Little Jake in Mourning



2 July 2014

I had a window seat on the bus home and was, as usual, engrossed in a book to entertain me for the forty-five minute ride. A man sat next to me, invading my comfort zone. He began to lean on me. I looked at him and recognized Little Jake. He said, “I wondered how long it would take for you to notice who I was.”

“Hi Jake ,” I said. It’s good to see you.” He was drinking a dark liquid from a clear plastic drinking bottle. I didn’t recognize the smell, but it was strong, maybe brandy.

He said, “I’m going back to my place, but I really don’t want to go in. Maybe, I’ll just sit outside on the steps for a while. The paramedics left all kinds of medical shit behind. They worked on Shakes for about twenty minutes. They got a slight pulse, so they loaded him on the stretcher, but he died on the way to the hospital. I was a mess. I was shaking so bad I needed help to dial 911. I felt so helpless. I’m sorry to vent to you like this.”

I said, “I can’t imagine how you must have felt. I’ve lost a father, mother, brother, sister and nephew, but I wasn’t there when they died. I know that helpless feeling you’re talking about. It never really goes away. After my mother died, my father, brother and I stayed drunk for three days.

“Have you heard anything yet about funeral arrangements?”

“Betty and Fran are looking after that. They phoned around to a bunch of places. I think there’s something arranged for Monday, but I don’t know the details. I hate the guys those girls are with, Shakes did too. I had to get out of there before I hit one of them.

“Another person who was really upset was Blaine. He really fell to pieces, so did Curt.”

“Joy will take it hard. She’s known him since she was thirteen years old. We all lived in the same general area, but didn’t know each other then.

I said, “Last time I talked with you, you mentioned moving to a new place.”

“Yeah, now I’ll have to. I can’t stay in a place where my friend died. It was the same when Wolf and I found Weasel, sprawled on his back with his tongue sticking out. It really freaked us out, man. I have to my place to pick up the rest of his stuff to give to Betty, otherwise I’d crash somewhere else. I spent one night last week in the park.”

I said, “We didn’t know where Shakes was for about four days last week. When did he go to your place?”

“I was thrown in the booze can, Thursday. After the cops let me out I didn’t get home until about 3:30 in the morning. When I arrived, Shakes was asleep in front of my door. He was with me ever since. On Sunday we were having a drink together when, all of a sudden, his eyes roll back and he passed out. I couldn’t handle it, so I banged on the apartment next door. A woman came out and dialed 911 for me. My hands were shaking so bad, I couldn’t do anything.”

I asked, “How old was he? I think he must have been around fifty, but any time we asked, he wouldn’t give us a direct answer. He admitted that he was born in the early sixties, so that would make him fifty something.”

“He never wanted to tell his age. I’m forty-two and I figure he had about eight years on me. He and Uncle Wolf were about the same age. I wonder who will be the next to go. I hope it’s me.

“Now you got all these numbers going around in my head. I’m not real good at doing adding and subtracting —- mental gymnastics — I used to be, when I worked as a waiter, but not any more.

“Is this my stop coming up? I better get going.”

I watched Jake stagger across four lanes of traffic. I think he made it safely to the other side. I didn’t hear the screeching of brakes or tires skidding on the pavement.

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Shakes R.I.P.



 2 July 2014

The sky was overcast, thunder showers were predicted, the crew at the park was somber. I shook hands with Little Chester, Jacques and Wolf. I started to pat Shaggy, but she was growling. Wolf handed me some treats to give her to improve her mood, then he handed me a newspaper to sit on.

Jacques said, “I guess you wouldn’t have heard the sad news, but Shakes, he died on Sunday at Little Jake’s place. He had a heart attack. Jake phoned the police and the ambulance. They tried to shock him with those paddles, but he didn’t revive. That’s too bad, we all knew him for a long time. Who will be next, I wonder?”

I said, “Little Jake must be taking it hard. He was really upset when Weasel died.”

Wolf said, “Yeah, we both found him sprawled on the bed. Another one’s gone. Big Chester, the fat, toothless fuck, was worried about the jean jacket that he left at Jake’s place. Who gives a fuck about a jacket, the size of a tent, when somebody’s died. Everyone’s upset. What can you do?”

Little Chester made a comment. Wolf said to him, “Can’t you see I’m having a conversation here. Shut the fuck up, so I can keep my train of thought going. The chipmunks are going around in my head, but I have to listen to keep things straight.

