Archive for the ‘Dialog’ Category

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14 May 2012

The weather at noon was perfect. As I was walking down Queen Street I met Nick. He was panning near Jarvis Street. Nick is diabetic and was taken to the hospital by paramedics last week. I gave him a wave as I passed.

“How’s it going, bro’?”

“Great, Nick!”

As I turned right on the sidewalk, toward the lawn, I saw Serge sitting by himself on the curb, in the shade. “Hi, Serge, How are you today?”

“Everyone is up on the lawn. I’m not so good today. I have pains in my legs and in my hands. It feels good just to sit here and stretch my legs out. It’s because I drink too much. What I drink (rubbing alcohol diluted with water) costs me two, thirty-five a bottle. That’s all I can afford, but it’s not good for me. I think I have arthritis in my hands.” He stretched his fingers to show me how stiff and swollen they were. “In the morning, I have to hold my hands under hot, running water for a while, just to get my fingers moving.”

“Have you tried hot baths, for your legs?” I asked.

“I don’t have a bathtub. I’m staying at the Seaton now, but I have to find a new place. They have me on the Wet Program. I don’t know why? I don’t like it. I used to be on the other side.

“The Seaton House Annex Harm Reduction Program, a ‘wet shelter’ operated in conjunction with staff from St. Michael’s Hospital on the harm reduction principle. Previously, Seaton House banned alcohol forcing many homeless alcoholics to stay on the street using unsafe sources of liquor such as rubbing alcohol, cleaners, and industrial products. Under the new “managed alcohol” policy clients enrolled in the program are served one drink every ninety minutes until it is determined that an individual is too inebriated at which point he is denied another shot. The clients have been found to gradually reduce their intake under this regime and many have quit entirely. The 130 beds in the annex are reserved for homeless chronic alcoholics.” (Wikipedia)

“There’s too much noise. One guy there, he opens and closes the door all night long: open, close, open, close. The man in the bunk beside me, he speaks French, so that’s good, but in the middle of the night, instead of going down the hall to the bathroom, he sits at the edge of his bed and shits on the floor, not once, but twice. That’s no way to act, shitting on the floor like that. I’m going to move to the Salvation Army. I think it will be better there.”

The next person I met, walking down the sidewalk was Hippo. “Hi, Hippo. How did you make out selling that lawnmower?”

“I took it down near the Mission. A taxi driver stopped and asked me if I wanted to sell it. I said, ‘Sure!’ He gave me ten dollars for it.

“Today, I got kicked off Bank Street. A cop gave me half of a Subway sandwich. Five minutes later, another cop came along and told me to move away from there. I only made a dollar, seventy-two, plus the sandwich.”

Sitting on the lawn were a half dozen of my friends. I shook hands all the way around. Tracey said, “Dennis this is my friend, Donald. He’s deaf, but he can read lips.”

“Hi, Donald,” I said.

“God bless,” he said.

Standing near the railing were Loretta, Outcast, and Joy. Loretta borrowed Joy’s cell phone and walked away.

“Hi, Joy. How’s it been, finding a new place?”

“Loretta found a two-bedroom apartment close to downtown. She walked by, it looked good from the outside. She may be phoning about it right now. There’s also a friend of Chuck’s that would rent me a room for $450 a month.

“I’m not feeling so well today. Yesterday I was drinking vodka and cranberry juice. It didn’t agree with me.

“You couldn’t buy me a bottle of sherry, could you?”

“I’m sorry Joy, I don’t have any cash with me. I can give you some bus tickets, but I don’t have any Subway cards. They ran out and won’t have any more until next month.”

“I probably couldn’t handle the sherry anyway. The thought of it makes me feel sick.”

I asked Outcast, “Did you have a birthday on Friday?”

“No, it was Wolf, the one with Shaggy. We had a party at my place. Irene and Shark brought over some spaghetti sauce. We sat around playing dice. Wolf, Irene, and Shark left early. I’ve been eating spaghetti since Friday. I’ve had so much It’s coming out my ass, literally.”

“Silver said, “I bet that Joy doesn’t remember the first time we met. I was panning in her old spot. Of course, I moved when she came along. That’s only right. I remember, Crash Test was panning on the other side of the street. You’d throw hand fulls of pennies at him. One time you threw a pear. It splattered all over the wall, and all over Crash. The pigeons loved it, they were all over him pecking at pieces of pear. He said, ‘You didn’t have to throw it so hard.’

Silver started packing his bag to leave. “I’m concerned that the cops will come again and I’ll lose all my beer. I’ve got more to lose than anybody.”

When he was out of earshot, Joy said, “That guy really annoys me. He talks even more than Chuck, and what he says doesn’t make any sense.” Fifteen minutes went by and Silver was still saying his goodbyes.

“Hey, Silver!” said Joy, “I thought you said you were leaving. Why don’t you quit saying goodbye and just go away.”

“In that case,” said Silver, “I’m not leaving, so ‘Liar, liar pants on fire, kissed the boys and made them cry.’ ”

“Silver,” I said, “I think you have your nursery rhymes mixed up.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I guess that was Georgie Porgie. Oh, well.”

Joy said, “Get out of my face, Silver, or I’ll kill you!  Silver, I will kill you!”

“Okay, Joy, take it easy.” Silver quietly left.

“Dennis,” said Outcast, some Saturday you’ll have to come over. All but two of us here have our own places, or else we share. We can have a couple of beer, smoke a few joints, maybe play some dice.

