’m so pissed off with Hippo. We were supposed to meet an hour ago. He’s just showing up now and he’s wasting time chatting with Silver. I checked Yonge Street and both of our spots are taken. I know the guys that are there, it’s not their fault, they were there first. I haven’t made a cent this morning and it doesn’t look like I’m going to.”

Joy said, “Silver doesn’t like people hanging around when he’s working. You guys are helping Hippo, he’s lost on his own. He’s like a little kid.”

“When he’s panning,” said Andre, “he just sits there with his cap out. He doesn’t smile, or greet people. If you give him shit, he just gets that pouty look on his face.”

Joy said, “He only comes around when he needs something. When he gets money of his own, he’s nowhere to be found.”

Andre left on his bicycle, what he calls his ‘granny-cycle’. I’ve never asked how or where he acquired it. I expect he just found it somewhere.

Joy said, “Chester is going to be away for two weeks visiting his family. I hope he leaves me a key. I have the apartment key and the garbage room key, but I don’t have the electronic key to get in the building. He said that I could come with him, but everyone in his family would be speaking French, and watching French television, the same as Chester does here. I know that he doesn’t want me to have anyone stay over, but I don’t do that now, so why would I do it while he was away. I’ll just have to wait and see what he’s going to do. I may have to find a place to stay for a couple of weeks. This afternoon I meet with the housing worker from the Salvation Army. I told them I want an apartment downtown or in Regent Park, but not a crack house.”

As I approached the park at noon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that our benches and garbage container had been returned, freshly painted and varnished. Silver had watched the re-installation and said to the workmen, ‘While you’re at it, would you mind leaving a case of beer as well.’ They said, ‘We can’t go that far.’

I asked Silver, “Do you have any plans to move from your place?”

“Nothing definite,” he said. “It wouldn’t be anytime soon, not in winter either. I’d want a place that had no needle pushers, no pill poppers, no one using crack or rock. The problem is, you don’t see it during the day, but at night, they run up the stairs, down the stairs, up the stairs. It never stops.”

A man with white hair, white moustache and goatee came across the street. The guys all knew him, He said to me, “My name is Brian Cherry, sometimes they call me Grapes. I was at the bank all morning. I even had the manager called down. I was having trouble with Bell Canada dipping into my account, so I put a stop payment on them. Now, I have a new account, but they haven’t closed the old one. I’ve got half a mind to put a pound of C4 under that bank and see what happens.”

Andre said, “You really want to get the job done. With that much C4 you’d take out half the block. I’ve worked with that stuff and with C5, gunpowder and dynamite.

“Out west I used to make my own homemade pipe bombs for removing stumps. We’d drive pipes down under the stump from four sides, pack them with gunpowder, lite the fuse and run like hell. You’d never believe the size of hole it made. There was a half hour wait time if it didn’t go off.”

Brian asked Andre, “Where are you staying now?”

“Second dumpster down, in back of Starbucks. There’s me, Hippo, Little Jake, Weasel and his dog Bear. All our valuables we store at the far end beside Bear. Last night I was asleep, but I sensed something, so I opened my eyes. This dude was looking around, but as soon as he saw that I was awake, and there were four of us and a dog, he backed off. I watched under the dumpster to see where his feet were going before I settled back to sleep again.

Andre was watching a crane operator across the street lift some concrete panels to the top of one of the buildings. “What a sloppy job that guy’s doing. Look at the angle on that load. I used to do that at a steel plant. I’d lift it, weigh it on the scale, then lift it into place. I was working one of those trombone cranes. That was a good job. I was getting twenty bucks an hour. My buddy, who I’d been getting a ride to work with, punched the boss in the face. I was working in Fergus, but was living thirty miles away in Orangeville. The next day I tried hitch hiking to work. It was the middle of winter and I nearly froze. I had to phone the boss and tell him I had no way get to work. He’d probably hire me again. He said that I learned in three weeks, what the former guy had taken three months to learn. He wanted me to work for him.

