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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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25 April 2012
Joy was in her usual spot this morning, sitting on her plastic storage box, her legs wrapped with towels.”How is your pneumonia, Joy?”
“It’s getting better. I’m still coughing up stuff, my chest is tight and I sleep with my head elevated.”Toothless Chuck cooked breakfast for us this morning. Chili was too drunk to go to The Shepherd, so she stayed at our place. Chuck took her to the airport for her flight to Prince Edward Island. She said, ‘I’ll be back soon.’ I said, ‘You’d be better off staying there and entering a detox program.’ Her arms are covered with track marks and scars.”
A woman stopped to give Joy an orange, later a man stopped to give her an apple. “I’ll save the orange for Jacques. I can’t eat them because I have a cage in my chest. The best I can do is suck the juice out and throw away the rest. Do you want the apple? In order to eat it, I have to peel it, then it gets brown and yucky. I’m picky aren’t I?”
“Joy, you should be a rich person, then you could have someone to peel your grapes for you.”
“Bruce got sick, because of getting soaked in all the rain we had lately. Big Nick offered to take him in for free until he gets well. He offered me the same deal when I lost my last place. The only problem is that where Nick lives it’s infested with bed bugs. They’re really hard to get rid of. I invited a couple of people to sleepover at my place. A few days later I woke up and felt something warm and sticky on my arms. I lifted the sheet and I was covered in blood. I was crawling with bed bugs. I had to throw out a mattress and rip out my carpeting before I could get rid of them. I’m really careful about who I hug now. They can lie dormant for up to five months.
“I’m going to visit the boys at the bench this morning, then I’m going to my old place to check for mail. The postman usually gets there around ten. I’m hoping to get some of my stuff. I’ve still got two keys. One key locks and unlocks the door, the other only locks it. I should be back downtown around noon.
“I’ve been trying to phone Roy on his cell phone, but I don’t get an answer. Where he’s staying, with his girlfriend, near the airport, he doesn’t get good reception. I don’t know what’s happening with Harley or his three lizards. I don’t care about the python. Roy can give him back to Leon.”
It was cool and overcast at the bench today. Silver kept walking up and down the sidewalk. He had hidden his backpack in the bushes because he had beer in it. After getting a liquor violation last week, he didn’t want to take a chance that the police would show up again. On the other hand, he didn’t want anybody stealing his backpack. I was sitting on the sidewalk near Don.
“I’m thinking of getting a part-time job,” said Don, “maybe as a dishwasher or in maintenance. I’ve done that before. It won’t pay very much, not like I used to get. When I lived in Montreal I used to bring in about fifty thousand a year. I knew the city really well and worked for most of the big courier companies, Purolator, D.H.L, U.P.S. The only company I didn’t work for was FedEx.“When I started with U.P.S. they had just moved into Canada from the U.S. They weren’t very well organized – too few trucks and drivers for the number of shipments they had going out. Even when my manager came with me — he’d drive, I’d deliver — we still couldn’t make our quota.“The run I had was in the industrial section. I had shipments of pipe and heavy machine parts to deliver. The truck was way overloaded. Soon, the clutch burnt out. I told them what the problem was, but they still kept overloading my truck. After I’d burnt out the third clutch they said, ‘Don, we think you should move inside the warehouse.’  I was feeling pretty burned out myself, so I took my severance pay and went on vacation for a while. Then I got into sales. I was really good at sales – everything from real estate and new cars to standing on a corner, with a table and speakers, selling all kinds of stuff. I was making about a thousand a day for a while. I had forty thousand in the bank, then my girlfriend left me. I started drinking, going to the casinos. I couldn’t believe how fast I went through that forty thousand.
