Posts Tagged ‘aboriginal’

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wheel

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22 May 2015

“Good morning, Chuck. How is it going today?”

“Better than yesterday, except for that idiot Ghyslain, down the block. A guy came by and dropped me a twenty, then he dropped Ghyslain a twenty. He yells to me, ‘I got a twenty! I got a twenty!’ The stupid bastard. I wanted to punch his lights out. I didn’t get a single drop for about fifteen minutes.

“I did waste some money yesterday. I bought two scratch-and-win tickets at two dollars each. I didn’t win anything. I’m not one of those people who spends $60 a pay on scratch tickets.”

I asked, “Have you ever won with those tickets?”

“Yeah, $22 one time, $34 another, but mostly it’s $2, $5 or a free ticket. I don’t wan’t to will a million, but if I won $5000 you wouldn’t see me out here again.”

I said, “I saw the crazy lady with the sleeping bag down near Ghyslain.”

“Yeah, when I was talking to Metro she started screaming at me. It was all mumbo jumbo until she finished then she said, ‘So there!’ I hadn’t said a word. I didn’t know what to make of it. Then she clenched three of her fingers to make the shape of a gun and said, ‘Pow!!!’  Metro gets really scared when she does that to him. He said, ‘You never know what she has hidden, under that sleeping bag, over her arm.’ I don’t think she could get a real gun, but a knife would be easy.

“She was standing in front of the coffee shop door. A woman was leaving the shop and accidentally bumped her arm. The crazy lady slammed the door, the woman spilled her coffee and nearly fell on her ass.”

I said, “I remember that Shakes went into a bank, pretending he had a gun in his pocket and demanded cash.”

“No, what happened was, he and a bunch of friends were drinking. They thought it would be a good joke if someone walked into the bank with a paper bag and said there was a bomb in it. Shakes tried it. The staff knew him, phoned the cops and he served three years in prison. Then he was sent for another three years to a native alcohol rehabilitation center. He came out and said, ‘I’m not an alcoholic anymore. They cured me. Let’s have a drink to celebrate.’

“Once you’re an alcoholic you’re an alcoholic for life. I could probably take a beer or two, but if I did I’d want a cigarette. If I had to, I’d crawl on my hands and knees, to the store, to buy a pack. Then I’d be right back to where I was before.

“My wife never had any sympathy for alcoholics. I belonged to AA for a while. She said, ‘You don’t need any help to stop drinking.  It’s your choice, you fucked up, it doesn’t affect anybody else.’ Well, it does affect other people, especially family members, that’s why they have Al-Anon and Alateen. They’re to give strength and hope to friends and family of problem drinkers.

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is widely recognized as a disease of compulsive drinking, which can be arrested, but not cured. It is a progressive illness, which will get only worse as long as the person continues to drink. Total abstinence from drinking is the only way to arrest the disease. Alcoholism affects the entire family; indeed, everyone who has contact with the alcoholic is affected. Unfortunately, the only person who can stop the alcoholic from drinking is the alcoholic himself or herself.

http://al-anon.org/affected-by-someones-drinking )

“Do you see those two women walking towards us. I like the one on the left, she has a smaller ass — as if I could do anything, even if I had the chance, but I’m not dead, I can still dream.”

Read more about my friends at http://ow.ly/Nc8k0

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Read more about my friends here  http://buff.ly/1wyjiKS

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wheel

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13 May 2015

“Good morning, Chuck. How are you feeling?”

“Cold. It’s going to be worse tomorrow. I may not be here. I can’t take it. I just can’t fuckin’ take it anymore.  I’ve had enough. I’ll give it another month, then I just might pull the plug.”

I said, “Why don’t you take a few days off, until we get some warm weather?”

“It’s not the weather, it’s everything. My friend from Cornwall told me this morning that she has cancer. They’ve given her eighteen months at the most.  I said to her that I’d come over whenever she has a treatment. There’s not much else I can do. She stopped by this morning, bent over, kissed me on the cheek and said, ‘You know, I love you Chuck.’

“I guess you noticed that Ghyslain isn’t out this morning. He tells me that he’s from Sherbrooke. He says he’s got thousands put away in the bank. He also says that he’s got heart problems. I can believe the heart problems. He stands out there in the rain, all kinds of weather. He also says that he sleeps outdoors in the winter, behind bushes, in back of a parking lot. I don’t know what to believe.

