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So, I added this book to my to-be-read bookshelf and went on my merry way. Why did my mind keep wandering back to the question that Cardiff’s title implies? What kind of conversations are we talking about? Real conversations? Fictionalized conversations? More importantly, my brain had this question. What could street people have to say?
I’m not (too) ashamed to say that prior to reading this book I, among the masses, averted my eyes when passing a panhandler on the street. I assumed that they were there because they wanted to be there; they missed/lost opportunities and now had to fight and claw their way to get back to ‘normalcy’.
Gotta Find A Home did not disabuse me of this notions. For the most part, those beliefs of mine remain largely intact. The conversations that Cardiff shares with his readers are actual factual retellings of his many conversations with people he met on the streets who identified themselves as “Street People.”
According to Cardiff, Street People are people who panhandle for a living and have done it for a long time (like a decade or more). But I digress.
Gotta Find A Home is a book that pulls no punches. It is a straight forward daily account of the day-to-day lives of this close-knit group of panhandlers in Toronto. There is no plot. There is no structure other than the loose timeline of these conversations. There is no true end. This book is a fly-on-the-wall view of what life is like for various members of this group of people who in one week have more crises than the UN, the Pentagon and the Middle East put together. Members of this group have fatal illnesses, severe health issues, psychological issues, financial woes, and of course, issues with finding stable clean housing.
Add on top of these major issues the normal squabbling among a large group of close-knit friends (which many times devolves into fist fights…) and you have what Cardiff calls a ‘soap opera’.
Gotta Find A Home: Conversations with Street People will leave you feeling haunted, questioning and, I believe, sympathetic. While many of the people in this book did not change one iota their stories and back-stories are compellingly sad. It makes one realize that with just a different decision (or two) any one of us could have chosen the path that some of the people in Cardiff’s book have chosen.
This is an excellent and very thoughtful read. I give it 5 stars for content.
17 November 2014
“Good morning, Chuck,” I said. “How was your weekend?”
“It was good, I guess. Friday, I wanted my son and his wife to come over and do some things for me . When I got home there was a phone message from saying him that he couldn’t come over, because his wife was sick. His wife wasn’t sick, she was drunk. She’s always fuckin’ drunk. The same thing the next day. I got my nephew to do some things, but he could only do so much. I need someone to clean my top shelves. There’ve been lots of people who were supposed to do that, but they haven’t been cleaned for the past five years. With my wobbly legs there’s now way I’d get up on a chair to do them myself.
“Did you notice that Ghyslain isn’t across the street today. That’s my fault. Earlier, I was panning on the corner by the coffee shop. A crackhead sat down on the steps near the door. He was yelling, ‘Gimme change, gimme change.’ He was also insulting anyone, especially women, who didn’t give him anything. I phoned the cops. When they came they told him to move along, they said the same to Ghyslain. It wasn’t my intention that he be rousted, but I don’t mind. He’s a nosy asshole. When the lady cop was talking to me the other day, he rushed over to find out what she said. It was none of his damned business, but I told him, just to avoid a scene.
“I watched a NASCAR race on Saturday. THe driver I was cheering for, Cole Whitt, was in fourth place when he came into the pit stop to change tires. The silly asshole using the jack pulled it out before all the wheels had been replaced, so that really screwed them up. The driver went from fourth to twenty-sixth place. I’m sure that mechanic doesn’t have a job today.