2012 – October

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Skinny Minnie

1 October 2012

I walked toward the park. I recognized Jacque’s bushy white beard and waved to him. While I was still about a dozen feet from the group an attractive, young woman, with long black hair, approached me.

She said, “We haven’t met before. My name is Doreen.”

“I’m Dennis,” I said.

“Do you happen to have a cigarette?”

“No, sorry, I don’t smoke.”

“Good for you. I wish I didn’t smoke. It’s bad for you and it smells bad.” Doreen then sat on the curb.

I shook hands with the woman beside her and said, “Hi, I’m Dennis.”

“We’ve met before, “she said, “I’m Jenny.”

I shook hands with Chester, “Joy will be here shortly, ” he said.

Standing near the curb were Little Jake, Danny, Buck and his dog Dillinger. Seated were Shakes, Doreen, Jenny, and Jacques. I sat between Shakes and Doreen.

“How was your weekend, Shakes?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute.” He was counting coins and putting them in a plastic pill bottle. “My weekend was good, except for the rain on Sunday. I was walking in that. My leathers didn’t dry until about three this morning.”

“Have you been sleeping behind Starbucks, or inside somewhere?”

“Both, it all depends on who kidnaps me, ha ha ha ha.”

“I guess you mean that in a good way?”

“I stayed at Danny’s place last night. He lives in Little Italy.”

Doreen asked me, “Where did your family come from?”

“My grandparents came from Iceland in 1902.”

“I know people from Iceland. I’m from Baffin Island, not far from Iceland.”

I said, “My mother didn’t learn to speak English until she went to school.”

“Where I went to school,” said Doreen, “If we spoke Inuk to anybody we got a slap on the head. When I went home, if I spoke English, even to someone who spoke English, I’d get a slap on the head. I got it from both sides.

“Do you know whose land were on?”

I said, “I was told it was Algonquin land.”

“There is a dispute about that. It’s Huron and Algonquin land. It makes me so mad to think about it, but this land was a native burying-ground. How would you like it if they built over the place where your grandmother was buried?

“I may live in the city, but I still make my stamp on the ground.” She demonstrated by hitting the sidewalk with the side of her fist.

To some women passing on the sidewalk, Doreen yelled, “Will you please give me a smile?”

The women turned and smiled. Doreen, replied, “Thank you, you did give me a smile. That makes me so happy.”

To me she said, “I just want to be happy. I think that is what most people want, just to be happy.”

I agreed, “If everybody expressed love to each other, the world would be a happier place.”

I could see Joy walking up the sidewalk. She didn’t look happy.

“Hi Joy, how was your weekend?”

“It was okay — quiet. I’m so fuckin’ pissed off right now. I haven’t been able to get my check yet. It was supposed to be ready Friday, but my worker said that, because I switched to the Salvation Army, it was going to be delivered to a different office. I phoned this morning. They said, ‘Your check will be ready any time you want to come down and pick it up.’ ‘Great,’ I said. I used my last bus ticket to come down to the office. When I got there they said, ‘Come back at two o’clock.’ What a run around.”

Jenny stood up and tried to give Mo a hug. Mo said, “Jenny I’ve had a bad day and I’m not in the mood for a hug. I just want to be left alone for a while.”

Jenny said, “Joy, don’t be like that. I just want to be friendly.”

“Jenny, what did I just say? Now, sit down or I’ll knock you down.”

Danny said, “Joy, that’s no way to talk to your friends. Whether you’ve had a bad day or not, there’s no excuse for taking it out on the rest of us. I’ve talked to you about that before.”

“Danny, keep your mouth shut, before I come over there and smack you.”

“Come on over. I’ll smack you right back.”

Joy was quiet for a while, then she said to Jenny, “I’m sorry for talking to you like that. I had no right. I apologize.”

“It’s alright, Joy, I understand.”

“Danny, I apologize to you too.”

Minnie, walking with a cane, stopped and asked Doreen, “Aren’t you cold, with bare arms?”

Doreen said, “Since the accident, I’ve lost all feeling of heat or cold, in my arms and legs. If I wear too many clothes I get itchy all over.” (major spinothalamic or spinal cord injury)

“Let me give you a hug,” said Jenny.

Doreen stood up and they hugged. Jenny said, “Can I have a hug too, Skinny Minnie?”

Minnie hugged her and said, “Jenny, you’re skinnier than I am.”

It was nearly time for me to go. I walked over to Jacques to shake his hand. He said, “You know, I woke up in the middle of the night with such a sore throat. Then I had to go to the bathroom. An hour later I had to go again. It was back and forth, back and forth, all night long. You better not get too close to me.”

I said good-bye to Joy, she said, “Do you have to go already?”

“Yes, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Not in the morning. I have a meeting with my P.O. (Probation Officer), but I’ll see you here at noon.”

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Muk-muk

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in

2 October 2012

It’s twelve o’clock, Tuesday, in the park. The regular crowd shuffles in.

The first person to greet me was Serge, He said, “It’s my old friend, Kenny Rogers.”

“Hi Serge, how are you feeling today?”

“Not so good. I have an appointment with my doctor, this afternoon, at the clinic on Gerrard  at Church.”

“What are you seeing your doctor about? Are you having problems with your stomach again.”

“Yeah, it’s my stomach, and I have a pain in my shoulder.”

“What’s the pain in your shoulder from?”

“The cops came by. I smashed my bottle so I wouldn’t get a ticket. They put my hands behind my back, put handcuffs on me, then pushed me to the sidewalk. It hurt something in my shoulder.”

“I know what those cuffs feel like. They always put them on too tight, don’t they.”

“I don’t know why they did that. I didn’t get a ticket.

“This morning a guy saw me drinking out of my Listerine bottle. He said, ‘I’ll give you twenty dollars if you throw that bottle away.’ ‘No way,’ I said. ‘Keep your money.’ He gave me the twenty anyway.”

“So that worked out well for you. I hope everything goes well at the doctor’s office this afternoon. I’ll see you later.”

I moved on to say hello to Shakes and Wolf. Shaggy barked the whole time. “Don’t pay any attention to her,” said Wolf, “she’s just saying hello. She doesn’t make much of a guard dog; she barks, but she’s too lazy to lift her head off the sidewalk.”

I sat on the sidewalk in front of Joy. Chester was just leaving to go for Chinese food at the restaurant on Queen, just down from Parliament.

“How’s everything going today, Joy?” I asked. She gestured with her head toward Chester and rolled her eyes.

“Dennis, I’m losing it. I met with my P.O. (Parole Officer) this morning. I didn’t think that I was talking loud. All of a sudden two cops came in. They said, ‘We thought there was a disturbance.’ My P.O. was upset, she said, ‘There’s no disturbance. If there had been, I have a buzzer to press, or I would have called you.’ After a while, I had to pee. When I got outside her door, sure enough, the two cops were on either side. They followed me to the bathroom and waited outside. I stayed an extra long time, just to piss them off. I also had a drink.

“When I was finished my appointment I took the elevator down. The two cops went with me. I said to them, ‘What is it with you guys? Is it that you just don’t like me? I wasn’t put on this earth to be either liked, or disliked by you.’ I said to the big one, ‘I remember you. You’re the one who smashed my cheek.’

“He said, ‘You didn’t lodge a complaint.’

“I know better than to charge one of Toronto’s finest. I learned that lesson in Montreal.”

I asked, “How did he smash your cheek?”

“Feel both of my cheeks. See if you think they feel the same.” I noticed that the bone structure felt different. “Part of my cheek bone was broken off. They were called to our apartment, when I was still with Jake. One cop was talking him outside, the big one was with me in the kitchen. He opened the fridge and started taking out beer. I said, ‘Excuse me.’ Notice that I was being polite. I said, ‘Excuse me, but those are my beer. You’ve no right to be taking them.’ That’s the last I remember. I woke up in hospital. I still have a scar, but it’s nearly faded now.

“I also met with my worker this morning. She may have an apartment for me to see tomorrow. I just hope I get it. Chester is driving me crazy. I’d never hurt him, but I just don’t know what I’m doing some times. I think I freaked out my P.O this morning. Hopefully, she’ll get me back on my anti-schizoid medication. I haven’t had it since I was in hospital last January.”

“Joy,” I said, “I can understand some of what you’re feeling. If I wasn’t on medication I’d be a mess.”

“Last night,” she said, “I was at a party at Chuck’s place on Sumach Street. I was having a good time. I’m entitled to have a good time, once in a while, aren’t I? I’d been there about an hour when I got a phone call from Chester. Even though I told him not to, he invited Loretta over for some Muk-muk loving. I don’t think it worked out the way he planned. He was drunk and she gets crazy when she drinks. Chester said that she was hitting him and he didn’t know how to get her out of his apartment.

‘I said to him, ‘Chester, go over to the fridge. The number for security is on a card there. Phone them and tell them you want someone removed from your apartment. They’ll take Loretta out. If you don’t want to do that, dial 911 and the cops will deal with her.’ I must have gotten half a dozen calls from him. I phoned security, told them that my father was having trouble getting someone out of his apartment. I said, ‘I’ve seen you guys, you’re big enough to handle a hundred pound woman. I’ve also seen that you have handcuffs, if she gives you any trouble.’

“Chester called back again. He said that security had gotten Loretta out of the apartment, but later he heard a knock and opened the door. It was Loretta. She barged back in. Who in their right mind opens a door, when they don’t know who’s on the other side? It could have been thieves, ready to invade his home and take all he’s got.

“I came home and Loretta was passed out on the couch. This is my home. I saw red. I really laid into her. I’m not exactly sure what happened, I was fairly wasted at the time. I know I threw her out. This morning, I saw that there was blood on the couch. My knuckles are sore. My foot is sore, there was blood all over my white shoe, and I found teeth prints in the leather. Loretta doesn’t have teeth, but whoever removed them did a lousy job. She still has nubs. I don’t know what kind of shape she’s in.

“Tomorrow, I go for my second anger management counseling session with E. Fry (The Elizabeth Fry Society). I’ll have someone messing with my head. I just can’t take much more. I feel like I’m dying from the inside.”

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Silver Dies

3 October 2012

As I got off the bus this morning, I was approached by Metro. He had a grim look on his face. “Dennis, someone just told me that Joy is in hospital. I’d like to visit her, but I don’t know her last name.”

“It’s, Wolford,“ I said, “Joyce Wolford.”

“Thanks, Dennis, I’m not good at hospitals. There are too many sick people there, but I’ll try to get over to see Joy.”

“Thanks for telling me, Metro, I really appreciate it.”

“No problem.”

Nearly beside me, sitting at a patio table outside Tim Horton’s, drinking coffee from a paper cup, was Deaf Donald.

“Dennis, something really bad happened to me. I just got out of jail. The police, all they say is lies. My landlord phoned them last night. He said I was making too much noise. I wasn’t making a lot of noise. It’s just that my landlord doesn’t like me. The police say I assaulted them. I didn’t do that. They came to my door; when I opened it they grabbed me, put me in handcuffs and pushed me to the floor. I spent the night in jail. My mother posted bail for me. I have a ticket for disturbing the peace. It says I have to pay three hundred and fifty bucks, within fifteen days, or I go to jail. On top of that, I’m not even allowed to go back to my apartment. My rent is paid until the end of the month, but my mother and some friends are going to have to move my things. I’m not allowed. That’s not right.

“I’ve stopped taking drugs. I can’t go to jail again. Do you know the name of a good lawyer?”

I wrote down, on a piece of paper, the name of a lawyer I’ve used in the past, and handed it to him. I said, “Contact this person, if she can’t help you she’ll refer you to someone who can. She’s very pleasant. There’s no charge for the introductory visit. She will explain the charges to you, and what your rights are. Any information needed for your court appearance can be collected by her office. If you want, she’ll represent you. Don’t worry, you won’t go to jail.”

“Thanks, Dennis, I’ll walk there after I go for my methadone treatment.”

“Take care, Donald.  Everything will work out.”

