If I were to come much earlier for several Saturdays in a row I’m sure that I would find that the first person there would almost always be the first one there, the second would consistently be number two, and so on. 

Collectively then it’s almost as if the food bank line-up is a snaking human timepiece.

Creatures of Habit

Written By Christian Christian 30/.07/2018
We are creatures of habit. I tend to arrive at the food bank at 9:45 and the other regulars are habitually faithful to their favourite times of getting there. If I were to come much earlier for several Saturdays in a row I’m sure that I would find that the first person there would almost always be the first one there, the second would consistently be number two, and so on. Robbie is usually just ahead of me, and that was the case this time. The big, friendly Jamaican woman gets there just after me and others further back in the line end up getting there at each their own specific time every week. Collectively then it’s almost as if the food bank line-up is a snaking human timepiece.
One of the early birds is the ultra skinny sixty-something woman named Brenda. She went back to sit down on the steps of 1501 Queen St west and have a smoke. A large woman with two armfuls of tattoos who’d just arrived asked her if they were going use the number system that day. I said, “I hope so” but Brenda said that she thinks first come first serve is the best system. I argued that with first come first serve people keep coming earlier and earlier just so they can be the front of the line. The food bank and the management of 1499 Queen don’t want people to come there at 7:00, three and a half hours before the food bank opens. Brenda declared, “8:30 is early enough for me!” I added that the random number system stops people from butting in and eliminates disputes over places in line. She continued to be adamant that first come first serve was better because that’s just the way it works everywhere else such as on the TTC or at the race track.
Brenda then began complaining to the tattooed woman about “Orientals” that have the habit of jumping queues. She said she sees them do it all the time at the racetrack and that they even try to push people to get ahead of them. Brenda declared that she pushes right back. She explained that they do it because that’s the way life is in Hong Kong and that's why she doesn't want to go to Hong Kong.
I looked at an online forum on this issue and certainly, most westerners expressed the belief that Chinese people have a tendency to jump queues. I was more interested in Chinese responses to the question and found that they were divided, with some saying it happens a lot in China but with others maintaining that queue jumpers are frowned upon by those that wait in long line-ups in China. It was sensibly pointed out that anywhere in the world where the population outnumbers the services being offered there will be queue jumping and that happens a lot in Europe as well. An example of this in the United States is Black Friday.
Brenda added, "And they pretend they don't understand you but they do. I know you speaky the Inglee! They’re just playing dumb!" This would be hard to prove. I would think though that if one has limited proficiency in a language when a native speaker of that language is angry about something they speed up their voice and their enunciation changes and so it may be very possible that when non-native speakers say they don’t understand, they really don’t.
Speaking of other languages, while waiting I read a couple more pages of Flaubert’s “The Legend of St Julian the Hospitaler”. At the point of Julian's childhood when he takes such pleasure in killing animals that he faints at their moments of death, his father decides to introduce him to the art of hunting. This family is so rich that they have packs of different breeds of dogs for every breed of animal they hunted, plus a squadron of different types of falcons for every kind of bird they would want to bring down. Hunting tended to be a social event but Julian preferred to go out alone with his horse and his Scythian white falcon with the blue feet. I don’t know if white falcons with blue feet actually exist though.
A guy cam up to ask what I was reading and I showed him the cover. He then told me that his daughter wrote a novel called “I Think I Like You”” that is now in its second printing. He said he read it and found four errors, one of them referring to bourbon on her father’s breath. He said that’s wrong because he didn’t start drinking bourbon until he was in college in Ohio. I can’t find any reference to a novel with that title anywhere online.
A short and stocky middle-aged man with a long beard was holding a liter bottle of tea-coloured booze. A cop car drove by and after it passed he said to someone, “I’ve been drinkin every day since I was 14 and the cops are trying to catch me on a breach of parole so they can put me back in jail and so they take pictures of me when they drive by. That’s why I hold the bottle on its side!” I couldn’t see why the bottle being horizontal would make it any less incriminating. He related how he recently was in court and the judge saw from his arrest records that since Grade three every time he’s been arrested it was because of violence. He said that he pointed out to the judge that if he were to read the transcripts he’d see that in every case he hadn’t started a single one of the fights.
Robbie’s sister tends to arrive at least half an hour after he does but always puts her bag on his cart to share his place in line, even though they get their food separately. This is one of the many problems that the random system eliminates.
A cop came out of the west door of 1499 Queen, got on his bike and rode west. Robbie’s sister watched him lasciviously as he pedaled. The big, talkative woman who always comes early said to Robbie’s sister, “You look like you’re about to have an orgasm or are gonna give yourself one later!” Robbie’s sister nodded and kept staring after the bike cop.
This time, as with the last few weeks, we still didn’t use the random number system but rather the first come first serve method. Marlina started letting people in on time at 10:30 and that’s been the case for several weeks in a row.

Downstairs there were more volunteers than usual.

From the shelves I took a bag of sea salt and pepper kettle chips; some jalapeno mustard; a 311-gram bag of blueberry and pecan granola; a 450 ml bottle of orange juice; and a can each of tuna and chickpeas. There was lots of pasta and canned soup but I didn’t take any.

Angie wasn’t there but the young woman whom she’d been training last week was minding the meat and dairy station. I didn’t want any 2% milk but I took the four small fruit bottom yogourts and the tub of organic hummus. I eschewed the frozen ground chicken and hot dogs but pointed at the container of Greek yogourt with honey and was about to offer to exchange the other yogourts for it but she gave it to me anyway.

Just as I was about to step over to Sylvia’s vegetable section a box of bananas fell over with the bunches spilling on the floor. While she was picking them up I said, “The bananas slipped on themselves!”

She gave me four ripe but not rotten bananas; four vine-ripened tomatoes (three of which were fairly firm); a pack of celery sticks; a pear with a couple of soft brown spots; a golden delicious apple and a vegetable marrow. She asked the person after me if she wanted mushrooms, which meant that she’d forgotten to offer me some, so I asked if I could have some and she exclaimed, “Of course you can have some” and handed me a pack of sliced cremini mushrooms.

The older Ukrainian lady, whose name I think might be Marlena, was handling the bread section for the first time and applying to it in her usual businesslike manner. I settled on a package of mini-double-chocolate muffins. I’m sure that Marlena is as nice as the next person, but her manner has the appearance of being unfriendly. It’s not that I would expect her to smile but I can’t imagine that she would last as a counter person in food service if she always looked like she was tolerating you and coldly asked in the end, “We finished?” 

Even when overripe though the Pitaya has to be the most beautiful fruit of all. It looks like an alien angel egg on fire.

Alien Angel Egg on Fire

Written By Christian Christian   23/.07/2018
The full morning’s length of the food bank line-up varies depending on the time of the month. Just before the social service payments are sent out it’s usually a python and just after the cheques come out it usually goes back to being a boa. But at 9:45, when I usually arrive, the line-up tends to be the same length no matter what time of the month it is and my place in it is just east of the east end of the steps in front of the apartment building at 1501 Queen Street West.

The last cart in the line this time was the khaki green one belonging to Robbie. I stepped up to it but asked the two nearest people if there was anyone after the cart. The guy with the longish wavy hair who was leaning against the building and reading a book confirmed that he was after the buggy. I made some space for when he’d decide to step away from the wall and into his place in line, stood behind that space and took out my book. I didn’t stay there long though because of the second-hand smoke. The breeze was blowing from the east and so I had to walk east of the people smoking in front of PARC in order to avoid their fumes. After a while, those people butted out and I was able to move closer to my place in line again.

Angie came up for her cigarette and said to me, “Hi bookworm!”

The regular group that comes early and stands in a circle to smoke and chat together were also near the steps. The big woman always sways from side to side when she’s standing and talking. The skinny woman wanted to make sure their circle was far enough out from the pigeons on the edge of 1501 Queen. She declared, “Pigeon shit is toxic” and then she lit a cigarette.

Justin Zaza came out of 1501 and asked what I was reading. I showed him the cover and he read the title out loud, “English stories”. Then he said, “I read an English story once!” and walked away.

About twenty minutes later Justin came back and asked if I’d finished the book yet. I told him it would take me years because it’s in both French and English. “Do you speak French?” he inquired. “A little bit,” I explained briefly the format of this type of book and he thought it was cool that the English and French are mirrored on opposite pages.

I read a couple of pages of Flaubert’s “The Legend of St Julian the Hospitaler”. For three days after Julian was born, there was a continuous party in the castle that was officiated over by the father while the mother rested in bed. On the third night, the mother woke to see an old man standing under a moonbeam by her window. He said to her, “Rejoice, mother, your son will be a saint” then rose up the moonbeam and disappeared. The next morning at sunrise, after the father had escorted the final guest to the gate, from out of the morning mist appeared a Gypsy who said, “Your son … much blood … much glory … always happy” and then disappeared in the fog. Neither parent told the other about their visions, but because of them, they considered their son to be extra special and raised him accordingly.

I saw a guy open the door of the three-holed litter and recycling bin across from the food bank and meticulously go through the garbage. I asked him if he finds anything good. After closing the door he showed me a beer can, which he put in his buggy before continuing east. Without breaking his step he reached out and checked the coin slot of the green parking meter in front of PARC as he passed it. 
At 10:30 we all got into line and shortly after that, two women whom I hadn’t seen all morning came and said to the two guys a bit behind me, “Thanks for holding our place for us” and then they inserted themselves ahead of twenty people. Shortly after that, the doorkeeper, whom I’d thought was named Martina, but somebody called her Marlina, let the first five people in. When I was close to the front I asked her when the number system was coming back and she said maybe at the end of this month. After the first group of five had gone downstairs, whatever number of people came back out she would let that number go in. I went down alone.

I didn’t take much from the shelves this time, as I didn’t need any more bran cereal, granola, or pasta; instead of granola bars they had little packs of Dad’s cookies, which didn’t appeal to me and I passed on the canned soup because it was just too warm outside to even think about eating hot soup. All I took was a bag of twelve individually wrapped Earl Grey teabags from Fairmont Hotels; a can of tuna and a tin of chickpeas and a box of Carr table water crackers. Water crackers, like Newfoundland bread, are made from basically just flour and water, come out hard and were designed to last better than regular bread over long sea voyages.

Beside Angie in her dairy and meat section was a young woman who gave me a 1.75 litre carton of orange juice; four small containers of fruit-bottom yogourt and three eggs. In addition to the usual frozen ground chicken and hot dogs were frozen packs of sliced Black Forest ham, so I took one of those.

Sylvia gave me a handful of heirloom tomatoes, most of which were soft; about ten small potatoes; a dragon fruit and was about to give me some onions but I told her I had enough. She said, “If you say you have enough, I believe you!” “Why would I lie?” “Exactly! Why would you lie?” 

From the bread section, I took a bag of blueberry bagels.

The dragon fruit was pretty squishy on the skin but once I’d cut the outer part away from the slightly greyish white inside with its constellation of tiny black seeds was fine. Even when overripe though the Pitaya has to be the most beautiful fruit of all. It looks like an alien angel egg on fire.

He went on to say that a lot of them scavenge metal for a living. I said, “That sounds like work to me.” It also sounds like a service to the city but apparently, the city makes money from some of the materials that go into blue boxes and from picking up appliances that are put on the curb and so it’s against the law for citizens to scavenge from recycling bins or discarded appliances. I assume that most of the scavenging is of abandoned metal but Moe said that sometimes they take metal that is in use and attached to buildings. 

Scrap Metal Scavengers

Written By Christian Christian   16/.07/2018
On Saturday morning I was working on my book cover and felt very sleepy even though I'd drank most of a strong cup of coffee. I couldn’t go to bed because sleeping at that hour screws up my schedule, and besides, I had to go to the food bank.
It had not been extremely hot in my apartment but it felt like a day for wearing sandals and I was right. Outside it was not a blast furnace like some days have been recently but it was a sneaky, muggy heat and every bit of cooling clothing helps.
Several people on the street were eating something white when I arrived and so I assumed that someone from the food bank had come up and passed a snack out to everyone. It turns out that just before I got there a stranger had come around, handed out egg, ham and egg and ham sandwiches along with bottles of water and then quickly left.
My spot was behind the plaid cart that belongs to the guy with the neck tattoo who broods and paces up and down the street since he quit smoking and whom I’ve heard others call Jack. He definitely looks like a Jack and even wears the kind of flat cap that I assume is only worn by people named Jack.
In my book of French stories with the French text on the left and the translation on the right I started reading Gustav Flaubert’s "The Legend of St Julian the Hospitaller". It's set in medieval times but based on the legend of St Julian, the early Christian saint, born in 7 AD. The first two pages lead up to Julian’s birth and describe the lavish surroundings of his father’s castle, complete with a mote and archer on the battlement. But these were peaceful times and the guard spends a lot of time sleeping in the tower.
I stepped out of line to avoid the smoke and walked west up the street a bit. Moe came walking east and said hello, then about twenty minutes later he came back and stopped to chat. He complained about the heat and said he'd like to go to Sunnyside Pool and cool off but there are too many kids there. I said, “Imagine that! Children at a swimming pool!” He said these kids are all from Europe and don’t know how to behave. I asked what part of Europe he was talking about and he said that the kids are mostly Gypsies whose parents have never worked a day in their lives. “So you think that all the Gypsies in Toronto are on welfare?” “Most of them.” He went on to say that a lot of them scavenge metal for a living. I said, “That sounds like work to me.” It also sounds like a service to the city but apparently, the city makes money from some of the materials that go into blue boxes and from picking up appliances that are put on the curb and so it’s against the law for citizens to scavenge from recycling bins or discarded appliances. I assume that most of the scavenging is of abandoned metal but Moe said that sometimes they take metal that is in use and attached to buildings. I don’t know about that. I also don’t know about the claim that most of the Roma in Toronto are on social assistance. It sounds like Moe might be perpetuating a bigoted myth. It’s not easy living on welfare so I doubt many people would choose it as a permanent lifestyle.
Moe left because he had to get home and watch the World Cup football game between Belgium and England. Belgium won. 
Our regular doorkeeper, Martina left in the van with the manager and so a volunteer with dark red hennaed hair whom I don’t usually see on Saturdays and who I remember handled reception at the old location was managing the door. She let the first five clients in right on time at 10:30 but the line moved very slowly after that. The doorkeeper was even wondering what was going on and commented, “Even I’m not that slow!” The big man in the wide green suspenders with the Keith’s Ale logo on each one offered the view that what was probably holding things up was the big woman who went down in the first group of five. He held up his right and flapped his fingers together several times onto his thumb to indicate someone that can’t stop gabbing.
On the way downstairs there was a guy behind me that I hadn’t seen in line so I was thinking at first that he was butting in but I think he might have been Sylvia’s son because when she saw him she went looking for her purse.
When I was at the back of the line up for the reception desk downstairs the doorkeeper impressed me by calling me by name and asking for my birth date. When I told her said that she should have remembered that. I would have been extremely impressed if she had. She checked me off and I went to the shelves.
I took a bag of teabags with no label but I think the tea is chai; a box of granola; a handful of sweet and salty granola bars; a can of chickpeas and another of tuna. The soup shelf had quite a few canned soups but who wants hot soup in this weather?
Angie gave me a 1.75-litre carton of grape juice; three eggs and four small containers of fruit on the bottom peach mango Greek yogourt. I’m really liking the Greek yogourt and it’s the only kind that I buy now. It’s the only product that I’ve been introduced to by the food bank that turned into a shopping habit. It seems to me that if food companies were smart they would donate a certain percentage of their fresh and not just short dated output to food banks as a means of promotion. People tend not to use food banks forever and if they try a product from the food bank that they like they will buy it when they’re back on their feet.
Angie asked if I wanted frozen ground chicken, frozen bologna, frozen hot dogs or tofu. I told her that if that were all they had then I’d pass. She said, “I’m afraid that we’re back to the regular stuff now!” She added, “Are you sure you don’t want some tofu? You look like a guy that would eat tofu.” I told her, “Only during Lent, when I stop eating meat for a while.”
Sylvia put a handful of potatoes; an eggplant; a cauliflower; four tomatoes (one of which turned out to be rotten) and two cobs of corn in my bag. There were also onions but I have plenty at home.
When I'd come in I’d seen a bag of cute tiny cinnamon-raisin bagels but when I went back to the bread section they seemed to be gone. Lana handed me a chocolate chip, gluten-free banana cake, which I accepted. I asked about the bagels and she went to the back to get some full-sized ones but that wasn’t what I’d wanted. I felt bad for putting her through any trouble but I took a bag of flat cinnamon-raisin buns instead. 

The most curious shelf item was a bag of granola packaged for Hope 4 All, with a Biblical quote on the front and another on the back. The company that provides all their food is Sunny Crunch Foods, which has their own products but also helps other companies make their own brands and packaging. They’ve been in Markham since 1970. Sunny Crunch was founded by Willie Pelzer, whom one tribute claims invented granola, but granola goes back to the 19th Century in the United States. His son Rich Pelzer is now the president.

Charismatic Granola

Written By Christian Christian 09/.07/2018
I had all of my windows open for a while on Saturday morning but the air cooled down a couple of hours after sunrise, so I closed them again. It was quite warm outside though by the time I left for the food bank at around 9:30. I took my place at the end of the line of unaccompanied carts, but then some of their owners gathered to smoke nearby along with two of the volunteers, Lana and Angie. Someone offered Angie a cigarette but she declined and explained that someone had given her the expensive kind. In her hand was a rolled-up sheet of paper towel, which she unrolled to reveal two cigarettes. I stepped upwind from the smoke and found a sliver of sunlight to stand in at the edge of the shadowy southern sidewalk. While there I read the last pages of Honoré de Balzac's “The Atheist’s Mass" and finally found out why the atheist had paid for a mass to be said four times a year. It was because when he was a struggling and impoverished medical student he was taken in by a poor water carrier who became a second father to him and sacrificed everything to help him become a surgeon. The water carrier was a devout Catholic and so when he died the surgeon, even though he was not a believer, paid for the mass as a tribute to the man to whom he owed his career.
While I was reading, Moe came up to say hi. We started shaking hands but then he slid his hand past my grasp and gripped my arm just past the wrist and so I did the same, assuming I was being introduced to a secret handshake. He explained though that he’d spilt beer on his hands while collecting the bag of empties that he was now carrying to cash in at the Beer Store and he didn’t want to get the beer smell on my hands. Why would someone want to smell like beer on one’s forearm any more than on one’s hands?

I remembered that the last time I’d seen Moe a couple of months ago it had been me that had to call out to him because his eyesight had gotten so bad that he couldn’t recognize me. At that point, he’d been waiting to go in for cataract surgery. He told me he’d just had the first operation and now he could see much better out of his right eye and can now walk around outside at night, though the surgery didn’t fully take because he’s seeing floaters and so he’ll have to go under again. He said he has to go to St Joseph’s Health Centre once a week to have it looked at to see whether it’s healed enough for the next phase. He’s still mostly blind in his left eye and so he’ll need the same procedure again.

Moe commented that there are a lot of things happening this weekend in Toronto. He mentioned Salsa Fest and a Greek festival. That last one puzzled me because the Taste of the Danforth isn’t until August. I think that he was talking about the Taste of Lawrence festival. I was surprised when he told me that Lawrence and Victoria Park is a Greek neighbourhood but when I looked it up later I saw that next to Greektown on the Danforth the Wexford area around Lawrence and east of Victoria Park has the second largest Greek community in Toronto. As a matter of fact, Greek is the most common second language throughout all the neighbourhoods of East York.

Moe moved on to cash in his beer cans. I was still in line when he came back.
Martina arrived with Valdene in the food bank van and after helping to unload it she announced that entry into the food bank would be entirely according to place in line because there were too many missing numbers.

The line started moving a little before 11:00. Once I was second in line and near where Martina was standing, I asked her if the number system is dead now. She said it was for that day. She pointed out that some people don’t like the number system. I think the only people that don’t like it are those that still come so early that they will always be in the single digits in a first-come-first-serve system. I told her that I like the number system and she declared that was good to hear because she likes it too because it discourages people from lining up too early in front of the building. I added that he prevents disputes over places in line, makes people feel less like cattle and it’s also kind of fun to be surprised about what one’s number is going to be, like in a lottery. She informed me that they’ve bought some plastic cards to replace the arborite ones but they have yet to number them. I mentioned that they don’t always ask for the numbers back downstairs and that I almost walked away with my number once. I reminded her of my idea that to avoid losing the cards she should take the numbers back at the door each time she calls them. She thought that was a good idea as if I hadn’t offered it to her before. Maybe she hadn’t been listening.

Martina let the next two people go downstairs, which included me.

From the shelves, I got a bag of tea bags; a bottle of chipotle Tabasco sauce; a box of 100% bran cereal; a can of organic chilli with tofu of all things; a can of chickpeas and a can of tuna.

