2012 – March

1 March 2012

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Lost Brave

a lost brave
leans against a building
(tho he is unwelcome)
beside a busy walk.
everything he owns
fills a pack
upon his back

he is far
from his fishing boat,
an ocean teeming with fish,
from the majestic forest,
from his children,
his clan

his eyes reveal
a story of hurt and pain –
the uncertainty of the city.
a sidewalk for a bed,
charity of strangers
his only grace

a challenge
every day –
a new beginning.
beyond the fire
that tames his demons
the only plan that matters
is to survive

far from home
he can scarce remember.
a lost brave, fighting back tears,
pride in the knowledge
of his ancestry,
his place –
his blood

.

Wind was whipping the freezing ice crystals, like coarse sand, against my face as I walked to ‘the heater’, a warm air exhaust vent on a public building. Ian was standing alone. “I’ve made my price already; the price I need to buy a bottle. I’ve got another in my backpack that Marlena gave me. I haven’t even started that one. She said, ‘Since you’re giving me money, I’ll buy you a bottle.’ She even offered to carry my backpack, since my back is still sore from being thrown down the stairs. I said, ‘Sure, you can carry my backpack, I’ll carry your purse.’ ‘You can’t carry my purse!’ she said. ‘Sure I can! It takes a real man to carry a purse.’

“It was the same when I was in hospital for detox. A nurse told me that if I’d wear a pink hat, she’d bring me a bottle. ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘bring it on! It takes a real man to wear a pink hat.’ I wore the hat and she brought me a bottle.

“Before that, I was hallucinating. It seemed that the ground ahead of me was crawling with thngs. I felt really dizzy. I phoned the pharmacy and told them how I was feeling. They asked if I was taking any drugs. I said, ‘Not bad drugs, a little weed now and then.’ ‘Do you drink?’ they asked. ‘Yes, I drink.’ ‘What you’ve got then is delerium tremens, the DTs.’ They said I should get to a hospital right away because it could be fatal.

“I didn’t know what to do. I was homeless and didn’t have any way to get to the hospital, so I phoned Alcoholics Anonymous. They said they would send someone to pick me up and stay with me in the hospital. I was unconscious for three days.

“The doctor said that my heart rate was one hundred and eighty. He asked if I was an athlete. I said I was. He told me that having a strong heart probably saved my life, because that number was in the heart attack range.

“Marlena and I are still seeing each other, but I don’t go to her house. I don’t want to cause any trouble between her and her family. When I was there I’d do lots of things to help out. I’d sweep and mop the floor, carry out the garbage — anything. I was feeling edgy, so I wanted things to do to keep me occupied. Before I have my first drink of the day, I’m hard to get along with. Once I’m fixed, I’m okay.

“Marlena wants to have a baby, but I’m not ready for that yet. I still have to get my life in order. I could get a job. My former boss keeps leaving messages at The Shepherd for me saying, ‘Ian, get your shit together and come back to work.’ I was a ‘swamper’, or what he called ‘a professional furniture handler’. He would go in and do all the paper work and I would be in the truck stacking furniture. I was good at that, that’s why he wants me back. I was paid eight hundred a week.

“We did some local moves, some to Ottawa and the smaller cities in between. We’d go to Montreal. The farthest we went was a move to Sudbury.

“We’d have a lot of laughs kidding each other. He’d ask me , ‘Ian, do you want a beer.’ I’d say, ‘Of course!’ I didn’t do any of the driving. I don’t have my license. When I drink, sometimes I get crazy. I might get behind the wheel of a car and kill myself or someone else.

“I was on the alcohol addiction program at The Shepherd, but I messed that up. They would give me a small glass of wine every hour, but I had a bottle stashed outside. They could see that I was getting more and more drunk as the day went on, so they kicked me out.

“While I was there I mopped the floors, cleaned the tables, operated the dishwasher.One of the managers, a little guy, Albert, came in after I had just cleaned the counter. He made himself a sandwich and left a mess where I had just cleaned. I had a wet cloth in my hand from wiping tables. I wrung it out and handed it to him, ‘You know how to use this, so use it! It’s not my job to clean up after you!’ I’ve always been hard headed that way.

