.

salvationarmy

.

27 August 2012

This morning I went over to see Silver, panning in front of Starbucks. He was sitting on a plastic box. When I said hello, he was startled, he may have dozed off. “Hi Dennis, you snuck up on me.”

“How are you feeling, Silver?”

“Fine.”

“How is your stomach?”

“I’m going to see my doctor on Wednesday. I still don’t have any appetite and haven’t been sleeping well. Look at my ankles. See how swollen they are. Those aren’t my ankles at all.

“I think I’m getting what my mother had, varicose veins. See, beside my knee and down my calf.”

“How did it go, panning at the church yesterday?”

“Not good.”

“Is that the one on Kent or on Sparks?”

“On Sparks, the one on Kent is where I was assaulted last spring. I didn’t even have to phone the cops. Two women from church were witnesses and there was a cop right on the corner. I was going to get up and talk to the cop, but the two women said, ‘Silver, you stay right here. We’ll deal with this.’

“When they came back they said, ‘Silver, you need to go to the hospital for stitches.’ I said, ‘No, just give me a couple of band-aids. It’ll heal better that way.”

I said, “I see you have a scar in your right eyebrow. Is that where you were hit?”

“That’s it.”

“So, what happened Sunday?”

“Where?”

“At the church on Sparks, you said it didn’t go well.” I said.

“No, I didn’t have a problem.”

“I’ve been taking a bit of a break lately. Trying to catch up on my sleep. On the weekend I watched a bunch of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne movies.”

I said, “I’ve always enjoyed those. ‘Pale Rider’ with Clint Eastwood is one of my favorites; another, is ‘Rooster Cogburn’ with John Wayne.”

“’Pale Rider’ is one of the ones I watched on the weekend.”

“I guess you’ll be getting your check soon.”

“Yeah, Sally will be around with it on Wednesday. I also want to get some laundry detergent and some socks from her.

“Were you up on the hill, Friday?” asked Silver.

“Yes I was.”

“Did the piggies come by?”

“Yes they did. They didn’t give out any tickets or ask us to move. Willy dumped part of his beer and Wolf had his hidden.”

“I was in the market. I saw them ride by and decided not to go to the park. I stayed at the loading dock where I often go. I’ve never been hassled there.”

On the way to the park at noon, I stopped to talk with Serge, “How are you doing today, Serge?”

“I’m fine.”

“On Friday you said you weren’t feeling very well.”

“When did I say that?”

“You were sitting on the bench, on Elgin Street, with William. I asked how you were. You said, ‘Not so good.’ ”

“I was tired,” he said. “I went beneath the bridge, where it was quiet, and I slept for a while. I felt better after that. Yesterday, I went up the stairs at the Art Centre and had a sleep up there.”

“So, your feeling better now?”

“Yeah, I got my booze,” he chuckled.

“I’m going up to the park. I’ll see you on my way back.”

“See you.”

At the park, sitting on the curb were seven of my human friends and a dog.

“How are you, Dennis?” asked Bruce.

“I’m fine, how about you?”

“I’m waiting here for my worker. She’s taking me to fill out the forms for housing. I’ll also have to get my picture taken – my health card has expired.

“Apart from that, it’s been a slow day. I was panning since 6:00 this morning and made 87 cents. I’m going to lose the busiest part of my working day, getting forms filled out, but it has to be done.”

I said, “Joy doesn’t do Mondays.”

“Wolf,” asked Bruce, “can I have a cigarette?” Wolf pulled out a clear plastic bag and threw him a cigarette. Bruce casually caught it in one hand. He lit it and said, “Shakes, can I have a sip from your bottle?” Shakes tossed the bottle and Bruce plucked it out of the air. He took a sip then tossed it back to Shakes who easily caught it in one hand.

Bruce said, “If that had been a sandwich or a ball I would have fumbled it, but a cigarette or a bottle, I never miss.”

I said to Silver, “You mentioned that you didn’t have a good day at the church on Sunday.”

“Did I say that? I think I meant to say, I didn’t make as much money as usual. Normally, I get from thirty to forty bucks. Yesterday, I think I got about twenty. At Christmas, one of my regulars dropped me five twenties. When he gave it to me I said, ‘This feels like more than a twenty.’ He didn’t say anything. I folded it, put it in my pocket. I didn’t count it until I got home.

”It has been slow lately. I blame it on the drifters — these people who live with their parents in the winter. When it comes spring the parents give them a hundred bucks and tell them to live somewhere else for a while. When winter comes they’re crying to their mommies and daddies to let them come home again.”

Bruce said to me quietly, “I could never pan in front of a church. I have nothing against those who do, but to me it seems wrong.”

Shakes said, “This morning I was just twenty cents short, to buy two bottles. Darren was going for a run, so I said to him, ‘Just bring me one for now.’”

Wolf motioned for me to move closer, “Don’t worry about Shaggy. She’ll be fine as long as you don’t touch her, or be aggressive.

”I was listening to these guys talking about panning, five or six days a week and getting maybe seven dollars. I couldn’t do that. Panning is hard work. Shaggy and I go out maybe once a week.

“I went to court Friday. Did I tell you about that? I was charged , a few months ago, with animal cruelty. Can you imagine that? Two women — I don’t know who they were — reported me to the police. It was just in the parking lot, behind where I live. I guess these women didn’t like the way I was putting Shaggy in her cart. They said I was too rough. I was walking along the sidewalk, pushing her cart, when three police cars screeched to a stop. They took my dog.

“You know, that dog means everything to me. I got her back the next day. I talked to my lawyer about it. He said I could plead guilty, or ask for a trial date. He recommended going to trial. Friday, they set the date for February 24. He said to contact him about two weeks before the trial. Last time, I got over a hundred signatures, from my friends and regulars, saying that I had never mistreated Shaggy.

“I rough house with her, but she always comes out on top. I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

Bruce’s worker came by. “Is Jake here?” she asked.

“No,” said Bruce. “I don’t know where he is.”

She said, “If any of you see him, tell him that I’ll be by here at noon tomorrow, to pick him up. Tell him that it’s very important.”

“Bruce, are you ready to go?”

“Yeah, just let me refill my bottle,”

Silver asked, “With apple juice?”

Bruce said, “Yeah, with apple juice.” The worker smiled. He pulled an Old Milwaukee out of his backpack and filled his bottle.

“Is anyone collecting?” asked Bruce.

“I’ll take it,” said Wolf. Bruce threw him the empty can. Wolf crushed it and threw it in Shaggy’s cart.

Hippo said, “Andre has gone over to Debbie’s. He asked me if I wanted to go. I thought about it and said, ‘No, I think I’ll just stay here.’ I really don’t like Debbie.”

It started to rain, and it was time for me to go back to work, so I said my good byes. I said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Then, at the park bench, I said good-bye to Serge and William.

“See you tomorrow, Dennis,” they said.

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.

ottawacops

.

24 August 2012

Even though it’s still August, the mornings have been cool but not jacket weather, yet. At noon it’ll be hot. Joy had a big smile for me when I arrived.

“How is it going this morning, Joy? Do you mind is I sit down, or will that interfere with your panning?”

“I don’t care. It’s been a good morning. I’m happy, surprisingly. My legs are sore from the fibromyalgia. My left hip is stiff and it feels hot to the touch. I guess that’s arthritis. I wonder if it’s the same thing that Big  Jake has. Rodent gets his letters from Millhaven. He also contacts him, through prison message boards, on the internet. He told me that Jake’s using a cane. He’s having trouble with the same hip I am. Rodent asked me if it’s catching.”

I asked, “How long do you think they’ll keep Little Jake at Hope Recovery?”

“Just overnight, he’s probably out now. I remember once, when I was staying at Cornerstone — the women’s shelter — I got really wasted. I couldn’t even ring the doorbell. I did a face plant against the front glass doors. At the desk they said, ‘It’s Hope Recovery for you tonight, sister.’ I said, ‘No, just help me to my room and I’ll pass out like I do every night; but no, they phoned the outreach workers and they came to pick me up.

“The next morning when I woke up I couldn’t remember anything about the night before. I had two hundred dollars in my jeans pocket, three bottles of sherry and a gram of weed in my backpack. I have no idea where I got the money. For days, I was looking over my shoulder. I thought maybe I had robbed somebody.

“I don’t know what happened to Little Jake yesterday. He seemed fairly sober when I went up there in the morning. Chester went on a liquor run, then Jake mixed one of his Jakenators — beer with sherry. All of a sudden he was wasted.