The most curious shelf item was a bag of granola packaged for Hope 4 All, with a Biblical quote on the front and another on the back. The company that provides all their food is Sunny Crunch Foods, which has their own products but also helps other companies make their own brands and packaging. They’ve been in Markham since 1970. Sunny Crunch was founded by Willie Pelzer, whom one tribute claims invented granola, but granola goes back to the 19th Century in the United States. His son Rich Pelzer is now the president.

Hope 4 All’s website has the same two Biblical quotes. It seems that their mission is distributing food to the needy and they say they help people of every religion. It’s a safe assumption though that their helping of people of other religions is not an acceptance of those other religions as being paths to salvation.

Their website links to two churches:

One is Freedom Centre in Oakville. The Freedom Centre website has a prominent photo of a couple named Rick and Kalina D’Orazio. Rick is listed as the senior leader and Kalina is mission leader. Their church seems to believe in the imitation of Christ; they believe that both the old and new testaments are the inerrant word of god; they believe in demonstrative Davidic worship which involves clapping, shouting, singing, dancing, bowing and banners.

The other link goes to Catch the Fire Toronto, whose founding pastors are John and Carol Arnott, who embrace the message of intimacy, soaking, and healing and freedom of hearts.” The church is a charismatic Christian church. They were originally part of the worldwide collective of evangelical Vineyard Churches. Apparently, they got kicked out of Vineyard though because there was a little too much falling, weeping, laughing, holy drunkenness, being slain in the spirit, speaking in tongues and shaking going on during their services.

When I got to Angie’s section she asked me how many books I read in a week. She sees me reading all the time and logically assumes that I’m reading a lot of different ones. From September to April I’m reading lots of books for university but I didn’t tell her that. I explained that I just read the one French book every time I’m in the line-up.

Angie gave me a 750-gram container of Liberté Greek yogourt and here we are talking about the Greeks again. Greek yogourt is made with three times more milk than regular yogourt and has twice as much protein. Liberté is headquartered in St Hubert, just across the river from Montreal where there are also lots of Greeks, although it’s not a Greek company.
She handed me a bag of three eggs, which I put in my right pants pocket to keep them from being crushed in my bag. One of them got crushed in my pocket but it had only slightly started to leak once I got home. I managed to salvage most of the white and the broken yolk though.
I also received a bag of sixteen stringable cheese sticks; a frozen salami sausage and a 1.75-liter carton of grape juice.
Sylvia gave me a handful of potatoes; one large, firm carrot and one smaller rubbery one; a couple of onions; one corn on the cob and a little pack of hummus with pretzels by Sabra, the company that helps occupy Palestinian land.
At the bread section, Lana offered me, “Some of that brown bread that you like” but I told her I had enough. I wondered though what the little packages were in a box on the floor. She told me they were mini cinnamon rolls and that they’re delicious. I asked her how she knew they were delicious if she’s diabetic. She said, “I’m not diabetic!” and shattered another of my illusions. I guess I'd made the assumption based on her having said of a sugary food item “They tell me it’s good", her being Native and my hearing Sylvia say, “She’s diabetic” which I'd thought had been in reference to Lana. When I repeated, "I thought you were diabetic" Sylvia spoke up in between bites of one of the cinnamon rolls, "I'm diabetic!" "You're diabetic? So how come you’re eating the cinnamon roll?" She told me, "It's okay to have a little bit, and besides, cinnamon is good for diabetes”. I thought regarding Greeks and cinnamon, “This has been a day for learning things!” But really, though it would be cool if cinnamon helped against diabetes, it sounds like a bullshit belief. When I looked this up I found that one study found that cinnamon reduced cholesterol by 18% and blood sugar levels by 24% but other studies showed that cinnamon had no effect whatsoever on cholesterol or blood sugar levels. It’s always the way with the media when they catch hold of one study with sexy results, even if subsequent studies contradict it, suddenly it’s a fact. They did the same thing with the Mozart effect. There was only one study that found that listening to Mozart raises one’s IQ while no study after that found that Mozart had any effect on intelligence whatsoever. It might not have even done much for Mozart. 

 I suggested that when we return our numbers downstairs, the highest numbers are always at the top of the pile, and so when Martina picks them up to put them in the box she might scoop them up with both hands and drop them in such a way that the high numbers are unintentionally above the low ones. We agreed that it might be best to dig down when one reaches into the box.

A Smashing Time at the Food Bank

Written By Christian Christian 02/.07/2018
The heat hadn’t started to hit hard when I got ready to leave for the food bank on Saturday morning, but I knew that it would, so I wore sandals instead of Blundstones.
The elderly regular named Mike was a couple of places ahead of me in line and greeted me. He’s usually there a lot earlier and therefore further ahead.
He told me that he’d observed that when Martina comes around with the box of numbers for those in the line-up to randomly pick from, the people at the front of the line tend to get higher numbers than those at the back. I suggested that when we return our numbers downstairs, the highest numbers are always at the top of the pile, and so when Martina picks them up to put them in the box she might scoop them up with both hands and drop them in such a way that the high numbers are unintentionally above the low ones. We agreed that it might be best to dig down when one reaches into the box.
The volunteer that’s usually in charge of the bread walked past us down the line on her way to have a cigarette with Angie. As she passed, Mike said, “Morning Blanche!” I commented to him, “I thought her name was Lana.” He nodded an affirmation. I asked, “So why do you call her Blanche?” “I have trouble remembering names.” “So you just call every woman Blanche?” He nodded and told me, “Like in the Golden Girls”.
I asked him if he’d found a place yet but he said he was still homeless and living in a shelter. I mentioned that I’d overheard him say that his price range is between $300 and $400 and I wondered how he could be hoping to get a room for that price downtown. He explained that he’s on the list for income adjusted housing and that his case gets double priority because he’s both homeless and a senior.
I stepped out of line to get away from the second-hand smoke and was doing some reading from Balzac’s “The Atheist’s Mass” when a guy came up and started talking to me. I know that he was speaking English and I was pretty certain that English was his first language but I couldn’t understand a word he said and told him so. I suggested that it was because he was speaking with a cigarette in his mouth but when he took it out he spoke in the same way as before. I don’t think that he had a physical speech impediment but rather a mental condition that causes him to slur his words until they are incomprehensible. He pulled a small alarm clock out of his pocket and fondled it while he was talking. Finally, he tossed the clock into the street and walked away. A minute or so later I heard a loud cracking noise as a car ran over the timepiece.
The food bank van arrived with only Valdene, the manager inside but not Martina, our usual doorkeeper. At about 10:10 Valdene announced that there would be no numbers this time and so we’d have to go in based on or places in line, as in the original system.  
The person behind me was an elderly man with a walker. I told him that on Fridays the food bank is for seniors and disabled people only, and so there might be less of a line-up. He told me that this was only his second time coming to the food bank and he hadn’t known about Fridays.
They let the first five people in at about 10:20. I was in the third group of five.
On a table near the reception desk were packages of butter tarts and pecan tarts, as well as some packages of frozen parathas. Valdene was at the reception desk and the woman in front of me asked if we could take the tarts on the way in since they were so far from the door. Valdene said we could and so I got the tarts and the parathas.
From the shelves I took a bag of poutine-flavoured potato chips; a box of oat-smoked flour and red chilli crackers; a litre of apple juice; a can of chickpeas; and a can of tuna (at least this time the tuna was not restricted to those that chose not to take any meat from Angie). My volunteer also gave me three whole-wheat strawberry squares and a yogourt, fruit and nut granola bar.
There were a few items in the soup section and my volunteer seemed to think I would like a can of cream of mushroom that looked at least on the label a little more gourmet than usual. I'm not a fan of canned mushrooms though.
Angie offered me milk but I had some at home so I didn’t take it. I also turned down her usual meat offerings of frozen ground chicken, hot dogs and bologna. If I was destitute I would be taken them but when I have a little bit of power to choose I’d rather steer clear of garbage meat. She gave me five small containers of fruit-bottom yogourt and a Steamers frozen honey sesame chicken. I noticed that the box says that it's with "pasta" rather than noodles. I've never seen an Asian style dish that had pasta. Noodles are usually made from wheat flour while pasta is made from durum, which is more expensive and tougher.
Angie told me, "You're a good guy" then she looked sneakily around and said, "Put this in your bag" and she brought up a one and a half litre jug of fresh apple juice and slid it towards me on its side.
Sylvia gave me three large but kind of soft potatoes; two apples; a head of lettuce; a seedless cucumber; three carrots; an onion and a bag of frozen green soybeans in pods.
I went over to the bread section to see what there was besides just white bread. On the bottom shelf was a sliced loaf of yeastless farmer’s rye bread. Lana was squatting on the floor between the door and the bread and looking kind of depressed. “Help yourself,” she told me.

 I’m not really an umbrella person but when one is stuck waiting out in the rain someplace an umbrella makes all the difference in the world. I would have been miserable if I'd gotten soaked but with a brolly, I could actually even enjoy being out in the rain.

An Umbrella Makes All the Difference

Written By Christian Christian 25/06/2018
On Saturday morning the wound on my elbow from when I’d fallen off my bike on Wednesday evening was generally less painful than the day before. During yoga, it was easier lie on my back with my arms at the side, whereas the day before the contact between the big scrape and the floor was excruciating. Some poses were a little more difficult, such as propping myself in the shoulder stand with my elbows or doing the locust, in which I have to lie on my stomach and bring my arms together underneath me to lift my legs up in the air. Overall, a lot of the ordinary bending I do with my elbow on a daily basis was slightly easier, though some of them still smart, such as lifting my guitar strap over my head to put it on. I’m glad that I went on Thursday for x-rays because at least now I know that the pain I feel when bending is just from stretching the wound and that I’m not agitating cracked or broken bones.
I don’t know if it was me or the day but even though it was cloudy and rainy outside I felt like there was a pretty good energy from the mood on the street as I looked out my window and sang. It was probably me.
I worked out the chords to Serge Gainsbourg’s "Docteur Jekyll et Monsieur Hyde”, which is kind of a fun little rock and roll song to play and sing.
It was raining when I left for the food bank, but I still wore only a tank top and shorts, though I’d stuffed both a long-sleeved shirt and an umbrella into my bag. The line was quite short, I guess because of the rain and as soon as I got at the end of it I put my shirt on and opened my umbrella. I’m not really an umbrella person but when one is stuck waiting out in the rain someplace an umbrella makes all the difference in the world. I would have been miserable if I'd gotten soaked but with a brolly, I could actually even enjoy being out in the rain.

I was impressed that I hadn’t been the only food bank client that had brought an umbrella. There were about ten of us out of thirty that were able to hold back the rain. The short East Asian woman with the hennaed hair and the white roots had a pink umbrella with a few flower designs on it. She was also wearing mostly pink. She said hi when she stepped into line behind me and said, “It’s quarter to ten, but it’s raining!" I told her that it was supposed to rain all weekend. After a little while, she started talking to herself in what I think was Chinese and sometimes laughing.

The tartan-lined cart belonging to the guy with the neck tattoo was a couple of places in front of me. He came to get his umbrella out and after opening it I thought he was going to put it over his head but instead he started struggling with fixing it over the cart to keep the rain off. After about three times he’d found the right position and was about to walk away but first barked at the guy in front of him, "You don't have to fuckin stand in line!” and then he went off with his hood up to brood in the rain. The guy he’d yelled at asked me what his problem was. I explained, “I think that he thought you could have moved out of his way”. For some reason, after I told him that he seemed hurt as if I wanted him out of the way, and he moved further away. After a little while, he went inside the foyer to wait because he didn’t have an umbrella. When I think in retrospect of the guy with the neck tattoo's outburst, I recall that I haven't seen him smoking for the last few weeks, so maybe he's got some internal struggles going on in addition to his regular anger management issues.

I was given another good reason to be glad that I had an umbrella a little later on when I looked up through the baby blue canopy and saw a blob of green bird shit had landed on top. The rain had stopped but I couldn’t close my umbrella to put it back in my backpack with poop on it so I stepped off the curb and straddled the puddle that had formed on the street in front of 1501 Queen Street West to wash it off. Then I moved away from the curb because close passing cars were often sending meter high splashes onto the people that were waiting on the sidewalk.

I was able to read about half a page of my book before it started raining again and I had to reopen the umbrella.

Martina came around with the box and I drew number 9, then I stepped out of line and wandered around until she called the first five people in at around 10:30. It seemed like an unusually long wait before the next five were invited in. During that time Martina left in the van with Valdene, the manager and another volunteer, who hadn’t been there for a few months, took over as the doorkeeper.

It was after 11:00 when I went downstairs. The guy in front of me was angrily swearing, punching walls and slamming doors open all the way to the food bank.

Downstairs the elderly regular named Mike came out of the elevator and he was ahead of me. I heard him mention that he is living in a shelter now and looking for a place for between $300 and $400 a month. I did a quick glance at rooms for rent on Kijiji and found that he’d have to move out to Mississauga or Scarborough to get a room in that range and most of the ads are asking for young female tenants. It’s actually a breach of human rights for landlords to rent only to one gender unless the landlord will be sharing a bathroom with the tenant. But the Ontario Human Rights Commission is apparently too small to be able to police discriminatory ads and when the ads are online they fall under federal jurisdiction anyway. Maybe if you showed up to look at a place and got a recording of the landlord admitting they were discriminating against you because of your gender then you could take it to a tribunal.
My volunteer was a young guy that I hadn’t seen there before. The other volunteer, Marlena was telling clients, including me, to hurry up. I had spoken to her a few months ago about that kind of thing being disrespectful and she had agreed to behave herself. I didn’t say anything this time.
I got a 4.5 litre jug of cold water laundry detergent; a clear bag of coffee which I was assured was ground and not instant; a 368 gram bag of blue corn tortilla chips; a sleeve of saltines; a small box of apple, cranberry and almond granola; two strawberry yogourt granola bars; three chocolate nut granola bars; and a can of chickpeas (there were a wide variety of canned beans).
I turned down pasta and rice, although there was plenty of that.
I notice that it’s been a few weeks since they’ve had any soup or broth on the shelves.
From Angie’s section I turned down the milk because I have plenty at home, but I took everything that she offered: a pack of two small containers of slightly sweet Greek yogourt with two attached containers of pralines, cashews and almonds; three eggs; a frozen cheese and bean enchilada verde; two fresh chicken legs; and behind her were a couple of stacks of boxes of pizza, some small and some large. I assumed the large was for families so I took a small one but I noticed that Mike had put a large box in his bag. It was nice to get a little fresh meat.
I didn’t take any onions from Sylvia but I accepted a handful of potatoes; two carrots; a cauliflower, three kiwis; and two granny smith apples.
On my way in I’d noticed that there was a whole pie in the bread section but on my way out I saw that it was in Mike’s bag.
As I walked down the hall, Valdene, the manager followed me out. The East Asian woman who’d been talking to herself was just getting into the elevator as I passed. As the elevator closed I was opening the door to the stairs and Valdene exclaimed, “That’s a lot of pink!” I climbed the stairs with Valdene behind me and she said, “You’ve got some long legs! I was looking at them from the back!” Either Valdene was flirting with me or she’d been smoking dope and noticing things again.

 The entrance to the building is framed by a classical pediment with a flattop canopy supported by two columns. On each corner of the top of the canopy is a life-size statue of an owl. After dropping its payload the pesky rock dove landed on top of the head of the owl on the left. The guy with the neck tattoo walked over to look directly up at the pigeon, pointed his finger and called to it accusingly, “You are an asshole!” Then he went back to one of his friends who’d gotten a little bit pooped upon and told him, “It’s supposed to be good luck!”

Bird Circus, with Free Poop!

Written By Christian Christian 12/019/2018
On Saturday morning my legs were aching and tired from all the bike riding I’ve been doing. I was also out of it a bit mentally as I fumbled slightly over chords and lyrics during song practice. I wonder if exercising this much is going to get easier or if I’m just getting old.
After breakfast but with a still almost full cup of coffee left behind on my desk I went to the food bank. The line up when I arrived was not very long for the middle of the month. I established my place in line by eye behind the plaid-lined cart belonging to the guy with the neck tattoo, but when the African couple with a friend or brother arrived and when the woman put their carts directly behind his I stepped up to let her know that I was in between.
I read another page of Balzac’s “The Atheist’s Mass” from my dual language book. It takes me a good half an hour to get through that much text because I first try to understand the French parts on my own, then look at the English, then go back to see if I’ve now grasped the French. Sometimes I have to go back and forth two or three times before moving on to the next line.
Here’s some of what I read this time: “That horrible, incessant battle that mediocrity wages against the superior man: If you lose $25 one night, the next day you are accused of being a gambler and your best friends will say that you lost $25,000. If you have a headache people will say you’re crazy. If you get angry you are anti-social. If you try to be strong against the forces that work to drag you down your best friends will shout you down for being overbearing and pushy. In the end your good qualities will be seen as faults, your faults will be looked upon as vices and your virtues will be viewed as crimes. If you’ve saved someone then you have killed him; if your patient recovers it is understood that you have assured his present at the expense of his future; if he doesn’t die, he will soon. If you stumble you fall. If you invent something and claim your rights you are difficult and shrewd and don’t want to give the young inventors a chance. My friend, if I don’t believe in god, I believe even less in man.”

Angie came upstairs for a smoke and had one with a group of regulars that come early and hang out together, including the big woman, the former film technician, and the guy with the neck tattoo. She knows them all by name and gives them hugs when she greets them. She also reached out to touch my arm, say hello and then say to me, “Still reading!” I stepped out of line to avoid the smoke but was close enough to hear her tell them how much she likes and admires the new manager, Valdene Allison. She said that she’s a hard worker and she treats everyone with respect.
Around this time a pigeon strafed the sidewalk with green liquid poop that fell exactly along the line-up in front of the apartment building at 1501 Queen Street West. Fortunately, there were very few people actually standing in line at the time and so it was mostly people’s carts that got bombarded, but two or three food bank clients were unlucky enough to be greenly shat upon and immediately set about to cleaning themselves off. The entrance to the building is framed by a classical pediment with a flattop canopy supported by two columns. On each corner of the top of the canopy is a life-size statue of an owl. After dropping its payload the pesky rock dove landed on top of the head of the owl on the left. The guy with the neck tattoo walked over to look directly up at the pigeon, pointed his finger and called to it accusingly, “You are an asshole!” Then he went back to one of his friends who’d gotten a little bit pooped upon and told him, “It’s supposed to be good luck!” If that were true, the biggest cities of the world would be the luckiest places on Earth. Then he declared, “If this happened when I was young I would have taken my pellet gun and shot that bird right in the eye!"
I looked up at the pigeon and saw that another pigeon had landed on its back, I assume because the owl statue is a coveted perch and the upper bird wanted to force the other one off. So with a bird on top of a bird on top of a statue of a bird, it created a kind of mostly living totem and a strangely comical sight.
These plastic owls are supposed to scare birds like pigeons away but studies show that pigeons are smart enough to figure out that it’s a fake after four days.
Among the many mentally ill people in Parkdale, there is a young man that’s been in the neighbourhood for a few years who seems to be in a constant state of mental and physical chaos. He is always walking but also frequently makes extreme and sudden gestures with his arms in all directions that some people might interpret as threatening, though I’ve never seen him being violent. He also seems to be in great shape, which might result from all of that movement. He went by while we were waiting and made some drastic gestures and made some loud but undecipherable verbalizations as he passed. The guy with the neck tattoo commented that the chaotic young man is probably supposed to get a needle every day. The big woman said, “Maybe he hasn’t gone for the needle.” If he’s the type of psychotic that should take regular medication to control his condition but could easily forget to do so, there may be an injection available for him but it would not be every day but rather every two or three weeks. There’s also a new schizophrenia medication that only needs to be injected four times a year.
The food bank van arrived with the manager and the doorkeeper and so we all got in line to wait to draw our numbers. I moved the carts directly behind the plaid one so I could squeeze into my place and the male half of the African couple came up to confront me because he thought that I was doing something unfair. I explained to him the situation and he nodded. Martina came around with the box of numbers. I got number 20, which is close to what I would normally get with the old first come, first serve number system. Someone else complained about getting number 56 but Martina said, “You don’t see 56 people here. There are a lot of missing numbers so you don’t really have 56.”
Valdene was unloading food from the van and decided to start giving away right there on the street packs of frozen meat that she’d picked up somewhere, rather than taking them down to the food bank. She was over by the door with the box of what looked like a white variety of frozen items, such as beef hearts, pork and cold cuts, and people were coming to her to take them. I didn’t go over to her because it felt undignified, but of course, if I were desperately meat deprived I would have stepped up. Valdene said something about how people should take the meat at their own risk. The three Africans complained that the meat was past its best before date and in response Valdene shouted, “Did everyone here hear me say, to take the meat at your own risk?” She paused and looked around, then asked, “Everyone heard me? Okay!” A few minutes later Valdene walked down the line to where the Africans were and, with her cigarette behind her back, said, “Let me educate you. The best before date on meat doesn’t mean anything if the meat is frozen. It could last six months past the best before date. It means something with dairy or some other products but not with meat. I’m not trying to kill my brothers!” Then Valdene put her hand on the woman’s arm and added, “Or my sister!”

