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Wild Night at Bingo

22 May 2012

At the park, there were dark storm clouds hovering overhead. The air was muggy. As I approached the group I heard someone say, “Here comes Dennis!”

Joy came up to me and said, “I’ve been asking everybody if they’d seen you. When you didn’t come by this morning I was so worried. I stayed on the street until nine-thirty, thinking that maybe you had missed your bus. Then I began to worry that, because it was a long weekend (Victoria Day in Canada), you’d been on the highway and had a car accident.”

I replied, “I got a drive to work, that’s why you didn’t see me. I’m sorry you worried.”

“It’s just that I’ve never known you to miss coming by in the morning.”

“How was your weekend?” I asked.

“Fine, Nicholas and his girlfriend, and another couple were over for a barbecue. Chuck and I looked at an apartment for seven hundred a month — a one-bedroom. If I had been by myself I would have taken it. Chuck is saying to everyone, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do if Joy leaves.’ ”

That’s understandable,” I said, “you pay half the rent, buy groceries, and do most of the cleaning.”

“Chuck gets a lot of money from other people who stay over, more than I pay him. I think he’s afraid of being alone. So am I, for that matter. Sometimes my brain starts acting up and I’m not sure if I trust myself being on my own.”

Irene had streaks of orange, green, and blue on her arms, legs, and face after a wild night of bingo. She said, “Shark wasn’t even going to get on the bus with me this morning until I cleaned my face. I asked Wolf if he had a face cloth, but he didn’t. I wiped it with some wet toilet paper, but I only managed to smear the smudges; now it looks like I’ve been in a fight.”

“What time is it, Dennis? I have to see my doctor at three o’clock. Shark’s gone to get his prescription filled. I hope he’s not late coming back.”

“Do you have far to go?”

“No, just to Parkdale. It’s in the same building where I worked for the accountants and lawyers. I always wave at them as I’m going by their office. One of my cancers is acting up. I’ve had cancer twice. I only have half a nipple on my right side.”

Joy was sitting on her backpack, looking at her ankles. “I haven’t shaved my legs in a while. Do I look concerned?”

“I’m native,” said Irene, “I’ve got nothing to shave. I haven’t had sex for six and a half years, so I don’t even bother trimming.”

“I’m a half native,” said Joy, “so I don’t have much to worry about, just a bit of stubble. I don’t have sex very often, but I still trim, just for personal hygiene and common decency.”

I wasn’t quite sure if Serge was awake, but I went over and sat beside him. He raised his head and shook my hand.

I asked, “How was your weekend, Serge?”

“It was okay. I’ve been sleeping behind the Best Western Hotel. It’s quiet, nobody is opening and closing the door, nobody is shitting on the floor. I was drinking outside with a friend of mine at four-thirty this morning. When Tim Horton’s opened at six we went there for coffee.”

“You must be tired,” I said.

“No.” Shortly after, he nodded off.

“Has anyone seen Hippo today?” I asked.

“Yeah, he was by earlier. I sent him on a run. He came back and kept wanting to drink from my bottle, so I told him he’d better do some panning and get his own. He seemed fine. He wasn’t puking blood like he was Friday. He wanted to get drunk, so I guess his stomach wasn’t bothering him.

“I haven’t had a drink for two days, but today I’m going to get drunk. I wish I could drink beer. Since my kidney trouble, I can’t even stand the smell of it, but at least it would make me belch. This sherry is sitting in my stomach like a rock.”

“Would you like some vodka?” asked Irene.

“No, I wouldn’t like some vodka, it would make me crazy.

“Wolf isn’t here today because Weasel kicked in his door. He’s at home guarding his stuff. That’s really ignorant of Weasel. It’s Wolf’s place, not his. The man is kind enough to let him stay there, and that’s the way he repays him. Weasel is really something else.”

The rain started, slowly at first. We moved under the trees, then it started to pour. The trees were no protection at all. Little Jake and Jacques left to take cover under the overpass. Irene put up her umbrella. Joy put on Bearded Bruce’s raincoat. “Bruce’s in prison, he doesn’t need this, but I do. He signed himself in. He got a hundred and eighty days for two counts of trying to sell crack to an undercover cop. If it was me, I would have gotten years. Once he does his time and pays his fines he’ll be in the clear. That’s better than trying to run.”

Chester said, “I’m going to go home now.”

“Do you need bus tickets,” asked Joy. “I wouldn’t like to see you walking all the way home in this rain.”

“Thanks, Joy, I’d appreciate that.”

