Archive for October, 2013




31 October 2013

“Hi, Chuck, how are you today?”

“I’m mad at this god damned city. You heard about that pedestrian that was run down deliberately at Bank and Laurier. I blame it on the bike lanes and the walk lights with the twelve second warning. Toronto has done away with those and the bike lanes. Our City Hall is planning to spend, I don’t know how many, thousand of dollars adding more of them. They don’t work. I see it at this corner all the time. There, that cab sneaking into the intersection.  Watch him. See, he just buzzed between those two pedestrians who had the walk light. The whole world is being taken over by a new divinity, the rich and powerful. They’re squeezing out the middle and lower class, the people like you and me who depend on public services.”

I asked, “So, how do you get here in the mornings? Do you travel the entire way on your electric wheel chair?”

“No, I have a bus pass. Taffy has one too, because she’s a medical rescue dog. She comes with me everywhere, restaurants, appointments. We’re never apart. Where I live, on Robinson, near Lees and Hurdman Station, I’ve got good bus connections in summer. When it snows, I have a problem. They never plow the one block from my place to the top of the hill. I’ve got this whole rigmarole that I have to go through. I go out the back door, come back in the front, use the pay phone and phone City Hall to get someone down to plow that one block. They could do it with the big plows that come around, They start their route nearby. They could do it with sidewalk plow, but they won’t do it on a regular basis, only after I complain to them.”

“How about Paratranspo?”

“That’s a no go.  I’ve tried them before. When they picked me up I just wanted to go downtown, ten minutes away. They got two other people in the van, one who wants to go to the east end of the city, one to the far west. It takes about an hour before they finally take me to where I want to go. The only time I take it is when I’ve got tickets to a hockey game. They pick me up, drop me off and wait at a special place when the game is over. I’ve been about seven times this past year. I picked the wrong games to go to. Last time I saw New York whip the asses of the Senators. They paid a fortune for a bunch of seventeen-year-olds who can really play hockey. The time before, our team was  beaten by the Leafs. I don’t really care.  My favorite is when we play Montreal. The crowd really goes wild. It’s fun to get out. I don’t care how long it takes to get back.

“Do you know what’s wrong with this city? The answer is right beneath our feet — geothermal energy. It’s being used all over the world. With all these new buildings going up, this could be done fairly inexpensively. All they’d have to do is drill down a couple hundred feet where the earth starts getting warmer.

Geothermal energy relies on the near-constant heat source running underneath the earth’s crust, which can be converted into different forms of power. By tapping into the crusts natural fissures, heat from deep underground — in the form of hot water and steam — can be channeled as a low-cost and renewable energy source. While geothermal sites theoretically can transmit energy to far away places, current technology benefits cities along continental plate boundaries or where hot springs are present.

It cuts down on fuel consumption. The electric cars of the future will be able to travel five hundred miles on one charge. Recharging will take about an hour.  We’d save on gas and oil, but, they’ll drop that idea,  it’d start a war. Can you imagine how countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, China and Iran would take to that. They’re already equipped for war.  If they were to join forces we wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Unfortunately, it was time for me to go to work. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Chuck’s ideas.





30 October 2013

Chuck Senior was in his wheel chair, at his usual corner. I stopped and asked, “How are you feeling, Chuck. You mentioned yesterday that your stomach was upset and you had diarrhea. Has that settled down?”

“Yeah, I mostly had a sore throat. I can’t take Halls because they’re too strong, but I got something at the drug store that’s smoother on my throat and has a crème center.  I also ate fish last night. I think that the oil in the fish helped my throat.

“I’ve had a lot of problems with my esophagus. I’ve had  a lot of gastroscopies. They left a permanent tube that goes from my esophagus to my stomach. The last time I had one the nurse said to me, ‘This might hurt a bit.’ I didn’t flinch. After she finished she said to me, ‘You’re the bravest patient I’ve ever had.’ I didn’t tell her about the plastic tube. I let her think what she wanted.

“I think I know how I got the sore throat. A lot of women stop to pat Taffy, then they give me a kiss.  I noticed that one woman had a hoarse voice. I think I got the sore throat from her.

“A lot of people don’t know it but Taffy is a medical response dog. She can detect when I’m about to have a seizure. She’ll growl, then I know to lie down, before I fall.”

As I was standing there, many people dropped change into Chuck’s up turned baseball cap and patted Taffy. She loved the attention.

“So, do a lot of women kiss you?”

“Yeah, dozens of them. I just wish I was younger and fitter so I could do something about it. I’ve got so many ailments. I’ve had kidney failure, that’s what I take the water pills for.  They cause me to get up four or five times a night to pee. Only a little dribble comes out each time. From the kidney problems I developed Hypokalemia. It means I have low potassium levels.  For that I take half a banana and a dose of liquid potassium chloride. I’ve been on that for ten years and I still haven’t gotten used to it. I eat the rest of the banana to kill the taste and clear my throat.

“I’ve had part of my colon removed. I’ve had so many heart attacks I can’t count them. I’ve officially died nine times. They put in a pacemaker to regulate my heartbeat. Before I go to bed I take nine pills. I’m on blood thinners. When I had my pacemaker put in they forgot to take me off the blood thinners. I knew that was wrong.  I developed internal bleeding. They had to operate to fix that. My blood pressure went way down.

