Posts Tagged ‘panhandlers’

 

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11 December 2012

On the number fourteen bus, I met Trudy, André and Little Jake. Patsy asked, “Have you heard about Joy?”

“I heard that she was in the Civic Hospital. I visited her a couple of times.”

“Yesterday, she was transferred to the General, that’s what Jacques told me. She’s able to move around a bit now in her wheelchair.”

I said, “That sounds like good news. How have you been? I haven’t seen you for a while.”

“I’m okay, my mom (Mary) has been sick. She hasn’t been out lately. Nick and I have been staying in. It’s just been too cold to do anything. My brother (Larry) has gone back to Iqualuit.” Trudy got off the bus at Booth and Gladstone.

I moved closer to the front of the bus and met Jake and André. They were going to Jake’s new apartment.

“Hi André, Jake, it’s good to see you.”

“Have you heard about Joy?”

“I heard that she’d been moved to the General, but I don’t know why.”

André said, “I think it’s because there are tests that they can do at the General, that they aren’t able to do at the Civic. I also think that she’s been moved out of intensive care and they needed her bed. When I was at the General, they gave me an intravenous drip, because I’m an alcoholic. Towards the end, they were just bringing me glasses of brandy once an hour. I’d save them, so I could drink them all at once and get a bit of a buzz.

“A bunch of us are going to get a taxi and visit her. I hope that she lets me in her room. I’d hate to pay that money and have her say I couldn’t come in.”

Jake said, “I’m sure she’ll let you in.”

André said, “Guess what? I’m getting my own apartment by the first of January. It’s going to be in Vanier. They took me to see it. It’s really nice.” It was coming to their stop so we shook hands and they got off the bus.

12 December 2012

At the park, I met the usual congregation of friends and Dogs.

Jacques said, “I was talking to Joy this morning. She was a bit weepy because she thinks they’re going to keep her in the hospital until after Christmas. I think they want to keep her, so she doesn’t start drinking again. If they let her out, she’s going to visit her friends and they will all be drinking, so she’ll start again. She drinks that wine, eh? That’s bad. Me, I just drink a few beers, so far it hasn’t caused me any problems, except for a big belly.”

Mariah said, “I’m a reformed alcoholic. I went right downhill. I was a falling down drunk. Now I can buy a small bottle of cognac and it will last me a week. I just have a few sips a day. I cut out smoking and drinking when I was pregnant.”

Jacques said, “People tell me that maybe I’m pregnant. I hope not.

“I like to have a bit to drink, just beer, with maybe some pot every once in a while. With some people, it’s beer, with some wine, with some pot, with some crack — something different for everybody.

“I’m still looking for my bunk beds. I’m going to have to get out of the place I’m staying. Jake said I should talk to his worker, but she’s been sick. When I talked to her last she said she could get me an apartment, a start-up allowance and arrange for me to get O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program). I don’t have any of that now. Maybe she could even get me into one of those over sixty places. I’m only fifty-six, but if I could get into a place like that I’d avoid a lot of the crack heads.

“You should see where I am now. It’s just a room. I share a kitchen with two native guys across the hall. There is a double sink, both sides are filled with dirty dishes. There is a table that is filled with clean dishes. I have no place to sit to eat my food, no place to wash my dishes. I went to turn on the stove, but first I had to move the cockroaches. I don’t have them in my room, just the kitchen. Me, I shut up about that. That’s how I lost my place in Vanier. My neighbor said there were mites. When the inspector came I let him in. He took pictures over here, over there. When he came back he had a notice saying the place was condemned. I don’t want that to happen again.

“I don’t need a big place. I live alone. My last place was a bachelor. There was just room enough for my fridge and a table with about this much space in between. I think that the bathroom was bigger than the rest of the apartment, but I didn’t mind.”

Two police cars stopped at the curb. I decided to move over to talk to Wolf, so there would only be two groups of four. We’ve been told before that they don’t like to see groups larger than four people. Nobody was blocking the sidewalk, there was no alcohol visible and nobody was drunk.

“Hi, Wolf,” I said, “what are you reading now?”

“It’s a book about Hollywood in the 1950s. It’s called Suicide Hill. I forget who wrote it (James Elroy). It’s like that book The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh. If these guys think they have it bad now, it’s nothing like it was in the 1950s. This detective, Lloyd Hopkins, goes after bad guys and what he does to them isn’t exactly legal. The cops would do ‘wino runs’ where they’d pick up winos and addicts.

“I’m an alcoholic and I smoke a bit of crack. Maybe it’s the German in me, but I respect authority. I respect what the police do. I’m polite to them, not like some of these guys. Damian has beaten up Snake, he beat me up. If it weren’t for the cops who would protect us?

“In the book, they wouldn’t give out tickets to the winos like they do here. If they wanted information, they’d beat them, and believe me they’d talk. Sometimes, either before or after they talked, they’d kill them, for no reason. Suicide Hill was a place in Hollywood where the police would dump the bodies.

“I guess you’ve heard about Joy. Jacques was talking to her on the phone this morning. He asked her if she wanted to talk to me, She said, ‘No.’ What am I going to do? I’ve never been her boyfriend or anything like that, but I let her stay at my place when she was beaten by Big Jake. I don’t get involved with women very much anymore. I live alone, pay for the odd hooker once in a while. There was a woman who stayed at my apartment last night. I sent her out to buy me a case of beer. She said that when she got back she had a surprise for me. I like surprises, but she didn’t come back, so I put her bag and clothes out in the hall.

“Joy has to quit drinking. We’ve all told her that, but she won’t listen. Maybe she’d listen to you.”

I said, “I don’t think so. When I saw her last, the doctors had told her to stop drinking or she’d die, She said, ‘You told me that the last time, and I had ten months out on the street.'”

“I know,” said Wolf. “I’ve been in hospital, for injuries. I was in that car accident, I’ve had my cheekbone smashed when I was beaten up. I’ve broken my arm when I fell, but nothing internal. When your kidneys or your liver starts going, you have to quit drinking, there’s no way around it. Look what happened to Silver, just a few months ago. Anyway, if you can talk sense to Joy it might save her life.”

