Posts Tagged ‘kindness’

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6 June 2012

As I was walking along  Parliament Street I was approached by Stan. “Hi, brother, he said, “do you think you could help me out. I’ve been panning, but I’ve only made a dollar so far. I collected some beer cans but had to walk across the bridge to get a refund on them.  I’ve been walking all morning. I’m beat.”

“Sure, I can help you, Stan.”

“I really appreciate that. I’ve got to get back in shape. I have to start eating properly. I should be drinking more milk, eating more meat and eggs. I also need to go to a detox center to get help. I’m having trouble with my liver and I’ve been puking blood.”

“Rocky and Hippo are having the same problem.”

“I know. Thanks again, brother.”

When I got to the park I first talked to Rocky. “How are you feeling today?”

“I’m feeling a little better.”

“You mentioned yesterday that you had an operation on your heart when you were four days old. Tell me about that.”

“They had me taken to the Children’s Hospital in Montreal. A valve in my heart had to be replaced. Two days later they operated on my kidney to fix a hole. I wasn’t expected to survive the operations. I stayed in the hospital for five years. They’ll have to operate on my heart again soon to put in a larger valve.”

“You mentioned that your mother and father didn’t want a son. How did that affect you?”

“I didn’t have a name for the first four days. It was my grandmother who gave me my name and raised me. They say that most of a child’s development happens in the first five years. I didn’t have that. I think that’s what made me the way I am. I had my first cigarette when I was four years old. I started drinking when I was six. You may have noticed that I don’t talk much to people, I just hang around at the edge of the group and watch.”

“I can understand that. I was in a similar situation when I was eighteen months old. It completely changed my personality.”

“My youngest sister wants to come down here, but I told her not to. My sisters are all up north.”

“Toronto can be a tough place to live.”

“I find it good where I am. I’m near the hospital. My father sometimes comes to the city, but he never wants to see me.”

Chester came over. I asked,  “How are you feeling today, Chester?”

“I still have a lot of pain in my lower right leg. My toes started to turn black, but that’s going away now.”

“So the bus must have hit you on the right side.”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

“Take care, Chester.”

I walked up to the other group that included Joy, Irene, Shark, Jacques, Outcast, Chili and Gaston.

“Hi Joy, did you finish your shopping?”

“No, I still have a few things to get.”

“Are you going to be having a barbecue?”

“No, Toothless is checking out a new place on Spruce.”

“The street where Daniel, you, and I lived!”

“Yeah, I lived in the pink house.”

“I remember the pink house. I walked past it on my way to the shopping center.”

“It’s still pink.”

I wandered over to the railing where Gaston was standing by himself. “Hi Gaston, are you enjoying the warm weather?”

“Yes, it’s nice to see the sunshine after so much rain. I come here to get reacquainted with my friends. I’ll be going home soon to spend time in my garden. It’s small, but I have cabbages, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes. In the house, I raise my own herbs. I get milk from a farmer in glass bottles, just like in the old days. He puts some aside for me. The cream rises to the top. I love that, I can make my own whipping cream.”

“Do you live in Toronto?”

“I live in Corktown, within walking distance of here. I have my own house, I take courses at the university, teach courses at the university and at the HIV drop in center on Gerrard. I also teach at another drop-in program on Markham Road  — that’s the place where they deal with people who have mental conditions.

“My main interest is psychology. We must first understand ourselves in order to understand others. We must understand our whole bodily system, how we are affected by nutrition, stress. Stress is a big concern. If we are stressed it affects our digestion, our thinking process, our internal organs and our ability to heal.

“I teach courses on HIV. Cleanliness is very important at every step. The first place people touch is the doorbell. I disinfect it after each person enters, the same with the door knobs. I’ve opened drop-in centers here and in and Ottawa.”

“That’s fascinating, Gaston. Do you have a website? How can I register for your courses?”

“It’s listed under The AIDS Committee of Toronto.”

“I’ll check that out, Gaston. It was a pleasure meeting you.”

I said good-bye to the congregation, including Nick, whose hand was in a cast up to his elbow.

“How is your hand, Nick. It must be feeling better having the cast on.”

Trudy said, “He was supposed to have an operation, but he declined it.”

“Did they want to operate on your hand?”

“No, on my liver. My friend died yesterday of the same thing. I decided to leave it in God’s hands.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Nick. I truly am. How are you feeling about your situation?”

“I don’t know.”

“We’re all the same, Nick. None of us knows how long we have to live, It could be years, months, weeks, or days. We’re never sure. All we can do is take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time. I know you do a lot to help people. Just keep on doing what you’re doing. Supplying sandwiches to the homeless is very important. We’re here to help. That’s all any of us can do.”

“Yes, I panhandle to give to those who have less than I do.”