At noon I was relieved to see Joy. I said to her, “I’m so glad to see you. Metro said that you were in hospital. He said that someone gave him the message to pass on to me. Are you alright? Metro didn’t know your last name, but wanted to visit you in hospital.”

“I’m fine, thank him for me when you see him next.”

I shook hands with Chester, “How are you, Chester?”

“Not so good.” He then turned and walked away.

“We did get some bad news,” said Joy. “Silver died on Monday at the Mission Hospice. He and Chester were really close. Silver checked himself into the Mission, they moved him to the Salvation Army, then he was moved to the Hospice. There’s something not right there. He should have gone to the hospital, not the Mission. They have no trained medical staff there.”

Jacques pulled out a photo of a very healthy looking  Silver, sitting by the canal. “I must have known him for ten, twelve years, maybe. It was strange. He had a swollen ankle, then his belly swelled up, his face became skinny. He died so soon. I think he must have had some sort of virus or an infection. I wonder if they’ll do an autopsy. I’d like to know what he died of.

“We were just talking about all the people we know who have died. Just in one year, Rip died…”

Shark said, “Rip’s still alive.”

“Oh, I meant Tim, he died at Easter, Digger died on Canada Day and Hobo died on Labor Day, all in the same year.”

I said, “I saw some of those people in a video.”

Shark said, “It was called ‘Under the Bridge’. Most of those people have left town or are dead.”

Jacques said, “I had an uncle. He retired and stayed home with his wife. He had nothing to do, nothing to keep him busy. He died within two weeks of retiring. Me, I don’t have to worry about that. I’ve never had a job, so I’ll never die from stopping work.”

I said, “That’s good preventative medicine, Jacques.”

Andre said, “I out drank Hippo, he’s gone. I out drank Shakes, see he’s going fast. He’s giving me the evil eye, pretending he’s not falling asleep, He’s gone.”

“Where is Hippo?” I asked.

“He’s at his apartment,” said Jacques. “Didn’t you know? I saw his place. It’s a one bedroom, the size of a bachelor. The bedroom is so small, there’s only room for a single bed. When they brought it to him he said, ‘Hey, I wanted a double bed.’ They said, ‘There’s no room.’ He’s over in Roncevalles. I was there but I don’t know what street he’s on. It goes in this way, out that way, before you know it, you’re lost.”

I said, “He told me he was moving to Roncy Street.”

“Yes, Yes that’s the name, Roncy Street.”

Joy said, “That’s the place I should have gotten. I know why I didn’t get it, my worker told me. They thought I was a hooker. If I was a hooker, I wouldn’t have been wearing that cheap, polyester dress.

“I told Chester I wouldn’t be coming home tonight. Last time, he waited up for me. I said to him, ‘Chester, I’m forty-six years old, nobody has to wait up for me. If something is going to happen, it’ll happen. If I’m not home by eight o’clock, figure that I’m going to be gone for the night.

“He’s invited Raven over, can you imagine? She’s worse than Loretta. At least I won’t have to deal with getting her out of the apartment.”

I asked, “Have you seen Loretta lately?”

“Not since I threw her out, Monday. I took her down in the elevator, bounced her around the walls a bit. Nothing was broken. She was able to walk away from the building.”

We saw a fire truck pull up. Jacques said, “We better leave, soon the police will be here.”

Firemen came over to Shakes and tried to wake him up. Shortly after, a Paramedic truck pulled up. It was time for me to be back at work. I expect that Shakes will be taken to the detox facility at The Shepherd. He’ll be allowed to sleep the night, and will be back in his usual place tomorrow.

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I Killed a Pumpkin

4 October 2012

Serge, who had been sleeping on a park bench on Queen Street, came walking up the sidewalk with William. Other regulars, were sitting on the curb.

I asked, “Does anybody know any details about Silver’s funeral? I’d like to go if I can.”

Andre said, “From what I’ve heard, it’s at the Washington and Johnston Funeral Home on Queen. The viewing of the body is at 10:00, and the service is at 11:00. You won’t see me there. I’ve been to too many funerals, dozens of them. I want to remember Silver the way he was, not the way they’ll have him in his casket. I can’t take that.”

I said, “Hi Serge, William. Serge, have you seen the doctor yet. You mentioned that you wanted to see him about your stomach and your shoulder.”

“My stomach is okay. I have an appointment next Thursday. It was arranged through The Shep, with a doctor at the Clinic on Gerrard. William and I are just going for something to eat now.

“Shakes, how are you today? You didn’t look too good yesterday when the fire truck and the paramedics arrived.”

“I’m fine, I’m just tired that’s all.”

“How are you Andre?”

“Last night Joy, Jake and I were drinking at Jake’s new apartment. Joy and I got into a little tiff. We were both drunk. I decided to leave and I woke up in somebody’s garden. I was eating carrots, some kind of squash. I used a Tim Horton’s card to slice a tomato. That worked really well. I killed a pumpkin, a big sucker. I just wound up and ‘kapow’. Now, I got all these stains on my pants.”

I asked, “Did Joy find out when she’s going to be able to see a doctor?”

“Yeah, she’ll be going tomorrow.”

Andre said, “I’m just waiting for my worker, she’s supposed to be here at twelve, forty-five. She’s going to take me to see an apartment. Next week she’ll take me to see a doctor. She asked me, ‘Do you have any medical problems?’ I said, ‘How much time do you have? I can keep you writing for an hour with all my medical problems.’

“I walked into a clinic one time, there were all kinds of people in the waiting room. I walked up to the counter and said, ‘I’m in the middle of one of my mood swings. I want a doctor, NOW! I guess I looked real freaky. The doctor saw me right away and gave me some medication. It was potent stuff. I felt like a zombie for three days. I didn’t want to take that again, I couldn’t do anything but sleep. When I was awake, it was like I was in a fog. I smoke pot instead. It keeps me mellow. If I don’t have any for about three days, I start to get wired up.

“One time the cops were chasing me and I pulled myself over a five foot fence. What I didn’t realize was there was a thirteen foot drop on the other side. I broke some ribs that time. I had a floating rib for a while. That really hurt. Sometimes, I wouldn’t be able to catch my breath.

“Another time I jumped out a second story window. There was a wooden shed below that broke my fall and my ribs on the other side.”

Wolf said, “Did I tell you that Shaggy bit me this morning. That’s why she’s over there in front of Nick. She started the day well, she walked all the way down here on her own. For a thirteen year old dog that’s pretty good. These guys get her all wound up. I reached in front of her and she chomped down on my wrist. It didn’t break the skin, but it’s so sore.

“That’s all I got to say to you.

“Andre, can I have a drink from your bottle?”

Andre said, “Yes.”

“You know, I don’t often ask you for anything, do I?”

“No, you don’t, Wolf. I don’t remember the last time you asked me for something.”

“Alright then, just so we have that straight.”

A skateboarder went by and Shaggy started barking and chasing him. Andre grabbed Shaggy’s leash, just in time. He said to the frightened kid, “She doesn’t like skateboards.”

Andre said to  a woman passing by, “That’s a beautiful shawl you’re wearing, sister. Has anybody told you today, that you’re beautiful too?”

To me he said, “See how tall she is, she must be six one or two. I love tall women. They can wrap their legs around you twice.”

Nick was chattering away to nobody in particular, mumbling something about, “I know how to survive. I’ve even slept in a snow drift with a piece of cardboard, newspaper inside my pant legs and in my sleeves. I was fine until the cops kicked me in the face.

“Can somebody throw me that bottle?”

Wolf said, “It’s not mine. I’m not going to throw it to you.”

It was time for me to go. I said my good byes and said that I would see everyone tomorrow.

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Silver’s Funeral

5 October 2012

At 10:15 this morning I entered the Washington and Johnston Funeral Homel, to attend the viewing and memorial service for Silver. Most of the viewing rooms were empty. I heard voices and walked into one of the rooms. I didn’t know if I was in the right room until I saw, at the front, two boards of photographs with Silver lettered on top. There must have been a dozen photos on each board. Many of the photos I wouldn’t have recognized. They were from Silver’s childhood, teenage years and as the adult that I had considered my friend for the past nine months. As I was looking, I was approached by a woman with blond hair, and a welcoming smile.

She asked, “Did you know Silver well?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I sat and talked with him nearly every day. In the mornings, in front of Starbucks, and at noon at ‘the benches’ at Moss Park.”

“I’m Silver’s’s sister, Cathy, by the way.”

“Silver spoke fondly of you,”

“Did you also know that he has three brothers, a son and a grandchild? Did Silver mention that? I’ll introduce you to them when I see them.”

“Silver may have mentioned the rest of his family. The last time I saw him was about two weeks ago. He showed me the swelling of his ankle and varicose veins he was worried about. He said he had an appointment with his doctor that same day. Jacques mentioned that Silver’s stomach was swollen. We all noticed that he had lost weight, especially in his face, and were worried about him. Sometimes, he would sit alone and just gaze into the distance. It just seemed to be his way. It was a great shock to hear that he had passed away.

“What was given as the cause of death?”

“Liver failure. Swollen ankles and abdomen are symptoms of liver failure. Luckily the whole family was able to be at his bedside for the last week. His son and granddaughter, of course, his mother and father, his brothers, his nephew. We all had lots of stories. It was good to see Silver laugh.”

“Here’s Cody now, Silver’s son, and Cody’s daughter Jennifer, Jenny for short.”

“Hi, Cody, and Jenny. I knew your father well. I’m so sorry for your loss. You have a striking resemblance to your dad.”

“I know. I’m proud of it.”

Cathy said, Dennis have you met Steve?”

“Hi Steve.”

Linda said to Dave, “You saw John fairly regularly too, is that right?”

“Every day or so we’d go for a beer together. I lived next door to him at the Rex.”

Cathy said, “We’d lost contact with Silver. We didn’t know he was so close. He didn’t have a phone. If we’d know where he was we would have whisked him away.”

“Steve, how long was Silver at the Rex, about four years?”

“Nearly five years.”

“Dennis,” asked Cathy, ” what was your impression of Silver?”

“He was the sweetest, kindest, gentlest man. He always had a smile to greet me. It was always a pleasure talking with him.”

Cathy said, “He was a glass-half-full kind of person, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” I said, “He was always cheerful and optimistic.”

I saw Danny, Outcast, Spike, Shark and Irene. Outcast walked over to the photographs and said, “Here’s me with Silver, this other one is of me also, but my head is cut off.”

I said, “Outcast I’d recognize your crotch anywhere.”

Shark said, “We’re not staying for the service. We just came to pay our respects to Silver’s family, then we’ll raise a few glasses to Silver.”

Irene and I walked over and signed the visitor’s book. I saw Danny sitting down, so I went over and sat with him.

“I’m just on my way to Thunder Bay,” he said. “After I leave here I’m, going to the bus depot to pick up my tickets.”

I asked, “Is that where you’re from. Do you have family there?”

“My mother’s in hospital, so I want to spend time with her. She has had part of her colon removed. Now they’ve found more polyps in the remaining colon. Doctors want to remove another two inches. She doesn’t want to go through that again. She said, ‘I’m ready to go. Why won’t they just let me die at home.’

“She’s had a hard life. My dad passed away a while back. He was on life support. The family was asked for permission to stop the machines that were keeping him alive. I was talking to my mom, on my cell phone, when they pulled the plug. I heard laughing in the background. The family thought that after he was removed from life support that he would die immediately. He drifted off to sleep for about ten minutes, then he awoke. He said, ‘I must be in heaven, I see all the angels of my family around me.’ Everyone laughed. I think he was trying to hold on until I arrived, but he didn’t last long enough for me to see him alive. At least I got to talk to him, and tell him that I loved him.

I met silver’s brothers and his nephew. I also met Spike. I introduced myself. I said, I think we’ve met before at ‘the benches’, or at the ‘heater’. “Maybe, he said, I go to those places.”

Shark said to Spike, “What do you think of this place?”

Spike said, “It’s within walking distance of three beer stores.”

