2012 – September



4 September 2012

Today is the first workday after Canada’s Labor Day long weekend. I had a relaxing time at the lake and was anxious to hear any news from my friends. Metro was handing out newspapers, as usual. “Good morning, Dennis. Did you have a good weekend?”

“It was great, Metro. How was yours?”

“Good! Are you hoping to see Joy this morning? I haven’t seen her. Maybe she’s still recovering from the weekend.”

I didn’t see her in her usual spot. I looked across the intersection for Silver, but his spot was vacant also. Pat was nowhere to be seen. I was surprised at how disappointed I felt. I wondered about the results of Silver’s appointment with his doctor. I wondered how Joy’s viewing of an apartment went on Friday. Even Shakes, who I sometimes see in the morning, is getting a new apartment. I wonder if he’s moved yet. Sleeping outdoors is so dangerous, I can’t help but worry. Hopefully I’ll see them at noon.

Sitting on the curb near the park, all alone, was Silver. “Hi,” I said, “How was the appointment with your doctor?”

“It was fine. He took some blood tests, but I won’t get the results until next week. I have another appointment for a week Thursday. He should be able to tell me something then. I showed him how swollen my ankles were. He didn’t tell me what was causing the swelling.”

“You were telling me that you had varicose veins, perhaps it’s a circulation problem.”

“That’s what I think it is, but I won’t know for sure until next week.”

“How are you sleeping?” I asked.

“I’ve been sleeping okay. I woke up at 6:30 this morning, did what I had to do, then went back to bed and slept for another couple of hours. I didn’t bother panning today.”

“How was your weekend?”

“It was quiet. My neighbor, Don and I ordered a pizza and watched some movies. That’s about all.”

“I’ll talk to you a bit later, Silver. I’m just going up to say hello to the rest of the guys.” Sitting on the lawn was Little Jake. Standing at the park railing were Shark, Andre, Jacques and Danny who had a guitar case strapped to his back.

“Hi Danny, I said, “I didn’t know you played guitar.”

Shark said, “Either did he, but he knows how to hock it.”

Jacques said, “Maybe it’s not a guitar in the case. Maybe it’s a gun, like in a movie I saw a while ago. There was an Elvis convention and these five guys, dressed in Elvis costumes, robbed a casino. Kurt Russell was in it and another guy with long hair in a ponytail. He was a mean one, shooting into the crowd with a machine gun.”

Jake said, “That was Kevin Costner. The movie was called 3000 Miles to Graceland.”

Shark said, “Dennis meet your new neighbor, Jake, He’s moving into Irene’s old place, if the landlord ever gets around to fixing it up. He’s supposed to change the carpet, but he didn’t do that when Elaine moved in. He’s drunk most of the time. He knows all the people in the building who drink and will come to the door and ask, ‘Can I have a beer?’ I’ll say, ‘No, but you can take these empties, since you’re here.’ Otherwise the maintenance man will go rooting through the trash for them. You’ll see the landlord drinking on the front steps. If not there, he’ll be on the back steps. The maintenance guy moves things from one apartment to another. When you view the place everything looks all nice and new, then they switch the nice furniture for crap.

“It took Irene ten months to get out of that place. The landlord said that she would be on probation for the first three months, then he was supposed to have her sign a lease, but he never brought it around. When she was moving out he said, ‘You know you’re breaking your lease.’ I said to him, ‘She never signed a lease you drunken bastard. There’s no lease to break.’ He said, ‘You don’t have to get nasty about it.’

“Eventually, we’re going to get all new furniture. Irene and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to buying things. She always wants to buy what’s cheap; like her mattress, she paid $125.00, I paid $300.00, but mine is twice as thick as hers. I don’t want to be sleeping on something that has pieces of metal sticking out. If I want something I pay for it, I don’t care what it costs.”

“So, when are you moving, Jake?”

“They’re supposed to get back to me, but I think it should be next week, or the week after.”

Jacques said, “Those Salvation Army people, they don’t look very hard for an apartment for you. It’s okay if you find one yourself, then they’ll help you with moving. Otherwise, they’re useless.”

Danny said, “I nearly had a place lined up last week. I told the landlord that my disability pension would cover the first $450.00 of the rent. If there were any extras my mom would pay them. He could just give her the bank information and she would deposit a check every month. She’s an elder and a Clan leader. She’s been handling my finances for the last twenty years because of my addiction problems.”

“Andre, how was your weekend?” I asked.

“The weekend was pretty wild, but I’m trying to keep it cool today. I have to see my worker to arrange for my identification and my health card, again. This time I’m going to have them keep a copy on my file in case I lose them.

“Here’s my workers now.” Two women walked into the park and Andre met them.

Jacques said, “Who are those two? I thought it was a big guy and a girl who came around. Maybe they fired him because he wasn’t doing his job.”

I asked, “Jacques, did you hear if Joy got her place?”

“I saw her Saturday, no it was Friday. She went with her worker, then she was going to 507 to pick up an air mattress.”

“Yes, she didn’t want to bring bed bugs into her new place.”

“It’s best if you don’t have carpets. They make nests everywhere in carpets. I found a big spider web with lots of dead bed bug husks. I love the spiders, me. I don’t mind how many I have of them as long as they keep eating the bed bugs.”

Jake said, “I saw Chester having breakfast at the Mission, but Joy wasn’t there.”

Shark received a telephone call, “Yes, Irene?” he said. “What’s Hippo doing there? Tell him to get out. Tell him anything — tell him you and Kat have to go out. Tell him you have to go to the doctor. That’s what we had to do last night. We were at Buck’s playing Bingo. Trudy wanted to wash the floors. So Buck said, ‘Okay, Hippo, time to go.’ He left with no problem.

To me he said, “We’ve got Kat with us now.”

“You have a cat?”

“No, Kat is a person, a friend of Irene’s. She’s over there now. She’s small, doesn’t take up much space — not like Hippo. When we sweep, we can just ask her to lift her feet, there’s no problem.

“Silver hasn’t moved in the last twenty minutes. Is he okay? I don’t think he’s drinking today, is he?”

“Yeah, “ I said, “he has a beer on the go. He’s not feeling too well.”

“I know he went to the doctor last Thursday. Irene said to me, ‘Make sure he goes to his appointment.’ Our doctors are both in the same direction. He goes to the Regent Park Community Health Clinic, my doctor is further up, but my appointments are Mondays and Wednesdays. Thursday he’s on his own.

“I want to go to Brantford to visit my son, but my dad said, ‘It’s not a good time.’ I’d like to go for two weeks but I have to arrange it with my doctor. I said to him, ‘You phone my dad and arrange it. I can’t get anything out of him.’ ”

It was time for me to go. I said good-bye to everyone and headed on my way. Danny was walking ahead of me with the guitar case on his back.


Look at Me!

5 September 2012

At noon Silver, Andre and  Rodent were sitting together on the curb near the park. Andre was more sober than I have ever seen him. He had also recently shaved. “Andre,” I said, “I see cheeks and a chin that I’ve never seen before.”

“I’ve got an appointment with my worker, she’s meeting me here at one o’clock. She’s going to check on my O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program) and my O.W. (Ontario Welfare). Every time I go there, they tell me it’s in the works, but I never get a check. Then I need my drug card and my Social Insurance card. I’ll just leave it on file with the pharmacy. that way I don’t have to worry about losing it or having it get soaked in my backpack.

“You should have seen the bullshit I had to put up with this morning. I went to the pharmacy to get some emergency medication. They wouldn’t give it to me without a prescription. I said to the pharmacist, ‘You mean I have to walk a quarter of a mile to pick up a prescription, then walk a quarter of a mile back here to get it filled? Can’t you see it’s an emergency! Isn’t it obvious! Look at me!’

“I got lucky this morning. I was talking to a guy who had to go to court. He said, ‘I need a cap to go to court. If you can get me a cap, I’ll split a joint and a cigarette with you.’ I walked into the restaurant, looked around and saw these two guys sitting at a booth. There were three caps in front of them. I asked, ‘Does this cap belong to anyone?’ They said, “No, but it’s yours now.’ So, I give the cap to the guy outside, we split the joint and the cigarette and I got the edge off. No more shakes. I hardly had to do anything.

“Do you smell Listerine? Is Serge nearby? I stay away from that stuff now. I hate the headaches, the throwing up, the stomach pains and the smell that comes right through your skin.

“It really pisses me off when I share a bottle, or a couple of beer with a guy; he says he’s going to get the next bottle and he brings back Listerine or rubby. That’s not right! You don’t replace a bottle of sherry or a couple of beer with Listerine or rubby. Mind you, if that’s all you got, then that’s what you drink.

“I’ve been staying at the Mission the last two nights. I have my breakfast there and then come down here for about nine o’clock. When I get hungry I head back down Gerrard  to the Mission for something to eat. Around supper time, I do the same thing.

“I met this guy on the weekend who I haven’t seen for, must be, fifteen years. We grew up together in Cornwall. I was at this apartment building in St. James Town. I have no idea how I got there. I missed my appointment with my worker yesterday, because I had no bus tickets and no way to get downtown. Even if I had bus tickets, I wouldn’t have known which bus to catch.

“Anyway, Timmy says to me, ‘Andre, I want you to meet a good friend of mine. We looked at each other. I said, ‘Steve?’ He said, ‘Andre?’ Timmy said, to me, ‘Andre, you know everybody.’ It seems I knew everybody in the apartment building as well, but I don’t remember meeting them.

“I’m glad that Rodent left. I was about ready to punch him. He thinks he’s being funny, just like my uncle Roscoe; but then the comments get personal and it’s not funny any more. I was getting really pissed off. I think he could sense it.”

I said, “I’m going to the park to see who else is up there.”

Silver said, “I’m staying away from there because Shaggy is barking her head off.”

Andre said, “I’ll just wait here with Silver until my worker comes.”

“I’ll see you on my way back then,” I said.

Jacques, John (as in toilet), and Outcast were standing at the railing. Sitting in a circle were Wolf, Buck, Rodent, Shark, Irene and Anastasia. Chasing each other around and through the circle, back and forth, were Wolf’s dog Shaggy and Buck’s dog Dillinger.

It was all Anastasia could do to sit upright as she ducked the dogs, or watched them tear around. As she was trying to light a cigarette, she kept tipping backwards. “I’m an otter,” she said, “swimming on my back, looking at the clouds.” I was closest, so I offered my arm to pull her upright — all eighty pounds of her.

As Wolf sat down on the blanket, beside Shaggy’s cart he said, “I’ve got a stiff back. All I’ve done for the past week is take Shaggy for her walks, lay on the couch, read, watch TV, get up for a beer and lay back down again. It’s good to make the effort to come down here and socialize a bit. Shaggy’s having fun with Dillinger. Did you see that, she actually gave up her spot so Dillinger could lay down?”

I asked Wolf, “What are you reading now?”

“I just started this book. It was given to me by a lady who gives me books all the time. I was reading the back cover and it seemed to be some kind of romance novel, so I put it at the back of my pile. When I started reading it, I found that it was all about spies and espionage. Four of them get shot in the first few pages — a real shoot-em-up, just the kind I like to read. If I had known what it was about I would have started it a month ago. It was nothing like the Harlequin romances my mother used to read.”

