Tough Enough 2

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tough Enough (part two)

It is a beautiful Monday evening at7:27, there is a slight chill in the air but no more than usual for this time of year. After spending thanksgiving with a friend, I’ve just walked into the House of Refuge, otherwise known as the lighthouse seeing as there is an image of one depicted in a large mural on the side of this small building. A place where one could slug down a warm cup of coffee or grab a few snacks of whatever they may be serving at the time. We can also help ourselves to a loaf of bread or two not to mention that they usually serve some of the best homemade soups I have ever encountered, well… for the most part any way, sorry mom. Most importantly though is the word of God which is given every night at 7 pm by different pastors and speakers who feel called to this ministry, which is full swing at the moment with a speaker who struggles but truly does their best to deliver God’s word.
The Lighthouse is known for a harsher type of clientele, a dirtier, smellier and more intoxicated clientele than other drop-ins. They are more of the sort who doesn’t care if the alcohol they get into their system comes from a liquor store or a pharmacy. It’s an older building in which the odour is indicative of its patrons when the comforting aroma of what’s cooking doesn’t sufficiently overpower it. Currently there are only about 20 patrons enjoying the quaint ambiance, not to mention the none to eloquent preaching style of the evening’s speaker.
I am about half way through my first cup of coffee before another gentleman walks in. I don’t know why but my attention is drawn to this man, perhaps he reminds me of someone…
or maybe it’s the scowl emanating from those chiseled facial features of his. Buddy has dark brown skin in part to the dirt and also to his obvious native heritage. He’s in around his late thirties but looking far more weathered then ought wearing dirty jeans, worn & torn running shoes and a grey hoody. Strolling up to the water jug in a slow and steady pace, he pauses to look over the room of misfits with those glaring eyes and then takes a step back for stability before carrying on. Upon reaching his reward of a refreshing drink, this young man throws back the water in one swift motion and then goes on to pour himself a cup of coffee. Sauntering around the room, he continues to check out everyone’s face and backpacks before choosing a chair in one of the corners.  
The speaker carries on with his dissertation all the while people are talking amongst each other with the odd outburst of cursing and/or revelry. One has to have a lot of love and patience to preach in a place like this, but all is not lost. Many do listen, love Jesus and ask for prayer. When I hear people say “how can you say you love God and carry on living such an existence?” a thought comes to mind. Just because we love someone does not mean we act according to how they would like us to all the time, is it not true that most of the time the ones we love and that love us the most causes us the most pain. It may not be right or always the case but let me ask you this, how do you think you’re doing with your love for God? Where is your focus and attention placed these days, and if your focus is upon the love of the Lord, do you ask such judgemental questions as the one mentioned? Or is there just love… with no questions asked?
This young mans demeanour is quite recognizable, mostly everyone around has been a victim at one time or another. It appears as though something’s been taken from this young man, a backpack perhaps. He sits quietly hunched over with his forceps resting across the knees, looking up every so often to do another scan, particularly when the door opened and new patrons would enter. As the preacher brings home a certain topic our friend sat back, bouncing against the plastic backrest of the chair and rolling his eyes up till all but the small top portion shone a reddish hue. Grumbling a few words which seemed to be inaudible even to those sitting quite near, he then goes back to staring at the floor, enthralled in thought.  
Life on the street is very often tiring, and it drains not only a person’s motivation but also can rob a person of hope, hope for something better.  I think of those times experiencing the feelings that this gentleman appears to be going through, the feeling of despair and disillusionment. It’s an ongoing cycle of trying to get ahead then something or someone comes along to steal away all your hard efforts, or earning a little money then spending it quickly because one could always get more and be responsible tomorrow. Sometimes you think that the world is the same everywhere, enveloped in that same dark grey cloud of now. So now is all that matters and right now, that cloud grows heavy upon this young man with his loss and many others as well with the upcoming winter. As our friend rests he mutters to himself, then a couple times twitches in anger and shakes his head in what seems to be disgust.  But he’ll get over whatever it may be, for he’s been on the streets for some time and is accustomed to hardship. For some it is a long road to get this far, a familiarity with strife if you will. For far too many of Gods children it takes a lifetime of hardship to bring them to the point of turning their backs on society to live on the streets. For others it is not such a long trip, but rather a short series of unfortunate events.