It was time to go upstairs for the memorial service. I’m guessing there were about fifty to seventy-five people in attendance. The Minister, who hadn’t met silver, started the service with a reading from  the Book of John:

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus the Way to the Father

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

The minister added a personal note. “I am getting on in years. I know that when my time comes that my Lord will have prepared a room for me, even though in my life I have made mistakes. I am human. We all make mistakes. The dead are not gone, they live on in our hearts and memories, and in the genes of Jesse and Abbie.

He then went over and blessed Silver’s cremation urn with holy water.

A family member read a poem she wrote for John.

Cathy talked about stories from their childhood, stories that they had recounted at Silver’s bedside:

In the winter, Silver loved ‘bumpering’. To go bumpering, you grab the bumper of a moving vehicle and allow it pull you as it careens along the icy roads. This is dangerous and not at all recommended.

Silver enjoyed board games such as Monopoly and Clue, and playing cards. He and his older brother, Don, played a game called Hi-Lo. The loser of each hand would have to do push ups. What Silver didn’t know was that Bob was stacking the deck against him. Don was ahead in the short run, but Silver developed massive shoulders, that gave him the advantage in wrestling.

Our father died when Silver was nine years old. The three oldest siblings had to take turns minding the two youngest. Silver wanted to go riding on his bike, but it was his turn to care for his younger brother. Silver found a way to do both things at the same time. He tied his brother to the front stair railing and hopped on his bike. He rode around and around the block, waving at his brother each time he passed.

Cathy read the poem Do not stand at my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye,

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

The service ended, and as the congregation arose and left the chapel the following song was being played:

Spirit in the Sky

by Norman Greenbaum

When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best
When I lay me down to die
Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best

Prepare yourself you know it’s a must
Gotta have a friend in Jesus
So you know that when you die
He’s gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
Gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
That’s where you’re gonna go when you die
When you die and they lay you to rest
You’re gonna go to the place that’s the best

Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus
So you know that when I die
He’s gonna set me up with
The spirit in the sky
Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best
Go to the place that’s the best

At the door leaving the building I had a chance to speak with Stella, who has known Silver and the rest of his friends for the past sixteen years. I hope to collaborate with her and share information. About Silver she said, “I met Silver at the beginning thru Tom, who used to pan at the Metcalfe & Albert corner. They both decided they would hitch-hike up to Timmins for some reason, but only got to Carp and came back. Guess there weren’t many beer stores along the way. Very funny. Tim passed away a few years ago.”

This was a very emotional service. Over the past nine months Silver had become one of my family — my street family. It filled a void in me where my own family once was. They have all passed away, or are living in different parts of the continent. I too am a father and a grandfather.

.

Loretta and Vance

9 October 2012

Joy was huddled in her blanket with her hood pulled close to her face. She was rocking back and forth. When I came closer, I could see that she was shivering.

“I’m freezing, ” she said. “I didn’t see you on Friday.”

“I was at Silver’s funeral. I met his sister, his three brothers, nephew, son and granddaughter. She’s a little sweetheart, just four years old.”

“I know that Outcast, Shark and Irene went.”

“Yeah, I saw them there. They didn’t stay for the service. Stella was also there.”

“We were too bummed out. Chester was crying. He got me crying. He took it really hard. He said, ‘What am I going to do with the dvds that Silver lent me.’ They’d often get together to watch movies, game shows, eat pizza and drink beer.”

“How was your weekend?” I asked.

“Quiet, I went to visit Loretta for the weekend. She’s renting a room in a house in Pickering. It’s out in the country, a gorgeous house overlooking the Petticoat Creek Conservation Area. Her landlord doesn’t like her boyfriend, Vance. He’s been really ignorant on the phone when the landlord has answered. He said, ‘Why the fuck are you answering Loretta’s phone?’

“The landlord was away this weekend. Vance came to visit. I hardly saw Loretta at all. When I woke up Sunday morning they were gone. I had no bus fare, because I’d given tickets to Loretta. I had no cash, because I spent the last of it on a bottle for her. So, I was stuck. The landlord had change in a dish near the door. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to get home.”

“So, you and Loretta are friends again?”

“Yeah, we’re fine. It’s just when she gets drunk that she acts crazy. When she’s relatively sober she’s okay. She has to go into rehab, sometime soon. She’d previously said, that she was going to come back to the house after she finished. Vance gave her an emerald ring on Friday. I could see that it was an antique ring. I talked to her landlord on the phone yesterday and he seemed really pissed off. Now, Loretta is saying she’s going to find a new place to stay after rehab. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vance had stolen the ring from her landlord.”

“Irene was really upset Friday, after Silver’s funeral. She had been going out with Silver for about six years. She dumped him for Shark. She and him have been together now, for about five years.”

“Silver mentioned that. When I told him that Shark and Irene were going to share an apartment, he said, ‘He’d better have a place to hide when she gets crazy.’ He also mentioned that Irene was the reason he started smoking again.”

“It hit Silver really hard when Irene left him. He hadn’t gone out with any women since her. He’d say, ‘I still love Irene, I have no interest in other women.’ ”

.

 

Downtown Charlie Brown

10 October 2012

This morning was even colder than yesterday. I gave Metro a picture of Silver, from the funeral. He would have seen him every morning for nearly eleven years. Joy was wrapped in her blanket, rubbing her legs. “I wore the wrong shoes today. These Pumas, given to me by Wolf, are worth about a hundred and fifty bucks. People look at me and they figure, ‘Why are you panhandling if you can afford shoes like that?’ I try to hide them, but I have to straighten my legs out to rub them every once in a while. They’re really bad today.”

“How are you and Chester getting along these days?”

“He got really drunk last night. I gave him some money and asked him to buy a bottle for me. He used my money to buy himself more beer. He went through an eighteen pack yesterday. Usually, he’ll be asleep after six.

“He was saying to me, ‘Joy, I love you. I won’t mind if you stay after Christmas. Then he touched my leg. He hasn’t done that for a while.

“I said to him, ‘Chester, you don’t like to be touched. I feel the same way, so keep your hands to yourself.’

“Later, he was banging around in the kitchen stark naked. He said, ‘What’s for supper?’ I told him, ‘I’m having this box of Kraft Dinner. I don’t know what your having. When are you going to buy some groceries?’ I’ve really spent a lot this month supplying him with cigarettes — and he chain smokes, one right after another. I’ve bought all the food. He hasn’t bought any.

“Well, I don’t think I’m going to be making any more money this morning. I had a good day yesterday.”

“I’ll see you later, Joy. Stella will be bringing pumpkin tarts.”

“I’ll give mine to Albert. I can’t stand pumpkin. I don’t mind the seeds, but that’s all.”

Later, at ten o’clock, I went to the park. Stella and her husband Tim were there. Stella loves to walk Weasel’s dog, Bear. She’s known him since he was a pup — at that time he was owned by Andre, who has since passed away. Stella had brought pumpkin tarts, with whipped cream, for everybody. She also brought me a package of photos and a photo copy of a newspaper article entitled, ‘Street Sister.’

Mo said, “Janice, my worker, is meeting me here to take me to my Elizabeth Fry appointment.” She poured some wine in her water bottle, added water and placed it in her bag. Little Jake, said, “Can you roll me a joint?”

Janice arrived and said hello to the people she knew. Andre asked, “We’re meeting tomorrow, right? You’re coming here?”

“That’s right Andre.”

Joy asked, “How many buses do we have to take, and how far do we have to walk?”

“We can just walk down to Wellesley and take an 95. That will take us right there.”

Joy asked, “Can you just wait until I finish this joint? Then I’ll be ready to go.”

“Sure, we have time.”

Joy hoisted her heavy backpack onto her shoulders and they walked down the sidewalk towards the bus stop.

I said hello to everybody I knew. Shakes introduced me to Clifford.

He said, “So, you’re Dennis the Menace! I’m Downtown Charlie Brown. I’ve been on the street for the past few days. Before that I was in a recovery program. I’m native Algonquin. I was born, on the Madawaska River, near Algonquin Park. I have a deep history. My grandfather was a guide for the Group of Seven, from 1920 to 1933, when they painted in the park. My uncle. He served three terms as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. I’m also related to the President of The Native Canadian Center. My father is a millionaire, but he won’t even answer the phone to me. He wont give me fifty bucks; won’t even give the price for a bottle. My sister is the same, she has a great big house; I sleep on the street. She says, ‘You got yourself this way, you get yourself out.'”

I said, “I’m really interested in learning about native culture. Is the Center a good place to go?

The best place to go is Native Center on Dundas. Every Wednesday the native ladies host a meal, storytelling, chanting and drumming. You’ll get to see Shakes dance, sing and play guitar.”

“Shakes,” I said. “I didn’t know you sang and played guitar.”

Clifford said, “Shakes and I used to sing in the park, He taught me some boxcar Willie and other blues songs.”

Boxcar’s my home, railroad my friend
It’s been that way since I don’t know when
I’m here today, tomorrow I’m gone
Where I hang my hat is where I call home

Stars at night my roof over head
The ground below where I make my bed
Horizons you see, well that is my walls
When the sun comes up my hobo blood calls.

“I love Boxcar Willie, and all the old blues singers.” I said.

Clifford said, “When I think of native culture I get so angry. In school the nuns forced us to speak English. They called what we spoke, ‘the devil’s language’. If we were ever caught speaking Algonquin or any other native language we would be beaten with the edge of a ruler or a leather strap. Can you imagine if something like that happened today, especially to the children of white people. The nuns would be arrested.

“Prior to European colonization, the Toronto Islands area was home to the Anishinaabeg (known also as the Ojibwa and Mississaugas) who were the last to occupy the area. The Anishinaabeg, brought their sick to the peninsula to recover in its healthful atmosphere. To the descendants of the Ojibwa, now the Mississaugas, the Toronto Islands are sacred land. The Toronto Purchase of 1787 and 1805, according to the British, included the Islands. The Mississaugas, in a land claim settlement process started in 1986, claimed that the Islands were never included. In 2010, the Government of Canada and the Mississaugas reached a settlement which resulted in a cash payment to the Mississaugas from the Government of Canada. In return, the Mississaugas relinquished their claim to the islands.

“Most native people would rather sleep outside, than in one of the shelters. Last night the guy in the bunk on my right kept saying, ‘six, six, six, six, six…’ all night long. He never stopped. The guy on my left was a crack head. Every twenty minutes he’d get up and walk around. I didn’t trust him, so I was trying to sleep with one eye open. Whenever he got up, or went back to bed I woke up.”

.

Back from the Garden

11 October 2012

I could see my breath this morning. Joy was wrapped in her blanket sitting next to Andre. I shook hands with both of them and sat next to Joy.

I asked Joy, “How did your appointment go yesterday?”

“She was messing with my head. She said, ‘You’ve had quite a life, haven’t you?’ I said, ‘It started with my grandfather, then my father, then his younger brother. I got into drugs, was kicked out of my home, joined a biker gang, was into prostitution, jail, then ended up on the street, sleeping behind a dumpster. So, yeah, I’ve had quite a life.’ ”

“Is she any closer to getting you in to see a doctor, or at least get you back on your previous medication?”

“She’s working on it. I see her again next Wednesday. I’m just tired of this runaround. It’s been going on since January.”

I said to Andre, “I see you’ve shaved again.”

“I’m trying to look respectable for a while.” To Joy he said, “I guess I look better than I did last weekend. I still can’t figure out how I ended up in that garden. I sure didn’t get far from Little Jake’s place.”

Joy said, “The last time I saw you, you were sitting in the middle of somebody’s lawn. I told you to come, but you said, ‘I’m staying right here.'”

“I guess I can get pretty stubborn, sometimes.”

“Sometimes?” I asked. “When aren’t you stubborn?”

“That’s more like it,” said Joy.

“So, you left me there?”

Joy said, “I saw the bus coming from one direction, so I figured the one going the other way would be along soon. I wasn’t going to miss my bus arguing with you. Yes, I left you there.”

Andre said, “All I know is, I woke up with watermelon and squash all over me. I had tomato dripping down my chin. I was a mess.”