“Sounds good.”

~~~

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11 May 2012

The sun was shining this morning and Joy was in better spirits. I said, “I see that you don’t have V with you today.”

“This morning Chuck said to me, ‘V needs to go out for a pee.’ I said to him, ‘Dude, she’s your dog. It was you that wanted exercise, so you walk her, you feed her, you train her, or you get rid of her.’ I was so angry yesterday that I didn’t say more than five words to him.

“I’ve got to get away from Chuck. He woke me up at twelve-thirty in the morning with the sound of him smacking his lips as he ate. He’s always swearing, it’s pussy this, asshole that, blow job something else. I said to him, ‘Dude, if you want any woman to come anywhere near you, you need to do something about your hygiene, and brush your teeth.’

“He’s a redhead, as you’ve noticed. I’ve never liked the smell of redheads. Even after he showers, he has an odor about him.”

I said, “I was talking to Luther yesterday. I’ve met him, on at least four previous occasions, where we talked at some length. He had me mixed up with a priest; a radio talk show host; a judge, before whom he’d appeared; and a guy, in some bar, who ignored him.”

“Yeah, I talked to him yesterday. I found that he was acting weird. That’s what happens when you drink Listerine and rubbing alcohol, and the smell stays with you for days. He came on to me, he said, ‘Joy, I’ve always found you attractive. Since Jake is in prison, do you think we could get together?’ I said to him, ‘Dude, I’ll tell you the same thing I told you last time you asked me that. No, never, nada, it’s not going to happen.’

“I saw Shakes, Fran, and her asshole boyfriend yesterday. Did you see her eye? It was bruised and nearly swollen shut. That’s why she was wearing the shades all day. She said, ‘I fell.’ I said to her, ‘You’re talking to a woman who was beaten on a regular basis. Don’t tell me that you fell. I know what a bruise from a punch looks like.’ Then she admitted that he’d hit her. It’s a shame she’s such a sweet girl.”

I said, “I’ve heard people say that they ran into a doorknob.” Joy laughed, “Yeah, you’d have to be on your hands and knees for that to happen.

“I have to see Buck,  so I may see the guys this afternoon, maybe not. Lately, I’m turned off with all of them. The only one who doesn’t try to touch me is Chuck. Jacques is the worst. He said, ‘Little one, why don’t you come over to my place. You could even spend the night.’ I said, ‘No, dude, I’m not interested.’

“I have to pee again. That’s another reason I can’t have a dog here. I can’t just leave her here alone while I go to the restaurant to use their washroom. I’m going to leave soon, so will I see you at lunch?”

“I’ll be there. If you’re there fine if not, that’s fine too. Do what feels good for you. Take care of yourself first.”

At noon the sun was still shining, I didn’t wear a jacket, but found it a bit cool with the wind. The first person I saw was Serge. He said, “You know, yesterday on Parliament Street, I thought I saw you. I went up to shake your hand, but when I got up close It wasn’t you.”

I said, “There must be someone else in town that looks just like Kenny Rogers.”

“Like Kenny Rogers, yes.”

When I got to the lawn, there was a big crowd. The first to approach me was Hippo. “Dennis, how you doin’?”

“I’m good Hippo, how about you.”

“You know, I’m okay, I’ve been around. I found this lawnmower. It was just sitting there. It does mulching, side discharge or rear bagging. It runs. I started it, but it ran out of gas. I’m going to try to sell it.”

I met Juan, who I haven’t seen before. He was wearing a cowboy hat with plastic flowers around the brim. He said, “I have my name tattooed on my wrist in case I forget it. I’m sixty-five and my memory’s not so good.”

“I’m sixty-five as well,” I said. “I have difficulty remembering names, so I may have to check your wrist the next time we meet.”

“I go to a lot of Karaoke bars. I love to sing. I was in the Pro-Life parade yesterday. I don’t have an opinion, one way or the other, but I love to sing and dance. They had some great music.” He moved on to talk to Joy. They’d met before.

Larry said to me, “I see you’re having problems with your leg.”

“Motorcycle accident,” I said. “I had seven breaks in my right leg. I have a steel rod from my hip to my knee.”

“Do you still ride?”

“No. Do you?”

“I’ve had a lot of problems, starting when I was nine months old. I’ve got a bad back. I had learning difficulties in school. I have some mental problems. Now, I’m alcoholic.”

Joy came up to me and said, “Dennis, could you do a big, big favor for me. I know it’s your lunch hour, but I owe Bert forty bucks and he’s watching me like a hawk. If I give you the money could you buy me two bottles of Imperial sherry from the liquor store on Yonge Street? It’s seven forty-nine a bottle.”

“Sure, no problem.”

When I returned, the group was standing on the corner of the street. Joy motioned to me in the direction of the lawn. “Police!” Joy whispered, “Someone yelled six up (the police are nearby, so whatever you are doing that is illegal you’d better hide it) and everyone took off. Most, because they were carrying either liquor, pot, pills, or cigarettes smuggled from the U.S.”

“Most of the cigarettes come from the American side of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, the reserve straddling the borders of Quebec, Ontario and New York state. The cigarettes are removed from their packages and put in clear resealable plastic bags. Natives, or someone driving for them, will load the trunk of their car with illegal cigarettes for sale in other parts of the province or central Canada. Legal cigarettes would have a government seal on the packaging to prove that Canadian taxes had been paid, and they’d have a cancer warning.” (Wikipedia)

Everyone from the lawn relocated to the low concrete wall at the edge of the park. I talked to Irene. “The cops were just talking, they didn’t take anyone away. When I was leaving, the woman cop said to me, ‘Don’t forget the bag with your beer.’ Actually, I’d hidden my beer, but I had cigarettes in my pack. Since I’m native I’m allowed, but it looks suspicious having them in clear plastic bags. I’d just say, ‘I bought them at the mall.’ You can get anything at the mall. Right?” (The mall is a meeting place where illegal substances, and services, aren’t regulated by the chain stores or the law.)

There was sadness as the news circulated that Dennis ‘Fingers’ had passed away. The regulars had known and loved him for over fifteen years. I never met him, but I know that he will be missed.

Joy, V, and Chuck we’re sitting together. V snuggled up to Joy. “Now you’re being friendly.” Joy reached around to pat him and V bit her arm. “Did you see that? He bit me. He bit one of my regulars yesterday.”

Joy said to Chuck, “Why are you being so cheesy?”

“Oh, now you’re going to talk to me. You haven’t said more than five words to me since yesterday.”

“So, why are you in a bad mood?”

“I’ve only had a six-pack of beer this entire week. I’ve got no pot, no money, nothing to drink.”

“We’ve got pot.”

“You mean, you’ve got pot.”

“I mean, we’ve got pot and I’ll buy you some beer later. Now, stop pouting. Do you want a sip from my bottle?”

“That goof, no thanks.”

“It’s just watered down, it tastes the same.”

“I got a bottle coming.”

“If you’d get your sorry ass out of bed in the morning, you could come down with me and make some money.”

“I will tomorrow.”

“I’ll hold you to that. Come four-thirty I’m going to be flipping the lights on and off. I’ll be yelling, “Chuck, get the fuck up.”

Two young women came by from the Salvation Army. Joy said, “I hate those bitches, especially the blonde one. When I was sleeping behind the dumpsters, behind Starbucks, with Jake. Trying to bathe in the washroom of the restaurant. They said to me, ‘We can’t help you, because you’re not a man.’ They helped Jake. They helped Irene and they helped Loretta. I think it’s because Irene is native and Loretta is Inuit. I don’t have my status card that says that I’m Metis.”

Loretta came over. She is a small pleasant woman, always polite, always smiling even though she has no teeth. Joy said, “You talk to that bitch.” Loretta said, “Sheena? I have to, she’s my worker.”

Joy said, “The Salvation Army is the biggest fucking organization in the country and they do nothing. That blonde one is the worst. You see, she stays away from me. She knows what she’ll get.” Joy bared her teeth, hissed, snarled, and gnashed her teeth at the woman. “Of course, if I hit her I’d go straight to jail. She’d better keep her distance.”

Loretta said to Joy, “I heard that you’re getting your own place. Would you like a roommate?”

“That would be great. I would have asked you, but I thought you were still with your old man.”

“No, I kicked him out. I said, ‘Until we can go for six months without an argument, I don’t want to live with you.’

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m so looking forward to moving in with you.”

I thought they were going hug each other,  jump up and down, and scream, but that may have been seen to attract too much attention, especially with the police so near. They were parked on the curb, near the lawn to see if people came back.

Joy said, “It will be so nice, for a change, to have a place that smells feminine, instead of one that’s full of men’s farts.”

I said, “Oh, I forgot, women don’t fart.”

“Not as much as men do  (it’s been scientifically proven that men and women fart the same amount), we don’t pee on the toilet seat, or leave the seat up.”

“Women rule!” I said.

“You got that right, mister!” said Loretta.

“Joy said, “I just know that we’re going to get along great. There are none of these other women that I’d want to share with, and definitely none of the guys.”

“My boyfriend won’t even be sleeping over.”

Joy said, “I don’t care if he does. With Jake in prison, I can’t see anyone staying over with me, except perhaps Outcast.”

“Aren’t you worried about him stealing from you?” I asked.

“I’ve nothing to steal, except my bed.

“I’ll go to the Mission tomorrow to see if there are any listings.”

“I’ll go to the Shepherd,” said Loretta. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” then she walked away. Joy said, “You know, she reminds me of myself when I was with Jake. I was always saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ With Loretta it’s, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ I’ll have to get her to stop that, it’s getting on my nerves.”

I said, “I’m glad to see you happy, Joy.  I’ll see you Monday.”

