My final selection was a snack, the packaging of which fooled me into picking it. I thought I was taking peanuts because the picture on the cover of the bag shows peanut shaped and coloured treats and the word “peanuts” is prominently displayed on the package as well. But it turns out that the main ingredient is corn flour, fashioned into the shape of peanuts while ground peanuts are part of the coating, along with tomato powder and yeast. That seems like a sleazily deceptive way to package a product.

Beware of Corn Dressed in Peanut's Clothing

Written By Christian Christian 06/11/2017
The food bank line-up was quite short on Saturday, mainly because the Social Service cheques had arrived. I think that I was the 19th person there. I was behind the middle-aged East Asian woman, although I was actually behind the guy in the red baseball cap who was behind her, except that he wasn’t there until later.
            
I almost immediately had to step out of line to avoid the second hand smoke, which seemed particularly thick, as if mostly only the smokers felt the need to go to the food bank so soon after their welfare cheques had arrived. Fortunately the wind was not indecisive this time around and so as long as I stood east and upwind of any burning cigarettes I was choke free.
            
Bart was there, sometimes as usual throwing out twisted and obscene phrases into the cold morning air, but at one point though I caught him giving someone a detailed and it seemed coherent comparison of the popular gaming consoles. He told him that X-Box is for people that like to watch TV and who like to brag about how good they are at games. Nintendo has better sound as well as other qualities that I didn’t catch. Bart expressed the desire to get a Nintendo Switch.
            
Wayne was also present, but not dancing wildly as he tends to do. I have noticed him lately in the neighbourhood with what looks like a medically issued aluminium cane and he had it on this day as well. Perhaps he’d tripped over the light fantastic and hurt himself.
            
On my way downstairs to use the washroom, among those staying out of the cold in the entryway was the hyper-enthusiastic young blond woman who was there a couple of months ago, though she wasn’t quite as fully blond as she’d been back in September. She was singing Del Shannon’s “Runaway” with a guy old enough to know it better than her, and more impressively, she was clapping out the beat with her hands.
            
The e-cigarette guy, who lately has been back to smoking real cigarettes, was brandishing a shiny new black vaping device as he recounted on of his stories from his glory days of being a film technician on movie sets. I didn’t follow the conversation and so I may be wrong, but what it sounded like he was saying was that only the prime minister gets to have bacon on a movie set.
            
A guy that was a couple of spaces ahead of me in line asked me with no words but a look and an upward nod what I was reading. I turned the book around and showed him the Norton Anthology of American Literature and shared that right then I was reading some poems by Robert Frost. He told me that he’d watch a documentary about Edgar Allan Poe and learned that despite his reputation he’d only written twelve horror stories. Having only read two stories and one poem, I couldn’t really argue with him on that point. But looking through the descriptions of several of Poe’s stories, I guess it depends on what one calls “horror”. He wrote a lot more than twelve Gothic mystery stories that were all pretty haunting, and many poems of that sort too.
            
I only read three Frost poems while I was waiting, but I read them each three times. There was “The Pasture”, about going to fetch the newborn calf; “Mowing” about the whispering message of his scythe as he made hay; but of the three, the one I liked best was “Mending Fence”, about walking with his neighbour as they repaired the stone fence that separated their properties, but being separated from his neighbour by the fence even as they were fixing it. He wonders why they have a fence, since neither of them has cows but rather he has apple trees and his neighbour has pine trees and so his apples won’t cross over to eat his neighbour’s pinecones. The other farmer keeps insisting anyway, “Good fences make good neighbours”.
            
I had to put the book away because it was getting too chilly to comfortably read. I got back into line and heard the woman in front of me talking to herself about hot coffee and toast while glancing back and forth to the restaurant across the street.
            
The food bank opened on time. As I arrived in the reception and shopping room there was a man I hadn’t seen before sitting in a chair to the left of the desk. When I was handing my card to Desmond, the stranger approached the desk and asked if Steve was there. He was told that Steve would be there in a little while but right now he was waiting for a driver. The man informed them that he was the driver.
            
Angie gave me a couple of one-litre cartons of 3.25% milk. I’ve gotten so used to 2% milk that 3.5% might feel like I’m drinking cream. There was a choice between a 500-gram container of cottage cheese and another the same size of 3.25% yogourt. I picked the cottage cheese but Angie let me take the yogourt as well. There was the usual bag of four eggs but the only meat on offer were packs of frozen chicken wieners, so I turned those down, since I already have some and my freezer is choked with more ice than storage space.
            