Martina let in the first wave of people with whatever numbers that weren’t missing up to thirteen. She was complaining about how many missing numbers there were and so I asked her if she’d ever considered taking each number back from people before they go through the door. For example, when she calls number 1 then number 1 would have to hand her number 1 before going in. That way there would be less chance of numbers going missing. The big woman thought that was a very good and smart idea. Martina said that was one way of doing it but she’s been thinking of just giving the numbers out five at a time to the first people in line. That sounded very close to the old system whereas I’d thought that the random system had come in to discourage people from coming too early. This idea would make people want to get there ahead of everyone else again.

Once I was downstairs and my name was checked off on the computer, my volunteer was Roy, who’d helped me a few times before but for the first time I noticed that he wears a cross around his neck.

From the shelves I got a bag of Italian herb and olive oil vegetable chips; a box of Breton black bean crackers with onion and garlic; a 750-gram bag of No Name honey almond granola; one strawberry yogourt and three chocolate nut granola bars and a can of black turtle beans. I reached for a can of tuna but their strange new policy was still in effect whereby if one takes tuna one can’t have any meat. And yet I was allowed to take a box containing a can of bourbon and bacon chicken salad with crackers.
When I was finished at the shelves, Roy called out to Angie to let her know that I hadn’t taken any tuna. But the meat she had to offer was the usual cheap frozen ground chicken and frozen chicken wieners. There were some individually wrapped burger patties in the bin with hot dogs and ground chicken, but they looked like veggie burgers and Angie confirmed that they probably were. So I didn’t take any meat and yet I didn’t ask to go back and get tuna because of the other stuff that Angie gave me, such as a one-litre bottle of strawberry kéfir, which she said was a bonus for me. She also handed me a pack of 12 frozen bacon, mozzarella and onion mini-quiches; a package of cheese and spinach ravioli and a box of those Snak Man Do frozen mini samosas, though I don’t know for sure what flavour they are because I threw the box away so I could fit the samosas in my freezer and I didn’t think to read it before taking out the garbage. I assume they are the same very spicy tandoori chicken samosas that I had before. I turned down the milk but took a couple of small fruit bottom yogourts and three large eggs. The eggs, instead of being in the usual clear plastic bag, were in a six-egg crate. When I tried to fry two of the eggs later that night, the yolk of one of them broke when I dropped it in the pan, which is often a sign that an egg is not fresh, but I find also that the sunny parts of larger eggs tend to break more readily than those of smaller ones.
Sylvia gave me a few potatoes, onions, a handful of baby bok choy that was getting a little brown, a green pepper and a bag of about twenty rainbow cherry tomatoes.
I skipped the bread because I have some at home.
It seems that under the new management there is a greater abundance of items at the food bank. When I compare this time last year in my journal, the amounts and variety of dairy, freezer products and vegetables were much less. Then again, two years ago there was a cornucopia of garden donations that hasn’t been repeated. There’s also now that weird choice of either one can of tuna or meat and not both.

Martina came out a little after 10:30 to count the crowd so she would know how many numbers to put in the box. There were 37 of us at that time. When she came back she asked everyone to stand in line so she could more easily walk from person to person to get each one to draw a number. A few people crowded around her and she had to tell them to give her some space. I pulled out number 14, which I wasn’t unhappy with.


Written By Christian Christian 12/06/2018
On Saturday morning my body was still aching from my bike ride the day before. I felt a little better after yoga but I was slightly hoping for it to rain later on to keep me from taking another long jaunt in the afternoon.
I tried to find the chords to Serge Gainsbourg’s “Initials BB” but all that was available online was the notation, which I can’t read, so I’ll have to figure out the chords on my own.
The food bank line-up wasn’t that long when I arrived but it did stretch out quite a bit later. A guy asked me for a cigarette which of course I didn’t have but when he held out his hand the whole appendage was nicotine stained.
I read a page of Balzac’s "The Atheist’s Mass".
A lot of people rode by riding those green Bike Share bikes. They weren’t all in a line but it looked like they were all of the same middle-class group.
A woman stepped out of her place in line to rip a poster down from a pole, tear it up and throw it in the garbage. Later she walked over to a bike post ring and picked up a flyer advertising a free bike clinic, tore that up and put it in the garbage as well. I know that the bike clinic event had already passed but I don’t know about the event that the poster had advertised. Over many years of living in the city I’ve sometimes noticed certain people that do the exact same thing that she did. Most of he ones that tear down posters do it only to the posters they see in their immediate path when they are on their way someplace, but other people are on a mission and deliberately walk around looking for posters to remove. Some of them even carry an Exacto-knife in their pocket for that very purpose. I assume it’s some kind of symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
A woman asked for the time and explained that she doesn’t carry her phone around anymore because they always get stolen. Isn’t the whole point of a mobile phone so one can carry it around?
Martina came out a little after 10:30 to count the crowd so she would know how many numbers to put in the box. There were 37 of us at that time. When she came back she asked everyone to stand in line so she could more easily walk from person to person to get each one to draw a number. A few people crowded around her and she had to tell them to give her some space. I pulled out number 14, which I wasn’t unhappy with.
Martina chastised the woman behind me for trying to look in the box when she picked her number. She didn’t speak English very well but she seemed confused about her number because there is a number on each side. On is a number written against a painted background and the other is on the non-painted arborite surface. I told her that her number was the one on the painted background. Later she confronted Martina about it but because of the language barrier, they seemed to be on two different wavelengths. Martina thought she was complaining about having too high a number. Martina asked, “What do you want me to give you? Number one?” She eventually gave her another number but I didn't see the woman give her original number back.

I was in the second wave of people invited downstairs. The computers were on the fritz and so Sylvia was just taking down people’s names and birthdays. She asked me my name and I said, “Christian”. She asked my first name and I said “Christian". She asked to see my card and when I showed it to her she exclaimed with delight, “Your name is Christian Christian?" She noted that we have the same birth year of 1955. I told her that it’s the same year that a rock and roll song became number one on the charts.
Marlena was my volunteer and she said in a businesslike manner, “I’m ready for you.” I responded, “I’m ready for you too.” She gave me a strange, stern look in reaction to that as if I’d said something offensive.
From the shelves, I took a jar of organic barley miso, a bag of organic popcorn, a box of hemp hearts granola, a bag of individually wrapped teabags from Fairmont Hotels called “Fairmont Breakfast” but probably basically the same as English breakfast tea, a can of tuna and a can of fava beans. She also gave me three oats and chocolate chewy bars; a caramel dipped granola bar; a yogourt, fruit, nut and quinoa granola bar; a strawberry yogourt granola bar and a strawberry nutrigrain bar.
Angie offered me milk but I turned it down because I have some already. I also eschewed the soya cheese slices. I did take the bag of three eggs and the two small fruit bottom yogourt containers. In addition to the usual frozen ground chicken, the chicken wieners and bologna, there was also a box of frozen chicken burgers, so I grabbed that. She asked if I eat tofu and I answered "sometimes" but I didn't want any because it tastes like chalk. She also wondered if I'd like some turkey but when I said yes she presented me with almost half of an enormous partially frozen turkey loaf.  It was cooked already and I had a slice later in a sandwich for lunch and it seemed fine. But when I had another slice the next day it just tasted wrong, like a salmonella sandwich, so I threw it away. Turkey is better when the ingredients are only turkey rather than the addition of starch, carrageenan and ecoli. Angie’s final items were three small containers of hummus. I took them because they were free but the brand name was Sabra, which is part of the Israeli product boycott because though Sabra is in the US it’s part of a joint venture between Pepsico and the Strauss Group, which is an Israeli company that has branches in settlements in occupied Palestine. I try to avoid Sabra products in the supermarket but at the food bank, since I’m not paying for it I don’t think I’m really dishonouring the boycott.
Since Sylvia was minding the desk, the vegetable section was empty. I asked Angie if I should just help myself. She answered, “It’s okay. I’m watching you.” Before I could pick anything though, another volunteer rushed up to help me. I selected a cauliflower, a head of lettuce, two onions, three fairly firm tomatoes, a few potatoes and a handful of carrots.
Before I left I asked Angie how the garden is doing this year. She informed me that the food bank doesn’t have and has never had a garden. They've just had people with gardens donate vegetables, but no one has brought anything in this year. I’d thought for sure I'd heard people that volunteer at the food bank, on more than one occasion talk about the food bank having a garden on Cowan Avenue but I guess I was wrong. Or maybe I heard right but they were wrong. Either way, there are no fresh vegetables. 


Angie did have the usual meat selections but she also had bologna and a pack of frozen spicy Italian smoked sausages. I took the latter and so I didn’t go back to select the alternative protein of tuna, salmon or peanut butter. It seems like an odd case of “either or” though, considering how much more substantial a pack of five sausages or any of the meat choices were than a can of tuna.

Either Or

Written By Christian Christian 04/06/2018
The temperature was starkly different on Saturday morning than it has been of late. While Friday had been a tank shirt, shorts and sandals day, this was an unbuttoned long-sleeved shirt, jeans and boots day.
On my way to the food bank, I realized that I’d forgotten to slip my denture in and so I promised myself that if I got a high number I’d slip home to put it in and to meanwhile make sure I didn’t smile like a hockey player.

The line-up was shorter this time because it was the beginning of the month but each person there seemed to be smoking for three nonetheless.

I read another page or two of “The Atheist’s Mass” by Balzac from my dual language book, struggling with the French on the left page and leaning on the English on the right. It seemed appropriate that I was at the part where the now rich and famous surgeon, Desplein is telling the story of his extreme poverty as a medical student in Paris and how his breakfast every day consisted of a day or two old buns crumbled in some milk.

When Martina came along with the box I was pleased to draw number 3. She let the first five of us in at 10:30, the exact time when the food bank is supposed to open but when we walked in downstairs, Angie said, “What are you guys doing in here? We’re not ready yet!” We were asked to wait in the hall while they rushed to finish their set-up. Angie asked for two tongs from the sink in the back and she unpacked some boxes of packs of frozen mini-quiche, which she declared were awesome. She tossed the empty cartons on the floor and the older Ukrainian lady (whom I think she called Marlene) picked them up to take them to the back.

Martina came down, saw us in the hall and wondered, “What’s goin on?” I told her, “They said they weren’t ready for us yet!” Verdene, the manager came up to Martina and joked, “You’re fired! You’re fired for tomorrow!” (I don’t think they are there at all on Sunday). Martina teased that she was taking the rest of the day off because there weren’t very many people and everyone had gotten their cheques. It suddenly occurred to me that Verdene and Martina had been smoking-up together and that the evidence was there from when they first arrived in the food bank van and Verdene had commented to Martina about how the lettering on the side of the van “popped out” and from how giddy Martina had been while interacting with some of the regulars leading up to opening time. It was fairly clear that the two had smoked a doobie on their way there.

Marlene was my volunteer and from the top of the first shelf, I grabbed the prize of the day: a package of medium roast Muskoka brand medium roast coffee. It must be just about time for this year’s coffee harvest up in the Muskokas right now.

Further down was a bag of hummus with olive oil flavoured seed crackers. I had them for lunch later with hummus and they tasted like stale oil.

Another score was a 680 ml jar of artichoke hearts.

I also got a jar of tomato and basil pasta sauce, a large bag of Cheerios, a small hand-filled bag of flour and a can of chickpeas.

When I got to the canned protein and peanut butter shelf, I was about to reach for a can of salmon when I was told that if I took something from that section I couldn’t get any meat from Angela. She said that if I didn’t like any of Angela’s offerings I could come back and take something. That’s a policy I haven’t seen them present before and I wondered if it was going to be a regular thing or if it was just because of Angie more than just the usual frozen ground chicken tubes and chicken wieners.

Angie did have the usual meat selections but she also had bologna and a pack of frozen spicy Italian smoked sausages. I took the latter and so I didn’t go back to select the alternative protein of tuna, salmon or peanut butter. It seems like an odd case of “either or” though, considering how much more substantial a pack of five sausages or any of the meat choices were than a can of tuna.

I didn’t want any 2% milk nor either colour of soy cheese slices but I accepted the two small fruit bottom yogourts, the package of hard Becel margarine, two bags containing three eggs each, two meat patties, a container of Bailey’s French vanilla coffee creamer and box of 24 frozen mini quiche: half of them Florentine and the other half three-cheese that Angie had been praising earlier.

Sylvia gave me a hand-filled bag of potatoes. These are the same spuds she’s been giving out now for the last couple of months and they aren’t in great shape. Some of them have sprouts and they all have black spots that need to be cut out before cooking. They are definitely not the kind of taters that one can eat with their skins.

I got a few onions; two small tomatoes, one of which I had to throw away; and a package of romaine hearts. That was all she handed me but there were bags of spinach sitting there as well and I asked about them. She said I couldn’t have both the spinach and the lettuce, so, since the spinach looked much fresher, I traded the lettuce back for the better vegetable.

I was about to leave when Lana called to me from the bakery goods section. I turned to tell her while still moving away that I have enough bread. She insisted, “This is a day when you can say ‘Yes’ because we’ve got lots of different snacks! Come on” she coaxed me towards her with a hand gesture and repeated with more force, “Come on!” I have no willpower when women get aggressive, so I came over. There were a much wider variety of snackable items than usual, such as cheese bagels and different kinds of baked sweets. Lana pulled out a package of six chocolate strawberry muffins to show me. Sylvia called out something about Lana being diabetic, I guess as an explanation for why she was promoting the sweets because she couldn’t have them herself. The chocolate strawberry muffins looked pretty good so I agreed to take them. On my way out I said to her with a smile that probably showed the gap from my missing denture, “Thanks for being so pushy!” She responded, “Well, you deserve it!”


She was smoking with a hash pipe but whatever she was smoking didn’t smell like either pot or hash. I suspect she was smoking cigarette butts. She was wondering what is going to happen to medical marijuana dispensary at King and Dufferin where she gets her weed after the federal government legalizes marijuana.

After Legalization, Will People Donate Pot Brownies to the Food Bank?

Written By Christian Christian 22/05/2018
After locking my bike in front of the food bank on Saturday, I went to the back of the line and asked the East Asian woman that was sitting on the steps of the apartment building at 1501 Queen if they’d handed out the numbers yet. She jumped up and shouted, “Where?” and started running towards the front. I told her, “No, no! I was just asking!” She came back to sit down. I assumed from her reaction that the answer to my question was “no”.
It was raining lightly, but just enough to keep me from taking my book out of my backpack. It stopped for a while and I started taking it out but then it started again. Later on, I was able to read a page but then my brain got tired because it’s hard work for me to translate French.
Near the end of the line, a man was sitting on the sidewalk with his hood over his head and a fedora on top of that.
A nervous older man wearing a McGill University jacket was pacing up and down the street and smoking as he waited for PARC to open. He threw his butt out onto the street and it narrowly missed me on the way. I would have considered it rude if I’d thought he was that conscious of his actions. He bummed another cigarette and kept on walking.
The elderly man who still comes very early despite the random number system that renders coming early useless, told me that Martina, the doorkeeper had gone for coffee with Valdene, the manager. He speculated that they’d be opening late.
The former film technician and the toothpick-skinny chain-smoking lady came to smoke together on the steps. She was smoking with a hash pipe but whatever she was smoking didn’t smell like either pot or hash. I suspect she was smoking cigarette butts. She was wondering what is going to happen to medical marijuana dispensary at King and Dufferin where she gets her weed after the federal government legalizes marijuana. He told her that it would be closed because only special stores run by the Liquor License Board of Ontario will be allowed to sell pot from that point on. She commented that the dispensary she goes to has never been busted. He informed her that the only dispensaries they bust are the ones near schools and young families.

I guess the dispensary she was referring to would be the Relief Centre. It looks like he’s right that legalization will shut down or cause the Ontario government to try to shut down the dispensaries. The western provinces may have made a much smarter decision to simply legalize and regulate the already existing dispensaries rather than set up their own dealers because the prediction is that the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation won’t be able to keep up the supply for the demand that will exist after legalization, nor will they be able to provide the variety of product that the illegal places manage. This will cause a marijuana black market to continue and perhaps even thrive in Ontario because the illegal sources might be able to provide pot cheaper than the government. I would think that in not going into business with dispensaries the government will be missing out on the years of experience and knowledge that the people that run them have to offer. By supporting and protecting the good dispensaries they could also screen out by squeezing out the ones that are run by gangs.
A guy came and sat on the other end of the steps. He asked them what time the food bank open but it sounded more like a demand and he was swearing a lot, so the other two got up and left. His lack of social grace was clearly the result of mental illness. I told him what he wanted to know, though I don’t think he stuck around to get a number.
Martina came up the line with the box of numbers and I was pleased to draw number 6, though not as happy as the guy that got number 1. He walked around showing to people and saying, “I’ll leave some food for the rest of you!”
I was in the first group to be called. Downstairs I might have forgotten to return my number if the receptionist hadn’t asked for it. She said they’ve lost a lot of numbers that way.
My volunteer was the elderly, extremely short and very pleasant Filipina.
The top of the first set of shelves tends to hold a lot of odd items that don’t fit the categories that most of the food on the other shelves falls under. I was surprised that the two people ahead of me didn’t take any of the 500-gram squeeze-bottles of Burke’s raw Ontario clover honey that were on that shelf. The Burke family honey business has been around for 109 years and though the bees have to get from blossom to blossom with walkers they must know what they are doing by now.
My helper said I could take something else from that shelf as well so I grabbed a bag of chilli-cheese popcorn.
Further down I got three oats and chocolate chewy bars and several packets of turbinado sugar. The sugar in the raw was welcome because the brown sugar I have at home gotten so hard that every time I want some for my cereal I have to scrape granules off the rock with a cheese grater.
For the last few weeks, the only cereal they’ve had were family size boxes of Chex, which I don’ like very much. This time though they had a wide variety. I’d been eyeing the carton of spoon size shredded wheat but the old guy in front of me snagged it. Fortunately, though I was able to reach to the very back and pull out the only other box.
Moving on I got a bag of tea bags, just when I needed them. There were lots of canned beans and soups and the usual choice of sardines, tuna or peanut butter. I took a can each of refried beans, clam chowder, tuna and tomato sauce, and I also finally took another bag of fusilli pasta after finally finishing off the previous one.
Angie offered me 2% milk but I turned it down because as long as I can afford it I’ll stick with 1%. I also eschewed a quarter block of margarine, because I have plenty and didn’t want the frozen ground chicken, veggie cheese or chicken hot dogs either. She gave me a litre of peach-passionfruit drink. I took the three eggs; the two single servings of fruit bottom yogourt and a coconut chickpea curry lean cuisine. My last choice was between a toaster strudel and a package of soft pappardelle pasta. She seemed pleased with my selection and declared, “This is amazing! It’s the closest thing to real pasta!”
Sylvia gave me two onions, a red pepper, an apple and a bag of frozen green chickpeas. I turned down a bag of potatoes because I have enough to last me until next time I come. She asked if there was anything else I wanted so I pointed at the big bin of cabbages between her and I and asked if I could have one. As she handed it to me she commented with a shake of her head, “I don’t know how to cook those things!” I was puzzled by what she said because I’m pretty sure people cook cabbage in the Caribbean, where Sylvia is from.
I forgot to ask Sylvia how the food bank garden is doing this year. I remember that last year it died because of heavy rains in March. I’ll have to inquire, but not next week because next Saturday is my birthday and I don’t plan to stand around for two hours breathing second-hand smoke on that occasion.
I’d noticed on the way into the food bank that there were more than just white loaves in the bread section this time. After leaving Sylvia I walked over there and Lana said to me, “We’ve got man’s bread today!” She was referring to the darker, round loaves that I’d been eyeing. I’d always figured that men prefer white bread while women might be more likely to eat whole grain bread because they like healthier choices. I put a dark loaf in my bag.  


Sitting on the steps of the apartment building at 1501 Queen was a middle-aged man wearing earbuds and singing along with whatever he was listening to. The lyrics were very complicated like one of the longer old Bob Dylan songs, except that they didn’t seem to rhyme. His singing was toneless and strained and so everything he sang had the exact same lack of melody. When I later heard him just talking to himself his words were similar and so I wondered if he’d really been singing along with any song at all. He said things like, “Tina Turner did not shoot JFK!” and also said something about one of Conrad Black’s sons being his former lover.

