They Call Me Red

……

 

 

6 September 2013

From a distance, I could see Jacques and Deaf Donald sitting near the War Memorial.  When I came closer I could hear that they were both speaking French. Jacques had a newspaper open and was doing a Sudoku puzzle.

When Donald saw me he said, “Hi Dennis, it’s so good to see you. I lost my hearing aids, but I can read lips as long as you speak slow. I can even watch television with no volume, except for cartoons. They make no sense.”

I asked, “How did you lose your hearing aids?”

“I was at a bar in Scarborough. I got drunk. When I was walking home I tripped and fell. They must have fallen out then. They’re just tiny, they fit way inside my ears.

“The government paid for my last ones, but that was last year. I’m only allowed one pair every three years. I and my mom have to pay eighteen hundred dollars for a new pair. It’s okay, sometimes it’s better that I don’t hear what’s being said.

“Jacques, can I use your phone? I want to call Chester.”

Jacques said, “You tried using Shark’s phone. You couldn’t hear. You won’t hear any better using my phone.”

We saw Shakes ambling up the sidewalk. “Why aren’t you guys sitting in the sun? I’m going to sit over here.”

Jacques said, “You sit where you wish. It’s okay with me.”

Two bicycle cops rode up. One said, “Hi Shakes, I see you got a bottle there.”

Shakes grabbed it before the cop could pick it up. “Hey, that’s mine. It’s not even opened. You can’t take that.” The cop examined the bottle and said, “You’re right, it’s sealed. You weren’t thinking of drinking it here, were you?”

“No sir, that would be against the law.”

“As long as you understand that. I see an open can of beer in this backpack. Who does this belong to?”

Donald said, “That’s mine, officer. I’m not going to lie to you.”

“I need some identification. Do you have anything with you?”

“No, but I’ll tell you my name. It’s Donald Charlevoix.”

“Where do you live Donald?”

“145 Berkeley Street.”

“Is that your own place Donald?”

“It’s my mom’s. I live with my mom.”

“I see a prescription bottle in your pack.  Methadone, you’re a heroin addict. Your name checks out.” To the other officer, he said, “Do you want to phone this in?”

I could hear a voice on the other end of the line, listing charges.

“So Donald, why do you have a drinking restriction?”

“I can’t understand. I’m deaf.”

“What were you charged with, that caused the court to put a  restriction on your file concerning drinking?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t understand.”

“You’ve got an open beer in your pack and there’s an empty can behind you. I can tell that you’ve been drinking.  You realize, don’t you, that you’re not allowed to drink in a public place. You can be charged for this.”

“I’m sorry officer. If you pour that out, I’ll go straight home. I don’t want any trouble.”

“If I ever see you down here again, I’m going to charge you. Understand? If you’re here, I know you’re going to be drinking. Don’t come here again!”

“I understand officer, this is a bad place. I won’t come here again.”

“Okay, get going!”

The officer then turned to Jacques, “Have you been drinking?”

“No, my doctor told me it’s bad for my health.”

“What have you got in your bag here? He pulled out two drinking containers, one labeled an energy drink, both red in color. He also pulled out an empty sherry bottle. “What’s this doing here?”

“I turn it in for twenty cents.”

The police seemed satisfied so they rode away. Jacques laughed. “See what they missed. In my bottles here I have sherry mixed with strawberry cream soda. I don’t like the Imperial that these guys drink. I drink Pale Dry, but I don’t like it too dry, that’s why I add the cream soda, for the color and the taste. I like it sweet, me. In the zippered part, I have Jake’s half bottle of sherry. They believed me when I said, ‘My doctor told me it’s bad for my health.’

“Did you see what was in the Sun yesterday, on the second page? The whole page was about a guy from the Mission, who was beaten by the cops. Someone took pictures with their cell phone and the guy charged the cop. Yesterday the charges against the cops were dropped.”

Jacques said, “Those steroid monkeys act like they are kings. They can do anything they like. It’s the same with all these organizations, the Mission, the Shepherd. Shakes went to the Mission one time. His shoes were full of holes…”

Shakes said, “I’m barred for life from the Mission, it was the Shepherd. I showed them the holes in the bottom of my shoes and asked for another pair. They asked, ‘Are you a resident here?’ I said, ‘That sign up there says you are here to help the homeless, not the people who are staying here. Well, I’m homeless and I want a pair of friggin shoes!’ They took me into another office and said, ‘We don’t want any trouble, we’ll find you a pair of shoes.’

