2013 – November

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4 November 2013

Goldie

Chuck Senior, with his dog Goldie, were at their usual corner.

“How was your weekend, Chuck?

“It was good and it was terrible. I was lucky enough to go to two Leafs’ games, but we lost them both. It was pure incompetence, plain and simple. They wouldn’t shoot the puck. That Phaneuf shouldn’t be Captain, he doesn’t have the balls for it. He scored one goal, from two feet away, into an open net. If he’d missed that one they would have thrown him off the team. The fans would probably have run him out of town.”

“How has Goldie been doing?” I bent down to where she was wrapped in her blanket. She licked my nose.

“She’s doing alright, still recovering from her last operation. She can run, but usually she just lifts her rear leg and gets around on her other three.”

“What kind of operation did she have?”

“It was a genetic thing. Her patella was displaced. It’s sometimes called a ‘trick knee’ or patellar luxation. Pomeranians, dachshunds and other miniature breeds get this a lot . I’ve spent over two thousand dollars on her this year. That’s why I’m out here. That and to pay my heat and hydro. She’s all I got. I don’t smoke, drink, take drugs. It’s just me and her. I’d be awfully lonely without her.

“She also had problems with her teeth.  That’s genetic too. The anaesthetic cost a hundred dollars and that was administered by an assistant. That’s robbery if you ask me. The first time they took out four and cleaned the rest.  The next time they took out thirteen.”

I asked, “Have you thought about health insurance for her?”

“I’ve thought about it. The way insurance companies make money is if you never make a claim. For something genetic like this they wouldn’t cover her.”

“How old is she?”

“Seven. If I’m lucky I’ll have her for another seven to nine years. I don’t expect to be around much longer than that.”

A police van stopped at the corner.

“He’s probably going to ask me to move along.”

An officer got out of the van and walked down the street. He didn’t look at Chuck.

I asked, “Do they usually give you a hard time?”

“There are good ones and bad ones. I never cause any trouble. I don’t ask for money. Usually, they leave me alone.

“There’s this one cop, Rogan, he’s a bad one.  A friend of mine, Henri, used to pan in the next block. He’s dead now. Rogan  came up  and clubbed him. No warning, no nothing;  just clubbed him as he sat on the sidewalk.

“There was another panhandler, who’d made a bit of money, walked into a restaurant and ordered a meal. Rogan came in, dumped his meal into the trash and said, ‘You don’t belong here. Go down to the Mission and eat with the rest of the scum.’

“There were two other guys, he saw in a bar, having a couple of beers. He dumped their drinks, hauled them outside and beat the shit out of them.”

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5 November 2013

D4 

“Good morning, Chuck. Hi, Sandy. How are you feeling today?”

“Well, I haven’t had any heart attacks, so that’s a good thing.”

“I guess every morning you wake up is a good day, right?”

“Yeah, I was just thinking, August, twenty-four was five years since I got out of hospital from my last heart attack. My first happened the month earlier, on July, four. I remember, my friend Dave was going to pick me up for a routine doctors appointment. I  lived on Church then. I waited for him at the curb and that’s the last thing I remember. No sun, moon, stars, nothing until August, twenty-four. Dave said when he arrived they were taking me away in an ambulance. I don’t know how many heart attacks I had in the hospital. They told me I died nine times. It was the smoking that did it. I was going through three packs a day, and I was a big drinker. I still have dreams about smoking and I’m disappointed when I wake up to find that I can’t have one. The drinking was no problem. I just quit.

“Thinking back to that place I lived. It was the Cadillac of apartments, so that’s where all my friends liked to hang out. There was  a table up against the window. I had a cushion there for my dog. She was a Schnauser Terrier mix, mostly dark-hired with silver tips.  I called her D4, D for dog. Anyway, she liked to sit in the window, usually facing us to keep an eye on what was going on. Dave turned the other way for a second, then he bent down to kiss D4, only she had turned around to look out the window. He kissed her square on the ass. We still tease him about that, ‘Hey Dave, want another kiss from D4?’

“She was a great dog. I built a set of stairs for her so she could climb up on my bed. She usually slept, curled up with me. One night she woke up, ran down the stairs and hid under the bed. I reached under the bed for her, she was shivering. I turned on the light and noticed that she had peed on the bed. I knew that was the end. The next day I took her to the vet and he put her down. I guess I could have kept her for a while longer, a few weeks, maybe a month,  but once they’ve lost control of their bowels, it’s a sign that they’ve got more problems. I didn’t want her to suffer.

“Andre was a good friend of mine, he used to pan where Silver was. He had a dog…”

“That was the dog that Weasel got, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Then after Weasel died, Bearded Bruce had her for a while. Shortly after that, they put her down. She should have been put down a long time before that. She was suffering from cancer, had a big lump on her side, must have been in a lot of pain. That’s irresponsible. There’s a woman who wants Goldie after I die, but I’m not going to let her. She had a dog, a lab it was. It could hardly walk, couldn’t climb stairs. That’s no way for a dog to live.  I told her, ‘For the dog’s sake, you should have her put down, she’s in pain.’ No,’ she said, ‘I couldn’t bear to be with out her. I’m going to keep her as long as I can.’ That’s just plain selfish.

“My son had a dog ever since he was twelve. Of course, it was his dog, but I took care of it.”

“Your son, Chuck Junior, had a dog a short while ago.  V he called her.”

“Yeah, he only had her a short while. He said he let one of his friends take her for a walk and she ran away. I don’t believe that.

“I’m going to phone Joy today. Do you know if she has a phone now?”