For the same reason I eschewed the frozen peas that Sylvia wanted to give me. I also didn’t need any bags of little potatoes, as I hadn’t even started on the two bags I’d received last time. She gave me one onion, two red peppers and three different colours of carrots: a handful of the regular orange ones, a few yellow ones and a few more that were yellowish orange. On the floor beside the other items was a large box of beautiful red kuri squash. The final vegetable was a long bunch of organic collard greens. We didn’t have collard greens where I grew up in New Brunswick and the first time I’d even heard of them was when Granny Moses and Pat Boone were literally singing their praises on an episode of the Beverley Hillbillies.
            
My guide through the shelves was the guy that hardly ever says anything and just walks beside you while gesturing at each shelf.
            
There was a variety of cereal on this occasion and I noticed a bag of spoon size shredded wheat without the box. That’s one of my favourite kinds but it tends to be too expensive at the supermarket.
            
I took a small can of pizza sauce and also a tube of Mutti tomato sauce with vegetables from Parma, Italy.
            
There was no soup shelf this trip and there was no canned tuna either, but there were cans of luncheon meat. I selected a can of chickpeas and a container of mustard with jalapeno. He gave me five vanilla flavoured granola bars and I grabbed a bag of ginger flavoured coconut chips. My final selection was a snack, the packaging of which fooled me into picking it. I thought I was taking peanuts because the picture on the cover of the bag shows peanut shaped and coloured treats and the word “peanuts” is prominently displayed on the package as well. But it turns out that the main ingredient is corn flour, fashioned into the shape of peanuts while ground peanuts are part of the coating, along with tomato powder and yeast. That seems like a sleazily deceptive way to package a product.
            
I skipped the bread because I had some at home.
            
My food bank visit scored a fair amount of dairy this time and a pretty good selection of vegetables, though the meat was pretty sparse.
            
When I was unlocking my bike, the hyper enthusiastic blond woman came out with her box of groceries. She turned around and backed herself up to a guy in line and because her hands were full, she asked him to pull up her pants for her, which I guess under her coat were slipping down. He obliged her and as she was walking away she asked, “Did that make you hard?” “Not yet!” he replied.

   

Two young men arrived together and we explained the situation. They waited inside and complained that Social Services was not releasing the cheque until October 31st and so they wouldn’t have any money for Halloween weekend. 

Branding Buddha

Written By Christian Christian 30/10/2017
It was a relief to get up on Saturday without the heat being on. There is no way to control the heat in my apartment and so when it is on it is on full blast no matter what the temperature is outside. It was nice this time to do my yoga in comfort.

I got ready to go to the food bank at 9:30 and even packed an umbrella in anticipation of standing for several minutes in the rain. When I got there though there was one unattended cart in the rain on the sidewalk and only two people standing in the entryway. I had the thought that maybe there’d been a memo that I had not received. Before bothering lock my bike I went to the door to ask if the food bank was open. The Ethiopian guy who’s usually there with his little dog was standing inside with another regular food bank client. He told me that the food bank had already opened and they were just waiting to be called down. I went back to lock my bike and then returned to the doorway. The Ethiopian guy said he was going to go downstairs but the other man warned that they were probably just going to tell him to go back up here and wait. He went anyway. The other man told me I could go ahead and try but I insisted on staying because he was ahead of me. He informed me that he’d already gotten his food and he was just getting ready to leave, so I went downstairs. The Ethiopian guy was standing outside of the shopping room and I went to stand behind him, but Angie saw us through the window and shouted that we weren’t supposed to come down until someone had called us, so we went back upstairs where he stood inside the doorway and I stood outside under the canopy but leaning on the door to keep it open. I asked him where his pom-chi was and he answered that he’d left him at home because of the rain. Two young men arrived together and we explained the situation. They waited inside and complained that Social Services was not releasing the cheque until October 31st and so they wouldn’t have any money for Halloween weekend. I checked my bank account online later out of curiosity and saw that it looks like the an amount similar to my usual cheque was deposited. When money goes in at midnight on Friday my account doesn’t show the name of the depositor until the next business day but it’ll probably say “Metro Toronto MSP/DIV” on Monday, so I don’t know what those guys were talking about. Maybe they are on ODSP and it has a different deposit date than my Ontario Works cheques.   
To my left, under the canopy, under her sleeping bag, with a green PVC tarpaulin sheet on top of that, was the still-sleeping homeless woman. I wondered out loud what she was going to do when it got colder. The Ethiopian guy looked out at her and shook his head in pity. The two young men looked at her as well and one of them asked, “The Native woman?”

