2012 – November

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Staying at the Sally

9 November 2012

Joy and Andre were sitting together, sharing the cold. Joy borrowed a cell phone from one of her regulars and requested that her appointment with the Salvation Army worker be moved up to nine, thirty.

“Chester had better be home when I go there to get my stuff. He’s been a real asshole lately. He’s drinking beer and mixing it with sherry. It’s making him act really crazy. Last night he was opening and slamming doors all night long. I got even. When I got up four this morning I made sure that I opened and slammed every door at least twice. He asked me, ‘You washed your dishes and left mine in the sink?’ I said to him, ‘Chester, you’re just a hair away from having your face punched in, so watch what you say.’ I’ll be so glad to get away from that place. He’s even started stealing my sherry. He snuck into my room and I saw him drink out of my bottle. I bought a carton of cigarettes, I haven’t even opened the bag, but I can see there’s a handful missing.

“Did you hear that Bear bit Andre this morning.”

I asked, “Were you sleeping outside last night, Andre?”

“No,

“Weasel lets that dog lick his sores. Bear could have HIV. He could have infected me.”

Joy said, “I told him, ‘Weasel, if it weren’t for Bear, nobody would have anything to do with you, not even Stella. He said, ‘That’s not true.’ I said, ‘You don’t look after Bear, you’re always passing him off to someone else. You take advantage of people. Nobody likes you.’

André said, “When I see him later, I’m going to ask him, ‘Do you know what a dog bite feels like?’ Then I’ll pop him. It was the same when my stepfather would keep bugging me at the table. My mother could see that I was starting to shake, so she told my step dad, ‘Keep that up and Andre’s going to hit you.’ He kept it up, I stood up and knocked him right out of his chair. He was laying on the floor and my mother bent over him and said, ‘I told you.’

Joy said, “We have some good news about Serge. Some of the guys and I have been visiting him in hospital. He’s looking a lot better. He looks strange with his head and beard shaved. They had to do that because of the lice, he had them bad. Apparently he’s lost a lot of weight. They’re giving him some beer and sherry, trying to get him off the Listerine. He asked me, ‘Joy, could you get me a bottle?’ I said, ‘No way, I can still smell that stuff on you.’

André said, “It’s just like when I was in hospital last, with my heart attack. I lost a lot of weight.”

I said, “I remember that André, you were pale, weak, your face was gaunt.”

It was time for me to go to work, Both André and Joy said, “If we don’t see you this afternoon, we’ll see you Tuesday.”

A police car had pulled up, in front of the park, and two officers were talking to the guys sitting on the curb. Jacques waved at me. I waved back.

Andre came over and whispered to me to me, “I told them I’m just waiting for my worker. This is where she told me to wait for her.

“Dennis, could you do me a big favor. They made me pour out all my liquor. I need a bottle.”

“I’m on my way to an appointment, so I can’t go on a liquor run.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“I don’t carry any cash, but I’ll see what I can do.” I stopped in at the Transit Office to pick up my bus pass, then went looking for a liquor store. I found a vintage wine store, but they laughed when I asked for Imperial Sherry. I walked a few blocks down Queen to another liquor store and was able to find what Andre wanted. I brought it back, but Andre had already left with his worker.

I said to Little Jake, “Andre asked me to pick this up for him, could you see he gets it? I know he’d want to share so, could you also see that Shakes gets a drink?”

Some people would think that what I did was enabling, but an alcoholic needs some alcohol in their system or they can’t function. They also feel very sick.

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Casino

12 November 2012

The regulars were gathered  in a circle near Queen and Jarvis, where the Moss Park Armoury extends to George. The first person to greet me was Outcast.

“Hi, Dennis, how was your vacation?”

“It was great, Outcast. I was in San Diego visiting my son, his wife and my granddaughter.”

“Nice, did you have good weather?”

“Perfect”

Joy said, “I moved to my apartment on Friday. My back is sore, because I don’t have any furniture, just an empty room. I sat in the middle of the floor all weekend. Yesterday, Mariah brought me down two folding canvas chairs. She also brought me some kind of a quilt or comforter. I opened the bag and it stunk. I said to her, ‘You brought me dirty laundry?’ I took it to the laundromat nearby, they have only one double washer and no double dryers. They ate quarters like you wouldn’t believe.

“Wednesday we go to Chester’s place to pick up the rest of my stuff, mostly shoes.

“When they cut a tree down in my back yard, some of the bark got tracked downstairs. There were these little wood worms that curl up when you touch them. All morning I was flicking these with my thumb. It was just like playing marbles with my son.”

I said, “It must feel good to have a place to go to where you can lock the door, it’s quiet and you can do whatever you want.”

“It will take a bit of getting used to, but I have lots of security. There are three doors that have to be unlocked in order to get to my place.”

I asked, “How about your health card, will you be getting that soon?”

“Yeah, I really need to be on my meds.”

I said, “That should make a big difference in how you feel.”

“My fibromyalgia is really acting up in my legs and my arms.”

“I don’t know much about that, but I have restless leg syndrome. If I don’t take my medication my leg twitches every fourteen seconds. It’s really annoying and will keep me awake at night.”

“I have the same thing.”

Luther came over, “I’m sorry to hear about the son you lost (my son isn’t lost). You have my condolences. I was telling you last week about my daughter that was lost, actually it wasn’t my daughter it was my god-daughter. Her father is doing time in prison — twenty years for murder. So, while he’s in jail I’m responsible for her.

He showed me his birth certificate from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He said, “See, my last name is actually Italian.”

“I’m in trouble with my partner. I have addictions. I went to the casino — I can count cards — I made some money. The dealer said, ‘I can see you’re a card player.’ I said, ‘Take me to the Blackjack table.’ I won ten thousand dollars, but the cops were standing at the door waiting for their cut. I walked up to them. I asked? ‘ Do any of you have a smoke?’ One handed me a cigarette. I asked, ‘Do you have a light?’ He pulled out his lighter and lit my cigarette. I don’t smoke. They asked, ‘Did you have a good night?” I said, ‘No, I lost.’ Then I walked out the door with my case full of money. I spent it on my brothers. It all went on booze.”

A police car pulled up with two police officers in it. Officer D. Salinas said to Outcast. “We saw you throw a can into the bushes. We’re going to have to charge you.” He pulled out his pad and wrote Outcast a ticket.

Officer McQuaid was writing a ticket for Weasel.

He asked Andre, “Are you keeping out of trouble?”

“Yes officer, I’m sober. I have been for three days.”

“How about you Luther? Why are you standing so close to me? Is this some kind of a confrontation?”

Joy said, “McQuaid, don’t stand too close to those dreadlocks. If you look close you can see little white things. It isn’t dandruff.”

Two more police cars pulled up. Female officers got out of each car. One said, “How’s everybody doing?”

Joy said, “I’ve just moved into a place of my own, so I dropped by to visit some of the guys.”

“That sounds good, Joy. You should be at home having a house-warming, not down here.”

“Most of these guys I wouldn’t invite over. If I had one, Officer Stiller, would you come?”

“I think I’d pass on that, but thanks anyway.”

One of the female officers came over to Andre. She reached down and picked up his leather gloves. “Where did you get these?”

“I bought them at the Sally Ann.”

“They look a lot like a pair I lost.” She examined them inside and out. There was a call on her radio, a group of twenty people were leaning against the wall at the Mission. They got back in their cars and left. McQuaid and Salinas left shortly after.”

Andre said to me, “The reason she was looking at my gloves is because when she stopped me a few days ago I stole her SWAT gloves. She stopped me yesterday and I stole another pair.”

Joy said, “I’m so glad they left, I’m on the last day of my probation and I’ve got pot in my back pack and a bottle under my sweatshirt. Those female officers could have searched me and my bag.

To Joseph she said, “Why did you have to talk to them the way you did? Are you trying to get us all arrested?”

 

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Baghdad

13 November 2012

I joined the group standing at the corner by the Armory.

Darren asked me, “We’ve met before, haven’t we?”

“Yes,” I said, “I saw you yesterday and I also met you two years ago down the street, where the benches used to be. You told me that you’d lived in Boston and that you’d been in the army.”

