2012 – May


2 May 2012

Shakes said, “We were watching some people exercising in the park last year. I was sitting on a bench at the far side, over there.” He pointed east towards the John Innes Community Recreation Centre. “There were some military guys, cadets, I guess you’d call them. They were doing callisthenics. That’s what they called it then. I joined in with them. I was able to keep up. My daughter yelled at me, ‘Dad, get away from there!’

“I was hitting on some women, so they made me leave.”

“Dennis, can you help me with this, my hands are shaking.” Shakes  handed me his drinking bottle and a bottle of sherry. I asked, “Do you want it filled right to the top?”

“Yes, please. Could I also have some bus tickets? Sometimes I can hop on at the back door; sometimes I can’t. Last night I put a handful of change in the ticket box and the driver said, ‘That’s not enough.’ I said, ‘It must be enough, I put over two bucks in there!’ (fare prices are now $2.70).  He wouldn’t move the bus. Some of the other passengers were getting perturbed. They said, ‘For Christ’s sake how much does he owe?’ A couple of guys put some money in for me. Then the bus driver started moving the bus.”

It was time for me to leave, so I shook hands all around the circle and said I’d be back tomorrow.


3 May 2012

Learning to Panhandle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


• Many Aboriginal children were taken from their homes, often forcibly removed and separated from their families by long distances. Others who attended residential schools near their communities were often prohibited from seeing their families outside of occasional permitted visits.

• Students were forbidden to speak their language or practice their culture, and were often punished for doing so.

• Many students were forced to do manual labour, and were fed poor quality food. There are many accounts of students being provided moldy, maggot-infested and rotten foods.

• Other experiences reported from Survivors of residential schools include sexual and mental abuse, beatings and severe punishments, overcrowding, illness, children forced to sleep outside in the winter, the forced wearing of soiled underwear on the head or wet bed sheets on the body, use of students in medical experiments, disease and in some cases death. (http://1000conversations.ca/?page_id=48)


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

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

“Good afternoon, ma’am.

”Good afternoon, sir. Have a nice day.

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

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

“And you too,” said the man.

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

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

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

“Yeah, I sleep someplace different every night.

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

“Thanks, sweetheart!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you spare some change, sir?

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

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

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

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

“Those are beautiful boots, ma’am.”

So passes the time of a pan handler. It was an educational experience.


4 May 2012


Today was muggy, overcast and warm. The fog of earlier had lifted, but the humidity remained. I approached the bench, “Hi Joy, did Shakes tell you that he and I were panhandling together yesterday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Star,” said Larry.

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

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

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

“I’ll be careful, Joy.”

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

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

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

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

“How is your pneumonia?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By this time we had reached Irene’s stop. It turns out that we’re neighbors, living just five blocks apart. It’s a small world. We said goodbye and agreed to meet at ‘the bench’ on Monday.


7 May 2012

Police and Paramedics

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone was wondering what Chuck was saying to the police. Joy said, “That dude has verbal diarrhea. It starts first thing in the morning and doesn’t end until he goes to sleep. I’m going up there to get his dog. All I need is for Chuck to go to jail and I’ll be stuck with V. Did I tell you how he got that name? Chuck was drunk when he bought the dog. He couldn’t remember what the previous owner had called it, so he just picked a letter from the alphabet.  I don’t even like him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because, I choose not to be, dude!”

Jake was forced to walk in the opposite direction, away from the group..

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

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

“I could do that.” I said.

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

“I’m staying at The Scott Mission.”

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

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

I asked Joy, “How was your weekend?”

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

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

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

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

After work, as I was waiting for my bus home, I saw Alphonse walking towards me.

“Good evening, sir,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


9 May 2012

Are They Going to Mow Us Down?

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

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

“How are you feeling?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure, thanks, I’ll take it.”

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

A tall, good looking black man passed by, smiled and said hello to Joy. “Hi, handsome, gimme five.” He slapped Joy’s hand and mine. “One day he threw some folded bills in my cap. I spread them out. It was four twenties. I said, ‘Hey man, this is too much.’ He just kept walking and said, ‘You keep it.’ That’s the most money I’ve ever got at one time. No, wait, a biker chick once stopped and slipped me a hundred.

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

“Do you go to the library?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do whatever you like.”

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

Sitting or standing were about a dozen people. Handshakes all around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


10 May 2012

Luther and His Demons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you, Shakes?”

“You know me. I’m always the same.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



11 May 2012

Hippo and the Lawnmower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like Kenny Rogers, yes.”

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

“I’m good Hippo, how about you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you still ride?”

“No. Do you?”

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

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

“Sure, no problem.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, why are you in a bad mood?”

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

“We’ve got pot.”

“You mean, you’ve got pot.”

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

“That goof, no thanks.”

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

“I got a bottle coming.”

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

“I will tomorrow.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Women rule!” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


14 May 2012

Crash Test 

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

“How’s it going, bro’?”

“Great, Nick!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi, Donald,” I said.

“God bless,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds good.”


15 May 2012

Silver Concerned About Cure

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

“How are you feeling, Joy?”

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

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

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

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

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

“No problem there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I slept at The Shepherd.”

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

“Yes, he did that for a while.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


16 May 2012

Rain on the Street 

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you feeling better today?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


17 May 2012

Shakes Plays Risk

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

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

“Thanks, Metro, have a good day.”

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

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

“Does it have to do with your kidneys?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi Hippo!”

“Hi Dennis, how’s it going?”

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

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

“Have you heard anything more about your inheritance?”

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

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

“Okay,” we said and left.

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

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

“Hi, Shakes, how are you doing?”

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

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

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

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

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

I said, “He also drinks Listerine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do you live?”

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

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

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

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



18 May 2012

This morning was cool and windy. Joy had her hood pulled up and her legs were wrapped in a blanket.

She said, “My tooth is really bothering me. I was eating sunflower seeds, with the shells on, and something got imbedded between my tooth and my gum. I’ve tried brushing, flossing, but it’s below the gum line and anything I do just makes it hurt more. I had a microwave heating pack on it last night. It helped me get to sleep.

“I was on my way to the dentist this morning, then I realized that I didn’t have my dental card. I went back to the house, but couldn’t find it anywhere. I went to the dentist. They wouldn’t see me without my card. I said, ‘This is an emergency! Will you see me now?’ She said, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t see you without your card.’ I said, ‘Can’t you check my records. You must have my number on file.’ She said, ‘Only Joyce has access to the records and she’s not here today.’ I said, ‘You mean I have to wait until after the long weekend to get this looked at? If I threw up blood all over your computer, would someone see me then?’ ‘I’m sorry, ma’am.’ I was so pissed off.

“Hippo’s there across the street. I don’t think he’s doing very well. I saw him get a few drops (people dropping change into his cap), but I’m going to have to give him some pointers. He sleeps at the Sally (Salvation Army). They have access to showers, soap and razors, but his hair is so greasy that I’m sure he hasn’t washed it in a week. He couldn’t even get a comb through it this morning. It was disgusting.

“He’s one of the few men who don’t try to touch me. He knows it wouldn’t get him anywhere. Even Weasel, dying of AIDS, kissed me on the cheek the other day. He did it just to bug me. He still has that open sore on his arm. He was letting his dog lick it. He said, ‘It’s okay, a dog’s saliva is clean.’ I said, ‘But dude, think of what you’re doing to the dog.’ His answer was, ‘We all die sometime.’ He’s wasting away to nothing. He doesn’t have much time left (Weasel died 9 May 2013).

