Nice Shoes




2 December 2013

“Good morning Chuck! Hi Goldie!” I bent down and she licked my nose. “How was your weekend?”

“In some ways it was okay, but in another way it was the shits. It’s something I can’t talk about.”

“That’s okay, Chuck. I don’t want to pry into your personal affairs.”

“No, I mean I can’t tell anybody, not for the next five months, anyway.”

“After five months, will things be better?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that sometimes I’d rather not be alive.”

“I’ve felt that way, Chuck. I’ve even attempted suicide.”

“I have to get my money problems in order. Then I can look after other things.”

“Do you have any plans for Christmas?”

“I don’t know. I suppose something will come up.

“I haven’t seen that crazy lady around. You know, the one who is always picking up trash. She hasn’t been around for a couple of months now. She’s so skinny anything could have happened.  I used to watch her. People would give her food. She didn’t trust any of it. One time a woman gave her a sandwich. She broke it into pieces and fed it to the pigeons. Another time someone gave her a meal in a box. She threw that in the trash. Occasionally, she’d ask me for a dollar or two to make a phone call. I don’t know what it costs to use a pay phone these days. Anyway, this happened a couple of times. The last time I gave her some money she bent down and kissed me. She said she wanted to marry me. Imagine that!” Chuck laughed. “I was quite flattered, actually.” It was good to see the change in his mood.

“Have you seen Joy, or heard about whether Big Frank is out of prison?”

“I only saw her the once, last week. I’m not sure I know this Frank — you say he’s in a wheelchair.”

“He wasn’t in a wheelchair before. He’s the one who beat Joy and has served three years in prison. He’s a big guy, about six feet four, probably about three hundred pounds. They used to call him Mountain. Since he’s been in prison, he’s developed arthritis and has to have his hip replaced.”

“I guess I was thinking about another guy. It was when I was with my wife and three kids. We heard an awful racket coming from the apartment next door. This big guy was kicking the shit out of his wife and eleven year old daughter. Can you imagine a grown man putting the boots to an eleven year old girl? It’s disgusting. He went to prison. The guys in there didn’t take kindly to someone beating a girl. They broke his legs. He hasn’t walked since. Serves him right.

“Did you hear about the guy who cut his dog’s ears off, so it would look more vicious.  He served six months. When he was inside,  a bunch of guys held him down and bit his ear off.

“I had a friend who worked for the prison system. One of the questions they asked him during his interview was, ‘If you saw two inmates making out, what would you do?’  My friend said, ‘Well, I’d wait for them to finish, then I’d ask to take my turn.’ He was just kidding. They knew that.”

I said, “I knew a person who worked in the prison system. They asked her opinion on capital punishment. She said, ‘I’m in favor, as long as it’s not too severe.’ They thought that was funny.”

“As far as capital punishment is concerned, I’m all in favor.”

I said, “As long as they convict the right person. There are a lot of people who’ve served time in prison, then are found to be innocent.”

Chuck said, “All this talk about DNA.  It’s accurate, as long as it’s fresh, but after fifteen years it can’t be relied on. I remember in the park, a few years back, a guy was attacked, and murdered,  just because they thought he was homosexual. Those guys that attacked him should have  had a rope put around their necks and hanged until dead.


1989: The murder police couldn’t ignore

Published Tue, Jun 24, 2008 8:00 pm EDT
How everything changed for Ottawa’s gay community
THE MATCH IN THE POWDER KEG. The murder of Alain Brosseau at the Alexandria Bridge ignited the community, leading to a thawing in police-gay relations in Ottawa and the induction of gays into hate crimes legislation. (Peter Fritz photo)***
It’s a story that’s hard to hear, but harder to forget. In the August of 1989, after working a late shift at the Chateau Laurier, 33-year-old waiter Alain Brosseau stepped out into the summer night and made a shortcut through Major’s Hill Park.Maybe Brosseau didn’t know that the park was a popular cruising spot for the city’s gays; maybe he never looked too closely into the shadows on his walk home.But a gang of teenagers went to the park that night well aware of what they might find. Laying in wait, they found Brosseau.

Jeffrey Lalonde, one of the four young men convicted of Brosseau’s murder, admitted during his trial in 1990 that he and his friends had gone out that night “to roll a queer.” In court, the teens said that they saw Brosseau walking alone; that they saw he was small and well-dressed. In other words, they’d seen enough. As Brosseau crossed the Alexandria Bridge, heading towards his home in Quebec, Lalonde and his friends attacked. They beat him, stole $80 and pried a ring off his finger. Then seizing the man’s legs, they hoisted him up and over to dangle off the edge of the bridge.According to testimony at trial, Brosseau “freaked out” while his attackers laughed.”I like your shoes,” said Lalonde, holding Brosseau by the ankles.Then he let go, and Alain fell, face-first, to the rocks below.Although Brosseau wasn’t gay, he was perceived so by his killers. At the time, violent hate crimes against gays were as common as they were underreported.Earlier that month, the Ottawa Citizen ran an article explaining that there would be no inquest into the number of men who had “fallen off cliffs” that summer,  all near Major’s Hill Park. The headline of the article emphatically quoted the chief regional coroner, declaring that an “inquiry won’t solve cliff deaths.”

