lost ironies

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Tag: hunger

the hunger axioms

The unspoken rules of poverty in Canada

  1. Hunger in Canada, and the systemic poverty alleged to cause it, are myths.
  2. Hunger and poverty, resulting from disability, age, isolation and/or systemic disadvantage, are fabrications, created by seditious elements within Canadian society.
  3. If the myths of hunger and poverty in Canada were realities, its response, as a wealthy, just and compassionate nation, would be immediate, addressing hunger and all other poverty related issues with efficiency and empathy, by providing the adequate financial assistance and gateways to education and accommodating employment necessary to establish and maintain the dignity and comfort of those effected, while striving to eliminate poverty itself.
  4. If the myths of hunger and poverty in Canada were realities, a robust and unprejudiced charity model would quickly evolve, generously funded by spontaneous and unsolicited public and private gifts and contributions, to seamlessly and more than adequately address the problem in an equal and dignified fashion.
  5. The redistribution of wealth through a basic livable guaranteed income is unnecessary and unrealistic. Its suggestion is subversive, and Canada as a nation of good and informed citizens adhere to this unproven truth without question.
  6. Those who spread myths of hunger and poverty in Canada are disloyal, lack the motivation to prosper and lack the gratitude consistent within the nation as a whole.
  7. Canada, as a nation, finds these axioms irrefutable, and the questioning of them, or disagreement with them, is a betrayal of the Nation and its people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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pale bread and honey

 

hunger dances alone
in dark empty places
but though it is harder
than sidewalks and hate
it is smaller than a plate
of pale bread and honey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the angel of 1913

a new year’s day story

Every year has its angel. And don’t make the mistake of believing each angel is a good one. For in any age, there are only half as many good angels as there might be, and twice as many wicked angels as there should be. And  even this estimation fails to take into account the ambivalent angels that can feebly preside over a year, and in so doing, cause more grief and discontent than any legion of demons.

It is always on the last evening of each year that the new angel assigned to the new year arrives to acquaint itself with the world over which it will hold sway for 365 days. And so it was on December 31st, 1912, when The Angel of 1913 arrived in town.

The streets were cold and foggy, and the snow, so fresh and white two days ago, was hard and grey. The Angel of 1913 sat in Morrey’s Diner with a cup of coffee, having just finished dinner. He smoked a cigar, and watched a river of souls walk past the steamy window.  He wore a freshly pressed suit with a red silk tie.

The Angel of 1913 was notable among angels. Some angels denied that he was an angel at all. A mere imp, some said. Or a fallen angel, perhaps. But The Angel of 1913 didn’t give a damn what other angels said. He ignored the gossip of cherubs.

For a few moments, he’d been aware of his waitress standing at the counter watching him. This happened frequently. Over the millennia, he’d become used to his power over humans. He relit his cigar. The ember sizzled and glowed bright as a furnace. He deeply inhaled a mouthful of smoke, and made a show of it for her. It disappeared into his undying and incalculable lungs, and he exhaled far more than he’d taken in. It was a Vesuvius of cigar smoke and misty wraiths. The waitress shrieked, and disappeared into the kitchen.

He laughed at this, and in doing so, almost missed sight of a rough looking character with a battered backpack walking down the street past the diner window. There was an air of failure and homelessness about the woman. But there was something else as well; something difficult to define that interested The Angel of 1913. And though it was still 1912, and he had little power over the events of the remaining year, he thought he’d use what power he did have to cause some mischief.

He stood up, snuffing out his cigar in the remaining mound of mashed potatoes on his plate. A silver dollar appeared from nowhere in his hand, and he let it drop into the remains of his meal. It made a sloppy plop sound in the congealing gravy that made him smile. He put on his overcoat, and exited.

The Angel of 1913 walked quickly, staying a few paces behind the backpack woman. What a coup it would be to cause pain and suffering before his year had even begun. He finally caught up at an intersection where a traffic cop presided. There, he stopped next to the woman and said, “Hell of a New Year’s Eve, eh?”

“All the same to me,” said the woman, looking straight ahead.

“Sleeping rough, are you?”

“Maybe. You got some spare change to help me out?”

The Angel of 1913 chose that moment to look down at the curb, and the woman beside him did the same. A twenty dollar bill had somehow appeared there without her noticing; it was unlike her streetwise eye to miss such a rare prize. The Angel of 1913 stepped on the bill, and said, “I saw it first.”

“Fine,” said the woman, looking away. She bit her lip as a familiar spasm of failure travelled through her belly. It merged with the ever-present hunger pangs to create a vicious light headedness.

“But I’ll tell you what….”

“What?” said the woman.

“I’ll take my foot off of the twenty, and you can pick it up. It’ll be all yours. That means a couple week’s worth of room and board and a little hooch, all for you.”

“Okay,” said the woman and she began to bend down to take the bill.

“Or,” said The Angel of 1913, not moving his foot, “you can take a chance on what’s in my right hand pants pocket right now. Before you decide, though, I should tell you that I often carry with me far more than twenty dollars – far, far more, my friend – enough, perhaps, to make you comfortable for all of 1913. However, I feel that I’m equally obligated to inform you that I just had a splendid meal that set me back some considerable amount. There’s a chance that I don’t have much of anything in my pocket at all. You can play it safe and take the twenty now, or gamble on what you can’t see. The twenty under my shoe, or all the money, whatever the amount, concealed in my pocket.”

“You’re nuts. Just let me have the twenty.”

“Are you sure, Maxine?”

“Hey, how the hell you know my name?”

“It’s New Year’s Eve, Maxine. A night of magic and miracles. A night when angels might descend form on high, and change the luck of a down-and-outer like you.”

“You a cop?” said the woman.

“I can assure you that I am not,” said The Angel of 1913.

“You want sex?”

“My goodness, no.”

“Because I ain’t for sale.”

Maxine looked down at the twenty dollar bill. It was a lot of dough, by her standards. But maybe this crackpot did have a wad in his pocket. Maybe this was a night when something good could happen. She looked up again at the man standing there, and licked her lips. Then she ran her finger under her nose and sniffed. “You do this stuff all the time, mister?”

“Sometimes,” said The Angel of 1913.

“Based on your experience, what are my chances?”

“Chances are you will always find life to be unpredictable.”

“That ain’t much of an answer.”

“That traffic cop has changed the direction of traffic twice now during our exchange, Maxine. I hope our business here can be completed before it changes again.”

Maxine ran her thumb under her pack’s shoulder strap. The strap had been digging in all day. It was painful, a disheartening pain. A pain that made the night seem colder, wetter, darker. In her mind, she attempted to calculate the impossible. Could she cash in on what was in this man’s pocket? Could he be a good hearted trickster ready to commit an act of charity? She looked him in the face, and The Angel of 1913 smiled a bland, confident smile.