Two outreach workers came by. One of them was carrying a backpack. He said to Wolf, I’ve got some dog biscuits. Would you like some for your dog?”

Jacques said, “I wouldn’t mind some for me.”

The outreach worker said, “I’ve also got a sleeping bag in here. Would you be interested?”

Wolf  said, “Sure, I’d like it.”

“Can you use the backpack as well?”

“Thank you very much. I really appreciate this.”

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……

 

30 November 2012

It was cold at noon (minus four Fahrenheit) and windy. The only person at ‘the heater’ was Shakes. Beside him was a sports bag, a purple plastic shopping bag with a globe sitting on top — all his worldly possessions.

“Dennis,” said Shakes. I’ve got a favor to ask you.”

“What is it, Shakes?”

“I need a bottle.”

“Sorry, Shakes, I don’t have any cash on me.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and handed me a twenty-dollar bill. “Would you please go to the World Exchange for me? Get a coffee for yourself.”

“Sure I’ll go,  Shakes, but I don’t need a coffee. We get it free at work.”

“Don’t say I didn’t offer.”

It’s only about a five-minute walk to the World Exchange Center. I didn’t mind making a run and Shakes is barred for life. “Okay, Shakes, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

When I came back Shakes was talking to Fred. I looked at the globe and asked, “Shakes, are you planning to do some world traveling?” He laughed.

“How about Australia?” I asked. “Would you like to go there?”

Fred said, “I have a friend who came from New Zealand.”

I said, “I’ve seen pictures of New Zealand. It’s really beautiful.”

“Yeah,” he said, “they also have seventeen women to every man. I asked my friend if it was true, and why he left. He said, ‘They have lots of women alright, but they’re all ugly.’ I don’t think any women are ugly. Every one of them has something beautiful about her.”

I asked Shakes, “Have you heard anything about Joy? Did she phone Jacques?”

“First things first. I lost my glove.”

His yellow glove was just a few feet back, near where we were standing previously. Every time the sun moved farther behind one of the tall buildings, Shakes moved out of the shadow and into the sunlight.

“Where have the others gone?”

“They had places they had to go. Jacques, André and Travis were here. Do you guys know Travis.”

I said, “I know Travis. He talks a lot.”

“Yeah, he not only talks a lot, but it’s what he says. Sometimes I just have to say, ‘Travis, go away. I don’t want to listen to you.’

“I’m waiting here until two o’clock. My workers are coming by in the van, to pick up me and my stuff. They’re going to be giving me the keys to my apartment on Moriset.”

Little Chester and Donny in his motorized wheelchair came over to where we were standing. He picked up the globe and looked at it. I pointed out Iceland, where my grandparents came from.

He pointed at Newfoundland. “This is where I came from. They’re the same color.”

I said, “I’ve always wanted to go to Newfoundland. It’s really beautiful.”

“No, it’s not. I lived there for twenty-four years. I couldn’t wait to get away.”

“I hear the economy has really picked up since the oil discovery.”

“I’ve been hearing about that for forty years. I don’t think anything has happened yet.”

I asked, “Were you a fisherman?”

“My mother said I had lazy bones. I’ve always had lazy bones. I snared rabbits. Once, some friends and I were out in the bush. We had a cable and made a lasso out of it. We hung it between two trees. A moose came running along, right into the snare. My friends hauled it up in a tree. We had meat to last us all winter. Lots of people have heard of snaring rabbits, not too many have heard of snaring moose.”

I said, “I’ve eaten moose, It’s really good.”

Shakes said to Chester, “Get the fuck out of my sun!”

“I don’t understand you, Shakes. What did you say?”

I said, “I think he means you’re making a shadow on him. You’re standing in his sun.”

“Oh, I didn’t know what he wanted. Sure, Shakes, I’ll move down.”

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……

28 November 2012

I was expecting Stella to be visiting Weasel and Bear today, so I took my lunch hour at ten o’clock. Nancy greeted me with, “Joy just phoned. She sounds a lot better, complaining as usual. She called Jacques, then he passed the phone to the rest of us.”

I said, “I visited her last night.”

“Yes, she mentioned that. I don’t think that Joy is good at living alone. She needs people to make decisions for her. I don’t think she’s had to do that before. I love to have free time to myself, but I’ve had practice.”

I shook hands with Inuvik but I couldn’t remember his name. “Hi,” I said I’m Dennis.”

“I’m Inuvik.”

I said, “I remember, you’re Nuisance.”

“That’s right, you remember!”

“Dennis,” said Outcast, “I talked to Joy this morning and I gave her shit. I wasn’t like some of these people saying, ‘Poor, Joy, I’m sorry you’re in the hospital, sorry you’re sick.’ I told her she had it coming. She didn’t listen to the doctors last time and she probably won’t listen to them this time. She has to quit drinking; never mind watering it down, she has to quit entirely. You can only damage your kidneys so many times then they shut down. She’s had her last wake up call. She’s stubborn, thinks she can do anything she wants and it won’t have any effect on her health.

“I went to her place on Saturday with a bag of groceries. I could see her moving around in there, but she wouldn’t answer the door to me. If she wants to be like that, it’s the last time I bring groceries. I hear she let Buck in. I don’t know what’s up with that.

“By the way, did you notice my new boots. They’re really warm. 59 bucks at Wal-Mart. They had $39, $49 all the way up to $100, but those were really heavy. I do a lot of walking, when I picked these up, I couldn’t believe how light they were.

“I won’t be going to the hospital. Debbie went for a colonoscopy last week and I stood outside for three hours. Any virus that’s around I’ll pick it up. I can’t take the chance.”

I said, “Joy mentioned that she was quarantined when she first came in. It’s a virus that she picked up at the hospital last time. She didn’t mention the name.”

Outcast replied, “That’s enough reason for me not to go. Have you heard that we’re getting more snow this afternoon?”

“I know we had some between nine and ten o’clock.”