“With him across the street it works out. He speaks French, so his regulars are French-speaking. If they’re English they’ll walk past, some come to me.

“I’ve been thinking of Alphonse lately. I don’t know why. I see Magdalene occasionally.  She’s probably a nice girl, but it makes me mad the way she treated him. It’s a different culture. When you’re from a small isolated community the rules are different. Fathers sleep with daughters, mothers with sons, brothers with sisters. The whole community is inbred. It’s the same anywhere if you get a couple of men stuck in a cabin over winter with no way to get out. There’s always something around to make booze out of.  When they’re drunk, urges take over, it’s only natural.

A historical look at the suicide rates show that they dropped many decades ago when people settled more or less permanently into villages, but in recent decades they have been rising. This pattern, of a rate dropping in the past, leveling off, then rising dramatically in recent decades, prompted the authors to review the literature to see if they could figure out what is going on.

They found that the literature is uneven. Some of the previous articles pose medical or organic explanations for suicides among the Inuit, such as suggestions about psychiatric disorders caused by inbreeding, or stresses due to adjustments to new social conditions, or problems relating to male female imbalances, and the like. (http://ow.ly/MU5vn)

“I started talking about Alphonse, many times I’d see him drunk as a skunk one day. The next day he’d collect some money and hitch-hike north to Iqaluit, where his folks live. I wish he’d stayed there.

“Well, Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow, Chuck — maybe not.”

“We’ll see.”

Read more about my friends at http://ow.ly/Nc8k0

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4 out of 5 Stars
on April 14, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition

 

I just finished this fine work by a very astute observer of “street life.” Mr. Cardiff’s interactions hit a few nerves for me, as well as rekindled memories of my own experiences with similar people in a different time and place.I was immediately drawn into the writer’s humanity, and kindness as he delved into the dilemmas inherent in these never intended lifestyles. One could sense throughout the winding story his empathy with so many of these lives unable to lift themselves away from the constant downward pull of a gravity set in motion in their youth. The conversations begin with an act of simple kindness by Mr. Cardiff to a lady he sees on the street. He recollects his own living on the edge at various times in his life, and that no doubt allows him to not judge harshly the people who presently come before him.

The story is inhabited by struggling characters of different ages and backgrounds— Hippo, Weasel, Shakes, Antonio, and Toothless Chuck populate the narrative.

The grimness of their lives for me is encapsulated in this brief passage as Mr. Cardiff turns his attention to Joy, the most recurring figure in Gotta Find a Home:

“She has cracked cartilage in her nose with a gash across the bridge, two black eyes and pneumonia in both lungs. Her boyfriend, Big Jake, who is six foot, three and weighs over two hundred pounds, punched her in the face when she wouldn’t give him oral sex (she couldn’t breathe through her nose because of the pneumonia). He left her on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. A month ago he kicked her to the point that her whole right side was bruised; she had two cracked and two fractured ribs. In both cases she phoned the police, so hopefully this time he will be in jail a long time.
I sat with her, gave her a big hug and let her vent. “I love Big Jake, but I have to take care of myself. I can’t be somebody’s punching bag. One day he’s going to kill me.”

One first pained reaction was “BUT SHE LOVES HIM?” How many times have we encountered implausibly connected couples in polite restaurant settings—he badgering her, bullying intellectually, slightly derisive.” What does she see in him,” we ask ourselves. Yet here is a woman declaring her love for a terrible brute, not just a smarmy guy belittling his partner as the tiramisu is brought to the table.

I mentioned my own connection—I worked in the New York City Social Services on the Lower East Side long before its gentrification. It was a time when heroin was easier to find than the Pinot Noir now served in the outdoor cafes. Mr. Cardiff’s sharp characterizations brought me back to that time—unlike his occasional Inuit Native American lost in a Toronto that has no resemblance to his barren birthplace, the inhabitants of my Lower East Side experience were also cut adrift in the same way. They may have come from Puerto Rico and spoke a stumbling English, or a farm boy from Kansas still reeling from Viet Nam.

Whether it’s the Toronto street people of this era’s oxycotin and crack cocaine or the Lower East Side of heroin and pre-AIDS, all of these people have a voice similar in its despair.