I said, “You told me you remembered slicing a tomato with a Tim Horton’s card.”

“Yeah, I remember saying that.”

Joy said, “I remember one time, sitting here, a guy wearing a six hundred-dollar suit, and an even more expensive overcoat, threw a full cup of coffee at me. It burnt my face. I went after the guy with all I had. Some of my regular ladies came by and asked what happened. I said, “Look at me. This jerk threw a cup of coffee at me. They started hitting him with their purses.”

“Did anyone call the police?” I asked, “That’s assault! He shouldn’t get away with that!”

“Somebody may have called the police. I didn’t stick around. What I did to the guy probably would have gotten me charged. Can you imagine, someone going into a restaurant, buying a coffee with the express purpose of throwing it on somebody? He must be one sick fuck. It’s not as if I even ask for money. I just sit here. I say, ‘good morning’ to some people who I know, apart from that I’m quiet as a mouse.”

I asked Joy, “How are you and Chester getting along?”

“Last night we had another big argument. He slammed the door in my face. I said, ‘Chester, I’m moving out. I can’t put up with this bullshit any longer.” I packed my bag, put it out on the balcony. It must have weighed more than me. I didn’t have money for a cab. I had no place else to stay. I thought about going to the dumpsters behind Starbucks, but they’ve moved them close to the wall now. Nobody is staying there any more. I don’t know where Bearded Bruce is. I think he’s with Weasel.

“Chester said, ‘Please Joy, don’t leave. I love you.’ So I stayed the night. He was a little better this morning.”

Andre said, “Bruce is trained as a chef, isn’t he?”

“Bruce is a good cook, but he serves beans with everything. He filled my plate until it was heaping. I couldn’t finish half of it. Chuck took some, but he couldn’t finish his either.”

I said, “I was talking to Winston yesterday. He was mentioning the Native Center on Dundas. He was saying that every Wednesday there is a free meal, story telling, dancing and drumming. Do you know anything about that?”

Andre said, “I went there once. A guy said to me, ‘This is for native people.’ I’m part Ojibway. I said, “Who are you to say whether or not I’m part native. I see a guy over there that looks white, and another over there. Did they have to prove they were native?’ The guy says, ‘I know they’re native. You’re lucky you got a bowl of cereal. Don’t come back again.’ ”

Joy said, “I’ve had the same problem, my father was Ojibway, my mother was English. I’m metis, but I look white. I don’t fit in anywhere.”

At noon I was leaving the building, where I work, and ran into Buck, and his dog Dillinger. He said, “Joy, Andre and Shakes are together, sitting in the middle of the street.’ I had no idea what that meant. I found them sitting on the concrete island with elevated flower garden, that divides the Mackenzie King bridge, near Elgin.”

I said to them, “Hawk told me that you were on the corner at George. I didn’t know what he meant.”

Joy said, “We’re just trying to stay out of trouble. The cops were by earlier. They can’t say anything about us sitting here. We’re not talking to anybody, we don’t have any alcohol visible.” Then she looked at Shakes.

“Shakes, for Christ’s sake, will you put that bottle under your coat or something. You don’t have to advertise that you’re drinking.” Just then a police car passed.

“Just watch, he’s going to turn around.” she said. The car continued on and didn’t return.

Andre said, “I haven’t seen that big cop, Caron, lately. The one with the muscles and all the tattoos.”

Joy said, “I heard that he got promoted. He works in the building now.”

“He sure doesn’t like Jake,” said Andre. “I remember the last time, Jake was sitting on the ground, Caron was bending over him saying, ‘Why don’t you learn to shut up. If you say one more word, I’m going to take you behind that electrical shed and beat the shit out of you.’

“The other cop looked at me and said, ‘If he gets into it with your friend, I’m not big enough to do anything about it. If you can talk reason to Jake, now would be a good time.’ I bent down and said to Jake, ‘This guy is the size of a tree. There’s no way out of this. Just keep your mouth shut.’ Jake said, ‘Okay.’

Joy started sneezing, over and over again. She said, “I heard that a sneeze is like one tenth of an orgasm. I usually sneeze ten times. I don’t need men at all.

“I’m not looking forward to going home. Chester is still acting pissy. He went to the Mission for lunch and was complaining about the food. He said, ‘They were serving grilled cheese sandwiches. I told them it was garbage and threw it in the trash.’ I’ve seen Chester cook grilled cheese sandwiches. He didn’t throw it in the trash; he ate it, and didn’t complain.”

“Is Chester still upset about Silver’s death?”

“I guess so, but he has to move on. I have.”

“I need to be on my medication and I’m having a real problem with menopause. I’ve got more zits now that I’ve had at any time in my life. I like my face. I don’t want to look like this. I’m whining, aren’t I?”

I said, “You have good reason to be upset.”

I had to return to work. I shook hands with Joy, Andre and Shakes then headed down Queen. A police car pulled up. The cop asked, “Are you guys waiting for your meal?” I’ll hear the rest of the details tomorrow.

.

Curly Water

12 October 2012

The mornings are getting ever colder. Joy was wrapped up, rubbing her legs. André was sitting on a cushion.

Andre said, “This cushion keeps me dry, but it sure doesn’t keep me warm.”

Joy said, “I’m going to get one of those plastic storage boxes and stash it behind Starbucks when I don’t need it. This cold really causes my legs to ache.”

I asked, “What happened when the police came by, yesterday?”

“Nothing much — the usual. They sent the Shepherd van for Serge. He was sleeping at ‘the heater’. I didn’t like the way they were treating him. I said, ‘Hey, be careful with him. He’s my friend.’ One of them kept waving her hand in front of her face. I know he probably doesn’t smell that good, but they must have dealt with worse than him. I found it disrespectful.”

“How has Chester been?”

“He was better this morning. Mind you, I bought him a gram of pot yesterday. When I came home he said, ‘Joy, I saved you a joint.’ I said, ‘That’s okay, Chester, I have my own.”

“Do you have any plans for the weekend?”

“No, I’ll probably be doing laundry. Some clothes I had just thrown on top of the bags I moved out to the balcony. They’ll have to be washed and Asshole probably has things he wants washed.”

I said, “I’ll have to be getting back to work now. Will you be at the park at noon?”

“We’ll probably be at the corner, or under the bridge. We’re getting hassled too much at the park, especially if there are more than four of us.

It was snowing at noon. I passed Andre on my way to the park. He said, “Hi Dennis, I’ll be back in a few minutes. I just have to get something.”

I could hear Shaggy barking long before I could see anyone. It brought to mind a comment that Silver had made a while back, I don’t want to go up there, Shaggy’s barking his head off. On the curb on one side was Little Jake, on the other side was Hippo, Chester, Joy, Wolf and a friend of his (I can’t remember his name).

Hippo said, “My parents visited yesterday and brought some dvds, but they took them home with them. My dad brought a tape measure last week, but he took it back yesterday. I don’t know what all that was about. I wish they’d left the dvds — there were some good movies there. I have cable now. I just plugged it in and it’s working.”

Joy said, “He’s been complaining like this all morning.”

Hippo said, “I turned my tv on full volume this morning. It’ll serve the crack heads right for keeping me awake all night.”

Joy said, “Andre’s gone to get a bottle of water for me, since he drank most of mine.”

Andre returned with Joy’s water, did a little dance then sat next to Jake. A woman was passing. He said, “Hey, beautiful, did you wash your hair with curly water today?”

Wolf said, “This is only my second time out this week. I was here Tuesday. I haven’t got my clothing figured out yet, for this weather. I’m warm on top, but I need warmer shoes. Can you believe this snow? Shaggy doesn’t know what to make of it either.”

Chester went on a run for Joy. After he left she said, “I bought a dozen eggs last night, I had one. I checked this morning, there were only five left. Chester ate six eggs in one day and he goes to the Mission for meals. I also bought some bologna, but I stashed that away.

“This afternoon I’m going to Chuck’s old place to see if my checks are there. I’m expecting one from Trillium for a hundred bucks and one from G.S.T. (Goods and Services Tax) for sixty. I’ll check the mailbox, or if someone is at home, I can ask if any mail is there addressed to me. I’ll just tell them that I was slow in getting my change of address filed. I hope they don’t ask for Identification, because I don’t have any. Last time the crack head gave them to me.”

 .

15 October 2012

It had rained during the night. Sidewalks were wet. Joy was protected by a plastic cushion. I sat on the cold, damp concrete. “How was your weekend, Joy?”

“It was quiet. I went out Saturday night and hung out with Little Jake and Andre. When I got home I got a frantic phone call from Toothless Chuck, ‘V’s dead, He was hit by a car.’ I’m not sure how the accident happened but Chuck has broken bones in his foot and refuses to go to the hospital.

“This may sound unkind, but V’s better off dead. Chuck didn’t train him properly and would kick him if he misbehaved. That’s no way to treat a dog.”

I asked, “Do you have any appointments coming up to obtain your identification?”

“My regular appointment is Wednesday, I’m so frustrated that I’ve started cutting myself again. I was so proud that I had gone almost a year without doing that. I need my medication. They say the most common reasons for cutting is Attention or Depression. My reason is definitely Depression. Chester makes it worse with all his noises. He had the temperature way up yesterday, to the point I was sweating, but do you think he would put it up this morning when I said that I was cold? No!”

I said, “I was thinking back to this time last year. You were so happy. You’d received all your identification and your health card. You had moved into that nice house with Roy. You had your pet snake, the lizards and Roy’s dog, Harley, but you were stressed about the cop car parked in front of your house. That was before your kidneys failed.”

“Yeah, no chance of that now. Mind you, we had three cop cars in front of the apartment building yesterday. Chester said, ‘Are they here for you, Joy?’ I said, ‘No, Chester, they’re here for you.’ He said, ‘Me, I don’t do any bad stuff.’ I said, ‘I don’t either.’ They were probably called because of the crack heads down the hall.”

I said, “Even a place like Hippo’s would be better for you. He has to deal with crack heads, but he has his privacy, he has cable, the choice to watch any programs he wants, and in English too.”

“Yeah, my worker is coming to see me and Andre, at noon, about two apartments she’s found. I sure hope that works out. I’m overdue for some good news.”

“I asked, “Did you get your laundry done?”

“Yeah, most of it. I washed all Chester’s winter clothes. There wasn’t enough room for mine. Chester’s going to give me his winter pants. They go with this parka. Hopefully, I won’t get too cold this winter. My arthritis and fibromyalgia just wont take the cold.”

“Chester isn’t in the cold that much, is he? He doesn’t pan.”

“No, he just comes to the Mission for meals and visits with the guys for a while. If he’s cold, he goes home.”

At noon the temperature was a balmy sixty-three degrees Fahrenheit. I felt too warm in my down filled winter coat, so I sat on it instead. Shaggy greeted me at the sidewalk — licking my hand and barking.

“She’s okay,” said Wolf, “Go ahead and pet her. That’s what she wants.”

Sitting on the curb were the usual suspects. I was sitting on the sidewalk facing Mo. Loretta was fidgeting, standing beside me. At one point she draped her coat over my shoulder, while she rooted through her purse looking for change to buy a cigarette.

I said, “Hey, what am I — a coat rack?”

Joy said, “I wish that dog would shut up for a while.”

I asked, “How did the rest of your morning go? Did your worker come by to show you the apartment?”

“Today is a typical Monday, although it is payday for the government. My worker should have been here hours ago, but I know that Friday she had a lot of shit on her plate. She’ll come either later today, or tomorrow.”

“Have you heard any more from Chuck, about his broken foot?”

“No, I didn’t go over. When I talked to him on the phone he said something about community service. He’s not going to be able to do much with a broken foot.”

Jake asked, “Is Chuck still living in the same place?”

Joy said, “No, he has a really nice apartment on Seaton Street. I’m sure he won’t have it for long. He has too many people living there. Every night there are twelve to fifteen people. They’re loud, drunk — the police get called there a lot.