 Then, there are my three puffers. I developed asthma from living in a basement apartment in Orleans. I didn’t know it until I moved out, but it was contaminated with black mold. I noticed it on the backs of shelves where I had stuff piled.  Behind furniture and under the carpet there was a thick layer of it. I can’t prove that it was the mold that caused the asthma, otherwise I’d sue the landlord.

“I hadn’t been feeling well for a long time. it just kept getting worse. I was weak, trembling, had dizzy spells. That’s when the seizures started. I couldn’t leave the house for days.

“I had a fight with my doctor. When the nurse tested my heart last, she went to get the doctor. From the look on his face I knew it was something bad, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. I asked him to give me a written report. He refused, said, ‘I don’t have to give you a report.’ I said, It’s my heart.  I got a right to know what’s happening to it. He said, ‘No, you don’t.’ So , now I don’t know what to think.

“The doctor weighed me. I was one sixty-one.  He said, you’ve gained seven pounds since you were here last. I said, ‘I feel better with that extra weight. I don’t get sick as often. I don’t get as cold.’ He said, ‘You’re going to have to drop that weight.’ I said, ‘I will, as soon as you drop that fifty pounds you’ve got hanging from your gut.’ So, no more mashed potatoes with gravy, no more steak, no more apple pie and ice cream; all the things I love.”

I said, “I have to go to work now.”

“Work,” he said, “Is a four letter word.”

“Yes it is,.  I just can’t afford to retire.”

“I wish I was fit enough to work, then I wouldn’t have to do this.”





28 October 2013

This morning Chuck Senior was on his usual corner, in his wheel chair, with his dog Taffy (a Pomeranian mix) wrapped in a blanket, on his lap.  He said to me, “Today’s been a complete waste of time. ”

I said, “I’ve heard that Monday’s are always bad.”

“It’s not that, a woman was mad at me on Friday. She brought a bag full of canned dog food for Taffy. She said to me. ‘You weren’t here. I had to lug that bag of cans home with me on the bus.’ Well, I was here. I may have left for a few minutes to go to the bathroom, but I was here all morning. I thought that same lady would come by this morning, but she hasn’t shown. I came here in the rain. I’m feeling sick. I had bouts of diarrhea all night. Because of my heart attacks I take these water pills for my heart. That makes me pee a lot. So with that and the diarrhea I was up most of the night. What I really wanted to do this morning was to just stay in bed. I’ve made hardly anything and that lady hasn’t shown up. I’m getting pissed off”

19 October 2012

This morning Metro said to me, “Good morning, Dennis. Joy’s here. Have a good weekend.”

“Thanks, Metro, you too.”

Joy had been talking to the garbage man, in his early twenties, handsome, in fact she’d often say, ‘Hi, Handsome, how’s your day going?’ He only handles the recycled paper, he can’t take the smell of the other trash. I waved at him.

“So, how long are you working today?” she asked him.

“It depends on how fast I work. I could finish at two, if I ran at every stop. I’d be exhausted. If I take it easy, it takes a couple of hours more.”

“Have a good day, Sunshine!” Mo shouted as the truck pulled away. He gave us a wave.

As I approached, Joy stood up from her storage box, a folded blanket on top, “I’m glad you came — I have to pee. I can’t go into the pizza place, because the guy is there who gives me dirty looks. I’ll go to the library, instead. Have a seat, it’s warm.”

Joy returned shortly after. I said, “So how was everything, yesterday, after I left?”

“It was fairly quiet. The cops were around a couple of times, McDuff and Sarazin came first. After that two bicycle cops rode up. I said, ‘You’re too late. Your friends already got us to pour out our booze. We got nothing here you can give us a ticket for. Sorry.’ Menard, the big guy with the tattoos said, ‘Joy, why is it you always know what’s going on?’ I said, ‘It’s because I pay attention.’ I’m also one of the few people who’s never been caught with booze. I always make sure it’s in my bag, and the male cops aren’t allowed to search it.’

“Yesterday, I’d collected hardly anything. A big lady stopped to chat and stood right in front of me. I kept wishing she’d step to the side, in case anyone wanted to make a drop. She left and then came back about twenty minutes later. I said to her, ‘It’s been a really bad day and I’m five dollars short, to buy a box of tampons.’ The lady pulled out her wallet and it was stuffed with bills. I saw a five, but beside it was a wad of twenties. I kept hoping, and thinking to my self, Come on green, come on green. (Canadian twenty-dollar bills are green, fives are blue.) Sure enough, she handed me a twenty.

“Last night, after Chester came back from Rodent’s, he opened the fridge and saw half a double sausage, double cheese sandwich that I’d bought at Tim Horton’s. He said, ‘Is that my supper?’ I said, ‘No, Chester, that’s my supper. You can eat whatever you want.’ He said, ‘But, I paid ten percent on the hydro bill.’ I said, Chester, ‘I gave you a hundred and sixty dollars to pay the full bill. You spent the money on beer.’ I had some bologna stashed away, but he always finds things I’ve hidden — so that’s gone.’

I said, “Chester can always pan handle, or is that beneath his dignity?”

“He talks about pan handling, but he’s never done it. Did you see the expression on Little Jake’s face, when Chester said he might take over Silver’s spot? Jake was livid!”