The cops have never bothered me panning of Yonge Street. I’m always honest with them. I said to one of them, ‘I’m just trying to get three dollars for a hamburger, then I’ll be out of here.’ He said. ‘Okay, but don’t stay too long.’ ”

Silver said, “Joy’s never been bothered either, but one day, after she had left I panned in her spot. It wasn’t long before the library security guard came out and said I had to move. Even on my birthday, Jacques had given me a huge bottle of his homemade wine, and it’s good. I hadn’t drunk more than about three fingers when this female cop came by on her bicycle. She said, ‘Silver, you’re going to have to dump that.’ I said, ‘It’s my birthday.’ She said, ‘In that case I won’t charge you, but you’ll still have to dump it.’

“Another time, the same lady cop came by just as I cracked a beer. She told me to dump it, then asked, ‘Do you have any more in your pack?’ I said, ‘Yes — I wasn’t going to lie to her. She could have searched it anyway.’ She said, ‘I’ll let you keep them as long as you don’t open them here.’ ”

.

Gravy Stains

24 July 2012

This morning  Joy was sitting in her usual spot. Sausage Fingers Shawn was leaning against the railing talking to her. Shawn was looking very dapper in his Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts. I couldn’t take my eyes off his tattoos that stretched from shoulder to wrist on both arms. The design was an intricate west coast Haida motif.

“Joy said, “I was surprised to see Hippo at six thirty, this morning. I asked him where he was going. He said, ‘To work!’ I’ve never seen him start that early before.”

I said, “I think that Andre had a talk with him.”

“I think so,” agreed Joy. “One morning he’d only made a quarter. He came across the street to bum a smoke. He saw a lady bending over his cap. He thought she’d made a drop, but she’d taken his quarter.”

“You’d think,” said Shawn, “that a person whose sole occupation was to collect money, would know enough to take care of it.”

Joy said,”I saw a guy this morning with two twenties hanging out of his back pocket. I shouted at him, but he didn’t hear me.”

“When I was in Israel,” said Shawn I saw a number of people with wallets half out of their back pockets. I was walking with a friend and he saw a twenty on the ground. He bent down to pick it up and a guy yelled at him, ‘That’s mine, it’s there for a reason.’ My friend said, ‘Okay,’ and backed off. I guess it was part of a sting operation to catch pickpockets. The guy you saw this morning was probably there to lure pickpockets. You don’t see it too much here, but in Montreal and New York there are guys who are so smooth they can grab your wallet and watch without you knowing it. I know, it happened to me. That’s why I don’t wear a watch.”

I said, “Did you notice that we have our benches back in the park?”

“Yeah,” said Joy, “I watched them putting them in. I said to one of the workmen, ‘You could have wiped them off before you re-installed them. One of them has pigeon shit on it already.’ He said, ‘Sorry ma’am, we don’t wipe benches.’ Why would they? We’re just skids.

“There’s one that you have to be careful of. It’s not securely fastened to the base. If you lean back too far, you could end up in the bushes.”

I asked Joy, “Did you speak to the housing people from the Salvation Army yesterday?”

“No, I left early.”

Chester stopped by. Joy said, “Okay people, I’m too popular. I’ve only made four bucks this morning. I don’t know what happened to my money. When I got home last night all I had was a quarter.”

I decided to leave to let Joy get on with her panning. “I’ll see you at noon, Joy. Bye, Shawn, Chester.”

At the benches today were Hippo, Shakes and Andre. How’s everyone doing?” I asked.

Hippo said, “I made a buck twenty-five and I started work at six thirty this morning.”

Andre said, “I made the price of a bottle and lent Joy three dollars and change so she could buy a bottle. It’s the first time I know of that Joy’s had to borrow money to buy a bottle. On top of that, I got a sixty-five buck ticket for panhandling. I saw the cop coming, so I scooped the change out of my cap. He pulled up at the curb and asked me what I was doing. I said, ‘Officer, I’m just eating my breakfast and drinking my coffee. He said, ‘Why is your hat out?’ I said, ‘My mother brought me up in a Christian house and insisted that we always remove our hats before eating. He said, ‘I’m going to write you a ticket for panhandling. What’s your address?’ I said, ‘I’m not panhandling, officer. There’s no money in my cap. I’m homeless, I have no fixed address, but I’m staying at dumpster number two behind Starbucks.’ He said, ‘You’re not going to pay this ticket are you?’ I said, ‘No sir, I’ll probably use it as a fire starter for my barbecue.’ ”

Shakes had gone to the Rex to use the bathroom. When he returned he said, ‘Dennis, see these pants? Yesterday they were white, then someone gave me a plate of roast beef and gravy.”

