Saturday, Amynah and I were invited by our friend Qi to celebrate the Chinese New Year with an enormous dinner at Qi's apartment. We are, of course, already several weeks into the Year of the Ox, but Qi had been so occupied with various other celebrations organized by the local Chinese associations to which she belongs that she couldn’t organize her own party before now.
The feast was amazing – though operating with only a microwave and three hotplates, Qi somehow managed to prepare a dinner with two different kinds of fish, at least two different kinds of chicken, noodles, lamb, vegetables and shrimp. There were 8 people in total, everyone ate until they were stuffed, and yet there were still mounds of excellent food left over.
Anyway, at some point in the evening, after I had been reminded of and therefore shared at length some anecdote or another from my vast store of such things, Qi paused and looked at me, and said “Ah Mark, you always have a funny story.”
While my natural paranoia is making me question whether I’m one of those conversation-hogging party-boors, I am choosing instead to take it as a compliment. All of which is a long-winded way of bringing myself around to today’s blog post. You all might have noticed that I’ve considerably increased my rate of posting here, at least this month. Part of that is due to my natural procrastinatory ways, part of it is boredom, part is a genuine desire to keep in touch with people, but I’m also trying to keep the writing muscles limber.
However, coming up with topics three times a week is pretty tough – I’m not really interested turning this into a current events blog and I can’t go on poorly-conceived hikes every week. I’m planning on posting more about local attractions in the weeks to come, but am unsure how much people are really interested in local nicknames for obscure landmarks. I’ve already sunk so low as to mail myself a postcard for your edification. How much worse can I get?
Much worse, it turns out, as I resort to what Qi accurately identified as my favourite phrase: “that reminds me of a story.” This morning, I was walking back from dropping Amynah off at her tram stop, when I was cornered by a rather aggressive panhandler, who claimed that he had to make it to a job interview in a distant suburb, and needed money for a bus. I offered him a transit ticket. Stymied, he replied he needed money for a petit pain, for which he wanted a Euro. A small bread costs 55 centimes at my local baker, so I gave him that, resentful for having given into what was obviously a con.
I contrast this to one time when I was accosted for money in Halifax. It was late at night, and I was returning from a movie with my friend Natalie. We passed a shabbily dressed guy on Quinpool Road, who asked if we could “spare some change for a poor Cape Bretoner.” Being a proud Caper herself, Nat gave him a Loonie, and we continued on to Nat’s place, where I dropped her off. As I made my way back to my apartment, I passed the same panhandler again, who once more asked me for money.
I apologized, and said I had none, but then he recognized me: “Oh, you already gave me money!” (I hadn’t – I didn’t have a cent on me).
Then he asked me my name, which I told him: “Oh, that’s a good Biblical name, a good Biblical name. You’re a good man. Here, let me give you some money.”
A panhandler trying to give me money? I looked at my clothes: ripped jeans, a stained government surplus prison-guard coat, ratty sneakers. Maybe it was time to upgrade the wardrobe.
In any case, I refused his cash, but I ended up talking to the man, crouching in the bushes behind the Canadian Tire store while he drank a mixture of Lysol and Coke (he offered to share, but I turned him down: I don’t really enjoy Coke). Turns out he had been married once, and lived in Toronto, before his drinking got away from him. He’d been on the streets for seven years, and still missed his wife fiercely.
All of this was sad enough, but the worst was yet to come: he told me that his grown son, who I would guess couldn’t have been much older than thirty, was apparently living on the streets too, sleeping and begging somewhere near the Halifax Commons. Father and son would cross paths once in a while, but otherwise each was living rough, in the same city, each alone. I never saw him again, but I still think of that man once in a while. I hope things got better for him.