29 August 2014
“Good morning, Dennis. You’re early. Are you bucking for a raise?”
“Where I work we don’t get raises.”
“Maybe they’ll kick your ass out the door. That’ll be a raise.
“You don’t work for the phone company do you?”
“I got a call at 8:00 in the morning. Some asshole was saying that I owe $240., or something like that. I said to him, “No I don’t. I have a receipt from the bank acknowledging my payment of $187.’ ‘No you don’t,’ he said. I said, ‘I’ve already talked to the phone company about that. It’s their error. This month I paid the difference, so I owe you nothing.’ He said, “Yes you do, you owe the company $240.’ I said to him I’m not paying money I don’t owe, so do what you want. Cut off my phone if you like.’ He said, ‘I’m not authorized to do that.’ I said, ‘If I get hassled any more about this, I’ll be stopping my cell phone. I’ll bring the television receiver to your office and I’ll smash it on the floor. So, you’ll be able to add that to the rest of the money I’m not going to pay. When you get of the phone You can go fuck your mother, because that’s all you’re good for.’
“That’s a hell of a way to run a business.”
I asked, “Was the call from a collection agency? They buy debts and receive a percentage of anything they can recover, at least that’s the way I understand it.”
“No this guy said he was from the phone company.’
I asked, “Do you have any plans for the long weekend?”
“No, I’ll be coming down here to McDonald’s to meet with my friends. I usually bring a coffee from across the street. I order the extra small there. At McDonald’s I ask them to refill my cup, because they don’t have extra small. The guy refused to refill my cup. He said it wasn’t sanitary. I settled for a regular size coffee filled half way to the top. They never get it half full. It’s either too much or not enough. When I add two milk and one sugar, it doesn’t taste right. I’d feel stupid bringing a measuring cup, but that maybe the only way I can get a decent cup of coffee. Sometimes, they give me cream instead of milk. That doesn’t taste right either.”
A man with a long beard walked by. I asked Chuck, “Do you know that guy?”
“I didn’t see him.”
I said, “That’s the guy that Joy got in a fight with. He shoved her and she landed in the street.”
Chuck asked, “What was the fight about?”
“He was standing in her spot.”
“If he wasn’t a panhandler, she’s got no right to ask him to move.”
I said, “He was arrested by the police. I think he’s crazy.”
“Crazies are a different matter.”
I said, ” Friends of mine who stay at the shelter complain that the alcoholics, the crack-heads, the crazies are all thrown together. Nobody can get any sleep.”
Chuck said, “They should keep them separated. I had a friend who stayed there. I liked the food. On the main floor was everyone there for one night only. On the second floor they put the people who had signed up for the week. At the back they had nicer rooms for people who were employed, but were saving their money to get a place of their own. They were semi-permanent.
“I remember when that place was just a soup kitchen. In fact that’s what it was called, The Soup Kitchen. It was close to where I lived so I’d go there for my lunch. I remember one day they were serving oysters on the half shell. Nobody but me wanted to try them. I love them. I ate so much I got sick.
” After lunch they’d give out small bags of groceries, so people could make their own lunches. Often I’d stand at the back door and offer guys two bucks for their bags. The booze can was in the next block, so most of them preferred the cash. I don’t know how it operates now.”
28 August 2014
André said to me, “Dennis, haven’t a cushion for you to sit on, but use my bike, you can sit on the frame. It may not be comfortable, but it’s better than sitting on the wet grass.”
“Thanks André, is this one of the bikes you fixed?”
“Yeah, that’s what’s been keeping me in spending money. My check should be in today, but I’m not even going to bother cashing it. I’ve still got five hundred bucks at home. I’m taken care of.
“See this stereo radio I got. I found it in a dumpster. I was rooting around looking for an empty plastic bag to put something in. I could feel that this one bag had something in it. I was careful, it could have been dog shit for all I knew, but it turned out to be this radio. With some new batteries, it works fine.
“I was off drinking for eleven months. Now I know I can quit if I want. Sometimes, I like to come here and have a drink with my friends. I never said I’d never have a drink again. It’s just like getting out of prison. I’d be in for nine years, get out for a month, be back in for two years. When I was leaving I’d always say to the guys, “I’m going to change my life around. I’m never coming back inside again. Of course, I’d get drunk, do something stupid and be back inside. The last time I got out, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to jinx it, and so far it’s worked.
“It’s the same with drinking. I know I’m an alcoholic, but I also know that I can control it. I stick to a couple of beers at a time and I feel great. I don’t have the shakes. I don’t have the dry heaves. I’m better off than I’ve ever been, so I don’t want to jinx it.”
Shawn had been talking on the phone. I knew he’d been to the welfare office, so I asked how the meeting went.
