Thursday, January 27, 2011

Change Please?

One morning last week, I took a walk up to Commercial Drive to get away from our cramped, confining two-bedroom apartment and our four 'orrible cats. I also needed a package of cigarettes, but that's another post.

When I got to my second favourite nicotine pusher's place of business, I was concerned to see that there was an ambulance parked outside the Royal Bank next door, and a marked police car in its parking lot. One of my neighbours was busy discussing the events of his morning with the paramedics and the police officers at some volume, and a with good deal of agitation.

Did I remember to mention that he was wearing handcuffs?

This particular neighbour doesn't actually own or rent property in my neighbourhood, in fact, he often has no fixed address, but he can usually be found at the corner of First Avenue and Commercial Drive having polite, friendly, civilised chats with the passersby. Our first conversation, three years or so ago, was mainly concerned with a mutually acceptable redistribution of my spare change. I'm Scottish (a little way back), so the conversation took some time.

Now, I can be fairly observant at times, and I noticed almost immediately that there was a proud, pretty, mottled pigeon sitting on his right shoulder. He introduced her as Pudge, and told me that he had found her as a orphan fledgling. He had raised her to her current exemplary condition over the preceding couple of months. A few of the capacious pockets of his heavy, old winter coat (this was in July) were dedicated to the storage of Pudge's birdseed. In another of his pockets, he had a fine, handsome black and white rat, who was named Waylon. Waylon was content to share the table with either his avian foster sister or his human dad.

Waylon and Pudge appeared to be happy and well cared for, but it seemed that my new friend himself could do with a McHappyMeal or two, and I found that I did, in fact, have some coins that were beginning to feel sort of heavy in my pocket. I also had more cigarettes that I could smoke at one time, so he got a couple of those too.

When my circumstances changed some time later, my neighbour stopped asking me for money. He still took it when it was offered (sometimes I could help, sometimes not) but he always seemed glad to see me. I was just a bit surprised to find that I looked forward to talking to him too.

Since I've known him, he's been beaten, mistreated, manhandled and robbed. He has fewer teeth than he had when I met him, and he walks with a cane that he didn't need before. Sometimes, if he forgets to take his medications, people regard him as a threat or a danger, or maybe just a nuisance. Sometimes, he asks us if the world wouldn't be a better place without him. Those are the times when the ambulances and the police cars show up.

On this particular morning (the paramedics said), my neighbour had displayed suicidal tendencies. He kept walking out into the traffic, and when a concerned bank customer used his mobile phone to call emergency services, he'd become belligerent and hostile.

I know that he was upset when I got there. For one thing, he was in handcuffs, for another he was about to be committed to a psychiatric unit against his will. His medications, cigarette butts and change were scattered all across the sidewalk. And to top it all off, there was a frightened rat piddling in his coat sleeve! (Pudge has been AWOL for a few weeks)

Another neighbour and I spoke to the two young police women (when did they all become so young?) on our friend's behalf, and they asked us the loaded question: were the two of us willing to take responsibility for him? Good question...

Later, with all of the restraints removed and the scary people gone about their other business, we three neighbours sat together over a quiet cup of coffee outside Tim Horton's. My friend and his feathered and furry foundlings are not allowed inside the restaurant. We talked about the incident, and we talked about the government, but for the most part we talked about the way that our neighbourhood is changing.

Change is a powerful thing. A little change goes a long, long way. Some of us have changed society's rules to suit our own game, and the game has turned quite nasty. We've all seen a lot of change in our lives.

Still, when all is said, we can change our minds, we can change our attitudes, we can change our hearts, we can change our circumstances - we can change the world.

Maybe today we can spare some change for the better.


  1. The veritable perspicacity of your putative 'Limited Vision' astounds me. You're one of the good guys. Here's to blogging for social justice and everyday 'spare change.'

  2. i second what DeeDee said - whatever it meant. thanks for caring so much Lee. you are just such a good and noble man. your heart is definitely in the right place and you're one of my favourite "characters" on the Drive (and elsewhere)