4 May 2012

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

As I approached I said, “Hi Joy, did Shakes tell you that he and I were panhandling together yesterday?

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

“Shakes,” 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, Shakes, you should start taking care of yourself, and change your clothes.” He 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!”

I asked Joy, “How’s everything where you’re staying? Are there still a lot of people at Chuck’s?”

“Jeff is moving out today. Bearded 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, Chuck’s dog, 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 Shakes. 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 the clinic, 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 Shakes 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. Shakes  and Shamus were passed out on the lawn and somebody phoned the police. They sent three squad cars and the paramedics. They let Shakes 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 Shakes not to pan handle at ‘the bench’, since it attracts attention, and when he lies 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 Shakes 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.”

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

“I spent my noon hour yesterday with Andre and Shakess. 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 Shakes 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 the city.”

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.The adventures will continue; same time, same place.

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