Archive for May, 2020

They Call Me Red

……

 

7 November 2013

I wasn’t expecting anybody to be at the park at noon. It was cold and windy, but I went for a walk anyway. I met Little Jake.

“Jake, I haven’t seen you for a long time. Are you heading to your spot?”

“Yeah, that’s where I’m going.”

“Do you mind if I join you?”

“No, come right ahead. Pull up a curb and have a seat.”

“Have many people been coming by here lately?”

“You just missed Jacques. Wolf and Shaggy have been here every day this week.  I haven’t seen Joy for a couple of weeks. Hippo was here yesterday. He got back pay for his O.D.S.P (Ontario Disability Support Program). They gave him a check for seventeen hundred bucks. He was handing out money to everyone. He’s probably at Joy’s place today. You won’t see Shakes today. He owes me money.”

“How have you been feeling lately?”

“Not so good. My eyes are still watering, my throat is still swollen.  At least there is one good thing —  my doctor gave me a new prescription.  Now, I only have to take two pills a day, a big one and a small one. He said it would take about a week to take effect.

“What really pisses me off is the bed bugs. They kept me awake;  all night I was scratching. The first thing this morning I ran a hot bath, scalding hot. I jumped in and right away it felt better. When I drained the tub I was surprised at how much hair was in the drain.”

“Do you have them in your hair, as well?”

“Yeah, I’d been scratching my head. They’re everywhere. Anywhere I have exposed skin they bite. Look at my arms.  It’s funny, I was over at Shakes’ place when his workers arrived. They asked me, ‘Have you gotten rid of your bed bugs, yet?’ I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘ We’re not going to have this place sprayed until your place is clean.’

“So, I have to put everything in plastic bags, duct tape them.  I’ll have to throw out most of my furniture. All I have is a bed and things I picked up in the trash. It’s been thirteen months, I still haven’t got furniture through my worker.

“I’m going to have to go through all my clothes. Most of them I’ll throw out. The others I’ll have cleaned. Hopefully, that will kill any bugs.”

I asked, “Do you have any plans to visit your family?”

“No, They’re more afraid of bed bugs than anybody. Last time I was up there my brother had me strip in the middle of the highway. He brought a change of clothes for me. He washed everything. When I was ready to leave I asked, ‘Where is my bag?’ My brother said, ‘Oh, it must  still be in the dryer.’ Can you imagine that he even washed my bag? I don’t have it now. I lost it last night sometime.”

“Where were you?”

“I don’t know. Around midnight, I was in the back of the Royal York, huddled in a corner. The manager woke me up. I don’t know if I left my bag somewhere else, or if someone took it while I was asleep. Anyway, it was gone then.  I can’t even remember if I was with anyone.”

Randy and Loretta came up the sidewalk. I asked, “How are you, Loretta?”

“Not so good. I’ve spent the last three days in court.”

“Does that have to do with your rape case?”

“Yeah, yesterday I spent with the Crown. Today I was with his defense lawyer. It seemed I was never in the right place. I was either outside puking or in the bathroom.  I had a lot of time just waiting around. I wanted to have a drink,  just to numb my feelings, but I didn’t.”

“How long has it been now?”

“Eleven months.”

“That’s really a great achievement.”

“Yeah, I’m proud of myself.”

I asked, “How have you been, Randy?”

“Great, I’ve been working up north, in the woods. I love it up there.  We’re clear-cutting with chain saws.  My whole family is up there. We hunt for a while, cut for a while.  I go back tomorrow. I’m getting paid five hundred dollars a day. I’m saving my money for an engagement ring for my girlfriend. I’ve already put down seventeen hundred bucks.”

“How much does the ring cost in total?”

“Five grand. It’s nearly two carats.”

“Congratulations, when do you think you’ll propose?”

“Maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll be going down on one knee. I’m heading off now.” Loretta and Randy waved as they left.

I said to Jake, “He’s earning a lot of money.”

“Don’t believe what you hear, only what you see.

“Hey, here comes Andre on his bicycle. What have you been up to!

“Running around everywhere. I have an appointment with my doctor. I’m going to have my teeth removed, the few that are left. He told me he can do the surgery in about three weeks. Then it’ll take three months to heal, then they’ll fit me for dentures. I’ll be able to eat corn on the cob again.

“Every time I go home, my mother serves corn on the cob, just to piss me off.  She has new dentures. I have to try to gnaw it from the end of the cob. I get corn all over my face. She thinks it’s funny. I said to her, ‘At least I won’t be without dentures for as long as you were.’ She went years with no teeth.

“I’d better get going or I’ll be late for my appointment.  I’d be lost without this bike.”

“Do you have a lock for it?”

“No, I bring it inside everywhere.”

I said, “It’s time for me to go too. I’ll see you Andre, Jake.”

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

7 November 2013

“Good morning Chuck, Goldie,” I said.