“Okay,” she said. “Forget the twenty. I’ll take the cash in your pocket, every damn dime.” Maxine held out her hand. “C’mon,” she said. “Give.”

The smile on The Angel of 1913’s face grew broader, and he pulled his clenched fist out of his pocket. It could have concealed a hundred dollars, or a thousand. She waited for the fist to open. And when it did, Maxine felt a familiar spasm in her gut. In the palm of the man’s hand was a nickel and two pennies.

“Shit,” she said.

The Angel of 1913 bent down, and picked up the twenty from under his fine shinny leather boot.

“How do I know that’s all you got in your pocket, buddy,” said Maxine.

“I’m a Gentleman,” said The Angel of 1913. “You have my word.”

“Shit.”

“It’s just stupid bad luck. Isn’t it, Maxine?”

“I guess.”

“You made a bet – you took a risk – and you lost. It’s just too bad.”

“Hang on,” said Maxine. “You’re nuts. That wasn’t no bet. I didn’t lose a damn thing. In fact, I’m up seven cents.”

“Well, that is entirely the wrong attitude.”

“Look, mister, you might have all the money in the world and look real swell in your snazzy duds, but you got no business telling me I got a bad attitude. Now fork over my seven cents. I can get a bowl of soup with that.” Her belly growled at the thought.

The Angel of 1913 didn’t like the way this was unfolding. He’d hoped his little trick would have helped to demoralise this woman. Instead she stood there talking about soup, and how his seven cents could buy some. Perhaps he’d miscalculated. He wrapped his tight fist round the nickel and two pennies.

“How ‘bout we try this,” he said. “I’ll….”

“You’ll do nothing, mister,” said Maxine. “Not a damn thing ‘cept hand over my seven cents. ‘Cause if you don’t, I’m gonna scream blue bloody murder and that traffic cop is gonna come on over, and I’m gonna tell him you mistook me for a women of ill fame.”

“Ill fame?” said The Angel of 1913. “Mistook you for…? My dear woman, have you looked in mirror lately?”

“Fine,” Maxine said. She took a deep breath of air, as though she were preparing to yell very loudly.

“Wait,” said The Angel of 1913, who had yet to receive the advantage of all his powers over the world – the powers that would be bestowed on him a tick after midnight on New Year’s Day. Until then, he was restricted to what were, in his estimation, mere parlour tricks, like the conjuring of coins and bank notes, and the correct guessing of people’s names. Dissuading a dutiful cop from rescuing a shabby woman in distress might be beyond him at this point.

He looked across the street at a bank. Its ostentatious clock read 6:29. He was still five and a half hours away from full influence over Earthly goings-on. He had a thought.

“How would you like to double your money?” he said. “Turn seven cents into fourteen. That’s two bowls of soup.”

“I just need one, mister.”

“Well now, isn’t that just the sort of thinking that keeps a good woman down?”

“You’re too tricky for me, fella. But you owe me seven cents. Now give.”

“Okay, okay,” said The Angel of 1913. He held a pacifying hand in the air. And with that hand, he produced another twenty dollar bill out of thin air. “How would you like another crack at one of these?”

Her patience was wearing thin. The cop in the centre of the intersection blew his whistle, and encouraged the traffic through. It occurred to her then to simply walk away. Even if she could get the cop’s attention, she’d been sleeping at missions for weeks. She was grubby, and the sort of person the cops loved to run off the street and put in the clink. The twenty in the man’s hand seemed to glow, however. And a gust of icy wind blew up the sidewalk. The twenty could buy a lot of comfort.

“Alright,” she said. “What’s the gimmick this time?”

“Do you like riddles,” said The Angel of 1913 with a greasy smile.

“Hate ‘em,” said Maxine.

“Well here’s the gimmick,” said The Angel of 1913. “I ask you a riddle. If you answer it correctly, you get the twenty. Answer it wrong, and you still get the seven cents.”

“Okay, fine. Hit me.”

“Alright, listen carefully,” said The Angel of 1913. “The riddle is this: It has hands but no fingers. It tocks but says nothing. What is it?”

“It talks, but says nothing,” said Maxine.

“Yes,” said The Angel of 1913, tapping his well heeled foot. “It tocks but says nothing. Do hurry; I have tickets for the stage.”

“Hmm,” said Maxine, putting her finger on her chin. “What talks and says nothing?”

“That’s the riddle, my dear. Can you answer it or not?”

“Give me a minute.”

“You don’t have forever. We can’t stand here all night. Time’s a wasting. C’mon, c’mon.”

Just then the bank clock across the street rang the half hour.

“Hey,” said Maxine. “Do you mean talk or tock? Like as in tick-tock.”

“Well….” said The Angel of 1913, looking sheepish.

“Which is it?”

“Must I answer the riddle for you?” he said.

“No, but I think you’re cheating. Talk or tock? Fess up.”

“Do you accuse me of cheating?” said The Angel of 1913. “Me? How dare you?”

“Well?”

“Fine. We’ll do another riddle.”

“The hell we will,” Maxine said. “Talk or tock? Come clean.”

Had he miscalculated? Maxine was obviously no great intellect, but she was proving that she wasn’t simple either. Perhaps he should have given the riddle more thought before asking it. But it had worked before. He’d been asking the same riddle since the invention of the mechanical clock. There was something tediously assertive about this awful woman. So, what now? What could be worse than surrendering the twenty dollar bill to this unwashed trollop? What could be worse than conceding? He never had. For a second, he thought about pushing her into traffic. But he was unsure he could get away with it before midnight came. She might put up a fight.

“Well,” said Maxine. “I’m waiting.”

“I’m calling off the bet,” said The Angel of 1913.

“You can’t,” said Maxine.

“I already have.”

“Then give me my seven cents.”

“Absolutely not,” said The Angel of 1913. “You were only to receive the seven cents if you lost the bet. You didn’t lose the bet because I called the bet off. Therefore, no seven cents.”

“You cheated,” said Maxine.

“I most certainly did not,” said The Angel of 1913. “I’m incapable of cheating,” he lied.

“Then I want another chance,” said Maxine. “And this time, I ask the riddle.”

He frowned and thought for a moment. Then he tried to read her mind, but all he got were bits and pieces. A broken vase and burnt eggs. This would be a challenge. He hated challenges. He liked to win. But he couldn’t turn and run now. It would be admitting defeat. It would be undignified.

“Very well,” said The Angel of 1913. “But let’s up the ante, and make it a real bet.” He bent over and picked up a candy bar wrapper from the sidewalk. He closed his fist round it, and when his fist opened again, the wrapper had morphed into a large roll of bills held tight with an elastic band. “There’s ten thousand dollars here. What have you got to put up?”

“Nothin’,” said Maxine.

“You might have something,” said The Angel of 1913, smiling his greasy smile. “Something you may have never considered risking.”