“It was the Marines. I was in Baghdad and Afghanistan. When we’d walk along the streets, there would be bodies just lying there on the sidewalks – dead bodies. We’d smell the rotting flesh.

“I’ve been getting these migraine headaches. It feels like someone hit me with a baseball bat at the back of my skull.”

I asked, “Was that because of your car accident?”

Alphonse said, “He’s had a tumor.”

“Yeah, where this missing patch of hair is. The surgery wasn’t so bad; it was the chemo that I really hated. I’d keep throwing up and wouldn’t be able to stop. It was every morning. I went to the doctor recently about the headaches. He ran some tests. I don’t want to go on morphine; I’ve already got one addiction, I don’t need another. I have to go back October thirty-first for the results, Halloween – I think it’s this Thursday — to get the results.”

“Darren,” said Alphonse, “it’s November thirteenth, Halloween was two weeks ago.”

“Do you mean I missed my appointment?”

I said, “It’s no problem, Darren, phone them, they can make another appointment for you.”

“I’ve been staying in shelters, but I hate it. To wake you up in the morning they kick you in the foot.”

I said, “I’ve heard that there are a lot of crack heads there, getting up every hour, walking around, keeping people awake.”

“Not only that, but they smoke crack in the bathrooms. The smell makes me sick. It’s like burning tires. My former wife used to be on crack. I’d wonder where all our money was going. We could never seem to get ahead. One day I came home and found two guys on top of her. One of them broke my leg. I took our two kids in the truck and they stayed with my mother. The next time I saw her she patted her backside and said, ‘Kiss my ass.’ That’s the last time I saw her.”

Alphonse said, “Magdalene has been going to a women’s shelter to have a shower and get cleaned up. She said there are always women smoking crack in the bathrooms.”

“Yeah,” said Magdalene. This morning I saw a woman with a hypodermic needle to her throat. I don’t know what she was shooting. I couldn’t believe it.”

Alphonse said, “We have some good news. We’ve applied for assisted housing and I think they’ve found us a place in Roncesvalles. They still have some other applications to go through, but I think we’re going to get it. We’ll also get a ‘street allowance’ because we’re living on the street. We’ve also made application for O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program. We’ll be getting a health card and a bus pass.”

Darren said, “Congratulations! Lately, I’ve been sleeping outside. I really admire you guys — sleeping outside for two and a half years.

“I was in court this morning for a pre-sentence hearing. Do you know Old Alphonse?”

“No,” I said.

“Anyway, Old Alphonse gave these two kids money to buy a bottle. It was a girl and a guy. They never came back. Later on I saw them. I grabbed the guy in a headlock and took him back to Old Alphonse. He didn’t have the money, he’d spent it on crack, so I laid into him. I felt a hand on my shoulder and without thinking, I threw a punch. It was a cop. He didn’t identify himself. How was I to know? A couple of them jumped me, had me in hand cuffs face down on the ground. One had his knee on the back of my neck. The others put the boots to me. It was the fat blond woman who split my ear. I think they have metal plates on the toes of their boots.

“One lawyer told me I should sue. Another told me to let it go. I’ve got until January first to prepare my statement.”

Alphonse said, “Something similar happened to me and Magdalene. We were panning on Parliament Street. A guy came along and lay down beside us. Magdalene told him to move along. He got up to swing at her and I clocked him right at the back of the jaw. He fell into the street. The police and ambulance came. I told them what happened; that I was just defending my woman. There was a woman nearby who also witnessed it. The cop said, ‘Alphonse, you shouldn’t have done that, but I understand why you did. Just move along and we’ll forget about it.’

”So, Dennis,” said Darren, “you seem to know what it’s like for us. Have you ever slept on the streets?”

“No, but my brother did. He slept on the streets of Calgary. After not eating for three days, he was ready to jump off a bridge, when someone suggested that he join the army. He had to lie on his application, because he had been dishonorably discharged from the navy. When they found out that he’d given false information, he was already in Korea. Later, he became Eastern Canadian Boxing Champ. He was alcoholic and got into lots of fights. He’s dead now — asphyxiated on his own vomit, sleeping in a Toronto hotel. He’d also been robbed and beaten.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Darren.

“We sure got wet last night,” said Alphonse. “I gave Magdalene my inside pants because hers were soaked.”

I walked over to talk to Andre and Shakes. “Hi, Andre, how have you been?”

“So, now you decide to come over and talk to us. I thought we were being ignored.”

“No, Andre, it’s just that I haven’t seen Darren for a long time. How has it been going with your worker?”

“Thursday, I signed the papers for my health card. I filled out the application for housing. Now I’m just waiting. I see my worker again on Wednesday.

“Shakes and I slept outside last night. We were picked up on Queen Street. They phoned The Shepherd, They said they had room for us. When we got there they said they were full, so they took us to the Sally. They said they were full – at nine o’clock they’re full. I think they were pulling something. I can’t believe that in buildings with four floors, that they couldn’t have found a space for us. I would have been happy to sleep on the basement floor. It would have been better than being in the rain, but they wouldn’t let us in.”

I asked, “Did Little Jake give you the bottle I brought you?”

“No, I saw him last night. He didn’t say anything about a bottle.”

“Friday, the afternoon you had the meeting with your worker, the police were writing tickets. You asked me if I could do you a favor and buy you a bottle. I said, ‘I’ll see what I could do.’ I knew that you guys would have had to pour out all your booze, so I brought back a bottle of Imperial sherry from the Yonge Street liquor store. You weren’t there so I gave the bottle to Frank. I said to him that you’d probably want to share it, and to make sure Shakes got a drink.”

“I didn’t know that. Thanks!” Actually I didn’t pour out my booze. I didn’t have any to pour out. I was sober Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I spent the weekend at my cousin’s.

Shakes had his head down. With his hat on I could barely see his face. I bent down and looked into his eyes. “Hi, Shakes, how are you doing. Are you getting there?”

“Hi, Dennis, I’m getting there, slowly but surely.”

“Shakes, I heard that you were robbed twice last week.”

“Yeah, twice.”

Andre said, “What happens is — it doesn’t matter if you have a pad lock on your locker or not — guys will come, in the middle of the night, with bolt cutters and cut your lock. Everyone knows that Shakes will have a bottle, some pot and some change. I think it’s the staff, they’ve got access to bolt cutters.”

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Milk Boxes

14 November 2012

At noon, on one side of the Queen were Serge, Little Jake, Wolf and Shaggy. As I approached Shaggy started barking. Wolf said, “She’s okay, she just wants you to scratch her. She leaned against my leg and I scratched behind her ears and along her side.

It took me a few minutes to recognize Serge. He had new pants, shoes and winter jacket. His hair and beard was just starting to grow out since they shaved him. He still had a bump on his forehead and the left side of his face has some yellow bruising. I said to him, “It’s good to see you Serge. Do you remember me visiting you in hospital?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“William said he was going to visit you. Did you see him?”

“No I haven’t seen him since before I went to hospital. I have to go there every day. They put a needle in my arm.”

I walked across the street to another group that included Donny in his motorized wheelchair.

Eventually, Serge walked slowly across the street to join the group.

It took a while for  Jacques and the others to recognize him.

Jacques said, “I saw that guy over there and I wondered to myself, who is that guy, he looks familiar. I wonder what he’s doing there.” Jacques and Chester both spoke to Serge in French.

I said to Joy, “It must be nice having your own place to go home to.”

“Yeah, except for the fact that I’ve got no heat. The bathroom faucet sprays all over me when I try to brush my teeth, so I use the kitchen sink. My air mattress leaks. They brought over some furniture: a wooden chair that looks like it’s been used for painting, a three shelf bookcase with a hole kicked through the middle shelf and a lamp. The only think I like is the lamp. I phoned my worker. I told her that my fibromyalgia is really bothering me, so I need a decent place to sleep and a comfortable chair.”

Jacques said, “What you need is one of those folding garden chairs, the lazy boy recliners with a thick mattress on it.”

“Do you have any extra?” asked Joy.