I recommend this book—it is an entrance to a world we see everyday, but rarely stop to engage.

 

wheel

 

 

Happy Easter, Dennis. I was talking to a friend of yours earlier, we were talking about suicide. I guess she felt comfortable talking to a street person about such a sensitive subject. She had mentioned it yesterday and I didn’t have any response, but I thought it over. We talked about it today. There were many times, especially when I was drinking, that I thought about ending it all. I wasn’t going to take a gun to my head or take pills. I was just going to drink myself to death.”

I said, “That’s what Shakes did. Everyday he drank until he couldn’t stand, then he’d sleep where he’d passed out. He’d told me previously that he was in poor health, but he didn’t go into detail.”

Chuck said, “Then there was Alphonse. He’d talked to me about suicide. I told him, ‘Why don’t you go back up north where your mother and other family live? Turn your life around. I thought he was going to do that. Then he was beaten by that big guy with the dog. That shouldn’t have happened. Then he got into some trouble in Montreal. He went to court and they asked him how he pleaded. He said, ‘Well, of course I’m pleading guilty — I did it!'”

I asked, “Do you know what it was that he did?”

“I don’t know, some drunken stuff. It doesn’t take much to cause a disturbance. Then he decided to hang himself. It was such a shame. He had a good heart.

“I still see his girl friend. She’s a hooker, but I don’t talk to her. I didn’t like the way she treated him. He was willing to raise a baby, that probably wasn’t his. He would have made good father, but she could never stay away from the drugs. Whenever she needed a hit, she’d go off and find a guy who wanted sex.

“There was this big guy who lived in the same rooming house as I did. I didn’t have much to do with him. One morning he went downstairs and killed the super with a knife. Then he car-jacked a cab. There was an old woman who tried to get in the back seat. He stabbed her. The cops finally caught him, not far from our building. It took six of them to hold him down. I had a hold of his leg. He was throwing everybody off.

“When he went to court, asshole that he was, he decided to present his own defense.

“The judge sentenced him to twenty-five years to life, with no chance of parole. The guy laughed. He said, “My doctor said I only have ten years left to live. What are you going to do with the other fifteen years?”

“One time I was at a British pub playing darts. The waiter brougnt me a rum and coke. I asked, ‘Where did this come from?’ He pointed to a friend of mine sitting at the bar. I went over and sat with him. He said, “I want to share a last drink with all of my friends. I held off until the end of the month until my welfare check came in. There’s no way I want the government holding onto this money.”

“That’s happened to me three times. It’s not that people want to kill themselves. It just gets too depressing to keep on living.

“I went to McDonald’s yesterday, bought a coffee, then took it to the food court to sit with my friends. I know a lot of people there, but most of them drink too much. I don’t associate with them. There was this one guy cursing and swearing about how rotten the food was at the Mission — the food he gets for free. He’d killed his wife. She was the first person I’d know who was later murdered. Since then, there’ve been lots. I knew this young native woman. She was working as a prostitute, but I don’t judge what people do to earn money. She was always friendly to me, not that I ever paid for her services. She was just a nice person. I don’t think the cops even investigated her death — just another native hooker.”

 

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21 October 2014

“Good morning, Dennis. Did you hear the news about our friend? He panned up the street with his girlfriend? What was his name?”

“Are you talking about Alphonse and Magdalene?”

“Yeah, of course they had split up. He was in front of the restaurant, drunk and got in a fight with the guy who has the dog in the cart. I think that guy was high on crack. Alphonse was beat up pretty bad. He hitchhiked to Montreal. Talk is he committed suicide. I’d talked him out of suicide before. He said to me, ‘Because you’re my elder I will take your advice. I won’t take my  life.’ Well, who knows what happened in Montreal. I heard that he was in jail for a week. He probably could have avoided the charges, but he said to the judge, ‘I did it, I should serve my time.’  After  he was let out, he told people that he was heading up to Labrador to visit his mother, but that didn’t happen. It could have been loneliness, being split up with Maggie, not knowing anybody. Who knows why someone takes their life?”

