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Weasel in Hospital

25 June 2012

This morning Joy was seated on her plastic crate. Andre was standing next to her. I pulled up an extra crate and sat beside Joy.

“Hi Andre!” I said, “how was your weekend?”

“My weekends are always good. Every day is good. I’m just a carefree, happy guy. I’ve already made my price and enough for another (bottle). I don’t know why the Sally let me in last night — I was so drunk. I made my price, downed it, made my price again, downed that too. I was staggering from one side of the walk to the other.”

Joy said, “I saw you last night. I said to you, “Where’s the real Andre? I don’t think you knew your own name.

“It’s good that you left Hippo and Little Jake on their own. It’ll show them how much they depend on you to get drops.”

“Yeah, Jake works hard, but he’s got to open up more. Hippo does nothing. He has his legs straight out and his cup between them. People have to step over his legs to make a drop. Some people resent panhandlers taking up so much room on the sidewalk, especially when the walking traffic is heavy.

“I also try not to let people see me smoke. I’ll hide the cigarette behind a column or behind my back. If they think I can afford to smoke, they think I can afford to eat. I was panning with a guy one time. He kept checking his iPad. A woman was ready to drop him a five when she heard the guy’s iPhone ring. He pulled it out to answer it and the woman stuffed the bill back in her purse. She said, ‘I can’t afford an iPad or an iPhone. You’re better off than I am.’ ”

Joy said, “I keep telling Roy not to phone me here. He’ll ask, ‘What are you doing?’ I’ll say, ‘What do you think I’m doing? You’re spoiling my business, phone me back after nine.’ It’s not that he has anything to say, maybe, ‘If you see Buck, pick me up some cigarettes.’ ”

Andre said, “Well, I have to go.”

“Are you going to work?” I asked.

“No, I’m going on a run for Joy. Then I’ll go to the park. After that, I’ll go to work on Queen in front of the grocery store.

“I’ll see you later at the park.”

I said. “Take care, Andre.”

I asked Joy, “Did you work things out with Nick, for a place to stay?”

“No, I’m going to stay with Chester. I spent the weekend there. He’s still upset about Mary leaving him. He’s kind of let things go. I spent most of Saturday cleaning. He has a beautiful place. I sleep on a pull out couch in the living room.

“Sunday we just took it easy. I had some money, so I bought chicken. We had it with Kraft Dinner. Chester’s quiet. I like that. We just had a few drinks, a few joints. It was nice.

“When I got to Chuck’s place this morning all I could smell was V. There’s nothing worse than the smell of a wet dog.

“Chuck had a bunch of people over for the weekend: Nicholas and Corrine, Catherine and Nick, and Chili. All the food I bought last week was gone, and the place was a mess. I told him I was leaving. He said, ‘You’ll be sorry.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be sorry alright. Sorry to have extra food in the fridge.  Sorry to have extra money and cigarettes.’ ”

This afternoon was cool and windy. Near the park, I saw a police cruiser and an ambulance. I thought the worst. Chili was walking down the sidewalk, so I asked her, “Is the ambulance for anyone we know?”

“No,“ she replied, “I don’t know who it’s for. None of us.”

On the lawn were the usual people and Shaggy.

Loretta  approached and asked, “Dennis, can you spare me some bus tickets. I have to go to the hospital. It’s because of the car accident I was in a few months ago. I’m going to see a plastic surgeon. He’s going to do more work on my face and my knee. As soon as my gums finish healing, I’ll be getting a pair of dentures.”

“Sure Loretta,” I said, “Here are some bus tickets.”

“Thank you so much.”

Wolf came over to me. I tentatively reached out to shake his bruised hand. “It’s okay now, we can shake hands, the swelling has mostly gone. You can still see Bear’s teeth marks on my wrist.

“Dennis, would you do me a big favor. I’ve been looking after Bear since the police took Weasel to the hospital. The thing is, I just don’t know what to do with her. I haven’t heard from Weasel. I’ve asked people here, with phones, to check on him at the East General. He hasn’t any friends. Nobody will make the call. Will you phone the hospital and see if he’s still in there. If he is, try to find out if, or when, he’s getting out. If he’s been moved, try to find out where he is. Will you do that for me?”

“Sure, Wolf.”

“I’ve cleaned my balcony and Bear’s staying out there. She really made a stinking mess, but I cleaned that. She has a big pail of water to drink and she’s used to living outdoors. Of course, when it is really hot I bring her inside. Stella likes Bear and she’ll take her to the farm, if that’s what Weasel wants. I’ve taken good care of her, but when I tried to attach her leash, to take her for a walk, she bit my hand. I’m only starting to gain use of it again. I can’t leave her alone with Shaggy, because they don’t get along. Shaggy is eleven years old. Bear could kill her. I don’t want that to happen.”

