People, Places and Things to Avoid.

15 November 2017

I’d been looking for Ted’s upturned cap. From a block away I could tell if he was panning or not. As usual he was sitting on the concrete with his back against the stone wall of the church. He was reading the newspaper. “Hi Dennis, I was just reading that Justin Trudeau was slammed by the Philippine leader for asking about human rights. Trump congratulated Duarte, they’re best friends now.”

“How are you feeling, Ted.”

“Today I’m sore. I went to the dentist yesterday and he pulled four teeth. I’ve got two others with cavities. On the twenty-eighth I go again to have those filled, then I’ll have a partial plate made. I might as well since the government is paying for it. I thought the dentist was going to recommend that I have all my teeth pulled. I haven’t had them checked for about fifteen years, but no, he said I could keep most of them. One was really hard to pull. He worked on it for about half an hour. He clamped it with some kind of rod and would tap it with a hammer then wiggle it back and forth. He stopped for a while and I said to him, ‘If pulling that one tooth is so difficult why don’t you tie a piece of string around it with the other end secured around a door knob. Then you’d just have to give the door a good yank and the tooth would be out.’ He laughed at that.

“I’ve picked out some furniture: a dresser, kitchen table, some bedding. It will be delivered on Friday.”

“Will you be getting a bed?”

“No, I haven’t been able to find one. A new one would cost three hundred. There’s no way I could afford that. I was at Canadian Tire and was looking at an inflatable bed for eighty-nine dollars. What do you think of that?”

“I’ve had bad luck with air mattresses. They always get punctured and I end up on the floor.”

“I don’t think I told you, but I haven’t had a beer for thirty days now. At first I got really sick. It was like the ‘flu. I’d have sweats one minute then I’d be shivering my ass off. My kidneys shut down. I didn’t pee for three days. After four days I went to the doctor. I told him my problems. He said I was suffering from alcohol withdrawal. He said I could have died. I didn’t know that. He said I should have cut down to three beer a day for the first week, then two a day the next week, and one a day for the following week. Then it would be okay to quit altogether. I’ve had diabetes for the past ten years, so cutting out the beer will be good for that as well. I bought three bags of milk the other day, put two in the freezer. I was reading the ingredients. There is a lot of sugar in milk. I didn’t know that, but one cup of milk has a teaspoon and a half of sugar.

“I’ve stopped panning in front of the hotel. I’ve left that place for Richard. He’d always be offering me a beer or a slug of whiskey. In AA they emphasize people, places and things. I should stay away from Richard, stay out of places that serve drinks and avoid things that remind me of alcohol. I used to belong to AA but I haven’t attended a meeting for ten years. My worker wants me to start attending again. Ninety meetings in ninety days. I used to go for an hour each day at noon. I’m also trying to cut down on smoking. I now smoke six or eight a day. My worker said I should take it slow, baby steps at first. I guess he’s right.

“I do feel better now that I’m not drinking. I’ve been here too many times. It’s a cycle: panhandling, booze, drugs, homeless… I have to get off that wheel. Starting January I’m going to be looking for a job.”

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I going to put down that I’m a hooker…

14 November 2017

Work was over for the day. I was standing at the bus stop, my bus pass in one hand, my Kindle in the other. I was reading Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander series Book 2). I’ve been watching it on Netflix, but I’m understanding more by reading the book. I heard someone holler, “Hey, old man,” I looked up and it was Bearded Bruce. He said, ‘That was funny, I called ‘Hey, old man’ and immediately you looked up. I hope you know I didn’t mean any offence. So, are you back from your vacation?”

“No,” I said, “we’ll be leaving Sunday and will be gone to San Diego for a week.”

“Oh, I thought it was last week. So where were you last week? I stopped by to see you a couple of times. Where were you?”

“I was in my usual places,” I said. “Maybe I left work early a few times. That may be why you missed me.”