Neither the police nor the press publicized the sexual orientation of these “fallen” men.

Tom Barnes is the oldest active member of Pink Triangle Services (PTS.) He’s the chief librarian at the Kelly McGinnis Library.

“The mainstream attitude was that we got what we deserved,” says Barnes.

Barnes knew men who “fell” near Major’s Hill Park and lived.

“We weren’t falling from cliffs, and they knew it — we were hurled over. If you were lucky, you grabbed onto something and broke your fall.”

As president of PTS in the late 1980s, Judy Girard had been fighting the passivity of the Ottawa police for years before Brosseau was murdered, trying desperately to have gay-bashings taken seriously.

“At the time, the police were certainly no different than anybody else,” says Girard. “As Canadians, gays and lesbians had achieved their rights on paper, but we still had to warn kids saying, ‘You’re going to get your ass kicked one way or another, so be careful.'”

Barnes remembers calling on the owners of downtown bars for help as bashings took place outside. They told him it wasn’t their problem, he says.

Reluctance to claim responsibility became a common theme in the wake of Brosseau’s death. It was, from an early stage, tied up in jurisdictional red tape.

One roadblock was police reluctance to claim jurisdiction. Although the murder itself took place in Ottawa, because Brosseau’s body was discovered along the riverbank in Quebec, the Ottawa police felt that the case should be handled by the Quebec police and vice versa.

The police also dragged their feet in acknowledging that anti-gay sentiment fuelled Brosseau’s murder, even though it was clear that Lalonde and his friends were targeting queers.

Only hours after throwing Brosseau over the Alexandria Bridge, Lalonde and the other young men hopped a cab and followed a gay couple back to their home in Orleans. There, the teens forced their way into the couple’s home and stabbed the two men with screwdrivers and knives.

In 2008, Lalonde’s name resurfaced in the press. He died in prison in Quebec May 26, marking the end of a sad story arc. Suicide was reported as the likely cause of death.

Barry Deeprose has worked with both Gayline and PTS over the years. In 1989, he saw how Brosseau’s murder acted as the catalyst for the gay community to confront the Ottawa police, fighting for the protection that was their right.

“People were hesitant to report crimes for fear they would be victimized a second time,” writes Deeprose in an email. “Gays of Ottawa took up the cause, which lead to a demand for greater sensitivity and awareness on the part of the Ottawa police.”

Rallying around Brosseau’s murder, activists organized a “Blow the Whistle” campaign, and taking to the streets of Ottawa, distributed safety pamphlets and raised awareness about the lack of services available to the gay and lesbian community.

Gays of Ottawa, along with other organizations, created a Task Force on Violence to bring the concerns of gays and lesbians to the new chief of police, Thomas Flanagan, who at the time had only recently been sworn in.

Girard recalls going as a member of the Task Force to meet with Chief Flanagan for the first time.

“The moment that I arrived to talk with the chief, I noticed we were wearing the same shirt,” says Girard, laughing. “I knew we’d get along. It’s the little things that were so strategic in building community in a bigger sense.”

The matching shirts seemed to work. Chief Flanagan was quick follow up on suggestions given by the Task Force, including, among other things, mandatory diversity training for all the officers in the Ottawa Police Service — a first for Canada.

“The pilot sessions were difficult,” says Girard, who helped run training sessions for more than 600 officers on the force at the time. “One of the first things an officer said to me was, ‘No man’s penis belongs in another man’s rectum.'”

In order to overcome the mistrust inherent in the relationship between the police and the gay community, Girard had both the officers and the training facilitators air their own dirty laundry lists of prejudices.

“In the end, we determined we were a lot more like each other than not,” says Girard. “We each have our own cultures, we each have our own language — and nobody wants either of us at parties. I gained such an appreciation for each of those officers and the job they do.”

Outside of the training, Girard saw changes in the way gays and lesbians were treated by police.

“When there were meetings between our communities, there was more respect. Same goes for when officers were working with domestic disputes between same-sex partners,” she says. “The discrimination had come out of fear and not knowing who we were, how to handle us, or what we might do.”

By the time Brosseau’s killers were making their testimonies in court, the work of the Task Force had gained significant momentum. In 1991, gays and police officers sat down for the first time under the banner of the Ottawa Police Service Liaison Committee for the GLBT Communities — another first for Canada.

Douglas Janoff wrote about the relationship between police and gay communities across the country in his book, Pink Blood: Homophobic Violence in Canada. In an interview, he reflects on some of the positive changes that came out of the Liaison Committee.

“There’s something about the consistency of the dialogue in Ottawa which I think is very admirable,” said Janoff. “You can always complain that the dialogue isn’t good enough or representative enough of the gay community, but at least it’s something and a lot of communities have zero communication.”

Janoff was recently in Paris, France, on a book tour for Pink Blood, where he met with “40 angry queer activists” and was amazed at how seldom gay issues are discussed with other police forces around the world.

