The Streets





Lew Goddard



 
© Copyright 2020 by Lew Goddard


Photo of a homeless person.

Snow had begun gathering on the mountain tops back in the first part of September, now in late October my job was finished for the season. During the summer I had spent most of my time at high elevations. Avenues for electrical transmission towers were being prepared and I worked in the forefront helping to clear the forest and anything else that could make it easier for the heavy equipment to install the towers. Often I would roll up in my sleeping bag that was provided by the company that employed me rather than take the arduous trek down the mountain, find a ride to the nearest town and bed down in my sleeping bag behind a motel or spend my own money for a motel. I hadn’t rented any apartment or bed and breakfast so the daily living allowance I received stayed mostly in my pocket. Food was brought to us on a daily basis in the wilderness.

My back pack contained essentials such as a few extra shirts, socks, under shorts, insulated overalls and jeans. Shaving was intermittent but I did have a safety razor along with my tooth brush. In addition there was a 44 Caliber hand gun that the company suggested we have in the event that we encountered a wild animal that we needed to fend off. We were told to shoot in the air and not at the animal or we and the company would be in big trouble. I had never fired it but had taken the short training how to use it. No one said anything about returning it as I left with my final cheque. It was enclosed in a nice looking flat wooden box with a brass colored latch. My sleeping bag was hanging below my back pack on two gold braided quarter inch ropes. It was quite heavy but it didn’t bother me because my job had built up my muscles better than I had ever had before in my twenty five years.

I stopped at the bank that I had been dealing with over the summer and cashed my cheque and closed the account.

Before I left I decided that I needed a warm winter jacket. In shopping around I found a well insulated black parka with a fur trimmed hood. It was a lot more money than I had planned to spend but the future did not indicate where I would be spending the winter. As I put it on I slipped my cell phone into the holster and clipped it on the inside of my jeans at the middle of my back. It would be well hidden now but still there if I needed it. In addition I withdrew a couple of hundred from my wallet and put that in my left front pocket. The wallet then went into the zippered inside pocket of the parka.

It was my intent to reach the closest large city that was located some two hundred fifty miles east. I asked a number of my former co-workers if they were heading in that direction but had no luck. Well, it looked like I would have to hitch hike. I had saved just a little over two thousand dollars but I wasn’t inclined to spend any of that on a bus or train. Hitch hiking had always appealed to me and had been a large part of my travels so I headed out to the highway. I chose a spot where there was an intersection with another highway.

A couple of hours later a pick up truck stopped. The driver asked me where I was going and he said he was going in that direction but just sixty miles. I accepted the ride.

An hour later I was dropped off near a small town. There was a service station and restaurant next to the highway and I walked over and helped myself to a coffee and a piece of lemon pie.

Back on the road a Lincoln slid to a stop and the male driver rolled down the passenger window and offered to give me a ride. Again, I accepted.

Remind me to earn enough money in the near future to purchase a vehicle like this one. It didn’t drive down the road: it floated. It was so quiet inside that the sound of other vehicles was not discernable. It felt like the orchestra was playing a classical tune right in front of you on the stereo. Perhaps I should get a job advertising Lincoln cars.

He asked me my name.”

Without thinking I answered, “Simon.”

That’s not my real name but for some reason Simon seemed suitable under the circumstances.

I asked, “How far are your travelling?”

As far as you want to go,” he replied with a chuckle.

The next city would be quite acceptable.”

Well, aren’t you lucky then, that’s as far as I’m going too.”

He continued, “Do you have a job there?”

Again I thought for a moment and replied, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I’m going to drive a city transport bus.”

Now what made me think that because I really didn’t have any idea what I was going to do? I planned to look for a job but it may not be in the city. Perhaps I could find a job in the oil fields somewhere in the province. I really didn’t have any definite plan.

Have you ever thought of getting into real estate?” he asked.

No”

If you work hard and long hours you can earn a considerable amount of money. Look at what I drive it cost nearly sixty thousand dollars.”

Wow,” I commented.

By this time it was nearly dark and I noticed that we were travelling at about 130 kilometres per hour. I had to admit that it didn’t seem that fast and I was not really concerned.

That is until he reached into an inside pocket and brought out a Mickey sized bottle and took a huge swig.

He looked at me and offered the bottle. I refused and asked him if that was his practice to drink alcohol when he was driving.

Oh,” he scoffed and said that he was in full control of his faculties. He held the bottle up and related that it was still a quarter full and I had nothing to worry about.