~~~

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10 May 2012

The weather this morning was cold and damp. I saw Joy sitting on her plastic storage container with Bruce’s raincoat wrapped around her knees. V was tied up to a gas meter attached to the building. Neither Joy nor V looked happy.

“Chuck has an appointment with his dentist and his probation officer, so I’m dog-sitting V. I’m not happy. V chewed a hole in my sleeping bag and generally wrecked the house. Right now, I’m ready to kill her. She’s driving me insane with her barking. I told Toothless he should get rid of her. She’s a biter.”

Joy’s telephone rang. “Chuck your dog is driving me nuts. She’s eaten all her dog food, all her treats and she’s just knocked over her water dish for the second time. Oh, you find that funny, do you? She’s scaring people away. I’ve only made two dollars this morning. So where are you now, and when will you be back? Hurry up will you? You’re still laughing! Oops, she ran away. She pulled the knot loose and she’s running down the block. How do I know where she’s going?

“Okay, she didn’t run away, but she’s your dog! You walk her! You take care of her!

Joy wasn’t wearing her spinner ring today. I asked her why she didn’t have the ring from Jake resized, so it would fit her finger. She said, “I’m not ready for that. I think I’m better off living alone. This other ring is from Joanne, she died of AIDS.

“I’m going to The Women’s Center today, to have the forms filled out for my medical card. Perhaps, I’ll see you at lunch. I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

At the low concrete wall, I met half a dozen people.  Shakes was there with his daughter, Fran, an attractive young woman, friendly, happy, and sober.

Ian said, “How are you doing, man? It’s been a long time. My best friend just died, that’s why I’m messed up like this.” Marlena was concerned about the time, so they left.

I’ve met Luther at least three times before, but he mistook me for a priest, a judge, a radio talk show host, and someone who ignored him at a bar. He is an alcoholic, but he seemed fairly sober.

“I have ADHD, that’s what they tell me. My mother is in hospital on a ventilator. I lied to her. I said I was coming home to visit her. I tried, but I was thrown off the bus because I was drunk. She wants to die naturally like my grandmother did, but they have her hooked up to all these tubes.

“I’m from Regina, 1409 Retallack Street. I haven’t told that to anyone, not even the police. Do you see them over there, across the street? They’re just waiting to try to arrest me for something (in fact, they were there to supervise an anti-abortion rally).

“I’m a demon, I’m the devil himself. Will you hear my confession?”

“Luther, I’m not a priest, I’m not even an expert on Christianity, I practice Buddhism. I’ll hear your confession if you want. I’ve heard lots of confessions.”

“Father, I don’t know how to start. It’s been such a long time. I’ve killed people.”

“Luther, that’s in the past, it’s a memory. It’s time to forgive yourself. I can see that you’re a good man. You care for people. Now, is the time you can do the most good for others.”

“I can’t forgive myself. I want to be an artist. I am an artist. I made a dream catcher and took it to the Cedar Basket Gift Shop to sell it. The owner said it was no good, so I spat on it and left it. The next night his front window was kicked in. The owner thought I did it. The police came over and checked my shoe size. They said, ‘No. it wasn’t him.’

“I have spiritual powers, I’ve studied to be a shaman for my people, but I’ve lost my way. I need to be on the radio for an hour to explain my theories about how the system should be changed. Can you arrange that for me? We need a school for aboriginal children. Do you agree with me?”

“I agree with you, Luther, but I don’t know anyone in radio. I’ll do some research. I’ll try to come up with some names.

“You take care, Luther. You’re a good man.”

“How are you, Shakes?”

“You know me. I’m always the same.”

I said to Gene and Fran, “Shakes, Shark, and I used to be neighbors near Allan Gardens.”

“Actually, I was more in Parkdale,” said Shakes.

“Where did you sleep, Shakes. Do you have a regular place where you go?”

“I sleep wherever I choose. If I feel tired I lay down and sleep wherever I am.”

I gave him some bus tickets, “Make sure you share those with Fran.”

Fran said, “If he doesn’t, I’ll just wait until he’s asleep and take them.”