I said, “I had a lot of conversations with him. I was the first one he told that the baby Magdalene was carrying wasn’t his, but he wanted a family and would raise it as his own, with her, or without her. He said that she always wanted control. I’d heard that Maggie was staying in their apartment with her new boyfriend, but was afraid to go home. I guess he wasn’t treating her well. Alphonse had his sleeping bag and was sleeping outside.”

Chuck said, “Yes, I’ve known a lot of people like that. What usually happens is whoever controls the booze, controls the screws. When Alphonse would run out of money, Maggie would run off with someone else. It’s a shame, he was a nice man.”

I said, “Goldie doesn’t seem so upset today. I guess the construction workers haven’t been making too much noise.”

“No, they wouldn’t be working in this rain.

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Sparky’s life without rules: street was home, hurt. Street was death

Sparky Taylor, weeks shy of his 50th birthday, died just before Canada Day, after a seizure and suspected cardiac arrest. The booze, the decades without shelter, the constant injuries, took their final toll.
Sparky Taylor, weeks shy of his 50th birthday, died just before Canada Day, after a seizure and suspected cardiac arrest. The booze, the decades without shelter, the constant injuries, took their final toll.

BRIGITTE BOUVIER / Ottawa Citizen

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An outreach worker said this about Sparky Taylor, a downtown fixture who stubbornly couldn’t escape the jungle of street life.

“I was always amazed at his capacity for misery.”

Taylor, weeks shy of his 50th birthday, died just before Canada Day, after a seizure and suspected cardiac arrest. The booze, the decades without shelter, the constant injuries, took their final toll. Death stills even the most restless of drunks.

“It ripped through the Ottawa Police Service when he died,” said Sgt. John Gibbons, once a front-line worker at the Ottawa Mission shelter. “It was like the end of an era.”

I met him once or twice. So did most of Centretown. Taylor once told me he’d been arrested 60 times, mostly for petty things. Gibbons calls that figure “conservative.”

It is astounding the conflict and chaos he lived through.

He was once up on a murder charge, later dropped, after a man was set on fire near Bank and Somerset streets in 1996, the culmination of a drinking binge in backlot gone wrong.

Tagging along with two outreach volunteers, we ran into him one November morning in 2011 along a grassy patch across from the National Arts Centre. It was 11 a.m. and he was rip-roaring drunk. They told me then he hadn’t slept inside in 15 years. He was laughing away, big smile framed with that moustache. We couldn’t find the humour.

Judy Taylor, 54, one of the city’s longest-serving street nurses, has kept in a file a Citizen photo of Sparky with a sad-eyed woman named Lynn Maureen Bluecloud. Together, they were living for a spell under a bridge at Rideau and Sussex.

“She froze to death.”

Sparky Taylor, photographed with Maureen Bluecloud not long before she was found dead near the Rideau Canal in February 1999.
Sparky Taylor, photographed with Maureen Bluecloud not long before she was found dead near the Rideau Canal in February 1999.

Dave Barbour / Ottawa Citizen

So she did. In a story that was raised on Parliament Hill, Bluecloud died of exposure in February 1999. A native from Saskatchewan, she was five months pregnant, only 33, dead in the shadow of the Peace Tower.

How many more did Sparky see fade away like this? He took much to his grave.

Taylor’s career overlaps with Sparky’s time on the street. One of the first times she encountered him was to treat a bug-infested wound in his leg.

She and other nurses, in fact, can scarcely remember seeing Sparky without some kind of bandage or injury.

When very drunk, he could be a loud, abusive, terrifying figure, behaviour that caused him to be frequently barred from shelters.

“He was a kind, gentle fellow in a lot of ways,” says nurse Taylor. He was particularly so with women.

She knew him better than most, seeing him almost weekly for about 25 years, and was a constant advocate. She helped get him his birth certificate, then health card — things homeless people tend to lose — and did countless favours.

She knows he was born Aug. 15, 1964, on the Curve Lake native reserve near Peterborough. He was adopted by a white family and given the name Mark, which he disliked. For a time, he was a cook in Toronto but showed up in Ottawa at least 20 years ago. He has two grown daughters.

Over time, he became a well-known panhandler on Bank and Elgin streets.

“Sparky certainly didn’t live by any rules and he didn’t like to be told there were rules, but I really liked him,” said Marg Smeaton, manager of health services at the Ottawa Mission.