Andre said, “Yeah, Shakes ate all the roast beef and what gravy he didn’t spill all over himself, he gave to me. I love that dark chicken gravy, but it doesn’t agree with me. I had the shits and the farts all night. I was wearing this same tee shirt. See, no gravy stains, it all went in my beard.

“Weasel and Little Jake were both being assholes. Weasel kept calling me a goof and Jake backed him up. With the back of my hand I hit them both with one swat. Weasel said it again, so I got him in a headlock and let my elbow do the rest.”

I said, “I remember the video of you on YouTube – St Patrick bar fights 2010. I saw that you used some karate moves.”

“I know karate, tai kwon do, tai chi. I use them all. That video was taken at the Foggy Dew. There was a line up to get in, so I was panning the line. I think I must have made four hundred that night. There was one asshole in line that was making trouble for everyone. He was loud and swearing. I went up to him and said, ‘There are ladies here, they shouldn’t have to put up with language like that.’ He took a swing at me and missed. I knocked him down four times before he stayed down.

“The owner called me over. I thought I was in big trouble then. He said, ‘I saw what you did. That guy has been causing us trouble all evening. We’ve got a V.I.P. area inside and I’d like you to be my guest. Just stick your hand up when you want a drink. It’s all on the house.’ ”

Shakes said, “We should have gone to that club we were invited to by the guy from the Jazz’n Blues Festival.”

“Yeah,” agreed Andre, “the vodka got in the way. A guy named Rob, a friend of mine who just got out of jail, swiped two bottles of vodka from the liquor store. That’s funny, Rob robbed the liquor store. Anyway, we started on the vodka. I had a couple of seven point one per cent beers, then Rob brought out a bottle of Captain Morgan. I don’t know how I rode my bike back that night.”

Shakes said, “I don’t know how I walked to my daughter’s house that night.”

Andre said, “It reminds me of a time a buddy and I were driving past a beer store in his pickup. There was a semi backed up to the loading dock, but the store was closed. I guess the driver arrived too late to unload. There was just enough room for me to squeeze between the truck and the dock. I jimmied the lock and couldn’t believe my eyes – wall to wall beer. We filled the pickup with all it could hold. I think we had twenty-seven two-fours. We were tempted to unload and go back again, but you never return to the scene of the crime. We sure had a party though.”

Shakes said, “If you get greedy, that’s when you get pinched.”

.

One Week Sober

25 July 2012

This morning,  Joy seemed a bit down. I asked her about it, “It’s just one of those days.” she said. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.” I noticed that she had a wrapped candy in her cap, ‘Did someone drop you a candy?”

“No, I picked it up at Outcast’s yesterday. Debbie still thinks there’s something going on between me and him. She asked, ‘Do you like me?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘you’re okay.’ ‘No, I mean do you really like me? You like women, right?’ Yeah,’ I said, ‘you’re just not my type.’ She said, ‘I have a friend, Meg, I’d like to introduce you to.’ ‘No, thanks,’ I said, ‘I already have a girlfriend.’ She’s probably one of those bull dyke types.

“I was supposed to stay for supper, but then Outcast and Debbie started arguing. I didn’t need to be in the middle of that, so I said, ‘I’ve got to go. I’ve got things to do.’

“Andre and Little Jake got into it again this morning. Jake sent Andre on a run to Timmy Ho’s. He gave him a five dollar bill and a dollar. I guess the guy didn’t charge Andre. Anyway, he brought back the food. Later, Andre pulled out a five and Jake got all pissy about it and asked for it back. Andre decked him.

“Yesterday, Andre, Jake and Hippo were standing near me. They reeked. I said, “Guys, would you mind moving down wind. I know you’ve got no place to live but water is free, so use it.”

“Hippo was going on about, ‘I only made a buck twenty-five and I’ve been working since six thrity.’ His worker had to come down to take him to an appointment with his probation officer. It’s only a block and a half away, in the Court House. I can see Jake’s worker coming to take him to court in Scarborough. Otherwise, he just wouldn’t go. Andre said he’s going to grease Hippo off, let him see what it’s like to be really on his own.”