“You know your father well,” I said and then I left.

~~~

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9 May 2012


“Hi, Joy, how’s it going? I didn’t know whether or not to expect you today because of the rain forecast.”

“Yeah, it did rain a little bit, earlier. I did my little rain dance, you know, ‘Rain, rain go away, come again another day’, I brought Bruce’s raincoat, just in case, but it was nothing to be concerned about. I don’t mind light rain, it’s those huge raindrops that I hate.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Last night my stomach was doing flip flops. When I got out of bed I threw up. I try to eat a bland breakfast, so I had a poached egg on toast. As soon as I got it down, I puked it up.”

“Have you heard anything from Nick, since the paramedics took him away?”

“He was fine once they got some insulin into him. Yeah, he’s back. He’s really pissed off with the cop, Constable D. Dubrovnik. He even tried to prevent Chuck from phoning 911. Nick is in bad shape with his diabetes and cancer. I’m not sure, but I think it’s all through his internal organs. He’s on massive doses of oxycontin. The cop apologized, asked if there was anything he could do, and handed him his card. Nick just flicked it back at him. He’s going to press charges.

“The cop kept poking Jake with his baton. I don’t know what that was all about.

“Jacques told me that yesterday the R.C.M.P (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) rousted everyone from under the bridge. They’d gone there to get out of the rain. Everyone was given liquor violations. I’m glad I wasn’t there. That’s the first time I’ve heard of the R.C.M.P getting involved. I’ve always acted like, ‘Nya nya nya, can’t touch me.’ I guess they can.

“I have an appointment on the fifteenth at The Women’s Center to meet with an anger management counselor. It’s better than going to the other place and being in a classroom full of women. I’d probably go nuts and kill someone. I don’t like being around a lot of women, especially Inuit women who used to hang around the bench. The yapping would never stop. And they’d keep asking me for a drink out of my bottle. I had to learn to say, ‘No, get your own. This is all I’ve got.’

“Chuck and I were talking about getting an apartment together, but the more I think about it, the more I think I should get a place of my own. Chuck has a heart of gold, he’ll help anyone, but it costs a lot in groceries. Like the barbecue, we had on Saturday. I can’t believe the amount that Chuck eats. That’s why he’s so fat. He says, ‘I have a big appetite.’ I say look, dude, that doesn’t mean you have to eat fifteen times a day. When he serves me a plate of food it’s enough to keep me going for three days.

“We’ve got a problem with mice. Chuck keeps bugging the landlord about it. I said, ‘Make sure he knows that you’ve got a dog.’ V gets into everything. He’s supposed to bring some traps over. He said to Chuck, ‘If you keep bugging me I’m going to throw you out.’ Chuck said, ‘I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here.’ We’ll see what happens.

A man stopped and put an apple in Mo’s cap. Mo asked me, “Do you want an apple? I usually give them to Jacques, but he’s getting too fat. He doesn’t need anymore to eat.”

“Sure, thanks, I’ll take it.”

“I’ve made over forty bucks today. That’s more than I’ve made for a long time. You must be good luck for me.”

A tall, good-looking black man passed by, smiled, and said hello to Joy. “Hi, handsome, gimme five.” He slapped Joy’s hand and mine. “One day he threw some folded bills in my cap. I spread them out. It was four twenties. I said, ‘Hey man, this is too much.’ He just kept walking and said, ‘You keep it.’ That’s the most money I’ve ever got at one time. No, wait, a biker chick once stopped and slipped me a hundred.

“I talked to Jacques on the phone this morning. He said, ‘So, little one — he calls me little one because I used to be a lot bigger — are you going to come down and visit us today?’ I owe him thirty bucks, but he’s going to have to wait until the end of the month. That’s what I was talking to Jake about. He’s owed me seventy for about a year. I asked him about it and he said, ‘I thought you said to forget about it.’ I said, ‘Dude, I didn’t say forget about it, I said, shove it up your ass. That’s not the same thing.’ ”

“Do you go to the library?” I asked.

“I used to go there to use the washroom. My eyesight is not so good anymore. I’m nearsighted, I can see things far away, but up close everything is blurry. Jake is farsighted. When we’d be waiting for the bus together, he’d ask, ‘Is that our bus coming?’ ‘No,’ I’d say, ‘not that one, the one further down the street.’ ”

“Did you get to spend a night in the motel?”

“No, I should have. Maybe I will next month, but who knows what’s going to happen next month?”

It was muggy today at ‘the curb’. As I was approaching, Larry came up to me and asked, “Hey, can you spare two bucks, that’s all I need.”

“I said, I don’t have any cash, but I can give you a Subway card worth five bucks.”

“Would you be offended if I sold it for two bucks?”

“Do whatever you like.”

“It’s tempting, but I wouldn’t do that to you, bro’.”

Sitting or standing were about a dozen people. Handshakes all around.

I said, “We can all just pretend there is a bench here.”

Jacques said, “They take away our bench, we’re still here. They take away the garbage container, we’re still here. They mow down our trees, we’re still here. What are they going to do next? Are they going to mow us down?”

I sat between Jacques and Joy. “I’m really buzzed,” said Joy. “Look at all the people here. Some of them I just can’t put up with anymore. Shakes was a good friend a couple of years ago, but he can’t even speak sense now. He’ll be asleep before you know it. Makes us all look bad. The last thing we need is to attract attention.

”This is one of those days when I’d rather not be alive.” Joy was crying and started coughing. “Tomorrow I’m going to The Women’s Center to get my forms filled out. They say it will take two or three weeks for me to get my medical card. They’ll want me to quit drinking.”

“What kind of symptoms do you get with alcohol withdrawal?”

“I throw up a lot, lose my appetite — what little I have — get the shakes really bad, sweats, nausea, headache, anxiety,  rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, hallucinations. Last time it looked like the ground beneath my feet was crawling with bugs.”

“I smell something burning,” said Jacques. “Has Ellen fallen asleep with a cigarette? Maybe her clothes are burning.”

Joy checked, “No, she doesn’t have a cigarette.”

Jacques said, “I smelled something, but maybe it was over there. I don’t know. There is something falling. Is it snow? No, it’s coming from the trees. It’s green. Is that what they call ‘pollenization’? These green things fall on the earth and they grow. If they fall in the leaves over there there’s not enough light. If they fall on the grass they get mowed. Is it the maple leaves that fall like helicopters?”

Ellen awoke and said, “Did somebody mention something about maple bacon?”

“That sounds like something that Chuck cooked the other day. Maple, anything, is just wrong. I don’t even eat pancakes anymore. French toast I’ll do, but with only a tiny bit of syrup.”

“They’ve got Honey Jack Daniels now,” said Ellen. “That’s good.”

Joy whispered to me, “I’d like to kill her.

“See my rings? This one on my thumb is a spinner ring. The inside stays still and the outside spins. On my other thumb is Jake’s twelve-step ring. Well, it’s mine now. When we were in the jewelry store he asked, “Do you see anything you fancy?’ I said, ‘No, not really.’ He said, ‘I saw you looking at a ring over there. Do you want it?’ I said, ‘Okay.’ They’re so big, I have to wear them on my thumb. Jake wanted me to put it on the fourth finger of my left hand. This other one was given to me by a girlfriend, Joanne. She’s passed on (Joy crossed her heart). It’s my birthstone, amethyst.

“When I’ve been panning people have said to me, ‘If you want money, sell your jewelry!’ These rings are only silver. They’re not worth anything to anybody else.”

“I was talking to Outcast the other day,” said Silver. “He feels like he’s being pushed out of the group.”

“Well,” said Joy, “if he’d quit stealing from us… There’s nothing worse than someone who would steal from his friends. Well, a jailhouse thief is worse. Everybody has their tiny ration of coffee or toothpaste. It really sucks when somebody takes it on you. If they get found out they end up, a pile in the corner, beaten by somebody’s bitch.”

Shark said, “Outcast was at Irene’s the other day. He drank six of her beer and every time he went through the kitchen he took some of my pot and put it in his cigarette pack.”

Joy said, “I was at Jacques’ place when Outcast was there. Jacques went to the bathroom and Outcast grabbed a stack of DVD’s and was going to put them in his pack. I said, ‘No you don’t!’

Jacques said, “It was the next night that he stole pot from me.”

It was time for me to go. I said to Joy, “They’re forecasting rain for later on.”

“I’m okay, I’ve got Bruce’s raincoat. It even covers my feet. When I pull the hood up I’ll stay nice and dry. He’s so big that it fits me like a tent. Before he went to prison, I told him to ask for a high protein diet. He’s going to really gain weight there. That’s what I’ve asked for whenever I’ve been inside. You get a lot of different kinds of meat, peanut butter. I used to put that in my pocket and save it until later when I was back in my cell.”

~~~

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7 May 2012

Police and Paramedics

On a low concrete wall, near the park, sat six of my friends.

Shark said, “Did you see what they’ve done, ‘our bench’ is gone. We’re stuck with sitting here in the sun. Even the wrought iron garbage container is gone.”

Joy said to me, “Nick passed out due to insulin shock, so Chuck phoned 911. Nick should carry extra insulin with him, but he doesn’t. Also, he hasn’t eaten. He was more concerned with having a joint. The same thing happened at the barbecue Saturday. He has cancer and has pretty well given up on life.  I’d never do that,  no matter what condition I was in. I’m too much of a bitch.”