“This morning a guy saw me collecting bottles. He said, ‘I got four cases of empties in the back if you want them.’ I said, ‘Sure!’ I traded in the bottles and got ten bucks.”
Joy arrived with Jacques. “Hi Joy, how did things go at your old place?”“It was fine. I didn’t know what to expect, so I brought Jacques with me. I figured, if nothing else, Jacques could talk French to Roy, but he wasn’t there. The locks had been changed, the whole place was cleaned out. It was a lot cleaner than when we first moved in. At that time we had a disgusting mess to deal with. It was a lot of work just to make the place livable.“I checked the mail. It’s been piling up for a while. My check wasn’t there, but nobody else has received theirs yet either. Now, that I know Roy won’t be there, I can go back tomorrow, or anytime.”
~~~

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24 April 2012
Joy was cheerful and sober this morning. “Only four people stayed at Toothless Chuck’s place last night: me, Chuck, Ronny, and Chili. See this scrape I’ve got on my nose. We have this broom with a broken handle. I was sweeping under the sofa and I hit my nose on the coffee table. I thought I’d broken it again. Chuck was ready to push it back in place. ‘No!’ I said, ‘don’t touch my nose.’
“Chili is really in bad shape. She’s ‘smashing’ cocaine again and has sores and track marks all over her arms. She’s on antidepressants and I think she’s taking more than she should. After just a few drinks she gets falling-down drunk. She’s all over the place. Last night she wet Chuck’s bed. He was really ticked off.
“Chili’s adopted parents want her to come home to Prince Edward Island. I said, ‘What are you going to do about your arms?’ ‘Wear long sleeves,’ she said. Another time she told me, ‘My mother used to slap me every time I swore.’ I told her, ‘You better get used to having a sore face, because every second word that comes out of your mouth is a swear word.’
“I didn’t go to Elizabeth Fry last week, I was too messed up. I’ll go tomorrow. Angela, my probie, gave me all the papers I need for housing, except for my picture i.d., the one from prison that says I’m on probation. Angela says I’m a really good candidate for the housing program because of my mental condition. It’s the first time in my life that being crazy has been a help to me. I have an appointment with her on May second. I have a court appearance on the twenty-ninth, because of my breach when I was in the hospital. I told her, ‘I better not get any more time for that!’ I’m supposed to be finished probation in November, all except for my anger management program.
“In the last year, I’ve lost two houses and Big Jake. Jake, I’m still working on. The last house I had with Roy was really nice. I have to go back there to get my check. Some things I’d like to pick up as well. I’m hoping that Roy won’t be there because there’s sure to be a fight, but it’s all his fault. He and his girlfriend were just snorting too much. He was working too. He may have lost his job. If he wants money from my check, he’s not getting it.”I saw Clark scooting around in his wheelchair. I was surprised to see that both of his legs have been amputated. When I first met him a few years ago, he’d only lost a foot. He may have diabetes, but he’s awfully skinny. Usually, people with diabetes are heavier. It probably has to do with all the drugs he’s taking.”
Betrayal
I look into your eyes,
grey with tears and sorrow
from the Arctic Ocean.
I feel your hurt deep inside
hear your thunder
see your rain.
With your fist on your chest
you open your heart,
tell me of hardship,
betrayal and pain.

I listen
with my heart
as one who has been there.

With my arm around your shoulder,
as a brother,
I ask you to act with patience
and with love —
be love.