“That was nothing. They’re predicting seven feet. We won’t even be able to see André. He’ll have to get one of those reflecting rods that they use for the snow plows.

“By the way, I get my new dentures next week. It’s all covered by the government. I thought I’d have to get all my teeth pulled because of pyorrhea, but they filled two cavities and said I was good to go. The reason the government paid for my dentures is because I said I couldn’t eat, which isn’t exactly true. I have two molars. That’s all I really need for chewing. I’m missing my front teeth so I can’t eat corn on the cob or apples.”

Nancy said, “Outcast, it’s not all about you.”

“Of course it’s all about me. It always is.”

Jacques said, “I really miss eating corn on the cob. I have to cut the corn off with a knife then add salt and lots of butter.”

André said, “That’s the same with me. You should see when I try to eat corn on the cob. Because I’m missing my top front teeth, I leave a strip in the middle about an inch wide. Only a few niblets on the edges get into my mouth, so, like Jacques, I cut it off with a knife then add lots of butter and salt.”

Outcast said, “That sounds good for your cholesterol level. I’m not supposed to eat salt because of my blood pressure, but I eat it anyway. I’ve heard that sea salt is better for you.”

Stella said, “Yes, I’ve heard that too. It tastes better and is a bit coarser.”

I said to Mariah, “You’re in the same building as Joy. How long have you lived there?”

“Three years.”

“You must be relatively happy there to have stayed for three years.”

“The first couple of years were with my old man, but he’s gone. I didn’t mind the company, but he kept running us into debt. I don’t miss that.

“I’ve gone to the hospital for Willie and John. I don’t do that anymore. I feel bad that Joy’s in hospital, but she has to take care of herself. I’m not going to do it.”

Outcast was on the phone to Chester, “Are you coming down today? Remember you owe me twenty bucks. No, not from last week, from the week before. I don’t want to come all the way to your place. Okay, you’ll be down for sure tomorrow? I’ll see you then. Don’t forget! Don’t spend it all tonight!

“That’s the problem with lending money to people. They either forget they owe it to you, or you just don’t see them. He’s drunk already and I could hear another voice in the background. He said I could pick it up at his place, Maybe I’ll do that.”

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……

26 November 2012

Monday morning and Joy isn’t in her usual place. I wasn’t surprised, Mondays are noted as being bad days for panhandling. People tend to be grumpy because of having to come back to work after the weekend.

At noon I met Jacques and André at the traffic island. Jacques said, “Did you hear about Joy? She’s in hospital. They take her there by ambulance yesterday to the Civic. She phoned me this morning. It’s about her kidneys, she said that they were so sore she couldn’t get up. She didn’t have a room yet. They had her all night in the corridor.”

I said that I’d phone the hospital and see if I could get any information. André said, “Me, I don’t go to hospitals, but because it’s Joy I’ll see if I can visit her sometime.”

Jacques said, “It’s bad for her. This is the third time in a year that she’s been hospitalized for the same thing. The doctors told her she should move somewhere else and stop drinking; but, it’s hard to leave your friends, go to someplace where you don’t know anybody, but it’s her body telling her that she can’t drink anymore. It doesn’t matter if she waters it down, she has to stop completely.”

I said, “She’s been waiting so long for her health card. She drinks to forget her past. She drinks because of the pain in her legs and she drinks to get to sleep at night.”

I asked André, “Where have you been staying?”

“At the Sally. It hasn’t been too bad. I’m in bed 256, in a room with just one other guy. When he starts snoring it’s not just sawing wood it’s like a Husqvarna chain saw. He’s a big guy and makes a lot of noise just rolling over on those plastic covered mattresses.

“Yesterday I was at the Library. I knew I couldn’t get back in time to sign for my bed, so I phoned them. They said, ‘No problem, André, we’ll put you down for another night.’ When I got there they had cut my lock and were hauling my stuff out of the room. They told me, ‘You can’t sign in until seven o’clock, so I had to sit in the lobby with all of my stuff until then. Meanwhile, there’s another guy sitting across the room. They ask him if he’d like a bed. I said, ‘Hey, I’m waiting for a bed, now you’re giving my bed away to someone else.’ The guy said, ‘I was here first.’ I said, ‘What do you mean you were here first. I’ve been here for six years. I’ve grown roots in the cracks of the floor here.’ Anyway, they gave him a bed in the basement and where do you think they put me? In the same bed they just kicked me out of.

“I’m thinking that I should talk to my workers about getting me a room until an apartment becomes available. I’ve got to get something started because they’re cutting off the start-up allowance in the new year. It’s one of the government cutbacks.”

“Hey, hey,” said Jacques, “The last start-up check is going to be issued December 15, so you have to apply before that. If you apply later there is a good chance you’ll be rejected.”

I asked Jacques, “You’re in a bachelor apartment aren’t you?”

“No, I’m in a room for now, but I’d prefer to be in a bachelor. We share a kitchen with two sinks, one side is always full of dirty dishes. I don’t like that. I like to have my own place, so I can keep it tidy, or not — whatever I want.

“They didn’t want to give me a start-up allowance, because I was coming from a bachelor to a room. They thought that I should have everything I needed. I told them that I had to throw away most of my things because of the bed bug. They said, ‘There’s no report of you having the bed bug.’ They sprayed three times, but my landlord didn’t give me a paper saying that. I could have gotten two hundred dollars if I had that paper.”

Timmy stopped by on his bicycle. I asked him, “How was your weekend, Timmy?”

“It was okay, quiet. The chicken man was by yesterday morning.”

“I asked, “Was he handing out five dollar bills?”

André answered, “No, just fried chicken. He only hands out five dollar bills on special occasions, like Christmas, Easter — on Mother’s Day he’ll give one to the ladies; on Father’s Day, the men get one. Last year the owner of Gabriel’s Pizza came to ‘the heater’ with four large pizzas. I was the only one there. He said, ‘Make sure you share these.” Did he think I was going to eat four large pizzas? I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll share them.’ If I didn’t I’d probably get my head kicked in.

