She told the big woman that she was still drunk from partying on Friday night but she was on her way to a scheduled babysitting job. The big woman advised her to call the parents and tell them that she wasn’t feeling well. After a few minutes the young woman continued on her way.

Drunk Babysitter

Written By Christian Christian 18/09/2017
On Saturday morning I had the sniffles, watery eyes and a slightly plugged left ear during song practice. It didn’t feel like I was getting a cold but the pollen levels were supposedly moderate. Maybe they don’t measure them from this close to High Park and the lake though.

I went to the food bank at the usual time on Saturday morning. My place in line was behind a middle aged East Asian woman who was behind the blonde woman that always sits cross-legged on her shopping bag. Outside of the line-up a guy in a baseball cap was sitting not far from the blonde woman. He asked me if I wanted a cigarette.
           
My reading material this time was book five of the Consolation of Philosophy by 6th Century Roman senator and Christian, Boethius. He wrote the work while in prison under Ostrogoth rule and it takes the form of a dialogue with Philosophy personified as a woman. The section I was reading was about predestiny and was remarkably similar to another dialogue written earlier by Augustine. Neither one of them though convinced me with their arguments that predestiny exists.
           
One of the volunteers that I hadn’t seen in a while, a well-built man in his 40s with prematurely grey hair, came and took a place in line. He explained to someone that he hasn’t volunteered there for a couple of months but that his birthday was coming up soon and he wanted to get some free food so he would have extra money to party. He said he didn’t want to let anyone downstairs know he was there because then he might get sucked into doing something.
Another volunteer left the food bank and walked along the line handing out a flyer about Parkdale tenants meeting at the Parkdale Library on the evening of September 27th. The purpose of the meeting is to help tenants organize against being pushed out by greedy landlords.
           
A very slim and pretty young woman came staggering up to sit on the steps of 1501 Queen beside the big, talkative woman that sits there during the line-up. Her knitting was sticking out of the large bag that she was carrying. She told the big woman that she was still drunk from partying on Friday night but she was on her way to a scheduled babysitting job. The big woman advised her to call the parents and tell them that she wasn’t feeling well. After a few minutes the young woman continued on her way.

Moe came by, saying that he was on his way to check his email at the library. He told me that he’s been going to the food bank on Thursdays but thinks he’s going to switch back to Saturdays. He complained they had nothing two days ago.
           
I saw Richard, who works as a receptionist for PARC on the second floor, on his way to have breakfast before work. He said he hadn’t eaten for a day and a half because he’d been in bed with a sore ankle. Richard only has one leg, so I would imagine a sore ankle is a much bigger deal for him. He said he just peed in bottles the whole time.
           
The food bank opened surprisingly close to on time. I felt compelled to re-establish my place in line each time the line moved but then to move away again because of the smokers nearby. The woman in front of me was constantly holding her bag over her face, though I doubt if it served as a very good smoke filter.
           
The guy in the baseball cap had been gone for a while and came back with a can of light beer because I guess one wants to take it easy before noon. He offered some to the blonde woman, who was now standing. She took a sip but said she needed to eat first.
           
The ex-volunteer was telling someone that at the previous location there was a tremendous amount of corruption and theft by everyone, including the management. But at PARC he said, there are people more diligently overseeing things and looking at the books and so there is less chance of getting away with anything shifty.
           
The new card system came up in one of his conversations and I asked why they don’t just have cards with magnetic strips so they don’t need people at the computers to copy down the numbers. The answered that they’d considered that even back at the old place but they’d decided that too many clients would lose their cards and then it would get expensive to replace them all the time.
           
When I finally went downstairs the person working the computer was much quicker than the one the week before and I got number 23.
           
Angie was not at the dairy and meat counter this time and Hazel was taking her place. She explained that there was no milk this time and so they were offering two cans of Nestea instead. There were two small cups of fruit bottom yogourt, the usual four eggs, and a choice between ground chicken, chicken wieners or a small bag of breakfast sausages. The breakfast sausages were temping but I took the ground chicken because it’s more versatile. She gave me a bag of bacon bits as well.
           