Looking back on my own life I could honestly say that despite growing up with alcoholic parents I have been very blessed in many respects. I didn’t start hitting the streets until my mid to late thirties, but not until I had already experienced a taste of what it means to face the dark recesses of human depravity. If you have read “My Testimony” then you may have an idea of how I have come to accept a life on the outside. There was that need to know if I had the stones to face any adversity that may come, to meet any adversary in the field of battle without backing down for then, and only then, be able to call myself a man. Yes, you may be right in that I do watch too many action movies. As a matter of fact, Clint Eastwood was one of my biggest heroes growing up and I have emulated his cold demeanour as Dirty Harry on many occasions to mask any reservations that may have come up facing an opponent or as in some cases, opponents. I can recall one of the greatest compliments I have ever received in my opinion. It was when I told a friend about an opportunity that came my way to become a model. I had hired an agent one year and went to audition as an extra in a movie you may have seen. I didn’t get the chance to audition for “The Assassination of Jesse James” or didn’t even get the modeling job because I never find out about the offer until a couple months to late. My friend though said that I could have been native Clint Eastwood. Talk about an ego stroke unbeknownst to the friend.
Silly as it is you may think but Clint, along with Jesus our Christ, has been with me most of my life. He was there when my best friend Gordon and I would stroll into a party full of people we didn’t know back in high school, or when another partner and I walked into a house to confront some people who owed money to our employer. He was even there when I'd saunter into a bar on the prowl for the company of a stranger.  In a poem composed by William Shakespeare, which I had just read in its entirety for the first time in the research of the phrase, he wrote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players”. Now let’s be open, how often have you entertained another personality not your own in order to make an impression amongst a crowd of so called peers. How about the present? Can you honestly say that you portray yourself to everyone, all the time, as our creator has designed you to be?
Though Dirty Harry happened to be a handy persona I adopted from time to time when I was young, to appear cool and dangerous. Without my realizing it he later then became a part of my own personality due to the lifestyle. It was hard for me at times to do the things I had to, other times not so much. There would also be a few times in my life in which I had to find another catalyst to propel me to move, to do whatever was called for me to do. Like confronting a man who I had heard was going to empty a shotgun on me for instance. I don’t mind telling you that that was one of the longest nights of my life.
Imagine if you will a soldier of war, he is called into battle once again shortly after witnessing so many of his comrades fall. The soldier asks himself, am I gonna die today… will I survive this onslaught of lead and fire? Do I actually have the balls to carry out my mission in the fashion befitting a soldier? Suddenly the time for reflection is over when hell begins to rain down once again with its explosions of shellfire all around.
Time and again I’ve employed such mental images to steady myself before walking into some sort of hazardous situation. Be it a dark alley littered with drunken gang members, dealers and junkies. Or a hotel room where I was greatly outnumbered by some gents did not want to pony up the full paper in lieu of the wares in my possession. How about a room full of suits about to decide whether or not I got the job, or perhaps if I should be charged for an offence, a situation where they could make me pay more than my due. I would say to myself that if some young man, barely retired from childhood, can walk into situations where he may most certainly be killed then I could do this.
Allow me tell you about a time when I had traveled to Fort McMurray on a whim. It was way back in around 1999-2000, a buddy gave me a Greyhound ticket which was about to expire in a couple days and seeing as I was in between jobs, I went. I packed up as little as possible, left Edmonton the next day and checked into the Salvation Army mens hostile. The morning after, I got on the phone to look for work and was on a roof within an hour, I was a roofer at that time and still very much in my addiction to cocaine. Weeks go by and I get hooked up into the scene of what Fort Mac. is known for… drugs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve slept under the bridge or in the surrounding woods of this small but spread out city, and if you have even been there you would know what I am talking about. I would mostly get my dope from one crack shack in particular located in a trailer park.
