Archive for April 14, 2015

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13 April 2015

“Good morning, Chuck, how was your weekend?”

“It was okay. I was hoping it would have been better. We had that big game between the Senators and the Flyers. I was hoping to make some money.  I wore my Senators jersey, my Senators cap.  I thought all the sports bars would be packed. I went all the way down one side of Main Street, then came back up the other. There was nobody on the streets, nobody on the sidewalks, nobody in the bars. I couldn’t understand it, this game was for a playoff spot in the finals, and we won. The win on Saturday means Ottawa will play either Montreal or Tampa Bay in the playoffs, and we’ve consistently beat Montreal.

“I went home, watched the game on TV, by myself. It was a great game. We’re doing well winning 23 of the final 31 games in the regular season. Andrew Hammond made 34 saves.  Firing Paul MacLean and appointing Dave Cameron as head coach has done this team a lot of good. If the Senators were leading he’d always yell at the team to play defence, but that’s not the way to win hockey games. When a team plays defensive it opens itself to the opposing team’s offence. That’s how Toronto lost to Montreal. The Maple Leafs announced Sunday morning it had fired general manager Dave Nonis, interim head coach Peter Horachek and some of his staff.

I asked, “Do you ever attend the games, Chuck?”

“Sometimes, but it’s inconvenient and expensive. The wheel chair taxi service ends at 5:00 pm. Most of the games are in the evening. That means I have to rely on the regular bus system. They only have two designated spots for wheelchairs. At the stadium they have a limited number of wheelchair accessible seats —  in the corners. I prefer to sit at center ice. If  I can’t get on one of the regular buses, I’m stuck with taking a taxi. Sometimes they’ll take three fares at a time and I’ll end up riding all over the city before I get home. It can cost over $100.00. One time the driver stopped to pick up his mother. He jammed her wheelchair in the trunk where my walker was. Those cost $400.00 and It’s never worked properly since.

I said, “Depending on the weather, I’ll see you tomorrow, Chuck.”

“Bye.”

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4 out of 5 Stars
on April 14, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition

 

I just finished this fine work by a very astute observer of “street life.” Mr. Cardiff’s interactions hit a few nerves for me, as well as rekindled memories of my own experiences with similar people in a different time and place.I was immediately drawn into the writer’s humanity, and kindness as he delved into the dilemmas inherent in these never intended lifestyles. One could sense throughout the winding story his empathy with so many of these lives unable to lift themselves away from the constant downward pull of a gravity set in motion in their youth. The conversations begin with an act of simple kindness by Mr. Cardiff to a lady he sees on the street. He recollects his own living on the edge at various times in his life, and that no doubt allows him to not judge harshly the people who presently come before him.

The story is inhabited by struggling characters of different ages and backgrounds— Hippo, Weasel, Shakes, Antonio, and Toothless Chuck populate the narrative.

The grimness of their lives for me is encapsulated in this brief passage as Mr. Cardiff turns his attention to Joy, the most recurring figure in Gotta Find a Home:

“She has cracked cartilage in her nose with a gash across the bridge, two black eyes and pneumonia in both lungs. Her boyfriend, Big Jake, who is six foot, three and weighs over two hundred pounds, punched her in the face when she wouldn’t give him oral sex (she couldn’t breathe through her nose because of the pneumonia). He left her on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. A month ago he kicked her to the point that her whole right side was bruised; she had two cracked and two fractured ribs. In both cases she phoned the police, so hopefully this time he will be in jail a long time.
I sat with her, gave her a big hug and let her vent. “I love Big Jake, but I have to take care of myself. I can’t be somebody’s punching bag. One day he’s going to kill me.”

One first pained reaction was “BUT SHE LOVES HIM?” How many times have we encountered implausibly connected couples in polite restaurant settings—he badgering her, bullying intellectually, slightly derisive.” What does she see in him,” we ask ourselves. Yet here is a woman declaring her love for a terrible brute, not just a smarmy guy belittling his partner as the tiramisu is brought to the table.

I mentioned my own connection—I worked in the New York City Social Services on the Lower East Side long before its gentrification. It was a time when heroin was easier to find than the Pinot Noir now served in the outdoor cafes. Mr. Cardiff’s sharp characterizations brought me back to that time—unlike his occasional Inuit Native American lost in a Toronto that has no resemblance to his barren birthplace, the inhabitants of my Lower East Side experience were also cut adrift in the same way. They may have come from Puerto Rico and spoke a stumbling English, or a farm boy from Kansas still reeling from Viet Nam.

Whether it’s the Toronto street people of this era’s oxycotin and crack cocaine or the Lower East Side of heroin and pre-AIDS, all of these people have a voice similar in its despair.

I recommend this book—it is an entrance to a world we see everyday, but rarely stop to engage.