Sylvia’s vegetable section had two organic tomatoes that were perhaps too far gone to be edible, an orange pepper that was mostly salvageable, a good head of leaf lettuce, a net bag containing three heads of garlic, six potatoes, five carrots, an onion and a butternut squash.
           
My helper at the shelves was the older woman whom I’d thought before to be Polish but I overheard her tell someone she is Ukrainian.
           
There were mostly children’s sugared cereals but among them was a box of Cheerios, which I took. Since the box was open I saved some space and took only the bag containing the cereal.
           
I had heard there was pasta sauce this time but either they ran out or hadn’t put it on the shelf yet.
           
There were lots of canned beans and soup but I took my usual carton of chicken broth and a tin of chickpeas. Canned tuna was back for the first time in a while and I got the second to last can.
           
She asked if I wanted any of the restaurant portions of jams and jellies. I said, “Well …” but before I could complete my sentence with “I think I have enough of that at home” she’d already thrown a couple of handfuls into my bag.
           
I got a jar of sweet sandwich pickles, a bag of pita crisps and some Quaker bars: three smores bars, two chocolate chip and two strawberry squares.
           
There was a lot of bread, but not much besides just the white loaves, buns and baguettes. On the bottom shelf though there were a couple of specialty loaves. I took the one that had been made with roasted garlic.
           
When I came out and started unlocking my bike the guy in the baseball cap asked me, “Did you see my woman down there?” I assumed correctly that he meant the blonde woman and I told him that she’d been ahead of me. He speculated that she must have been eating. He asked me about the food haul.
           
The dairy was a big disappointment this time around. I had been really depending on there being some milk. I suppose one could try putting lemon iced tea on cereal but I think it would be a bit of a disaster. The vegetable situation wasn’t bad, except for the rotten tomatoes and there was a little more protein on the shelves.
           
I wonder how the drunk babysitter made out
 

Her observation would have felt more like a compliment if throughout the rest of the waiting period she hadn’t thrown compliments on everybody else like rice at a wedding. 

Hypomanic Joy

Written By Christian Christian 11/09/2017
I went a few minutes earlier than usual to the food bank on Saturday morning. I’d been reading as part of my Early Medieval Philosophy homework the eleventh book of Augustine’s Confessions, in which he is trying to figure out how “god” created the heavens and the earth and how it created time from outside of time. I was starting to feel sleepy so I stopped reading and got ready to leave. 
            
Stepping out onto the back deck to check the temperature I could feel that we were no longer in mid-summer weather. I decided to wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt and my motorcycle jacket for the first time since the spring. My jacket was on a hanger hooked onto a chin-up bar set above the passageway between my living room and my kitchen. On a bookshelf nearby was sitting a sculpture that I’d made from metal objects that I’d found at the Leslie Spit. As I reached for my jacket I thought to myself that I’d better be careful not to knock my sculpture over. Sure enough though, the arm of the jacket caught one of the sharper parts of the sculpture and it went over and fell apart. I would be able to fit it all back together but I didn’t have time then, so I left it on the floor and headed out.
The jacket felt very heavy after a summer of flying around half naked and light in shorts and a tank top on my bike.
            
When I got to the line-up I asked a guy that was sitting on the steps of 1501 Queen Street who the last person in line was. Rather than explaining it to me he led me over to and into the entryway of 1499 Queen Street and pointed the big woman from the Caribbean out to me. She was sitting inside because she never stands in line and she didn’t even put her cart behind that of the person ahead, but rather kept it with her. I guess she just remembers who was approximately in line ahead of her and then goes downstairs when they do.
           
I continued to struggle through reading Balzac’s “The Atheist’s Mass”. I read a french sentence and if I don’t understand it then I look across to the English page opposite to see what it says and then I look back to the French side to pull the translation together. Usually one look at the French, the English and then the French again is enough but sometimes I have to look back and forth several times and so it’s a slow process. So far there is no story but just rather the introduction of the character of a brilliant surgeon.
           