“When I was on the shelter side I’d strip the sheets from the beds. Sometimes, a guy would have pissed the bed. I hated that — the stink! I told them if I was going to do that job, I wanted a free newspaper. They agreed to that. It was something. I’m not going to go back on a program. I’m going to do it by myself. I’ve cut back quite a bit.

“Lately I’ve been sleeping in the entrance of the Toronto Dominion Bank, where they have the banking machines. There’s a bench that I can hide behind. The heater was too hot so I took a pair of tweezers and adjusted the temperature — now it’s just right. Sometimes the cops will find me there and kick me out. In the morning the manager will tell me to wake up and get out. She’s nice though. I tell her, ‘Just give me a few minutes to wake up, then I’ll be out of here.’

“I don’t know why Andre isn’t here. I haven’t seen him for five days. He’s usually the first to come by. Maybe he got a parole violation. That could mean thirty days, of course he’d only have to serve twenty of that. This is a ‘red zone’ for me. According to my probation, I’m not allowed to get drunk or to associate with alcoholics.”

A security guard, wearing a yellow neon vest approached. “It’s time to move along. We used to let people stand around here, but there was too much mess, cigarette butts, cigarette packages, bottles. So, you’ve got one minute to finish your smoke then I’m coming back. If you’re still here I’m phoning the police.”

To me Ian said, “I should have told him that this building is on Algonquin land. I’m part Algonquin, but I don’t know what to do. Maybe, I’ll contact the Algonquin Chief. He may be able to tell me what can be done.”

It’s the first time I’ve been rousted, but now I know how it feels.

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2 March 2012

Beside the sidewalk near the ‘benches’ at Moss Park, I met Ellen, sitting cross legged in the snow, her cap in front of her. She was wearing jeans and a brown coat. Her brown hair was relatively short. Her features were pleasant, like someone I may have passed in a grocery or department store. She didn’t look like the stereotypical panhandler.

“Have you seen Shakes or the others?” I asked.

“They are usually around here, or across the street at ‘the heater’, but I haven’t seen them today. Maybe they’re under the Queen Street Bridge. That’s a place they sometimes meet.”

“I’ll try there. Yesterday, Ian and I were rousted from ‘the heater’. Perhaps Shakes is at ‘his office’ (panhandling at the corner of Queen and Parliament).

Before I left I gave Helen a Subway card, “This will buy you a sandwich. Do you smoke?”

“Yes.” I offered her a cigarette.

“Thanks,” she said. We both said good bye and I walked toward the bridge. No luck there, so I headed toward Queen Street to find Shakes. He wasn’t there, so I headed to ‘The Magic Oven’ restaurant, well known for their chili.

Rooting through a trash basket, across from ‘The Oven’ I met Curtis. In contrast to Ellen, if one were to stereotype a homeless person, Curtis would fit the description. He wore a red and black, checked lumberman’s jacket, khaki work pants, a black toque, a weeks growth of beard and looked generally dirty.

“Have you seen Shakes, or any of the others?” I asked.

“No,” he said with some apprehension.

I gave him a Subway card. “This will buy you a sandwich, I said.

“Thanks.”

“Would you like a cigarette?”

“No, I’m good.”

We were about to shake hands, but he pulled his back. Perhaps, he remembered that it had just recently been in the trash barrel.

We said good bye. I checked ‘The  Oven’, but didn’t see any familiar faces.

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5 March 2012

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

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

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

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

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

I asked if they had seen anybody else today.

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

“How did the fight start?”

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

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

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

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

“When did they start calling you Hippo?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7 March 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s been two months.”

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

“We’ll always be on our honeymoon.

“So, how have you been doing, Joy?”

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

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

“We’d love to Joy.” Then they left.

“She’s gorgeous,” I said.

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

“What religion is she?”

“Christian.”

“Do you know what church she goes to?”

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

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

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

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

The sun was shining, the weather was warm and most of the snow had melted from the sidewalk. There was a large group near ‘the benches’. Someone was waving at Toothless Chuck across the street, but he didn’t come over.
Ryan came over to me and thanked me for the Subway card I had given to him and Ian the previous day.

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

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

I assured him that it wasn’t necessary.

“Have a beer then.”

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

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

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

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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8 March 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where were you born, Shakes?”

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

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

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

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

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

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9 March 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where did you fight?”

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

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

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

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

“Outcast will you roll me a joint?”

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

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12 March 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 March 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you been sleeping outdoors lately, Hippo?