“Last I heard she had a phone, had her service hooked up, along with internet that Big Jake saddled her with. He’s getting out in three weeks.”

“Is she going to take him back, after what he did to her?”

“She mentioned taking care of him while he has his hip replacement, but I can’t see that working. There’s still a restraining order preventing him from being anywhere near her. I think that was part of the reason he went back to prison.

“If Joy doesn’t have a phone, you can always call Mariah upstairs.”

“I’ll try to call. She’s a good girl. I like her.”

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6 November 2013

Before I Die

“Good morning Chuck, Goldie. Were you able to phone Joy yesterday?”

“No, I didn’t speak to her by phone, but I talked to some of her friends. She’s okay. They said something about her having to help somebody. I didn’t get all the details. She Should be down here, though. Remember that day when it was minus eight. I didn’t want to come down, but people expect me. If I don’t show up they think that I don’t need the money, so next time they’ll just pass me by.”

“What did you do when you were younger, Chuck, before you were in a wheel chair?”

“The ordinary things. I was married, raised a couple of kids. Worked at a bunch of different jobs, got in a car accident, then another accident.

“I didn’t have much education, but it didn’t matter in those days. Jobs were a dime a dozen. I did have enough education to get a job with National Defense. I was clerking then, made my way up to Clerk Two. I’d been there about two and a half years, when the government started its cut backs. I didn’t get a raise or a promotion or anything, but they gave me the checks to deliver to the top brass. They got bonuses, raises, promotions. I got so mad I quit right on the spot. Looking back, I should have held onto that job.

“See down the street there. That brick building, it used to be a bowling alley. I can’t remember the name. I hate when that happens… The Maple Leaf Lanes, that’s what it was called. I used to bowl there. A job came up for a Pinner, I applied for it and I got it. So, for a while, that’s what I did — pinning.”

I asked, “What do you mean, pinning?”

“People never understand. Before there were automatic pinsetters. The pins had to be set by hand. That was my job as a Pinner.”

“A pinsetter,” I said, “I understand now. I had that job when I was young. I used to set for five pins and ten pins — a penny a pin.”

“I just set five pins. There was this guy that came in, Goldman, you’ll see his name on a lot of these buildings. He was changing offices and asked me and about six of my friends if we’d help him move. He said he’d pay us six dollars a day, for the whole week. That sounded pretty good, so we moved him. At the end of the week he gave us each two bucks. He said, ‘Get lost, that’s all you’re getting!’ Were we mad! There wasn’t much we could do, but when we got downstairs we saw his shiny, new Cadillac parked beside the building.  What we did to that car — there wasn’t much left of it by the time we finished. It didn’t get us our money, but we sure felt good.

“I’ve had other jobs. I worked at a printing plant where they made the plastic covers for telephone books. You know the ones, with all the advertising on them. We did them for Mississauga, Brampton, Pickering; all the surrounding cities. My job was to pick up the covers after they’d come through the printer. I’d hang them on a rack to dry. That’s all I did, all day long. Not very challenging, but wasn’t a bad job.

“Then I was in a car accident. I applied for disability, because I couldn’t work, being stuck in a wheel chair like this. I was assigned a worker, we did all the paper work. My friends were getting disability checks, but I wasn’t getting one. This dragged on for over two years. I stormed into my worker’s office, pounded my fist on the desk, swore at her and demanded my money.  Well sir, she had a fit — tearing her hair out, went right nuts. She shouldn’t have been in that job. Turned out my claim hadn’t even been filed. She was just sitting there waiting for retirement.

“I was assigned a new worker. He looked at my papers, arranged an appointment with a psychiatrist — that was regulation —  and said everything would be good to go. He couldn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t get my check.

“I went to the psychiatrist’s office. He must have been one of those hundred-dollar an hour guys. He was in the Meridian Building, top floor, penthouse. I can’t imagine what kind of rent he’d have to pay for a place like that. Anyway, I was early for my appointment. I could see him through the glass. He could see me. I waited, finally he came out, said his receptionist was late, but I could start by filling out some papers. They needed my Social Insurance Number, my Ontario Health card number, stuff like that.  I wasn’t told anything in advance, so I said to him, ‘I don’t have my cards with me, but I’ll do the best I can.’ I completed the forms and gave them to him. He asked, “Did you remember all these numbers, are you sure they’re right.’ I said, ‘They’re right. Check them if you want to .’ He was on the phone for a few minutes. When he came back he  said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. Why are you coming to see a psychiatrist?’ I told him about the disability claim. He said, ‘Sure, I’ll sign your forms for that.’ Within two weeks, I had my first check. Damned government, two and a half years I waited. There was no back pay.

“Now, I try to save a bit of money so I can have a pizza every once in a while. I like to go to movies. I’m going to see Ironman when it comes out. I go  to a few hockey games.  I’m really a fanatic about hockey. It cost me a job one time. I was working in a warehouse.  The Canada Russia hockey Series was on then. They asked us to stay late, that would have meant I’d miss the final game. I said to my boss, ‘To hell with that. I’m going home to watch hockey.’ I have all those old games recorded on tape. I watch them every so often.

“There was a charity auction one time arranged by City TV,  and some of the other stations. I’d heard from a friend that there was going to be an autographed, Larry Robinson, hockey jersey up for auction. That was when he played for the Canadiens. The starting bid was two hundred dollars. I bid two ten. Nobody else bid, so I got it. I was talking to his family later they said they had hoped that the jersey would’ve fetched over a thousand, but I’d won it honestly.