The paramedics arrived with an ambulance. They loaded Nick onto a gurney, into the ambulance, then away.

The police arrived and complained to Jake about garbage near where the bench used to be. There was one plastic soft drink container, that someone had used to carry water for their dog. He said to the police officer, ‘For one thing, it’s not our garbage. For another thing, the garbage container has been taken away and there’s nowhere for us to put the garbage.’ The officer responded by pushing Jake across the sidewalk. He staggered and nearly fell.

Everyone was wondering what Chuck was saying to the police. Joy said, “That dude has verbal diarrhea. It starts first thing in the morning and doesn’t end until he goes to sleep. I’m going up there to get his dog. All I need is for Chuck to go to jail and I’ll be stuck with V. Did I tell you how he got that name? Chuck was drunk when he bought the dog. He couldn’t remember what the previous owner had called it, so he just picked a letter from the alphabet.  I don’t even like him.”

Joy went up to get V. Chuck said, “I’m not going to jail!”

Chuck phoned 911 again and said, “Officer D. Dubrovnik pushed my friend, and I’m scared he’s going to hit me with his billy club. I wish to make a formal complaint. Yes, I’ll stay on the line.”

Joy said to the officer, “Look dude, my friend is on a lot of pain medication for AIDS. That’s why he’s staggering. He’s very sick.”

“And how would you know that?” said Officer Dubrovnik.

“Because he’s my friend, dude. I know the medical histories of all these people here.”

“Why is it you’re not messed up like this guy?”

“Because, I choose not to be, dude!”

Jake was forced to walk in the opposite direction, away from the group.

Joy, Chuck, and V. returned to the rest of the group sitting on the wall.

Outcast said to me, “You should complain to the city about the removal of our bench and our garbage container. As it is, the closest place to put garbage is at the far end of the park. Also, the remaining benches are all in direct sunlight. You should tell them that you work in the area and like to sit in the shade to eat your lunch.”

“I could do that,” I said.

“How are you Rocky? Where are you sleeping now?” I asked.

“I’m staying at The Scott Mission.”

“You’ve really got a great voice. Has it always been like that? I wish I had a deep voice like yours. Do you sing?”

“A lot of people have said I should be a blues singer, but I don’t sing that well. I just sing for fun, when I’m alone.”

I asked Joy, “How was your weekend?”

“It was good. Saturday, at Chuck’s place, we had a barbecue for Jennifer’s birthday. She’s Inuit. We didn’t know that her birthday wasn’t actually until Sunday, but it didn’t matter. Her boyfriend, Steve came and Chuck’s dad. Chuck cooked some delicious pork chops. We had macaroni salad and regular salad. I can’t believe how much I ate. Usually, I just pick at my food, but this was so good that I licked my plate.

“I have a real bed now. Saturday, Chuck will be leaving for a few days and he’ll be taking V. I’m looking forward to having the whole place to myself. I’m looking forward to the quiet.

“On the twenty-ninth of this month, I have a court appearance for the breach I got while I was in the hospital. My p.o. (probation officer) wants to meet with me after court, but she’s going to be the duty officer that day. I could wait forever to see her. I said to her, ‘Why can’t you tell me in court, what it is you have to say?’ I’m going to phone her and say I’ll come on the following day.

“I’m going to the Womens’ Center to have counseling for my anger management. I’ll be seeing a counselor one on one. It’s the place where chicks go for addiction treatment.”

After work, as I was waiting for my bus home, I saw Alphonse walking towards me.

“Good evening, sir,” he said.

“Alphonse, it’s so good to see you! How’ve you been? How’s Magdalene?”

He put his fist to his forehead. Lines appeared between his eyes that welled up with tears. “I’m so agitated! Not frustrated, agitated! Maggie is four months pregnant and tomorrow she’s going to see about an abortion.

“That’s why I’m drinking. That’s what we do, where I come from when things get to be too much.”

“I understand, Alphonse, drinking helps to numb the pain.”

“It doesn’t though. I hurt so bad inside. I don’t know how she can do that to my child. I’m hoping that tomorrow, they tell her she’s too far along. I hope that they refuse to give her an abortion.”

“Alphonse, perhaps that will happen. I’m sure that will happen.”

“I’ll take care of the child myself if I have to.”

“I’m a father myself, Alphonse, but I can’t even imagine how much pain you are feeling right now. I’ll say a prayer for you, that everything works out as you wish it to. You’re a good man, Alphonse. You’ll make a good father.”

“It’s helped a lot being able to talk to someone about it. Thank you, my friend.”