“I’m really careful about who I share drinks with up there. Did I ever tell you how Little Jake got AIDS? He had a fight with his girlfriend. She may have been seeing someone else — I don’t know. Anyway, he was drunk, they had a big argument and she threw him out in the snow. He crawled into the alley and fell asleep. Sometime in the night he rolled over onto some used ‘fits’ (hypodermic needles). They were contaminated with HIV.

‘I’m not sure about the details of how Shark got AIDS. He was pretty messed up on crack, and he was into some anal shit. When I asked him about the AIDS he said to me, ‘That’s what I get from fucking a pig, in the ass, without a condom.’

“I’ve got hep c. I think I got it when I had my tattoos done. I’m a carrier, but I’m not infectious. It’ll kill me, but nobody else.”

Hippo walked across the street. We shook hands. He said, “Joy, can I buy two cigarettes for a quarter?”

“No, but I’ll give you one.” Hippo threw a quarter into her hat.

“Well,” said Joy, “it’s eight twenty and that lady hasn’t asked you to move.”

“I don’t think she’s in today. The guy was out sweeping the sidewalk.”

“You’re in luck then.” Hippo shrugged his shoulders and walked back across the street.

Blair walked by and said, “Hi Joy, I’m short fifty cents. Can you help me out?”

“I’ll give you a quarter. Now, you’re only short twenty-five cents.”

“Thanks Joy.”

To the world in general Joy said, “Yes, a panhandler did give him money.

“I’m really losing it. I wanted my mom to come to Toronto before she died. I want my kids to come to Toronto. My oldest son has a job as a cast fitter. I don’t know what that is, but he gets paid twenty-seven dollars an hour. I miss them.

“I’ve got to get away from Toothless. He was on my case about groceries. Yesterday, I bought two loaves of bread, some of those frozen hamburger patties and some other stuff. He bought sausages. Last night he told me he’s invited Tony and Dora, Chris and his girlfriend and a bunch of other people over for a barbecue. I can’t afford to be feeding all those people. He tells me that I’m not paying my share. I said to him, ‘Stop inviting so many people over.’ I haven’t talked to him since. I pushed V out of the way, so I could get out the door, and he knocked over Chuck’s table. I just left it. It’s his dog, he can clean up the mess.

“I don’t know if I’ll be visiting the guys at noon. Maybe I will, but I’m not sure. Most of those people are getting on my nerves. I see that Lucy is hanging around with Buck. That will stop once her old man gets of jail, in a few weeks. He’s the one that robbed Shark, then beat him up because he had no bills. Then Lucy went after Irene. You’ve seen how small Irene is. Jake and I were still together then. When Jake heard about it he took the plastic handle off a bathroom plunger, sawed the bottom off it, then filled the hollow part with dimes. It must have been a couple of hundred dimes. He used duct tape to seal the sawed off end, then unwrapped a metal coat hanger and wound it around the duct tape. That made quite a jailhouse club. The next time he saw Nick, Lucy’s boyfriend, he hit him three times with it. Rick didn’t get up.

“I’ve talked to Lucy recently, she’s so excited about Nick getting out. I said to her, “We’ve gone toe to toe together before, but if you ever try anything with Irene again I’m going to smash your skull to pieces, and you know I’ll do it.”

At noon, as I was walking to the park, I met Joy and her friend ‘Sausage Fingers’ waiting near the bus stop. Joy introduced him to me as one of her best friends in the world. I remembered having met him during the winter, but he’s shaved his beard and looks completely different.

Joy said, “I’ve had it! I snapped at Silver. I snapped at Hippo. I’m going home before I end up in jail. Chuck is panning, so I’ll have the house all to myself until about four thirty. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

Sitting in his usual place was Serge. “Hi Serge, are you still at The Shepherd or have you moved to the Salvation Army?” He said, “I’m still at The Shepherd. I have to go there between four and six o’clock to sign the card that says I’ll be staying another week.”

“Has it been noisy? You mentioned that a man kept opening and closing the door. Is he still doing that?”

“Yes, he starts at six o’clock in the morning, opening and closing, opening and closing.”

“I’ll talk to you later, Serge. Take care.”

At the park,  Hippo wasn’t looking very well. He said,”I’ve been puking up blood. I’ve also been shitting blood. I’ve got ulcers, two of them.”

“You should go to the hospital,” said Donald.

“I can’t. They won’t take me. I don’t have my health card. First I’d have to get my Birth Certificate, then my Social Insurance card, then I could apply for my health card.”

“Why do you drink, then?” asked Donald.

“Welfare asks me the same question. I don’t know why I drink. If I didn’t drink I wouldn’t be me. If I didn’t drink I’d die.”

“You should think of your mother and father. They love you, don’t they?”

“They’re my parents, of course they love me.”

“You should quit drinking for them. Think of how they’d feel if you died.”

“Everyone is going to die, but I hear you, man. Can I stay at your place this weekend? I’m feeling really rough. I couldn’t take another night at the Sally right now.”

“Sure, man. I have to go for my methadone treatment at one o’clock, but I’ll come back, and I’ll bring some beer.”

Wolf said to me, “I haven’t been here for the past few days. I had my fifty-seventh birthday Friday. I had a forty ounce bottle, of twelve-year-old scotch, that I started at five thirty Saturday morning. I finished it by twelve thirty that night. I also had some sherry. The next morning I had the hangover from Hell. I’m too old to do that sort of thing any more. I was here drinking beer, on Monday, but I haven’t had anything else between then and now.

“I just wanted to tell you why I hadn’t been around. When somebody hasn’t been around for a while, the first thing people think is that they’re dead. I came here today to tell everyone that I’m not dead.”

Donald said to me, “I have to go to the Addiction Center for my methadone treatment at one o’clock. When you go back to work, I’ll walk with you. As we were walking I asked, “Why are you having methadone treatment?”

“My father used to beat my mother when she was pregnant. I was born three months premature. I was deaf and had to have an operation removing nine feet of my intestines.” He lifted his shirt to show me his scar. “When I was older, I had a lot of pain. They prescribed Oxycontin. I was on it for seven years. The methadone helps with the cravings. I also got into other drugs and became an alcoholic. I had been living with my mother, but because I was into drugs and alcohol so much she put me on the street. I’m thirty-five years old. I shouldn’t have been living with my mother. Now, I have my own apartment and have more control over the drugs and alcohol.

“By the way, can you spare some change.”

“I’m sorry, man. If I had it I’d give it to you, but I didn’t bring my wallet with me. I don’t have anything with me at all, not even bus tickets.”

“That’s okay. I’ll see you next week.”

We parted ways. He headed north on Parliament to Danforth for his methadone appointment. I walked into the building where I work.


Wild Night at Bingo

22 May 2012

At the park there were dark storm clouds hovering overhead. The air was muggy. As I approached the group I heard someone say, “Here comes Dennis!”

Joy came up to me and said, “I’ve been asking everybody if they’d seen you. When you didn’t come by this morning I was so worried. I stayed on the street until nine thirty, thinking that maybe you had missed your bus. Then I began to worry that, because it was a long weekend (Victoria Day in Canada), you’d been on the highway and had a car accident.”

I replied, “I got a drive to work, that’s why you didn’t see me. I’m sorry you worried.”

“It’s just that I’ve never known you to miss coming by in the morning.”

“How was your weekend?” I asked.

