Bear Hunting


31 January 2017

“Good morning, Ted.”

“Hi, Dennis. I had a good day yesterday, collected about $70.00. Have you heard what Trump’s doing now? He’s building his wall.”

“Yes, I heard that. I can’t see how that is practical. He could use that same money paying for additional border security officers. If he’s trying to keep out the drug cartels they have access to planes and have been using tunnels for years.”

“He’s also going ahead with the oil pipelines. That’s got to be good for Canada. It will provide jobs and perhaps cheaper fuel.”

I said, “A lot of my First Nations friends are upset because it will violate sacred burial grounds and will increase the possibility of oil polluting the land and the water. For some in British Columbia fishing is their main source of income. An oil spill could devastate them.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that as well. I just see it as providing jobs and hopefully, cheaper fuel. I don’t drive a car now, but as soon as I’m able I’d like to buy an old beater to get me around. I wouldn’t mind having the same access to hunting and fishing that aboriginals have. They’re even allowed to spear pickerell in the shallow spawning beds. They also spear more than they can eat. I’ve often been offered pickerel for sale when I’m near a reserve. I only shoot as much as I can eat and I eat every part of the animal. I’ve dragged a 300 pound bear out of the woods. Mind you, I was pretty stupid about it. I’d left my hunting platform and my ammunition. I was watching a bear cub reaching into a container of donuts. There was a roar nearby, a bigger bear was in the area. The cub ran away. A large male may kill and eat a cub. The bear spotted me and came running. I had my shotgun lined up, but instead of squeezing the trigger I pulled it and the shot tore off his front foot. I only had two shots left The three legged bear was enraged and chased me up a hill. I found a crevice in the rock where I was protected. I fired another shot, but still didn’t kill it, only made it more angry. I got out in the clearing and as the bear came closer I took careful aim and brought him down. I’d never leave a wounded animal in the bush. If I had to track him 10 miles I would. Now I stick to bow hunting. It’s more of a challenge and the season is longer.

“I need to get back on my medication. Last night I found myself crying for no reason. I felt foolish. My worker has all my paperwork sorted now, so I’ll be able to go to a doctor.

“There’s a pizza place where I pan in the evenings. Restaurants don’t give food away, something to do with health regulations. At 9:00, just before they close up they walk right past me carrying about ten boxes of pizza and throw them in the dumpster. I wait until they’ve gone then dive in after the pizza. I freeze most of it, so it can last me about a week. I don’t know why they don’t phone one of the shelters, they’d send a truck over to pick up food that would otherwise go to waste.”

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Book Review: ‘Gotta Find A Home’

Excellent book by

Book Review: ‘Gotta Find A Home’ by Dennis Cardiff

Though my own voice on social media is rather small it has proven to be a place where I can occasionally have my attention firmly focused by hearing someone else’s electronic voice as it speaks out on something I might otherwise have missed out on. Case in point would be Gotta Find A Home by Dennis Cardiff, a book I recently finished reading. Through the vagaries of whim and circumstance I ended up following people on twitter who eventually led me to following Dennis himself, which is how I ended up responding to one of his tweets.

“Review either of my books” he wrote and he’d review one of yours. Not having any books of my own to review the openness of the post led me to randomly reply to him and offer to simply read and review his books without anything in return. Fully expecting my words to fall into the ocean of words that make up twitter and float by unnoticed, Cardiff replied and ended up sending me copies of his books.
From the moment I opened the box and looked at the covers – both built off of a drawing by Cardiff himself – it hit me that I’d probably never would have picked up either of these two books on my own at a bookstore. Both books, according to the back cover, were basically remembered conversations that he’d written down in a style somewhat akin to a diary of time spent and friendships earned with street people in Ottawa, Canada, beginning sometime around 2010. Knowing myself and my own preferences in reading material I’m positive I’d have allowed my own thoughts and prejudices concerning homelessness, so much so that I’d have passed up these books and found refuge in the more comfortable stories and conversations to be found in fantasy and fiction.

That would have been unfortunate.