“No I only have the one. I had some other garden chairs, but they got all wobbly from people sitting in them crooked. I threw them out. What I’m looking for is bunk beds — the metal kind. I’ll sleep on the bottom and on the top I’ll have plastic milk boxes. I wont need a dresser, I’ll just put all my clothes and stuff in the boxes. It’ll make it easier for moving.”

André asked Joy, “So, when are you going to invite me over to your new place?”

“Never, can’t you get the hint, André. I don’t like you. We aren’t friends. The only thing I’d like to do is take a gun to your head.”

“Joy, I can just see you in army fatigues, holding a gun. You’d look so hot.”

“How about I take a machete to you?”

“That image is even sexier.”

“André, I’d rather do myself than have you anywhere near me. You’re drunk. You think you’re being entertaining, but you’re not. You’re just babbling and nobody’s listening.”

André said, “I guess I got told.”

I said to Joy, “Your place must be quiet.”

“Yeah, the only thing I hear is The Bear.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Mariah brought me down a radio. I’ve been listening to The Bear FM. They’ve got some good music.”

I said, “You should try Dawg FM.”

“Yeah, I have. They play some cool blues.”

Alphonse said to me, “At three o’clock today we go to sign the papers for direct deposit. Housing Outreach will pay a third of our rent, directly to the landlord. We’ve already signed the application for the apartment, so we’re one step closer. We’ll also be getting O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program) and will be getting bus passes.

“Thank you my friend, for helping us. We won’t forget it.”

Shakes said, “I’ll be getting a place on December first. It’ll probably be in St. James Town. Around that time, I’ll have to take a few days off from coming down here. I’ll be refurnishing.”

I said, “You’ll be near Little Jake and me. Welcome neighbor!”

“I’ll need to get a bus pass.”

Sarah walked across the street. Joy said to Danny, “She’s got the hots for you.”

“Yeah, I know, but she spells trouble with a capital T, make that three T’s. I’ve been out with Inuit women before and when they drink they want to fight.”

Joy said, “I don’t know what it is with you white guys and these muk-muks. The last time I saw that one she was an inch away from my face and she spit when she talked. I put my hand on her head and pushed her away. She went to take a swing at me, but Inuk clocked her. She said, “You don’t touch my Joy.”

Little Jake came from across the street. He had been talking to Wolf.

I shook hands with Shakes, he was smiling. He held on to my hand and nodded toward Jake. “Jake,” he said, “did you give that bottle to André?”

Jake said, “What bottle?”

“The one Dennis gave you, to give to André?”

“When?”

Shakes asked me, “What day was it, Dennis?”

“Friday.”

“I don’t know anything about a bottle.

“Oh, I remember. I waited until nearly six. André didn’t show up. None of us had anything left, so we drank it.”

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Cockroaches

15 November 2012

This morning, as I got off the bus I saw Metro with his stack of newspapers.

“Good morning, Metro. I’ll take a paper today.” He smiled because he knew I would be using it, not for reading, but for insulation between my backside and the sidewalk — not that it made any difference to him. When he’s handed out his daily allotment of papers he gets to go home.

At noon Wolf and Shaggy were sitting at the curb, at the park, while the rest of the group was across the street.

“Hi Wolf,” I said, “you’re all alone here.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t like to take Shaggy over there, because the traffic is so heavy — more chance of her getting killed. She’s already been hit by a car, I don’t want that to happen again. She’s all I got. Even if some one calls Shakes she’s ready to run across the street. She’s crazy that way, just like the dog in the cartoon — you know the one — her head is just all over the place.

“It’s cool today, isn’t it. I don’t know why those guys think it’s warmer over there. They have to come across to my side of the street to piss, then Shaggy wants to follow them back. I should charge them a toll. What do you think?

“Look what I got this morning. A lady gave them to me, red, Olympic mittens, with the crest on the back and 2012 on the palm. I’ve already got gloves but I was really happy to get these.

“Tomorrow Stella’s bringing me some between seasons shoes. These sneakers have mesh on the top and sides that lets the cold in. I’ve got winter boots for forty below zero, but they’re heavy and awkward. I don’t want to wear them in this weather.

“It’s time for me to take a leak. I’ll probably see you tomorrow, since I’m coming to see Stella, anyway. I have to get my fresh air and I like to have a couple of beer outside. I’ll see you then.”

“Bye, Wolf.”

I walked across the street to where the group was congregated.  I sat on the curb. Jacques handed me a copy of the Metro to sit on.

“It’s not much,” he said, “but it helps.”

“Thanks Jacques, I had my own, but forgot it at work.”

Joy said to Shakes, “I’ll trade you seven for one… okay eight for one. Come on Shakes, my last offer nine for one. I can’t believe he’s saying no to me. Okay ten native cigarettes for one Pall Mall.

“No,” said Shakes, “I’d have to walk all the way to Yonge Street to get some more.”

“Shakes, “said Joy, “you’re going there anyway.

Donny reached into his coat pocket and handed Joy a tailor-made cigarette. She gave him ten native ones.

“Donny, can you ask your brother to do me a big favor? Can you ask him if he’ll go to the liquor store and pick me up a bottle of Imperial Canadian sherry?”

Donny said, “He says he’d go, but he has some errands to run first.” Donny’s brother left on his bicycle.

Debbie asked Joy, “Why can’t you go there?”

“I’m barred, ever since I punched Drew Carey in the head.”

“You mean, Drew Carey the actor?”

“No the short, fat fuck with the glasses. We call him Drew Carey. One time a few years back when Digger and Old André were still here we went in. I was standing behind Digger. The guy behind the counter said, “You stink, why don’t you take a shower?”

“I said to him, ‘Hey man, just because these guys sleep outside doesn’t mean they don’t wash. What about you? You live with your mother, sleep in her basement. She makes your lunch every day.’ After that I just lost it. I jumped over the counter and started pounding on his head. They have a picture of me in the back. All the staff have been told not to serve me.

“If you think you can get in, You can get yourself a beer on me. I’d really appreciate it.”

“No problem. I could use a beer, then I have to go to work panning.

“So, how’s your new place?”

“It’s good. At least I don’t have to listen to Chester coughing and complaining all the time. I’ve got some wood bugs, from when they cut the tree down in back. They threw all the wood down the stairs to where my apartment is. They took the wood out, but the bugs stayed. They’re those kind that roll up into a ball when you touch them. I thought I’d swept them all up yesterday and could go out my back door with just my socks on, but there they were again. On the weekend, when I was drunk and stoned, I was playing marbles with them, flicking them against the wall. They would have been better off if they’d stayed with their brothers outside.”

Shakes said, “I haven’t played marbles in forty years.”

Debbie said, “I know all about those bugs. When my kids were young, I used to go into the forest, find a rotting log and take the bark off. Some of the pieces were almost six feet long. I’d wrap them in a sheet — that’s the only way I could carry them — bring them home and put them under my kids beds. Whenever they’d see me with one of those sheets over my shoulder they’d say, ‘No, Mom, not the bugs again.’ I’d brush off the bark, let it dry then hang them on my walls. They looked really nice.

“Now, I’ve got cockroaches. I didn’t have them before, but the exterminators came to my door and said they were spraying the whole building. I said, ‘You can’t spray here. It would kill all my plants.’ They said they could use a gel that wouldn’t be harmful to plants. That sounded good, but this gel, I found out, attracts roaches. The exterminators brought roaches in on their clothes, now I have a problem.”

Joy said, “Wolf has roaches, so did Jake in his old place, Weasel had them, but his place was so bad they had it condemned. He’d pulled all the plasterboard off the walls, the windows were broken and snow piled up inside. Rodent’s place was nearly as bad.”

Debbie said, “I like Rodent.”

“Rodney the Rodent, he’s the one sponsoring Big Jake, for a place to live, after he gets out of prison. He gives me the creeps. He came to Chester’s place in the summer when me and Outcast were there. We were all in the back yard. Chester was wearing shorts and had his shirt off. Rodney sat right next to him. He was rubbing Albert’s back, pinching his titties and touching his thigh. It nearly made me and Outcast sick. Chester went inside and put on long pants and a shirt. He told me that Rodent made him feel uncomfortable. Chester only had one beer and was working on his second. All of a sudden he’s acting really drunk. I think Rodney dropped some pills into his beer. I can only imagine what happened when Chester went to Rodney’s place alone.”