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

 

5 September 2013

At noon, I met Shakes and Little Jake. I said, “I was talking to Francois this morning. He said he went to court on a panhandling charge. They found him not guilty and he was awarded court charges of ninety-five dollars. Does that sound right?”

Shakes said, “He got paid to go to court? I’ve never heard of that. I went to court on a panhandling charge a year ago. They found me guilty before I even got into the courtroom. I was sentenced to six months of probation with no restrictions. I asked my lawyer, ‘What do I do now?’ He said, ‘You’re free to go.’  My probation ended last February.”

Jake said, “I’ve only been to court on drinking charges. Like Shakes, I got probation, but wasn’t allowed to be caught drinking for six months.”

I asked, “Did you stop drinking?”

“No.”

I said, “I was talking to Joy yesterday. She has pneumonia.”

Jake said, “Since I’ve had HIV I get pneumonia every fall. The last time they took me to the East General. That has got to be the worst hospital in the city. They were giving me really high doses of Demerol.  At seven in the morning, this great beast of a nurse came in to give me a shot. Do you know how she woke me? She banged her clipboard on the bed rail. I nearly freaked. I could have had a heart attack. I said, ‘You stupid fuckin’ bitch, go back to the islands where you came from.’ I was mad.”

“What did she say to you?”

“Oh, I don’t know, ‘You can’t talk to me… blah, blah, blah.’

“They had a tube coming out of my lung to drain it and they stuck a wire in my chest, close to my heart. Is that weird, or what? When it came time to take it out they said, ‘This won’t hurt a bit.’ then they yanked it. Christ, that hurt.”

“Shark came to visit me, and was going to give me a bottle of sherry, but the stupid fucker stuck the open bottle in his pocket upside down. He was leaving a red trail wherever he went. He was smashed. They got him out of there quick. Another time he brought me in three grams, but I was so drugged and paranoid I told him, ‘No, no, no, you take it. They’ll find me with it.’  I sure regretted that when I came down from the drugs.”

Shakes said, “Last time I had pneumonia they took me to the East General. Lots of people came by with booze, smokes and pot. I hate hospitals, I’d always have to go outside in the cold to smoke a joint or even a cigarette. They had a catheter in me, I didn’t friggin like that one bit.”

I asked, “Has anybody else been here this morning?”

Jake said, “I went to Shark’s place at ten, thirty — I had to get some smokes — everyone was there, Jacques, Loon, Hippo, Mariah, Irene of course. I did a beer run for Shark and came here about eleven-thirty, same time as Shakes. I got a bottle for him, that’s it.”

I said, “I haven’t seen Wolf for a while. Is he staying at home?”

“He’s got a broken jaw. Some crackhead hit him. He was letting them sell out of his apartment.”

 

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

 

5 September 2013

This morning,  as I exited the bus, I was greeted by Metro and Two-four,  “Good morning Dennis!”

Two-four handed me a free newspaper, Metro gave me a Quaker Harvest Crunch granola bar as an advertising promotion. Metro said, “I keep telling him not to run out into the traffic, but does he listen to me? No.”

Two-four said, “Hey, I’ve been doing this all my life. I know better than to get hit by a car.”

Half a block down was a police cruiser. One cop was driving, the other was squatting on the sidewalk talking to him.

In Joy’s usual spot was Francois. “Hi Dennis, have you heard from Joy. She didn’t come down this morning. I talked to her yesterday. She seemed down.”

“She has pneumonia. I tried to convince her to visit her social worker to get her health card. I don’t know how that worked out.  Jake left her with a lot of bills that she doesn’t know how to deal with.”

“Yeah, I heard that too.  See the cop car down there? They told me to move along. I said, ‘Give me ’till nine-thirty.’ The cop said, ‘You got ’til ten, then I’ll be back with a ticket.’ He continued,  “I just came from the court. I won,  they gave me ninety-five dollars in court costs.”

“What were you charged with?”

“Panhandling. The ticket was for a hundred and ninety-five. Those charges are always thrown out.”

I said, “That sounds like a good way to make money.”

“After three tickets they can put you in jail. I think it’s only for a few days.”

I said, “Shakes mentioned being in for a week on a charge of panhandling. They threaten Little Jake, but they never take him in.  They stay away from him.  He’s probably more trouble than he’s worth.

“I don’t see you at the park. Do you go there at all?”

“Oh Yeah, I go there lots, but I don’t like drinking. If a guy has a couple of beers I don’t mind, but after that, they turn into assholes. I’d just as soon stay away from them at that point.

“Do you want a granola bar. I don’t want them.” He nodded to a pile of about a dozen bars beside him. “Take them all if you want.”