“At another auction I got an autographed Vladivslav Tretiak  jersey. You remember him? Played for the Russian National Team. He was considered the best goalie who ever lived. I’d like to sell those jerseys if I could, but I’m no good at internet stuff.  If I could sell them, I’d be set. You can be sure I wouldn’t be out here. I’d have the money for the operations that Goldie needs. Before I die, I’d arrange for a good home for her.”

I asked, “Don’t you have some friends who could arrange that for you?”

“I’ve got  friends and family who have offered, but I don’t trust them.”

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7 November 2013

Fire

“Good morning Chuck, Goldie” I said.

“No sign of Joy today, but I’ve heard that she’s alright. She’s looking after somebody.”

“You don’t know who, do you?” I asked. “I wonder if Mariah is having problems with her back again?”

“I know these people to see them, but I don’t know their names.”

I asked, “Do you remember Antonio, who used to stand across the street, in front of the library? A small man, wore sun glasses all the time, very quiet, had his teeth kicked out while sleeping on a bench in the park.”

“Yeah, I remember him. When he’d come by he’d never say anything. When I passed him I’d give him a couple of cigarettes, say ‘Good morning’. He’d nod. That was terrible what they did to him, all because he was sleeping on a bench in the park. I hear he’s living in the west end now. He has his disability pension sorted out. I hear he’s doing okay.

“I can’t understand why they would do something like that to a defenseless man, even kicked him while he was asleep. What kind of coward does that?”

“Yeah, and they set fire to Shakes.”

“I know  Shakes. I never heard that he’d been set on fire. When did that happen?”

“It was at least three years ago, that’s how long I’ve known him. He has black scars on both shins. Infection and gangrene set in after the burn.”

“I’ve heard some stories about Shakes. He and Eddie and two other guys were drinking behind the old Rainbow Cinema. One of the guys was bragging about having raped a little girl and her mother. The other guys didn’t take kindly to that. He made another mistake, broke a cardinal rule of people on the streets. These guys had shared their bottle with him all evening. Then he got up to leave, pulled out his own bottle and refused to share with them. You can imagine how upset they were. They were drunk and high. They probably didn’t know what they were doing They beat him up, then set him on fire. Eddie was charged with it.  He decided to take the rap for all of them.  Shakes was in the clear, but he felt guilty. He confessed, to a chaplain at the Mission,  like you would to a priest in the confessional. He wasn’t even sure he’d done anything, but he thought that he might have.  A priest is bound by his order to keep secret anything that is said during confession. It’s not the same with a chaplain. He reported it to the police and Shakes served about fifteen years as an accomplice to murder. He would have been free and clear. He ratted himself out.

“They didn’t have enough evidence on the third guy. He had some blood on his pants. One of the guys carried a stick, with a nail in it, and hit him in the leg.”

I said, “There’s another person I wanted to ask you about,  an artist, sells her drawings on Yonge Street.  She was featured in the Star a while back.”

“That doesn’t ring any bells. It reminds me of a time I had gone to the beer store, bought a case and was looking for a place to drink it. I headed down this trail towards the river I saw  three natives, a guy and two women. I guess they had the same idea that I did. Anyway I sat there, drinking my beer,  it started raining. I heard them say, ‘Where can we go now that it’s raining?’ I said, ‘If you want you can come over to my place.’ The guy asked, ‘Do you trust us?’ I said, ‘Sure, underneath, we’re all the same color.’ So they came to my place, we partied, had a good time,  they ended up staying about three months. One of the women, Jenna, became my girlfriend. We were in front of the Eaton Center. She was at the front of the crowd waiting for the bus. I don’t know what happened, if she stepped out, or lost her balance. A bus came a long and hit her, killed her instantly.” Tears filled his eyes.

“That’s heartbreaking, Chuck.”

“Yeah, it happened a long time back. I try not to think about it.”

“I’ve met your son, Chuck Junior, do you have any other family in town?”

“Yeah, we had four kids. If you’d been in front of Tim Horton’s yesterday at noon you would have seen my two daughters, my granddaughter and grandson. We don’t get together often enough.”

“Well,” I said, “It’s nearly time for me to go to work, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You’ll see me tomorrow, but I don’t know about next week. I hear it’s going to be snowing on Saturday, after that it’s getting really cold. If it’s too cold I don’t come down. I’ve saved my money. There are a few treats that I like. I like to have pizza once a week, a sub once a week, and a small dessert every day. I like chocolate brownies, and some kind of cheese cake, I can’t remember what they call it. I get them at the Metro. I also like to go to the food court at the Eaton Center and get one of their fruit salads. I’m not supposed to have them, because of the sugar, but I don’t tell my doctor.

“I make about twelve dollars a day, down here. It covers my treats and Goldie’s care. I go to the odd movie and hockey game; otherwise I have a television set with a forty-four inch screen to watch sports.”

“See you tomorrow, Chuck.”

Court

I wasn’t expecting anybody to be at the park at noon. It was cold and windy, but I went for a walk anyway. I met Little Jake.

“Jake, I haven’t seen you for a long time. Are you heading to your spot?”

“Yeah, that’s where I’m going.”

“Do you mind if I join you?”

“No, come right ahead. Pull up a curb and have a seat.”

“Have many people been coming by here lately?”

“You just missed Jacques. Wolf and Shaggy have been here every day this week.  I haven’t seen Joy for a couple of weeks. Hippo was here yesterday. He got back pay for his O.D.S.P (Ontario Disability Support Program). They gave him a check for seventeen hundred bucks. He was handing out money to everyone. He’s probably at Joy’s place today. You won’t see Shakes today. He owes me money.”

“How have you been feeling lately?”

