Archive for April 7, 2019

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bench

20 August 2012

The weather at noon was pleasant. Sitting in the shade, on a park bench, I met Sylvain and Serge. Neither of them ever has much to say, they are both French-speaking, and their knowledge of English is as limited as is my knowledge of French. Sylvain is rather gaunt and pale, while Serge looks like a gnarled Santa Claus. We always exchange greetings and I look forward to seeing them. I can depend on Serge being there, being Serge.

“Hello, Sylvain, Serge,” I said as I shook their hands. “It’s a beautiful afternoon. Are you enjoying the cooler weather, after the heat wave we had?”

Serge said, “Yes, It’s very nice, especially sitting here in the shade. How have you been? I haven’t seen you for a couple of days.”

“I’ve been sick with a cold.” I said. “That’s why I wasn’t here on Thursday or Friday. You haven’t fallen again have you?”

“No, I haven’t fallen.”

“I’m going to check to see who is at the park. I’ll see you on my way back.”

“See you.”

On the side-walk, where the benches used to be, sat Hippo, Little Jake and Andre.

“Hi Hippo,” I said, “how is it going with your application for housing?”

“It’s going good. This afternoon I get to see a few places and if everything works out I’ll be able to move September first.”

“That’s great,” I said. “do you have any idea of which neighborhood you will be moving to?”

“It’ll be somewhere in Vanier. I’m not sure where.”

“That sounds good. I’ve lived in Vanier. It’s just a short walk to downtown. There are lots of stores, good bus transportation.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a bachelor, but that’s big enough for me. It beats living behind a dumpster.”

“How have you been feeling?”

“I’m starting to feel better now, but I was sick all weekend with a summer cold.”

“There’s a lot of that going around. Jake had it, I had it.”

“Andre,” I asked, “how have you been feeling?”

“I wasn’t feeling so good this morning. The first sip I took, I started throwing up and coughing. When the Salvation Army Outreach Workers came around they asked, ‘Are you okay?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not okay, I’m coughing up a lung here.’ Getting all that phlegm out of my lungs felt good though. Back when I had my heart attack, I had double, walking pneumonia. It was like I had a rock in my chest, I could only take shallow breaths, or it would burn my lungs.

“I’ve had my first bottle now and I’m feeling great. It’s great being me.”

“That’s good,” I said, “because everyone else is taken.”

Emile said to a woman walking by, “Can I have a smile, please, just one. I’m sure you’d look even prettier if you smiled.” Some people walking around look so grouchy. Don’t they know, that if you want to be happy, you first have to act happy. Say, ‘Good morning,’ to people, smile, say, ‘have a nice day.’ I’m always happy. Even at the liquor store. Most of my friends get served once then they’re cut off for the rest of the day; not me. I go in with a smile on my face, say hello to the staff. When I’m at the check-out, I look the cashier in the eyes. And, I don’t steal; except this morning. There was only one employee there and she was doing something on the computer. I stuck a bottle in the inside pocket of my jacket, picked up another and paid for that at the cash.

“One time, I had just come out of the liquor store, and stopped to talk to some friends, who were drinking. A cop came by and made everyone dump their bottles. I said to him, ‘I just bought this. It isn’t even cracked.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but can you prove you bought it, and didn’t just steal it.’ I said, ‘I didn’t keep the receipt, why would I? What am I going to do return a used bottle of sherry because I didn’t like it? I bought it because I intended to drink it.’ I walked back into the store and spoke to the manager, the guy that served me. I told him the situation. He came out and said to the cop, ‘This gentleman bought and paid for a bottle of sherry. He refused the receipt, because he was on his way out and had no need for it. He’s a regular customer and he’s never stolen from this store. I’ve watched him.’ The cop let me keep the bottle.

“That’s a nice electric bike going by,” said Andre. “They cost over $800. My mother would never let me have a motor bike, not even an off-road one. My dad and brothers were race car drivers. If you want to know why I’m so crazy, you should see the rest of my family. All of us really like torque. Whatever we drive, we take it to the absolute limit. My dad rebuilt a Mustang and put a big Firebird engine in it. Everything had to be changed around to make the engine fit. When he first got it running, the hood wouldn’t close. So he could go for a test run, he got me to stand on the front bumper. He chained my feet so they wouldn’t slip, then he had me lie down on the hood. I grabbed onto the drip rails with my fingers. When he’d go a round a corner, he’d grab my wrist with one hand and shift with the other. This was on a gravel road, I’d be looking over the roof, feeling the car go one way, while the road behind was going another. I don’t know what speed we were going, but it was fast. I saw my life pass before my eyes. I was only eight years old, so it didn’t take very long. I hadn’t had much of a life to that point. He was a great guy, my dad. God bless his soul. (Emile made the sign of the Cross on his chest and looked up).