I asked, “Do you think that Jake will take over Silver’s spot?”

“I can’t figure that out. Jake keeps saying that if he gets caught panhandling he’ll go to jail. I thought that was all cleared up, when he went to court on the twelfth.”

I said, “Well, I have to get to work.”

“Will I see you at noon?”

“If it’s not raining, otherwise I’ll be going for a haircut. I go to Elgin Barbers, because they still have that revolving barber pole — It just seems right.”






25 October 2013

This morning there was frost on the pumpkins, and on car windshields. Motorists, who hadn’t unpacked their winter scrapers, were using credit cards to remove the whiteness that obscured visibility. As I approached Joy, she was talking to a lady who walked away as I arrived.”

“Joy said, “You won’t believe it. That lady just dropped me a twenty. Before that I’d only made three bucks. Another lady gave me a bag with a winter coat and boots in it. Somebody else brought be a bag of canned food and Kraft Dinner. I’ve got so many cups of tea and coffee that I can’t drink them all. I’ll leave them for Chuck Senior.

“Yesterday, my workers came to my place and brought two bags of groceries. I’m all set for the weekend. I gave Mariah the grape jelly and a box of pancake mix. Charlie loves pancakes.

“I thought Mariah kicked him out.”

“Out, in, who can keep track. I love pancakes, now I just have to buy some syrup. I also bought some magic mushrooms. Mariah was going over to Chester’s place, but I said, ‘Have some of these first.’ We went through the whole bunch. Mariah called me from Chester’s. She said, “Joy don’t ever do that to me again.. I can barely walk.’ I said, ‘Relax, rest a while and you’ll come down enough to walk home. I just lay back and watched a video. I don’t even know what I watched. I think it may have been Scarface.

“See that guy who just walked by? He didn’t have anything to say this time.”

“Has he spoken to you before?”

“Yeah, we call him Turtle. He was panning in Silver’s old spot. I said to him, “What do you think you’re doing?  By panning here you’re cutting Carl’s grass. He’s had that spot for ages. Go someplace else. Get your own spot.”

I asked, “So how did yesterday go? Are you looking for a new apartment? I was thinking that Shark’s landlord may have a place for you. He has a number of buildings.”

“I know those places. I wouldn’t want to live there. First of all there are bed bugs. Second, I don’t like the people who hang around Shark’s place — a lot of crackheads.”

I said, “I guess you’ll need to be in a building with an elevator.”

“Why? I don’t mind stairs.”

“I was thinking of Big Jake, when he gets out.”

“He can fend for himself. I promised to take care of him after his hip surgery. I’ll follow through on that, but I don’t want to live with anybody. Jake isn’t much but, he’s the best I can get. Who else am I going to meet? Look at my lifestyle!”

I said, “I just had an idea. I know you don’t want to quit drinking, but what if you attended some A.A. meetings? You might meet a better class of men there…Or, you could try grocery stores, laundromats, they always worked for me.”

“Are you serious? Maybe I’ll try the grocery store.

“I need a pair of scissors to cut my hair. It’s so long now that I can barely stuff it under my do rag. The blond has nearly grown out. I just have a few wisps by my ears. Jake doesn’t like blond hair.

“I talked to my worker Yesterday. He and his partner are going to help me find a place. Also, I checked with the Housing Registry to see where I was on their list. They told me I’d moved up, but that doesn’t mean anything. I don’t know how many people are ahead of me.”

Two garbage trucks pulled up at the curb. Three men got out.  I asked Joy, “I can’t remember that guy’s name.  Do you remember what it is?”

“No, it’s some foreign name.” To him she said, “Hey, why is it that your partner is in the small truck now? Has he been demoted?”

“We’re just on different routes now.”

To me she said, “See the guy in the checkered coat. He’s a real asshole. He asked me one time, ‘Why are you sitting on that box? Why don;t you get a job?’ “Dude,’ I said, ‘I’m agoraphobic. That means I can’t stand to be around too many humans. Crowds make me nervous. You’re a pepper (French-speaking person), you wouldn’t understand what that means.’ “

I asked, “Have you always felt like that?”

“Yeah, even when I was a kid I wanted to be alone, or with one friend. When I’m at the park and Shakes or Frank bring other people along I get in a bad mood. That’s when I start fighting. Or, I just leave and go home.

“Hawk and Loretta came by yesterday. I don’t mind Hawk, but I didn’t want to be anywhere near Loretta. For some reason she was just bugging me.”

The same young man, who gave Joy, half a bagel, yesterday, stopped by. He said, “Would you like half?” He held the bagel by the paper wrapper and Joy pulled off half. He said, “I changed up the flavor today. I hope you like it.”

“Thanks, sweetie.”

To me she said, “Yuck, apple and cinnamon. You have this. I like cinnamon, but I can’t stand apples. I know people are raving about these, but they’re just not for me. I don’t even like apple pie.”

I said, “I love cinnamon. I even sprinkle it on my eggs in the morning. It’s very nutritious.”

“That’s just wrong.

“Some people have even offered me food that they’ve taken a bite out of. That’s gross. I may be a panhandler, I may be hungry, but I’m not a dumpster.”

A lady topped and handed Joy a five dollar bill. Joy asked, “Are you sure, honey? Thanks so much.