“Take care, Nick. God bless you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

~~~

 

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5 June 2012

 

As I was approaching the corner of Queen Street and Parliament I saw Irene and Big Titties Rosie waiting for the ‘walk’ light.

“Hi Irene, Rosie, are you leaving?”

“We’re just going to the restaurant to use the ladies’ room, we’ll be back.”

“I’ll see you then.”

This afternoon at the park, Buddy had passed out on the lawn. I have often seen him panhandling on Queen, playing his harmonica. The police were expected, so people spread out, hiding any open liquor bottles. Large groups are illegal without a permit. In one group were Andre, Gene, and his girlfriend Fran. In another group were Joy, Hippo, Rocky, Shark, Lucy In The Sky and Daimon. In another group were Jacques, Charlie, and Chester.

I first sat between Shakes and Andre who was wearing a light blue cap with a ‘Psssst’ badge on it. He had taken off his tee-shirt and spread it on the ground. On it was an imitation of the Warner Brother’s movie logo and the words, ‘If you see da cops, warn a brother’. He was feeling better than yesterday. His throat infection is healing.

He said, “A cop car just pulled up, and the paramedics are following them. Just wait and see, after they take Buddy away they’ll come up to check on us. They’ll say, ‘How’s everybody doing?’ We’ll say, ‘Just fine officer, enjoying the nice weather.’ ”

Gene said, “Andre and I were throwing a hardball around. I was pitching to him. I used to be pretty fast in my younger days. I’d throw at around eighty, ninety miles an hour, sometimes. I’m down to about seventy now. I asked Andre if he was ready, he said, ‘Let ‘er rip.’ Twice I caught him right in the center of the chest.”

Andre said, “When I was younger, both of my uncles used to pitch to me. They were fast. I used to catch the ball ninety-eight percent of the time. I had really quick reflexes; but not anymore. I remember my uncle throwing a bit wide one time. The ball missed my glove and went right through the backboard, left a neat circular hole.”

Shakes, who was laying on the lawn, said, “Dennis, do you remember me?”

“Of course I do, Shakes. I’d recognize that hat anywhere.” I shook his hand. He pulled me to the ground.

I moved on to the second group to say hello to Joy and Hippo. I was surprised to see Shark sitting next to Daimon, since, before he went to prison,  Daimon robbed Shark of his change, then beat him for not having any bills. I guess they settled their differences. Shark is skinny and is certainly not a fighter. Lucy had beat up Irene, Shark’s girlfriend.

As I was approaching, I heard Joy saying to Shark, “I don’t like you either, and I don’t punch like a girl,  so watch what you say.”

Shark said, “You always pick fights with men because you know they won’t hit you back.”

“Hi Joy,” I said, “how’ve you been doing?”

“I’ve been keeping pretty quiet, staying at home and off the booze for the past few days. I’ve been cleaning the house, doing laundry, watching TV, resting. I’ve got marks on my arm where V has been biting me. I hate that dog.”

“Hi Dennis,” said Shark. “Irene and I had a tiff, I can’t remember what we were arguing about, but I kept laughing at her. She hit me with her fist on the side of my head. I said, ‘Irene, don’t do that.’ She hit me on the other side of the head. I said, ‘Irene if you do that again, I’ll hit you back.’ Then she hit me in the nose. I just kept gaming on my Playstation.”

Joy said, “She’s small and skinny, but with those knuckles, she can pack quite a punch. Where is she now?”

“She took the bus home to get her health card, then she was going to White Cross Drugs to have her prescription filled, then she was going somewhere else. I wasn’t paying too much attention.”

“That’s what I used to do with Jake,” said Joy. “When he’d hit me, I’d just laugh and say, ‘Is that all you got, big boy?’ That would really make him mad. He’s six-foot-four. I didn’t win many fights, but I hurt him.

“That’s Charlie the Chaser over there, Jakes’s so-called friend. He had to come and rub my nose in the fact that he’s been in contact with Jake. He said he’s sending him a TV, at Millhaven. There’s something strange about that. The last time Charlie was here he was flashing a lot of cash and giving money to all the men. Do you think he gave me any? No! If he was interested in women at all, you’d think he would have given me something. Do you think he’s ever shown any interest in me since Jake has been in prison? No! He’s a cock slinger (male prostitute).

“Charlie bragged that he had been in prison for twenty-five years and he was affiliated with the gangs. I’ve had some experience with that in the past. If he was affiliated and went around talking about it — like he has been — he’d be dead meat.”

Daimon said, “Was he saying he was with H.A. (Hell’s Angels)?”

“That’s what he was saying,” said Joy.

Daimon, who has distinctive prison pallor and crude tattoos covering both hands and arms, laughed and said, “There are lots of prison stories. Some of them are even true, but not many. He has ‘Shannon’ tattooed on the back of his neck. Is that his street name?”

Joy said, “Daimon, what’s that you’ve got on your face? Were you in a fight? It looks like you did a face plant.”

“If I’d been in a fight, it would have been the other guy who would’ve done the face plant.”

Lucy said, “I wondered how long it would take Joy to ask about that. Didn’t I Daimon?”

“It’s an infection,” said Daimon. “I must have picked it up from a guy in prison. He had sores like this on his thigh and his stomach. I didn’t go near him, but I must have touched something he had touched.

“I went to the doctor. He gave me antibiotics and some creme to put on the sores.”

“It looks like impetigo. My sister got that when she was young. That’s what comes of sitting on park benches wearing only a bathing suit.”

“Impetigo, that’s what the doctor said. I couldn’t remember the name, but that’s what it is. It hurts and being near my mouth, it’s always breaking open.”

“Chester!” said Joy, “where are you going? Just because Charlie is going over there that doesn’t mean you have to. These guys follow him around hoping he’ll give them something, money, cigarettes….”

I said to Joy, “Did you hear that Rocky got jumped the other day.”

“I’ve seen him fight. He blacks out and goes wild, just like me. I fought with my sister once. I injured her neck, shoulder, and back. That was before they charged people for things like that. I can imagine that Rocky did some damage to the other guy.”

I said, “It was five kids who jumped him. Shakes thinks it was the same gang that jumped him. Rocky didn’t fight them, because he would have gone back to jail. They stole his cap.”

“How are you feeling,  Rocky?” I asked. “Any better than yesterday?”

“Not really. I’ve got a pain in my liver.”

“What does the pain feel like? Is it a sharp pain, or a dull ache like a bruise?”

“It feels like I have to shit, but nothing comes out. When I was in the hospital, I asked them to check my heart and kidneys. I had surgery on my heart and had a hole fixed in my kidney, when I was four days old.

“I was born near Greenland. I have seven sisters. My parents never wanted a boy. My youngest sister wants to come down here, but I told her not to. She’s only sixteen.”

“I can understand why you wouldn’t want her to come down here. It can be a rough life.”

I said good-bye to the group. It was nearly time for me to go back to work.

Joy said, “I’ll see you tomorrow. I won’t be panning, I have to buy some groceries. I have Hamburger Helper at home, but Chuck wants to have a barbecue.”

“Bye, Joy.”

I stopped to say good-bye to the other group.

“Chester,” I said. “I heard you were hit by a bus last Wednesday. How are you feeling?”

“It happened at the corner of Jarvis and Queen. I’m in a lot of pain, but I keep it to myself.”

“Take care, Chester.”

“Do you remember my name?” asked Charlie. “Of course, I remember your name; You’re Charlie.”

“Do you know why they call me that?

“Because your parents named you Charles?”

“No, it’s because people say I look like Charlie Manson. They also call me that because I’m nuts.”

~~~

 

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4 June 2012

 

This morning the rain continued for the third day. The showers were light and intermittent, as opposed to the downpour we experienced throughout the night.

Metro greeted me as I got off the bus. “Good morning, Dennis, or is it Gordon today?”

“Good morning, Metro, did you manage to stay out of trouble this weekend?”

“Yes, actually I did. I haven’t seen Joy. I don’t know if she’s in her spot. I have something I want her to do for me.”

“I’ll tell her, when I see her, Metro.”

“You have a good day.”

“You too, Metro.”

The sidewalk was free of panhandlers, except for Hippo.

“Good morning, Dennis.”

“Hi Hippo, how does your head feel?”

“It’s still sore. I get my stitches out in a couple of days. I haven’t seen anyone this morning, no Joy, no Little Jake, no Silver.”

“It’s eight-ten, how long do you think you’ve got until the lady from the hotel asks you to move.”

I don’t know, maybe ten minutes. I found a new place to sleep. It’s down a flight of stairs near where we meet in the park.  It’s dry and nobody bothered us. There even seems to be a bit of heat down there.”

“Was Shakes down there with you?”

“No, I haven’t seen him for a few days.”

“He’s always told me that when he’s tired, he lays down and goes to sleep, no matter where he is.”

“Yeah, that’s Shakes.”

“Did you know that he’s only forty-six? He’s only five years older than Little Jake.”

“Yeah, he looks a lot older.”

“I guess it’s partly because he used to be a boxer. That’s not too good for the face.”

“I know, just look at me.”

“How old are you?”

“Thirty-six — my birthday is March twenty-fourth, 1976.”

“My son is two years older than you. He’ll be thirty-eight in June.”

“Are you planning to visit your folks anytime soon? I guess by hitchhiking it would only take you about an hour.”

“If that — it all depends on who’s driving. I haven’t made any plans to go there, but we always keep in touch by phone.”

“That’s great.

“I was thinking, you would probably be eligible for O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program).

“I guess so. It’s a lot of paperwork though.”

“You’d get more money — wouldn’t you? Shark could show you how to go about it. He could even get you a diaper allowance.”

Hippo laughed, “Yeah, he probably could. He gets about fifteen hundred a month.”

“How is your hand?”

“It’s okay.” He spread his fingers to see how much pain it caused.

“Did you work on the weekend?”

“I tried, but there was nobody around, especially with the rain. It’s just as bad this morning. All I’ve made, so far, is two bucks.”

A lady in a suit came up to us, “I’m from the hotel. I’m afraid you’re going to have to move.”

“Okay, thanks,” we said.

“I’ll see you later, Hippo.”

“I’ll see you, Dennis.”

At noon I met Serge, sitting alone, in the glassed-in bus shelter. “How are you, Serge?”

“I’m okay.”

“Are you staying at The Shepherd now?”

“No, I don’t stay there anymore. I slept in the park, just over there.”

“I’ll see you on my way back, Serge. I’m just going to say hello to the others.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then.”

