New Batch


14 August 2017

“Hi Dennis,” said Ted, “my vodka is still bubbling. I gave it a stir this morning. It’s supposed to be between seventy to eighty degrees. I’m at the bottom end of that, maybe that’s why it’s taking so long. I could get a heating pad. I’ll see how it goes. After that there’s an additive to stop the fermentation and a filter to clear it. My new batch of wine is really good. I took a bottle to my friend up the street. She’s always good to me. There were these other two guys there asking, ‘Can I have one? Can I have one?’ They were loaded to begin with. I said, ‘I’ll sell you a bottle for ten dollars.’ They checked through their change and said, ‘We’ve only got six.’ I said, ‘I’ll let you have this one for six, but next time it’s ten.’ Do you think I did the right thing? I don’t know.

“After that I panned in front of the hotel. There were a lot of guys holding hands and some gorgeous women, but, like a friend advised me, ‘Look for the Adam’s apple.’ Sure enough this woman had an Adam’s apple. I didn’t care, they were handing me fives, twenties, I ended up with a hundred and sixty dollars. I guess that Pride Week starts next week so I got a schedule of the events and I’ll make sure I’m there. Is that okay?”

“I think it’s okay Ted. I don’t see that you’re doing any harm.”

“After that I met a gorgeous woman. She’s thirty-two years old. We went over to my place, had some wine. She asked if I had any drugs. I said, ‘I have some meth.” That didn’t appeal to her so I gave her sixty bucks and she went out and got what she wanted. I don’t know what it was but she was really buzzed. She cleaned my whole apartment. It’s never been so clean. She stayed the night and I’m going to see her again this afternoon. She’s really nice. If I treat her right she might be a keeper. Who knows?”

“I see you have a guitar. Do you play?”

“No, a guy I know was short of cash so I loaned him forty bucks and he left his guitar as collateral. He’s never come back so I’m going to give it to a friend who put me up for seven months. He wouldn’t take a cent for rent.”

“It’s a semi hollow electric bass. I don’t recognize the brand, but it’s probably worth a couple of hundred dollars.”

“I’m not going to sell it. I’ll give it to my friend.”

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Baby Blues


11 August 2017

“Hi Dennis, I’m in recovery mode this morning. I’ve been hitting my homebrewed wine too hard. Fuck, that’s potent stuff. I let it ferment eleven days longer than I was supposed to. Maybe that’s what made it so strong. My vodka should be ready in three days. It’s really frothing up in the metal container. I’m going to stay away from drinking that stuff. It’s too hard on me.”

“Do you plan to sell it?”

“Yeah, that’s the idea, to make extra money. I’ve thought of offering it to the people in my building. There’s a group that hangs around the back wall, drinking beer and smoking. I’ve had problems with landlords before. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to have a lineup of noisy drunks coming to my room at all hours.”

I asked, “Do you have a bed yet?”

“No, I was supposed to go Tuesday, but I was too drunk. I was supposed to go yesterday, but I had a visitor. Marcia came over and stayed the night. I can’t keep up with her. I don’t know what mental problems she has but she gets an injection from her doctor once a month because she can’t remember to take her pills. I can’t even have a conversation with her. She’ll be laughing then ten minutes later she’ll be screaming at me. She doesn’t listen. I can see it in her eyes, maybe she’s thinking about what to say to me next.”

I said, “She’s probably taking other drugs as well.”

“You bet. She asked for some meth yesterday so I gave her half a tab. Fifteen minutes later she was screaming for more. She was into my wine too. I gave her a bottle, but took a big swig out of it first. A full bottle will even put me out. She saw the big glass container in the fridge and wanted more. Just because I’ve got a lot doesn’t mean we have to drink it all at once. I’m a drunk, but I’ve got a level where I’m still functional and I quit drinking there. Not her.

“Then she started getting upset about her kid. She had to go to court to sign a form releasing the baby for an additional six months. I told her, ‘Sign it off permanently. You’re in no shape to take care of a kid. Let it go to a family that can give it a good home, take care that it’s fed right.’ Marcie wasn’t allowed to breast feed because of all the junk in her system. She looked at me kind of funny. I told you that there is a possibility that I’m the father. I can barely take care of myself.”

I asked is Marcie still staying at the women’s shelter?”

“She does the rounds. One week she’ll stay with her mother, the next week will be the Shep then the other place.”

“If I knew for positive that it was my kid I’d find some way of taking care of it. I’d take the blood test, offer financial support. My mother, brother and sister would insist on helping. My sister would probably take it.”