“They have absolutely no committees to deal with the police, yet their problems are much bigger because Paris is a much bigger city,” he says. “When I was telling them about Ottawa and the fact that a group has been meeting for the past 20 years, they were really impressed. It made me realize that we’re further along than we sometimes give ourselves credit.”

The liaison committee has made a point of documenting hate crimes reported by both police and community members, even when no police report was filed.

A StatsCan report released last February on hate crimes in Canada showed the fruit of that communication: Ottawa was ranked as one of the top three cities in Canada for the most comprehensive police reporting on hate crimes.

The mandate of the Committee to make visible and validate the diversity within Ottawa’s queer community, as well as that of holding the city’s police accountable, has led to the increased visibility of queer realities in police procedures and training, as well as increased police involvement in queer community events like Ottawa Pride. And even if inertia has hampered in recent years, these early victories put Ottawa ahead of the rest of the country by the mid-’90s.

The work of the Liaison Committee also resulted in the creation of a Hate Crimes Section in 1993 and a Partner Assault Support Team in 1997 — also unique developments to their times.

This progress wouldn’t have been possible, particularly with the atmosphere of hatred towards gays in the late 1980s, if Brosseau’s story hadn’t sparked the compassion and support of the Ottawa community at large.

Dr Dawn Moore, the managing editor of the Canadian Journal of Law and Society, published the 2006 article “Hated Identities: Queers and Canadian Anti-Hate Legislation,” and she believes that Brosseau’s murder was the perfect storm for political, social and legislative change in Canada.

“The murder happened quite literally in the shadow of parliament, so it was very difficult politically to ignore,” says Moore. “Also, it happened at a time when the Ottawa community was already trying to galvanize around gaybashings, so the issue wasn’t coming from left field, but from within.”

Moore also pointed out the importance that Brosseau was only perceived to be gay, versus actually being gay.

“Going back through the parliamentary debates after the murder, the vast majority of MPs were able to stomach new hate crime legislation because the justification wasn’t that it was wrong to beat up a gay person,” Moore explains. “Alain’s murder was just as much a case for the need to protect straight people from the hate-on for queers proliferating at the time, as it was to protect the queers themselves.”

For this reason, Brosseau’s story spoke to even the most conservative critics of anti-gay hate crime legislation, and according to Moore, brought them onside with more liberal MPs to extend 1966’s hate crimes law — a sentencing provision that allowed judges to increase the penalty for crimes motivated by hate — to include gays and lesbians.

Janoff agrees with Moore that the fluidity of Brosseau’s own identity in the eyes of the public helped to serve as a wake up call for straight people by confronting them with the danger of making assumptions about identity and sexual orientation.

“It was shocking for the heterosexual community to suddenly be forced to come to terms with violence that the gay community knows too well,” he said. “It’s not just straight people looking out for straight people — it’s more complex than that — because he represented both communities, anyone could see themselves in his shoes.”

While the changes that Brosseau’s murder set in motion have tangibly made a positive impact on policing and handling of anti-gay discrimination in Ottawa, the problem of violent hate crime against queers is not one that will disappear any time soon.

The same StatsCan report that showed Ottawa Police Service’s initiative in acknowledging hate crimes found that over half of all hate crimes involving sexual orientation were violent, with one in 10 resulting in serious bodily harm.

According to Janoff, despite the improvement in how the Ottawa police are reporting hate crimes, the more violent of these crimes usually go unreported, or if they are reported, are not acknowledged as hate motivated.

“There’s still a two-tier system in the hate crime categorization in police departments. If it’s a minor assault or vandalism, the police will categorize it as hate motivated, but when it comes to murder, it’s the killer’s word against the victim’s family,” he explains.

Of the total hate crimes reported by police across Canada in 2006, only one was a homicide, whereas 129 incidents of minor assault were reported that did not involve a weapon or bodily harm.

Moore believes this disconnect is not as much a problem with police services as it’s a problem with the justice system at large, with part of it being the difficulty in proving an assault was a hate crime.

“If somebody goes and sprays swastikas on the tombstones in a Jewish cemetery, there’s a clear message. With personal assault, the law has always danced around allowing people to be violent towards gays,” Moore says.

She points to the “gay panic” defense. The term refers to the habit of gay-bashers to claim unwanted sexual advances provoked the beatings. As late as 2006, defense lawyers were still using a thinly-veiled version of this argument before juries — although with mixed results.

“I think it’s naïve to assume that a system that acted for years as incredibly repressive and violent towards queers could easily shift to protect a community it used to brutalize,” says Moore. “The onus for change doesn’t rest with the law, because the law doesn’t change people — people are changed by other people.”

In 1992, a survey of gay youth conducted by PTS found that more than a third of the respondents, most of whom were university students, said that they always or often limited their activities out of fear for their personal safety.

But things have changed since then.

The StatsCan report on victimization released last February showed that although members of the queer community are still more likely to be victims of violent assault than straight people, they now feel equally as safe.