“He says, ‘I can’t let people sleep on the street!’ I said do him, ‘Dude, yes you can! They aren’t your problem!’ It was the same when I lived with him. People would eat all our food, there was hardly any place to sleep. It was doing my head in. I had to get away from there.

Saturday he had a party with a lot of muk-muks. Magdalene brought Ruby, a friend of hers. This Ruby chick got in my face as soon as she arrived. Within a few minutes I was on my feet. Chuck had to hold me back. Somebody was holding Ruby back. I said, ‘Let her go. I can deal with her.’

“Today Chuck mentioned that Ruby had phoned and asked him to apologize to me. She said she was out of control. I said, ‘It’s all water under the bridge to me.’ The thing is, I’m sure she doesn’t remember what I look like, but I sure as hell remember her. The next time I see her, I’ll just walk up behind her and give her a snap at the back of the head. She won’t know what hit her.”

There was a demonstration taking place in the park. Andre said, “The R.C.M.P. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) are there and some natives with a red flag, a yellow sunburst in the center, and the silhouette of an indian brave on that.”

Joy said, “Andre, you’re part native, you don’t recognize the flag of the Mohawk Nation.  Don’t you know about the land grant, from Queen Victoria, that gave the land we’re sitting on, to the Seven Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. That included the Mohawks of Akwisasne, Kahnawake, the Hurons of Wendake and the Anishinabegs.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” said Emile, “I must have been sick when they taught that history lesson.”

I noticed that Shakes was very quiet.

Joy said, “He didn’t get up until eight o’clock, he’s sober and he doesn’t have any pot. Usually by this time he’s been panning long enough to get a couple of bottles.”

I walked over to him, “How are you feeling Shakes?”

“I’m broke,” he said. I stayed at the Shep’s last night. Somebody stole, my bottle, my mary-jane and my money.”

“Make sure you eat, okay, Shakes,” I said.

“I will, thanks, brother.”

.

Bed Bugs Again

16 October 2012

This morning, as I approached Joy, I could see that she was shivering, even though she had her blanket wrapped around her legs.

“Hi, Joy,” I said, “don’t you have any warm, winter clothing?”

“I’m wearing two pairs of long underwear under my jeans. This coat is warm, it’s just sitting on the concrete that’s making me cold. Chester is going to give me his winter pants. He doesn’t want them any more. I said, ‘If you’re going to throw them out, I’ll take them.’ ”

“I asked, “Did your worker come by yesterday?”

“No,” she said, “she’ll come today or I’ll see her for my regular appointment tomorrow.

“Yesterday I hung out with Andre, Little Jake and Shakes. I went at Andre, he just won’t get the message. I said to him, ‘We’ve been through this before. I don’t want you touching me.’  ‘But, Joy,’ he said, ‘I’m clean now!’ I said, ‘Andre, you’ve got five days dirt under your fingernails. Don’t tell me you’re clean. Even if you were, I haven’t been with a man for the past year. I don’t intend to start with you.’ Still he kept putting his hand on my thigh, as if it were some kind of joke. Even Shakes and Jake yelled at him, ‘Andre, for Christ’s sake, leave her alone, she’s family!’ Again he put his hand on my thigh and started moving it up, so I punched him in the side of the head. I said, ‘Next time, I’ll stand up and kick you in the head.’ Can you believe it, he started crying. His eyes welled up and he said, ‘Joy, I love you. We’d be good together.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ I just want to be left alone.

“This morning, when I was in the bathroom, I saw a red spot on the wall. I thought to myself, That spot shouldn’t be there. I took a piece of toilet paper, wiped the spot, sniffed it — sure enough, it was a baby bed bug. Next time the guy comes to spray, I’m going to be there. I’ll make sure he souses the carpet, the baseboards, anywhere else they like to hide.

“It was just getting to the point where I was sleeping through the night. Now, I have to worry again, about whether or not the sheets and covers on my air mattress are touching the carpet. Besides that, I think that the tube shaped air chambers are affecting my fibromyalgia.”

 .

Teeth Returned

17 October 2012

This morning, as I approached Joy, she was doing a jig and smiling with her teeth clenched.

I said, “Don’t tell me, Joy. You have to pee.”

“Like ninety,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

When she came back she said, “This morning, when I got to Tim Horton’s, I had to get them to unlock the security washroom, because the ladies was being serviced. I told the woman, ‘Either you unlock that door now, or I’m busting into the men’s room. I really have to go.”

“How are your kidneys now?”

“Good, obviously, although, sometimes in the night, I have to get up and only a dribble comes out. That worries me.

“Chester was saying that he thinks he has Alzheimer’s. His memory is really bad. He fell backwards, down fourteen concrete steps. He was with Outcast and Jacques. One minute he was there, the next minute he was gone. He was in a coma for five days. That was two years ago. Sometimes, he thinks that he just recently got out of hospital.

“He was mad at me yesterday. I guess he expected that I would join him at the Shepherd for lunch. I don’t go into those places. People often ask me about that. There are too many people and a lot of them I just don’t care to see. There are a lot of crack heads. You never know what they’re going to do.

“Even at Thanksgiving I didn’t go for the meal. For one thing, I don’t like turkey; for another, I don’t like crowds. I barbecued some ribs, roasted vegies and baked a potato. It was the best Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever had.

“Last year, Meg was working with the church ladies. She brought me a frozen turkey for the Christmas season. In fact, she brought something different for each of the twelve days of Christmas. She isn’t there any more. I don’t know what the church ladies will do this year.

“Chester should be by soon. I want to use his phone to cancel my appointment with the lady from E. Fry (The Elizabeth Fry Society). My legs are so sore, I just can’t take that much walking today. She’s good that way. I’ve already had five appointments, probably more time than I would have had if I’d gone through the group anger management program.

“Which reminds me. I got a letter in the mail from Jake yesterday. That really freaked me out. He wasn’t supposed to know my address. I phoned Rodent, sure enough it was him that gave it to Jake. I said to him, ‘I’ve told you before that I don’t want Jake knowing where I am.’ He said, ‘But Joy, Jake wanted to write to you and didn’t know where to send the letter. If you write him back, I can tell you the prison code, the inmates use, if you want him to phone you.’ I said, Rodney, I don’t want a letter, I don’t want a phone call. I don’t want anything to do with Jake.

“Half the things Rodent said to me were in prison code. He said Jake was teaching some kind of course to get points. He hasn’t been on a detox program. I didn’t know what he was talking about, or when Jake will be getting out. He hasn’t been ‘penetentiarized’ long enough to know all that stuff. One time he said he’d served twenty-five years; another time he said it was twelve. He said when Jake gets out, he’s going to be staying at his place. I wish them well with that. It sounds a little too cozy to me.

“I’ve served more time than most of the guys put together. I served three out of five for something I didn’t even do. I just happened to be in the car.

“Here’s Chester now. Chester, can I use your phone? This looks really great doesn’t it? A panhandler using a cell phone.”

I said, “A friend of mine mentioned that to me yesterday. He said he saw a panhandler at the corner Yonge and Queen talking on a cell phone. He said he wouldn’t give money to the guy, and any he’d given to him, he wanted back.”

It’s ten o’clock, Wednesday,  the day that Stella usually comes to the park for a visit. Everyone was hoping she’d come.

Outcast said, “Dennis, what are you doing here this time of day? Are you playing hooky from work?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m confusing everyone. I was hoping to see Stella,”

Joy said, “She has a coat for me.”

“She hasn’t been here yet,’ said Outcast, “maybe tomorrow; but they’re forecasting rain for tomorrow, so maybe not. I haven’t been here because I’ve been sick. I’m on a massive dose of antibiotics. Nearly everyone in my building is coughing and sick.”

“Do you have pneumonia again?” I asked.

“Not pneumonia, emphysema. My lungs are full of infection.”

Shark handed Outcast a sealed clear plastic bag.

“Thanks Shark!” said Outcast. He held up the bag and said, “My teeth! I was wondering whose house I had left these in. When I drink beer from cans I like to take my teeth out. Usually, I put them in my shirt pocket, sometimes they fall out. I lost my original teeth playing hockey.”

Joy said, “It freaked me out the first time I woke up to find a set of teeth, on the bedside table, looking back at me.”

Jacques handed me a copy of the Metro newspaper to sit on.

“Don’t you need this, Jacques?”

Joy said, “Jacques always has lots. He needs two copies for his fat ass.”

“That’s right,” said Jacques, “I need two copies for my fat ass.

“I heard that they are changing O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program) to separate the sick people from the addicts and alcoholics.”

Outcast said, “I qualify on both counts.”

Jacques asked, “What’s going to happen when we get a new Premier of the province, now that Dalton McGinty has resigned?”

“He’s the one who signs our checks. The next guy might cut us off completely.

“Jacques, are you moving to Cabbagetown?”

“No, that fell through. It was eight, fifty a month. I can’t afford that. I called Shark’s landlord, he has buildings all over the city. He’s going to try to find me a place. I’m not sure if I believe him too much. He said he’ll have something for me on twenty-two. I’ll see. I’ve got ’till the end of the month. Otherwise, I sleep on the street, or at The Shepherd.”

Outcast said, “You’re not going to find much for under eight, fifty.”

Joy said to me in a whisper, “All of these guys have had apartments before, but they were kicked out. I’m pissed off that Jake got a place before I did. Even Weasel has a nice apartment on Sumach. The last place he was in they condemned, it was that nasty.”

.

Why don’t you just kill him?

18 October 2012

At noon I walked to the park. The weather was a balmy sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Sitting on the curb were Joy, Jacques, Hippo, Outcast, Wolf and Shaggy. Chester and Eric walked by, but didn’t stop.

Joy walked toward me, “Dennis,” she said, “we were so worried that something had happened to you. I didn’t see you this morning and now it’s one, ten we always expect you at noon.”

I looked at my watch, “Joy, it’s twelve, ten; this is the time I usually arrive. I was running late this morning because it’s garbage day. I came by your spot at about eight, fifty, but you weren’t there.”

“We must have just missed each other. I was probably in Tim Horton’s, I had to pee.”

Outcast said, “All of us thought it was one o’clock. Yesterday, you came by early to see Nancy, but she didn’t come. Today, she came by, but you missed her, you arrived late.”

I wore a sweater, but after sitting in the sun for a while, I took it off. With the sun shining on the back of my black shirt I felt so hot I moved to the shade.

Joy said, “I didn’t like the way that Weasel was snapping his fingers at Stella. It’s his dog, if she wants to come over to see Bear, she will. That Weasel is such an asshole.”

Jacques said, “Stella has always been nice. She’s been coming around for a long time, fifteen years maybe.”

“Crash was around then,” said Joy. “A lot of people have come and gone. Jacques, it’s only you, me, Shark and Irene who are the originals.”

Somebody asked, “Where’s Shakes?”

Joy said, “He’s gone to his ‘office’.”

There were three bees flying around Jacques. He said, “What do you want from me? Is it my beer you’re after? I may be stupid but not as stupid as that.” As he was swatting at the bees he knocked his beer over with his knee.

“This morning,” said Jacques “the cops came by. They ask me to pour out my beer. I tip it upside down and say, ‘It’s empty. I just save the can for recycling.’ They didn’t even check my travelling mug. It was full of beer.”

Outcast said, “I’d just opened a fresh beer, I took one swig. The cop said, ‘Take one swallow and pour the rest out.’ He still gave me a ticket.”

Joy said, “Rodent was by earlier. What a piece of work he is.”

Outcast said, “I don’t like him either.”

Jacques said, “You guys, nobody likes him, so why don’t you just kill him?”

I said to Jacques, “That’s a straight-forward, simple solution. Why didn’t anybody else think of that?”

Joy said, “That asshole, Chester, really gave me a hard time yesterday. He was drunk. He always gets abusive when he’s had too much to drink. I phoned him this morning and asked him, ‘Is everything alright with us? You were so angry last night.’ He said, ‘Everything’s fine,’ but he just walked by and waved. He said he’s going to pay ten per cent on the hydro bill, so they don’t turn the power off. I gave him money for hydro, he spent it all on beer. He’s going to Rodent’s place now. Usually when he goes out, he leaves me the electronic key so I can get into the building, but this time he didn’t. I have my own key for the inside door.”