“I’m screwed, man. The welfare office said I need something to prove that I’ve found a place to live. I went to my worker and she said all I need is a ‘statement of intent to rent’. She helped me out with that. I want back and they said I need some kind of proof that I live there, like a hydro bill, or something. I don’t know how I can do that, because the friend I want to stay with is out of their jurisdiction. I’m fucked. I can’t stay at my mother’s place because her boyfriend came over for the weekend. I don’t know what I’m going to do.
“Do you have some bus tickets? That would really help.”
“Sure,” I said, “How many do you need?”
“Two will do.” I handed him the tickets.
“Thanks, this will help a lot.”
I said to Jacques, “I see you’re still drinking out of your sock,” referring to the sock wrapped around a mason jar he was drinking from.
“Yes, it works fine. It maybe insulates, as well. I don’t know.”
I asked Wolf, “How are you doing?”
“I’m tired,” he said. “It’s been a long week for me. You may laugh, but it’s tough panning five days straight. I’m looking forward to a few days of doing nothing. I told you I have my three new books, beer in the fridge. I’m all set for the long weekend.
“I guess you’re going to your cottage, are you?” I nodded in agreement. “I really envy you that. I’d just like to be somewhere quiet for a change. I know there are crickets and bullfrogs, but not the constant sound of traffic.”
Debbie said, “I love going to the woods. It’s part of my heritage. It’s where I feel at peace and at home.”
I asked Donald, “Have you any plans for the long weekend?”
“No, not really. My friend and I are living in a cabin on an island, so we have to get there by boat. It keeps the rain off. Sometimes, I come into town to stay with my mother, or to get groceries. I have to come in for my methadone treatments.”
I said, “Tell me about your cabin.”
“We built it ourselves. It’s not a castle, but it keeps the rain off. It didn’t cost us anything. The wood was already there, we just nailed it together. It’s nice, because nobody can see us when we’re there. Like Wolf said, it’s ‘somewhere quiet for a change.’
Jacques said, “I’ve got a splitting headache.”
André said, “I’ve got some oxycodone if you’d like some. I just bought it last night.”
Robert asked, “Can I see that bottle? This says percocet!”
Wolf asked, “Well, is it oxycontin or percocet? They’re two different things.”
Robert said, “The print is awfully small, but it has both oxycodone and percocet.”
Jacques said, “Never mind. I’ve got some Motrin in my bag. I’ll take a couple of those. Maybe, I just need to drink more.”
Little Jake walked up. He asked, “Wolf can I borrow that sweater? It’s cold here in the shade.”
Wolf said, “It’s clean. I don’t mind if you wear it, but don’t use it to sit on the ground. You can even smell how clean it is.”
Jake said, “Yeah, you’re right.”
It was time for me to leave. I said, to Jake, “I have to go now, but let me smell that sweater first.”
Wolf and the crew said, “We’ll see you next week, Dennis. Have a good long weekend.”
28 August 2014
Chuck said, “Dennis, I got the morning off to a bad start. I was up at 4:30, took Goldie for a long walk, came back home, took my nine pills. I must have gotten the heart pills mixed up with the water pills. I took one too many water pills. I’ve had to pee four times since I’ve been down here. My lady friend is taking me out to lunch, after that I should be back to normal.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine, Chuck. Same old, same old.”
Chuck said, “Every time my son comes around he sees some woman kissing me. He can’t figure it out. I think I told you he has his own cleaning business. He’s his own boss, but he keeps to a rigid schedule. He works nights, so he goes to bed at 5:00 every day. He didn’t come to my birthday party, or his mother’s. He said, ‘You could have held it at 10:30 in the morning.’ People don’t want to go to a restaurant at 10:30. He figures that world revolves around him.
“Well, it’s near the end of August. In less than a month I’ll be getting my enclosed scooter. I’ll finally have some independence. I won’t have to rely on the bus or the wheelchair taxi. I’ll be a free man.”
I said, “I saw something on the internet. They’re going to raise the minimum wage. That should make things easier for a lot of people.”
“No it won’t,” said Chuck, “Companies will just hire fewer full-time, and more part-time employees. It’s cheaper, they don’t have to pay for any benefits. I was talking to a pretty waitress at the mall. She’s going to university and working two jobs. I said to her, ‘Someday, you’ll look back at this and will have a real sense of satisfaction that what you will have achieved, you did on your own.” She said, ‘Yes, and it’s going to happen.’ I admire her spunk, nothing or nobody is going to hold her back.”
27 August 2014
“Dennis,” said Alphonse, “This is my friend August. He’s from Nain, on the northern coast of Labrador. That’s where I’m from as well.
“August, Dennis is a friend of ours. He helps us when he can. He’s been where we’ve been, but now he’s sober.