~~~

“Hi, bro! Remember me?”

“Yes, of course, Alphonse! I met you and your girlfriend, a few months ago, at the heater. There was snow on the ground.”

I sat on the curb with him. It started raining, so I pulled up my hood.

“That’s right. Magdalene was here just twenty minutes ago. ‘It’s cold out, Maggie!’ I said, ‘wear my jacket. It will keep you warm.’ Do you think she would wear it?  No, she was worried about her image.’ Why are you concerned about your image? You have a man. I’m right here.’  She wants to look cool, like some of those ‘gangsta’ rappers she sees on television.

“She’s only twenty-two and I’m forty. She still wants to live the party life. It’s the alcohol that makes her that way. She drinks until she passes out. Just this morning I said to her, ‘Maggie, you’ve had enough to drink. Who are you dressing to impress?’ She stormed off!

“I know where she’s going and who she’s going to see. This has been going on for about a year now. I know exactly where she’s going. She’s going to sleep with him and he’s going to give her money. She’ll stay with him for three or four days until he runs out of money. Then she’ll want to come back to me. This has happened about ten times in the past year. I’ll take her back, but it hurts deep inside.

“What hurts most is that she’s carrying my child. At least, I think it’s my child. I don’t even know if it’s my child. She doesn’t know — she’s been with so many men. This morning, she said that she was going to the nurse to see about an abortion. She was too drunk, anyway, it’s too late — she’s three months pregnant. She’s had abortions three times before and has a four-year-old boy who was taken away by the Children’s Aid Society.

“I don’t want her to have an abortion. I would raise it as my own. I’d like us to be a family together. I would take care of her, but she wants to be in control.

“I never had a childhood. I had to raise my siblings. My mother was an alcoholic. She was never around. When I was five years old, I looked after a six-month-old baby and a toddler, one and a half years old. I failed kindergarten, two times because I was never there. I was looking after my siblings.

“Last night I told Maggie, ‘We have to get out of this city.’ I said, ‘If you want, we could live near your family.’ They live near Sept-Iles, Quebec, but she doesn’t want that because she wouldn’t have any control. She was raised by her grandparents, her parents were dead. They gave her everything. I suggested that we live where I come from, Nain in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. She doesn’t want that either.

“You’re the first person I’ve told this to – that it may not be my child she is carrying. I feel better having told someone. I want to see that child born and, if necessary, I’ll raise it myself. She has to stop drinking. One beer a night would be alright, it has nourishment; but she drinks Imperial sherry, and never just one drink.

~~~

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20 April 2012
The weather today was overcast, with a cool breeze and a threat of rain. Half a dozen of my friends had congregated. Near the bench today was Wolf and his dog Shaggy, Buck, and his dog Dillinger. Shaggy barked nearly continuously. She wasn’t used to another dog being around.
Shark asked me, “Are you going to be at Queen’s Park at four o’clock? They’re expecting about two thousand people to turn out to protest the prohibition of marijuana.
“No,” I said, “I don’t think I can get leave from work for that, but best of luck. I think they should decriminalize all drugs like they’ve proposed in British Columbia. In Vancouver, at the Porter Hotel Society on Hastings Street, they have a safe injection site. Drugs are available by prescription from doctors. There is a guarantee of high quality.
“Another benefit is that there aren’t as many hypodermic needles discarded in parks, where kids or other people can become accidentally injected, or infected.”
Shark said, “I get medicinal marijuana, but if I run out early, I have to pay five bucks per gram. The street cost is ten.”I’m on O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program), it covers my basic expenses, food, and rent. This month I bought a new television, so I’m going to be short until the thirtieth when my check comes in.”
“How much does O.D.S.P. pay?” asked Inuk.
“The basic is about six hundred per month to cover food and rent. Then there are other perks you can apply for. A friend of mine gets two hundred as a diaper allowance. He doesn’t need diapers, but he went to his doctor, looked sheepish, said he kept having accidents about four or five times a day. The doctor wrote a note for him to get a diaper allowance.”
“Jake,” I said, ” you’re quiet today.”
“I’m still on my first bottle. I was sitting at the corner for the last hour trying to get a buck ten to make my price.”
Shark said, “It took Buck and I an hour, in front of the liquor store, to make fifteen cents.”

~~~

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19 April 2012

This noon hour was warm and sunny. The people who were served liquor violations, yesterday are banned from this immediate area so Jacques, Silver, Hippo, Shark, and Irene stood on the other side of the street. Serge, Raven, and Mary sat on the bench.

As I approached, Hippo and Trudy were talking. “I’ll go for the beer run,” said Hippo.

“Hippo, we gave you our money yesterday and you didn’t come back. Do you understand how serious that is?”

“I know, I screwed up, but it won’t happen again.”

Chester came over. “I’ll go for the beer run. I have to go to the pharmacy (a euphemism for going to see his dealer) and do some other errands.”

“Hello Serge, ” I said.

“Hello.”