That meant that he had consumed something like six ounces and he still believed he was in full control. I wasn’t so sure.

We travelled for a few more miles and it started to snow. The first at this elevation indicated that winter was on its way. My driver never slowed down though and I was becoming concerned and thinking of asking him to stop and let me out.

It was too late, the next hill showed a curve of the road at the top. He miscalculated and we started to skid sideways. The edge of the road on my side came closer and closer and too close. The car bounced over something at the edge and reverted to a straight forward motion but we were sliding down a steep bank. Small trees were snapped off and flew through the air but the bigger ones started to bugger everything and the air bags blew forcefully into our faces. We stopped but the motor was still roaring. I was able to look over and see that he still had his foot on the accelerator. The thought of fire made me grab his leg and yell at him; “You stupid ass this is what happens when you drink and drive.” At that point I tried to open my door. It was jammed and I couldn’t figure out how to open it so I leaned back and kicked with both feet and it moved. By throwing my shoulder against it I managed to sneak through the small opening into the fresh air.

It suddenly dawned on me that he had been yelling at me while I was escaping.

Help me, my leg is jammed under the dash and I can’t get out,” he quavered.

To Hell with you,” I yelled back, it was your entire fault, you figure it out.” And I turned and started up the incline. He was still screaming.

About halfway to the highway, I turned and looked back at the rising steam from the broken radiator silhouetted against the black trees in front of the car. The tail lights were still on. What if it caught fire and my conscience started to bother me so I went back to the car on the path that our descent had created. His door wouldn’t open and I yelled at him to help. Finally, we managed to get the door fully open and I bent down to see what trouble he was in. His left leg was bent back to his seat and his knee was jammed up under the part of the dash that had been pushed inward.

If we can free your knee, I think that we could get you out. Is your right leg free?” I asked.

He answered that he could move it.

I tried to pull the broken material away from his knee but even though it was mostly plastic I couldn’t move it far enough.

Can you open the trunk so I can get your tire iron out?”

I think so,” and he reached somewhere and in the quiet of the country I heard the sound of the trunk opening.

There was still power in the battery as the light showed me where the spare tire was and by removing a side panel I was able to obtain the tire wrench.

I went back to his door and pushed the sharp end under the dash and pried. He cried out in pain. I tried another point and finally on a third leverage his knee sprang free as if it were on a spring. He still wasn’t totally free and I suggested that he lean the back of the seat back and I would help him slide up and over. With some struggling and a few swear words he was safely out and on the ground.

Can you walk?” I asked.

I don’t think anything is broken, “he replied.

It was obvious that he was no longer under the influence of alcohol and was very quiet.

Let’s get back to the highway and see where we are.”

He did limp and I helped him up the slope and he sat down at the side of the highway.

No lights of a town were visible and no vehicles at the moment. I made my decision and told him that I planned to go in the direction that we had been travelling and that he could come along if he wanted.

I don’t really have any choice,” he said and stood up.

Now we had a good old fashioned blizzard on our hands. I was glad I had purchased the parka. He had a long winter over coat and no hat. He didn’t complain.

Not one vehicle passed or met us.

It seemed like we walked for miles but in reality it was probably no more than two when we saw lights of a town. I thought that we would never get there I was so tired and I knew that my “friend” was exhausted. Some of the time I had to virtually drag him.

We headed for the nearest of two motels and staggered into the office. A graying man of about fifty with dark skin eyed us from top to bottom with his black eyes.

I said, “We would like a room with two queen beds in the no smoking section.”

Do have credit card?”

No, I don’t but my “friend” has one.” And I poked him in the arm.

Oh yes, I have a credit card, here it is.”

We went through the process of checking in and the man gave us two metal keys and told us which room.

Where your car/” he asked

In a ditch back on the highway.”

He didn’t say anything just gave us that misjudging stare.

The room was reasonably comfortable and warm so I stripped and took a hot shower. He lay on one bed fully clothed and was soon snoring.

Hunger forced me out of the room and I ventured into the blizzard to a service station restaurant a half block away.

What else do you order when you’re in a strange town but a hamburger? Yes I’ve heard about E. Coli but with the amount of charcoal I received I’m sure it was murdered. The ketchup was good though.

Back at the motel I surrendered to a deep long sleep that saw me waken about seven the next morning. My “friend” was up and in the shower. The blizzard was reduced to light snow.