“No sign of Joy today, but I’ve heard that she’s alright. She’s looking after somebody.”

“You don’t know who, do you?” I asked. “I wonder if Mariah is having problems with her back again?”

“I know these people to see them, but I don’t know their names.”

I asked, “Do you remember Antonio, who used to stand across the street, in front of the library? A small man, wore sunglasses all the time, very quiet, had his teeth kicked out while sleeping on a bench in the park.”

“Yeah, I remember him. When he’d come by he’d never say anything. When I passed him I’d give him a couple of cigarettes, say ‘Good morning’. He’d nod. That was terrible what they did to him, all because he was sleeping on a bench in the park. I hear he’s living in the west end now. He has his disability pension sorted out. I hear he’s doing okay.

“I can’t understand why they would do something like that to a defenseless man, even kicked him while he was asleep. What kind of coward does that?”

“Yeah, and they set fire to Shakes.”

“I know  Shakes. I never heard that he’d been set on fire. When did that happen?”

“It was at least three years ago, that’s how long I’ve known him. He has black scars on both shins. Infection and gangrene set in after the burn.”

“I’ve heard some stories about Shakes. He and Eddie and two other guys were drinking behind the old Rainbow Cinema. One of the guys was bragging about having raped a little girl and her mother. The other guys didn’t take kindly to that. He made another mistake, broke a cardinal rule of people on the streets. These guys had shared their bottle with him all evening. Then he got up to leave, pulled out his own bottle and refused to share with them. You can imagine how upset they were. They were drunk and high. They probably didn’t know what they were doing They beat him up, then set him on fire. Eddie was charged with it.  He decided to take the rap for all of them.  Shakes was in the clear, but he felt guilty. He confessed, to a chaplain at the Mission,  like you would to a priest in the confessional. He wasn’t even sure he’d done anything, but he thought that he might have.  A priest is bound by his order to keep secret anything that is said during confession. It’s not the same with a chaplain. He reported it to the police and Shakes served about fifteen years as an accomplice to murder. He would have been free and clear. He ratted himself out.

“They didn’t have enough evidence on the third guy. He had some blood on his pants. One of the guys carried a stick, with a nail in it, and hit him in the leg.”

I said, “There’s another person I wanted to ask you about,  an artist, sells her drawings on Yonge Street.  She was featured in the Star a while back.”

“That doesn’t ring any bells. It reminds me of a time I had gone to the beer store, bought a case and was looking for a place to drink it. I headed down this trail towards the river I saw three natives, a guy and two women. I guess they had the same idea that I did. Anyway, I sat there, drinking my beer,  it started raining. I heard them say, ‘Where can we go now that it’s raining?’ I said, ‘If you want you can come over to my place.’ The guy asked, ‘Do you trust us?’ I said, ‘Sure, underneath, we’re all the same color.’ So they came to my place, we partied, had a good time,  they ended up staying for about three months. One of the women, Jenna, became my girlfriend. We were in front of the Eaton Center. She was at the front of the crowd waiting for the bus. I don’t know what happened, if she stepped out, or lost her balance. A bus came along and hit her, killed her instantly.” Tears filled his eyes.

“That’s heartbreaking, Chuck.”

“Yeah, it happened a long time back. I try not to think about it.”

“I’ve met your son, Chuck Junior, do you have any other family in town?”

“Yeah, we had four kids. If you’d been in front of Tim Horton’s yesterday at noon you would have seen my two daughters, my granddaughter and grandson. We don’t get together often enough.”

“Well,” I said, “It’s nearly time for me to go to work, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You’ll see me tomorrow, but I don’t know about next week. I hear it’s going to be snowing on Saturday, after that it’s getting really cold. If it’s too cold I don’t come down. I’ve saved my money. There are a few treats that I like. I like to have pizza once a week, a sub once a week, and a small dessert every day. I like chocolate brownies, and some kind of cheesecake, I can’t remember what they call it. I get them at the Metro. I also like to go to the food court at the Eaton Center and get one of their fruit salads. I’m not supposed to have them, because of the sugar, but I don’t tell my doctor.

“I make about twelve dollars a day, down here. It covers my treats and Goldie’s care. I go to the odd movie and hockey game otherwise I have a television set with a forty-four-inch screen to watch sports.”

“See you tomorrow, Chuck.”

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

6 November 2013

“Good morning Chuck, Goldie. Were you able to phone Joy yesterday?”

“No, I didn’t speak to her by phone, but I talked to some of her friends. She’s okay. They said something about her having to help somebody. I didn’t get all the details. She Should be down here, though. Remember that day when it was minus eight. I didn’t want to come down, but people expect me. If I don’t show up they think that I don’t need the money, so next time they’ll just pass me by.”

“What did you do when you were younger, Chuck, before you were in a wheelchair?”

“Ordinary things. I was married, raised a couple of kids. Worked at a bunch of different jobs, got in a car accident, then another accident.

