.

……

.

15 November 2012

This morning, as I got off the bus I saw Metro with his stack of newspapers.

“Good morning, Metro. I’ll take a newspaper today.” He smiled because he knew I would be using it, not for reading, but for insulation between my backside and the sidewalk — not that it made any difference to him. When he’s handed out his daily allotment of papers he gets to go home.

At noon Wolf and Shaggy were sitting at the curb, while the rest of the group was on the traffic island.

“Hi Wolf,” I said, “you’re all alone here.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t like to take Shaggy over there, because there is traffic on both sides, twice as much chance of her getting killed. She’s already been hit by a car, I don’t want that to happen again. She’s all I got. Even if someone calls Shakes she’s ready to run across the street. She’s crazy that way, just like the dog in the cartoon — you know the one — her head is just all over the place.

“It’s cool today, isn’t it. I don’t know why those guys think it’s warmer over there. They have to come across to my side of the street to piss, then Shaggy wants to follow them back. I should charge them a toll. What do you think?

“Look what I got this morning. A lady gave them to me, red, Olympic mittens, with the maple leaf crest on the back and 2012 on the palm. I’ve already got gloves but I was really happy to get these.

“Tomorrow Stella’s bringing me some between seasons shoes. These sneakers have mesh on the top and sides that lets the cold in. I’ve got winter boots for forty below zero, but they’re heavy and awkward. I don’t want to wear them in this weather.

“It’s time for me to take a leak. I’ll probably see you tomorrow, since I’m coming to see Stella, anyway. I have to get my fresh air and I like to have a couple of beer outside. I’ll see you then.”

“Bye, Wolf.”

I walked across the street where the rest of the group, all nine of them, were congregated. Everyone had filled the spaces on the low wall, so I sat on the concrete. Jacques handed me a copy of the Metro to sit on.

“It’s not much,” he said, “but it helps.”

“Thanks, Jacques, I had my own, but forgot it at work.”

Joy said to Shakes, “I’ll trade you seven for one… okay eight for one. Come on Shakes, my last offer nine for one. I can’t believe he’s saying no to me. Okay, ten native cigarettes for one Pall Mall.”

“No,” said Shakes, “I’d have to walk all the way to Bank Street to get some more.”

“Shakes,” said Joy, “you’re going there anyway.”

Donny reached into his coat pocket and handed Joy a tailor-made cigarette. She gave him ten native ones.

“Donny, can you ask your brother to do me a big favor? Can you ask him if he’ll go to the World Exchange and pick me up a bottle of Imperial Canadian sherry?”

Donny said, “He says he’d go, but he has some errands to run first.” Donny’s brother left on his bicycle.

Debbie asked Joy, “Why can’t you go there?”

“I’m barred, ever since I punched Drew Carey in the head.”

“You mean, Drew Carey the actor?”

“No the short, fat fuck with the glasses. We call him Drew Carey. One time a few years back when Digger and Old André were still here we went in. I was standing behind Digger. The guy behind the counter said, “You stink, why don’t you take a shower?”

“I said to him, ‘Hey man, just because these guys sleep outside doesn’t mean they don’t wash. What about you? You live with your mother, sleep in her basement. She makes your lunch every day.’ After that, I just lost it. I jumped over the counter and started pounding on his head. They have a picture of me in the back. All the staff has been told not to serve me.

“If you think you can get in, You can get yourself a beer on me. I’d really appreciate it.”

“No problem. I could use a beer, then I have to go to work panning.

“So, how’s your new place?”

“It’s good. At least I don’t have to listen to Chester coughing and complaining all the time. I’ve got some wood bugs, from when they cut the tree down in the back. They threw all the wood down the stairs to where my apartment is. They took the wood out, but the bugs stayed. They’re that kind that roll up into a ball when you touch them. I thought I’d swept them all up yesterday and could go out my back door with just my socks on, but there they were again. On the weekend, when I was drunk and stoned, I was playing marbles with them, flicking them against the wall. They would have been better off if they’d stayed with their brothers outside.”

Shakes said, “I haven’t played marbles in forty years.”

Debbie said, “I know all about those bugs. When my kids were young, I used to go into the forest, find a rotting log and take the bark off. Some of the pieces were almost six feet long. I’d wrap them in a sheet — that’s the only way I could carry them — bring them home and put them under my kids’ beds. Whenever they’d see me with one of those sheets over my shoulder they’d say, ‘No, Mom, not the bugs again.’ I’d brush off the bark, let it dry then hang them on my walls. They looked really nice.

“Now, I’ve got cockroaches. I didn’t have them before, but the exterminators came to my door and said they were spraying the whole building. I said, ‘You can’t spray here. It would kill all my plants.’ They said they could use a gel that wouldn’t be harmful to plants. That sounded good, but this gel, I found out, attracts roaches. The exterminators brought roaches in on their clothes, now I have a problem.”

Joy said, “Wolf has roaches, so did Jake in his old place, Weasel had them, but his place was so bad they had it condemned. He’d pulled all the plasterboard off the walls, the windows were broken and snow piled up inside. Rodent’s place was nearly as bad.”

Debbie said, “I like Rodent.”

“Rodney the Rodent, he’s the one sponsoring Big Jake, for a place to live, after he gets out of prison. He gives me the creeps. He came to Chester’s place in the summer when I and Outcast were there. We were all in the back yard. Chester was wearing shorts and had his shirt off. Rodent sat right next to him. He was rubbing Chester’s back, pinching his titties and touching his thigh. It nearly made me and Outcast sick. Chester went inside and put on long pants and a shirt. He told me that Rodent made him feel uncomfortable. Chester only had one beer and was working on his second. All of a sudden he’s acting really drunk. I think Rodney dropped some pills into his beer. I can only imagine what happened when Chester went to Rodney’s place alone.”

Debbie asked, “Where is Big Jake now?”

“Collins Bay — it was right around this time of year that he went into prison, so it’s been fifteen months since I’ve been with a man. You remember my Jake, don’t you? Sometimes they used to call him Sasquatch.”

Debbie said, “I went seventeen years when my kids were growing up. Timmy’s just leaving. What do you think of him?”

“I wish he’d wear tighter pants, it looks like he’s got a good bod.”

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