Tina Turner did not Shoot JFK

Written By Christian Christian 07/05/2018
Although I’ve decided to step away from responding to certain political memes on social media, because any time and research I put into my responses tend to be like pearls before swine, I thought I’d finish up whatever threads that are ongoing. On Saturday morning just before getting ready to leave for the food bank there was a non-hateful and more educated than the usual message from someone responding to a comment that I’d made in reaction to a meme arguing against convicted terrorist Zakaria Amara being allowed to keep his Canadian citizenship.

The person that responded to me argued that Canadian citizenship should be taken away from terrorists but could be offered back as a reward for rehabilitation. He didn’t mention whether this should apply to those born here, but I assume he was only talking about immigrants to Canada that have become terrorists.

I told him that unless you are going to take away the Canadian citizenship of native-born Canadians when they commit acts of terrorism you are automatically creating two classes of Canadian citizens. You can’t give immigrants Canadian citizenship and tell them that they will never be as Canadian as someone that was born here. You also can’t take away the Canadian citizenship of someone born in Canada unless they have committed treason against Canada on behalf of another country. If they do that then they have a state to go to if and when they are released from prison in Canada. But if they commit a terrorist act in the service of a group like ISIL then there is no state to return them to and you can’t leave someone stateless. Therefore all Canadian terrorists have to remain Canadian whether born here or not. 

As I was riding my bike between the westbound streetcar tracks and signalling that I was about to cross over in front of 1499 Queen Street West, a white van that looked like the food bank van was pulling away from the curb beside the building and heading east. As I was locking my bike I noticed that Robbie had the number 2 around his wrist and he confirmed when I asked that Martina had already given out the numbers.

I went downstairs to see if Martina was there but the volunteers on duty brushed me off and said I’d have to wait until she came back upstairs with more numbers. When I returned to the street one of the regulars explained to me that Martina had gone off in the van with the manager and that it had already been announced that they would be opening at 11:00 this time rather than 10:30, because of an undisclosed problem.

About ten or fifteen minutes later the van came back. Martina counted everybody that had arrived since she’d given out the first wave of numbers and then she came back with her box. I stepped into line to take a number and pulled out disappointing number 25, which meant, since they wouldn’t be opening till 11:00 that it would be at least 11:30 before I was served. I thought about just going home for a while but I decided that I might as well stick around.

The line-up was shorter than usual because we were at the beginning of the month and people had gotten their social service cheques. We also had the warmest Saturday of the year so far and so it was a lot less uncomfortable to be standing around, except for the swarms of midges that were landing on everybody. I returned to reading the Honoré de Balzac story “The Atheist’s Mass” in my dual language collection of French stories with the French on the left and the English translation on the right. The midges were constantly landing on the pages and on my hands but since they are non-biting insects I didn’t try to kill them. Usually, I was able to just blow them away, but sometimes I would unconsciously brush them away, which often killed them anyway because they would stupidly cling to the surface that I was trying to sweep them from and end up smooshed.

I finally arrived at the part of the Balzac story that gave some indication of the meaning of the title. A prominent surgeon was known to be a raging atheist, but one day his assistant happened to be on the street when he noticed his master from a distance, slipping into a church the way some men might sneak into a brothel. He discreetly followed him and hid while he watched his atheist employer taking mass.

Sitting on the steps of the apartment building at 1501 Queen was a middle-aged man wearing earbuds and singing along with whatever he was listening to. The lyrics were very complicated like one of the longer old Bob Dylan songs, except that they didn’t seem to rhyme. His singing was toneless and strained and so everything he sang had the exact same lack of melody. When I later heard him just talking to himself his words were similar and so I wondered if he’d really been singing along with any song at all. He said things like, “Tina Turner did not shoot JFK!” and also said something about one of Conrad Black’s sons being his former lover.

There were three women speaking French with one another that was either from Haiti or one of the former French colonies in Africa. Another woman that seemed to be from the same place was standing close to me and was having a rough time dealing with the midge flies.

Bart wasn’t in the food bank line-up but I saw him backing out of PARC, shouting obscenities back inside as he left and then walked east while continuing to shout.  A tall and very large man that hangs around PARC came out at around the same time carrying a mug of coffee. He commented very loudly about Bart to people in the line-up, “Crazy! That's what ya call that!” I was standing next to the Canada Post box as big man walked up to me and asked, “How’s it goin?” then he said “Excuse me” because it seemed like he wanted to get past me on my left. But after I’d moved he installed himself where I’d been next to the mailbox so he could lean on it, set his mug down and have a smoke, as is his habit. If I’d known he hadn’t just wanted to get by I wouldn’t have moved. 

There is a native woman with an old dog that looks like it’s mostly black Lab. The dog wears a leash but often just drags it around on the sidewalk though he doesn’t wander very far from his caregiver. He was near the food bank entrance at one point when he dropped to his right hip and began scratching himself behind the ears while his large pink erection wobbled from the vibration.

Once I was downstairs and had shown my card to one of the women at the computers, I was waiting for one of the volunteers to serve me and overheard one of the women talking with Lana who was sitting nearby. Lana commented about the other woman always smiling but she said that inside she was depressed. Lana mentioned how people say that she never smiles. The smiling woman said, “You’re probably smiling on the inside!” but Lana told her, “No. I’m depressed too.”

At the top of the first shelf, among other odd items, were 355 ml bottles of hemp oil. I was intrigued, so I took one. My volunteer cautioned me that hemp oil is not for cooking, but rather for putting on one’s food. It says on the bottle not to heat it higher than 150 degrees centigrade, but it doesn’t say why. According to information online though, anything higher than 150 depletes it of nutrients and takes away its nutty taste. It’s also supposed to serve as a very good wood finish.

I got two packages of GimMe teriyaki flavoured roasted organic seaweed. The package informed me that “gim” actually means “roasted seaweed” in Korean.

I got eight oats and chocolate chewy bars, a can of flaked mackerel, a can of chickpeas and a can of spicy red pepper and chillies pasta sauce.

There were a few things I skipped from the shelves, like Chex cereal, pasta, “baked” beans and coconut water. I was also pretty picky at Angie’s section and didn’t take 2% milk, frozen ground chicken, veggie cheese or frozen falafel (which Angie pronounces “falafeeawl”). I think I got food poisoning the last time I ate the same kind of falafel from the food bank.

What I did take was the bag of three small eggs, the bottle of green apple, kiwi, kale and spinach juice and a bag of frozen onion rings with chilli.

Sylvia gave me a cauliflower, frozen carrots, two large tomatoes that were soft on to but firm on the bottom, an orange pepper, three small oranges with brown spots,

I eschewed potatoes, carrots, and an eggplant. I noticed that she had seedless cucumbers and though she didn’t offer one to me I would have turned that down as well.

Lately, in the bread section all they’ve had are white loaves and buns, and this time it was the same, except for one roasted garlic oval, which I took.

The shelves were fairly well stocked this time and have been for a while and there wasn’t a bad selection of vegetables this time but the dairy was more sparse than usual and onion rings aren’t exactly a real meal. They had us waiting for a little too long as well, but at least the midge flies weren’t the biting kind.

I notice that next year will be the 150th anniversary of the invention of margarine. It was the result of Napoleon offering a prize to any chemist that could invent a butter substitute for his navy. The beef tallow derivative that resulted was called “margarine” because it had the colour and lustre of pearls. 

Margarine of Era

Written By Christian Christian 03/05/2018
There were more people than I expected at the food bank on Saturday morning. I assumed that everyone would have gotten their social assistance deposits or cheques. I know my Ontario Works deposit came through but maybe the Ontario Disability Support Program cheques wouldn’t come until Monday.
I didn’t know whether or not they’d fixed their number problem of the previous week, so I made sure I knew my place in line this time. I’d brought a book to read but it was a cold and wet day and so I didn’t take it out of my bag.
I was glad to see Martina coming down the line with a box of numbers. I got 18 but I wasn’t disappointed since that was close to the number I would have gotten under the first come first serve system and it allowed me to step out of line and wander around while I was waiting.
The random number system hasn’t stopped the same people from arriving early, but I think it’s become a bit of a social club. The early birds all hang out and smoke together. There is such a smoking culture in the food bank line-up that one might almost think one was in prison.

Valdene the manager and Martina the door person brought out a shopping cart full of crates of tomatoes and loaded them into the food bank van. It was the first time I’d seen produce leave the food bank other than in the possession of clients.  Got the impression that they were returning the deadly nightshade cousins to either the Second Harvest or the Daily Bread. The prematurely silver-haired volunteer was about to drive the van away and complained to Valdene about the fact that the food bank clients don’t stand in a straight line. He argued again for a barrier like they have for nightclub line-ups. But if they gave nightclub patrons numbers they wouldn’t line up there either.
Someone further back in the line said hi to me and I recognized that it was Helen, whom I’ve known since the 80s when we used to both work at OCADU (then just OCA). Helen uses a walker now and told me that she is just recovering from massive surgery. She said she didn’t want to go into the details on exactly what procedure she’d undergone but she was in the hospital for a few days. Helen is also a writer and she asked me if I’d done any readings lately. I told her about the Shab-e She’r poetry night and she asked me to send her the information. We chatted there in the line-up for about twenty minutes until I asked her where she lived and she told me that she was on Dundas, not far from St Michael’s Hospital. It seemed to me odd that she would come all the way to Parkdale to the food bank and I inquired why. She told me that she was not there for the food bank but for shiatsu and I realized she’d mistakenly thought the food bank queue was a line-up for PARC. The shiatsu was on the wrong foot, so to speak. She gave me her number and went over to wait by the PARC entrance. I gave Helen’s number 29 back to Martina.
Heinz Klein arrived with his guitar for the usual Saturday jam at PARC. He came up to say hello and joked about the food bank really is a blood bank that takes the black blood of food bank clients.
It was a little after 11:00 when my number was called. Bart was in front of me and it seems that when he’s indoors and at close quarters with people he looks at others directly when he speaks his usual bizarre phrases. A woman in front of him thought that he was talking to her and suddenly put her hands on her head as if she were trying to keep it from exploding.
A new and young, male volunteer became Bart’s helper at the shelves but lost control of him and Bart started taking one of each item, rather than one item from each shelf. 
From the shelves I got a small jar of red bell pepper and cilantro salsa; a litre of cappuccino soy beverage; two little Fibre 1 brownies and a cinnamon bun of the same brand; a jar of strawberry-rhubarb jam; two small cans of maple style “baked” beans; a can of chickpeas and a tin of sardines.

My helper, the older Ukrainian lady, chastised the new volunteer for having left Bart to fend for himself at the last shelf, which is where they put the pasta and sauce. She told him that he to had stayed with his clients until he passes them over to Angie. When I told her I didn’t want any pasta or sauce she said, “Okay we’re done.” and walked away.

While I was waiting behind Bart to shop at Angie’s section I looked over and noticed an elderly woman taking some of the bananas off the bunch that Sylvia had just given her, handing them back to her and asking for two more. As Bart was moving on he tried to give me his package of veggie cheese slices. I declined the offer since those things taste disgusting.

Angie offered me milk, but I had some at home, so I declined. I took three eggs; two cups of pineapple Greek yogourt; a 450-gram container of smooth cottage cheese, another can of chocolate caramel whipped cream and an 850-gram container of Lactantia “Traditional Spread”.  I wondered why Lactantia doesn’t call the product “margarine” since the same company also makes margarine. I don’t think it’s missing any ingredients required for the name. Margarine in Canada, unless it’s labelled as low cal has to have at least 80% fat. The Traditional Spread meets that requirement. It does have 5% more soya oil and 1.5% more dairy than Imperial Margarine but I can’t see or taste much difference. I notice that next year will be the 150th anniversary of the invention of margarine. It was the result of Napoleon offering a prize to any chemist that could invent a butter substitute for his navy. The beef tallow derivative that resulted was called “margarine” because it had the colour and lustre of pearls.

The meat offerings of whole chickens and packs of ham that had been available for the last month were gone and now Angie was back with the usual choices of frozen ground chicken or frozen chicken wieners. I turned them down because I’d rather have quality meat as long as I have a little extra to pay for it. Just as I was about to move on to the vegetable section, Angie declared, “You look like you’re into the Planet stuff!” “People tell me that all the time!” I joked. She reached into the fridge behind her and handed me a litre bottle of Happy Planet “Extreme Green Fruit Smoothie with Spirulina and Moringa”. She explained that she meant that I look like I’m into taking care of myself and then added, “It’s a compliment!” I’d thought that Spirulina and Moringa were singers for the boy band Menudo but it turns out that Spirulina is a cyanobacteria that has been eaten for centuries in Latin America and Moringa is a tree with lots of edible parts that are mostly grown in the Himalayan region of India.

I told Sylvia I would take everything she had but potatoes because I have plenty of those. She gave me a couple of onions, two seedless cucumbers, an eggplant and a bag of Portobello mushrooms.

Well, the good meat is gone, but the shelves are still fairly well stocked, there’s quite a bit of dairy and this was the first time I’d ever gotten mushrooms from the food bank. 

The big guy that had gotten angry at Bart’s verbal outbursts a few weeks before now blew up at the guy for allegedly butting in. It didn’t make any sense to me to get angry about places in line since we now had a random number system, so I said to the guy, “What difference does it make?” 

Fake Baked Beans and Overheated People

Written By Christian Christian 23/04/2018

Outside the food bank on Saturday morning the regular crowd was there. We were all waiting for Martina to come around with the box of numbers for us to randomly pick. It was the first day in many months warm enough for barehanded reading and since I was finished with school till September I continued from where I’d left off last summer with Balzac’s “The Atheist’s Mass” in my dual language book of French stories.
For the first half hour or so things were uneventful until someone arrived and took a spot in line near the front, explaining that he’d been there earlier. The big guy that had gotten angry at Bart’s verbal outbursts a few weeks before now blew up at the guy for allegedly butting in. It didn’t make any sense to me to get angry about places in line since we now had a random number system, so I said to the guy, “What difference does it make?” This caused him to go ballistic on me as he started yelling, “Mind your own fucking business! You’ve always got something to say! Last time it was about that schizophrenic guy! Just get out of my fucking face and leave me alone! I’m just here to get some help! I don’t need your bullshit!” Whenever I opened my mouth to try to reason with him he would just cut me off with, “I don’t give a fuck!” Finally I just told him to relax, but of course, that’s one of the worst things one can say to an angry person. My daughter’s mother almost scratched my eyes out once when I told her to relax when she was mad.
The prematurely white-haired volunteer that sometimes drives the van came out to announce that somebody screwed up with the numbers and so this time everybody would have to remember their places in line. That rendered the conversation I’d attempted to have with the angry guy totally pointless from the get-go. We all more or less found our places in line and waited.
After the line had moved a couple of times I asked the door guy what happened to the numbers. He said he just couldn’t find them and the manager, Valdene hadn’t shown up, which is weird, since she’s the only person there that gets paid. I’d always been curious as to whether food bank management gets paid. He explained that she started getting paid in January because now they have extra money from the March of Dimes.

When the young woman at the computer checked my name on the system I asked her if they were going to have the numbers back next week. She said, “We know where the numbers are but we just decided not to use them this time because there weren’t many people.” There were just as many people as usual so I don’t know what she was talking about and I’m not sure if she did either.
The only volunteer working the shelves was the older Ukrainian lady and so I had to wait until she’d done a full cycle with the person ahead of me.
I hadn’t been there for a couple of weeks because I was preparing for an exam the previous Saturday. I noticed that they’d rearranged the shelves a bit and removed one entirely.
On top of the first shelf, there was a plastic jar of applesauce with raspberries.
From lower down, I got three oats and chocolate chewy bars.
The bottom of the first shelf now held the cereal that used to be on a shelf behind Angie, but that shelf had been replaced by a big fridge with glass doors. The only cereals though were boxes of Chex, which I’ve never liked very much, so I didn’t take any.
At the top of the second set of shelves was a small can of Bush’s “baked” beans. Most makers of canned beans in Canada don’t pretend on the labels that their beans are baked when they are really steamed. Bush’s is a Tennessee based company that falsely markets their beans as baked. There are actually only two companies in the United States that sell canned beans that have been baked in pots inside of large ovens. Those are B&M in Maine and S&W, a Del Monte acquisition in California.
Further down I grabbed a can of chickpeas and below that a tin of sardines.
There were lots of canned soups but I picked a carton of market vegetable soup.
I stood for about ten minutes in front of Angie’s dairy section waiting for Angela. At first, she was in the back and then she was a couple of meters away and it seemed she was instructing Sylvia to separate her rutabagas and grapefruits. I was physically patient but what she was doing didn’t seem necessary. At one point she said to me, “I’ll be with you in a minute hon!” Five minutes later she was back at her station.
She offered me milk but all she had was 2% and I don’t know if it’ll make a difference but I’m trying to cut my fat intake so I’ve decided to only drink 1% from now on. Angie shrugged and said, “Ohhkay.” Then she asked me if I wanted a one-litre chocolate coconut smoothie. She assured me that it was very good, so I accepted it. She also gave me two cups of fruit bottom yogourt and two half-cup blocks of Becel margarine. Instead of the usual bag of four eggs I got three large ones. The final dairy item was perhaps the most decadent thing I’ve ever gotten from the food bank: a pressurized can of dark chocolate-caramel whip-cream.
Sylvia had seedless cucumber, a bag of potatoes, small orange, yellow and red peppers, onions and a frozen Wageners Black Forest style ham. I assume that ham producers not of the Black Forest are legally required to put the word “style” in front of the product, because since 1997 “Black Forest Ham” has been a protected designation of origin in the European Union as is Sangria, Prosciutto and Stilton. It has always struck me as odd though how different the taste is between Black Forest Ham and Black Forest cake.
I walked out the door but then I remembered that I was out of bread, so I went back in to see what they had. The only loaves on offer were white buns and multigrain baguettes, so I took a pass.
I hope the food bank fixes the problem with the numbers next time. The random system is nice because one doesn’t have to worry about remembering one’s place in line or whether someone else has jumped ahead. 
As far as the food goes the shelves continue to be well stocked and there’s lots of protein and dairy.

There’s nothing much that can be done about the occasional volunteer shortage like this time, but if the manager is getting paid now it seems to me that she should be there when the food bank is open.

The only unpleasant experience on this food bank visit was dealing with the pushy volunteer. I’m sure she’s a wonderful person who would come on like gangbusters to defend any of her friends, but I don’t really think she should be serving clients at the food bank. Her talents would be much better utilized if she worked in the back, stocking shelves, unloading trucks or stopping traffic with her fists so the trucks could pull in.

Cultural Appropriation?

Written By Christian Christian 10/04/2018
When I got to the food bank on Saturday morning I asked a couple of guys having a conversation near the bike stand ring if the numbers had been handed out yet and they told me they hadn’t. I noticed that even a month after they brought in the random way of giving out numbers, people still line up and take note of their positions in line. I think it’s useful to be in a line when Martina comes around with the box of numbers because it makes it easier for her to make sure that everyone has gotten a number, but the first person in line could get number 27 now, so it’s meaningless where people stand in line. Unless of course Martina miscalculates how many numbers she needs to put in the box. If she does so then the last person in line won’t get a number from the box but rather a higher number brought up from downstairs.
At first, I thought it was warmer outside than usual and I started reading “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver with my bare hands. My hands got cold though so I put on my spring gloves, with which I can still turn pages but then I began to realize that it was really quite frigid outside, so I put the book away, zipped up my jacket and switched back to my winter gloves.
Coco came for the first time that I’ve seen her on a Saturday. She’s the only transgender person that I’ve noticed at the food bank in the three years that I’ve been going and she was there the first time I went to the old location. In the last year or so that I’ve seen her around the neighbourhood, she’s acquired a little toy poodle, which she brought with her this time in the front basket of her bike. It was wearing a white sweater with a red maple leaf on it, but the outfit didn’t look like something that was made for a dog. It looked more like something Coco had adapted from a kid’s sweatshirt.
After leaning her bike on a pole Coco put the leash on her dog, but most of the time she held the pet in her arms and danced with it while singing. I didn’t notice that she had headphones on so maybe she was moving to music in her mind. At one point I turned to look at her and she laughed. I smiled and told her that I used to dance with my daughter like that when she was small.