“I haven’t seen Little Jake today. I wonder how he’s doing?”

I said, “He seemed to be feeling a little better on Friday.”

André said, “He’s taking a powerful dose of antibiotics, but he’s still drinking. I said to him, “Jake if you drink, you’re canceling out the benefit of the antibiotics.” He’s taking other daily medication every day as well. He sees his doctor every day.”

I asked, “How are you feeling, André?”

“I’m feeling okay now. When I had walking pneumonia I had a pain in my chest like a red-hot, iron rod going through my lung. I was in real pain. I could only take shallow breaths. I still don’t have full use of my lungs. Jake may have something different from what I had, I don’t know.”

I phoned the Ottawa Hospital – Civic Campus. I was informed that Joy was doing okay. She is still in the Emergency Department, Medicine Service. They are still waiting for a bed for her. I will try to visit her tonight.

It’s about 6:30 pm. I took the number 6 bus to the Civic Hospital. I went to the Emergency desk, was given a pass and told to follow the green dots on the floor. The receptionist at the Medicine Department desk directed me to bed 116. The curtains were closed, so I asked a nurse what I should do. She said, “Just call her name, she’s resting.” I called and heard a faint, “Dennis?”

I stuck my head behind the curtain. Joy said, “I thought I heard your voice, but I thought, That can’t be. I wasn’t expecting you to visit.”

“I said I would, if you were ever in the hospital again, and here I am.”

“Have a seat over there. Just move my stuff to the other chair. I’m in so much pain. These doctors — there have been five of them, so far — they keep asking me the same questions. I asked one of them, ‘Don’t you guys talk to each other?’ The guy said, ‘We do, but we have to hear it first hand.’ They keep asking, ‘When did you have your last drink?’ I said, ‘Friday.’ They asked, ‘How often a day do you drink?’ I said, ‘Once.’ They asked, ‘How much do you drink each day?’ I said, ‘A bottle, a bottle and a half, two bottles, it depends on how I’m feeling.’

“I was feeling sick on Sunday. I went upstairs to Mariah’s place. It must have taken me forty-five minutes to climb the stairs. She said, ‘You look like you’re in pain!’ She gave me two Tylenol 3’s. They didn’t do anything. She said, ‘Go back downstairs and try to get some rest.’

“Then Buck and Dillinger came over. (Joy rolled her eyes.) He brought me some Ensure and some pears. We smoked a joint together and he left me half a gram. I’ve still got it in my bag.

“I just kept feeling worse and worse. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. My cell phone didn’t have any time on it, but the emergency numbers still worked. They asked me for my phone number. I couldn’t remember it.

“When I first came in they gave me a shot of Dilaudid. I threw my guts up but felt better after that. Then they gave it to me in pill form. That didn’t do anything for the pain, but made me feel nauseous, caused my mouth to dry up. I need morphine, but I told them I’d also need some Gravol. I tried to eat some of the meatloaf they served for supper. I took two bites, that’s all I could handle.

“I can’t sleep. I’m not even on a proper hospital bed. This mattress is thin and hard. I ache all over, my legs, my back, it’s even into my neck now. They had me out in the corridor for a long time before bringing me in here. The guy beside me coughs all the time. They have me in some kind of quarantine, because of a virus I picked up the last time I was here. It’s contagious for people with a low immune system.”

Al, a male nurse came in to take Joy’s blood pressure. It was 188 over 113. He said it’s coming down. It was 244 over 113. He said, “They have a bed for you now. You’ll be moved soon. I’ll try to get them to hurry with your meds. It’s medical students who are working on it. They can be slow.”

Joy said, “Thanks, Al.”

” To me, she said, “He’s cool. He lets me know what’s really going on.

“I want to go out for a smoke. Is it cold outside?”

“It’s been snowing.”

“I don’t care. Can you bring my wheelchair over and help me to the front entrance. While I’m outside could you do me a big favor? I’d really love a Tim Horton’s steeped tea, with one milk and two sugar. The stuff they serve at Starbucks is garbage. I’ll meet you back here at my bed.

After the cigarette and tea, another nurse came in to check Joy’s heart rate. I felt that she needed some privacy, so I said that I’d come back tomorrow.

“I need some stuff from home, especially a tooth-brush. I don’t know how to get them.”

I said, “If Mariah can pack some things and bring a bag downtown, I’ll bring it to you here at the hospital.”

“We’ll work something out. Thanks for bringing me the tea. I’m going to try to get some sleep now. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

I said, “I’ll be here.”

” I’ll see you then. Hopefully, I’ll be better at making conversation.”

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……

25 November 2012

It’s Sunday, I don’t get to see my friends until tomorrow, but I miss them. I wonder where Shakes slept last night. Was it in a bank kiosk? I also wonder where André slept last night. Perhaps, it was behind the dumpsters in the back of Starbucks. I wonder if Joy slept last night since the temperature went below freezing. I’ve slept in a tent in those temperatures and know that it isn’t life threatening if one has the proper sleeping bag and warm clothing. I can also remember shivering so much that I couldn’t get to sleep. There wasn’t anything I could do to improve my situation at the time.

When I read over my previous entries I realize just how important my friends are to me. Despite their addictions, their choices and what life has thrown at them; they are doing the best they can with what they have. Can any of us do any better? They are always entertaining and a joy to be with.

Several colleagues at work have seen me sitting with Joy before I go to work in the mornings. They ask about her story. I give them a condensed version of the facts as I know them. They ask, “Do you believe that what she says is the truth?” I have known Joy for two years now. When she tells her stories there are variations, perhaps due to memory, perhaps due to the amount she’s had to drink, the amount she wishes to reveal; but in essence, what she has told me is consistent and I don’t believe her to be a great actress who can pull tears out of nowhere.

I’ve been asked, “Are these people dangerous?” I know that several have committed murder. Two have served sentences of twenty and twenty-five years in prison. Another wasn’t charged but has lived with the guilt, even attended the dead man’s funeral and met his family. These people, my friends, are capable of murder. I am capable of murder. Most people, in certain situations, especially under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are capable of murder.