“Mister, all I ever had I left behind in a shack on a dead and dusty plot of land in Manitoba.”

“Then consider this,” said The Angel of 1913. “If you win, if you can ask a riddle I cannot answer, you get the ten thousand. If you lose, I will take from you everything you ever were, and more. There won’t be enough of you left to deliver to the infirmary, or even for a priest to offer last rights.”

“You are crazy,” said Maxine.

Hearing this, The Angel of 1913 reached out and tightly clasped Maxine’s hand. He hissed: “Don’t count on it.” Eyes dead and colourless now, all humour gone from his face. His teeth sharp for a second, like those of a dog. Somehow, from somewhere, a choir of deep lament, a chorus of anguish and defeat. And there was the smell of something burning.

“Let go,” said Maxine, pulling free. She stumbled backward a few steps, and looked at the man. He’d become a grinning dandy again, but the burning smell lingered.

“Since this has turned so serious, mister,” she said. “I have one condition that I want understood. By that clock across the street, you answer my riddle in sixty seconds. That’s one minute, got it?”

“That’s acceptable,” said The Angel of 1913. He smiled, and was suave and self-assured. “Do you have your riddle ready?”

“I think I do,” said Maxine. Her belly growled again. Ten thousand dollars would buy a lot of soup. She could sleep on clean sheets, and take the tram where she liked. Maybe for the rest of her life. “Here we go,” she said. “My riddle is this: Every room I enter is empty, in spite of my presence. What am I?”

“That’s it?”

“Yup,” said Maxine. “And you now have fifty-eight seconds.”

“Why that’s easy, it’s….”

“Fifty-seven seconds.”

“Oh, stop that,” said The Angel of 1913. “It’s annoying.”

“Well?”

“You enter a room and it’s empty, in spite of you being there. Ha, you’re a ghost. That was so easy!”

“Not so fast, mister. It ain’t a ghost. It’s something you don’t even know anything about, so you ain’t never gonna guess it right.”

“Not a ghost? Then, hmm. Then the fog, of course. You’re the fog. The room is empty, but there you are.”

“Nope,” said Maxine.

“Well will you at least tell me if I’m warm?” said The Angel of 1913.

“Not a chance,” said Maxine. “And times runnin’ out.”

“I wonder if you’re not the one cheating this time,” said The Ghost of 1913. “Maybe you’re all riddle and no answer.”

“We’ll see.”

“Something I know nothing about, is it? That certainly narrows it down. But what’s the point if I don’t know about it?”

“Tick-tock, tick-tock,” said Maxine.

The Angel of 1913 was starting to worry. No one had ever asked him a riddle he couldn’t answer. Over the centuries, they’d asked him complex, esoteric riddles. The more complex and esoteric, the easier they were to answer. But this riddle was so simple. Every room I enter is empty, in spite of my presence.

He had a thought; he tried his luck at slowing the clock. But it didn’t work. His full powers on Earth were still hours away. He cleared his mind and focussed.  …empty, in spite of my presence; …empty, in spite of my presence.

Finally, Maxine said: “Five seconds, mister.”

“I have it!” said The Angels of 1913. “I have it, and now you’re mine, you infuriating little bitch. I’ll make you suffer, I will.”

“Two seconds.”

“Air!” he said. ” …empty, in spite of my presence. It’s air. I have you now.”

“Nope,” said Maxine. “You ain’t got jack shit.

“Then what is it?” said The Angel of 1913. “Every room I enter is empty, in spite of my presence. Tell me what it is, or I’ll throttle you!”

“Hunger,” said Maxine. “I told you you knew nothing about it, and I was right. That’s why it didn’t even occur to you.”

“Surely it’s too metaphorical! It was a trick. You tricked me. I’m calling off the bet.”

“Can’t. I played by the rules. Now hand over the cash.”

“Do you know who I am?” said The Angel of 1913 in a last-ditch effort to intimidate. “Do you know how bad I can make things for you throughout the year to come?”

“Worse than what you see now?” said Maxine as she reached out and took the wad of bills from the hand of The Angel of 1913. “I don’t think so.”

She removed the elastic band with a snap, and began to count. There were too many hundreds, fifties and twenties to get through, but she had an idea that it was all there. “Thanks,” she said, and smiled.

The Angel of 1913 watched, slack jawed, as Maxine waited for the traffic cop to wave her through. Then she crossed the street and disappeared into the dark, wet city.

 

 

 

 

The Charity Model, a Weak Reaction to Hunger in Canada

Charity: kindness and pity in one tidy act of giving, inadequately addressing needs that shouldn’t exist in our wealthy nation, and providing the giver with a warm and satisfying feeling.

Sadly, the much coveted charity model, and a sorry system of government welfare, appear to be as close as we’ll allow ourselves to get to an equitable redistribution of wealth. It also provides the charitable license to cast mild, if unconscious, shame upon recipients while preserving expectations of cheerful and unqualified gratitude. The giver gets this, and a tax deduction along with bragging rights. Maybe even a place in Heaven.

The emphasis of this brief article is limited to food insecurity in Canada, the harsh income disparities that cause it, and how we might mitigate their impact on those effected by hunger—people facing barriers to employment, the underemployed, seniors, many people with disabilities and others. And don’t forget child poverty. They live with hunger and malnutrition every day, and our nation’s inadequate reaction is absolutely necessary to the maintenance of a charity model that fails to effectively address this injustice.

If you’re a fan of the charity model, however, no worries. Food insecurity isn’t likely to end in Canada anytime soon. Nor are the profound feelings of isolation, humiliation and physical pain it causes. Indeed, it’s likely that charity will remain one of our most robust reactions to the manufactured social and financial gaps that cause such severe hardship.

Good hearted folks will continue to put change into coin boxes, food into grocery store foodbank boxes and make year-end donations. Meanwhile, the self-congratulatory cult of the corporate executive will continue to create vast charitable facades, costing them nearly nothing, and supported primarily by their customers (think McDonalds[1] and Donald Trump[2]). For big business, charity will continue to be a thrifty form of brand enhancement, and their need for cheap branding remains never ending.

If we wanted to, though, could we eliminate poverty and hunger in Canada by stepping away from our reliance on charity? Perhaps we just need to rethink reacting with sympathy, and instead provide those in need with opportunities, gateways into employment that pays a living wage, safe housing and guaranteed minimum incomes that differ from welfare in that they come in livable amounts, and are made universally available so that pity and shaming, in this regard, are rendered obsolete.

But if all of this happened tomorrow, and charity was no longer necessary, would those who support the model feel cheated? Would they want back that special feeling they get when they deliver packages or write a cheque? If so, one might wonder if this need to commodify poverty is burned into our DNA, and if that is true, couldn’t we consciously endeavour to evolve beyond it? Can we ever advance beyond a charity model in which the net benefit goes to the charitable rather than those living in hunger?