“I’m excited, this is like Christmas, and it’s not even Halloween.”






24 October 2013

Winter is here. I wore my winter gloves, underwear and, because of asthma,  a scarf over my face.  Still I was cold. My glasses, fogged from my breath, made it difficult reading my Kindle.  Metro said, “I think she’s down there. I saw her earlier.” I waved, he was busy handing out newspapers.

“Hi Joy, cold isn’t it?”

“I’m freezing.” She pulled her over-sized sweater to cover her knees. I lay awake wondering whether or not to come down. I’m still feeling weak. I need groceries for the weekend, so I figured I’d better get down here. I want to get some chicken.

“I saw Hippo. He’s been at his mommy’s. She bought him groceries. He came over to my place yesterday afternoon. That’s the time of day I like to wind down. I told him. ‘I want to have a bath.’ He said, ‘You go ahead and have a bath.’ So, I did. Then I came out. He was still there. I said,  ‘It’s time for me to cook my supper.’ He said, ‘I’ve already eaten.’ I told him, ‘I can’t eat when somebody else is around, especially if they’re not eating.’

I said, “It would have been nice if he’d brought groceries.”

“That happens tonight. He’s bringing over some steaks. My worker is supposed to be bringing groceries as well. I hope he doesn’t bring any pilaf. I tried cooking that. It’s like small rice grains, but they have no taste.

“Do you want a coffee? I won’t be drinking it, I prefer tea. I don’t know what’s in it; how many cream, sugar, whatever.”

“Thanks Joy, I appreciate that. I’m not fussy.

A handsome, well dressed, young man stopped. He asked Joy, “Do you want half a bagel with cream cheese?”

“Sure, thanks. I love them.”

He said, “I would have given you some yesterday, but I’d already given it away.”

Joy said, “Thanks very much.”

I said, “Bless you.”

Another lady, that I work with, stopped and handed Joy a bag. Inside was a hand knitted blanket.  Joy said, “Thank you very much. That’s so sweet.”

“How did it go yesterday with Stella? Did she bring you anything?”

“No, she never knows whether or not I’ll be there. I saw Shakes, Snake, Jacques and Little Frank. Shakes is really looking bad. I don’t think he’s eating.”

I said, “Last week, I saw him sitting on the low wall at Elgin. He told me he couldn’t walk any further. He asked me to do a run for him. So, I did. He hadn’t even walked a block and he was having trouble. What is affecting his legs?”

“It’s all from when he was set on fire. You’ve seen his scars. They thought they were going to have to amputate his legs. His circulation is probably really messed up.”

“When I saw him on the bus, someone had dropped him a twenty. He bought four bottles, three grams and a block of hash. I asked him what he was having for supper. He said, ‘Nothing. If I buy groceries Jake or Dave eat them all.’ “

Joy said, “Jake has money now, so he’ll be buying groceries.”

I asked, “Was it better when Danny was there?”

“Danny kept the place clean. I don’t know if he cooked. He doesn’t drink, just smokes pot, so he’d get hungry.

“Where is he, anyway?”

“In Thunder Bay.”

“Does it have to do with some tribal shit?”

“I don’t know. I think someone in his family is sick. His father died, around this time, last year didn’t he?”


“Maybe his mother is sick.

“Have you seen anybody else?”

“I saw Outcast. Debbie has been in the bug house for the last month. Her therapist says she has to get rid of him. He’s really messing with her head.”

I said, “He can be manipulative.”

Joy said, “I asked him why he doesn’t come around any more. He said, ‘Well, I thought you were back with Big Jake.’ I said, ‘He was out, now he’s back in. You could phone.’

“I also saw Wolf.”

“How is he since he had his jaw broken?”

“He seems to be okay. He was awfully quiet. Shaggy, the damned mutt,  was barking her head off.”

A young man wearing red and black hip-hop clothes walked by. Joy said, “I can’t stand that guy. Did you see him standing in front of Tim Horton’s. He’s got one earphone in and he’s singing. He keeps checking his reflection in the glass. A couple of times he’s stopped to talk to me. I said to him, ‘You really shouldn’t sing, you don’t have a very good voice.’ He said, ‘And, I suppose that you do.’ I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I do. It’s somewhere between Janice Joplin and Sass Jordan, kinda raspy like that. I sing Karaoke at the Star Palace. Last time I sang Me and Bobby McGee. They wanted me to keep singing.

‘Look, I don’t want you hanging around. I’m not sitting here for the  benefit of my health; I’m trying to collect money. I don’t need any friends. I’ve got enough already.’ He left after that.

I said, “It’s time to go. Will I see you tomorrow?”

Joy lent me her shoulder to help me up.

“Yup, I’ll be here, same bad time, same bad station.”





23 October 2013

“Good morning Joy.”

“I’m freezing here. I got the really slow bus driver this morning. I had to wait at the stop until six twenty-five and he just puttered along. He didn’t get me here until six forty. The other bus driver comes anywhere between ten and fifteen after and he really zips along. I’m sometimes down here by six twenty-five. What time is it now. Please tell me it’s eight twenty. I asked a woman a while ago. She said it was ten to eight. I said that can’t be.”

I looked at my watch and said, “It’s eight twenty.”