I said, “I’ll trade you. Here’s a card from Tim Horton’s. You can buy yourself breakfast. I’ll take the granola bars.”

“Sounds good,” said Francois. “I’m just heading off to take a piss.”

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

 

2013 September 4

As I approached Joy I could see that she was upset. Her hood was pulled up and her arms were huddled in the kangaroo pocket.

“How are you feeling, Joy?”

“I’m sick, I’ve got pneumonia and I’ve run out of inhalers. I’m using Jake’s old one, but it doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Have you seen your worker about your Health Card?”

“Do you mean the outreach worker? John, who was helping me is now in the office. They got a new guy walking the streets and I don’t like him.  The first time I met him I asked, ‘Do I know you?’ He said, ‘No.’ I’m sure I’ve had dealings with him  in the past and I don’t get a good vibe.”

“How about your Salvation Army workers?”

“They’ve both left.  I’ve got a new guy. He seems pretty good, mind you, he said he was going to bring me groceries last week and he didn’t. He came by to see my apartment and said, ‘Is this what they gave you?’ I said, ‘It sure is. Isn’t it lovely? It even has a spare room.’ I opened the door to the closet. ‘And you have claustrophobia?’ ‘I sure do. I just open the back door, the windows. That’s the best I can do.’ ”

“Can you contact this new guy by phone?”

“Yeah, I’ve tried but just get voice mail. I’ve left messages.”

“How about going to their office? Could you do that? Maybe someone else could check your file.”

“That would mean going to the Salvation Army. I don’t go there; not since I was raped last Christmas.

Joy started crying. Her Australian regular stopped and slipped her a five.

“Thank you!” To me, she said, “That’s more than he usually gives me.” Five minutes later a woman wearing a green dress stopped and slipped Joy a folded twenty.  Joy was awestruck.  “Thanks and bless you!” she said in amazement.

“That woman never gives me money. I’ve known her for a long time. We’ve talked, but that’s all. It must be you.”

“Are you saying I’m lucky for you?”

“You’re darn right. Can you sit here for a few minutes while I go to the restaurant to pee?”

“Sure.” I waited, waved to some of the people I work with. Noted the expressions of other passers-by. I saw disgust, confusion, discomfort — I smiled.

Joy came back, “There’s Beyoncé, I’ve told her before, ‘Those pants really aren’t working for you. Stick to skirts.’ ”

I said, “What about the come-fuck-me shoes, with the sparkles?”

“No, they aren’t working either. She can barely walk in them. I’m good at giving fashion advice to women, but they don’t listen.

“I’m so stressed, and I’m drunk. Can you help me? I have to pay Bell for my phone. I really don’t care about having a phone, but I want to keep my TV. I’ve gotten kinda used to it.”

I said, “You’ll have to go to a Bell Center in any of the malls. There’s one in the Eaton Center.  Don’t even bother trying to phone them, you’ll be on hold for hours.”

“I’m going to drop Jake’s internet. I can’t get into his computer anyway. He gave me the code but I can’t figure it out.”

I said, “Maybe you have the Caps Lock on, that will interfere with your password.”

“No, I tried that. When I turn on the computer the box for the password has a dot.  Jake said to just backspace over the dot, then type in the numbers followed by ‘b’.

“Perhaps you need to type a capital ‘B’ ”

“I don’t know. All this shit Jake left me. It’s worse than having him around. Tomorrow he gets transferred to Joyceville. That’s where he’ll serve the rest of his sentence. If I brought his laptop down here, could you have a look at it? Maybe you could get it to work. I’m no good with computers.”

“Perhaps Jake can make a phone call to his bank and have money transferred?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t want to talk to him. Do you know what time it is?”

I looked for my watch, but noticed that it wasn’t on my wrist.”

Joy yelled, “Hey, what time is it?”

A confused looking man turned around. “It’s eight, forty-five!”

“I’d better go,” I said.

“Stella’s coming down this morning. She works in a bank, maybe she can help me. I may see you at the park later. I don’t know.”

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

 

29 August 2013

There was a party atmosphere at the park today since everybody had received their monthly check. Chester was passed out on the sidewalk. He was led away before it was reported to the police.

“Dennis,” said Shakes, “Do you know what happened to me this morning?”

“No, tell me Shakes.”

“My workers picked me up to take me to my doctor’s appointment. I needed to have my blood test and some other things. When I got there, they handed the receptionist a photocopy of my health card. She said it had expired. I said to her, ‘You might as well say that I’ve expired.’ They wouldn’t take me. We went all that way for nothing. I don’t know what the problem was, they had my health number.”

