Besides Fred and the Shinny Man a few other ‘characters’ would drop over to the Lumpy Bikes shop and spend some time, I’d almost always pull out a camera to take their photograph. One man in particular had a very interesting ‘worn’ face and spoke in a ‘carny gee shucks’ kinda way. His name was John Knight. We remain friends. It turns out that the Shinny Man had stolen/borrowed/ John’s wife Yvonne of years earlier, so their was some bad blood between John and Wayne. Now, I was right in the middle of this, my thinking is the shop was just like one of those park benches that had been removed, it had become its own kinda social place, just like a café or a diner. Folk would gather and like lots of folk whiling away their time, talk would turn to gossip and gossip comes in many forms. So, many times I would hear John talk about “that guy there, isn’t he something, do you have any idea what he has in all those bags on his bike, why’s he got all that stuff, one time when I had a place on Park Street he asked me if he could store a bit of stuff there, just for a while, and well he brought stuff over, junk, it was all mostly junk, junk he had picked up in the bins or the side of the road, before you knew it the backyard was full of junk.” He rambled on about the Shinny man. It was so humorous as I had helped John with a move job one time, he actually hired my truck for twenty bucks to move some stuff he had inherited from this woman who had died in an apartment on Mcdonnell Street at the Aitkin Court places. I never seen such a smoke filled apartment, everything was stained from the nicotine, it reeked of tobacco, everything you touched had an oily tobacco film on it, I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. So we drive this truckload of stuff, knick knacks, a bed frame, a dresser some boxed stuff, what I thought was mostly junk, Johns kind of junk and took it over to John’s storage locker which was off of High Street part of a moving companies storage facility. John had a unit rented in the storage building, you had to go through about two wire fences, four doors and six locks to get to it and it was crammed already with other junk! John it turned out had his own ‘issues’ shall we say with collecting stuff, yet here he was, at my shop, at least twice a week telling me what a pack rat that Whiskers was. The two of them kept me on my toes as they were both known to have what they call in the trade as ‘light fingers.’
Their rivalry extended to unattended bikes in the city. One time a police from the city force came to the house to investigate where John had gotten a white mountain bike. I told the officer I had sold it to him which quelled the situation. It came out that The Shinny Man had told the cops that John had a stolen bike. When I saw John Knight he was purple with rage, “that dumb sonamabitch told the police I had a stolen bicycle and they came to my house asking me questions” frothed out of his mouth. Seems that John had found The Shinny Mans stash of bikes behind an apartment on Simcoe street and relocated a few of them to his own stash place behind Lee Ho’s Chinese restaurant on Aylmer street. When they tore down Lee Ho’s a few years later Wayne was all up in arms because the contractor had taken away a pile of six bikes that he had stashed there. They’d been there over two years, just rotting in the elements so to speak. These collectors achieved a degree of satisfaction by hoarding things, I believe the accumulation of things for them was more a type of bank account that gave them a good feeling. One time I was at the bins behind the library and I ran into Wayne the Shinny Man and asked him why he had some broken padlocks, he said to me, “you never know when you may need one.” Another time as I was going into Vinnies, the newly located St Vincent de Paul second hand store, I ran into John coming from the ReHab store across the street, in his hand he had six pairs of broken scissors in a yellow grocery store bag, I asked him why he needed so many pairs of old scissors, he said, “what a deal I got eh, only two dollars a pair.” He had this smile on his face, it was if he was temporarily stunned with happiness. At his government subsidized apartment on Rogers Street he had been warned not to bring to much stuff home. They were conducting bi-weekly inspections at his place and every month he would be told to clear some stuff out or face eviction, now that would be a problem cause old John, he had been on the waiting list for ten years before he got the place. In order to appease his tormentors he would toss out whatever they requested and start collecting again. He spent the better part of the day at the charity drop off bins scouring for interesting stuff, every day he would make the rounds of the three main second hand stores after starting his day by bicycling from his unit to the little restaurant on Romaine Street where he would sit near the front by the cash register his back against the wall so he could view the comings and goings. He let out the odd guffaw to the waitress and the regulars and have several refills in his cup of coffee, then begin his day of scrounging. He could do a days work and from time to time he would take a bit of work helping folk with yard chores and the like. Last summer he worked for a man that hired him to help remove some shingles and replace a roof on an island property, he said, “I was some sore after that job.” One time he helped me move some short four by four timbers that I had disassembled from the young lads sandbox when I realized it was no longer being used. John had four or so boards in his arms as one would carry fire wood when he stumbled and fell on the short step from the side yard in front of the wire dog run. He landed on his ankle and it was touch and go for a few days there for John’s ankle. On Saturdays John had a standing job at Jimmy Malakos’s Thurstons Restaurant a few blocks from our house on Lock Street. His chore was to fold the cardboard boxes that had been gathering over the week from deliveries, for this work John would get a free bacon and eggs feed with all the coffee he cold drink. John has a way with words, I wish I could recall all his sayings, he would often say sarcastically, ‘ya figure’ in reference to some story or another. Another favourite phrase that I heard him use a dozen or more times is, “she wouldn’t look bad with a sack over her head.” Then there was the commonly used expression, “isn’t he a box of chocolates.”