Friend” came out with a towel wrapped around his waist. He looked a bit bedraggled but didn’t appear to have a hangover.

I should introduce myself,” he said, “although that probably won’t change your impression of me. Anyway my name is Delbert Foster, AKA Del.” And he held out his hand.

Shaking his hand meant that I would forgive him for placing my life at risk I guess. Of course I’m a nice guy and I shook his hand.

We both decided that breakfast was the most important item this morning before he made arrangements about his wrecked car.

The snow was quite deep when we trudged to the same facility I had attended the night before. Bacon and eggs and strong coffee were quite excellent.

What are you going to do about your car? I asked

I’ll have to report it to the police of course. I’ll ask around to see if there any tow trucks but I’m pretty sure we aren’t very far from the city. Do you want to wait until I get that settled and arrange a ride to the city?”

I’m in no hurry if you can get me a ride.”

Sure, I’ll phone Danny and he’ll probably come and get us.”

Police were called, the paperwork completed and Danny was called. We were in the city by three that afternoon.

Del asked me where I wanted to be let off and I said downtown. He handed me his business card as I exited the car.

My parka was bothering me when I turned my head, it would block one eye and that was annoying. The sign right there said Richard’s Men’s Wear. I came out with a faux fur hat similar to what the RCMP wear and it was warm. I could keep my parka hood back now.

My next mission was to find a hotel and have a delicious hot shower and sleep for eternity. No, I didn’t mean that.

The hotel I chose was old but appeared to be well kept and once in my room I was satisfied. The shower was delicious and so was the sleep. My intention was to stay two nights and decide where to go from there.

Hunger took me to the hotel restaurant where the steak that I had longed for turned out beautifully. From there I ventured into the bar and ordered a beer. I positioned my self at the end of the L-shaped bar against the wall. After a couple of beers I discarded my parka and hung it over the back rest on the stool. It was sooo comfortable I had another beer or two or three. Mother Nature called and I escaped to the washroom. When I returned I threw my parka over my shoulder and headed for my room.

The next morning I made the decision to deposit the rest of my money into a bank account. A TD Canada Trust was within easy walking distance and I entered while reaching for my wallet. It wasn’t in my parka pocket! Oh yeah, it’s probably in my hip pocket. NO! I searched all of my pockets and all I came up with was just under two hundred dollars. What the Hell happened to my wallet? I leapt out the door and raced back to the hotel room and searched every corner. Nothing! The front desk staff advised that no one had turned in a wallet. They said that the lounge would re-open at eleven, in fact in about twenty minutes, The lady called the lounge and asked if I could enter to look for my wallet.

I first inspected where I had sat and no wallet. The bartender said that no wallet had been turned in and he looked under his counter and wherever wallets might be held. I sat down where I had been the previous evening. What a fool I had been enjoying multiple beers and the ambience I had left my parka hanging on the stool when I had gone to the washroom. Some sharp eyed gringo had gone through my pockets and all my money was gone.

In the meantime the bartender had called the police and he advised me that they would be in the bar in about ten minutes.

The police were empathetic but agreed that my theory was probably correct. One of them commented that given the circumstances it was probable that the thief had taken the money and credit card and discarded the wallet in the nearest garbage bin. Sure enough the police searched and my wallet appeared in the hotel bin right near the top of the former days waste. They took my wallet to check for fingerprints but promised nothing. And I knew that nothing would happen.

I should have been a detective how easily I had figured it out. Damn!

Being in a foul mood as a result of my stupidity it did not seem to be a good day to start applying for jobs that I now needed badly. I could research the papers and perhaps the library would have a computer I could use to look up help wanted ads.

At least my room was paid for another night.

The rest of the day was spent reading newspapers and sitting in the library.

Hotel room charges were on my credit card but without the card in my hand I could not extend my stay. I checked out and telephoned a few companies that were looking for help. Two had hired and another two still needed help. Both of these said just come in the door and we’ll look after you. I did so and left to wait for their call. Being into winter there was less infrastructure repair and development. I didn’t have any major qualifications for construction so my work future looked bleak.

Aside from work I had a real problem and that was where to spend the night. A television weather forecast in Walmart advised that it was going to be in the neighborhood of minus 11C for the night. My sleeping bag was rated for minus twenty five so should be comfortable overnight. I consumed a hamburger for the supper meal and went searching. The underside of an overpass appealed and I found that just under one end there was a flat area large enough to accommodate my sleeping bag. It was too early to settle for the night and worked my way into the downtown.