A few people with groceries came up from downstairs. The young guys were getting impatient and so they went to the basement. The big Jamaican woman came up with her food and the Ethiopian guy asked her if anybody was down there. She shook her head. He told me he was going down. I waited because I didn’t want to get yelled at again, but after a couple of minutes, since the others didn’t seem to have been booted back upstairs, I went down as well. When I got there I saw that they were being served. That’ll teach me to do what I’m told!      

I guess because they had started so early (I assume because of the rain) that not all of the volunteers had arrived, the food bank was understaffed. The woman that processed me at the computer jumped up from the desk to run over and serve me in the meat and dairy section.

They were offering two-litre cartons of milk this time but I turned it down because I had three bags at home and I didn’t think I could go through it all fast enough for some of it to not go sour. The yogourt was a 650-gram container of probiotic lactose free vanilla yogourt. After checking to make sure it wasn’t artificially sweetened, I took it. The meat selections as usual were a choice between frozen ground chicken and frozen halal chicken wieners. I still have two tubes of chicken in my freezer so I chose the hot dogs. She asked if I wanted a pack of soy cheese slices but I told her they taste like horse sweat.
Then Angie came out from the back and served me from the vegetable section. There was a bag of frozen peas, three cobs of corn, a large red pepper, two 680-gram bags of mini-potatoes, three onions and two hard black avocadoes. While Angie was serving me, Sylvia came out from the back said, “Hi Sweetie!” to me and stood beside Angie to wait for her to go back to her usual station, which she did. But since there was no client coming up for vegetables next, Sylvia decided to go ahead and serve me at the shelves.

Like last time, the only cereal available was the Special K protein crunch, so I took a box. It’s not bad and actually better than the regular Special K, though I find it strange that they’ve branded it as a type of Special K, since it has no flavour or even texture characteristics that would justify it being derived from the original. By contrast, Honey Nut Cheerios still have the character of Cheerios and Cocoa Crispies remain recognizable as being a type of Rice Crispies.       
    
There was plenty of pasta and rice but the only thing I took from that section was a can of organic tomato sauce.            

The canned tuna was absent this time but there were little cans of sardines in tomato sauce. Canned beans were plentiful and I took a tin of chickpeas. 
          
The only canned soup they had were ones of chicken broth, but I saw among them a package and I guess I was sold by the words “spicy chicken” so I grabbed that. I’d thought it was a soup mix to which one would add boiling water and it would turn into a delicious spicy chicken soup. When I got it home though I realized it was a “soup kit” and it required the additions of chicken broth, chicken, a red pepper and a can of diced tomatoes. Oh well, it wasn’t going to go bad before the next time I had those ingredients.            
I took a bottle of Greek feta and Oregano salad dressing.            

Sylvia handed me five Star Wars vanilla cake granola bars just like the kind that Jedi knights eat. Next to those were 40-gram bags of Hungry Buddha pumpkin spice flavoured coconut chips with turmeric. On another shelf, to wash that down were half-litre containers of Thirsty Buddha coconut water. Both products were Buddha brand with the same image of a little bald and chubby cartoon Buddha sitting in the lotus position and holding his hands in the prayer position. There are so many products using the name of Buddha that it seems the Christians and Muslims are missing out on a wealth of marketing opportunities. There is no “Ravenous Jesus Pasta and Sauce” or “Jesus Brand Loaves and Fishes”. I was about to say that there is no Jesus brand wine but then I looked it up. There was a California wine called “Jesus Juice” but they had to fold under religious pressure. There is a brand of peanut butter port beer though with the name “Sweet Baby Jesus”. There are surf products under the title “Jesus Surfed” but don’t try to put out any lines of clothing with the name “Jesus” because the Italian company, “Jesus Jeans” have copyrighted the name “Jesus” for any clothing and they will sue your pants off. As for Mohammed, there are obvious reasons why that religious figure’s name is not commercialized, but it goes even further. Despite the fact that Mohammed is a popular name for boys, the Muslim community didn’t even want the name to be put on personalized bottles of Coca Cola.            

The last section was the bread, but I had plenty at home.   
        
As I was unlocking my bike, the homeless Native woman partially pulled don her sleeping bag and half sat up, grumbling to herself. One of the younger guys that I’d seen earlier came out with his food, said “Here Hon!” and handed her a package of saltines. “Oh, thank you!” she said, and it seemed to cheer her up.       
   