Bruce continued, “I wanted to let you know that everything is in order now. I saw my worker and he offered me and my girl a place in their housing program. Only one hundred and ninety-one people have been chosen. He told me that I could claim my earnings as tips because panhandling is illegal. Now, I have to figure out what job I’m earning these tips from.”

“Have you decided on an occupation?”

He replied, “I going to put down that I’m a hooker, or a stripper, working part time. They’ll accept that but not panhandling. I had to tell them about my situation. People tell me that ‘It’s a problem being an alcoholic,’ or ‘It’s
a problem being addicted to drugs,’ I say, ‘It’s not a problem for me. It’s you people who see it as a problem.’ The guy asked me, ‘Are you depressed,’ ‘Depressed?’ I said, ‘The only thing that depresses me is you guys cutting off my money.’ He asked, ‘How does that make you feel?’ I said, ‘It makes me want to blow people up, No, I was just kidding. My girl says that I’ve been cranky lately.’ I said to her, ‘If you don’t like it then get out.’ She went to stay with her cousin for a week. She’s back now. She told the guy some things about her past, but not everything. It’s looking good. We’ll know by next week if we’re approved. We’re feeling positive.”

“That sounds great, Bruce. I see my bus coming, so I’m going to have to leave. give my best to Loretta.”

She said to me, ‘So, you’re going to talk to Dennis, your bitching post.’ She didn’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just that I wanted to tell you our good news. It feels better when I talk to you. You really listen.”

“Take care, Bruce,” I said. When I found a seat at the front of the bus — I always sit at the front in case the bus lurches and I fall down. Sitting across from me was Chris with his cane and a pack of beer, eight tall boys.

“Hi, Dennis, my backpack was stolen this afternoon. I was panning and walked across the street to the hotel to take a piss. When I returned, my backpack was gone. I was really upset. It had my bus pass, my bank card. In the summer when I used to wear shorts and a tee shirt I’d attach my keys to the backpack. Lucky for me I have lots of pockets now and had my keys with me. I would have been in deep shit if I came home without my keys. I guess I could have phoned my landlord. He could have come down and let me in, but he wouldn’t have been happy about it. I have an extra key in my apartment. My birth certificate and my health card were at home. I got a new bus pass. It won’t be valid until three thirty tomorrow afternoon. The guy didn’t even charge me a fee for the new card and he gave me two bus tickets so I could get home. I cancelled my bank card. They’ll send a replacement in the mail. I always request that they send me a card without a chip. If it’s got a chip and it gets stolen it would be too easy for someone to drain my account. I’ve only got a hundred bucks in there, but it’s the only money I have.

“I hope there’s someone in my building who can lend me a backpack. It’s too hard carrying beer otherwise. I feel naked without that weight on my back.

“Anyway, my stop is coming up. Take care, Dennis.”

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used, abused and stolen from me …

7 November 2017

Ted had an upturned fur hat on the sidewalk. He’d retired his green plastic St. Patrick’s Day top hat. “Good morning, Dennis, I’ve been really sick this past week. I really thought I was going to die. I had one foot in the grave the other on a banana peel. I’d been on a drunk for three days and I was having trouble peeing. I’d go to the bathroom and only a few drops would dribble out. My back was really sore. Finally, I went to the hospital. They told me that I was dehydrated. Not enough fluid in the body can lead to kidney failure. That’s what I had. Anyway, since October 20th I’ve been drink free. I still have a bottle of vodka in my freezer. I’m going to return to A.A. meetings. They’re going to tell me to get rid of the vodka. One of their principles is to disassociate yourself with people, places, and things that you identify with drinking.

“I still don’t have my bed. There was a worker who came by to evaluate where I was living. He made a list of the things I needed: a bed, dresser, curtains, plates. He said to contact one of their stores within a month. The request would only be valid for thirty days. They have free delivery. I phoned the store to make an appointment, they said they had a five month waiting list. So, that was a waste of time.

