Chapter Three..Where Did All The Benches Go… The Man In The Old White House
Summer turned into fall then fall became winter, for safety on the road reasons we asked Fred to curtail his visits, besides the bike shop was now closed and the family had made a decision to keep him out of the house, they said “his smell lingers, has he been in here?” I could not out vote them, though I was by this time accustomed to his odours the others were not, as well there was that thorny issue with his lechering, a few times over the summer I had chastised him when he brought the girls names up. The woman who had been observing us at the City Hall the night I gave him the bike, warned me that she had seen him lurking near our home, so that put an end to any uninvited visits. Everyone here at home was more comfortable. If I wanted to see Fred I could run into him at the Our Space day shelter where folk went for meals and company. Late that year, it closed down which affected a lot of people who had found some semblance of life at the shelter. There were bad feelings between the directors of the Brock Mission and the Our Space group. From my observations, many of the calls to police were for folk who were in a jam at Our Space. Some of their clients were into drugs and the issues that can have, there was also fighting on adjacent properties, the old legion building that housed the two groups had a spacious front area that overlapped onto the street, many clients of both groups would sit out front, have smokes and come and go into the facility. I would think a lot of calls were made to the Brock about this scenario and to politicians as well. The relaxed atmosphere reflected poorly on the group managing the building. Their mandate was to provide a bed for the men in a dorm like setting who were without places to sleep, wash and take meals. The two groups were like water and oil. It was a sad day when Our Space closed but given the situation no other solution was available.
Not only were those folks without a day shelter and a soup kitchen, I found myself without the opportunities to mingle and observe which was important at that time as I was busy assembling a portfolio of photos to use in an upcoming exhibit. Around that time a couple of the benches in the downtown area were removed by the city at the behest of two businesses, the key bench was the one that Bongo Dave busked on for years it was located on George Street a bit south of Brock Street, prior to it being removed Joe Moore frequented it. The owner of the shop across the street told me that ‘my staff does not have to witness people urinating near that bench and defecating!’ I got great satisfaction out of calling him an economic racist. The other bench located for years in a grassy spot near the Chamber of Commerce was used often by a group of Street people including Ken Taylor, in essence it was his home, it was a place where I might be able to locate him as well as others to bring them a meal or gloves or what have you. Ken has had continence problems for a decade. The owner of the pub located near the bench whined and whined till the city took the bench away, he is still whining as his sales have fallen and we know the bar/food business is not a panacea here in a town full of clubs and good/better food.
What the removal of each bench did for the shops concerned is not clear. I don’t know of any city in Canada that does not provide a seat for folk to use as they wait for a bus or rest their weary legs after a trip downtown, prior to continuing to spend their wages in the downtown core. Use Oshawa as an example, there are benches everywhere on the downtown streets, this is a case of economic profiling if I ever saw one. In fact I told this to the face of both shopkeepers who were involved in having the benches removed, but I wasn’t as gentle as one might think, I used the term economic racism. It would be wonderful if our town and all the other post manufacturing era towns could evolve into nice little places like Niagara on the Lake or The Beaches area in Toronto, but that won’t happen anytime soon. The erosion of downtown cores is a direct result of the general decay of the economy and the onset of the suburban mall.