“I told you I’ve still got that tiny mattress. I’ve also got five sleeping bags piled on the other side of the room. I said, ‘You sleep there.’ She flipped out at that, called me a queer because I didn’t want to sleep with her.”

“I know a lot about mental illness but I don’t know what her problem is. There’s no way I can help her. Maybe I’d have to take courses. I can’t stand to be with her for too long. She’ll probably be by this morning with an apology.”

“The good news is I’ve been out fishing. I caught some nice sized pickerel the other day.


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People Dying All Around Me


After stepping off the bus I saw a familiar face. It belonged to a man I once referred to as St. Nick since he prepared sandwiches and delivered them to homeless people sleeping under bridges, in parks and other places that were not publicly known. This he did from his own money collected from panning on the street. I said, “Hi, Nick, I haven’t seen you for ages.”

“Yeah, I was out of town for a while then came home for Anne’s funeral. Trudy is also sick. I’ve been on the streets since winter. I’m on my way to see my worker. I’ve got liver disease and colon cancer. I need an operation, but they won’t arrange that until I have a place to stay. I’m going to tell her to get off her fuckin’ ass and find me a place. I’m really pissed off that she’s taken this long to do anything.”

“Take care, Nick. I hope that everything works out for you.”

Later I saw Ted.

“Hi Dennis. I’m kind of pissed off this morning. Ria stood me up last night. I talked to her this morning. She said that a friend came into town with four hundred dollars and they partied. I guess I would have done the same thing. Instead, I bought a bottle of vodka and polished that off.

“Did I tell you that when I was fishing the other day I caught a beaver. I was dangling my feet in the water and saw this little thing swimming towards me. I thought it was an otter, you know how friendly they are. I quickly reached down and grabbed it by the neck. I was surprised to see that it was a baby beaver. They really have sharp teeth. I held it a while, rubbed its belly, felt its tail then let it go. I was thinking of taking it home and putting it in my bathtub. I could have put in some poplar branches and kept it for a pet. I thought better of it and let it go. It would have been illegal anyway.”

After work I was waiting for my bus when I heard someone holler, “Dennis, over here!” Seated on a piece of cardboard was Bearded Bruce. He asked, “Do you have time to sit for a few minutes? Here, I’ll move the cardboard so you can rest your back against the brick wall. So, What have you been up to?”

“Same old, same old,” I said. “How about you?”

“I’ve been thinking of moving on. I’ve got bed bugs in my place again. They’ve sprayed once and will be coming back to do it again next week. That’s a real pain. I have to cover everything. When they’ve finished I’ll have to wash dishes and anything that’s been exposed. I washed all my clothes and dried them on high heat. That whole mess has got me down.”

“Where do you plan to move to?”

“I’m not sure. I might just travel and work for a couple of weeks. If I’m away for more than a month I’ll lose my apartment. It’s crazy, if I went to prison they’d hold it for me, or guarantee a place when I got out. I’ve got a one person tent that weighs three pounds. I need a big eight or twelve gallon back pack. I may go to the Niagara region to pick grapes and tend vines. I may go to Leamington to pick tomatoes. I’ll just have to find out what’s ripe for picking and where. It could be apples, peaches, strawberries or other berries.

“I’m pissed off with this Brexit situation. I was born in Scotland, but if Britain separates from Europe I’ll need a passport to travel out of the country. I have a friend in Ecuador, he says there are plenty of harvesting jobs there.

“I guess I told you that Debbie died. That hit me hard. It seems that everyone around me is dying. I want to go somewhere that people are living.”


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21 June 2017

Ted was sitting in the rain. A blue tarp covered his lower half, an umbrella hat deflected the water from his face. The look on his face was one of resigned discouragement.

“Good morning, Ted. Are you managing to keep dry?”

“Hi, Dennis. The water is running under my tarp. I’m soaked, but I’m keeping warm.  I haven’t been around for the past few days. My brother and I were helping my mother to get rid of some raccoons — real nasty fuckers. They were tearing a hole under the eves trying to get into the attic. Two of them were snarling and hissing, the third one was easy going. He’d probably been fed regularly by some of the neighbors. We put him in the truck and released him. Did you know that the law states that you aren’t allowed to move them more than a kilometre from where they are caught. I think that they’re afraid that it may cause a spread of rabies. Also, they may have cubs nearby and you don’t want to separate families.

“I have my trapping licence so we baited the trap with cooked bacon and caught the two vicious ones. I must have skinned a hundred raccoons over the years. I made coonskin caps for my sons when they were young.”

