I didn’t get to be a bum overnight

Posted: October 4, 2020 in Dialog, Prose
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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RRBC Interview, Eyes on the Book hosted by Rox Burkey  https://buff.ly/2OJjaKx

 

2 May 2012

Shakes said, “We were watching some people exercising in the park last year. I was sitting on a bench at the far side, over there.” He pointed east towards the John Innes Community Recreation Centre. “There were some military guys, cadets, I guess you’d call them. They were doing calisthenics. That’s what they called it then. I joined in with them. I was able to keep up. My daughter yelled at me, ‘Dad, get away from there!’

“I was hitting on some women, so they made me leave.”

“Dennis, can you help me with this, my hands are shaking.” Shakes handed me his drinking bottle and a bottle of sherry. I asked, “Do you want it filled right to the top?”

“Yes, please. Could I also have some bus tickets? Sometimes I can hop on at the back door; sometimes I can’t. Last night I put a handful of change in the ticket box and the driver said, ‘That’s not enough.’ I said, ‘It must be enough, I put over two bucks in there!’ (fare prices are now $2.70).  He wouldn’t move the bus. Some of the other passengers were getting perturbed. They said, ‘For Christ’s sake how much does he owe?’ A couple of guys put some money in for me. Then the bus driver started moving the bus.”

 

 

3 May 2012

Learning to Panhandle

The weather today was overcast and muggy. I talked to Kenny from Iqaluit. “Could you help me out a bit?” he asked.

“Sure I could, Kenny,” I replied and handed him a gift card for a restaurant nearby.

“Actually, I was hoping for some change towards buying a bottle.”

“Sorry, Kenny, I don’t carry cash or credit cards.”

The area of ‘the bench’ was deserted. Andre and Shakes approached me on the sidewalk. Andre said, “Shakes is going to work. I’m going to keep an eye on him.”

“Do you mind if I tag along?” I asked.

“Sure, come on along. We’ll show you how it’s done,” said Andre.

Maneuvering the sidewalk with Shakes and Emile was an adventure. They were both staggering in different directions. “Drunk man walking!” shouted Andre in his gravelly, carny voice. “Don’t get in the way of my staggering!” followed by “White man on a program!” He spun around a signpost and did a pirouette. “You know you want to give some change to me,” he said, with his cap out and a sad, puppy dog expression on his face. “Could I have a bite of your sandwich?” Someone made a disparaging remark and Andre replied, “If you think you’re life is so good, why is it that I’m so happy?”

He walked between the cars with his cap out asking for change. He came to an empty car at the curb and said, “Hey, a free car! I wonder if they’ll want it back?” At an office building with an outdoor sand ashtray, he picked out the longest butts and put them in a plastic ‘baggie’ that he kept especially for that purpose. He was wearing a metal necklace with ball bearing like beads. He pulled the necklace up tight under his chin and said, “Look, I’m a drain plug.”

Tom had his art display on the sidewalk which included images of deer burned into the wood;  skateboarders burned into the wood, then painted. He also had some heartfelt poems describing his lost childhood and abuse at the hands of a priest at a Residential School.

 

• Many Aboriginal children were taken from their homes, often forcibly removed and separated from their families by long distances. Others who attended residential schools near their communities were often prohibited from seeing their families outside of occasional permitted visits.

• Students were forbidden to speak their language or practice their culture, and were often punished for doing so.

• Many students were forced to do manual labour, and were fed poor quality food. There are many accounts of students being provided moldy, maggot-infested and rotten foods.

• Other experiences reported from Survivors of residential schools include sexual and mental abuse, beatings and severe punishments, overcrowding, illness, children forced to sleep outside in the winter, the forced wearing of soiled underwear on the head or wet bed sheets on the body, use of students in medical experiments, disease and in some cases death. (http://1000conversations.ca/?page_id=48)

 

Shakes took me to ‘his office’, a doorstep near the corner of Richmond and Sherbourne. “I’ve been here since 1995. There used to be a tree there.” He pointed to a spot where now stands a ticket dispenser for an underground parking garage.”They had a parking lot, but it was in the open air. I used to clean up the paper and trash. They’d give me five or ten bucks every day. Then they put up this condo.

We sat, Shakes’ hat was upturned on the sidewalk.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.

”Good afternoon, sir. Have a nice day.

A man stopped and put some change in Shakes’ cap. “It is a nice day isn’t it,” said the man.

“It’s a bit humid, but it’s nice. God bless you, sir.”

“And you too,” said the man.

Andre was panning on the other side of the street, so I joined him for a while. “Hi, Andre, I haven’t seen you for a long time. Where have you been?” I noticed that he had a black eye.

“I was in the hospital for a while. Also, I’m going out with seven women. They all know about each other.”

I said, “That’s good, to keep it honest.”

“Yeah, I sleep someplace different every night.

“Hi beautiful, I’d settle for just a smile,” he said to a woman walking by. She turned and smiled.

“Thanks, sweetheart!

“Thank you, gentlemen, for defending our country,” he said to two soldiers.

“You’re not ready to throw that cigarette away, are you?

“Hey, I didn’t always look like this. I didn’t get to be a bum overnight.” To me, he said, “That guy gave me a dirty look.

“Ma’am, that purse is so shiny, I can see my face in it.”

“Yes, it is shiny, isn’t it? You have a nice day,” said the woman, with a pleasant smile.

“Good evening ma’am. You’d look so much more beautiful if you smiled.

“Ma’am you’re just too beautiful. You make me look ugly.

To me he said, “I just love this, watching people. Every face has a different expression. This is like reality TV.”

I said, “A lot of them seem to be hard of hearing.”

“Yeah, it’s like we’re invisible. I’ll put my cap out a little farther.”

Someone threw a cigarette butt on the street. Emile jumped up and grabbed the still smoking stub. “It’s about time! Will you look at that woman. Looking that good should be illegal”

“You’re so beautiful, ma’am, you made me look at you.

“Can you spare some change, sir?

“Ma’am that orange bag looks like a pylon. Can I borrow it so nobody steps on me?

“I’m a lawyer, ma’am. I’d be glad to take your case for you.

“I know you’d like to talk to me, but you have your mouth full.

“Sir, it takes a real man to wear pink. Gimme five!” The man slapped Emile’s hand in passing.

“Those are beautiful boots, ma’am.”

So passes the time of a panhandler. It was an educational experience.

~~~

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