It was a busy year indeed. Besides putting out my weekly email photo essays I was quite engaged in the general well being of folk on the fringes. Fred continued to visit and I would find him all over town, on his old red bike and we would chew the fat. Our friendship was evolving. Late that fall in mid November the photo exhibit was put up at the Dreams of Beans café on Hunter Street. A good number of folk came for the opening, maybe as many as fourty, some from out of town, some relations of the folk portrayed in the images. Fred came, drove his bike over, parked it at the side by the enclosed patio area, locked it up. His photo was in the front window of the shop just beside the door, you couldn’t miss it. I can hear him saying to someone, “that’s me in that picture” he really seemed to enjoy this bit of fame and I would suppose after a lifetime of quiet existence this would seem like a TV moment. Inside the coffee shop he sat and as mentioned before put the moves on a young person, his eyesight must have been off as he had not recognized the young person was a boy! I laughed and pointed out to my friend William that Fred thought he was a girl. At the end of the event Fred tucked his socks back into his trousers and posed for me with his bike. We had set up a ladder across the street to take a group shot of those in attendance, my son Cassidy took the photos. Fred stood at the front of the group, looking around and making sure everyone was in place. It was around that time that the suspicious woman from City Hall approached me and took me aside and told me something quite bazaar, something to the effect, “you know Fred, well, I know where his will is kept in that house of his, I’m the only person that knows where it is, do you know how much money he has in his bank account?” at which point her eyes opened up and her eyebrows rose to indicate ‘lots, a whopping lot of money’. I recall saying, “that’s neither here nor there for me, I have no interests in those matters, to me, he’s just Fred another character that I am documenting.” I took their photo together and I recall giving Fred a copy which he proceeded to deliver to her home the following day, which he got shit for going to. At this juncture I had no idea that Fred was actually a bit of a Caruso, striking up relationships with many women in town, well, he was single, he was an eligible bachelor, and it turns out, a wealthy one at that. The fact that he was dirty and smelly and lived in a horrid house that was falling down around him was of no particular interest to Fred, I often wonder if he saw his lifestyle as being any different from anyone else’s? I do wonder if he understood the difference between clean and dirty, healthy and unhealthy. It seemed, and I may be wrong that if it was cheaper for Fred, (had I mentioned he was a miser?) to take all the free meals he could from the various agencies then that was his measuring stick, saving the money!
So many powerful events took place that year, the death of Lorne Clapper seemed to set off a string of other deaths by street people, those on the fringes, included in this group would be Fred Dart and Jessie James McConkey. I found out at the Dark Hallways exhibit that Big Joe Nap (Phil Minicola) had died while living at Rubidge retirement on Rubidge Street, I was saddened by this news but happy to hear he had lived his life out with proper care and nutrition. In my own family, my brother Kevin had passed in 08 as had Willie P. Bennett, then my mom died in 09 and Julias mom the fall of that year. Sadness hung in the air like a bad smell. I was making a lot of friends on the streets, Tom Franks aka Tattoo Tom, Ernie and his uncle Don who died soon after with the cancer, Joe Moore just showed up from Oshawa to become a permanent fixture, there was Mel Webb, and Brent Sisson a big guy in a wheelchair, I mean big, bigger than me by a third, the first time I seen him he was rolling down Charlotte Street from up by the Medical Clinic, guitar strapped to the back of his wheel chair, a ball cap on and a big smile. Gary Caravaggio was strumming his guitar on many days at George and Simcoe, he once said to me, ‘Charlie when I get famous, when I cut my first record, you’re going to do the album cover with one of your photographs.’ Little Brent Pearson went riding down the middle of Simcoe street one Saturday afternoon after I had done a pro bono wedding, here was this little man, with a full head of hair just giving it on this weird three wheeled bike in the midday sun, across the street on the stone abutment to the Bus Station sat Termite and his girl Sharkey, he was bare chested and was wearing the damndest lime green sunglasses I had ever seen, he posed for the camera without hesitating. Perc Mccarrell came into my life, we got along quite well, he had interesting things to say, for example on death, precisely on the death of Lorne Clapper a few weeks earlier he said, “why don’t they just give them twenty year warranties” I found that profound. Father Heffernan could be seen here and there in town, he couldn’t handle the Rubidge retirement home so he booked space above Thurstons Restaurant where he took his meals, he could get Jimmy the Greek pissed off when he’d order bacon and eggs past the noon hour cut off when the shop began to cook lunches which require a different cooking rhythm, old Father Heffernan he had quite a life here in town, a Douro boy. Every so often I’d catch my friend Brian Beggs on a downtown corner, some times with a window