“It didn’t help that Andre was throwing his bottle around, and making comments to women passing on the sidewalk. They don’t want that on their lunch breaks. I’ve seen some women give him real dirty looks. I saw one stop at the bottom of the hill and make a call on her cell phone. Ten minutes later the police arrived.

“The last thing we need is someone drawing attention. Andre has been in town for five years. He knows the rules.

“I’m glad that Shakes’ is getting treatment at Innes. They probably have him on Lithium, Valium and an alcohol drip. That’s what I was on the last time I was there. It prevents the shakes from alcohol withdrawal. I was just there for the weekend. I slept most of the time. They just left the jug of tea outside my cell. I had no appetite, all I wanted was something warm.

I said, “Silver’s looking awfully thin. He says he has stomach problems and has made an appointment with his doctor. He says that he’s not eating enough.”

Joy said, “I think he’s back on crack. He gets a check every month, but he eats at restaurants. He has a small fridge, he could stock it with vegetables, and in his little freezer compartment he could have frozen meat. He’s alcoholic, he has to eat.

“Chester’s coming down later to have a coffee. He was by earlier, but I said, ‘Sorry, I don’t have a Tim Horton’s card yet.’ We’re going to the food bank at St. Jo’s later. We need to stock up for the weekend. I always make sure we have lots of vegetables in the fridge. Chester can’t carry very much, but I can get a lot in my backpack. Then we take the bus home.”

“Was Chester asleep when you left this morning?”

“No, I had a coughing fit. I tried to eat, but it came back up. He said it didn’t wake him up, but before that, I heard him snoring.

“When I finish here, I have to go wake up Andre. We both have an appointment at the Salvation Army. My worker is going to look into why it’s taking so long to get my identification papers. I’m going to get her to keep a set in my file, for the next time I lose them. She’s also going to help me get my meds. I really should be on them.

“Outcast was pissed with me last Saturday. He got it in his head that Chester phoned Debbie and told her that Outcast and I had been sleeping together. Chester said he didn’t call, and Debbie’s smart enough to figure things out on her own.

“She also thinks he’s been stealing her pot. He said to me, ‘Oh no, Debbie keeps that in a safe.’ I’m sure that Outcast has watched her open it, and knows the combination.

“Now, he’s got no money and he can’t borrow any because everyone knows he’s a thief – the worst kind of thief, who steals from his friends.”

After I left Joy, I saw Sunny at the pay phone in front of the library. He said to me, “Can you believe this, I’m trying to call the University of Ottawa, and nobody’s answering. Did you hear that I was on the Money Show?”

I said, you mentioned being on the Lowell Green Show. You played me the tape.”

“No, this was Wednesday evening, Lowell Green was on Monday. I was promoting my idea of the solar-powered monorail.”

“I read on the internet about the one in Bologna, Spain. It seems like a good idea. I think that’s the way we should go.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that. Here, I’ve got something for you. These green and purple ribbons are the colors of my Peace and Justice party. I’d be honored if you’d wear them. May I take your photo?”

“Sure, “ I said. “I have to go to work now, but I’ll talk to you next week.”

On my way to the park I saw Serge and William. “How are you today, Serge?”

“Oh, not so good.”

“I hope you’re feeling better soon. Have a good weekend, if I don’t see you later.”

At the park I met a half dozen of the regulars. Wolf was sorting things in Shaggy’s canopy-covered cart. When he turned around I was sitting on the grass beside Joy.

“Dennis,” said Wolf, “I didn’t mean to ignore you, well yes I did, I had some things to sort out first. Eventually, eventually, mind you, I was meaning to turn around and say hello to you. So, hello, Dennis.”

“Hello Wolf, I was sure you were going to say hello to me.”

Willy said, “Dennis, are you really sure that Wolf was going to say hello to you?”

“No, Willy, I’m not sure of nothin’.”

Wolf had a bag of treats.  Joy asked if she could feed Shaggy. She put one of the treats on the lawn, about three feet from Shaggy, then moved her hand towards it, as if she were going to take it back. Shaggy lunged and nearly bit Joy’s wrist.

“Bitch,” said Joy

Shakes had been released from the Ottawa Carleton Detention Center, on Innes Road. I said to him, “Hi Shakes, when did they let you out?”

“Yesterday. I was inside for six days. The court screws saw that the sole of my shoe was flapping. They gave me new shoes.”

Willy asked, “What were you charged with, vagrancy?”

“No, it was a breach. I’m not allowed within five hundred feet of Mc D’s on Bank. I’m not sure how far that is, but it’s more than a foot.”

Willy said, “That was well put, Shakes.”

Two bicycle cops, one male, one female rode up. Shaggy barked.

The female cop did all the talking, “Jake, do you understand the conditions of your probation?”

“Yes, I understand – no pan handling.”

“Shakes, I see you have some court documents.”

“Yes, I’m now allowed within five hundred feet of Mags and Fags.”

“You say, you’re not allowed within five hundred feet of Mags and Fags.”

“I am allowed.”

“Okay, Shakes.”

“The rest of you, any alcohol? Are you staying out of trouble?”

Joy said, “Two of us are just leaving for St. Jo’s food bank on Cumberland.”

“What time does that open?”

“One o’clock.”

“Okay, we’ll leave you alone then.”

They left and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Willy said, “I had about two inches of beer in my can, when I saw them coming. I just turned around and pushed it over the railing. I didn’t lose too much.”

Wolf said, “I’m glad they didn’t check Shaggy’s cart. I had my beer in there.”

Shakes said, “I’ve got a gram of pot in my underwear, but I can’t find it.” He then proceeded to pull down his sweat pants and search for the missing pot.”

Willy said, “Shakes, I hope you’re not intending to share that with anybody. I don’t want anything to do with pot that’s been in your underwear. It’s going to taste of shit and ball sweat.”

“It’s in a plastic bag.”

Joy said, “Shakes, for God’s sake, pull up your pants. I’m seeing way too much, and it isn’t pretty. The cops will be coming back.”

To me she said, “I’ve seen Shakes down and out before, but never this bad. He’s incontinent, he wears Depends. He’s so weak, he can barely get up by himself. He’s not taking care of his burn scars. He doesn’t care. It’s sad.”

As I was standing with the group — everyone packing their bags, picking up their cushions — I saw Wanda, a woman I work with. I waved. She looked at me, with a disapproving look, and walked on — she didn’t wave.

Sometimes, I question what it is I’m doing. I have arguments with health workers whose job it is to treat people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. They say, ‘I can feel empathy with people who are sick — not of their own doing, but alcoholics have brought this on themselves. With our health care system, everybody pays for their choices.’ I agree, the shelters cost money, welfare costs money, jails cost money, the police cost money; but looking at my friends, in their varying states of ability and disability, their personal motivations to struggle with addiction or give in to it, I know it’s more complicated. I don’t know the answers; day by day, I’m beginning to understand the situation.

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.

ipara4

.

23 August 2012

This morning I could barely see Joy’s feet beyond the concrete partition. “How’s it going today?” I asked.

“Horrible! I’ve been here since 6:00 am and I’ve hardly made a cent. It’s worse than Mondays. I guess a lot of my regulars are on holidays.”

“I’ve noticed that where I work, the volume declines over the summer, then picks up in September when staff return from vacations.”

“Metro’s going to get picked off one of these days.” We both watched, as he walked through the line of cars to hand a driver a newspaper.

I said, “You get a great view of the world from down here.”

“Yeah, I see it all. some men have their flies undone, with their willies flapping in the breeze. If I mention it to them they say, ‘Well, look somewhere else.’ I say, ‘Hey, man, it’s right in my face, and it’s not a pretty sight. Where am I supposed to look?’

“Sometimes, I see guys with their shoelaces undone. Sometimes, I tell them, but if it’s the crusty ones I just wait to see if they fall.

“Brad was by earlier. He’s all stitched up. I asked him what happened. He said, ‘Angeline stabbed me with a kitchen knife. She’s serving thirty days.’

‘Thirty days for stabbing someone, that’s ridiculous. Are you going to take her back when she gets out?’ He said, ‘Yes.’

“Angeline can be nice, but she’s schizophrenic. If she’s off her meds, and on the booze, she can’t be trusted with kitchen utensils.