I asked, “Have you ever eaten a raccoon?”

“No, they’re scavengers, like rats. They eat road kill. When you cut them open there’s a horrible smell. I have to cover my nose with something when I’m skinning them. It’s different with bears. Most people don’t realize it but bears are mostly vegetarian. Eighty-five per cent of what they eat are berries, roots, insects, larvae, grass and other plants. The West Coast bears are so much larger because they have access to the salmon spawning in the rivers.”

“So,” I asked,  “have you been able to get a larger bed?”

“No, not yet. My mother, who is eighty, promised me a bed but then she said, ‘Maybe I should keep it in case that German girl comes back to visit.’ That German girl visited twenty-seven years ago and hasn’t kept in contact. I said, ‘Okay Mom, whatever you say.’

“I’ve been approved for O.D.S.P.(Ontario Disability Support Program).  I’m also receiving Social Assistance so I won’t get the full amount. I don’t know how much I’ll get, my worker will let me know.

“Did I tell you I got my fishing licence? I had to pay thirty bucks and the season is half over. They discounted me two bucks. Don’t you think they should have charged half price?”

I said, “In winter you could also go ice fishing. Have you ever done that.”

“Yeah, I used to go out with my sons  fishing derbies. They had an area fenced off and holes augered in the ice. It would be about two to three feet thick. We got three holes fairly close to the shore. If you looked into the hole you could see the bottom of the river. You weren’t allowed to bring coolers because they didn’t want any foreign bait introduced to the lake. Also, in a cooler you could hide an award winning fish.  We caught the largest northern pike at twenty-nine pounds and the largest walleye at eleven pounds. We also could have won largest yellow perch but we told the judge to give it to somebody else.

“Do you want to hear something sad? Between my new place and the river is a baseball diamond. In the gravel bed behind home plate, a turtle decided to lay her eggs then left. When I walked past this morning, shit hawks were pecking away at the eggs. I yelled, waved my arms and chased them away. A lot of good that did. They came back as soon as I left. In some areas they create turtle nesting places along rivers and build underpasses out of drainage pipe so they don’t get run over on streets and highways.”



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Going Fishing


26 May 2017

“Hi Dennis, I’m in my new place now. It’s huge, about four times the size of my old one. I found one roach, that’s not bad. They have the baseboards and all the cracks caulked. The building has steam heating, you know, with radiators. The problem with that is they have open cold air registers. Bugs can travel from apartment to apartment.

I asked, “Do you have a bed yet?”

“Yeah, but they sent a single bed. I told them I can’t use a single. I haven’t slept in one of those since I was a kid. When you’re used to sleeping outdoors you get used to rolling around from side to side. Maybe it’s to get the circulation going. I’ve already fallen out on the floor a couple of times. And if I have some bitches over… You know what I mean.

“The place is quiet though. The landlord asked me if I minded being on a floor that is mostly elderly people. I said, ‘I just turned sixty. I’m no spring chicken.’

“I read in the newspaper that this weekend people are encouraged to put at the curb any old furniture, even clothes they don’t want. They attach with a sign saying ‘Free’ and anybody can take them. I really need a sofa and a table. I had to leave most of my stuff behind and now I have so much room to fill.

“I got my fishing licence. I hope to go down to where the canal empties into the river. I’ve caught big muskies there. Last year I went with a couple of women and they kept telling me that I didn’t know how to fish. I brought some frozen fish, slit them from asshole to gills, then cut them into six inch chunks. I buried three hooks deep inside and let the bait rest on the bottom of the river. Muskies are scavengers, they feed off the bottom. I waited a while and pulled in a thirty pounder. I think the record weight is sixty-nine pounds. You watch, I’m going to catch a record breaker and you’ll see my picture in the paper. They’ve set size limits for each of the twenty provincial zones so you need to read the regulations before you fish. At some of the northern lakes you’re not allowed to catch a muskie smaller than fifty-four inches or a northern pike smaller than twenty-seven inches; that’s because the larger ones may be spawning. For walleye you’re not allowed to keep anything smaller than eighteen inches.

13 June 2017

“Good morning Dennis, I got rid of my worker, a real porker. I saw her Friday and asked if she’d contacted my landlord about the three months rent he owes me, since everyone was evicted due to construction. She said, ‘No, I didn’t call him. He’s your landlord, you call him.’ I said, ‘Alright, give me his phone number, I’ll call him.’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ She thinks that because I’m passive, a nice guy, a pacifist that she can yell at me and treat me like shit. I don’t care that she’s a lesbian, but I want her to be professional. I’ve been really nice to her… I gave her a silver bracelet that I found. She said she wasn’t allowed to accept gifts, but I said, ‘If you don’t tell; I won’t tell.’