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

“How was it?”

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

“Were there any bed bugs?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How old is Shaggy?”

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

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

“No, she’s not in any pain.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is your other daughter’s name?”

“Fran, Francesca.”

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

“Roughly.”

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

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

.

15 March 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who was that?” I asked.

“One of the ‘bugs’ from the Mission.”

“What’s a bug.”

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

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

“Hi handsome.”

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

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

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

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

.

16 March 2012

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

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

“Have a good weekend, Dale.”

“You too Metro, Two-four.”

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

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

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

“Bye, Dennis. Have a good weekend.”

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

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

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

“Is that better?”

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

“Someplace with out bed bugs?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has she been staying with her parents?”

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

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

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

.

17 March 2012

I look into my crystal ball;
your future’s looking bleak.
Think of where you want to be
next year, next month, next week.

From what you told me yesterday,
you risk your freedom and your wealth.
How does this fit in your plan?
How does this affect your health?

I know you’re trying harder
than you’ve ever tried before.
Please, leave that place before police
come crashing through your door.

You have friends, you’re not alone,
pack your bags and leave the jars.
Even sleeping on the sidewalk
beats staring through prison bars.

The choice is yours, it’s always been.
Think of yourself. What’s best for you?
I want to see your smile each day;
a memory — it just won’t do.

.

19 March 2012

This morning Joy started crying and buried her head in my shoulder. She said, “I know I need to get out of that place. The police car is still parked in front of our house. There aren’t that many people coming to our door, especially now with the police car out front.

“I saw a few apartments on the weekend. Some of them were nice. The rent is about seven fifty a month, about the same as I’m paying Roy. I just found out that I’m paying the full amount of the rent. Roy doesn’t pay anything towards rent. He’s supposed to pay the rest of the bills, but I don’t know if he’s been paying them.

“Yesterday I was outside cleaning and raking the back yard because of the mess that Harley (the pit bull) had made over the winter. He was outside with me the whole time. We came inside and he crapped in the middle of the kitchen floor and on Roy’s CD’s, then he peed on his computer. I think he’s dying. He’s ten and a half years old. Roy needs to pay more attention to him, but he’s always away at his girlfriend’s house. Her name is Christina, she’s a coke head. I always call her Christine just to make her mad.

I left a note for Roy, ‘He’s your dog, deal with it.’ I took a toothpick and pinned the note to the pile of dog turd. When I came home later the note and the pile were still there and Harley had pooped again, right beside the first pile.

“I have just enough money to pay rent and to buy food. I don’t have any extra to buy dog food. Harley doesn’t eat the canned food, it gives him the runs. He eats the kibble that comes in big bags. I can’t afford to buy that. Yesterday, I cooked pork chops and gave him the bones and some of the fat.

“Tonight I’m having perogies. I just love the ones with cheese.

“Hi sweetheart!” A woman stopped and put a dollar in Joy’s cap. “Thanks honey!”

“She’s lost ten pounds. I told her about the diet that I was on. I don’t eat during the week, only on Sunday. I told her to try it and it worked for her.”

I have names for some of the people that walk by. Some of them I see every day. There’s one little old lady with skinny legs. She’s always rushing. I call her ‘the stork’. There’s a guy who I’ll see here in the morning, then I’ll see him again at Nathan Phillips Square. I call him ‘the stalker,’ but I can’t give away all my secrets.

A strange looking man, wearing a trench coat stopped in front of us and just stared. Joy gave him the finger. He just stood there staring at us. “Get out of here!” yelled Joy. The man eventually walked away.

“Some people say that spring is here when the trees come into bud, but I say it’s when the weirdos come out; then, of course, are the twinkies and candy kids. There were some here this morning. I had to kick them out. They said, ‘We slept here last night so this is our spot.’ I said, ‘Look dude, it doesn’t work that way. I’ve been here eleven years and there’s no way you’re taking my spot. Tomorrow I’m going to be packing, maybe a sharpened screwdriver or a long blade.’ ”

I found out later that after I had gone the weirdo came back and kicked Joy in the knee, knocking her to the ground. She was still limping at noon.

At noon I went to ‘the benches’ to meet Joy and the others. That’s when she told me about being kicked.