“Did I tell you that I’m going to be a grandfather again. I already have one granddaughter, now my daughter is three weeks pregnant. I’m so happy. When I get my life straightened out I’m going to invite her to come live with me. I can’t now because I’m living on the street.
Mariah said, “My son went to the welfare office. He filled out all the forms. Now, he’s waiting for approval. He’s going to be living with a friend. He thinks that he’ll be able to find work at one of the fast food places near where he’ll be living. He has a lot of experience.”
Alphonse said, “Mariah, if your son is looking for work, tell him to come see me. I know a lot of people.”
“Do you know of any jobs available?”
“No, but I know a lot of people.”
“Thanks, Alphonse,” said Mariah, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
André came by carrying an etched glass picture of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. It was very detailed, even including the brand names on the tires.”
I said, “That’s great, André. Are you going to sell that?”
“Yeah, I’d like to. I was thinking of asking forty bucks.”
Everyone said, “You could get much more than that.”
“Yeah,” said André,” but people don’t carry much cash with them. I only deal in cash, on the spot. I can go home and in five hours I can make another of these. It’s noisy, but I’ve talked to my neighbors. They said, ‘As long as you do it indoors we’ve got no problem.’ My walls are concrete and ten inches thick. I usually do my engraving in my bedroom. I don’t have neighbors on that side.
“Have I told you about my new apartment? I’ve really come a long way since I was living on the streets. I’m sharing a big two bedroom — and I mean big. I’ve got eleven bicycles on my balcony that I’m repairing. I sold one to Shark this morning for fifty bucks. He wanted it for his brother.”
Wolf yelled, “Keep that ball away from here. Shaggy’s just gone to sleep. I don’t want her riled up again.”
Outcast was kicking a small inflated ball around and Buck’s dog was chasing it. “Wolf, keep your mouth shut. I’ll kick this ball wherever I want.” Dillinger seemed to be really enjoying the exercise. Buck looked on, indifferently.
Mary said to me, “My mom, here, is inebriated. She’s passed out.”
Chester vomited. “Christ, Chester, you could have done that somewhere else. Now we’ve got two we have to babysit.”
Jacques said, “It’s because he was drinking that sherry. He was okay before that.” He was drinking out of a mason jar with a sock wrapped around it. He explained to me, “If the cops come around, and don’t see any open liquor, they’ll just ride past.”
I asked, “Don’t you think they’ll be suspicious, seeing you drinking out of a sock?”
Mary said to me, “Did I show you the necklace that Jacques gave me. It’s a locket. I’m going to put my niece’s picture in it. I’ll show you the one he gave my mom.” She reached around Mary’s neck and showed me the silver charm.”
Debbie said, “Jacques gave me this shirt. I really like it. In fact it’s my favorite.”
I said, “It’s really nice. It suits you.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
I was about to shake hands with Little Jake. He said, “I better not shake hands. I’m coming down with something and I don’t want to spread it. I don’t feel so good.”
Wolf said to me, “Dennis, we didn’t get a chance to talk, maybe later this week.”
26 August 2014
“Dennis,’ said Wolf, “When did I see you last? Was it Friday? I know I haven’t seen you this week. Anyway, I got three new books, hard covers, that’s nice. Two are by authors we know, one’s by an author we don’t know; at least I don’t know her. I can’t remember their names. The book I started is looking good, the stuff we like, spies, espionage. She’s a famous author from Sweden, sold millions of copies. There are a lot of people in Sweden, aren’t there? I think those countries are all crowded over there. That’s what I had to tell you.
“I’ll show you my elbow, the swelling’s gone down. The doctor said there would always be a bump. That’s the way at our age, getting bumps and bo bo’s.
“Shaggy’s beat. See, she’s lying in her water bowl. It’s a bit small for her, but at least part of her is cool.”
Andre said, “It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen you. Do you notice a difference?”
“Yeah,” I said, “for one thing you’ve lost weight, and you’re wearing glasses.”
“I also got all my teeth pulled. That’s why I was sick before, they were all infected. That poison was going through my whole system. I got my life under control now. I still drink, because I have to. If I stop I get sick. So, I stick to a couple in the morning when I get up. Then I do some work. I’m fixing bicycles now. People are always bringing their bikes over to my place. They’re amazed that I can fix these things.
“I’ve also got into engraving glass. I get these picture frames at the Dollar Store. They’ve already got glass in them and a picture. I engrave the picture on the outside of the glass. What started out costing a couple of bucks, I sell for ten. I’m doing a big Harley Davidson now. It’s about three feet wide.”
I asked, “Where are you selling them?”
