Published in the November, 2021 issue of Boomers & Beyond
By Terry Carroll
On a July afternoon when even lowly insects are seeking shade, my lovely wife, Nancy, enters the Cellular Magician on Talbot Street. I linger in the parking lot because it’s too hot to stay in our vehicle, and the coronavirus is still too threatening for more than one customer at a time in the store. A man, maybe forty, slim as a surfer, approaches me. He wears jeans slung so low I can see an upper fringe of pubic hair. Runners without laces. No socks. His bare upper body is burnished to a golden brown. His tanned face is red and brown above his beard. With his right fist, he grips a sharp triangle of weathered hardwood that appears to have split off a pallet.
“Do you know where to find clothes?” he asks.
“You mean free clothes?”
“Maybe the Salvation Army.”
I pull out my cellphone to call the Salvation Army – Family and Community Services. It rings and rings, goes to voicemail.
The slim man raises his wooden knife and chops up and down with it, up and down, telling me he shut down the Salvation Army in London.
As a senior confronted by a man whose energy is amplified by some substance, all I want to do is extricate myself from the situation before he plunges – by accident or drug-fueled design – what amounts to a weapon into some soft part of my anatomy.
Fortunately, he is distracted by something real or imagined, tosses down the wooden weapon and moves away. He paces the plaza sidewalk. Back and forth, speaking to himself or someone in his mind. As other people appear, he addresses those who cannot not skirt him before he disappears around the corner of the building into shadier areas.
Two months later, I take a call at Elgin – St. Thomas Community Foundation (ESCF) from The Divine Ms. T who runs a downtown office offering services to small businesses. She’s been researching life among people living rough and is interested in launching music therapy workshops to stimulate emotional expression, self esteem and interpersonal connection for homeless people. Since the issue is one of the priority areas for ESCF’s Great-EST Needs Fund, I tell her we might get involved. I also relay the story of the man with the wedge of wood and the low-riding pants. I add I’m not sure a music therapy program would reach some people a friend of mine calls drifters, as if this were the Dirty Thirties. T says she thinks she knows the wooden knife-wielder and one other Talbot Street wanderer who are both scary.
A month further on, I’m at a committee meeting, and a woman who owns a business in the west end of Talbot Street tells those present about Machete Man, brandishing a razor-sharp tool more commonly used in equatorial areas of the globe. The police were called, and as in my case, nothing bad happened.
A lot of this can be left to the charitable sector and professionals funded by various levels of government. But not all of it. The Rest of St. Thomas (ROST) has some obligations beyond finger-wagging.
As some sort of solution for the ROST’s relationship with the 90% of the homeless who are not scary, I’m tempted to quote a recently deceased musician who knew something about music therapy. John Prine wrote eloquently about lonely people waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there. Hello.”
But who among us has the courage? From the evidence, apparently not me.