[1]http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/Clowning_Around_Charity_Report_Full.pdf

[2]https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-used-258000-from-his-charity-to-settle-legal-problems/2016/09/20/adc88f9c-7d11-11e6-ac8e-cf8e0dd91dc7_story.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

how I came to be in prison

There was this guy I was letting sleep on my couch. He was eating me out of house and home. Which was a real drag because I’d lost my job at the 7-Eleven for stealing Slurpees and lottery tickets.

Now I was looking at the ATM keypad for the button I needed. The one that said: anything that’s left. It wasn’t there. I needed the same button on my life. There wasn’t one there, either.

My chequing account was nearly empty, anyway. What was there would be eclipsed by banking service charges soon enough. I had dimes in my pocket, and an old man with a walker wheezing behind me. I pulled my card from the slot and split.

Hunger is a planet orbiting itself. It’s its own moon and sun. And it’s pale in the sky. No one can see it, who isn’t looking for it. And its inhabitants can only see the grim surface, and feel its core burn in their bellies.

I was a new life, recently born to the hunger planet. I’d never seen it in the sky. I’d never looked. And I‘d never be a good citizen. I know I’d steal a rocket ship and escape its gravity, like a scene out of a Spielberg flick.

But first I had to dump the metaphor, and get concrete.

I sat down on the sidewalk and put an empty Starbucks cup in front of me. It was a Grande. I figured a Venti was pushing it. I didn’t want to seem greedy.

They didn’t call this begging anymore, which made me happy. Now it was called panhandling. That made it sound like a vocation, that you got a student loan to learn. It sounded like Florida or part of Alaska. Two places that looked mighty handsome on a map, all green and bumpy. I could live with that.

The first person to drop coins into the cup was a four year old. Her mother had given her the change and sent her over. I guess it was a lesson in charity. Either that or mom was too scared of me to do it herself. Better the kid got jumped by the bum, than her. She probably had a yoga class she couldn’t miss later on.

The second person was an old broad, hooked up to an oxygen tank she carried on a dolly behind her. She gave me a buck and started telling me about a day in 1962 when she wore a bikini to the beach and met Wayne Newton, who felt her up later that night in his hotel room. Then she lit a cigarette and blew smoke out of her nose past the oxygen tube nose piece. She forgot who she was after that, and just walked away.

The third person was a guy in a suit who gave me a quarter, and acted like he was the IMF bailing out Somalia. He asked me if I’d heard of Jesus, and I said I was letting Him sleep on my couch and that I couldn’t leave beer in the fridge because He drank it all.

The suit guy seemed a little upset hearing this. So, he called me a dirty blasphemer, and said that I deserved my poverty and would burn in hell because that’s the Christian way.

And I said, “Okay, I’ll tell Jesus to go over and sleep on your couch.”

And he said, “Fine, I’d be blessed to have Jesus sleep on my couch.”

And I said, “You better hide your beer.”

And he said, “I’ve had just about enough of you.”

And I said, “Then why don’t you go tell some Buddhist he’s going to hell, and leave me alone.”

And that’s when he kicked me.

So, I got up and slapped him one in the face. And he started yelling that I’d assaulted him. So, I pushed him out into traffic, just as the downtown bus was rolling by. And bammo! He was a stain on the grill of the ol’ number five. But I guess he went to heaven. I hope he hides his beer from you know Who.

Then there was the ambulance and the fire department and two cops named Ray and Natalie, who looked real nice together, and I told them so. Anyway, they cuffed me and took me in. And the psychiatrist said I wasn’t nuts, just a little stupid. So, they sent me to prison.

That’s how I got here.

Jesus comes to visit now and then, but he’s about the only one. He says he’s staying at a Motel 6 now, out on the highway, with the ice machine just outside of his room. I could tell you more about that, but it’s time for ceramics class.

the angel of 1913

a new year’s day story

Every year has its angel. And don’t make the mistake of believing each angel is a good one. For in any age, there are only half as many good angels as there might be, and twice as many wicked angels as there should be. And  even this estimation fails to take into account the ambivalent angels that can feebly preside over a year, and in so doing, cause more grief and discontent than any legion of demons.

It is always on the last evening of each year that the new angel assigned to the new year arrives to acquaint itself with the world over which it will hold sway for 365 days. And so it was on December 31st, 1912, when The Angel of 1913 arrived in town.

The streets were cold and foggy, and the snow, so fresh and white two days ago, was hard and grey. The Angel of 1913 sat in Morrey’s Diner with a cup of coffee, having just finished dinner. He smoked a cigar, and watched a river of souls walk past the steamy window.  He wore a freshly pressed suit with a red silk tie.

The Angel of 1913 was notable among angels. Some angels denied that he was an angel at all. A mere imp, some said. Or a fallen angel, perhaps. But The Angel of 1913 didn’t give a damn what other angels said. He ignored the gossip of cherubs.

For a few moments, he’d been aware of his waitress standing at the counter watching him. This happened frequently. Over the millennia, he’d become used to his power over humans. He relit his cigar. The ember sizzled and glowed bright as a furnace. He deeply inhaled a mouthful of smoke, and made a show of it for her. It disappeared into his undying and incalculable lungs, and he exhaled far more than he’d taken in. It was a Vesuvius of cigar smoke and misty wraiths. The waitress shrieked, and disappeared into the kitchen.

He laughed at this, and in doing so, almost missed sight of a rough looking character with a battered backpack walking down the street past the diner window. There was an air of failure and homelessness about the woman. But there was something else as well; something difficult to define that interested The Angel of 1913. And though it was still 1912, and he had little power over the events of the remaining year, he thought he’d use what power he did have to cause some mischief.

He stood up, snuffing out his cigar in the remaining mound of mashed potatoes on his plate. A silver dollar appeared from nowhere in his hand, and he let it drop into the remains of his meal. It made a sloppy plop sound in the congealing gravy that made him smile. He put on his overcoat, and exited.

The Angel of 1913 walked quickly, staying a few paces behind the backpack woman. What a coup it would be to cause pain and suffering before his year had even begun. He finally caught up at an intersection where a traffic cop presided. There, he stopped next to the woman and said, “Hell of a New Year’s Eve, eh?”

“All the same to me,” said the woman, looking straight ahead.

“Sleeping rough, are you?”

“Maybe. You got some spare change to help me out?”

The Angel of 1913 chose that moment to look down at the curb, and the woman beside him did the same. A twenty dollar bill had somehow appeared there without her noticing; it was unlike her streetwise eye to miss such a rare prize. The Angel of 1913 stepped on the bill, and said, “I saw it first.”

“Fine,” said the woman, looking away. She bit her lip as a familiar spasm of failure travelled through her belly. It merged with the ever-present hunger pangs to create a vicious light headedness.