I was very glad while standing there that I was wearing my leather jacket, but I almost wished that I’d worn a scarf as well. It was quite chilly there in the permanent shade that the food bank line-up is trapped in, despite the fact that across the street it was a sunny September morning. My right index finger tends to go numb while I’m standing there and holding my book in the cold.
            
The first smokers that I had to move away from were Angie and some other female volunteers from the food bank when they came out to sit on the steps. I decided to think of them as “Angie and the Bankettes”. 
           
I went downstairs to use the washroom and the man that I’ve been referring to as the “e-cigarette guy” was there. I guess I’ll have to call him the “ex-e-cigarette guy” now because it seems he’s successfully made the transition back to real cigarettes. He left the washroom before me and the elevator doors were closing as I passed them on my way to the stairs. We got to the exit at the same time and he turned and said, “Oh! Did I close the elevator doors in your face?” I thanked him for his concern but assured him that it was okay, since I always take the stairs.
            
Moe came by on his way home. I don’t think he’s had to use the food bank in a month, unless he’s been going on a different day. He stopped to chat though and he asked me about my place. He knew that I live above the Coffeetime donut shop but I guess he’d been trying to figure out which of the windows were mine. He’d noticed that the windows on the left on the front of the second floor don’t have any shades and so he assumed that it was a separate, vacant apartment. I told that’s my front kitchen window and it has no shades because I spend less time walking in front of it naked.
            
An attractive young blond woman in her 30s interrupted us to tell me that I was reading her favourite book and then she quoted her favourite verse: “Luke 6:31 – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I said, “You thought that I was reading the Bible?” That would have been a pretty thin Bible. Moe asked cynically where she’d seen anyone following that rule. She answered with a smile, “Here in Parkdale! The most beautiful place in Toronto!”
            
Moe shook his head and rolled his eyes. Continuing our conversation, I told him that I’d been living in the same place for twenty years. He declared that he would never want to live anywhere for that long, or even longer than seven years, because he would get bored. He said he feels the same way about work and asserted that one of the great things about being in the Canadian Armed Forces was that they always give you new things to do and so it becomes more like a school.
            
Moe excused himself because he had company at home, so we shook hands and he left. As soon as he was walking away, the sunny young woman reached out her fist for me to bump it. Of course I bumped her fist with mine but this whole fist bumping phenomena has always felt alien to me. Twenty years ago it didn’t exist and we had the more intimate practice of clasping hands. It’s as if everybody’s afraid of getting cooties nowadays.
            
After our knuckle touch, she declared, “You’re a really good person!” I told her that it was nice of her to say so but suggested that she didn’t really know that. She countered, “Yes I do! I can tell because you have kind eyes, so shut up!” Then she smiled sweetly but didn’t say anything more to me. Her observation would have felt more like a compliment if throughout the rest of the waiting period she hadn’t thrown compliments on everybody else like rice at a wedding. A woman with a walker had “the most beautiful eyes”; the Ethiopian guy with the tattoos and the Pom-Chi dog had a “pretty smile”; she hugged a scowling woman in a wheelchair and told her she loved her and she touched strangers affectionately. In response to someone’s complaint about the inconvenience of the line-up she enthused about what a nice day it was for us all to be together and make friends. She also dropped the Jesus bomb a couple of times, as in referring to her “Lord and saviour” and the alleged historical figure’s magic trick of turning water into wine and feeding the multitudes with five loaves of bread and two fish.
            
I don’t want to be misconstrued as cynical here, because this young woman really was a ray of sunshine on our line-up in the shade. The people she spoke to and complimented were visibly lightened by the experience of her positivity and energy. But I have known quite a few people with bipolar disorder and though I’m no expert on psychiatric conditions, I had the sense that there was very little self-awareness behind her uplifted mood and that the look on her face and her mannerisms were reflecting the dopamine surge that goes along with a hypomanic episode.
            
She was not removed from reality though. She complained in a non-negative way about the cold and wondered out loud what she was going to do in the winter with only her sweater and no jacket.
            
