31 March 2014
The weather is still hovering around the freezing point. For pedestrians it means treacherous sidewalks, especially in the shade. I could see Chuck’s knees and the wheels of his chair from a block away; the rest of him was obscured by an aluminum pole that accommodated the push button for the Walk light. When I talk to Chuck, I have to be careful not to lean on the button; a bell goes off each time it is pressed.
“Hi, Chuck, did you enjoy the hockey game?”
“Yes, I enjoyed being at the game, but our team lost 5-3 to St. Louis. Toronto allowed a season-worst 23 shots in the first period and, thanks to some awful play from Dion Phaneuf, spotted St. Louis a 4-1 lead in the second period. They made a two goal come back in the third, but it wasn’t enough. One loss isn’t so bad, but we fell from third-best record to tenth place in just two weeks.
“I didn’t sleep well last night, ate too much junk food. I had some pizza, then later I had some fried chicken — too much grease. I’m leaving here in about fifteen minutes. When I get home I’m going straight to bed.
“This afternoon I’m going to a place in the west end to have my income tax calculated. I got a friend who is an accountant. He’ll do it for me for free. The government is taking away all of our deductions. It used to be that I’d get a refund of eight hundred dollars. That would keep me off the street for a while. That was really helpful. Pensioners like me have it rough. It’s all we can do to pay the rent and have enough left over to eat. It’s worse for a woman trying to raise kids. I have a cleaning lady that comes over one afternoon a week — I like my mornings to myself. I can’t imagine how she makes ends meet. What happens when the kid needs a new bed? Those are expensive. How about a grandmother whose grandchildren live half way across the country? Do you think she can afford travel costs, the way they are today? No way!”
“What do you think of our mayor, Rob Ford?”
“People say a lot of bad things about him, but he did something; he kept taxes low by reducing the size and cost of government. He also boosted tourism. It’s the provincial and federal governments that are holding back our pensions. Their suggestion is that people save more money. I don’t get enough money to be able to save. Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement pays less than a thousand a month. That may sound like a lot of money, but try to live on it.
“When the Canadian government brought in the International Free Trade Agreement it cost us a lot of jobs. I worked at a brush manufacturing company. My job was to shape the handles of the snow scrapers. I could run five or six per minute through the shaper. It was dangerous. If I pushed too hard it could fly back at me and cause serious injury. I was paid about two dollars an hour at that time. The company decided to ship the rough handles to Japan. They were bundled by the hundred, sent by truck to Vancouver, then by ship to Japan. Labor costs there were about ten cents per hour. The handles were returned to us the same way, then we’d attach the plastic scraper on one end and the bristles on the other. My job was gone so they moved me to the push broom department.
“I should mention that the company I worked for was started by two guys who had no money, but they had a great idea. They collected sawdust from the local lumber mills, added a green color, a pine scent, some oil and sold it as a sweeping compound. The company has been around for a hundred years and now produce a full range of powered scrubbing, polishing and carpet care machines and vacuum cleaners.
“Anyway, I enjoyed making the push brooms. I asked my boss if it was okay to make a broom for myself. I said I’d do it on my own time, during breaks. He said, ‘Sure, go ahead.’ What he didn’t know was that I made a broom with a longer handle and instead of the regular corn bristles, I used camel hair. This was back in the sixties. What I made was worth about sixty dollars at the time. Can you imagine what it would cost now? I worked with my brother-in-law Bruce. He’d come over to my place after work for a few beers. I threw the broom to him and said, ‘Bruce, would you sweep my floor?’ He looked at the broom and said, ‘You son of a bitch.’
“I also worked at a shoe factory. The owner drove a Rolls Royce, he was too cheap to have a driver. That car was absolutely filthy, but he refused to have it washed. He’d say, ‘The rain will clean it eventually.’ He made a lot of money, but there was to control of inventory. If I wanted a new pair of shoes, I’d just go to the back and ask for the style I wanted and give them the shoe size. I didn’t wear those shoes; instead I’d sell them for half price. I’d have a buyer lined up ahead of time. It served him right, the old tightwad.”