“Further up the sidewalk, I met Silver, Rocky, and Hippo. I shook hands with Silver and Hippo. Rocky said, “I’d shake your hand, but I just puked in the bushes and got some on my hands. I’m sorry. I was in the hospital last night.”

“Did you get jumped again? I heard that you got jumped last week by the same guys that jumped Shakes. You don’t look as bad as he does. Was it four guys that jumped you?”

“It was five kids that jumped me. If I’d fought back I’d be back in jail. I didn’t think it was worth it. They stole my cap.

“I was in the hospital for alcohol poisoning.”

“Was there anything they could do for you?”

“Not really.”

Hippo said, “I got my papers sent in for assisted housing. I don’t know how long it will take, maybe a year, but it’s done.”

“That’s great, Hippo.

“Silver,” I asked, ” wouldn’t Rhino qualify for O.D.S.P.?”

“Yeah, he should qualify. It’s good to have a doctor to back you up. I had a letter from my g.p. and my psychiatrist. Hippo’s like me, he drags his feet with the paperwork. I’d like to get out of the place I’m in, as well. I just haven’t applied.

”Hippo, it’s best if you go there. They’ll fill out the papers for you. You just have to answer their questions.”

“I got my worker filling out the forms for me. I’m just waiting for all my cards.”

“Silver,” I asked,“you don’t like staying at the Rex? I thought that would be a great place to stay.”

“There are a lot of crack heads drifting in. It’s not the same as it was a few years back.”

“I didn’t see you this morning. Did you work on the weekend?”

“I opened up the office and worked Saturday and Sunday. I started at eight-thirty, Saturday, at Grace Church on Queen. Later, I moved further down to the Berkeley Church. I have a lot of regulars there.  I’ve been panning there for about four years. On Sunday, I went to St Paul’s –the big one. Each day I made about sixty bucks.”

“You did well.”

“Sorry for the cigarette smoke drifting into your face. I wish I could quit. It was my girlfriend who got me started again. She’d say, ‘just have a little puff.’ pretty soon I was hooked again. When I was inside I didn’t smoke. I couldn’t afford it. I could buy pot for less than I could buy cigarettes, and I prefer pot.”

There was another group further up in the park. Seated on the grass were Little Jake, Shakes, Irene, Wolf, and his freshly clipped dog Shaggy. Standing at the rail were Deaf Donald,  and  Big Titties Rosie.

Shaggy was barking through the railing at some squirrels down below. It was a futile effort, but she seemed to be enjoying herself.

I went over and talked to Donald. “Hi, it’s good to see you. Do you have your methadone treatment today?”

“Yes, I’m supposed to go every day, but I was too drunk on Friday. I kept falling down. I fell once on my tail bone Now, every time I cough it hurts. I also lost my hearing aid. I’m going to O.D.S.P. this afternoon to see if I can get another one. I’m only allowed one every three years. My mom is really mad, if they won’t give me one, she’ll have to buy me a new one. It costs two thousand dollars. It’s a good thing I learned to read lips.”

“Hi Irene, “ I said, “how are you feeling?”

“Not good, I ache all over. I’ve put in two months’ notice at my apartment building. They’re saying I signed a lease. I don’t remember signing a lease. I’m moving anyway. What are they going to do – put me in arrears? I’ll just put them on the list of all the other people I have no intention of paying.”

“Irene found us a place,“ said Shark. “It’s a two-bedroom, all-inclusive. You’ll never guess where it is — right in front of the Scott Mission where I know everybody. There would be a constant line up my door. I walked past the place. From the outside, it looks good, but the location won’t work. We don’t need anything all-inclusive. I don’t mind paying heat and hydro.”

“I can pay for cable,” said Irene, “I have a satellite dish.”

Shark said, “I have two wide-screen TVs, a sound system. We both have futons. Between us, we’ve got plenty of furniture.”

I said, “You want to live in Regent Park, don’t you, Irene.”

“That’s my preference. I want to be able to walk to my doctor, walk here. If there’s an emergency – I don’t know. I don’t like that long bus ride from where I am now.

“If you’re walking back to work, I’ll walk with you. I have to go to the bathroom.”

Before I left, Shakes asked, “Dennis, can you spare me cash for a bottle?”

“Sorry Shakes, I don’t have any cash with me. I didn’t even bring my wallet. If I had it, you know I’d give it to you.”

“I know you’d give it to me, Dennis, you have before.”

”You didn’t see Joy today, did you?” asked Irene.

“No, “ I replied. “mind you, I didn’t see her last Monday, either. She didn’t come by on Friday. I’m thinking that she still has money and doesn’t want to pan unless she has to.”

Irene said, “I can’t believe that Shark still wants to marry me, but he does. We’ve been together four years now.”

“It makes a lot of sense to share expenses.”

“We both want to get out of the places we’re in now. We have the money. It’ll be a brand new start.”

“It sounds great. Perhaps, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks for walking with me.”

“It was my pleasure.”

~~~

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1 June 2012
The weather today was uncertain. It was overcast, but not quite raining. At the park, the usual suspects were congregated.

“Hi Hippo, How have you been?” I shook his broken hand very gently.

“My head hurts.”

“How is your hand?”

“It hurts too. Jake and I slept at ‘the heater’ last night — not together, just in the same place. The streets aren’t safe anymore.”

“Hi Jake, How are you?”

“I’m drunk. Hippo and I started early.”

“I guess that’s a good thing.”

Shakes was sitting on the lawn and was having trouble getting up. “I’ll use this wine bottle and this container as a crutch to help me up.” He made it halfway then tumbled over. Jacques stood up and took Shakes’ arm to help him to his feet. “Did you know that Rocky got jumped last night? It was the same guys that jumped me. He’s in about the same shape as I am.”

“Do you know why they jumped Rocky?”

“Because they’re assholes.”

“Hi Donald, how are you?”

“I have my methadone treatment at one o’clock. Everybody hates me. I don’t know why. They make fun of me.”

“I’ve never heard anybody say anything against you.”

“I appreciate you being my friend.”

“Hi Shark, how is Irene feeling today?”

“She’s with Anastasia. They’re drunk to the tits. They bought a case of Labatt Maximum Ice. It’s seven-point- one percent alcohol. I bought myself a twenty-six-ounce bottle of watermelon vodka. It’s thirty-seven percent alcohol. I thought I should get something to catch up. You don’t need any mix with it. Have a swig.”

“That’s smooth. I’ve never tasted that before.”

“I had to kick Irene out at eleven o’clock last night. She was drunk. When she gets like that her mind goes on retard. She’ll have about five conversations going and she keeps repeating them. I guess she forgets that she’s said the same thing five minutes before.

“We’re planning to get an apartment together, the problem is she wants to go through the Salvation Army. I want to get something through my landlord. He has a bunch of buildings. If we get these workers involved, one group doesn’t talk the same language as the other group. I’ve been in the Welfare system for twenty years. I know what to say to them, so they’ll understand it and I’ll get what I want.

“Maybe it would be better if Irene and Joy got an apartment together. The only problem is that Irene drinks more than Joy. Joy has her drinking fairly well under control.

“Anastasia wants us to go with her to her mother’s house near Goderich. It’s on Georgian Bay, so there would be boating, swimming, fishing. The water isn’t very deep but you can still catch bass. The only problem is Anastasia is a bit nuts. You must have noticed that yesterday.

“I have to be back every week to see my doctor and pick up my meds.”

“How old is Anastasia, and how old is her mother?”

“I guess Anastasia is about sixty-one, her mother is in her nineties.”

“The problem would be getting back. I guess we could arrange something with the bus. It’s a long trip. Something to keep in mind though.”

Chester and Outcast were going over Chester’s bank statement. Outcast said, “We were playing cards last night and then I left. What’s the last thing you remember buying.”

“I bought beer at the Beer Store.”

“Okay, that’s listed here. Then, there’s a purchase in Scarborough. Did you go to Scarborough?”

“No.”

“There’s also a record of purchases at an Exxon gas station. You don’t drive a car, so that’s not you. There are withdrawals of two hundred, three hundred. These are since you lost your card. Do you remember giving your card to anyone?”

“No.”

Silver said, “Look at Donald, he’s never going to make his methadone appointment. I’ve been drinking since four-thirty this morning and I can stagger straighter than that. I get up at four-thirty, have a shower — yes, I drink beer in the shower. It’s okay as long as I don’t fall and hurt myself.”

“Hello Wolf,” I said.

“Have a look at my dog.”

“Is that a different dog? That doesn’t look like Shaggy.”

“That’s Shaggy, they clipped her, did all kinds of stuff to her. I brought her blanket and her bed so she’ll get acclimatized. Is she breathing?”

“Yes, I can see her chest going up and down.”

“I was just joking. I guess I haven’t known you that long. You haven’t seen Shaggy when she’s been clipped? I have her done once a year.”

“No, I only met you in January, so it’s been about five months.”

Donald didn’t make his methadone treatment. He was too drunk to walk. Even if he had made it there, they wouldn’t have taken him in his condition.

