They Call Me Red

……

 

9 October 2013

At the park the sun was shining, the weather was warm, another day of the summer we never had. Sitting on the curb were Little Jake, Mariah, Jacques, and Little Chester.

Mariah said to me, “We heard that you were sick. Joy is at home. She’s sick, too with a migraine and her stomach is upset.”

I said, “I heard that you weren’t feeling well.”

“With me, it was back pain. I have no coccyx. It was removed because of an accident in my wild youth. I’ve also got two fused disks L1 to L2 and two herniated disks between L3 to L4 and L4 to L5. I was wearing a heating pack for thirteen hours yesterday. It feels better now. It’s something that’s always going to give me trouble.”

I said, “Joy told me that Hippo had some problems at his apartment.”

Little Jake said, “Yeah, one guy was evicted, now everyone is down on Hippo. They think he had something to do with it.”

I said, “He also had a problem with two women outside his apartment. He heard them say that they were going to break in as soon as he went out; so he was afraid to leave.”

Mariah said, “Joy was really pissed off about that. Here’s a big guy who chases after cops with a hammer and he’s afraid to deal with a couple of women. He wanted Joy to come over and settle it. She wouldn’t come over and I wouldn’t either. I didn’t do it for my son, who was having trouble with a woman. Why would I do it for Hippo? I’m not going to risk jail time for that. I can get into enough trouble on my own. He’s acting like a baby.”

Little Jake said, “You should have seen me this morning. I stayed at Shark’s place last night, so I just had a short bike ride this morning. When I woke up I was still high. I only had my jean jacket with me and it was really cold this morning, especially with the dampness of the fog. I needed money so I was panning at my usual spot. I was sitting hunched down with my arms around my shins trying to get warm.  I was shivering so much, my chin was banging against my knees. Jacques laughed at me and gave me this coat.”

Jacques said, “Yesterday Bell fixed Joy’s phone. I don’t know what they did. Today, they call me and ask me if her phone is working. I called Joy this morning to see if she was coming down, but why is Bell calling me? I said to them, ‘Her phone is working, but don’t call me again! Call her!’ She has one of those wireless phones. Nancy gave it to her. I think, maybe, after a while, the battery is not good. I don’t know.”

André rode up on a copper-colored bicycle. Mariah hadn’t seen him since he battered Joy, and put her in hospital. She said, “Do I greet you the old-fashioned way, or do I give you a hug.”

André said, “I’m in no shape for anything but a hug.”

To me, Mariah said, “The old-fashioned way is either a punch to the gut or upside the head.”

André said, “Look what a guy gave me this morning. He said I was… what’s the word… inventive. It’s a mini basketball backboard that some guys use in their offices with nerf balls. The hoop just fits my cap. I sit there and say, ‘Take your best shot!’ People throw loonies and toonies (one dollar and two dollar Canadian coins). I’ve made two bottles, two grams, a pack of smokes and a couple of bags of chips. When the cops come I just fold it up and sit on it. ‘No officer, I’m just sitting here. I’m not panning.’ I show them my bad ankle and say, ‘I couldn’t stand if I tried.’ They let me go with that.

Jake said, “That looks like a fast bike!”

André said, “It’s the old red and black one I had; I just changed the color. It sure is fast, alright, it’s got thirty speeds. Count the sprockets, three in front, ten at the rear. It’s fast enough to clear three construction workers.”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

“I was coming down a hill. My brake cable came loose. I could see this big pile of gravel ahead, but I couldn’t even stop for the light. I just cruised right through. I kept trying to pump my rear brake but it wasn’t doing anything. I hit the pile and sailed right over these construction guys. They were shouting at me, but what could I do? The bike went right between the electrical box and a hydro pole. I managed to jump the first concrete median with my front wheel, but the back wheel caught. That’s where the bike stopped. I kept going; ended up on my back sprawled like a beetle, arms and legs waving. I didn’t have a single scratch on my arms or my hands, but I broke my ankle. There was  cop nearby. He came over and said, ‘Yep, that’s broken.’ ”

I asked, “Did he take you to the hospital?”

“No, I hate hospitals.  I just rode away. I’ve got it wrapped in a tensor bandage. I’m able to rotate my ankle, I just can’t walk. I’ll have to ride the bike wherever I want to go. You should have seen when I had Mary on the handlebars and got up to top gear. She was shaking and holding on to those bars like her life depended on it — and it did.”

Ghyslain came by and sat with the group. He pulled out a beer and opened it. Little Jake said, “Would you mind hiding that. We come here every day.”

Mariah said, “We call Gaston and Yves the pair of chickens, because they covered their balcony with chicken wire to keep out the pigeons. What else do you call people who live in a chicken coop?”

Jake said, “I think I’m going to dress up on Halloween as a mime. I can’t talk so good anyway, because of this sore throat. With HIV it’s not going to clear up soon.”

André said, “I think I’m going to put on a dress and go as a transvestite. It won’t even surprise people. Most have seen me in a pink dress with a black and white polka dot bra. When a cop stopped me the other day he said, Where’s your dress, André?

“A couple of years back, I made a costume out of chicken wire shaped like a beer bottle. I made a cap out of styrofoam, wrapped the chicken wire with brown paper, then used markers to make the label. My arms stuck out the sides. I made two of them. I went as Labatt Blue, Mary went as Labatt Light. We came in second place.

“First place went to a guy dressed as a rubber dick. Under his costume he had a squeeze bottle attached to a tube. He also had some Alka Seltzer and water — you know how that stuff fizzes when they’re mixed? Remember the commercial ‘plop,plop, fizz, fizz’?   When he was on stage for the final showing, he squeezed the bottle and it started spurting and foaming from the head and running down the side.”

I asked, “Did they award prizes?”

‘Yeah, a thousand for first, we got five hundred and a guy dressed as a werewolf got two, fifty. His costume was good. For us it was free drinks all night and some left over.”

~~~

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