The pom-chi got into a fight with a passing bulldog. The bulldog was a little bigger but the pom-chi seemed to be getting the better of the exchange until they were both yanked away by their leashes. The line-up group were impressed and even the sunny woman gave the little dog the thumbs up and said, “Way to go!” After that the dog was very perky and staring hopefully into the distance for the next dog.
            
Wayne was there as well, a little ahead of me in line. He got a bit confused as to his exact position in the queue. The big white lady who is usually sitting on the steps told him exactly where his place was. He appreciated that and then said the most coherent thing I’d ever heard from him, “It’s bad enough to have to be here. You don’t want to have to fight!” He was doing his usual dance moves and smoking his cigar. There was another regular standing off to the side and Wayne would sometimes hand him his credit card and get him to go across the street to the convenience store to buy him some those $1 instant lottery games or some candy bars, or cigarettes. I wondered if Wayne actually makes payments on his credit card or if he was just going to amass debt until he got cut off.
            
The food bank took in the first five clients at about 10:45 and a while later another ten. I was in the second group of ten. The Ethiopian guy took his dog down, even though they usually make him leave it upstairs. He explained that if they see a dog they’d more likely offer dog food. One of the intake people begged to look after the little dog while his caregiver shopped. I guess the smallness of the animal, even though it’s actually a full-grown dog, increases its cuteness factor. A mature pom-chi looks like the puppy of a larger breed.
            
Winston took my card and checked me off on the computer. I noted out loud that it didn’t take any less time than the old system of me giving my birth date. I got number 32.
            
Wayne was two places ahead of me, so while I was waiting behind the Ethiopian guy for the meat and dairy, I watched Wayne go through Sylvia’s vegetable section. She commented, “You’re wearing clothes today!” Of the beets: “I don’t want any of that shit!” He then turned down every vegetable that she had to offer, except he said he wanted an onion. But then when she tried to hand him one he shook his head and moved on. Sylvia looked at us and exclaimed, “See how much fun we have!”
            
Angie, having seen me reading earlier outside, asked if I’d read any good books lately. The first choice was between a half litre of 2% milk and 900 ml of organic guava juice. I answered that I had. She slipped me both as she told me that she’d read one. She gave me four eggs. There was a choice between one larger tub of Greek yogourt and two small. I picked the small. She passed me an extra two as she informed me that her son is a schoolteacher. Another choice was between frozen ground chicken, frozen chicken wieners or bacon bits. I selected the ground chicken but she handed me also a bag of bacon bits as she shared that her son had recommended. Finally she gave me three individually wrapped Cookie Star double chocolate oatmeal cookies and told me that the book had been Native Son by Richard Wright. I told her that I’d heard of the novel but had not read it. She gave it a good review. Looking it up later I saw that the book, written by an African American author, argues that Black men are more inclined to commit crimes because the system expects them to do so. I would argue that this is true of any ghettoized group regardless of their race but that it’s probably especially on target for any ghettoized visible minority, of which African Americans are the largest group.
            
I was about to shop Sylvia’s vegetables when Betina, my former yoga student who volunteers at the food bank, called out to me to compliment my motorcycle jacket. I surprised her by informing her that I bought it for $60 but then I had to turn away from her to receive things from Sylvia. I turned down the beets as usual and since she’d given me a full bag of potatoes last time, it seemed like overkill to take any more of those from her. There was a choice between cauliflower and cabbage. Of the two cousins I’d have to say I prefer cauliflower because it looks like a brain and it’s easier to chop. I received two carrots and an onion, but I had to remind Sylvia that there were apples behind her. She turned and reached for two granny smith apples, plus a bag containing fresh garden lettuce, a small green pepper and another with two small cucumbers. I think these last items might have been donated by the garden lady that had donated so much of her crop last year.
            
My guide through the shelves was an attractive plus-size Black woman whom I hadn’t seen before. 
            
There was a larger than usual selection of cereal, including Rice Crispies, Corn Flakes and Cheerios, but I grabbed the last box of honey almond flax cereal.
            