“There was never a time when you didn’t see Sparky laughing. He had a great sense of humour. He managed to con all of us for meals when he wasn’t supposed to get them.”

She too is struck by the sheer volume of trauma that street people, especially the hard-core ones, have to deal with.

“You know, I live out in Kanata and if I didn’t work there, and see the day-to-day stuff, I wouldn’t believe these things happen in Ottawa.”

Sgt. Gibbons, in fact, has a harrowing story of the time he was trying to help Sparky and a girlfriend after she passed out, injured, inside an ATM alcove in a downtown bank. The woman had one end of rope around her neck and the other end around a big, snarling dog.

As Sparky tried to control the excited pit-bull mix, it lunged at the police officer, forcing him to shoot it. The bullet only grazed the dog and, after surgery, it survived. This was November, 2002. It made the papers.

“I guess (the police) had a bit of a love-hate relationship with him,” said Gibbons. “(But) I don’t think he’s ever committed a crime sober.”

Sparky was an old-style street drunk who surprised outreach workers with the sheer longevity of his time without many possessions, an address or anything approximating the comforts of home.

There is, in fact, a dedicated crew of workers — public and private — reaching out to the city’s dispossessed. Usually, they succeed, however you measure victory. Sparky, however, had his own way, the hard way.

Wendy Muckle is executive director of Ottawa Inner City Health. She’s had frequent dealings with Sparky over the past 15 years.

“Most people come and go on the streets, but not Sparky, and I never really understood why.”

She’s a little tormented by the fact they could never bring Sparky in from the cold, so to speak.

“I think we did everything that Sparky let us do,” she said.

“Ultimately, my take on things was that he didn’t believe that he deserved to have a (good) life.”

Maybe it was so. Maybe he didn’t think he was worth it. Who would, really, living in that world of hurt, where friends too often die, and guilt or shame or misery, are there every dawn?

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896 or emailkegan@ottawacitizen.com

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn

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29 July 2014

I sat with Little Chester and Debbie on the sidewalk. I said, “Chester that’s quite a hat you have on. I’ve never seen a pink Mack Truck cap.”

“No, you don’t see many of these. Pink, I think that stands for breast cancer. My mother died of breast cancer in 1971, but it still hurts.”

Debbie was slurring her words.  She said, “Last night I had a wonderful dream about my daughter. She’d grown into a beautiful woman, just like I know she would.”

I asked, “Are you in contact with your daughter?”

“No, she won’t have anything to do with me. I have two daughters, 22 and 23 and a son 14.  Just before my mother died — she died of breast cancer. Just before she died she asked me what I was going to do with my life. I said, ‘I’ll probably end up being a bag lady. Here I am fifteen years later, with three bags.

“I have a lot of information, even more than the medical community. Someday, I’m going to write it in my book. I’m going to call it Debbie’s Book.”

I asked, “How are you coming with your writing?”

“Not so good now — I’m drunk, but some day I’m going to get it all together. My book is going to be about how we should all live together in peace. It’s going to tell the truth about how it is with us.”

“That’s a good idea,” said Chester, “We should all get along together, help each other.”

Debbie said, “Greg, I want to ask you something.”

Albert replied, “First of all my name’s not Greg.”

“I’m sorry, Chester, have you got a smoke?”

“No.”

Mariah, said hello then walked towards the park.”

Chester said, “Oh, Dennis, I forgot to tell you. Joy is in hospital. I don’t know any details, but there’s a bunch up there. They probably know what going on with her.”

I said, “I’m going to wander up there. I’ll see you two later.”

“Bye, Dennis”

I walked up to Big Jake in his wheelchair and said, “I’m sorry to hear that Joy is in hospital.”

“You heard? Yeah, she couldn’t get out of bed yesterday. I called an ambulance. She didn’t have much control of her arms and legs. They’ll have her doing lots of physio. I can just hear all the screaming and swearing. She doesn’t get enough exercise, that’s why her legs and arms are weak. I’m going up there now to visit her.

“Dennis, could you do me a big favor?  I really hate to ask, but could you cash Joy’s ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) check? I have it here, she hasn’t signed it over yet.”

I asked, “How would we work that out?”

“Anyway that works for you. I’ve got a bunch of things to do tomorrow morning, so maybe sometime in the afternoon. Say, between 1:00 and 3:00?”