“It’s not that we didn’t all see it coming. Nobody can drink five bottles of sherry a day without it doing real damage to their system. He knew he was sick. We just didn’t expect it so soon.

“I’d been drinking for seven days straight, but as soon as I heard the news I stopped drinking. I went two days without a drink, in respect for Shakes. I know, it sounds crazy, most people get drunk when they hear of a death in the family. I did just the opposite. I had to be sober today for Jake. He’s a very caring, emotional person — you know that.  I didn’t know if he’d be able to hold it together, what with Shakes dying at his place.”

Little Jake came by. Wolf took him aside to express his condolences. We all shook Jake’s hand. Nobody said anything.

Jake said, “Let’s get this party started. That’s what Shakes would have wanted us to do. Has anybody got a drink? Jacques handed him a plastic drinking bottle a quarter full of sherry. Jake asked “Is that all you got? I don’t want to take anybody’s last swallow.”

Jacques said, “Don’t worry, I got another bottle.”

Wolf said to Jake, “I was supposed to tell you that Mary’s daughter — what’s her name? Anne? That’s right, Anne, brought a bottle of J.D., Shake’s favorite, so we could give him a farewell toast. There were only three of us, Jacques, me and Anne. We thought you’d be here, but you weren’t so we split it three ways instead of four. I just wanted you to know that she was thinking about you.”

Jake said, “That’s thoughtful of her. I didn’t sleep well last night so I got up late, otherwise I would have been here. We’re going to party on the bridge. I hope the cops don’t come by.”

Jacques said, “We haven’t seen them for a long time.”

Two outreach workers came by to pay their respects. They were trying to contact Shakes’ daughters Betty and Fran. They asked, “Does anybody know their phone numbers?”

Wolf said, “Phone numbers, we didn’t even know his last name. Who would have thought it was Jake Baker? All these decades we only knew him as Shakes.”

Jacques said, “I have some of his numbers on my phone, Shakes 1, Shakes 2, and Shakes 3. I don’t know who they are for. One is probably for a phone that Shakes lost a while ago. Can you read these?”

The worker took down the numbers and asked Jake, “How about the rest of his belongings? His wallet, his hat?”

Jake said, “The police took all the papers out of his wallet. I have his hat to give to Betty.”

The worker said, “We’ll try to contact her and Fran. Did he have any other family in town? Betty can give us all that information. We’re very sorry for your loss. Shakes was very well liked by a lot of people.” They then walked away.

Jacques said, “I want to show you the new, handy thing I got. He pulled out a key strap with an electronic fob on the end. This is to get into my apartment. If I lose it they said I have to pay thirty-five dollars for the next one.”

Wolf said, “They gave me one of those. I only have to pay twenty-five for a replacement.”

“Twenty-five, thirty-five, I don’t know.

“I fell asleep at 1:30 and didn’t wake up until 9:00 or 10:00 when the fireworks started. I couldn’t see them, but I heard everything.”

Wolf said, “Shaggy nearly went crazy because of all the noise. Some of our neighbors had the street blocked off, so they could light their own firecrackers. I guess they figured that, since it was Canada Day, it was their patriotic duty to make lots of noise. Shaggy wasn’t just upset, she went nuts. The only place she could get any peace was in the bathroom with the light turned off.

“Anyway,” Dennis, “I want to show you the book that one of my ladies gave me. Tell me what you think.” He handed me a book. It was the story of two brothers. The wife of one is murdered and the other brother disappears at the same time. Most of the story takes place ten years later when the second brother reappears.

“This looks interesting, Wolf. It has all the things you like, a murder, police investigation, the works. It’s on the New York Times best seller list. You’re going to enjoy it.”

It was time for me to go, so I shook hands all around and said, “I’ll probably see you all tomorrow, depending on the weather.”

In unison, they said, “Bye, Dennis. See you tomorrow.”



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Party with Little Jake




25 June 2014

I was on the bus, coming home from the gym, engrossed in a book when I felt a tap on my shoulder. There stood a smiling Little Jake. “Hi, Dennis, we’ve been at Shark’s partying all afternoon.”

There was a vacant seat for two nearby so I suggested we move there. “Hi, Jake, it’s good to see you. So who was at the party?”

“All the guys from this afternoon and, of course, Shark and Irene. I’d been talking to my mother on Shark’s phone, eighteen minutes, he timed me. Anyway, she said she’d send me sixty bucks.”