It was time for me to head back to work. Irene asked, “Dennis, would you walk me to the bus stop?”

I said, “Sure, Irene, are you ready to go now?”

“Where?” she asked.

I said, “Don’t you want me to walk you to the bus stop?”

“No,” she said, “I don’t want to take the bus anywhere.”

With that I said good-bye to everyone, until tomorrow.


Couch Surfing 

7 September 2012

Today at the park the weather was pleasant, but the mood was tense. Sitting on the curb were Joy, Little Jake, Jacques, Raven, Chester and Shark. Facing them on the sidewalk were Andre and Clint.

“Andre,” I said, “How did it go with your worker on Wednesday? Did you get your papers signed for housing?”

“I got a lot of things sorted. They set me up with a street allowance because I said, ‘Hey, I sleep behind a dumpster, or if I’m lucky I do some couch surfing.’ So, on Monday I’ll be able to pick up a check for $200.00.

“I’m forty-six years old, I can’t be on the street like Weasel and Jake. I’m going to get on the ball, go to my appointments — They’re giving me a monthly bus pass, otherwise I’d have to go there to pick up bus tickets every time I have to see somebody — With O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program) alone, I have to go nine times a month. I have to go to the doctor twice a week, then there’ll be visits for housing.

“I’m staying at the Sally Ann right now. That’s good, because that’s where my workers are. If I need to contact them, after hours, I can just slip a message under their door. If they need to contact me they can come to my room, or leave a message for me. I know they’re going to work really hard to get me settled.”

Clint said, “The best fish and chips I’ve ever had were at the Sally Ann in Halifax. Every Friday they’d serve them. It was a great big plate and the fries were just like you’d get at a fish and chip shop — hand cut, crispy.

“I got in trouble at a dance there. I was dancing with a woman — I didn’t know she had a boyfriend. It turned out that he had boxed for ten years in prison. He broke my nose, broke my jaw — I had to have it wired shut. Now, If I yawn, sometimes it’ll lock open.”

Andre said, “That’s why I don’t go to dances. I was at a dance one time — I was drunk, I started dancing by myself, I turned around and, you know how it is, I was dancing with three women. I was having fun, clowning around, then three guys showed up. They’d been there all the time, but they didn’t want to dance, that’s why the women were dancing together.

“The first guy caught me with a left hook. It was a good left hook, flattened my nose to one side. The next guy hit me with a right hook, flattened my nose to the other side. By this time my white tee-shirt was red. I said to the third guy, ‘bring it on, let’s see if you can get my nose straight again.’ ”

“I’ve had my jaw broken, ” Said Joy. “Isn’t it great having to get all your nutrition through a straw?”

Joy kept looking down the line at Raven. Andre said, “Just take a few deep breaths and count to ten.”

Joy was punching her fist into her open palm. “You don’t know the half of it. That Chester is so stupid. It was Raven’s old man who stole Chester’s bank card and drained his bank account. And how did he get in? Raven! Now he wants to invite her over to where I’m staying. Over my dead body!

“I’m feeling really pissy today. I didn’t get much sleep last night. I was awake chasing cooties most of the night. I’ve found out that the mature bed bugs have a numbing agent, so you can’t feel when they bite, but the young ones don’t seem to know about that. You can feel when they bite. They start out kind of colorless, then turn orange when they suck your blood. When you crush them between your thumb and finger, they have a rotten wood smell about them.”

I asked, “Do you sniff every bug you crush?”

“Every one. See all these bites I have below my knees? I’ve got them all over my body. They’re either from the bed bugs or from the spiders I bring in from the balcony to eat the bed bugs.”

Andre said, I remember going to visit a guy in Guelph, at the Bluebird Hotel, I think it was. It was a long time ago. Anyway, we were going to go to his room. He couldn’t get the key in the lock — he was that drunk. So, I had to unlock the door for him. I turned on the light and there were thousands of roaches everywhere. The walls looked alive with them scrambling away. He asked, ‘Do you want to sit down?’ I said, ‘No way, man! I don’t want to be carrying those things to the next place I go.’ ”

Joy said, “I think my lungs are worse since I moved into Chester’s place.”

I asked, “Is it because of the bed bug spray, or are you using the powder now?”

“The powder is better, but I’ve run out of that too.”

Andre asked? “Do you dust it over all the carpets?”

“I sprinkle it only in the area where I sleep. Chester is on his own. I wash and dry my clothes, cook them, powder them, bag them and put them out on the balcony. Chester takes his clothes out of the bags and puts them in his drawers. He won’t listen to me.

“Now he says he’s broke. I gave him money for food, but that’s not what he spent it on. At least I have a Tim Horton’s card if I get hungry. Last night I made spaghetti sauce. Tonight I’m turning it into chilli. I’ve got it in the crock pot now. Chester asked, ‘Can I still put it on noodles?’ I said, ‘Do anything you want with it.’

“I’m going to go home now, before Chester gets there, so I’ll be able to watch English television. Sometimes, I’ll be in the middle of watching a movie and Chester will say, ‘I don’t like this,’ and he’ll switch over to one of his French channels.

“He gets up so early. This morning he got up just as I was falling into a deep sleep. First thing, he goes to the fridge for a beer, then he lights a cigarette. As soon as he does that I start coughing, and I have to use my inhaler. I wish there was a door he could close. At least he doesn’t smoke in bed. That would really scare me.

“Andre, can I ask you something that I never thought I’d ask?”


“Will you come sit between me and Jake. He’s driving me nuts with his babbling. It’s all I can do to keep from punching him.”

To me she said, “The only reason I don’t punch him is because he’s HIV positive, or has full-blown AIDS.”

Andre said, “Jake, will you wipe your mouth, you’re drooling.”

To Joy he said, “If he needs straightening out, I’ll do it.”

Chester came over to Joy. She said, “What is it honey? Do you want to sit on your blanket?” She pulled it out from under her and handed it to him.. “Come sit down.”

Chester took the blanket and went back to sit with Raven. Andre said, “I thought he was going to sit with us.”

“So did I,” said Joy. “I think part of the reason I feel so schizoid is because of menopause.”

I asked, “Are they any closer to getting your health card and other identification?”

“Yeah,” she said, “I just have to go in and fill in some personal stuff about my parent’s birth dates and my mother’s maiden name. I have all that. They were both born in 1944, My father was such an asshole.” Joy was weeping as I left.


Stolen Boots

10 September 2012

I wore my Fall windbreaker today. The sky was overcast and there was a cool breeze blowing. The congregation was at the far end of the park. Joy walked toward me and we met at the sidewalk.

“I didn’t know whether or not you’d be coming,” she said. “I was about ready to leave when I saw your head above the bushes. I’m feeling sick. I cooked some chicken from Loblaws and I’ve been throwing up all night. It didn’t affect Chester, but it’s the second time I’ve gotten sick after eating their chicken. I’m always careful to cook it thoroughly, same with pork, I know how sick it can make you. I’m going to leave now. I just want to lie down and take it easy today. I can’t even drink.

”You wouldn’t happen to have some extra bus tickets for Chester would you?”

“No, I’m sorry. I’m all out. I’ll have to get more at the convenience store.”

“I just thought I’d ask. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Take care, Joy. Get lots of rest, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Hey,” said Andre to Joy, “Don’t I get a hug?”

“If I bend over, I might puke all over you.”

Andre put his wide-brimmed hat upside down on his head and said, “Okay, I’m ready. How about my hug?”

The grass was still wet from the overnight rain. Sitting on the curb, near the railing, were Timmy, Clint and Chester. On the lawn were Andre and Shakes. I sat between Timmy and Shakes who, as usual, was lying on his side, resting on one elbow.

“Shakes,” I said. I haven’t seen you for a while. How are you?”

“I just got back into town from Kingston. I spent the last week there. A friend took me. He wanted to get out of Toronto for a while, just to have a change of scenery.”

“Did you enjoy yourself?”

“The first day was awful. A dog died, some women were fighting and one guy tried to commit suicide; but that was just the first day.”

“Were these friends of yours? Did the dog belong to one of your friends?”

“No, I didn’t know them.”

“I spent seventy dollars on food, but mostly I had meals, home cooked by friends I met.

“Since I got back, I lost my wallet. Could you give me another of those Tim Horton’s cards? The one you gave me before was in the wallet I lost.”

“Sure, Shakes.”

Timmy put some Kleenex in Andre’s wide brimmed hat. “That’s for Shakes, he’s drooling.”

“He’s just drunk, that’s all.“

“Andre,” I said, “you’ve got a couple of fancy hats, since I saw you last.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to get a collection. This one has feathers around the brim. If I ever get lost in the woods, I can use them to tie flies for fishing. I lost most of my clothes at the Salvation Army. A friend, who’d been sleeping at the hut with us, was leaving town. He made a pile of all the stuff he couldn’t carry with him. There was a pair of size twelve work boots. I was going to bring them to Clint. There was also a pair of size ten, Gortex winter boots with Kevlar toes, heels and shanks. They were insulated and Thinsulated — do you know what I mean? — two layers of insulation. They came up to my knees. I’m guessing they were worth about $400.00. I stayed at the Sally Ann one night. The next day, I left my things in storage. They were locked and were supposed to be secure. I stayed at Katrina’s for two nights.

“When I came back to the Sally, I went to bed 245, where I thought I had slept; but the locker was empty. It looked like my bed, same color blanket, made up like mine. I always make my bed after I get up in the morning. I went to the desk and asked the guy, ‘What bed was I sleeping in? I thought it was 245.’ He checked and said, ‘You were in 295.’ I checked that bed and again, an empty locker. I was really pissed off. I figure the guys at the desk cut the lock and took my stuff.

“I went down and yelled at them, ‘I had two brand new pairs of boots in there, and a bottle and a half of sherry.’ One guy said, ‘Andre, are you ratting yourself out, telling us you brought liquor on the premises?’ I said, ‘I’m just being truthful.’ They said, ‘It shows on our record, that the contents of that locker were signed out.’ I said, ‘Well, I didn’t sign anything out. I don’t believe that. You guys cut the lock and took my new boots. They were so new they didn’t even have dirt on the treads. You don’t want to see any of us building up a stock of anything.’ I stormed out. I was living outside for four months and after one night at the Sheps and one night at the Mission I’ve lost everything.

“I’ve been getting these bites all around the waistband of my track pants.” He pulled his pants down to expose his hip and to show the red marks. “They’re some kind of mites, I think. I threw all the clothes I was wearing in the garbage, then took a shower. When I came out all I had to put on was a towel. The guy at the desk asked, ‘Why are you walking around like that, Andre?’ I said, ‘I need new clothes. My old ones were full of bugs.’ He said, ‘We can’t help you with that until seven, forty-five.’ ‘Well,’ I said, “I guess I’ll be walking around in this towel until seven, forty-five.’ ”

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

Andre said, “You’re not likely to, either. He’s probably in hiding. Jake was drunk and Hippo came up and punched him four times in the head for no reason. Then he was causing trouble at Starbucks. They called the police. The police knew we were staying out back. Bearded Bruce said the police ripped down our hut and threw all our stuff into the dumpster. Later, someone set fire to it.”