I said, “I could meet you in front of my bank at 3:00.  I’ll see if I can cash it.”

“Do you think they will hold it for two weeks until it clears?”

“No, I don’t think so. It’s a government check. We can try it and see what they say.”

“Thanks, Dennis, that would make things a lot easier for her in hospital. They won’t even let her have a wheelchair. So, I’ll see you at 3:00, tomorrow. Do you think you could lend me twenty bucks?”

“Sorry, Jake, I never carry cash with me.”

“I thought that was too much to ask.  Bye, and thanks.”

Little Jake asked, “Dennis, can you spare some bus tickets? I went to get my bus pass. It seemed that there were just five people in line. I thought to  myself, sweet, I won’t have long to wait. I took my place behind the last person, then about twenty people started yelling at me, ‘Hey, bud, the end of the line is down the hall. Don’t but in.’ I didn’t know. I had just finished a joint. How was I supposed to know that there was a line across the hall? I figured I better get out. Some of those people looked really mad.”

Jacques asked, “So, you didn’t go back later? Is it that you’re too lazy now?”

“Fuck off, Jacques. Get off my case. Dennis, do you like Starbucks? Somebody gave me a card from there, but I don’t like their coffee. I think there’s about fifteen bucks on it.”

I asked, “Don’t you want to use it to buy a sandwich or something?”

“No, I don’t like their food either. I ordered a smoothie the other day. It was so thick, I had to eat it with a spoon. It’s no wonder, they put a whole fuckin’ banana in it. I said to the woman behind the counter, ‘I’m a smoker, but my face is turning blue trying to suck anything through this straw.’ Take it, it’ll make up for some of the ones you gave me.”

“Thanks, Jake. I appreciate that.”

Mariah was talking about assisted housing. She said, “Once I was in a place like that. I shared it with a room mate, but she was never around when the rent was due. I couldn’t pay the rent by myself and Charlie wasn’t working, so I had to let it go. The landlord said, ‘I’m really sorry to see you leave. You kept the place under control.’ That was true. Charlie and I would kick the crackheads out. I’d chase them to the elevator, he’d chase them to the stairs. They had nowhere else to go but out. It was crazy, they’d set fires. They’d run in the corridors, up and down the stairs. There was no reasoning with them.”

I asked Loretta, “How many months is it now?”

“Sixteen, it’s still hard though. My boyfriend and I were in the beer store. He was getting his beer. I was just looking at my favorite brand on the wall, Labatt, Maximum Ice, 7.1 %. He asked me, ‘Are you going to get something?’ I said, “No, just get me out of here.’

I said, “I notice that you’re not wearing your dentures. Don’t they fit properly?”

“I’m just giving my gums a rest today.”

I was leaving at the same time as Ghyslain, so we walked together. He said, “I’m just going to see my ex landlady.”

“So, do you have a new place to stay?”

“No, I sleep here and there. I had to get out of that place. Crackheads were living in the apartment above me. They’d crank their music up at two in the morning. They’d piss against the side of my house. They even pissed through my bedroom window. That’s gross. How can somebody act like that?”

I asked, “Did you call the police?”

“Yeah, but they didn’t come. I phoned my landlady, she was afraid to come.”

“Will you get any money back?”

“No, I paid first and last month’s rent. I don’t think I’ll see any of that, but that’s what I’m going to talk to her about.”

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9 July 2014

“Good morning, Chuck”

“Good morning, Dennis. Damned cold today with that north wind blowing. We must be getting the tail end of that tornado that hit the east coast. I don’t think I’m going to be sticking around much longer. I have to pick up groceries then be home in time for my cleaning lady. I still feel bad that I forgot about her last week. With the old company she would have gotten paid, whether I was there or not. With this new outfit, she has to phone in from my place when she starts and again when she leaves. That’s the only way she gets paid. They’ve also cut me back from two hours to an hour and a half. That’s enough time for her to get her work done, but we used to sit for a while and drink a cup of tea.

“Did you learn anything about the funeral service for Shakes?”

I said, “Yes, it was Monday at noon at St Paul’s church, but yesterday Danny held a smudging ceremony at the gates of the park. I was able to attend that.”

“Shakes was a good man; a drunk, but a good man.”