I said, “That’s great to have a mother that loves you and cares about you.”

“Well, actually, I suggested that I come home for a visit. She said, ‘How be I send you sixty dollars instead. I’ll have your uncle Dave bring it to you.’ Uncle Dave spent ten dollars, on the way, so that left me with fifty. So, in fact, my mother was paying me not to come home. It doesn’t matter, I had fifty bucks. I could have been a hoarder, but that’s not me, so the party was on me, or I should say my mother. Thanks, mom.

“We just kept passing the bottle. Shark offered me some fried chicken, but I’m a true drunk, I don’t eat until I’ve finished drinking. I finally had to call it quits or I never would have made it home. He packed it for me and I’ll have it later.

I said, “I heard that Shark and Irene are thinking of moving. Do you know any more about that?”

“Yeah, I heard the same thing. Shark didn’t talk about it, but I guess it’s true. Shark doesn’t lie. I don’t either — I can’t.” We passed a building with an ‘apartment for rent sign’. Jake said, “I’m going to check that out.”

I asked, “Are you planning to move?”

“Yeah, I have to be closer to downtown. Where I live is just too far out — you know that, were on the same bus, and you get off after I do.”

I said, “It is a long way.”

Jake said, “I got my check today. I always get it a few days before everybody else. When I get home I have to write down the names of all the people who I’ve borrowed money from.”

I said, “You mentioned at noon that you owed Wolf eight bucks.”

“That’s been taken care of. This has been a really great day. It keeps me from thinking of the really gory stuff. October 14, I hate that day. Be warned, if I’m acting crazy that day, there’s a reason for it. Now, don’t go putting this into your blog. The only other person I’ve told is Wolf.

“Why am I telling you this stuff?”

“It’s okay, Jake, you can tell me whatever you want, or don’t tell me whatever you want. It’s your choice. I’m not going to ask you any questions about it.”

“Well, for some reason I feel comfortable talking to you, and I have to talk to somebody.

“This is my stop. I gotta go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Jake.”


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Gone Fishing



25 June 2012

A noon I sat with Wolf and Scruffy. Little Jake and Chester were also there. Curt rode up on his bicycle, “Hey, Dennis, I haven’t seen you for a while.”

I said, “I don’t think I’ve seen you since last summer. Your hair and beard are a lot longer now.”

Wolf said, “I was talking to Stella this morning. Did you know that Shark and Irene’s place was broken into. They were away at the time. They had deadbolts on the door, but someone just smashed it down. That’s one of the risks of selling dope. He’s been at it for about twenty years.

“Curt, you used to be in that business, didn’t you?”

“Not since 1991.”

I said, “I heard that Irene is really terrified. I think they’ve hired some bodyguards.  Neither Shark or Irene weigh more than a hundred pounds.”

Wolf said, “It’s a young man’s business. They’ll rob you for your stash of drugs, or the money they think you’ve hidden. They’ll even beat you up if you have no drugs or money. It’s a rough neighborhood — time to move. Irene is going to take a place by herself — she can’t take the stress. Shark will get a room somewhere.

“A couple of days ago somebody came into my place. I was out, but I’d lost my keys, so I left the door unlocked. They stole my margarine, ketchup, mustard, six eggs and a few hot dogs. It really makes me mad that someone in my building, probably someone I say hello to everyday, would do something like that. After a hard day I came home and was looking forward to cooking some supper, but they cleaned me out. I left a note inside the fridge saying, ‘fuck off you piece of shit, stay out of my apartment.’

I asked, “Have you had your keys replaced?”

“No, I’m saving that until check day.”

“How much does a new key cost?”

“Thirteen bucks. I’ve probably got that much on me, but not in the bank. I owe Jake eight dollars. He’ll let it slide, just like I would with him. He knows that I’m good for it.  With some people I know, like Outcast, I wouldn’t feel comfortable lending money. He’s too shifty. Jacques is still pissed off with him, so is Shark.

“Now, Jacques is avoiding us because of $1.50 for cigarettes. Go figure.”

Jake said, “Dennis, I saw this giant woodpecker. It was at least a foot high.”

Wolf said, “Monday you said it was four feet high.”

“Yeah, that was after three bottles of wine, still it was big.”

Wolf noticed an earthworm crawling in the grass. “Here’s some fishing bait for somebody. Did you know that Andre is living right across the hall from me? He’s been sober for months now and goes fishing every day.  I don’t think it’s good to eat as much fish as he does — all that mercury, raw sewage and whatever else is in that river.