“Chester has taken his pennies to Loblaw’s. They have a change machine that will convert them to bills and other change. Usually, he gives them to one of his French ladies. They donate them to C.H.E.O. (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario). This time though, he needs the money.

“There was a guy hanging around this morning, snapping pictures of me. I said to him, ‘Hey, I didn’t give you permission to take my photo.’ He said, ‘Well, may I have your permission?’ I said, ‘No, but it’s a bit late now.’ I don’t want someone I don’t know walking around with pictures of me. It’s creepy.

“Outcast is pissed with me because I wouldn’t go with him yesterday afternoon. I said to him, ‘I distinctly remember you telling me that we were over, which seemed kind of ridiculous since we never started anything. Now, you’re pissed off because I don’t want to got to your girlfriend’s place, when she’s coming home at five o’clock?’

“I’m going to have to ask the guys to spring for some cash so I can get a bottle. I wonder what I’m going to have to do for that. Andre owes me money. Little Jake has owed me money for two years. I heard that yesterday Hippo was giving away twenties to everyone, but he didn’t give me anything.”

At noon, seated on the curb, were Andre, Little Jake, Joy, Silver and Hippo. Jake kept tipping over on his side. Andre said, “Jake, will you get up. I don’t want your nose in my ass.”

Joy said, “Jake, you stink. I’m moving away from here.” We moved closer to Silver and Hippo, Andre followed. Little Jake had passed out in the bushes.

“Silver,” I said, “I haven’t seen you in a while. You’ve lost weight.”

“Yeah, I have lost weight. I haven’t been eating enough. I’ve got an appointment with my doctor. I’m having problems with my stomach.”

Andre said, “I made twenty bucks yesterday. Do you want to know how?”

Joy said, “Andre, I’m sure we don’t want to hear about what you did to make twenty bucks. It’s probably disgusting.”

“No,” said Andre, “a guy bet me a twenty that I couldn’t do a one-handed hand stand and hold it for thirty seconds. I did it and that was after eight bottles. He paid me.”

Minutes later, three cops on bicycles stopped in front of us. They probably had a complaint about Jake. They kicked the bottom of his foot, trying to wake him. Joy walked over and told the cops that he has HIV and is very sick. Andre shook him and helped to get him standing and walking. Andre and Jake walked as far as Elgin Street, then sat on a low concrete wall.

The police came over again. The sergeant said, “Jake, do you have any place to go? You can’t stay here. How much could he have possibly drunk, this early in the day? What’s in the bottle, Jake? Hand it over.” He opened the lid and took a whiff, “That’s awful! Is that a Jakenator, beer mixed with sherry?”

Andre said, “You know him well.”

The sergeant said, “Write him up.” Andre, Chester and I moved away to the other side of the wall. Joy had walked across the street, to the Lord Elgin Hotel, to use the washroom. Andre, yelled, “Jake, will you learn to shut your mouth?”

Chester said to me, “They’re going to write him another ticket that he isn’t going to pay. That’s what they always do.”

I heard one of the cops mention, ‘Hope Recovery Centre’. I expect they’ve called for the paramedics to transport Jake to detox. I expect to see him back here tomorrow.

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.

sunny wheels august 2012

.

22 August 2012

This morning I spoke with Sunny, of Sunny’s Newswire. “Hi, Sunny.”

“Hi, I’m glad to see you. Did you visit my website? What did you think?

“It’s great. I also listened to your proposal to the Ottawa City Council. It was very well presented.”

“Thanks! Yesterday, I was on the Lowell Greene Show, on talk radio, but he blew me off. I have a recording of the program, if you’d like to hear it.”

“Sure!”

“I’ll rewind this. Anyway, what I was proposing was that Ottawa investigate the building of a solar monorail, like they have in Bologna, Spain.”

Solar Monorail Proposed for Bologna

“Did you hear that we lost Phyllis Diller? She had a great laugh. I was talking to a friend about which celebrity we would most like to meet. My choice would be Doris Day. You’re old enough to remember her. She’s an animal activist (founder of Actors and Others for Animals, the Doris Day Animal League and the Doris Day Pet Foundation). I sent her an email saying that I’d like to meet her, but I didn’t get an answer.

“See that guy, sitting on the sidewalk, with his hat out (referring to Francis). I don’t know what that’s all about. I find it disgusting. Doesn’t he have any sense of dignity?”

“There’s something coming up on the radio that I want you to hear. Maybe, you’ve already heard it. President Obama’s ratings have gone up four points because of a gaffe made by the opposing party. The remark has angered a lot of people, especially women. It’s coming on now:

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who is running for the Senate against Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, stated in a television interview on Sunday that “women’s bodies are able to prevent pregnancies if they are victims of a LEGITIMATE rape”. This is the dumbest statement I have heard a man make about women’s bodies since an 18-year-old kid told me once years ago that women can only get pregnant if they have an orgasm during sex….but that was a dumb 18-year-old warehouse stocker…..Akin is a member of the United States House of Representatives and is running to unseat Senator McCaskill of Missouri.

“What do you think? I’m sure that’ll cost Romney the women’s vote.

“Here’s that recording from the Lowell Green Show. I went by the name of Steve. Don’t put it too close to your ear, I have it turned up loud.”

“We have Steve on the line from Ottawa. Hi Steve, what would you like to talk about?”

“Hi Lowell, I understand that our mayor is interested in saving money on our proposed light rail system. I suggest that we investigate the possibility of a solar monorail, like the one they have in Bologna, Spain.”

“A solar monorail? There’s just one problem with that, Steve. What do we do when it’s dark?”

“We sleep… Actually the solar energy is stored in cells, and is released as necessary.”

“They don’t have storage cells that big. Steve, have you heard about Spain’s financial crisis?”

“Yes, I have. That’s the reason they opted for solar power. Energy from the sun is free.”

“Steve, I think you’ve been out in the sun too long. I think your brain is a bit fried.

“Next caller.”

“Well, so much for that. I still think it’s a good idea. With the help of an engineer friend of mine, from Newfoundland, we’re designing a solar-powered ship. It would be huge: with ballrooms, swimming pools and luxury condos.”

“Sounds great Sunny. I wish you all the best with it.”

Wednesday at noon was pleasant. The sky was sunny, the temperature warm, but not hot. As I was walking up the sidewalk to the park, I saw Serge laying on his side. “Hi Serge, are you alright?”

“I think I passed out, but I’ll be alright.”

“Are you sure? I’ll check on you later.”

“See you later.”

On the curb were Shark and Jillian. Shark said, “Elaine was here earlier, but she had to see her worker, so I’m alone, free and loving it. We got cable and satellite in our new place. Elaine is paying for the satellite, I’m paying for the cable. I’m going to drill a hole in the wall of my room, so I can watch both.”

Joy was on the lawn. Outcast and Hippo were talking at the railing.

Outcast said to me, “Were you away for the weekend?”

“Yes, I was at the lake. It was great.”

“How about the long weekend? Will you be away then?”

“I’m not sure. I had planned on visiting my granddaughter in Toronto, but my sons are going to be in Renfrew, visiting friends. They used to live there.”

“I used to live in Renfrew. Actually, I was there on an alcohol recovery program. It’s a nice little town.”

“Yeah, it is,” agreed Hippo. I lived nearby in Almonte. I went to Renfrew a lot.”

Joy came over to me and said, “I need to sit down. Let’s go over to the curb with Andre.”

“Hi Andre, you haven’t been fighting with any big natives today, have you?”

Andre laughed and said, “James and I made a truce. This morning I brought him a bottle and we drank together. There was no point in us hurting each other every day. I’d rather have him at my back than have him facing me. This city can be dangerous.”

Joy said, “I’ve told Dennis about that.”

“That reminds me, Joy, You’ll never guess who I saw last night… Sharon, the former girlfriend of Ambrose.”

“She’s out of prison?”

Andre continued, “I was panning on Elgin, in front of Bridgehead. Sharon was inside having a coffee. I got Inuvik to sit with my cap on the street and I went in to talk to her — I was inside when it started raining, Inuvik got soaked — I went back outside, as soon as I sat down, somebody dropped me ten bucks. Inuvik was pissed. I saw Magdalene walking towards us. Sharon came out to continue our conversation. I knew they both liked to scrap, so I said, ‘You’re both my friends, I don’t want any trouble between you.’

“Magdalene was drunk, acting like a smart ass. Sharon punched her right in the mouth. Here I am in the middle. Magdalene looked at me as if to say, Who are you going to side with? I said, hold on, whatever you two have to work out, go ahead, but I’m staying out of this.”