As spring approaches I expect to see more of John at the shop, I could always count on him to bring bikes over to purchase accessories, especially front and rear carriers for them and those double splayed old fashioned kickstands. Last year his visits were fewer and further apart, he had purchased a lime green electric scooter which I would see him driving to his locations of interest. Oh, I suppose a man in his mid sixties is entitled to some lessening of exercise by this age, John took to the scooter like a duck to water, when I’d see him on it I always miss the smooth rhythm that one sees with folk riding bikes who aren’t in any particular hurry to get anywhere, sauntering so to speak. The scooter, well, it doesn’t saunter, it doesn’t seem to be saunter friendly. I wonder how an old rag and bones Sheeny like John could stop that expensive scooter at a red donation box and look indiscreet as he perused the contents perhaps purloining an article or two for his private collections. In the fall I ran into John, he had a long chin, somebody had stolen the batteries and battery holder from his scooter as it was parked below his unit at the project. Besides the battery stuff they also took the side mirrors and some other pieces of the scooter. Johns unit faced the Rotary Trail, it would not have been difficult for someone to climb the short fence at night and quietly remove the parts, flip them back over the fence and just walk away unnoticed. At the scooter shop called Green Street John priced the replacement parts, the total came to over $500, which it turns out was about what John had in the bank for emergencies, he bought the parts even though his same scooter had been on sale, brand new, the entire scooter for only $600 a few weeks earlier at the Walmart store, they didn’t have any left. When I saw him a few weeks later he was some happy, back in the saddle of his scooter which he had repaired for $500. From time to time John would ride shotgun with me as I went about the area picking up bikes from sellers, this is when it would get humorous, the way he spoke the words he chose, you could tell his phrases were well used, that he had been saying them for decades, you just don’t develop them one liners in an afternoon, “Holy Cow did you see her, he’s so cheap the lead in a pencil would be extracted if he thought he could get something for it, them damn owners of that place I have my coffee, I don’t go there when they’re there, they expect you to buy something and get pissed off that I just sit with my cup of coffee.” Being with John is fine entertainment.