“I’ve interviewed people all across Canada — police officers, prosecutors, victims and activists — and many of them point to that case as the turning point,” says Janoff. “They may not know his name, but they know his story, and that shook us out of our complacency.”

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26 November 2013

Joy was surrounded by packages.  I asked, “Have you been Christmas shopping?”

” A lady brought me some winter boots.  She said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, they’re used.’  I said, “Thanks, I don’t care if they’re used. I only care if they keep my feet warm.’

I looked at them. “They’re in good shape and they have felt liners. These will keep you really warm.”

Joy was looking at a hole in her woolen glove. “That reminds me,” I said, ” I found a pair of winter gloves on the bus. They’re too small for me. Try them on.”

“They fit great, thanks! Jacques brought this little fake Christmas tree. I asked him if he was coming down tomorrow. He said, ‘Tomorrow, haven’t you heard? There is going to be a big snowstorm.  Me, I’m going home to hide until it’s over.’ So, I won’t be leaving home either, but I’ll be here most mornings. I need money for Christmas.”

I asked, “Were you able to contact your worker? Did he bring over some groceries?”

“No, he said he’d been busy. I said to him, ‘You’re not the only one in the office, couldn’t you have sent somebody over with a bag of groceries?’ He said he’d try to get over today. I must have lost twenty pounds in the past three weeks.

“I hope I get my check before the end of the month, because my worker said he’d help me get a futon. They have the metal ones on sale at Crappy Tire for $129.00. If I don’t get my check in time I miss out.

I said, “I guess this is the day that Big Jake gets out. How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t know what’s happening. He hasn’t answered my letters. Maybe he’s been revoked. In that case he’ll be getting out in January. That will be the full term of his sentence. I hope he doesn’t get out today. I guess it’s mean of me to say that, but I’ve just got too much to deal with now.

“For all I know he’ll be waiting at my place when I get home.”

“That’ll be a parole violation, won’t it?”


“And he’ll get sent back to prison, just like last time,  right?”

“That’s right. It’s his problem. I don’t care what happens.

“I need to get some Orajel. I’ve got  an ear infection. The pain goes right down to my jaw. I’m trying to keep my mouth closed, because the cold air makes the pain worse.”

“Can you go to your doctor? It sounds like you need antibiotics.”

“I guess I could go to my old doctor without my Health Card.  I don’t really like him, because he’s a turban-head.”

I said, “He’ll only be looking in your ear.  Are you expecting him to say, ‘Okay, take off all your clothes and I’ll have a look at your ear.’

“No,  I don’t expect him to say anything like that.”

“A lot of doctors have been charged with sexual misconduct. One of my former doctors lost his licence to practice because of that.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard.

“My neighbors upstairs have been going at it again. First, she came home and was banging around. That lasted until about 11:00. My head was just splitting by then. He must have started a new shift, because he started banging around at about 4:00 this morning. I like it  when Buck comes over with Dillinger. When he hear a noise he starts barking. They’ve seen Dillinger and know enough not to get him riled.”

“How is Mariah?”

“Same old, same old. She has her problems. I was up to see her yesterday. She’s okay.”

I said, Chuck Senior was telling me stories about the old Alexandra Hotel.  He used to be a busboy there. He said there are all kinds of tunnels running under Bank Street. There was one from the kitchen of the Alexandra to the McLaren Apartments, down the block.”

“I remember the McLaren Apartments. That’s where Jacques use to live. They tore the building down. It’s a high-rise with the housing department in it.”

“Chuck was saying that hookers would go from the Alexandra to meet their clients at the Mclaren. Everything was below ground, complete privacy. They’d also have their beer delivered through the tunnel.”

“That sounds neat. I think that was before my time. I’ve only been here since ’93.”

I checked my watch, it was 8:50. I said, “I’ll have to get going. Do you think anyone will be up at the park at noon?’

Joy said, “I think it’s too cold. I’m going straight home to bed.”

As I walked to work, I stopped to talk to Chuck, “Hi, I don’t have time to talk, but I wanted to say merry Christmas,  if I don’t see you before them.”

“Thanks, but I should be here a few times before that, depending on the weather. I won’t be here tomorrow.”

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Joy Returns




22 November 2013

As Metro was handing out newspapers, he shouted to me, “I saw her this morning.  I don’t know if she’s still there.”

“Thanks Metro.”

Sure enough, after being away for two weeks, Joy was sitting at her usual spot.

She asked, “Hi, did ya miss me?”

“Of course I did,” I said, “I’ve been talking most mornings to Chuck. He sure has a lot of stories to tell.”

“Do you mean Fat Chuck, Roly Poly?”

“Is that what you call him?”

“Yeah, I give names to everybody.”

“No I meant his dad, in the wheelchair.”

“Oh, Chuck Senior! Yeah, get him started and he never shuts up. He’s a good guy.”

“I’ve been feeling sick this past while. I was in hospital. The good thing is they got all my meds up to date and I have prescription refills for four months. I haven’t had a drink in three weeks.”

I asked, “Does that cover your epilepsy, fibromyalgia and your bipolar disorder?”

“Yeah, all of that stuff and my antipsychotics.”