“I understand, Wolf. I’ll phone the hospital and see what I can find out. I’ll let you know any news tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Dennis. I really appreciate that.”

“How’ve you been, Norman?”

“It’s Gaston, but that’s okay.”

“I probably called you Norman last Friday. I’m sorry, my memory for names isn’t very reliable.”

“I understand. I’m the same way. Often, I’ll be in the middle of a conversation before the person’s name comes to me. The message is more important than the name. That’s been my experience. I study communication with people. I teach communication with people. If I could, I’d study at the university all my life. I’d love that.

“I also like working with people – sometimes at the Mission, sometimes at the HIV Clinic, sometimes here. What I’ve learned about homeless people, alcoholics and drug addicts is that they’re not always connected to their true selves. They put up barriers. They lose control. A few beer or a few glasses of wine will give you a small buzz, but you’re still in control. Drinking more than that — it’s the alcohol controlling you, not you controlling the alcohol. It’s used to get away from memories that are painful. Memories of abuse and neglect. I’ve suffered from abuse and neglect.

“I went through years of university on heroin. I used very small quantities to give me a lift; just a pinch here, a pinch there. I’ve never come close to overdosing on drugs. Are you familiar with what an 8-ball is? It’s an eighth of an ounce of cocaine. I’ve seen people do an entire 8-ball.

”There is an article in the paper about homelessness. They’re going about it all wrong. Instead of dealing with the problem they spend more and more money to inconvenience the homeless. This is a public park. The police have no right to ask us to move. Look how much time and money they put into that. What we need is more support for addiction facilities, better sleeping accommodations for the homeless, more access to food. I analyse all these things and try to come to some sort of resolution. Then I write about it.”

On my way back to work I saw Serge sitting in the bus shelter. “How are you doing, Serge? I see your eyes are black, did someone beat you?”

“It happened right over there, where that man or woman is sitting. My shoelace was too long. I fell on the sidewalk.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Are you feeling better now?”

“I’m fine. I’ve fallen before.”

I phoned the East General Hospital. By telling them I was Weasel’s brother, Wolf, they put me through to him. I said, “Hi Weasel, Wolf asked me to give you a call. He was wondering how you were doing, when you are getting out and what to do with Bear.”

“Tell Wolf I’m getting out right now. I’ll be home in twenty minutes.”