Another shelf had those little Nabob coffee pods, which I can cut open and pour into my French press.
            
There were not only canned beans this time, but for the first time since last year they had a couple of varieties of dried beans. I took a bag of dark brown lentils.
            
The only things in the soup section were cartons of chicken broth. 
            
I got a container of coconut water with pineapple, a bag of Mackie’s potato chips, several restaurant portions of grape jelly, a handful of raspberry jellies, four sweet and salty almond bars, one peanut bar, four peanut butter cups and a Kinder Surprise egg.
            
I eschewed the bread this time because I had just enough at home to last until next time.
            
I once again forgot to take the eggs out of my backpack when I got home and so when I finally did so after knocking around for a few hours one of the four was cracked. It was only enough though for some of the white to leak out but the yoke was intact, and that’s the most important part for sunny side upness. The bacon bits that I got were actually made from fresh bacon and there was pretty much enough to put meat in two meals. It was nice to get a little coffee because I’d run out several days before. She gave me six, which was enough for two cups. There was less than last time but it wasn’t a disappointment like some trips home from the food bank are. I hope someone will give the sunny woman a jacket before next time.
 

It was a chilly morning and my index finger got numb sometimes while I was trying to read “The Atheist’s Mass” by Balzac.


Silver Smoking Jacket

Written By Christian Christian 04/09/2017
When I turned on Radio Canada on Saturday morning there was just dead air for the first time in years. I assumed it was a technical glitch from their end since hours later when I checked, everything was fine. I really felt its absence during yoga though. On early weekend mornings there is just classical music with no announcer. I’m not even that big a fan of classical or any instrumental music for that matter, but music with lyrics would be too distracting during exercises that require relaxation and concentration.

While playing guitar that morning I looked across the Dollarama parking lot and saw at the far end a beautiful little badger shaped beast with a black body, a long tail and a snow white back make its way east along the alley, perhaps on its way to a delicious dumpster dive either behind the dollar store or the community centre.
The food bank line-up on Saturday was surprisingly long considering that everyone had recently gotten their various cheques from social services. From the amount of second hand smoke I had to try to avoid I could have been convinced that most of them needed food because they’d spent their entire allowances on rent and cigarettes. It probably only seemed that way to me though because this time the wind was blowing from the east. Because there are usually people smoking in front of the entrance to PARC and in front of the door to the food bank, that meant that all of that second hand smoke was blowing towards the line-up.

After establishing my place in line I moved around a lot, most of the time so far to the east that the line-up was almost out of sight.

It was a chilly morning and my index finger got numb sometimes while I was trying to read “The Atheist’s Mass” by Balzac.

I went downstairs to use the washroom and the elderly gentleman that’s always near the front in line was there as well. While we were both washing our hands I asked him if he was number one this time. He said he was about number four and told me that there had been an argument early on because of someone that had marked their place and left. I asked him what time he gets there to be number four and he told me about 7:15. I asked what the point of getting there that early was considering that I get there at 9:45 and I’ve rarely noticed that I get less groceries than the people at the front. He argued that sometimes they run out of milk but I’ve rarely seen that to be the case.

Wayne was there and as loud and exuberant as usual. At one point he was banging out a rhythm on the mailbox across from 1501 Queen and the older man that was sitting on the steps called out with a smile, “Quiet! People are still sleeping upstairs!” Wayne responded that if they were still sleeping they must be crackheads that have just gotten to bed.

Wayne shakes his booty to a cassette player about the size of a thick paperback novel that he has strapped to his belt, which is very anachro-futuristic if one thinks in terms of the Guardians of the Galaxy film series. Later he tied a black scarf to his head like a blindfold and began dancing with that big cigar in his mouth, sometimes doing 360 degree spinning jumps. Further along in the morning he had somehow acquired a silver lamé smoking jacket.

The man from the St Francis Table arrived to make the usual bread delivery and announced that The St Francis Table would reopen after its August vacation this coming Tuesday to continue providing full meals for a dollar.

