Mar 2019 01

I was having lunch with my advertising creative work partner at the time, Bobby, in a food court underneath Yonge and Bloor here in Toronto. Of course his name isn’t really Bobby, because how many ‘Bobby’s do you know these days? Although if I was named Robert, I think I’d like to be called Bobby. Maybe with an ‘ie’ though.

Anyhow, this was a few years ago and as Bobby and I were sitting, him with a Korean Hotpot and me with Manchu Wok probably (I’m a sucker for that shit), I saw a man behind Bobby. He was rumaging through the food court trash.

This is a crowded food court, in downtown Toronto, and this slightly weathered man had no qualms about pushing open the swinging door of the trash receptacle where you place your empty tray on top of, and shoving his arm down into the garbage to see what he could fish out.

“Yo, Bobby”, I said – somehow for this story, ‘Yo’ works nicely with the name Bobby but I probably said ‘Hey’ cause ‘Yo’ isn’t really my thang. Or ‘thang’, actually.

“Yo, Bobby”, I said. “Check out what’s going on behind you.”

I am rarely surprised by anything I see. But I was amazed at this person’s complete surrender to just going for it and not caring who was watching. I wanted Bobby to see the spectacle behind him.

Bobby turned around.

“Oh no.”

And he dropped his ceramic hotpot spoon onto the food court tray, got up and hurried over to the man.

“Hey, you don’t have to do that. What are you doing? Are you hungry? Here’s five dollars. Can I buy you something? You don’t have to go through the trash.”

And in one swift move, Bobby had shown me who the real spectacle was. It was me. Where was my humanity? I had become one of those downtown Manchu Wok lunch eating assholes. Fuck. When did that happen? Maybe when I started vaping?

Since then I have tried to be more compassionate.

If I’m asked for change, and I have some, I happily hand it over – as long as I don’t get a ‘stabby’ vibe. And if I don’t have any or a $5 bill, I at least look them in the eye and say ‘Sorry, I don’t have any but take care’ or something like that.

Bobby reminded me to be human to other humans.

But the more I have done this, the more I realize why I numbed myself to it over the years before that lunch. Because it’s hard not to want to help everyone. I get a feeling of helplessness if I let myself get too much like Bobby all the time.

I’m a sucker for anyone with a pet. There’s one guy at Bay and Bloor. Like, just take my wallet, man. To crave companionship and want to take care of something other than yourself gives me the hard feels.

And women. That’s a tough one. I know very little about our shelter situation in this city but I have read that it’s not the safest environment for anyone, let alone a woman. Choosing the sidewalk might be the better alternative.

And people clearly on something, looking for their next fix. I feel like I shouldn’t enable them, but I give them something if I have it, always with the hope that maybe something will click with them. Sometimes I get all preachy and say “Hey, get something to eat, okay?”. And they sometimes say “Yah, for sure” and I doubt. But I go on, imagining I’m helping spread some positive energy in the universe. Alleviating my guilt. What I have to feel guilty about, I’m not sure.

Tonight, I had no money (fucking Interac Tap is ruining my actual cash holdings – remember actual money, everyone?) when I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in awhile.

He’s a man who hangs out in the Manulife Centre at Bloor & Bay, in the mall part underground. I’ve dropped coins in his Tim Horton’s cup placed on the ground on a few occasions, but I haven’t worked in that area in awhile. It was good to see him still around. He sits on the ground, usually in the tunnel between Holt Renfrew and where you’d go to get to Indigo. He’s always friendly, wearing a baseball cap. Always says ‘Thanks!’ and we might chit chat a bit.

What strikes me the most about him is he looks like something terrible happened to him. He has severe burn scars.

Tonight, I was walking into his circle of recognition and thinking ‘shit, I don’t have anything’. And then I thought ‘What would Bobby do?’. So I stopped to say hi at the very least.

“Hi, how you doing?” he beamed.

And then I remembered I had just picked up a few groceries at the market down there.

“Hey, I don’t have any money tonight but would you like an apple?”

His eyes lit up and he said he would and as he talked to me, I saw he had very few teeth – really just one I could see – and I wondered ‘How the heck is he going to bite into this apple?’, but maybe he has a knife or something.

He put out his hand to take the apple.

And then I saw he has no fingers. On either hand. They are just stubs on hands that also have severe burn scars. What happened to this poor man? What kind of horror did he endure?

Eager to cover my shock, I offered him more of whatever I had in the bag.

“What about a banana? They’re kind of green but maybe tomorrow or the next day it’ll be good.”

And he said ya, took one, and then advised me to put the rest of them on a windowsill that gets sunlight. That’ll ripen them up faster.

I thanked him for the advice – ‘I will try that!’ – said goodbye, and walked off.

I give out spare change thinking I’m fucking Robin Hood, thinking I’m finding the inner Bobby in me. But this person. This is true grace. To be pleasant and smiling to everyone when something horrific seems to have happened to him. To give out positivity regardless of getting back.

I get all pissed off with the world when someone brushes up against me on the TTC.

And here’s this person being the sunlight that ripens up green bananas.

It seems there will be more to finding my inner Bobby than lightening my pockets of a few coins.