~~~

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23 May 2012

I caught an early bus to work, so I had lots of time to talk to Joy. “How’s it going today?’

“This morning has been slow. Yesterday, I made nineteen dollars. So far today, I’ve only made five and I’ve been here since six o’clock. Come on people!”

Chantal stopped by to talk with Joy. She squatted, put some change in Joy’s cap, then put her hand on Joy’s shoulder. “How are you doing, Joy?”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you eating well?

“Yes, I’m eating well.”

“You mentioned that you were looking at a new apartment tomorrow. Is that still on?”

“Yeah, Chuck and I are going over tomorrow to have a look at it. It’s a one bedroom for seven hundred a month. It’s just down a block from the one we’re in now.”

“You take care, Joy”

When she left Joy said to me. “She’s really beautiful. That’s the religious lady. Last fall when I was beaten by Jake, and I had the broken nose, and broken ribs, she prayed with me. I felt a warm glow spreading through my body. For the first time in a week, I could take a full breath without chest pain. I’m not a religious person — well, I used to be a Catholic, but I haven’t been to church for a long time. It really spooked me. I felt better all day.

“There’s something about the number five. I have five boys. The marriage to my first husband lasted five years. Jake and I broke up after five years.

“I don’t want to live with Chuck. He want’s me to go over and see about the apartment, but I’m going to let him go by himself. I’ll phone back later in the week, talk to the lady, and maybe take it myself. Chuck and I are always arguing. He feeds so many people, I just can’t afford that.

“Hippo found a bicycle, that’s it over there.” She pointed to a blue bike in the bicycle rack. “I told him it looks like one of those bait bicycles. The police put them out every so often. If you’re caught riding one you’re charged with theft.”

“Is it locked?” I asked.

“It has a lock on it, but the lock isn’t fastened. It only looks locked. I can just imagine Hippo riding that. One good thing about having a bicycle is that it will help him lose weight.

“I brought him some soap and some shampoo. He said at The Shepherd they only give them a tiny bit to last for a week. That’s why his hair looks greasy. People sometimes drop some off hotel soap and shampoo for me. I don’t know why. Do they think I’m dirty?”

Hippo walked across the street. “Hi Hippo,” I said. “How are you feeling?”

“Not so good. I was out drinking with Andre and we got into some bad stuff. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“What were you drinking, Hippo? If you were with Andre, it could have been Listerine or rubby (rubbing alcohol). Which was it?”

“Rubby.”

“Hippo, you know that stuff will kill you.”

“Rubbing alcohol is used to disinfect, to bring down fever and to soothe skin. Most rubbing alcohol is made of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol in water. Isopropyl isn’t the same type of alcohol that is in alcoholic beverages—ethanol— although sometimes ethanol is an ingredient in rubbing alcohol. When ethanol is an ingredient it will have been denatured. Denaturing is adding poisonous and bad-tasting ingredients, and it is done specifically to prevent people from drinking the alcohol. Often the poisonous ingredient added is methanol, which can cause blindness. Isopropyl is also found in mouthwashes and skin lotions. Isopropyl is very intoxicating. Because it is easily available and has no purchasing restrictions, it is sometimes used as a substitute for ethanol alcohol.

Drinking rubbing alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning are vomiting, confusion, slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute), seizures, low body temperature, pale or blueish skin and unconsciousness. In cases of isopropyl ingestion, because of its strong effect on the central nervous system, a person may experience lethargy or ataxia, or may go into a coma. Because isopropyl also affects the GI tract, a person who has drunk it can have stomach pain, cramps and hemorrhagic gastritis. Someone who has ingested rubbing alcohol will also have a fruity smell to his or her breath.” (http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5200289_effects-consuming-rubbing-alcohol.html)

“I’m going off to do some things on my own,” said Hippo.

Joy said, “I don’t even want to think about what that is.”

After Hippo left Joy said, “I’ve sunk pretty low, but I’ve never drunk Listerine or rubbing alcohol. Now they sell Listerine without alcohol. I don’t know where Serge gets his. I can’t stand to be near him. He reeks of the stuff. Lately, he’s been acting funny. All he seems do is sleep. (a side effect of drinking rubbing alcohol or alcohol based mouthwash).”

“Yesterday,” I said, “Irene was complaining about leg pain. Does that have to do with her cancer?”

“I don’t know what the leg pain is about. Yesterday, because she was wearing capris, I noticed how skinny her legs are. She had breast cancer and cancer of the uterus. She also has cirrhosis of the liver. It’s because of the uterine cancer that she doesn’t have sex with Shark. It’s too painful for her. He goes off somewhere and pays for it. She’s cool with that. Shark and Irene have been together eleven years. I think they had sex once.”

“You mentioned that you lost a lot of weight. How did you do that?”

“When I came back from Winnipeg I weighed about three hundred and sixty-five pounds. My doctor told me it was unhealthy to be carrying that much weight, so I decided to eat only on Sundays. I didn’t eat anything during the week. I drank lots of water. On Sunday, I’d go to the Mission and pig out all day, until I was stuffed.”

I noticed Clint, a man I work with, approaching. I said to Joy that Clint was going to Disneyland.

“Do you know what I love from Disney land? It’s the soap that’s shaped like a urinal puck. On one side there is a picture of Mickey Mouse. They have them in all the rooms. I love the smell and it’s so good for my skin.”

I called Clint over and introduced him to Joy. I said, “Clint, when you go to Disneyland, will you bring Joy some of the soap that is in the hotel rooms?”

“Why?” asked Clint.

Joy replied, “It’s not because I’m dirty; it’s just that I love the smell of that soap. So, will you bring me some?”

“Okay.”

I said, “Bye, Clint. I’ll see you at work.”

Toothless Chuck arrived with V. Joy attached V’s leash to the meter on the wall behind her. They had domestic matters to discuss, so I left.

At noon I went to the park, as usual. The usual crowd was there.

Wolf called me over. “I want to show you my Tilley hat. It’s considered the Rolls Royce of hats. A friend gave it to me. Can you read without your glasses? I want you to read what’s printed inside the hat.”

“It says, that it floats, it’s waterproof, and it’s made for persnickety customers. It also gives washing instructions. There’s a four page owner’s manual, in the secret pocket, inside the crown of the hat.”

“What does persnickety mean?”