Debbie asked, “Where is Jake now?”

“Collins Bay — it was right around this time of year that he went into prison, so it’s been fifteen months since I’ve been with a man. You remember my Jake don’t you? Sometimes they used to call him Sasquatch.”

Debbie said, “I went seventeen years when my kids were growing up. Timmy’s just leaving. What do you think of him?”

“I wish he’d wear tighter pants, it looks like he’s got a good bod.”

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 Respect Your Elders

16 November 2012

This morning Metro handed me a newspaper and said, “Joy’s up there.”

“Thanks, Metro, have a good day.”

There was a large yellow garbage truck parked in front of Joy, who was talking with the driver. I walked up to him and said, “Hi, I’m Dennis. I always say hello to you, but I don’t know your name.”

“It’s Delmar, I don’t give my name out to too many people. It’s a habit from my past.”

Joy said, “That’s a nice name. I’m the same. When someone asks my name I ask, ‘What do you think it is?’

I said, “Or you say, ‘What name did I give last time?’ I generally don’t carry a wallet, or identification. I just don’t trust people.”

Delmar said, “It’s time to get back to work.” I held out my hand to shake his. He said, “You probably don’t want to shake this hand, because of where it’s been.”

Joy and I sat down. I asked, “So, how was your night? Are you getting used to the place?”

“Now, that my workers have me in an apartment, it seems they want to forget about me. Hippo got a brand new bed from Sears when he moved in, so did Little Jake. I want a new futon, so I can fold it up during the day. My worker offered me a hundred-dollar gift certificate for their store. She said, ‘Maybe you can get a futon there.’ I don’t want someones used bed that they’ve cleaned up a bit. I’ve had enough trouble with bugs.

“I’ve never liked the Salvation Army. They’ve never helped me before, so I never donated money to them, or the Mission either.

“They fixed my bathroom sink. They checked the heating and said that the pressure was low. He adjusted it, but I’ve still got no heat. I’ll call my worker again. I turn on the oven to low. That keeps the apartment warm, but at night, because of menopause, I get night sweats and have to open the door from my apartment to the hallway, to get some cool air in. That works fine.”

I asked, “Aren’t you worried about security, leaving your apartment door open?”

“No, there’s another door to the outside. Only me and my landlord have a key to that door.

“I haven’t been sleeping too well. I’ve been sick, throwing up every morning. I asked André to get me a bottle of sherry this morning to settle my stomach. I’m feeling a bit better now. I’m pissed off with him though. I’ve never led him on. I’ve told him I’m not interested in him and never will be; not if he were the last man on earth, but he keeps picking, picking. This morning he bent down to kiss me. I said, ‘Go away, man.’ He said, ‘It was worth a try, anyway.’ I said, ‘I talked to Debbie and she told me how you treated her.’ ‘Yeah, well I got a cut on my cheek.’ I said, ‘You deserved it.’ Here’s a woman who has opened her door to this guy, she feeds him. After he gets out of the shower, he comes out stark naked, with a hard-on, and says to her, ‘Take your clothes off and lie down on the bed.’ She said, ‘No fuckin’ way, man! Now, get out of here!’ He punched her in the chest, then backhanded her. If it was me I would have knocked him out, dropped him in the hall and threw his clothes on top of him.”

I said, “Apparently, he doesn’t believe in romance or foreplay.”

Joy said, “I asked her, ‘Did he at least have the decency to put on a condom?’ ‘No,’ she said. That was the day of the Dr. McGillicuddy’s fiasco.”

“What does that mean?”

“Andre and the boys were drinking Dr. McGillicuddy’s Peach Schnaps. That stuff’ll kill you. Chester was drunk too. He asked me why I was leaving, I said, ‘It’s cold. I want to go home and lie down. My legs are sore.’ He said, ‘Well, fuck you then. Maybe, I won’t let you have the rest of your stuff back.’ He staggered half way across the bridge and did a face plant. Somebody phoned the police and he was taken by the paramedics to The Shep’. If he did hold onto my stuff I’d feed his dentures to him piece by piece.

“I was always told to respect my elders. It doesn’t seem like Chester and I are that far apart in age now, but he’s nearly twenty years older than me. I take care of these guys, and they treat me like shit.

“I remember when my son called my mom a crusty old bitch. I sat him down at the table and said, ‘Don’t you ever talk to your grandmother like that again.’ He said, ‘She pissed me off.’ I said, ‘Don’t talk like that, and if she pissed you off, it must have been something you did to cause it.’ He said, ‘So, you can talk that way and I can’t.’ ‘That’s right, because I’m your mother.’ He said, ‘You lay a hand on me and I’ll call 911.’ I leaned over towards him and gave him a head butt — knocked him out cold. My mother came in and said, ‘What did you do?’ I said, ‘I just knocked him out. He’s not dead or anything.’ When he came to he asked, ‘What did you do to me. That’s not right.’ I said, ‘I didn’t lay a hand on you. Now, I want you to apologize to your grandmother.’ He went over to her and said, ‘I’m sorry grandma, I won’t talk to you like that again.’ He never did either.”

At noon, at the corner, I met the usual group huddled around.

Darren said, “I see you nearly every noon hour. What brings you up here?”

I said, “The conversations here are more interesting, than what I hear at work.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true, eh? We all have a story. I went to my worker to try to get my rent money, but she wouldn’t give it to me. She’s going to hold onto it until the first of December, then give it directly to my landlord. I didn’t fight it. She said to me, ‘If I give you this money your going to spend it on booze. Am I right?’ I wasn’t going to lie to her, I’m an alcoholic, the first thing alcoholics think about is booze. For me it’s beer and the occasional joint.”

“I can understand that,” I said.

Joy saw Alphonse and Magdalene approach. She said, “Alphonse, the Salvation Army Outreach workers were looking for you this morning. You should call them.” Alphonse borrowed Jacques’s phone and arranged that the workers would meet him and Magdalene at the corner.

André passed Joy a joint, he said, “Don’t give it to Little Jake, because he’s been told he has a spot on his lung. It could be TB. He was honest about it, you’ve got to give him credit for that.”

Outcast said, “TB is the most contagious disease there is. You don’t want to share a joint with a person who is even suspected of having TB. It’s rough for Jake, but that’s the way it is.”

I sat next to Jake on the sidewalk. “How is it going in your new apartment? Do you have any more furniture?”

“I’ve got a bed and an air conditioner, still in the box. That’s all. Chris has a TV for me. I just have to find a way to get it to my place and get the cable hooked up.”

“It must be nice to have a place you can come home to, where you can lock the door, where you’re warm. It was only a few months ago that you were sleeping behind the dumpsters in back of Starbucks.”

“Yeah, it’s good. I just wish I was feeling better. I’ve had a chest x-ray and a spot showed up on my lung. I don’t know what that’s all about. I’m throwing up every morning. I’ve got no appetite.” Jake also has HIV.

I asked, “Have you been eating?”

“No, just the thought of food makes me sick. I’m on two thousand milligrams of some kind of penicillin. When the pharmacist saw the prescription he said, ‘There must be a mistake here.’ I said, ‘That’s what the doctor gave me.’ He said, ‘That’s a very high dose.’ ”

“Hippo,” I said, “How is your new apartment?

“I got a leak coming from the water main. It’s dripping down my wall. They’re going to have to replace the gyprock. Apart from that everything’s fine. Tomorrow they’re having the Santa Claus Day parade.”

“Are you going to come down and see it?”

“No, I’ll just watch it on TV. Jacques, do you know when the Santa Claus Day parade starts?”

“I think it’s ten o’clock, I’ll have to check.”

It was time for me to leave. I shook hands all around and Shakes asked me, “Dennis, are you walking towards Yonge Street?”

“Yes.”

“Could you help me walk. I’ve been sitting too long and my knees are wobbly.”

“Okay, Shakes, no problem.” As we were walking I asked him, “Do you have problems with arthritis in your knees?”

“Yes, they get stiff.” As we passed the Rex Hotel Shakes said, “I’m going to stop in here. I’ve got to go for a wizz.”