I said, “So, I guess Big Jake gets out next Tuesday.  How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t know what’s going on. He hasn’t written. I wrote him a long letter a while ago  and a one-pager about two weeks ago,  saying, ‘What the fuck is going on! Answer my letters!’ He may be pissed off about some of the things I wrote, but it’s his problem not mine. He has to work on getting the restraining order lifted. I’ve done all I can. They won’t deliver his electric wheelchair to my place, because I don’t have a ramp or other wheelchair access.  If he left it outside, he’d have to bring the battery in every night to recharge it. He’d need a lock,  so it wouldn’t get stolen, and he’d need a cover. I don’t even know if he’s getting out on Tuesday, because of the parole violations. His parole officer is a real dickhead — he won’t let anything slide. Three days after they found out Jake was at my place, he was back in prison.”

I asked, “If he doesn’t go to your place does he have somewhere else to go? Will he stay with Rodney the Rodent?”

“I don’t think that he and Rodent are friends any more. I told Jake a few things to check out. Rodent isn’t everything people think he is.  He lied about his prison time; he lied about being affiliated with any gangs. I think he’s a pedophile. For sure he’s gay. One time he had a big wad of twenty-dollar bills. He gave them to all the guys, none of the women. Does that tell you something?

“I don’t care what he does. I’ve got my papers in for assisted housing. I’m near the top of the list, because of my mental state, and because of my history of being physically abused.”

I said, “I heard that Hippo got some money.”

‘Yeah, two thousand bucks. He spent it in two weeks. Every day he’d come over to my place and drink at least three twenty-sixes of vodka. Mariah liked that. He’d also be drinking sherry. He phoned his mom and told her he had some money to give her for taking care of him, but he spent it before he got there.

“He took taxis everywhere, even out to Almonte to visit his mom. She found him upside down on their roof, drunk out of his head, scooping leaves out of the rain gutter.

“How is Mariah?”

“She’s okay, except for the bloating. She was walking all humped over because of stomach cramps. The pain was really bad.  I think she has Crohn’s disease, or some stomach or bowel ailment like that. She goes to her doctor for regular physical exams, colonoscopies, endoscopies, blood tests and  X-rays.  My sister had that and had to get her large intestine removed.

“I’ve only collected seven bucks today and I’ve got no food in the house –maybe a few scraps of bread.

“I phoned my worker yesterday and left a message for him to bring me some groceries.  I haven’t heard back from him on that. I’m still waiting to get a futon — one of those metal ones that fold up into a couch. They brought a wood one with some of the slats broken and the mattress was black around the edges. You know what that is — bed bugs. Some of the blood spills out of them after they feed and you know what color blood turns to when it scabs up — black.  There was no way that was coming into my place. I think they sell them at Crappy Tire for a hundred and twenty-nine bucks. If it’s metal there’s not so much chance that Jake will break it when he sits down.

“On the bus this morning, I was sitting in one of the bench seats at the front. I was at one end and this big, fat woman plops herself down at the other end. It nearly sent me flying. I said to her, “Holy fuck, will you take it easy! You’re going to hurt someone doing that, namely me.”

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Beer Tunnel



21 November 2013

“Hi, Dennis,” said Chuck, “Chilly this morning. Do you have the time?” I showed him my watch. “Twenty to nine. I’m only going to stay another ten minutes. I’ve collected enough for a pizza. After that I’ve got some groceries to pick up. I made my beef stew last night. It was delicious, but I put in too many spices — three Oxo packets. Next time, I’ll only use two. I had the farts all night.

I said, “Yesterday you were telling me all the interesting things that happened when you worked at National Defense. Do you have any more of those stories?”

“No, I told you all the interesting stuff, the rest was drudgery. I had another job as bell boy at the Alexandra Hotel. I sure learned a lot there. It used to be on the north-west corner two blocks down.  In its hey-day, it was one of the best hotels in the city. It was called the Alex, and was known primarily for cheap draft at the Leprechaun Lounge. It ended up as a strip joint.  It was disgusting, they hired girls as young as twelve years old to work as strippers. In the late ’70’s  it was declared a heritage site and torched to make room for new development.  I don’t know what’s there now — some high-rise.

“There is a maze of tunnels, called the Beer Tunnels under Bank Street. All  the businesses used them to bring in black market goods. One led from the kitchen of the Alexander to the McLaren apartments.  Weeks in advance, big shots would book a room. They’d enter the McLaren, but instead of going upstairs to the apartments, they’d go downstairs.  Their room would be all ready for them, anything they wanted. They’d phone room service at the Alexandra. We’d we’d bring their meals, drinks, girlfriends or prostitutes through  the tunnel. Nobody’d be the wiser. I won’t mention any names, but some  of our regular guests were Cabinet Ministers and a Supreme Court Judge.  All politicians are crooked.

“At the Alexandra they only served Carlsberg beer. One of the bosses would drive a van to the docks at Montreal and,  miraculously, it would be loaded with cases of beer. They’d drive though the tunnel and unload right at the hotel.

