Archive for May 6, 2013

When I entered the park I saw Heinz and his dog Shaggy sitting, by themselves, under a tree. At the other end of the park , near the war memorial, was another group leaning against the rail.

“Heinz,” I said, “you’re sitting all by yourself.”

“I just don’t think it’s right, for those people to be setting their beer down on the war memorial. I have family who died in the war. I don’t think it’s respectful. They even have a motorcycle parked there.  Can you imagine if a woman and child came to pay their respects to a loved one. They’d be afraid to approach. Those people would scare them off, don’t you think? My son served in the Korean War, if he saw that he’d take them all on.”

“I agree with you, Heinz. My brother fought in the Korean War. I know that he’d be upset.”

“They all followed Jacques up there. I know he wants to stay in the shade, but there’s shade in other places, so I picked a place that’s about half way. That’s the best I can do.

“Did you see the hockey game last night. I’d have my Senators hat on now, but it’s too hot for a hat. I’m wearing my Montreal shirt because it’s the only one I have with short sleeves.

“That young guy from Gatineau — I think he’s only nineteen — pulled off a hat trick, and his team is in the playoffs. That’s something! It’s funny too. When growing up his favorite team was probably Montreal. Now he’s scored three goals against them.”

Troll and another person sat down and were discussing the hockey game. I thought I saw Joy with Jacques, so I wandered up there. It turned out to be Katy.

“Hi Jacques, it’s a beautiful day.”

“Yes, I have to keep out of the sun, because I already have a burn. Have you seen Joy?”

“I saw her Friday, I think she was going to Toronto. Her sister died.”

“She didn’t go to Toronto. She left here Friday to go drinking with Hippo and Andre. There was some kind of a fight. Joy got a big cut on her head. They took her to hospital to have stitches. She also has a shiner. I don’t think she’s going to be coming out of her place for a while. She looks too ugly.

“I wish I knew more details. I know that Hippo wouldn’t hurt her.”

I said, “He’s scared of Joy.”

“Yeah, he wouldn’t hit a woman. I remember that Nora slapped him twice in the face. Do you know what he did? He cried. That big guy had tears running down his face. Now, every time Nora walks by she slaps him, because she knows he won’t hit her back.

“Me, I’d do something different. I wouldn’t hit a woman, but I wouldn’t let her hit me.”

Katy was looking over the rail. She said, “The white lilacs are out. Soon the purple ones will be in bloom. Don’t you love that scent?”

“It’s beautiful, ” I said. “I haven’t seen you for a long time. How have you been?”

“You know, so so. I’m alright. Actually, every day is good if you look at it the right way. I’m not religious, but I try to see the good.”

I said, “Every day is a chance to make a difference.”

Jacques said, “Do you know what I miss? Kentucky Fried Chicken. I can’t eat it. The skin is too salty. Since my last heart attack I’ve had to cut back on salt.”

I asked, “When was your last heart attack?”

“February 8. I was hospitalized for three weeks. I need a double bypass operation, but they said, ‘We know you’re a very sick man, but because you’re alcoholic, we can’t operate on you.’ They gave me pills instead. They told Joy the same thing.”

Katy said, “Are you sure it’s not because of the money?”

“I don’t think so, but maybe if I won the lottery… I can’t win the lottery because I don’t buy tickets. I don’t think I could handle winning a lot of money. I’d think everyone would want to kill me.”

Katy said, “Or, everyone would want to be your friend.

“If I won a big lottery, I know what I’d do.  First of all, I’d get out of here, go into the woods somewhere until I could plan everything. Then I’d set up my communication centers — places where poor, sick people could go. There would be doctors, a cafeteria, pool tables, a place to stay. Nobody would be turned away.

“I have the proposal all written up. I put a dress on, wore heels,  and presented it to City Hall. This university professor, a fat guy with bald head and a beard,  shot the idea right down. He made me feel so small.”

I said, “Gaston has a similar idea. You should talk to him.”

It was time for me to go back to work, so I shook hands all around.

Jacques asked, “Will you be here tomorrow?”

“I’ll be here, Jacques.”

Sitting in Joy’s spot this morning was Clark with his sign, HELP CURE HOBOPHOBIA. He has other signs, but this is the one he uses most frequently. I asked him how his weekend had been. He said, “I spent a lot of time moving. I’m now in a bachelor apartment in New Edinburgh. I had to get out of the place I was in. It was really bad, a lot of crackheads. I didn’t even feel safe using the stairs. There would be groups of them hanging around the stairwells.