I was finished at the food bank by 10:15, fifteen minutes before it was supposed to open. If the rain were to always cause them to open that early I would have no problem with it raining every Saturday morning. I would almost be willing to get yelled at too.
            
        
            
 
 

I was curious later to find out if a renowned rich country like Dubai had food banks. There are two, and they not only coordinate with several supermarkets, food factories and farms, but also with eighty mosques that each have charity fridges to which worshippers are encouraged to bring donations. The food banks in Dubai not only feed the local poor but they export food to refugee camps outside of the country.

Indifferently Conflicting Theatres of the Absurd

Written By Christian Christian 23/10/2017

On Saturday morning I went to the food bank for the first time in three weeks. I assume I missed the Thanksgiving turkey handout but it had been unavoidable because I had an essay to write and couldn’t spare the time to go and stand in a lineup.
            
After locking my bike I asked the African guy standing off from the back of the line if he knew who the last person in line was. He told me it was the guy in the black baseball cap. I guess though that I should have confirmed that with somebody else just to be sure.
            
Both Wayne and Bart were further ahead in line and each was ranting as incomprehensibly as ever, except that Wayne is louder, funnier and he dances while doing it. Bart is a little more grotesque in the things he blurts out but instead of dancing he sometimes assumes Hip-hop poses. They never seem to interact or respond to one another in any way through their coprolalia and so having them both in the same place at the same time is like hearing the blasting of two different radios tuned to two separate broadcasts of two distinct monologues from two unrelated branches of the theatre of the absurd.
My position in line seemed to be very close to the epicenter of that line-up’s smoking community, and so I wandered off to breathe cleaner air while reading Nella Larsen’s “Passing” for my 20th Century United States Literature course. Set in the late 1920s when segregation was in full force, the novel is one of the classics of the Harlem Renaissance. It centers on a Black woman named Irene, who could pass for White but has never tried. Irene reencounters after an old friend named Clare who had disappeared from Irene’s community for several years. It turns out that Clare has all this time been fully passing for White and is somewhat trapped in the lifestyle. She is married to a racist White man who does not know she is a Negro and who in fact despises people of African descent to the point that he would never even sink to speaking to one of them. Clare has reached out to Irene because she is the only bridge to her own past. It’s an interesting story but I find Larsen’s writing to be full of bad, poorly used adjectives and amateurish compared to other writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
            
When the tall man who seems to, at least on Saturdays, manage the food bank came walking slowly up the street, Wayne called out, “Everybody on their knees and bow down!” I doubt if Wayne made the same association, but the man really does carry himself like a Nubian king.
            
It seems to be a new and welcome trend that the food bank opens on time on Saturdays. I stayed parallel with my position in line as it moved, but further out on the sidewalk, to avoid the smoke. When I finally stepped into my spot I had to affirm to an older Polish man and a young Black woman that I was indeed ahead of them. The Polish man though shed some doubt on my having been there before him. When he shrugged and declared that he didn’t care I decided that he might be right so I told him he could go ahead of me.
            
I looked over at Wayne and saw him with his head back, holding an empty plastic wine bottle vertically in his mouth without using his hands. Then he walked to the garbage can near me to drop it in the slot but the man in front of me held out his hand for the bottle. Wayne pulled the bottle away from him and shook his head, saying, “You don’t want that! It’s got germs!” and then he dropped it in the slot. Wayne didn’t understand that he wanted the bottle so he could cash it in at the Beer Store for the twenty-cent deposit. It seemed a waste to throw good money away.
            
The Tool Library had an A-frame blackboard sign on the street in front of the entrance, near where the food bank doorkeeper was standing. From a little further back in line, a skinny older man who looked like he might be either Somalian or Ethiopian came forward to ask her about it. She only had the patience to tell him that it wasn’t a book library but a tool library. When he came back to sit down I explained to him that if one pays $50 a year to the Tool Library they can come and borrow any of their tools, including some musical instruments. He was impressed and thought $50 to be a reasonable price. He said he’d like to learn to play guitar. I told him that he could also borrow musical instruments from the Toronto Public Library but I assumed that might be only at certain branches. I found out later that it’s only our very own Parkdale branch of the library that lends instruments. That’s another of the many reasons to love Parkdale.
            
The man I’d just spoken with noticed that the shopping cart belonging to the young woman behind me had a list of major European cities such as Rome and Paris. He proudly told her that he had traveled to most of those places. He said he had worked in Dubai where salaries are tax free and where once a year one gets to fly for free to anywhere in the world. I guess that’s how he went to all of those cities.
            