washing kit attached to an old mountain bike, once in the Pete’s Subs restaurant where he showed me a hand carved bird he had done himself at the woodworkers club. I took photos of Jerome the owner of the Only Café one bright spring day and Michael Ketemer the guitar player in the same place by the outside marquee board. Between this cacophony there would be Fred sightings, I never left the house without a camera and often it would be on the passenger seat ready to go, ready to shoot. My sister Sue visited for the last time before mom died, I keep telling her, ‘it’s been a while since you dropped over, you might as well think we live in British Columbia,’ I am sure she has her reasons for her boycott. The shots I took of Steph Woods still keep me in good steed with her, we talk a bit and a month back I took her to her apartment, on the way she revealed she paints in oils, I would like to see those some day. Dougie Johnson got his share of bikes, at least three that year including a beautiful green Sekine which he did not hang onto for long. Ken Taylor and I became close, again, I believe from donating him a bike and his friends, Tommy Boyle and Jessie James before he passed on. There is no wreath or marker where they found his body, on the Parkway, heading south just about fifty yards from the junction with Lansdowne Street, his heart gave out. It was quite a shock when Bongo Dave died, just sort of dropped dead in front of his house on Aylmer Street, the medics were to late to save him, his ribs were pressed so hard as they tried to resuscitate him that they broke, poor Dave, everyone loved him. This winter a church relocated his long lost bench to their garden site, go visit it, it will make you feel good. I was in prison in March when they held the funeral service for my mom Gisele at the church beside her home on Mark Street, we were not consulted as to when the service would be held, I can tell you this that hurt quite some bit not being there for my moms wake when all the relations came up and I am sure Julia was in tears when she told them where I was that afternoon. Marsha with the tattoos on her face was in town, caught her on Christmas day with a Santa hat on her old boyfriends name D.A.N.I.E.L. tattooed in blue ink to her forehead. My relationship with Craig Munro had become such that I was somewhat an advocate for him and his cause to get out of jail where he had served his twenty five years for killing a police officer in Toronto in 1980. Things were going good, I had received a lot of jailhouse mail over the years and I must say it is difficult being on the street and understanding someone in prison, I discreetly contacted whatever News Media I could in both the print media and television industry looking for a sympathetic ear to his plight. There were no takers and then when he was on an unescorted pass he was with a lady of the night and some coke was found in his bloodstream, they yanked his good time and threw the key away. Thanks Mr.Fantino.
The Shinny man would visit me at the bike shop Wayne Dawson, boy he was slick it was so funny how slick he was, one time he said to me, ‘your grandson, he likes chips?’ and he pulled some small bags of chips from his bike bags. The next day he comes by and he says, ‘that boy, does he like cheesies?’ and again he had the cheesies, a few bags, they were also outdated but they were OK. His bicycle had a flat tire so we negotiated him to purchase two tires and two tubes at ten dollars for all four pieces, he wanted to pay in chips and cheesies. We made some arrangement and I fixed the bad tires, but the thing was, he was there at the shop all afternoon, taking bag after bag off the bike handlebars and back carrier. While he was there he was trying to be the head of sales, I was glad when he left. The next day he comes by and he says, ‘you guys like chocolate milk eh?’ and he goes over to his bike and gives us two quarts of chocolate milk that was quite outdated. I asked him where he was getting this stuff and he stalled on an answer. We found out he was bin raiding at the old IGA on Sherbrooke Street and the Hostess chip warehouse across from Rehills on High Street. The chocolate milk was sour, but he had wound his way into our shop. A week or so later he brought over a busted pressure washer and asked if he could leave it for a few days, I said OK, a few days turned into a few weeks, I put the thing out in the trash, funny thing, he come over the next day and asked me for his broken pressure washer, when he heard I had tossed it, he was furious. Then, we didn’t see him for some time though we knew he had been sleeping rough at Beavermead Park, scaring some campers, and washing up at the Lock 19 washroom. He came sauntering over one day with this broken cheap rotary lawn mower. Doug the Lawnmower Man came by, as he was often walking buy with the little grey poodle/terrier type dog called Charlie. Wayne pushed the mower on Doug the Lawnmower Man for ten dollars. Doug, he pushed it home, only to find the next day it was shot, no good, worthless…Wayne, he came over late the next day as well, I now had a good reason to chase him away, knowingly selling broken things to my friend. Wayne he went into a rage, cursed me, called me every name in the book and for a few days after he stalked me, he would stand at the corner across the street in front of Donny Clarke’s house, taunting me. I picked up the phone and called the police on him, he never came back.
Posted by selrahcyrogerg on 2014-02-01 13:40:43