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Panhandlers Feeding Panhandlers 

6 June 2012

As I was walking along Parliament Street I was approached by Stan. “Hi, brother, he said, “do you think you could help me out. I’ve been panning, but I’ve only made a dollar so far. I collected some beer cans but had to walk across the bridge to get a refund on them.  I’ve been walking all morning. I’m beat.”

“Sure, I can help you, Stan.”

“I really appreciate that. I’ve got to get back in shape. I have to start eating properly. I should be drinking more milk and eating more meat and eggs. I also need to go to a detox center to get help. I’m having trouble with my liver, and I’ve been puking blood.”

“Rocky and Hippo are having the same problem.”

“I know. Thanks again, brother.”

When I got to the park I first talked to Rocky. “How are you feeling today?”

“I’m feeling a little better.”

“You mentioned yesterday that you had an operation on your heart when you were four days old. Tell me about that.”

“They had me taken to the Children’s Hospital in Montreal. A valve in my heart had to be replaced. Two days later they operated on my kidney to fix a hole. I wasn’t expected to survive the operations. I stayed in the hospital for five years. They’ll have to operate on my heart again soon to put in a larger valve.”

“You mentioned that your mother and father didn’t want a son. How did that affect you?”

“I didn’t have a name for the first four days. It was my grandmother who gave me my name and raised me. They say that most of a child’s development happens in the first five years. I didn’t have that. I think that’s what made me the way I am. I had my first cigarette when I was four years old. I started drinking when I was six. You may have noticed that I don’t talk much to people, I just hang around at the edge of the group and watch.”

“I can understand that. I was in a similar situation when I was eighteen months old. It completely changed my personality.”

“My youngest sister wants to come down here, but I told her not to. My sisters are all up north.”

“Toronto can be a tough place to live.”

“I find it good where I am. I’m near the hospital. My father sometimes comes to the city, but he never wants to see me.”

Chester came over. I asked, “How are you feeling today, Chester?”

“I still have a lot of pain in my lower right leg. My toes started to turn black, but that’s going away now.”

“So, the bus must have hit you on the right side.”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

“Take care, Chester.”

I walked up to the other group that included Joy, Irene, Shark, Jacques, Outcast, Chili and Gaston.

“Hi Joy, did you finish your shopping?”

“No, I still have a few things to get.”

“Are you going to be having a barbecue?”

“No, Toothless is checking out a new place on Spruce.”

“The street where Daniel, you, and I lived!”

“Yeah, I lived in the pink house.”

“I remember the pink house. I walked past it, going towards Parliament, on my way to the shopping center.”

“It’s still pink.”

I wandered over to the railing where Gaston was standing by himself. “Hi Gaston, are you enjoying the warm weather?”

“Yes, it’s nice to see the sunshine after so much rain. I come here to get reacquainted with my friends. I’ll be going home soon to spend time in my garden. It’s small, but I have cabbages, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes. In the house, I raise my own herbs. I get milk from a farmer in glass bottles, just like in the old days. He puts some aside for me. The cream rises to the top. I love that, I can make my own whipping cream.”

“Do you live in Toronto?”

“I live in Corktown, within walking distance of here. I have my own house, I take courses at the university, teach courses at the university, and at the HIV drop-in center on Gerrard. I also teach at another drop-in program on Markham Road — that’s the place where they deal with people who have mental conditions.

“My main interest is psychology. We must first understand ourselves in order to understand others. We must understand our whole bodily system, and how we are affected by nutrition and stress. Stress is a big concern. If we are stressed it affects our digestion, our thinking process, our internal organs, and our ability to heal.

“I teach courses on HIV. Cleanliness is very important at every step. The first-place people touch is the doorbell. I disinfect it after each person enters, the same with the doorknobs. I’ve opened drop-in centers here and in Ottawa.”

“That’s fascinating, Gaston. Do you have a website? How can I register for your courses?”

“It’s listed under The AIDS Committee of Toronto.”

“I’ll check that out, Gaston. It was a pleasure meeting you.”

I said goodbye to the congregation, including Nick, whose hand was in a cast up to his elbow.

“How is your hand, Nick. It must be feeling better having the cast on.”