2010 saw more blatant documentation of folk whom I would meet on the streets, I took in my opinion some classic photos of folk who many would not bother with, Lawrence Carnrite for one, he got out of jail, falsely accused of killing a man, an English tourist one night after one of the pubs closed, it may have been in the alley behind the Red Dog Tavern at least in that general area, when I saw Lawrence he was cleaned up, like no tomorrow, never seen him looking so good, he had a handful of small painted rocks that our friend the painter Randy Knott had given him to sell and he was offering them to passerby at the entrance to the No Frills store. Annette price came into the lens, I had noticed her mismatching of clothing colours, in her own way she reminded me of my sister Suzanne, I befriended her, one day Annette was at Brock and George Street heading south when I stopped her, and I am glad I did as she pulled out a necklace from under her coat that held at least a hundred Chrisitian charms, there was power in them charms. I won’t quickly forget going into the basement of that fancy Walkwell shoe store on George Street, Cliff Button the manager took me downstairs there before they closed up, I wonder if Cliff ever landed another job, that can be a hard thing, replacing a career when you are near the end of your good years. I look above me here at the computer and a wooden shoe tree from that basement is hooked up to a ceiling hook a souvenir from that shop. Carol Hannah, a user, at least she was back then was busking early one Sunday morning when I ran into big Brent Sisson looking real wonky at the corner of George and Simcoe Streets, that’s the heart of town George and Simcoe, his electric assist wheelchair would only run for ten feet then stall, then after a spell go another ten feet, I went to Our Space to get some help, it was early they weren’t open, there was Martha with the D.A.N.I.E.L. tattoo on her forehead hiding in the bushes at the old community garden and I asked her to come with me and I hooked her up with Brent and directed her to get him up to Our Space while I drove Big Brian home to Parkhill and Water because he couldn’t make it, he’d run out of steam. Turns out Brent was real sick, the Our Space people assessed him quickly and he got taken to the hospital where he went into the serious ward, oh, what do they call it, the Intensive Care Unit. I spoke with Carol Hannah and she said she had seen Brent sleeping in the bank foyer that night, the CIBC bank foyer. So I called the police and asked the chief at the time if any of his staff had seen Brent crashed in the bank overnight, and he got back to me and said, “none of our officers saw him” now you tell me, kindly how a four hundred pound man in an electric wheelchair wearing Hudsons Bay like blankets to stay warm can go unnoticed in a goddamn bank foyer on the busiest street in town. I would visit the hospital from time to time to visit Brent, the first time I visited he was out cold, ‘he’s in an induced coma his nurse told me’ I knew things were serious because he had one to one help, tubes protruded from his mouth, down his throat, into his arms, the entire back of the room looked like a space launch room, chock full of gauges and meters. Undeterred, I went back the following day and he had improved to the point he was conscious and could respond to my words by blinking his eyes and nodding. That day the nurse said, ‘he’s very sick still, he has an infection, the family are coming in from out of town’. I made him laugh, I asked if my friend Saint Carol Winter had been in to see him, ne nodded and let out a big grin, the biggest grin I ever saw, I knew Carol had been there every day since his hospitalization. The next day, I got a call from Carol, Brent was dead, the infection was too serious they could not save his life. Imagine the emotions of his family members having to make that kind of decision.
It turned out to be another year of tragedies, of short lives for some. My friend Ray Voyer one of my original street people characters died from a heart attack while living with his sister up in Bridgenorth. There was a wake for him at the Kayes Funeral Parlour on George Street. Old Fred and the Shinny Man were in attendance, I recall Fred talking loud while someone was speaking their eulogy, I nudged him in the ribs, Carol looked at me a bit aghast at the aroma emitting from Fred. Wayne the Shinny Man also sat with us, he would have heard there was going to be a lunch after the service. All of Ray’s three brothers were there and his sister Donna as well, they put on a nice display of family photos of Ray from his youth up till before he moved to skid row permanently. There was information on where he worked, what he did, when he got ill upstairs and they gave him some of that Jack Nicholson medicine, shock treatments, there was even a photograph of a young healthy Ray with a Harley or some other big motor cycle. I’ll never forget the time I was photographing Ray at one of the benches in Crary Park, he was coming down from a good binge, he didn’t know I had been taking pictures so I went up to him and gave him a $5 dollar bill, he looked at me and he said, “Charlie, you sure you can afford it, you’ve got kids to look after.” So we get to the snack portion of the funeral and here is Wayne the Shinny Man and Fred both stuffing their pockets with choice treats for later, Wayne caught my ear and he said, “there’s some real nice strawberry tarts on the table, have a couple.” He said it as if he was the maitre de` at a fancy hotel, his eyes were bulging out of the sockets with glee, as if he had struck it rich
Other interesting characters continued to flow into my life as if there was a hole in the ships bowels. From the impetus of some of the 09 photos that interest in photographing those on the fringes grew and grew. I’d spend as much time as I could in the core of town looking for subjects and their stories, I found it interesting. I got to know folk much deeper once I stuck the camera in their faces, Marty the window washer was one such person, I worry for him as I have not seen him for some time. Every now and then someone would come over to the bike shop and I would capture their image, Ryan Bubbles Clapper is one such person, I think he’s doing a stretch these days. Celebrities would come over to purchase retro bikes or have their bikes repaired, famed swing style musician Catfish Willie was one of many who this little eclectic shop drew business from, and it is appreciated. Tommy Steele of the local band The Spades did a trade with me for some parts, the bike he left off was a cool retro looking affair that once housed a Zap brand electric motor before they had refined that technology to what it is today. My friend Hans Fishcher got that bike which he has since ‘pimped’ out to his liking.