“Not so good. My eyes are still watering, my throat is still swollen.  At least there is one good thing —  my doctor gave me a new prescription.  Now, I only have to take two pills a day, a big one and a small one. He said it would take about a week to take effect.

“What really pisses me off is the bed bugs. They kept me awake;  all night I was scratching. The first thing this morning I ran a hot bath, scalding hot. I jumped in and right away it felt better. When I drained the tub I was surprised at how much hair was in the drain.”

“Do you have them in your hair, as well?”

“Yeah, I’d  been scratching my head. They’re everywhere. Anywhere I have exposed skin they bite. Look at my arms.  It’s funny, I was over at Shakes’ place when his workers arrived. They asked me, ‘Have you gotten rid of your bed bugs, yet?’ I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘ We’re not going to have this place sprayed until your place is clean.’

“So, I have to put everything in plastic bags, duct tape them.  I’ll have to throw out most of my furniture. All I have is a bed and things I picked up in the trash. It’s been thirteen months, I still haven’t got furniture through my worker.

“I’m going to have to go through all my clothes. Most of them I’ll throw out. The others I’ll have cleaned. Hopefully that will kill any bugs.”

I asked, “Do you have any plans to visit your family in Deep River?”

“No, They’re more afraid of bed bugs than anybody. Last time I was up there my brother had me strip in the middle of the highway. He brought a change of clothes for me. He washed everything. When I was ready to leave I asked, ‘Where is my bag?’ My brother said, ‘Oh, it must  still be in the dryer.’ Can you imagine that, he even washed my bag. I don’t have it now. I lost it last night sometime.”

“Where were you?”

“I don’t know. Around midnight, I was  in back of the Royal York, huddled in a corner. The manager woke me up. I don’t know if I left my bag somewhere else, or if someone took it while I was asleep. Anyway, it was gone then.  I can’t even remember if I was with anyone.”

Randy and Loretta came up the sidewalk. I asked, “How are you Loretta?”

“Not so good. I’ve spent the last three days in court.”

“Does that have to do with your rape case?”

“Yeah, yesterday I spent with the Crown. Today I was with his defense lawyer. It seemed I was never in the right place. I was either outside puking or in the bathroom.  I had a lot of time just waiting around. I wanted to have a drink,  just to numb my feelings, but I didn’t.”

“How long has it been now?”

“Eleven months.”

“That’s really a great achievement.”

“Yeah, I’m proud of myself.”

I asked, “How have you been, Randy?”

“Great, I’ve been working up north, in the woods. I love it up there.  We’re clear cutting with chain saws.  My whole family is up there. We hunt for a while, cut for a while.  I go back tomorrow. I’m getting paid five hundred dollars a day. I’m saving my money for an engagement ring for my girlfriend. I’ve already put down seventeen hundred bucks.”

“How much does the ring cost in total?”

“Five grand. It’s nearly two carats.”

“Congratulations, when do you think you’ll propose?”

“Maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll be going down on one knee. I’m heading off now.” Loretta and Randy waved as they left.

I said to Jake, “He’s earning a lot of money.”

“Don’t believe what you hear, only what you see.

“Hey, here comes Andre on his bicycle. What have you been up to!

“Running around everywhere. I have an appointment with my doctor. I’m going to have  my teeth removed, the few that are left. He told me he can do the surgery in about three weeks. Then it’ll take three months to heal, then they fit me for dentures. I’ll be able to eat corn on the cob again.

“Every time I go home, my  mother serves corn on the cob, just to piss me off.  She has new dentures. I have to try to gnaw it from the end of the cob. I get corn all over my face. She thinks it’s funny. I said to her, ‘At least I wont be without dentures for as long as you were.’ She went years with no teeth.

“I’d better get going or I’ll be late for my appointment.  I’d be lost without this bike.”

“Do you have a lock for it?”

“No, I bring it in everywhere.”

I said, “It’s time for me to go too. I’ll see you Andre, Jake.”

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8 November 2013

Haircut

I had to wait in line to speak with Chuck. He was deep in conversation With a woman who seemed to know him well. I heard her say, “Good bye, Chuck, it was nice seeing you again. I’ll say hello to Debbie for you. Take care.”

“Good morning,  Chuck, any plans for the weekend?

“No, not really. Well, tomorrow I go to Scarborough for a haircut.”

“That’s a long way to go.”

“I used to live in Scarborough. I have a friend who has a barber shop. He has seven chairs and on Saturday he rents the chairs to hairdressing students. For nine dollars I  get a shampoo,  scalp massage and haircut, perhaps,  from a beautiful young woman. I can always hope. There’s also a restaurant on Kingston Road, owned by a friend or mine. I go there when I know it wont be busy. I pour my own coffee;  go in the back and all the waitresses fuss over me.

“Something sad happened this morning. There’s a woman I see regularly. She always stops to chat. I told her this would be my last day for a while, because of the cold and the snow. It’s really difficult maneuvering this wheelchair when there are ruts of ice and drifts of snow. She touched my arm and said, ‘Chuck, you know I love you and I’ll miss you.’ I sort of knew that she had feelings for me. She’d always stand close and touch me.  I said, ‘I love you too,’ because I do. There’s nothing much I can do about it. She’s married. It’s nice though, that she said that.

“There was another woman who loved me. People thought that I took advantage of her.  One time she was getting all flustered with the bank machine and asked me to help, which I did, but I never took as much as a penny from her. It made me mad to think that people thought I would take advantage of someone.