“Eight thirty Sunday morning I heard a banging on my door. By the time I got up and looked out in the hall the guy was banging on someone else’s door. He was taping a flyer from management saying that they’d be doing inspections. I said to the guy, ‘What’s the idea of banging on people’s doors at eight thirty, Sunday morning. People are trying to sleep.’ I said, ‘You can just as easily slide the flyer under the door.’ So, that’s what he started doing. When they do the inspection they’ll see the cockroach problem, maybe then they’ll decide to spray. It’s because of the hot water heating. There are pipes leading from the furnace to every apartment. I’m really clean. I don’t cook. I don’t leave food out. I scrub the floors. When I moved the fridge to clean underneath I saw about a hundred cockroaches. I sprayed them with pesticide, waited until they were dead then swept them up. When I moved the stove, same situation. I keep my knives and forks in a sealed plastic container in the fridge. That’s the only place I’m sure they’ll stay clean. They’re better than bed bugs, but roaches carry a lot of diseases.

I said, “The last time we spoke you mentioned that you were seeing a woman. How’s that going?”

“I don’t see her anymore. She stole my weed pipe, sleeping pills from my medicine cabinet and she borrowed forty bucks. I know where she is. I could see her at the Mission any time, but she says she doesn’t have the money. What am I going to do? I wouldn’t hit a woman. I could get a woman to hit her, but I still wouldn’t get my stuff back. The people who stay at the Mission are all the same. I’ll just add her to the long list of people who have used me, abused me and stolen from me.

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Ted’s Mother

27 October 2017

I saw Ted’s green upturned hat, then saw his boots sticking out from behind a column of the church. When he came into view I said, “Good morning, Ted how was it staying with your mother?”

“It was okay, I got her in to see the doctor. He fixed her up with a puffer and a pump to get the fluid out of her lungs. She’s still as cranky as ever. Did I tell you she smokes from five to eight packs of cigarettes a day. I’ve been trying to get her to cut down to three. It’s hard for her since I smoke too. I should give it up.”

“Did you catch any racoons?”

“No, I didn’t see any around. I’ve got a trap set. I’ll leave it there until the snow falls, then I’ll be able to see if there are any tracks.”

“How long does it take to go to your mother’s place.”

“About forty-five minutes. I take a bus to the outskirts of town then take a taxi from there.

“Today my worker is going to take me to the Salvation Army warehouse to pick out my furniture. They have free delivery. It’ll be good to have a real bed for a change. I get sore sleeping on the floor.

“I was panning in front of the hotel last night and this East Indian guy stopped and gave me a bag of food from a restaurant. It was delicious. I love Indian food. This morning a guy dropped me a twenty. I went to the pizza place and ordered a breakfast sandwich with egg and sausage, home fries and a coffee. I’m still full.

“I met a woman the other day. She’s slept at my place for the last three nights. She’s really nice, tidied my apartment, cooked a nice meal and did the dishes afterwards. It felt homey. I’ve missed that. She’s not like most of the women I’ve been involved with lately.”

“She sounds like a keeper.” I said.

“Maybe, we’ll see how it works out.”

“You didn’t give her a set of keys, did you?”

“No, I’ve learned my lesson there. Richard stayed over one night. I had to kick his ass to wake him in the morning. He said, ‘Just let me sleep a little while longer. Can you leave me a key?’ I said, ‘No way! I’m going to work and you should as well. Don’t bother coming back because I won’t let you in.’

“I’m not going to stay here too long. I’ve got a bitch of a headache. I’ll buy some Advil on my way home.”


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Sidewalk Conference


26 October 2017

Lost in thought, listening to music on my ipod, I heard, “Dennis! Mate!” It wasn’t anybody I work with since they were coming from the wrong direction. Without my glasses I could barely make out the figures of a big man walking beside a small man. As they approached I recognized Bearded Bruce and Little Jake. I hadn’t seen either of them for about a month.

I reached out to shake Bruce’s hand, but he said, “I don’t want to shake your hand, come here give me a hug, brother. Don’t hug Jake, he’s contagious. Jake and I were just saying, ‘We haven’t seen Dennis for a while. We should go visit him. Have you got a minute to sit and talk?

