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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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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She said she was 27


29 September 2017

“Good morning Ted,” I said, “you look comfortable sitting in the sun. It was a cold night.”

“Morning, Dennis, I saw Bernard this morning. Said he’d been in jail, that’s why he hadn’t been able to pay me.” I said to him, ‘Your check should have arrived. Everybody else has theirs.’ He said, ‘I’ll go to the office and check.’ When he got back he said, ‘Mine hasn’t come in yet, but I’ll give you half of the money I have.’ He pulled out two twenties and gave me one. I said, ‘I thought you didn’t get your check. Where did you get that money?’ He said, ‘Panhandling last night.’ Yeah, right, you don’t get two twenties panhandling. He probably blew the rest on crack and weed. He has a real problem with that stuff.”

I said, “The last time I saw Bernard was in December.”

“I remember exactly the last time I saw Bernard. You know he was sleeping at my place. On Christmas day I was approached by a woman who said she was new in town, had no money, nothing to eat. I said, ‘If you’d like, I’ll walk you to the Mission, they have their big Christmas meal today.’ She didn’t want that. I said, ‘I share a small place with another guy who sleeps on the floor. If you want you can spend the night, but I’ll need to see some id first. She said, ‘I’m twenty-seven.’ I said, ‘You don’t look twenty-seven, you look under twenty-one.’ She had no id. We went to my place, Bernard was there. At night, I gave her some blankets. I crawled into my bed. I don’t know where she slept. I heard strange noises in the night, but didn’t pay it any mind. In the morning she was arguing with Bernard. I don’t know what it was about. She was pissed. She went out, slammed the door then pulled the fire alarm. Of course that brought the police. By that time she and Bernard were long gone. I made a statement to the police and told them she said she was twenty-seven. The cop laughed and said, ‘She isn’t twenty-seven.’ He asked where he could find Bernard I said, ‘He could be anywhere.’ They seemed to know Bernard, maybe he had some priors. I didn’t ask.

“I hope to do some fishing tomorrow then I’ll be going to my mothers to catch more raccoons.”

“Enjoy your weekend, Ted.”

“You too, Dennis.”


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No, I’m Not Going To Split with You!


27 September 2017

Ted was reading a newspaper as I arrived at his SIDEWALK panning spoT. I asked, “Are we involved in a nuclear war yet?”

“Hi, Dennis, no we aren’t at war, but it’s coming. That Kim Jong-un needs to be straightened out.

“I’ve been doing a lot of fishing lately, but haven’t had much luck. I hooked a big muskie, about four feet long. The world record is sixty-nine pounds, eight ounces. That was back in 1949. The government has netted some twice that size. They weigh, measure then release. I was drunk and down on my belly trying to grab for him. They have a huge mouth with rows of razor sharp teeth. I was looking down his throat. I nearly had my fingers in his gills, but he jumped and snapped the line. I also caught a big pickerel. facepalm You know that I’m a commercial fisherman. I’m ashamed to even talk about this, but I made the most rookie mistake. I felt him strike, but didn’t set the hook. You know, jerk the line to embed the hook deeper. I started reeling him in. There was a lot of weight. He came straight up from the bottom, opened his jaws and spit the lure at me. Did I ever feel foolish.

“My mother had another racoon. She got my brother to put out a live trap three days ago and he was supposed to check on it regularly. Mom phoned me to say that a raccoon had been caught. I asked her if my brother had taken care of it. She said he hadn’t. I asked if it was still alive. She said that it wasn’t moving. I phoned my brother. I said, ‘You stupid asshole. You put out a live trap three days ago and you didn’t bother to check it. We’ve been having a heat wave. Can you imagine how much pain that animal must have suffered with no shade and no water? That’s the worst way to die and it’s the most inhumane thing I’ve ever heard of. Get over there, dig a hole and bury it.

“My mom also wants me to move a tree for her. It’s about twenty feet high. I remember when it was planted. A trench will have be dug all around and underneath. Roots will have to be cut, then I’ll have to pull it down with a rope, move it twenty feet and replant it. That’s a big job.”

I asked, “Wouldn’t it be better to just chop down the tree and buy a new one to replace it?”

“Yeah, that would be the easy way, but there’s no reasoning with Mom when she gets an idea in her head. I’ll see what I can do.”