“My old man was crazy. He had this pickup truck, he got some sheet steel and welded it to the undercarriage. We didn’t know what he was up to, but it turned out that he was making a skid plate. He had the idea that he wanted to jump the neighbor’s fence with the pickup. He built sort of  a ramp leading up to the fence. Like I said, I didn’t know what he was up to, so when he started the truck I hopped in the back. There was no tailgate. I held onto the roll bar. All of a sudden, ‘whoosh’ we were airborne. He took out a whole section of the fence, but the skid plate kept any fence posts from coming through the floor, into the cab. The truck wasn’t damaged at all.

“Another time he had an old Bombardier snowmobile that he rebuilt with a bigger engine. He had leather straps around the hood. I’d never seen anything like that before. The straps, it turned out, were to hold his shotgun. He’d go moose hunting with that. He’d be cruising at full speed with one hand on the throttle, reloading the shotgun with the other. I saw him get a moose. He had just crested the top of a hill and was coming down, when he shot the moose in the back of the head. A perfect shot.

“We rented a house on eight acres of land. Back then, I think we were paying about one hundred dollars a month. My mother had a half-acre garden in the front of the house. Our neighbor’s cows were always getting loose, trampling and eating the leaves of the vegetables.

“My dad said to the neighbor, ‘My wife puts a lot of time and effort into planting and caring for that garden, she doesn’t appreciate your cows coming over and ruining it. The next time I see your cows stray, even one foot, into our yard, I’m taking one.’ Sure enough, it happened. Before we even knew what was happening my dad had that cow slaughtered, hung by chains from a beam in the garage, and was butchering it — cutting it into pieces. He had to go out and buy a twenty-five cubic foot freezer to hold that cow. The neighbor came over and said, ‘One of my cows is missing. You haven’t seen it have you?’ My dad said, “No, I haven’t, but you’re welcome to take a look around the property. It might be out there somewhere'”

Chester, Loretta and Joy arrived. They’d been on a run to the liquor store.Joy’s backpack was stuffed to the brim, probably with Chester’s beer. Chester’s cell phone rang. In his French accent he answered, “Hello? Yes he’s here.” He handed the phone to Hippo. “Hello, oh, he never gave anything to me. Okay, thanks.”

I asked, “Was that someone calling about your housing?”

“No, it was Loon. He said that he gave Animal ten bucks to give to me. He was checking to see if I got it. I told him that I didn’t get it.”

Mo said, “Yeah, if Loon gives money to someone to hold for someone else, he always follows up to see if they got it. I do the same. So when did he give Weasel the money?”

“Friday? This is Monday. Weasel is your friend, he lives with you guys. That’s just wrong to hold out on a friend. This morning he was off to pan at the church. There are women there who bring him food and clothes. He sells the clothes to the crackheads and buys more crack. Hippo, you’ve got to do something about this.”

Andre said, “Yeah, Hippo, stop being such a pussy. He’s half your size, you can take him. I’m half his size and, just last night, I didn’t like something he said, so I popped him one.”

Joy said, “I’ve hit him, when he’s gotten out of line.” He’s said, ‘I can’t hit you back because I’m not a woman beater.’ I said, ‘I dont fight like a woman, so you don’t have to worry on that score.”

“Yeah,” said Hippo, “I’ll do it soon. Right now I’m going to the Lord Elgin on a butt run.”

“You’re going on a butt run Now?” asked Andre incredulously.

“Well, I also have to take a dump. I’ve been trying to hold it in, but now I have to go.”

Hippo returned with his hand full of cigarette butts. He dumped them on the sidewalk in front of Andre. “Hippo, these are menthol. Haven’t you got any class?”

“It’s all they had,” he said. The Lord Elgin Hotel has sand ashtrays in their lobby. The cigarette butts are extinguished, but not crushed, like they would be in another type of ashtray.

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