“Fine, Nicholas and his girlfriend, and another couple were over for a barbecue. Chuck and I looked at an apartment for seven hundred a month — a one bedroom. If I had been by myself I would have taken it. Chuck is saying to everyone, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do if Joy leaves.’ ”

That’s understandable,” I said, “you pay half the rent, buy groceries and do most of the cleaning.”

“Chuck gets a lot of money from other people who stay over, more than I pay him. I think he’s afraid of being alone. So am I, for that matter. Sometimes my brain starts acting up and I’m not sure if I trust myself being on my own.”

Irene had streaks of orange, green and blue on her arms, legs and face after a wild night of bingo. She said, “Shark wasn’t even going to get on the bus with me this morning, until I cleaned my face. I asked Wolf if he had a face cloth, but he didn’t. I wiped it with some wet toilet paper, but I only managed to smear the smudges; now it looks like I’ve been in a fight.”

“What time is it, Dennis? I have to see my doctor at three o’clock. Shark’s gone to get his prescription filled. I hope he’s not late coming back.”

“Do you have far to go?”

“No, just to Parkdale. It’s in the same building where I worked for the accountants and lawyers. I always wave at them as I’m going by their office. One of my cancers is acting up. I’ve had cancer twice. I only have half a nipple on my right side.”

Joy was sitting on her backpack, looking at her ankles. “I haven’t shaved my legs in a while. Do I look concerned?”

“I’m native,” said Irene, “I’ve got nothing to shave. I haven’t had sex for six and a half years, so I don’t even bother trimming.”

“I’m half native,” said Joy, “so I don’t have much to worry about, just a bit of stubble. I don’t have sex very often, but I still trim, just for personal hygiene and common decency.”

I wasn’t quite sure if Serge was awake, but I went over and sat beside him. He raised his head and shook my hand.

I asked, “How was your weekend, Serge?”

“It was okay. I’ve been sleeping behind the Best Western Hotel. It’s quiet, nobody is opening and closing the door, nobody is shitting on the floor. I was drinking outside with a friend of mine at four thirty this morning. When Tim Horton’s opened at six we went there for coffee.”

“You must be tired,” I said.

“No.” Shortly after, he nodded off.

“Has anyone seen Hippo today?” I asked.

“Yeah, he was by earlier. I sent him on a run. He came back and kept wanting to drink from my bottle, so I told him he’d better do some panning and get his own. He seemed fine. He wasn’t puking blood, like he was Friday. He wanted to get drunk, so I guess his stomach wasn’t bothering him.

“I haven’t had a drink for two days, but today I’m going to get drunk. I wish I could drink beer. Since my kidney trouble, I can’t even stand the smell of it, but at least it would make me belch. This sherry is sitting in my stomach like a rock.”

“Would you like some vodka?” asked Irene.

“No, I wouldn’t like some vodka, it would make me crazy.

“Wolf isn’t here today because Weasel kicked in his door. He’s at home guarding his stuff. That’s really ignorant of Weasel. It’s Wolf’s place, not his. The man is kind enough to let him stay there, and that’s the way he repays him. Weasel is really something else.”

The rain started, slowly at first. We moved under the trees, then it started to pour. The trees were no protection at all. Little Jake and Jacques left to take cover under the overpass. Irene put up her umbrella. Joy put on Bearded Bruce’s raincoat. “Bruce’s in prison, he doesn’t need this, but I do. He signed himself in. He got a hundred and eighty days for two counts of trying to sell crack to an undercover cop. If it was me, I would have gotten years. Once he does his time and pays his fines he’ll be in the clear. That’s better than trying to run.”

Chester said, “I’m going to go home now.”

“Do you need bus tickets,” asked Joy. “I wouldn’t like to see you walking all the way home in this rain.”

“Thanks, Joy, I’d appreciate that.”

I stood in the rain and got soaked to the skin. Serge had taken refuge in a glass bus shelter and was fast asleep. When I returned to work I took off my shirt, so it could dry in the closet, and I put on a hoodie. By six o’clock, when I was ready to leave work, my shirt was  dry.


There’s Something About the Number Five

23 May 2012

I caught an early bus to work, so I had lots of time to talk to Joy. “How’s it going today?’

“This morning has been slow. Yesterday, I made nineteen dollars. So far today, I’ve only made five and I’ve been here since six o’clock. Come on people!”

Chantal stopped by to talk with Joy. She squatted, put some change in Joy’s cap, then put her hand on Joy’s shoulder. “How are you doing, Joy?”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you eating well?

“Yes, I’m eating well.”

“You mentioned that you were looking at a new apartment tomorrow. Is that still on?”

“Yeah, Chuck and I are going over tomorrow to have a look at it. It’s a one bedroom for seven hundred a month. It’s just down a block from the one we’re in now.”

“You take care, Joy”

When she left Joy said to me. “She’s really beautiful. That’s the religious lady. Last fall when I was beaten by Jake, and I had the broken nose, and broken ribs, she prayed with me. I felt a warm glow spreading through my body. For the first time in a week, I could take a full breath without chest pain. I’m not a religious person — well, I used to be a Catholic, but I haven’t been to church for a long time. It really spooked me. I felt better all day.

“There’s something about the number five. I have five boys. The marriage to my first husband lasted five years. Jake and I broke up after five years.

“I don’t want to live with Chuck. He want’s me to go over and see about the apartment, but I’m going to let him go by himself. I’ll phone back later in the week, talk to the lady, and maybe take it myself. Chuck and I are always arguing. He feeds so many people, I just can’t afford that.

“Hippo found a bicycle, that’s it over there.” She pointed to a blue bike in the bicycle rack. “I told him it looks like one of those bait bicycles. The police put them out every so often. If you’re caught riding one you’re charged with theft.”

“Is it locked?” I asked.

“It has a lock on it, but the lock isn’t fastened. It only looks locked. I can just imagine Hippo riding that. One good thing about having a bicycle is that it will help him lose weight.

“I brought him some soap and some shampoo. He said at The Shepherd they only give them a tiny bit to last for a week. That’s why his hair looks greasy. People sometimes drop some off hotel soap and shampoo for me. I don’t know why. Do they think I’m dirty?”

Hippo walked across the street. “Hi Hippo,” I said. “How are you feeling?”

“Not so good. I was out drinking with Andre and we got into some bad stuff. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“What were you drinking, Hippo? If you were with Andre, it could have been Listerine or rubby (rubbing alcohol). Which was it?”


“Hippo, you know that stuff will kill you.”

“Rubbing alcohol is used to disinfect, to bring down fever and to soothe skin. Most rubbing alcohol is made of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol in water. Isopropyl isn’t the same type of alcohol that is in alcoholic beverages—ethanol— although sometimes ethanol is an ingredient in rubbing alcohol. When ethanol is an ingredient it will have been denatured. Denaturing is adding poisonous and bad-tasting ingredients, and it is done specifically to prevent people from drinking the alcohol. Often the poisonous ingredient added is methanol, which can cause blindness. Isopropyl is also found in mouthwashes and skin lotions. Isopropyl is very intoxicating. Because it is easily available and has no purchasing restrictions, it is sometimes used as a substitute for ethanol alcohol.

Drinking rubbing alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning are vomiting, confusion, slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute), seizures, low body temperature, pale or blueish skin and unconsciousness. In cases of isopropyl ingestion, because of its strong effect on the central nervous system, a person may experience lethargy or ataxia, or may go into a coma. Because isopropyl also affects the GI tract, a person who has drunk it can have stomach pain, cramps and hemorrhagic gastritis. Someone who has ingested rubbing alcohol will also have a fruity smell to his or her breath.” (http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5200289_effects-consuming-rubbing-alcohol.html)

“I’m going off to do some things on my own,” said Hippo.