“Nearby there was also a clothing store where my girlfriend worked. She said she could get me a good discount. The suit I picked out was priced at seven hundred dollars, imported from Italy.  I got another priced at three hundred. My son was with me at the time, he said, ‘I could use a suit.’ We got all three for a total of three hundred. It was all controlled by the mafia.

“When I was a kid we used to fish in the river.  There was none of this catch and release stuff then. I think that’s stupid, we fished to eat not to hurt fish.  We’d take them to the back of this Chinese restaurant. They’d give us fifty cents apiece for them.  They’d mix it in with the chicken to cut their costs.

“There used to be a great bar at the Chateau Laurier. That’s where all the high-class prostitutes would hang out — they were expensive though. A couple of times the hotel was shut down by a food inspector for serving cat, disguised as chicken. The fanciest hotel in town serving cat.

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Avro Arrow




20 November 2013

Chuck said he wouldn’t be coming out this morning, but there he was in his usual spot.

“Hi Chuck, I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”

“Well, I talked, on the phone, to my lady friend last night. I told her I’d  meet her for coffee this morning. I did. We had our coffee and talked for about fifteen minutes before she had to go to work. Then I figured,  I’m down here anyway. It’s not that cold out, so I might as well try to collect some money. So here I am. As a matter of fact, I just arrived. I’ll probably stay until about ten 10:30, then I have to get some more groceries. I got my stewing beef and chicken, but I need some Oxo for stock; I think I’ve got the beef, but not the chicken.

“I had a hell of a time last night. I was talking to my son on the phone. He’s been getting calls from Bell about his phone service. I could barely hear him, so I called Bell. I could hear a faint voice on the other end. I shouted my phone number and said, ‘Please call me back.’ About an hour later I got a call back. The woman said they were checking on the problem and would call back later when they had it fixed.

“About 2:30 in the morning I had to get up to go to the bathroom. The phone rang. I picked it up, said, ‘Hello!’  There was no answer. I didn’t want to get woken up in the middle of the night, so I turned the phone off. I went back to bed, then I heard this loud busy signal. I shouldn’t be hearing  a busy signal if I had the phone turned off, so I took it off the charging stand. I don’t like doing that. I usually move the phone to my bedside table because, you never know, it might be a family tragedy. Anyway, I still haven’t got that sorted. I have my cell phone though, for emergencies.”

A garbage truck turned the corner. Chuck said, “Did you hear about the man who went to the employment office to get a job as a garbage man. He got the job, but they told him that he’d be classified as a Sanitary Engineer. He got home and his wife said. ‘You may be a Sanitary Engineer, but take a shower, you smell like a garbage man.’

“That reminds me of when I worked for the government. I had some fancy title, but basically I was a ‘gofor’ –go for this, go for that. If the front desk got a request for a file she’d fill in a form, have it signed by her superior, who would have it signed by the top brass. Then, I’d be given the requisition and would be sent to pick up the file. Below the Parliament Buildings are a series of tunnels connecting Building A, to Building C, to Building B. That’s for security, so that in case of invasion, the intruder wouldn’t be able to find his way around. Anyway, once I got the requisition it would need to signed by a guard in the tunnel, he’d get it signed by someone else, who’d gets it signed by someone else, finally it gets signed by the top brass and I’m allowed to pick up the file. What a load of bullshit. It would be the same process returning the file.

“Including me there were four men and four women, doing what two men and two women could have done. I remember the women. Rebecca was a big red-headed lesbian. Gloria was married and had a couple of kids.  Ellie, I don’t remember so much about her. Dorothy was the tough one. She wore her hair pulled back in a bun; very severe looking. She got me in trouble one day. We weren’t supposed to look out the windows into the courtyard. Well, one day Dorothy caught me and reported it to the higher-ups. I was called on the carpet and asked to explain myself. I said, ‘It’s true, I was looking out the window. What caught my attention was two men arguing loudly. One reached in his pocket for a gun.  I saw the gun. I didn’t know what to do.’ They reported it to security who conducted a search. Nothing came of it. I was off the hook.

“Sometimes, I’d get a request to pick something up at the Jackson Building. They’d give me a bus ticket for the fare there and the fare back. Well, National Defense  is just a block from here and the Jackson Building is straight down here, at the corner. It’s a ten minute walk, so I’d pocket the bus tickets pick up the package, go for a coffee, read the newspaper and wander back about an hour later. That was the stupid part of the job, but I got to meet the Prime Minister.  Diefenbaker was in office at that time. He was a decent guy, we even had a coffee together, one time.

“I didn’t like what he did about the cut backs though. We were told our wages were frozen, no raises for two years. This didn’t affect the big shots. No sir, they got back pay and bonuses for thousands of dollars. I was the guy who delivered the checks. Boy, was I pissed off. The next day I quit.

“Remember that fiasco with the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow? Jack Kennedy said to Diefenbaker, ‘We’re in the business of building planes. You stay out of it and buy from us.’ Diefenbaker  was a chicken shit. He caved in to Kennedy;  so, everything was scrapped. That cost Canada fifteen thousand jobs and millions of dollars. That plane was  the most advanced of all the fighter jets. Cancelling the Arrow cost Diefenbaker the next election.