“Picky,” I said.

“Isn’t that the darndest thing?”

Joy and Butcher  were talking about V. I asked, “How long did you have to look after V, this morning?”

“Chuck came back after about half an hour. He has him now. He’s panning. I don’t like that dog; but he respects me. If he bites, I snap my fingers on his nose and he’ll obey. Chuck kicks him.”

Butcher said, “I don’t like the way Chuck treats V. He jerked the dog right off his feet, for not obeying some command. If a man treats a dog that way, he’s sure to beat a woman.”

Joy said, “I can say one thing in Chuck’s defense. He’s never hit me and I’m not aware of him hitting any other woman. Trudy went out with him before, I’ll ask her.

“Trudy, when you were going out with Chuck, did he ever hit you?”

Trudy said, “No, Chuck never hit me. Is Butcher starting a rumor that Chuck hit me. Don’t believe a word he says. He’s the one that started the rumor about Nick being dead.”

“Okay,” said Butcher, “This needs an explanation. Trudy has been going on about this for ten years. I don’t know why she holds on to it. Why can’t she move on! I have!

“She’d been going out with Nick for about three years. I’d known him for forty years. We grew up together. I hadn’t seen Nick around for a while and my friend, Steve, said to me, “Did you hear about Nick? The funeral is on Tuesday in Oshawa.

“I’m not good at funerals. I went to the service, but at the wake I didn’t go near the body. Why would I? My own daughter died and I still haven’t visited the grave site. I’d rather remember the good times we had together.

“Back to the wake. I expressed my condolences to Nick’s parents and family, then I left. Later on someone asked me if I’d heard from Nick and I said, ‘He died. I attended his funeral.’ This person said, ‘Nick didn’t die, he was arrested and is serving two years. It was his brother Roger who died.’ I didn’t know.

“Getting back to Trudy, it was Steve who told her that Nick had died, not me.”

As I was leaving I stopped to talk to Shark and Irene. Shark said, “My friend Wayne phoned me. He wants us to come to New Brunswick to help him finish a log cabin he’s building. The trees he cut were on his own property. The logs are stacked and have been drying since last year. They’ll have to be peeled then he’ll start building. He wants us to come up to help with the chinking, shellacking, and all the finishing stuff. It’ll be a paid vacation. I’m thinking of going.”

“I’m going for sure,” said Irene, “whether you come or not.”

“It sounds like a great trip, ” I said. “I love New Brunswick.”

.

New Shoes for Shakes

24 May 2012

~~~

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Wild Night at Bingo

22 May 2012

At the park, there were dark storm clouds hovering overhead. The air was muggy. As I approached the group I heard someone say, “Here comes Dennis!”

Joy came up to me and said, “I’ve been asking everybody if they’d seen you. When you didn’t come by this morning I was so worried. I stayed on the street until nine-thirty, thinking that maybe you had missed your bus. Then I began to worry that, because it was a long weekend (Victoria Day in Canada), you’d been on the highway and had a car accident.”

I replied, “I got a drive to work, that’s why you didn’t see me. I’m sorry you worried.”

“It’s just that I’ve never known you to miss coming by in the morning.”

“How was your weekend?” I asked.

“Fine, Nicholas and his girlfriend, and another couple were over for a barbecue. Chuck and I looked at an apartment for seven hundred a month — a one-bedroom. If I had been by myself I would have taken it. Chuck is saying to everyone, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do if Joy leaves.’ ”

That’s understandable,” I said, “you pay half the rent, buy groceries, and do most of the cleaning.”

“Chuck gets a lot of money from other people who stay over, more than I pay him. I think he’s afraid of being alone. So am I, for that matter. Sometimes my brain starts acting up and I’m not sure if I trust myself being on my own.”

Irene had streaks of orange, green, and blue on her arms, legs, and face after a wild night of bingo. She said, “Shark wasn’t even going to get on the bus with me this morning until I cleaned my face. I asked Wolf if he had a face cloth, but he didn’t. I wiped it with some wet toilet paper, but I only managed to smear the smudges; now it looks like I’ve been in a fight.”

“What time is it, Dennis? I have to see my doctor at three o’clock. Shark’s gone to get his prescription filled. I hope he’s not late coming back.”

“Do you have far to go?”

“No, just to Parkdale. It’s in the same building where I worked for the accountants and lawyers. I always wave at them as I’m going by their office. One of my cancers is acting up. I’ve had cancer twice. I only have half a nipple on my right side.”

Joy was sitting on her backpack, looking at her ankles. “I haven’t shaved my legs in a while. Do I look concerned?”

“I’m native,” said Irene, “I’ve got nothing to shave. I haven’t had sex for six and a half years, so I don’t even bother trimming.”

“I’m a half native,” said Joy, “so I don’t have much to worry about, just a bit of stubble. I don’t have sex very often, but I still trim, just for personal hygiene and common decency.”

I wasn’t quite sure if Serge was awake, but I went over and sat beside him. He raised his head and shook my hand.

I asked, “How was your weekend, Serge?”

“It was okay. I’ve been sleeping behind the Best Western Hotel. It’s quiet, nobody is opening and closing the door, nobody is shitting on the floor. I was drinking outside with a friend of mine at four-thirty this morning. When Tim Horton’s opened at six we went there for coffee.”

“You must be tired,” I said.

“No.” Shortly after, he nodded off.

“Has anyone seen Hippo today?” I asked.

“Yeah, he was by earlier. I sent him on a run. He came back and kept wanting to drink from my bottle, so I told him he’d better do some panning and get his own. He seemed fine. He wasn’t puking blood like he was Friday. He wanted to get drunk, so I guess his stomach wasn’t bothering him.

“I haven’t had a drink for two days, but today I’m going to get drunk. I wish I could drink beer. Since my kidney trouble, I can’t even stand the smell of it, but at least it would make me belch. This sherry is sitting in my stomach like a rock.”

“Would you like some vodka?” asked Irene.

“No, I wouldn’t like some vodka, it would make me crazy.

“Wolf isn’t here today because Weasel kicked in his door. He’s at home guarding his stuff. That’s really ignorant of Weasel. It’s Wolf’s place, not his. The man is kind enough to let him stay there, and that’s the way he repays him. Weasel is really something else.”

The rain started, slowly at first. We moved under the trees, then it started to pour. The trees were no protection at all. Little Jake and Jacques left to take cover under the overpass. Irene put up her umbrella. Joy put on Bearded Bruce’s raincoat. “Bruce’s in prison, he doesn’t need this, but I do. He signed himself in. He got a hundred and eighty days for two counts of trying to sell crack to an undercover cop. If it was me, I would have gotten years. Once he does his time and pays his fines he’ll be in the clear. That’s better than trying to run.”

Chester said, “I’m going to go home now.”

“Do you need bus tickets,” asked Joy. “I wouldn’t like to see you walking all the way home in this rain.”

“Thanks, Joy, I’d appreciate that.”

I stood in the rain and got soaked to the skin. Serge had taken refuge in a glass bus shelter and was fast asleep. When I returned to work I took off my shirt, so it could dry in the closet, and I put on a hoodie. By six o’clock, when I was ready to leave work, my shirt was dry.

~~~

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18 May 2012

This morning was cool and windy. Joy had her hood pulled up and her legs were wrapped in a blanket.

She said, “My tooth is really bothering me. I was eating sunflower seeds, with the shells on, and something got embedded between my tooth and my gum. I’ve tried brushing, flossing, but it’s below the gum line and anything I do just makes it hurt more. I had a microwave heating pack on it last night. It helped me get to sleep.