I was curious later to find out if a renowned rich country like Dubai had food banks. There are two, and they not only coordinate with several supermarkets, food factories and farms, but also with eighty mosques that each have charity fridges to which worshippers are encouraged to bring donations. The food banks in Dubai not only feed the local poor but they export food to refugee camps outside of the country.

 At one point the man slipped through the wooden gate that leads to the alley between 1499 and 1501 Queen Street West. While there he spent at least a minute shooting off snot rockets with long and loud sonic trails. The woman behind me let out a disgusted groan.
            
Downstairs I got number 30.
            
Angie’s meat and dairy section had no eggs for the first time in months. She gave me two half-liters of milk, four small fruit-bottom yogourt cups, two cans of club soda, and two cans of Rubicon soda, one of pomegranate and the other of pineapple-coconut. Finally she gave me a tube of frozen ground chicken and asked me how my reading was going. I said, “Pretty good.”
            
Samantha was minding the vegetable section. I turned down the offer of a bag of frozen peas because I still had two from before and my freezer is in severe need of defrosting to the point that, if I don’t chisel the ice away from time to time the storage area is in danger of shrinking to the size of single slice toaster slot. She gave me a handful of oddly shaped carrots, another of potatoes, two apples, five radishes, two cobs of corn and a yellow pepper.
            
There was a bit of a backup for the shelves, despite the fact that there were four volunteers helping people shop. While we were waiting, the Polish man ahead of me turned and handed me a tube of frozen ground chicken. I thought that I must have dropped mine and he’d picked it up, but I realized when I got home that I had two.
            
I had hoped that one of the other volunteers would serve me because I didn’t want to deal with the woman who’d told me to “hurry up” the last time I’d been there. Sure enough though, it was her I got. Before we started I wanted to make it clear to her what she had done and that she should never do it again. I told her that if she were working in a supermarket she would not be allowed to tell her customers to “hurry up”. She told me she didn’t remember saying what I’d recounted but she apologized if she had. I stated that as long as she’d confirm that she’d never talk to me that way again we could proceed. She agreed and we went through the shelves.
            
The only cereal they had were boxes of vanilla flavoured Special K, so I took one. Under those were tubes of wasabi-flavoured potato chips.
            
There was plenty of pasta and rice but as usual I didn’t take any. I did take a can of pasta sauce though.
            
There were hand packed, half-kilo bags of flour and a choice between white or whole wheat, so I took the darker stuff.
            
The shelves were fairly well stocked for the first time in several weeks, with more protein than usual. There was peanut butter, though the kind with sugar added, so I passed. There was canned meat and tuna and so I took the fish. There were a variety of canned beans from which I grabbed some chickpeas. From the soups I chose a can of organic lentil.
            
From the bin of snack bars she gave me four sweet and salty peanut bars, a blueberry fruit crisp bar, a peanut breakfast square and a small bag of duck shaped cheddar crackers.
            
One shelf offered various boxes of crackers, one brand of which she recommended, but I chose a bag of sweet chili whole grain tortilla chips flecked with sprouted flax, quinoa, chia, broccoli and radish seeds. I was curious how they got all of that stuff into one chip.
            
She directed me to the bread but I told her I was fine in that regard and that I was done. On my way out she called, “Sorry again about last time!”            
            
 
 

 I took a few extra seconds to decide between the ranch and the Caesar and she told me to hurry up. I don’t appreciate that. It’s difficult enough for people to come to the food bank, so to be treated rudely by being rushed breaks the pack animal’s back. I probably go through the shelves faster than most clients because of the many items that I turn down and so she particularly has no right to tell me to hurry up. 

Food Bank Clients Should Not Be Told to "Hurry Up"

Written By Christian Christian 25/09/2017
The food bank line-up on Saturday morning was much shorter than usual, even for the end of the month when all the regulars have a much better chance of still having money. I was behind a middle-aged woman of East Asian background with dyed black hair, the grey roots of which were for some reason tinted orange. I guess maybe she tried dyeing only her roots and something went awry.
            
Angie and the Bankettes came up for a cigarette at around 10:00, which suggested that they planned on opening the food bank at least on time.
            