“A woman was here this morning. I recognized her face, but I couldn’t place her. She kept mentioning someone named Debbie, as if I should know her. I don’t know any Debbie… Oh, wait, there was this woman who worked at the library on Gerrard. We used to see each other, but nobody else knew about it.  We saw each other for about three years. There was a woman in Debbie’s office, who she didn’t like. This woman would slip me five bucks every so often. She never said anything, but I think it was so I could take Debbie out for pizza, or something nice.

“See that woman across the street with the long legs and tight pants. This is a time when I wish I was forty years younger. I may be stuck in a wheel chair, but my important parts still work. Sometimes, I wish I was sixteen, knowing what I know now. I’d never take that first cigarette, or that first drink. My life would be a lot different now. Everybody has regrets. If they say they don’t, they’re a damned liar.”

“I’d better go to work now, Chuck. Perhaps I’ll see you around. Take care.”

“You too. I’ll be downtown for a pizza, now and then. I’ll be stopping by to talk to Joy. Maybe I’ll see you there.”

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9 November 2013

Pumas

When I walked past the park today a police car had pulled up. Two officers were talking to the guys sitting on the curb. Jacques waved at me. I waved back. Andre said to me, “I told them I’m just waiting for my worker. This is where she told me to wait for her.

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

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

“I don’t have any money.”

“I don’t carry any cash, but I’ll see what I can do.” I stopped in at the Transit Office to pick up my bus pass, then went looking for a liquor store. There was a Vintages wine store in the Eaton Center, but they didn’t sell Canadian Sherry. I walked a few blocks down Yonge Street to another liquor store and was able to find a bottle of Imperial Sherry. I brought it back, but Emile had already left with his worker.

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

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

 

10 October 2012

This morning was even colder than yesterday. I gave a picture of Silver, from the funeral home, to Metro. He would have seen him every morning for nearly eleven years. Joy was wrapped in her blanket, rubbing her legs.

She said, “I wore the wrong shoes today. These Pumas, given to me by Wolf, are worth about a hundred and fifty bucks. People look at me and they figure, Why are you panhandling if you can afford shoes like that? I try to hide them, but I have to straighten my legs out to rub them every once in a while. They’re really bad today.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy said, “Jenna, my worker, is meeting me here to take me to my Elizabeth Fry appointment.” She poured some wine in her water bottle, added water and placed it in her bag.

“Jake,” she said, “can you roll me a joint?”

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

“That’s right Andre.”

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

“We can just walk down to Parliament and take an sixty-five. That’ll take us right there.”

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

“Sure, we have time.”

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

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

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

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

“The best place is the Friendship Center, at 219 Front Street. Every Wednesday the native women host a meal, storytelling, chanting and drumming. You’ll get to see Shakes dance, sing and play guitar.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All this land we’re on used to be owned by the Mississauga. in 1787 the British bought two hundred and fifty thousand acres for some cash, two thousand gun flints, twenty-four brass kettles, a hundred and twenty mirrors, twenty-four laced hats, a bale of flannel and ninety-six gallons of rum. The Mississauga believed that the agreement  was not a purchase extinguishing their rights to the land, but a rental of the lands for British use in exchange for gifts and presents in perpetuity. I just read that this morning.

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

 .

19 November 2013

Good For Business

The temperature was hovering around the freezing point.  I wasn’t expecting to see Chuck Senior, but there he was in his electric wheelchair, a red blanket over his knees and wrapped around Goldie. I gave Goldie a few pats on the head. She licked my hand.

“How’ve you been Chuck?”

“Oh, I’ve been okay. I’m here today but I won’t be tomorrow. It’s going down to  minus eight (seventeen degrees Fahrenheit).  I went home early  yesterday because of the hail. I’ll be out on Thursday, but I don’t know how many more days I’ll get this year.”

Goldie started barking. “Why is she barking, Chuck?”

Chuck bent down and rubbed noses with Goldie. “It’s okay little girl.”

To me he said, “Don’t you know dog language?  She wants to be petted. You started, but didn’t finish the job.”

“I’m sorry, Goldie.” I rubbed her head and ears some more. Her eyes closed. She seemed to be falling asleep.

A grey-haired woman stopped, petted Goldie and handed Chuck a twenty.”

“Bless you, ma’am.”

When she left he said, “Did you see that? I’m happy now. I’m going to buy a roast of beef, some chicken breasts, the good ones,  they have them on special at Metro.  I’ll also get some cheap chicken for soup and some stewing beef. Along with some veggies, that will keep me going for a long while.

“I’m going to park in front of Tim Horton’s. They usually don’t bother me there.  I was there yesterday. I backed in under the awning to get out of the rain. The police stopped by and asked me what I was doing. I said, ‘I’m just sitting here, I don’t talk to anybody unless I know them. I’m not doing any aggressive panhandling.’ They let it go. Later a worker came out and asked me what the police wanted. I told him. He said, ‘We like you here. You’re quiet, sober, you don’t bother anyone. If you weren’t here there might be some noisy drunk hanging around. You’re good for our business.’ In fact I got rid of one drunk who was hanging around. I said, ‘Move on, I’ve had this spot for fifteen years. Get your own, don’t be cutting my grass.’

“Sometimes people stop and ask me why I’m there and what my situation is. I tell them. I’ve got nothing to hide.

“Anyway, when I leave there, I’ll wheel up to the mall to meet my lady friend for coffee.  We’ll be able to spend about fifteen minutes together before she has to go to work. I’ll spend a couple of hours with some of my other friends, then it’s off home. I’ll probably spend most of my time in front of the idiot box.