“Oh, good. After I was talking to you yesterday I went to the corner to talk to Carl Senior. He asked me how I’d done. I said, ‘Not good.’ He handed me two dollars. He can afford it. He’s got two wheel chairs. He’s only supposed to have one. He’s got a couple of pensions. I’ve seen him walk. He’s not as gimpy as he lets on. I always feel creepy talking to him. Like this morning he said, ‘I took Sandy for a walk. She was more interested in two skunks humping in the bushes.’ Every conversation with him turns into sex somehow. He’s old enough to be my father. He was saying that Chuck Junior is on morphine now, for his broken rib.”

I asked, “How did he get a broken rib?”

“He was drunk, got the shit beat out of him. Whenever I’ve had a broken rib –The broken rib I have still gives me trouble sometimes, especially if I sleep on it. — They never give me morphine. It makes me sick anyway. The last time I was in hospital they had me on a Gravol and a morphine drip. I’d pump myself full of Gravol first, then pump myself full of morphine. That was nice, but Demarol is nicer.”

I asked, “Have you been talking to anyone else? Did you go to the park yesterday?”

“No, yesterday I went to Metro, bought six boneless pork chops, some toilet paper rice and mushroom soup. One pork chop is a meal for me. The others I threw in the freezer. I cooked the rice, mixed in the mushroom soup, that, with the pork chop, was my supper. Not bad.

“I also got in contact with Canada Care. I can’t get Jake’s wheel chair until I can provide some kind of access to the basement. They said they can be covered, but there’s the chance of theft. They said the battery would freeze, but I told them I’d bring the battery inside, doh. I know that much about batteries. I didn’t ride a Harley, without learning anything about maintenance.

“I’m going to start looking for a new place.”

I said, “You couldn’t go through your worker, because of Jake’s restraining order.”

“No, I’d have to find a place on my own. I’d need Jake to pay half the rent. I’d make sure we get a two bedroom, so I could have my privacy. It’s just that this is the first time in forty-eight years that I’ve lived on my own. I’m not good at it. You understand?”

“Yeah,” I said, “like Snake and Irene. He always has his own room where he can hide.”

“I tried to phone Jacques this morning, because Stella is coming down. I wanted to know what time he’d be here. For some reason, I always get his number mixed up. I dial three, six instead of six, three. This guy answers. I say, “Hi, is Jacques there?’ He said, ‘No he isn’t. Joy, you’ve got to quit fucking up this number.’ I say, ‘Sorry.’ “

I asked, “How did he know it was you?”

“One time I called that number and said, “Hi Sunshine, it’s Joy. Get your ass out of bed. Did I show you the music player Jacques gave me. I can plug this into Big Jake’s lap top to charge it.  Right now I’m nearly through CCR, then it’ll start playing Neil Diamond. I only like a few of his songs, like ‘Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show.’

“I finally heard from Hippo. He hasn’t been at his mother’s place. I didn’t think he had been. She can’t stand him. He was downing a bottle of C.C. He admitted, ‘Okay, Joy, I’ve been at my apartment. I’m afraid to go out. Afraid I’ll get robbed. I figure everybody is out to get me.’ I said, ‘Talk to your worker, man. Call the police. You can’t be held hostage in your own apartment.’ He said, ‘I bought a mini hatchet.’ ‘Dude,’ I said, ‘you’re breaking your probation. You were charged with attacking a cop with a hammer. Do you think they’re going to look kindly on you carrying a hatchet?’

“Anytime the cops come to my place. — I guess I’m red flagged…”

I asked, “What does that mean, that you’re dangerous?”

“It’s crazy. I’ve never attacked a cop. I know better than that. They ask, ‘Joy, do you have any weapons here?’ I tell them straight out, ‘Yeah, I’ve got half a pair of scissors in that drawer, the other half is on the window ledge. Under my bed I’ve got a hammer and a heavy steak knife.’ They say, ‘You know you’re not supposed to have any weapons in your apartment.’ I say, ‘I don’t carry them outside. If I was in the States, I’d be allowed to carry a gun. I could shoot anybody for just for entering my place. I’m a woman living alone, in a basement. The second place any robber is going to enter is my bedroom. I get scared.’ They usually leave it at that.

I asked, “Did you say you keep a stake under your bed. How big is it and how heavy?”

“Not a stake, a steak knife. One of those big, tempered ones with the serrated edge.  It’s the one I use to cut all my vegetables with, then I put it back under the bed. I shortened the handle, so I can grab it quicker.”

“This really isn’t a conversation I should be having. You’re not wearing a wire, by any chance, are you?”

“No, and I never would.  The reason is, I’d be afraid to. I’d have good reason to be afraid.”

“I’d go home right now if Stella wasn’t coming down. She’s got some winter stuff for me. Hopefully, some winter boots and a parka. I’ll be meeting her at the World Exchange, Shakes, Jacques, Little Jake and Snake will be there. I want to get some smokes from Snake.”

I said, “It’s time for me to go.”

Joy said, “Put our hand on my shoulder, to help you get up… You can put more weight on me than that.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Joy.” She waved.





22 October 2013

I was carrying my guitar this morning, because I have a lesson at noon. Joy asked, “Do you have a new hobby?”

“It’s not a new hobby. I haven’t been playing for a while, so I thought some lessons would get me back in the groove. It well also get me away from the computer for a while.”

