25 April 2014
As I approached my bus stop near six o’clock I noticed a large man with a familiar face. I said, “Hi Bruce, how’s it going?”
“Dennis, man, it’s good to see you. Have you got a couple of minutes to sit down and catch up? I haven’t seen you since when…?”
“Wolf and I had this discussion at noon. It was just before Christmas, so that makes it about four months.”
“That’s right, I was getting a Christmas meal ready for some of my friends. I had seven people over, in that tiny bachelor apartment with only two chairs and my bed that pulls out. A lot of them slept over, I had to step over people to get to the bathroom. It’s been a year and a half in that place. I told you about it didn’t I. It’s on Sherbourne. It used to be a hotel and the room I have is in what used to be the staff kitchen, so I’ve got my stove and fridge and a full set of cupboards across the top and the bottom. Instead of an apartment with a kitchen, I’ve got a kitchen with a place to sleep.
“Joy has stayed over. No sex or anything. We shared the same bed. Just a hug then we went to sleep. I haven’t seen her much lately. It used to be that she’d come over every couple of weeks, but now that asshole is back. There are somethings I just can’t understand, no matter how hard I try. Why does a woman invite a man back when he’s beaten her nearly to death. He went to prison for it. There was a restraining order against him; still, she invites him back as if nothing happened. That’s deranged. He’s going to kill her. I told her that. She phoned me a while back and asked if she could come over. I said, “Sure, but don’t bring that jackass with you. She never came. I just don’t understand why a woman who is beaten doesn’t just leave. I never will. Also, I don’t understand a man that would beat a woman. What’s in that for him. Big Jake is six-foot four, close to three hundred pounds. What does he have to prove… to anyone?
I don’t see most of those people very often. I only drink, maybe two days a week. I’ve been drinking today because it’s Friday. I was drinking vodka yesterday and I woke up with a massive headache. It would have been east to stay in bed, but I have to get money to pay my rent.
“I get a welfare check now, seven hundred and thirty-two dollars a month. I’ve never taken welfare before, but I had to in order to qualify for my apartment. It’s a program they started me on in prison. Before that I was content to sleep behind the dumpsters, but after I was crammed in with a bunch of guys for three months, with no privacy, no freedom and I got to talk to my worker in a spacious, quiet interview room… what she was saying sounded pretty good. They pay my landlord directly. It’s subsidized, so that leaves me with about two fifty. A person can’t live on two fifty a month, so I pan when the weather’s decent. There’s a restaurant that gives me their leftover food. When I cook I use a big pot. I have Tupperware containers; one for Shakes, one for Little Jake, one for Chuck. I have to take care of my boys.
“If I wasn’t on this program, the least expensive room, that’s ROOM, mind you, would cost five hundred and thirty a month. It would be in a rooming house crawling with cockroaches, infested with bed bugs, crackheads. Guys running up and down the stairs all night. I’d rather sleep on the street. If the city wants to cure homelessness they need to provide affordable, clean housing.
I said, “Speaking of Chuck, I’ve been talking to his dad most mornings. He’s really an interesting guy.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
“He said, if he wins the lottery, he’d like to buy a small electric car. They cost about eight thousand, but he’s got a friend who will spot him for five thousand. He’ll pay him back in monthly installments.”
“Chuck doesn’t need anything. He’s well taken care of.”
“I know, he’s got his electric wheelchair, his scooter a new winter coat. He admits he’s thinking selfishly, but it would make his life more comfortable.”
“I understand. Do you want to know what I’d do if I won a lottery?… I’d set up my own shelter for homeless people. I wouldn’t kick them out if they were drunk. There’s a homeless industry. We do okay in this city. In fact this is probably the best place to be homeless. If you stay at a place like the Mission, probably the best of the big three, you see the administration drive up in their BMW’s. They make money off us. They don’t want to end homelessness, they’d be out of a job. Do you know what the biggest corporation in the world is?”
I said, “I’d guess it’s the Catholic church.”