“I have to go to the doctor to have my heart checked. It’s supposed to be over two, but under three. If it’s low I take an extra blood thinner.  See these bruises on my wrist? that’s what happens when you take blood thinners. I know my body pretty well now. When I had my last operation the doctor put me on blood thinners right away. I didn’t think that was right, but I figured, he’s a doctor, he must know what  he’s doing. Turns out he didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. A couple of days after I got home I got stomach cramps. I had a bowel movement and in the toilet bowl it was all red. I’ve had a problem before with internal bleeding. Fifteen minutes later, the same thing happened again. I said to myself ‘If this happens again, I’m going to hospital.’ Well, sir, ten minutes later, it happened again. That’s when I phoned 911, for an ambulance to take me to hospital. They did a bunch of tests, checked my pace-maker. They have to put magnets on it to do the tests. The next morning they wanted me to start blood thinners again. I said, “No sir, I’m not taking any of those goddamned pills. That’s what got me in here.

“People ask me why I even come out when the weather is bad, but Goldie needs a walk. I’m dressed anyway, so I just go over the hill and I can catch a number of buses that will bring me down here.

.

20 November 2013

Avro Arrow

“Hi Chuck, I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”

“Well, I talked, on the phone, to my lady friend last night. I told her I’d  meet her for coffee this morning. I did. We had our coffee and talked for about fifteen minutes before she had to go to work. Then I figured,  I’m down here anyway. It’s not that cold out, so I might as well try to collect some money. So here I am. As a matter of fact, I just arrived. I’ll probably stay until about ten thirty, then I have to get some more groceries. I got my stewing beef and chicken, but I need some Oxo for stock. I think I’ve got the beef, but not the chicken.

“I had a hell of a time last night. I was talking to my son on the phone. He’s been getting calls from Bell about his phone service. I could barely hear him, so I called Bell. I could hear a faint voice on the other end. I shouted my phone number and said, ‘Please call me back.’ About an hour later I got a call back. The woman said they were checking on the problem and would call be later when they had it fixed.

“About two thirty in the morning I had to get up to go to the bathroom. The phone rang. I picked it up, said, ‘Hello!’  There was no answer. I didn’t want to get woken up in the middle of the night, so I turned the phone off. I went back to bed, then I heard this loud busy signal. I shouldn’t be hearing  a busy signal if I had the phone turned off, so I took it off the charging stand. I don’t like doing that. I usually move the phone to my bedside table because, you never know, it might be a family tragedy. Anyway, I still haven’t got that sorted. I have my cell phone though, for emergencies.”

A garbage truck turned the corner. Chuck said, “Did you hear about the man who went to the employment office to get a job as a garbage man. He got the job, but they told him that he’d be classified as a Sanitary Engineer. He got home and his wife said. ‘You may be a Sanitary Engineer, but take a shower, you smell like a garbage man.’

“That reminds me of when I worked for the government. I had some fancy title, but basically I was a ‘gofor’ –go for this, go for that. If the front desk got a request for a file she’d fill in a form, have it signed by her superior, who would have it signed by the top brass. Then, I’d be given the requisition and would be sent to pick up the file. Below Queen’s Park are a series of tunnels connecting Building A, to Building C, to Building B. That’s for security, so that in case of invasion, the intruder wouldn’t be able to find his way around. Anyway, once I got the requisition it would need to signed by a guard in the tunnel, he’d get it signed by someone else, who’d gets it signed by someone else, finally it gets signed by the top brass and I’m allowed to pick up the file. What a load of bullshit. It would be the same process returning the file.

Including me there were four men and four women, doing what two men and two women could have done. I remember the women. Rebecca was a big red-headed lesbian. Gloria was married and had a couple of kids.  Ellie, I don’t remember so much about her. Dorothy was the tough one. She wore her hair pulled back in a bun; very severe looking. She got me in trouble one day. We weren’t supposed to look out the windows into the courtyard. Well, one day Dorothy caught me and reported it to the higher-ups. I was called on the carpet and asked to explain my self. I said, ‘It’s true, I was looking out the window. What caught my attention was two men arguing loudly. One reached in his pocket for a gun.  I saw the gun. I didn’t know what to do.’ They reported it to security who conducted a search. Nothing came of it. I was off the hook.

“Sometimes, I’d get a request to pick something up at the Hepburn building . They’d give me a bus ticket for the fare there and the fare back. Well, Queen’s Park  is just a block from here and the Hepburn Building is straight down here, at the corner of Bay and Wellesley. It’s a ten minute walk, so I’d pocket the bus tickets pick up the package, go for a coffee, read the newspaper and wander back about an hour later. That was the stupid part of the job, but I got to meet the Ontario Premier.  Bill Davis was in office at that time. He was a decent guy, we even had a coffee together, one time.

“I didn’t like what he did about the cut backs though. We were told our wages were frozen, no raises for two years. This didn’t affect the big shots. No sir, they got back pay and bonuses for thousands of dollars. I was the guy who delivered the checks. Boy, was I pissed off. The next day I quit.

“Remember that fiasco with the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow? Jack Kennedy said to Diefenbaker, ‘We’re in the business of building planes. You stay out of it and buy from us.’ Diefenbaker  was a chicken shit. He caved in to Kennedy;  so, everything was scrapped. That cost Canada fifteen thousand jobs and millions of dollars. That plane was  the most advanced of all the fighter jets. Cancelling the Arrow cost Diefenbaker the next election.

“On our breaks we used to go to a restaurant near the corner of Wellesley and Nicholas St. It’s gone now. It was where the Segovia is today. It was funny, the women all together on one side and the men on the other.  On occasion, from across the room, mind you,  a woman would open her legs and give us a peek.