I know that if I was in a desperate situation, any of my friends would do their best to protect me, or help me, with whatever resources they had. They’ve offered food, drink and protection on many occasions.

I don’t really know why I am drawn to the park at noon hours. I say that the conversations there are more interesting than what I hear at work. That is certainly true. More than that I see raw life, without a safety net. Like Silver, who died September twenty-ninth, at the age of fifty-two, most of my friends are only too aware that they won’t see sixty. Many are surprised and sometimes disappointed, that they made it through the night. I enjoy sharing the time they have left. I am honored to have made their acquaintance.

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22 November 2012

As soon as I arrived at Joy’s spot she said, “Sit on my crate. I have to go to the bathroom and I’m not allowed in Severino’s (Pizza). They say that I’m bad for business. Go figure.”

When she came back I asked, “Did I miss anything yesterday, after I left?”

“No, nothing much happened. Weasel showed up.”

“Yeah, I saw him on the sidewalk as I was leaving. Any word about your health card?”

“I think it’s all going to happen next week when they bring my furniture.”

I said, “I can’t believe that it’s taking so long.”

“I know, I’m not too happy with one of my workers. The young one with all the stuff about love and crap. She’s the one that was crying yesterday. I told her, ‘I need someone who can keep it together. The other worker has been to sessions at E. Fry with me where I’ve really spilled my guts. I’ve told things that I’ve never told anybody before. If you start crying, I’ll start crying.’ She said, ‘I just want you to know that you’re loved and that we care for you.’ Anyway, I don’t need that shit. The sooner I’m done with them the better.”

I said, “Outcast said something strange to me yesterday. It was when André was talking to the worker in the van. Pointing to André he said, ‘There’s something fishy going on. If I’d been charged like André, I’d be behind bars. Instead, he’s free as can be, doesn’t even need to report to a probation officer.”

“I don’t trust anyone anymore. Of the original crew, there’s only Jacques — Digger’s around but he’s in a home — there are Snake and Irene, but she’s sort of new. Shakes, I’ve known since I was about twelve years old. He’s seen me grow up.

“André has a cousin, five times removed, that’s on the police force. Maybe, she’s doing something for him. I don’t know.

“He was pissed yesterday that I left with Outcast. I got a hammer and nails from Chester and wanted some help hanging a quilt on my wall. André’s shorter than I am, so he’d be no use.”

At noon the weather was unseasonably warm at fifty-two degrees Fahrenheit. At the Traffic Island were Donny with his motorized wheelchair and a half dozen other friends.

Hippo was reading a grocery flyer. “What are you looking to buy, Hippo?”

“Cat food.”

“I didn’t know you had a cat.”

“I didn’t until last night. It was mewing at my door at 1:30 am. I opened the door and in he came. He’s awfully scrawny.

He said to Jacques, “Here are the sausages I like. $3.00 for a three pack.”

“That’s pretty good.”

I said to Jacques, “You showed me your winter boots from Stella. Is there anything else you need for winter?”

‘No, I think I have everything. Instead of longjohns, I like to wear jogging pants. They hold more warm air next to your skin.”

I said, “I have the kind of tights they use for skiing.”

“Yeah, for sports they need something that will stretch when they move. Us here, we don’t move so much. Just raise our arm to drink a beer, that’s all.”

I noticed that Shakes was wearing a white watch. I asked, “Is that watch new, Shakes?”

“Yeah, I just got it yesterday. I bought it for two or three dollars from Danny. I stayed at his place last night. I got a new bag, ’cause my old one was stolen. Look what else I got!” He pulled a giant plastic beer bottle, meant for storing change. He put it to his mouth as if he was drinking. Ha, ha, ha, ha.”

I said, “The cops are sure going to be surprised the next time they stop by.”

“Yeah, they sure will.”

Mariah’s cell phone rang. She checked to see who was calling then said, “I don’t want to talk to him. I’d rather be in the sun and fresh air, not stuck inside somewhere.”

I asked Jake, “How are you feeling today?”

“Better than yesterday. I was panning today, made six dollars. I go to my HIV doctor tomorrow and my other doctor next week. I have to find out what’s going on in my head.”

“Are you having headaches?”

“No, seizures. I had one yesterday. I think it’s due to all the medication I’m taking. I have to make sure I eat when I take the antibiotics, otherwise, I feel really sick.”

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15 November 2012

This morning, as I got off the bus I saw Metro with his stack of newspapers.

“Good morning, Metro. I’ll take a newspaper today.” He smiled because he knew I would be using it, not for reading, but for insulation between my backside and the sidewalk — not that it made any difference to him. When he’s handed out his daily allotment of papers he gets to go home.

At noon Wolf and Shaggy were sitting at the curb, while the rest of the group was on the traffic island.

“Hi Wolf,” I said, “you’re all alone here.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t like to take Shaggy over there, because there is traffic on both sides, twice as much chance of her getting killed. She’s already been hit by a car, I don’t want that to happen again. She’s all I got. Even if someone calls Shakes she’s ready to run across the street. She’s crazy that way, just like the dog in the cartoon — you know the one — her head is just all over the place.

“It’s cool today, isn’t it. I don’t know why those guys think it’s warmer over there. They have to come across to my side of the street to piss, then Shaggy wants to follow them back. I should charge them a toll. What do you think?

“Look what I got this morning. A lady gave them to me, red, Olympic mittens, with the maple leaf crest on the back and 2012 on the palm. I’ve already got gloves but I was really happy to get these.

“Tomorrow Stella’s bringing me some between seasons shoes. These sneakers have mesh on the top and sides that lets the cold in. I’ve got winter boots for forty below zero, but they’re heavy and awkward. I don’t want to wear them in this weather.

“It’s time for me to take a leak. I’ll probably see you tomorrow, since I’m coming to see Stella, anyway. I have to get my fresh air and I like to have a couple of beer outside. I’ll see you then.”

“Bye, Wolf.”

