I was looking for Ted, but he wasn’t in his usual spot. I passed a man standing on the corner who looked vaguely familiar.
“Hi Dennis, it’s me Ted. I tried some Just for Men hair color on my beard. I was supposed to leave it on for five minutes to get rid of some of the grey, but I passed out and when I looked in the mirror this is what I saw. I scrubbed and scrubbed, but I couldn’t lighten it, so I’m stuck with a black beard for a while.
“They got me last night.”
“Who got you?”
“Three Inuit guys. I was drunk. I went to the liquor store, from there I turned left into the alley and they jumped me. I can usually defend myself pretty well. I was able to protect my face but I had to give in. They got all my money. I’m aching all over, especially where I landed on my backpack.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been attacked. One time I was sitting near the mall reading a newspaper. A guy came along and tried to kick me in the head. I’m always aware of what’s going on around me, so I was able to duck. He tried to throw two more kicks then ran off. A security guard came along and showed me a cell phone picture. He asked, ‘Have you see this guy?’ I told him what happened and said, ‘That’s the guy. I’ll be willing to testify.’ The guard told me that the guy tried to grab a woman’s purse as she was leaving the hotel. He didn’t get it but he punched her in the face. Her teenaged daughter was standing beside her screaming, ‘Don’t hurt my mom!’. He punched her as well. I’m usually reluctant to inform on anyone, but this guy was crazy. He needed to be taken off the street.
“Did you get your bed?”
“No, I’m going to do that Friday. A guy is going to bring me some sheets and blankets, so I’ll be all set. The problem is I got an eviction notice, so did everyone else in the building. There’s a new owner, he wants to tear the place down and build a highrise.
“I’ve been enjoying your book. I’m on page 30 now. Joy was one tough woman. How did that guy, Big Jake get away with abusing her for so long?”
I said, “Eventually, he was charged and sentenced to eighteen months in Millhaven Penitentiary, but she took a lot of beatings before that. She was worried that if she called the police they’d be kicked out of their apartment. When neighbors called the police Joy got into a fight with one of the the cops and he broke her cheekbone. She said he was taking a beer out of her fridge. I’m sure there’s a lot that she didn’t tell me.”
“I was married for 29 years, but never had problems like that. The last place I was living was Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It was like paradise there. I sent a letter to the fish-packing plant. I just wrote that I’ve been trapping for 29 years and wanted to learn how a fish plant works. He had me do a lot of different jobs there. I really enjoyed it.”
I asked, “What brought you back here?”
“I got a call from my mother, she’s 83. She said, ‘Ted, get the fuck back here.’ So I spent $300. on bus fare. She has a huge five bedroom house with a fish pond, waterfalls. I stayed there five months, but she worked me nearly to death. First of all she wanted me to unclog the fish pond. I had to dig about a dozen holes just to find the water connection. I drained the pond then used a five gallon can to get rid of the sludge. Finally I’d had enough. My dad died at 60. He was a tough son of a bitch. Worked in a battery factory. He could hoist two batteries in each hand into the bed of a truck. Every once in awhile I’d ask him for money. He’d say, ‘Go fuck yourself!’ Later on he come to me and ask how much I needed. He was always good for it.
“He had diabetes and kidney problems. He was going to the hospital for dialysis. Eventually, it didn’t work any more. The doctor told us that he was only expected lo live another 3 days so we took him home. The hospital wanted us fill out all kinds of forms, but we couldn’t be bothered. We just took him.”
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Gotta Find a Home; Conversations with Street People