Trudy said, “He was supposed to have an operation, but he declined it.”

“Did they want to operate on your hand?”

“No, on my liver. My friend died yesterday of the same thing. I decided to leave it in God’s hands.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Nick. I truly am. How are you feeling about your situation?”

“I don’t know.”

“We’re all the same, Nick. None of us knows how long we have to live, It could be years, months, weeks or days. We’re never sure. All we can do is take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time. I know you do a lot to help people. Just keep on doing what you’re doing. Supplying sandwiches to the homeless is very important. We’re here to help. That’s all any of us can do.”

“Yes, I panhandle to give to those who have less than I do.”

“Take care, Nick. God bless you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

~~~

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Daimon Released from Prison 

5 June 2012

As I was approaching the corner of Queen Street and Parliament I saw Irene and Big Titties Rosie waiting for the ‘walk’ light.

“Hi Irene, Rosie, are you leaving?”

“We’re just going to the restaurant to use the ladies’ room, we’ll be back.”

“I’ll see you then.”

This afternoon at the park, Buddy had passed out on the lawn. I have often seen him panhandling on Queen, playing his harmonica. The police were expected, so people spread out, hiding any open liquor bottles. Large groups are illegal without a permit. In one group were Andre, Gene and his girlfriend Fran. In another group were Joy, Hippo, Rocky, Shark, Lucy In The Sky and Daimon. In another group were Jacques, Charlie and Chester.

I first sat between Shakes and Andre who was wearing a light blue cap with a ‘Psssst’ badge on it. He had taken off his tee shirt and spread it on the ground. On it was an imitation of the Warner Brother’s movie logo and the words, ‘If you see da cops, warn a brother’. He was feeling better than yesterday. His throat infection is healing.

He said, “A cop car just pulled up, and the paramedics are following them. Just wait and see, after they take Buddy away they’ll come up to check on us. They’ll say, ‘How’s everybody doing?’ We’ll say, ‘Just fine officer, enjoying the nice weather.’ ”

Gene said, “Andre and I were throwing a hardball around. I was pitching to him. I used to be pretty fast in my younger days. I’d throw at around eighty, ninety miles an miles an hour, sometimes. I’m down to about seventy now. I asked Andre if he was ready, he said, ‘Let ‘er rip.’ Twice I caught him right in the center of the chest.”

Andre said, “When I was younger, both of my uncles used to pitch to me. They were fast. I used to catch the ball ninety-eight per cent of the time. I had really quick reflexes; but not any more. I remember my uncle throwing a bit wide one time. The ball missed my glove and went right through the backboard, left a neat circular hole.”

Shakes, who was laying on the lawn, said, “Dennis, do you remember me?”

“Of course I do, Shakes. I’d recognize that hat anywhere.” I shook his hand. He pulled me to the ground.

I moved on to the second group to say hello to Joy and Hippo. I was surprised to see Shark sitting next to Daimon, since, before he went to prison,  Daimon robbed Shark of his change, then beat him for not having any bills. I guess they settled their differences. Shark is skinny and is certainly not a fighter. Lucy had beat up Irene, Shark’s girlfriend.

As I was approaching, I heard Joy saying to Shark, “I don’t like you either, and I don’t punch like a girl,  so watch what you say.”

Shark said, “You always pick fights with men, because you know they won’t hit you back.”

“Hi Joy,” I said, “how’ve you been doing?”

“I’ve been keeping pretty quiet, staying at home and off the booze for the past few days. I’ve been cleaning the house, doing laundry, watching TV, resting. I’ve got marks on my arm where V has been biting me. I hate that dog.”

“Hi Dennis,” said Shark. “Irene and I had a tiff, I can’t remember what we were arguing about, but I kept laughing at her. She hit me with her fist on the side of my head. I said, ‘Irene, don’t do that.’ She hit me on the other side of the head. I said, ‘Irene, if you do that again, I’ll hit you back.’ Then she hit me in the nose. I just kept gaming on my Playstation.”

Joy said, “She’s small and skinny, but with those knuckles she can pack quite a punch. Where is she now?”

“She took the bus home to get her health card, then she was going to White Cross Drugs to have her prescription filled, then she was going somewhere else. I wasn’t paying too much attention.”