Joy said, “I don’t even want to think about what that is.”

After Hippo left Joy said, “I’ve sunk pretty low, but I’ve never drunk Listerine or rubbing alcohol. Now they sell Listerine without alcohol. I don’t know where Serge gets his. I can’t stand to be near him. He reeks of the stuff. Lately, he’s been acting funny. All he seems do is sleep. (a side effect of drinking rubbing alcohol or alcohol based mouthwash).”

“Yesterday,” I said, “Irene was complaining about leg pain. Does that have to do with her cancer?”

“I don’t know what the leg pain is about. Yesterday, because she was wearing capris, I noticed how skinny her legs are. She had breast cancer and cancer of the uterus. She also has cirrhosis of the liver. It’s because of the uterine cancer that she doesn’t have sex with Shark. It’s too painful for her. He goes off somewhere and pays for it. She’s cool with that. Shark and Irene have been together eleven years. I think they had sex once.”

“You mentioned that you lost a lot of weight. How did you do that?”

“When I came back from Winnipeg I weighed about three hundred and sixty-five pounds. My doctor told me it was unhealthy to be carrying that much weight, so I decided to eat only on Sundays. I didn’t eat anything during the week. I drank lots of water. On Sunday, I’d go to the Mission and pig out all day, until I was stuffed.”

I noticed Clint, a man I work with, approaching. I said to Joy that Clint was going to Disneyland.

“Do you know what I love from Disney land? It’s the soap that’s shaped like a urinal puck. On one side there is a picture of Mickey Mouse. They have them in all the rooms. I love the smell and it’s so good for my skin.”

I called Clint over and introduced him to Joy. I said, “Clint, when you go to Disneyland, will you bring Joy some of the soap that is in the hotel rooms?”

“Why?” asked Clint.

Joy replied, “It’s not because I’m dirty; it’s just that I love the smell of that soap. So, will you bring me some?”


I said, “Bye, Clint. I’ll see you at work.”

Toothless Chuck arrived with V. Joy attached V’s leash to the meter on the wall behind her. They had domestic matters to discuss, so I left.

At noon I went to the park, as usual. The usual crowd was there.

Wolf called me over. “I want to show you my Tilley hat. It’s considered the Rolls Royce of hats. A friend gave it to me. Can you read without your glasses? I want you to read what’s printed inside the hat.”

“It says, that it floats, it’s waterproof, and it’s made for persnickety customers. It also gives washing instructions. There’s a four page owner’s manual, in the secret pocket, inside the crown of the hat.”

“What does persnickety mean?”

“Picky,” I said.

“Isn’t that the darndest thing?”

Joy and Butcher  were talking about V. I asked, “How long did you have to look after V, this morning?”

“Chuck came back after about half an hour. He has him now. He’s panning. I don’t like that dog; but he respects me. If he bites, I snap my fingers on his nose and he’ll obey. Chuck kicks him.”

Butcher said, “I don’t like the way Chuck treats V. He jerked the dog right off his feet, for not obeying some command. If a man treats a dog that way, he’s sure to beat a woman.”

Joy said, “I can say one thing in Chuck’s defense. He’s never hit me and I’m not aware of him hitting any other woman. Trudy went out with him before, I’ll ask her.

“Trudy, when you were going out with Chuck, did he ever hit you?”

Trudy said, “No, Chuck never hit me. Is Butcher starting a rumor that Chuck hit me. Don’t believe a word he says. He’s the one that started the rumor about Nick being dead.”

“Okay,” said Butcher, “This needs an explanation. Trudy has been going on about this for ten years. I don’t know why she holds on to it. Why can’t she move on! I have!

“She’d been going out with Nick for about three years. I’d known him for forty years. We grew up together. I hadn’t seen Nick around for a while and my friend, Steve, said to me, “Did you hear about Nick? The funeral is on Tuesday in Oshawa.

“I’m not good at funerals. I went to the service, but at the wake I didn’t go near the body. Why would I? My own daughter died and I still haven’t visited the grave site. I’d rather remember the good times we had together.

“Back to the wake. I expressed my condolences to Nick’s parents and family, then I left. Later on someone asked me if I’d heard from Nick and I said, ‘He died. I attended his funeral.’ This person said, ‘Nick didn’t die, he was arrested and is serving two years. It was his brother Roger who died.’ I didn’t know.

“Getting back to Trudy, it was Steve who told her that Nick had died, not me.”

As I was leaving I stopped to talk to Shark and Irene. Shark said, “My friend Wayne phoned me. He wants us to come to New Brunswick to help him finish a log cabin he’s building. The trees he cut were on his own property. The logs are stacked and have been drying since last year. They’ll have to be peeled then he’ll start building. He wants us to come up to help with the chinking, shellacking, and all the finishing stuff. It’ll be a paid vacation. I’m thinking of going.”

“I’m going for sure,” said Irene, “whether you come or not.”

“It sounds like a great trip, ” I said. “I love New Brunswick.”


New Shoes for Shakes

24 May 2012

This morning was still a bit cool in the shade. I saw that someone else was in Joy’s usual spot. I recognized the green cap, and surmised that it must be Little Jake. In the opposite direction was Silver. Jake’s spot was on my way to work, so I chose to sit with him.

“Hi Jake”

“Hi Dennis, Joy told me she wouldn’t be here this morning, so I could use her spot. She’ll be down later. There was a woman who passed here earlier. She asked me, ‘Don’t I usually see you on the bridge?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m there most days.’ She said ‘I’m the one who phoned 911 when you were passed out on the grass.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’ That was the time they took me to the  hospital. She asked if she could buy me breakfast. I said, ‘No, but a coffee would be nice.’ Alcoholics don’t usually eat in the morning.”

“How are you feeling?” (Jake has AIDS).

“I’m not feeling too good. I should have my meds. I don’t have a health card. Either the police have my cards or the hospital has them. I’m not sure which. Three times the cops have taken my identification and not given it back.

“I got kicked out of my place, so I’m back on the street again. I was staying in an apartment in Cabbagetown. It was mostly crusty old drunks. I know you’re sixty-five, but these guys are really oId — You know, I was talking to Shakes yesterday, I found out that he’s only forty-six. I’m five years older than him. I couldn’t believe it.”

“I can’t believe it either. I was talking to him the other day and he said, “It’s nice waking up in the morning. If I don’t, I know something’s wrong.”

“Anyway, I got a noise complaint my first day there; since then I could just feel that they didn’t like me. You know that feeling, when you just don’t fit in? The super knocked on my door and said to me, ‘We’ve had complaints — there was only the one — and we’d like you to move out. If you leave now I’ll give you back half your months rent. I said to him, ‘Can I have a day?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ He had a forty ounce bottle of vodka and a twenty-six of Grand Marnier on the top of his desk. He always has them there.”

“Grand Marnier and vodka would be nice. The Grand Marnier by itself would be too sweet.”

“When I was a chef, I used it for flambes. You know, I’d throw some in the frying pan and it’d catch fire. I worked as a chef for quite a while.”

“I’ve used sherry for cooking. I’ve made sherried crepes. My kids loved them.”