“Do you still have calluses on your fingers… Let me see… No, smooth as a baby’s bum. I used to play a guitar. My step dad bought it for me. He bought my step brother, who was four years younger than me, a set of drums. I used to bang on them them in the garage. Finally, my step father got tired of the noise and said, ‘These are going to my ex-wife’s place.’ ”

“Did your step day play guitar?”

“No, he didn’t play a note. He wasn’t really my step dad. My mother never married him. He was just around.”

“How were you on the guitar? Did you take lessons?”

“No, I just banged around on it. It was a junior size start-up guitar. When I grew out of that, he wouldn’t buy me another one. It was like trying to play a ukelele. Speaking of which, see that lady that just passed? She was carrying a ukelele.”

I said, “I didn’t see you yesterday. Did you stay home because of the rain?”

“Yeah, I’m still feeling sick. I haven’t eaten since Friday, so rain or not I was determined to come down here. Tomorrow,  Thomas, my worker, is supposed to come by my place with a bag of groceries. I hope there is no weird stuff. Last time they gave me cous cous and falafel. I didn’t know what to do with them, so I just tossed them.”

“They don’t have much taste; a bit like rice.”

“Yeah, I watch some of those cooking shows, that’s what they said,  but I’m too old to start trying new stuff.

I said, “Angeline was in your spot yesterday.”

“Yeah, I heard. I have no problem with her, as long as she is sober. She gets nasty when she’s drunk.”

“I saw a tall guy with a beard and baseball cap standing about twenty feet away. Does that sound like her boyfriend?”

“Probably, he’s a really weird guy. He’s got these spooky looking eyes. He frightens people away if he stands too close to her.”

“I heard that she stabbed somebody.”

“Yeah, that was her former boyfriend Al.  She went to prison for that. I think she did six months.”

“Have you sorted out your phone and television?

“Yeah, one of my regulars gave me a phone. I hope it’s not wireless. I have trouble with those… Nope, I see it has a cord attached. I phoned Bell on Hawk’s phone and asked for another bill. They said it was up to four hundred bucks now. The account is still open, but I can’t drop the internet, because everything is in Jake’s name. He’ll be out in a month, so he can worry about that.

“I still haven’t been able to log into his computer. Hawk gave me a set of headphones that I can charge through the lap top, so it’s not completely useless.

“I also contacted Canada Care about Jake’s electric wheelchair, so that’s all sorted.”

“There’s still a restraining order against him, isn’t there?”

“Yeah, I tried to have it removed, but because he’s had so many charges, all against me, they won’t recind it. Mariah had a restraining order recinded against Charlie, but his charges were varied. There was no problem, Domestic violence they really take seriously.”

I asked, “If he moves in with you, won’t that be a parole violation?”

“Yeah, if anybody finds out. It’s not as strict as probation. He just has to report once a week. There won’t be any piss tests.

“I don’t even know if the landlady will let me stay after my lease expires in November. She should let me. I’ve only had one complaint the whole time I’ve been there. Just after I moved in, I was pounding on my ceiling with a broom handle when asshole was stomping around.”

“So, are you going straight home after this, or are you going to the park?”

“Not too many people have been going to the park lately. Did I tell you, the guy upstairs threw out an oil heater? I grabbed it. It works well. When it starts up it sounds like chips frying.  There’s a bit of an odor, but I don’t mind that. I turn it off before I go to sleep. Now my place is toasty warm. If only the landlady will fix the back door before winter. Snow piles up and it won’t close properly. It stayed open about two inches last year.”




 15 October 2012

‘Street sister’ Stella helps those less fortunate

by Gerry Sutherland of the Ottawa Citizen

This is a true story about someone I know who wants to do something to help those that are not in the mainstream of our society. Her name is Stella and she lives across the street from me. People in our comfortable adult community know her as the one who does so much work attending to the flower beds in the common property. But, on Wednesdays, and sometimes on other days, Stella disappears from our street and goes to her other life in downtown Ottawa.

Go to the corner of Kent and Queen around 8 a.m. and there’s a good chance you’ll see Stella. She’s sitting with a panhandler on the side of the street, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. Stella is now in her other life as friend to the drunks, drug addicts, and ex-cons that are panhandling as they sit in the doorways and the sides of streets. Not only does she talk to these friends, but she brings them clothes and other necessities to make their lives a little more comfortable, especially during the cold winter months. And sometimes her husband, Tim, is there too, doing his part.

Stella is trusted and loved by these street people. She arrives in the morning on a bus from her home. Driving her car there is not appropriate because buses are, what the street people use and she wants to act like an equal rather than someone from ‘the right side of the tracks.’ Living in a foster home and then adopted by a well-to-do family in Winnipeg in the late 1950s was Stella’s early life. In her youth she liked animals. Later on in adult life she became interested in the lives of street people. This interest has lasted for over 15 years. When asked how long she intends to do this work she answers with a twinge of sadness, “I will continue until I can no longer physically manage.” Stella has multiple sclerosis.