Much like the people chronicled in Cardiff’s words and stories this book is richer and full of a vibrancy than the monochromatic cover could ever hope to convey on its own. You may think you can tell a lot about a book by how it looks – much the same way that I’m sorry to say that I’ve previously judged people on the street who might look a little rougher around the edges – but you cannot.

From simply stopping to say hello to a woman he names Joy, Cardiff’s book begins a conversation with an ever-changing and evolving cast of people that share the same worries and anxieties as those of us considerably more fortunate than they are. Gradually, over the course of a few hundred pages and years of slowly earning their friendship and trust Cardiff peels back the calloused exterior and exposes that they also share the same joys and small moments of genuine happiness as anyone else you might find.

Through nothing more than simply taking the time to care and talk to them and maybe sharing an occasional gift card for a breakfast sandwich or bus fare, Cardiff manages to put not just a face to homelessness in Canada but gives a voice – a ragged and yet important voice – to homeless people everywhere. Whether they are on the street due to circumstances out of their control or through bad choices fueled by addictions and inner demons of doubt and self-loathing, they are still human and still part of the larger story of life.

Through the pages of Gotta Find A Home Dennis Cardiff gives, at least vicariously, the homeless of Ottawa a ‘home’ in the words of a damn fine writer and, by all accounts, even finer human being.

If you are in the mood to read some excellent writing and discover some excellent people in less than excellent circumstances, please consider adding this book to your life and bookshelf. There are 3 more editions planned in the “Gotta Find A Home” series, with volumes one and two currently published. More information about Dennis Cardiff can be found here at his web site and his blogging (which fuels his books) and his poetry can be found here at Gotta Find A Home

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Deer Hunting

30 January 2017

“Good morning, Ted.”

“Hi, Dennis. I had a good day yesterday, collected about $70.00. If today goes well I’ll be able to buy a TV this week. It was nice to come home to the sheets and comforter that were dropped off. I get my check next Wednesday. That’s February 1st isn’t it? The government holds on to our money until the last second to collect as much interest as possible. It’s deposited directly to my bank account.

“Now that I’m a bit settled I want to look for a job, maybe washing dishes. I’d like that. I’d be off in my own little corner and I’d get the leftovers that diners leave behind. If I wasn’t waiting for that couple I have the present for I’d be job hunting right now. Did I tell you about the first time I met them? I was panning on the street and they came by with a hot roast chicken and fries. That was quite a surprise. I’ve gained about forty pounds since I’ve been here. People are always giving me junk food. When I was trapping I’d eat healthy food all the time.

“Even with all the experience I’ve had, survival courses that I’ve taken, I’ve done some pretty stupid things. Bow hunting season opened in September. I’d gone into this wooded area of about a thousand square miles. Being mister know it all, I didn’t bother taking a phone, a GPS or even a compass. I saw deer tracks so I climbed a tree. I waited about an hour when a doe and buck came into view, but I wanted to wait for the perfect shot. My legs got numb and I fell out of the tree, broke my ankle. The bone was sticking out and I was losing a lot of blood. I knew If I stayed there I’d drain out and die. I didn’t know where I was, but I could hear the far off sound of traffic, so I crawled towards it for about an hour. I finally made it to the highway. I was lying at the side of the road waving my arms. A lady stopped, she pulled out one of those pocket flashlights and shone it at me. I said, ‘Lady, I’m injured. I need to get to a hospital.’ My face was nearly white from loss of blood. She was afraid to come near me. I said, ‘I’m not going to hurt you. Look at my ankle. Please call for help.’ The police arrived, they called for a helicopter to fly me out. Before the helicopter arrived I asked the cops, ‘Would someone, please, go back for my bow?’ One cop asked, ‘How are we going to find it?.’ The other cop said, ‘Just follow the trail of blood.’ When a person is crawling they leave an obvious path.

