Monthly Archives: February 2011

hanging with jason

i knew it was jason at the door before his four-tap knock ended. i always do. jason has a certain schedule and a certain (what he considers) ‘secret’ knock. ive asked to use it and hes granted permission but only on the conditions that its not overused. also, im not to teach anyone else. fair terms so i agreed.

if i had to pick favorites, jason would make it into the top 3 for sure. hes a skinny, tall white guy like me but with super long, dark rocker hair. think the hair bands of the 80’s and thats it. if jasons not staying at our shelter hes often coming to visit me on my overnight shifts from wherever else he is staying. hes basically impervious to the weather. he shows up wearing an undersized jacket, no mits, scarf, toque, etc, on most cold nights, seemingly unaware what the elements are doing to his skin. maybe hes just tough or maybe its because his mind is fixated on one thing and one thing only – music. hes obsessed with it. he talks about it with anyone and everyone he can and, when theres no one to listen, he has conversations with himself. that may be more a product of his schizophrenia though, but thats just a guess. first time i met him we talked rock history for 4 hours! i may have asked 3 questions. maybe 2. im starting to get him to talk about other things but its a struggle. music seems to be the one thing he can focus on well, though its not perfect. on top of schizo tendencies he also has a severe case of adhd which contributes to him being all over the map, both mentally and physically. the full pots of coffee he drinks doesnt help in that regard. i recently started giving him decaf to see how that helps. results undetermined so far.

if i didnt suggest food im pretty sure jason would be content drinking coffee the whole night. food doesnt seem to be on his radar. i usually ask him how much food hes eaten lately and he lists off some stuff. its usually not much so i guilt him into eating (dont judge my methods!) and make as much food as possible. he sucks it all down like a hoover and fills the gaps with more coffee. its the only time he doesnt talk about music. im also apparently a great sandwich maker. i prefer sandwich artist, personally.

jason is a smoker. without a steady income to buy cigarettes he resolves to smoking butts people drop. not particularly healthy but so goes life. on returning from one of many trips ‘out’ to find a smoke, jason tells me that hes closer to sanity than ever before. the comment is sort of off the cuff and said in such a way like hes reading car ads in the newspaper. emotionless. i ask him why he thinks so and he tells me he can remember more things today than usual. good start. when i ask him what he remembers he tells me an elaborate story that hes told me in that same elaborate fashion several times before. i dont have the heart to tell him so i just dont. my pointing out his lapses in mental capacity are of no real use. unless God miraculously fixes his brain (which i pray happens and havent written off the possibility yet) jason’s mind will always be in constant repair. very sad but unfortunately true. so i continue to open the shelter doors with a big hello and smile for him, make coffee and feasts, and simply be his friend so he always feels some love in his life. might not heal his mind but it sure cant hurt to try.


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friendly fire

mike might have the worse internal gps of anyone i know. he must have passed by the front of the coffee shop about 6 times before finding the handle and pushing his way in. it started getting funny around the fourth passby. coffee was poured and conversation began. neil wandered in fifteen minutes later and joined the table. when i asked neil his name (its hard remembering everyones name) he shook my hand and said, ‘its neil. like neil armstrong.’ i asked him if he ever wanted to be an astranaut. ‘heck no! too high up.’ so i ask him, if he could pick any profession what would it be, and he replies, ‘id just like to talk to people.’ simple man, good answer. in walks paul and dave and the table gets bigger. dave cant wait to tell me about a war medal he found in some ice on the street corner. he turned it into the polce who then called the owner. apprently the owner was less than thankful for daves efforts and dave had a few things to say to him that cant be shared on this blog 🙂 needless to say dave was a bit ticked off. one by one they all ran off to something else leaving me and dave sitting there, dave still going on about the ungrateful medal owner. i mentioned heading to hope cottage for some grub to get his mind off the stupid medal. it worked like magic.

you can see alan a mile away. hes about 6’5, long white hair and reads as he walks. i spotted him as we crossed by the public gardens. hard to miss the old man. he was crossing the road, nose buried deep in his new book (he reads two books every couple of days. dude is a machine!) about to cause a horn honk or two when dave called to him. alan stopped, peered up from his book to see who was hollering at him just as a car whizzed by. good timing. alans eyes are so bad that he cant see who it is till im shaking his hand. reminds me of my grandfather for some reason. perry walks by and he gets a surprise shoulder check from me. i can see the anger in his eyes until he realizes its me. he gives me a hug and tells me we have to hang out tomorrow. i give it the ok and then say bye to alan so i can catch up with dave who has found jimmy walking towards hope cottage. jimmy is relatively sober from what i can tell and talks to us a bit about his life. jimmy gives you exactly what hes got. hes real about everything and you can see it through the tears in his eyes when he talks. tough life he leads.

lasagna for dinner. quite good too. john starts right into the pain in his foot as i sit down. he had it run over by a car a few days earlier. ouch. he tells me hes had to cut a few miles off his walking per day. i ask him how many miles he gets through daily. 10. 10?! i suggest that just maybe he should go to the hospital. he waves that off like ive just said the most ridiculous thing hes ever heard. modern medicine, bahumbug!

beaver arrives and its like a celebrity has entered the building. somewhat. see, beaver has been around for quite awhile and his fiery personality mixed with his uncanny sense of humor makes him rather likeable to most. hes one of my favorite to talk with. you never quite know whats going to come out of his mouth. the surprise is usually worth it. i call him santa and he gets mildly offended. tells me to go sell some bibles. someone calls him a gnome from across the room and for a split second i thought he might jump over the table. he scoops a hefty serving of lasagna into his mouth and stirs his coffee. 9 times out of 10 those incidents get ugly. beaver winks at me and whispers, ‘we’ll get him outside.’ he never does but i think it makes him still feel tough by saying it. hes going soft in his old age. good thing.

dave, gordie, jimmy and i talk weather, alcohol and middle east revolutions for two minutes then everyone shoots their own way.

just another day in my life.