I stood in the rain and got soaked to the skin. Serge had taken refuge in a glass bus shelter and was fast asleep. When I returned to work I took off my shirt, so it could dry in the closet, and I put on a hoodie. By six o’clock, when I was ready to leave work, my shirt was dry.

~~~

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18 May 2012

This morning was cool and windy. Joy had her hood pulled up and her legs were wrapped in a blanket.

She said, “My tooth is really bothering me. I was eating sunflower seeds, with the shells on, and something got embedded between my tooth and my gum. I’ve tried brushing, flossing, but it’s below the gum line and anything I do just makes it hurt more. I had a microwave heating pack on it last night. It helped me get to sleep.

“I was on my way to the dentist this morning, then I realized that I didn’t have my dental card. I went back to the house, but couldn’t find it anywhere. I went to the dentist. They wouldn’t see me without my card. I said, ‘This is an emergency! Will you see me now?’ She said, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t see you without your card.’ I said, ‘Can’t you check my records. You must have my number on file.’ She said, ‘Only Joyce has access to the records and she’s not here today.’ I said, ‘You mean I have to wait until after the long weekend to get this looked at? If I threw up blood all over your computer, would someone see me then?’ ‘I’m sorry, ma’am.’ I was so pissed off.

“Hippo’s there across the street. I don’t think he’s doing very well. I saw him get a few drops (people dropping change into his cap), but I’m going to have to give him some pointers. He sleeps at the Sally (Salvation Army). They have access to showers, soap, and razors, but his hair is so greasy that I’m sure he hasn’t washed it in a week. He couldn’t even get a comb through it this morning. It was disgusting.

“He’s one of the few men who don’t try to touch me. He knows it wouldn’t get him anywhere. Even Weasel, dying of AIDS, kissed me on the cheek the other day. He did it just to bug me. He still has that open sore on his arm. He was letting his dog lick it. He said, ‘It’s okay, a dog’s saliva is clean.’ I said, ‘But dude, think of what you’re doing to the dog.’ His answer was, ‘We all die sometime.’ He’s wasting away to nothing. He doesn’t have much time left (Weasel died 9 May 2013).

“I’m really careful about who I share drinks with up there. Did I ever tell you how Little Jake got AIDS? He had a fight with his girlfriend. She may have been seeing someone else — I don’t know. Anyway, he was drunk, they had a big argument and she threw him out in the snow. He crawled into the alley and fell asleep. Sometime in the night, he rolled over onto some used ‘fits’ (hypodermic needles). They were contaminated with HIV.

‘I’m not sure about the details of how Shark got AIDS. He was pretty messed up on crack, and he was into some anal shit. When I asked him about AIDS he said to me, ‘That’s what I get from fucking a pig, in the ass, without a condom.’

“I’ve got hep c. I think I got it when I had my tattoos done. I’m a carrier, but I’m not infectious. It’ll kill me, but nobody else.”

Hippo walked across the street. We shook hands. He said, “Joy, can I buy two cigarettes for a quarter?”

“No, but I’ll give you one.” Hippo threw a quarter into her hat.

“Well,” said Joy, “it’s eight twenty and that lady hasn’t asked you to move.”

“I don’t think she’s in today. The guy was out sweeping the sidewalk.”

“You’re in luck then.” Hippo shrugged his shoulders and walked back across the street.

Blair walked by and said, “Hi Joy, I’m short fifty cents. Can you help me out?”

“I’ll give you a quarter. Now, you’re only short twenty-five cents.”

“Thanks, Joy.”

To the world in general, Joy said, “Yes, a panhandler did give him money.

“I’m really losing it. I wanted my mom to come to Toronto before she died. I want my kids to come to Toronto. My oldest son has a job as a cast fitter. I don’t know what that is, but he gets paid twenty-seven dollars an hour. I miss them.

“I’ve got to get away from Toothless. He was on my case about groceries. Yesterday, I bought two loaves of bread, some of those frozen hamburger patties, and some other stuff. He bought sausages. Last night he told me he’s invited Tony and Dora, Chris and his girlfriend, and a bunch of other people over for a barbecue. I can’t afford to be feeding all those people. He tells me that I’m not paying my share. I said to him, ‘Stop inviting so many people over.’ I haven’t talked to him since. I pushed V out of the way, so I could get out the door, and he knocked over Chuck’s table. I just left it. It’s his dog, he can clean up the mess.

