Tuesday, September 23, 2003

DEATHLESS PROSE DEPARTMENT

I am hardly a born-again Christian, but a fundamentalist minister friend once told me that after being "born again", the Old Man will try to resurface, you know, wine, women, booze, cigarettes--all the good stuff--and next thing you know, you're on the road to hell again.

Which brings me to some degree of wobbling now that I just got over being homeless, penniless and sleeping in the streets, a fairly common way to go in these days of crash and burn.

After four years of living in a parking lot (thank God for goodhearted Dominion and IGA and Swiss Chalet for feeding me free) I can't get over the mind-cast of being homeless, on the street and on the make.

I am still like the French writer Celine, very alert, vigilant after my personal World War, sharp as a London cabdriver and articulate as Michael Coren, though only for economic reasons. I am guided by (I swear) global positioning which allows me to find a lost $20 bill just like that, and when I find lost driver's licenses or wallets I am the silver-tongued devil in fishing out a reward.

Even now, though ensconced in a lovely apartment (Thanks Ernie) well fed by good-natured Anglicans who took pity on an Anglicized Uke, I go for walks knowing that each acre of asphalt, each social encounter, has its economic prospects.

When I'm out walking, my eyes sweep left and right like a cyborg's: I am programmed to search for big 25-cent returnable beer bottles, taupe-coloured ten dollar bills (that like to blow in wet against a Zeller's wall in windstorms), green-and-red glints of still usable Bic lighters, brass-and-silver twoneys and looneys rolling out of recently parked cars like Johnnycakes. Furthermore, every discarded cigarette pack on the parking lot must be lightly trod upon, because I know for sure that the fifth one will still have five good ones in it.

The old hobo is still there, even in my spanking clean apartment. I roll stiff socks across the floor, wondering what puddle I'll wash them in when the washing machines are right there on the main floor.

In the company of Mayor Tom Taylor of Newmarket, I may stoop down a reach for a still serviceable cigarette butt. At the Tim Horton's I fasten an old wad of chewing gum to the soles of my sandals, just in case someone drops a twenty.

I regard all men as lucky or unlucky, hell with the Cancer lobby. The lucky ones can smoke, drink and fornicate like crazy until seventy-plus. The unlucky are the infant mortality set, held together by tubes and doctors, the non-smokers, dental floss surfers, the abstainers who go to work every day for thirty years only to be eaten by a deranged bear in the middle of suburbia.

It wasn't always so. I had lost my ability to survive by having a spouse who loved me too much, by giving me a hundred dollars a day to look for work. Who was looking already!

She must have loved me a lot, because it took her ten years to throw the bum out.

Every morning the Bum Also Rises, even after the Bum has seen the light.

I am dressed in the standard middleclass attire of modified bomber jacket (not too boxy), grey slacks, black Adidas, yet I cannot resist picking up a quarter on a street or a bus. "No need for a sweeper here," the driver breezes. "We've got one in the fourth seat from the back."

When I had the executive jobs I would often be overwhelmed by my own incompetence (Yes, the Bum would rise there and confront me with his accusations: "That was no nightmare about poverty last night--it was a dream of the future, YOUR future.") The hopeless sense of incompetence came for having a technology lag going back some thirty years (I never caught on to computers, having my secretaries handle all that), and once installed in a newspaper office, I couldn't tell calculus from cabbageheads). They found out, and I was fired.

I really missed my spouse's C-notes to look for work with. For a long four years, I scoured the parking lot and by the time I got a job as a teacher, I was too far gone in the head from sleeping out nights and drinking Vanilla Extract. I couldn't teach because a teacher couldn't be crazy.

Eventually, I landed a job as a furnace mechanic's helper. Inevitably, my boss heard my life story.

"When you get back there, stay up there," he said wisely as we drove back in the truck after a furnace repair where he'd taken out all the fail-safe circuits instead of properly reinstalling a burner. I looked into the rear view mirror on the passenger side an saw a little Portuguese homeowner jumping up and down, smoke pouring out of the house, the chimney spewing H-bombs. "Don't look back," my boss advised wisely.

Maybe there's something to the "old" man rising after all. Maybe he's trying to tell you something.

My boss made a whole seventy thousand dollars that year, though he was as incompetent as dog poo. Soon, he stopped paying his suppliers, picked up an expensive habit and left a lot more people jumping up and down in front of belching furnaces. Was Dante trying to tell us something? Cynical in the old days, I would say "Beware of Florentines bearing gifts", but there's something to it, why else was I always trying to fix furnaces gone amuck. It's that Old Man again.

I visit my old boss at the Rehab Centre quite a bit. "Don't look back," he mutters.

Easy for him to say. I am back on the street again. Successful again. But at what? Beating the Schmertz?

Get down you bastard.

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