“It’s a beautiful day.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Have you lived here long, Mary,” I asked.

“Trudy and I have lived here for about ten years.”

“Where were you born?”

“I was born in Churchill, Manitoba. I don’t remember it very well, we only stayed there until I was four years old. My dad was a carpenter and a plumber. He got a job with the government doing maintenance on some of their buildings. For three or four months at a time, he would be away working. My mother’s health wasn’t very good and she needed to be near a doctor. When my father would be away we would move in with relatives further north at Resolute Bay or Pond Inlet, Baffin Island.

“Pond Inlet was especially beautiful. We saw lots of icebergs and we’d fish for Arctic Char. Have you ever tasted Arctic Char? It’s so good.

“My dad even worked on the Legislative Buildings at  Queen’s Park. When I was in Girl Guides they brought us there on a trip and I got to see my father. He also did a carving that was presented to the Queen on one of her visits. The carving was of an igloo, with a dog team and sled outside. The igloo could be lifted and you’d see the people inside. It was very detailed.”

Mary started waving her arms and got up from the bench. “I have to be very careful about certain types of flies. I am allergic to them and have a strong reaction when I get bitten.

“Raven’s coming over. I used to be friends with her, but she throws tantrums. She’s always drawing attention to herself. I’ve got a beer under my jacket. The last thing I want is to draw the wrong kind of attention. She uses a lot of bad language and it upsets people who are just out for a walk after lunch.”

“Hi Raven,” I said. “Have you lived in Toronto long?”

“About fifteen years.”

“Do you like living here?”

“I’m here, if I didn’t like it I’d move, but I’m tired of moving. I have a lot of friends here. My sister also lives here. April is a bad month for us. Our mother’ died last year. Her birthday was April seventeenth, she died ten days later. Sometimes my sister has to go into the bathroom she cries so hard. I call her my little sister, but she’s taller than me. I’ve taught her some things. Let’s say, she’s followed my example. I’ve got a husband but he’s not getting out until 2026. I just hate my sister’s so-called boyfriend. I hate him so much.” She pounded the palm of her hand with her fist.

“I like sex, a lot. I have a room. My neighbor is always knocking on my door wanting sex. I tell him, ‘Go away, I just want to sleep.’ Then he’ll come back later.”

“I’ve just been sitting here chatting with Serge,” I said. “He’s been talking my ear off.”

