|Tim Hortons on Dundas St., Toronto.|
We were staying in downtown Toronto off of Dundas St. during our holiday in Toronto and the area in which we were staying was called Cabbagetown (Named for the Irish immigrants that originally settled in the area). I found the particular area in which we were staying, just East of the main thoroughfare Yonge St. a social experiment just as some people view the city of Toronto itself. And, this is one of the many reasons why Toronto is one of my favorite cities! The area in which we were staying was diverse in every imaginable sense of the world: Economically, racially, ethnically, and home to a host of thoughts. It appeared that a number of denizens on this stretch of Dundas had varying degrees of mental health. I later learned from a friend who resides in Toronto and is familiar with this area, that there were different group homes, shelters, and assisted adult living facilities located in this area. During our week long stay in Toronto, I found the Tim Hortons, pictured above, reflected the diversity of neighborhood in which it is located.
We had originally planned on eating inside Timmy's, but with the hockey gear we had with us since we had taken the subway to the rink, I decided to wait outside the door while El and the boys got doughnuts to go. As I was waiting, I noticed a gentleman inside who was enthusiastically discussing something with many of the patrons, he then quickly decided to come outside and was directly headed towards me. The gentleman (Let's call him John) was wild haired, in his late 50's, early- 60's, animated, and was carrying on about something. But, he appeared happy and I noticed this while observing him inside.
John approached me and said, "Hey brother, I'm on top of the world." Timmy's is giving me a chance. I'm tickled pink, they are going to give me a job! You see, I usually stand outside, greet people as they enter Timmy's, open the door, wish people a good day. And, I also serve as an unofficial bouncer. I kick the crackheads and the heroin addicts out of the bathrooms trying to get their fix, I make sure no one is fighting, and I help to maintain peace and order. I never ask for a handout, I do this out of my own goodwill and the people at Timmy's recognize that I'm doing a good job and they are willing to give me a chance, I'm so happy." And, as John said this, he produced and shared with me a Tim Hortons business card from his pocket that listed the name of the manager of this particular store.
John then got closer to me and shared his story, "No one has given me a chance. I've lived in children's homes, adult group homes, on the streets, and have been in and out of prison for 23 years." At this point, John was practically in my face and I couldn't help but notice that life had been hard on him. He looked grizzled/preserved, teeth stained, hair unkempt, gravelly voice, he did not look like a stranger to the streets. While looking at John, something on his body caught my eye, a tattoo of tears falling from his right eye, a symbol of multiple meanings (That he has murdered someone, the number of years he has spent in prison, the loss of a loved one or gang member or that he was raped in prison). When I asked John about his prison time he said, "I did everything, a variety of offences."As John was talking and answering my questions he was talking a mile a minute, he seemed a little manic. John reminded me of many of the patients my mom used to work with in Richmond, Va as a clinical social worker for the mentally ill. As my mom and I would walk in some areas of downtown Richmond, close to where she worked and taught, inevitably men and women who resembled John, maybe not always in appearance, but circumstance, would approach my mom and say, "Hi, Ms. Haynes," "Hello, Ms. Haynes." My mom, always gracious in return, would return their greeting and inquire about their well-being. Therefore, when John approached me, I felt like I was speaking with one of my mom's former patients and they, like John, were just looking for someone to speak with, someone to share what was going on....
When John finished sharing his past with me he said, "I have goosebumps, man, I'm so excited to start work. I haven't had a steady job since 1967, I'm ready to contribute to society."
By this time, El and the boys returned outside and I introduced John to my family. I told John it was nice meeting him and I wished him all the best with his new job. He looked at me with a big, warm, smile on his face and as I was departing said, "Thank you, brother!"