I said, “I noticed, yesterday, that neither Andre or Shakes were sharing their bottle with him. He said, ‘It’s okay, I decided not to drink today.’ ”

“He’s got to learn. I’m tired of supplying cigarettes to him and everyone else. We all do the same job, and I’m paying rent to Chester. There’s no reason for me to be supporting them, just because they drink more than I do. When Andre came to see me yesterday, he had his bottle right out in the open. My regulars were staring at him. It’s no wonder these guys get charged.

“Earlier, there was a guy across the street just staring at me. I gave him a friendly wave. He looked around as if to say, ‘Are you waving at me?’ I pointed at him, ‘Yes, you.’ Humans, you just got to wonder about them sometimes. If you shoot them you go to jail. What are you supposed to do?

“I haven’t seen Jacques for a couple of weeks, not that I miss him. I like to stay well away from people who have bed bugs. Maybe we get sand fleas from putting our bags on the ground. They can be nasty.

“When I went into hospital I lost a lot of my winter gear. Big Jake didn’t bother picking it up from our apartment, then the landlord threw it out. I had a pair of army pants and a really heavy army coat. With two pairs of long underwear, I was really toasty. I had a black backpack. With the khaki in front and the black on my back. The guys said I looked like a Ninja Turtle. They’d say, ‘Hey, Turtle, which one are you?’ I’d say, ‘Michelangelo!’

“Are you going up to the cabin on the weekend? Maybe you could sneak me in your trunk. I could hide in the woods and you could say to your wife. ‘I found this wild creature in the woods. Can we keep it? Can we?’ ”

I said to Joy, “I’ll let you get back to work.” She handed me a granola bar. “Do you want this? Otherwise, it’ll be squirrel food. Stella should be coming by today, she comes every Wednesday, so maybe I’ll see you in the park. It should be a full house.”

At noon, sitting on the curb, in the shade, was Serge. “Hi Serge,” I said, How is everything going today?”

“Every day is a good day.”

“That’s a good attitude to have.”

He asked, “Are you taking a vacation?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I’ll be away next week. I’ll be sitting in the shade, by the lake drinking beer.”

“That sounds good.”

“You’re looking a lot better today.”

“I feel fine.”

“I’ll see you later, Serge.”

“See you.”

At the benches were Joy, Andre, Shakes, Chester, Silver, Irene and Shark. On a bicycle was a stranger who was saying to the group in general. “If you see Lucy, tell her that I want my watch and my cell phone back. The watch isn’t so important, but I need the phone. If I don’t get it back she’s going to be in big trouble.” Then he rode off.

“Andre,” said Joy, “if you let your hair grow any longer, what you have of it, you could have dreadlocks.”

“Lucy already pulled half of it out. She just grabbed me by the back of the neck then pulled. If she was a guy I would have belted her.”

“Why do you guys put up with shit like that, just kick her. I can’t wait until she tries something like that on me. I’ll show her.”

Andre said, “She says she’s going to get her boyfriend, Daimon after me. I can’t wait for that.”

“Daimon, with a broken ankle, doesn’t dare come down here. After an ankle is broken once, it breaks really easy the second time. I know. I’ve had both of mine broken. After that, the bone sort of crystallizes. It gets brittle. You can break it just by stepping off a curb.”

I asked, “How did you break your ankles, Joy?”

“I’d had enough of my husband, Delbert. I had my bags packed, I’d phoned a cab and was carrying our son in my arms. Delbert pushed me down the stairs. I made sure I didn’t land on the baby. The cab arrived, I went to my mother’s, she looked after our son while I carried on to the hospital. They took x-rays and told me I was pregnant. I said, ‘How can I be pregnant? My last baby is only five months old.’ I was only two weeks along. I had my fifth, then got pregnant again. This time I had an abortion and had my tubes tied. No more baby nappies for me.

“I just about made the price of a bottle today. I had to borrow thirty-five cents. I haven’t opened it yet. I’m still working on the one I started yesterday.”

Andre said, “I think Shakes and I have gone through four, so far. Soon, it’ll be time to go back to work.”

I asked Shark, “How is the move to your new apartment going?”

“We’re doing most of it on Saturday. Danny is helping me take my stuff across the parking lot. Irene has a truck from the Salvation Army coming to move her stuff.”

“It sounds like a nice place that you’re moving to.”

“It really is.”