Shakes said, “I lost my brand new sleeping bag.”

Andre said, “Those women at the Homeless Hilton are really saints.”

Clint asked, “Do you mean at the Shep?”

“Yeah” said Andre. “They all know me there. It’s funny though. I went downstairs and they said I was too drunk, so I went upstairs and they said I wasn’t drunk enough. One of them  even asked me, ‘Andre, do you have any more booze? Go out, have a few more drinks and we’ll let you in.’

“I went out back to, what we call, the pig pen. A sister came by and asked me, ‘Do you want to buy a twenty-six of rye for thirteen bucks?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. That’s a pretty good price. I just happened to have thirteen, seventy. I’d already drunk two and a half bottles of sherry. A guy sat next to me, pulled out a fancy crack pipe and put a forty in it. His buddy, sitting next to him, said, ‘Be careful.’ The guy looked around for cops then lit his pipe. I drank more and more of the rye, straight up. Then I smacked the guy in the back of the head. The pipe flew out of his mouth, the forty went rolling across the parking lot. Some sisters picked the stuff up, but the pipe was fucked. The guy’s buddy said, ‘I told you to be careful. When Andre gets into the hard stuff, he gets crazy, especially around crack smokers.’

“I went back upstairs and they let me in.”

Timmy said, “That reminds me — we should have walkie-talkies. Then I could six you if I saw the cops coming from my direction, and you could six me if you saw them coming from where you were.”

Andre said, “They’ve got this new fangled invention now. It’s called a cell phone. That’s what people use them for.”

Clint said, “You know, one time a cop was really nice to me. I was up in North Bay. I asked him if there was any place I could set up a tent. He said, ‘Sure, get in.’ He let me sit in the front seat. He didn’t pat me down or anything. He took me behind this gas station, where some empty rigs were parked. He said, ‘You should be safe here.’ Then he left.”

Timmy said, “I’ve been given rides by the cops before, but they always frisked me. They even apologized, said it wasn’t anything personal, it was regulation. If a guy was in the back seat with a gun, he could shoot the cops and steal the car. They left the sliding window open so we could chat back and forth. I’ve never ridden in the front seat of a cop car. Sometimes, they even have shotguns mounted on the console, on a swivel.”


Sweet Grass

11 September 2012

Today at  the park, I sat on the sidewalk in front of Joy. Shortly after, Andre came staggering up the walk, followed by Sharron. The sides of his track pants were unsnapped, his shirt was off. He had a four-foot length of gold chain with two-inch links, a padlock attached to the end, wrapped twice around his neck.

Andre, Debbie and Jake immediately started arguing “What do you mean I’m acting like an asshole?” asked Andre? He started swinging the chain. Joy said, “Andre, if you hit Jake in the back of the head with that padlock, I’m going to kill you. You know I mean it.”

Andre sat down, “I’m sorry for being an asshole. I’m just waking up. I passed out in a park last night. You all know what that’s like.”

Joy said, “Been there, done that, couldn’t afford the tee-shirt.”

Shakes, who was surprisingly sober, said, “I think Andre’s still upset about being rolled last night.”

I asked, “Is that right Andre? How much did they take? Was it a gang?”

“No,” said Andre, “it was just two guys. They got a hundred and forty bucks, but I did quite a bit of damage to one guy. I had him in a head lock and was punching him in the face, when the other guy kicked me in the side of the head. Things are a bit confused after that.”

Shakes asked, “Do you have my radio? I lost it twice yesterday.”

I said, “That means you must have found it once.”

“Yes, I did.”

Debbie said, “Have you seen Jake’s new apartment? I was there last night. It’s gorgeous. The walls are freshly painted, the floors have been varnished. Jake’s bedroom is as big as his living room.”

Jake said, “They even gave me fifty bucks for groceries. Tomorrow they’re going to see about getting me some furniture, even a television.”

Joy said, “I’ve got an appointment to see an apartment in Cabbagetown. It’s six hundred a month.”

I said, “You saw one on Bayview didn’t you?”

“I had an appointment, but my worker cancelled at the last-minute. They wanted seven, ninety-five for that one. I’d only have fifty dollars left, after I cashing my check.”

Two workers from the Housing Outreach Program of the Salvation Army came by. One said, “Shakes, can we meet with you tomorrow around ten, thirty?”


Joy said, “I’ll make sure he’s here, because I have an appointment with my worker tomorrow at the same time.”

After they left Joy said, “I got four dollars. Has anybody got any change? Andre, in the mesh pocket of your backpack I can see some change.” Andre threw over two quarters and a dime.

Joy said, “Okay, I’ve got four, sixty. I still need forty-five cents.” Everyone checked their pockets and came up with the needed change.

To Chester, Joy said, “Honey, would you mind going to the World Exchange and picking me up a bottle?”

“Sure,” said Chester, “and if they don’t have Imperial? I’ve been there sometimes when they’ve been out.”

“If they don’t have it, don’t bother getting anything. It would only make me sick.”

“Jake,” I asked, “Are you moving into the apartment that Irene moved out of?”

“No, it’s nearby, but different apartment, different building. I’m really going to make it work this time.”

Joy said, “Every Fall the workers try to get us off the street and into apartments, that way they don’t have to bury so many of us.”

Shakes pulled a new bottle of sherry out of his backpack. He cracked the seal, poured some into the cap and threw it over his shoulder. Then he handed the bottle to Joy, who poured some into her coke bottle, then passed it back to Shakes who took a sip from the bottle. Joy then reached into her backpack for a large Sprite bottle of partly frozen water. She added water to the sherry then took a drink.

Jake said, “I’m going to get some sweet grass to smudge my apartment.”

Joy said, “Sweet grass has a beautiful smell, especially when it’s mixed with sage, burnt properly and wafted with an eagle feather. It’s so relaxing and peaceful.”



12 September 2012

Joy was in good spirits this morning. The sun was shining.

“Hi Joy,” I said, “you have an appointment with your worker today, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I’ll be meeting Janice and Darla at the park at 10:30. I have the same workers as Andre.”

“What will they be talking about today?”

“Just details of the place I’ll be moving into.”

I said, “You must be excited. This is the first time since I’ve known you, that you’ll be having an apartment of your own. You’ve always shared with somebody.”

“Yeah, it’s exciting and scary. It’s been so long since I’ve lived alone, I’m not sure how I’ll cope.”

“It has to be better that living with bed bugs, and you won’t have to put up with Chester’s noises. You’ll be able to watch English television, whatever programs you choose. There’ll be no one to beat you.”

“Yeah, that will all be good. I just worry about my mind. The last time in prison I was in the psych ward, under suicide watch because I kept stabbing myself with pencils. That was when they put me on Seroquel, it’s an antipsychotic for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. When I’m on that I don’t hear the voices. Lately, it’s been television commercials that are going around in my head, like the one for Yop. It has kind of a reggae beat:

When I wake up in the morning I’m still asleep
I really don’t want no toast
I want no water, no tea, no cereal
give me a yogurt drink I’m wanting first.

Ooooooh! Give me Yop! me mama oh
Yop! me mama when the morning come.

Give me Yop! me mama
Yop! me mama
Yop! for when the morning come…

I said, “Andre was really wild yesterday.”

“Yeah, he was being a real asshole.”

“He said he got rolled. Where did he get a hundred and forty dollars?”

“The workers arranged that for him. It was his street allowance. On Monday he got a check for one, fifty. With the last of his money he bought three bottles. Little Jake invited him over to his new place. Andre didn’t even have bus fare. Jake, of course, is all proud because he has a bus pass.

“Andre is going to get the shit kicked out of him, or else he’ll be exiled. I’d rather take the beating. Being exiled is hell.

“I saw Hippo this morning. He’s been hiding out with Jacques near the river. He’s afraid of Bearded Bruce.”

I asked, “How did that all come about?”

“Hippo was drunk. he was ten feet tall and juiced to the gills. He was in Starbucks performing when someone called the cops. They knew where he was staying so they went back there. They recognized Bruce because of his record, and were holding him up against the fence. Bruce was upset with Hippo. He said, ‘I could have been breached.’

“That doesn’t make sense to me. Bruce said he took jail time instead of probation, because he knew he’d never show up for appointments. For missing appointments they’d put him back in jail. If he’s not on probation he couldn’t be breached.

“There’s something funny. Bruce tried to sell crack to an under cover cop and he gets probation? Crack is a narcotic, that’s automatic jail time. I know. He does the same thing again and they only give him 180 days. That’s unheard of! I think he’s a chatter, someone who will rat out his friends. It’s the same with Weasel.

“The exterminators are coming today. I just hope that Chester remembers to tell them about the day bed. The stuff they spray will completely soak the mattress. I’ve been sleeping in the middle of the room on an air mattress. I was thinking, there’s no way they’ll be able to hold onto plastic, but sure enough they were there. I could feel a bump in my sheet, and it moved, so I squished it and smelt my fingers. It had that rotten wood smell of bed bugs. In the morning I saw a streak of blood where I squished it.

As soon as I sat down at the park Shakes asked me, “Dennis, how do you like my shades?”

“Very nice Shakes! Are they yours? I guess they’re yours now.”

“My worker took me shopping for clothes today. They didn’t have everything I wanted, but I did get a nice winter coat and a belt. Now, I don’t have to wear this dog leash to hold my pants up. When we got to the cash the guy said, ‘Shakes, you need some sunglasses, don’t you?’ I asked, ‘Can I have these?’ He said, ‘Go for it, Shakes.’ ”

Joy sat next to me. I asked, “How did it go with your worker today?”

“Really great!” she said. “Friday I go to see a place. Janice said it was the biggest bachelor apartment she’s ever seen. The guy who owns the building is friendly to homeless people. I guess one of his family was homeless and they died.

“I asked what I should wear. She said, You don’t have to dress fancy, but lose the dorag.”

“I told her that I had paid all my bills and didn’t have any money left. She said, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll cover it.’ ”

I asked, “Are they any closer to getting you a health card?”

“They’re going to take me to a doctor at a clinic tomorrow. I said to her, “Things aren’t right in my head. I hear voices and they keep me awake all night. With them and the bed bugs I’m not getting much sleep at all.

“I told her that when I pee, there’s blood. I cough up blood, then my nose starts bleeding. I’m bleeding everywhere. That’s not right. I’ve got no energy. I can’t keep food down.

“If I get this place, and it could be as early as September, twentieth, I’m going to cut back on the drinking. She asked me, “Why do you drink?’ I said, ‘I drink to pass out, to get away from the pain in my legs. My hip feels like it’s burning. I’m having seizures. I’m glad I haven’t had any here. Yesterday, I had two at Chester’s place. He didn’t even notice. My eyes just rolled back in my head and my mind went blank for a while.”

Jacques answered a call on his cell phone. He handed it to Joy. “Chester,” he said.