“I’ll see you next week, Shakes.”

“Thanks, Dennis. I’ll see you.”

 .

Self-Sufficient

19 November 2012

This morning I noticed that Joy  was wearing the army parka that Stella had given her last week. She also had two garbage bags with her, filled to overflowing.

“Someone dropped these blankets off for me, but how am I going to carry them? My back pack is already full with my blanket and other stuff.”

I said, “Perhaps, André will come by.”

“He’s already been here, I told him to move along. He said, ‘People are used to seeing me here. I’m not going to scare off any of your traffic.’ I said, ‘Yes you are, Mondays are slow enough without you hanging around.’ Anyway, he has his court appearance today.”

“How about Jacques?” I asked.

“I’m going to give some of these to him anyway, but I don’t know if he’ll be coming by.”

“I can take a bag to work and bring it to you at lunch, if that will help.”

“That would be great. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, so I’m not in a very good mood. The guy in the apartment above me was stomping around, up the stairs, down the stairs. I think he gets up to eat about once an hour. I can hear him get up from the couch, walk to the fridge. There will be silence for about a minute, then he walks back to the couch.”

I asked, “Have you tried ear plugs?”

“No, but I don’t think I should have to. I left a note on his car windshield. I’ll see what happens after he reads that.”

I asked, “How was your weekend?”

“It was quiet, for the most part.”

I knew that Joy wasn’t much in the mood for company, so I said, “I’ll let you get back to work and I’ll bring this bag to Jacques at noon.”

“Thanks, I’ll see you at noon.”

At noon, Jacques, Wolf and Shaggy were at the place where the benches used to be. I gave the bag to Jacques. He thanked me then headed across the street.

Wolf said, “Can you help me up. I was lying around all weekend reading my two books. I took Shaggy for her walks, but I guess I need more activity, or calisthenics. When I woke up this morning, my back was so stiff I could hardly get out of bed.

Right now, I have to go for a pee, so I’ll see you a bit later.”

I walked across the street to where Joy, Mariah, Hippo, Spike and Kit were congregated . Shakes was dozing.

“How has your day been, Joy?”

“I made enough for a bottle, that’s about all.”

Joy said to Mariah, “I was kept awake last night by the guy upstairs stomping around.”

“Yeah, I heard him too. He’s been told about it. I don’t know how somebody can eat as much as he does. I know I couldn’t.”

Joy said, “I’d think he’d be fatter than he is. It must go right through him.”

“I’ve caught him with his clothes off, he has a round belly, but your right, he must have a fast metabolism. That’s probably why he can’t seem to stay still. I wouldn’t want to have to pay their bill for toilet paper.”

Joy said, “I wouldn’t want to pay their grocery bill.”

André came across the street, beaming. “I went to court this morning on the charges of stealing meat from Loblaws. My worker gave me a really good character reference, saying that prison time would undo all the progress I’ve made in the past six months. The judge asked me, ‘Why did you steal the meat, Andre?’ I said, ‘Well, your honor, I had no money and I was hungry. I know that I could have gone to the Mission, but I was trying to be self-sufficient.

‘I’m an alcoholic. If I’m prohibited from drinking I’ll be back in court next month. I’ve tried, but I can’t stop drinking.’

“The judge said, ‘One year’s probation with no reporting, and stay away from Loblaws.’

“I was just standing there with my head down, shaking. I couldn’t believe my good luck.”

Rhino said, “I got one year probation with reporting. At first I had to see my probation officer once every two weeks, then they reduced it to once a month. I think I’ve still got about six months left.”

I asked Rhino, “How is your apartment. Have they fixed the leak?”

“No, they sent a Housing Support worker. He said, ‘It’s dripping alright, but I can’t do anything about it. We’ll have to send a plumber.’ That’s what I told them in the first place.”

.

Michelin Man

20 November 2012

At the corner, as usual, the usual group was there. Joy was layered. She pulled up the cuff of her pants to show the pajama bottoms she was wearing for extra warmth. She also wore a tee-shirt, heavy sweater, hoodie, then her army parka.

She said, “I look like the Michelin Man, but that’s okay. I like guys to think I’m fat, then they leave me alone. We don’t have any ‘chubby chasers’ around here. The only one I have trouble with is that one (pointing to Andre), but he’s learning. Then there’s Weasel. Yesterday, I saw him talking to Wolf across the street. I heard him call me a goof. Wolf said to him, ‘Joy heard you say that.’ I walked over and said to Weasel, ‘Whenever I have anything to say to you, I’ve got the guts to say it to your face, you goof.’ I was hoping to see him today, but he didn’t show.”

I asked her, “Have they turned on your heat yet?”

“No, I talked to the landlady last night. She’s nice, but she doesn’t speak very much English. She thought I was complaining that her TV was too loud. I said, ‘No, it’s your husband walking so heavily on the floor.’ She said, ‘I told him about that.’ Then I heard her yelling at him. I keep the oven on at a hundred and fifty degrees with the door open. It shuts off by itself. The top of the room gets warm, but it’s still cold near the floor. My worker said that she’s going to bring me a space heater.”

From across the street came Little Jake, wearing a surgical mask. Joy asked, “So, masked man, what did the doctor tell you?”

“It’s either a lung infection, pneumonia or TB. They’ve doubled my antibiotics. I’m wearing this mask so I don’t infect any of you guys.”

Joy said, “What did I tell you? I said, ‘It’s either a lung infection, pneumonia or TB.’ I was right.”

I asked Jake, “How are you feeling? Do you have pain in your lungs?”

“Yeah, it’s worse in the morning. You should see what I cough up. It’s disgusting.”

Timmy said, “I was talking to my worker this morning, she said, ‘We might have a place for you soon.’ I asked, ‘Should I call you back in a couple of days?’ She said, ‘Call me first thing tomorrow morning.’ While I was in her office I saw an email. It had Joy’s name on it. There was a list of furniture items: table with two chairs, arm chair…’

Joy said, “I hope they had a futon on that list.”

“Yeah, a futon was on the list.” I heard her say, ‘Now we have Joy taken care of.'”

Joy said, I don’t know where I’m going to put a table. I guess I’ll use it to put my toaster on. I also need a TV so I can see Coronation Street. I’ve already missed two episodes. That Tracy sure needs a bullet between the eyes. Chester was saying something about a gay guy and a girl getting together, but I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Does anybody know where I can get a TV? Even one of those small black and white portables would be better than nothing.”

André said, “They’ll take you to their warehouse. They have hundreds of TVs there.”

Joy said, “All they gave me was a coupon for a hundred dollars and it has to be used at either their Thrift Store. I don’t think I’m going to find anything I wan’t.

“Yesterday, I saw Evan holding hands with Sharon. I asked him, ‘When are the wedding bells going to be ringing?’ He didn’t say anything.”

Timmy said, “I really don’t like that Sharon. I had a party one time. I bought six cases of twenty-fours. I asked her if I could have a sip from her bottle. She didn’t exactly say no, but she put the bottle in her bra, like she does. After that I didn’t want a sip.

“One time, early in the morning, I was walking under the bridge. On the hill was a woman with her pants pulled down to her ankles and her shirt up over head. I went closer and saw that it was Sharon. I kicked her in the foot. She woke up. I said, ‘Get yourself dressed.’ She said, ‘I promised myself that I wasn’t going to do this any more.’ Later, I saw Gerald. I told him what I’d seen. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s the way I left her last night.’

“She’s so young. She should be in school or something, not getting drunk every day like we do. Does she think that when she’s forty-five she’s going to be able to get any kind of job? I don’t think so.”

Joy said, “Yeah, I see so many of these kids. Some of them could be at home, Like Chili, she’s only twenty-four and look at the shape she’s in. She phoned me from the hospital and asked if I would come visit her. I yelled at her, ‘No, I’m not coming over, because if I did I’d probably punch you in the mouth. You were doing so well when you visited your family in P.E.I.. Now, your doctor has you on medication and you’re smashing crack into your arm. You’re going to kill yourself.’ ”

Timmy said, “The last time I saw her she was in a wheel chair. I think she has to have a hip replaced, and she’s having trouble with her knees.