I shouldn’t have given up that job. I know that now. If I’d stayed, my pension would be sixty-four dollars a month more than it is now. I’d be able to live on that. I’ve been around for seventy years. I’m too old for this shit.

.

21 November 2013

Beer Tunnel 

“Hi, Dennis,” said Chuck, “Chilly this morning. Do you have the time?” I showed him my watch.

“Twenty to nine. I’m only going to stay another ten minutes. I’ve collected enough for a pizza. After that I’ve got some groceries to pick up. I made my beef stew last night. It was delicious, but I put in too many spices — three Oxo packets. Next time, I’ll only use two. I had the farts all night.

I said, “Yesterday you were telling me all the interesting things that happened when you worked at Queen’s Park. Do you have any more of those stories?”

“No, I told you all the interesting stuff, the rest was drudgery. I had another job as bell boy at the Gladstone Hotel on Queen. I sure learned a lot there. It’s on the corner of Queen and Gladstone.  In its hey-day, it was one of the best hotels in the city. It was called the It was known primarily for cheap draft at the Tavern. It ended up as a strip joint.  It was disgusting, they hired girls as young as twelve years old to work as strippers. but was eventually demolished in 2005 to make way for a new office building. I don’t know what’s there now — some high-rise.

“There is a maze of tunnels under downtown Toronto. All  the businesses used them to bring in black market goods through the storm sewage system. One led from the kitchen of the Gladstone to the Lisgar apartments.  Weeks in advance, big shots would book a room. They’d enter the Lisgar, but instead of going upstairs to the apartments, they’d go downstairs.  Their room would be all ready for them, anything they wanted. They’d phone room service at the Gladstone. We’d we’d bring their meals, drinks, girlfriends or prostitutes through  the tunnel. Nobody’d be the wiser. I won’t mention any names, but some  of our regular guests were Cabinet Ministers and a Supreme Court Judge.  All politicians are crooked.

“At the Gladstone they only served Carlsberg beer. One of the bosses would drive a van to the docks  and,  miraculously, it would be loaded with cases of beer. They’d drive though the tunnel and unload right at the hotel.

“Nearby there was also a clothing store where my girlfriend worked. She said she could get me a good discount. The suit I picked out was priced at seven hundred dollars, imported from Italy.  I got another priced at three hundred. My son was with me at the time, he said, ‘I could use a suit.’ We got all three for a total of three hundred. It was all controlled by the mafia.

“When I was a kid we used to fish in near Harbourfront.  There was none of this catch and release stuff then. I think that’s stupid we fished to eat not to hurt fish.  We’d take them to the back of this Chinese restaurant. They’d give us fifty cents a piece for them.  They’d mix it in with the chicken to cut their costs.

“There used to be a great bar at the Duke of York. That’s where all the high-class prostitutes would hang out — they were expensive though. A couple of times the hotel was shut down by a food inspector for serving cat, disguised as chicken. The fanciest hotel in town serving cat.

.

22 November 2013

Joy Returns

As Metro was handing out newspapers, he shouted to me, “I saw her this morning.  I don’t know if she’s still there.”

“Thanks Metro.”

Sure enough, after being away for two weeks, Joy was sitting at her usual spot.

“Hi, did ya miss me?”

“Of course I did,” I said, “I’ve been talking most mornings to Chuck. He sure has a lot of stories to tell.”

“Do you mean Fat Chuck, Roly Poly?”

“Is that what you call him?”

“Yeah, I give names to everybody.”

“No I meant his dad, in the wheelchair.”

“Oh, Chuck Senior! Yeah, get him started and he never shuts up. He’s a good guy.”

“I’ve been feeling sick this past while. I was in hospital. The good thing is they got all my meds up to date and I have prescription refills for four months. I haven’t had a drink in three weeks.”

I asked, “Does that cover your epilepsy, fibromyalgia and your bipolar disorder?”

“Yeah, all of that stuff and my antipsychotics.”

I said, “So, I guess Big Jake gets out next Tuesday.  How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t know what’s going on. He hasn’t written. I wrote him a long letter a while ago  and a one-pager about two weeks ago,  saying, ‘What the fuck is going on! Answer my letters!’ He may be pissed off about some of the things I wrote, but it’s his problem not mine. He has to work on getting the restraining order lifted. I’ve done all I can. They won’t deliver his electric wheelchair to my place, because I don’t have a ramp or other wheelchair access.  If he left it outside, he’d have to bring the battery in every night to recharge it. He’d need a lock,  so it wouldn’t get stolen, and he’d need a cover. I don’t even know if he’s getting out on Tuesday, because of the parole violations. His parole officer is a real dickhead — he won’t let anything slide. Three days after they found out Jake was at my place, he was back in prison.”

I asked, “If he doesn’t go to your place does he have somewhere else to go? Will he stay with Rodney the Rodent?”

“I don’t think that he and Rodent are friends any more. I told Jake a few things to check out. Rodent isn’t everything people think he is.  He lied about his prison time. He lied about being affiliated with any gangs. I think he’s a pedophile. For sure he’s gay. One time he had a big wad of twenty-dollar bills. He gave them to all the guys, none of the women. Does that tell you something?

“I don’t care what he does. I’ve got my papers in for assisted housing. I’m near the top of the list, because of my mental state, and because of my history of being physically abused.”

I said, “I heard that Hippo got some money.”

‘Yeah, two thousand bucks. He spent it in two weeks. Every day he’d come over to my place and drink at least three twenty-sixes of vodka. Mariah liked that. He’d also be drinking sherry. He phoned his mom and told her he had some money to give her for taking care of him, but he spent it before he got there.