I heard Joy ask, “Did the Health Department guy come by to spray. He said he would… You told him what? I’m going to be coming home soon.’

Joy handed the phone back to Jacques. She said, “That stupid, stupid man.” Then she started sobbing. The sobbing turned to gasping. She reached into her back pack and pulled out her inhaler. After four puffs, the gasping stopped. Tears were still falling from her eyes.

I asked, “Did something go wrong with the exterminator?”

“Chester wouldn’t let him spray. He said it would be an invasion.”

“It is an invasion,” I said, “an invasion of bed bugs.”

Joy said, “After we sprayed Chester’s room the first time, they don’t seem to have gone back there. We found their nest under his bed and we soaked it with spray. Maybe they bite him and he doesn’t react, but I see him scratching. I’m going to have to sleep on the balcony. That’s the only way I can get away from them. They don’t like the cold.

“That really pisses me off. I paid him $400. for rent, I filled the fridge with groceries. He was supposed to buy more but he hasn’t. He says he has no money. He shouldn’t be spending it on the muk-muks. I clean, I cook, I just can’t take it any more.”


Bed Bugs

13 September 2012

This morning the sun was shining and Joy seemed in good spirits.

“How did you sleep? Were you outside on the balcony?” I asked.

“No, it was a bit too cool for that, but I slept okay. I took the sheet off my air mattress and made sure that none of me touched the carpet. The bed bugs didn’t seem to have been able to climb up the shiny plastic. I didn’t get any bites during the night. I have a chalk line of powder around where I sleep.

“When I was in the bathroom I saw something move. I squished it. Sure enough, it was a bed bug. I could tell by the rotting wood smell. I’ve never known of bed bugs to crawl across tile.”

I said, “I’m still pissed off with Chester.”

“Why is that? What’s he done now?”

“I just think it’s very selfish of him to turn the exterminator away. He knows how much the bed bugs bother you. Just because they aren’t bothering him, that’s no reason not to turn away the exterminator. It’s not a safe, healthy environment for you.”

“Yeah, I was pissed off about that, alright. I stayed out until 9:00 last evening. He was upset that I came home so late. I said, ‘I’m forty-six years old. Are you saying I have a curfew? I wasn’t planning to come back at all.’ I told him, ‘I can’t live like this.’ He said, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll phone the Health Department and have them come another day.’ I said, ‘They’re not going to drop everything and come here, when they’ve already been turned away once. They may charge you for the visit.’

“I do the cooking, the cleaning. Before I moved in he said he kept his place very clean. It was a mess. It took me an entire day to wash the floors, the fridge. There was some kind of dairy product that had gone bad in the sink. That nearly made me sick. I bought groceries. He was supposed to buy some, but he hasn’t. We’re down to our last slice of bread.

“He doesn’t do anything, but make messes after I’ve cleaned up, and piss on the toilet seat. He said that if I’m concerned with the bed bugs he’ll share his bed with me. ‘No, thanks!’ I said. I have no interest in sleeping with any man.’

He said, ‘Oh, Joy, I would never touch you. You don’t have to worry about that.’ I said, ‘I’ve heard that before.’

“I wish Chester would bathe more often. I have a shower every morning. He has one a week. All the guys are smelling a bit ripe now.

“I’ve heard from Rodent that Jake wants me to write to him. Why would I do that? I still love him, but I don’t have a death wish.

“I heard that Silver is at the Mission Hospice recovering.”

I said, “I know that he had an appointment with his doctor, last Thursday, to see about the swelling in his ankle. I haven’t seen him since.”

Joy said, “Chili may have to have both of her legs amputated. I’m so angry with her. I told her months ago to have the swelling in her knee taken care of. She’s been smashing cocaine into her arm and it’s become infected. The infection has spread to both legs as high as her hips.”

At noon Joy was waiting for her worker. We saw a Salvation Army van pass by and stop near the park. Joy walked over, but the van left before she arrived. Shortly after, her worker arrived. They were gone for about twenty minutes.

While Joy was away I talked to Jacques. He said, “I’m looking for a new apartment also. They raised my rent in June by three percent. It was six hundred and eighty-five, now it’s seven, ten. I can’t afford that. I’ve had to cancel my cable. I tried to fix up an antenna using wire, but now I only get a few channels and they aren’t very clear. I saw an ad in this newspaper — on Peter Street I can get an antenna for seven dollars. That’s not too bad if it works. I’m going to go there this afternoon to talk to them about it.”

“You’re going to miss living by the river.” I said.

“Yes, it’s a great bachelor apartment, but it has bed bugs. I’ve told the landlord about them, I suggested that he remove the carpet. It doesn’t matter what kind of floor is underneath. He isn’t interested in having it removed. I’m not paying seven, ten, for a place with bed bugs. I hear that Chester has them too. They’re everywhere.

“I talked to Serge yesterday about us sharing a two bedroom apartment somewhere. He seemed interested, but today he isn’t here. I think he’s staying at his friend William’s place, while he is away. He has his own key.”

When Joy came back she said, “That was a waste of time. I still can’t see a doctor until they get my identification sorted out. They’ve moved the viewing of the apartment to two o’clock tomorrow. At least that’s something to look forward to.”


Native Cigarettes

14 September 2012

This morning was pleasant. Metro greeted me waving a newspaper, “Good morning, Dennis. Are you going to keep out of trouble this weekend?”

“Not if I can help it, Metro. Have a good day.”

“Joy’s down there.”

“Great, thanks Metro.”

“Hi Joy, how did you sleep?”

“Great, when I woke up I thought it was five, fifteen, my usual time, but it was six, fifteen. I really had to scramble to get everything together. When I got outside the door, I realized that my keys were at the bottom of my bag. So, I just left the door unlocked. We always used to leave the door unlocked. We never had any problems.”

“Weren’t you afraid that someone would steal Chester?”

“They can have him. He was all pissed off last night because I came home late.”

“Why, on earth, should he care what time you come home?”

“Ever since he fell down the stone steps, backwards, he hasn’t been right in the head. Every woman he’s been involved with, in any way, he falls in love with. Sometimes, I hear him talking in his sleep, ‘Joy, I love you.'”

“Has he made any arrangements, with the Health Department, for an exterminator?”

“Yeah, somebody is supposed to come by on Monday, but I told Chester, ‘I don’t care. If everything goes well at my appointment this afternoon, I’ll be out of here soon — maybe, even next week.’

“He may come by later. He’s out of cigarettes, so he’ll probably be doing a butt run. He’ll be wanting to bum a cigarette from me as well; but I smoke natives, he prefers a stronger cigarette.”

“What are natives?” I asked.

“They’re made from the scraps of what they use to make tailor-mades. The tobacco is supposed to be for ceremonial purposes. It’s not meant for human consumption.”

“Who makes them?”


“At $20 a carton, some young entrepreneurs from the Kanasatake reserve near Montreal are selling a lot of cigarettes. The brands they are pushing may be unfamiliar to most people – Native and Mohawk Blend – but they come from a manufacturing plant on the American side of the Mohawk reserve in Akwasasne.”

“Making cigarettes has become an important business in Akwasasne. There are two manufacturing plants employing a couple of hundred people. The cigarettes are sold in native communities all across the United States, and now in some Canadian communities as well.

“I was talking to Timmy the other day. He said that smoking them gives him the dry heaves in the morning, and he’s been coughing up blood. He figures it’s not the liquor that gives him a hangover, it’s the native cigarettes.

“On the bus last night I saw, Kit’s brother, Ronny. He must live near where Little Jake moved in, and where Irene moved out.”

“I don’t want to live near any of those people. My worker was surprised that I wanted to live in Cabbagetown. She said a lot of hookers are moving from the Garden District to Cabbagetown, but there are still a lot near Jarvis . I probably know them all. Jacques won’t live in Cabbagetown. I’ve never had any problems there.”

I said, “I’ve lived there. I liked it. I never had any problems.

“I couldn’t believe how quiet Shakes was yesterday,” I said.

“Yeah, that was something, wasn’t it? I think he’s still upset about being robbed. I’ve told those guys that sleep at the Shep, or the Mission, “Don’t store money in your socks.” I said, “Put it in a plastic baggie and stuff it in your underwear. If someone touches your crotch, you’re going to wake up.”

“It’s strange that Shakes and Andre were both robbed within days of each other.”

Joy said, “I think it was Sharron who got Andre’s money. When she was at the park I saw her rearranging her bra a few times, as if something felt uncomfortable. I think that’s where she hid Andre’s money.” Andre said, ‘I had my hand down her top a few times. I’d have noticed if it was there.’ I said, ‘If she had it right at the bottom of her cup, you’d never know it.’

I said, “Andre told me that he was robbed by two guys and one of them kicked him in the head.”

Joy said, “He put up a fight when the money was taken from his sock, but I kicked him in the head. He kept touching me. I warned him, “Next time you do that you’re going to regret it. He put his hand on my thigh. I stood up and kicked him in the head. He tried it a second time, I kicked him again. You think he’d learn. He put his hand right on my crotch. I got up and kicked him with all my might. The third kick was the best. It connected with the back of his head, his head snapped forward and bobbled — just like one of those bobble-headed figures. He was out cold. Chester and I left shortly after that. He said, ‘Do you think he’s okay? Maybe he has a broken neck. I said, ‘I don’t care if he has.’ Then we left.

“He was by here this morning, he’s okay. He was hanging around — I finally had to tell him to move on. This is Friday, it’s government pay week. I’ve got to make some money.”

“Maybe I should move on.”

“Whatever you like. You could go talk to Andre. I saw him going around the corner. He’s probably panning in front of Timmy Ho’s. I’ll see you this afternoon anyway, I have to be at the park to meet my worker. She’s coming at two.”


Apartment Hunting

17 September 2012

I was greeted this morning, as usual, by Metro and Two-four.

“Good morning, Dennis,” said Metro. I think Joy’s there this morning.”

“Thanks guys, have a great day.”

I saw Joy talking to a woman, who handed her a package in a gray plastic bag. The woman smiled at me. I said, “Bless you!” She winked at me and left.

I asked Joy, “Was that your worker?”

“No, I ran out of tampons. That lady was kind enough to buy me some.”

I asked, “So, how did it go, Friday, with your viewing of the apartment?”

“It was good. The place is different from what I imagined. It’s on the corner of Parliament and Sumach. That’s a good location for me. My worker said it was a large bachelor. I was expecting one large room, but the kitchen is separate. It’s the same size as the living room. The place is rather narrow, so I’ll have to get a futon, or something that folds up. A mattress would take up too much space. I wouldn’t be able to move around.

“The guy’s daughter was with him. She had all sorts of questions like, ‘Will the Salvation Army pay for any damages?’ My worker, Janice, had never been asked that before, so she has to check with her office and get back to them.

“I think if it was just the father I had to talk to there wouldn’t have been any problem. Maybe if I’d been dressed as a skid it would have gone better. As it was, I wore a dress and makeup. That’s what Janice told  me to wear. I don’t know what’s going to happen. She’s coming to see me at noon, so then I should know for certain.