“You’re right. Do you know what the second biggest is?…The Salvation Army. I lost one of my regulars. She used to drop me twenty bucks a week. She’s with the Salvation Army and asked what I thought of them. You know me, I say what’s on my mind. When I first came to town, my pants were torn. I went to the Salvation Army and asked for a pair of pants. They said, we don’t give them away. You’ll have to go to our store and buy them. Okay, I can live with that. I panned for a while, got some money, arranged for a bed there for the night. I came back later. They said, ‘You can’t come in here. You’ve been drinking.’ I said, ‘Look, I paid for a bed. My stuff is up there. Where am I supposed to sleep?’ The guy said, ‘Anywhere you want, but not here.’ So I was kicked out. I’m barred from there now. I’m barred from the Mission as well. That leaves the Shep. That’s where everybody goes when they’re kicked out of every other place. You should spend a Friday evening there. See what it’s all about.”
“I’ve volunteered there. I was mostly washing dishes and wiping tables.”
“Well you know then. I don’t go there to eat. It’s not that the food isn’t good. They cook great food, but half of the guys there are talking to themselves. No matter what and civic or provincial administration does, there’s always going to be twenty percent of the population that will be, what they call, chronically homeless. It’s the crazies. Since they closed a lot of the mental institutions, these people are now on the street. Some of them are nice people, some of them rant and rave. Clark has stayed at my place, so has Craig. He’s the most honest guy I’ve ever met. He’s a panhandler, but if I drop a coin he’ll say, ‘Bruce, you dropped a dollar.’ Also he doesn’t change his clothes. He could wear the same pair of socks for three months, he’d never notice the smell. Clark is the same. I tell him, ‘You can stay at my place, but first you’ll have to shower.’ I’ll have clean towels for him, underwear, socks. He says that staying at my place is like staying in prison.”
I said, “I enjoy talking to Clark. He told me that he’s a Stoic Epicurean.”
“Yeah, he likes to use big words. I tell him, ‘Shut up Clark, speak English.’ He’s a nice guy, but crazy.
“I think I mentioned that Chuck has been staying at my place for the last four and a half months. That was okay. When I didn’t have a place to stay he put me up. It’s only right that I do the same for him. On the day we moved his stuff to his new place we were sitting on the step having a beer. He said, ‘So, I guess you want me to leave now.’ I said, ‘Yes Chuck, fuck off. I’ll see you some other time.”
I said, “I’ve talked to Craig, some days he’s friendly, one day i tried to give him a tim Horton’s card. He said, I can’t get what I want with that. I want some cash. I said, ‘Sorry, Craig, I don’t carry cash.’ He said, “You’re a motherfucking cheapskate. You just don’t want me buying beer. Well, fuck you!’
“Yeah, that sounds like Craig alright. He’s crazy. If he’s off his meds that’s how he acts. I don’t know if he’s schizophrenic or what his problem is, but he’s crazy.
“I got a job in Scarborough, I start next week. It’ll be three days a week in a restaurant. I’ll shave for that, but for now I’ll keep it on. I need it for what I do. I’ve finished for the day. See, I don’t even have my cup out. It’s been a good day. Isn’t the weather beautiful? This is just the way I like it. In a couple of months we’ll have the heat and humidity. That winter we had, wasn’t it horrendous?
“Chuck has been staying with me the last four and a half months, since he lost his place. I didn’t mind. When I didn’t have a place and was sleeping behind the dumpsters, he took me in. It’s only right that I do the same for him. Mind you I was happy when he got his own place. He’s a sweet guy, but he never shuts up. On the day we moved his stuff to his new place we were sitting on the step having a beer. He said, ‘So, I guess you want me to leave now.’ I said, ‘Yes Chuck, fuck off. I’ll see you some other time.’
“It’s funny, I was sitting on my front step with a beer in my hand when a squad car pulled up. The cop got out. He’s one of the guys I’ve had dealings with before, when I lived behind the dumpster. He said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘This is my house.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ and drove off.