I noted a number of males were not moving from place to place and I assumed that these were what everyone called the homeless. Join the crowd I thought. I am now homeless. What if I asked some of them where they slept at night? No, that didn’t seem like a good idea just now. I wandered and watched until I was tired and decided to go back to the underpass.

Stones and pieces of concrete had to be cleared so that I had a smooth albeit hard surface to lie on. Inside my bag with my parka on I became warm and comfortable until a big truck rolled over top. I realized that I was at the extension part of the bridge and it was not going to be a quiet night. Is it ever quiet in a large city?

Sleep came in increments. The city started to re-awaken at five A.M... So I did too.

The little money that I had bought breakfast at MacDonald’s. I strolled downtown where most of my new buddies gathered. Most of them looked at me but very few made motions to really acknowledge that I was one of them. That wasn’t uppermost in my mind to become one of them anyway.

I came face to face with a tall older man with a scruffy beard. The hair growth was what really attracted my attention. There were blotches of bare skin through the tangle of wiry looking beard. The other attention getter was that he was well over six feet. He had one of those old style caps that my Father used to wear with ear flaps. The rest of his clothing was dirty and tattered.

His countenance said you better stop, I own this area.

What’s your name?” he asked without hesitation.

I returned his stare for a short while, “Simon.”

Well, Simon my name is Huey and I’ve noticed you around here the last couple of days carrying what appear to be your total belongings.”

Another thing I noticed about him was that his speech indicated intelligence and he sounded well educated.

Yes,” I said, “That’s about the size of it right now.”

You interest me,” he stated, “Let’s sit over there on that bench and get to know each other.”

He didn’t appear dangerous and for some reason he intrigued me as well. We sat.

Tell me what brings you into these surroundings. You have expensive clothing and if I’m right, that sleeping bag is what I would refer to as an Arctic Sleeper.”

You’re right about my sleeping bag except that it’s not called an Arctic Sleeper but it the equivalent,” I responded.

You must be out of money and a job,” he commented.

Yes, and I lost what money I had. It was stolen before I could get to the bank. It was sheer stupidity on my part that I didn’t go to the bank as soon as I got into town. I have applications in at a few work places but haven’t heard anything yet.”

He wanted to know about my qualifications and what type of job that I wanted. I filled him a little on what I had done during the summer and how I arrived here.

During my dissertation I noticed that he wore an expensive looking wrist watch above his ragged cuff and I asked him if it was.

He took a while to answer, “Yes, It’s a Rolex. It’s keep sake from a former life.”

I don’t talk about that any more but I will tell you that it was a long fall from a CEO of a large prosperous company threatened with extortion, by women and most of all by drugs. and alcohol. The only way I can go now is up.”

In that short verbiage he had presented his life story like no other.

We shook hands and parted.

For the next couple of weeks days passed much the same as the day before and I expected that this was not going to change for some time. Ear plugs helped me to sleep. Huey and I met some times and I spoke with a number of my fellow unfortunates.

One evening as I trudged toward what I called my overpass, I encountered a man who was obviously living on the street. He snarled at me and I tried to avoid him physically.

He snatched my hat from my head and laughed.

I’ve seen you flaunting that fancy hat and now it’s mine,” he said.

I just looked at him and quietly said, “You shouldn’t have done that.”

As I advanced he backed up and reached into his jacket and produced a knife. The blade flashed in the street light and he growled, “Come and get it sucker.”

At that point he sliced the air close to me and I realized that he had cut into my parka on the left.

Now that really pissed me off and rather than backing away I quickly moved to him and caught his knife arm in both my hands, reversed so that my back was to him, slung his arm over my right shoulder and jerked with all my strength.

I heard a tearing in his arm and shoulder that sounded like ripping open a paper bag and that was blocked out by his scream in my ear. The knife dropped to the ground.

Moving away, I kicked the knife further down the concrete and reached for my cell phone. The 911 operator asked the usual questions and I told her just to send an ambulance and the police and hung up.

I then picked up my now soiled hat and walked away. He was still whimpering on the edge of the sidewalk.

The ambulance and police arrived as I watched from around the corner of a building.