“I bet Serge has lots of stories,” said Raven, “if he ever chose to tell them.”

~~~

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18 April 2012

This morning Metro greeted me with, “Good morning Dennis, Dale, anything but ‘late for supper’. Have a good day!”

“Have a good day Metro, Two-four!”

When I arrived at Joy’s spot I saw her plastic storage box (that she borrows from behind the Rex Hotel), a Sun newspaper folded on top of that, her cap was in front of the plastic crate with a bit of change (jingle, as Ian, calls it), her jacket was lying on the sidewalk beside her crate, but no Joy.  A tall man wearing glasses, and a red short-sleeved shirt, was standing there, holding a large Tim Horton’s coffee.

“Is Joy coming back?” I asked.

“She’s indisposed at the moment.”

“You mean, she went into the restaurant to have a pee.”

“Yes, that’s what I mean. I’m just standing here watching her stuff, but if you’re going to be here, I’ll be on my way. I’m getting cold.”

“I’ll take good care of Joy’s stuff. She knows me.”

Before long I heard, “Hi, Sweetie!” I turned and saw Joy. She was walking stiffly toward me from the direction of the restaurant.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“I’ve had to go pee a lot of times and when I get there not much comes out. It’s dark too, kind of an orangy color. I’m afraid it’s my kidneys again. I may have to go back into the hospital.”

“I just lost it with my probation officer the other day. Besides throwing up all over her desk, I told her, ‘I don’t care if you breach me! I don’t care about anything!’ She said, ‘You told me that you couldn’t do any more jail time.’ I said, ‘If it happens, it happens. I just don’t care.’

“Today I go to Elizabeth Fry from three to seven o’clock.  I’m really not an afternoon sort of person, I’d rather go in the morning, but I wasn’t the one making the appointment.

“I’m not getting enough sleep. Bruce’s brought his girlfriend, of three years, to stay with us. Inuk is her name. She’s a mean, nasty, Inuit woman who’s been with every man in town. I don’t know what Bruce sees in her. She’d have to hang a pork chop around her neck for even a dog to want to play with her. If Bruce wants to stick his stuff in there knowing where she’s been, he’ll have to deal with the consequences.

“Last night she even tried to sleep in my bed. ‘No, No,’ I said, ‘Bruce sleeps on the floor, so you sleep on the floor.’ I even had words with Bruce about her, ‘Bruce,’ I said, ‘ you made a mistake crossing me. You just lost a friend.’ Tony is sleeping in the kitchen now, right in front of the refrigerator, so Bruce isn’t able to get up in the night for something to eat. Last night there were five people sleeping in Chuck’s bachelor apartment. Chili came over, but only long enough to get drunk, then she went to The Shepherd.

“I paid Chuck three hundred bucks to stay there and another two hundred for groceries. With just me and him, that should last three weeks, but we went through them in two. I told him it wasn’t working out, so he talked to everybody. I just sat back, quiet as a mouse.

“Sometimes I drink until I pass out, but then I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Sometimes I’ll buy a morphine pill from Shark. I break it in half. If I take a whole one, I’ll puke. That usually gives me a good night’s sleep.

“When I was in the hospital last, the only ones to visit me were Chuck and Shark. I don’t care about the rest of those guys.”

“If you go into the hospital again, I’ll visit you,” I said.

“If I do have to go in, I’ll leave a message with Metro and Two-four. It’s getting too cold sitting here. I’m going to leave. I’m not going to bother with the guys at the bench;  just go straight home. There won’t be too many people there, so I’m going to take a long, hot shower. With so many people sharing one bathroom, I can usually only get about ten minutes.”

At noon I was surprised to see a group of my friends, sitting on a low concrete wall, in front of Confederation Park.

“Is the bench full?” I asked, “Is that why you’re sitting here?”

“Four police were by earlier,” said Jacques. “They charged five of us with having alcohol in a place other than a dwelling. Me, Irene, Silver, Mary, and Serge were each given a ticket for a hundred and twenty-five.  I’ve got them here in my pocket. I’m going to take them home and stick them on my wall with the others. The thing that makes me really mad is they poured out my wine. Now I’m going to have to get some more.”

“How many tickets do you have now, Jacques?” asked Jake.

“Well, the first wall is full and the second wall is about half full. With these, I have, maybe forty or fifty.”

“I started a new batch of my rice, raisin wine. It’s very simple. The rice and the raisin give it the flavor. I use Sultana raisins, they’re the best. I go to Giant Tiger and buy a big bag of their cheapest rice, unflavored. I add some sugar and yeast. Don’t use the little packets of Fleischmann’s yeast, go to a natural food store, and buy a bag of fresh yeast, it’s cheaper. Me, I make four gallons at a time, but if you’re just starting out you may want to make just one gallon. In that case, it’s two pounds each of rice, raisins, and sugar. The recipe calls for one tablespoon of yeast, but I add about a quarter of a cup. I leave it for two weeks and it’s ready. They say the alcohol content is 13%, but I’m sure mine is about 20-30%.”

“They treat these like parking tickets,” said Irene. We don’t have to go to court, we won’t do jail time, but if we ever need to buy car insurance these will have to be paid. There’s not much chance that any of us will get a car. They can’t garnishee our pay because were on O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program).

“I’m glad I was on a liquor run,” said Jake. I already have a six-month probation order for panhandling. Here I’ve got it in my pocket. See for yourself, it says ‘soliciting in an aggressive manner’. I’m not aggressive, but if I get another one or a liquor violation I could go to jail.

“Shakes was charged with vagrancy, even though he has a place to stay and had money with him. I don’t know why they would charge him with vagrancy. The charges have been stayed for now. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

Buck came along with his dog, Dillinger, a beautiful Golden Retriever, German Shepherd mix. He is four months old and very well behaved. On command, he’d sit and be rewarded with a doggy treat for his effort.

At various times people came and went. Chuck Senior stopped by on his motorized wheelchair. He gave Frank a baseball cap. Toothless Chuck, Sally, and Mary stopped by for a while.

“I think I’m going to go to Woodbine Beach,“ said Jacques. On the way, I’ll stop at the beer store for a six-pack. Then I’ll go to Dollarama for some smoked oysters, a big bag of chips, and some Clamato juice to go with my beer. Sometimes, I take my fishing rod.”

“Do you ever catch anything?” I asked.

“No, it’s just for show, so they won’t suspect me of drinking. The only problem is there are no leaves on the trees for privacy if I have to pee.

“I don’t want to catch any Carp. It doesn’t have much taste and has a lot of bones. The best way to prepare it is to boil it until the bones are soft then put it through a food processor. I usually make patties to fry, and have some sauce on hand to give it some flavor.”