“Sure, I said, “I’d like to catch up on news from the street.”

Bruce continued, “I’ve got cardboard for you to sit on so you don’t get your pants dirty.” We sat and Bruce put his empty paper coffee cup out for donations.

“How have you been? I asked.

Jake spoke first, “Not so good. I have a blood infection. I’m taking medication for it.

“The last time I saw you was on the bus, wasn’t it?”

“No, I was waiting for the bus and you came up to me. You weren’t feeling too well. You said, ‘I’m walking around in a fog. I don’t know where I’m going.’ ”

“Yeah, I remember that.”

I asked, “Have you seen anybody around that I would know. Does the gang still meet at the park?”

Bruce answered, “No, since Wolf died, Jacques doesn’t come around. Everybody else is dead. That sounds harsh but it’s true. Wolf mentioned to me he missed the conversations that he had with you. He didn’t like most people. I see Little Chester near the mall. He’s still annoying. It drives me crazy to be around him. The two gay guys have Wolf’s dog Shaggy. You remember them. They used to bring Wolf a half dozen eggs and a loaf of bread. They showed me a picture of Shaggy. She looks like she’s doing well.”

I asked Jake, “Do you have your furniture yet?”

“Yeah, it took two years, but I’m set now. Have you been to your cabin lately? Duck season is opening soon. Do you hunt?”

“No, I don’t hunt, but I get scared during duck season. I saw a couple of guys armed with shotguns in a boat. It looked like they were shooting at me.”

“Do you hunt?”

“No, my brother does. Since my mom died he’s living in her house. He bought my share. I don’t go there any more.”

Bruce said, “Jake and I were heading to my spot near the restaurants and bars. Here doesn’t seem to be working for us. Maybe you’re too well dressed.”

I replied, “Ted says I’m good luck for him. He always gets a few drops when I’m sitting with him.”

Bruce said, “Luck is luck. I’m superstitions. I always have my lucky penny, and bear token in my cup.”

Several colleagues from work walked past. One smiled, one frowned and the others ignored me. Bruce yelled at them, “He’s just visiting. It’s just me and Jake that are panning.”

It’s been seven years that I’ve known Bruce and Jake. I always look forward to seeing and talking with them. When I first met them they were both living in a cardboard box near the dumpsters in back of Starbuck. Now they are both housed and their alcoholism seems to be under control. Bruce limits his drinking to two beers a day. He got up and reached out his hand to help me to my feet.

I said, “I’ve got something for you.” I reached into my wallet and saw that I had two twenties. I handed one to Jake and the other to Bruce.

Bruce said, “Are you sure you can afford this? I always ask that of people. We saw Jenny last night. She had been drinking and was laughing. She reached into her pocket and pulled out some bills. She handed me a fifty. I don’t want you to think that I’d take advantage of somebody who was under the influence. I asked her, ‘Are you sure you can afford this?’ She replied, ‘Yes.’ I saw that she also had a twenty and a ten in her hand. I asked, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to give me the ten?’ ‘No, I’m sure.’ she said. So, I’m asking you again,  Are you sure you can afford this?”

It’s been quite a while since I’ve given money to any street people. They simply haven’t been around. I thought about what other things I would use that money for. Nothing of any consequence came to mind, however with it Bruce and Jake would be able to go to Bruce’s place for supper. They would have made their price for the night.  Their alternative would have been to sit on the cold sidewalk for six hours until the bars closed and the streets emptied. It gave me great pleasure to be able to have a positive effect on their lives. I consider them my closest friends and looking at Jake I didn’t know if I would see him again. I said to both of them, “I’m sure I can afford this.” We hugged and went our separate ways.


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Bernard is Back

13 October 2017

I saw Ted’s green upturned hat. When I approached he appeared to be asleep. I was about to walk past when I saw his eyes open. “Good morning Ted.”