I said, “You may have past your best before date, but you haven’t expired. Your workers will make sure you get a new health card, won’t they?”

“Yes, they will. This morning I was panning on Bank Street. A woman stopped and asked me if I’d like something to eat. I said, ‘Sure, but I have to make a stop on the way.’ I bought a bottle of Imperial at the liquor store, then we both went to Hartman’s. She bought me two frozen pizzas, two two-quart bottles of apple juice and some scalloped potatoes.”

Little Jake said, “Yeah, he invited me over for supper and wouldn’t let me have any of the scalloped potatoes. The pizza was so friggin hot I had to take a swallow of beer with each bite. We watched videos, got stoned and drank beer. I live two buildings down from Shakes, about one hundred and fifty feet, still I managed to fall and bruise my arm.”

Shakes said, “Jake likes playing in the dirt.”

Jake said, “Last time I was taking a shower, I was leaning against the wall, looking down at the drain — the water was brown. I couldn’t believe it.”

“What movies did you watch?” I asked.

“What did we watch, Shakes? I can’t remember.”

“Gone in Sixty Seconds and True Lies.”

“That’s right. Shakes has a big collection, about fifty movies.”

“Yeah, I got a friend, I served time with about fifteen years ago. He’s got a used DVD and record store.  He always gives me good deals.

“I haven’t paid the bill for my telephone or my TV, but I got two friends that work for Bell. They’re going to hook me up.”

I asked, “How have you been Jake?”

“This abscessed tooth started bothering me,  a couple of days ago; but this morning it’s really swollen and painful.”

Shakes said, “I’m good at removing teeth, just lean in my direction.”

I asked, “Do you think a right hook would do the trick?”

Jake said, “I pulled this bottom one by myself. I tied some fishing line around the tooth, then tied the string to the doorknob. I gave the door a kick and out popped the tooth. It flew straight up. I couldn’t find it until I looked in the garbage pail beside me — there it was. Isn’t that amazing? I couldn’t have done that if I’d tried.”

Raven had been here earlier, but she disappeared. Shakes asked, “Where’s Raven? Oh yeah, she’s down in the park with her crackhead. I meant to say granddaughter, but crackhead came out.”

Mariah came over, “It’s good to see you, Dennis. I don’t know where Joy is. I called her place, but there was no answer. She probably has her check now, so there will be people she has to pay back, and errands to run. We don’t expect to see her until next week, sometime.”

“I heard that Andre came by yesterday and you took care of him.”

“Well, he deserved it for what he did to Joy. He was with his new girlfriend and I didn’t like the way he was treating her either. I was talking to her for a while. I said, ‘Look, I don’t know you and I don’t have any beef against you, but if this guy ever gives you a hard time, just let me know.’ She was pretty quiet at first, but when Andre stepped away she said, ‘I’ve just had laser eye surgery and Andre keeps telling me to take off my sunglasses, but the sun really hurts my eyes.’ So I had a talk with him about that.  It seems every time I see him I’m either smacking him in the face or punching him in the belly. It started one time he was over at my place. He kept taking pictures of me on his phone. I said, ‘Don’t take my picture!’ He kept on doing it. There are reasons that I don’t want my picture all over the place, so I let him have it. He was whimpering like a little kid, ‘You’re not going to hit me again are you?’ I said, ‘If you stop acting like a dickhead, I won’t have to.’ ”

Chili is still in her walker, I heard her mention that she was scheduled for an operation. She said,  “I’ve got osteomyelitis (infection of the bone, common to intravenous drug users).” In this case, injecting crack. “I’ve already had about a half-inch of bone loss. They’re treating me with antibiotics. If that clears it up the infection, they’ll schedule a hip replacement. That will probably happen in about four months.”

Jake said, “Shakes, hand her a drink, will you? That’s the only way to shut her up, otherwise, she’ll never stop talking.”

Before I left, Jake handed me a twenty-dollar bill. I asked, “What’s this for?”

“Just for safe keeping.  I’m sure to be broke before next check day, so you can give it back to me then.”

 

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

29 August 2013

At noon I was greeted by Joy, Chester, Deaf Donald, Shark, Little Jake and Jack.

Joy said, “I’m really fucked up, man. I bin smokin’ Chester’s weed. It’s really heavy shit.  I can hardly talk. Chester, what do you call this stuff, it’s twice as good as what we get from Buck?”

“It’s called Beyond Kush. It’s stronger than Kush. (Hydroponically grown,   Kush is a type of marijuana that originates from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the northwestern part of India. It’s cannabis from the Hindu Kush Mountain. It’s considered to be a higher version of marijuana.)”