I went downstairs to use the washroom and who do I find waiting for the Tool Library to open but Dawn Lyons and Den Ciul, the married couple that I know from Bike Pirates, where she volunteers cooking meals and he volunteers teaching people how to fix their bikes. They also have a business called Claviers Baroque in which they build, repair and tune various historical keyboard instruments. I asked if they lived around there and Dawn told me that they’ve lived on Fuller Avenue for 35 years now. That’s just a couple of blocks away and I assume their business and home must be in the same location. I usually impress people when I tell them I’ve had my place for 20 years, but Dawn and Den have got me beat. Dawn said they’ve lived in Parkdale pretty much longer than anybody. She told me that a friend of theirs was moving around the corner and so they were borrowing a handcart so they could help her out. Changes in government assistance have dropped their friend’s income and so she needed a cheaper place. That reminded me of the financial shock that I went through when my daughter became an adult and moved out, which not only cut off the Child Tax Benefit but also reduced the amount that I received from Social Services. At first I had difficulty adjusting and so I went to my social worker to see if I could get some extra funds until I became accustomed to the change. I’d just been assigned a new one as they tend to do every year or so, I assume because they don’t want clients to form relationships with their workers because that would evoke sympathy. Anyway, this worker, new to me but certainly not new to social services, since he looked like he’d been there for decades, was a real asshole. He told me that I should move out of my one bedroom apartment where I paid less than $600 a month and into a room. Dawn informed me that the market rent for a room now with shared facilities is $625.
The Tool Library opened and they went in, so I continued on my way to the washroom. When I was back upstairs I didn’t see Dawn and Den come out, probably because I was reading Sui Sin Far’s story, “Mrs. Spring Fragrance” for my 20th Century US Literature course. First published in 1910, it was about Chinese immigrants adjusting to how their next generation’s attitudes towards marriage changed from the old family arranged marriages to those in which attraction was key.
            
The wind kept changing directions and so I got a lot of exercise walking either west or east to avoid the second hand smoke.
            
The homeless woman had been still slumbering in her sleeping bag when I’d arrived, but now she got up, packed up her things, limped over to line up her three beer bottle empties on the sidewalk beside the city recycling and garbage can, then she left. She had been so careful not to make a mess, while a guy that came a little later opened some batteries while walking past the garbage can and just tossed the package indifferently over his shoulder. Someone else from the line-up put the homeless woman’s beer bottles in his cart to cash in later.
            
The food bank opened on time for the second week in a row. It would be nice if that turns into a persistent trend. I’m sure I’m not the only client that has other things to do besides stand around all morning. The line moved quite quickly too.
            
The woman that was watching the door seemed to be having a quiet argument with her boyfriend, who was there independent of the food bank. I don’t know what it was about but something he said upset her. He seemed immune though to her emotional state as he came up to say something smug and then swagger down the street.
            
The Polish guy that was now at the front of the line kept trying to engage the doorkeeper in conversation but she was wearing earbuds and listening to music, so he had to say, “Excuse me!” a few times before each exchange. She pulled her buds out and then he pointed to the guy with the shaved head that was sitting and smoking in front of PARC and said, “Puff, puff, puff all the time!” She smiled and put her buds back in. Then he said, “Excuse me!” about three more times before she took them out again and he told her, “Twenty-five year now, no smoking! I’m very happy!” She said, “That’s really great! I wish I could do that!”
            
Downstairs I got number 13.
            
Angie gave me the usual half-litre carton of 2% milk, though it was a different brand this time and from Pembroke. The four eggs she gave me were large again though not brown like the ones from the week before and a lot fresher. Two of the yolks from the last four broke just from the impact of being dropped into the frying pan, which is supposedly a sign that an egg isn’t fresh. She passed me four small stirred yogourt cups. There were three meat choices: frozen ground chicken, frozen hot dogs or frozen breakfast sausages. I took the sausages.
            
The only things that I didn’t accept from Sylvia’s vegetable section were beets, large red cabbages and potatoes. I already had plenty of potatoes and I just didn’t want any beets or cabbage this time. I did take three orange peppers, one yellow one, two leeks, six carrots, an onion and two apples.
            
My helper at the shelves was the persnickety older Ukrainian lady. She wanted me to hold my bag open like a trick-or-treater while she dropped my selections in. There were a few choices of cereal, including the organic puffed cornflakes with freeze-dried fruit that I’d gotten last week, which wasn’t bad. I chose instead a box of Shreddies because I loved them when I was a kid.
            
There was no pasta sauce and there hasn’t been for a long time.
            
There was once again no tuna or peanut butter. I eschewed the fairly large variety of crackers that they had on offer.
            
There was a considerable selection of beans and I took the one can of beans with pork and molasses.
            
I grabbed a box of five Nature Valley peanut bars.
            