Martina came around with the numbers and I got number 6, so for the second week in a row I got a number lower than I ever would have gotten under the old system.
The big Jamaican woman who hadn’t been there for a month arrived. She asked if she was behind me because it always seems to her that she is just behind me in line. I explained to her that the line-up doesn’t really mean anything anymore because the numbers are randomly given out. Coco was confused by her wristband with the little square arborite number attached because there was a number on both sides, one of which was much higher than the other. That was true for all of the cards, which have a light side and a dark side. Mine, for instance, had the number 6 on the light side, whereas on the dark side it said 93. I assured Coco that her number was the smaller one, which was 14. She didn’t understand why I would get 6 and she would get 14 when I was one place ahead of her in line. I explained that it was done like a lottery and that the reason was to prevent food bank clients from showing up at 7:30 so they could be first in line.
Bart was there but he was much quieter this week than last and his uncontrolled rants were not about parents having sex with their children this time but about people smoking crack. He was talking to a guy in line who kind of looked like a young Ice-T. Bart said a bunch of stuff that mentioned basketball and baseball and the other guy told him, “I don’t wanna hear about your balls”. For a while, it almost sounded like Bart and the other guy were engaged in a rap battle, although there was no rhythm or rhyme to any of Bart’s streams of words. The other guy would listen to a machine gun barrage of phrases about crack smokers and then he’d respond with rhythmic and rhyming lines that were definitely intended to be hip-hop lyrics, such as, “I’m a gay lord! I’m the lord of all gays!” The Bart would spew for a few seconds while the other guy was cooking up another zinger, which he would finally blurt out, “I’m a faggot, but ya can’t have it!” Coco was passing him just as he said that and she snickered. This went on for a couple more minutes, with the other guy always injecting some short rhyme relating to homosexuality.
I suddenly noticed people going downstairs and went into the foyer and asked someone if Martina had called any numbers yet. He told me that he thought she was up to number 10. I find that Martina often speaks in a very low voice when she’s calling the numbers and I find it annoying when I’ve missed my cue to go downstairs so I can get my food and leave.
After I had been processed on the computer I turned toward the first set of shelves and a young volunteer that I’d never seen before asked if she could see my card. I showed it to her and then I asked if I could see her card. She said, “I don’t have one. I’m just a volunteer.” I continued teasing her by asking, “How do I know you’re not just somebody posing as a volunteer if you don’t have a card?” Suddenly a large and very butch woman that I’ve seen and loudly heard hanging around the food bank for years, but never saw her acting as a helper at the shelves, came forward and said to me, “Okay, let’s go!” Her pushy manner meant that she was going to accompany me. The other volunteer, who was next in line to guide a client, asked, “Oh, so you want to take him?” The pushy one said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” I should have just told her I’d go with the nice one, and I probably will if the situation repeats itself. The pushy one didn’t even seem to want to start with the first set of shelves. She went over to the second set and tried to motion me over. I stood there looking at the first set and so she came back.
At the top of the first shelf, amid the cake mixes and taco kits, were small bottles of organic, cold pressed flax oil. I took one of those. Further down there were various cans of different types of fruit. I took the one with the peach slices from Greece. From the bottom, she gave me four crunchy granola bars.
There was another volunteer serving another client at the set of shelves in front of us, but instead of waiting until they were finished, my impatient helper went ahead of them and called to me over their heads to ask, “You want soup?” Then she looked at the cans and said, “There’s tomato and chicken!” I calmly told her that I needed to see what was there. “I’m telling you what’s there!” she barked. “There’s tomato and there’s chicken!” The people ahead of us moved on and when I got close to the shelf I saw that there was indeed mostly tins of tomato and chicken soup, but I reached to the back and turned a can around to find it was chunky pepper steak and tomato soup. From the bottom, she gave me a couple of little cups of orange-pineapple juice and a bottle of jasmine tea.
From the protein shelf, I got two containers of chickpeas and a can of tuna.
The people ahead of us were still at the pasta shelf and so my bumptious helper jumped ahead once again and asked, “You want pasta?” I told her “No thanks.” “You want sauce?” “Yes, I’ll take some sauce.” She handed me a can of generic spaghetti sauce, but when I got to the shelf I put it back and took instead a jar of Délices D’Autrefois meat sauce. Delices D’Autrefois is a Quebec company specializing in gourmet sauces and the name basically means “Old Style Delicious”.
I was almost at the end of my ordeal with the overbearing volunteer. From the cereal shelf, I selected a family size box of honey-sweetened Shreddies. I noticed that on the back there were recipes for kids to have fun using Shreddies to make “inukshuks” with the help of pretzel sticks for vertical support, fruit leather for horizontal support and chocolate icing for mortar. I think that the plural of “inuksuk” is actually “inuksuit”. I noticed that the best before date on the cereal was June 17, 2009 and so the inuksuk recipe was meant to ride on the inuksuk that was the official symbol of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I wondered if encouraging kids to make inuksuit out of food might be considered to be cultural appropriation. I looked it up later but only one person mentioned it in a three-page search. All the other articles were arguments as to whether or not the Olympic inuksuk was cultural appropriation.
With great relief I moved on to Angie’s meat and dairy section. She offered me a carton of milk but I had three bags at home and I don’t go through it very fast. I took a four-pack of strawberry yogourt. I was asked if I wanted butter and was handed a container for Silhouette yogourt. I looked inside it when I got home and found that it was half full of a shapeless mass of butter. It didn’t look like it was cut from a block of butter like one would buy in the supermarket so I wondered if someone had actually made it at home and scooped it into available containers to donate to the food bank. If they did I hope they used a machine and didn’t sit there shaking a jar for hours like I did once.
Angie still had whole chickens and hams like last week so I grabbed another one of the chickens. She gave me a frozen dinner that looked like it was meant for Thanksgiving, with turkey meatloaf, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and mashed potatoes. I’m a little worried about that item though because the best before date was August 2017. She also asked if I wanted some cheese but all I’d seen in that bin was the packages of single slices of veggie cheese, which tastes like the sweat on a horse’s ass. I told Angie that I didn’t want any veggie cheese and then she dug down deep in the bin and handed me a ball of mozzarella, which I took. She told me that she really couldn’t tell the difference in taste between the two. I repeated her statement incredulously, “You really can’t tell the difference between veggie cheese and mozzarella?” She confessed that she lost her sense of taste a long time ago.
At the vegetable section Sylvia offered me some of the enormous potatoes she had but I turned them down because I have a lot and I only eat one potato a day. She suggested that I just tell her what I wanted from the things that were on display, so I asked for a cauliflower, a seedless cucumber, some of the different coloured little peppers and some onions. Sylvia invited me to help myself to the bread, but once again I had enough at home.
The only unpleasant experience on this food bank visit was dealing with the pushy volunteer. I’m sure she’s a wonderful person who would come on like gangbusters to defend any of her friends, but I don’t really think she should be serving clients at the food bank. Her talents would be much better utilized if she worked in the back, stocking shelves, unloading trucks or stopping traffic with her fists so the trucks could pull in.
The shelves had been well stocked for the last couple of weeks and this time I had no complaints about the food either. Whole chickens and hams for two weeks in a row are unprecedented and then home churned butter too. Thanks to everybody that donated!

During one of Bart’s rants a white-haired man with a moustache and a baseball cap and who was waiting for PARC to open for breakfast, shouted angrily at Bart, calling him by name and telling him he wasn’t in the mood to listen to his bullshit today. He told him to get away. Bart just calmly said, “Okay” and moved up the street,

Coping with Coprolalia

Written By Christian Christian 03/04/2018
On Saturday morning when I went to the mirror I had clown hair. I need to get it cut soon, but I’ll do it after my exam on April 18th.

I finished my Shab-e She’r review before heading over to the food bank. Because last week Martina had just finished handing out the numbers when I arrived, I went five minutes earlier this time. I got there at the right time, as Martina and Angie were having a smoke on the steps of 1501 Queen and the numbers hadn’t been distributed yet. When she finished her cigarette Martina went inside to get her little box of numbered wristbands and then went down the line. I was pleased to have selected number 2, which is something I would never have gotten under the first come first served system because I would have had to get there ridiculously early. A tall, muscular looking man whom I’d never seen there before and who looked out of place in a smart suit jacket that either said “gangster” or “undercover cop”, lucked into pulling number 1. I told him that in the old days he would have had to show up at 7:30 to get that number. He responded that it’s like life. You never know what cards you’re gonna be dealt.
Bart, the food bank regular with the type of Tourette Syndrome known as coprolalia that causes him to shout out obscene phrases, was particularly loud this time. One of his themes on this occasion was “that chick is so ugly” with one riff going into “she has to fuck herself with her own foot”. Another of Bart’s recurring subjects involves absurdly and cartoonishly described scenarios of fathers and mothers having sex with their children. Bart is almost constantly bumming cigarettes every time I see him and for on this day, he even approached me for the first time to ask if I smoked. For a while, he crossed to the sunny side of Queen with a couple of other guys and was standing in the streetcar shelter for the length of a cigarette as he gesticulated and spit. When they came back to my side Bart pointed at my shoe and said one of the others, “This guy’s shoe gets stuck in the middle of the street along with your spit and then gets displaced by that guy over there’s penis part …” During one of Bart’s rants a white-haired man with a moustache and a baseball cap and who was waiting for PARC to open for breakfast, shouted angrily at Bart, calling him by name and telling him he wasn’t in the mood to listen to his bullshit today. He told him to get away. Bart just calmly said, “Okay” and moved up the street, but he couldn’t go far since he was waiting for his number to be called. He ended up in the middle of the main body of food bank clients and when he manifested another of his tics the man in the suit jacket finally blew up at him and threatened to slap him for talking about children. I walked up to the man and tried to explain to Bart that, “He can’t control himself!” “I don’t give a fuck! He’s talking about kids!” “He doesn’t know what he’s saying! What are you gonna do, beat up someone that is clearly mentally ill?” “I didn’t say I was gonna beat the shit out of anybody!” “You just talked about it!” “Get the fuck out of my face! Go hang out with your friend if you like the things he says so much!” “It’s not a matter of liking what he says, but understanding his situation!” He shook his head in disgust and moved away from me.
Martina called the first five numbers and I went inside. A Native woman wearing a baby blue hat in the shape of a funny animal that I didn’t recognize, though it definitely wasn’t a pussy hat, was walking behind me and she commented about the confrontation I’d had with the angry man. She told me that her brother has the same problem and I was right that there is no point getting angry at someone with the condition because it just causes them to shout louder. This is true, based on the information I’ve read on a Torette Syndrome site. The tics manifest themselves more strongly with heightened emotion, even when the emotion is positive. In Bart’s case it must not help matters for him to always be jonesing for a cigarette.
Downstairs the volunteer situation was quite a contrast to the week before. I think there might have been as many as ten people working and in fact it seemed a bit crowded.
The elderly Ukrainian lady was my helper at the shelves.
At the top of the first set of shelves was a bag of vegetable chip triangles made from five vegetables: potato, tomato, spinach, broccoli and carrot. One assumes the five vegetables are supposed to appeal to people that want to eat healthy but I was sceptical that vegetables that are broken down to a powder would have any nutritional value. From what I’ve read online though, vegetable powders made from dehydrated vegetables are supposed to keep a lot of the healthy contents of the original veggies. When I look at the nutritional information on the bag though it says there are zero vitamins in the chips but 4% iron. From another shelf, I grabbed a big bag of ketchup potato chips with the unattractive name “1 lb of Chips” from the same company called “Yum Yum” that makes the vegetable chips. I was surprised to see that the ketchup chips have 10% vitamin C. It turns out that both potato chips and ketchup are high in vitamin C and they also are 4% iron. I’d never heard of Yum Yum, even though they are a family business out of Quebec that’s been around since 1959. Of the vegetable chips, I couldn’t detect the difference between a green, a red, or a white chip. They all taste like Munchos, which I like, but there is nothing in their flavour that would suggest any of the five vegetables. The big bag of chips really does weigh a pound though.
At the bottom of the first set of shelves, there were little packages of cookies for kids. They didn’t interest me very much and there were none of the usual granola or energy bars. There was, however, a lonely bag of coffee beans, which I grabbed.
Under the shelf that held the big bag of chips were three kinds of drinks: bottles of coconut water, drinking boxes of peach nectar and bottles of green tea. I took the green tea with the snazzy packaging by Vitasoy from Hong Kong. It also has vitamin C so it will go well with the potato chips.
From the soup section, I got a pack of soup noodles with chicken flavour and a carton of beef broth. That shelf was well stocked with cans of soup as well.
Further down I took a can of chickpeas and from another shelf a small tin of tuna.
In the pasta section I found a jar of organic tomato and basil pasta sauce.
Among the boxed cereals I found a naked bag of raisin bran type cereal.
There was a bit of a traffic jam around Angie’s dairy and meat section. She had gone to the back to look for something and left a line up waiting and as I said there were so many volunteers on the floor that were cutting across the line to do various things that it created some chaos.
Once Angie returned she offered me a choice between 1% and 2% milk. I selected the 1% because of a recent decision to make lighter choices, especially in my coffee. She gave me four cups of fruit bottom yogourt and then seemed to forget because she paused and asked me if she’d given me milk and yogourt yet. I confirmed that she had and then she paused and asked me again. Two of the meat choices were the usual chicken wieners and frozen ground chicken, but there was also this time whole chickens and hams. I picked the poultry and Angie said, “There ya go my darling!”
The always cheerful Sylvia handed me a bunch of broccoli, a seedless cucumber, two onions, a bag of rainbow carrots and two double fistfuls of small potatoes. She also passed me two bananas, an apple and a big mango.
I had bread at home, so I didn’t bother digging for anything interesting in the bakery section.
The wait wasn’t half as long as the week before and in terms of the food received, if every visit to the food bank resulted in one taking home a whole chicken or a ham, two litres of milk, and a good selection of greens, there wouldn’t be much to complain about. Obviously, there were more donations this time because of people feeling generous leading up to the Easter Weekend. 

There was a woman with two children of about 5 and 7 that arrived in front of the Parkdale Activities and Recreation Centre at around 10:45 and looking very out of place. She was carrying three new sleeping bags rolled up in plastic packages which it looked like she intended to donate.

From Slave Labour to Table?

Written By Christian Christian 26/03/2018

It felt like I had food poisoning on Saturday morning and suspect that it came from the leftover frozen falafel from the food bank that I’d cooked the night before. That fowl falafel made me feel awful. There were two more bags of the stuff in the fridge but I decided to throw them in the garbage. I’d rather live without feeling sick.
Since last Saturday the food bank handed out the random numbers at around 10:30, I decided that I’d go there this time fifteen minutes later than usual. But when I arrived the doorkeeper (I think her name is Martina) had already handed them out. I asked her for a number just as she was going back inside with an empty box. She came back a minute or so later to hand me number 21. Then she and the manager, Valdene, got into the food bank van and drove off. One of the volunteers who came out for a smoke said they couldn’t open until they couldn’t open until they came back. They returned 45 minutes later with a load of food that looked like it came from donations to a food bank barrel in one of the local supermarkets.
It was another bitterly cold day and I hadn’t dressed warmer because I’d stupidly expected their new system to make things go more quickly. In actuality, eliminating the line up does not stop most of us from having to wait in the cold. It just makes it unnecessary for some regulars to show up super early just to be first in line.
There were a lot of people smoking and two classes of cigarette addicts: the ones that buy their own and the ones that always either bum smokes or scavenge them. It seems that as soon as a two-thirds smoked cig hits the ground someone has already picked it up again and started smoking the rest of it. One guy that was given a fag inhaled it so hard and fast that there was still a cigarette-shaped cylinder of ashes sticking out from the butt when he was finished.
There was a used coffee mug hanging from a nail in a wooden hydro pole by a piece of twine that had been tied through the handle.
There was a woman with two children of about 5 and 7 that arrived in front of the Parkdale Activities and Recreation Centre at around 10:45 and looking very out of place. She was carrying three new sleeping bags rolled up in plastic packages which it looked like she intended to donate. When she found out that PARC wouldn’t open until 11:00 she stood waiting, but after a while, I saw three people, each with one of the sleeping bags and the woman and her kids were gone. There are homeless people that come to PARC every day but I don’t think that a single one of the people that she gave the sleeping bags to was homeless.
After 11:00 a tall guy in shorts came out of the apartment building next door to the food bank and went into PARC. I didn’t recognize him until he came back out and called my name. It was Justin Zaza, whom I’ve known since the 90s when he used to come to my writers open stage at the Gladstone and some friends of mine called him “Little Baby Mummy”.  A few years ago he was living in an expensive studio on King Street, just west of downtown. He was shooting an experimental film and he’d invited me to participate. I took the trouble to memorize my lines and came to do my part for free but later I found that he’d forgotten to take the cap off the camera lens. He asked if I would reshoot it but I told him I didn’t have the time. He offered me $25, so I said I’d do it, but then he decided he didn’t want to pay anything. I told him at the time that he was a douchebag for backing out on an offer. So now he’s living at 1501 Queen and he says it’s nice. He says he takes advantage of all the amenities that are being offered in the neighbourhood. He was holding a large Tim Horton’s takeout cup and told me that he gets free refills at PARC all day long. I’d always thought that Justin came from a rich family.
It was almost 11:30 by the time my number was called.
At the top of the first set of shelves were cake mixes and white plastic bags full of garlic seasoning. I took the garlic stuff. From the bottom, I was given two cinnamon-brown sugar oatmeal squares and a handful of single servings of strawberry jam.
The second set of shelves had lots of canned beans. I took a can of beans with maple syrup and another can of mixed beans. Further down was the canned fish and peanut butter shelf. I took a tin of “East Coast style” Millionaire sardines but on the back, it says they were caught off the west coast while on the side it says they are a product of Thailand. I guess they’d have to be millionaire sardines to be able to afford to travel that much. The bottom shelf had apple juice drinking boxes but there was one larger bottle of organic 7-11 apple juice from concentrate.
There was no broth in the soup section and no sauce on the pasta shelves, so I moved on to the cereal. There were mostly boxes of Cheerios but I got one of All Bran Buds.
Angie had a lot of milk to offer of various percentages but I had to turn them down. There were also yogourts and some kind of fruity cream cheese dip, which I told her I couldn't eat until Easter. She said, “I see what’s goin on now!” and gave me an extra bag of four eggs. I put one back in my right jacket pocket and the other in my left and only one egg broke by the time I got them into my fridge. She gave me a litre of “not from concentrate” apple juice. Once again I eschewed the usual tube of frozen ground chicken and the pack of frozen chicken wieners. I did take the box of frozen tandoori chicken “samosas” with both annoying and clever name of “Snak Man Doo”. The company is owned by Bellissio, which is owned by a mega food-producing corporation headquartered in Thailand called Charoen Pokphand Foods, which owns large animal and fish farms. They were accused in 2014 of buying fishmeal for their prawn farms from boats that use slave labour. The mostly Burmese and Cambodian slaves are supposedly bought for $455, are given drugs so they can put in 20-hour workdays and non-compliant slaves have been allegedly executed. It’s possible that the sardines for Millionaires were also caught by slave labour. I wonder if there’s a retirement plan.
Sylvia’s vegetable section had a fair variety of items. She gave me a bag containing ten potatoes; a small cabbage; two cucumbers; four small zucchini; an onion; two and a half carrots; an apple; a bag containing a medley of frozen carrots and beans; a lot of little non-bell sweet peppers: 11 red, two orange and two yellow; and five soft tomatoes.

So there was still lots of standing around in the cold despite the food bank’s new lottery system of handing out numbers. While decent meat is still scarce, dairy seems plentiful, the shelves are well stocked and for the most part, there were lots of veggies. When I got home though I had to toss every one of the tomatoes that I’d been given because I can live without any more food poisoning.

They had changed the system so that it was no longer first come first serve but now it was a lottery. That seemed really unfair to the people that come early to be first in line. If they are going to bother to come out and hand out numbers to people, why not just give the first person in line number 1, the second number 2 and so on?

The End of the Line Up?

Written By Christian Christian 19/03/2018
On Saturday morning I went to the food bank for the first time in over a month. The main reason that I hadn’t been going was that I had an essay to work on for my 20th Century US Literature class, but I also wasn’t that broken up about not standing in the freezing cold weather for two hours. I’d brought some Robert Frost to read this time but it was still too cold to take off my gloves, but not the kind of acid freeze that eats through all protection.

There was a very talkative woman a few places ahead of me in line, telling another woman stories from her life, non-stop. One was about sitting down to a meal at home with a man that was wearing a hat. Another woman walked in and said, “Don’t you know it’s not polite to wear a hat at the table?” Then she pulled the man’s hat off but his toupee came with it and she saw that he was bald. The woman exclaimed, “That’s what you really look like? Ewww!”

Another story involved a friend that had somehow gotten a horse into her backyard in downtown Toronto. They went riding on the street and ran into a mounted cop that commanded, “Get down off that horse!” The guy responded, “You get down off your horse!” The policeman warned him, “You’re gonna get a ticket!” The guy asked, “For what? I don’t see any signs that say, ‘No horses’!”