“How much is it?”

“Ten for a gram.”

“What if I wanted to but seven grams?”

“Sixty.”

“Put me down for some.”

Chester said, “I should be able to get a prescription for this from my doctor. He’ll give it to me for pain.”

Joy said, “Last time I went to my doctor he gave me these pills. I asked him how much THC is in these.  He said, ‘Six to eight percent.’ I was taking twelve in the morning, eighteen at noon and twenty-five at night to help me sleep. I was really buzzed — a nice body high.

“That’s when I was in the hospital for my kidneys. I remember the nurse saying, ‘Okay now, were going to put this tube in your urethra.  I asked, ‘My what?’ She said, ‘It’s your pee hole.’ They tried the smallest one, then worked their way up to the biggest one, I was still leaking. I had to wear diapers the whole time I was there.  I changed my own — there’s no way I was going to have an orderly do that. The thing that pissed me off the most was, I was capable of using the commode if they’d only left it nearby.

“One time, I woke up and the bag was full. My kidneys were hurting since the pee was backing up in the tube. Then the bag burst. Bruno, the orderly, came in and slipped on the wet floor. He said, ‘You’re supposed to call me when the bag needs to be emptied.’ I said, ‘Don’t lay this on me. You’re the one whose supposed to be in every few hours, to see if I’m still breathing.

“The next time I was in the hospital, they threatened me with that tube. I just turned and walked away. I’d rather have the pain.”

“Dennis,” said Little Jake. “I was really singing your praises this morning. Remember that coffee card you gave me?  I used it today. I love my morning coffee, after a couple of sips, I was able to hork up goobers the size of quarters. It sure felt good to get that stuff out of my system. Thanks, man.”

Donald handed Joy his phone. He said, “I can’t hear her.”

Joy took the phone, “Shut up dickhead, I can’t hear her if you’re talking. She knows you’re hard of hearing. Donald asks if his check arrived in the mail. If it has, he’ll come by and see you… Okay, bye.”

She says it hasn’t arrived, and you’re not to go there.”

To me, she said, “That was Donald’s mother. She used to be one of my regulars, she’d always drop me two bucks. One day Donald came up as I was talking to her. He was drunk, I said to her, ‘Is this man bothering you, ma’am?’ She said, ‘That’s my son.’ She hasn’t dropped any money since.

“Occasionally, I’ll see her. She’ll say, ‘If Donald comes around, don’t tell him that you’ve seen me.’ ”

Donald and Joy carried on a conversation in sign language. Joy would punctuate her signing with a raised middle finger. Donald walked away and said, “Bitch.”

I could see Shakes, from a distance, slowly ambling his way towards the group. Joy said, “Okay, Shakes is coming, now we’ll know for sure if the checks came in the mail. Does he have a happy or sad face?  — No checks today.”

Shakes sat on the grass beside me. “How is today going, Shakes.”

“Good, when I woke up this morning I saw that my flask from last night was still full, and Tommy bought me a bottle. He woke me at seven o’clock and asked me if I wanted a joint. Then he brought out my new chessboard. I bet you didn’t know that I knew how to play chess. I learned when I was six years old. Playing chess is like playing the game of life.”

Joy said, “Tommy is a pompous asshole, and I know what a pompous asshole is. He acts all high and mighty. I asked him to do a wolf painting for me, he gave me one of an eagle. The same one I already have. He thinks that just because he paints, he’s better than everybody. Well, I’m here to say, he isn’t, and I’ll tell him that to his face.”

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

29 August 2013

As I approached Joy, she was hunched over some kind of smartphone. She was madly tapping the screen with her finger.

“This goddamn thing, it’s Big Jake’s,  I had music playing before, then I couldn’t turn it off. Finally, I got it turned off, now I can’t turn it on.”

Two-four was crossing the street between cars. I asked, “Still dodging cars? Do you have another job yet?”

“I just finished installing a security system for someone in Oshawa. I get my old job back when Lou retires for the season. He doesn’t do winters. I’ll be at the corner of Queen and Sherbourne. I should see some of my regulars there.”

“Two-four,” I asked, “Do you know anything about these smartphones. Joy can get the radio turned on. She wants Q-107.”

“I don’t know about these Android phones, maybe you need to be near a WiFi station. Some of the restaurants nearby have them, even Tim Horton’s.”

“Thanks, Two-four, we’ll see you around.”

Joy said, “I’ll just put this away. I’m no good with electronics. I’m going to have the internet cut off anyway. I still keep getting calls from Bell about an unpaid bill. I don’t know what that’s about.”