“On our breaks we used to go to a restaurant around the corner. It’s gone now. It was where the jewelry store is today. It was funny, the women all together on one side and the men on the other.  On occasion, from across the room, mind you,  a woman would open her legs and give us a peek.

I shouldn’t have given up that job. I know that now. If I’d stayed, my pension would be sixty-four dollars a month more than it is now. I’d be able to live on that. I’ve been around for seventy years. I’m too old for this shit.

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Good For Business




19 November 2013

The temperature was hovering around the freezing point.  I wasn’t expecting to see Chuck, but there he was in his electric wheelchair, a red blanket over his knees and wrapped around Goldie. I gave her a few pats on the head. She licked my hand.

“How’ve you been Chuck?”

“Oh, I’ve been okay. I’m here today but I won’t be tomorrow. It’s going down to  minus 8  (17 F).  I went home early  yesterday because of the hail. I’ll be out on Thursday, but I don’t know how many more days I’ll get this year.”

Goldie started barking. “Why is she barking, Chuck?”

Chuck bent down and rubbed noses with Goldie. “It’s okay little girl.”

To me he said, “Don’t you know dog language?  She wants to be petted. You started, but didn’t finish the job.”

“I’m sorry, Goldie.” I rubbed her head and ears some more. Her eyes closed. She seemed to be falling asleep.

A grey-haired woman stopped, petted Goldie and handed Chuck a twenty.”

“Bless you, ma’am.”

When she left he said, “Did you see that? I’m happy now. I’m going to buy a roast of beef, some chicken breasts, the good ones,  they have them on special at Metro.  I’ll also get some cheap chicken for soup and some stewing beef. Along with some veggies, that will keep me going for a long while.

“I’m going to park in front of Tim Horton’s. They usually don’t bother me there.  I was there yesterday. I backed in under the awning to get out of the rain. The police stopped by and asked me what I was doing. I said, ‘I’m just sitting here, I don’t talk to anybody unless I know them. I’m not doing any aggressive panhandling.’ They let it go. Later a worker came out and asked me what the police wanted. I told him. He said, ‘We like you here. You’re quiet, sober, you don’t bother anyone. If you weren’t here there might be some noisy drunk hanging around. You’re good for our business.’ In fact I got rid of one drunk who was hanging around. I said, ‘Move on, I’ve had this spot for fifteen years. Get your own, don’t be cutting my grass.’

“Sometimes people stop and ask me why I’m there and what my situation is. I tell them. I’ve got nothing to hide.

“Anyway, when I leave there, I’ll wheel up to the mall to meet my lady friend for coffee.  We’ll be able to spend about fifteen minutes together before she has to go to work. I’ll spend a couple of hours with some of my other friends, then it’s off home. I’ll probably spend most of my time in front of the idiot box.

“I have to go to the doctor to have my heart checked. It’s supposed to be over two, but under three. If it’s low I take an extra blood thinner.  See these bruises on my wrist? that’s what happens when you take blood thinners. I know my body pretty well now. When I had my last operation the doctor put me on blood thinners right away. I didn’t think that was right, but I figured, he’s a doctor, he must know what  he’s doing. Turns out he didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. A couple of days after I got home I got stomach cramps. I had a bowel movement and in the toilet bowl it was all red. I’ve had a problem before with internal bleeding. Fifteen minutes later, the same thing happened again. I said to myself ‘If this happens again, I’m going to hospital.’ Well, sir, ten minutes later, it happened again. That’s when I phoned 911, for an ambulance to take me to hospital. They did a bunch of tests, checked my pace-maker. They have to put magnets on it to do the tests. The next morning they wanted me to start blood thinners again. I said, “No sir, I’m not taking any of those goddamned pills. That’s what got me in here.

“People ask me why I even come out when the weather is bad, but Goldie needs a walk. I’m dressed anyway, so I just go over the hill and I can catch a number of buses that will bring me down here.

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9 November 2013

When I walked past the park today a police car had pulled up and two officers were talking to the guys sitting on the curb. Jacques waved at me. I waved back. Andre said to me, “I told them I’m just waiting for my worker. This is where she told me to wait for her.

“Dennis, could you do me a big favor. They made me pour out all my liquor. I need a bottle.”

“I’m on my way to an appointment, so I can’t go on a liquor run.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“I don’t carry any cash, but I’ll see what I can do.” I stopped in at the Transit Office to pick up my bus pass, then went looking for a liquor store. There was one in the mall, but they laughed when I asked for Imperial Sherry. I walked a few blocks down to another liquor store and was able to find Andre’s brand.  I brought it back, but he had already left with his worker.

I said to Jake, “Andre asked me to pick this up for him, could you see he gets it? I know he’d want to share so, could you also see that Shakes gets a drink?”

Some people would think that what I did was unethical, but an alcoholic needs some alcohol in their system or they can’t function. They also feel very sick.