I said, “Couldn’t Chester have a copy made for you?”

“He could, but I don’t even want to go there. I should be able to get in. I’ll just have to wait until someone unlocks the door; I’ll slide in behind them. I hate doing that. I feel like a thief.

“Next week I go to see my worker, it’s about getting my identification. I said to her, ‘Jake, Andre and Hippo all needed their identification replaced. They only had to wait a few weeks. Why is it that I’ve been waiting since January?’ She couldn’t give me an answer. She said that she’d look into it.”

.

Fuck Puppet

22 October 2012

When I arrived at Joy’s spot this morning, she said, “Man, am I glad to see you. Have a seat on my cushion, it’s warm. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

When she got back I asked her, “How was your weekend?”

“It was quiet. I don’t know what was going on with my stomach, but I couldn’t keep anything down. I made some really good soup in my crock pot. We had leftover chicken, I added veggies, rice and noodles, but I couldn’t even keep that down. Most of the weekend I slept or watched TV from my bed.”

“How has Chester been?” I asked.

“He was okay Saturday, until he went to the Mission for his supper. When he came home he started coughing. I said to him, ‘Chester, now is the time to cut back on the cigarettes for a while.’ He chain smokes, one right after another. When he coughs he makes a really loud noise, like a dog barking, so I didn’t get much sleep last night.

“This morning, he got up just after I did. First thing, he had a cigarette, then the coughing started again. I said to him, ‘Have some chicken soup and rest for the day.’ He said he would. He may come down and visit with the boys for a while.”

“Did anything happen after I left Friday,” I asked.

“Not much, I got into it with red-haired Debbie.”

“It was funny — some of the government ladies, who come out for a smoke, saw us. They were talking to me today. They asked, ‘What was going on between you and that woman? We thought you were going to kill her. It was hilarious.’ I said, ‘I’m glad I was able to provide you some entertainment. I wouldn’t have killed her, but I would have come close.’ They asked, ‘What did you have against her?’ I said, ‘Do you mean besides the fact that she’s a fuck puppet for all the guys, and has a big mouth?’ They asked, ‘What do you mean by that?’ I said, ‘She’s slept with Chester, Andre, Little Jake –I don’t know about Jacques — anyone else that’s been around. She has AIDS and doesn’t use condoms. Frank had HIV, but he must have full-blown AIDS by now.’

“I said to the ladies, ‘You should see me with the guys. I don’t take shit from anybody. If someone gets smart with me they’ll get either a punch, or a kick in the head. I can take care of myself, believe me.’ They said, they thought I could.

“By the way, Andre may be in jail now. Chester saw him coming out of the liquor store. As soon as he cracked his bottle, two security guards grabbed him. I’ve asked him before, ‘If you boost a seven dollar and forty-five cent bottle of sherry and lose your freedom, is that a good trade?’ ”

I said, “He told me he never boosted from liquor stores, well, only once.”

“It was more than once, believe me.”

At noon the curbs were crowded. There must have been close to a dozen people. Joy made room for me on the curb and Jacques gave me a copy of the Metro to sit on. Joy was talking to the group, “I was told by a lady cop that, in their opinion, one of Toronto’s finest is a serial killer, responsible for the murders of prostitutes over the last ten years. It would make sense — a person with power and authority, armed.”

“How about the cop that beat you up, Joy?” asked Andre.

“I didn’t report it. I went through that in Montreal, I didn’t want to go through it again.”

I asked , “What happened with Andre?”

“He was charged. He’ll have to appear in court.

“I grew up with this guy. His name was Luke. He was a handsome guy, but he became a tranny — called himself Lucy. He made a gorgeous woman, but a guy can never hide his adam’s apple. He was out with a guy who thought he was a chick. When the guy found out, he killed him.

“I knew a lot of transvestites in Montreal. They were really nice to me — invited me to all their parties. I was a fat chick, but I was cute. The apartment they lived in was beautiful, draped fabric in the living room, like a tent. It was really over the top, but nice. Someone handed me a pellet shaped lump of hash. I said, ‘What do I do with this?’ The guy said, go into the bathroom and take it like a suppository, up your ass. It will give you a body high as opposed to a head high.’ I went into the bathroom, but I put the hash in my purse. I didn’t want to be any more fucked up than I was. When I came out of the bathroom the guy asked me, ‘How does it feel?’ I said, ‘It feels a little uncomfortable.’ He said, ‘You must be a virgin.’ People kept handing me this stuff. They were stoned, but I put it all in my purse. By the end of the evening I had a half ounce of hash. I didn’t need to hook at all.”

Weasel said, “Do you remember that cop we called Sasquatch? I met this woman at the Mission, we started getting it on, then she invited me over to her apartment. A while later we heard a loud knock on the door. I’m standing in my underwear. She opens the door and it’s Sasquatch, all seven-foot two of him. The woman was his former girlfriend. When he got through with me, even my socks were soaked with blood. Has anyone seen him around?”

Andre said, “He’s in Cornwall. He’s my uncle. I can remember we were at a party one time. He leaned on the apartment door — the whole thing came down and went through the door opposite. He was standing there looking sheepish. The people from across the way were dumbfounded. He said, “I guess I shouldn’t lean on doors any more.”

Joy yelled across the sidewalk to Glenda, “What are you drinking?”

“Wiser’s, Devil’s Cut.”

Joy said, “Would you mind keeping it under your sweater, or in your bag. The cops come here regularly. I wouldn’t want to see you to get a ticket and have to pour out your whiskey.”

To me she said, “Look at Shakes, he’s laying in the middle of the sidewalk. This crowd is just asking for trouble. In a few minutes, I’m moving down about twenty feet to where the benches used to be.

“Glenda, Debbie and Gnome drank all Shakes’ sherry, smoked all his cigarettes and all his pot. Now that they have whiskey, do you think they’re going to share with him? No way! Glenda asked me where the liquor store was. I told her, ‘Go straight up Queen to Sackville, or Down Queen and turn right at Yonge, near Massey Hall.  You can’t miss it.’ She asked, ‘Will you come with me?’ I said, ‘No, for one thing I’m barred, for another I have everything I need, besides that,  I don’t know you.’ With her size she’d be slow getting up. I should be able to get a few shots in, but if she caught hold of me I’d be in trouble. What do you think?

“Actually when I look around, there aren’t too many people here I would trust. Jake may remember something, sometime, and just blurt it out. Hippo is too soft. Andre and Jacques, I don’t know. Shakes, I’d trust him with my life, in fact I have. He stood up to Big Jake to protect me, until I told him to just stay down. There was no point in both of us taking a beating. Nobody could take on Big Jake.”

To Chester Joy said, “When you leave, I’m going to give you my cigarettes to take home. Andre’s been bumming off me all day, so has Shakes.”

.

Serge in Hospital

23 October 2012

This morning, Andre was standing beside Joy’s spot. I said to him, “Don’t tell me, Joy had to pee.”

“You got it.”

“How’s your morning going, so far, Andre?”

“Lousy — twice, while I was panning, the cops pulled up and told me to move along.”

“How about trying someplace near Shakes’ office?”

“That’s where I was.”

“How about Silver’s old spot?”

“Little Jake’s there.” Joy returned. “I guess I should move along, let Joy get to work.”

After he left Joy said, That’s the third time he’s been by here. I finally had to tell him that he was interfering with my business.”

I asked, “Did he tell you when he’ll be going to court?”

“No, he didn’t show me the paper. He has two charges against him. One for the bottle of sherry, and one for three hundred dollars worth of meat from Loblaw’s. They found it in his backpack. He could hardly carry it.

“Have you heard about Serge?”

“No, I haven’t seen him lately.”

“He fell and hit the back of his head. I told him that he should go to the hospital to get it checked, but these guys are stubborn. The same with Silver, he had a swollen leg — instead of going to a hospital he went to The Shepherd, now he’s dead. Anyway, Serge had another fall. This time he hit his forehead. One side of his face is all bruised. He’s in Intensive Care at St. Mike’s Hospital.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t a beating?”

“That was my first thought, but Chester was in contact with his workers at the Sally The medical staff at the hospital say that blood from his forehead is pooling in his cheek. The only thing keeping him alive is life support. They don’t know how to contact his family. There are so many Serge Roberts’ in the phone book.”

Chester came by, but didn’t stay long. He saw a bag of mini chocolate bars that somebody had dropped for Joy. “Are those for me?” he asked. Joy just scowled. He left to talk to Jake, in Silver’s old spot.

“That asshole, yesterday I came home to find that he had invited Sylvain and Yves over. They had eaten all the soup. I had half a roast beef sandwich, from Tim Horton’s, that I put in the fridge. Albert asked, ‘Is that my supper?’ I said, “No, dude, you get your own. I’m tired of buying all the groceries for everyone else to eat.

“Last week, I bought a dozen eggs, I got two. Of the pot of soup I made, I got one bowl. I stashed some bologna, Chester found it and ate that too. I said to him, ‘Chester, I haven’t eaten for days. Do you think of me at all?’

“I’m feeling so frustrated, and with Chester coughing all night, I’m not getting any sleep.”

I said, “You have an appointment with your worker tomorrow. Do you think anything will come of that?”

“Yesterday, she was supposed to meet with Andre at ten o’clock. She didn’t show. I’m going to ask for a new worker. Janice is teaching this new girl. I thought they’d know what to do before they hire them. The time she’s taking for training, is time she’s not working on finding me a place.

“Pat and Chantal are the ones who found places for Hippo and Jake. I don’t like Pat, but if he can find me an apartment that’s all that matters. Otherwise, I’m thinking of asking them for a sleeping bag, and go back to sleeping behind Starbucks. I’d leave my stuff at Chester’s.

“Sometimes, I just don’t want to be here.”

“Do you mean pan handling?”

“I used to be able to take a break, when I got my check, but now I can’t. I just don’t want to be on this earth.”

I phoned St. Michael’s Hospital to enquire about Serge’s condition. Telling them that I was his brother, I was able to speak to the nurse in the Intensive Care Unit. She said, ‘He was doing okay, but he kept losing consciousness, so we brought him into ICU to keep an eye on him. He has a breathing tube now. He’s suffered a cerebral hemorrhage — bruising and bleeding to the brain. We’re hoping to take the breathing tube out tomorrow, see how he is then. We’ll just take it one day at a time.’

At noon sitting on the curb were Joy and Jacques on one side, Luther, Gnome, Jake, Wolf and Shaggy on the other. Shortly after, Andre rode up on his bicycle with a large bottle of water for Joy. Luther, by all accounts, has been sober and living in Orleans with his girlfriend.

He said, “Dennis, I told you I’d get my guitar back, and here it is. I had an electric, but I sold it.

“Do you know what happened to my baby? They chopped her up. I saw the body. It was her sixteenth birthday party. They got out of control with booze and drugs. That’s why I drink. How do I forget about something like that?

“I’m also evil, especially when I drink, that’s what my girlfriend says. The doctors say I have psychotic tendencies.”

I said, “Don’t worry, Luther, that can be treated. I know you’re a good man.”

“I’m not Ojibwa,” he said, “I’m Dene. Do you know many Dene people?”

“Some,” I said.

“Do you know them to be honorable people?”

“Very honorable.”

“Would you give me money to buy a beer?”

“I don’t carry cash, but I can give you a card for a sandwich.”

“Okay,” he said. I handed him the card.

“Actually, I have another of these. I could sell them for $2.50 each, enough for a bottle.”

“It’s your choice, Luther.”

“No, I’ll give it back to you. Give it to someone who is hungry.”

“What was that all about,?” asked Joy.

Luther said, “I don’t mind accepting money, but I don’t want to be told what to spend it on.”

I asked Joy, “How have things been since this morning?”

“Okay — I’m not too happy about  Luther and Gnome being here.”