I said, “Maybe Jake, has his bills e-mailed to his laptop, and you can’t access that. Is the account in your name?”

“No, I asked the woman if Jake had listed anyone else on his account.  She checked and said that he was the only one listed. I said, ‘Then what are you calling me for? Fuck off!’

“I talked on the phone to Jake. He said to just send them a money order, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay his bills.  He should have arranged to have his O.D.S.P. check automatically deposited in his bank account. As it is it’ll be sitting on the table until he gets out in January. He could have had access to that seven hundred dollars right now. That’s his problem.”

“I’m so happy today, I’ve made eighty-six cents, but I’m still happy. A woman took me to breakfast at the Pizza Oven. I had a sausage sandwich with fruit on the side; two types of melon, blueberries and raspberries. She had Eggs Benedict with salmon. It was gross. I don’t know how anybody can take the smell of fish in the morning. She must have paid twenty bucks for that. I thought I was going to have to quit, halfway through my sandwich, and put the rest in a doggy bag for later, but I finished. I feel great.”

I asked, “Did I miss anything after I left yesterday?”

“Oh yeah, Andre and his skank of a girlfriend came by. She’s a skinny Inuit with a face that looks like it’s been smashed with a frying pan. Andre came by me, but I just said to him, ‘Keep moving!’ Mariah saw me gritting my teeth and swearing under my breath. She  said, ‘Keep it under control, Joy.’ She grabbed him and threw him in the gutter where he belongs.

“His girlfriend was wearing shades and I saw her gunning for me. I asked, ‘What is it with you? You got a problem with me or something?’ She said, ‘I don’t like the way you talked to my boyfriend.’ I said, ‘Has he done to you yet what he did to me. Put out, or get put down is his motto. He split my head open, broke two of my ribs, fractured two others. I’m still having trouble with one of them. The headaches have finally stopped. Now, what do you think I should say to him.?’

“I got up, walked over to her, grabbed her sunglasses, broke them in half and threw them over the railing. ‘Now,’ I said, ‘look into my eyes when you talk to me.’ Mariah held me back and said, ‘This isn’t worth going to jail for.’ Otherwise, I would have decked her.”

Chester stopped by, Joy said, “You look buzzed.”

“I got some good pot. You want some?”

“No, I got my own. What are you doing later?”

“First, I’m going for breakfast, then I’m going home to see my girlfriend. She’s meeting me there.”