“I remember six or eight years ago, there was this kid that panhandled near the mall. I was a drunk then. Every once in a while I’d give him a couple of bucks. He did it for about a year, then one morning he said, “I’ve had enough of this.” He got a job someplace in the south end. Occasionally, he’d come by me. He’d always smile and say hello. I don’t mean one of those fake smiles. He really meant it.

“A few friends have asked me about twelve step programs, whether or not they’re any good. I’ve always said, ‘It didn’t work for me, but maybe it’ll work for you.’  And it did. Trouble is, some of these guys, once they got sober, would see me, but wouldn’t even acknowledge that I was there, because I was still a low down drunk. Even now people see me in a wheelchair with my hat out and they walk to the farthest edge of the sidewalk. They know that it could happen to them. It scares them.

“I’m going to be away next week from Monday to Thursday. I’ll be getting into town late Thursday, so I may not make it down here. On the other hand, I may come straight here from the bus depot. Whenever I travel by bus I take a sleeping pill a half hour before we leave. That way I sleep the whole trip.

“I’ve noticed lately that my sleeping pills have been disappearing. The last time I checked I had six, the next morning I had five. I have them hidden behind a picture in my wall unit. I have a sneaking suspicion about who’s taking them. Several times my lady friend from Cornwall was over. She’d complain about not being able to sleep, so I offered her a pill. She said, “No, I never take sleeping pills.’ When I was talking to her on the phone the other night, she said, ‘I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. Maybe I’ll just take half a pill.’ I wouldn’t mind if she’d just asked me.

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Image: http://www.sacredserpent.net/smudging.html

8 July 2014

 Our Native elders have taught us that before a person can be healed or heal another, one must be cleansed of any bad feelings, negative thoughts, bad spirits or negative energy – cleansed both physically and spiritually. This helps the healing to come through in a clear way, without being distorted or sidetracked by negative “stuff” in either the healer or the client. The elders say that all ceremonies, tribal or private, must be entered into with a good heart so that we can pray, sing, and walk in a sacred manner, and be helped by the spirits to enter the sacred realm.

Native people throughout the world use herbs to accomplish this. One common ceremony is to burn certain herbs, take the smoke in one’s hands and rub or brush it over the body. Today this is commonly called “smudging.” In Western North America the three plants most frequently used in smudging are sage, cedar, and sweet grass.

(By Adrienne Borden and Steve Coyote:  http://www.asunam.com/smudge_ceremony.html)

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At noon, as I was passing the entrance to the park, I heard my name being called. I turned and saw Sammy sitting at the gate, on his rolled sleeping bag. Hi Sammy, “Do you know when the memorial service is being held for Shakes?”

“It was yesterday at St. Paul’s church.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear any information about it. I would have attended, had I known.”

“A lot of people hadn’t heard about it. I’m holding my own Smudging Ceremony here. I’ve been here since midnight and will be staying until midnight tonight. I mix sweet grass and sage, light it, then waft the smoke with an eagle feather.

“When we were staying together Shakes told me his last wishes. I blame myself for not being there for him. I even showed him my ticket indicating that I would be back in a few days, but our tribal chief, of the Fort William First Nation, asked me to stay to submit a proposal to the government.  It kept being delayed, then on the day it was to be presented, the federal Minister of  Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development wasn’t in attendance, so they just submitted my notes.

“The Fort William Reserve, on the western end of Lake Superior near Thunder Bay, was set aside under the provisions of the Robinson-Superior Treaty of 1850, also known as the Crown Treaty Number 60. The agreements arrived at have never been met. We now have the support of the Supreme Court of Canada and the United Nations.

“I came back to Toronto and on my way to Osgoode Hall, where the Law Society of Upper Canada meets, I met a lawyer friend of mine. He said he would accompany me. Near the end of their session, the judge asks if there is anybody has anything to add. I asked my friend to open and close the door when he said that. Then I went in and said that I wished to address the Society concerning our proposal. The judge said that they had our proposal on file, but I told him that was only in point form, that I would like to elaborate. He gave me the floor.

“As soon as I heard about the death of Shakes, I came straight home. Unfortunately, when he was evicted from our apartment, he had no way of storing my belongings and art supplies. He tried for three days to contact his worker, but when she didn’t return his calls he just said, ‘To hell with it.’ You know how Shakes is. Someone was able to save my talking stick. I’m very grateful for that. As for the other things, they can be replaced.

