I currently live in the ‘burbs, but once upon a time, I lived in the big city: Toronto. I really love it in Toronto. For someone who hates big crowds, this is an anomaly, but then I have never pretended to be anything other than myself: weird.
I actually love the diversity in people and in shops. Where else can you get vegan pizza sitting next to Ali’s Grocery and Cigarettes next to Hong’s Gift Shop next to Satan’s Eye Tattoos next to Mme. Dupont’s Ballet for Girls? I mean, come on, peeps.
So my forays into the city now are pretty special – and fun. Usually I go to see my girl, Moon, but this time, I went with my friend, Joanne, and her daughter, Tatiana. We had a fun day planned, including having some lunch out and a walking tour of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, (fucking blisters ahhhh) a landmark 200 acres in the heart of Toronto. Joanne also wanted to bring along some food and water to spend some time helping out the “homeless” downtown. Beyond giving some change, an occasional Timmie’s card or bag of dogfood (for the dogs) I haven’t really had much contact with the disenfranchised folks of the street.
It was an eye-opener, peeps.
I kind of took a back seat to the whole thing, letting Joanne take the lead in approaching “likely looking” people (and let me tell you, the likely looking people may not be what you think they are). I handed out the pies and smiled a lot, cause, you know, anxious and shit. They were wonderful: friendly, happy to see us, grateful for the food and water. It felt good.
That was the day time.
We still had food left after our tour and decided to go back to the Yonge Street area where there seemed quite a few street people congregating after dark. Of course, in Toronto, it’s not really dark, it’s lit up like a carnival, but it was night and a whole different type of street person was taking up the prime spots.
Cue doomsday music crescendo.
Gone were the chubby little Romanian ladies in babushkas with their little signs; in their place were addicts, gun shot victims, hookers and alcoholics, with dealers and cops peppered in and around them.
I mean, I’ve been downtown at night before. I knew these people were there. But this was the first time I actually spoke to and interacted with any of them.
At first I was nervous. The scene before me was like something out of a TV show. Not Brooklyn 99, I can assure you. These people were no “Doug Judys”. The scene was more like Law & Order or even Mad Max: City Nights. (That could be a thing, peeps! Screen play anyone??)
So we went about and among them, handing out pies and Joanne’s homemade healthy date and nut balls, filling up water bottles, and chatting about them: their life, their situation, their feelings.
Yes, many were drunk or stoned. There were a couple of sex workers, a gun shot victim (shot in the ankle, hand and leg… not sure how that happened).
There were some smooth looking, man-bun wearing, slim square-toed shoe-sporting city slickers hopping in and out among them all, dealing drugs, under the watchful eye of a uniformed policeman. I guess the amounts were not enough to warrant a reaction or maybe it was understood this was home turf for these people, and what goes on at home is private. I don’t know. It seemed very weird to me, but I realize this was not the black and white world we live in, where we always have a comfy bed, good food, and wifi. This was a world of shadows, greys and blacks, cold cement, grit-riddled food, and rats. (Yes I saw a few, running behind where the action was).
I gotta say, though, I was impressed. I’ve known Joanne a very long time; I have always known her to be a kind person, who is truly interested in people. She is one of the few people I know who actually listen whens someone rambles on about stuff, she questions them and shows honest interest in them and what they have to say. ,
So we met a murderer (a real live one!) and his girlfriend, both Natives, and felt our hearts break as the fellow talked about his grown daughter with tears in his eyes (he was charged with murder after he defended his daughter from being raped); we learned the woman had a college certificate. They were not stupid, useless or bad. They were drinking alcohol disguised as koolaid in their water bottles, so I assume the drinking contributed to their situation. They had 2 large bags full of all their worldly possessions, and their “home” was a doorway big enough for the both of them, the sidewalk around them strewn with shards of glass and litter.
And around us, people in Armani and Ralph Lauren went about their business, bypassing the street people in their translucent houses.
We spent a couple of hours in all, sharing food, talking, laughing and even crying with these folks. They are people, just like us. They have children, just like us. They have feelings, just like us. They don’t want to be out on the street, but there is nowhere else for them to go.
On the streets it’s fairly warm, there are always bodies to cram up against for warmth; there’s food (not what we call food, but they get by), they have friends, colleagues, like-minded folks who “get” them, not look down on them; they have their addictions supplied, same as us. They have eyes to see – and they see much more than we give them credit for; they understand the reality of their world and what “we” think of it, but it’s their world, they own it, and they don’t own much else.
Now I am not a religious person, but all I kept thinking as I walked those city streets on this summer night was “but for the grace of god, go I….”
And that’s really the truth, peeps.