“I went to my doctor yesterday. He says I need to lose weight. I know that. I told him, ‘I walk about fifteen miles a day.’ He said, ‘That’s no good. You’ve got to elevate your heart rate, get breathing heavy and raise a sweat. Walking is hard on your joints. You should ride a bike.’ I said, ‘I can do that.’ I rode yesterday afternoon. When I came home my tee shirt was soaking. I’ll have to buy a lock. I had another bike that I left leaning against my building. By morning it was gone.

“The next few days should be good for me. Most of the panhandlers will have gotten their checks and won’t be on the street. I was in front of the hotel last evening with Richard. He had an open bottle of beer in front of him and a bag from the liquor store. People don’t want to see that. One woman handed me a takeout box of Chicken alfredo. It was really good. Another guy dropped me a five. Richard said, ‘I’ll take half of that.’ I said, ‘No you won’t. I didn’t ask you to sit and pan with me, so, no, I’m not going to split with you.”

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Wolf R.I.P.

14 September 2017

I was about to step on the bus when I heard someone calling my name. “Dennis, mate, hold on!” I felt a large hand on my shoulder, turned and saw Bearded Bruce. I waved the bus on. “I have some important news. I came down here especially to see you. Our friend Uncle Wolf is dead. It happened yesterday. My girl, Loretta and I were having a cup of tea and it came to mind that you’d have no way of knowing about his passing. Funeral arrangements are still up in the air. You’ve still got my phone number don’t you. Call me, we’ll get together for tea.

“Let’s cross the street where we can sit down. I’m not allowed to pan within so many feet of a bus stop. It’s called captive audience solicitation. Here sit on my bag. It’s not soft but there’s nothing breakable in it.”

I asked “What about Shaggy? Who’s going to look after her?”

“His brother came down and is taking the dog. There was somebody else there. I can’t remember. It’s someone I don’t like.”

“Was it Chris, maybe?”

“No not him. I’m still pissed about what he said after Weasel’s funeral. He knew we were and said, ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish.’ You don’t say things like that about the dead, especially to family.”

“Was it Outcast?”

“Yeah, that son of a bitch. He’s stolen from a lot of my friends and I don’t like the way he treated Little Jake. He’s a bully. I can’t stand bullies. In my book they’re just like rapists and wife beaters.”

I said, “Joy didn’t like Weasel, but after his death she said, “they’d had their differences, but she had nothing against him.’ Little Jake was in tears and she comforted him.”

“Yeah, Joy spoke her mind, but she backed it up. When she was living with Big Jake there were so many times he’d beat her. I said I’d take care of him, but she pleaded with me not to hurt him. When I was in prison five years ago I got him alone. I showed no mercy, wiped the floor with him. He was hospitalized for two days.

“Another person who was beat up is Magdalene. She really had the shit kicked out of her. She’d probably mouthed of, or stolen from somebody. I don’t hit women, but I’ve been tempted to tell her to shut up and then punch her in the face.”

I said, “Her boyfriend Alphonse was such a nice guy, before he committed suicide.”

“Yeah, I liked Alphonse. He was solid.”

“So”, I asked, “how have you been doing?”

I’m going through a hard time. Someone photographed me panhandling and now my disability has been cut off. I went to their office to see them and I nearly lost it. All I’m getting now is three ninety-five a month subsistence allowance. I said to the guy, ‘Where am I going to live on three ninety-five. The cheapest room in a boarding house cost four fifty. He said, ‘Well, you could quit smoking.’ I said, ‘I don’t smoke, at least I don’t buy them. Every once in awhile I’ll bum one. Could you live on three ninety-five a month?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘If I was a prostitute you’d accept that as working, but if I say I’m a panhandler you won’t accept that!’ He said, ‘You’re right, panhandling is against the law, prostitution isn’t, as long as there is no solicitation involved.’ You see, if a high price call girl with her own apartment does tricks she can claim that as income. She even has to pay taxes on it. It’s a crazy world we live in.

“They should decriminalize panhandling, street prostitution and drugs. And I mean all drugs, heroin included. Methadone doesn’t cure heroin addiction it only lessens the craving, but an addict has to want to be cured. It’s the same as if you slapped a nicotine patch on a smoker. If they didn’t have a strong desire to quit it would have no effect.

“You see these new fancy bus shelters they’re putting up. The 10 installed shelters cost two hundred and three thousand dollars. Habitat for Humanity, with volunteer labor, can build a house for forty-seven thousand. Now why can’t the government build affordable housing?

I’ve been able to pick up a few jobs landscaping. That will be going toward my rent payment. Now I’m heading downtown to the bar strip. I stay there from eight o’clock ’till two in the morning. I leave then because that’s when the real rowdies come out.


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