“I was on my way to the dentist this morning, then I realized that I didn’t have my dental card. I went back to the house, but couldn’t find it anywhere. I went to the dentist. They wouldn’t see me without my card. I said, ‘This is an emergency! Will you see me now?’ She said, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t see you without your card.’ I said, ‘Can’t you check my records. You must have my number on file.’ She said, ‘Only Joyce has access to the records and she’s not here today.’ I said, ‘You mean I have to wait until after the long weekend to get this looked at? If I threw up blood all over your computer, would someone see me then?’ ‘I’m sorry, ma’am.’ I was so pissed off.

“Hippo’s there across the street. I don’t think he’s doing very well. I saw him get a few drops (people dropping change into his cap), but I’m going to have to give him some pointers. He sleeps at the Sally (Salvation Army). They have access to showers, soap, and razors, but his hair is so greasy that I’m sure he hasn’t washed it in a week. He couldn’t even get a comb through it this morning. It was disgusting.

“He’s one of the few men who don’t try to touch me. He knows it wouldn’t get him anywhere. Even Weasel, dying of AIDS, kissed me on the cheek the other day. He did it just to bug me. He still has that open sore on his arm. He was letting his dog lick it. He said, ‘It’s okay, a dog’s saliva is clean.’ I said, ‘But dude, think of what you’re doing to the dog.’ His answer was, ‘We all die sometime.’ He’s wasting away to nothing. He doesn’t have much time left (Weasel died 9 May 2013).

“I’m really careful about who I share drinks with up there. Did I ever tell you how Little Jake got AIDS? He had a fight with his girlfriend. She may have been seeing someone else — I don’t know. Anyway, he was drunk, they had a big argument and she threw him out in the snow. He crawled into the alley and fell asleep. Sometime in the night, he rolled over onto some used ‘fits’ (hypodermic needles). They were contaminated with HIV.

‘I’m not sure about the details of how Shark got AIDS. He was pretty messed up on crack, and he was into some anal shit. When I asked him about AIDS he said to me, ‘That’s what I get from fucking a pig, in the ass, without a condom.’

“I’ve got hep c. I think I got it when I had my tattoos done. I’m a carrier, but I’m not infectious. It’ll kill me, but nobody else.”

Hippo walked across the street. We shook hands. He said, “Joy, can I buy two cigarettes for a quarter?”

“No, but I’ll give you one.” Hippo threw a quarter into her hat.

“Well,” said Joy, “it’s eight twenty and that lady hasn’t asked you to move.”

“I don’t think she’s in today. The guy was out sweeping the sidewalk.”

“You’re in luck then.” Hippo shrugged his shoulders and walked back across the street.

Blair walked by and said, “Hi Joy, I’m short fifty cents. Can you help me out?”

“I’ll give you a quarter. Now, you’re only short twenty-five cents.”

“Thanks, Joy.”

To the world in general, Joy said, “Yes, a panhandler did give him money.

“I’m really losing it. I wanted my mom to come to Toronto before she died. I want my kids to come to Toronto. My oldest son has a job as a cast fitter. I don’t know what that is, but he gets paid twenty-seven dollars an hour. I miss them.

“I’ve got to get away from Toothless. He was on my case about groceries. Yesterday, I bought two loaves of bread, some of those frozen hamburger patties, and some other stuff. He bought sausages. Last night he told me he’s invited Tony and Dora, Chris and his girlfriend, and a bunch of other people over for a barbecue. I can’t afford to be feeding all those people. He tells me that I’m not paying my share. I said to him, ‘Stop inviting so many people over.’ I haven’t talked to him since. I pushed V out of the way, so I could get out the door, and he knocked over Chuck’s table. I just left it. It’s his dog, he can clean up the mess.

“I don’t know if I’ll be visiting the guys at noon. Maybe I will, but I’m not sure. Most of those people are getting on my nerves. I see that Lucy is hanging around with Buck. That will stop once her old man gets of jail, in a few weeks. He’s the one that robbed Shark, then beat him up because he had no bills. Then Lucy went after Irene. You’ve seen how small Irene is. Jake and I were still together then. When Jake heard about it he took the plastic handle off a bathroom plunger, sawed the bottom off it, then filled the hollow part with dimes. It must have been a couple of hundred dimes. He used duct tape to seal the sawed-off end, then unwrapped a metal coat hanger and wound it around the duct tape. That made quite a jailhouse club. The next time he saw Nick, Lucy’s boyfriend, he hit him three times with it. Rick didn’t get up.

“I’ve talked to Lucy recently, she’s so excited about Nick getting out. I said to her, “We’ve gone toe to toe together before, but if you ever try anything with Irene again I’m going to smash your skull to pieces, and you know I’ll do it.”

At noon, as I was walking to the park, I met Joy and her friend ‘Sausage Fingers’ waiting near the bus stop. Joy introduced him to me as one of her best friends in the world. I remembered having met him during the winter, but he’s shaved his beard and looks completely different.

Joy said, “I’ve had it! I snapped at Silver. I snapped at Hippo. I’m going home before I end up in jail. Chuck is panning, so I’ll have the house all to myself until about four-thirty. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

Sitting in his usual place was Serge. “Hi Serge, are you still at The Shepherd, or have you moved to the Salvation Army?” He said, “I’m still at The Shepherd. I have to go there between four and six o’clock to sign the card that says I’ll be staying another week.”

“Has it been noisy? You mentioned that a man kept opening and closing the door. Is he still doing that?”

“Yes, he starts at six o’clock in the morning, opening and closing, opening and closing.”

“I’ll talk to you later, Serge. Take care.”

At the park,  Hippo wasn’t looking very well. He said,” I’ve been puking up blood. I’ve also been shitting blood. I’ve got ulcers, two of them.”

“You should go to the hospital,” said Donald.

“I can’t. They won’t take me. I don’t have my health card. First I’d have to get my Birth Certificate, then my Social Insurance card, then I could apply for my health card.”

“Why do you drink, then?” asked Donald.

“Welfare asks me the same question. I don’t know why I drink. If I didn’t drink I wouldn’t be me. If I didn’t drink I’d die.”

“You should think of your mother and father. They love you, don’t they?”

“They’re my parents, of course, they love me.”

“You should quit drinking for them. Think of how they’d feel if you died.”

“Everyone is going to die, but I hear you, man. Can I stay at your place this weekend? I’m feeling really rough. I couldn’t take another night at the Sally right now.”

“Sure, man. I have to go for my methadone treatment at one o’clock, but I’ll come back, and I’ll bring some beer.”

Wolf said to me, “I haven’t been here for the past few days. I had my fifty-seventh birthday Friday. I had a forty-ounce bottle, of twelve-year-old scotch, that I started at five-thirty Saturday morning. I finished it by twelve-thirty that night. I also had some sherry. The next morning I had the hangover from Hell. I’m too old to do that sort of thing any more. I was here drinking beer, on Monday, but I haven’t had anything else between then and now.

“I just wanted to tell you why I hadn’t been around. When somebody hasn’t been around for a while, the first thing people think is that they’re dead. I came here today to tell everyone that I’m not dead.”

Donald said to me, “I have to go to the Addiction Center for my methadone treatment at one o’clock. When you go back to work, I’ll walk with you. As we were walking I asked, “Why are you having methadone treatment?”

“My father used to beat my mother when she was pregnant. I was born three months premature. I was deaf and had to have an operation removing nine feet of my intestines.” He lifted his shirt to show me his scar. “When I was older, I had a lot of pain. They prescribed Oxycontin. I was on it for seven years. Methadone helps with the cravings. I also got into other drugs and became an alcoholic. I had been living with my mother, but because I was into drugs and alcohol so much she put me on the street. I’m thirty-five years old. I shouldn’t have been living with my mother. Now, I have my own apartment and have more control over the drugs and alcohol.