“Someone that really likes her is Rocky. I was at his place a couple of weeks ago. He has a really nice place.”

Joy said, “Rocky really gives me the creeps. A couple of years ago me, Rocky, Jacques,  and Shakes were drinking in the park.  Jacques and Shakes passed out so it was just Rocky and me. He said to me, ‘I’m horny.’ I said, ‘Dude, that’s a personal issue. It’s got nothing to do with me.’ He said, ‘No, I mean I want to have sex with you, right here, right now.’ Big Jake was down at the market with Rodent, so I said to Rocky, ‘I’ll tell you what. You go down to the market and ask Jake’s permission to have sex with me. If It’s okay with him, it’s okay with me.’ Rocky had this look in his eyes like, I’m going to take what I want now. I just got up and walked away. I’ve never trusted him since. He’s just too creepy.”

Timmy said, “That surprises me. Rocky’s had girl friends. He seemed to treat them right. I guess you just never know.”

Jacques said, “Has anybody seen the article in the Sun about the Salvation Army? I have a copy here:

.

Blessed

21 November 2012

Joy was in her usual spot this morning, talking to Delmar the garbage man.

“Hi Delmar,” I said.

“Hello, Dennis.”

Joy said to him, “So handsome, when are you coming over to visit me in my new place, or would your wife object.”

“I think she’d object.”

I had a newspaper to sit on, but instead I knelt beside Mo, “How are you making out today?”

“So, so, I came down with seven dollars, I’ve had drops of three dollars plus some jingle for my cap.” I was there for about ten minutes and half a dozen people dropped change into her cap. “You’re lucky for me, Sunshine, I was doing lousy before you came along.”

“Do you have heat?” I asked.

“No, the landlord came down with a plastic card that looked like a fridge magnet. It was a thermometer. He waved it around, looked at it and said, ‘It’s a balmy eighty-six degrees in here.” I took the card and put it on the heater it registered eighty-two. I kept the card over night and put it in the hall to the outside. There is no heat in there at all, it’s the same as the outside temperature. The thermometer read seventy-seven degrees. Last night it went down to freezing. So, I’m done with that. I’ll be getting a space heater from my worker and until then I’ll leave the oven on.”

“How about your neighbor, is he still noisy?”

“I talked to him last night. He was stomping around so I got a shovel and banged on my ceiling. He came down a few steps and kicked on my door. He said, ‘What’s the idea with all that banging?’ I said, ‘That’s what I hear every time you walk across the floor. So, you can either walk more quietly or you’ll get the same in return, your choice.’ I told the landlady about it. He said, ‘Maybe we should let the police decide.’ I said, ‘Sure,’ and rhymed off the number for him. ‘When you’re on the line ask for McQuaid, Curzon, Santorini, Warrington, Harris. Just tell them that you were talking to Joy, they’ll know who you mean.’ He asked, ‘So, you’ve been in trouble with the police?’ I said, No, man, these are family. They’re married to my sisters.’ That shut him up.

“Here comes trouble.”

Andre was scowling as he approached. “I’m so pissed off. Alphonse and Magdalene sat down beside me. Alphonse asked me for a smoke, then he asked if I had anything to eat. I gave him some pizza, He said, ‘I don’t like it.’ Then he said, ‘You’re sitting in my spot, would you mind moving on.’ Can you believe that? He’s lucky I didn’t kick him in the head.”

Since there sere already two people talking to Joy I decided to head to work. “I’ll see you at noon, Joy, André”

“We’ll see you, Dennis.”

At noon I stopped to talk to Wolf and to scratch Shaggy. Wolf said, “Hello , Dennis. See the leather coat some lady gave me. This will have to be my Sunday coat, not my going to the store coat. I certainly won’t wear it when I’m panning.”

He didn’t have his dentures in, so he was a bit hard to understand. “Isn’t this a beautiful day we’re having? Forty-six degrees Fahrenheit, the sun is shining. Tomorrow is supposed to be the same, then we get snow on Saturday. I guess we should appreciate days like this when we have them. Today we’re blessed. I’m going to go for a wiz, so I’ll see you later.”

At the corner the Salvation Army Outreach van was parked. Joy was standing on the passenger side, leaning in the window, talking to her worker. André was standing at the driver’s side, talking to his worker. They were also handing out socks and purple print underwear.

Standing around were Jacques, Wild Bill, Outcast and Donny in his motorized wheel chair. Seated, hunched over was Shakes. Outcast brought him a pair of underwear. Shakes said, “These are large, I need a medium. I don’t want to have to be hitching them up as I walk down the street.”

Jacques said, “They gave me these socks. I think they’re nylon. They won’t be warm for the winter. See the nice boots that Stella brought for me this morning — real winter boots. I’ll put some oil on the leather so they’re waterproof and I’ll be all set.

“See this paper I got.” It was a letter from Jacques’ former landlord claiming back rent of fifteen dollars a day for eight days and a storage fee, for his belongings, of ten dollars a day.

I said, “You’re in you new place now, aren’t you?”

“Yes he handed this to me when I was picking up the last of my stuff. Some people stay fourteen days and he doesn’t charge them. I’m not going to pay this.

“Oh, Oh, here comes Willy. He’s staggering. When he’s drunk he likes to fight. You know, he served twenty years for murder.”

When Willy came across the street Joy started singing:

Oh, where have you been,
Willy Boy, Willy Boy?
Oh, where have you been,
Charming Willy?

Shakes asked, “Have you ever been to sea, Willy?” He was referring to an old Captain Highliner commercial. He said to Willy, “Over at the van they’re giving out socks and underwear, if you want some.”

“No,” said Willy, “I don’t want anything to do with those bastards.”

Outcast came over, “Dennis, I got an invoice from the city for unpaid liquor violations from December 2010 to now. The total amount is fifty-six hundred.  They’re going to be waiting a long time for that.”

Joy came back from talking to her worker. Outcast said, “Tell Dennis about the problem you’re having with your neighbor, and who you saw today.”

“I told my landlady about the problem I was having with my neighbor. I said to her, ‘When he walks across the floor my cabinet doors shake.’ She doesn’t speak very good English and thought that my cabinets had fallen off the wall. When I came up here, snow fences were being put up across the street. Guess who was installing them … My neighbor. I went over to talk to him. He asked me, ‘Why did you rat me out to the landlady?’ I asked him, ‘Why do you think, you stupid fuck?’ Then I gave him the finger, smiled and said, ‘Your turn will come.’ He doesn’t know who he’s messing with.

The landlady phoned my worker, the one I just spoke to. They both had been in a panic. My worker drove down here to meet me. She was crying. So, we have that straightened out. I asked her, ‘So, I’m not being kicked out am I?’ That was my big concern. ‘No,’ she said, ‘You’re not being kicked out.’ I’m going to lay low for a while. I’ve asked the landlady for more things in a week, than I’ve asked other landlords in years. I don’t want her to think that I’m a nuisance. I’ll just see how it goes.”

.

Jogging Pants

22 November 2012

As soon as I arrived at Joy’s spot she said, “Sit on my box. I have to go to the bathroom and I’m not allowed in the pizza place. They say that I’m bad for business. Go figure.”

When she came back I asked, “Did I miss anything yesterday, after I left?”

“No, nothing much happened. Weasel showed up.”

“Yeah, I saw him on the sidewalk, as I was leaving. Any word about your health card?”

“I think it’s all going to happen next week when they bring my furniture.”

I said, “I can’t believe that it’s taking so long.”

“I know, I’m not too happy with one of my workers. The young one with all the stuff about love and crap. She’s the one that was crying yesterday. I told her, ‘I need someone who can keep it together. The other worker has been to sessions at E. Fry with me where I’ve really spilled my guts. I’ve told things that I’ve never told anybody before. If you start crying, I’ll start crying.’ She said, ‘I just want you to know that you’re loved and that we care for you.’ Anyway, I don’t need that shit. The sooner I’m done with them the better.”

I said, “Outcast said something strange to me yesterday. It was when André was talking to the worker in the van. Pointing to André he said, ‘There’s something fishy going on. If I’d been charged like André, I’d be behind bars. Instead, he’s free as can be, doesn’t even need to report to a probation officer.”