Joy said, “You should have sided with Sharon, she’s the better fighter. The last time we got in a fight, I had a broken ankle and was walking with a cane. She kicked my cane and punched me in the side of the head. I took the bus home.

“I told Big Jake about it. He didn’t say a word. He walked into the bathroom, took the plastic handle off the plunger and filled it full of dimes. Then, he untwisted a wire coat hanger and wrapped the open end of the handle. He sealed the opening, and wrapped the wire with duct tape. There was quite a weight to that.

“The next day, I was sitting in my usual spot when Sharon came by. She told me to move on. I said, ‘Make me!’ She bent down to take another swing at my head. I ducked and pulled out the club from my sleeve. I hit her, with all my might, on each side of her head. She was knocked out cold. I pushed her off the sidewalk, onto the slush of the street, and went home.

“She saw me a while later and said, ‘You pack a good punch.’ She didn’t give me any trouble after that.”

Fran rode up on her bicycle. Joy said, “Hi Fran, I haven’t seen your dad for a while. Is he okay?”

“He’s at Innes serving thirty days for a breach. He was panning in front of McDonald’s on Bank Street. That’s a red zone for him.”

Joy said, “They must really have him medicated. He’s probably on lithium; that’s what they put me on. The last time I was there was for assaulting Jake. Mind you, I was on suicide watch. I was kept in Observation. They kept giving me cheese sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, supper and snack. I didn’t have any appetite, so I made a pillow of them. I said, couldn’t you at least give me some soup in a styrofoam cup, or some meat?”

Three men approached. They shook hands with Andre then Joy, who introduced me to them, “Dennis, this is Tommy. He’s Jim’s brother, Hattie’s boyfriend.” We shook hands.

Tommy introduced his two friends, Hank and Dan. “We’re all from the same place. We used to call ourselves the ‘four horsemen’ but, one is in jail.  Jim is at Innes right now. He was sentenced to six months for assaulting Hattie. He’ll serve four… I know, he’s an asshole.”

Andre said, “So, he got 120 days. When I was there last, I was sick at first too. Then I got my appetite back. I was ‘fishing’ down the corridor for food. I’d pass my paper plate to the guy in the next cell. It’d get passed down the whole block. I’d always get something: fruit, a juice box, a muffin.”

Andre was wearing baggy shorts and Johnny noticed, what appeared to be, claw marks on his upper thigh. “Andre, did you get in a fight with a cat?”

“No,” said Joy, “he got too close to a pussy that he wasn’t supposed to get close to. He’s lucky that I have my fingernails rounded. When I was in prison I used to file them like claws. I’m talking flesh tearing claws. That reminds me of my days at P4W (The Prison For Women located in Kingston, Ontario).”

Tommy said to Joy, “How old are you?”

“How old do I look?”

“I’d say about fifty.”

“Oh, thanks! I’m forty-six.”

“It’s the lines around your eyes. Are you and Andre together?”

“No, we’ve known each other a long time. We’re not living together, we’re not going out together, he’s not fucking me. He tries to touch me and I don’t like it. Maybe now he’ll learn his lesson.”

I said, “I’m her father.” Everybody laughed. Tommy winked at Joy. He said, “We have to go now, but I’ll see you around.”

After they left, Joy said, “Why do guys always hit on me?”

“Because you’re pretty,” I said.

“It’s your charm,” said Andre.

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group3

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21 August 2012

Joy was in her usual spot this morning. The weather was cool with the threat of rain. Joy asked, “Is that the girlfriend of Alphonse, in the next block?”

“Yes, it’s Magdalene. I spoke to her last week after she lost her baby. Later in the week I talked to Ambrose. He said it was a ‘crack baby’ induced prematurely. He had a hole in his heart and his lungs weren’t able to supply oxygen to his other organs.”

“I’m sorry,” said Joy, “but she should be charged. Every kid I’ve brought into this world has been clean. I quit crack, cigarettes and alcohol while I was pregnant. That way, they at least had a fighting chance in the world. The night before my oldest was born, I smoked a joint. It showed up in the baby’s blood tests. They were ready to take him away from me. I said, “You’re going to take my baby away, because I smoked one joint? Over my dead body!

“My sister had a ‘crack baby’. You couldn’t even look at him or he would spaz out. Can you imagine what kind of  life is in store for that kid?

“Alphonse is on the skids with a lot of people right now. He and Magdalene have been sleeping in the hut with  Andre, Hippo,  Little Jake, Weasel and his dog Bear. Bear sleeps by the door, as a guard. Everyone knows that you have to be careful opening the door because Bear is behind it. Ambrose came by one night falling down drunk and just pushed in the door. It scraped Bear’s paw and she had to get five stitches. Nobody’s seen Alphonse since. Bear is still limping and has to have special ointment put on her paw twice a day.

“I just love Bear, she’s really a sweet dog, but has horrible breath. Weasel said to me, ‘I feed her Dentabone.’ I said, ‘That’s for removing plaque and tartar from her teeth. For her breath you have to give her Doggie Mints. If those don’t work she should be taken to a vet. That probably won’t happen, because all Weasel’s money goes on crack. I gave Doggie Mints to my dog, Roxie; she was a boxer and had great breath. She used to sleep with me every night. I didn’t even mind if she put her paw on my face when she slept. I couldn’t tolerate that with any of the men I’ve lived with.

“Like me, she was epileptic. If I had a seizure, she’d pat my face until I came out of it. I’d do the same for her. One time she had a prolonged, grand mal seizure and died before I could get her to the vet.”

I said, “I saw Bearded Bruce last Thursday. He and Inuq have applied for housing.”

“Yeah, I met them at Chuck’s new place. They were staying there. Maybe I should have held out at Chuck’s a while longer. His new place is a huge two bedroom. I don’t know about Inuq. She and Bruce have been together three years now, but while he was in prison she was living with other guys. I met her one day with her oldest son. He isn’t of legal drinking age, but he was staggering drunk.”

I said, “Bruce and Inuq are each getting their own apartments. That way Bruce said, ‘When we get into a fight we’ll each have our own place to go home to.”

Joy said, “I don’t know what’s happening with Fran. They’ve called her into court about three times. She’s so afraid of Gene, she doesn’t even want him to see her. It was just January that he got out of prison for beating her the last time. He was in a holding cell with my Jake, before they moved him to Millhaven.”

Chester stopped by to say hello. To Joy he said, “I didn’t hear you leave this morning.”

“If I’d stopped to make the bed, you probably would have heard me. Is there anything you want me to bring home?”

“I wouldn’t mind some pot. Do you know where I could get some?”

“You could try the Mission. I could give you some phone numbers, but I don’t know if anyone is coming downtown this afternoon. I saved some roaches. You might be able to get one joint with what’s in the can on the kitchen table.

“Chester, I want to use your phone later. I want to make an appointment with the Elizabeth Fry Society.

To me she said, “I’ve been thinking of looking into some kind of employment. I couldn’t do nine to five, but I’d like landscaping, maybe with flexible hours — of course, I’d want to be paid under the table… I’m good at growing flowers and plants. A neighbor, one time, had a couple of rose bushes that never bloomed. He was going to dig them up and toss them out. I said, ‘Let me try to do something with them. I dug them up, replanted them somewhere else, and within a couple of months they had pink and white blooms on them.

Noon in the park was quiet. Weasel was asleep with Bear under a tree. Andre was drunk, professing his love for Joy. “We could make such a great team,” he said to her.

“Yeah, sure we would,” said Joy.

Weasel awoke and asked, “What time is it?”

Bearded Bruce said, “It’s only twelve ten. Go back to sleep for another hour.” Later Weasel said, “I don’t remember coming here.”

Bruce said, “We started out up the hill. Then we came down here.”

“Weasel,” said Joy, “you missed a great fight. That big native guy and Andre were scrapping. He pushed Andre down on his ass. Andre got into that karate stance he uses, but he was so drunk that he couldn’t keep his balance. I kept egging him on saying, ‘You shouldn’t let him get away with that.’ Andre took a swing, missed, and the big guy pushed him on his ass again. The cops were strolling through the park and didn’t do a thing. I was sure someone would get a ticket.”

Weasel walked over to Hippo. I overheard him say, “If you even try to get up, I’ll knock you back down.” He then walked down the line to Bruce who said, “Well, didn’t we wake up with a gut full of grumpy juice?”