“Some people say that spring is here when the trees start to bud, but I say it’s when the weirdos come out. After Dennis left, this guy came back and kicked me in the knee, knocking me to the ground, that’s why I’m gimping. Tomorrow, I’m going to take a sock and put a bar of soap in it. If that guy comes back I’m going to beat him with it.”

“Everybody seems to be fighting!” said Debbie. “I was in a fight with Chester yesterday. He was flashing all this money and when I asked him for a loan he said no, so I slapped him. He hit me back, but I grabbed him around the knees and pulled him down. I was punching him in the face when somebody pulled me off him.”

Loretta came over and gave Joy a hug. She said, “I would have brought your pants, but I didn’t know you’d be here.”

After she left Joy said to me, “A couple of years ago she was hit by a car and left for dead. She had broken arms, broken legs, a broken pelvis. One side of her face was smashed in. She lost an eye. Nobody thought that she’d recover. It took about a year before she was able to leave her house. She’s been coming here for about nine months now. She’s very sweet.”

Joy said to Debbie, “You’re so skinny, you don’t have an ass anymore.”

“I’m on The Good Shepherd diet.” said Debbie, “I went there for lunch yesterday and everything tasted like dog food, I couldn’t eat it. You should go there and get a take out for Harley.”

“How are you doing, Rocky?” Mo said to a man wearing a Metalica shirt. “I’m going to get that shirt from you, just wait and see.”

“This has been a good day.’ said Rocky, “I went for an interview for assisted housing and it was approved. I’ve been waiting nine months for the interview.” Rocky has the deepest voice I’ve ever heard.

“Congratulations!” said Joy.

I asked her if she could qualify for assisted housing.

“Rocky is Inuit. Where he is going is a place for just Inuit people. If I had my native card and the rest of my identification there are places that I could qualify for, but a lot of my papers and photographs of my kids were lost when I went into hospital. I have a birth certificate, but nothing with my picture on it. I asked Roy to get my papers, but he didn’t. He was only concerned about his tools.”

“Could Angela help?”

“My probie? She could, she’s supposed to. but I haven’t gotten them yet.

“Angela could help me find a place, but this time I’m doing it by myself. I’m proud of that.

“I think I’m going to be leaving soon. I feel uncomfortable. I have agoraphobia and there are a lot of people here. It’s not just the number of people, but some of them I don’t know too well and some of them I don’t like.

“Can you spare me some change?”

“I don’t have any.” I said. “I don’t even have my wallet with me.”

“That’s probably a good idea.”

On my way back to work I met Ian and Marlena, sitting on the sidewalk.

“Hi bro’, how’s it going?”

“Hi Ian, Marlena. It’s great to see you. I’m on my way back to work, so I can’t stop to talk. Maybe, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

.

20 March 2012

Joy wasn’t in her spot today. I went to the next block to talk with Nick. “So what excuse does Joy have for not being here today?” he asked.

“She was kicked in the knee by some guy yesterday morning. While we were sitting together he came up to us and just stared. Joy said, ‘Get lost!’ After I left he came back and kicked her in the knee.”

“What was his reason for that?”

“He was crazy.”

“That explains it.”

“She also had a problem with some twinkies and candy kids who tried to take her spot.”

“Joy wouldn’t have any of that. These kids come from the suburbs. I don’t know what they think they’re playing at.”

“I’m half an hour early for work, because I can’t depend on the buses getting me here on time. The service is really poor now.”

“I guess you heard that they have a new guy in charge of the transit commission. He’s only been in the job a month and now he’s on a cruise in the Caribbean.”

“That shows where our money is going.  I’ve travelled quite a bit. I’m originally from the Hamilton area.”

“How is your day going, so far?”

“I’ve been here since six, forty-five. Tuesdays are always slow. I’ll be staying until about ten thirty. After that it’s quiet, not many people passing by. I’ll stay later, depending on how much I’ve collected.”

“What days are the best for you?”

“Friday is always the best. People feel generous because of the coming weekend. Second, would be Monday. I guess people still have some of that good spirit left.”

.

21 March 2012

I talked with Joy this morning and stressed how important it was that she contact Angela. Unfortunately, she is away this week. Joy has an appointment with her for next Wednesday. I asked her if she could see another probation officer. She said she could. I asked her to promise me that she would go. She said she would.