“I had a good job, as a waiter, in a really high-class, snooty restaurant. You know — white tuxedo shirt, black pants, a vest. I was good-looking then. Still had all my teeth. I was only twenty-two at the time. One night, it was really slow. Only one table was filled. I was there every time they needed a cigarette lit. Every time a plate was empty, I took it away. Water glasses were always filled. I really did my job to perfection. They left me a tip of a hundred and fifty bucks. Can you believe that? I was in big money back then.

“Anyway, back to Cabbagetown, where I was staying. I thought about it for a while and said, ‘Fuck it. I don’t want to stay where I’m not wanted.’ I went down to the super’s office and said to him, ‘Give me my money. I’ll be gone in an hour.’ I left a lot of stuff there, my dream catchers, my wolf pictures, the food in my kitchen.

“So, I’m out on the street now. I spent last night sleeping by ‘the heater’. I didn’t have a sleeping bag, just the clothes I’m wearing now. Somehow, I scraped my arm. I don’t know how that happened. Wolf and Shaggy were there as well. The first thing Wolf said to me was, ‘Jake, am I ever glad to see you. Now, I can get some sleep.’ You know, he acts all tough, but he’s really a pussy cat.”

“Was Shaggy barking?”

“No, she was tired, just wanted to sleep. She’s over ten years old. She mostly barks when there are other dogs, or skateboarders, around. Bear barks at Brinks trucks. They have a distinctive horn that goes, ‘beep, beep’. Weasel used to know one of the drivers. He’d beep his horn, open the door and throw a cookie to Bear. Every time the dog hears that horn she starts to bark. She thinks she’s going to get a cookie. When she sees a hot air balloon she goes wild. I don’t know what that’s about.”

“I heard that Weasel kicked Wolf’s door in. He was at home guarding his stuff, until the door was repaired. I wonder if anything else happened?”

“The night before last, I stayed at Weasel’s place. He thinks I’m going to stay there for a while, but I wouldn’t stay in a mess like that. I’ve lived with him before.”

“Has he got his window fixed? I heard that he had a broken basement window for most of the winter.”

“Yeah, they fixed it. Do you know how that happened? He cheated some guy on a drug deal. The guy came back and threw a brick through his window.”

“Tell me about your wolf pictures.”

“When I was on my hiatus — when I stayed sober for a month at my parents place — I took up painting again. I painted a picture of a wolf on black velvet. It was about two by three feet. After I left, my parents had it framed. It’s hanging on their wall now. I’ve never actually seen it framed. So, what I have is a photograph of my painting.”

“Your parents live in North Bay don’t they?”

“No, they live in Deep River the other side of North Bay.”

“You went for a reunion there didn’t you?”

“Yeah, last summer. It was my grandparents sixtieth wedding anniversary. I saw my brother for the first time in thirteen years. He’s living in Winnipeg. Works as a letter carrier with the Post Office. He’s also a licensed mechanic. He has about a hundred thousand dollars worth of tools in his garage. His wife is a teacher. Between them they bring in a lot of money.

“I should get back there. I’ve hitchhiked there hundreds of times, but now that they’ve made it four lanes, and it’s an expressway, the cops are always patrolling. You know the expression, ‘There’s never a cop around when you need one?’ Well, there’s always a cop around when I’m hitching.”

Chester came by looking for cigarette butts on the sidewalk. Jake said to him, “I’ve got one here. It’s only half smoked.” Shortly after, Serge came by looking for butts. “Sorry Serge, Chester beat you to it. He’s already collected all the butts.”

At noon the weather was hot and sunny. There was a big crowd at the park. Shaggy was barking at Dillinger.

Shark came over and said, “Do you see Shakes’ new shoes. They’re my old ones. Shakes, show Dennis your new shoes!”

I said, “They look great, Shakes — a lot better that the ones you were wearing yesterday, with the red duct tape on the toe.”

I walked over to Donald and asked, “Did you take good care of Hippo on the weekend?”

“He didn’t come,” said Donald, “We were both drunk. We took the  bus. We got off at a stop right near my place. I turned around and he was gone. I was really upset.”

Hippo just shrugged his shoulders.

I said to Hippo, “You haven’t been drinking bad stuff with Andre, have you?”

“No, I’m sticking to beer for now.”

Donald said, “I told Hippo that he is invited to come over to my place this coming weekend. I’m going to barbecue steaks. You’re going to come, aren’t you, Hippo?”

“I’ll be there.”

Donald said, “Trudy told me that she had seen my girlfriend, and that she’s alright. I’m so relieved. She also said that she still loves me. If she loves me why doesn’t she phone me, or visit me? Does she think I’ll be angry? She left me for three weeks, but I forgive her. Does she think I’m going to hit her? I’m not a woman beater. I hate men who do that. That’s the reason I’m deaf and have this scar.” He lifted his tee-shirt to expose a scar crossing his stomach. “It was because my mother was beaten that I was born three and a half months premature. I weighed just over four pounds. My aunt could hold me in one hand. My mother was fifteen years old when she was pregnant. Several days before I was born she had her sixteenth birthday.

“She’s 51 now, is very attractive and very smart. She works in the Library Building for the Canadian Border Services Agency. I’m going to meet her at one o’clock. When people see us together they think that she is my twin sister.

“Do you read the Catholic Bible?”

“No, I’m not very familiar with it. I read a lot about Buddhism.”

“It doesn’t matter what religion we are; whether we’re Catholic, Anglican, Jehovah’s Witness or Baptist. We all believe in the same God, or a higher power. We’re all the same. Within us all of us is good and bad. We just have to choose the good.”

I said, “There is an American Indian legend about a grandfather giving advice to his grandson.The grandfather said, ‘I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other is the loving, compassionate one.’ When his grandson asked which wolf will win, the grandfather answered, ‘The one I feed.’ ”

“That is very wise.” said Donald. “I was in prison for sixteen months and I had a lot of time to read the bible. I learned that, to understand it, you have to read the end first, then the middle, then the beginning. That way it makes more sense. There are certain things in the bible that I don’t believe. I don’t believe that Hell is a place with fire, brimstone and red devils with pitch forks. I believe that Hell is right here on earth. Wars, famine, sickness; that’s Hell. I try to live a good life so that on Judgement Day I’ll go up there (pointing to the sky). Every minute people die and people are born. I believe that when we die we go into another body. Not right away, but eventually. When you look up to the stars it goes on forever. Maybe, we go to another planet. Who knows?”



25 May 2012

When I got off the bus I met Metro, he said, “Have a great weekend. Joy’s around the corner in her usual place.”

Shortly after I arrived Chantal (the religious lady) arrived. “How are you doing, Joy?”

“I’m fine.”

“Did you have a look at the apartment you were telling me about?”

“Yes, Chuck went over. He said it’s beautiful. It’s on the second floor. It’s furnished, utilities are included. We just have to pay for cable. There’s a deck in front and a deck outside my bedroom. Chuck is going to sleep in the living room. It’s seven hundred a month.”

“What’s the location?”

“It’s near the market, just a few blocks from where were living now.”

“It sounds ideal.”

“It is. Chuck has already said we’ll take it. The owner has to speak to his partner before he can confirm. If everything goes okay, I’ll move in right away. Chuck’s check goes directly to our present landlord, so he’ll have to have that transferred, then he can move in.

“So, Chantal, do you have any big plans for the weekend?”

“I’m running. Saturday is the big  Yonge Street 10k Race. If you want, you could meet me at the finish line, on Bathurst at Fort York Boulevard. I could use some cheering and support. Later, we could go for a coffee or something.”

“Sounds great.”

“I have to be at work soon, so maybe I’ll see you Saturday.”