“Good morning, Dennis, I drank four tall boys already this morning, so I’m a bit wasted. I’ve had a fever for the past two days. Yesterday I stayed in my sleeping bag. I pulled it over my head and that’s the way I spent the day. My face is frying. I must have some sort of infection, maybe in my teeth. I need an Advil or something.”

“Did you buy a new bed?”

“No, I used the money to exploit women. That’s the way I am.”

I said, “Maybe you should go to a walk-in clinic, or do you have your own doctor.”

“Doctors! What do they know.

“I read that in Australia they’ve had their worst ‘flu season in ten years — a hundred and seventy thousand cases so far this year. Two and a half times more than last year. They’ve already had seventy-two deaths from the ‘flu. From the flu! I’d go get a shot, but I can’t while I have this fever. Make sure you get yours.

“Have you seen Bernard? I told you he gave me a twenty towards the money he stole from me. I was really drunk last night, but I briefly awoke to see him going through my wallet. I just rolled over at the time, but I remember. He’s a slimy bastard. I told you that when Rhea pulled the fire alarm he said he had to leave because the police were coming. I think he’s a pedophile. I’ve never asked him about it. He’d lie anyway, but he did go to prison shortly after he was with Rhea. I wouldn’t put it past him.”

I asked, “Will you be here on the weekend?”

“No, I don’t do well on weekends. I don’t see any of my regulars. I’ll go fishing instead. I’m going to leave now. I’m going to the pharmacy to buy some Advil and a new pair of glasses so I can read the newspaper.”

“Did you lose your glasses?”

“Well, yes and no. I know exactly where they are — at my fishing place. I put them a few feet from where I usually sit, so I can reach them when I need them.”



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Mom has Dementia

11 October 2017

“Good morning Ted,” I said, “the weather is getting colder. There’s a frost warning for tonight. How late in the season are you allowed to fish?”

“Trout spawn in October and November so the season is closed for them, but for all other game fish I’ll be fishing right through the winter. I need to get some new equipment. For sinkers I’ve been using nuts and bolts and I broke my rod. I had it in my backpack and forgot to duck when coming through a door. I caught one fish my last time out. It was a good size for eating so I gave it to somebody I met by the river. I was so drunk I fell about a dozen times, in the water three times, I was soaked up to my chest. The rest of the times I fell on the rocks. One time I didn’t think I’d be able to get up. I was sure I had broken a bone, but everything was moveable. I decided then to go home before I killed myself. Look at the scratches on my shin. My knee was swollen the size of a grapefruit. I’m still having trouble bending it.

“I spent the last week with my mother. She’d like me to move in, but I can only take so much of her. She’s getting really bad, watches wrestling all day long. When we were watching together she asked me who won. I said, ‘Ma, you were watching. You should know who won.’ She said, ‘I must have turned away for a minute or fell asleep.’ Half the time she’s watching vintage wrestling from twenty years ago. Who does that? We had a power failure, she sat in front of the television for five hours waiting for the wrestling to come back on.

“My brother and sister want to put her in a home, but she’s against the idea. She has trouble getting up and down steps. When my dad was alive we had an elevator that went up the circular staircase. It cost about five thousand dollars. She sold it for twelve hundred. I can’t imagine what they cost now. On the main floor we have a bathroom and an extra room that was used as an office. I said to her, ‘Mom, I can move your bed, your dresser and all your bedroom furniture down here. You’ll have access to everything you need.’ She said, ‘No.’ Also, she can’t keep herself clean. There’s shit all over the floor. I can’t deal with that.”

I suggested, “You could hire a Personal Care Worker. They would help her wash, dress, go to the bathroom, even cook her meals.”

“No, she wouldn’t want that. She’s very independent and bossy.”

I asked, “Have you caught any more raccoons, lately?”

“No, I didn’t see any. Her neighbour told her to stop feeding the birds because it was attracting the coons. So she stopped feeding the birds. We have six big bags of bird seed in the garage, she’s been doing this for years. I don’t know if raccoons were eating the seeds, but they’re garbage eaters. You never know.”

“Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow, Ted.”

“I’ll probably be here.”


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