The weight of the back pack and sleeping bag was becoming cumbersome. I could throw some stuff into the garbage when a thought struck me. Inside the pack was a pair of work overalls that were thermally lined. Wear them because the climate was becoming colder. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? What became a necessity was that I had worn my socks and shorts for so long that the odor was unbearable even for me. Periodically I would venture into Walmart grab a bunch of wet and dry paper towels and hide in the toilet cubical to wipe most of the slime from my body. There was no point in shaving and my beard darkened my face at about a half inch. It also helped to keep warm.

Huey came up behind me on the street and told me that the guy I had fought with told the police that I had attacked him.

You can be assured that the cops will be on your doorstep in the near future. They will question you and pat you all over. Of course, they will search your back pack and sleeping bag. Do you have anything in it that could be considered restricted or unlawful? He asked.

The gun. What could I do with it? Hiding it created other problems. So I answered Huey with a simple no. I didn’t want him to know. I didn’t want anyone to know.

As usual Huey liked to talk so we sat for some time and we moved on.

Snow had been falling for more than twenty four hours and walking was difficult. I was complaining to myself until I saw a young man in a wheel chair. He struggled along the street and I caught up to him at the next intersection. Stopping behind him I asked if he wanted to cross the street. “Yes,” he said. With me pushing and him rolling the wheels we accomplished the crossing with little difficulty.

My name is Simon,” I told him.

Warren,” he replied.

Do you live around here?”

He looked up at me his eyes glassy, “I don’t have any place to live. One guy told me that there’s a place called Helpers where they serve meals to street people and allow them to get warm. That’s where I was headed.

Do you know where it is?” I asked.

Not sure, but it’s supposed to be two blocks west of what they call Main Street.”

I have never heard about it and I’ve been here close to month so let’s look for it.”

It was more like three blocks but when we entered it was definitely worth the trip. A large well provided kitchen covered most of the wall to the right of the entrance. The rest of the room contained tables of a mixed shapes and sizes and construction. There were twenty or so men sitting quietly around the room

We proceeded to the counter with trays and asked if we could have something to eat. They questioned both of us to determine that we had no place to call home. It was unusual to see a man in a wheel chair and they were skeptical. They were indeed skeptical as they observed my parka and work overalls. The man advised that he was the manager and said that he would feed us this time but he admitted he was reluctant. A very tall woman stood beside him and gave us the once over.

Sliced ham, potatoes, gravy and mixed vegetables. The latter obviously purchased in frozen condition from the store. It was an amazing meal!

How long have you been on the street?” I asked Warren.

Just yesterday after the owners evicted me from the apartment I was living in. They are converting the building to condos and they did give me ample warning but I’m having difficulty finding a place. My name has been on a list at a number of places but no one has accepted me. It’s probably because I’m handicapped and the government allowance is not very much with the way that the rents have been increasing, he related.

He told me how much he could afford and that he had a reference from his former landlord. Delbert Foster came to mind.

After we finished our meal and two cups of coffee, I rose and went to the washroom. The call to Foster was answered by his receptionist and he came on the line. He said that he was glad to hear from me. When I explained why I had called, he said that he would definitely see what he could do and asked for my telephone number.

Warren and I left and I suggested that he come to Helpers the following day at noon. I knew that they would feed him again.

Shortly before five my phone buzzed and it was Foster. He had arranged for a bachelor suite in a friends apartment and Warren could move in any time. I thanked him and told him I would call at noon the following day where I was meeting with Warren.

Indeed Foster was most helpful because he arrived at noon and sat with us. He helped Warren into his big new Lincoln and they drove away.

I went back in and ordered a cup of coffee. The manager said it was on the house because he had witnessed me helping Warren. In fact, a delicious meal arrived with the coffee.

My name is Charlie,” he announced and I told him my name.

Well Simon, you look like you are quite fit and wondered if you would volunteer to help here one day each week unless you are in the process of getting off the street?”

I am looking for a job but no luck so far.”

OK, how about every Friday you arrive here at 6:00 A.M. and stay for twelve hours? That will include two full meals, he advised.

Sounds good to me,” I responded. “What do I have to do?”

Oh, just look after our clients when they come in and clean up after they leave.”

I’ll see you the day after tomorrow.”

As I left I felt that a load had been taken from my shoulders and searched for a spot to take a nap on a bench. I found that this was standing operating procedure for most of my buddies likely because they didn’t sleep much more than I did at night.

The sun was shining and the temperature was near 0 degrees C. I pulled my hat over my eyes and was soon asleep.

Suddenly someone poked me in the arm and said wake up. I squinted at him in the bright sunlight. It was a cop.

