There but for the grace of god (wherever she is) …

February 13, 2002 at 5:51 pm (General)

In the metro, on the way to work today, another of Montreal’s many indigents got on at the Lionel-Groulx station. Nothing new there, you can’t swing a dead cat in this great metropolis of ours without hitting an outstretched hand. Glanced up from my reading, and recognised said-street person.
Over 14 years ago, when I first moved to this city, I quickly realised that a whole lot of folks lived through handouts. Most were truly down on their luck. This one fella, however, who “worked” out of the Guy metro station, seemed different. His clothes were normally clean, his hair was somewhat manageable, he never got in anyone’s face. Almost good looking, ya know?
So, my first few years in Montreal, he became a fixture in the downtown area. I only saw him on Ste-Catherine sporadically over the years. Then, about five years ago, there he was, standing outside the Gap store on Ste-Catherine, looking completely bewildered and off his rocker, yelling at passersby, scrounging through the garbage, his clothes in complete tatters. I’ve caught glimpses of him over the years, and the downward slide has been consistent and heart-breaking.
So there he was, this morning, walking into the metro car. Perhaps “walking” is too polite a word. More like limping. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see everyone involuntarily flinch, especially folks sitting alone on double seats: “Oh Christ, please, no, don’t sit next to me. I might catch something,” you could see their thought bubbles.
No need to worry, however, this poor guy has had his spirit already taken out of him. Wearing clothes teeming with lice, plastic bags on his feet, limping (as I said) as though he’s already lost a couple of toes to frostbite.
I couldn’t help but think, “Dude, how can you still be alive?” Honestly, how can his “rage de vivre” be so strong after all these years? I can’t even begin to imagine what hell that guy, and every other street person, has to go through, especially on bitterly cold days. Being treated like shit by everyone else, and having to demean yourself for a meal at Sun Youth or the Starvation Army? (This Christmas, eating at my in-laws, the parents were quoting some shit-ass article they had read in Reader’s Digest that said that beggars routinely made up to $300 a day. The sad thing is, the ‘rents took this as gospel.)
At what point can you say enough is enough? Give up a losing battle, admit defeat? I’ll never understand human nature, in all its various guises.

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