I said, “I have to leave now, but maybe I’ll see you both at the park around  noon.”

~~~

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……

 

27 August 2013

At noon the usual suspects were at the park and Andy who I hadn’t met before.

Joy said, “He’s not really one of us anymore. He doesn’t live in Toronto, he has a job as a Security Guard, ugh.”

I asked, “Where do you live, Andy.”

“In Val-d’Or. I work as a Security Guard but I don’t arrest people. Usually, when I say I’m going to call the cops they run away. Sometimes I have to get physical. I stare them down and say, ‘You really don’t want to do this.’ ”

Joy said “That scar down your face might intimidate a few people. You’re the first native I’ve seen for a long while who had a full set of teeth, and they’re white, just like mine.

Debbie said, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but there’s a murder of crows passing over head.”

Joy questioned, “A murder of crows?”

Andy said, “That’s the right word for a flock of crows  — a murder. Do you want to know where I learned that? The Simpson’s. I never thought I could actually learn something from the Simpson’s, but in the episode where Homer gets stoned on pot, Marge says to Homer, ‘Hmm… Homer, I’m very uncomfortable about having a gang of crows in our bedroom.’ Homer replies, ‘It’s a murder, honey. A group of crows is called a murder.’ ”

Debbie said, “It’s a good omen to see crows.”

Joy asked, “A good omen for who?”

“For anyone who is there to witness it.”

Joy said “When I was seventeen, that would be back in ’82, I was driving a brand new Honda.  I was going down O’Connor Drive. I came to a turn so I cranked the wheel, but it locked.  I drove straight into a house.  There was five thousand dollars damage to the house and ten thousand to the car. These scars on my shins are from, dashboard, dashboard, and this one below my knee is from a hatchet.”

I said, “Tell us about the hatchet.”

“It was an old boyfriend. When I told him I was leaving he said, ‘If I can’t have you, then nobody can, Stumpy. That took eighteen months to heal. At one point, they thought they might have to amputate my leg. He got his back though. He now has two fingers on his left hand and none on his right. That’s what happens when they’re pushed through the spokes of a Harley when the back wheel is spinning. Just like a meat grinder. I was forced to watch. I didn’t mind that so much, except I was sprayed with blood from head to foot. I wasn’t pleased about that”

I asked, “How are you, Shakes?”

“You know me, I’m always the same. If I ever change I’ll let you know. The happy hunting ground isn’t ready for me and they don’t want me down there, so you’re stuck with me.”

Joy said, “They don’t want me up there and they don’t want me down below for fear  I’ll start a union. I don’t think I’d like Purgatory after all the episodes I’ve watched of Paranormal.”

Debbie said, “My kids asked me what I want them to do with me after I die. I said, ‘Just take me to the deepest part of the forest and leave me there.’ My spirit won’t be in my body anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.”

Shakes was lounging on the grass as usual. He waved his feet in the air and said, “See, last night I stepped in dog shit.”

Joy said, “Please, Shakes, you’re disgusting.”

Alphonse said, “Did you hear that Shane died last week? He had a heart attack. He was only thirty-three years old.”

Shakes said, “He was drinking three bottles of rubby a day. I gave him shit for that. I said to him, ‘For all the money you spend on that friggin stuff, you could have bought a real bottle.’ That’s why I stick with my Jack.”

I said, “And Jake sticks with his Jake-anators.”

Joy said, “That’s too many that have died. Silver, Serge now Shane. Who’s going to be next?”

Debbie asked, “Dennis, what do you think of my hair?”

“It looks really great, Debbie.”

“Little Jake did it for me this morning.”

“Jake, I didn’t know you were so talented.”

As I was leaving, I met Hippo. I asked, “How are you doing?”

“I’m just coming back from court. I gotta go back at one-thirty, to sign a Peace Bond.”

I asked, “Is this from the time at your apartment building, when you attacked the cop with a hammer?”

“Yeah, I’ve got restrictions: I can’t drink, use drugs or carry weapons, that includes hammers. I guess even a toothpick could be considered a weapon.”

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

27 August 2013

This morning was cloudy and muggy. It’s been raining off and on for the past few days.  As I got off the bus, Metro said, “Good morning, Dennis, she’s here today.”

Joy was sitting on her usual plastic crate, in her usual place. Her head was down, I could tell that things weren’t going well for her today.

“Hi, Joy, how’s your day going?”

“Shitty! I’ve made a dollar, eighty-six so far. I don’t get my check until Thursday and I need some tampons. I’ve asked all my regular ladies. Nobody has any.  I’ve only got one left. I asked Mariah, but she’s on now and doesn’t have any extra.

“I’ve been avoiding her lately because she’s having problems with Charlie.

“I think I’m coming down with a cold or something. My throat is scratchy and I’m coughing up some grody stuff, but I’m still smoking.

“I went up to Mariah’s to borrow a teabag.  I wanted a cup of tea with honey. She went on and on, Charlie this, Charlie that.  She said, ‘I have to do dishes four times a day because he never cleans up after himself.  I go through a loaf of bread every second day. He eats six eggs for breakfast, along with half a pound of bacon, home fries and toast.’ He’s a pig alright from rooter to tooter. He was working, but for some reason, he isn’t anymore, and he doesn’t do anything around the house. He just sits around. Occasionally, he’ll take the cat out, so that Mariah can clean and do dishes just so he can mess up the place again. I said, ‘Throw the bum the fuck out! That’s what I’d do.’ ”

I asked, “Have you had any news from Big Jake?”

“Yeah, he wants me to go to court to drop the restraining order. I don’t know why I should do anything for him. He’s the reason I’m out here. He even wants to borrow money from me. He had two hundred dollars when he came out. He couldn’t have spent all of that, so soon…

“I’ve got his laptop, but I can’t get into it. He gave me the code, but It doesn’t work for me. I’m no good at computers. I’m going to have the internet cut off. No use paying for that…

“He’s going to Collins Bay.”

“So he’s not going to Millhaven?”

“He’ll be admitted at Millhaven, then be sent to Collins Bay, it’s medium security. He said, ‘I want to go to my mother prison as if he’s a career criminal or something. Since they tore down P4W (Prison for Women in Kingston) I’d be out of luck if I wanted to go to my mother prison.

“The new prisons are a lot nicer. I have a girlfriend who is doing two years for armed robbery. They sent her to Kitchener. She sent photos to me — they have big rooms with TVs, computers  —  it’s like Club Med. I can’t get over it.”

I asked, “Do you have reunions, like Class of ninety-two.”

“We should have, but I can’t think of anyone I’d want to see again…

“I’m surprised I haven’t seen Chester. He’s usually down here by now, doing his butt run. I haven’t seen Jacques either. It’s Tuesday, the Mission has its big breakfast today. He usually comes down for that.

“He’s got a girlfriend now.  I asked, ‘Are you feeding her?’ He jabbered on, ‘No, she brings her own food, her own wine, her own pot. She cooks my meals,  sleeps the night and is gone by morning.’ I said, ‘Sweet!  You got a keeper.’ She has a job doing auto body repair, works three days a week. Can you imagine what she looks like if she’s going out with Jacques? He’s no prize.”

I said, “I saw Craig yesterday. He was panning up past Silver’s spot. He’s not on his meds. When I walked up to him he said, ‘My fuckin’ father! I hope he dies of bone cancer!’ I offered him a card and he said, ‘What I want is change! I need four dollars to buy what I need, and I can’t get it!’ I said, ‘Sorry, Craig, I don’t have any change.’ When I left he said, ‘Cheapskate motherfucker! I’m so mad!’ He’s not going to get anywhere that way.”

Joy said, “When he was panning near me he’d sometimes yell at my ladies. Sometimes they’d say, ‘Be careful, he’s coming!’ I told him that he was chasing off my regulars and if he did it again I’d give him a shot in the head. He was okay around me after that.”