Somehow I found out about a camp that men used to have a couple of pops at. It was located in the woods behind the Swiss Chalet and the Mini Town miniature golf place on Lansdowne Street. I was welcomed there one Saturday by old time acquaintance Tommy Boyle. Tommy was there that day sitting around the campfire with the camp boss, Norm Mccarrell, Chris, Bushey and another pair of guys who’s names I never did get, reluctantly they posed for a couple of photos, oh yeah Redman one of the Taylor boys from Curve Lake was also there that day. I had learned that the camp was, from time to time, a safe place to hide out as well as a good temporary living arrangement if one didn’t mind shitting in the woods. Besides the fire pit area there was a full kitchen set up outdoors Jamaican style with all the usual utensils, frying pans and pots, stacks of firewood, a midden for garbage such as cans and plastics. There was a large garage like structure covered in green tarps, inside that building there were some cots and bedding as well as coolers to keep the meat cold that had been scrounged from the toss outs of the grocery and away from the critters, the coyotes and coons who hung around by the train tracks. If ever I had witnessed a replica of a hoboes heaven this was it.
This young student was making a documentary on street people, her name was Victoria Scholes, I believe her uncle Wayne Eardley a local photographer/videographer introduced her to me and next thing you know she and I are touring the town and I have a roll to play as the introducer to folk on the fringes. We toured Fred Maybee’s house where he was tickled pink to be in the company of this young lady, he was rubbing his hands together, for me, that was a real tell tale moment in the study of Fred and it fit in with the mannerisms we had witnessed at our house when the young women were home. Victoria interviewed Marty the Window Washer and even Ken Taylor who is usually a very quiet fellow. Her film brought her/us some acclaim as it played at the local ReFrame film festival in 2012. I continue to chide her to help me with another project.
One afternoon we went to visit the camp, to meet Norm, but when we got there Norm was nowhere in sight. I must say we were intimidated as it was akin to trespassing going on to the grounds without an escort, even though we had permission to be there. We got up fairly close to the camp which was a good hundred yards from the tracks via a well worn path, past a forest of young trees. We were greeted by two large barking Rotweillers similar in size and demeanour to the dogs in that nasty horror flick The Exorcist from some years before. After a while I just yelled at the dogs to settle down and they did, at which point Victoria took some shots on her video camera. The dogs belonged to James Jenney and his partner who happened to be living at the camp that season, more on James later. When I was on a mission looking for missing people the first person I would call would be Norm, I knew that he would pass the word around that so and so was missing, for instance that rascal Bobby Teasdale would go on a hiatus and that would get all us do gooders tongues waggin that he had not been seen, so a casual search party would be put together and the word put out by Norm and his crew. Within a few days we would hear the good news, that Bobby was lying low for a spell at his sisters or a motel on the Highway arranged by the CMHA. In some places they call this type of connected communications ‘the coconut grapevine’.