Is your name Simon?”

Uh, Yes.”

There were two uniformed police officers facing me and a dreaded thought passed through my mind; I still had the gun!

Stand up,” the first cop said.

I did.

I was thoroughly patted down and what little I had in my pockets was spread on the bench. They missed my cell phone but I guess it didn’t matter anyway; it’s not against the law to have a cell phone.

Do you have identification?”

I reached into my inner parka pocket and at the same time noted that both of them had their hand on their gun butts.

I don’t see the name Simon here,” number one said.

That’s my nickname.”

Number two moved to my back pack and sleeping bag, “Haven’t seen you around here before. Been here long?”

About a month.” I was robbed the second day I was in the city and the theft was reported.”

Number one made a note of that.

Number two was going through my pack. Everything was strewn on the bench and the ground. He held up the wooden box and I stopped breathing. I am in big trouble. I wonder if it would mean a jail sentence. In slow motion, as it seemed to me, number two slowly opened the box. Inside he found grey foam shaped to hold a 44 Calibre hand gun and enough ports to one side to house a clip and a dozen and half bullets.

NO GUN! I was relieved and shocked at the same time. Number two asked me a question twice before I came back to reality. He wanted to know where the box came from.

Oh, from the company that I worked for in the summer------I kept the box as a souvenir.”

I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Number two looked at me quizzically, “Where’s the gun?”

I don’t know where it is now,” and that wasn’t a real lie, “I assume the company has it.”

They left my belongings scattered.

Number one advised, “The real reason why we are here is that a young man is in the hospital with torn ligaments and he said that you attacked him. What’s your story?

I immediately answered, “He grabbed my hat off my head and I retrieved it.”

Explain.”

Well, I first suggested as he was laughing that he shouldn’t have done that and then he pulled a knife and I took that away from him.”

How” These people weren’t very talkative but they sure wanted to know the details.

Instead of backing away, I went to him, grabbed his knife arm with both of my hands, turned my back and yanked his arm over my shoulder. It seemed he didn’t like that so he screamed and dropped the knife. What was I to do?”

Both of them said “Oh.”

Where’s the knife?”

I don’t know, the last time I saw it I had kicked it down the street.”

Number two went for a walk and came back with nothing.

I wasn’t sure that the officers had noted that a number of my street buddies had gathered around to see what was going on and a couple of them voiced opinions that my story was correct.

The officer called them by name and asked them to come forward which they did.

I then over heard what number one said quietly to number two that they had more important things to do.

One of them put both his hands on my shoulders and strongly advised that I stay out of trouble. They left.

I thanked my two best buddies and sat down. I had trouble breathing. I had to consciously force my self to relax.

Huey materialized and looked at me.

I saw what happened,” He said.

Yeah, I’m not over it yet.”

He came right up in front of me and unzipped his tattered jacket. “Is this what you are looking for?” He grinned.

He had the gun at his waist in his beltline and he held out his hand with several bullets in it.

How?” I asked

Well, you sleep sound and I didn’t make any sound it was easy to get into your back pack. I believed that you had something hidden that you didn’t want anyone to see. When I asked you about it, the look on your face told all.”

He picked up the wooden case and placed the gun, clip and bullets into their respective places and closed the lid.

I don’t know how to thank you.” I said. “You saved my butt today.”

Let’s just say that it’s about time something good happened.” And he strode away.

The next day I stopped at Helpers and paid for a coffee. My cash was running drastically low. The stage was set where I had to generate some cash and find myself digging in the garbage or “Dumpster Diving” as they called it. I knew that I had lost weight but still retained sufficient energy to move around a large area.

City Hall was new to me but on impulse I went into the Engineers Department and asked about employment. The senior gentleman shook his head and allowed that the city wasn’t hiring. He turned and picked up a clipboard.

Do you know how to operate a snow road grader?” he inquired.

Yes, that’s pretty well what I did all summer in the mountains.”

OK, we have a driver that reported a family emergency and he thought he would be away as long as a week. Could you handle it?

Absolutely, when do you want me to start?” I anxiously asked.

Tomorrow at six and he gave me the address.

Tomorrow was the day I was supposed to volunteer at Helpers so promptly returned and spoke with the tall woman volunteer. Her name was Heather I found out and on the spur of the moment I asked if she would fill in for me the next day.

You owe me,” she said.

I’ll do a day for you sometime," I replied.

Oh, I had something different in mind,” she said with raised eyebrows and a grin on her face.