“They keep asking me why Andre misses his appointments with them. I don’t know. She asked if they should keep wasting their time on him if he isn’t that interested. I said, “If I were you, I’d drop him.”

I said, “Andre will be happy as long as he can find a woman who will take him in for the night.”

“Exactly! Are you going to be at the park at noon? How be I see you then. I haven’t made a cent so far. I’m P.M.S.ing, and Menopausing, just generally pissed off.”

“I’ll be there. I didn’t come Friday because of the rain. I didn’t think anyone would be out.”

“We were there, huddling around.”

This afternoon, at the park, was interesting. The weather was pleasant, everyone was cheerful.

“Hi Joy,” I said, “How are you doing?”

“A lot better than this morning. I actually made some money.”

Andre said, “I nearly had a job this morning. A guy came by the Sally yesterday and asked a bunch of us if anyone had experience raking asphalt. Inuvik said, ‘I’ve never done that kind of work, but I can learn.’ He’s from Baffin Island, what would he know about asphalt? All they have there is ice. Are they going to pour hot tar on ice?

“I told the guy, ‘I can do anything you want. I’ve worked hot tar, cold tar and cement.’ The guy said, ‘Fine, meet me here at eight tomorrow morning. I’ll drive you to the site.’ I said ‘Great, I’ll see you here tomorrow morning.’

“I even went to a construction site to steal a cooler, so I’d have water to drink throughout the day. This is it here, I’m sitting on it.

”This morning I was on the steps at eight, right where I was supposed to be. I waited two hours. The guy was a no-show. I heard that he picked up some other guys at the Mission. So, here I am, I gave up my morning… and now I don’t have a plan for the rest of the day.”

Shakes said, “Hey, do you want to know what I did today? This morning, after I got out of bed at the Shep, I had a shower and shampooed my hair.”

“What did you use on your hair, Shakes?” I asked.


Joy said, “A shower and using designer products on your hair. I bet that doesn’t happen very often. Shakes, some of us do that every morning.”

The Salvation Army Housing Outreach worker came by.

Joy asked her, “Has there been any word on my apartment?”

“I’m going to be checking on that this afternoon. I had to make sure all the paperwork was filled out and signed.

Joy said, “I don’t think I’ll get that place. Do you?”

“I don’t see why not,” said Janice.

“I got the feeling that the daughter didn’t like me.”

“I didn’t get that impression, but we should find out for sure this afternoon. I think the daughter was just being cautious. If we can’t get you in there under the Salvation Army, we can submit the application through the city. Don’t worry, you did fine.”

“I wish they would tear that wall down between the kitchen and the living room.”

“Yes, it does seem odd, but don’t start thinking about tearing walls down. We don’t want that.”

“Have you been able to make any headway with my identification. I really need my medical card to have this pain in my legs looked at.”

Janice said, “You had arranged that through The Womens’ Center, hadn’t you? Maybe we can put some pressure on them. Do you know who you were dealing with there?”

“It was a white chick with blue eyes.”

“Well, that covers about half the city. Do you know anything more about her?”

“I think she was married to a black guy, because her kids, in the photo on her desk, looked mulatto.”

“Anything else?”

“I think her last name was, something like, Havasaki.”

“Joy,” I said, “that sounds more like a drink order.”

“That’s all I know. She gave me a card, it may be in here somewhere. I know I have an appointment with her on the twenty-sixth, but I can’t remember if that’s August or September.

“Can I give you this card? I’ve been trying to contact the Elizabeth Fry Society for over a month. They’re either on lunch, or they don’t return my messages. It’s my probie who wants me to contact them. It’s about anger management, but I’m not angry. I get angry about having to see my probie every ten days. I get angry when people don’t phone me back, but I’m not angry about Jake. That’s all in the past.”

Loretta said, “Way to go girl. I’m glad to hear you say that, Joy.”

Joy asked, “How about the check for my street allowance. Do you know when and where I’ll be getting that?”

“I’m not sure what the date is for check disbursement. You guys would probably know better than I would. I’m pretty sure that we made application for your street allowance. I’ll have to check. That was somewhat dependent on whether or not you get this apartment. When it comes in, we’ll let you know. You can pick it up at our office.”

Andre said, “When I was at the office last, I’m pretty sure, I saw a sign that said that checks were going out on the twenty-seventhth.

“Do you know anything about how my place is coming along?”

Janice said, “You’re on the list.”

Andre said, “I was talking to Little Jake, here, he said there were some places vacant where he’s living now, in St. James Town.”

“You’d be content living there? The reason I ask that is, we took some people there the other day. They looked at it and said they weren’t interested. I told them, ‘We’ll cover the rent.’ It didn’t make any difference. You’ve seen the building? It wouldn’t bother you?”

“I’ll go anywhere, St. James Town is fine. It has to be better than living in a box behind a dumpster.”

Janice said, “Okay, we’ll see if we can set up an appointment.”

Shakes said, “Hey, does anybody know about my apartment?

“Hey, chesty, do you know about my apartment?”

Janice asked Mo, “Did he just call me chesty?”

Mo said, “Can you imagine what he’ll say when you take him to view an apartment. ‘I want a fuckin’ apartment, right now!’

“Shakes, this isn’t your worker. You’ll have to get in contact with the people you deal with.”

“Shakes,” said Janice, “Do you know the name of your worker?”

“No, she wrote it on a card, but I lost it.”

“I’ll try phoning a few people and try to get you sorted out.”

“Okay, thanks.”

After they left I asked Andre, “How was your weekend?”

“It was good, what I can remember of it.”

I said, “Maybe it’s better not to remember too much.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right there. I remember getting in a fight with Jake and Weasel, both at the same time. They were drunk and talking stupid, so I threw Jake down, then I threw Weasel down. Somewhere, in all that, I twisted my knee. I jumped down from that concrete wall, across the street, and I felt a sharp pain going through my knee. Maybe I broke it.”

“It’s time for me to go,” I said and shook hands all around. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”


Andre Shaved

18 September 2012

This morning, as I was crossing Parliament, I met Don.

“Good morning, Don.”

“Good morning, Dennis. I don’t know if Joy is down there or not.”

“No, I saw someone different there. I don’t know who it is.”

“Have a good day.”

“You too, Don.”

I was curious to know who was in Joy’s spot. It must be someone she knows, and who knows that she won’t be there — no one else would dare. As I approached, I recognized William standing, Andre squatting and Joy sitting cross legged on the sidewalk. A lady stopped and handed Joy a folded five dollar bill.

She said, “This is for yesterday — remember, I said I didn’t have anything with me, but would catch you tomorrow? Well, here I am.”

“I remember. Thank you so much.”

“Bless you,” I said.

Joy said to Andre, “This is kind of embarrassing, but yesterday that lady stopped by. She asked if I’d like a coffee and, maybe, a bagel with cream cheese. I said, ‘What I really need are tampons.’ She was kind enough to get me some.”

“That was nice,” replied Andre.

I asked Joy, “Have you heard anything more about your apartment?”

“Today is the day. They’ve sent the faxes. I find out at noon what the verdict is.”

“Congratulations!” I said.

“We’ll see.”

“Andre,” I said, “you shaved.”

“Yeah, it happens.”

“Have you heard any more about getting an apartment near Jake’s place?”

“No, but I’d sure like to. They have some nice units there.”

“Joy,” I asked, “will you be at the park at noon?”

“I’ll be there with bells on.”

“I’ll leave you then, so you can get some work done.”

“I’ll see you. Now, if I can just get rid of these bozos.”


Sun Car

19 September 2012

I wore my leather jacket this morning. I regretted not wearing a sweater underneath and a pair of gloves. Joy was huddled in a winter coat, wrapped in a blanket, wearing mitts.

“Hi Joy, how’s it going?”

“I’m freezing.”

“Any news about your apartment?”

“Janice left a phone message with Chester yesterday. The guy wasn’t able to bring the contract at noon, but said he’d be there later. So, everything’s still looking good. I’m supposed to meet with Janice at noon.

“Dennis, I just have to get out of that place.” She was near tears. “This morning I found six bedbugs in the bathroom. I saw one walking up Chester’s back towards his neck. I squished it. Now, he has the heebie jeebies about them. See the marks on my wrist. Someone told me that was a spider bite. They’re supposed to be eating the bedbugs, not me. They seem to have their wires crossed.

“The exterminator is coming today, but I said to Chester, ‘You could have had this problem cleared up weeks ago.’

“He finally put Anne’s clothes in a bag on the balcony. They’ll be infested with bed bugs by now. She’s probably the one who brought them in. When I moved in, there were no bugs, but Anne and Trudy had been staying at Nick’s and he has bedbugs.

“Can you watch my stuff for a while. I’m going to try to slip into the pizza place to use their washroom. I’m usually good for once a day, before they start giving me dirty looks.”

While Joy was away, Andre arrived. He said, “I had a bad start to my day. It was raining. I was panning at Shakes’ office when a patrol car pulled up. The cop said, ‘What are you doing, Andre?’ I said, ‘I’ll be honest, I’m just trying to get some money for food. I haven’t even been drinking.’ The cop said, ‘Would you do us a favor? Would you have a look at this building and tell us the number?’ He wrote me a ticket. He said, ‘Since you’ve been honest with us, and since we haven’t seen you panning here before, the ticket is just a warning. We know you guys don’t pay these tickets, and when they go to court they’re usually thrown out, but the law is changing. People with unpaid tickets are going to be doing jail time.’ ”

“That’s just great! I wouldn’t be panning if I had enough money to eat, let alone pay a ticket. If I had money I’d have a roof over my head. I went to the hut yesterday and Weasel told me that only he and Bear are allowed to stay there now; as if he has a lease on a space behind a dumpster”

I said to Joy, “I know you have to work, so I’ll leave you now and see you at noon. Bye.”

“See you at noon, Dennis,” said Andre and Joy.

On my way down Parliament Street I came across Bright Sky.

“Hi Dennis, did you hear Rick Mercer’s rant last night?”


“Have you got a minute to listen to it?”


“So Parliament is back and we learned this week that the cornerstone of Stephen Harper’s fall agenda will be yet another big budgetary omnibus bill. Well of course it will.

Prime ministers, they love an omnibus bill. Government tables a budget, they know every member of their party has to vote for the budget or they lose their jobs. And let’s face it – a lot of these characters don’t have that many options in this world. And seeing as they know that everyone is going to vote for it, instead of just putting budgetary things in the budget, you know – math, they fill it full of goodies no one’s even heard of before.

In the last budget, in the “jobs budget” there was a provision that allows the CIA and the FBI to come across the border and arrest Canadians on Canadian soil. And I know I sound like a conspiracy theorist with a tin foil hat just saying it out loud but it’s true. It happened and there was no debate. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Even some of Harper’s own MPs will admit privately that they had no idea what was in that last budget. Just that it was 400 pages. You know how you and I just click “accept” when entering into an iTunes contract? That’s how MPs vote on the budget. And now we find out we’re getting another omnibus bill. Aren’t we lucky? In North Korea they only get one every year.