She handed me two packages of Ranch salad dressing mix but when I read the instructions later I saw that to make it I would need two litres each of buttermilk and mayonnaise. This stuff must be normally sold to restaurants that deal in volume.
            
On top of the last shelf there were a few bottles of salad dressing, among other things. I took a few extra seconds to decide between the ranch and the Caesar and she told me to hurry up. I don’t appreciate that. It’s difficult enough for people to come to the food bank, so to be treated rudely by being rushed breaks the pack animal’s back. I probably go through the shelves faster than most clients because of the many items that I turn down and so she particularly has no right to tell me to hurry up. I picked the ranch dressing but I noticed afterwards that there was mayonnaise in the back, which I would have preferred and might have found if I hadn’t been rushed. If we were paying to shop there and she were a paid employee, she would be fired if she told her clients to hurry. If I get her as a helper next time I will tell her that I will allow her to serve me if she agrees not to tell me to hurry, otherwise I will recommend that she work in the back where she doesn’t have to deal with human beings.  
 
 
 

Wayne, while watching the pom-chi, commented that his dog was a cat. He said, “I’ve had my cat for eleven years and it’s 133 years old. It’s afraid of women. Whenever a woman comes over it hides under the bed.

Happy About the Pickles

Written By Christian Christian 25/09/2017
On Saturday morning I was re-reading Augustine’s dialogue, “On Free Choice of Will” and looking for a famous quote, “Unless you believe you shall not understand” for my Early Medieval Philosophy course. We would be having our first tutorial on the next Tuesday and our weekly assignment is to answer in a paragraph one of the prescribed questions on the reading material or else come up with our own. I planned to make a question and response to the above quote but I needed to find where it was in the text. Professor Deborah Black had quoted it during her lecture on the subject and I knew the phrase came from Augustine but didn’t recall seeing it in this particular dialogue. I didn’t have time to finish looking for it before going to the food bank, so I printed the last ten pages and took them with me. 
           
As I was locking my bike I saw the prematurely grey guy that used to volunteer at the food bank crossing the street. For no particularly logical reason I hurried up so I could get in line ahead of him. What difference would it have made if I’d been behind him? Probably none, but I’m mildly competitive from time to time.
           
I think that I might have heard someone call the prematurely grey haired guy Brock. I might have been mistaken but until I hear otherwise I’m going to refer to him as Brock because he really does look like a Brock.
           
Brock commented on how disorganized the line always is and related that it had been suggested when they were at the previous location that they set up a rope to create a corridor that would keep people in line. The board of directors though decided that such a set-up might make food bank clients feel too much like cattle.
Brock also wondered why at the new location they haven’t let clients wait inside like they said they were going to do before they moved. I told him that the explanation they gave me was they weren’t allowed to let everyone in because of fire regulations. He pointed out that when the food bank was on Sorauren everyone waited inside. I think that’s true for all of the other food banks in Toronto. I suspect that at the new location they could utilize their space more efficiently and actually make room for at least a small waiting area for ten people at a time. The outside line-up was more sheltered at the King Street space, so I suspect it’s going to be colder standing on Queen Street in the middle of winter.
           
Betina, my former yoga student who volunteers at the food bank, came out with a box of food and said hi. I guessed she’d put in her time downstairs and was leaving with some groceries. She commented that there didn’t seem to be as much pressure and so there was less air pollution that day. I looked up and around, shrugged and said, “I guess so”, though I really didn’t notice any difference one way or the other.
           
The Ethiopian guy with the tattoos was there with his pom-chi mutt. He said, “Hi brother!” then noticing me reading my stapled sheets of text, smiled approvingly and commented, “You’re always studying!”
           
A woman walking west had an un-leashed dog (I think it was a miniature pinscher) trailing her. It stopped to present its behind to the pom-chi, who used his nose to study it with interest. The dog’s caregiver kept on walking and finally called, “Leslie, let’s go!” Leslie, now with a happy erection, followed after her.
           
Wayne was there with his big cigar but wearing a bucket hat this time. He was somehow just behind me in line but I hadn’t seen him when I’d arrived. As Wayne danced, Brock declared to no one in particular that he was having a much better time than he was.
           
Wayne’s friend came up from further back in line to give him a fancy, short-sleeved white short. He tried it on and approved.
           
I’ve never seen Wayne smoke his cigar all the way. He holds it in his mouth for a while until it goes out and then he switches to a cigarette, which he actually finishes. The guy behind Brock wanted to bum a cigarette but Wayne was listening to his music and had his eyes closed, so he reached for the left headphone to get his attention. Wayne opened his eyes and exclaimed, “Don’t touch!”
           