His name was Angelo and he was a typical panhandler. He got stabbed by another panhandler and as a result of blood loss suffered permanent brain damage. Angelo now lives in supervised lodging and Stella, often accompanied by husband Tim, goes to see him every week. This caring action demonstrates the love this lady has for her fellow humans, regardless of what station in life they might occupy. She knows that street people, in spite of their excess drinking, their addiction to drugs, or their past crimes have a basic need that we all have. They want someone who will treat them as equals, some who they can talk to, and especially someone who cares for them. Stella meets those criteria. As she sits and walks with her ‘extended family’ she is comfortable in presenting herself to them as an equal and friend. That’s what they need and that’s what they get from this grand lady. I don’t suppose Stella will ever be officially recognized for her good work. In our society a person who is a friend of those that live on the streets is not usually a candidate for recognition. But that doesn’t really matter to her. Instead, she is content to be accepted and trusted by her street friends. Stella knows there is respect and love inherent in the expression used when they call her their ‘street sister.’

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Health Issues: People suffering from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, chronic depression, eating disorder tend to hurt themselves in some or the other way. When they reach the highest level of sorrow, they stop feeling anything. This lack of emotions sometimes makes them suffer even from panic attacks, so they cut themselves. When they see their blood, and experience the pain they feel relieved as they are assured that they are still capable of having some feeling. However, this is not the case with everyone suffering from mental illnesses, this is more commonly seen in people who suffered from childhood trauma or abuse. I said, “I was thinking back to this time last year. You were so happy. You’d received all your identification and your health card. You had moved into that nice house with Chuck. You had your pet snake, the lizards and Chuck’s dog, but you were stressed about the cop car parked in front of your house. That was before your kidneys failed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At noon the temperature was a balmy 63 degrees Fahrenheit. I felt too warm in my down filled winter coat, so I sat on it instead. Shaggy greeted me at the sidewalk — licking my hand and barking.

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

Sitting on the curb were Wolf, Chester, Joy, Jacques, Little Jake, Andre and Shakes. I was sitting on the sidewalk facing Mo. Marilyn was fidgeting, standing beside me. At one point she draped her coat over my shoulder, while she rooted through her purse looking for change to buy a cigarette.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy said, “Andre, you’re part native, you don’t recognize the flag of the Mohawk Nation. There are a lot of them on Turtle Island, or Victoria Island. Don’t you know about the land grant from Queen Victoria that gave the island in the Ottawa River, and the land were sitting on, to the Seven Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. That included the Mohawks of Akwisasne, Kahnawake, the Hurons of Wendake and the Anishinabegs.”

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

I noticed that Shakes was very quiet.

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

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

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

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

“I will, thanks, brother.”




17 October 2013

After finishing work I caught the fourteen bus, as usual. I sat near the front and read my book. About three stops later I heard my name being called, I also noticed the smell of sherry. I looked up and on the handicapped sets at the front was Shakes. He smiled. We talked a bit, but since he has a very low voice, I sat beside him.

“Hi Shakes, how was your afternoon?”

“I was at my ‘office’. A guy comes along and says to me, ‘I’ve seen you before. Here, take this.’ He hands me a folded twenty.”

“That was nice, too bad it didn’t happen every day.”

“I bought four bottles, three grams and a block of hash.”

“That should last you the night.”

“I’ll save a bottle for tomorrow.”

“How are Fran and Bettie?”

“I dont know. I haven’t seen them since Friday. I got a problem with her boyfriend though.”

“Ah, do you mean Gene or Kip?” Both Gene and Kip had assaulted their girlfriends. Gene served eighteen months in prison, for permanently injuring Fran’s back.”

“Gene’s no longer in the picture. He’s out of the family — his choice.” I could tell this was a sensitive area for Shakes, so I changed the subject.

“What are you having for supper?”

“Nothing, I meant to buy something, but I didn’t. There’s no point anyway, Dave or Jake would probably eat it all. I can’t afford to feed them all the time. I don’t know why they don’t buy their own food. I had a big can of coffee from Tim Horton’s, now there is an inch left in the bottom. I don’t even drink coffee. A can like that should last me five years.”

I said, “Jake mentioned cooking schnitzel, and tossing a salad, to bring over to you.”

‘Yeah, that was last Wednesday, but it doesn’t happen very often. Jake doesn’t have any food. He didn’t last night and he didn’t go out today.”

I said, “I guess Jake is at home watching movies on the VHS player he got.”

“He’ll come over to my place to borrow more. I don’t have television, I didn’t pay my bill.”

“Jake told me that he doesn’t either, for the same reason. How much do used VHS tapes cost?”

“My friend who owned the used music and video store had a going-out-of business sale. He was selling them seven for three bucks.”

“That’s a good price.”

“He must have had about five hundred thousand. I got about fifty.”

I said, “I haven’t seen Wolf and Shaggy since Wolf had his jaw broken.”

“It was his own fault.”

“Yeah, he can be pretty mouthy sometimes, he seems to make a lot of enemies. I remember Weasel threatening to punch him in the face.”

“Yeah, and he had crack dealers operating out of his apartment.”

“I don’t suppose they are very tolerant people.”

“I guess not. The convenience store on Moriset has a collection jar for me. It’s called the ‘Shakes Relief Fund’. I think there’s enough change in there for about five grams.”

Shakes’ stop was coming up. He said to me, ‘Miigwetch’. He pulled the cord, pulled himself to his feet using the pole and ambled to the front. He picked up his bag from  the luggage carrier. To the driver he said, “Thank you.”