“What?” said Weasel, “Can I have a cigarette?”

“Of course you can,” said Bruce.

I asked Bruce, “How are the arrangements coming for housing?”

“Monday, I got my first Welfare check for $300. I’m waiting for my program (Ontario Disability Support Program) to kick in. Nothing can happen until that’s in place. Then we’ll sign the papers for housing. Hopefully, we’ll have a place in September.”

William came by with a two-wheeled cart. “I got this from a bar that was being refitted. One wheel was off the cart, but I took it to the Shepherd’s and a guy helped me to get the wheel back on. We inflated the tires and it’s good as new. The bar was throwing out a mini freezer, a fridge, all sorts of stuff. I saw some empty beer bottles in the garage and asked if I could have them. They gave me six cases of two fours, so I got $14.40 for those.

“Hippo, don’t throw that wine bottle away. I’ll take it.”

“Come get it yourself.” William rooted through the garbage container for the wine bottle and also pulled out a large paper coffee cup with a plastic lid.

Joy said to me, “I hate it when he does that.”

“William,” said Joy, “you’re not going to drink out of that are you?”

“It’ll be fine. I’ll swish a little beer in it first, to clean it out. I forgot my cup at home.” He pulled out a can of beer and filled the paper cup, so it looked like he was drinking coffee.

He said to me, “Would you like to know what I did with the Tim Horton’s card you gave me? I didn’t sell it to buy beer. I bought two coffee, a bagel with cream cheese — did you know that Tim Horton’s ran out of meat? I was in there at 10.00 pm, they close at 11:00, they didn’t have any meat. I went in the next day, a bit earlier. I still had about $1.50 on the card, and got some kind of meat wrap. I made good use of the card.

“I met a woman in the park once. I was sitting on a bench, shaved, dapper looking. We started talking. It turned out that we had both previously lived in Montreal. We talked about that for a while. She said, ‘You’re a very interesting man.’

“I was straight forward with her. I said, ‘I left my wife because she had been cheating on me. I lost my job, my unemployment insurance ran out and now I’m homeless.’ She said, ‘I left my husband because he had been cheating on me.’ She was a beautiful woman, had lots of money, ran her own business. She said, ‘I have some errands to run. Will you wait for me here, for about twenty minutes?’ I said, ‘I won’t wait right here. I was planning to go to the liquor store to buy a couple of bottles of beer, but that will only take about fifteen minutes, so I’ll be here before you get back.’ She said, ‘Can I give you money to buy a six-pack? Then we can share a few beer.’ I said, ‘You don’t have to give me any money. I’ve got a cheque on me for $547.00. I’ll buy a six pack.’ She said, ‘You’re so generous.’ When I got back with the beer she had two huge bags with her. She said, ‘I’ve bought you a gift.’ There were clothes in there, chips, chocolate bars. She even bought me a return ticket to Toronto and back. She said, ‘If things don’t work out for you in Ottawa, come visit me in Toronto. The tickets are good for a year.’ She gave me her address and phone number. I said I’d call her.

“My apartment was robbed. They took my back-pack with the address and phone number in it. She’d told me where she lived, but I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t even remember her last name, so I couldn’t look her up in the phone book. That’s the way it goes. Perhaps, we’ll run into each other some other time.”

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bench

20 August 2012

The weather at noon was pleasant. Sitting in the shade, on a park bench, I met Sylvain and Serge. Neither of them ever has much to say, they are both French-speaking, and their knowledge of English is as limited as is my knowledge of French. Sylvain is rather gaunt and pale, while Serge looks like a gnarled Santa Claus. We always exchange greetings and I look forward to seeing them. I can depend on Serge being there, being Serge.

“Hello, Sylvain, Serge,” I said as I shook their hands. “It’s a beautiful afternoon. Are you enjoying the cooler weather, after the heat wave we had?”

Serge said, “Yes, It’s very nice, especially sitting here in the shade. How have you been? I haven’t seen you for a couple of days.”

“I’ve been sick with a cold.” I said. “That’s why I wasn’t here on Thursday or Friday. You haven’t fallen again have you?”

“No, I haven’t fallen.”

“I’m going to check to see who is at the park. I’ll see you on my way back.”

“See you.”

On the side-walk, where the benches used to be, sat Hippo, Little Jake and Andre.

“Hi Hippo,” I said, “how is it going with your application for housing?”

“It’s going good. This afternoon I get to see a few places and if everything works out I’ll be able to move September first.”

“That’s great,” I said. “do you have any idea of which neighborhood you will be moving to?”

“It’ll be somewhere in Vanier. I’m not sure where.”

“That sounds good. I’ve lived in Vanier. It’s just a short walk to downtown. There are lots of stores, good bus transportation.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a bachelor, but that’s big enough for me. It beats living behind a dumpster.”

“How have you been feeling?”

“I’m starting to feel better now, but I was sick all weekend with a summer cold.”

“There’s a lot of that going around. Jake had it, I had it.”

“Andre,” I asked, “how have you been feeling?”

“I wasn’t feeling so good this morning. The first sip I took, I started throwing up and coughing. When the Salvation Army Outreach Workers came around they asked, ‘Are you okay?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not okay, I’m coughing up a lung here.’ Getting all that phlegm out of my lungs felt good though. Back when I had my heart attack, I had double, walking pneumonia. It was like I had a rock in my chest, I could only take shallow breaths, or it would burn my lungs.

“I’ve had my first bottle now and I’m feeling great. It’s great being me.”

“That’s good,” I said, “because everyone else is taken.”

Emile said to a woman walking by, “Can I have a smile, please, just one. I’m sure you’d look even prettier if you smiled.” Some people walking around look so grouchy. Don’t they know, that if you want to be happy, you first have to act happy. Say, ‘Good morning,’ to people, smile, say, ‘have a nice day.’ I’m always happy. Even at the liquor store. Most of my friends get served once then they’re cut off for the rest of the day; not me. I go in with a smile on my face, say hello to the staff. When I’m at the check-out, I look the cashier in the eyes. And, I don’t steal; except this morning. There was only one employee there and she was doing something on the computer. I stuck a bottle in the inside pocket of my jacket, picked up another and paid for that at the cash.

“One time, I had just come out of the liquor store, and stopped to talk to some friends, who were drinking. A cop came by and made everyone dump their bottles. I said to him, ‘I just bought this. It isn’t even cracked.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but can you prove you bought it, and didn’t just steal it.’ I said, ‘I didn’t keep the receipt, why would I? What am I going to do return a used bottle of sherry because I didn’t like it? I bought it because I intended to drink it.’ I walked back into the store and spoke to the manager, the guy that served me. I told him the situation. He came out and said to the cop, ‘This gentleman bought and paid for a bottle of sherry. He refused the receipt, because he was on his way out and had no need for it. He’s a regular customer and he’s never stolen from this store. I’ve watched him.’ The cop let me keep the bottle.

“That’s a nice electric bike going by,” said Andre. “They cost over $800. My mother would never let me have a motor bike, not even an off-road one. My dad and brothers were race car drivers. If you want to know why I’m so crazy, you should see the rest of my family. All of us really like torque. Whatever we drive, we take it to the absolute limit. My dad rebuilt a Mustang and put a big Firebird engine in it. Everything had to be changed around to make the engine fit. When he first got it running, the hood wouldn’t close. So he could go for a test run, he got me to stand on the front bumper. He chained my feet so they wouldn’t slip, then he had me lie down on the hood. I grabbed onto the drip rails with my fingers. When he’d go a round a corner, he’d grab my wrist with one hand and shift with the other. This was on a gravel road, I’d be looking over the roof, feeling the car go one way, while the road behind was going another. I don’t know what speed we were going, but it was fast. I saw my life pass before my eyes. I was only eight years old, so it didn’t take very long. I hadn’t had much of a life to that point. He was a great guy, my dad. God bless his soul. (Emile made the sign of the Cross on his chest and looked up).

“My old man was crazy. He had this pickup truck, he got some sheet steel and welded it to the undercarriage. We didn’t know what he was up to, but it turned out that he was making a skid plate. He had the idea that he wanted to jump the neighbor’s fence with the pickup. He built sort of  a ramp leading up to the fence. Like I said, I didn’t know what he was up to, so when he started the truck I hopped in the back. There was no tailgate. I held onto the roll bar. All of a sudden, ‘whoosh’ we were airborne. He took out a whole section of the fence, but the skid plate kept any fence posts from coming through the floor, into the cab. The truck wasn’t damaged at all.