Wayne, while watching the pom-chi, commented that his dog was a cat. He said, “I’ve had my cat for eleven years and it’s 133 years old. It’s afraid of women. Whenever a woman comes over it hides under the bed.
 
The food bank van pulled up with several boxes of bread and Brock helped the driver carry them downstairs. Lana, who was watching the door, asked Brock why he was in line. He reminded her that he hasn’t volunteered there since before April and he was trying to avoid doing it again. She laughed. He explained further that he’d just blown all of his money on his 44th birthday and now he needed food.
           
By some miracle the food bank opened on time for a change. For the first time in a long time, our line up was going in while the people outside of PARC were still waiting for the doors to open to let them in for the free breakfast. Someone over by the PARC entrance called out my name. It was a guy that has always called my name and waved to me with extreme enthusiasm ever since I first started teaching yoga at PARC. Every Friday on my way upstairs to the Healing Centre I would pause in the drop-in centre to shout an announcement about my yoga class. He would always call my name and wave, but, but like most everyone there, never came to my class.
 
A woman in a wheelchair, whom I think is Wayne’s neighbour on the third floor of 1499 Queen, asked him for two quarters. He told her that his quarters were in his other pants, but he started asking other people for two quarters for her, while at the same time asking her what she needed two quarters for. “I wanna buy a coffee!” What’d you do with your money?” “I spent it!” “What’d you spend your money on? You don’t drink or smoke!” I think he must have been joking there, since she’s always smoking.
 
When I got downstairs I didn’t even check to see what number I’d gotten before I dropped it in the coffee can. I assume though from the size of the line-up this time that it was something like 33.
 
Angie didn’t seem to be there this time. Minding the dairy and meat section instead of her was the young woman that was behind the computer last time. There was no dairy at all on this occasion but rather several dairy substitutes, such as soy and almond. It all tastes like chalk, but I took the one-litre carton of almond-coconut. Of all the nut and bean milks, coconut is the only one that actually produces something like milk naturally rather than having to be blended with water first and then strained. There was no yogourt on offer either but rather a choice of plain and vanilla flavoured cultured coconut. I took the vanilla. The meat choice was between the usual boring frozen ground chicken and a slightly smaller package of frozen ground Ontario pork. There were eggs as usual but this time rather than the four pee-wee sized white ones they were large and brown. She offered me a container to put them in, which was just plastic tub like those that hold sour cream. It would have taken up three times as much room as the eggs, so I just put mine in a pocket of my backpack. Most people still believe that brown eggs are more nutritious than white, and I guess that’s the reason why they are more expensive. The only proven difference is that brown eggs have slightly more omega 3.
 
From Sylvia’s vegetable section I received two leeks, a head of leaf lettuce, four plumb tomatoes that were mostly in good shape, a small narrow eggplant, six carrots, seven potatoes, two lemons marbled between green and yellow and a bag of salad greens that I assume came from the garden lady.
 
My helper at the shelves was a young, full figured Black woman with a pretty face.
 
In the cereal section there were mostly sugared kids cereals but I selected a package of “Indigo Morning”, made with whole grain corn, organic cane syrup, freeze dried blackberries and freeze dried blueberries. I assume it was donated by whoever brought the nut milks and the cultured coconut. I’ll bet it’s just as sweet though as the sugared kid’s cereals.
 
I skipped the pasta and there was no pasta sauce again this time.
 
The soup section had a choice between a can of Chunky soup and a carton of chicken broth. I find the broth much more useful.
 
There was no tuna this time and the only canned beans were red kidney.
 
I took a bag of buffalo wing flavoured popcorn, a handful of chewy granola bars, another jar of pickles and eight restaurant portions of “honey spread”.
 
I eschewed the bread because I had enough at home.
 
The dairy was the biggest disappointment this week. Unless someone can’t tolerate lactose, nut milks are no substitute for dairy. With the lettuce, the leeks and the other greens, the vegetables were the biggest prize this time around. I would have to go out and buy some salad dressing to go with them though.
 
I was on my way out when I heard Wayne turn down some item with the colourful but unnecessary explanation that, “It gives me the shits!” I turned and saw him at the last shelf and when he looked at the top and reached for the jar of pickles his face lit up, he smiled and almost started dancing again. “Oh yay!” he exclaimed, “I got the pickles!”
 
 

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.