“But I’ll tell you what….”

“What?” said the woman.

“I’ll take my foot off of the twenty, and you can pick it up. It’ll be all yours. That means a couple week’s worth of room and board and a little hooch, all for you.”

“Okay,” said the woman and she began to bend down to take the bill.

“Or,” said The Angel of 1913, not moving his foot, “you can take a chance on what’s in my right hand pants pocket right now. Before you decide, though, I should tell you that I often carry with me far more than twenty dollars – far, far more, my friend – enough, perhaps, to make you comfortable for all of 1913. However, I feel that I’m equally obligated to inform you that I just had a splendid meal that set me back some considerable amount. There’s a chance that I don’t have much of anything in my pocket at all. You can play it safe and take the twenty now, or gamble on what you can’t see. The twenty under my shoe, or all the money, whatever the amount, concealed in my pocket.”

“You’re nuts. Just let me have the twenty.”

“Are you sure, Maxine?”

“Hey, how the hell you know my name?”

“It’s New Year’s Eve, Maxine. A night of magic and miracles. A night when angels might descend form on high, and change the luck of a down-and-outer like you.”

“You a cop?” said the woman.

“I can assure you that I am not,” said The Angel of 1913.

“You want sex?”

“My goodness, no.”

“Because I ain’t for sale.”

Maxine looked down at the twenty dollar bill. It was a lot of dough, by her standards. But maybe this crackpot did have a wad in his pocket. Maybe this was a night when something good could happen. She looked up again at the man standing there, and licked her lips. Then she ran her finger under her nose and sniffed. “You do this stuff all the time, mister?”

“Sometimes,” said The Angel of 1913.

“Based on your experience, what are my chances?”

“Chances are you will always find life to be unpredictable.”

“That ain’t much of an answer.”

“That traffic cop has changed the direction of traffic twice now during our exchange, Maxine. I hope our business here can be completed before it changes again.”

Maxine ran her thumb under her pack’s shoulder strap. The strap had been digging in all day. It was painful, a disheartening pain. A pain that made the night seem colder, wetter, darker. In her mind, she attempted to calculate the impossible. Could she cash in on what was in this man’s pocket? Could he be a good hearted trickster ready to commit an act of charity? She looked him in the face, and The Angel of 1913 smiled a bland, confident smile.

“Okay,” she said. “Forget the twenty. I’ll take the cash in your pocket, every damn dime.” Maxine held out her hand. “C’mon,” she said. “Give.”

The smile on The Angel of 1913’s face grew broader, and he pulled his clenched fist out of his pocket. It could have concealed a hundred dollars, or a thousand. She waited for the fist to open. And when it did, Maxine felt a familiar spasm in her gut. In the palm of the man’s hand was a nickel and two pennies.

“Shit,” she said.

The Angel of 1913 bent down, and picked up the twenty from under his fine shinny leather boot.

“How do I know that’s all you got in your pocket, buddy,” said Maxine.

“I’m a Gentleman,” said The Angel of 1913. “You have my word.”

“Shit.”

“It’s just stupid bad luck. Isn’t it, Maxine?”

“I guess.”

“You made a bet – you took a risk – and you lost. It’s just too bad.”

“Hang on,” said Maxine. “You’re nuts. That wasn’t no bet. I didn’t lose a damn thing. In fact, I’m up seven cents.”

“Well, that is entirely the wrong attitude.”

“Look, mister, you might have all the money in the world and look real swell in your snazzy duds, but you got no business telling me I got a bad attitude. Now fork over my seven cents. I can get a bowl of soup with that.” Her belly growled at the thought.

The Angel of 1913 didn’t like the way this was unfolding. He’d hoped his little trick would have helped to demoralise this woman. Instead she stood there talking about soup, and how his seven cents could buy some. Perhaps he’d miscalculated. He wrapped his tight fist round the nickel and two pennies.

“How ‘bout we try this,” he said. “I’ll….”

“You’ll do nothing, mister,” said Maxine. “Not a damn thing ‘cept hand over my seven cents. ‘Cause if you don’t, I’m gonna scream blue bloody murder and that traffic cop is gonna come on over, and I’m gonna tell him you mistook me for a women of ill fame.”

“Ill fame?” said The Angel of 1913. “Mistook you for…? My dear woman, have you looked in mirror lately?”

“Fine,” Maxine said. She took a deep breath of air, as though she were preparing to yell very loudly.

“Wait,” said The Angel of 1913, who had yet to receive the advantage of all his powers over the world – the powers that would be bestowed on him a tick after midnight on New Year’s Day. Until then, he was restricted to what were, in his estimation, mere parlour tricks, like the conjuring of coins and bank notes, and the correct guessing of people’s names. Dissuading a dutiful cop from rescuing a shabby woman in distress might be beyond him at this point.

He looked across the street at a bank. Its ostentatious clock read 6:29. He was still five and a half hours away from full influence over Earthly goings-on. He had a thought.

“How would you like to double your money?” he said. “Turn seven cents into fourteen. That’s two bowls of soup.”

“I just need one, mister.”

“Well now, isn’t that just the sort of thinking that keeps a good woman down?”

“You’re too tricky for me, fella. But you owe me seven cents. Now give.”

“Okay, okay,” said The Angel of 1913. He held a pacifying hand in the air. And with that hand, he produced another twenty dollar bill out of thin air. “How would you like another crack at one of these?”

Her patience was wearing thin. The cop in the centre of the intersection blew his whistle, and encouraged the traffic through. It occurred to her then to simply walk away. Even if she could get the cop’s attention, she’d been sleeping at missions for weeks. She was grubby, and the sort of person the cops loved to run off the street and put in the clink. The twenty in the man’s hand seemed to glow, however. And a gust of icy wind blew up the sidewalk. The twenty could buy a lot of comfort.

“Alright,” she said. “What’s the gimmick this time?”

“Do you like riddles,” said The Angel of 1913 with a greasy smile.

“Hate ‘em,” said Maxine.

“Well here’s the gimmick,” said The Angel of 1913. “I ask you a riddle. If you answer it correctly, you get the twenty. Answer it wrong, and you still get the seven cents.”

“Okay, fine. Hit me.”

“Alright, listen carefully,” said The Angel of 1913. “The riddle is this: It has hands but no fingers. It tocks but says nothing. What is it?”

“It talks, but says nothing,” said Maxine.

“Yes,” said The Angel of 1913, tapping his well heeled foot. “It tocks but says nothing. Do hurry; I have tickets for the stage.”

“Hmm,” said Maxine, putting her finger on her chin. “What talks and says nothing?”

“That’s the riddle, my dear. Can you answer it or not?”

“Give me a minute.”

“You don’t have forever. We can’t stand here all night. Time’s a wasting. C’mon, c’mon.”