“I don’t know if I’ll be visiting the guys at noon. Maybe I will, but I’m not sure. Most of those people are getting on my nerves. I see that Lucy is hanging around with Buck. That will stop once her old man gets of jail, in a few weeks. He’s the one that robbed Shark, then beat him up because he had no bills. Then Lucy went after Irene. You’ve seen how small Irene is. Jake and I were still together then. When Jake heard about it he took the plastic handle off a bathroom plunger, sawed the bottom off it, then filled the hollow part with dimes. It must have been a couple of hundred dimes. He used duct tape to seal the sawed-off end, then unwrapped a metal coat hanger and wound it around the duct tape. That made quite a jailhouse club. The next time he saw Nick, Lucy’s boyfriend, he hit him three times with it. Rick didn’t get up.

“I’ve talked to Lucy recently, she’s so excited about Nick getting out. I said to her, “We’ve gone toe to toe together before, but if you ever try anything with Irene again I’m going to smash your skull to pieces, and you know I’ll do it.”

At noon, as I was walking to the park, I met Joy and her friend ‘Sausage Fingers’ waiting near the bus stop. Joy introduced him to me as one of her best friends in the world. I remembered having met him during the winter, but he’s shaved his beard and looks completely different.

Joy said, “I’ve had it! I snapped at Silver. I snapped at Hippo. I’m going home before I end up in jail. Chuck is panning, so I’ll have the house all to myself until about four-thirty. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

Sitting in his usual place was Serge. “Hi Serge, are you still at The Shepherd, or have you moved to the Salvation Army?” He said, “I’m still at The Shepherd. I have to go there between four and six o’clock to sign the card that says I’ll be staying another week.”

“Has it been noisy? You mentioned that a man kept opening and closing the door. Is he still doing that?”

“Yes, he starts at six o’clock in the morning, opening and closing, opening and closing.”

“I’ll talk to you later, Serge. Take care.”

At the park,  Hippo wasn’t looking very well. He said,” I’ve been puking up blood. I’ve also been shitting blood. I’ve got ulcers, two of them.”

“You should go to the hospital,” said Donald.

“I can’t. They won’t take me. I don’t have my health card. First I’d have to get my Birth Certificate, then my Social Insurance card, then I could apply for my health card.”

“Why do you drink, then?” asked Donald.

“Welfare asks me the same question. I don’t know why I drink. If I didn’t drink I wouldn’t be me. If I didn’t drink I’d die.”

“You should think of your mother and father. They love you, don’t they?”

“They’re my parents, of course, they love me.”

“You should quit drinking for them. Think of how they’d feel if you died.”

“Everyone is going to die, but I hear you, man. Can I stay at your place this weekend? I’m feeling really rough. I couldn’t take another night at the Sally right now.”

“Sure, man. I have to go for my methadone treatment at one o’clock, but I’ll come back, and I’ll bring some beer.”

Wolf said to me, “I haven’t been here for the past few days. I had my fifty-seventh birthday Friday. I had a forty-ounce bottle, of twelve-year-old scotch, that I started at five-thirty Saturday morning. I finished it by twelve-thirty that night. I also had some sherry. The next morning I had the hangover from Hell. I’m too old to do that sort of thing any more. I was here drinking beer, on Monday, but I haven’t had anything else between then and now.

“I just wanted to tell you why I hadn’t been around. When somebody hasn’t been around for a while, the first thing people think is that they’re dead. I came here today to tell everyone that I’m not dead.”

Donald said to me, “I have to go to the Addiction Center for my methadone treatment at one o’clock. When you go back to work, I’ll walk with you. As we were walking I asked, “Why are you having methadone treatment?”

“My father used to beat my mother when she was pregnant. I was born three months premature. I was deaf and had to have an operation removing nine feet of my intestines.” He lifted his shirt to show me his scar. “When I was older, I had a lot of pain. They prescribed Oxycontin. I was on it for seven years. Methadone helps with the cravings. I also got into other drugs and became an alcoholic. I had been living with my mother, but because I was into drugs and alcohol so much she put me on the street. I’m thirty-five years old. I shouldn’t have been living with my mother. Now, I have my own apartment and have more control over the drugs and alcohol.

“By the way, can you spare some change?”

“I’m sorry, man. If I had it I’d give it to you, but I didn’t bring my wallet with me. I don’t have anything with me at all, not even bus tickets.”

“That’s okay. I’ll see you next week.”

We parted ways. He headed north on Parliament to Danforth for his methadone appointment. I walked into the building where I work.