“He took taxis everywhere, even out to Oshawa to visit his mom. She found him upside down on their roof, drunk out of his head, scooping leaves out of the rain gutter.

“How is Mariah?”

“She’s okay, except for the bloating. She was walking all humped over because of stomach cramps. The pain was really bad.  I think she has Crohn’s disease, or some stomach or bowel ailment like that. She goes to her doctor for regular physical exams, colonoscopies, endoscopies, blood tests and  X-rays.  My sister had that and had to get her large intestine removed.

“I’ve only collected seven bucks today and I’ve got no food in the house –maybe a few scraps of bread.”

“I phoned my worker yesterday and left a message for him to bring me some groceries.  I haven’t heard back from him on that. I’m still waiting to get a futon — one of those metal ones that fold up into a couch. They brought a wood one with some of the slats broken and the mattress was black around the edges. You know what that is — bed bugs. Some of the blood spills out of them after they feed and you know what color blood turns to when it scabs up — black.  There was no way that was coming into my place. I think they sell them at Crappy Tire for a hundred and twenty-nine bucks. If it’s metal there’s not so much chance that Jake will break it when he sits down.

“On the bus this morning, I was sitting in one of the bench seats at the front. I was at one end and this big, fat woman plops herself down at the other end. It nearly sent me flying. I said to her, “Holy fuck, will you take it easy! You’re going to hurt someone doing that, namely me.”

.

26 November 2013

Hookers

Joy was surrounded by packages.  I asked, “Have you been Christmas shopping?”

” A lady brought me some winter boots.  She said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, they’re used.’  I said, “Thanks, I don’t care if they’re used. I only care if they keep my feet warm.’

I looked at them. “They’re in good shape and they have felt liners. These will keep you really warm.”

Joy was looking at a hole in her woolen glove. “That reminds me,” I said, ” I found a pair of winter gloves on the bus. They’re too small for me. Try them on.”

“They fit great, thanks! Jacques brought this little fake Christmas tree. I asked him if he was coming down tomorrow. He said, ‘Tomorrow, haven’t you heard? There is going to be a big snowstorm.  Me, I’m going home to hide until it’s over.’ So, I wont be leaving home either, but I’ll be here most mornings. I need money for Christmas.”

I asked, “Were you able to contact your worker? Did he bring over some groceries?”

“No, he said he’d been busy. I said to him, ‘You’re not the only one in the office, couldn’t you have sent somebody over with a bag of groceries?’ He said he’d try to get over today. I must have lost twenty pounds in the past three weeks.

“I hope I get my check before the end of the month, because my worker said he’d help me get a futon. They have the metal ones on sale at Crappy Tire for a hundred and twenty-nine. If I don’t get my check in time I miss out.

I said, “I guess this is the day that Big Jake gets out. How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t know what’s happening. He hasn’t answered my letters. Maybe he’s been revoked. In that case he’ll be getting out in January. That will be the full term of his sentence. I hope he doesn’t get out today. I guess it’s mean of me to say that, but I’ve just got too much to deal with now.

“For all I know he’ll be waiting at my place when I get home.”

“That’ll be a parole violation, won’t it?”

“Yep.”

“And he’ll get sent back to prison, just like last time,  right?”

“That’s right. It’s his problem. I don’t care what happens.

“I need to get some Orajel. I’ve got  an ear infection. The pain goes right down to my jaw. I’m trying to keep my mouth closed, because the cold air makes the pain worse.”

“Can you go to your doctor? It sounds like you need antibiotics.”

“I guess I could go to my old doctor without my Health Card.  I don’t really like him, because he’s a turban-head.”

I said, “He’ll only be looking in your ear.  Are you expecting him to say, ‘Okay, take off all your clothes and I’ll have a look at your ear.’

“No,  I don’t expect him to say anything like that.”

“A lot of doctors have been charged with sexual misconduct. One of my former doctors lost his licence to practice because of that.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard.

“My neighbors upstairs have been going at it again. First, she came home and was banging around. That lasted until about eleven. My head was just splitting by then. He must have started a new shift, because he started banging around at about four this morning. I like it  when Buck comes over with Dillinger. When he hear a noise he starts barking. They’ve seen Dillinger and know enough not to get him riled.”

“How is Mariah?”

“Same old, same old. She has her problems. I was up to see her yesterday. She’s okay.”

I said, Chuck Senior was telling me stories about the old Gladstone Hotel.  He used to be a busboy there. He said there are all kinds of tunnels running under downtown. There was one from the kitchen of the Gladstone to the Lisgar Apartments, down the block.”

“I remember the Lisgar Apartments near Gladstone. That’s where Jacques use to live. They tore it down. It’s a high-rise with the housing department in it.”

“Chuck was saying that hookers would go from the Gladstone to meet their clients at the Lisgar. Everything was below ground, complete privacy. They’d also have their beer delivered through the tunnel.”

“That sounds neat. I think that was before my time. I’ve only been here since ninety-three.”

I checked my watch. It was ten minutes to nine. I said, “I’ll have to get going. Do you think anyone will be up at the park at noon?’

Joy said, “I think it’s too cold. I’m going straight home to bed.”

As I walked to work, I stopped to talk to Chuck, “Hi, I don’t have time to talk, but I wanted to say merry Christmas,  if I don’t see you before them.”

“Thanks, but I should be here a few times before that, depending on the weather. I won’t be here tomorrow.”

“Take care, Chuck.”

.

Comments
  1. dougstuber says:

    Thanks for these posts. Great work.

    Like

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