And listen don’t take my word for it. One of the most elegant pleas ever made against omnibus bills was made not that long ago in the House of Commons by a handsome young man by the name of Stephen Harper. He said it, omnibus bills are anti-democratic, they’re a slap in the face to MPs and voters.

See, this fascinates me. Because it’s one thing if you don’t know any better, but he clearly does, he just doesn’t care. Who does that? I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes in that guy’s head for all the money in the world. Because he knows right from wrong here, he’s on record, but he has decided it’s okay to do wrong in order to advance the right. And democracy no longer enters into it.”

Bright Sky showed me a picture of a Sun Car, a solar powered car. “How would you like to have one of these parked in your garage?”

“It’s beautiful, Sky, how much does it cost?”

“As far as the cost is concerned, they will be less expensive, per capita, than the nine billion that the government is spending on sixty-five fighter planes, to bomb other countries and take more lives.

“A friend and I want to start production of these at the GM Auto Assembly Plant in Oshawa. Have you heard that they’re shutting that down? They’re also closing down plants in Windsor and Ottawa. The reason is higher gasoline prices. Unemployment will rise by thirty-seven hundred.

“Dennis, the cops stole all my gear. I just left my cart for a minute to get something to eat, when I got back it was gone. I’d just stocked up for winter. I talked to the cops, they said it wasn’t them. I don’t believe that. I’ve sent emails to the Mayor and the Councilman for my area. Could you help me to get my stuff back?”

“I don’t know what I can do, Sky. I’ll look into it and do whatever I can.”

“Thanks, Dennis, anything you could do, I’d really appreciate it.”

Noon at the park was alternately warm and cool; warm when the sun was shining, cool when clouds obscured the sun.

I asked Irene, “How do you like your new apartment?”

“It’s beautiful. It’s above a Vietnamese Restaurant on Queen. You should come over for supper. I made stew. Outcast was over last night.

“We’ve got a huge king size bed. I hardly even know that Shark is there.”

Shark said, “I know Irene’s there every time she punches me in the stomach.”

Shakes  was quiet. wearing a button on which was stamped ‘Stephen Harper Hates Me’, referring to our Prime Minister’s policies concerning the homeless. These buttons were made by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest union representing federal public servants. Employees who wore these buttons to work were asked to remove them. This was considered, by employees, as a violation of their freedom of expression.

I said to Shakes, “Where are you staying now?”

“I’m staying at the Shep. They won’t let me in at the Salvation Army. I still haven’t heard anything about them getting me an apartment.”

‘Outcast, said, “Are those the jeans you got from Zellers? I hear that you didn’t pay for them.”

“These are the jeans I got from Zellers. My worker gave me the money to pay for them. I had it with me, but there was nobody around, so I just walked out with them.”

Lucy came by in her electric wheelchair. She pulled out her change purse and gave everyone a one dollar coin. James, from the Native Canadian Center handed out energy bars. He advised everyone of locations where they were providing meals, socks and underwear. He also asked if he could take a group photo for publicity purposes. Everyone obliged. The Center is a non-profit organization providing services to Toronto’s Aboriginal Community.

Native Canadian Centre of Toronto is a membership-based, charitable organization located in the heart of downtown Toronto in a beautifully renovated heritage building.NCCT offers a wide range of programs and services based on Native cultural traditions and teachings. All are welcome.

Our Present

Over the years, the Native Canadian Centre has provided services of a social, recreational, cultural and spiritual nature. With more than 40,000 people of Native ancestry living and working in the Greater Toronto Area, the Centre continues to be as a focal point for programs and services. We share our facilities with many other non-profit and charitable organizations, and continue to act as a gathering place for other Native agencies.

Outcast said, “I’m mot exactly homeless, I have a roof over my head, but I’m just staying with a friend. She could kick me out any time. We’re just barely scraping by.”

James said, “That’s okay, we also provide services for those at risk of being homeless.”



20 September 2012

I didn’t learn my lesson yesterday. It was so cold this morning that my hands were balled in fists and, like a turtle, they were trying to pull them selves into my sleeves. I was eagerly anticipating Joy’s news of whether of not she was accepted for her own apartment. This is something I have wished for her since  December 2010 when I first met her. Now, it seems near to becoming a reality. The system may move slowly, but at least it moves.

When I arrived at the corner of Parliament and Queen I could see that Joy’s spot was empty. I was disappointed, since I won’t be seeing her at noon, due to a dental appointment. I saw Nick and Magdalene. I crossed Parliament and in front of the Coffee and Donut Shop I met Bearded Bruce.

“Good morning, lad.” he said, “How’ve you been?”

“Great, Bruce. You’re looking well. I haven’t seen you at the park lately.”

“I’m not like some of those people, who pan until they have enough for a bottle or two, then sit around for the rest of the day. Noon is my work time, the best time to pan. I like to make enough to carry me over the weekend, or for a rainy day. We have lots of rain this season; when there’s raining there’s no panning.

I said, “I was hoping to see Joy this morning. Yesterday, she was to find out if she was accepted for an apartment of her own. I don’t know if she ‘s absent because she was celebrating, or depressed because she didn’t get it.”

“I hope she gets it. She deserves a place of her own, where it’s quiet. She’s good people. I’ve known her a long time.”

I said, “I hear that Hippo is in hiding.”

“He should be, the lazy asshole.”

“I heard that you guys lost a lot of stuff. Shakes said that his new sleeping bag was taken. I also heard that there was a fire.”

“The fire was nothing. There was a lot of exaggeration.”

I said, “So, where are you staying now, Bruce?”

“Same place, in behind here.”

“Does Weasel let you stay there?”

“I let Weasel stay there. That’s been my place for the last year and a half.”

“Andre told me, that Weasel said, only he and Muff were allowed to stay there.”

“I know, I told him to say that.”

“It’s good seeing you, Bruce. You’re looking great. I won’t keep you from your work. Have a good day.

“Thanks! Bye, lad.”

My dental appointment didn’t take as long as expected, so I had a half hour to spend at the park. The first person I saw was Serge. I still can’t get used to seeing him clean shaven.

“Hi, Serge, I was surprised to see you yesterday, panning by the church.”

“I pan there a lot. Sometimes, I go down to Berkeley.”

“I guess it’s because I only go out at noon that I don’t see you. Take care, Serge. I’ll catch you later.”

“See you,”

At the park I met Joy.

“Hi, Joy, do you have any news about your apartment?”

“My worker called this morning. They’re still sorting out the details of the contract — who’s responsible if I cause damage, that sort of thing. It’s the daughter that wants all this contract bullshit.”

I said, “If they’re working on a contract, that has to be good news.”

“I guess so. I’m just tired of waiting. I asked my worker if I could get a sleeping bag, she said, ‘We’ll see what we can do,’ — you know, whatever.”

“So how long has it been since you’ve had a place of your own?”

“Frank and I lived above the Greasy Oven on Queen for five years; until he started beating me and the cops kept coming over. I had the place on Sackville, with Roy, for nearly a year; until he stopped paying the bills and the rent. This past year has been the worst. I’ve been all over the place.”

I said, “I’m sure it will all work out. By the way, I saw Bruce this morning. He wished you all the best with your apartment. He said you deserved a quiet place of your own.”

“That was nice of him.”

“I also watched the documentary, ‘Life on the Heater’. It was really well done.”

“Yeah, Goober and I missed out on that one. I think they filmed Jacques. I know he has a copy of the video. It was mostly about Rip and Faye.”

Steve said, “It was Faye that stabbed him, wasn’t it? No, It was Theresa — got him in his junk.”

Joy said, “Rip and Faye were both crazy. I think they’re both still alive. I haven’t seen them for a long time. Most of the others are dead. It was really wild to see Star as a puppy.”

Steve and I were comparing scars and broken knuckles. Steve said, I’ve got a lot of scars from Winnipeg. This one on my middle knuckle was where I caught a guy’s tooth. My hand got infected and swelled up like a grapefruit. He must’ve had rabies. I don’t know how many times I’ve broken this outside knuckle on my right hand. I had to learn to hit with my left hand.

“One time I was in a fight with this guy. I can’t remember his name. He tried to rape my street sister, and ripped her off for a hundred and fifty dollars to boot. I remember her name. I didn’t know it at the time but he was a dilaudid dealer. After I beat him, a big native and a black dude came looking for me. Luckily for me, I was sitting in a bar with about thirty bikers.

“I talked to these two guys. I said, ‘Hey, what would you do if somebody tried to rape and rob your sister?’ They understood that. They said, ‘We’ll let it slide, but don’t let it happen again.’

“A while later, my real sister got in a fight with this same guy. This lady is over six feet tall and knows how to fight. I guess the guy tried the same thing with her as he had with my street sister. She beat the shit out of him. The same two guys came after me. I said, ‘Hey, I didn’t have anything to do with it. I wasn’t even there.’ I told them that it was my sister who punched the guy out. They couldn’t say much about that.

“I remember when I was a kid in Mississauga. There were three of us. We called ourselves the “Three Musketeers.” If you saw two of us, you could be sure the third wasn’t far away — Dave, Dennis and myself. Dave’s been dead thirty-two years now. I still have his picture. If there was a fire at my place, I’d grab that picture and jump out the window. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost that. It’s irreplaceable. Dennis is around somewhere, but I’ve lost contact with his parents and I don’t know how to use a computer.”

I asked, “How did Dave die?”

“Dave was nineteen. He and his brother were joyriding in a stolen car. They crashed it. It was such a mess, they couldn’t tell who was driving — it was that bad.”

“Were you born in Mississauga?” I asked.

“Yeah, then I moved to Barrie. The cops were hassling me a lot, so I moved to Winnipeg. I was there for fifteen years. I have a son there. It’s hard to panhandle in Winnipeg.”

“I know,” I said, “it’s cold.”

“It’s cold and the Welfare system is really hard to deal with. Believe it or not, as bad as it is, it’s better in Ontario.”

Shakes said, “Joy, can I bum a cigarette?” She opened her white, plastic case, secured with a rubber band, and threw one to him and Curt.

“Miigwech,” said Shakes.

Mo said to me, “That means thank you in Ojibway.


Rain, Rain Go Away

21 September 2012

Rain started Thursday afternoon and is expected to continue through the weekend. I had my umbrella and leather jacket, so I decided to venture to the park. As I was crossing Queen, I met Chester coming the other way. We greeted each other and shook hands.

“Joy’s up there,” he said.

“Great, thanks Chester.”

Standing in a covered doorway, to the underground parking lot, were Jacques, Andre, Little Jake, Joy, Wolf and his dog Shaggy.

I shook hands with Jacques who seemed about to leave. He said to the group, “I’m supposed to meet Shark under the Don River Bridge.”

Joy said, “I just walked past the bridge. Magdalene and Alphonse are there, but nobody else.”

“I’m going there to wait for him, ” said Jacques.

I went to shake Wolf’s hand; he waved me away. “Fuck off, Dennis. I’ll say hello to you later. Right now I’ve got Jacques leaving. I didn’t even shake hands with him. Joy  just stepped on Shaggy, I’ve got to get her settled and out of the rain. I’ve got to find some way of keeping her dry on the way home, all I have is this small umbrella.”