~~~

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17 May 2012

Shakes Plays Risk

This morning was sunny but cool and windy. Joy’s plastic box was there, but Joy wasn’t. I checked with Metro to ask if she had been at her spot this morning.

“Hi, Dennis,  Joy was here earlier. I don’t know if she’s gone to the bathroom, or if she’s left for the day. There she is! She’s coming now!”

“Thanks, Metro, have a good day.”

“Hi, Joy, how’s everything this morning?”

“I don’t know why I have to pee so often. Hippo’s across the street shrugging his shoulders, Again! It’s girl stuff.”

“Does it have to do with your kidneys?”

“Yes, but I’m okay as long as I keep peeing.”

“You mentioned before that it was a dark color. Are you concerned about that?”

“No, it seems fine. I think I just needed to drink more water.”

“I saw Alphonse and Maggie last night, after work. I couldn’t tell if she’d had an abortion or not, but it was good to see them so happy together. Alphonse seems like such a good man.”

“Yes, he is. I don’t know what it is about Inuit women. Inuk went out with another guy the night before Bearded Bruce went to prison. An hour and a half after he signed himself in, she came down and expected us to be friends with her. Maggie acts the same way.”

Joy and I were discussing various bars that we both had frequented in the past. I said, “My friends and I would often meet at the Continental for beer and spaghetti.”

Joy said, “The last time I was at the Continental was with Jake. There was a woman there playing pool. She was wearing a low-cut blouse and every time she bent over to take a shot, her boobs nearly fell out on the table. I walked over to her and said, ‘I’m going to ask you nicely, to stop flashing my old man here. It’s very rude.’ People don’t need to see that when they’re eating. She kept doing it, so I picked up the cue ball and threw it at her; caught her right in the middle of her forehead. She was out cold. The bartender came over and said, ‘Joy, this is probably a good time to leave.’ I said, ‘Cool, dude. We’re on our way.’ ”

“I’m going to go over and talk to Hippo,” I said, “He looks lonely.”

“I told him to use that spot. That’s where Crash used to pan. As long as he’s in that alcove they shouldn’t be able to touch him.”

“Hi, Hippo!”

“Hi Dennis, how’s it going?”

“I’m doing fine. Have you found any more lawnmowers?”

“No, I found that last one in the garbage. It was a Craftsman 650 with a 170 c.c. motor. All I had to do was add oil and gas and away she went.”

“Have you heard anything more about your inheritance?”

“No, I signed the papers last August. That’s eight months ago. I don’t know why it’s taking so long.”

A woman wearing a gray suit came over to us and said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to move. You’re sitting in front of the hotel property.”

“Okay,” we said and left.

At noon it was still chilly, with the wind blowing. Tonight there is a frost warning. On Sunday Environment Canada is forecasting eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit. Go figure!

Sitting on the curb at the park were about a dozen people and Bear.

“Hi, Shakes, how are you doing?”

“I’m getting there, slowly but surely. Last night we were up until two in the morning playing Risk. I finally asked, ‘Aren’t you guys getting sleepy?’ ”

Hippo said, “We used to play that game, my mother, sister, and me. My dad never wanted to play. He’d go out to the garage. Another game we used to play was Clue.”

“It’s nice to wake up in the morning,” said Shakes. “If you don’t, you know that something’s wrong.”

“We were worried about Luther yesterday,” said Hippo. “He usually joins us, but he just sat on the curb and fell asleep. We thought he might be sick.”

“He’s back on the rubbing alcohol,” said Deaf Donald.

I said, “He also drinks Listerine.”

“Both of those really mess up your mind,” said Hippo. “I’ve tried them once, but never again.”

Donald said, “I’ve heard of people drinking Old Spice, Aqua Velva, Purell, shoe polish, melted and strained through bread. I’ve heard of people ‘huffing’ Lysol, Clorox bleach, and gasoline. They’re all poisonous.

“I’ve been looking at the plants in the flower garden over there. One of them looks like marijuana. I know it isn’t, but it sure looks like it.

“If you grow marijuana in the woods, it’s best to pick a place where there are a lot of trails. People looking for it can get lost, and if someone surprises you, there are lots of escape routes.

“Where do you live, Hippo?” asked Donald.

“I’m staying at the Salvation Army now, but I’m hoping to get a place of my own.

“Where do you live?”

“Now I’m living in Mississauga. I have to take the Go Train into the city for my methadone (used to treat opiate dependency for drugs such as morphine, heroin, and oxycontin). It takes me about an hour to get downtown.”

I asked, “Why did you choose to live so far out?”

“My mother lives in Mississauga. I have a bachelor apartment with a fireplace just a few blocks from her. I live on Lakeshore Road right across from the Urban Ink Tattoo Parlour. I used to live on Sherbourne, near here. There was too much crack.”

“Joy, Shark, and I lived just off Parliament, at different times. I was on Spruce near Carlton, Joy was closer to Dundas. It’s a small world.

~~~

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