Joy asked Irene, “How are you making out with your Risparidone?”

“I’m taking one tablet, one hundred milligrams, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much.”

Joy said. “I usually chew about four of those tablets before I go to bed. I need that much so I don’t dream. Poor Chester, once this week I woke up screaming. He came running in saying, ‘Joy, what’s wrong? I thought someone was trying to kill you.’ ‘So did I, Chester,’ I said, ‘but it’s okay now.’ ”

After Shark and Irene had left Joy said, “They both have been sober for a week now. It doesn’t sound like much, but for them it’s a big deal.

“Shakes, are you awake, or playing ‘possum?”

Shakes opened his eyes, smiled then went back to sleep.

.

 

 

Cirrhosis

July 26, 2012

Joy wasn’t in her usual spot, so I went across the street to talk with Silver, who pans in front of Starbucks.

Silver said, “I haven’t seen Joy. I don’t know if she’s coming down or not. Today might be check day for her, so she may be waiting around for that.”

I said, “I heard her mention that she’d have to check at Chuck’s for mail, so that might be what she’s doing.

“What did you think of that guy who rode up on his bicycle, looking for Lucy?”

Silver said, “He also came back later. I said to him, ‘I saw her earlier at the Mission.’ I was there later and saw the guy riding around on his bicycle. I went in for dinner and Lucy was there. She was drunk, or loaded to the eyeballs on something. She kept falling out of her chair. I didn’t offer to help her up.

“I don’t want to seem mean or anything, but I really hope something bad happens to Lucy and Daimon for what they did to Shark and Irene; not once, but twice. They were after Shark’s medication.”

I was introduced to Joanne, a regular of Silver’s. She said to him, “Would you like coffee and a muffin.”

“Sure,  thanks.” While she went into Starbucks Silver said to me, “She’s a jogger. I took a break from here for a couple of weeks and saw her running along the bicycle path. She’s offered to bring me some of her husband’s shirts, but she said they’d hang on me like a tent. He must be big.”

Joanne returned with coffee and a blueberry muffin. She chatted with Silver for a while then went on her way to work.

“She’s a nice lady,” said Silver.

I said, “Shark and Irene are all set to move on the weekend.”

“Are they moving in together?”

“Yes, they’ve got a three bedroom apartment. One room is just for Shark when he wants to get away to play his video games. I think he can lock himself in.”

“He’ll need that. I went out with Irene for eight years. She can be really nice sometimes, then she snaps. That’s when you don’t want to be around her. She’s just a small woman, but if she hits you right, she could break your nose. I hope Shark knows what he’s getting himself into.”

I said, “He’s told me of times when he’d brought over groceries to make supper. Before he had a chance to sit down, she told him to get out.

“I’ll let you get back to work, Silver. I have to do the same.”

On the sidewalk I met Chester. He said, “Joy’s not coming down today. She’s not feeling well.”

“Thanks, Chester, I’ll probably see you later.”

At noon at the benches were Inusik, Magdalene, Andre, Shakes, Serge, Shark and Irene. I was especially pleased to see Magdalene. When I saw her last she was five months pregnant. Now, her baby named Alphonse, is seven weeks old. They are living near the hospital where Magdalene had her baby. Social Services arranged accommodation for them. They pay ten dollars a day.

Magdalene said, “Alphonse is my second child. I have another named Jean-Guy. He’s six years old.” She showed me a tattoo on her left shoulder. It was the head of a wolf and under it was written Jean-Guy. “The wolf mother will always protect her young. She can be vicious if anyone comes near her babies. I speak French, my English isn’t too good. Can you understand me?”

“There are a few words I might miss, but yes I understand you.”

Andre said, “When Magdalene first came to town, I was the first person she met. I said, “I’ll show you the town, and I did. We partied for three days and she doesn’t remember any of it.”

I asked, “Do you remember any of it, Andre?”

“No.”

Magdalene said, “We didn’t sleep together or anything, he’s just my best friend, like a brother.”

I said, “He’s like a brother to me too.”

“Shakes,” I asked, “how did it go in court this morning?”

“I was late, but my lawyer took care of everything. They set a court date of August twenty-eighth.”

Inusik said to me, “I forgot your name. What is it again?”

“Dennis, and your name is Inusik, right?”

Shakes said, “His name is Nuisance, ha ha ha.”