“And that stupid single bed she got me. I told her beforehand that I didn’t want it. I said I’d chuck it in the garbage. Well, I’ve tried it, fallen off a couple times. It has a thin mattress; it’s like a toy bed. Three of the screw in legs are smashed, so the mattress is on the floor now. I’m two hundred and sixty pounds. How did she expect that I’d be able to sleep on something that flimsy. Now they want to meet with me to find out why I want to change workers. It isn’t too often that they get requests like that. I won’t say anything bad about her, but I wonder what she told them about me. I guess I’ll just have to wait to find out. Now I have my old worker back.

“I heard a party going on in the park near my building. It was a bunch of native guys, they were all drunk. We shared a few drinks, so I made a few friends. Every ten minutes they wanted to shake hands with me. I guess they’d forgotten who I was. I found a hundred and sixty-two cans in that park. I’m not a bagger, but I bagged those and hid them where nobody would find them. They were hidden so well I had trouble finding them myself, even when I was standing right next to them.

The weather’s getting nice for fishing now. I can’t wait to get out.


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Home Brew


26 May 2017

“Hi Dennis, I’ll be getting my new place on Monday. They’ve moved it up a few days. I’ve got roaches where I am now so there’s a lot of stuff I can’t take to my new place. I’ve heard that roaches are the oldest living insect. They originated over two hundred and eighty million years ago. So, they’re pretty tough. I don’t mind them so much, but they spread disease.

“My new place is bigger so I’ll be able to make wine again. That’ll save a lot of money and I can sell some on the side. It’s easy to make and it’s not illegal. I’ve made my own beer. My wife didn’t like that because I’d have guys ringing the doorbell at two thirty in the morning. They’d be yelling, ‘Ted, we’ve got some bitches in the car and we want to party. Bring us down a couple of two fours.’

“Another time I was making my own vodka. I had all the distilling equipment hidden in the attic. I’d send out bottle pickers to get me sparkling water bottles. I’d give them thirty cents a piece. They were happy. I was happy. My room was on the main floor so I’d have people banging on my window at all times of the night. These guys, alcoholics, would be drunk and noisy. They’d shout, ‘Ted, get out of bed you lazy asshole. We need a couple of bottles.’ It cost me a little over a dollar to make and I sold it for ten, so I was making big money. If someone bought more than ten bottles I’d throw in a free one. Other guys would want me to front them because they had no money. I’d tell them, ‘I’ll give you this bottle for free, but don’t ever come by again without money.’

“My landlady didn’t like the noise and had the police come by. They knocked on my door and asked if they could come in. I said, ‘Do you have a warrant?’ The cop said, ‘No.’ I said, I’ll let you come in, but I’ll stay with your buddies in the hallway.’ He went in, saw all the bottles and asked, ‘Ted, are you making alcoholic beverages here?’ I said, ‘Just a bit of wine. There’s no law against that is there? When vodka is fermenting it’s a dark color. It looks just like wine. The cop asked, “Do you mind if we look through your drawers and closets?’ I said, ‘Go ahead.’ They came around a couple of times. After the second inspection where they didn’t find anything they said, ‘We won’t be coming back again.’ If they’d come a third time I could have charged them with harassment.

“My landlady was still ticked off so she invited me for lunch. She paid. She said, ‘Ted, this isn’t working you’ll have to move out.’ I said, ‘No problem. Give me two months to organize my stuff and I’ll be gone.’ ”


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Proposed Rehab Center



19 May 2017

Bearded Bruce was sitting on the sidewalk with his back against the polished granite of an office building. An empty coffee cup was held in his outstretched hand. When he saw me approach he said, “Hey, Dennis, have you got a few minutes to talk. I’ll pull out a piece of cardboard for you to sit on. So, how are you doing, man. It’s great to see you. Loretta and I were just talking about all our friends. Did you hear that Debbie passed away? Loretta took that pretty hard. Nick and Trudy are back. They both have cancer. Nancy’s is incurable. Nick is doing everything he can to make her life comfortable. Raven passed away and I guess you heard that Shark and Irene are both gone. Loretta stayed home because she was feeling depressed. When she feels depressed she wants a drink. She’s been sober for two years. She’s decided that what she wants to do is study to become a drug and rehab counsellor to Inuit people. She’s had a lot of experience with that.”