“Another time he had an old Bombardier snowmobile that he rebuilt with a bigger engine. He had leather straps around the hood. I’d never seen anything like that before. The straps, it turned out, were to hold his shotgun. He’d go moose hunting with that. He’d be cruising at full speed with one hand on the throttle, reloading the shotgun with the other. I saw him get a moose. He had just crested the top of a hill and was coming down, when he shot the moose in the back of the head. A perfect shot.

“We rented a house on eight acres of land. Back then, I think we were paying about one hundred dollars a month. My mother had a half-acre garden in the front of the house. Our neighbor’s cows were always getting loose, trampling and eating the leaves of the vegetables.

“My dad said to the neighbor, ‘My wife puts a lot of time and effort into planting and caring for that garden, she doesn’t appreciate your cows coming over and ruining it. The next time I see your cows stray, even one foot, into our yard, I’m taking one.’ Sure enough, it happened. Before we even knew what was happening my dad had that cow slaughtered, hung by chains from a beam in the garage, and was butchering it — cutting it into pieces. He had to go out and buy a twenty-five cubic foot freezer to hold that cow. The neighbor came over and said, ‘One of my cows is missing. You haven’t seen it have you?’ My dad said, “No, I haven’t, but you’re welcome to take a look around the property. It might be out there somewhere'”

Chester, Loretta and Joy arrived. They’d been on a run to the liquor store.Joy’s backpack was stuffed to the brim, probably with Chester’s beer. Chester’s cell phone rang. In his French accent he answered, “Hello? Yes he’s here.” He handed the phone to Hippo. “Hello, oh, he never gave anything to me. Okay, thanks.”

I asked, “Was that someone calling about your housing?”

“No, it was Loon. He said that he gave Animal ten bucks to give to me. He was checking to see if I got it. I told him that I didn’t get it.”

Mo said, “Yeah, if Loon gives money to someone to hold for someone else, he always follows up to see if they got it. I do the same. So when did he give Weasel the money?”

“Friday? This is Monday. Weasel is your friend, he lives with you guys. That’s just wrong to hold out on a friend. This morning he was off to pan at the church. There are women there who bring him food and clothes. He sells the clothes to the crackheads and buys more crack. Hippo, you’ve got to do something about this.”

Andre said, “Yeah, Hippo, stop being such a pussy. He’s half your size, you can take him. I’m half his size and, just last night, I didn’t like something he said, so I popped him one.”

Joy said, “I’ve hit him, when he’s gotten out of line.” He’s said, ‘I can’t hit you back because I’m not a woman beater.’ I said, ‘I dont fight like a woman, so you don’t have to worry on that score.”

“Yeah,” said Hippo, “I’ll do it soon. Right now I’m going to the Lord Elgin on a butt run.”

“You’re going on a butt run Now?” asked Andre incredulously.

“Well, I also have to take a dump. I’ve been trying to hold it in, but now I have to go.”

Hippo returned with his hand full of cigarette butts. He dumped them on the sidewalk in front of Andre. “Hippo, these are menthol. Haven’t you got any class?”

“It’s all they had,” he said. The Lord Elgin Hotel has sand ashtrays in their lobby. The cigarette butts are extinguished, but not crushed, like they would be in another type of ashtray.

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imgres

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15 August 2012

Today is Shakes’ forty-eighth birthday, at least seventeen of those years have been on the street, many in prison. At the park to celebrate were six of his friends . We all signed a card with a gram of weed in it.

John started early, at five o’clock in the morning. He pushed a grocery cart through the affluent neighborhood of Sandy Hill collecting empty beer cans and liquor bottles. He returned these to the Beer Store for a refund and had enough money to buy Shakes two bottles of his favorite Imperial sherry.

Bruce said, “Mona and I visited with a social worker to apply for housing, the Ontario Disability Support Program and for me to get copies of my health card, birth certificate and immigration papers. The immigration papers have to be notarized and cost one hundred dollars.

“I’m expecting to get $450.00 from O.D.S.P. and another $300.00 from welfare. Hopefully, I can find a clean, bug free apartment away from crack-heads. That’s my main complaint about the shelters, such as Shepherd’s of Good Hope, the Salvation Army and the Mission. After rent this should leave me about $95.00 for all other living expenses. To supplement this I may still have to panhandle. Mona and I have decided not to share an apartment, so that when we have a fight, each of us will have a place to come home to. Sometime in the future I hope to find work as a camp cook for a construction or logging company. I have my chef credentials. What may stand in my way is the fact that, having served time in prison, I’m not bondable; however, I have never committed a violent crime and my social worker will help with references. I can even get a reference from the restaurant near where I pan handle. They occasionally bring me coffee and they’d say, ‘Sure, Bruce’s a good guy. He’s never caused us any trouble.’ If I wasn’t there it might be some drunken loudmouth.”

Little Jake arrived and said, “I ditched Debbie somewhere on Bank Street.”

Bruce said, “You’ll never learn. If you get kicked in the balls by a horse, you don’t jump on the same horse again. If you do, expect another kick in the balls.”

Jake agreed, “I know.” Shortly after, Debbie arrived.

Every time someone would pass on the sidewalk Shakes would say, “Good afternoon ma’am, today’s my birthday. Would you like to wish me a happy birthday? or Andre would say, “It’s my friend’s birthday today. How about wishing him a happy birthday.”

Bruce said, “That’s the way to appear inconspicuous, sit in the middle of the sidewalk, shirtless, with a cowboy hat on and yell at everybody passing by.”

Both Shakes and Andre had been drinking since early morning. Shakes was laying on the grass and Andre was constantly chatting, or posing. John said, “Do you have a pause button somewhere, or do you go on like this from morning to-night. I don’t need TV, all I need is to come down here and watch you two clowning around. I’ve got my own HBO, right here.”

Hippo was disappointed. He has a housing appointment with the Salvation Army, Thursday and all morning he thought this was Thursday.

I said to him, “Hippo, you need to get a calendar. You could scratch each day off, and you’d always know what day it is.”

Bruce said, “Even if he had one, he’d need someone to remind him to look at it.”

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dumpster2

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14 August 2012

This morning I met Andre in front of Starbucks. “Hi Andre,” I said,”How was your weekend?”

“It was rough, man. I woke up Sunday morning and I had the shakes so bad I couldn’t do anything. I just lay there in the hut all day. I drank plenty of water, but couldn’t eat a thing.

“Monday morning, Shakes came over with a bottle. That made me feel a bit better — helped with the shakes a bit. I couldn’t even work. If you’re panning and someone sees you shaking, like I was, they know any money they give isn’t going for food.

“One good thing happened though. The Salvation Army came by and gave both Hippo and me sleeping bags. It’s been three months that I’ve been sleeping in this thin jacket. They also signed us up for housing and O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program). They’re going to line up some places for us to see. From the O.D.S.P. they’ll put $450.00 towards the rent each month. I asked, ‘So, where do I go to meet you guys?’ They said, ‘You don’t have to go anywhere. We’ll come to the park tomorrow and should be able to arrange something.’ Imagine that, they’re coming to see me!”

I said, “I see Alphonse across the street. I guess you heard that he and Magdalene  lost their baby.”

“Yeah, he’s trying to show a brave face. Imagine, trying to smile, when you’ve lost a kid. He’s really broken up.”

I said goodbye to Andre and crossed the street to talk to Alphonse. “Hi , I spoke with Magdalene last week. She told me that you and her lost your baby. I’m so sorry to hear that. You must be heartbroken. I wish there were words to express to you how sad I feel. You both looked so happy the last time I saw you together.”

“Yes, it’s very sad, but what can I do? It’s out of our hands. The baby was induced early because Magdalene was using crack. We stayed at Ronald McDonald House while the baby was in the incubator on life support. After a week they told us that he had a hole in his heart and his lungs weren’t developed enough to supply his organs with oxygen.”