“The police car is still parked in front,” said Joy, “but there is no pot in the house. I told Roy that I’m moving out. He sold his three thousand dollar bicycle for one fifty and took some other things, including a plasma TV to the pawn shop. He admitted that he’d really messed up.”

The weather was hot today today, twenty-five degrees  Celsius (seventy-seven degrees Fahrenheit). The Weather Bureau is forecasting snow for Saturday. At the benches today were Mary (Trudy’s mother), who doesn’t like being mistaken for her daughter, ten adults and one dog.

“I’m feeling a bit drunk.” said Joy. “I feel all messed up. Things are going around in my head. My mind is going a hundred and twenty miles an hour. I feel like I want to cut myself. There are two reasons why people cut themselves, either for attention or for distraction. I just want to be able to think straight.

“I’m supposed to phone this lady at Millhaven (Penitentiary) to find out where Jake is being transferred. I don’t care where he is as long as it’s not here. They’re supposed to send me a letter advising me of when he’s going to be released. He isn’t supposed to come within a hundred feet of me. So, I could be here and he could be across the street having a beer or something.

“When Jake beat me up Shakes was there. He tried to defend me, but Jake knocked him down. He tried to get up, but I said, ‘Shakes, stay down!’ Jake had already broken my nose and I was on the ground. Then he started kicking me in the ribs. That’s when I passed out.

“I really love Jake. We had talked about getting a place in the country, maybe raising a few chickens. I thought we would grow old together and live happily ever after. I’m not going to change my life because of him. We have the same friends. I introduced him to all these people. They’re all I have. They’re my family. That means everything to me.

“Angela, my probation officer, isn’t so bad. It’s just that she gets after me to take a course in anger management. I’m not angry. When I was arrested it was my blood on Jake. All that stuff you see on TV about DNA tests; that’s bullshit. He said in court, ‘It’s about time that women pay for assaulting men.’

“My snake shed her skin today. It’s the first time it came off in one piece. Some of my native friends make bracelets by weaving strips of snake skin, but I don’t want that. It feels rough with the scales.”

“Hey, Joy!” called Wolf, “I need a cigarette roller. Would you please roll me one?”

“Wolf, this pot it hard. I’ve chewed my fingernails and I can’t break this up. I need scissors.

“Hippo, fat boy, get me Little Frank’s scissors!” To me she said, “These guys will do anything for me. They’ve seen me fight. They’re afraid of me, and I’m the only woman here that they haven’t had.”

“Shakes,” I asked, “how have you been?”

“This has been a bad month. Yesterday, I gave a runner fifteen bucks to buy me two bottles of wine and he went south on me. Then I went to that church where they serve meals. I gave a guy a ten to buy me a bottle and he went south. So far, this month, I’ve lost a hundred bucks, that’s not counting what I lost previous to this month.

22 March 2012

I talked with Joy this morning. She isn’t doing well. She said,  “I haven’t been taking my medication lately because I don’t have a health card. I can’t get a health card because my picture identification was lost when I went into hospital. Angela, my probation officer, has copies of my papers, but she won’t be back until Wednesday. I have an appointment with her then. No other probation officers can help me. I had two epileptic seizures last night.

“I still miss Jake. I’ve written letters to him in prison, but he hasn’t answered. I just want to find out how he’s doing. I worry about him. Rodent has gotten letters from him. I think he sends money to Jake. Rodent asked me if I wanted to see the letters that he had received. I said, ‘I don’t want to see them if they’re like the last one you showed me, where Jake did nothing but call me names like bitch, douchebag and ho. I think Jake likes Rodent more than he does me.

I met Joy at ‘the benches’ yesterday. She doesn’t remember. “After I had a joint, I got so wasted that I don’t even know how I got home last night. I must have jumped a bus.”

23 March 2012

Joy was still feeling down today. “I hate sitting with my legs straight out, but my knee is still swollen from where that guy kicked me. I can’t sit cross legged. My fibromyalgia is causing pain in my legs. I have been having trouble sleeping, so I drink until I pass out. Now, my liver is kicking me. After today, I’m going to stop drinking.”

“Joy, what you said yesterday, about incidents that happened in your past. That was a long time ago. You’ve been carrying that weight, and punishing yourself for over eleven years. What you need to know is that you’ve been forgiven, so now you can forgive and love yourself. Leave the rest in the past where it belongs. You can’t change what happened, the only changes you can make are right now. Also, you don’t have to worry about what will happen when Jake gets out. That’s seven months away.”

