One thing that differentiates small towns from big cities is that mostly everyone has a home here. I’m not certain that even the “homeless” in Charlottetown are genuinely that. I mean, no doubt there’s a few down and out, but when you wander around real late, there’s not too many folks sprawled on a park bench, or huddled over a heating vent. It’s as safe as safe can be here in the Cradle of Confederation and even the bums have a bed.

It’s a change of scenery from downtown in the TDot. When you’ve got your daily rituals and a finely tuned rat route – home, bus, subway, bus, work, food, subway, bus, home – you start to get real familiar. A large percentage of people sharing space in the swarm are on a similar path, so especially if you’re like me and you never forget a face, you see the same mugs, day in, day out. Some are a welcome recognition, for instance, “Soy latte?” “Yes, that’s me” “$3.50” “Thanks so much” “Have a great day!” and the unspoken, “See you tomorrow!”  Other faces simply help form a familiar backdrop, somehow making the whole thing more manageable. A few faces, however, do tug on your heartstrings on a whole other kind of level and that’s the down and outs deserving of their “homeless” status. A depressing day of begging and lord knows what other horrors doesn’t necessarily end in a halfway house or even a shelter, it’s a bus shelter or a “quiet” corner in an alleyway.

Unfortunately, as jarring as some situations can be, too often the dregs of society become well woven into the enormous tapestry of Toronto and after a while it’s hard to pick them out. Nevertheless, like I said, there’s always those that get you.

A few years ago, I was living and working downtown. Unlike most in the herd, I didn’t have a cattle car commute, but instead had a leisurely 7 minute walk down Yonge Street, one block over from the gay village, two blocks down from the city center. I walked across College Street to my big government office, strolled past Starbucks, crossed over to Tim Horton’s and never fail, every morning I would see the same young dude parked by the garbage bins asking us all if we could spare a dime.

I don’t know what it was about him that got me, what made him stand out from all the others in his exact position, but I developed a certain level of concern and affection for him. I guess maybe it was that he looked like someone I could have been friends with. Some (handsome) young, smart (I could tell he had a brain) fellow that fell in with the wrong crowd, started using (I’m assuming Meth considering both his proximity to the gay village – a drug of choice in that community – and with the way I watched his teeth deteriorate over the months) and there he was. As much as you don’t want to see someone homeless, in fact you probably pray for them that they find a way off the streets, he was an oddly comforting vision. Just seeing him at his perch always gave me a sense of security.

I rarely give change to street people, but I will admit to tossing him a toonie on occasion. I also brought him biscuits from cafes, saved him mints from restaurants, and one Christmas Eve, rolled him a joint and taped it inside a Happy Holidays Hallmark card. I started toying with the idea of asking him to join me for lunch. I don’t know, I just wanted to show him that someone cared. He always remembered me, would compliment my clothing or jewellery on the days I needed it, and in spite of his position, he never wore a frown. He just had so much personality.

Around the time I was mulling over the lunch date, he made his way into my dreams. Before I take him to Tim’s, I guess I should first ask him his name, my sleeping self surmised, and so during R.E.M. I envisioned the scenario where I got up the balls to ask him his name. I distinctly remember our exchange. “Hi, I’m Cynthia. Nice to meet you.”

“Hi Cynthia, I’m something, something regular name.” Now I couldn’t quite recall what he said his name was, but I remembered the pattern – nickname, nickname, regular name. It was three words, that’s for sure.

“You’re a magician, aren’t you?” I asked him.

“Yes, I am,” he assured me. And that was that.

The very next day I met a friend for dinner at Pogue Mahone’s, the Irish Pub next to the workplace. As per usual, I pocketed my mints post-meal and lollygagged about with my friend while she fiddled with her bike lock about to start her ride home.

“Hey Stef, have you noticed that my homeless guy hasn’t been around much lately?”

“Yes, I have….he’s sleeping more these days too,” she answered.

“I know, I’m getting concerned for him. He seems to be getting worse.”

“You guys have the strangest connection. It’s like he was your brother in a past life or something….” she remarked.

“I KNOW! and get a load of this dream I had about him last night,” and I filled her in on the imaginary introduction.

“Weird,” she said.

So, I make my way home, and as I pull up to his perch on the corner, I pull out my treats, hand them over, stick out my hand, and say, “Hey, I’m Cynthia. Nice to meet you. What’s your name?”

“Hi Cynthia. I’m Little Frenchie Jason. Nice to meet you too.”

Unbelievable.

Not long after that, I moved from that neighbourhood and took on a new job. I never did get to ask him to lunch. When your daily commute changes in the city, lots of other things change with it. I barely ever walked past that place again, as I had no “real” need.

On my last visit to Toronto, I found myself near my old haunts, but fortunately no Little Frenchie Jason in sight. I like to think he pulled his shit together and is on to bigger and better. Or maybe he’s just got his disappearing act down, being a magician and all.

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