“I don’t trust any one anymore. Of the original crew, there’s only Jacques — Digger’s around but he’s in a home — there’s Shark and Irene, but she’s sort of new. Shakes, I’ve known since I was about twelve years old. He’s seen me grow up.

“André has a cousin, five times removed, that’s on the police force. Maybe, she’s doing something for him. I don’t know.

“He was pissed yesterday that I left with Outcast. I got a hammer and nails from Chester and wanted some help hanging a quilt on my wall. Andre’s shorter than I am, so he’d be no use.”

At noon the weather was unseasonably warm at fifty-two degrees Fahrenheit. At the corner were Donny with his motorized wheelchair, Hippo, Chester, Mariah, Shakes, Jacques and Little Jake.

Hippo was reading a grocery flyer. “What are you looking to buy, Hippo?”

“Cat food.”

“I didn’t know you had a cat.”

“I didn’t until last night. It was mewing at my door at 1:30 am. I opened the door and in he came. He’s awfully scrawny.

He said to Jacques, “Here are the sausages I like. three bucks for a three pack.”

“That’s pretty good.”

I said to Jacques, “You showed me your winter boots from Stella. Is there anything else you need for winter?”

‘No, I think I have everything. Instead of long johns I like to wear jogging pants. They hold more warm air next to your skin.”

I said, “I have the kind of tights they use for skiing.”

“Yeah, for sports they need something that will stretch when they move. Us here, we don’t move so much; just raise our arm to drink a beer, that’s all.”

I noticed that Shakes was wearing a white watch. I asked, “Is that watch new, Shakes?”

“Yeah, I just got it yesterday. I bought it for two or three dollars from Danny. I stayed at his place last night. I got a new bag, ’cause my old one was stolen. Look what else I got!” He pulled a giant plastic beer bottle, meant for storing change. He put it to his mouth as if he was drinking. Ha, ha, ha, ha.”

I said, “The cops are sure going to be surprised the next time they stop by.”

“Yeah, they sure will.”

Mariah’s cell phone rang. She checked to see who was calling then said, “I don’t want to talk to him. I rather be in the sun and fresh air, not stuck inside somewhere.”

I asked Jake, “How are you feeling today?”

“Better than yesterday. I was panning today, made six dollars. I go to my HIV doctor tomorrow and my other doctor next week. I have to find out what’s going on in my head.”

“Are you having headaches?”

“No, seizures. I had one yesterday. I think it’s due to all the medication I’m taking. I have to make sure I eat when I take the antibiotics, otherwise I feel really sick.”

.

Friends

25 November 2012

It’s Sunday, I don’t get to see my friends until tomorrow, but I miss them. I wonder where Shakes slept last night. Was it in a bank kiosk? I also wonder where André slept last night. Perhaps, it was behind the dumpsters in back of Starbucks. I wonder if Joy slept last night since the temperature went below freezing. I’ve slept in a tent in those temperatures and know that it isn’t life threatening, if one has the proper sleeping bag and warm clothing. I can also remember shivering so much that I couldn’t get to sleep. There wasn’t anything I could do to improve my situation at the time.

When I read over my previous entries I realize just how important my friends are to me. Despite their addictions, their choices and what life has thrown at them; they are doing the best they can with what they have. Can any of us do any better? They are always entertaining and a joy to be with.

Several colleagues at work have seen me sitting with Joy before I go to work in the mornings. They ask about her story. I give them a condensed version of the facts as I know them. They ask, ‘Do you believe that what she says is the truth?’ I have known Joy for two years now. When she tells her stories there are variations, perhaps due to memory, perhaps due to the amount she’s had to drink, the amount she wishes to reveal; but in essence, what she has told me is consistent and I don’t believe her to be a great actress who can pull tears out of nowhere.

I’ve been asked, ‘Are these people dangerous?’ I know that several have committed murder. Two have served sentences of twenty and twenty-five years in prison. Another wasn’t charged, but has lived with the guilt, even attended the dead man’s funeral and met his family. These people, my friends, are capable of murder. I am capable of murder. Most people, in certain situations, especially under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are capable of murder.

I know that if I was in a desperate situation, any of my friends would do their best to protect me, or help me, with whatever resources they had. They’ve offered food, drink and protection on many occasions.

I don’t really know why I am drawn to the park at noon hours. I say that the conversations there are more interesting than what I hear at work. That is certainly true. More than, that I see raw life, without a safety net. Like Silver, who died September twenty-ninth, at the age of fifty-two, most of my friends are only too aware that they won’t see sixty. Many are surprised, and sometimes disappointed, that they made it through the night. I enjoy sharing the time they have left. I am honored to have made their acquaintance.

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Joy in Hospital

26 November 2012

Monday morning and Joy isn’t in her usual place. I wasn’t surprised, Mondays are noted as being bad days for pan handling. People tend to be grumpy because of having to come back to work after a weekend.

At noon I met Jacques and André at the corner. Jacques said, “Did you hear about Joy? She’s in hospital. They take her there by ambulance yesterday to the East General. She phoned me this morning. It’s about her kidneys, she say that they were so sore she couldn’t get up. She didn’t have a room yet. They had her all night in the corridor.”

I said that I’d phone the hospital and see if I could get any information. André said, “Me, I don’t go to hospitals, but because it’s Joy, I’ll see if I can visit her sometime.”

Jacques said, “It’s bad for her. This is the third time in a year that she’s been hospitalized for the same thing. The doctors told her she should move somewhere else and stop drinking; but, it’s hard to leave your friends — go to someplace where you don’t know anybody; but it’s her body telling her that she can’t drink any more. It doesn’t matter if she waters it down, she has to stop completely.”

I said, “She’s been waiting so long for her health card. She drinks to forget her past. She drinks because of the pain in her legs and she drinks to get to sleep at night.”

I asked André, “Where have you been staying?”

“At the Sally. It hasn’t been too bad. I’m in bed 256, in a room with just one other guy. When he starts snoring it’s not just sawing wood it’s like a Husqvarna chain saw. He’s a big guy and makes a lot of noise just rolling over on those plastic covered mattresses.

“Yesterday I was at the Library. I knew I couldn’t get back in time to sign for my bed, so I phoned them. They said, ‘No problem, André, we’ll put you down for another night.’ When I got there they had cut my lock and were hauling my stuff out of the room. They told me, ‘You can’t sign in until seven o’clock, so I had to sit in the lobby with all of my stuff until then. Meanwhile, there’s another guy sitting across the room. They ask him if he’d like a bed. I said, ‘Hey, I’m waiting for a bed, now you’re giving my bed away to someone else. The guy said, ‘I was here first.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, you were here first. I’ve been here for six years. I’ve grown roots in the cracks of the floor here.’ Anyway, they gave him a bed in the basement and where do you think they put me? In the same bed they just kicked me out of.

“I’m thinking that I should talk to my workers about getting me a room, until an apartment becomes available. I’ve got to get something started, because they’re cutting off the start-up allowance in the new year. It’s one of the government cutbacks.”

“Hey, hey,” said Jacques, “The last start-up check is going to be issued December 15, so you have to apply before that. If you apply later there is a good chance you’ll be rejected.”

I asked Jacques, “You’re in a bachelor apartment aren’t you?”

“No, I’m in a room for now, but I’d prefer to be in a bachelor. We share a kitchen with two sinks. One side is always full of dirty dishes. I don’t like that. I like to have my own place, so I can keep it tidy, or not –whatever I want.

“They didn’t want to give me a start-up allowance, because I was coming from a bachelor to a room. They thought that I should have everything I needed. I told them that I had to throw away most of my things because of the bed bug. They said, ‘There’s no report of you having the bed bug.’ They sprayed three times, but my landlord didn’t give me a paper saying that. I could have gotten two hundred dollars, if I had that paper.”

Timmy stopped by on his bicycle. I asked him, “How was your weekend, Timmy?”

“It was okay, quiet. The chicken man was by yesterday morning.”

“I asked, “Was he handing out five dollar bills?”