The foreman explained the region I was supposed to plow along with another grader operator and I set to work. Saturday was a day off but it snowed and I was called back in on Sunday. The next few days flew by and the absent operator showed up on Wednesday. They promised a cheque within forty eight hours and asked me back on Friday. Again, it was a bit of a complication so advised Charlie at Helpers that I would be a bit late on Friday.

The next day I was physically tired from driving the grader. Not used to work in my old age. Wandering was at a minimum but I did adventure down a side street. Big signs showing police cars and ambulances attracted me and I found it was a commercial business of detailing vehicles. Having developed curiosity with dumpster diving I searched through the bin at the back of their property. It contained all sorts of self adhesive bits and pieces of detailing. A lot of them were light reflective and I chose two strips about sixteen to eighteen inches long, one with gold and blue and one mostly gold. One was placed adhered to the cut in my parka and one on the other side to match. Well, I was on the streets and at night I would be more visible to the traffic.

Later that night Huey and a few others and I sat in a sheltered corner and commiserated about our ordeals. Huey noted that he had seen my reflections in the street and traffic lights at the end of a block. He suggested that it looked like I had a streak on the side of my clothes.

In fact, you have made quite an impact on our surroundings in the last little while and I dub you “Simon the Streak.”

I chuckled and thought no more of it.

Friday I picked up my cheque and took the bus back to Helpers. It was busy all day and I made the most of the free meals. I went back for a second for the late meal. Charlie didn’t comment.

He did notice that a couple of the clients called me Simon the Steak.

Toward the end of my shift Charlie said, “I’m going to retire as quickly as I can; I’m tired out and I have a place to live.

He smiled, “No, not on the streets.”

Is someone taking your place?”

No, I’ve spoken to a couple of people and advised the Board but no one has taken advantage of the offer. Actually, that’s why I told you. I’m pretty damn sure you would do well here managing this establishment.”

Oh, I don’t think so,” I responded, “It doesn’t really appeal to me.”

Well, think about it.”

Boring! That’s what living on the street has become. Christmas and New Year’s have gone by the way. The temperature rises and falls, snow just falls and the day light hours are a little longer. My sleeping bag is becoming tattered along with my beard. Next Friday I’ll cut it off in the washroom at Helpers. The concrete under my overpass is getting harder every night.
On the way back to downtown I chose a side street one morning. Mostly apartment blocks along this particular street. Some of them are not in very good condition.

As I came abreast of one the door burst open and a young woman rushed out and grabbed me. “He’s going to hurt my baby,” she screamed and pulled me toward the entrance. I resisted but she kept yelling at me that I have to help or he will hurt her baby. Reluctantly, I let her guide me up to the second floor and to the left where a door stood open. Moving as fast as we could I didn’t see anything or anybody.

In the bathroom,” she hollered.

I flung my pack onto the floor and proceeded rapidly to the bathroom. Oh my God, here he was on his hands and knees and he was holding a child under water in the bathtub. With no hesitation, I swung my right fist at his head and connected his temple. Without a sound he rolled back and landed against the toilet and never moved. Having put everything into the swing he was out cold and I realized that mind boggling pain had shot up from my hand all the way up the side of my head. I reached into the bathtub and my fingers on my right hand didn’t function. Her little body was soaking wet of course her eyes were open, but I couldn’t tell if she was breathing. Sitting on the edge of the tub I placed her on her stomach and pressed with my good hand on her back. I could feel her rib cage bending from the pressure and I bounced her up and down. She was making little sounds with each downward press and then she coughed up a small amount of water and promptly puked down the right leg of my jeans. Carefully, I picked her up and looked into her little face. She smiled as I put her on my shoulder. I cried like a baby and held her.

Reality came back quickly and the mother was keening behind me so I passed the baby to her.

Without asking I went to the telephone and called 911. Mom had a little difficulty telling me the address and I was told that an ambulance and police were on their way.

By this time the guy was groaning and attempted to get up but couldn’t. While he was down I pinned him on his stomach with a knee in his back and a warning that he had better not move unless he wanted another hit.

Police arrived, two of them, and they took over for me.

Yes, I slugged him because he was holding that little girl under water. Look at my hand, I think a couple of fingers are broken,” and that’s how I started to tell them what happened starting with the young Mother grabbing me outside the building.