I said, “A group I know of: doctors, nurses, psychologists, pharmacists and philanthropists are interested in providing accessible, mental and substance abuse/addiction care for the homeless in the downtown area. We have in mind an existing building with twelve beds. Is this something that you’d be interested in? Is twelve beds enough?”

“A thousand beds wouldn’t be enough, but twelve would be a dozen more than we have right now. Follow up and job placement would be mandatory. These people would need to trust that there was someone to turn to if they had a relapse or things went bad. AA has a helpline that alcoholics can use if the need for a drink is too great. They can also go to meetings whenever they want, some go once a day, some go five times a day.

“You’re asking me about this in what capacity? I’m not interested in rehabilitation for myself. I’m different than a lot of people who we both know who need drugs and alcohol. If they don’t get their fix or a drink for a couple of days they get symptoms of nausea, headaches, sweats, diarrhea, insomnia, and anxiety, among others. In extreme cases, alcohol detox can cause death. Sometimes, drugs are used to lessen the effects of alcohol detox.

“I’m not one of those people. For me it’s a lifestyle choice. I want alcohol, but I don’t need it. Deciding to give up sex doesn’t mean that a man doesn’t get a hard on. The want is always there. I used heroin for a while, but didn’t get addicted because I don’t have an addictive personality. Also, I wasn’t trying to escape from anything. There was nothing that I wanted to forget. I came to Canada with five friends, we called ourselves a gang. Can you guess how many of them are still alive? One, and that’s because he’s serving twelve years in prison for murder, or manslaughter. Have you seen the movie Trainspotting? If you haven’t you should. It was filmed near where I used to live. Do you remember the urinal scene. I was there. My friends were just like the characters in the movie.

“If you’re thinking of a model rehab situation you should look at Holland. Prohibition never works. See what happened in the States, it put all the money in the hands of organized crime. In Holland, what they did first was to eliminate the money. A drug or alcohol addict could get a government licence and he would be provided a limited amount of the alcohol or drugs of his choice. He didn’t have to buy from underground sources, so they dried up.

The overall vision puts addiction clients in charge of their own addiction treatment, by shifting the care towards empowerment, reintegration and self-regulation of the clients. Since the start of 2014, addiction care has been provided in a three-stepped approach: with frontline support from a general practitioner or a general practice mental health worker, followed by the primary mental healthcare and secondary mental healthcare.

In case after case, those who have completed the drug rehabilitation program in Zutphen state that this treatment center saved their lives. One woman told a terrifying tale of years of crime perpetrated to maintain her drug habit. When she woke vomiting blood one day, she realized that she would die within a week if she did not get help. She had heard that the Narconon drug recovery program in Zutphen could help and she went to them. It took several months for her to finally rebuild the life that was destroyed by substance abuse, but she did it. She got completely clean and became a productive employee again, also restoring her relationship with her family.

Bruce continued, “You must be willing to accept people who are drunk and/or on drugs. At present these people are turned away from AA and the Salvation Army. They demand that an addict be clean for twenty-four hours before entering their premises. There is a small window where addicts have hit rock bottom and may decide that they desperately want recovery. If an addict or an alcoholic can resist for twenty-four hours they don’t need a program. In Scotland and Holland, addicts commit to seventy-two hours where they are locked in and sometimes tied down. After that it is their decision to stay or go.

“There would need to be a pharmacist to administer the drugs of choice. Methadone is not a substitute for heroin, it replaces the craving and is administered to a user who has given up the drug, much like a nicotine patch is used by someone quitting smoking. You can’t just slap a patch on a smoker and expect any results. They have to have a deep desire to quit. Being told by a doctor that you either quit or die is often enough motivation.

“It’s essential that there be representatives on the board who were down and out drug users or alcoholics and are now in recovery. Nobody else would know the hell that recovering addicts go through. As an example a man wouldn’t be effective as a counsellor at a rape crisis center, unless the man had himself been raped. A healthy youth wouldn’t be effective counselling to elderly arthritis sufferers about how to deal with their pain. As a parent you wouldn’t be effective counselling pedophiles, you’d look down at them with disgust. Am I getting my point across?

“Another thing you would need is security. If addicts can’t get money for drugs they’ll resort to violence and stealing. This causes bad feelings. If both the thief and the person stolen from are in the same room, or if one is outside and the other is inside, they’ll break down the door to get revenge.

If you’d like I’d be willing to speak to this group, and could refer other people who may be of value in the program.


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