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haunted eyes

this rant has been a long time coming and i have a new friend of mine to thank for the push to finally sit down and put it into words. thanks, ron.

for all the reasons people dont like religion, the one thing i hear often is that they agree with the golden rule. everyone can at least acknowledge that treating others as you would like to be treated seems like a pretty solid moral value to live by. why is it then that most of us cant seem to live this way? why is it that we often act the exact opposite?

we have a problem in this country that most dont see or even care to see, probably because if they did they would see it in themselves. this problem isnt our countrys problem alone as it finds residence in most geographical areas across the globe. its rarely acknowledged and even less so talked about. the problem im talking about is called dehumanization. the technical definition, as found on an online dictionary: to deprive of human qualities such as individuality, compassion, or civility. this definition needs more meat as i find its rather bare bones in describing the severity of the problem.

dehumanization is a form of human hierarchy, offering rights to most citizens while denying it to the rest. it convinces some people that they are less than others and thus sub-human. this is accomplished in many different ways. denying people food and water, appropriate housing, fair employment, medical attention, etc, etc.. while most might understand why this happens in impoverished third world nations, most dont care to see that its happening right now in the very city they live in.

ive talked with a lot homeless people in my years working on the streets and within shelters. much like every other human being, people without homes like to tell their stories. our stories connect us with each other and tell people where we are coming from and who we are today. all too often ive heard stories of blatant and purposeful dehumanization. ive heard vile, evil things perpetrated on a class of people who find themselves without a home and without much help. it was listening to rons story that finally broke the proverbial camels back.

ron told me he used to work in the cattle industry, where his job was found within the slaughterhouse. he explained how many things they put into place to make the cattle as comfortable as possible before death. the equivalent of palative care. the cattle were made to not hear or know what was happening to the cattle before them, reducing their stress and fear. he explained how humane and honoring it was to the animals that gave their lives up so that people could eat meat. sounded rather nice considering. then he described to me what had happened to him after he became depressed and then homeless and the dehumanizing that followed. he asked rhetorically how people could be so thoughtful and humane towards animals yet so thoughtless and evil towards their fellow-man? i had few answers for him.

id like to think that this a problem of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch but im not sure im that naively optimistic. ive not only heard the stories but ive seen them play out. ive seen police officers beat defenceless street people. ive seen people who work as shelter and social workers treat the homeless like garbage. ive seen drunk 20-somethings walk by beggars on their way between bars throw things at them while berating them for being homeless. ive seen ‘respected’ people of their communities do downright despicable things to a class of people who just need a helping hand. instead of blaming a couple bad apples id rather paint with a broader stroke and call it how i see it: an indictment of the society and societies we all live in. i blame everyone. every last one of us. im not looking for agreement or congratulations on saying this unsaid truth. i realize most people wont agree because in doing so they would have to look inside of themselves and see something ugly they care not to see. they might actually be moved to change and bring about change and that would get in the way of their trip down south or their new 200′ plasma screen or the new purse they covet or…or…or..

im tired of seeing haunted eyes that have had the life sucked right out from behind them. im tired of seeing people have their hope and dignity stolen. im tired of nothing being done or said.  enough with sweeping things under the rug.  maybe if one person reads this and understands that will be enough. maybe ill try to be a tad bit more optimistic and think bigger than that.

thanks for reading.

/rant over


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how time flies!

i started this blog nearly nine months ago as a way of debriefing myself after long shifts at the shelter or dark nights on the street. nearly one year and almost 60 entires later, i still have as much need for this creative outlet as the day i started it. ive tried to balance my writing with venting for ventings sake and also to give some of you, my friends and family, a glimpse of what my life looks like from day-to-day or week to week. sometimes ive succeeded in doing both, other times i have not. sometimes i can read what i wrote and feel a sense of accomplishment and other times i feel as if i would have been better off smashing my head on the keyboard for an hour. the joys of writing.

i want to take this time to thank those of you who have written me privately and encouraged me for the past nine months to keep writing and sharing my stories with this online blogging world. sometimes its been a simple one sentence email found in my inbox and others have been novels (much appreciated novels). both have usually come at times when things have been tough and my heart and mind have felt low. many messages have come from close friends whom i would expect to send me messages but all too often they have come from unlikely sources. as much as i enjoy hearing a kind or encouraging word from my family and close friends, its those unexpected messages from old friends and acquaintances that have meant the most.

so without getting to corny or sappy id just like to thank you for your support. you know exactly who you are.


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