~~~

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17 April 2012

I wore a windbreaker to the bench today. The weather was relatively warm and a sunny forty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. Shark was passing around a bottle of Fireball, Loretta was asleep on the grass, Serge was sitting off by himself.

Shark said, “I took a Demerol earlier, later I have to go to the doctor to get a morphine shot for my liver. I wonder how that’s going to mix with the Fireball?”

I was standing next to Al, who has long blond hair and a guitar slung on his back. “I can’t believe that this still hurts so much,” he said to me. He lifted his sweater to reveal a partially healed, two-inch, stab wound in his side. “This happened over a month ago. The blade went in six inches, and just missed my vital organs, I saw the x-rays. I’ve got another up higher, but it was deflected by my rib cage.

“A crack head named Tom did this. He lived downstairs in the same building as me. He knocked on my door at ten in the evening. I’d been sleeping. I answered the door and he said, ‘I’m going to buy some weed. If you give me five bucks we can split a gram.’ I said, ‘Since I’m awake now anyway, I might as well.’ He never came back.

“The next morning I heard him trying to do the same thing to my neighbor. He was even bragging about ripping me off. I argued with him and said, ‘Since you ripped me off, I want ten bucks or a gram of weed. He refused and went into his apartment. I walked away and he came up behind me and hit me twice in the side. At first, I thought he’d punched me. Then I felt something warm running down my side. My neighbor handed me a hammer and I started chasing after him, but then thought better of it. I decided to go to the hospital.

“Because I was a crime victim there was a cop posted in my room. I was hooked up to an I.V. I said to the cop, ‘Watch this!’ I pushed the bedside button and a nurse came in. ‘It hurts!’ I said. She gave me a shot of morphine. I saw a Doctor walking past, I said, ‘Doctor, it hurts!’ He gave me a shot of morphine. The cop said, ‘If you do that once more I’m going to have to report you.’

“The cop drove me home. Just as we were leaving the parking lot I said, ‘I forgot to get a prescription for pain medication.’ He said, “You’re probably going home to smoke pot anyway. I think you can do without a prescription.’

“Since then, Tom has been evicted from our building. There’s a sign by the front door saying he’s not allowed to enter. He’s being held in jail, pending his court appearance. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

“So, what kind of music do you play?” I asked.

“A bit of everything, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Cat Stevens. If you mention a band, I probably know at least one of their songs. If you mentioned the Eagles, I could play “Lyin’ Eyes’. If you mentioned Creedence Clearwater Revival, I could play ‘Proud Mary’. I can play for about six hours without repeating myself. As I get older my memory gets shorter. If I learn a new song, I forget an old one.

“Today I’ve been busking at Nathan Philips Square. I had to sing over the noise of the buses. My throat was getting dry so I stopped here for a few beers. I’m going to try a mall down the street later on.”

Al had to rescue his bicycle from Shakes, who could barely walk; riding a bicycle wouldn’t have been a good idea.

~~~

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