Andre said, “It wouldn’t take much for me to ask them to leave.”

“I don’t mind asking him to leave, don’t worry.”

William said, “Ugly Rambo sitting with the pretty indian woman.”

“Luther,” said Joy, “I don’t appreciate you making remarks about my friend, Dennis!”

“Joy,” said Emile, “he’s referring to my uncle. They used to call him Rambo. He was going out with Luther’s sister. It’s a long story.”

“Well,” said Joy, “I don’t want to hear it.”

Andre asked Joy, “Can I bum a cigarette?”

“Okay, this time, but that’s it. I appreciate you getting the bottle of water for me and doing a liquor run before that, but you’re becoming too much of a burden to carry. That goes for all these guys.”

Andre said, “I understand, Joy.”

Later in the day I phoned the Salvation Army. They had taken Serge to the hospital. The outreach workers had already left for the day, but I left my phone number in case I could be of any help in finding Serge’s family. I hope to visit him in the hospital, but they may have visiting restricted to immediate family only.

Serge is now in the Intensive Care Unit of St. Michael’s Hospital, bed 29. He’s had a cerebral hemorrhage. Because he kept losing consciousness he now has a breathing tube. They expect to remove the breathing tube tomorrow or the next day. They don’t have plans for any surgery. He has been admitted previously for falls.

I visited him tonight, but he was asleep the whole time. He is under light sedation and is being administered Tylenol for pain. His head has been shaved, he has a bruise on his forehead and his right eye is black, apart from that he appeared to be resting comfortably. I was surprised that they had his age listed as 55.

The hospital was having trouble contacting his family. There are so many Roberts in the phone book that it would be difficult to phone them all.

.

Bear’s Birthday

24 October 2012

This morning, as I approached Joy, she waved, got up and headed towards the library. When she returned she said, “I’ve been waiting for you. I had to pee so bad. I slept outside last night.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Chester’s drinking again. When he does, he gets all touchy feely. I’d had enough, so I packed my bag and slept behind the dumpsters, in back of Starbucks.”

“Do you have a sleeping bag?” I asked.

“No just this blanket, it was cold.” (Thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit.)

“You have an appointment with your worker today, maybe she could get you a sleeping bag.”

“I’m just so fed up!” she cried, “My legs are aching. I’m half in the bag. There is a commercial on TV that says, ‘It’s now time for that second talk’ — referring to menopause. I need to have that second talk, but I have nobody to talk to. I remember my mother going through it. She was all over the place. I’m just losing it, man!”

“Perhaps you could talk to your worker about that. Also, Stella is coming down this morning.”

“I sure hope so.”

“She sent me an email. She wants to celebrate Bear’s fifteenth birthday. She has a card and a big bone for him.”

“I hope she bring the coat she promised me.”

“I saw Serge in the hospital last night. He was asleep the whole time I was there. He had a breathing tube in his throat and oxygen going in his nostrils. The nurse said they may take the breathing tube out either today or tomorrow, depending on how he responds. He had a slight fever so they had a cooling blanket, that looked like an air mattress, on top of him. That’s common with head injuries. He was lightly sedated and had been given Tylenol for pain. The nurse had been talking to him earlier and he said the pain wasn’t too bad. She said he’s had a long history of being admitted to hospital for falls. He sure looks younger with his head shaved.”

“They would have done that for the lice. When he was picked up last time, by the outreach workers from The Shepherd, they shaved off his beard. I’m glad it’s not more serious. I can’t take any more deaths right now.”

Andre stopped by and said to Joy, “I see Little Jake is at Silver’s old spot.”

Mo said, “Jake is family. I had to kick Al out of there this morning. Later I saw his girlfriend, Angeline. Her arm was in a make shift sling and was all purple. She said, ‘Bo did this to me.’ I said, ‘I hope you got him back.’ She said, ‘After he had punched me three times in the head, I stabbed him in the side. That slowed him down.’ Bo is going to be on a lot of shit lists. These guys got to learn not to treat women that way.”

I said to Andre, “How’s your day going so far?”

“Lousy, I’m barred from every McDonalds in town, the World Exchange liquor store, Hartman’s and Loblaws grocery stores. The list of places I can go is getting shorter and shorter.”

“What happened at McDonalds?” I asked.

“I was panning out front of the one on Bank Street. The district manager was there at the time — he barred me. He said, ‘I never want to see you in front of any of our stores. If I do, or if any of my staff does, the police will be called immediately.’ That was a good spot for me.

“I stole a cooked chicken, and some other meat, from Loblaws. I was hoping to have a real feast, So much for that idea.”

Joy started getting restless. She said, “I’ve had about enough of this place, and I’ve got to get my legs moving. I want to get drunk.”

I had agreed to meet Stella at the statue of the soldier, near where the group usually meets. All the regulars,  including Bear the birthday dog, were  there. Jake and Weasel were near coming to blows.

Shakes said, ‘Will you guys keep the noise down. Soon the cops will be coming.”

“Shut up, Shakes”, said Weasel.

“I won’t shut up. I’ll talk as much as I want to. Nobody’s going to stop me.”

I said, “I’m glad we got that settled, Shakes!” He laughed.

Loon was drunk, has no teeth, and was talking non stop over the din of the arguing.

Outcast asked me, “Do you understand a word he’s saying?”

“No,” I said.

Outcast said, “I’ve just come from Shark and Elaine’s place, I think Loon was there earlier. They were nodding off, so I left. Give it a few minutes, Loon will be doing the same.

“Dennis, you coming at ten o’clock throws my whole schedule off. I think I should be having lunch now.”

“Sorry, Outcast, but I came to see Stella, not you.”

Joy said, “I’ve known some of these guys for twenty years. I’ve known Chester for a long time too. It really hurts, for him to treat me, and talk to me the way he does. Do you see the scar above Loon’s right eye? I gave that to him. One time he grabbed me by the crotch and I decked him. His forehead split open like a tomato. He’s never tried that again — the piece of shit. I’m really surprised that I haven’t got into a fight yet, today. There’s still time.”

Andre was sitting quietly. He said to me, “Sometimes it’s safer to not open your mouth.”

I asked Jacques, “Do you know if Serge has any family?”

“I don’t know. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s never mentioned any family to me.”

I said, “I wonder if his friend William knows about his family. Serge stayed with him for a while.”

“No, I ask him that. He said, ‘I think, maybe, he came from Vancouver or Toronto. I can’t remember which. I think he has a sister in Montreal.’ Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal — that’s a lot of people there, and Robert is a common name. William has been kicked out of his place. When Serge stayed there, a neighbor complained. He said that Serge was dealing drugs. Can you imagine, Serge dealing drugs? I’ve never even seen him smoke a joint. He just sits quietly. I like that. I talked to Serge about maybe sharing a two bedroom apartment, but now he’s nearly dead. I also thought about sharing a place with William, but he was given notice, the first night he was at his new place, that he was making too much noise. If you’re given notice three times, you’re out. That’s what happened. I don’t want to be in the middle of a situation like that, not me. I’ll just get me a bachelor apartment, it doesn’t matter how small, just someplace quiet. That’s what I want.

“Yesterday I found a tent in the garbage. It looks brand new. I set it up in my living room. I’ve never seen a tent so small. It would only fit one person. There is no way that two people could get in there. If I don’t find a place by the end of the month, maybe I’ll be sleeping outside. I don’t think for too long. Who knows?”

Jake sat next to me. He said, “I’ve blown my three hundred and fifty dollar start-up allowance. Now, they’re asking for receipts. DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY RECEIPTS? I NEED SOME RECEIPTS.”

Joy asked, “Did you punch Weasel?”

“No, but I spit on him.

“I went to my HIV doctor and he wouldn’t give me my needles.”

I asked, “Why?”

“I don’t know.”

Two Outreach Workers with the Salvation Army came to talk to Shakes. “How are you coming along with my housing arrangements?” he asked.

“Were looking at a few places, the problem is they become available December first, so we’ll have to find someplace temporary for you, from the first to the end of November. Don’t worry, we’re working on it.”

Weasel and Stella were getting ready to leave. Stella showed me the card she had made. It had pictures of Bear as a pup, with his original owner Henri.

Joy said, “I remember when Henri first got Bear. There were two puppies in the back seat of a car. Henri was to choose which one he wanted. Bear jumped out the door and came straight to him. The other dog just sat there. That decided it. They were together until he died.”

Bear wandered over to me. I held my hand out — he bit it.

.

 

Cutting

25 October 2012

This morning I met with Joy and André. Janine, one of Joy’s regulars dropped two dollars and squatted down to chat. Joy asked her, “How did it go with your dentist appointment?”

“They took x-rays and found all sorts of cavities. In the old days, you’d have a cavity, it would be painful, then you went to the dentist. Now, it seems, they’re always filling something. I don’t know what they’re doing in there.”

Joy waved at Magdalene and Alphonse across the street. They came over. Very excitedly, Alphonse  said, “Magdalene is pregnant again. She went to see about an apartment yesterday. She’s been put on first priority. We find out today if she’ll be accepted.”

I asked, “When is the baby due?”

Magdalene said, we’re not sure. I took a home pregnancy test and it showed two pink crosses. I’m not taking any drugs or alcohol now.”

Alphonse said, “Same with me.” He looked longingly at a gram of pot Joy had in her cigarette case. “That looks so good,” he said. They walked off together to have breakfast.

Joy handed André a cigarette paper and the pot. He said, “You want me to roll it?”

Joy said, “Well, how is it going to look if I’m panning and rolling a joint?”

André went into a nearby alcove for a few minutes, then came back with a joint that Joy put in her cigarette case.

I asked Joy, “Where did you sleep last night?”

“At Wolf’s. I’d been at Outcast’s until Debbie came home, then all hell broke loose, so I left. I was walking past Wolf’s place and saw Shaggy on the balcony. I called to him and Wolf came out. He asked, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going downtown to sleep behind Starbucks.’ He said, ‘Come on up.’ He threw me the keys. ‘You can stay here.’ His place is in more of a mess than I’ve ever seen it. He said, ‘I know Joy, I’m going to get around to that, sometime.’ Also, he has cockroaches. At least they don’t bite.”

I asked, “Were you able to talk to Stella about menopause?”

“Yes, she said she could talk to me until my ears bled, but it wouldn’t do any good, because every woman is different. My being bi-polar and schizophrenic just makes it all the worse.

“I go to see, Annie, my probation officer, today at ten o’clock. Hopefully, I’ll find out how many more visits she wants me to have. November twelfth is the day my probation is supposed to end, but I may have to see her after that. I don’t know if it will be once every two weeks, once a month…

“I’ve had three sessions with Christien, from the Elizabeth Fry Society. It’s probably more time than I would have had if I’d been with a group. She’s going to be away for a couple of weeks. They said it’s no problem, we’re all trained, others here are familiar with your case. We can arrange an appointment with someone.’ I said, ‘I signed a confidentiality agreement with Christien, nobody else. I don’t want to start from the beginning again, with a new person.’

“I don’t want anybody to know that I’ve started cutting myself again, either. Annie asked, ‘Why do cut yourself?’ I said it’s hard to explain, but when my mind is going a hundred miles an hour, in a ten-mile an hour zone, I don’t know where I’m going to stop. I need something to distract myself. Cutting does that for me.’ Mind you, the second time I cut myself I was thinking, hey, this hurts. I don’t want to be doing this. Chester nearly freaked when he saw me coming out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around my arm. It was a deep cut too. It was gaping open. I didn’t want to go to the hospital this time. I used band-aids to pull the skin together.”

I asked, “Where will you sleep tonight?”

“I have to go home to get the rest of my clothes. Chester doesn’t want me to leave. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

I arrived at work and phoned Craig from the Salvation Army. He has been in telephone contact with the hospital about Serge. I said to him,’I understand that you’re trying to contact Serge’s family. I’ve talked every one I know and even his closest friend, William, said, ‘he’s either from Vancouver or Toronto, I can’t remember, and he may have a sister in Montreal.’ I didn’t learn anything more definite than that.’ Craig said, ‘I’ve heard the same stories, probably from the same people.’