At around 11:10, Angie, Samantha and Lana came out for a smoke, which usually means they’ve made all their preparations to start distributing food and are just taking a break before the rush. When they were going back inside Angie called to everyone that they’d be starting in five minutes.

The food bank opened 45 minutes late this time. They took in the first ten clients and then it took several minutes before the next five were let in. When I got near the front there was some shifting around. The old guy that had been sitting on the sidewalk when I’d arrived was standing behind me, as had been Wayne. When I’d gotten there and asked who the last person was, the big woman on the steps had told me I was behind the Asian guy with the pony tail, but it turned out that the old guy was behind him. I asked him why he hadn’t spoken up when I’d first asked who the last person was. He said it was because it’s hard to get a word in edgewise when that woman is talking. Then he said, “You know how she is!” I shrugged. I let both him and the dancing man in front of me.

At almost 11:45 Wayne and I were at the front of the line. Moe came by and stood chatting. He was surprised that Wayne was there to get food. Wayne said something about living upstairs. I was surprised by that because I had no idea that there were people that actually lived at PARC. I looked it up later though and saw that PARC does indeed provide ten units of supportive housing upstairs at 1499 Queen Street West with a full time community mental health worker dedicated specifically to the care of the tenants.

Moe asked about Wayne’s background. He said that his father was Black and his mother was White and that when they had sex while his mother was pregnant his father poked him in the brain. I assume that last part was a joke. I don’t think a mix of Black and White is the entire story behind Wayne, because to me he looks Native. Moe thought he looked Hawaiian and then he started trying to recall the name of the Hawaiian singer that sang in the style of Frank Sinatra. Several times I suggested he was talking about Don Ho but he kept saying, “No! It was a Hawaiian guy!” I told him Don Ho was Hawaiian. After a while he concluded that it was Tony Bennett. I told him that Bennett is Italian. Finally I reminded him of the song, “Tiny Bubbles” and he nodded and admitted that was the song the guy he’d been thinking of sang. I informed him one last time that the song was sung by Don Ho and he didn’t argue with me anymore.

When Lana let the next three people in she warned Wayne to stifle the nasty language while he was inside.

I presented my Parkdale Food Bank identification card at the desk for the first time and it was slightly faster getting processed that way than by looking up my birth date, but not by much. I got number 32.

There was a young woman serving at the meat and dairy counter and she had just given Wayne his bag of eggs and a couple of yogourt drinks when Angie told her to stop serving for a while. The young woman apologized to Wayne and then she went out onto the floor to serve people at the shelves. Angie took over at the meat and dairy counter but started from scratch with Wayne and so he ended up getting an extra bag of eggs and a few extra yogourt drinks. I probably would have said something, since Angie is pretty generous with me.

I got two half-litre cartons of milk, four 93 ml bottles of DanActive strawberry yogourt drink, three packs of almond Glossettes and a six-pack of small fruit bottom yogourt cups. There was a choice between a 340-gram tub of cream cheese and a slightly smaller tub f cream cheese with salmon. If they’d been the same size I would have taken the salmon. Another choice was between bacon bits, frozen ground chicken or chicken hot dogs. I picked the ground chicken because it’s closer to actual meat, but Angie asked if I’d also like some bacon bits, so I took them. They were hand packed in a plastic bag and looked like they had been made from real bacon. Finally she gave me a ten-slice pepperoni, green pepper and olive pizza.

Sylvia’s vegetable section provided a cauliflower, a red pepper, an onion, a sprig of rosemary, ten small carrots, a bag of ragged brown lettuce and a long, pale green squash that didn’t look like a zucchini. She asked if I could carry a whole bag of potatoes and I confirmed that I could so she gave me an unopened 5-kilogram bag of spuds. Finally she gave me a plastic bag containing the odd selection of one small cucumber that looked like it was more for pickling, a green tomato and one tiny cherry tomato. I assume that these last items were donated in bags in that combination and given out the same way.


At the shelves I had the same older volunteer with the Polish accent as last time.