“By the way, can you spare some change?”

“I’m sorry, man. If I had it I’d give it to you, but I didn’t bring my wallet with me. I don’t have anything with me at all, not even bus tickets.”

“That’s okay. I’ll see you next week.”

We parted ways. He headed north on Parliament to Danforth for his methadone appointment. I walked into the building where I work.

~~~

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17 May 2012

Shakes Plays Risk

This morning was sunny but cool and windy. Joy’s plastic box was there, but Joy wasn’t. I checked with Metro to ask if she had been at her spot this morning.

“Hi, Dennis,  Joy was here earlier. I don’t know if she’s gone to the bathroom, or if she’s left for the day. There she is! She’s coming now!”

“Thanks, Metro, have a good day.”

“Hi, Joy, how’s everything this morning?”

“I don’t know why I have to pee so often. Hippo’s across the street shrugging his shoulders, Again! It’s girl stuff.”

“Does it have to do with your kidneys?”

“Yes, but I’m okay as long as I keep peeing.”

“You mentioned before that it was a dark color. Are you concerned about that?”

“No, it seems fine. I think I just needed to drink more water.”

“I saw Alphonse and Maggie last night, after work. I couldn’t tell if she’d had an abortion or not, but it was good to see them so happy together. Alphonse seems like such a good man.”

“Yes, he is. I don’t know what it is about Inuit women. Inuk went out with another guy the night before Bearded Bruce went to prison. An hour and a half after he signed himself in, she came down and expected us to be friends with her. Maggie acts the same way.”

Joy and I were discussing various bars that we both had frequented in the past. I said, “My friends and I would often meet at the Continental for beer and spaghetti.”

Joy said, “The last time I was at the Continental was with Jake. There was a woman there playing pool. She was wearing a low-cut blouse and every time she bent over to take a shot, her boobs nearly fell out on the table. I walked over to her and said, ‘I’m going to ask you nicely, to stop flashing my old man here. It’s very rude.’ People don’t need to see that when they’re eating. She kept doing it, so I picked up the cue ball and threw it at her; caught her right in the middle of her forehead. She was out cold. The bartender came over and said, ‘Joy, this is probably a good time to leave.’ I said, ‘Cool, dude. We’re on our way.’ ”

“I’m going to go over and talk to Hippo,” I said, “He looks lonely.”

“I told him to use that spot. That’s where Crash used to pan. As long as he’s in that alcove they shouldn’t be able to touch him.”

“Hi, Hippo!”

“Hi Dennis, how’s it going?”

“I’m doing fine. Have you found any more lawnmowers?”

“No, I found that last one in the garbage. It was a Craftsman 650 with a 170 c.c. motor. All I had to do was add oil and gas and away she went.”

“Have you heard anything more about your inheritance?”

“No, I signed the papers last August. That’s eight months ago. I don’t know why it’s taking so long.”

A woman wearing a gray suit came over to us and said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to move. You’re sitting in front of the hotel property.”

“Okay,” we said and left.

At noon it was still chilly, with the wind blowing. Tonight there is a frost warning. On Sunday Environment Canada is forecasting eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit. Go figure!

Sitting on the curb at the park were about a dozen people and Bear.

“Hi, Shakes, how are you doing?”

“I’m getting there, slowly but surely. Last night we were up until two in the morning playing Risk. I finally asked, ‘Aren’t you guys getting sleepy?’ ”

Hippo said, “We used to play that game, my mother, sister, and me. My dad never wanted to play. He’d go out to the garage. Another game we used to play was Clue.”

“It’s nice to wake up in the morning,” said Shakes. “If you don’t, you know that something’s wrong.”

“We were worried about Luther yesterday,” said Hippo. “He usually joins us, but he just sat on the curb and fell asleep. We thought he might be sick.”

“He’s back on the rubbing alcohol,” said Deaf Donald.

I said, “He also drinks Listerine.”

“Both of those really mess up your mind,” said Hippo. “I’ve tried them once, but never again.”

Donald said, “I’ve heard of people drinking Old Spice, Aqua Velva, Purell, shoe polish, melted and strained through bread. I’ve heard of people ‘huffing’ Lysol, Clorox bleach, and gasoline. They’re all poisonous.

“I’ve been looking at the plants in the flower garden over there. One of them looks like marijuana. I know it isn’t, but it sure looks like it.

“If you grow marijuana in the woods, it’s best to pick a place where there are a lot of trails. People looking for it can get lost, and if someone surprises you, there are lots of escape routes.

“Where do you live, Hippo?” asked Donald.

“I’m staying at the Salvation Army now, but I’m hoping to get a place of my own.

“Where do you live?”

“Now I’m living in Mississauga. I have to take the Go Train into the city for my methadone (used to treat opiate dependency for drugs such as morphine, heroin, and oxycontin). It takes me about an hour to get downtown.”

I asked, “Why did you choose to live so far out?”

“My mother lives in Mississauga. I have a bachelor apartment with a fireplace just a few blocks from her. I live on Lakeshore Road right across from the Urban Ink Tattoo Parlour. I used to live on Sherbourne, near here. There was too much crack.”

“Joy, Shark, and I lived just off Parliament, at different times. I was on Spruce near Carlton, Joy was closer to Dundas. It’s a small world.

~~~

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16 May 2012

Rain on the Street 

This morning was slightly overcast with light, scattered showers. Joy was in good spirits. Little Jake was panning on the corner where Silver usually sits. Silver was at the medical clinic having his blood tested. Hippo waved from across the street. A strange-looking man was seated directly across the street from Joy. He was holding a sign that neither of us could read.

Joy said, “I don’t know what that guy is all about. Earlier he motioned me to move on, but that’s not going to happen. I’ve been here too long, and fought too hard for this spot, to take shit from some newcomer who doesn’t know how things work. I may have to go over and talk to him.”

A light rain started. Joy said, “If it’s just small drops I don’t mind. If it’s those big ass drops, then I’m taking cover. There is an overhang so, depending on the wind, if I move back to the wall I can stay dry.”

“I asked, “Do you have any news about getting an apartment with Loretta?”

“I haven’t seen or talked to her since the other day at the park. I don’t know what’s going on with her.”

“Are you feeling better today?”

“I feel a lot better. I’ve been asking a few women, regulars of mine if they have any spare tampons because I started today. Apart from that, I feel fine. Debbie and I were at Outcast’s place yesterday afternoon. He made a stir fry. It was a bit too sweet but really good. Later on, at Chuck’s place, I cooked spaghetti. Chili, Rocky, and Raven came over. Rocky was really wasted on something. He had spaghetti sauce all over his shirt, his face, and his hands. I said to him, ‘Rocky, go to the bathroom and clean yourself up.’ Before he got up, he wiped his sauce-covered hand across Carl’s wall. Chuck hauled him outside and told him to get lost and never come back.

“Later, after supper, Raven said, ‘Okay, where’s the beer?’ Chuck said, ‘We don’t have any beer.’ She started swearing, so I grabbed her by the hair and threw her out the front door. She was swearing all down the block saying, ‘You fuckin’ bitch this, you fuckin’ bitch that.’ I just closed the door and let her rant.

“Chuck told me, ‘I’m glad you did that because I couldn’t have.’

“Chili was looking better after being straight for the last month. I said to her, ‘I’ll bet your mom wasn’t too pleased to see all those track marks on your arm.’ She said, ‘No, she wasn’t pleased at all.’ Her family is taking her to Sudbury to visit relatives, and then back to Prince Edward Island, where her parents live. It’s such a shame to see someone her age so messed up. She’s only twenty-one years old.