We both said goodbye to Chantal. “She’s such a nice lady,” said Joy.

“If I’d seen that place on my own, I would have taken it for myself. Chuck is afraid of living alone and I’ve been feeling really hyper lately. I didn’t see the guys yesterday because some of them are getting on my nerves. I thought if I went there, I’d get in a fight, then go to jail. I just wanted to relax. I’ve had these weird feelings lately that I want to cut myself.”

“When I arrived Wednesday noon, you were arguing with someone. What was that about?”

“That was low life, Gerry, the wife beater, down in the park. He usually drinks Purell, but he had a bottle of sherry right out in the open. The security guard came along. Gerry told him that his bottle was sealed — it was half empty. The guard poured the sherry out on the grass. I was just standing there, at the railing, Gerry said to me, “Fuck off Joy! If you didn’t have all those guys around, I’d come up there and beat the shit out of you.”

“That made me mad. I said, ‘I don’t need any help to cut a woman beater like you down to size. I fight a lot better than the women you’ve taken on. I’d have you on your knees whimpering like a puppy.’ I tried to run down the hill, but Shark and Buck held me back. I’ve had lots of practice fighting with Jake. I may not have won the fights but I left him hurting.”

“When Gerry was in prison they kept him in pc (protective custody) along with the pedophiles, diddlers, woman beaters and other sex offenders. I don’t think Jake would be in pc. He’s six foot four and can take care of himself, but it depends on where they send him. Last I heard, he was in transition at Millhaven. In some prisons there are inmates three times the size of Jake.

“I haven’t been sleeping well lately with V slobbering and licking himself all night. Last night I got out of bed to go to the bathroom and he bit my ankle. It wasn’t as if I pushed him out of the way, like I usually do, I was walking around him. I grabbed him by the head and chomped down on his ears. He whimpered and went back to his corner.”

“Have you seen Hippo?” I asked. “I’m worried about him.”

“He was across the street earlier, until the lady made him move. He and Ian slept in the bank last night. He was here before six. I said to him, “What happened? Did you shit your pants?”

“Is he drinking rubbing alcohol?”

“Last night they both drank two bottles of sherry before they passed out. I told him, ‘That shit is hard on your system. Why don’t you go back to beer, or at least water the wine down like I do, or add apple juice, or something.”

I showed Joy the poem that I had written about Hippo. “What do you think? I’m wondering if he will be offended?”

“No, It’s fine. I’m surprised you wrote ‘shit’ and ‘puke’. I’ve just never heard you talk that way. Hippo will be fine with it, after all it’s what he said to all of us. How could he be offended?

My name is Hippo,
I’m an alcoholic.
Joy was the first
to call me Hippo.
My face swells
when I drink beer.
I guess, I look
like a Hippo.

Before that
they called me Farm Boy.
I never lived on a farm,
but, I come from
a farming community.
I guess I looked
like a Farm Boy.

Why do I drink?
Welfare asks me that
all the time —
I’m also homeless —
I don’t know why I drink.
I have bleeding ulcers;
I shit and puke blood.

I drink because
that’s who I am.
If I didn’t drink
I wouldn’t be me.
If I didn’t drink
I’d die…

Hippo is a  friend. Now, he has no health coverage and can’t see a doctor, or a hospital, about his bleeding ulcers. I’ve provided him with application forms to obtain his Birth Certificate, Social Insurance card and Health card. Next year, I hope to write a poem about him receiving medical help, finding a place of his own (instead of sleeping under a bridge) and having some control over his drinking. I’m not trying to control his life, or give him my opinion of what I think he should do. I’m trying to enable him to have more control of his life, the way he wants it.

At noon I saw Little Nick, sitting on the sidewalk beside the church, panning. A few weeks ago Nick had insulin shock and had to be rushed to hospital.

“Hi Nick, you had us all pretty worried, a while back, when they took you to hospital. How are you feeling now?”

“I’m okay now. I have some fruit and sandwiches with me. Whenever I feel weak I eat something. A man at church gave me some sugar pills. I always check my insulin level. When they took me to hospital it was over three times my normal level. It felt like I had drunk a quart of whiskey. My vision was blurred, heart was pounding, head felt like it was splitting. Everything was spinning. I was sweating. I didn’t know where I was. It felt like my brain was boiling.

“My doctor gave me some special medication, but it makes me feel sick. I have an M.R.I. scheduled for next week so they can see what’s going on. If it doesn’t show any improvement, I’m going off these pills.

“I try my best to get along with people, but if someone gets in my face and really pushes my buttons I lose it. My mind goes blank. It happened a while ago. I was down behind the Mission and this guy just kept coming at me, and at me. I grabbed him by the neck. I squeezed so hard that my hand broke. If someone hadn’t pulled me off, I would have killed him. I felt so bad, I wasn’t going to attend church on Sunday, but my friend talked me into it. He said it would help me to feel better, and it did.

“I go to St. Mary’s Church. My bible has all the important passages highlighted. I know it says, “thou shalt not beat up your neighbor, and “thou shalt not kill.’ I asked the church for forgiveness, and I asked forgiveness from the man I fought. There were a few tense days — whenever I saw him — I’d wonder, ‘Is he going to come at me or not.’ He lives in the same rooming house as me and there are always confrontations among the residents. I have the pain in my hand to remind me to control my temper.

“I try my best to help people. Each morning at about four o’clock, I make about ten sandwiches. I go past the Scott Mission, through the park, under the bridge, anywhere I think there may be homeless people. If I find someone who is hungry I give them a sandwich. The other day, under the bridge, I didn’t see anybody at first, but out from somewhere crawled a little old lady.

“I talk to people about helping the homeless, sometimes they’ll say, ‘They can always go to the Mission, or the Salvation Army, or The Shepherd.’ I explain to them that some people, because of mental conditions, like agoraphobia, or because of antisocial personality disorders, or alcoholism — where people do inappropriate things when they’re drunk — there is no place to eat, no place to sleep, no place to be safe. It’s our duty to help them, because they can’t help themselves.

“I was in Tim Horton’s the other day. An elderly woman was trying to buy a coffee with a gift card. I guess there wasn’t enough money on the card. She kept saying to them, ‘Try it again. Try it again.’ It was humiliating for her. I went up to the woman and said, ‘Try my card.’ It was one that someone had given me. She got her coffee. Later on, she was walking down Bank Street and saw me panning. She came over to me and said, ‘I can’t believe that a man who begs for money bought me a coffee.’ I said to her, ‘Ma’am, we all have our hard times. If we can help each other, it makes life a lot easier. That card was a gift to me, now it’s my gift to you. If you like, you can buy someone else a coffee when they need it.’

“The other day I was talking to a man. He’d slept on a park bench, so I knew he didn’t have any money. I offered to buy him a sandwich. We went to the Dominion restaurant. He said, ‘I’d really like a beer with that sandwich.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’ll buy you a sandwich, but I won’t buy you a beer. I don’t think the Lord intended that I buy beer for people.’

“I was at a twenty-four hour McDonalds the other night. There is a gay club nearby. When was near closing time for the club a lot of people started filtering over to McDonalds. I thought it strange at first. I saw women making out with women, and men making out with men, but I got talking to some of them and they were really nice. One of gave them this rainbow flag that I sewed to my backpack. I’m not like that, you understand, but as long as nobody touches me, whatever they do is fine.”

I went to the park where there was a congregation of about a dozen people and two dogs;  Shaggy and Dillinger.