10 October 2012

This morning was even colder than yesterday. I gave a picture of Silver, from the funeral home, to Metro. He would have seen him every morning for nearly eleven years. Joy was wrapped in her blanket, rubbing her legs. “I wore the wrong shoes today. These Pumas, given to me by Wolf, are worth about a hundred and fifty bucks. People look at me and they figure, Why are you panhandling if you can afford shoes like that? I try to hide them, but I have to straighten my legs out to rub them every once in a while. They’re really bad today.”

“How are you and Chester getting along these days?”

“He got really drunk last night. I gave him some money and asked him to buy a bottle for me. He used my money to buy himself more beer. He went through an eighteen pack yesterday. Usually, after six he’ll be asleep.

“He was saying to me, ‘Joy, I love you. I wont mind if you stay after Christmas. Then he touched my leg. He hasn’t done that for a while.”

“I said to him, ‘Chester, you don’t like to be touched. I feel the same way, so keep your hands to yourself.’

“Later, he was banging around in the kitchen stark naked. He said, ‘What’s for supper?’ I told him, ‘I’m having this box of Kraft Dinner. I don’t know what you’re having. When are you going to buy some groceries?’ I’ve really spent a lot this month supplying him with cigarettes — and he chain smokes, one right after another. I’ve bought all the food. He hasn’t bought any.

“Well, I don’t think I’m going to be making any more money this morning. I had a good day yesterday.”

“I’ll see you later, Joy. Stella will be bringing pumpkin tarts.”

“I’ll give mine to Chester. I can’t stand pumpkin. I don’t mind the seeds, but that’s all.”

Later, at 10:00, I went to the park. Stella and her husband Tim were there. Stella loves to walk Weasel’s dog, Blackie. She’s known him since he was a pup — at that time he was owned by Henri, who has since passed away. Stella had brought pumpkin tarts, with whipped cream, for everybody. She also brought me a package of photos and a photocopy of a newspaper article entitled, ‘Street Sister.’

Joy said, “Jenna, my worker, is meeting me here to take me to my Elizabeth Fry appointment.” She poured some wine in her water bottle, added water and placed it in her bag. “Jake,” she said, “can you roll me a joint?”

Jenna arrived and said hello to the people she knew. Andre asked, “We’re meeting tomorrow, right? You’re coming here?”

“That’s right Andre.”

Joy asked, “How many busses do we have to take, and how far do we have to walk?”

“We can just walk down a couple of blocks and take an 85. That will take us right there.”

Joy asked, “Can you just wait until I finish this joint? Then I’ll be ready to go.”

“Sure, we have time.”

Joy hoisted her heavy backpack onto her shoulders and they walked down the sidewalk towards the bus stop.

I said hello to everybody I knew. Shakes introduced me to Weldon.

He said, “So, you’re Dennis the Menace! I’m Downtown Charlie Brown. I’ve been on the street for the past few days. Before that I was in a recovery program. I’m native Algonquin. I was born, on the Madawaska River, near Algonquin Park. I have a deep history. My grandfather was a guide for the Group of Seven, from 1920 to 1933, when they painted in the park. My father is a millionaire, but he won’t even answer the phone to me. He wont give me fifty bucks; won’t even give the price for a bottle. My sister is the same, she has a great big house; I sleep on the street. She says, ‘You got yourself this way, you get yourself out.'”

I said, “I’m really interested in learning about native culture. Where is a good place to go?”

“The best place is the Aboriginal Drop-In Center. Every Wednesday the native women host a meal, storytelling, chanting and drumming. You’ll get to see Shakes dance, sing and play guitar.”

“Shakes,” I said. “I didn’t know you sang and played guitar.”

Weldon said, “Shakes and I used to sing in the park, He taught me some boxcar Willie and other blues songs.”

Boxcar’s my home, railroad my friend
It’s been that way since I don’t know when
I’m here today, tomorrow I’m gone
Where I hang my hat is where I call home

Stars at night my roof overhead
The ground below where I make my bed
Horizons you see, well that is my walls
When the sun comes up my hobo blood calls.

“I love Boxcar Willie, and all the old blues singers.” I said.

Weldon said, “When I think of native culture I get so angry. In school the nuns forced us to speak English. They called what we spoke, ‘the devil’s language’. If we were ever caught speaking Algonquin or any other native language we would be beaten with the edge of a ruler or a leather strap. Can you imagine if something like that happened today, especially to the children of white people. The nuns would be arrested.

“All this land we’re on was given to the Algonquin by treaty. The government decided that it was a good military site, so they just took it. The Rideau canal was built mostly with native labor. They were paid starvation wages, most of them had families to feed, so they’d feed their families first. Many were worked to death. There isn’t even a plaque to commemorate the natives who died.

“Most native people would rather sleep outside, than in one of the shelters. Last night the guy in the bunk on my right kept saying, ‘six, six, six, six, six…’ all night long. He never stopped. The guy on my left was a crackhead. Every twenty minutes he’d get up and walk around. I didn’t trust him, so I was trying to sleep with one eye open. Whenever he got up, or went back to bed, I woke up.”

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