I first of all took a large box of Cheerios. I didn’t want pasta or rice, though I would have taken some sauce from that section if they’d had any. The canned beans were back and so I picked some chickpeas. On the soup shelf there were only cartons of chicken broth. It’s been more than a month since they’ve had cans of tuna.

On one shelf there was a choice between a bag of pretzels and one of pub style Buffalo wing flavoured popcorn of all things. Although I’m not a big fan of popcorn anymore, the strange flavour piqued my curiosity.

They had restaurant size servings of orange marmalade and tartar sauce. I have no use for tartar sauce right now so she gave me a couple of handfuls of marmalade.

She seemed in a hurry and so I had to remind her of the bars at the bottom of the last shelf. She gave me two chocolate pastry crisps and two strawberry crumble bars.

Then she directed me to the bread. I bent down to check out a bagged loaf of rosemary focaccia. She told me it was yummy but I was going to take it anyway.

Unfortunately I had to throw out the lettuce as soon as I got home because it was just too far-gone. Of the pizza, since I had to put it on its side in my bag, when I got home and tried to remove it, only the box came out while the whole pie stayed behind. After recovering the pizza slices I had to pick several olive pieces from the bottom of my bag. The popcorn turned out to have a hole in the bottom of the bag and so I also had to fish for a few spicy brown kernels before transferring the contents of the bag to a Tupperware container.

But there was a fair amount of dairy and in addition to the ground chicken the pepperoni on the pizza and the bag of bacon bits are a lot more meat than we’ve been getting lately. The bag of potatoes will come in handy and last quite a while. So after several weeks of very lean pickings the food bank came through this time with a relatively substantial offering.

They would get less money if living together caused the amount of rent they each pay to be less. Also if one of them were to come into some extra money that partner would be required to contribute to the support of the other and so the other’s benefits would be reduced. This system has caused some married or common-law couples that were living together before they went on ODSP to separate just so they could survive.


The Challenges of Living Together on Welfare

Written By Christian Christian 28/08/2017
It’s probably a coincidence but on Saturday upon waking I felt even more thickly covered in the afterbirth of sleep than I had been on the previous Saturday morning. I jumped out of bed when the alarm rang but I felt like I was walk sleeping, wash sleeping, dress sleeping, yoga sleeping and sing sleeping over the next two hours. The time went fast though because I was running on automatic. 
           
I went to the food bank at the usual time and stepped in line behind the grey shopping cart that had “Robbie” printed on it in magic marker. For the first few minutes there was no one smoking in the line-up and so I didn’t have to move away to avoid it. I was able to finish reading the first story in my dual language book of French short fiction.
The story was Micromegas by Voltaire and it was the 265-year-old tale of a traveller from Sirius that is so much larger than us that when he landed on the earth after jumping off a comet and sliding down the northern lights, he couldn’t detect our tiny presence with his naked eye. It was only after he broke his diamond necklace that, while retrieving the stones, one of them served as a magnifying lens through which he accidentally discovered a little ship filled with microscopic passengers. He figured out a means to communicate with them. Many of the passengers turned out to be philosophers with widely differing opinions about the nature of the universe. The only one that showed any good sense though was a follower of the English philosopher, John Locke. When one cleric made the claim that the entire universe exists to serve humanity of Earth he laughed so hard that the ship and its passengers fell off his fingernail and into the trouser pocket of his travelling companion.

I went downstairs to use the washroom and as I passed through the entryway I saw that quite a few people from the line-up were sitting in there. I guess the management have given up on kicking people out of there.

I started reading the second French story. This one was “La Messe de L’Athée” or “The Atheist’s Mass” by Honoré de Balzac. I only read a page and a half, so I don’t know what it’s really about yet. Voltaire used much simpler vocabulary than Balzac, so he was easier to translate.

Moe came, though not for the food bank. He was just passing by again. He told me that the bicycle in his back yard was going to be cleared away at the end of the month. I said that I’d try to come by before then, though the chance of the bike having compatible parts with mine are pretty slim.