“There was something funny that happened on the helicopter that I gotta tell you about. I placed a phone call to my wife. I said, ‘Hello, Dear, I’m afraid that I’ve had an accident and I’m being taken to hospital. The sound you hear are the blades of the chopper.’ I used to play lots of tricks on her and she thought this was one of them. She said, ‘I’m glad you had an accident. I hope you’re in lots of pain and that you die in hospital you son of a bitch.’ Then she slammed down the phone. Because of the noise they had me on speaker phone. You should have seen the look on the faces of the rescue team when they heard that. I told them it was just a joke and everything was fine.

“There were three doctors waiting when I arrived at the hospital. First they gave me blood transfusion. The doctor said I was minutes away from death. I had a very complicated fracture. I have pins, plates in there holding everything together. I was in hospital for a week when I told the nurse, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ She took me to the physiotherapy room where they had a flight of ten steps. The nurse said, ‘If you can go up and down using crutches we can let you go.’ I was determined to climb those steps and I did. I was in a cast for about a year, then a brace for another six months. It still gives me problems. I was on oxycontin for about six months. I hate taking pills. The bottles started piling up. I finally gave them to my brother. I’m still on medication. I haven’t been taking it. Yesterday I started crying for no reason. I found a doctor who will give me an injection once a month, so I won’t have to take pills.”

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25 January 2017

“Good morning, Ted. I missed you yesterday.”

“Yeah, I got here late, around 11:00. I had a bad night. Do you want to hear something funny? Friday night a guy came by and asked me if I wanted a flat screen TV. I said, ‘Sure!’ He said, ‘Are you going to be here tomorrow?’ I assured him that I would be. The next day he came carrying a big garbage bag; in it was the flat screen TV, a DVD player and 10 movies. I was so excited I wanted to go straight home to plug it in. I’d had a bit to drink and was rushing. I slipped on an ice patch and my feet went out from under me. You can see I’m a heavy guy. I landed on the TV and heard a horrible crunch. Sure enough the TV was smashed to pieces. I could have cried.” he shrugged and said, “Easy come, easy go.

“I was sitting at the corner when the Trump protest started. One woman was carrying a sign that said TRUMP HATES KITTENS / TRUMP HATES KIDS. I was thinking about that, That’s a bit presumptuous. Is she God or somebody who can see what Trump likes or hates? I asked her, ‘Isn’t that sign politically incorrect?’ She walked over to me and said, ‘How would you like to be grabbed by the balls?’ She was tough looking, I said, ‘No, ma’am!’ I just sat there and waved. On her way back she asked, ‘Now, do you get the point?’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ She put $5.00 in my cap.”

He asked me, “Do you know what the protest was about?”

“Yes,” I said, according to the newspaper, “Thousands of women, with a strong representation of men and children, descended on the Human Rights Monument near City Hall Saturday morning to march in support of sister organizations in Washington and around the world. The marches were to protest the new administration of President Donald Trump, with a focus on protecting and advancing women’s rights. The protest march was to promote equality and equal rights for all people regardless of race, sexual orientation, or ability.”

Ted continued, “Someone gave me this new backpack full of stuff; bubble bath, pads, women’s stuff, nothing I can use. There’s a young girl who comes by every day at noon. I’ll give it to her.” A man stopped and handed Ted a shopping bag. He responded by saying, “Thank you very much!” The man walked on and Ted said to me, “This is the comforter and sheets that I mentioned someone was giving me. I got my bed Saturday so I’m all set.

“I went to the pipeline protest, just to see what was happening. I was there for about an hour when a chief came up to me. He said, ‘Take these, you need them.’ I opened the package and saw a beautiful pair of Inuit mits. I said to him, ‘This is too much. I can’t accept these.’ He said, ‘In my culture, to refuse a gift is an insult. Are you going to insult me?’ ‘No, No they’re beautiful. I don’t know what to say except thank you.’ Ted pulled a package out of his backpack, unwrapped it and showed me a pair of white leather, decorated, gauntlet type mits. “I wore them on the weekend and got them dirty, so I’ve put them away for now. I asked an Inuit friend of mine about them. He said they sell for about $250.00.