“Cocaine use during pregnancy can affect a pregnant woman and her unborn baby in many ways. During the early months of pregnancy, it may increase the risk of miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, it can trigger preterm labor (labor that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or cause the baby to grow poorly. As a result, cocaine-exposed babies are more likely than unexposed babies to be born with low birthweight (less than 5.5 lb/2.5 kg). Low-birthweight babies are 20 times more likely to die in their first month of life than normal-weight babies, and face an increased risk of lifelong disabilities such as mental retardation and cerebral palsy. Cocaine-exposed babies also tend to have smaller heads, which generally reflect smaller brains. Some studies suggest that cocaine-exposed babies are at increased risk of birth defects, including urinary-tract defects and, possibly, heart defects. Cocaine also may cause an unborn baby to have a stroke, irreversible brain damage, or a heart attack.” (Wikipedia)

“There was no hope for him so we consented to have them pull out the tubes. I was holding him when they took him off the ventilator. His breathing became very shallow. He died in my arms forty-five minutes later. At the very end, as the doctor said would happen, he made little sounds like he was drowning. Then he was silent.

“Maggie asks me why I haven’t been sleeping with her. Since she’s been on crack she sells herself on the street. I try to watch out for her. I want her to be safe. I see her go away with men and come back about an hour later with a fistful of cash. She spends it all on crack. I’ve contracted syphilis and other sexual diseases from her. Luckily, they were treatable with antibiotics, but some diseases aren’t. I can’t risk my life to make love with her. I don’t know who she’s been with.

“My brother and sister came down from Labrador, to be with us, after the baby died. Maggie was jealous. She thought they had come only to comfort me. I told her, ‘No, Maggie they came for both of us.’

“I still love Madgalene. I don’t know what to do.” Tears were falling from his eyes. I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “I love you, man. Let it all out. I know you still love Magdalene, and so you should. She’s young, only twenty-four years old. She needs to mature. If she decides to get help, perhaps you can be together again like you once were. Perhaps, it can be a new start for you. No one knows the future. All we know is this moment.”

“I know I can’t control what she does. I just wish she’d get off the crack, before it kills her.”

I said, “I have to go to work now, Alphonse. Will I see you at the park this afternoon? You take care. I love you, man.”

At the park this afternoon were Andre, John, Joy, Outcast, Wolf and his dog Shaggy. Shakes was asleep on the grass. Nick arrived later. We shook hands all around. When I came to John I said, Don’t tell me your name… it’s John, like the toilet.”

John said to me, “That’s right.”

Wolf asked, “Dennis, do you have a cigarette?”

“No, I don’t smoke.”

“Outcast, do you have a cigarette?”

“No, but Debbie has some at her place. She’ll sell you some. Go ask her.”

“I’d prefer, if you could phone ahead, let her know I’m coming.”

“Phone, with what?”

“Phone with, I don’t know, fifty cents.”

“You expect me to spend fifty cents so you can get a smoke. I don’t think so.”

Wolf said, “It’s just like when you told me that Debbie would lend me her library card. She said to me, Wolf, pay your thirty dollars in fines, and get your own card.”

I asked Andre, “How has your day been since I saw you this morning?”

“It’s been good. A lady at Starbucks bought me a muffin and a large coffee with some kind of syrup in it. I couldn’t taste the syrup until I got to the very bottom, then I could taste it. I was really shaky after I drank that. I find Starbuck’s coffee really strong. I really didn’t need that. Someone else gave me an apple. I gave that to Al. I can’t eat apples. I don’t have enough teeth to chew them.

“See this space where my bottom tooth was. I pulled that myself at Innes (Ottawa-Carleton Detention Center, on Innes Road). The tooth was loose and wobbly. It hurt when I bit into anything, so I got a piece of string, tied one end to the tooth, the other end to my bunk, then pulled. I had a package of salt — that’s when they still let you have salt — put it in a glass of water and gargled. That’s supposed to help it heal and prevent infection. It healed fine.

“For the past twenty-five years I’ve been in and out of prison: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.”

I asked, “Which are the worst? Which are the best?”

“There isn’t anything good about prisons, but I’d say, of all them, the best were in Quebec. The very worst was the Don Jail in Toronto. They didn’t ask you to do things, they made you. I remember when I first arrived, a guard asked me to put my feet on these yellow footprints on the floor, and my hands on these hand prints on the wall. I guess my hand wasn’t quite in the right position. He took it and smashed it against the wall. If you mouthed off, the guards would take you to a locked room and beat the shit out of you.

“Millhaven is bad too. It’s a super maximum security prison. I’d done some bad stuff to get sent there. I’d been high on coke, acid, ‘shrooms and my nerve pills. I got into a fight with this guy over something, I can’t remember what. I slammed his face into a painted concrete wall, again and again and again. It left red face prints all over this yellow wall. When he came to court his entire head was bandaged, except for his left eye. He had one of those casts on his right arm that held it perpendicular to his body. His left wrist and right ankle were also in casts.

“When I was in Maplehurst, I worked in the kitchen and on maintenance. I walked into a store-room and found two empty five gallon, plastic pails. I thought to my self, home-brew. As I was walking down the corridor, back to my cell, I threw kites (messages) as I went along. I tried to get them under the cell doors, but some fell just outside. That wasn’t a problem; with the flick of a towel they could pull them in. Everybody was pretty excited about this brew. I had access to everything in the kitchen including a couple of fingers of yeast.

“The brew was coming along really well, it was aging nicely when the head cook found it. He poured in some dish detergent, then dumped it down the drain. He said to me, ‘What do you think of your brew now?’ That got us really mad. I got some salami from the kitchen — some was whole, some was sliced. I stuffed it into one of the toilets as far as it would go. I stomped it with my foot. Some of the round part was still sticking out, but the toilet was really blocked. We had all agreed to flush our toilets at a specific time. When we did, water shot out everywhere. It was four inches deep in the kitchen, they couldn’t use it because of the electrical appliances. The guards changing room was flooded — everywhere.

“I asked the head cook, ‘Does it still seem funny that you spoiled our brew?’ Mind you, I was also on maintenance. It took me until one o’clock in the morning to mop up that mess, but we showed them.”

It was time for me to leave, Nick said, “I’m making up to eighty sandwiches a week that I hand out to homeless people. I start below the Rideau River Bridge. There’s a group of homeless people who gather there, just like they do here.

“Andre,” he said, “I walked past here his morning, but I didn’t see you.”

Andre and John were wondering what to do with Shakes, since it appeared that it was going to start to rain.

I walked with Nick towards my work. I asked, “What kind of sandwiches do you make?”

“Egg salad, peanut butter and jam, meat with mustard and tuna. I’m up at about four in the morning. I use about two loaves of bread; pack them in my rucksack with my bible, and distribute them until I run out. As people are eating I read God’s word to them. After that I panhandle to get the cash to do the same thing next day.

“Yesterday, I was panning on Bank Street, where I’ve panned for fourteen years. I was sitting on the sidewalk with my hat out when a cop came along. He said, ‘You’ve got your cap out. Are you panhandling?”

I said, “Yes officer, my cap is out. Do you see the cross on it, and my bible? I give food to the homeless and spread the word of the Lord. I read from my bible, and if somebody is hungry, I give them a sandwich. I don’t sell it to them. Those don’t come cheap. They cost me money. I’m just trying to get enough change to carry on my work.”

“So, you’re like Robin Hood, collect from the rich, give to the poor. That’s a nice story, but you’re going to have to move along.”

“I’ll move along, but I’ll set up some other place.” I went to the next block. He came again and motioned me to leave. I moved three times before I decided to call it a day.”

We approached Elgin Street, when Nick said, “I left someone behind here.” I walked to a bench where Bearded Bruce was sitting.

“Hi, Bruce, I haven’t seen you for a long time.”

“I just got out to-day. I didn’t have to serve the full term of my three-month sentence, but I’m now free and clear. It’s the first time, in five years, that I’ve been able to say that. I can make a new start.”

I didn’t ask, but I suspect that reason that Bruce didn’t want to go to the park was because of the temptation of drugs and alcohol; the very things that got him in trouble in the first place (twice he’d tried to sell crack to an undercover police officer). I said to him, “I’m just on my way back to work, but you and Nick could probably use a sandwich. Am I right? Here are a couple of Tim Horton cards. Maybe, you’d like to have lunch together.”

“Thanks, Dennis,” they both said as I walked away and waved.

Nick said, “I’ll say a prayer for you.”

“Thanks, Nick, I’d appreciate that.”

From the Ottawa Citizen, July 22, 2012:

Acclaimed Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook pregnant and homeless, living on the street in Ottawa

OTTAWA — One of Canada’s pre-eminent Inuit artists, a woman whose work has earned huge acclaim in Europe and the U.S., spends her time on Rideau Street these days, peddling her pencil-crayon drawings to passersby for cigarette money.