“It’s okay, Wolf, I can see you’re busy.”

Joy said to Andre, “He’s got no right to talk to Dennis that way.”

Andre said, “Joy, just take it easy. Take a few deep breaths and count to ten.”

“Everything’s fine, Joy,” I said, “Don’t worry about me.”

I asked her, “Any news about your apartment?”

“My worker phoned Chester earlier. She said nothing is definite. It could be good news, it could be bad. I have Chester’s phone now. I tried to call them, but they must be at lunch. I’m just waiting for her call now.

“At two o’clock I’m going to meet a friend I haven’t seen for over twenty years.”

“Jake,” I asked, “how is your new apartment?”

“The apartment is great. I’ve got lots of space, now I need furniture. All I have is an air conditioner, still in its box. That’s what I use to sit on, sometimes to eat at. I just slide it around wherever I need it.”

“Andre,” I asked, “How is it going with your apartment application. Have you had any news?”

“I phoned my worker this morning. She wanted me to come in, but I said to her, ‘We’re talking now, just let me know what’s going on. There’s no point me coming in if there’s no need.’ The only really positive thing is that, on September twenty-seventh, I get to see a doctor. I’ll have a family doctor of my own. The one I had was from Cornwall, but he died.

“The doctor can verify that I need medical attention and that I need appointments at least six times a month. That way I qualify for a yearly bus pass. He can also sign the papers for O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program) and all the other stuff, so I’ll be able to get started on that. Right now, I got nothing.”

“Okay, Dennis,” said Wolf, “Now, I can say hello and shake hands with you. Shaggy is out of the rain and taken care of. This morning I got a new book and three new dvd’s. After I get home I have enough to keep myself entertained all weekend.”

“What book did you get, Wolf?”

“I can’t remember. It’s all wrapped in plastic in the bottom of Shaggy’s cart.

“What do you think of this weather? It’s really coming down now. This is the worst it’s been and it’s going to keep up like this for three days, so we better get used to it. I brought my umbrella, I’m wearing a raincoat, I’ve got proper shoes on, but I’m still soaked from the crotch down.

“Did they tell you that Bear bit me today? It’s not nearly as bad as the bites I’ve gotten from Shaggy, but it still hurts. I had a proper cover for Shaggy’s cart, but I lent it to Weasel for Bear — anything to get rid of him.”

Joy answered Chester’s phone. I couldn’t hear the conversation. I saw the tears running down her cheeks. She dabbed at them with paper towel from her pocket.

“Was it bad news, Joy?” I asked, redundantly.

“It’s a no go. Even with that fuckin’ twenty page contract, they’ve decided they don’t want to work with our program.”

“The father seemed in favor of it, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, it was just the daughter who didn’t want anything to do with us. I don’t know why my worker didn’t have anything else lined up, in case this fell through.”

“She’ll have other places to show you, won’t she?”

“Yeah, it’s no problem.”

“Everything will work out, Joy.”

“Yeah, I know.” She put on a brave face, but another hope was dashed. For now, it’s back to Chester’s place and bedbugs.

I’m presently reading , “The Art of Happiness at Work,” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler M.D. When asked about self-understanding he said:

“Humility is a good quality, but there can be too much humility. This kind of low self-esteem will have the negative effect of shutting out any possibility for self-improvement, almost by default, because the tendency of such a person would be to automatically react to the event with the thought, No, I cannot do this.

“In addition, I would also list an agitated state of mind as another obstacle for greater self-understanding. Since self-understanding demands a certain ability to focus on one’s own abilities and personal character, a constantly agitated mind simply will not have the space to enter into any serious self-reflection.

“…when you have low self-esteem, then you underestimate your actual qualities and abilities. You belittle yourself, you put yourself down. This leads to a complete loss of faith in yourself.”

In the same book, Dr. Cutler states, “Low self-esteem and underestimating of one’s abilities can be paralyzing, stifling personal initiative and inhibiting the individual from exploring new opportunities. Ultimately, it can obstruct the realization of one’s full potential, preventing the achievement of one’s goals.”

What I have observed, over the past two years is that what may seem no more than an inconvenience to myself, or other employed people — such as obtaining a birth certificate, a health card, applying for available government assistance programs — may be an insurmountable obstacle to those with mental conditions, alcoholism or other substance dependencies.



24 September 2012

From the corner of Queen and Parliament, I looked for Joy in her usual spot. I could see a folded blanket on the sidewalk, but no Joy. I waited to see if she had, perhaps, gone into the Greasy Oven, or the Library, to use their washroom. A large truck, stopped at the traffic lights, blocking my view. When it moved ahead I saw Joy. I walked over to her.

“Hi Joy, I was looking for you, but didn’t see you here.”

“Weasel and Bear passed by the corner, just before you got there. I didn’t want him to see me. I saw you at there, leaning against the post. I couldn’t figure that out.”

“Why didn’t you want to see Weasel?”

“Not just Weasel, any of the guys. They make more money than me, sometimes they’re out panning all day and evening. I’m only here for four hours. First thing in the morning, no matter how much they collected the day before, they come to me for a cigarette. Chester had a carton and supplied me all weekend, because I ran out, but that’s rare. Usually, he’ll come by in the morning, on a butt run and will bum off me.”

“How was your weekend?” I asked.

“Fine, quiet… I’ve got to get out of Chester’s place by Christmas.”

“Did the exterminator come to spray?”

“Yeah, he sprayed alright. We could smell that stuff for three days. It’s really powerful.”

“Are there any bedbugs now?”

“I only saw one in the bathroom. I watched it for a while. It didn’t move, so I threw it in the toilet.”

“Did you squish it and sniff it first?”

“I squished it, but I knew what it was. I didn’t need to sniff it. Jacques got me started sniffing bugs I’d squished. He still has bedbugs. I didn’t know it before then, but bedbugs have a rotten wood smell, that’s how dogs are able to sniff them out. I saw in on television. They had a beagle sniffing around a hotel room. He could direct the exterminator to the exact location of the bugs.”

“I’ve seen that too. Do other insects have a distinctive smell?”

“No, just bedbugs.The guy is supposed to come back in two weeks, to a month. I told Chester to make sure it’s two weeks. There’s a final spraying after that.

“Chester’s still putting his clothes back in his dresser drawers. I told him not too, but he wouldn’t listen to me. Last night he offered me a blanket that had been on his bed before they sprayed. I said to him, ‘Thanks, Bud, but no thanks.’ He said, ‘It’s cold, Joy, you should have more to keep you warm.’ I said to him, ‘I’d rather be cold than have to deal with those bugs again.”

“Has your worker contacted you about any available apartments?”

“Not yet, but she’s working on it. I have an appointment with her Wednesday morning. It has to do with the Elizabeth Fry Society and the anger management course I’m supposed to take. She’s going to escort me to every meeting, so I don’t get breached. My probation ends November second.

“Guys, like Andre, keep asking me if I want to share a place with them, if they get one before me. I told him, ‘For one thing, my name’s higher on the list than yours; I’ve been waiting longer than you have. For another, I just want to be by myself.’ ”


1000 Ways To Die

25 September 2012

I saw Joy briefly this morning. Already packed up, she asked me to watch her backpack, while she went into The Coffee and Donut Shop to use their washroom.

When she returned she said, “They were mopping the floor in there. They’ve got to change the brand of their cleaner. It smells like wet dog, even worse than Bear, it’s horrible. The stuff they use the first thing in the morning is even worse. I could never eat there with that odor in the air.

“Weasel was by earlier with Bear. Because of that dog, he collects more money than any of us. Now he has Little Jake caring for the dog while he goes off someplace. He’s always getting somebody to stay with Bear: Wolf, Andre, Hippo.  And he never pays them, not even a beer. There’s no way I’d look after that dog. For one thing, you never know when Weasel’s coming back, it could be days. Then you’re stuck with feeding Bear, cleaning up after him.’

I said, “I’m sorry I didn’t make it to the park yesterday. I had a dental appointment that took longer than I expected.”

“What did you have done?”

“I got a partial plate, to replace three missing molars.”

“I don’t have any back teeth. It makes chewing difficult. I have my boyfriends to thank for that.”

“Yesterday, everybody was asking, ‘Where’s Dennis?’ We thought that maybe you had been in an accident, or that something had happened to you. You’ve hardly ever missed being at the park at noon.”

I asked, “What did I miss?”

“Not much, the usual. Jacques was there, Chester, Shakes and Serge. Andre and Little Jake weren’t there, thank God. I guess Shakes and Andre were together on Sunday.  Shakes lost his backpack. He’s hoping that Emile has it. Shakes said to me, ‘Without my bag, where am I going to put my booze?’ I said, ‘Shove it up your sleeve, where you usually put it.’ ”

I said, “I’m heading off to work now. Will see you at the park later?”

“I’ll be there.”

This afternoon, as I was approaching the group, I saw Hippo, standing head and shoulders above everyone else. I gave him a wave and he waved back.

“Hi Hippo!” I said, “I haven’t seen you around much.”

“I haven’t been around. I fucked up again.”

“It’s good to see you.”

It’s good to see you, Dennis.”

I shook hands with Little Jake and Steve, sitting on one side of the sidewalk, then shook hands with Jacques, Andre, Joy and Chester on the other side. Joy and Andre were discussing the television program ‘1000 Ways To Die’ (now on YouTube) —  the ways that people have accidentally killed themselves — winners of the Darwin Award.

Joy said, “This one woman was masturbating with a carrot. It tore her vaginal wall, she developed an air embolism and died. The title of the video is ‘kill-do’, that’s hilarious. You’ll never see me masturbating with a carrot.”

Andre said, “I saw a television program about the stupid ways that some people have died. This one guy accidentally touched his crotch with a live cable from a battery. He liked the feeling, so he wrapped his penis in tinfoil and plugged it into a live socket in the house. He was electrocuted and died.”

Joy said to Jacques, “Have you got any wine ready to be turned?”

“I don’t have any wine. Oh, you mean at the house? Yes I have one batch ready to be transferred. I like to transfer a little at a time.”

Steve came over to Jacques and handed him a ticket, probably a liquor violation. “Another one for my wall?” asked Bert. “I must have over a hundred stapled to my wall now, and I have two stuffed envelopes to be put up. I want to take them to my new place. I hope I can get them all down.”

Andre said, “What you need is one of those special staple removers. You’re going to need to fill a lot of holes in your walls before you move out. You can fill the small holes with a bar of soap or a stick of deodorant. It can even be painted over. You’ve got to use the chalky stuff, not the gel.”

Joy said, “The last time I was over at Jacques’, I tried to find my name on that wall. I’m sure I must be there a couple of times.”

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

“Yeah, I’m trying to clean myself up a bit. Nothing too drastic. I want to set little goals for myself. If I meet one goal, I can set another. If I tried to do it all at once, I’d screw up, for sure.”

I asked, “Did Shakes find his backpack? Did you have it?”