“Take care, Alphonse. My heart goes out to you. Perhaps, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

~~~

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4 May 2012

Today was muggy, overcast, and warm. The fog of earlier had lifted, but the humidity remained. I approached the bench, “Hi Joy, did Shakes tell you that he and I were panhandling together yesterday?”

Shakes turned to Joy and said, “Yes, we went to ‘my office’.”

“Shakes,” said Joy, “do you mind turning your head in the other direction, Your breath is foul. It smells like you’ve been chewing on a dirty sock all night. You really should consider brushing your teeth once in a while.”

“Okay, If you say so, Joy, I’ll turn my head.” He laughed.

“It’s not funny, Shakes, you should start taking care of yourself, and change your clothes.” He got up and sat next to his daughter Fran. Before long he was laying on the grass.

“Dad!” said Fran, “don’t go to sleep here!”

I asked Joy, “How’s everything? Are there still a lot of people staying at Chuck’s?”

“Jeff is moving out today. Bearded Bruce signed himself into prison, Wednesday morning. He and Inuk have been together for three years and she didn’t even come home to spend their last night together. She owes Chuck money. She saw him Wednesday and didn’t mention anything about paying him back. She said she’s coming over tonight, but Chuck may have something to say about that.

“V is going as well. Chuck is trying to sell him. He’s a biter. I reached under the bed to get my bottle of water and he chomped on my hand. I didn’t even know that he was there. With my free hand, I punched him right between the eyes.

“Larry, what was V’s name before Toothless got him?”

“Star,” said Larry.

“When I get home I’ll see if he responds to that. He doesn’t pay attention to anything else, especially V. I think that dog has been abused. He’s only six months old. He shouldn’t be vicious like that if he had been well treated. Chuck doesn’t have the patience for him anyway.

“Yesterday he was talking to some guy from Scarborough. Chuck is asking a hundred. If the guy is at all interested, but can’t afford the price, I think he should drop it to fifty. It would be nice if the dog could go there. He needs fields and a place to run.

“You’d better be careful spending time with Andre and Shakes. That’s a sure way to get into trouble.”

“I’ll be careful, Joy.”

“So, this weekend Chuck and I may have the place all to ourselves.

“I have to go to court next week about my breach, but my lawyer says it will be thrown out. I have all the medical records showing that I was in the hospital.

“I saw my probie this morning. She arranged for me to take the anger management course with a counselor one on one. That’s the only way I’d be able to take it. Angela knows I can’t do another prison term. The last time, they had me in the psych ward, in solitary, under suicide watch.

“You may have noticed that I can be a bit mouthy sometimes. When I go through alcohol withdrawal,  it’s worse. You don’t want to be around me then; I’m not a pleasant person. That would also cause me problems in prison.”

“How is your pneumonia?” I asked.

“It’s still there. I’ve been procrastinating about going to Public Health, but I need to go there to get my medical card. I could go to my old doctor. He’d give me a prescription for antibiotics, but I have a hard time dealing with him. He’s one of those guys under a turban. Half the time I don’t know what he’s saying.

“He also checks my blood. If I go there after I’ve been drinking my levels are normal. If I go there when I haven’t been drinking my levels are high. Go figure?

“My kidneys have been kicking me, so after I finish this bottle it will be a dry weekend. Either that or I go back to the hospital for dialysis. I don’t want that. As it is, my sherry is so watered down, nobody else will drink it. Chuck calls it ‘goof’. He and Shakes drink it straight. I couldn’t do that now.

“When Big Jake and I were drinking beer we got along fine. We used to drink Labatt Blue, which is five percent alcohol. Then we switched to Labatt Maximum Ice at seven point one. That’s when our problems began. It was even worse when we switched to Imperial sherry at twenty percent. I could drink any of these guys under the table, but Jake just got mean and nasty. That’s when he started beating me.

“We’ll probably get together again. My probie said, ‘He’s not allowed within sixteen hundred yards of you, or he’ll go right back to jail.’ I asked, ‘When has a restraining order ever stopped him before?’

“I don’t want to be in a relationship with anybody. To have Jake as a fuck buddy would be okay, but I don’t want to live with him again.”

After work, I caught my usual bus. I was surprised to see Shark and Irene. They were going to Irene’s place, about four blocks from where I live. Shark said, “I guess you missed all the excitement this afternoon. Shakes and Shamus were passed out on the lawn and somebody phoned the police. They sent three squad cars and the paramedics. They let Shakes go, but they took Shamus away. He couldn’t even walk. They’ll probably take him to the Shepherd to let him sleep it off.

“Joy has been after Shakes not to panhandle at ‘the bench’, since it attracts attention. When he lay down, she told him to sit up. His daughter, Fran, was sitting beside him. I thought she’d take care of him.

“I guess Fran went shopping. Everyone else just stood around, pretending like they didn’t know what was going on. I’ve known Shakes for fifteen years since we both lived near Allan Gardens.”

I said, “That’s my old neighborhood too. I lived on Spruce Street near Parliament and Carleton. We used to be neighbors and didn’t know it.”

Shark said, “Shakes is slowly killing himself, but he doesn’t care. It’s his choice.”

I said, “I spent my noon hour yesterday with Andre and Shakes. They were both staggering in different directions. Andre was saying things like, ‘Drunk man walking,’  ‘White man on a program’ and ‘Don’t get in the way of my staggering.’ We went to where Shakes calls his ‘office’. I sat with him for a while, then went across the street and sat with Andre. He sure is a character. I don’t think he repeated himself once.”

Shark said, “He must have had his rubber legs on. He’s been staying up in Chinatown lately. Probably into that Chinese cooking wine. It’s thirty-seven percent alcohol. It’s great for stir-frying, but it’s powerful stuff to drink.”

“Do you miss living in Montreal.?” I asked.

“Montreal has changed so much I wouldn’t even recognize it. I’d prefer to live in the country. I studied horticulture for four years. I didn’t do well with the chemistry, all those symbols. I like to grow things. Spike, a friend of ours has a place in Quebec on a lake. You met Spike the other day. His double pneumonia has cleared up, but he’s still feeling very weak. He was looking white as a ghost. His mom is keeping a close eye on him. Anyway, he’s invited us to stay for the summer. There is a rowboat, a boat with a small motor for trolling. The only problem is we couldn’t get any liquor up there. Maybe it would be good to dry out for a while. We’d still have our pot. We haven’t decided.

“When I grew up in Montreal, my grandmother had a farm a few miles out of town. If any of us kids misbehaved, my mom would threaten to send us to the farm. We preferred to stay in the city.”

By this time we had reached Irene’s stop. It turns out that we’re neighbors, living just five blocks apart. It’s a small world. We said goodbye and agreed to meet at ‘the bench’ on Monday.

~~~

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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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30 April 2012
Today at noon the weather was warm and sunny. It was check day so everyone at ‘the bench’ had money and had been drinking heavily. Outcast was sitting alone. He was ostracized for ripping off Jacques.
I sat next to Elaine. “Have you seen Miss Vickie lately? She sounds interesting — pretty, bubbling personality. Curt seemed to have been really taken with her.”
“Miss Vickie?” questioned Irene. “I haven’t seen her since she moved to the townhouse.
”She used to phone me and say, ‘Irene, do you want to come out and play?’ She had no interest in Shark, just me. Sometimes he would get upset if I stayed away too long, but he gets upset anyway. This morning he was upset about something. I asked him, ‘Is it because I took a beer out of the fridge? Is it because I took one of your packs of smokes? Is it because I took some weed out of the freezer?’ I’m still not sure what he was upset about.
“Vickie and I used to do some drug deals together. The whole idea behind dealing drugs is to make money, not to become a user. She became a user. One thing led to another and she spent two years in jail. I switched to alcohol. It’s a lot safer.
“When I got out of high school I went to college. I took my first year and was either going to go into legal or medical. It seems funny now, thinking that I would have gone into law since nearly everything I do is illegal.” I drove a cab for quite a while. I know the city really well. I also got to know people. A lot goes on in the back seat of a cab. I learned not to judge and to mind my own business.
“My dad had my car fixed with GPS tracking, so they always knew where I was. If I detoured off my expected route they knew about it. If I ever had a problem, all I had to do was signal 88, and cab drivers, from all over, would come to where I was. I also carried pepper spray and weapons, but I never had to use them.
“The money I made was really large. At income tax time I’d sit down with my accountant and we’d go through my receipts. We’d burn most of them, and we’d pretend some days didn’t exist. When I went back to college I studied accounting so I could do my own income tax.”
Shakes and Blaine were upset with each other because of a debt of fifty bucks, about which they disagreed. Blaine had been drinking a lot of vodka and wasn’t very coherent, but he was LOUD.
“Okay guys,” said  Bearded Bruce, “let’s keep the volume down. If you’ve got a problem, deal with it tomorrow. Today is my last day before going back to prison, so I want it quiet and peaceful. Understood!”
Shark said, “That’s what happens when you get natives drunk, you get a lot of noise.
“I used to go out with Blaine’s aunt. Every time he’d see me he’d say, ‘Where’s my aunty? Where’s my aunty?’ He was an annoying little brat. He always wanted to hang out with us. His mother would come looking for him and we’d hide him under a pile of dirty laundry. We must have done that three or four times. His mother would say, ‘I saw him come down here.’ We’d say, ‘He was here, but he left a while ago.’