Just then the bank clock across the street rang the half hour.

“Hey,” said Maxine. “Do you mean talk or tock? Like as in tick-tock.”

“Well….” said The Angel of 1913, looking sheepish.

“Which is it?”

“Must I answer the riddle for you?” he said.

“No, but I think you’re cheating. Talk or tock? Fess up.”

“Do you accuse me of cheating?” said The Angel of 1913. “Me? How dare you?”

“Well?”

“Fine. We’ll do another riddle.”

“The hell we will,” Maxine said. “Talk or tock? Come clean.”

Had he miscalculated? Maxine was obviously no great intellect, but she was proving that she wasn’t simple either. Perhaps he should have given the riddle more thought before asking it. But it had worked before. He’d been asking the same riddle since the invention of the mechanical clock. There was something tediously assertive about this awful woman. So, what now? What could be worse than surrendering the twenty dollar bill to this unwashed trollop? What could be worse than conceding? He never had. For a second, he thought about pushing her into traffic. But he was unsure he could get away with it before midnight came. She might put up a fight.

“Well,” said Maxine. “I’m waiting.”

“I’m calling off the bet,” said The Angel of 1913.

“You can’t,” said Maxine.

“I already have.”

“Then give me my seven cents.”

“Absolutely not,” said The Angel of 1913. “You were only to receive the seven cents if you lost the bet. You didn’t lose the bet because I called the bet off. Therefore, no seven cents.”

“You cheated,” said Maxine.

“I most certainly did not,” said The Angel of 1913. “I’m incapable of cheating,” he lied.

“Then I want another chance,” said Maxine. “And this time, I ask the riddle.”

He frowned and thought for a moment. Then he tried to read her mind, but all he got were bits and pieces. A broken vase and burnt eggs. This would be a challenge. He hated challenges. He liked to win. But he couldn’t turn and run now. It would be admitting defeat. It would be undignified.

“Very well,” said The Angel of 1913. “But let’s up the ante, and make it a real bet.” He bent over and picked up a candy bar wrapper from the sidewalk. He closed his fist round it, and when his fist opened again, the wrapper had morphed into a large roll of bills held tight with an elastic band. “There’s ten thousand dollars here. What have you got to put up?”

“Nothin’,” said Maxine.

“You might have something,” said The Angel of 1913, smiling his greasy smile. “Something you may have never considered risking.”

“Mister, all I ever had I left behind in a shack on a dead and dusty plot of land in Manitoba.”

“Then consider this,” said The Angel of 1913. “If you win, if you can ask a riddle I cannot answer, you get the ten thousand. If you lose, I will take from you everything you ever were, and more. There won’t be enough of you left to deliver to the infirmary, or even for a priest to offer last rights.”

“You are crazy,” said Maxine.

Hearing this, The Angel of 1913 reached out and tightly clasped Maxine’s hand. He hissed: “Don’t count on it.” Eyes dead and colourless now, all humour gone from his face. His teeth sharp for a second, like those of a dog. Somehow, from somewhere, a choir of deep lament, a chorus of anguish and defeat. And there was the smell of something burning.

“Let go,” said Maxine, pulling free. She stumbled backward a few steps, and looked at the man. He’d become a grinning dandy again, but the burning smell lingered.

“Since this has turned so serious, mister,” she said. “I have one condition that I want understood. By that clock across the street, you answer my riddle in sixty seconds. That’s one minute, got it?”

“That’s acceptable,” said The Angel of 1913. He smiled, and was suave and self-assured. “Do you have your riddle ready?”

“I think I do,” said Maxine. Her belly growled again. Ten thousand dollars would buy a lot of soup. She could sleep on clean sheets, and take the tram where she liked. Maybe for the rest of her life. “Here we go,” she said. “My riddle is this: Every room I enter is empty, in spite of my presence. What am I?”

“That’s it?”

“Yup,” said Maxine. “And you now have fifty-eight seconds.”

“Why that’s easy, it’s….”

“Fifty-seven seconds.”

“Oh, stop that,” said The Angel of 1913. “It’s annoying.”

“Well?”

“You enter a room and it’s empty, in spite of you being there. Ha, you’re a ghost. That was so easy!”

“Not so fast, mister. It ain’t a ghost. It’s something you don’t even know anything about, so you ain’t never gonna guess it right.”

“Not a ghost? Then, hmm. Then the fog, of course. You’re the fog. The room is empty, but there you are.”

“Nope,” said Maxine.

“Well will you at least tell me if I’m warm?” said The Angel of 1913.

“Not a chance,” said Maxine. “And times runnin’ out.”

“I wonder if you’re not the one cheating this time,” said The Ghost of 1913. “Maybe you’re all riddle and no answer.”

“We’ll see.”

“Something I know nothing about, is it? That certainly narrows it down. But what’s the point if I don’t know about it?”

“Tick-tock, tick-tock,” said Maxine.

The Angel of 1913 was starting to worry. No one had ever asked him a riddle he couldn’t answer. Over the centuries, they’d asked him complex, esoteric riddles. The more complex and esoteric, the easier they were to answer. But this riddle was so simple. Every room I enter is empty, in spite of my presence.

He had a thought; he tried his luck at slowing the clock. But it didn’t work. His full powers on Earth were still hours away. He cleared his mind and focussed.  …empty, in spite of my presence; …empty, in spite of my presence.

Finally, Maxine said: “Five seconds, mister.”

“I have it!” said The Angels of 1913. “I have it, and now you’re mine, you infuriating little bitch. I’ll make you suffer, I will.”

“Two seconds.”

“Air!” he said. ” …empty, in spite of my presence. It’s air. I have you now.”

“Nope,” said Maxine. “You ain’t got jack shit.

“Then what is it?” said The Angel of 1913. “Every room I enter is empty, in spite of my presence. Tell me what it is, or I’ll throttle you!”

“Hunger,” said Maxine. “I told you you knew nothing about it, and I was right. That’s why it didn’t even occur to you.”

“Surely it’s too metaphorical! It was a trick. You tricked me. I’m calling off the bet.”

“Can’t. I played by the rules. Now hand over the cash.”

“Do you know who I am?” said The Angel of 1913 in a last-ditch effort to intimidate. “Do you know how bad I can make things for you throughout the year to come?”

“Worse than what you see now?” said Maxine as she reached out and took the wad of bills from the hand of The Angel of 1913. “I don’t think so.”

She removed the elastic band with a snap, and began to count. There were too many hundreds, fifties and twenties to get through, but she had an idea that it was all there. “Thanks,” she said, and smiled.

The Angel of 1913 watched, slack jawed, as Maxine waited for the traffic cop to wave her through. Then she crossed the street and disappeared into the dark, wet city.