A Salvation Army van stopped across the street. A male and a female worker came over. They offered bottles of water to everyone and asked if anything was needed.

Hippo said, “Do you have any tee shirts? I could use an extra-large.”

The male worker came back with two shirts, “I’ve got white and blue. Who wants what?”

Magdalene said, “I’ll take one. This one I’m wearing says ‘Hug me I’m Irish’. I don’t like to be hugged by people I don’t know.” She tried on the blue shirt. “It’s too blue,” she said and took it off.

Andre said, to the female worker, “You’re new aren’t you? I don’t remember seeing you around.”

“I came from Alberta.”

Andre said, “I know Alberta, which part do you come from?”

“Near Red Deer, I was in prison there.”

“Right on!” said Andre, “We all know what that’s like.”

I asked Irene, “How is everything going for your move on Saturday?”

“Everything is arranged, but I’m not ready. I’m glad we have some young people to help us carry things upstairs. Shark is going to help me take apart my futon. I’ll just put the mattress on the floor and sleep there tonight.

“Did Joy come down at all today?”

“No, Chester said she wasn’t feeling well. Silver said that she may be waiting for her check.”

Shark said, “No, her check won’t come until tomorrow.

“Irene has a doctor’s appointment at one. We’ll have to leave soon.”

I asked Irene, “Do you have to go to get your white blood cell count? Is it affected by your medication?”

She said, “I’ve been feeling sick. My stomach has been bloated. Even the water pills aren’t working.”

Shark said, “We both have cirrhosis. Our livers’ won’t produce enough red blood cells. That’s why our white cell count has to be monitored.”

Irene said, “We’ve both been sober for over a week. We’re not going to be able to invite any of these people over to our new place. We can’t even invite Shark’s brother. If we take one drink, we’ll be right back on it.”

“Congratulations,” I said, “what you’re doing is really difficult. I’m proud of you both.”

.

 

Trading Pants

27 July 2012

This morning I visited with Silver in front of Starbucks. It’s interesting, the looks I get, especially when he has to leave for a few minutes to use the washroom. Some people look away, but one lady dropped me a dollar. Silver offered to split it with me, but I told him to hang on to it.

Silver said, “I remember one time, when I still had my big beard, I went into Starbucks for a coffee. Jody served me, I’d known her for years. The woman behind me said to Jody, ‘You serve people like that?’ Jody said, ‘Sure, he’s a paying customer. Why wouldn’t I serve him?’ I didn’t say anything. What am I going to do, spoil my meal ticket?”

I said, “Andre told me that he’s on good terms with the owner of Starbucks. The owner told him that he’s welcome to stay in back as long as he keeps it neat. Andre goes out of his way to make sure all the trash is picked up. It works out for everyone.”

Silver said, “I’m waiting for Chester. He gets his check today and he said that he’d lend me fifty bucks. I’ve borrowed from him before and I always pay him back on time — not a week late or a day late, as soon as I get my check.

“I miss a lot of people who used to be around here, like Trash and Craig.”

“I remember Craig,” I said. “He used to sleep by the library in mid winter. I’d bring him a coffee in the morning and peek under a corner of his sleeping bag, just to make sure he was still alive. Sometimes he’d grumble, ‘Just leave it there, bro. I’ll have it later. I’m not awake yet.’ ”

Silver said, “Craig lived at the Rex for a while. He got an inheritance of eight thousand dollars. He got people to do everything for him. He never left his room. Soon, it started getting bad. He’d shit all over his room. We’d say to him, ‘Craig, the bathroom’s just down the hall, use it.’ He got moved into a program at Addiction Recovery for detox.

“Chester’s usually here by now. He comes down early to do a butt run, but since he’s getting his check today, I guess he doesn’t need to.”

I said, “Joy told me that Big Jake is scheduled to get out in October, but since he refuses to do his programs, for alcohol recovery and anger management, he won’t be out until spring.”

“I never liked that guy,” said Silver. “It was his eyes. I could never trust the look in his eyes.”

“I find Daimon the same way,” I said, “but with the broken ankle, he’ll always have a weakness. Joy broke both of her ankles and she said they’ve been fragile ever since. She could break one by stepping off a curb. Daimon would go down with a kick to the ankle.”