I walked across the street where the rest of the group, all nine of them, were congregated. Everyone had filled the spaces on the low wall, so I sat on the concrete. Jacques handed me a copy of the Metro to sit on.

“It’s not much,” he said, “but it helps.”

“Thanks, Jacques, I had my own, but forgot it at work.”

Joy said to Shakes, “I’ll trade you seven for one… okay eight for one. Come on Shakes, my last offer nine for one. I can’t believe he’s saying no to me. Okay, ten native cigarettes for one Pall Mall.”

“No,” said Shakes, “I’d have to walk all the way to Bank Street to get some more.”

“Shakes,” said Joy, “you’re going there anyway.”

Donny reached into his coat pocket and handed Joy a tailor-made cigarette. She gave him ten native ones.

“Donny, can you ask your brother to do me a big favor? Can you ask him if he’ll go to the World Exchange and pick me up a bottle of Imperial Canadian sherry?”

Donny said, “He says he’d go, but he has some errands to run first.” Donny’s brother left on his bicycle.

Debbie asked Joy, “Why can’t you go there?”

“I’m barred, ever since I punched Drew Carey in the head.”

“You mean, Drew Carey the actor?”

“No the short, fat fuck with the glasses. We call him Drew Carey. One time a few years back when Digger and Old André were still here we went in. I was standing behind Digger. The guy behind the counter said, “You stink, why don’t you take a shower?”

“I said to him, ‘Hey man, just because these guys sleep outside doesn’t mean they don’t wash. What about you? You live with your mother, sleep in her basement. She makes your lunch every day.’ After that, I just lost it. I jumped over the counter and started pounding on his head. They have a picture of me in the back. All the staff has been told not to serve me.

“If you think you can get in, You can get yourself a beer on me. I’d really appreciate it.”

“No problem. I could use a beer, then I have to go to work panning.

“So, how’s your new place?”

“It’s good. At least I don’t have to listen to Chester coughing and complaining all the time. I’ve got some wood bugs, from when they cut the tree down in the back. They threw all the wood down the stairs to where my apartment is. They took the wood out, but the bugs stayed. They’re that kind that roll up into a ball when you touch them. I thought I’d swept them all up yesterday and could go out my back door with just my socks on, but there they were again. On the weekend, when I was drunk and stoned, I was playing marbles with them, flicking them against the wall. They would have been better off if they’d stayed with their brothers outside.”

Shakes said, “I haven’t played marbles in forty years.”

Debbie said, “I know all about those bugs. When my kids were young, I used to go into the forest, find a rotting log and take the bark off. Some of the pieces were almost six feet long. I’d wrap them in a sheet — that’s the only way I could carry them — bring them home and put them under my kids’ beds. Whenever they’d see me with one of those sheets over my shoulder they’d say, ‘No, Mom, not the bugs again.’ I’d brush off the bark, let it dry then hang them on my walls. They looked really nice.

“Now, I’ve got cockroaches. I didn’t have them before, but the exterminators came to my door and said they were spraying the whole building. I said, ‘You can’t spray here. It would kill all my plants.’ They said they could use a gel that wouldn’t be harmful to plants. That sounded good, but this gel, I found out, attracts roaches. The exterminators brought roaches in on their clothes, now I have a problem.”

Joy said, “Wolf has roaches, so did Jake in his old place, Weasel had them, but his place was so bad they had it condemned. He’d pulled all the plasterboard off the walls, the windows were broken and snow piled up inside. Rodent’s place was nearly as bad.”

Debbie said, “I like Rodent.”

“Rodney the Rodent, he’s the one sponsoring Big Jake, for a place to live, after he gets out of prison. He gives me the creeps. He came to Chester’s place in the summer when I and Outcast were there. We were all in the back yard. Chester was wearing shorts and had his shirt off. Rodent sat right next to him. He was rubbing Chester’s back, pinching his titties and touching his thigh. It nearly made me and Outcast sick. Chester went inside and put on long pants and a shirt. He told me that Rodent made him feel uncomfortable. Chester only had one beer and was working on his second. All of a sudden he’s acting really drunk. I think Rodney dropped some pills into his beer. I can only imagine what happened when Chester went to Rodney’s place alone.”

Debbie asked, “Where is Big Jake now?”

“Collins Bay — it was right around this time of year that he went into prison, so it’s been fifteen months since I’ve been with a man. You remember my Jake, don’t you? Sometimes they used to call him Sasquatch.”

Debbie said, “I went seventeen years when my kids were growing up. Timmy’s just leaving. What do you think of him?”

“I wish he’d wear tighter pants, it looks like he’s got a good bod.”

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12 November 2012

On the traffic island, I met nine of my friends. Joy said, “I moved to my apartment on Friday. My back is sore because I don’t have any furniture, just an empty room. I sat in the middle of the floor all weekend. Yesterday, Mariah brought me down two folding canvas chairs. She also brought me some kind of a quilt or comforter. I opened the bag and it stunk. I said to her, ‘You brought me dirty laundry?’ I took it to the laundromat nearby, they have only one double washer and no double dryers. They ate quarters like you wouldn’t believe.

“Wednesday we go to Chester’s place to pick up the rest of my stuff, mostly shoes.

“When they cut a tree down in my back yard, some of the bark got tracked downstairs. There were these little woodworms that curl up when you touch them. All morning I was flicking these with my thumb. It was just like playing marbles with my son.

I said, “It must feel good to have a place to go to where you can lock the door, it’s quiet and you can do whatever you want.”

“It will take a bit of getting used to, but I have lots of security. There are three doors that have to be unlocked in order to get to my place.”

I asked, “How about your health card, will you be getting that soon?”

“Yeah, I really need to be on my meds.”

I said, “That should make a big difference in how you feel.”

“My fibromyalgia is really acting up in my legs and my arms.”

“I don’t know much about that, but I have restless leg syndrome. If I don’t take my medication my leg twitches every fourteen seconds. It’s really annoying and will keep me awake at night.”

“I have the same thing.”