“I’ll tell him that. I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well, Weasel. It was good speaking with you.”

~~~

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22 June 2012

Saint Nick

This morning was perfect. Joy was nodding on her plastic crate. I surprised her when I said, “Hello!”

“Jeez, you scared me.” she said, “I wasn’t around yesterday, I was taken to hospital with heat stroke. I asked the doctor , ‘How can that be? I’ve been drinking lots of water. I have two large bottles in my bag.’ He said, ‘Some people are more susceptible than others, especially if your immune system is low.’

“I hate hospitals. I couldn’t wait to get out. When I was in there in November, I picked up some superbug, MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) or VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci). That’s why I was in so long. I could have died from those.

“When I got home, Chuck  lit into me, ‘Where have you been? I made supper for you!’ I said, ‘Before you get all wound up, listen to me. I’ve been in hospital. I had heat stroke and they kept me overnight.’ ”

Chuck said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Anyway, there are a couple of pieces of chicken left, in the oven.”

” ‘Oh really?’ I said, ‘How long have they been in there? I think I’ll leave those for you, Chuck.’

“He invited Nicholas and Corrine over for a barbecue yesterday. They were sitting on my bed. Chuck knows I don’t like that. I asked him, ‘Chuck, when am I ever going to get this place alone to myself?’ He said, ‘Maybe Sunday.’ I’ve got to get away from there.”

I said, “I have the addresses and phone numbers for the YMCA. There is one a few blocks from here if you want to check it out?”

Joy said, “The problem with the Y is they don’t allow smoking and you can’t cook in your room. I can’t imagine living in a place where I couldn’t smoke or cook.

“Nick, with the glasses, isn’t with Trudy any longer. He said I could stay at his place for free. I could even have my own bedroom. He’s a real sweetheart and he’s quiet.”

I said, “I’ve talked to Nick many times. I’m really impressed with him. He makes sandwiches and hands them out to homeless people. He’s really a great guy.”

“So what’s been happening at the park?” said Joy, “What drama have I missed?”

I said, “Chili is hanging out with Daimon and Lucy. That was a surprise! The other day she left with them. The three of them were heading downtown.”

Joy said, “That poor kid, she just won’t learn.”

I added, “The police were by yesterday afternoon. I was sitting with Andre and Hippo. The cop couldn’t believe that Andre was sober. Andre said, ‘I drank so much last night that I woke up with the shakes this morning. I decided to give my body a break for the day.’ He held out his hand to show the cop how he was shaking. Hippo was sober as well.

“The cop said, ‘You guys know that they don’t want you here. Why don’t you find another place that we don’t patrol every day?’ Andre said, ‘Every place we go they tell us to move on. We’re in a small group, we’re not drinking or making noise. We’re just sitting here, enjoying the shade, on a hot day. Where do you want us to go?’ ”

“That’s just it,” said Joy, “they’re talking about that place being private property. I’ve never heard that before and we’ve been going there for fourteen years. The other cop said we could stay there as long as we weren’t in a big group, like twenty people. Otherwise we were okay.”

I asked, “What kind of a beef do Daimon and Lucy have against Alphonse and Magdalene. A couple of days ago, Daimon said they were in for a beating. Andre said, ‘Magdalene is five months pregnant.’ Daimon said, ‘I have no problem with hitting a pregnant woman.’ ”

Joy said, “I told those guys, they should gang up, jump him and beat the shit out of him. I’d have no trouble one on one with Lucy and she knows it. The problem is Daimon. He can’t just go around beating and robbing people. When the cops were by the other day they were checking out some of the guys. I kept nodding towards Daimon and Lucy. They must have a breach outstanding somewhere. The cops just ignored them.

“Alphonse has always been a sweet quiet guy. I don’t know Magdalene.”

At noon, when I arrived at the park there were two groups of people. In the first group were Shark, Wolf and his dog Shaggy, Silver, Nick ‘with the glasses’, Mary and Trudy. In the other group were Andre, Hippo and Little Jake. Sitting by herself, between the two groups was Joy.

“I’m not being antisocial,” said Joy. “It’s just that the reflection of the sun, from that building over there, was shining in my eyes. I think it’s moved now, so let’s go join the group.”

I asked, “Have you talked to Nick? Is everything okay about you staying there?”

Joy replied, “Yeah, I even asked him, if I paid by the month, would it be alright if I moved in permanently. He said we could work out the details, but it was fine with him. I didn’t want to talk too much. I don’t want everyone knowing my business.”

We joined the group and Nick said to Joy, “You come over any time you want – rain or shine. I don’t want to see you sleeping outside again.”

“I won’t come unannounced,” said Joy, “I’ll phone first.”

He said, “Don’t worry about that. I’m usually home.”

She said, “It’s just that Chuck always has so many people over.”

“I know, and who ends up funding these barbecues? You do.”

“I just can’t afford it.” said Joy. “Even around here — I bought a carton of cigarettes from Wolf and I had maybe a third of them. The rest went to Hippo, Little Jake and Andre. Chester hit me up for bus tickets. I know his leg is still hurting him, but I have to get home as well. I don’t owe Chester anything. It’s him that owes me.”

Joy left to talk to Chuck. Nick said to me, “Every morning when I walk across the bridge, I’m surprised at who comes out. I have sandwiches that I distribute. I bought some of those plastic containers and filled them with stew. I gave out sixteen of them. I got one container back, the rest I didn’t.

“Sometimes I’ll meet someone and I’ll invite them to come with me to a restaurant for coffee or breakfast. They might ask, ‘Could you buy me a beer?’ I say, ’Coffee or food, but no beer.’

“I always have my bible with me and I’ll pray for people. We may not be the same religion, but it doesn’t matter. I think it helps them to have someone pray for them.”

Nick’s phone rang. He talked for a while then handed the phone to Joy.

Joy said, “Hi Pierre, how are you? Are you pissed with me? I was in the hospital. I had to stay overnight. I didn’t have my phone with my contact list. I didn’t know how to get a message to you. Am I still going to see you on the weekend?… Oh… I’ll call you then. Bye.

“He’s acting all pissy because he had invited me to his place for a barbecue and I was going to sleep over, but that was the day I went into hospital. I didn’t have my phone. I couldn’t contact him. He says that he has things to do on the weekend and he has a lot on his mind.

“His girlfriend is in Inuktuk with his year old baby. He’s heard that it isn’t his, but what’s he going to do?”

I said, “It shouldn’t matter to him whether it’s his child or not.”

“I agree,” said Joy, “a baby needs love. It doesn’t matter where it comes from.”

It was time for me to leave. “It’ll all work out, Joy. I see good things in your future. Have a good weekend.”

I said goodbye to Nick. He hugged me and said, “I love you, brother.”

I said, “I love you, Nick. We’re on the same path.”

 ~~~

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