~~~

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They Call Me Red

……

 

23 August 2013

When walking up the sidewalk to the park the only person I saw was Richard, shirt off sunning himself. I thought he was alone, but when I rounded the curve I saw Mariah, Shakes and Chester.

Joy was the first to speak, “Dennis, I’m hammered, man. I’m not even sure I can stand up. I was just thinking about how I can fuck my neighbor’s weekend. He said he knows cops that can put me in prison. He’s just a fucking gardener, for Christ’s sake. I’ve been in prison before, for some really nasty shit, but that’s all behind me. Who does this guy think he is? Cops have checked my record, there’s no way they’re going to bring me back to Montreal for things I did there twenty years ago.

“I even talked to my family. They were glad to hear from me and glad to help. The only thing is, I’ll have to put up with my uncle’s crazy, witch, girlfriend. She spends a hundred bucks a month on black hair dye and she still ends up with a white stripe down the middle.

“Are you with me on this, Mariah? I wish we had your Harley right now. I had a Sportster in Montreal that my uncle rebuilt specially for me. Then I lent it to my sister. You know what happens when you’re going up a steep driveway and you gun the engine?”

“I know,” I said, “you go right over backward. I’ve done it myself.”

“Ass over tea kettle!” agreed Mariah.

Joy said, “My uncle was really pissed off. He said I built that bike for you. Now you’re barred. That gave me the opportunity to beat the shit out of my sister. I enjoyed that, but I missed the bike.”

I said, “I used to ride a 650 Suzuki GL, but I always wanted a Harley.”

Mariah said, “I usually rode a Shadow, I had a Harley for a while, but that was way back. What you need to do is get someone to rebuild you a bike. They’re a lot better.”

“Like a knucklehead or shovelhead?” I asked.

“Yeah, they have great vibrations. Every woman loves a Harley!”

Loretta, Buck and his dog Dillinger came by. Dillinger licked my face as I sat on the sidewalk. Joy said, “I’ve fed that dog, given him treats, looked after him; he doesn’t give me kisses.”

I said to Loretta, “I see that you’re drinking coffee, or at least it looks like coffee.”

“It’s coffee. I’ve just passed my anniversary, eight months sober.”

“Congratulations, that is a great accomplishment. I’m so  proud of you.”

“Well, you saw me while I was drinking. I was a real mess.”

“I’ve been the same. Now is what counts.”

A plump, middle-aged woman stopped by. She asked, “Does anybody here know where I can buy some pot.”

Joy, nervously said “Yeah.”

“I’ve asked kids on the market, but they just laugh at me. I’m from the seventies, I just want something to mellow me out.”

Joy said, “You’d only get shit from them anyway.”

“How much can you sell me?”

“A gram.”

“What do you charge?”

“Ten.”

“If I want more can you hook me up with somebody.”

“Yeah.”

“Where can I meet you. Are you around here every day.”

“Most mornings until about one o’clock.”

“Okay, I’ll see you again.” She took her gram then walked away.

Mariah said, “I hate having to deal with strangers.”

Joy said, “Don’t worry, It’s my pot. You’re safe.”

Shakes said, “One time, in Montreal, a guy came by my place and asked to buy a gram. That was fine. Then he came again and wanted to buy forty grams. The third time he arrested me for possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. I got ten years.”

~~~

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