“Yes but which ankle, What if I kicked the wrong ankle? I think it’s better if I just run — ‘whish’ I’m out of here.”

At noon at the benches were Joy, Chester, Shakes, Andre and Inusiq. On the lawn were Shark, Little Jake, Wolf and Shaggy. Outcast said to me, “Dennis, you have to go take a look at Little Jake. You won’t believe it. One night with Debbie and he’s a new man.”

“Here comes Jungle Jim. He probably dropped some crack with Jake.” A man with a long beard, wearing a tank top, and a tall slender woman, were walking towards us.

Joy said, “The last time I saw her she passed her hand over the spikes in my hair. I jumped up and punched her in the back of the head.”

Outcast said, “Honestly, Dennis, you have to go see Jake” I walked up to the lawn and hardly recognized him. He was shaved, his hair was washed and stylishly trimmed. Also, he was wearing clean clothes. I introduced myself to him and he laughed.

“Hi Shark,” I said. “So, tomorrow is the day for your move.”

“It’s Monday. Irene’s at home making some phone calls. That’s why she’s not here. I just came down to meet Buck.”

I went back to the bench to talk to Shakes, Andre and Inusiq. Andre shook my hand then fell asleep against the shoulder of Shakes. He awoke briefly to ask for a drink. Shakes handed him the bottle and Andre slowly nodded off.  Just as he dropped the bottle, Shakes reached over and caught it.

“You know, Dennis,” said Shakes, “I may be a drunk and a stoner, but I have some scruples.”

“What scruples do you have, Shakes?”

“I’m kind to children. I have a grandson and some granddaughters. Do you know what I don’t understand?”

“What’s that Shakes?”

“I don’t understand parents who take children to restaurants and drink in front of them. That sets a bad example.”

“Did your parents ever drink in front of you?” I asked.

“No… I drank in front of them, but I did it discreetly.”

Inusiq’s arm was in a sling. “How did you hurt your arm, Inusiq?”

“I fell off a ledge. I dislocated my shoulder. I had to go to the hospital. I didn’t do it with these guys. I did it by myself. What’s your name again?”

“Dennis,” I said.

“Do you remember my name?”

“Nuisance,” I said.

“See Shakes, he remembers my name. And your name is Dennis the menace, right?”

“Shakes, ” I said, “your pants look cleaner. Did you wash them?”

“No,,, but we got some laundry detergent. Dennis, can you do me a favor? There’s a clothing store going out of buisness in the Eaton Center. Everything is on sale. Can you get me a pair of track pants?”

What size do you wear?”

My waist size is twenty-eight. The length would be thirty two or thirty four.”

“I can’t get them today, Shakes, but perhaps on the weekend.”

“In that case, can we trade pants?”

“Shakes, if we were to trade pants, I’d have to roll them up three times at the bottom. My pants would come to your knees. Can’t you get pants at the Shep?”

“They’re closed.”

“How about the Mission?”

“I’m barred for life from the Mission.”

“How about the Sally Ann?”

“I’m not barred from the Sally Ann, but they wouldn’t let me in with alcohol on my breath. They’d throw me out.”

Inusiq said to me, “You and I could trade pants, then I could trade with Shakes.”

“That’s a nice thought, Inusiq, but, as nice as your pants are, they wouldn’t conform to the dress code where I work. We have a Friday Jeans Day, but no Track Pants Day. I don’t think trading pants would work.”

Shark came by and said, “Has Buck been by? I’ve been waiting for him. Did, Joy, Outcast and Chester leave? Do they know something I don’t? I guess I’ll hang around a while longer. Right now, I’m going to McDonald’s to buy an iced tea.”

“Shark,” asked Shakes, “could you by me one of those Sausage McMuffins?”

“They close those off at ten thirty.”

“Then, how about a cheese burger?”

“I’ll see what I can do, Shakes.”

To me Shakes said, “I have to eat something. I bought a cheese burger this morning, but we split it three ways.”

Inusiq said, “He has to eat something. I have to eat something. You have to eat something.”

It was time for me to go. I shook hands with Shakes and Inusiq. Andre was still asleep. As I was leaving, Inusiq said, “Txin yaxtakuq.”

I asked, “What does that mean?

“I love you.”

I replied, “Txin yaxtakuq, Inusiq and Shakes.”

.

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