“The latest news from the hospital is that they’ve taken the breathing tube out. He’s still in ICU, but seems to be doing fine. Later tests will determine if he’ll have any lasting effects from his fall.”

I hope to visit Claude in the hospital this evening.

At noon I met the gang at the park. They were all in their usual places.

I asked André, “How was the rest of your morning?”

“It was okay. I had to fill out another form for my O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program). They lost the last one. This is four times I’ve filled out the same form. Joy and I have the same worker, Jenna. She’s been busy lately so we’re going to be switched to Susan. I’ve known her from before. She guaranteed that Joy and I would have our own apartments before December first. I hope so, because once it gets close to Christmas it’ll be hard to get things delivered. I’ll be getting an eight hundred-dollar start-up allowance to buy furniture. I’ll be able to get a new double bed from Sears. I don’t want to spend Christmas sleeping on a bare floor. I’ll also get a hundred dollars for groceries.”

I asked, “Do you know when your court date is?”

“November second. It’ll probably be in Courtroom Five, but to find out for sure, all I have to do is check the dockets. I think I’ll have it remanded until I’m able to contact my lawyer. He works between Cornwall and Kingston. He’s sometimes hard to get a hold of.”

Peter called me over. “I appreciate you helping me out the other day. I drank too much, I couldn’t make it home, so I slept outside. I wasn’t here yesterday because I was too hung over. At my age I can only drink for two days, then have to take a day off. I don’t know how these guys like Weasel do it. He came to my panning spot at seven in the morning and he was drunk already. I had to tell him to get lost. My regulars know that I’m an alcoholic, but they don’t want some stumbling, incoherent drunk hanging around. He was pissed off when I told him to go, but we’re okay now. I’m going to his place this afternoon. Shaggy can play with Bear and I’ll cook supper. It’ll be chicken or some kind of fowl, that’s what I like.

“I got a surprise the other night. At nine o’clock at night someone is banging on my door. They’d managed to get through the lobby door. Usually I don’t let anybody in. If any of these guys came over, I’d tell them to fuck off. If I was expecting somebody, they’d yell and I’d throw the keys down. I looked through the peephole, it was Joy.

“I guess you heard how Chester was trying to paw her. I can’t understand these guys. You don’t touch a woman without her permission. They can’t seem to get that through their heads.

“I asked her, ‘Tell me the truth now. Outcast invited you over to his place, then when Debbie came home he threw you out. What’s that all about. That’s no way to treat a friend.’  I’ve got no use for him anyway. He’s living with one woman and invites another woman over when he’s alone. That doesn’t seem right.

“Anyway, I invited Joy to stay the night. I gave her the sofa and I slept in my room with the door locked, but first I told her, ‘I wanted to watch Law and Order, C.S.I. and Criminal Minds. Those are my favorite programs and I’m not going to miss them.’ I’ve only got one channel, and with rabbit ears, sometimes the signal doesn’t come in too clear, but that night the reception was good. Some people need HBO and all the movie channels, but I get a hockey game Saturday night, a NFL game on Sunday and all my favorite shoot-em-up shows. It’s all I want, besides, I can’t afford the hundred dollars a month. If I wanted them badly enough I could afford them — like if I quit drinking.

“I spend a lot of my time reading. If you saw my place you’d see books laying all over the floor. I always have a few going at a time. Every so often, I like to come down here, have a drink with my friends. I take Shaggy for walks. She’s getting old so she needs to go out five or six times a day.

“Joy asked me, ‘Does anybody else have a key to this apartment? Now, what do I look like? Would I let other people come and go as they please in my place? You know me better than that. I like my privacy, but Joy was paranoid. I said to her,’No, there is nobody that has a key to my apartment.’ She relaxed after that. She was up at five thirty in the morning, off to her panning spot.”

I mentioned that I would be away in San Diego, visiting my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

Wolf said, “I’ve never been to San Diego. I’ve been to Florida, Philly, Detroit. I haven’t been to Chicago or New York. If I was to go there I’d turn right, right again, right again, another right and I’d be back where I started. I wouldn’t want to find myself in some dangerous neighborhood and not know my way out.

“I have a brother in Virginia. There are a lot of red necks down there. The confederate flag is flying everywhere. If you get caught with a doobie you get tossed in prison and they throw away the key; but, and this is a big but, you can carry two loaded guns, it’s in the constitution, and you can buy your beer and ammunition at a gas station. (I’ve since been informed that gas stations don’t sell ammunition; Walmart does.)I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand you know everybody is armed, so you don’t cause them any unnecessary aggravation. You know what I mean? On the other hand, having a psycho on the loose, carrying a loaded gun is a scary thought.

“I’m on a pension. After I pay my rent I’ve got three hundred dollars for everything else. It’s not much. I’m an alcoholic — my drug of choice is beer. I may have an occasional blast, but I’m not on percocet, percodan, perco-this, perco-that. I pan to get extra money, I live a quiet life with Shaggy, enjoy my books, my TV and my beer… that’s it.”

I asked Jacques if he had found an apartment yet. “No,” he said, “I was talking to Shark’s landlord. He had a bachelor for five, sixty. I could have managed that, but he rented it to somebody else. If I can’t find a place by the end of the month, I’ll store my stuff in a locker and rent a room for a while — not too long.

I asked, “How much does a room cost?”

“About five hundred a month. A bachelor is six hundred and up, a one bedroom, seven hundred and up, a two bedroom, eight hundred and up. I thought of getting a two bedroom and sharing with someone, but who would I share with?

Tonight I visited Claude again. They’ve moved him from bed 29 to bed 1. He didn’t seem to recognize me, spoke only French and didn’t respond to names of his friends that I mentioned, except William. He scowled and said, “William!” and his blood pressure shot up from 130 to 180. He seemed agitated and pulled out his intravenous tube. The nurse said his confusion is probably temporary, due to his concussion. His blood pressure eventually returned to normal. He sipped from a can of Labatt Blue, then hid it under his hospital gown.

.

Barfly
26 October 2012
As I approached Joy, she started getting up. “Go ahead,” I said, “I’ll watch your stuff.” She headed off to the library.When she returned I said, “I visited Serge, yesterday. His breathing tube is out, he was sitting up, muttering away in French. He didn’t recognize me or the names of his friends, except William. He scowled and his blood pressure went from 130 to 180. What do you think that was all about? Do you think William pushed Serge?”
Joy said, “I’ve never liked that guy. I’d rather punch him in the face than talk to him. I told Serge that his bruises looked more like they had been caused by a fist,  and not a fall. I’ve had a lot of experience in that area. I’m going to have a talk with William.””Did you sleep at home last night?””Yeah, I was tired. I walked in, took one look at the kitchen, and lay on my air mattress. I slept until about three o’clock. Chester came home, I said, ‘Look at this mess. Didn’t you tidy up at all while I was away. I looked in the cupboard and you’ve eaten my last can of soup. What am I supposed to eat?’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t have anything to eat either.’ I said, “Take some of the change you’ve got on the table and buy yourself something. His check comes tomorrow, maybe he’ll buy some groceries, but I’m not counting on it. I’ve even thought of going back to Cornerstone, just until they find me a place.

A woman stopped and handed Joy a huge lollipop. “What flavor is this?” asked Joy.

“I don’t know, all the other ones have been really good.”

“Through the wrapper it smells like strawberry. Thanks!”

To me she whispered, “This is the last thing I need. Look at all the food I got: chocolate bars, a club sandwich with chicken, lettuce, bacon and tomato, some kind of bagel, an apple, a banana. Here, you take the banana, it hasn’t even touched the sidewalk. After my stomach operation my doctor told be not to eat bananas, too much potassium, it could kill me. In the winter when I’d get a banana, I’d put it on the sidewalk and when I’d pick it up, half of the peel would be stuck to the concrete. The apple I’ll give to Jacques. What I really want is a drink.”

“How was you appointment with your probation officer?”

“I’m so happy. I asked her, ‘So, when do I come back next? Do I have to report twice a week, Once a month?’ She said, ‘You’re done. No more visits, although I would like you to meet with Doris from the Elizabeth Fry Society. You seem to have made some progress with her.’ I agreed, I said, ‘She’s away for a week or so, but when she’s back I’d like to see her, but nobody else.’ I didn’t like the way that other woman talked to me on the phone, let alone sitting in a room with her and spilling my guts. Doris even lets me drink there. I told her, ‘If I’m sober, I’m not going to say a word. If I can drink, I’ll relax a bit and will feel more comfortable. Some of the shit I went through is still upsetting.’

“I got a letter from two of my sons.  The youngest calls me Aunt Joy, but he was really close to my mother — I don’t mind that. They’re both doing well. I’m going to write back to them. Finally, I have contact with two of my sons again.”

At noon I met with Chester, Jacques, Joy, Barfly, Curly with his skate board, and Danny in his motorized wheelchair. Joy looked very relaxed.

I said to her, “You must be happy, with no probation to worry about.”

“I’m happy alright, I’m also drunk. As long as I don’t get arrested before November eleventh, I’m free and clear. This afternoon I just want to go home and sleep. I have to switch keys with Chester because he’s staying out. When I have his keys, with the electronic card for the outside door, I feel like I’ve got the keys to Fort Knox. I can do anything I want, eat whatever I want, watch whatever I want on TV.

“Chester, when I get home, do I have dishes to do?”

“No,” said Chester, “I did them.”

To me Joy whispered, “I’m going to have to do them again. He’s lousy.” She counted her change and gave Chester enough to buy a couple of beer.’

“Sometimes I wish I looked more like a woman. A guy asked me why I wear a dorag. I took it off and asked him, ‘Would you give me money if I looked like this?’ He said, ‘No, I guess not.’ I said, ‘Well, there you go.’ Some people think I look like a dyke. I like men, it’s just that I don’t want to be somebody’s property. I like my independence and privacy.

“Hey Barfly, do you know you’ve got a cigarette burn in the crotch of your sweat pants?”

“Yes, I know. These are my court clothes. I was in court this morning.”

I asked Jacques, “Have you found an apartment, yet?”

“No, I’m going to be homeless at the end of the month.”

“Are you going to get a locker, and take a room for a while?”

“I checked on the lockers this morning, first thing at nine o’clock. They want you to keep it a minimum of two months, and it costs seventy dollars a month. I can’t afford that. I’m going to talk to Shark, maybe he has a little place in a corner where I can store my stuff. I don’t have much, me:  my fridge, my microwave, my George Foreman grill and my cooking pot. That’s all. If I need anything else I might find it in the garbage. Every week people throw stuff out. I found a toaster, I took it home, plugged it in and it worked great. Did you see my new bike?” He pointed to a new looking bicycle with front shock absorbers. I bought that for five dollars. It’s no good to me. Can you see me riding something like that. Imagine Shakes trying to ride that. He can’t stagger straight, let alone ride a bike, same with Jake. He might start off sober in the morning, but in the evening he’s all over the place.  I sell it for what I paid for it.

“In the place that I’m in now I pay five hundred and ten. That’s with everything. That’s a good price. I don’t need anything big. I threw out my old mattress because of the bed bugs. Every time I move I throw away about seventy percent of my stuff. I don’t like to pay for movers, so I just take what I can carry on my back and what will fit in my cart.

“I spoke to Shark’s landlord. He had a place that I really liked but it was eight hundred a month. I can’t afford that. There was another that I liked — he rented it. There may be something in Cabbagetown. I like where Hippo is living in Roncesvalles. He could only get a single bed, the place is so small, but that would be okay for me.”

I mentioned to Jacques, “I visited Serge yesterday.”

“Yeah, you went? I hear he’s sitting up in bed, looking much better. William is going to visit him later today. They are good friends, they both speak French.”

I said, “When I mentioned William’s name, Serge scowled and his blood pressure went from 130 to 180. He was clenching his fists and pulled out his intravenous needle.”

“That’s strange,” said Jacques.

.

 

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