“The only complaint I have with the new place is that I’m right above the door to the underground garage. I hear it every time someone drives their car in or out.”

I said, “I guess that’s a noise you can get used to. I’ve lived beside highways before.”

“Yeah, after a while the highway can sound just like the ocean. It can lull you to sleep.”

I asked, “So, how long have you been on the street?”

“Here, about four years, but I’ve been other places, like Toronto.  It’s a really violent place. I used to work security there. I was in a large highrise. There were two entrance doors.  I was behind the desk. One time a guy rushed in the first door, saying that he had been doused with gasoline and somebody was trying to set him on fire. All we could do is electronically lock the outside door, so he was trapped between the two doors. We couldn’t let him in, in case he decided to ignite himself inside the building. We just waited until the cops arrived.”

I said, “I know I’ve lived there. I moved in with my brother, near the Art Gallery of Ontario, at Dundas and McCaul. My first night, there was somebody stabbed to death on our corner.

“Ottawa can be violent as well. You know Matches, don’t you? He pans near the corner of Bank and Laurier, beside the underground car park.”

“Does he use a cane and carry a piss bag?”

“Yeah, that’s him. He was doused with gasoline and set on fire one time. He has massive scars on his left leg. There was another guy, Buddy, he was wearing a plastic raincoat when he was set on fire. The plastic became embedded in his skin. He died three days later.

“I can’t understand how humans can do that to one another. Animals aren’t cruel or malicious like that. They kill their prey and eat it — that’s nature — but to deliberately torture another animal. I don’t think they do that.”

Clark said, “Sometimes, I think animals are treated better than humans. The government will house us, and will ring the Pavlovian bell allowing us access to the Food Bank every so often, but that’s it. The S. P. C. A. treats animals better.”

“What other kind of work did you do, Clark?”

“Mostly, I’ve been a cook at construction camps in James Bay and Vancouver. I’ve also been a tree planter in British Columbia. I liked that. I like to keep to myself.”

“I’m the same.”

“I read in government studies that the brain works best when you’re alone. There are fewer distractions. That’s my understanding, anyway.”

4 May 2012

Today was muggy, overcast and warm. The fog of earlier had lifted, but the humidity remained. Sitting on ‘the bench’ were Matches, Andrew and Joy. On the curb were Little Jack, Loretta, Sparky’s daughter Fran, Ruth, her son Harry and daughter Nancy.

I approached the bench, “Hi Joy, did Matches tell you that he and I were panhandling together yesterday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Barry, what was V’s name before Toothess got him?”

“Star,” said Barry.

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

“He was talking to some guy yesterday from Kanata. Chuck is asking $100. If the guy is at all interested, but can’t afford the price, I think he should drop it to $50. It would be nice if the dog could go there. He needs fields and a place to run.

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

“I’ll be careful. Joy.”

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

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

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

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

“How is your pneumonia?” I asked.

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

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

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

“When Big Jake and I were drinking beer we got along fine. We used to drink Labatt Blue, which is 5% alcohol. Then we switched to Labatt Maximum Ice at 7.1%. That’s when our problems began. It was even worse when we switched to Imperial sherry at 20%. I could drink any of these guys under the table, but Jake just got mean and nasty. That’s when he started beating me.

“We’ll probably get together again. my probie said, ‘He’s not allowed within 1600 yards of you, or he’ll go right back to jail.’ I said, ‘When has a restraining order ever stopped him before?

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

At 6:00 pm I left work and caught my usual number 14 bus. I was surprised to see Shark  and Irene. They were going to Irene’s place, about four blocks from where I live. “I guess you missed all the excitement this afternoon. Matches  and Shamus were passed out on the lawn and somebody phoned the police. They sent three squad cars and the paramedics. They let Matches go, but they took Shamus away. He couldn’t even walk. They’ll probably take him to the Shepherd’s to let him sleep it off.”

“Joy has been after Matches not to pan handle at ‘the bench’, since it attracts attention, and when he lay down, she kept telling him to sit up. His daughter, Fran, was sitting beside him. I thought she would take care of him.

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

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

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

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

“He must have had his rubber legs on. He’s been staying up in Vanier lately. Probably into that Chinese cooking wine. It’s 37% alcohol. It’s great for stir frying, but it’s powerful stuff to drink.”

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

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

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

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