“I want to show you something else. There is a couple named Dawn and Doug who have been really kind to me. They’re religious people. They do missionary work all over the world. Doug said to me, ‘You have work to do. There are a lot of kids on the street who need help. You have a responsibility to them.’ I don’t know what he expects me to do. I hadn’t seen the couple for about four months, but they stopped by on the weekend. In one of the rich districts, I had picked something out of the garbage that I thought they’d like. What do you think?” He handed me a copper, stylized figure of Jesus on the cross. On the back was engraved to Dawn and Doug from Ted. “Do you think they’ll like it? I don’t mind telling you that I go through the garbage because I know that you understand.”

I said, “I understand, Ted. A lot of people go through garbage. If I see something I can use in someone’s garbage I’ll pick it up. What’s one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

“Yeah, but this morning I found a half eaten container of yogurt. It looked alright. Now I’m feeling a bit queasy. I think I’m going to have to find a place to barf.”

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Sleeping on a Bench




“Hi Dennis,” said Alphonse, “I haven’t seen you for, it must be eight months. How are you and your family.”

“Good,” I said, “How about you?”

“I’m doing well. I’m separated from Magdalene. I’m going into a rehab program as soon as I can see my doctor to get the paperwork filled out.”

I asked, “When can you see your doctor?”

“Anytime I want. I’ve been seeing Bettie, Shakes’ daughter. We went out together before. The father of her three children is serving seven months for beating her. She’s getting out of rehab this week and will be getting her kids back. I’m waiting to see what her plans are before going in myself.

” I’ve been sleeping outside, I have my tarp and warm clothing, so I stay dry. One of the places I stay is under the bridge. There’s an exhaust fan there so it’s comfortable  in cold weather. Sometimes, I sleep on a bench on the other side of the park, sometimes in an alley near the market. The only problem with that is, I get woken up at five in the morning by a guy who hoses down the alley. During the night people will pee there or vomit, so it needs to be cleaned every day.

“Maggie has been sleeping on a bench near the park. She was staying in the apartment we shared, but she’s afraid of her new boyfriend, so she stays away.”

I asked, “Do the police bother her sleeping on a bench?”

“No, they know us. We don’t cause any trouble. For a while the cops were coming down hard on all panhandlers, but it’s not so bad now.  I was assigned a new probation officer. I heard bad things about the way he treats people, so I refused to see him. Probies are supposed to help us,  not get us sent back to prison on some trumped up charge.  I got a couple of breaches and served sixteen days the first time, twenty-two the second. I told my workers that I refused to see him, now I’ve been reassigned to the one I had before.”

Mariah said to me, “Dennis, I’d like you to meet my son, Andy.  He’d been living in a house owned by the mother of one of his friends. She kicked out Andy and her three sons. It’s really sad, one of them has AIDS.”

Andy said, “Yeah, she didn’t give us notice or anything. She’s going to sell the house, so she wants it empty. I said, ‘You can’t make me leave. I’ve paid rent until the end of the month.’ She said, ‘Do you want me to call the cops?’ I said, ‘Go ahead, if I’ve paid my rent there’s nothing they can do.’ She said, ‘I can say you raped me, that you caused damage to the house.’ I can understand that she wants us to leave, but she doesn’t have to be such a thundercunt about it.’

Mariah asked, “Dennis, I wouldn’t ask for myself, but could you give Andy some bus tickets, so he can get the rest of his stuff out. I’d really appreciate it.”

“Sure,” I said, “I have some to spare”

Andy said, “Thanks man, that’s really solid.”

Mariah said, “I saw Joy this morning. She’s doing a little better. They let her go out in the wheelchair now. Big Jake brought her a carton of cigarettes.  I take her out for a smoke, she’s got some pot. The only thing she doesn’t have is that stupid wine she drinks. That’s what I call it. Her liver rejects it, no matter how watered down it is.”

I asked, “Does she have any arm strength back?”

“Oh yeah, she’s getting it back wheeling herself around. The doctors still don’t know what the problem is. They took a biopsy on the side of her leg, now that’s started to bubble up. They’re not sure if it’s fluid or blood. They may have to go back in and fix whatever’s wrong. They’re thinking that she may have MS.”

I asked, “Have they ruled out fibromyalgia?”