Just don’t Call Me Banana Boy

pre-edit for publication in Right to Food Zine

It’s 5:30 a.m. on the last Wednesday of the month, and my alarm clock is screaming. In a flash, I’m up and making coffee. And I’m thinking that it’s a horrible thing, having to get up this early in the morning. After all, I’m an artist, man. My paths normally lead to later awakenings. But this is the morning I’m dispatched on behalf of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House on what we call the Banana Beat, and I have to get to the NH by 7:30.

By 6:30, I’m out the door and on my way. I live close to Lost Lagoon, near StanleyPark. It’s a fifty minute walk to the Neighbourhood House. So, I’ve got to move.

As I walk, I’m struck by contrasts. Up the hill from the park and along the Robson Street strip mall, with its unrestrained retail ballyhoo. Then through the downtown financial district, where traders have been at work for hours driving the economy into the toilet. And finally into the Downtown Eastside where the free-enterprise binners’ mall, out front of United We Can, is in full operation and generating actual wealth.

But there’s already a line-up at Pigeon Park Savings.

It’s the hungriest morning of the month in the hungriest neighbourhood in the city. And there are line-ups everywhere. Folks are patiently waiting at local offices of the BC Ministry of Social Development for their income assistance and disability cheques. Later, they’ll wait in line to cash them. I know their stomachs are growling as they queue. It’s been a month since their last cheque. That’s sort of where the Banana Beat Team comes in.

Yesterday, Cate, my Banana Beat co-worker, and I spent the afternoon with a dedicated group of volunteers. We separated several hundred bananas and re-boxed them. (Placing them back in their boxes, wrapped in plastic, helps them to ripen to perfection over night.) This morning, we’re taking those bananas out of the boxes again and putting them into our signature yellow shopping carts.

Shortly after 8:00 a.m., we’re out on two different routes, one down Hastings Street and one down Powell Street, with a gaggle of staff and volunteers distributing bananas to people in the above mentioned line-ups, and to anyone else on the street who wants one. That could mean you.

Banana Beat is one of the founding programs of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House. It began in 2007. The organic, fair-trade bananas come our way via Whole Foods, twelve cases in all each month. Eight of those boxes are generously donated by Whole Foods, and the Neighbourhood House purchases the remainder. Since 2007, the DTES NH has distributed approximately 77,200 bananas, one at a time, on the mornings of cheque issue, to hungry people in the DTES neighbourhood.

No one has to line up for a Banana Beat banana. People are invited to help themselves, and take one for a friend. And with each piece of the pasty fruit comes an invitation to visit and participate in inclusive and participatory programs at the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House.

So just think of that when you see me next month at Hastings and Main, handing out bananas. But think twice before you call me Banana Boy!

the contortionists’ manifesto

There is no justice for the contortionist.

Sam Lytle was an old contortionist. He sat back and looked at the line he’d just written on a white paper napkin.

“I was an artist,” he moaned to acquaintances at the corner café. “An artist worthy of veneration.”

“Even the Gods struggle for veneration, Mr Lytle,” said Pradosh, the letter carrier sitting next to Sam.

“The Lytle Dislocated Backbend – that was mine! I created it. I perfected it. I performed it exclusively. Those who understand contortion comprehend the move’s complexity, its extreme difficulty. Audiences marvelled. Many tried to imitate it, but no one else ever pulled it off. Only me.”

“Would you like a refill, Sam?” Millie the deadpan waitress asked. “Would you like to order something off the menu?”

“We are sadly bereft of contortionists in Canada,” Pradosh said. “In India, there is a contortionist on every corner – sometimes two or three. It is like a national past time. That and religious rivalry.”

“Nothing off the menu, Millie,” Said Sam Lytle. “Retirement has been thrust upon me, and retirement is a world of cruel poverty. Coffee will be my only nourishment today.”

“Lunch rush soon,” said Millie. “If it gets busy, you’ll have to give up your seat.”

“Perhaps you need a protégé,” said Pradosh. “A youngster, one to whom you can pass the secrets of your art.”

“Bah!” said Sam Lytle. “A dimwitted generation of hipsters that believes it discovered facial hair and irony the way previous more industrious generations discovered gravity, spaceflight and insulin. How could a single one of them realise the divine possibilities of their potential double jointedness. I’d have as much luck passing my art on to a house cat.”

“I am sad to hear it, Mr Lytle,” said Pradosh. “There is much to be said about passing on one’s experience and knowledge. But alas, I have the rest of my route to complete. I must be going.”

“Yes, go. And leave me to the mercies of Millie the waitress who would cast me out for the sake of a truck driver and his cheese burger.”

“Cheese burgers pay the rent,” Millie said. “Coffee don’t.”

“Then I shall cast myself out now,” said Sam Lytle. “Before facing the public humiliation of being tossed by the cantankerous waitstaff.”

He took his white paper napkin, upon which he had written the first line of his Contortionists’ Manifesto, and stuffed it into his pocket.

It was a cold December day. He pulled up his collar and walked along Commercial Drive with all of its retail evangelism, a naturally gaunt man with a tendency to look down at his feet as he walked. Many in the neighbourhood believed him slightly crazed and perpetually destitute. He liked the idea. It created a dignified distance.

The contortionist is a solitary being, disconnected from the incommodious and the pedestrian. Isolation is the contortionist’s lot, and he stoically endures. His art being his sole companion.

Yes, he thought. That’s rather good. I must remember it and write it down.

The light at Commercial and First was red. He stopped and waited.

“Spare change for food, man?”

Sam looked up from his feet and saw an old woman with her hand out. She had the face of one who’d lived hard for too long. She wore two ragged winter coats against the cold and was carrying a tattered overstuffed gym bag.

“No,” he said. “You’ll buy drugs.”

“I ain’t no addict,” she said. “I’m too damn old for that. I’m hungry.”

“Then go downtown and stand in a soup line.”

“Need bus fare to get downtown,” the old woman said.

“Walk. What else have you got to do today?” The light changed to green and Sam stepped off the curb. The old woman followed.

“It’s a long way to walk on an empty belly, mister.”

“Life is hard,” Sam replied.

“Hey, man. Don’t be a dick. Share the wealth.”

Sam faced the panhandling old woman on the opposite corner and said, “You’ve chosen to harass the wrong man, my friend. I do not take well to being called a dick, and I have no wealth to share. I’m one pension cheque away from being right where you are now.” He turned to make his escape.

“Wait, man. I just need five bucks. I can eat pretty good on that.”

“Five dollars?” Sam pulled a puzzled face. “Is there that much money in the whole world?”

“Oh wow, man. You’re a bummer.”

“Am I getting you down, ma’am? Perhaps then you should move on and pester some more gullible citizen.”

“Okay three bucks.”

“Look, what happened to spare change? That’s what you asked for originally when you first accosted me. Spare change can be anything from a few pennies on up, no?”