After what seemed like hours because I was feeling as much pain as the guy I had hit, they agreed that the ambulance could take me to emergency and have my hand attended to. That was after they had checked over the little girl and her Mother.

The officers gave me their precinct location and wanted me there to finalize my statement. The Mother was being taken downtown too.

The Mother’s name was Mariska and the little fourteen month old was Faith. I told her that I would be back to pick up my pack and sleeping bag and crawled into the rear of the ambulance.

The first and second fingers were fractured, X rayed, upholstered and tied together. The Doctor gave me some antibiotics and prescription for pain killers after he administered an injection of a pain reducer. He suggested that I didn’t drive for the rest of the day. I said that I didn’t plan to.

Mariska, Faith and I were driven back to her place about 3:00 P.M. Our statements were finalized and both us agreed to be witnesses at court.

My belongings were still in the hallway. Mariska politely suggested that I should launder my jeans because of the odorous vomit. In fact she said that if I waited she would quickly go down the hall and wash them. She gave me a small blanket to cover myself.

I wasn’t so sure that clean jeans would make me smell any better after a few months on the street.

An hour later in clean jeans and a cup of coffee laced with Baileys we finally relaxed.

With huge tears in her eyes, she thoroughly thanked me for the help. She was particularly sorry about my hand. She seemed to be surprised to learn I was living on the street.

She related that the man that was in her apartment had been living with her for about two months. He was fine until later and she suspected that he consumed drugs and had talked to him about that to no avail. He was jealous of the baby and said that he no longer wanted her around because she wasn’t his anyway. They had just had a big blowup prior to my intervention and that’s why she was so afraid. Rightfully so.

It was after six and she apologized and labored in the kitchen preparing a backed potato, salmon and vegetables. Then I couldn’t thank her enough.

By this time I was good friends with faith who wouldn’t sit in her high chair to eat. She decided that it was comfortable on my knee. I decided the same.

Later, I asked Mariska if she minded if I called in once in a while to see how she and Faith were doing. She thought that would be just fine. I left for the streets.

The following Friday I was back at Helpers. Charlie asked me immediately if I had thought of managing the facility.

I replied that I had thought of it but really hadn’t made up my mind.

Simon, I haven’t told you everything. Come with me,” and he led me back to a door at the rear of the big room.

Come on,” he invited.

Inside the door to the left were carpeted stairs with a large banister.

The upper level was well appointed and gracious. A large living room with a variety of furnishings offered a view to the front street with easy access to the kitchen and dining room. Down a short hall there were two nice sized bedrooms next to the bathroom. It was very quiet and I felt immediately comfortable with the surroundings.

I looked at Charlie and asked, “Do you live here?”

Oh yes,” he said, “and free of charge. No rent and no utilities. All part of payment for the management of Helpers.”

You never mentioned this when you asked me before.”

No,” he said,” it was my ace in the hole.”

Then he handed me a check stub indicating his monthly income. “It’s not a great amount but you wouldn’t starve plus the free quarters must be worth more than a thousand a month.”

I had to admit that he had me thinking seriously.

Without a lie, I’m sure he asked me ten times throughout the day if I was interested. As I left, I told him that I would let him know the next Friday.

The whole week, I couldn’t think of much of anything else. Huey said that he thought I would do a good job. My reputation as Simon the Streaker spoke for itself. He said that all the guys on the street hadn’t talked about anything but you saving of the baby.

The following Friday I asked Charlie quite a few questions about the operation of Helpers and I told him that I was quite interested.

With gleam in his eyes he picked up the phone and said something I couldn’t hear. Then he sat there and just looked at me.

What?” I asked.

He didn’t respond until he pointed to the rear door and five people, three men and two women were coming toward us.

Charlie happily introduced all five and explained that they were the governing board of Helpers.

Over the next couple of hours we got to know each other and the board offered me the job with a slight increase in pay for a one year contract.

I accepted and they left.

Charlie stayed on for another ten days and during that time he moved his personal belongings to his new home.

Charlie, it has been a pleasure meeting and working with you but I want to tell you that I will be making one large change after you leave.”

What’s that?” he asked.

Come around next Friday and you’ll see.” I told him.

During the following week I removed the Helpers sign from above the door and replaced it with another.

It read Simon’s!


EPILOQUE

This story is fictitious and is not meant to represent any person or location. No research or interviews were conducted of actual homeless people.  The story is based totally on my perception of what happens and what a person would have to do to survive on the street as a homeless person.  This is my perception of how I would survive.




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