The woman briefly stopped talking to her friend when she saw across the street a middle-aged couple all decked out in green for St Patrick’s Day. She shouted, “Hey leprechaun!” The man did look a bit leprechaunish in his 19th Century style attire while the woman wore a solid green coat over a green and white floral dress. Trailing behind them was a man whose only green decoration was a green wig made of wide strips of cloth under a hat.

Speaking of riding, across the street I saw two little girls of about five on strider bikes riding west on the north sidewalk of Queen Street. The thing was though that I didn’t see any grown-up supervising them. Several adults came up from behind and each time I thought that might be the parent but they would walk past them. The kids stopped at the corner of Sorauren and Queen and finally a woman pushing a baby carriage caught up with them, told them they could cross and they shot on ahead of her again. When I’d first seen the kids she must have been a full block behind. It looks like she had them well trained to wait at the crossing, but I’m not sure if I would have been comfortable with my daughter being that far away from me when she was that age.

I looked behind me and saw Mo step into line. I hadn’t seen him since the fall and he hasn’t come to the food bank on Saturday for several months. At first, he didn’t recognize me and then he explained that he’d lost sight in one eye entirely and it was very bad in the other. He told me that he doesn’t go out at night anymore and he recently injured his leg while getting onto the streetcar because his foot missed the step. He’s scheduled for surgery and he’s hopeful that his vision will be restored but he has been warned that there is a possibility of it not correcting the problem. He lamented that it’s been a rough year for him because in addition to his impairment he also lost both parents this year. His father died in January and his mother passed away a week ago.

Mo said he stopped coming to the food bank on Wednesdays because there was too much fighting. I asked if he meant fist fighting but he clarified that he’d meant a lot of arguing about places in line.

At around 10:30 the door person came around with a box of wristbands that had numbers attached to them. We were each asked to pick one without looking. I got number 16 and Mo got 14. The woman behind him got 4. They had changed the system so that it was no longer first come first serve but now it was a lottery. That seemed really unfair to the people that come early to be first in line. If they are going to bother to come out and hand out numbers to people, why not just give the first person in line number 1, the second number 2 and so on?

The first ten numbers were called shortly after the bands had been handed out. The line had been fairly smoke-free up until that point but suddenly a group that had been waiting inside were having a last smoke together before the next round of numbers were called. I stepped away until they were done with their cigarettes. When I came back, Mo showed me a picture on his phone of his Mustang, which he informed me was the same kind of car that Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt. Mo expressed confidence that he would be able to drive it again after his surgery.

I heard the doorperson call number 17 but hadn’t heard her call any number after 10. I stepped forward and Mo and I went downstairs. I could see he was having some difficulty seeing where he was stepping on the way down.

When I handed in my wristband at the desk I told the reception guy that I thought this was a stupid and unfair system. But then he took the time to explain to me that they don’t want people lining up on Queen Street or crowding up the foyer to the building three hours before the food bank opens. He assured me that everyone is going to get the same amount of food so there is no reason for clients to come that early. His argument made sense to me, and that would mean I could come later from now on, which is a good thing.

They no longer give clients a number at the desk to into a can two meters away, which was always a dumb setup. Now we just have to show our food bank cards to the volunteer that guides us along the shelves.

I picked a sleeve of something that looked like Ritz crackers and a small jar of port wine jelly from the first two shelves. From the bottom, my helper gave me a cinnamon bun flavoured Fibre 1 bar, a chewy chocolate granola bar and a cocoa and coconut Larabar.

On the next set of shelves, there were some jars of peanut butter that caught my eye because the labels read “caramel peanut butter” and “chocolate chip peanut butter”. Oddly there was no company name attached but when I looked it up later I saw that pretty much every company that makes peanut butter is spinning off into flavoured varieties. I was about to take a jar but then I saw to the left some cans of sardines, so I took one of those. He said I could take a second can and just as I was moving on he passed me the peanut butter that I’d been eyeing as well.

From the top of the next set of shelves, I grabbed a can of chickpeas. One shelf down I selected a tin of curried cauliflower and lentil soup. Below that was a small bottle of feta dressing. From the bottom, I picked a container of coconut water and a bottle of grapefruit cocktail.

From the pasta section, I snagged a can of tomato sauce and then walked over behind Angie to take a box of multigrain Cheerios from the cereal shelf.

Angie, said, “Hey babe, I haven’t seen you in a while!” I explained that I’d had some schoolwork to do. She gave me a bag of four eggs, which I put into my jacket pocket. There were the usual offerings of milk and yogourt and another dairy product that I don’t remember. I didn’t take any of those because I’ve just come off a fruit fast and I won’t be eating any dairy until Easter Sunday. Instead I took the only carton of nut milk, which was a blend of almonds, cashews and hazelnuts. I was surprised though that the label read, “Not a source of protein”. I’d always thought nuts are a source of protein. I looked it up and found that almonds, cashews and hazelnuts are rich in protein but it takes less almonds to turn them into milk than it does soybeans and using too many would make it oily and thick.

Angie also gave me a box of frozen seasoned chicken mini samosas in tandoori lime sauce. She called the samosas and they look something like samosas, but the box just calls them “bites”.

The usual tubes of frozen ground chicken and packs of frozen hot dogs were there, but I chose not to take either. The ground chicken is okay in a pinch but it’s very low quality meat. I’ve got a little bit of extra money for a while and so when I start eating meat I’ll splurge on the good stuff and save the cheap chicken for when I’m broke again.

Sylvia had a fair variety of vegetables this time. She was about to give me the largest cabbage, but then stopped and said, “I don’t like that one!” I declared that small is better and explained that it has something to do with the low water content creating a higher sugar content. When I think about it though, I’ve only read that this is true for fruit, but I assume it might also be true for vegetables. When vegetables are deprived of water they are naturally smaller but they contain the same amount of sugar as a larger variety, which makes them taste sweeter because the sugar is less diluted.

Sylvia also put three onions, two green peppers, five cucumbers, four carrots and a bag containing ten potatoes in my bag. I didn’t take any bread this time because I won’t be eating bread for another week and a half.

So, I was unhappy at first with the new wristband system, but once it was explained to me it made sense. It will be interesting to see how this changes things but I think this new system has been in effect for a week or yet people came early to line up anyway, out of habit.

As for the food, they could almost always stand to have better quality meat, but the food bank had a fairly healthy selection of vegetables and the shelves were well stocked this time as well.


Last Saturday had been very cold but today it was mean-cold with an added wind chill factor. As I stood waiting and the freeze began to eat into my toes and bite the tip of my schnozz, I started considering it to have been a very good thing that I’d slept through the first half hour of standing around in this hellish weather.

Taking Off the X-Lax Glasses

Written By Christian Christian 15/01/2018
I got up to pee on Saturday at 2:50 and on my way back to bed I heard someone pounding on the front door downstairs. Thinking that it might be one of my fellow tenants having lost a key, I stuck my head out the window. A man was down there but not from our building. I called out, “Yes?” He looked up and told me that someone that he’d just dropped off at our address had just left their passport in his cab. I went down to the front door wearing nothing but a towel. I asked the driver to show me the picture on the document, so he brought it to me. It was a young woman with long brown hair. She certainly did not live at this address and so she must have been visiting. Since I didn’t recall seeing her visiting anyone in my building before, I started to think that she might have been a prostitute. The African driver shook his head in disbelief on hearing that suggestion. I told him that the best I could do was to leave the passport on top of the mailboxes, since I certainly wasn’t going to go knocking on apartments doors at that hour just in case the woman was behind one of them. He didn’t think that leaving it on the mailboxes was a good idea, and on reflection, I agree. It would be safer for the cab company, which was Beck, to hold onto it. He told me that he’d given her a receipt, so she should be able to track it that way.
It was 3:00 when I got back to bed. I still had two hours before it was time to get up and I normally have no problem getting back to sleep, but this time, in the back of my mind I was concerned for the woman and her passport. I didn’t consciously try to stay awake, just in case she came out again, but that seems to have been what was going on. After an hour with no one leaving, it became less likely that she was an escort. I narrowed it down to my upstairs neighbour, David, or his third floor neighbour, whom I’d seen but never spoken with. At 4:30 I heard someone go down the stairs and so I got up to look out the window and if it was the woman, to call to her, but it was David on his way to work. I went back to bed, but did not sleep before my alarm went off.
I didn’t feel very tired at all during yoga or song practice, but at 9:06, when I was doing some writing, exhaustion suddenly caught up to me and I had to lie down. I wanted to get ready to go to the food bank at 9:30 and so I planned to rest for 24 minutes. Usually I’m pretty good at willing myself to sleep for limited periods of time but I woke up at 10:10, feeling disoriented at first until I realized that I was late for the line up.
I rushed to get ready and arrived about half an hour later than usual, but the line didn’t seem very much longer than it had been when I’d gotten there at my usual time of 9:45.
As I was locking my bike, the young woman from Latin America said hi to me and commented about how it had suddenly gotten cold again after having been so warm for the last few days. I agreed that it was very cold and offered the view that it was a good thing after that the mayor had opened up the armoury for the homeless. At first it had seemed too little too late because they’d only made the armoury available after the last cold snap had ended, but now that the temperature had dived again it was a good thing people had a place to go.
Last Saturday had been very cold but today it was mean-cold with an added wind chill factor. As I stood waiting and the freeze began to eat into my toes and bite the tip of my schnozz, I started considering it to have been a very good thing that I’d slept through the first half hour of standing around in this hellish weather.
Wayne was between five and ten places ahead of me, but hanging around near the entrance. He stepped out onto the sidewalk holding one of the coffee mugs that people bring out from the Parkdale Activities and Community Centre next door. Although the meals are free at PARC, it apparently costs 30 cents for a cup of coffee, perhaps because of the habit of smoking PARC members taking their mugs outside so they can enjoy both a coffee and a cigarette. One can sometimes find up to five abandoned mugs in places where they’ve been abandoned. Wayne tossed the contents of the mug he was holding and a cylindrical chunk of frozen coffee came flying out. He kicked the dark brown javsicle under a parked van.
The food bank doesn’t seem to have been making coffee available lately. I never tried their coffee because I just assumed that it probably sucks but I know that a lot people in line look forward to it, especially in the winter.
A little later, Wayne was looking at me with his holographic green eye sunglasses and he declared, “Somebody’s got to steal me some Ex-Lax so I can cross the border!” I puzzled over that one for a second and then asked if he was referring to Donald Trump’s recent comment about immigrants from “shit-hole countries”. Wayne nodded and added, “Ya can’t talk about people that way!”
I wonder if Trump was really referring to immigrants from countries that might exist up his own shithole. I’ve seen pictures taken of his fat butt while he plays golf, and it looks like there’s room up there for a few small nations. Anyone that calls less fortunate countries “shitholes” is looking at the world through Ex-Lax glasses.
The food bank opened pretty much on time. The co-manager, Valdene Allison came out for a smoke and was complaining about lack of appreciation on the part of food bank clients for what volunteers do for them. She told someone while pointing east that if they didn’t like it, “There’s another food bank that way!” I don’t know to which food bank she was referring, but food bank clients are encouraged to go to the one that is in their neighbourhood. The nearest food bank in that direction would be the Fort York Food Bank. 
I strongly disagree with Valdene’s attitude. It shouldn’t be “If you don’t like it take a hike”. It should rather be, “If the people we are serving are unhappy, maybe we are failing in some way.”
By the time I got to the front of the line, Jack Frost wasn’t just nipping at my nose. It had latched onto my honker like a piranha and was in the process of giving it a hickey. The cold was seeping deep into my body to the point that I didn’t know if I could stand much more. They kicked the ones out that had been waiting inside and said that people could take turns standing in the entryway for five minutes at a time. I didn’t partake of that offer because I didn’t feel like being a temperature yo-yo.

Around 11:00 I was third in the next group of five to go downstairs.
As I was waiting in a short line to show my card I chatted with Bruce, who used to volunteer on a regular basis at the old location but I only recently started seeing him at the new place over the holidays. I said, “Long time no see.” He explained that he’d had to move out of the room he’d been living in and it took him quite a while to find a bachelor apartment. He said the decently priced ones are very scarce nowadays.

There were three volunteers rotating as they helped clients shop the shelves and it was just lucky that Bruce ended up as my helper.

They had crackers on the first shelf and I was attracted the box of red Good Thins until Bruce said, “You want the beets?” I’d thought the red colour meant that they were spicy. I took the sea salt and pepper ones instead. From the bottom, Bruce gave me a selection of granola and fancy trail mix bars.

Of the various canned goods that were available I selected a can of beef gravy, one of pineapple tidbits, two cans of tuna and a tin of peeled fava beans. I picked up another carton of free-range chicken broth. I’ve accumulated about five of those, so I’m due to make a big soup soon. I grabbed a bag of chocolate chunks from a shelf containing odd items and among all of the regular types of cereal I found a box of high fibre meusli.

Bruce passed me over to Angie, but before she could serve me, the young woman from Latin America came over to thank her and to say goodbye to her. I was surprised to hear Angie respond briefly in what sounded like very competent Spanish.

Angie gave me four quarter litres of milk; a half-litre of 18% cream; 750 grams of vanilla Greek yogourt; five eggs; two bags of falafels; 1.65litres of real orange juice; a frozen chicken with oven roasted chicken and peppers; and a box containing six cups of lemon gelato of all things. She’d also offered me the usual tube of frozen ground chicken, but I turned it down. I also didn’t take any of the spicy processed cheese slices that she had to give because they really don’t taste much like cheese except for a little bit when melted.

From Sylvia’s vegetable section I got a red cabbage; a net bag containing three sweet potatoes; a handful each of potatoes and onions; two apples; and two black krim tomatoes that looked beautiful when Sylvia put them in my bag but when I got them home they were too squishy to use. I guess they think tomatoes like that are still okay for cooking, but I figure that if they are too rotten to put on a sandwich they are too far gone to cook with.

I would have had a look at the bread this time, but I totally forgot about it. In the previous set-up, before Angie and Sylvia moved their sections to the end, the shelf volunteers would usually direct clients to the bread after the final shelf. But there seems to be a finality about the sections at the end that are presided over by personalities and one feels like one is done after dealing with them.

I had planned on riding my bike to the supermarket after the food bank but I was so chilled to the bone that I had to go home to warm up first. While putting my things away it was clear that the food bank continues to be well stocked almost a month past the holiday season. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an empty shelf. There’s a plethora of canned protein with fish, meat and beans; and there is still a fair amount of dairy on offer.

If only they could do something about the inhumane practice of making people line up in the extreme cold. It is not healthy for the human body and a lot of these people are not dressed properly for these temperatures.


A man arrived to stand behind me that was so bundled up that he could have almost been the invisible man if not for a small bit of flesh showing between his sunglasses and the scarf that covered his mouth. When he spoke to me his voice was almost as muffled as that of Kenney from South Park.

Waiting in the Freezing Cold

Written By Christian Christian 09/01/2018
I checked the temperature on Saturday morning before getting dressed to stand in line at the food bank. It was minus 22, so I put an extra sweatshirt on under my button shirt. I wore a pair of sweatpants under my trousers, two pairs of cotton socks, one pair of heavy woollen socks, a long scarf under my hoody, another scarf on top of my hoody, my Kodiaks, my leather jacket and my winter gloves. Next time I might wear more.

