As many of you may know, Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital is centrally located in the downtown core.
The hospital is a fine one, the surrounding neighbourhood, however, not so fine.
In fact, the park next door is a haven for street people and many forlorn souls who live by their wits or the kindness of strangers.
Leaving the hospital today, I met one of them.
My husband and I were approached by a wiry man in clean clothes and shoes and eyes as wild as a caged coyote’s (not that I’ve seen one of those, but anyway….). He held four identification cards out to us with both hands, fanning them like a deck of cards.
Then, he launched into a monologue that was so intricate and detailed I had to pay very close attention to keep up.
He raced out his words like an auctioneer and kept thrusting the cards at us while his eyes darted everywhere except directly at ours. He mentioned being an outpatient at the hospital so for a minute I thought maybe his vision was impaired and he needed help getting inside.
Then the stories started to layer one over the other, like nesting Russian dolls (those, I have seen).
In the span of maybe five minutes, this sinewy guy relayed the following:
- He was a psychiatric outpatient at St. Michael’s Hospital
- He’d served in the Canadian Armed Forces
- He was carrying an ounce of medical marijuana
- Two police officers had stopped him a block away but he didn’t drink or do drugs and he had witnesses
- He just got news his mother in Barrie had had a stroke
- He’d been locked out of his apartment with no cellphone
- The black stripe on his debit card had been demagnetized
- The ATM ate his card
- He needed $20 for a bus ticket to Barrie to see his ailing mother
(I think I’m leaving out a whole chapter that involved his ex-wife and a domestic dispute, but I can’t remember those details.)
We ended up giving him a portion of his fare, most of all because I felt he’d earned it. I had a feeling his story wasn’t true (the buying-a-bus-ticket part, anyway), but I admired the fact that he had crafted such an elaborate one and had delivered it without pausing, barely taking a breath.
He could’ve just extended a paper cup or an open hand but no, he mesmerized us for a moment and it took effort and a certain brazen courage. Not an easy life out there.
P.S. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so here’s Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” Enjoy!