Chester said, “I talked to Joy on the phone today. She asked, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I’m just phoning to ask about your health. When I saw you last, you mentioned that your legs were sore.’ She said, ‘My legs are fine, now my arms are sore.’ She’s just as grumpy as ever.”



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Rain, Rain Go Away



21 September 2012

Rain started Thursday afternoon and is expected to continue through the weekend. I had my umbrella and leather jacket, so I decided to venture to the park. As I was crossing Elgin Street, I met Chester coming the other way. We greeted each other and shook hands.

“Joy’s up there,” he said.

“Great, thanks Chester.”

Standing in a covered doorway, to the underground parking lot, were Jacques, Andre, Little Jake, Joy, Wolf and his dog Shaggy.

I shook hands with Jacques who seemed about to leave. He said to the group, “I’m supposed to meet Shark under the Laurier Bridge.”

Joy said, “I just walked past the bridge. Magdelaine and Alphonse are there, but nobody else.”

“I’m going there to wait for him, ” said Jacques.

I went to shake Wolf’s hand; he waved me away. “Fuck off, Dennis. I’ll say hello to you later. Right now I’ve got Jacques leaving. I didn’t even shake hands with him. Joy  just stepped on Shaggy, I’ve got to get her settled and out of the rain. I’ve got to find some way of keeping her dry on the way home, all I have is this small umbrella.”

“It’s okay, Wolf, I can see you’re busy.”

Joy said to Andre, “He’s got no right to talk to Dennis that way.”

Andre said, “Joy, just take it easy. Take a few deep breaths and count to ten.”

“Everything’s fine, Joy,” I said, “Don’t worry about me.”

I asked her, “Any news about your apartment?”

“My worker phoned Chester earlier. She said nothing is definite. It could be good news, it could be bad. I have Chester’s phone now. I tried to call them, but they must be at lunch. I’m just waiting for her call now.

“At two o’clock I’m going to meet a friend I haven’t seen for over twenty years.”

“Jake,” I asked, “how is your new apartment?”

“The apartment is great. I’ve got lots of space, now I need furniture. All I have is an air conditioner, still in its box. That’s what I use to sit on, sometimes to eat at. I just slide it around wherever I need it.”

“Andre,” I asked, “How is it going with your apartment application. Have you had any news?”

“I phoned my worker this morning. She wanted me to come in, but I said to her, ‘We’re talking now, just let me know what’s going on. There’s no point me coming in if there’s no need.’ The only really positive thing is that, on September 27, I get to see a doctor. I’ll have a family doctor of my own. The one I had was from Cornwall, but he died.

“The doctor can verify that I need medical attention and that I need appointments at least six times a month. That way I qualify for a yearly bus pass. He can also sign the papers for O.D.S.P. (Ontario Disability Support Program) and all the other stuff, so I’ll be able to get started on that. Right now, I got nothing.”

“Okay, Dennis,” said Wolf, “Now, I can say hello and shake hands with you. Shaggy is out of the rain and taken care of. This morning I got a new book and three new dvd’s. After I get home I have enough to keep myself entertained all weekend.”

“What book did you get, Wolf?”

“I can’t remember. It’s all wrapped in plastic in the bottom of Shaggy’s cart.

“What do you think of this weather? It’s really coming down now. This is the worst it’s been and it’s going to keep up like this for three days, so we better get used to it. I brought my umbrella, I’m wearing a raincoat, I’ve got proper shoes on, but I’m still soaked from the crotch down.

“Did they tell you that Bear bit me today? It’s not nearly as bad as the bites I’ve gotten from Shaggy, but it still hurts. I had a proper cover for Shaggy’s cart, but I lent it to Weasel for Bear — anything to get rid of him.”

Joy answered Chester’s phone. I couldn’t hear the conversation. I saw the tears running down her cheeks. She dabbed at them with paper towel from her pocket.

“Was it bad news, Joy?” I asked, redundantly.

“It’s a no go. Even with that fuckin’ twenty page contract, they’ve decided they don’t want to work with our program.”

“The father seemed in favor of it, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, it was just the daughter who didn’t want anything to do with us. I don’t know why my worker didn’t have anything else lined up, in case this fell through.”

“She’ll have other places to show you, won’t she?”

“Yeah, it’s no problem.”

“Everything will work out, Joy.”