“Yeah, I’ve got fibromyalgia. It goes all over the place. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the gut. The tips of my fingers go numb, just like frostbite in the winter. Sometimes, it feels like there’s a sword running up my leg. Every time I take a step, I get a stabbing pain.”


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You’re Not My Friend!


19 January 2017

“Good morning Ray. I was worried about you. You mentioned that you might see the guy that beat you.”

“I saw him alright, but nothing happened. I said to him, ‘I don’t like you. I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t want to see you.’ he said, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’ then he left.

“I was talking to a bicycle courier this morning. He told me about a guy who worked for their company. The guy had an appointment with his doctor. The doctor said, ‘You’re too fat. You’re going to die of a heart attack if you don’t lose weight.’ The guy changed jobs and became a walking messenger. He’d walk all over the city. The next time he went to his doctor he was told that his heart was in perfect condition.

“There was this other guy who hated his job. He bought two lawnmowers, wrote his own flyer offering to cut lawns for $99. He had 350 printed and had the post office deliver them to every house in a certain neighbourhood. He got about 150 replies. Now he’s making about $6000. a month and he only works Mondays and Tuesdays.”

I asked, “Have you been writing?”

“No, but I got out all my old notebooks. What a lot of memories they brought back. I used to work for a courier company, but I fucked the owner’s wife. That didn’t go very well. It’s not as if I meant to. She invited me to her place. I should have said no, but I was thinking with the wrong head.”

I said, “It’s not something that you can take back.”

“No. Then there was this older woman, very nice looking. some guys said I was cruel, but I didn’t think so. Tell me what you think. I sent her a dozen red roses every week. I didn’t leave a card with them and I asked the florist not to give any indication of who I was. She was dispatcher and would ask over the microphone, ‘Did any of you wonderful guys send me flowers?’ She nearly went crazy trying to figure out who the sender was. Do you think that was cruel?”

“If she thought the sender was wonderful, I’m surprised that you didn’t let her know that you were sending the flowers.”

“That would have been awkward, since she was the mother of the other woman I told you about.”

I said, “That would have been awkward if the daughter came over when you were with her mother.”

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Real Men


18 January 2017

Ted was sitting in the snow rocking back and forth. I approached him and said, “Good morning Ted, how was your night.”

“Not good.”

“Has your worker arranged a new place for you?”

“She’s going to start looking in March. The building is scheduled for demolition, so I’ve got a place to stay until the end of February. That’s not my only problem.”

“What other problems do you have?”

“I told you I was jumped the other night. The same guy confronted me last night and asked for my money. I said to him, ‘I’m not going to give you my money.’ He’s a big guy. He punched me. I said, ‘I’m still not giving you my money.’ He punched me again. It was a good punch. I laughed at him and asked, ‘Is that the best you can do?’ He said, ‘You’re crazy, but I’m going to see you again tomorrow. I’ll get your money.’ So, something is going to happen. The guy doesn’t understand. I walked right through him. That should give him some indication. The judge told me that I’m not allowed to get angry. He said real men aren’t controlled by their emotions. I’d blown a guy in half with a shotgun. I spent thirteen years in prison. I was ordered to take anger management classes. Everybody gets angry. I can get angry several times a day, but I’m not allowed to act on my first impulse.

“I could avoid this guy, but I refuse to let him dictate where I go. If you show weakness they’ll tear you apart.”

I said, “I guess that’s something that you learned in prison.”

“Yeah. I’m not afraid of this guy but whatever happens it’s going to be bad. I’ll try to make friends with him, but I don’t see that happening. If I take him on I’ll go back to prison. I don’t want that. I’ve been out too long. So, I didn’t sleep too well last night, thinking about what could happen. I’ll think on it today as well.”

“You told me that you had been doing some writing. Would you share it with me?”

“Sure, I’ve got about fifteen notebooks. I stopped because Big Daniel got mad. He thought I was writing about him, so I stopped.”

I said, “I could help you. I could type your notes, maybe even get them published. It wouldn’t cost anything.”

“Thanks, Dennis, I’d appreciate that.

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