“I miss my house, I miss seeing my kids. I can never see them ever again.

“I still miss Jake. I was talking to Rodent yesterday, he got another letter from Jake. He loves to rub my nose in it. I accused him of being him gay. He denied it, but I said, ’Dude, you were in prison twenty-five years, There’s no way you didn’t switch sides.’ I was in prison more years than Jake will ever be. I got to like women.”

“That’s understandable,” I said.

“I don’t know why I keep thinking of Jake, but we did have some good times together. I was going out with Crash, who moved to Vancouver, but when I met Jake that was it. He’s the love of my life. He always will be. Roy doesn’t like him and calls him names, but I said, ‘When Jake gets out, I may decide to have him over. You have your skanky girlfriends over so, I’ll do whatever I please.’

“I remember about ten years there was this guy, Crash Test who panned across the street. He didn’t like pizza. I don’t like pears. Sometimes we’d have food fights. He’d throw a piece of pizza across the street at me. I’d throw a pear at him. We’d both be ducking and dodging. I think he’s in Calgary now. He got involved with some program to help him straighten out.

“Humans, I look at what some of these people wear and I wonder who dresses them. Look at that guy, his jeans are below his ass. I was sitting here early one morning and a guy in the apartment across the street was in the window stretching. He was stark naked. I don’t need that first thing in the morning. I waved at him, he backed away and closed the curtains.

“Jacques is going to help me get a phone. I can’t go back to Rogers because I owe them over eight hundred bucks in charges, that Fat Richard billed to my account, for porn films. I hate porn. What a loser he was.”

Joy gave me a banana that someone had placed in her cap. “I don’t like these. Do you want it?” she asked.

“I’ll see if Nick wants it.”

I had to go to work, so on my way I stopped to talk to Nick. “Here’s a banana from Joy.”

“Doesn’t Joy like bananas? Bananas are a good source of potassium.”

“Joy doesn’t like bananas, apricots, apples or pears.”

“I was talking to her this morning. I was early, so we chatted for a while.”

“She’s sweet…when she wants to be.”

“For a moment there, I didn’t think we were talking about the same Joy.”

“I wouldn’t want to be her enemy.”

“No.”

While I was talking to Nick, about six people dropped change into his cap.

“I’m lucky for you. Joy always says I’m lucky for her. Sometimes when she goes into the restaurant…”

“You mean when she needs to pee.”

“Yes, when she needs to pee, I guard her stuff. She says, ‘Any change you make you can keep.’ ”

“I was lucky for her this morning,” said Nick, “but she never said that to me.”

I was expecting to see Joy at ‘the benches’ at noon, but she wasn’t there. I asked Little Jake, “Has Joy been here?”

“She walked passed at about nine o’clock. She said her knees were sore, so she was going straight home.”

“Hi Shakes,” I said, “how are you today?”

“This morning I woke up, I didn’t know where I was or how I got there. I was in Lindsay’s apartment. I still had two bottles of wine, so I had some wine, some cigarettes and some ‘mary jane’. I started walking. I wasn’t looking for trouble, but trouble found me.

Jake was sitting between Debbie and Trudy. “Jake,” said Debbie, “you’ve got girly socks on, and girly pants.”

“These are the only things I could find to wear.”

“Jake, can you roll me a joint?” asked Shakes.

Jake pulled out his scissors. “Okay Shakes, give me your pot and I’ll roll you a joint.”

“Dennis,” said Shakes, “can you hold my cigarette. I’m running out of hands here.”

“Me, Rocky and Silver were stopped by the police this morning,” said Tim, “for drinking beer in the park. It’s lucky that all three of us were sharing the same can. The cop poured it out, so we lost half a beer. If we’d each had our own we would have lost three. He just told us to move along and find another place, so we’re here.”

“Dennis, what time is it?” asked Little Jake.

“Twelve fifteen.”

“Shakes,” said Jake, “we’d better get to work.”

“What time are you going to work, Shakes?” I asked.

“I’ll go to work at what ever time I feel like it. I’m my own boss.”

“And you have your own office.” I added (referring to his spot on the sidewalk at Queen and Parliament).

“Yes, I have.”