“Tomorrow, I run out of my HIV meds. They’ll cover me for a week, but I haven’t been able to contact my doctor to have my prescription renewed. The prescription is good for a year. It’ll work out. Shark was eating pistachio nuts and throwing the shells on the sidewalk. People walking by would be startled hearing the shells crack underfoot, or they’d think they’d stepped on a pebble. Under two jackets Blaine was wearing a Corona tee shirt. “I’m going to get that shirt from you,” said Bruce.” How are you going to do that?” asked Blaine.”I’m going to wait until you finish that bottle of vodka, then I’ll sit on you and peel that shirt off. You’re going to end up in the emergency ward half-naked.”

Blaine pondered that.

~~~

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27 April 2012

This morning was bitterly cold and windy. I wasn’t expecting to see Joy, but there she was in her usual spot, sitting next to Curt.

“So, are you wearing your pink panties today?” I asked Joy. (Yesterday, “the sandwich ladies” came by with extra toiletries, socks, and underwear.  Joy scored a pink pair.)

“I had forgotten all about them. I was down here setting up, rummaging through my pockets, when they fell out on the sidewalk. The wind took them and I went chasing after them. The cab driver across the street was watching me. When I caught up with them I held them up and said, ‘See, underwear!’ He laughed.”

Curt was asking Joy, “So when did you last talk to Jake?”

“In November. Rodent has been sending him money and been getting letters from him. I don’t even know where he is. Last I heard he was in Milhaven, but he may have been transferred by now. The last thing he said to me was, ‘You’re the reason I’m in here!’ I said ‘No dude, you’re the reason you’re in there.’

“So is it over between you and Jake?”

“No, that story’s not over yet, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. He’ll come looking for me.

“This weather reminds me of Winnipeg. Like that Randy Bachman, Neil Young song, Prairie Town, with the line ‘Portage and Main, fifty below.’

“I remember how I met you,” said Curt. “I was panning on Portage Avenue and I asked someone where I could get some weed. They said, ‘Go to Central Park and see the woman with the pink bandana. She’ll fix you up.’ ”

“Yeah, that pink bandana was my signature. I used to buy ten grams of pot and split it into three bags. I’d sell each bag as five grams. That worked pretty well for me.”

Chantal stopped to talk for a few minutes. She asked how Joy had been feeling, shook her hand, put some change in her cap.

“I haven’t seen Outcast lately.”

“You’re not likely to, either. He’s either hiding out or he’s left town. When you rip off a friend like Jacques, who gives you a place to stay, and feeds you, that’s pretty low. I remember being at Jacques’ place when he was there. He was drunk and said some things I didn’t like. I chased him down the stairs, across the park, then ‘clotheslined’ him — straight arm across the throat. He fell back into the mud of the canal. If I knew then, what I know now, I would have jumped on his head and drowned him in that muck.

“He was only at my place once, before I knew what he was like. Roy had his drugs and money there. I’d been responsible for bringing Outcast over, so if he’d taken Roy’s stuff, I would have been in big trouble. I would have had to kill him. That would have been unfortunate.”

At noon it was still bitterly cold and windy. ‘The bench’ was deserted, but across the street, I saw people at ‘the heater’.

I greeted everyone and Shark said to me, “We were here earlier when the security guard chased us away. We stood on the island in the middle of the street until he left, then we came back. We haven’t seen him since. He’s probably on his lunch break. We’re on Candid Camera now.”

“He chased Ian and me away.” I said, “He allowed Irving to finish his smoke, then he kept checking back every ten minutes.”

“I was talking to Joy on the phone,” said Jacques. “She won’t be coming here. She says she’s not feeling well. She got her check today and was supposed to pay me the money she owes me. If she wants something she wants it ‘right away, now.’ If somebody wants something from her it’s ‘maybe later, maybe tomorrow.’ ”

Shark said, “That’s why I don’t give her credit, but I have a lot of respect for her. She’s the one who told me about my first wife. She had thrown herself in front of a train. Our fifteen-year-old son is living with my parents in Brantford.

“I don’t see him very often because I still know too many people there. I’d be back on the freight train, as I call it. I’d be back in ‘the life’ again.”

Jake asked, “What day was it yesterday?”

Curt answered, “What do you mean? It was yesterday. What do I look like, a calendar?”

“The only date I remember,” said Jake, “is Mother’s Day. That’s the thirteenth day of May. Am I right? I also remember my brother’s birthday and my parent’s anniversary, because I was just up there.

“Us kids had a really good time at the anniversary party. It was held in the barn. I say us kids, but I’m forty-one. My brother has three kids of his own. He did a lot of drinking at that party.

”When we were kids, I remember my brother and I going down to the creek and catching tadpoles. We’d use them for fishing.”

“That’s in North Bay, isn’t it?” I asked. “No, Deep River, I remember.”

“When I was kid,” I said, “at Lake Superior, I used to catch sea lampreys. They’d be a foot or more in length. I had a long stick and would flip them out of the water onto the beach. Sometimes, I’d have half a dozen of them coming towards me at the same time. If they attach themselves to you, the only way to get them off is to burn them with a cigarette, or a lighter.

“Those are really good to use as bait,” said Curt, “especially for pike. You cut them up, put them on a three-pronged hook, throw them out in the water, and jig with them. Now, I want to go fishing.

“The last time I was in Deep River I wanted to get some beer. The beer store is right beside Tim Horton’s. It was still open, but I decided to go to the liquor store to get some single ‘king-size’ cans. I arrived six minutes after they closed. It wasn’t far away and I had directions, but I still missed it. I went back to the beer store. I thought it was open for another hour, but it was closed. I was so angry. Where was I going to get a beer?

“I asked a cop if it would be okay for me to set up my tent behind the beer store. They had some school busses parked back there. This was summer so they weren’t being used. The cop said, ‘It’s fine with me. You should be okay there.’

“I was at the beer store as soon as it opened and I was the first person at the cash. There was an old guy who is usually the first customer. He was really pissed off that I beat him.

“Jack, do you remember that old guy who was always the first one at the beer store? I can’t remember his name.

“Irene, have you seen Miss Vickie lately? I haven’t seen her for about two years. She had a bubbly personality, really fun to hang out with. She was pretty and had store-bought tits. I remember how nice they looked in a sweater.”

“We paid for those tits,” said Irene. “She was working for me, so I got a percentage of everything she brought in. Curt, you wouldn’t have been able to afford her. You would have had to pay for a hotel room. It would have cost you your entire monthly check.

“Well, we paid for the implants,” said Shark, “the nipples she had already.”

“Shark,” asked Curt, “did you ever get a look at them, since you paid for them and all.”

“No, Irene wouldn’t let me.”

“Remember when Animal tried to carry her up to his bedroom?” asked Irene. “He was so drunk that he dropped her. That was as far as he got.”

Irene was pestering Shark, trying to get him to leave. She was pulling the strings on his woolen helmet  (beneath which he wore a leather Maple Leafs cap). She moved his backpack, so he couldn’t reach his beer. “I’m waiting for Buck,” said Shark. “I have some business with him. You go! Leave me alone! I’ll catch up with you later! What is it about women? They’re so like… women.”