“I don’t have a regular place to sell them. People buy them as soon as I make them. I was at the hardware store asking for diamond and carbon fiber bits. The salesman asked what I was using them for, so I told him. He asked, ‘Are you any good?’ I said, ‘The people who have bought my work think so.’ He said, ‘Bring one around, maybe I’ll buy it.’ So, that’s what’s happening. I go to buy bits, I end up making a sale.”
Mariah said, “I’m waiting for my son to come by. He went to the welfare office this morning. He’s hoping to get first and last month’s rent, so he can get his own place. Lately he’s been sleeping on my kitchen floor. That’s kind of awkward. Charlie’s pissed with him because he moved some of his stuff. Charlie has this thing that his belongings have to be in a certain place, or he blows up. That’s what happened. He said, ‘There’s the door. Use it and don’t come back.’
“My son has always had a mean streak. He gets it from me. When he was a teenager he started to rebel. I told him, ‘When you’re in my place there are certain boundaries. I’m not your roommate, I’m not one of your friends that you can give shit to. You follow my rules or go live at the Sally.’
“He’s not working now. The fast food place, where he had a job, closed down, even their second location closed. So, he’s looking for work.”
Jacques asked me, “Dennis, you want a lock? It’s still in the package. It would be good to lock a suitcase or a backpack. No?”
Mariah said, “Before I got my place I had to lock everything. I know what that’s like.”
I said to Mariah, “I heard that you visited Joy yesterday. How is she doing?”
“Ehhhhh… so, so. She’s able to get out of bed on her own. She can shuffle along with her walker. I call it the Joy shuffle. It’s funny to see her. They still haven’t figured out what’s wrong with her. They’ve ruled MS. I knew it wasn’t that. I’ve been around a lot of people with MS. They didn’t have the same problems as she has. They think it’s something hereditary.”
Outcast came by and said to me, “Hippo’s too shy to ask you, but he’s not feeling so good. Could you spare him a bus ticket so he can get home? It’s not for me, I’ve got a bus pass.”
“Sure,” I said, “I’ve got extra.”
Wolf said, “I’m not looking forward to that walk home. It takes me about an hour and a half, but I’ll break it up. I’ll take Shaggy to the river. After that I’ll pick a shady street and take my time. I’ll sit down along the way. The last thing I want is to come down with heat stroke.”
26 August 2014
“Good morning, Chuck. I’m late because I fell asleep at the breakfast table, drinking my coffee.”
“I guess it wasn’t doing its job then, if you fell asleep. My morning started the same as usual. I was up at 4, took my pills, took Goldie for a long walk. Everything was fine until I boarded the bus. I looked at my wrist and noticed that I’d forgotten my watch. It’s been all downhill since then.
“I went to the Metro yesterday, went to the back where they have things on sale. I bought a large jar of mustard, and one of those meals to heat in the microwave. There was a guy waiting in lie at the counter and he turned to me and said, ‘You’re buying food!’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m buying food. Why wouldn’t I be.’ He said, ‘I see you at the corner, I thought you were just another of those drunks.’ I said to him, ‘I haven’t had a drink in six years.’ He said, ‘In that case let me buy these groceries for you. I’ll mention you to my friends. Maybe they can help you out as well.’ I thanked him then went on my way.
“There was a guy talking to Metro, the guy who hands out the newspapers. I don’t know if it was this same guy or not. He asked, ‘What’s that old guy doing on the corner?’ Metro said, ‘He’s just trying to get by on his old age pension.’ The guy said, ‘If he’s getting a pension, he shouldn’t be out on the street.’ Metro said, ‘He has high vet bills to pay.’ The guy said, ‘Then he should get rid of the dog.’ Metro said, ‘It’s a medical dog. He also has to buy furniture.’ The guy said, ‘He can sleep on the floor.’
“I remember when my wife and I were still together. I’d lost my job, bills were piling up, we were behind in the rent. We were walking along the street and saw a sign in a window that said, ‘BANKRUPTCY’. I pointed it out to my wife and said, “Maybe we should see what that’s all about, so we went in. We talked to a guy, told him our situation. He asked, ‘Do you have your bills with you?’ I said, ‘No, we just wanted to find out about this stuff.’ The guy said, ‘Bring in all your bills and any statements of income and I’ll take care of the rest.’ I said, ‘How much do we pay you?’ The guy said, ‘I’m retiring next month, so you don’t have to pay me anything.’
I said, “My wife and I don’t know how we’re going to manage when we have to rely just on our pensions.”
Chuck said, “You must be eligible for a good pension.”
I said, “I was laid off from a high paying job after fifteen years. I had a large payout, but that went into a house. Getting a job when I was fifty years old was nearly impossible. Then came bankruptcy, so we’re both left with the minimum old age pensions from the government.’
Chuck said, “These ministers in government, who set the minimum wage standards and the pensions, have no idea what it’s like living in the real world.”