“No, I was on the opposite side of town to where Shakes was. I noticed earlier in the day that he seemed to be having trouble carrying his bag. Me and some others offered to carry it for him, but he said, ‘I can carry my own damn bag!’ You know Shakes. When you sleep outside, people will just come by and help themselves to your stuff. I know, it’s happened to me.”

Andre asked Hippo, “Where are you staying now.”

“At a hostel on Church Street. I’m going for a butt run now, then I’m going back across the bridge.”

To Andre Joy said, “He said they were feeding him well over there, but he’s lost weight.”

Andre replied, “It’s probably all the walking he’s been doing. It’s a long way from that hostel to here.”

“Joy,” I asked, “Did you mention to me, this morning, that you don’t have any back teeth.”

“Yeah, that’s thanks to boyfriends. My teeth got punched out or broken. When I was in prison the broken, half teeth, got infected. It was considered an emergency, so I had them extracted right away.”

“How are the dentists in there?”

“Some are good, but you can get some real butchers. I love the drugs you get when they put you in the medical ward. I was high all weekend.”

Andre said, “I’ll be able to get all my teeth extracted. I’m just going to get them to put me out. They’re going to help me get some dentures, upper and lower. Most of mine have been knocked out in fights.”

Joy said, “Tomorrow, my worker, Angie, is going to be meeting me, to take me to Elizabeth Fry. She apologized that she couldn’t get the Salvation Army van. We’ll be taking the bus up to Parliament and Wellesley, then get another bus down Wellesley to Bleecker — somewhere around there. I think we take the number ninety-four. I prefer her to Janice — she seems afraid of me, she’s so uptight. It’s probably because I say it like it is. I don’t pussyfoot around. I’ll tell you what time it is.

“They’re going to be escorting me to every class, usually with the van, so I don’t get breached. That’s the only way I would go to that course. I shouldn’t even be required to take anger management.

“Andre, you and I are going to have to chip in and buy Dennis a new pair of shoes. He could give you the ones he’s wearing for panning shoes.”


This afternoon at the park, I sat with Andre, Shakes and Little Jake.

“Hi, Jake, how is everything at your new apartment.”

“Fine, but I still don’t have any furniture, just an air conditioner still in its box; that’s what I sit on.”

“When will they be getting you furniture?”

“Around the first of November, that’s what my worker said.”

“So, you’ll be without any furniture for over a month?”

“That’s the way the system works. Yesterday, my worker — you’ve met her before — took me to the doctor. I’ve been having raging migraines, ringing in my ear, pain in my sinuses and behind my eyes. When I try to roll a cigarette, I notice that the skin on my fingers is very dry. I think I’m a bit dehydrated. The doctor had me close my eyes, stand with my feet together, with my arms straight out at my sides. I nearly fell over. He’s going to send me for a CAT scan to see what’s going on in my head — I hope it’s not a tumor.”

“Did the doctor suggest to you that it might be a tumor?”

“No, he wants to see some pictures first, before he tells me what’s wrong. Yesterday morning I took a Seroquel. It was a drop. This guy said to me, I’m sorry, I don’t have any money, but here’s three Valium and two Seroquel. Joy and I shared the Valium, I took the second Seroquel before lying down for the night. That knocked me right out.”

“I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions about having a tumor. There may be a lot of reasons for balance problems. Perhaps, you have an ear infection. It may be something simple that can be treated with antibiotics.”

“Shakes,” I asked, “Did you find your bag?”


“What did you have in it?”

“My clothes, my bottle, my cigarettes, my weed, my house — everything.”

“How are you doing, Andre?”

“This is kind of an off day for me. I was drinking last night, then at three o’clock I was wide awake. I drank a couple more bottles and slept until five. I came down here and haven’t moved more than six feet since. See that sweater on the curb? That’s mine. It’s there in case anybody wants to sit down. That’s where I started this morning. I’ve been watching and thinking about people. I try to figure out where they’re coming from, what their motives are.

“Joy said to me yesterday, ‘if you point your finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at you. So, you shouldn’t point at people.’ By the way, do you know where Joy is today?”

“She had an appointment with her worker. They were going to take the bus to the Elizabeth Fry Society for Joy’s anger management course.”

A woman walked by. Emile said, “Hi darlin’, blue really works well on you, it brings out the color of your eyes.”

“Andre, ” I said, “her eyes were brown.”

“Doesn’t matter. This is what I do all day long. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

A soldier in uniform passed by. Andre said, “Thank you sir, for protecting our country.” The soldier waved.

To me Andre said, “I really mean that. I have a lot of respect for the military.”

Lucy passed in her motorized wheel chair and waved. We all waved. Andre said, “Hi, sister, take care.”

Shakes reached for Emile’s insulated travel mug. “No you don’t,” said Andre. He threw Shakes an unopened bottle of sherry. A few minutes later he asked, “Did you honor it, before you took a drink?” (Honoring means to fill the cap of the bottle with liquor and to throw it over one’s shoulder.)”

“Yes, I did”

“Good, ” said Andre. “I don’t know where I slept last night, but I have green stuff all over my pants. I’ve been picking it off all morning.”

I asked, “Did you sleep outside?”


Jake said, “I’m going home now.”

I asked, What are you going to do, Jake, watch your air conditioner?”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Andre said, “I’m just sort of floating right now. Everything is mellow. I don’t have a plan. I don’t know what I’m going to do for the rest of the day.

“Shakes, I’m going to take you someplace where we can get something to eat.”

“That sounds good.”

“Eating is good,” I said.

It was time for me to go back to work. I shook hands with Andre and Shakes.

“See you, brother,” they said. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you, brothers.”



27 September 2012

On the curb, near the park today were Shakes, Andre, Outcast, Jacques and Hippo.

Outcast said, “Dennis, before you sit down, here’s a copy of the Metro to keep your cheeks dry.”

“Thanks Outcast.”

“How’s everything going, Hippo?”

“Great, I get the keys to my new apartment tomorrow.”

“Where will it be?”

“Cabbagetown near Shuter. It’s really nice.”

Outcast asked, “That’s in one of those projects, isn’t it?”


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

“We all slept behind Starbucks, the old place.”

“Were Bruce and Weasel there?”

“Yeah, and Bear. I slept next to the dumpster, nearly underneath it. I was the wind break.”

Andre said, “You should have seen it, Dennis. Bear’s nose was about an inch from Hippo’s.”

To Hippo he said, “It’s a good thing you didn’t make any sudden movements in your sleep. You could have lost part of your face. I don’t know how you could have put up with Bear’s breath, or how he could have put up with yours.”

“Bear and I are good,” said Hippo.

“Don’t get too friendly,” laughed Andre.

A female police officer, followed by a male, rode up the sidewalk.”

“Hello gentlemen, does anyone have any open liquor.” Outcast had kicked his can over the railing. She noticed an open can of beer between Hippo and Andre. “Who does that belong to? Is that yours Hippo?”

“Yes ma’am.” He held up the can.

“If I dump it, do I still get a ticket?”

“If I don’t see anything, you don’t get a ticket” Andre put his cap in front of the can and took a swig.

Hippo said, “This is my last beer. I’ll take the ticket.”

The ticket was written and handed to Hippo. He took it, folded it and handed it to Jacques. “Another one for your wall, Jacques.”

Andre said to the police office, “You guys know that we don’t pay these things. Does that bother you at all?”

The officer said, “We do our job, the courts do their job. We’ll be back in fifteen.”

After she left Andre said, “She’s my cousin.”

Outcast said, “That’s the second beer I’ve kicked over the rail today.”

Andre said, “I’m just glad they haven’t changed the law, so we’d have to do jail time for unpaid tickets. I know I’m over eight thousand bucks.”

Shakes said, “I’m over ten thousand.”

Outcast said, “It would be ridiculous to have us do jail time. It costs over seventy thousand a year to keep a man in jail. We’ve got no assets, no houses, no cars, no jobs. There’s nothing they can take from us.”



28 September 2012

Heading to the park I met Serge and William. They were going for lunch. When I arrived at the park I noticed that there were a bunch of separate groups. Danny and Shakes were sitting together, Joy and Chester were together. Andre, Rodent, and Bear were together. In the back was Shark, Outcast, Anne, Wolf and Shaggy. If Bearded Bruce had been there he would have said, Everyone must have got up this morning with a gut full of grumpy juice.

I could see that Joy was upset, “I’m so pissed off. I’m drunk too. My check hasn’t arrived yet. I phoned, Janice, my worker, she said that because information arrived after September 16, some checks would be delayed until Monday.’ I said to her, ‘Look, I owe one guy two hundred. I owe another guy two, fifty. What am I supposed to do?’ She asked, ‘How did you get so far in debt?’ I said ‘I’m an alcoholic and a pothead. What do you expect?’ Right now I’m kind of in hiding. I guess I will be all weekend.

“Chester is supposed to buy groceries, but I know that isn’t going to happen. He ate this morning, so I won’t be eating. He was drunk for two days. He is sober today and drank about a dozen cups of coffee. He’ll probably be awake all night.

“Outcast is picking on me because I had some of the guys over.”

“He picks on a lot of people,” I said.

“He thinks that he’s so superior. I’d like to walk over there and punch that smug grin right off his face. Of course, then he would go over the railing backwards. He’d probably break his neck, or his back, and die; or he’d be severely fucked up. He had the nerve to ask me, ‘I suppose that means you’re not coming over to my {Debbie’s) place?’ I’m never having anything to do with him again.

”I think, right now, I’d just like to be alone for a while.”

I walked across the sidewalk and sat beside Andre, Jake and Rodent. “How did you sleep last night, Andre?”

“I was cold. I passed out across the street for a while, then I went downtown. Some guy was mouthing off to me so we got into it. He kept poking me in the mouth. When I didn’t get up, he went away. After that I went back to the hut. These other guys have been at it since this morning. I just woke up.”

I noticed that he was drinking a Smirnoff vodka cooler. “You’ve changed brands, haven’t you, Andre?”

“These were given to me.”

He rolled one across the sidewalk to Hippo, who said, “Thanks, man.”

Jake said, “I think that I lost the master-key to my apartment. I don’t know how that happened. Sometimes I black out. I guess I’ll have to have the super buzz me in.”

Andre said, “They’re probably going to charge you for a lost key, especially one of those electronic ones.”

Danny said, “Joy just gave me the finger. She shouldn’t treat us like that. We’re family. You don’t give the finger to family. I haven’t done anything to her.”

Shakes said, “Just leave it, man.”

Joy asked, “Has anybody gone for a run yet?

Andre said, “As soon as I finish this, I’ll go. It seems odd, me being the soberest one here.”

I asked Hippo, “How is it going with your place?”

“I’m all moved in.”

“Do you have a bachelor apartment?”

“No, I’ve got a one bedroom, with kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. It has hardwood floors.”

“Do you have any furniture?”

“I got a few bits of stuff, the rest I’ll have to wait for.”

Rodent went back to talk to the other group. As he was coming back he said, “Wolf, if you ever talk to me like that again, I’m going to punch your face in.”

Joy said, “Rodent, I’d really like to see that. I’ve never seen you go against anybody in my life.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, Rodent, that’s so. Go ahead, prove me wrong!”