“Okay two bucks.”

“No,” said Sam Lytle and he began to walk away.

“I can touch the back of my head with the flat of my foot. That’s gotta be worth two bucks.”

Sam Lytle stopped and paused a moment when he heard this. “Standing up or lying down?” he said.

“Standing,” said the old woman.

“Supported or standing free?’

“Standing free.”

“That’s a difficult move,” Sam Lytle said turning round to face the old woman. “Especially for an old gal like you. Are you a contortionist?”

“Nah. It’s yoga, man.”

“Well, I don’t pay to watch yoga,” said Sam Lytle turning again to go. “I can watch it for free at the community centre.”

“Wait. Yeah, man. Wait. I am a contortionist. Damn right I am. I contort all the time. I’m crazy for contortion.”

Sam Lytle paused once more and sighed. Then he pulled some coins out of his pocket and inspected them. “I have two dollars and eighty-five cents in my hand. It can be yours, if you are able to accomplish the move you just describe. Do you need to stretch first?”

“No, man. I’m loosey goosey. I’m steady and ready.”

“Then proceed,” said Sam Lytle assuming ahead of time that the old woman would fail.

The corner of Commercial Drive and First Avenue was busy that afternoon. A throng of shoppers and heavy vehicular traffic. An ample audience for a show. The old panhandler elevated her leg behind her and raised her arms over her head. Then she reached back, arching her back to what seemed an impossible extent and grabbed her foot. She pulled it then in a smooth and measured way to the back of her head where it landed flat. She held the pose then released. The whole move took only a few seconds to accomplish, and was completed with the grace and fluidity of a limber adolescent. But Sam Lytle could see now that the woman must have been over seventy.

“That was astounding,” he said.

A crowd had gathered and it applauded in appreciation. Now in a standing pose, the old woman was receiving handouts of change and small groceries from the spectators. She stuffed her pockets.

“You owe me two eighty-five, Buster,” she said to Sam Lytle.

Sam Lytle handed over the money. “What else can you do?” he said.

“What else? Well, I can head over to the greasy-spoon ‘cross the street and eat for the first time in two days.”

“But there must be more,” Sam Lytle said. “You’re obviously a master.”

“I ain’t nothin’ but a bum, mister. Have been for more ‘an thirty years. All this appreciation is real nice but in a minute it’ll be over an’ no one likes an old woman who’s a bum. So, I gotta go.”

She hoisted her overstuffed gym bag and waited for a green light. When it came, she evaporated into the crowd.

Sam Lytle shook his head. What other miracles were possible on a busy street corner in December? He took the café napkin and a pen out of his pocket and wrote.

The contortionist is pure and righteous in any guise. And in any guise holds within him or her the exclusive and essential mysticism required to attain divinity.

He liked that.

why I eat sugar right out of the bag

written for a local magazine 

I have type 1 diabetes. It’s necessary for me to inject insulin multiple times a day, and closely monitor my blood glucose levels. I’m also on what the BC government calls BC Employment and Assistance for People with Disabilities, which means I receive a small amount of money every month to pay all of my expenses. Type 1 diabetes is not the cause of my disability, but a complicating factor.

The money’s usually all gone after a week, maybe two. I buy groceries, of course. But there is never enough, and I inevitably go hungry during the last week of each month.

The insulin injections, however, cannot stop. I can reduce the amount I inject by trying to guess ahead of time how many carbohydrates I will or won’t be consuming. And for the most part, I can get it right. But sometimes, more times than I like to admit, I don’t get it right. I get it terribly wrong. The result is a condition referred to as hypoglycemia, often sever hypoglycaemia.

Hypoglycemia is low blood glucose, the fuel the body and brain need to function. It results from taking too much insulin in relation to carbohydrate intake. It becomes severe when there is no treatment. Situations where no treatment occurs arise when the individual is unaware that he or she is experiencing hypoglycaemia, the brain needs glucose to function don’t forget, and/or there is no means by which to treat it.

The Canadian Diabetes Association defines severe hypoglycemia in the following way:
Severe hypoglycemia, a major concern in the treatment of
type 1 diabetes, is generally defined as a plasma glucose level
<4.0 mmol/L with neurogenic and neuroglycopenic clinical
manifestations sufficiently disabling to require outside assistance
(1,2). The proportion of patients affected and event
rates for severe hypoglycemia are high, with an accompanying
array of transient and sometimes permanent physical and
psychological disabilities. Death rates range from 2 to 4% in
adults to 8% in children (1).

In other words, the outcomes of severe hypoglycemia are serious. One can even die. The Fire Department in my neighbourhood knows me by sight and by name. That’s how often they’ve had to revive me from unconsciousness or intervene as I entered into seizures. The simple treatment is food. Some quick sugar, glucose tablets are best but unaffordable, followed by something more substantial, like a peanut butter sandwich. But if I’m going hypoglycemic due to a lack of available food, how do I treat it with food?

Regarding people of lower socioeconomic status, the Canadian Diabetes Association has said this:
Lower socioeconomic status is also associated with food
insecurity: according to results of the Canadian Community
Health Survey (4), 48% of Canadians in the lowest income
adequacy category were found to have food insecurity, and
60% of individuals on social assistance had moderate or
severe food insecurity. Food insecurity includes compromised
quantity and quality of foods consumed, and disruptive
eating patterns that could influence the onset, treatment
and recurrence of severe hypoglycemia.

Well, that’s me in a nutshell. With little or no food in my apartment, or in my near future, I still have to inject insulin. My eyes, heart, kidneys, fingers, toes, limbs and peripheral nervous system depend on my maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. And yes, blood glucose, in the absence of adequate insulin, can rise even if one doesn’t eat.

That’s why I always have a bag of sugar in the cupboard. It’s cheap and easy to store.

This morning, I injected a comparatively small amount of insulin because I had very little food for breakfast – tomorrow is cheque day. By 1:00 pm – I don’t eat lunch, I can’t afford it – my blood glucose level was at 2.1 mmol/L. A healthy fasting level is between 4.0 and 7.0. I felt seizures coming on. And because I had nothing else, I knew it was time to get the bag of sugar from above the fridge. Three to four tablespoons usually works for me, gets my blood glucose level above 4.0. Today, I consumed four tablespoons, each tablespoon swallowed whole followed by a gulp of water. Yes, it’s bloody hideous!

And that’s why I eat sugar right out of the bag, because that’s what you do if you’re poor and insulin dependant in Canada. Oh, Canada!

gaunt

there was a pale watercolour hurt to it
the desert of her empty belly a
razor blade pain

the day ahead of
sidewalks and disarray wanting to
burn alive in an intersection a
headline of lack dull and wide-eyed

every room I enter is empty, Hunger says
in spite of my presence I’m
clever that way a
puzzle solved with bread as though
it were diamonds