Joseph came over, “I’m sorry to hear about the son you lost (my son isn’t lost). You have my condolences. I was telling you last week about my daughter that was lost, actually, it wasn’t my daughter it was my god-daughter. Her father is doing time in prison — twenty years for murder. So, while he’s in jail I’m responsible for her.”

He showed me his birth certificate from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He said, “See, my name is actually Italian.”

“I’m in trouble with my partner. I have addictions. I went to the casino — I can count cards — I made some money. The dealer said, ‘I can see you’re a card player.’ I said, ‘Take me to the Blackjack table.’ I won ten thousand dollars, but the cops were standing at the door waiting for their cut. I walked up to them. I asked? ‘ Do any of you have a smoke?’ One handed me a cigarette. I asked, ‘Do you have a light?’ He pulled out his lighter and lit my cigarette. I don’t smoke. They asked, ‘Did you have a good night?’ I said, ‘No, I lost.’ Then I walked out the door with my case full of money. I spent it on my brothers. It all went on booze.”

A police car pulled up with two police officers in it. Officer D. Salinas said to Outcast. “We saw you throw a can into the bushes. We’re going to have to charge you.” He pulled out his pad and wrote Outcast a ticket.

Officer McQuaid was writing a ticket for Weasel.

He asked Andre, “Are you keeping out of trouble?”

“Yes officer, I’m sober. I have been for three days.”

“How about you Joseph? Why are you standing so close to me? Is this some kind of a confrontation?”

Joy said, “McQuaid, don’t stand too close to those dreadlocks. If you look close you can see little white things. It isn’t dandruff.”

Two more police cars pulled up. Female officers got out of each car. One said, “How’s everybody doing?”

Joy said, “I’ve just moved into a place of my own, so I dropped by to visit some of the guys.”

“That sounds good, Joy. You should be at home having a house-warming, not down here.”

“Most of these guys I wouldn’t invite over. If I had one, Officer Stiller, would you come?”

“I think I’d pass on that, but thanks anyway.”

One of the female officers came over to Andre. She reached down and picked up his leather gloves. “Where did you get these?”

“I bought them at Sally Ann.”

“They look a lot like a pair I lost.” She examined them inside and out. There was a call on her radio, a group of twenty people was leaning against the wall at the Mission. They got back in their cars and left. McQuaid and Salinas left shortly after.”

Andre said to me, “The reason she was looking at my gloves is that when she stopped me a few days ago I stole her SWAT gloves. She stopped me yesterday and I stole another pair.”

Joy said, “I’m so glad they left, I’m on the last day of my probation and I’ve got pot in my backpack and a bottle under my sweatshirt. Those female officers could have searched me and my bag.

To Joseph, she said, “Why did you have to talk to them the way you did? Are you trying to get us all arrested?”

 

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9 November 2012

This morning was very cold. Joy and Andre were sitting together. Joy borrowed a cell phone from one of her regulars and requested that her appointment with the Salvation Army worker be moved up to 9:30 am.

“Chester had better be home when I go there to get my stuff. He’s been a real asshole lately. He’s drinking beer and mixing it with sherry. It’s making him act really crazy. Last night he was opening and slamming doors all night long. I got even. When I got up four this morning I made sure that I opened and slammed every door at least twice. He asked me, ‘You washed your dishes and left mine in the sink?’ I said to him, ‘Chester, you’re just a hair away from having your face punched in, so watch what you say.’ I’ll be so glad to get away from that place. He’s even started stealing my sherry. He snuck into my room and I saw him drink out of my bottle. I bought a carton of cigarettes, I haven’t even opened the bag, but I can see there’s a handful missing.”

“Did you hear that Blackie bit Andre this morning.”

I asked, “Were you sleeping outside last night, Andre?”

“No,

“Weasel lets that dog lick his sores. Blackie could have HIV. He could have infected me.”

Joy said, “I told him, ‘Weasel, if it weren’t for Blackie, nobody would have anything to do with you, not even Stella. He said, ‘That’s not true.’ I said, ‘You don’t look after Blackie, you’re always passing him off to someone else. You take advantage of people. Nobody likes you.’

Andre said, “When I see him later, I’m going to ask him, “Do you know what a dog bite feels like? Then I’ll pop him. It was the same when my step father would keep bugging me at the table. My mother could see that I was starting to shake, so she told my step dad, ‘Keep that up and Andre’s going to hit you.’ He kept it up, I stood up and knocked him right out of his chair. He was laying on the floor and my mother bent over him and said, ‘I told you.’

Mo said, “We have some good news about Serge. Some of the guys and I have been visiting him in hospital. He’s looking a lot better. He looks strange with his head and beard shaved. They had to do that because of the lice, he had them bad. Apparently he’s lost a lot of weight. They’re giving him some beer and sherry, trying to get him off the Listerine. He asked me, ‘Joy, could you get me a bottle?’ I said, ‘No way, I can still smell that stuff on you.’

Andre said, “It’s just like when I was in hospital last with my heart attack. I lost a lot of weight.”

I said, “I remember that Andre, you were pale, weak, your face was gaunt.”

It was time for me to go to work, Both Andre and Joy said, “If we don’t see you this afternoon, we’ll see you Tuesday.”

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24 October 2012

This morning, as I approached Joy, she waved, got up and headed towards the library. When she returned she said, “I’ve been waiting for you. I had to pee so bad. I slept outside last night.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Chester’s drinking again. When he does, he gets all touchy feely. I’d had enough, so I packed my bag and slept behind the dumpsters, in back of Starbucks.”

“Do you have a sleeping bag?” I asked.

“No just this blanket, it was cold.” (35 degrees Fahrenheit)

“You have an appointment with your worker today, maybe she could get you a sleeping bag.”

“I’m just so fed up!” she cried, “My legs are aching. I’m half in the bag. There is a commercial on TV that says, ‘It’s now time for that second talk’ — referring to menopause. I need to have that second talk, but I have nobody to talk to. I remember my mother going through it. She was all over the place. I’m just losing it, man!”

“Perhaps you could talk to your worker about that. Also, Stella is coming down this morning.”