“Shaggy!” shouted Wolf, “find a place, any place and lie down.” A boy came weaving down the sidewalk on a skateboard. “Whoa! did you see that? It’s a good thing I had Shaggy on her lead, or she would have taken a chunk out of that guy. She loves to chase skateboards. She nearly pulled my shoulder out of joint.”

“Hippo!” I said, “you’d better not let Joy see you in that Metallica shirt. She’ll want to take it off you.”

“No, it’s Rocky’s shirt she wants.”

It was then time for me to go back to work, so we shook hands all around. Then I left them — my family.

24 March 2012

i’m sitting on the sidewalk
as a woman sobs on my shoulder.
i put my arm around her
and say, “it’s okay.”
knowing that nothing is okay,
it will never be okay.

i’m way out of my depth.
i don’t know what to do
or to say.
anything that comes to mind
is shallow and meaningless.
this woman’s experiences
are completely foreign to me.

all I can do is let her cry,
tell her that she has forgiveness,
that what saddens her,
what keeps her awake
or gives her nightmares
is all in the past.
it’s time for her to forgive herself
and love herself
and live
in the present moment.

she can’t go on.
she can’t stand the pain.
she can’t do this any more.
drink is the only thing
that numbs her mind
enough to endure,
enough to pass out at night
and do it all over again
the next day.

i can only do
and say so much.
it’s always a pleasant surprise
to see her sitting on the sidewalk
knowing that she’s made it
through another night;
that she hasn’t been taken
by violence, sickness
or the police.

i do what i can.

.

27 March 2012

This morning was cold. Joy was wrapped in her blanket.

“I didn’t come here yesterday — too cold. This is a bad day. I came down late, about seven o’clock. I have a crawly feeling in my legs from fibromyalgia and have a sharp pain in my hip. I don’t know what that’s about. I’m only staying here long enough to get enough money to buy some tampons.

“I’ll probably come back downtown, later, to buy some wine. The store I go to doesn’t open until 11:00. The only wine store near where I live sells these fancy vintage wines that cost a fortune. They laughed when I asked for Imperial sherry.

“I don’t know what Roy’s plans are about the house. He took his computer out yesterday. It seems like he’s gradually moving his stuff out. I’m still stuck with feeding his dog, Harley. I bought some crickets for his lizards and some mice for my python. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m not giving Roy any money for next months rent. All of my stuff fits in Jake’s bag, except for a few trinkets I made while I was in the hospital. I travel light.

“There’s some good news!. The police car hasn’t been parked in front of our house since the weekend. I don’t know what was up with that.

A native man stopped and put two five dollar bills in Joy’s cap.

“Miigwech!” said Joy. To me she said, “That means ‘thank you’ in Algonquin.”

The man replied, “Miigwech gaye giin!” which means, ‘thank you to you as well.’

It was time for me to go to work. I stopped briefly to talk with Nick, sitting on the sidewalk. His face was red with the cold, but he’s always polite and cheerful.

On my way to catch the bus, for my physiotherapy appointment, I saw Craig sitting on the sidewalk. We greeted each other then he said, “There’s this restaurant …” I handed him a gift card, “There’s enough here to buy a sandwich and a coffee.”

“There’s this restaurant…”

“I’m sorry, Craig. I’m on my way to an appointment.”

“How much is on the card?”

“Five dollars.”

“Okay.”

.

29 March 2012

The weather this morning was cold and overcast. Nick was sitting on the sidewalk in his usual spot. We greeted each other.

“You haven’t seen Joy today have you?” I asked.

“No,  Joy is a wuss; mind you I wasn’t here yesterday. I wasn’t about so sit in freezing rain and ice pellets.”

“Joy’s been complaining about a sharp pain in her hip.” I said. “It may be arthritis. Sitting on the cold sidewalk wouldn’t help.”

“No it wouldn’t, but Joy has some sort of cushion, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, in her backpack she brings a chair cushion and puts a piece of cardboard under that. Then, of course, she has her blanket.”

“Yes, Joy always has her blanket. I use a rolled up yoga mat as a cushion. It keeps me from the cold and it’s comfortable to sit on.

“Do you ever go to ‘the benches’ at Orphan’s Green?”

“No, I don’t go there. I know some of those people, but I don’t associate with them much. I’ve known Joy since she was sharing an apartment with someone (Big Frank) in Regent Park. A friend of mine had an apartment in the same building.”