Still generally speaking I had created this need to help people, you might say I got off on it, on helping out, out there on the streets. There were/are hired people who look after some of the individuals but their caseloads are such that they can’t cover all the ground. While carting Fred around to Our Space I got a good feel for those on the fringes and my intuitive nature provided clues to what areas of society these folk populated. For example, if a woman was a prostitute on the side, making a bit of change to buy, whatever, drugs, food, pampers I did not make judgment. If folks were involved in what I called the Oxycontin Economy so be it. In all of mankind’s time the law has always existed that if a need arises certain members of the tribe will fill the void. This law of nature extends from the very bottom of the social scale and goes right to the top of that scale to the high rollers and silver spooners, there is no economic group that does not have a need for providers. People are very adaptive to their circumstances. I was watching an old film, Chariots of Fire in which wealthy students embarking the train to take courses at Cambridge had their luggage carried to the transport by a poor porter, the porter is poor, but it is important to note that he is not a dimwit. Such a cast of characters was available for one to observe. I love them all.
Randy Reid is one such character, he is a short man who we would often see playing a guitar and singing a song at the greenspace where the bench had been removed by the front of the Chamber of Commerce. Every night at 7:30 Randy would be there. A friend passed on to me that Randy felt that if he kept playing there, night after night that sooner or later someone in the music industry would discover him and ask to help him cut a record. From time to time I converse with Randy, one time I ran into him under a big tree at Crary Park by the lake eating a pink coloured ice cream cone. It was an interesting sight, there was Randy, cross legged on the grass, it looked like all his worldly possessions were there with him, clothing, his familiar black leather jacket, some books, he had a couple of framed paintings hanging above him on the tree, that was his home.
Just by coincidence and the motion that was created by the Dark Hallways exhibit did I run into an excellent person to document. Daphne Molson Rogers was introduced to me by Bill Kimball an Arts involved person in the city. I was talking with Bill about Gerard Butler whom I wanted to learn more about, he suggested that Daphne would fit nicely into the work I was doing. I called her and made an appointment to photograph her at her home in Peterborough. This was a first for me, going to someones home to take photographs. This well spoken woman in her sixties, dressed in a black velvet dress answered the door and led me in to the parlour. The house was pretty cramped with a collection of books and a piano and the memories of a lifetime that we all have scattered here and there in our homes. She had made an attempt to showcase her accomplishments by placing a couple of her self published books on a side table along with some fake gold medals from some place or the other. I could see right off that she took great pride in the books and awards. I asked her to play piano for me, and she did, quite well in fact, one piece she played was a tribute to Mario Lemieux the hockey player whom she believed was dying of cancer. She would not listen to me when I told her he had overcome his illness and was quite well and living a great life. The piece she played was beautifully crafted and she played it with a good deal of finesse. If her keys were off, I would not have noticed, it was a private concert, just for me. Of course, the camera was clicking away. I don’t exactly recall but I may have taken upwards of a hundred shots, which is a lot in the hour or so I was there. Part way through this first meeting I asked Daphne if she had a veil and see through gloves, I just had this 1940’s feeling about her, as if her personality were more suited to a person from another era, a more costumed era, an era where there was royalty and I suppose a lot of this feeling was set off by her constant referral to counts and dukes and madames, in fact she called herself Madame Daphne Molson Rogers, though I believe this is without any official sanction. She retrieved the veil and gloves and sat at the right side of her couch, then sat back as if I was to make love to her. I held the camera up and took a few of the most incredible photos I have ever taken. We parted and this introductory meeting has been the catalyst for a deep and curious interest in her life and her art. Not only is Daphne a piano player, she is a multi media artist working in several different fields of art, including, poetry, drawing, photography and if I may say so I think she would make an excellent actor.
Throughout all of this tumult, I ran the Lumpy Bike shop from Spring till Winter. I met a cacophony of people including, Dorothy Groves, Carmine, Five Finger Freddy, Janet at Our Space, Murray, Doug Falconer, Rachelle, Jimson, James Jenney, Calvin, the Davidson Brothers Barry and Charlie, Ron Russell, Andre`, John Boothroyd, Jane, Nelly Michel and Lyn Miller, Abby Red Scooter and his wife Betty whom I photographed at their home. It was quite a busy year. But the person who I saw the most was Fred Maybee, he was up for adoption. He loved bikes, he would come over to buy used ball bearings. He was pretty thrifty!