Irene called me over. “I want to tell you something,” she said. “Shark has been staying over at my place for the last week, but they are going to fumigate today, so we had to pack everything away, wash the walls, cover things with plastic, make the place ready for the fumigators. It was a big job. Then we went to Shark’s place in Chinatown. He’d left one of the windows, and the screen open. There was a pigeon in his apartment. It took forever to get the pigeon to leave. I looked under his futon — he has a really nice futon — there was a nest with two eggs in it.

“Shark, I was just telling Dennis about the pigeons.”

Shark interjected, “There must have been two birds coming in and out, because they’d built a very intricate nest of twigs. They must have been at it for most of the week.”

‘It just freaked me out,” said Irene. There was bird dirt everywhere, and I’m really fussy about germs — I’m taking antibiotics. I hardly slept at all.”

“Eventually,” said Shark, “we’re going to move all my stuff over to Irene’s. I’ve got two wide-screen TVs, a sound system. They’re just going to waste, because I’m never home.”

I walked over to talk to Hippo. “How are you feeling, Hippo?”

“A lot better than this morning. Ian and I slept in the Toronto Dominion Bank, until they kicked us out. I still got a bottle of wine we’d been sharing. He knows where I drink. If he doesn’t come soon there won’t be anything left. Oh, well.”


Shaggy Goes to the Spa

28 May 2012

As I crossed the street this morning I met Metro. “Good morning, Dennis, or is it Gordon today?”

“I’m anyone I want to be.”

“As long as you’re not late for dinner. Right?”

“That’s right, Metro. Have a good day.”

“You too, Dennis.”

Joy seemed to be in good spirits. Hippo was nowhere to be seen. In the distance I could see Little Jake’s green cap and Silver’s black cap. They were both panning across the street,  in the next block.

Chantal, the religious lady, stopped by. “Good morning Joy, Dennis.”

“Hi Chantal,” said Joy. “how did the race go on Saturday?”

“It went. I finished, but it was hard. Did you go?”

“Yes, I was in the crowd waving, but there were too many people.”

“How did it go with the apartment you were looking at?”

“I phoned the guy. It sounded as if he had his hand over the mouthpiece of the receiver, and I could hear giggling in the background. I asked, ‘Did you speak to your partner? When can we come over and sign the papers?’ He said, ‘I talked to him, but because it’s furnished we decided to up the rent to seventeen hundred and seventy-five. a month.” I said, ‘Your manner is very unprofessional. It’s no wonder the place has been vacant for so long.’ Then I hung up.

“I’m not concerned, there are lots of other places.”

Chantal said, “If you need to move, and want a place to store food or other things, for a while, we have lots of room. I’m free after work if you want to join me for coffee. I could meet you here.”

“Sounds great, I’ll see you then.”

“Goodbye, Joy. ‘Bye, Dennis.”

“ ‘Bye, Chantal.”

I said, “I’m sorry that the apartment didn’t work out for you. Are you okay staying where you are for a while?”

“Yeah, there’s no rush. I’d like to get away from Chuck though. He didn’t take V out for a walk very often on the weekend, so he just growled at me for most of the time. I didn’t sleep very well.

“Chuck was muttering on about something this morning. He looked at me expecting some sort of response. I just said, ‘Mutter away, don’t mind me.’

“He took V with him when he went panning this morning. Hopefully, the dog will be tired out when they get home.

“Nicholas and his girlfriend were over for a barbecue on Saturday. V kept jumping on Nick, who just pushed him down. Chuck said, ‘Knee him in the chest, that’s what I do.’ Nick said, ‘I’m, not going to do that. You can’t treat a dog that way.’ If Chuck treats V like that on the street, someone may phone the S.P.C.A.. He could be charged with cruelty and V will be taken away. That may be the best thing for everybody. I hope that happens. Chuck doesn’t have the energy or the patience to care for a dog.

“I used to have a red King Doberman. He was a great dog. I had to leave him behind in Montreal. I miss my family. You know, I didn’t even hear about my mother’s death until my uncle breezed into town three months later. He said, “Don’t worry Joy, everything has been taken care of.”

“That’s not the point,” I said. “I didn’t even know that she was sick. I would have liked to say goodbye to her. She may have died not knowing that I loved her.”

“Joy, “ I said, “she knew that you loved her. You bought her a house.”

“I know. Here I go crying again.”

Chester stopped by, just to say hello. We shook hands, then he wandered away to visit with Silver and Little Jake.

I said, “I noticed that Mary and Chester haven’t been together lately. Are they not seeing each other any more?”

“As soon as Chester’s money was gone, so was Mary. They’re all like that.

“Now, Mary is hanging around Nick.”

“I talked with Nick on Friday. Did you know that he gets up at 4:00 am, makes sandwiches and takes them to homeless people?”

“Yes, I knew that. Nick’s a sweetheart. I hope Mary doesn’t take advantage of him. He’s become religious lately. I think he’s trying to atone for past sins. He’s going to the doctor today to have a cast put on his hand.”

“Outcast and Debbie are back together again. She has a regular freezer order coming every month. He’ll love that. He can eat any time he wants.”

“Does he work?”

“He used to have a job at the Salvation Army, washing people’s clothes. It was Debbie that got him the job. Then they had that big strike and staff was cut back. He was the last hired, so he was the first to go. Debbie still has her job. Outcast is such a leech.

“So, what do you think will happen when Big Jake gets out?”

“There’s a restraining order saying that he can’t come within five hundred metres of me, that’s fifteen hundred feet, but that’s never stopped him before. We have the same friends so we’re bound to come in contact with each other. I’m not worried, my friends will protect me from Jake.”

“I get the feeling that, eventually, you want to get back with Jake? If that’s what you want, that’s what I want for you, but you said, ‘Next time, he’s going to kill me.’ Perhaps, you should keep your meetings public, where you have witnesses.”

“I don’t want to get into a relationship with anybody. I still love Jake, maybe, one day we can be friends. We’ll have to see what happens.”

Little Jake came over, “Joy, I’m going to the liquor store. Do you want anything?”

“I’ve only made eight bucks this morning. Oh well, here’s eight,  get me a bottle of Imperial Sherry.”

I was met at the park by Little Jake, Wolf, Shaggy and a few others. Shortly after I arrived Jake left to go to work pan handling.

Wolf said to me, “I’ve got something to tell you. There was no point in telling Jake. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk to you either. Sometimes, I’d just as soon you’d chill somewhere else, but that’s beside the point. The point is, and I thought you’d find this interesting, I read two books on the weekend. One by James Patterson and some other guy. It’s called Daniel X: Alien Hunters.’ According to the book there are aliens all around us. I’m not usually into that kind of stuff. I’m more for detective and espionage stories. The other was a Spencer novel. Do you like the Spencer stories?

“Yes, I’ve read a lot of them. I especially like the ones with Hawk, his sidekick.”

“Yeah, those are the ones. I’ve got the last book that Robert B. Parker wrote before he died. It’s called, ‘Chasing the Bear’. It’s in hardcover, with large print, I like those — easier on the eyes. I’ll lend it to you if you want. A friend gave it to me, but I’ll want it back. They’re both easy reads. I read one on Saturday, the other, Sunday.

“The reason I was reading is because Rogers cut off my cable. I’ve got no phone, no TV. I wouldn’t have a computer either, but I’m not computer literate, so that doesn’t matter. I’ve always been about two hundred behind in my bill, but they’ve let it slide. This time I ran it up too high and they cut me off.