17 October 2013

I wasn’t expecting anybody to be at the park today. Rain has been forecast all week. Surprisingly, I saw Shakes, Loretta, Hawk and his dog Dillinger.

“Hi Dennis,” said Loretta, “I’ve got something to show you. Read this:

For inuit struggling with trauma and addiction, this Ottawa house has been more like a home over the past 10 years.

The Mamisarvik Healing Center on Russell Rd. in Ottawa has treated about 500 Inuit in that time…

Like many projects and centers across the country, Mamisarvik will lose its Aboriginal Healing Foundation funding at the end of the year…

Loretta Kunuk said it would be a tragedy if the center had to close for lack of money.

“There’d be more suicides, for sure, more babies getting hurt and not taken care of,” she said. “All kinds of problems.”

Kunuk, born in Yellowknife and raised in Kugluktuk, what was then called Coppermine, went through the eight-week residential program in spring 2013 so that she could stop drinking. She’s been sober ever since.

“I’d had enough crap in my life. I had to do it,” says Kunuk, who now lives in Ottawa. “I’ve been sober 10 months now.  For a chronic alcoholic, that’s something.”

Kunuk was abused as a child. She started drinking at age 10 and became addicted to the numbing escape it offered from the pain of living.

But the booze also fueled a rage inside her and at 18, she left Nunavut an crisscrossed the country, crashing on friends’ couches, getting into fights, getting arrested.

Three years ago she was struck by a hit-and-run driver in downtown Ottawa and left for dead. After reconstructive and plastic surgery, she was able to walk again but is riddled with scars, inside and out.

Mamisarvik saved her life. She still speaks to some of her counsellors there and credits them to giving her a future she wants to live in.

“If you really want to change, if you really have hit rock bottom, that’s where to go. It saved me,” says Kunuk, 43.

“You just have to want it for yourself. You can’t do it for someone else. That’s just a waste of time.”

Kunuk has already recommended the program to family members and friends who are struggling like she was.

“That’s amazing, Loretta,” I said “ten months sober and you have so much more to look forward to. That’s a great accomplishment already.

“For a chronic alcoholic it really is. I wasn’t even a nice drunk, I was vicious. I wasn’t having fun, I was just getting into trouble for myself and my friends. Now it’s just a matter of trying to stay sober one day at a time.

“I saw my Probation Officer this morning. I’ve just got one month to go then I’m free. It’s been seven years.”

Shakes said, “I don’t try to stay sober. I just want to stay drunk. I have a good time, pass out, then start all over. I’m not nice.”

Loretta said, “Shakes, don’t say that. Of course, you’re nice.”

“Nope, I’m just me.”

“I saw a black guy on the bus last night. He had a large can of beer, and an empty, in a plastic bag.  He kept passing out and falling against the lady sitting next to him. He accidentally hit her with his beer can. She looked over at me, but I didn’t know the guy. I hope I’m not that bad.

“When I get on the bus I just say, ‘This is all I got.’ Usually the driver will say, “Sit down, Shakes, we know where you live. You’re the stop at Summerside and Merivale.’ Sometimes they’ll even give me a day pass, so I don’t have to pay on the way back.

“This is what I woke up with this morning — two bucks. I haven’t got anything since. I don’t know what’s wrong this year.  Jake has been complaining about not making much. I always make more than he does.”

“Jake doesn’t talk to people. You say, ‘Good morning, or good afternoon, have a nice day, sir.’ “

“Jake yells at people.”

“Yeah, I guess It depends on how much he’s had to drink.”

Dillinger was playing in the bushes. Every so often, he would poke his head up, as if he were playing hide-and-seek.

I asked Shakes, “How is Jake doing? I’ve seen him the past two days. He told me that he had a seizure. He fell backwards onto his coffee table, where there was an open pair of scissors. He got a two-inch puncture in his back. He walked into his bathroom, there was blood pouring out of his back, he slipped in the pool of blood, hit the toilet tank, then landed on the toilet rim, breaking a rib.”

“Seizure? He was just drunk.”

I said, “Joy figured that he had been beaten and stabbed.” Shakes smiled.

“Does Frank have much furniture yet? I know he has a bed.”

“A bed full of bed bugs, that’s all.”

“Do you have bed bugs at your place?”

“Don’t mention bed bugs. Yeah, I got them, along with cockroaches. The cockroaches I don’t mind. We get along fine, but the bed bugs bite. I can get along without that. In all my years in Ottawa, this is the first place where I’ve had bed bugs.”

“Shark has them at his place.”

“Yeah, he had them bombed. That’s the only way to get rid of them. I haven’t seen him for quite a while.”

I said, “Hawk was going over to his place yesterday to play Scrabble.”

Shakes said, “I have a Scrabble game at home, also a chess set.”

Loretta said, “I don’t know how you learned to play chess.  There are so many different moves. I get all confused. My daughter plays chess. She beat her father in five moves one time.”

I asked, “Where does your daughter live?”

“In Lindsay. Her name is Ocean. This year she’ll be graduating from grade twelve. She’s really smart. I’m so proud of her.”

Shakes said, “Lindsay is near my old rez, Curved Lake.”

I asked, when were you last there?”

“1977, I had a house there. I gave it to my uncle. He has a family, he’s sober.”