There was no one in the line-up when I got there because everyone was keeping warm in the entryway. I stood behind a blue cart with a cardboard box that had been used to bring in Tide cartons.
There’s a group of three guys that always get there early and hang out together. One is the e-cigarette guy, another is a round man with a moustache and the third is a tough looking scowly guy who always wears a grey, white and plaid jacket with a grey hood. The only interaction with the scowly guy I’ve ever had was back in the spring when I arrived and asked him who the last person in line was and he barked at me, “I don’t fucking know!” I’d told him at that time that he should be trying to get along since we are all in the same boat out on the street and he eventually apologized for getting testy.
The group of three came out for a smoke and after two of them went inside, scowly guy went across the street to the variety store. When he came back and opened the door to go back in, he stood there for a moment looking in my direction. Suddenly he asked me confrontationally, “Am I wearing something of yours?” I turned to meet his glare with puzzlement; he shook his head in disgust and went inside. I guess he’d thought that I’d been staring at him. I’d been staring down the street about five degrees away from him, though he hadn’t escaped my notice. He would have had to do something interesting for me to have been staring at him.
A man arrived to stand behind me that was so bundled up that he could have almost been the invisible man if not for a small bit of flesh showing between his sunglasses and the scarf that covered his mouth. When he spoke to me his voice was almost as muffled as that of Kenney from South Park.
Wayne had been inside, but now he came out wearing no gloves and nothing on his head and began dancing. The cold was already eating through my gloves and multiple socks. 
Wayne walked over to the Toronto garbage and recycling can, opened up the door and pulled out the tall, hard-plastic catcher from inside. He then proceeded to drag it along and to pick up garbage from the sidewalk in front of 1499 Queen. I hadn’t noticed how much garbage there was until he started retrieving it. He grabbed a couple of aluminium strips and I cringed as I watched him hold metal with his bare hands at this freezing temperature. There was some stuff out on the street that he gathered. The final piece was a partially filled black garbage bag, which he tried to toss into the bin like a basketball, while making side to side dodges before each toss. He missed three times until finally just shoving it in but it didn’t go all the way down, so he put the can on its side and began trying to kick it in but it broke and two plastic drinking containers came flying out. It took him a few tries to kick them back in, then he picked up the bin, dragged it back over to the recycling receptacle and closed the door.
Two Portuguese sisters, one that looks like Nelly Furtado and the other with curly light brown hair and a walker, usually seem to come to the food bank once a month. They were just a few places behind me and Wayne approached them to shake their hands and wish them a happy New Year. He asked them if, in the event that they froze to death, he could have their cart. He then wished me a happy New Year and asked me, “If you freeze to death can I have your jacket?” I thought for a second and told him, “If I die here you can take my jacket … and my money too!” He shook his head, then he came closer and pointed out that the flap was undone on my motorcycle jacket. The snap on my right shoulder often detaches and hangs when it gets opened by the rubbing from my backpack’s shoulder strap. It’s hard to re-do when my pack is on but I did so on his reminder. He commented that I had a nice motorcycle jacket because it’s hard to find ones with so many pockets. I informed him that I’d gotten it for $60 but he declared, “It doesn’t matter how much it cost! You got a good deal!” Then he went back to dancing in front of the door.
From further back in line, an attractive young woman of about thirty who sounded Latin American approached me to ask if I had a cigarette. I told her that I didn’t smoke and she enthused, “That’s good!” She bragged that she hadn’t had a cigarette in 12 days but now because of standing in the cold she felt she’d like to have one. I suggested that she go inside into the entryway where all the smokers were keeping warm and to ask them. She went, but came back empty handed, explaining that there had been too many men there and she opined that it was better this way so she wouldn’t break her tobacco fast.
I chatted quite a bit with the bundled up man behind me. He shared that he had been a smoker but had started in adulthood and hadn’t had too much trouble quitting. I related that I’d tried it when I was a teenager but had done so after having smoked marijuana and so tobacco was a disappointment by comparison. Cigarettes didn’t make me high and they didn’t taste as good as pot, so I didn’t see the appeal. He told me that he’d never liked pot but I remembered having great experiences with it but that eventually it had started to feel like I had dust in my head. I opined that I was glad that Canada is legalizing it though and expressed that I was looking forward to seeing how the new freedom was going to change things in our culture. My line-mate seemed more sceptical about the outcome of legalization being a positive thing. He beckoned me to imagine if alcohol had been prohibited all this time but was suddenly about to be legalized after all we’ve learned about the dangers of the substance. I argued that cannabis doesn’t have as dangerous an effect on people as alcohol. He countered that it makes users lazy but I put forward that there are lots of pot smokers that are highly functional. He informed me that he knows some pot smokers that are very lazy but I offered that they might have been lazy in the first place.
He cited the situation in Holland and informed me that they are already rolling back the legalized status of cannabis there. I think I remembered reading something about that but voiced the view that it seems strange that they would reverse it, given that it brings in so much money from tourists. He told me that they had changed it so that only Dutch citizens can buy pot and they’ve begun a policy of asking to see people’s citizenship identification when they come to purchase the bud. I expressed scepticism that such a policy could be put into practice because it would mean asking every single customer for ID. He cited the fact that the liquor store cards people proves that it is practical but I argued that the LCBO doesn’t ask everyone and I repeated that demanding ID from every single client would not be logical. He started getting unreasonably upset that I was disagreeing with him on this issue. I told him not to take it personally but he argued that when you tell someone they aren’t logical it is personal. I explained that I hadn’t been telling him that he wasn’t logical but was rather declaring the premise of carding all marijuana purchasers to be illogical because of its impracticality. 
He told me to look it up for myself and I guaranteed him that I would. We continued to chat amicably after his mild bout of anger had subsided. He mentioned that they have also shut down the red light district in Amsterdam, but I offered that I’d heard that they’d merely shrunk it. I opined that even that seemed odd because system of including sex trade workers as legitimate tax paying members of the work force in Amsterdam seemed to me to work quite well, and in fact, the happiest prostitutes I’d ever met had been in Amsterdam. My friend got a little bit testy again and just urged me to look it up.
So later on I did research the subjects of our conversation. The main revelation (though I think I knew this in the back of my mind already) was that cannabis is not and never has been either legal or decriminalized in Holland. It is against the law to possess and to smoke pot but it is officially tolerated and so chances are that anyone with less than five grams of marijuana, hash or hash oil will not be charged. The Cafes that I saw in Amsterdam with the marijuana leaf on the window are also technically illegal, but tolerated. Law enforcement turns a blind eye if Cafes have less than 500 grams on the premises (which seems like an impractically small amount for a store to have, so I doubt if they obey that rule. They probably keep that much on display and then have a nearby larger stash in storage). Holland however is slowly moving towards legalization and I predict that they will keep a close eye on developments in Canada after we legalize it seven months from now.
I also found out that my line companion was correct that a “Weed Pass” restricted to Dutch nationals was implemented, but only in trial form in the southern provinces, near the border, where foreigners have been crossing just to buy pot. But I was right to think it impractical that store clerks would be willing to follow through with such an annoying practice as asking everyone for identification. The Weed Pass has been abandoned almost everywhere, except in the city of Maastricht.
I also found that I was correct that the red light district in Amsterdam has been not been shut down but it has been shrunk down by more than half to two colourful areas.
We saw Valdene Allison, the food bank co-manager and the doorkeeper cross the street on their way to work. Valdene announced with a smile that they would be starting early. I looked at my phone and saw that it was 10:12. Since the food bank officially opens at 10:30 and since she was just arriving, they would have to perform the miracle of opening within the next 17 minutes in order to be able to claim that they’d started early.
They began to let the first five clients in at 10:35. It seemed like a very long wait before they advanced the next five. Meanwhile the cold was minute by minute making us all feel less and less clothed and we were all doing what my companion called “the Ottawa two-step”. We were at the head of the fourth wave and it was nice to finally be inside. The stairwell smelled like a horse stable as we descended to the basement.
When we arrived in the shopping room I was surprised that since last Saturday they had rearranged the shelves and sections. The area where with the big window, behind which Angie had previously stood to distribute the dairy and meat, now seemed to be just for storage. The first shelf was now halfway in front of the big window and it seems that they had entirely reversed the order of the shelves. The one in front of the window, containing the mostly odd items that don’t fit the other categories, had previously been the last shelf near the exit. They continued on in the opposite order than before.
In an effort to get people through as fast as possible, the volunteers were attempting to handle two shoppers at a time. This was difficult from my perspective because I was expected to choose items that I couldn’t get close to look at because the guy in front of me was shopping from the same shelf and therefore standing in my way.
Our helper was Lana, who seems to enjoy pushing items that she thinks I might like. From the first set of shelves I picked a container of Dijon mustard and a sleeve of saltines of which Lana said I could take two. Then she pointed out what looked like a packaged brownie about the size of a TV remote control and encouraged me to take it. It turned out to be a “banana brownie” from Brazil and made entirely of bananas. This is from a Brazilian company called Ipanema Valley. The brownie cake has ten squares and each one is from one banana. The website does not explain by what process they are able to condense bananas into squares. I’ve had dried bananas but they didn’t look so much like chocolate in both shape and colour as these things do. It makes me wonder if there are really only bananas and not a few chemicals added as well, but they taste a lot better than dried bananas.
There were plenty of canned beans but I was reluctant to take any because I already had four cans at home and my shelf was getting pretty full. Then again, I would be going vegetarian for 40 days starting in about a month and so the beans would come in handy. I took a can of refried pinto beans with green chillies.
From the top of the soup shelf I took a free range chicken broth. Down from that were the canned soups but it didn’t look like there was anything interesting until Lana pulled from the back and showed me a potato and leek soup. She seems to have a talent for finding things that I might like. She also grabbed a can of tuna and tossed it into my bag without asking. I always take tuna so maybe she remembered. From the cracker section (I don’t know why the saltines had been elsewhere) I picked a bag of sweet potato thins and there was a box of chewy berry granola bars that Lana said I could take. At the cereal shelf, Lana suggested a box of Dorset muesli, “Because you look like a healthy kind’a guy!” I like it when someone knows what I like. I wonder if she knows that. For some reason, sealed in plastic with the meusli was a small Bernardin Mason jar. I wouldn’t associate meusli or any cereal with Mason jars. Inside the jar was a little booklet from Dorset that contained various serving suggestions involving the jar. I guess it’s like a thing for people on the go. I’ll probably use it for storage. In the pasta section, among the canned tomatoes, I found a small can of crushed chilpotle peppers.
Angie’s dairy and meat section was awkwardly set up at a table in front of the refrigerators which had been moved to displace the three sets of shelves that had been there last time. She gave me two half litres of milk, two bags containing six eggs each, two packs of spicy cheese slices, two packages of frozen, sliced turkey breast, three fruit cocktail drinking boxes, a small cup of yogourt and a 650 gram container of organic strawberry yogourt. She offered me frozen hot dogs and ground chicken, but I had some at home. Then she asked if I wanted some bacon. I said I did and she gave me a whole pack but warned me to cook it that day. When I looked at the best before date it read “February 16, 2018” so I don’t know why I was supposed to fry it up right away but I took her advise anyway. Maybe it was because it had been frozen and then thawed but I would think that I could have frozen it again.
Sylvia’s vegetable section was next to Angie. She had fruit for a change and so I got four clementines and three bananas. I didn’t take any of the potatoes, onions, carrots or rutabagas that she wanted to give me because I had plenty and she seemed almost offended. “He doesn’t want my stuff!” she cried out to Angie.
I didn’t take any bread either.
I had predicted that the food bank would have a lot less to offer in early January than during the holidays, but so far I’ve been wrong. Though there were no greens, there was fruit, which hardly ever happens. The meat, eggs and dairy on offer were all more than usual. The shelves were all well stocked with canned protein as well, so this was a pretty good haul. They really should figure out a way to not make people stand outside in deep-freezing weather though.

A few months ago a couple of people vandalized the graffiti but I don’t know which was added first. Someone added “not”, “a” and “supremacist” but they put the “a” in the wrong place so it read, “It’s not okay to a be white supremacist” but someone also added “Betty”, so the intention, depending on which alteration came first, was either to change it to “It’s okay to be Betty White” or “It’s not okay to be a Betty White supremacist”.

It's Only Okay to be a Betty White Supremacist

Written By Christian Christian 04/01/2018
The food bank line up was strikingly short on Saturday, perhaps because people still had money from recent social assistance deposits or maybe because of the extreme cold. I was pretty well bundled up and I had on the tall Kodiaks that I’d bought for $20 on Boxing Day. The boots aren’t all that thermal around the feet because the lower part is only rubber, but I was wearing two pairs of cotton socks with a super thick pair of woollen socks on top of those, so I wasn’t doing too bad at first. The cold started to seep in later though.

Since there were no more than ten people there at first, everyone was packed into the little entryway beside the elevators and I was the only person in line for several minutes. That meant that I was second-hand-smoke-free in the line up for longest time ever.

I noticed that there was a non-poverty based line up for breakfast across the street in front of a fancy little restaurant called Confiture and so it seemed like an ironic parallel.

There was an elderly Ukrainian woman two places ahead of me. She spent most of her waiting time walking continuously around the block. She didn’t speak much English, but she did stop to ask me the time. She was unpleasantly surprised to hear me tell her that it was 10:01. I think she’d been there already for about three hours, though some others had gotten there at 6:00. She tried to tell me something about her pants but I didn’t understand. At first I thought she meant she needed to use the washroom but I think she was saying her pants weren’t warm enough and that was why she had to keep on walking.
A nervous young guy walked up and went inside with the others for a few minutes. When he came out and walked past me he asked me the same way people usually ask for cigarettes, if I had any video games. Maybe that’s the drug of the future and some people might get so addicted that other video games will have to be invented just to wean people off the stronger games.

The tall, grey traffic signal box near the crossing to the north east corner of Macdonell and Queen has for a long time been scrawled with the words, “It’s okay be white”. This is such a stupid thing to say. It’s like saying, “It’s okay to live indoors” or “It’s okay to have a job”. I’ve never met anyone in my life that ever told me it wasn’t okay for me to be white, so why do some white people think they are being cornered?

A few months ago a couple of people vandalized the graffiti but I don’t know which was added first. Someone added “not”, “a” and “supremacist” but they put the “a” in the wrong place so it read, “It’s not okay to a be white supremacist” but someone also added “Betty”, so the intention, depending on which alteration came first, was either to change it to “It’s okay to be Betty White” or “It’s not okay to be a Betty White supremacist”.

I notice that there are a lot of people that try to make it through the winter wearing only running shoes for footwear.

While waiting I engaged in the poetic art form of creating band names and came up with: “Break-up Sex”.

The line started moving fifteen minutes late, which is pretty early. It was quite a while before they let in the next group of five. I was in the third group.

The nervous young guy that had asked me for video games was downstairs, though I never saw him standing in line. He started grabbing things and eating them and so Lana was trying to tell him that he had to wait until he’d been processed. When it came time for him to get his food he didn’t have a bag, so they had to find one for him.

At the meat and dairy counter Angie gave me two half litres of milk, four cups with four flavours of Activia yogourt and a small tub of a vegan spread. When I took the latter, I was thinking it was some kind of dip rather than a vegan attempt at simulating margarine. On opening it up later though I saw that it was definitely a dairy free attempt at faking fake butter. It was the same colour as tofu and it tasted even worse. The thing is one can buy fully dairy free margarines that actually taste good, though they do have a few more chemicals in them.  This one, called Veggie Go wasn’t totally free of chemicals either though. Angie slipped a small, frozen Black Forest Ham into my backpack and offered me some frozen hot dogs, but I already had some of those at home so I turned them down. I also skipped the eggs, since I had enough. Besides, the last time I got five eggs from the food bank every single yoke broke as soon as it hit the frying pan.

From Sylvia’s vegetable section I got a cabbage, a rutabaga (which she called a turnip and which I would have called a turnip if I hadn’t learned otherwise last week), a 2.7 kg bag of organic red P.E.I. potatoes (but she also had white, though I don’t know if they were organic or where they were from). She gave me a yam, a few onions and three fat carrots, one of which was close to the size and shape of a hand grenade and so in a Dr. Seussian sense it would go well with the frozen ham I’d just gotten, as in “I do not like grenades and ham!” except that I’ll probably like them. There was a box of small zucchini behind Sylvia and I think she forgot to offer me some, but the zucchini had been rotten last time so I didn’t mention it.
My helper at the shelves was the old Ukrainian lady whom I’d told off a couple of months before for telling me to “Hurry up!” She behaved herself this time. There were quite a variety of cereals but I chose the large bag of Bran Flakes that had lost its box and was lying on its side at the back underneath some other items. I think a lot of people eat bran flakes or other bran cereals because it’s supposed to promote regularity. I’ve liked them since I was a kid for their dark flavour, long before I knew about any of that.

This particular helper thinks it’s against the rules for shoppers to pick their own items, and it may be some official policy that she’s obeying, though most volunteers don’t care. I don’t care either and so I tend to reach in and grab things before she can so it became a bit of a competition. She scored one point by snagging me a can of tuna.

From the pasta section I took from the back of the sauce shelf a jar of original Ragu. The top of the soup shelves had a carton of chicken broth. Below that, among the canned soups I selected a misplaced can of meatball and sausage rigatoni. Among the crackers and cookies was a box of Breton cranberry and ancient grains crackers. Below that I selected a can of pure sugar cane juice with ginger. At the bottom of that set of shelves were lunch box sized, chocolate chip granola bars. Beside them were packages of Jello, but I have some at home and never get around to making it. On the last shelf, which tends to contain all the one-off products that don’t fit the categories of the other shelves, I grabbed a little bottle of “Dat’l Do It” Jalapeno sauce.

I was going to skip the bread but Lana started giving a hard sell on a bag containing two pizza crusts, so I took it. She also pushed two bags of the organic spelt buns that I’d gotten last time, suggesting that I could freeze them. I never think to freeze bread and so I gave in to her advice.

It seems the food bank is still overflowing with the abundance of pre-Christmas donations. I suspect though that the cornucopia will start dwindling next week until there are bare shelves again in the mid-winter.

I’m glad that I submitted to Lana in taking the pizza crusts because the leftover turkey I’ve been trying to finish has gotten very boring. The crusts though inspired me to make a turkey pizza that day for lunch and that was a nice way to change things up and get rid of some of the leftovers at the same time.

After the food bank I immediately rode to the No Frills at Jameson and King to buy fruit. This is kind of a sad season for fruit though, because the grapes that have been so cheap for these last few months have gotten much more expensive.  I bought some blueberries and a bunch of bananas and a few other things. The woman ahead of me at the checkout counter had also bought the blueberries but she’d placed her package in a plastic bag, explaining to the cashier that she’d gotten tired of blueberries falling throughout the bag. That night I opened up the fridge, and while trying find something I knocked the pack of blueberries down and they scattered all over the floor.

 It seemed his intention was to put on a show for passing traffic as he walked to the edge of the sidewalk and did a mock stripper dance. Shortly after that he hurriedly put his pants back on but fifteen minutes later he took his coat off and pulled the legs of his pants up until his legs were just as exposed as before and began another raunchy gavotte.

Sandals in the Snow

Written By Christian Christian 01/01/2018
The tap water still tasted like iodine on the Saturday morning of December 23rd but I drank it anyway during song practice, forcing down big gulps to get it over with.

I dreaded going to the food bank that day because of the horrible, cold wait last time. When I arrived there were two cop cars parked in front. I established my place in line with an orange Australian Boot Company bag and headed for the door to go downstairs but it was locked. I asked why the cops were there and the big guy with the baseball cap and the moustache said that the new manager (the one who’d been swearing at people in line last time) had called the police on an old woman that had gone downstairs to pee.  A couple of minutes later the two ossifers came up with the elderly Jamaican woman who usually gets in line at about 7:00. She was told she couldn’t go back down because it’s private property and they had a right to not want her there. The old lady told us that all she’d done was gone down to pee but the manager pushed her body and her face. I suggested that she charge her and everybody else agreed. One of the lowpeace officers, who looked something like Anderson Cooper, as he was getting into his car, declared, “Nobody’s charging anyone with assault!” I wondered why the cop said she couldn’t charge someone with assault that had pushed her. The e-cigarette guy answered, “Because he’s an asshole!” and then advised her to call another cop and to press charges. Downstairs they’d put a few food items in a box for the old lady. It was now lying on the floor of the entryway. When she was asked if she wanted it she exclaimed in her Jamaican accent, “They can stick it up where the sun don’t shine!”

After the fuzz left I went downstairs. When I walked into the food bank the manager called out to me, “We’re not open yet, sweetie!” I said, “I know. I’m here to make a donation.” The manager seemed to appreciate a donation of cat food and said, “Not enough people think about the cats!” I explained that mine had died of old age. She said she was sorry but I said I wasn’t and declared that 17 years is long enough to have cats (though that was just one generation. I’d actually had that family of felines for 20 years). I told her that I write a column on the food bank experience and I wanted to interview someone in management. She said I could interview her and take a tour of the facilities after the holidays. She gave me her name, Valdene, and the number for the food bank.

It was snowing in a steady, sleepy and somewhat lovely fall. Bart was not in line, but rather standing against the wall between the food bank door and the entrance to the Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre. As usual, he was calling out absurd and often obscene statements, as his condition compels him to do. A tough looking, skinny young man came walking awkwardly through the snow, wearing sandals over bare feet. As he passed Bart he heard him say something and thought he was speaking to him. He stopped and confronted Bart, telling him that he should show more respect. Bart told him, “You don’t understand” and revealed himself to be quite aware of his own affliction as he tried to explain to the guy that he hadn’t been talking to him or to anyone, but the guy just gave Bart an angry warning to watch his mouth and then continued on. A half an hour or so later he came back and chased Bart out into the street, even though Bart is much taller than him, then he shouted more threats and went back the way he’d come, almost barefoot in the winter weather.

Wayne was in line, even more exuberant, animated and behaviourally over the top than usual while he danced and shouted ridiculous things. I assume that in terms of uncontrolled speech, Bart and Wayne share a similar disorder, but it’s interesting what different characteristics their language and expression have. Bart is much more dramatic and often takes on different voices, while Wayne’s verbal ejaculations are often clearly intended to be funny. Wayne started singing a Christmas carol and approached me, asking if I anted him to stop. I assured him that he could keep on singing. He responded, “No, I want you to pay me to stop!” I informed him that he would have to pay me to pay him to stop singing. “A man of intelligence!” he declared and moved on to another routine.

Someone in line compared Wayne to Gene Gene the Dancing Machine on the Gong Show.

I looked away from Wayne for a couple of minutes and when I turned back he was dancing around with his pants off as the snow fell on his naked legs. It looked like he had a pair of shorts on underneath, but nonetheless it was a pretty surprising display. It seemed his intention was to put on a show for passing traffic as he walked to the edge of the sidewalk and did a mock stripper dance. Shortly after that he hurriedly put his pants back on but fifteen minutes later he took his coat off and pulled the legs of his pants up until his legs were just as exposed as before and began another raunchy gavotte. He did this for several minutes, then he pulled his pant legs down and pulled up the waistband to his stomach till he looked like a tubby version of Steve Erkel and commenced prancing around like that, and to make it even more comical, he was wearing a trilby hat backwards that sat high on his head because it was too small. Then, with each hand he pinched two side-by-side points on his sweatshirt and pulled the fabric out as far as he could to imitate breasts and continued to dance that way for a while.

The people ahead of me were a middle-aged couple from Poland, though I assume they met here in Canada. They chatted in Polish the whole time, except when she was affectionately leaning her head on his shoulder. It seemed to me that they got along so well that they couldn’t possibly be married.

The line started moving at around 11:00 but it was closer to 11:30 by the time I got downstairs. I noticed that the windows had already been repaired since the angry guy broke them last week.

Sue was back handling the meat and dairy. She left the food bank almost two years ago but she always returns to help out at Christmas time. I complimented the new colour of her braids. She thanked me and joked that she was feeling blue.
There was the usual choice between frozen hot dogs and the frozen ground chicken that I selected. She gave me a two half litres of milk; six eggs (at least one of which broke before I got home); a frozen, cooked ham, two 225 gram tubs of pro active margarine, a pack of Pillsbury raspberry turnovers. We wished each other a merry Christmas and I moved on to Sylvia’s vegetable section.

Sylvia gave me two small bunches of organic collard greens; a bag of three organic romaine hearts; three small zucchini; ten potatoes and five small bosc pears. She offered me some Granny Smith apples and a bag of onions but I still had a bag of each from last time. After I wished her a merry Christmas and turned towards the shelves, I was standing and waiting for a volunteer when Sylvia offered me a turnip. A woman nearby corrected her that it was a rutabaga. I was sceptical, but I looked it up later and found that she was right. The fact that it was waxed apparently is a dead giveaway. Rutabagas are said to have come about when a turnip got crossed with a cabbage. The first official record of the rutabaga is by a Swiss Botanist from 400 years ago. I turned Sylvia’s rutabaga down
because I was just finishing up the one that I’d gotten last time and there is only so much of that strong, sharp rooty flavour that I can take. Just then someone gave Sylvia some tomatoes so I asked her for one and she gave me two.

I was glad that my helper for the shelves was the tiny, elderly Filipino woman. She is always so nice that it’s hard not to smile at her. She asked if I was being served. I declared, “You’re serving me!” and she confirmed with a smile, “I’m serving you!”
There was a wide variety of cereals on offer, but I picked one that had lost its box and had a transparent bag showing that it had flakes, raisins, dried cranberries and chopped almonds.

I took a tomato and basil sauce from the pasta section.

At the top of the soup shelf I found a carton of organic free range chicken broth. How could it possibly be “free range” if it’s stuck in the same size container as all the regular chicken broth? Shouldn’t it be allowed to flow freely along the floor of the food bank?

Below the broth were some canned soups. I chose an organic lentil soup but my helper acted sheepishly co-conspiratorial because I think she had been indicating ineffectively that I’d been supposed to take from the soups to the left of where her hand had been. She seemed to be telling me afterwards to put it quickly and deeply in my bag. One would almost think a SWAT team was going to burst in at any minute and take me out because I took organic lentil instead of Campbell’s tomato.