“I sure hope so.”

“She sent me an email. She wants to celebrate Bear’s fifteenth birthday. She has a card and a big bone for him.”

“I hope she bring the coat she promised me.”

“I saw Serge in the hospital last night. He was asleep the whole time I was there. He had a breathing tube in his throat and oxygen going in his nostrils. The nurse said they may take the breathing tube out either today or tomorrow, depending on how he responds. He had a slight fever so they had a cooling blanket, that looked like an air mattress, on top of him. That’s common with head injuries. He was lightly sedated and had been given Tylenol for pain. The nurse had been talking to him earlier and he said the pain wasn’t too bad. She said he’s had a long history of being admitted to hospital for falls. He sure looks younger with his head shaved.”

“They would have done that for the lice. When he was picked up last time, by Hope Recovery, they shaved off his beard. I’m glad it’s not more serious. I can’t take any more deaths right now.”

Andre stopped by and said to Joy, “I see Little Jake is at Silver’s old spot.”

Joy said, “Jake is family. I had to kick Al out of there this morning. Later I saw his girlfriend, Angeline. Her arm was in a make shift sling and was all purple. She said, ‘Bo did this to me.’ I said, ‘I hope you got him back.’ She said, ‘After he had punched me three times in the head, I stabbed him in the side. That slowed him down.’ Bo is going to be on a lot of shit lists. These guys got to learn not to treat women that way.”

I said to Andre, “How’s your day going so far?”

“Lousy, I’m barred from every McDonalds in town, the World Exchange liquor store, Hartman’s and Loblaws grocery stores. The list of places I can go is getting shorter and shorter.”

“What happened at McDonalds?” I asked.

“I was panning out front of the one on Bank Street. The district manager was there at the time — he barred me. He said, ‘I never want to see you in front of any of our stores. If I do, or if any of my staff does, the police will be called immediately.’ That was a good spot for me.

“I stole a cooked chicken, and some other meat, from Loblaws. I was hoping to have a real feast, So much for that idea.”

Joy started getting restless. She said, “I’ve had about enough of this place, and I’ve got to get my legs moving. I want to get drunk.”

I had agreed to meet Stella at the statue of the soldier, near where the group usually meets. Shakes, Gnome, Wolf and Shaggy, Outcast, Jacques, Loon, Stella, Weasel and Blackie the birthday dog were all there. Jake and Weasel were near coming to blows.

Shakes said, ‘Will you guys keep the noise down. Soon the cops will be coming.”

“Shut up, Shakes”, said Weasel.

“I won’t shut up. I’ll talk as much as I want to. Nobody’s going to stop me.”

I said, “I’m glad we got that settled, Shakes!” He laughed.

Loon was drunk, has no teeth, and was talking non stop over the din of the arguing.

Outcast asked me, “Do you understand a word he’s saying?”

“No,” I said.

Outcast said, “I’ve just come from Shark and Elaine’s place, I think Loon was there earlier. They were nodding off, so I left. Soon, Loon will be doing the same.

“Dennis, you coming at ten o’clock throws my whole schedule off. I think I should be having lunch now.”

“Sorry, Outcast, but I came to see Stella, not you.”

Joy said, “I’ve known some of these guys for twenty years. I’ve known Chester for a long time too. It really hurts, for him to treat me, and talk to me the way he does. Do you see the scar above Loon’s right eye? I gave that to him. One time he grabbed me by the crotch and I decked him. His forehead split open like a tomato. He’s never tried that again — the piece of shit. I’m really surprised that I haven’t got into a fight yet, today. There’s still time.”

Andre was sitting quietly. He said to me, “Sometimes it’s safer to not open your mouth.”

I asked Jacques, “Do you know if Serge has any family?”

“I don’t know. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s never mentioned any family to me.”

I said, “I wonder if his friend William knows about his family. Serge stayed with him for a while.”

“No, I ask him that. He said, ‘I think, maybe, he came from Vancouver or Toronto. I can’t remember which. I think he has a sister in Montreal.’ Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal — that’s a lot of people there, and Robert is a common name. William has been kicked out of his place. When Serge stayed there, a neighbor complained. He said that Serge was dealing drugs. Can you imagine, Serge dealing drugs? I’ve never even seen him smoke a joint. He just sits quietly. I like that. I talked to Serge about maybe sharing a two bedroom apartment, but now he’s nearly dead. I also thought about sharing a place with William, but he was given notice, the first night he was at his new place, that he was making too much noise. If you’re given notice three times, you’re out. That’s what happened. I don’t want to be in the middle of a situation like that, not me. I’ll just get me a bachelor apartment, it doesn’t matter how small, just someplace quiet. That’s what I want.

“Yesterday I found a tent in the garbage. It looks brand new. I set it up in my living room. I’ve never seen a tent so small. It would only fit one person. There is no way that two people could get in there. If I don’t find a place by the end of the month, maybe I’ll be sleeping outside. I don’t think for too long. Who knows?”

Jake sat next to me. He said, “I’ve blown my three hundred and fifty dollar start-up allowance. Now, they’re asking for receipts. DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY RECEIPTS? I NEED SOME RECEIPTS.”

Joy asked, “Did you punch Weasel?”

“No, but I spit on him.

“I went to my HIV doctor and he wouldn’t give me my needles.”

I asked, “Why?”

“I don’t know.”

Two Outreach Workers with the Salvation Army came to talk to Shakes. “How are you coming along with my housing arrangements?” he asked.

“Were looking at a few places, the problem is they become available December first, so we’ll have to find someplace temporary for you, from the first to the end of November. Don’t worry, we’re working on it.”

Weasel and Stella were getting ready to leave. Stella showed me the card she had made. It had pictures of Bear as a pup, with his original owner Henri.

Joy said, “I remember when Henri first got Bear. There were two puppies in the back seat of a car. Henri was to choose which one he wanted. Bear jumped out the door and came straight to him. The other dog just sat there. That decided it. They were together until he died.”

Bear wandered over to me. I held my hand out — he bit it.

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