“I don’t seem to be lucky for you today,” I said. “Last time I was here you collected quite a bit of change.”

“There ‘s no rhyme or reason to it. There are good days and there are bad days. Summer can be slow because a lot of people are on holidays.’

Nick was humming a tune. I said, “You have a good singing voice.”

“No, I’m no singer,” he said. “I’m banned from most of the karaoke bars; not from the drinking part, from the singing part.”

“The Ontario government has brought down a new budget. Do you have any opinion on that?”

“Well, they’ve frozen ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) for two years. I’m not on that I’m on Family Benefits. We get an increase of about one percent a year. That amounts to a couple of dollars on our monthly check.”

“Do you have any suggestions on how things could be improved?”

“I’m no economist.”

It was time for me to go to work, so I left Nick and said I would probably see him again tomorrow.

At the benches today Shakes said, “I’m celebrating today. I think I may get corked. I went to court this morning and they stayed the charges of obstruction against me. I’ve been on bail since November. I was banned from going anywhere near The African Village Restaurant on Queen Street. At first I wasn’t allowed within six hundred feet, they reduced that to three hundred, then fifty. This morning the judge said, ‘Shakes, you’re free to go any where you want.’ I had three bottles of wine with me while I was in court.

Shaggy was barking at everyone that passed. Wolf said, “Now I got two dogs to walk at five, thirty in the morning, Shaggy and Bear. Weasel brought her over on Friday and asked me If I would take care of her, because he had to go back into hospital. Of course, I complained and said that he should be paying me to look after her, but actually I like having Bear around. In the morning when I take them out Shag wants to go one way, Bear the other. Then they get all tangled up around me.

“What do you think of this weather? We have summer one day, winter the next. (Our temperatures exceeded those of Florida last week, now it is snowing.) There was no way I was going to bring Shaggy down here yesterday. You see how long her coat is. When that gets wet she has an extra fifty pounds to carry, and she’s eleven years old.”

“You have another dog, Bowser, don’t you?” I asked.

“You don’t know about Bowser. That’s Shakes’ dog. It’s stuffed, but I don’t think Shakes knows that. One time he was drunk and he came down the sidewalk with this huge stuffed dog the size of Shaggy. I put it out on my balcony. My apartment is on the second floor over the entrance to the building. The neighbors would see this dog and they’d say, ‘Wolf, why doesn’t your dog bark any more? They thought it was real.

“I like to come down here and visit with my friends, but I don’t like too many people around. I never have more than three people at my apartment. I like having the dogs around. I see them communicating together and they communicate with me as well. I’ll be in another room and I’ll hear Shaggy’s bowl banging against the wall. She pushes it around with her nose. When I hear that sound I know she’s hungry. You’ve been around animals, you know what I mean.

Shaggy knocked over Wolf’s can of Old Milwaukee, then commenced to lick the pool that formed. Wolf took a plastic bag, poured beer in it and said, “Okay, Shag if you want to be in the club, you have to drink your beer.” Shaggy lapped the beer contentedly. “See, she understands what I’m saying. You saw that.”

.

30 March 2012

This morning the sun was shining and the wind was bitterly cold. Joy wasn’t at her usual spot, but Nick, in the next block, was sitting on the sidewalk in front of St. Paul’s. Within the church is a drop-in ministry under the name of ‘A Place to Go’ for all who find themselves in need of fellowship, a smile, and some good food. Joy has told me that the ladies who volunteer with this program are always fussing over Nick. They bring him big sandwiches, desserts and mugs of coffee.

Nick is always neat in appearance, his white beard is trimmed and he has sparkling blue eyes. He is also the most un-talkative man I have ever met. I think of myself as a listener and an observer, but not a conversationalist. Today I was determined to have a conversation with him.

“Good morning, Nick.”

“Good morning, Dennis.”

“I guess Joy decided that it was too cold for her today.” I commented.

“Yes, it’s too cold for Joy.”

“Do you have any big plans for the weekend?” I tried again.

“It depends on the weather.”

“The forecast is for sunshine with temperatures around the freezing mark.”

“In that case, I have no plans. How about you?”

“Nothing definite.” I said. The next five minutes passed in absolute silence. “Well, I guess I’d better get to work. I’ll see you on Monday, Nick.”

“I’ll see you on Monday, Dennis.”

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