“I told you earlier that I was feeling fine. A wave of nausea just came over me. I’m going to have to go.” Joy stepped into the alley and threw up.

“I’m glad I just had water this morning, otherwise, it could have been messy. I think that came from eating so late at night.

“Ann is staying at Chester’s place now. He really likes her, but with Ann comes her daughter Trudy and her son Larry. That’s a lot of people to feed. Chester has a couple of pensions coming in. He does all right.

“If it’s not raining at noon, I’ll be up on the lawn with the guys. I’m not going under the bridge. It’s like a wind tunnel there. Look out your window before you come, you’ll be able to see if any of us are around.”

~~~

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15 May 2012

This morning was warm, sunny, and pleasant. Joy was in her usual spot. All was as it should be.

“How are you feeling, Joy?”

“I’m a lot better than yesterday. I went home, lay down, and drank a lot of water. I was able to sleep most of the afternoon until Chuck came home at four-thirty. This morning, I was able to keep my breakfast down.”

“How is it going with you and Loretta, getting a place together?”

“She’s going to phone them today and, hopefully, we’ll be able to see it this afternoon. It’s furnished, that worries me a bit. I don’t want to be in a place with bed bugs. There are mattress covers, that have a very fine weave, that the bedbugs can’t get through. A friend of mine has one, but you can still see the bugs crawling around underneath. It creeps me out.

“Some people have told me that I shouldn’t move in with Loretta. They say she can get wild when she’s drinking, but she’s cut back quite a bit. I think we’ll get along fine.”

“If she does get wild, I’m sure you can handle her.”

“No problem there.”

“Have you heard anything more about the funeral for Dennis ‘Fingers’?”

“That was a mistake. I talked to a friend of his and he’s doing fine. He just hasn’t been downtown for a while. He was in the hospital and is still very weak. He prefers to pan in the east end since he’s been robbed several times around here. You’d think they’d pick on someone with more money. Panhandlers just make enough to get by. Whenever I get my check at the end of the month, you won’t see me on the street for a couple of days.

“Silver is down here almost every day. I asked him, ‘What are you hoarding your money for? Are you that greedy?’ He’s not here today, though. There was someone else sitting in his spot this morning, but it wasn’t very long before a gray-haired man chased him off. I don’t know what that was about.”

“I saw Nick yesterday, panning on Queen Street.”

“He, Hippo, and Little Jake were kicked off Parliament, but Queen is even worse. The police don’t like you panning on Queen. They’re patrolling it all the time. The same with the park. That’s why they’ve been by so often. It’s the same every summer.”

I said, “I was talking to Serge yesterday. He’s in the Wet Program at The Shepherd, but he doesn’t like it.”

“On that program, they give you a bit of homemade wine every hour, sometimes it’s watered down. Serge is used to drinking rubbing alcohol and Listerine. He wouldn’t like drinking wine. He doesn’t panhandle. I don’t know where he gets his money. He probably just has a small pension.

“He’s another one that won’t be around much longer; another one to add to the list.”

A man stopped and handed Joy a banana. She said to me, “Do you want this? Since my kidney failure, my doctor said I’m not allowed to eat bananas. They have too much potassium.”

At noon I talked briefly with Serge. He was sitting in his usual shaded place, on the curb of the sidewalk leading across the bridge, adjacent to the park. “Hi Serge, how did you sleep last night?”

“I slept at The Shepherd.”

“Yesterday you mentioned that someone was opening and closing the door all night. Did that happen last night?”

“Yes, he did that for a while.”

“How about the other man who shit on the floor. Did he do that again?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure. I changed beds, so I’m near the kitchen. I like it better there. They have me on the Wet Program. I don’t like that.”

“I hear they give you wine every hour. Is that right? Do you like wine?”

“No, I don’t like it. They give me cheap wine, and the beer they give me has no alcohol. It’s awful.”

“How is the pain in your hands and legs?”

“My hands are worse in the morning. If I try to move them, before I’ve soaked them under hot running water, the pain goes right down to the bone. I have pains in my legs, and I can’t walk fast, but apart from that I’m okay.”

“Can you talk to the doctor? Maybe he can give you pills for your pain.”

“I’ll just wait. I’m going to move to the Salvation Army.”

I said, “I’m going up to talk to the others. I’ll see you on my way back.”

A group of people was standing in a circle on the lawn. As I approached, I heard Outcast was giving advice to Silver, “For your blood test tomorrow, don’t eat after six tonight, and drink only water.”

“What do you mean, ‘drink only water?’ I can have juice and coffee in the morning — can’t I?”

“No, Silver, only water and lots of it. It’ll make your veins stick out, so they’ll have an easier time extracting your blood. They love to see addicts come in because they have such large veins.”

“Here, Silver,” said Joy, “have a swig from my water bottle so you’ll know, in advance, what it tastes like.”

Silver said, “My doctor wants to prescribe some pills for my alcoholism. If they make me better will I have my O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program) cut off?”

“Silver, You’re too far gone,” said Joy. “You’re not going to get better.”

“Outcast told me that they might cut off my O.D.S.P. if I get better. If that’s the case, I don’t want to get better.” (He died 29 September 2012 from cirrhosis of the liver. He was a good friend. I attended his funeral.)

“Silver,“ said Outcast, “if I said that, I was only joking. Get the doctor to prescribe as many pills as possible, and while you’re at it, tell him that you have a bladder problem and you need a diaper allowance. Wet your pants right in his office if you have to.”

Joy said, “You can let a juicy, wet fart that stains your underwear. Wear white, so the stain shows. It would have worked great yesterday when you split your pants.”

Outcast asked, “Dennis, how long have you been around this area?”

“I’ve worked around here for the past five years.”

“You wouldn’t remember it then. This whole area used to be covered with bushes. Now, they’ve cut them back. Shark and Irene lived here for nearly a year. They had a tarp stretched out to keep the rain off. We could all sit under there and keep dry. It wasn’t even visible from the sidewalk.

“There was a rumor going around, about a ‘tent city’ being erected; part of ‘Occupy Toronto’. It was supposed to start last Saturday. The city tore up all the grass like they did last year. It’s not so pleasant camping in the mud. I haven’t heard what’s going to happen next.

“So, how did you come across this group? You don’t drink, you don’t smoke. Did you just stop by one day and start a conversation with someone?”

“It’s not that I don’t drink or smoke, I just don’t do it during working hours. I’ve known Joy for about a year and a half. She invited me here, in January, to meet some of her friends.”

Joy said, “Dennis asked me if he could buy me breakfast. He does that most mornings when I’m panning.”

‘Wolf called me over, “Dennis, you’re really looking dapper today.”

“I’m wearing Second Chance from top to bottom.” (Second Chance is a used clothing store, similar to Goodwill or the Salvation Army Thrift Store.)

“I don’t care what you’re wearing. I just wanted to say something nice to you. I just celebrated my fifty-seventh birthday. I wanted you to know that. I’m more miserable and grumpy than ever. I’ve been really nasty to Debbie. Half the people here I don’t talk to at all. I just like to come down some times to have a few beer, talk to my friends.

“How is Shaggy doing under her trailer? I can’t see her.”

“She’s got her head out, watching what’s going on. Trying to decide who to bite next.”

“I won’t keep you, Dennis. I just wanted to shake your hand, and I’m not sure I can get up.”

Silver asked Joy, “What’s Debbie’s problem? She hasn’t said more than three words since she’s been here.”

“She’s got the same problem I’ve had all week; she’s starting menopause. Since September, my period hasn’t been regular. It’s all over the place — four months off, one month on. It leaves me feeling miserable.”

~~~

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