“Yeah, I know.” She put on a brave face, but another hope was dashed. For now, it’s back to Chester’s place and bedbugs.

I’m presently reading , “The Art of Happiness at Work,” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler M.D. When asked about self-understanding he said:

“Humility is a good quality, but there can be too much humility. This kind of low self-esteem will have the negative effect of shutting out any possibility for self-improvement, almost by default, because the tendency of such a person would be to automatically react to the event with the thought, No, I cannot do this.

“In addition, I would also list an agitated state of mind as another obstacle for greater self-understanding. Since self-understanding demands a certain ability to focus on one’s own abilities and personal character, a constantly agitated mind simply will not have the space to enter into any serious self-reflection.

“…when you have low self-esteem, then you underestimate your actual qualities and abilities. You belittle yourself, you put yourself down. This leads to a complete loss of faith in yourself.”

In the same book, Dr. Cutler states, “Low self-esteem and underestimating of one’s abilities can be paralyzing, stifling personal initiative and inhibiting the individual from exploring new opportunities. Ultimately, it can obstruct the realization of one’s full potential, preventing the achievement of one’s goals.”

What I have observed, over the past two years is that what may seem no more than an inconvenience to myself, or other employed people — such as obtaining a birth certificate, a health card, applying for available government assistance programs — may be an insurmountable obstacle to those with mental conditions, alcoholism or other substance dependencies.

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Merry Christmas

1 December 2016

“Dennis, man, where’ve you been? I looked for you Monday, Tuesday. I thought maybe something had happened to you.”

“I came by yesterday, Bernard, but didn’t see you.”

“Oh, yesterday, I was feeling so sick I didn’t get up until about 2:00 in the afternoon. I ached all over, I couldn’t even stand. I rolled over and unzipped my sleeping bag to take a leak, then went back to sleep. I came downtown later in the day to check my bank account. There was 66 cents in it. I’m going to the Welfare office to check on things. I think they issue checks at 11:00, so I’ll wait until then to visit with my worker, otherwise they may tell me to come back later to get my check. The Ontario government hasn’t raised social assistance rates since cutting them by nearly 22 per cent in 1995, although the cost of living has risen 13 per cent. The shelter allowance for a single person it’s $325 a month. If your shelter costs are over the max, you’re dipping into the province’s basic-needs allowance, which is $195 a month for a single person. Until then I don’t even have enough money to buy a pack of smokes.

I asked, “Has Housing contacted you?”

“No, I haven’t seen them around. Since it’s past the first of the month, I probably won’t have a place to stay for Christmas. It’s bad enough being alone for Christmas, standing alone outside in the cold makes it even worse.”
2 December 2016

“Good morning, Bernard, do you have any news since I talked to you yesterday?”

“Well, I went to the Welfare office, talked to my worker, apparently they haven’t had time to process all my information, but she said a check will be waiting for me Monday morning. With that i’ll alt least be able to get a hotel room if the weather is really bad. We’ve been lucky so far. This is awesome for December. I feel sorry for the folks in the prairies and in the maritimes. They’ve got a foot of snow now.”

I asked, “Has Housing been by to see you?”

“No, they’re supposed to be checking on me every day, but I’ve only seen them the once since I’ve been here. I don’t expect to get anything before Christmas, but you never know something could happen. I can always hope.”

“How have you been sleeping, are you staying warm?”

“Oh yeah, I’m warm enough. It’s just the pain of getting up in the morning. I stood all day yesterday because of the rain, I’m sure paying for it today. My leg gave out entirely on my way here. Even my cane didn’t save me. I went right over.” Bernard was sitting cross legged, in trying to straighten his legs I could see the pain and difficulty he was going through. A few people dropped quarters into his cap. He picked out a dollar coin and put it in his pocket. “I don’t like to have these showing in case someone grabs my cap. Every once in a while I go to the grocery store where they have a change sorter. It costs 11 per cent, but I can get all my change converted to bills — a lot lighter in my pocket.

“My little French girl is leaving today to visit her father in Quebec City. She’s going to visit him for his birthday, he’ll be 86. He has no idea that she’ll be coming, I’t’ll be a complete surprise. All my regulars are leaving.”

“Well, Bernard, I have a month of vacation starting Monday, so I won’t be seeing you until the 3rd of January. I hope that you’ll soon have a warm place to stay. Merry Christmas, I hope that the passers by are generous. Take care.”

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