“Dennis, would you do me a favor and go to the native store up the street and get me some sage?”

“Of course, Sammy, I’ll go now.” I went to the store, but unfortunately, they were out of sage.  It was suggested that I try another store about six blocks away. I gave Sammy the news, then I had to return to work.

Before I left I wanted to pay my respects to Shakes. Sammy instructed me to take some tobacco in my left hand, sprinkle a bit in the smoking bowl, say a prayer, then put the rest in a container off to the side. This would be taken to Sacred Mountain, where there would be an Ojibwa tribal ceremony held in his honor. I said my prayer and my goodbye to a great friend.

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6 June 2014

“Hi Chuck.”

“Hi! What a day I’ve had already. You already know how bad my week was. I did something really stupid yesterday. When I got home I set up my chair for charging,  positioned it next to an electrical outlet. I turned off the controller power and put the chair in drive. Then the phone rang. It was my friend, telling me that she didn’t have to work today, so we could meet at noon.

“I forgot all about  plugging the chair into the electrical outlet. I only noticed it this morning at five o’clock. I charged it for an hour before coming down here. I had a lot of things planned for today —  going to the bank to pay a few bills. I keep forgetting when the due dates are. If I’m a couple of days late they charge me a penalty. I also wanted to be able to stop for a pizza, but that would take me too far out of my way. I might run out of power.

“What I’m going to do is drive down two blocks where I’ll meet my friend. Then I’m going to wait for the bus that takes me closest to my apartment. It doesn’t come as often as some of the others, but it brings me right to the top of the hill, near my place. They’re doing all kinds of construction around there, which might mean closing off my street entirely. I don’t know what I’m going to do then. Anyway, I’ll go home, put some frozen chicken in the microwave to defrost. Then I’ll do a stir fry with some vegetables. I’d prefer the pizza or a hamburger from Harvey’s.

“I wish I could get a job handing out that free newspaper. The only problem is rain. I can’t allow my hand controls to get wet. I was hoping that they’d let me set up in the mall, between the main doors, near Sears. I asked Sears and they wouldn’t give me permission. There are other malls, but that one is the most convenient for me.”

I asked, “Have you ever thought about being a greeter at Walmart? From watching what they do, it seems to me that you’d be able to handle that.”

“That’s something I hadn’t thought of. There is one on my bus route. That would be perfect.

“I got so mad on the bus this morning. There was this bozo standing beside me, blocking my view of the driver. I asked him to please move, because I had to let the driver know to lower the ramp. I was polite about it. The guy said, ‘You can’t tell me where I can stand. I’ll stand anywhere I want.’  That got me boiling mad. I asked the guy, “Were you born ignorant, or did you have to practice being stupid.’ I don’t know if people just don’t think, or what their problem is, but if you see a wheelchair waiting at the bus stop, you don’t try to jump on as the ramp is coming down.

“I was thinking back ten years ago. That’s when I left my wife. I moved to an apartment building where a lot of natives lived. I was still drinking then. I met three of them down near the river, two women and a man. They were enjoying a beer. I’d gone there for the same reason. We got to talking, it started getting cold, so I said, “Let’s continue this party at my place. Well, the one woman never left. It was no problem moving her things from one floor to another. We were together about three years. She was Inuit. Her name was Kunik which means kiss. How could I resist a name like that? She was waiting for the bus in front of the mall. I’m not sure how it happened, whether she slipped on the ice, or if someone bumped her, but she fell in the path of a bus and was killed instantly. I tell you, I cried when I heard the news. She was such a gentle person.

“If she got riled though, she could be vicious. I remember she had a run in with an Apache guy in the building, originally from New Mexico. The names she called him. I couldn’t believe that she even knew some of the words she used to describe him. I’ve noticed that with some other groups. Blacks from the Caribbean often don’t get along with blacks from Africa. I guess there’s a lot of history that we don’t know.

“Well, they’re forecasting a nice weekend. Hot on Saturday and Sunday with rain on Monday. So, I don’t know when I’ll be here.”

I said, “It’s time for me to go to work. Enjoy your weekend, Chuck.”

“See you sometime next week, bud. Take care. “