“That’s what I used to do with Jake,” said Joy. “When he’d hit me, I’d just laugh and say, ‘Is that all you got, big boy?’ That would really make him mad. He’s six-foot four. I didn’t win many fights, but I hurt him.

“That’s Charlie the Chaser over there, Jakes’s so-called friend. He had to come and rub my nose in the fact that he’s been in contact with Jake. He said he’s sending him a TV, at Millhaven. There’s something strange about that. The last time Charlie was here he was flashing a lot of cash and giving money to all the men. Do you think he gave me any? No! If he was interested in women at all, you’d think he would have given me something. Do you think he’s ever shown any interest in me, since Jake has been in prison? No! He’s a cock slinger (male prostitute).

“Charlie bragged that he had been in prison for twenty-five years and he was affiliated with the gangs. I’ve had some experience with that in the past. If he was affiliated, and went around talking about it — like he has been — he’d be dead meat.”

Daimon said, “Was he saying he was with H.A. (Hell’s Angels)?”

“That’s what he was saying,” said Joy.

Daimon, who has distinctive prison pallor and crude tattoos covering both hands and arms, laughed and said, “There are lots of prison stories. Some of them are even true, but not many. He has ‘Shannon’ tattooed on the back of his neck. Is that his street name?”

Joy said, “Daimon, what’s that you’ve got on your face? Were you in a fight? It looks like you did a face plant.”

“If I’d been in a fight, it would have been the other guy who would’ve done the face plant.”

Lucy said, “I wondered how long it would take Joy to ask about that. Didn’t I Daimon?”

“It’s an infection,” said Daimon. “I must have picked it up from a guy in prison. He had sores like this on his thigh and his stomach. I didn’t go near him, but I must have touched something he had touched.

“I went to the doctor. He gave me antibiotics and some creme to put on the sores.”

“It looks like impetigo. My sister got that when she was young. That’s what comes of sitting on park benches wearing only a bathing suit.”

“Impetigo, that’s what the doctor said. I couldn’t remember the name, but that’s what it is. It hurts, and being near my mouth, it’s always breaking open.”

“Chester!” said Joy, “where are you going? Just because Charlie is going over there that doesn’t mean you have to. These guys follow him around hoping he’ll give them something, money, cigarettes….”

I said to Joy, “Did you hear that Rocky got jumped the other day.”

“I’ve seen him fight. He blacks out and goes wild, just like me. I fought with my sister once. I injured her neck, shoulder and back. That was before they charged people for things like that. I can imagine that Rocky did some damage to the other guy.”

I said, “It was five kids who jumped him. Shakes thinks it was the same gang that jumped him. Rocky didn’t fight them, because he would have gone back to jail. They stole his cap.”

“How are you feeling,  Rocky?” I asked. “Any better than yesterday?”

“Not really. I’ve got a pain in my liver.”

“What does the pain feel like? Is it a sharp pain, or a dull ache like a bruise?”

“It feels like I have to shit, but nothing comes out. When I was in the hospital, I asked them to check my heart and kidneys. I had surgery on my heart and had a hole fixed in my kidney, when I was four days old.

“I was born near Greenland. I have seven sisters. My parents never wanted a boy. My youngest sister wants to come down here, but I told her not to. She’s only sixteen.”

“I can understand why you wouldn’t want her to come down here. It can be a rough life.”

I said good-bye to the group. It was nearly time for me to go back to work.

Joy said, “I’ll see you tomorrow. I won’t be panning, I have to buy some groceries. I have Hamburger Helper at home, but Chuck wants to have a barbecue.”

“Bye, Joy.”

I stopped to say good-bye to the other group.

“Chester,” I said. “I heard you were hit by a bus last Wednesday. How are you feeling?”

“It happened at the corner of Jarvis and Queen. I’m in a lot of pain, but I keep it to myself.”

“Take care, Chester.”

“Do you remember my name?” asked Charlie. “Of course, I remember your name; You’re Charlie.”

“Do you know why they call me that?

“Because your parents named you Charles?”

“No, it’s because people say I look like Charlie Manson. They also call me that because I’m nuts.”

~~~

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