“I didn’t have much education, but it didn’t matter in those days. Jobs were a dime a dozen. I did have enough education to get a job with National Defense. I was clerking then, made my way up to Clerk Two. I’d been there about two and a half years when the government started its cutbacks. I didn’t get a raise or a promotion or anything, but they gave me the checks to deliver to the top brass. They got bonuses, raises, promotions. I got so mad I quit right on the spot. Looking back, I should have held onto that job.

“See down the street there. That brick building used to be a bowling alley. I can’t remember the name. I hate it when that happens… The Maple Leaf Lanes, that’s what it was called. I used to bowl there. A job came up for a Pinner, I applied for it and I got it. So, for a while, that’s what I did — pinning.”

I asked, “What do you mean, pinning?”

“People never understand. Before there were automatic pinsetters. The pins had to be set by hand. That was my job as a Pinner.”

“A Pinsetter,” I said, “I understand now. I had that job when I was young. I used to set for five pins and ten pins — a penny a pin.”

“I just set five pins. There was this guy that came in, Goldman, you’ll see his name on a lot of these buildings. He was changing offices and asked me and about six of my friends if we’d help him move. He said he’d pay us six dollars a day, for the whole week. That sounded pretty good, so we moved him. At the end of the week, he gave us each two bucks. He said, ‘Get lost, that’s all you’re getting!’ Were we mad! There wasn’t much we could do, but when we got downstairs we saw his shiny, new Cadillac parked beside the building.  What we did to that car — there wasn’t much left of it by the time we finished. It didn’t get us our money, but we sure felt good.

“I’ve had other jobs. I worked at a printing plant where they made the plastic covers for telephone books. You know the ones, with all the advertising on them. We did them for Mississauga, Brampton, Pickering; all the surrounding cities. My job was to pick up the covers after they’d come through the printer. I’d hang them on a rack to dry. That’s all I did, all day long. Not very challenging, but it wasn’t a bad job.

“Then I was in a car accident. I applied for disability because I couldn’t work, being stuck in a wheelchair like this. I was assigned a worker, we did all the paperwork. My friends were getting disability checks, but I wasn’t getting one. This dragged on for over two years. I stormed into my worker’s office, pounded my fist on the desk, swore at her and demanded my money.  Well sir, she had a fit — tearing her hair out, went right nuts. She shouldn’t have been in that job. Turned out my claim hadn’t even been filed. She was just sitting there waiting for retirement.

“I was assigned a new worker. He looked at my papers, arranged an appointment with a psychiatrist — that was regulation —  and said everything would be good to go. He couldn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t get my check.

“I went to the psychiatrist’s office. He must have been one of those hundred-dollar an hour guys. He was in the Meridian Building, top floor, penthouse. I can’t imagine what kind of rent he’d have to pay for a place like that. Anyway, I was early for my appointment. I could see him through the glass. He could see me. I waited, finally he came out, said his receptionist was late, but I could start by filling out some papers. They needed my Social Insurance Number, my Ontario Health Card number, stuff like that.  I wasn’t told anything in advance, so I said to him, ‘I don’t have my cards with me, but I’ll do the best I can.’ I completed the forms and gave them to him. He asked, “Did you remember all these numbers, are you sure they’re right.’ I said, ‘They’re right. Check them if you want to .’ He was on the phone for a few minutes. When he came back he said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. Why are you coming to see a psychiatrist?’ I told him about the disability claim. He said, ‘Sure, I’ll sign your forms for that.’ Within two weeks, I had my first check. Damned government, two and a half years I waited. There was no back pay.

“Now, I try to save a bit of money so I can have a pizza every once in a while. I like to go to movies. I’m going to see Ironman when it comes out. I go to a few hockey games.  I’m really a fanatic about hockey. It cost me a job one time. I was working in a warehouse.  The Canada Russia hockey Series was on then. They asked us to stay late, which would have meant I’d miss the final game. I said to my boss, ‘To hell with that. I’m going home to watch hockey.’ I have all those old games recorded on tape. I watch them every so often.

“There was a charity auction one time arranged by City TV and some of the other stations. I’d heard from a friend that there was going to be an autographed, Larry Robinson, hockey jersey up for auction. That was when he played for the Canadiens. The starting bid was two hundred dollars. I bid two ten. Nobody else bid, so I got it. I was talking to his family later they said they had hoped that the jersey would’ve fetched over a thousand, but I’d won it honestly.

“At another auction, I got an autographed Vladislav Tretiak jersey. You remember him? Played for the Russian National Team. He was considered the best goalie who ever lived. I’d like to sell those jerseys if I could, but I’m no good at internet stuff.  If I could sell them, I’d be set. You can be sure I wouldn’t be out here. I’d have the money for the operations that Goldie needs. Before I die, I’d arrange for a good home for her.”

I asked, “Don’t you have some friends who could arrange that for you?”

“I’ve got  friends and family who have offered, but I don’t trust them.”

~~~

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