Annie Pootoogook has fought demons all her life — beatings, sexual abuse, alcohol and drugs. Pootoogook has lived in Ottawa for the last five years and recently came off another binge of substance abuse, during which she largely ignored her craft. But she is finally drawing again, doing much of it on Rideau, where she has become something of a centre of attention — at least with those who know who she is and want to buy her work.

She usually produces one drawing a day. But it is sad to see how little the shy, diminutive artist accepts for a drawing — $25, maybe $30. Her earlier work, from her days in Cape Dorset, Baffin Island, sells for $1,600 to $2,600 per drawing at Feheley Fine Arts, the Toronto art gallery that kick-started her ascent a decade ago.

But even sadder is the thought of the destitute woman —currently five months pregnant — curling up at night in a bushy area overlooking the Rideau River. Pootoogook, 43, and her boyfriend, William Watt, 49, have been living outdoors in various secluded spots in and around Lowertown since spring after spending the winter in shelters for the homeless. They didn’t like the shelters because they had to sleep alone, in the segregated men’s and women’s areas.

At least outside, they can be together. Still, there are downsides. Bugs for one. Snide comments from those who sometimes spot them through the bushes. And recently, they were both issued $276 fines for trespassing on NCC property, their sleeping bags and meagre belongings hauled away.

Pootoogook can’t take the bugs anymore and says she’s losing her mind being bitten while she tries to sleep.

They are desperate to get off the street, even if it is just into emergency housing for now. With a baby on the way — a girl whose name will be Napachie Marie Pootoogook-Watt — the father-to-be says they are focusing on setting their lives straight. No more booze. No more crack cocaine, a drug on which Watt says he spent $3,000 over a few days last November.

When Watt and Pootoogook, who met in 2010, woke up from that crack binge, they lived in a tent for two months at the “Occupy” encampment at Confederation Park. Then it was homeless shelters for the winter, though Watt spent 32 of those days in jail for stealing booze from an LCBO store. He says he has been in jail a few times for petty crimes, and it was while he was incarcerated last winter that Pootoogook found out she was pregnant. She surprised him with the news when he was released.

Pootoogook is the birth mother of two boys, now 23 and 16, who were born in Cape Dorset. They were adopted by relatives. “There is no interest in having this one adopted,” says Watt, who has a son from a previous relationship.

The couple wants to get out of the Lowertown area, as they say they have too many acquaintances there who were a bad influence when they tried before to stop drinking and drugging. And with Pootoogook pregnant, Watt says his girlfriend has become fearful of those people.

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10 August 2012

Today is garbage day. As I was waiting for my bus, it started to rain. A cyclist with a makeshift wagon rode past me, carrying a clear plastic bag full of crushed cans. He stopped at a recycling bin on the curb, beside a driveway not far from the bus stop. He rooted through and found more cans he could get a cash refund for, from ten to twenty cents a can, depending on size.

Because of the rain I wasn’t expecting to see any panhandlers. As I looked towards Joy’s usual spot, I recognized Shakes. He was standing, talking to a man seated on the sidewalk.

“Hi, Shakes! How are you doing?”

“Fine, Dennis, I was just checking to see who was sitting here.”

“Is this Walter?” I asked. Walter had been panning across the street from Shakes last week.

“No, This is Al.”

“Hi, Al. My name is Dennis.” I reached into my pocket for a Tim Horton’s card and handed it to him. “There’s enough credit on here to buy yourself breakfast.”

“Thanks, Dennis.”

“What about me, Dennis? Do you have one for me?” asked Shakes.

“I didn’t think you ate at this time of day, Shakes. Of course, I have one for you.”

Shakes said, “I slept at my daughter Fran’s last night. She woke me up at 7:00 and said, ‘Dad, I made some scrambled eggs and bacon for you. You have to eat something.’ ”

“How is Fran doing? Does she know if there is any permanent damage to her back?”

“She doesn’t know. She’s waiting to hear from her doctor.”

“How is Bettie?”

“She doesn’t know. Again, she’s waiting to hear from her doctor.”

“Her boyfriend should be charged,” I said.

Shakes said, “I can’t wait to see him, myself.”

“A lot of people can’t wait to see him. I’m sure that Joy will lay a beating on him if he crosses her path.”

“Yes, I know.”

I said, “Yesterday, I saw Daimon and Lucie for the first time since his ankle was broken. Andre and Hippo were going to Quebec to buy beer.”

“Yeah, I saw Daimon and Lucie. I found Andre asleep, so he didn’t get to where he was going.”

“Where are you going now, Shakes?”

“To my office.”

I walked Shakes to the next corner, then we parted ways. It was raining at noon so I didn’t bother going out. My friends would have stayed inside at home, or at one of the homeless shelters.

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9 August 2012

The first person I saw at noon today was Bright Sky. “I asked him, “How long have you lived on the streets?”

“Oh gosh, my parents died in 1999, I wasn’t in very good shape, so that’s when I decided to travel around the world in eight hundred days. I still havent’s made it. I was down in Mexico for a while. I liked it there, but there is a lot of violent crime.

If the state of Chihuahua were a country, today it would have the fourth-highest level of major violence in the world”, the murder rate in Mexico is 13 per 100,000 (sixth highest in the world) compared to only 4.2 per 100,000 in the USA (24th highest in the world). 

“I’ve lived in Toronto and Vancouver. In Trois Riviere, Quebec, I was arrested for hitchhiking and threatened with rape. Last year I appeared on ‘The Lowell Greene Show” on talk radio. I announced on the radio my intention of running for Prime Minister of Canada, since our current Prime Minister Harper is doing such a poor job. Later I was beaten by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who also confiscated my photography equipment, laptops and files. I still haven’t been able to get them back.

“On July 14, 2001, I spoke at an Ottawa City Council Meeting about the proposed Ottawa Light Rail Transit Project and my Solar Monorail vision.

“In Europe monorail systems are used almost exclusively for mass transit. With monorails, there is not the problem of traffic congestion or snow removal. It’s far more cost-effective to build up for monorails, as opposed to digging down to build subways.”

I asked, “Do you know the people who congregate in the park near the Arts Center? The group varies from day-to-day.”

“I know of them, but I don’t associate with them. I met some of them at the tent city for ‘Occupy Ottawa’. Shakes just lay on the edge of the fountain. I can’t figure him out.”

I said, “He’s a very nice person. He’s been panhandling for the past seventeen years. He comes from Toronto. While he was there he was a boxer. He sparred with George Chuvallo and Shawn O’Sullivan. He must have been good. It’s possible that he sustained some brain injury while boxing.”

Bright Sky said, “Getting a few knocks to the head can cause a lot of damage. I’m concerned about the baby carts that some people pull behind bicycles. I saw one involved in an accident right on this corner, last winter. I took some pictures and asked the woman riding the bicycle if her child was wearing a hat and mittens. She was an army girl. A couple of army fellows were there as well. They said, ‘That’s no way to speak to a woman.’ The police arrived and asked what the problem was. I tried to explain, but they wouldn’t listen. They just told me to move along.

“Another time, I was attacked by a woman. I was taking pictures from across the street. She came up to me and said, ‘Hey! I don’t want my picture taken!’ I said, ‘I’m not photographing you, just the street scene.’ She didn’t believe me and grabbed my camera.”

The next person I saw was Serge, his left eye still black. He told me that yesterday he overslept until 10:00 am at the Shepherds. He said he almost never does that. This morning he was up at 7:30, thinking that it was Friday, P.N.A. (Personal Needs Allowance) day, when he receives a check in the amount of $27.00. He had fallen again and showed me where he scraped his arm.

On the grass at the park were Hippo, Andre ( who had shaved off his beard and left only a mustache), John (he said to remember his name just think of toilet), Daimon (on crutches with his right leg in a cast) and his girlfriend Lucy-in-the-Sky.

I hadn’t seen Daimon or Lucy since they were beaten up while trying to mug a black dude named Lucky. Lucy was knocked out, Daimon was left with a broken ankle. Whenever I’m near them I feel like the gingerbread man faced by a pair of foxes. My thought was not if I will get mugged, but when. Hippo and Andre would have my back, so I’m safe for another day.

Both John and Hippo had bicycles and planned to cross the Ottawa River into Gatineau, Quebec, where beer is cheaper. They prefer the tall cans of Labatt Maximum Ice (7.1 percent alcohol), not available in Ontario.

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