“I think I’m going to sign up with Bell; not under my real name, of course. I’ve bundled up all my Rogers equipment. I don’t want Bell to suspect that Rogers cut me off.

“On Thursday I get my check. That’s the day I have Shaggy booked to go to the spa. That’s another reason I didn’t pay my Rogers bill. It costs about a hundred for what they call a full groom. That includes clipping, teeth brushing, ear cleaning and nail cutting. Some people don’t understand why I spend all that money on a dog, but she’s like my child. She sleeps under my bed or under my futon; wherever I am, that’s where she sleeps.

Trudy came to where Wolf and I were sitting, “Wolf, can I buy a smoke from you for a quarter?”

“Sure,” he said, as he pulled out a clear plastic bag filled with cigarettes. He handed her a cigarette, she handed him a quarter and left.

“Did you see that? I buy these cigarettes for ten cents and sell them for twenty-five. I make one hundred and fifty percent profit. Not bad, eh?

“What do you think of this Quebec student strike and the riots? Now Toronto students are going to be joining them. I guess they feel they have to because of their student union. What have they got to complain about? They already have the lowest tuition in Canada, and Canada has the lowest tuition in the world. I think they should all be shot. That’s the German in me coming out.

“I can tell you’re about to say something, but if it’s in defence of those students, I don’t want to go there.”

“What I was going to say is that Iceland has free tuition for universities. My grandparents came from Iceland in 1900.”

“Okay, I knew I was wrong there. So you’re second generation Canadian. You’re descended from Vikings. Right on! All that raping, pillaging and stuff. They were good fighters, and they controlled a lot of the world at one time.

“I’m first generation Canadian. My parents came from Germany. My mother always said I come from solid German stock. When my dad was nineteen, do you know what he was doing? He was carrying a rifle in the German Army during World War Two. He was shot four times. Then they were kicked out of their own country.

“When I was nineteen I was just trying to get laid.”


Shark is Robbed

29 May 2012

This morning, Silver was the only panhandler I saw on Queen Street. I asked him if others had been by earlier. He said, “Joy was here, but she packed up and left.”

I said, “I know that Joy had a court appearance this morning. It was for the breach  she was given while in hospital, with kidney failure. Her lawyer expects that the breach will be thrown out.”

Silver said, “Hippo and Little Jake came by. I don’t know where they went. Outcast came by — he doesn’t like me calling him that. Joy gave him that name. He paid me the five bucks that he owed me,  and gave me another five as interest. He’ll probably be at the park at noon.”

“Jacques won’t be pleased to see him. He said so yesterday.”

“Well, look what he did to Jacques. I don’t blame him.”

“Lucy’s boyfriend, Nick, is out of jail now.”

I said, “I heard that Nick robbed Shark of his change, then beat him up because he had no bills. Then Lucy beat up Irene. Joy told her, if she so much as touches Irene again, she’s going to get her skull smashed.”

“Joy has a temper, all right. That’s the native in her.”

I asked, “So, how long have you been panhandling. Do you have your own place?”

“I stay at a rooming house on Sherbourne near Dundas.  Rent is  four hundred and fifty a month. I guess I’ve been panhandling for about six years.

“Way back, I was in a group home, then reform school, then I was sent to another group home, then jail, jail again, and again, and again. I didn’t mind the federal prisons like Millhaven. I had my own cell and even had a curtain that blocked part of the light. As long as the guard could see me, when he did his rounds, there was no problem.

“In the provincial jails: Joyceville, Kingston and Collins Bay, I had to share a cell. I guess Kingston was the best. I learned to mind my own business. If I heard a scream, or the sound of someone getting beaten up, I’d just move on, go back to my cell and watch my soap opera.

“One time this guy was getting a lot of hamburger, and he didn’t even work in the kitchen — a short stocky guy. He must have been ratting on someone. I was walking past the exercise yard and saw someone beating this guy. The guy who was beating on him signaled for me to move on,  so that’s what I did. Anyway, I’m no fighter.

“If someone has a lot of something, like hamburger, they’re expected to share. It’s only right. Same as we do here.”

“When I worked in the kitchen I used to smuggle subs in my underwear. I’d also bring a sub and an apple juice to the guard. He would pat me down, when I left the kitchen, but I was never caught with food.”

This afternoon at the park was awkward. There were two groups of people.  Outcast, Hippo and Shakes were sitting on the curb by the sidewalk.

Outcast said, “I don’t mind being blamed for something I did, but I can’t stand being blamed for what I didn’t do. I was at Jacques’ place — he’d been sleeping — I was sorting through his DVDs looking for one to watch. I wasn’t stealing anything. I don’t even own a DVD player. Why would I steal DVDs? He’s been spreading rumors that I stole from him and it’s a lie. I could tell about him fondling women who had passed out at his place.”

Silver said, “I saw Joy wandering off with Chester. I’ll bet she’s after his money.”

Shakes said, “Nick is out of jail. I was there when he robbed and beat up Shark. Lucy beat up Irene. I stood up for Shark.  I said, ‘If you fight Shark you’re going to have to fight me too.’ He said, ‘I got no beef with you Shakes.  Shark owes me something and he won’t pay up.’ I said, ‘It’s you that owes Shark, not the other way around.’ ”

Shortly after, Shark arrived and the conversation shifted. I said to Shakes, “Your daughter, Fran, was looking for you yesterday. Did she find you?”

“Yes, I visited with both of my daughters yesterday.”

I wandered up to talk to the other group that included Wolf and Shaggy, Jacques and Shark.

I said to Hippo, “How have you been feeling?”


“So you haven’t been throwing up blood or having stomach pains?”

“No, I’m feeling fine.”

“I was talking to Silver earlier about how to get a health card, so you could see a doctor.”

“I got all the papers here in my pack. First I have to get my Birth Certificate. Because I’m adopted I need information about my real parents, I don’t know where to get that. Then, I can get my Social Insurance Number, then my Health Card.”

I said, “I can research the internet and see if there are forms that can be downloaded. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

Silver gave Hippo some advice on the different agencies that could help. He then said, “Hippo and I had quite a time in the Market yesterday. We were at a loading dock, in the alley across from The Greasy Oven. We turned around and saw a ghost police car with two cops in it. We went the opposite way and found another loading dock. This one smelled bad because it was near the garbage. I said, ‘This is stupid. Let’s go to my place. We can drink our beer, order some pizza and watch television.”

Outcast came up to Jacques and said, “I don’t want you spreading any more lies about me stealing from you. You know they aren’t true.” Jacques sat there — that’s as far as it went.


Ride To Remember

31 May 2012

At noon there were cloudy periods, with a cool breeze blowing. In the sun it was warm, in the shade it was cool. Yesterday was check day for all the people on government assistance. Today, on Queen Street  there was a motorcycle parade, RIDE to REMEMBER ‘say never again’ . Motorcycle clubs from around the world are riding from Toronto in remembrance of veterans and to say “never again” to the Holocaust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Near the St. Lawrence Market? No, I know too many people there. Maybe in Cabbagetown, but I know too many people everywhere.”

“Did I tell you that Joy, Donald and I, all lived near Parliament and Carlton, in Cabbagetown? It’s quite a coincidence. I was a block from Carlton, Joy lived a few blocks further down, and Donald lived further still near Gerrard.”

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

“That’s important.” I said.

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

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

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

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

“He says it’s slow motion.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes I am. Have you seen Joy today?”

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

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

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

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


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

“No, they said it wouldn’t help.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you need any money?”

“No, I’m good, but thanks anyway.”

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





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.