The canned protein/peanut butter shelf had a wide variety of canned meat and fish, I assume because that’s the kind of thing that people donate during the Christmas season at the supermarkets in the big barrels near the exits. I selected a can of tuna that turned out to be yellowfin in broth and oil.
From the bean shelf I got my usual can of chickpeas and among the canned vegetables I found a tin of crushed pineapple.
Below those were a choice between cartons of vegetable milks and organic orange juice. I picked the juice and she gave me two.
The cracker shelf had only sleeves of saltines and boxes of rice crackers. I grabbed the box.
Since she could reach them so easily, my helper was good at giving me stuff from bottom shelves. She scooped up for me a handful of small bags of gummy fruit candies, a couple of little packages of breadsticks with cheese dip and three dark chocolate and cherry trail mix bars.

The top of the last shelf always has a variety of snack items. I took the jar of salsa con queso.

I often skip the bread, but since I had a turkey to stuff in a couple of days I grabbed a couple of loaves of cranberry raisin flax bread that in terms of freshness were both way past sliceability. I also took a bag of pre-sliced organic spelt thin sandwich buns, the kind with multiple dock holes, because they would go well with some ground beef that I planned to make into burgers.

Because of the Christmas season the food bank has had much more offerings for the last couple of weeks than usual. There have been a greater variety of vegetables as well, though the quality has been low. The collard greens were pretty wilted, the zucchini turned out to be partly squishy, the tomatoes had to go straight to the garbage and I was worried about the romaine hearts because of recent news reports advising nobody in Ontario to eat romaine right now because of the risk of e coli. They look pretty fresh but I think I’m going to toss them just to be safe.


When I went down stairs I saw the two almost identical spider webs of cracked glass with fist-sized holes in their centres left at opposite ends of the long window by our shouting friend with the red bike. It’s interesting that of the things that people smash when they are angry, it always tends to be things that allow for clear vision, like windows or mirrors. It’s as if the thing that enrages us most is the seeing itself.

We Always Smash What Helps Us See

Written By Christian Christian 18/12/2017
Saturday was the first time I’d gone to the food bank for the first time in two weeks because the previous Saturday I’d needed to study for my Early Medieval Philosophy exam. I had been also sick with a cold that day but that probably wouldn’t have stopped me.

I arrived at my usual 9:45 but the line-up was much longer than usual because this was a day when they were giving out Christmas turkeys. I was behind a bearded, chain smoking, bearded man in a wheelchair who has an interesting habit, when children are walking by, of extending his cigarette as far away from them as he can reach, I assume so they don’t breathe the smoke.

It was a day that felt colder than it was because the dampness in the air caused the cold to seep into the body. A fair number of people had accumulated in the warm lobby beside the elevator and they only came out every few minutes in small groups to smoke together. This lobby club makes it difficult to know where everybody really is in line. Most people mark their places with carts but some people seem to just establish their positions based on someone else’s and so one never knows if someone is butting in line or not when they walk up and stick their cart between two others.

Wayne was there, though he was uncharacteristically quieter than usual. He kept warm though with his usual dancing.

Bart, on the other hand was as loud as ever and the longer we all waited in the cold, the louder he got and it seemed his absurd ranting got more and more scatological as well. He frequently referred to both “cocks” and “shit” being sucked by young girls and there was a reference to fathers being part of the mix as well. One phrase that he started repeating at a certain point was “the grand pumpkin”.  He added particular drama to this phrase and it sounded like he was a lawyer making his final arguments to a jury, especially the final time that he shouted, “The Grand  … Pumpkin!” and after saying his face took on a satisfied appearance as if he’d just irrefutably proven someone either innocent or guilty.

At one point Bart approached me, addressed me as “Sir” and asked, “Is today the 16th?” I confirmed that it was and he proceeded to inform everyone that there would be a Christmas lunch that day at a nearby church that he named. Over the course of our waiting time several people mentioned this lunch, saying the food is usually very good and someone actually involved with the church that was passing informed us that there would also be gifts.

There is a tall and slim man in his 30s, with doll-like eyes, who is always around the area of the line-up but is there for the free breakfast at PARC. He walked up on this extremely frigid day wearing only an open flannel shirt over a Simon and Garfunkel t-shirt. He looks like his mind is submerged in psychiatric medication. He is often outside bumming cigarettes without speaking but rather by holding his two fingers to his mouth and mooning at the richer smoker like a puppy dog. He approached the chain smoking man in the wheelchair, whose name is Chico, to gesture his request for a smoke. Chico seemed to be waving him away but the young man just stood there, silently coveting Chico’s cigarette. I was passing by while looking for a smoke-free sweet spot and I said to the guy, “You’re gonna make yourself sick dressed the way you are! You’d better get inside!” He just looked at me and nodded with his mouth open. When Chico’s cigarette was half done he handed it to him. So I think that Chico had not been waving him away after all but had been rather trying to get him to not stand directly in front of him while he waited for his dregs.  

There was a man in his 70s with a short, grey beard, also waiting for PARC to open at 11:00. He was wearing just a grey hoody to keep out the cold and he was continuously walking back and forth up and down the block with one foot in front of the other, keeping the same pace the whole time. The old man was so skinny that looked like there was just an empty pair of jeans belted to his waist with a sneaker attached to the bottom of each leg. During one of the old man’s passes, Chico suddenly extended his arm toward him to give him his half-smoked cigarette. The man stopped to take it, thanked Chico and then continued on his endless, zombie-like walk.

We went past the 10:30 start time, but the food bank did not open. The line-up by this time was almost all the way to Beaty Avenue. After a few minutes a man in a tan coloured wool coat, who was about five people behind my position, who was there alone and hadn’t spoken to anyone before that, suddenly shouted angrily, “They’re supposed to open at 10:30!” Then he didn’t say anything. Another half an hour went by with no sign of them opening. I hadn’t noticed that the man that had shouted wasn’t in line until the burst out of the door of the food bank entrance, violently kicked the A-frame sign of the Tool Library, shouted and swore again about how the food bank hadn’t opened at 10:30 and then stormed down the length of the line to Beaty. After a couple of minutes a big guy from near the front of the line came walking intently in the same direction. He was wearing a black balaclava with the lower part of the mouth opening covering his lower lip and an upwardly tilted cigarette sitting on top of that. Then the guy that had just kicked the sign came into view as he rode his red bike across Queen. The man in the balaclava shouted, “Hey asshole!” The red bike headed quickly up the wrong side of Sorauren.

A few minutes later we learned that the man on the bike had gone downstairs to complain about the food bank not opening on time and then in frustration had broken some of the windows that stand between the food bank and the hallway leading into the food bank. Someone said that the cops were coming and they couldn’t let us in until they’d arrived. The guy just behind me in line wondered why they’d called the police when what they needed was somebody to fix the windows. I agreed that replacing glass would be a useful skill for the fuzz to have. It would probably earn them a lot more respect as well. Someone wondered what would be the point of calling the police since they would have no idea who to look for, but then another pointed out that there is a camera in the entryway and so he would have been caught on his way in and out.

By 11:30 the line still had not moved and the cold had crawled deep into my feet. Many people, including myself were doing little two-steps to keep warm. A skinny woman in glasses with long, grey hair came out for a smoke. She appeared to be part of food bank management, though I’d never seen her before when she told some people in line that there had been a delay because they had a meeting to decide how to give out the turkeys. They give out turkeys every year, so why would they need to delay opening the food bank in order to figure out how to do it? Don’t they have meetings when the food bank is not open? A woman near the front complained to her about having to wait so long in the cold and she spat back that she shouldn’t have come at 9:00 if she hadn’t wanted to wait so long, then she barked, “It’s not even fuckin cold today!” and then she went back inside.
At one point a guy at the front turned and called out to everyone, “Food bank line-up, you’re beautiful!” then he paused and added, “Gangster, not un-gangster!”
It was almost noon when they started letting people in. The cops never did arrive. When I was near the front the doll-eyed man came with a freshly scavenged cigarette, stood near a wall vent to the left of the door. He stood there in the winter air, shaking like an old washing machine and puffing hard on his fag every other second until it was gone in hardly any time at all.

When I went down stairs I saw the two almost identical spider webs of cracked glass with fist-sized holes in their centres left at opposite ends of the long window by our shouting friend with the red bike. It’s interesting that of the things that people smash when they are angry, it always tends to be things that allow for clear vision, like windows or mirrors. It’s as if the thing that enrages us most is the seeing itself.

Inside the food bank there were twice or maybe even three times as many volunteers as usual, including Sue and Bruce, whom I hadn’t seen working there in a long time.

The choice of vouchers was for either a turkey or a ham. I chose turkey, but since they would be open next Saturday I decided to get mine next time. The dairy section was being handled by the perky high school student with the short and curly hennaed hair. She gave me two half-litre cartons of milk, three cups of fruit bottom yogourt, four large eggs and a bag of about fifteen little butter tarts. The only meat from that counter was frozen chicken wieners because of the fact that they were giving out the hams and the turkeys as well.

Next to Sylvia’s vegetable section was a bin full of turkeys and hams. Angie came up to ask if I’d gotten a turkey. I explained that I’d take mine next week. She told me, “No, I’m giving you one! Take a turkey and take a ham too!” So I took both. I wonder if Angie is so generous with me because she always sees me reading and perhaps it reminds her of her son, who is a schoolteacher. Or maybe she just likes me. Sylvia asked me for my voucher but I reminded her that Angie had just given me the turkey. I was thinking that meant that I could get another turkey next time. Sylvia just shrugged and nodded. She gave me a bag of coleslaw, a bag of about fifteen organic rainbow carrots, a net of about fifteen onions, a 1.36 kg bag of organic Granny Smith apples and a turnip. Sometimes she overlooks things and I wasn’t paying attention but I’d earlier noticed people leaving the food bank with bags of potatoes so I don’t know if they ran out or if she’d just forgotten to give me some.

I stood by the first shelf waiting for a volunteer to serve me. Finally I was pleasantly surprised that my former yoga student, Betina rushed up to fill in the gap. I think this was her first time it this particular job. It was nice to have her take me along because it was like we were just hanging out. From the cereal section, instead of various types of Cheerios, I selected the crunchy bar granola.

There was lots of pasta but I didn’t need any and lots of canned tomatoes but no sauce, so I skipped that section.

There didn’t seem to be a lot on the soup shelf but I grabbed a carton of chicken broth.

I took what I thought was a can of tuna from the canned fish/peanut butter shelf. It turned out to be shrimp cocktail, so that’s okay.

The bean shelf was well stocked and I took a can of Lebanese fava bean salad.
Betina pointed out a box containing a bottle of Buffalo style hot sauce and told me that it could last me a year or two days depending on how much I use it. That may have been the most obvious thing I’ve heard this year. What’s weird to me though is that McIlhenny would package one bottle in one box. I guess though that maybe the bottles would stack and therefore ship more safely that way, with less chance of breakage.

I selected a carton of chocolate coconut dairy substitute. I got a sleeve of saltines, though there were also what looked like Breton crackers as well.

From the bottom of one rack Betina offered me some “marmalade”. I was hesitant because I have some honey already at home but she gave me a small handful anyway. It turned out to be Italian dressing and plum sauce.  Betina admitted that she wasn’t seeing very well and she would often grab for the glasses around her neck to get a better look at what she was offering.

On the floor in front of the last shelf were four 3-litre jugs of cooking vegetable oil. Closer reading showed that it consisted of canola/and or/soybean oil. I had seen the volunteer open the box and put them there, not knowing quite what else to do with them. Betina was surprise by them but just shrugged and told me to take one.

I gave Betina a big holiday hug and headed out.

I certainly can’t complain about the food haul this time around but I think they have some serious management problems at the food bank to be keeping people waiting so long in the cold. I am also suspicious as to why “fire regulations” prevent them from letting people inside to wait where it’s warm. I think sometime soon I might see if I can interview someone in management there and take a tour of the facilities so I can know whether or not there are solutions they are overlooking.  The butter tarts were good though. 


At one point Wayne noticed that I was watching and for the first time actually spoke to me, asking me, “What are you staring at, tough guy?” Then he walked over to me and offered me a cigarette. I shook my head and he asked, “You don’t smoke?” I shook my head again. He walked in reverse back to his place in line, saying he didn’t want to turn his back on me.

Some People Just Can't Shut Up

Written By Christian Christian 04/12/2017
On Saturday morning I went to the food bank for the first time in three weeks. I brought with me a 12 pack of cans of Boots and Barkley cat food to donate, of which I still have a few. They were left over from my cats that died last year and the best before date might be 2015, but from what I’ve read, as long as cans are not dented the goods inside are good for another five years past the expiry date. I established my place in line and tried to take my donation downstairs but the door was locked at first and was only opened up about ten minutes later.

They seemed to really appreciate the donation although I thought I heard one of the volunteers tell the woman that took it from me, “You should just take that home!”

I went back upstairs and floated out of range of the smoke, and then I pulled out my book and finished reading Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”. That poem and its explosive verbal fireworks ignited the landscape of an era. It’s a poem that doesn’t walk around the human issue on eggshells. It’s a collage of holy unholy cosmic madness harvested from the brown, ragged wallpaper of life and I love it.
 Wayne was there, dancing up a storm and shaking his behind. Gone was the cane that he had the last time I saw him. He was also wearing a pair of sunglasses that had round, green lenses with an eerie holographic eye in each one.

A little further back in line and just ahead of me was Robbie, who is the opposite of Wayne in almost every way, except for them both being middle aged. Robbie’s stance is the opposite of a dance. He’s a big man, with longish and dishevelled grey hair under a baseball cap and he stands or sits with his personality having long ago melted over a flabby frame. He smokes almost constantly and drags every cigarette to the filter. If he stands he has to stand near something he can bend over and lean on.

Also on the scene was Robbie’s much shorter sister. She has a long mane of well-kept, thick, grey hair, parted in the middle, that she never ties back. She often arrives after Robbie does and takes the spot directly behind him, no matter who is ahead of her. She is also very protective of her brother.

As I’ve mentioned before, whatever condition Wayne has seems to prevent him from having any control over what he says. He quite often speaks to no one in particular and everyone in general, but this time he was talking directly to Robbie and saying things that Robbie didn’t like. He barked, “Shut up Wayne!” But of course Wayne can’t shut up for long. He said something about Robbie being a “crackpot” in the sense of doing crack. Robbie shouted, “Fuck off Wayne!” But Wayne kept on talking. Robbie warned, “You’re gonna get it!” Wayne said something else and then Robbie lunged halfway towards him, causing Wayne to back up and say, “Sorry! Sorry!” Robbie’s sister rushed in to try to calm her brother down. Robbie walked down the street. Wayne started talking to the sister about Robbie being a crackpot. She shouted, “No he’s not! Not any more!” The “Crackpot”, “No he’s not!” exchange went back and forth a couple more times, until Wayne said, “No, he’s a good guy.” The sister shouted, “No he’s not!” because she’d thought Wayne had called her brother a crackpot again. She told Wayne that is she hadn’t been there he would have gotten hit. He apologized again.

A little later on the whole thing started all over again, though I don’t know what Wayne said this time but it caused Robbie to move towards him quickly in a threatening way, though he didn’t have his hands up. Wayne once again apologized profusely. He tried to shake Robbie’s hand but Robbie refused and told Wayne to “Fuck off!”

At one point Wayne noticed that I was watching and for the first time actually spoke to me, asking me, “What are you staring at, tough guy?” Then he walked over to me and offered me a cigarette. I shook my head and he asked, “You don’t smoke?” I shook my head again. He walked in reverse back to his place in line, saying he didn’t want to turn his back on me.

Wayne began chanting, “God save the queen!” and then “God save the queers!” Then he started repeating the two phrases together while holding his hand out with his wrist limp. He seemed to really feel like he was on to something with this, because he would stop everyone he knew that was walking by or just shout to people to say, “God save the queers!” He called, “Hey Robbie! God save the queers!” Robbie just responded bitterly, “Yeah, that’s you alright!”

The line began to move and Wayne started bothering Robbie again. The doorkeeper told Wayne to control himself if he wanted to get some food downstairs. She said she’d already had to deal with one person spitting on another the Saturday before and she didn’t want any more trouble this week. I found it interesting that people thought that someone that runs off at the mouth as a result of a disability would be expected to have more self-control than someone with anger issues.

A tall, slim man in glasses, with his son of about four and a mature golden retriever stopped near the entrance to the food bank. The people in the line-up in the immediate vicinity of the dog began to melt over the dog. The doorkeeper, Robbie and his sister began petting it and Robbie smiled for the first time I’d seen in all the times I’d observed his sullen face in the food bank line up. Robbie’s sister asked the man the dog’s name. He told her it was “Furly” but that he called her “Beeby”. Furly was wagging her tail happily from all of the attention. He tied Furly to the regulator pipe that sticks out from the wall near the door. He explained that they always leave Furly in front of the food bank so that people can enjoy her while he and his son go across the street to Pete’s for breakfast. As soon as she saw her caregivers walk away, Furly’s tail stopped wagging. It started again briefly when she caught sight of them going into Pete’s, but then it stopped and she just looked worried. People continued to pet her and even Wayne offered her a few cautious caresses, but the attention was no longer giving her any joy.

An older Polish man, who’d been sitting on the steps when I’d arrived, put his cart down in front of me as he stepped in line. I asked him why he didn’t go in front of Robbie as well, since he’d only gotten there just as I was locking my bike. The man just smiled and shrugged. A woman came up and was chatting with him in Polish when the doorkeeper called for the next five to go down. The woman stepped along behind her friend as the fifth person. I exclaimed, “Where is she going?” The doorkeeper asked whether she had been in line. I told her that she’d just arrived. She went downstairs after her and five minutes later she escorted her back out. The woman walked in angry embarrassment down the street rather than to the back of the line. I asked, “So that means I’m number five, right?” The doorkeeper nodded and said I could go ahead.

Standing near the back of the desk and chatting with the receptionist was a new volunteer, a cute and very well developed young woman. While the receptionist took my card she asked the young woman how her courses were going. She said she was passing them all this year and that in two years she would graduate. I assumed she was talking about high school rather than college.

Wayne was standing at Angie’s window. He had an unlit cigarette in his mouth and he was talking about all of the items being offered to him rather than selecting them and moving on. Angie complained that he was spitting on the counter as he talked. Another volunteer was about to step in to shop on his behalf but he managed to make it through. He bypassed Sylvia’s vegetable stand because he said he doesn’t cook and then moved on to the shelves. Sylvia exclaimed, “That man is a handful!”

Angie gave me two half-litres of milk; half of a 400-gram brick of havarti cheese; four eggs; four 114 ml apple juice cups; a choice between hot dogs and ground chicken; a choice between yogourt and cottage cheese; and a choice between a bag of perogies and a package of lasagna. I took the ground chicken and the perogies looked much more substantial and less pre-fabricated than the lasagna. I was glad the cottage cheese was 1% this time. Last time it was 0% and whatever they put into a zero fat cottage cheese to hold it together seems to be as hard to clean off my dishes as white paint.

Sylvia had yellow spaghetti squash and was about to give me one but said she would find me a better one. When I got home I noticed that the one she’d given me was rotten in its end anyway. The leaf lettuce she offered me looked sadder than Robbie, but I took it anyway. Once I’d picked out all of the brown parts later it was good for half a salad. She also gave me five potatoes and five small onions.

The cute, young and very friendly volunteer was my guide through the shelves.

In the cereal section, among the kid’s cereals and the Cheerios, I found a bag of cinnamon crunchy bar granola.

For the first time in a long time I took a bag of pasta. I took the twisted kind, like Archimedes would have eaten if the ancient Greeks had had pasta. Below that, among the cans off diced tomatoes I found a jar of salsa.

There were a few canned soups, but I took the only carton of beef broth.

She offered me a choice between canned tuna and peanut butter. I selected the tuna and she gave me two.

The canned bean shelf was full this time and when I chose the chickpeas she gave me two cans, one of which contained organic garbanzos

She gave me a couple of handfuls of restaurant servings of jam, marmalade and honey.

The final shelf had the snacks, crackers and cookies. One metallic bag was a mystery. It could have had cookies, crackers or tortilla chips inside, but I decided to go with the bag of G.H. Cretors gourmet Chicago Mix popcorn. I discovered on trying to find out if “Chicago Mix” was really a thing, that it isn’t really a Chicago food tradition at all. In fact, a company named Candyland from St Paul, Minnesota put together caramel corn and cheddar cheese popcorn and was trying to find a name for it. They decided correctly that calling it “Chicago Mix” would sell a lot better than “St Paul Mix”. I found out as well that G. H. Cretors and two other companies are being sued by Candyland for trademark infringement.

I skipped the bread section this time because I had enough at home.

Though the vegetables were a disappointment, there was a fair amount of dairy this time. Getting any kind of real cheese is rare, so the havarti was a nice change. The shelves at the food bank seemed to be better stocked this time than usual. Perhaps it’s because they are getting closer to Christmas.

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.