André answered, “No, just fried chicken. He only hands out five dollar bills on special occasions, like Christmas, Easter — on Mother’s Day he’ll give one to the ladies; on Father’s Day the men get one. Last year the owner of the pizza place came by with four large pizzas. I was the only one there. He said, ‘Make sure you share these.” Did he think I was going to eat four large pizzas? I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll share them.’ If I didn’t I’d probably get my head kicked in.

“I haven’t seen Jake today. I wonder how he’s doing?”

I said, “He seemed to be feeling a little better on Friday.”

Andre said, “He’s taking a powerful dose of antibiotics, but he’s still drinking. I said to him, “Jake, if you drink, you’re cancelling out the benefit of the antibiotics.” He’s taking other daily medication every day as well. He sees his doctor every day. ”

I asked, “How are you feeling, André?”

“I’m feeling okay now. When I had the walking pneumonia, I had a pain in my chest like a red-hot, iron rod going through my lung. I was in real pain. I could only take shallow breaths. I still don’t have full use of my lungs. Jake may have something different from what I had, I don’t know.”

I phoned the East General. I was informed that Joy was doing okay. She is still in the Emergency Department, Medicine Service. They are still waiting for a bed for her. I will try to visit her tonight.

It’s about 6:30 pm. I took the bus to the East General. I went to the Emergency desk, was given a pass and told to follow the green dots on the floor. The receptionist at the Medicine Department desk directed me to bed 116. The curtains were closed, so I asked a nurse what I should do. She said, ‘Just call her name, she’s resting.’ I called and heard a faint, ‘Dennis?’

I stuck my head behind the curtain. Joy said, “I thought I heard your voice, but I thought, That can’t be. I wasn’t expecting you to visit.”

“I said I would, if you were ever in hospital again, and here I am.”

“Have a seat over there. Just move my stuff to the other chair. I’m in so much pain. These doctors — there have been five of them, so far — they keep asking me the same questions. I asked one of them, ‘Don’t you guys talk to each other?’ The guy said, ‘We do, but we have to hear it first hand.’ They keep asking, ‘When did you have your last drink?’ I said, ‘Friday.’ They asked, ‘How often a day do you drink?’ I said, ‘Once.’ They asked, ‘How much do you drink each day?’ I said, ‘A bottle, a bottle and a half, two bottles, it depends on how I’m feeling.’

“I was feeling sick on Sunday. I went upstairs to Mariah’s place. It must have taken me forty-five minutes to climb the stairs. She said, ‘You look like you’re in pain!’ She gave me two Tylenol 3. They didn’t do anything. She said, ‘Go back downstairs and try to get some rest.’

“Then Buck and Dillinger came over. (Joy rolled her eyes.) He brought me some Ensure and some pears. We smoked a joint together and he left me half a gram. I’ve still got it in my bag.

“I just kept feeling worse and worse. Finally I couldn’t stand it any more. My cell phone didn’t have any time on it, but the emergency numbers still worked. They asked me my phone number. I couldn’t remember it.

“When I first came in they gave me a shot of delaudid. I threw my guts up, but felt better after that. Then they gave it to me in pill form. That didn’t do anything for the pain, but made me feel nauseous, caused my mouth to dry up. I need morphine, but I told them I’d also need some Gravol. I tried to eat some of the meat loaf they served for supper. I took two bites, that’s all I could handle.

“I can’t sleep. I’m not even on a proper hospital bed. This mattress is thin and hard. I ache all over, my legs, my back, it’s even into my neck now. They had me out in the corridor for a long time before bringing me in here. The guy beside me coughs all the time. They have me in some kind of quarantine, because of a virus I picked up the last time I was here. It’s contagious for people with a low immune system.”

Al, a male nurse came in to take Joy’s blood pressure. It was one, eighty-eight over one, thirteen. He said it’s coming down. It was two, forty-four over one, thirteen. He said, “They have a bed for you now. You’ll be moved soon. I’ll try to get them to hurry with your meds. It’s medical students who are working on it. They can be slow.”

Joy said, “Thanks, Al.”

” To me she said, “He’s cool. He lets me know what’s really going on.

“I want to go out for a smoke. Is it cold outside?”

“It’s been snowing.”

“I don’t care. Can you bring my wheel chair over and help me to the front entrance. While I’m outside could you do me a big favor? I’d really love a Tim Horton’s steeped tea, with one milk and two sugar. The stuff they serve at Starbucks is garbage. I’ll meet you back here at my bed.

After the cigarette and tea another nurse came in to check Joy’s heart rate. I felt that she needed some privacy, so I said that I’d come back tomorrow.

“I need some stuff from home, especially a tooth-brush. I don’t know how to get them.”

I said, “If Mariah can pack some things and bring a bag downtown, I’ll bring it to you here at the hospital.”

“We’ll work something out. Thanks for bringing me the tea. I’m going to try to get some sleep now. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

I said, “I’ll be here.”

” I’ll see you then. Hopefully, I’ll be better at making conversation.”

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Lazy Bones

30 November 2012

It was cold at noon (minus four Fahrenheit) and windy. The only person at the corner was Shakes. Beside him was a sports bag, a purple plastic shopping bag with a globe sitting on top — all his worldly possessions.

“Dennis,” said Shakes. I’ve got a favor to ask you.”

“What is it, Shakes?”

“I need a bottle.”

“Sorry, Shakes, I don’t have any cash on me.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and handed me a twenty-dollar bill. “Would you please go to the liquor store for me? Get a coffee for yourself.”

“Sure I’ll go,  Shakes, but I don’t need a coffee. We get it free at work.”

“Don’t say I didn’t offer.”

It’s only about a five-minute walk to the liquor store. I didn’t mind making a run, and Shakes is barred for life. “Okay, Shakes, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

When I came back Shakes was talking to Fred. I looked at the globe and asked, “Shakes, are you planning to do some world travelling?” He laughed.

“How about Australia?” I asked. “Would you like to go there?”

Fred said, “I have a friend who came from New Zealand.”

I said, “I’ve seen pictures of New Zealand. It’s really beautiful.”

“Yeah,” he said, “they also have seventeen women to every man. I asked my friend if it was true, and why he left. He said, ‘They have lots of women alright, but they’re all ugly.’ I don’t think any women are ugly. Every one of them has something beautiful about her.”

I asked Shakes, “Have you heard anything about Joy? Did she phone Jacques?”

“First things first. I lost my glove.”

His yellow glove was just a few feet back, near where we were standing previously. Every time the sun moved farther behind one of the tall buildings, Shakes moved out of the shadow and into the sunlight.

“Where have the others gone?”

“They had places they had to go. Jacques, André and Travis were here. Do you guys know Travis.”

I said, “I know Travis. He talks a lot.”

‘Yeah, he not only talks a lot, but it’s what he says. Sometimes I just have to say, ‘Travis, go away. I don’t want to listen to you.

“I’m waiting here until two o’clock. My workers are coming by in the van, to pick up me and my stuff. They’re going to be giving me the keys to my apartment in St. James Town.”

Little Chester and Donny in his motorized wheelchair came over to where we were standing. He picked up the globe and looked at it. I pointed out Iceland, where my grandparents came from.

He pointed at Newfoundland. “This is where I came from. They’re the same color.”

I said, I’ve always wanted to go to Newfoundland. It’s really beautiful.”

“No, it’s not. I lived there for twenty-four years. I couldn’t wait to get away.”

“I hear the economy has really picked up since the oil discovery.”

“I’ve been hearing about that for forty years. I don’t think anything has happened yet.”

I asked, “Were you a fisherman?”

“My mother said I had lazy bones. I’ve always had lazy bones. I snared rabbits. Once, me and some friends were out in the bush. We had a cable and made a lasso out of it. We hung it between two trees. A moose came running along, right into the snare. My friends hauled it up in a tree. We had meat to last us all winter. Lots of people have heard of snaring rabbits, not too many have heard of snaring moose.”

I said, “I’ve eaten moose, It’s really good.”

Shakes said to Chester, “Get the fuck out of my sun!”

“I don’t understand you, Shakes. What did you say?”

I said, “I think he means you’re making a shadow on him. You’re standing in his sun.”

“Oh, I didn’t know what he wanted. Sure, Shakes, I’ll move down.”

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