https://rainn.org/

They Call Me Red

……

10 June 2013

Bearded Bruce

After leaving work I noticed Craig sitting in his usual spot on Jarvis. I handed him a Subway card and he asked, “Is that change I hear jingling in your pocket?”

“No,” I said it’s keys. I never carry change.”

“I could sure use some change right now, but thanks for the card.”

On the next corner, sitting beside a Metro newspaper box was Bearded Bruce. When He saw me coming he opened the door of the box and pulled out a paper. “Have a seat, if you’ve got a few minutes.”

I positioned the newspaper and sat down. “I haven’t seen you for a while, Bruce.” I handed him a Subway card.”

“What’s this, you used to hand out Tim Horton cards?”

“Joy requested a change of menu.”

“So, I’ve got her to blame for this. Next time I see her I’m going to demand my money back. Seriously, thanks for the card.

“I don’t go to the park much anymore. It’s always the same people, they’re always whining the same things. And I’m trying to control my drinking. This is a drinking day. I was up there at noon, so was Little Jake, Jacques, Wolf and Shaggy. Joy wasn’t there.”

“I haven’t seen Joy for a while.”

“She’s doing okay.”

“How is Little Jake?”

“Jake is Jake. He’s supposed to meet me here, then we’ll take the bus to my place. He asked if he could stay over. I told him, ‘Sure, man, I’ve got pork chops, chicken, anything you like.’ I’m guessing that he jumped the bus and is at my place waiting for me. What can I say? He’s not taking his meds. Sometimes he won’t even come over to my place, because he knows I’m going to nag him about it.

“I got caught jumping the bus the other day. A security woman came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to have to put you in handcuffs.’ I said, ‘Look, little girl, do you see the size of me, do you really think I’m going to let you put handcuffs on me? You’d better call for backup.’ So, two more security officers showed up. I said, ‘You caught me. I didn’t put in a ticket. That’s three dollars and fifty cents. I’ve got my Welfare check right here. I’m just trying to get downtown to cash it. If you like I’ll come back and put in two bus tickets. Do you think handcuffs are really necessary?’ They wrote me up a fine for a hundred and thirty-five dollars, then gave me a day pass. I said, ‘Don’t you think this is a bit foolish. I’m not going to pay the fine, but if I get a day pass every time I jump the bus, I’m never going to put in a ticket. You’ll see me back here tomorrow.’

I asked, “doesn’t O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program) cover bus passes?”

“I’m not on O.D.S.P. I have the papers filled out, my doctor’s signed them, but I haven’t handed them in. I qualify, because of my back injury and my addictions, but I don’t think I deserve it. I feel I can get along without it. It’s just the way I am.”

A gorgeous woman passed within a few inches of us. We both sighed, “Beautiful!” She turned and gave each of us a warm smile, then moved on.

“Sometimes,” said Bruce, “I think I have the best job in the world.”

I said, “Sometimes, Bruce, you do.”

“I got a real scare the other day.” said Bruce, “I thought I was having a heart attack. I got dizzy, I had tingling in my left arm and leg. I phoned an ambulance for myself. The lady on the line said, ‘Just go home and rest. We’ll pick you up at your house.’ I said, ‘I’m at a payphone, this is where I’m having a heart attack. I can’t go to my house. I can barely stand.’ ‘Okay,’ she said, ‘wait there and we’ll have an ambulance pick you up.’

They took me to the hospital and checked my heart. It was okay, but my blood pressure was through the roof. They gave me some medicine, then a doctor put on some rubber gloves and put his finger up my bum. I’ve had that before, but I said, ‘My heart’s over here. What are you doing back there?’ They checked on me in about forty-five minutes and asked me how I was doing. I said, ‘I feel fine.’ The medicine must have done the trick. I know my stomach’s bad. I haven’t been taking care of myself. Next week I have to go in for a gastroscopy, that’s where they put a tube down your throat to see your insides.”

“The doctor said, ‘Bruce, you’re going to have to quit smoking, drinking and eating fat. I told him, ‘I can use a patch to help me quit smoking. I’ve got the drinking under control, that’s not a problem, but there’s no way I’m giving up fat. I fry everything in bacon fat. Every time I cook a mess of bacon, I pour off the fat and store it in a can in the fridge. No, sir, I’m not giving up fat.’ ”

I said, “These people walking by, they don’t even look at us.”

“I know,” said Bruce, “it’s like we’re invisible, or else they’re blind. I wonder if they’re deaf as well? If I said, There goes an ignorant asshole! Do you think he’d hear me? I do that some times, but it doesn’t get me any money. Usually, if it’s a woman, I say, ‘You’re looking good this evening.’ If it’s a guy I say, ‘Good evening, sir.’ I’m usually polite.

There was a man with a bicycle waiting for the ‘walk’ light. Bruce said to him, “How’s it going, man?”

The guy said, “It’s been a long day.”

Bruce said, “It’s been a long day for me too. I was out here at six this morning, and I’m still here, nearly thirteen hours later. Don’t you think that deserves a bit of change?” The guy pushed his bike across the street.

I asked, “Do you know Craig, down the block?”

“Sure I know Craig. We’ve slept together. I don’t man together, but we’ve both slept on the street near each other if you know what I mean.

“Of the three fights I’ve gotten into, he was the cause of them all. People think he’s stupid, but he’s not. One day some guys walked past him and kicked over his cup. He was scrambling around, chasing this change when I came up. I said, Greg, do you have the twenty you owe me? He pulled all the change out of his pocket and gave it to me. Then I said to the guys, ‘Now what the fuck do you want? If it’s what I’ve got in my pocket, you’re going to have to go through me.’ The police arrived and I had to go to court. I told the prosecuting attorney exactly what happened and he agreed with me. Case closed. There was another time though, that I had to serve three months. That’s when I was still drinking heavily. It wouldn’t take much to set me off.

Bruce said to me, “You’re too well dressed to be a panhandler.”

I said, “I could always say to people, ‘I’m trying to top up my R.R.S.P. (Registered Retirement Savings Plan).”

“Yeah, that would work.”

It was time for me to go, so I said, ” Goodbye, Bruce, until next time.”

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