~~~

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26 April 2012
As I approached Joy this morning she was sitting on her plastic storage box, legs wrapped in towels, hood pulled up, hands in her pockets. She was looking at the ground, rocking back and forth.
“How’s it going, Joy?”
“Everything’s all mixed up. It’s doing my head in. When I got the mail yesterday there was a letter — here I’ll show it to you. It says I was assaulted by Eduardo Guzman. I don’t know any Eduardo Guzman! Look at the date, it says April twelfth. That was just a couple of weeks ago. Maybe, it’s about that crazy guy that kicked me, but I didn’t report anything. It could be that the security guard, across the street, saw what happened and phoned the police.
“If I do a victim impact statement, that will keep him off the streets for a while longer. He hasn’t been around lately. I guess that’s the reason. I’m going to take all these papers, drop them on my probie’s desk, and let her sort them out. Angela has filled out the housing application for me, she said I would be an ideal candidate for the program.
“I really flipped at our last meeting. She wants me to take this anger management program. I told her, ‘I can’t be in a classroom with a lot of people. I’m agoraphobic.’ She said, ‘Can you explain that to me again?’ I said, ‘Look it up on your computer! Being in this office with you is okay; if the door is closed I may have a panic attack!”
“Do you have an appointment with her?” I asked.
“My appointment isn’t until May second, but I have to arrange to see her before then. I need my picture i.d. and a temporary medical card. This pneumonia is really making me feel weak, and I’m coughing up some nasty stuff. It feels like my lungs are half full of fluid.
“I had seizures last night. I was shaking in bed, I got up, and was wandering around like a ‘spaz’. Chuck didn’t know what was going on. He thought I was just drunk and told me to lie down. I really need my meds.
“I have to get out of Chuck’s apartment. I went to look at a place in the market for six hundred and fifty. I could handle that. I told the guy I was on O.D.S.P and that I would turn my check over to him. He wanted first and last month’s rent. I don’t have that. I told him I’d pay him an extra hundred and fifty a month. That would really leave me strapped for cash.
“I’m not good at dealing with things like finding a new place. Jake used to do that. I’d be the one they’d see. It would be my name on the lease. I’d be the one to go out panhandling or whatever, but there’d always be someone else around to sort things out.
“Jacques helped me to get this telephone. I wanted one that played music, but that one was two hundred bucks. Then you have to download music from a computer, upload it to the telephone, all that is too complicated for me. I decided to take the cheaper one for a hundred and forty-seven. I’ve spent the last two hours trying to figure this thing out. The only thing I have been able to do is to change the picture on the front. See, now I have a kitty cat!”
A woman stopped to talk. Joy introduced her to me as Jenna. She was very attractive with short blonde hair, blue eyes, and a beautiful smile.”I still have that poem you gave me. The one about how to survive, living on the streets. It’s here in my pocket… No, maybe in my backpack… Here it is!”
“This is beautiful,” said Jenna, “but, I didn’t give this to you. This is from my friend, Allison. I know this poem. We share things like this. We’re both in the same kind of work.
“Take care. Here’s some money for you to have a coffee or anything you like.” We both said goodbye to Jenna.
“I’m so bad with names,” said Joy, “they go in and I don’t know what happens to them. They get lost, then every once in a while they’ll pop out. It reminds me of something funny. It was while I was prostituting in Toronto. I was standing on my corner, a police car pulled up and the cop said, ‘Tamara, come over here!’ I said, ‘Oh, you’ve mistaken me for my twin sister. My name’s Maureen. I just came here to tell Tamara that our mom is sick. We have to go visit her.’ They’d believe it every time. There were lots of names I used, one was my sister-in-law’s, and she’s black. My sister got mad at me for using her name, but if anyone ever checked our picture id. they’d see the difference in our sizes. I was really heavy then — three hundred and change.

“You see that woman in jeans that just walked by. When I was fat like that, they didn’t have jeans that would fit me. I was the polyester kid. It was horrible the things I had to wear. Now, I weigh one, ten. I buy skinny jeans and they still don’t fit. I don’t have enough ass to hold them up.

Sitting cross-legged, in front of Tim Horton’s, holding an empty paper cup was Alphonse.

“Alphonse, it’s so good to see you. How have you been? Are you and Magdalene back together?”

“She’s just down the block. We’re back together, but it’s not the same. She’s still drinking. I told her, ‘You can’t drink while you’re carrying a baby,’ but she doesn’t listen. I can’t control what she does. No person can control what another person does.”

At the bench was a big crowd. I overheard Toothless Carl talking to his dog, “It’s okay, boy. I’ll take good care of you. No, no, no, Daddy’s not going back to jail. No, he isn’t.”

“I may have a place soon,” said Frank. Those people who were by the other day were from the Salvation Army. They have three places for me to look at, but I was drunk. I don’t know when they’re coming back. That’s the way it goes!

“Apart from that, things are going well. I didn’t have to pan yesterday. I had enough money to have meals at Wendy’s, McDonald’s then McDonald’s again.”

Shakes pulled a woolen, peaked cap, and a lumberjack shirt out of his backpack. “Those are nice, Shakes,” I commented. “Where did you get them?”

“I don’t know where I got them. When I woke up this morning they were in my backpack. I don’t know how they got there.”

Joy came up the sidewalk with Jacques. She had tears in her eyes.

“How are you feeling, Joy?” I asked.

“My check wasn’t in the mailbox. I phoned, they said that everything had been mailed. Yesterday when I took my mail, I left Roy’s in the box. Today everything was gone.”

“Have other people received their checks?”

“Almost everyone else gets theirs by direct deposit. I’ll check again tomorrow, but if it isn’t there I don’t know what I’ll do. Today, I made seven dollars, panning. I know that Chuck won’t throw me out, but he’s been talking with Bruce, who might come back.

“Now Chuck has a dog. I know exactly where that dog is going to be sleeping – right beside me. There’s a space between the end of Chuck’s bed and the closet. That’s Joy’s territory. If anybody tries to take that, they’ll have to fight me for it.

“I had it all planned what I was going to do with my check. I was going to rent a motel room, have a nice hot bath, spread myself, buck-ass-naked, on the bed, flip through the channels on the TV, then hop back into the bath.”

Two ladies pulling carts stopped by — Doris and Lucy, “the sandwich ladies” from the Inner City Ministry.

“Would anybody like a sandwich? We don’t have enough for everyone, so if you don’t absolutely need one, please leave them for those who do. We weren’t expecting so many people.

“Jake, would you like a tuna sandwich?”

“No, I’d probably just sit on it and squish it. Then I’d have to throw it out.”

To me, he said, “I have to get my first bottle down before I can even think of food.”

The “sandwich ladies” also had socks and underwear. Joy got a pair of pink, bikini style panties and a pair of grey socks.

Joy said, “She first brought out this green pair with purple flowers. She said, ‘These will look nice on you.’ I said, ’I don’t think so.’ The only time I’d wear something like that would be during my period. If they got really messed up I could just throw them away. Usually, I wear either boxers or go commando.” She held the panties above her head and said, ”Okay guys, have a good look. This is the last time any of you are going to have a chance to see these.”

Shark introduced me to Spike who had just been released from the hospital.

“I was in there for two months with double pneumonia. It started with a blood infection. It took four days for the doctors to figure out what antibiotic would stop the infection. By that time, it had affected my heart valves and caused growths in my lungs. They said that I nearly died.”

~~~

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