The Ethiopian guy with the dog was further back in line and Moe went to chat with him and to play with the Pom-Chi (further evidence to help shatter the myth that Muslims don’t like dogs). Moe said that he had a present for the dog at his place and so he went home to get it. He came back with a bag of doggie biscuits in the shape of bones.

When Moe left again he reached out his hand to me, I thought for a fist bump, so I presented my fist but instead he took hold of my hand. That was strange because I remembered back in the winter at the previous food bank location someone had reached out to shake Moe’s hand but he’d refused, explaining that he didn’t do that kind of greeting.

Andrea Hatala, with her guitar on her back, walked up to talk with me. She asked if I’d seen her boyfriend, Heinz. Heinz Klein apparently runs a little jam or open stage or songwriters workshop at PARC on Saturdays. She said she was concerned because she hadn’t seen him in the poetry group at PARC the night before. I was a little surprised that she was that unaware of his whereabouts because I’d always assumed that they lived together, since they’ve been a couple for years. When I asked about that she explained that they are both on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and so they would receive less money if they were officially living in a common-law relationship. They would get less money if living together caused the amount of rent they each pay to be less. Also if one of them were to come into some extra money that partner would be required to contribute to the support of the other and so the other’s benefits would be reduced. This system has caused some married or common-law couples that were living together before they went on ODSP to separate just so they could survive.

Andrea added that another reason they don’t live together is because they don’t want to become sick of one another. I nodded in agreement, saying, “One way to ruin a relationship is to move in together!” I told her that in France they have the option of temporary marriage contracts that a couple can renew for three months or three years or whatever they think they can handle. Andrea thought that was interesting. I checked my facts later though and found that what I told her was not exactly true. The Pacs (Parte Civil de Solidarité or Civil Solidarity Pact) is not a marriage contract but rather a civil union contract, which interestingly came into being as something for Gay unions but heterosexual couples liked the idea too and it can now be applied to any couple that live together. From what I’ve read, the paperwork does not even ask for the gender of the applicants. I think that couples need to have lived together for at least two years to apply for this status but there is also a separate, less formal status of cohabitation, which is usually between much younger couples.

Andrea wandered into PARC and a few minutes later I saw Heinz going in with his guitar.

The food bank opened about half an hour late. When I was allowed in, the people ahead of me took the elevator and so though it wasn’t my intention, I got ahead of them by taking the stairs. At the desk I was told, “You’re finally going to get a card!” So I got a laminated card with a six digit client identification number that they claimed would make things go faster, since they wouldn’t have to look up my birthday on the computer anymore. I’m sceptical.

I got number 23.

Angie’s meat and dairy section was back to the half-litre cartons of milk, but she gave me two. There were five eggs instead of four. I chose the frozen ground chicken over the hot dogs. I got a six-pack of small fruit bottom yogourt cups, a pack of soy cheese and a 300 ml bottle of orange juice.

Sylvia’s vegetable section had Swiss chard, one yellow zucchini or squash, one faded green zucchini, two aubergines (skinny eggplants), a green pepper, three carrots, six potatoes, a bag of frozen sweet peas and a small wedge of watermelon.

My guide through the shelves was an elderly woman with an eastern European accent who wore make-up. I had never seen this person before but she was one of those rare volunteers that insist that clients must not pick items themselves. I still don’t see the logic of that policy and it seems a bit insulting as well.

I took a box of multigrain Cheerios, the only bottle of Molisana pasta sauce with pomodoro and basilico, a carton of chicken broth, a bag of Mackie’s potato chips, a small bag of plantain chips which she stopped me from picking for myself. She gave me four lemon Larabars, three chocolate pastry bars, four and eight restaurant size servings of pancake syrup and honey. With the bread she insisted on using the tongs herself to give me two raisin buns, six bagels and one bran muffin, the top of which fell off in my bag.

The shelves were once again pretty bare, with no canned beans, peanut butter, canned vegetables, soup or tuna. But the dairy situation wasn’t bad this time and there were more vegetables than usual. Except for onions I had all the ingredients for ratatouille.