They Call Me Red




2 August 2013

The weather was perfect in the park. Shakes, Mariah and Little Jake were sitting quietly in the shade. I made sure Jake saw me before I went to shake his hand. Yesterday, he nearly freaked out,  He said, ‘Jesus, Dennis, don’t sneak up on me like that.’

Jake said, “I been alone most of the morning. Before Shakes showed up at ten, there was nobody but me. Since then a few people stopped by, for about ten minutes, then left.”

Mariah said, “I just came down to pay a bill, but they’re in the middle of upgrading their equipment. They asked, “How do you want to pay this bill?” I said, ‘Cash.’ The guy looked in the till. He said we’ve got no money to make change. Can you use some other method.’ I asked, ‘How about my debit card?’ The guy checked the machine and said, ‘Sorry, that’s not working either. Do you have a credit card?’ I said, ‘Yes, but it’s maxed out.’ So that was a waste of time. That’s when I came here to visit with Jake and Shakes.

“I had something weird happen today. I was doing my laundry when I heard a dog barking. I looked outside and my friend was on her balcony with his dog, some kind of a pit bull mix. When he saw me he said, ‘I’ll be right down.’ We were chatting near the gate when this guy, from across the street, came over with a stick in his hand. He demanded a cigarette. My friend said, ‘I told you a hundred times, I’m not giving you any smokes.’ The other guy started swinging the stick near me. My friend took his dog inside, then came out with a stick of his own. They were going at it in the middle of the street, swinging these sticks. I got on the phone and called the cops. They got there really fast, in about five minutes, but the other guy had already gone back to his apartment. When the cops confronted him he denied everything. Said he wasn’t even outside.  I pointed to the sticks on the ground and said, ‘That’s evidence right there.’ Anyway, he took our statements and said they’d had other complaints against this guy, so they’d keep an eye on him. Can you imagine that? You’re not even safe in your own yard.”

A man walked over and shook the hands of Shakes and Jake. He asked, “And who is this lovely lady here?”

“I’m Mariah,”

He said, “They call me Peanuts. Don’t ask why. It’s a long story. Anyway, the last time I saw Shakes was on Yonge Street, in front of the liquor store. I saw this young kid, about twenty, punch Shakes. He must have hit him about six times in the face and was trying to go through his pockets. Shakes had a black eye.  I ran over and grabbed the guy. I said, ‘Do you know who you’re hitting? Shakes is a legend. It’s like hitting Muhammad Ali. You just don’t do that.’

“Shakes got up off the ground and fists started flying. He was like a whirlwind — ‘floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee.’ Soon the cops came by. The first thing they did was put Shakes in handcuffs. I said to them, ‘Hey, Shakes is the victim here. He’s the hero, not the villain. Take those cuffs off immediately’ Store employees came out and said, ‘We saw the whole thing, officers. He’s right, this guy had been in the store and when he left we saw this other guy punching him. We’re the ones that phoned you guys.’ At that point, they removed the cuffs and told Shakes he could go. The other guy was thrown in the back of the squad car.

“Did you have much money on you, Shakes?”

“Yeah, I had two hundred and twenty dollars, I’d just cashed my check and still had the money in the brown bank envelope, but he didn’t get it. Nobody steals money from me.”

Peanuts said, “I just came through some hard times. I was at the Shepherd and met this woman. She was beautiful, fifty-two years old, same as me. We got on really well. We went out and had a few drinks and she said to me, ‘I got eighteen hundred dollars. We could rent an apartment.’ We looked at a few places and found a really nice one for nine hundred a month. We moved our stuff in. I don’t want to get gross here, but we made love at least twice a day, in every room of the place.

“One morning I woke up, she was wrapped in my arms, I looked down, there was a rat curled up at the bottom of the bed — a big fucker, about a foot long. The place was infested with them.

“Her sister came over and while they were talking a rat ran across the floor. She screamed and said, ‘My sister can’t live in a place like this.’  To her, she said, ‘You’re coming home with me.’

“I went back to the Shepherd. After a few days, I was feeling really sick, had the sweats, the shakes, the DTs, because I hadn’t had a drink for about four days.”

Mariah said, “I know. I’ve been there.”

Peanuts continued, “I couldn’t buy a drink, because I’d given all my money to this woman, three hundred dollars. I’ve always given my money to my women to look after. They give me some to spend each day. I’m no good at looking after my own money, never have been. I went back to the apartment and all her things had been moved out. Didn’t leave a forwarding address, telephone number, nothing.”

I asked, “So, she didn’t leave you any money?”

“No, but the money wasn’t a worry, I can always get more money. I packed all my clothes, my leather jacket, into a recycling box and went back to the Shepherd. When I woke up the next day, all my stuff had been stolen. All I got to my name is what’s on my back.

“I’ve had three wives before, but I didn’t love any of them the way I love this woman, even though we hadn’t been together that long. She broke my heart.

To me Peanuts said, “I think I’ve seen you around before.”

‘Yeah,” I said “I’ve been coming around here for a couple of years. I work in that tall building over there.”

Peanuts said, “I think the last time I saw you was on the corner of Queen and Jarvis. You were charging fifty bucks.”

I said, “You must have me confused with someone else, I’ve never charged as much as fifty bucks. A twenty could get me anytime.”

Peanuts laughed. He said, “That’s what I like, a guy that can take a joke. Hey, if you ever need anybody rubbed out, keep me in mind.”

I said, “I’ll call Mariah first, then you. This guy has to get back to work. I’ll see you guys some other time. Have a good weekend.”

Jake said, “You hear that? He’d call a woman first, then you.”


Sample my books for free — To date, $1945.00 has been donated to the homeless:

Gotta Find a Home: Conversations with Street People ($2.99 Download) ($.299 Download) ($.99 Download) ($2.99 Download)

They Call Me Red: ($.99 Download)


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