Typical of any trailer home which has been neglected of care, one could smell the mold growing behind water stained walls sporting cheesy wallpaper and linoleum which was peeling up in the places where the holes were big enough for any old troll or vermin to poke their head up out of.  It was run by a few boys whose ring leader, who liked to show off a machete knife to deter any trouble. Mr. Machete would go out and get what I wanted when he himself would not be carrying at the time. There was one evening where he went out to get me an eighth of an ounce of cocaine and left me sitting for over an hour. Then when he did return he didn’t have anything for me, no money and no dope. His excuse was that he had gotten stopped by the police and had to swallow the product.
Well, I was none to happy to say the least and then hung around till morning in the hopes that it would have gone through his system before it was time for me to go to work. Well, it did not and so when I was able to return a day later he said that he waited for me that evening but ended up using it himself… whatever. Knowing how it goes with addictions myself, I kind of understood and pretty much wrote it off to the fact that I should have returned that very night to check on him. If you’re going to play this game you had better be prepared to pay. Anyway, it was about two weeks later when I ran into this same fellow at the bar and asked if I could hang at his place for the night because it was raining, I had been drinking and so would not be allowed back into the shelter. He said sure, then after another beer or two we went over to his place. There were a few people already there and having a good time I might add, but shortly after arriving he went into the back room and got one of his partners to kick out everyone that was there, including me. When I refused to leave the bouncer returned to the back room to retrieve backup. Out came three boys including the fellow who owed me, he was sporting that machete but I did not waver in my conviction to stay. I had a small pearl handled pocket knife of my own which I didn’t want to flash around so I held it hidden in my left palm with a two inch blade sticking out from one end and a sharpened nail file about one and a half inches long sticking out the other end with my thumb hanging off my left jean pocket. The blade and file were quite visible if they cared to look but like I said, I didn’t want to flash it around.
So there we stood, in the kitchen ready for anything. When buddy who ran the crack shack started to open his mouth, I just laid into him, reminding him that back in the bar he said I could stay the night and also that he owed me two hundred dollars. I was angry and bellowed that I thought it ridiculous that he’d send his flunky to kick me out, and that he had better rethink his next actions because I was not about to leave or back down, machete or no machete. There was a little more to it than that but I believe you get the picture. Surprisingly they just returned to the back room without saying a word, though I did hear him running a whetstone across his blade. Ha… just a face saving tactic for the benefit of his lackeys. I knew it, and so did they if they had any sense.
I stood there a few moments before I heard a voice coming from around the corner. It was Gary, a buddy I knew from the shelter. He came over and said that it was unbelievable what he had just witnessed and said that it was so cool that I stood up for myself the way I did. Me… I just was not about to let some thug who owed me money, play me. Gary then asked me to leave with him to a hotel room he had booked for the night to avoid any trouble but I declined saying that I wasn’t scared of those boys and wanted to see what their next move would be. Well, Gary persisted and so we left for the hotel where we drank some beers and smoked some dope. Let me tell you, I’ve never gotten burnt in that town again after that. Well, other than the typical nibbles around the edges, but in this game it is to be expected. After all, we’re not talking about the most honourable of citizens are we.
There are a few such stories like this which I have had survived only due to the fact that I know that our Lord was with me, watching over me for some reason that I may never understand. There were many times that I should have had second thoughts as to what I was about to walk into but no, there were not. For some reason I would just walk straight into it with no fear whatsoever thinking, whatever happens… happens. Somehow I knew that it would all turn out alright, whatever the outcome. I figured if I were to die then it would be ok, I would be with God, there were no doubts. If I were to get a good beating then that would be ok as well, it would not be the first time.                               
Although I do look back at times and say to myself “cool, I did that”, and be proud. There are also times that haunt me, faces that I will never forget… Even as I sit now writing to you my eyes well up with tears in the remembrance of my shame. I have caused people great pain at times and it hurts so much to realize this fact, to remember the absolute horror in someone’s eyes and know I was the cause of such a thing. There is one particular fellow I will never forget. He was a small fellow at about five and a half ft. tall, he must have been cleaning his apartment when I came knocking on his door because he was carrying a broom in his hand. As he opened the door I put my hand on his chest pushing him back into the apartment and into the kitchen. I looked around while my partner stood by the door, first into the living room with hanging sheets for curtains, a dirty beat-up couch and mattress on the floor with a large cable spool for a coffee table as well as a small tv. Then into the bedroom and bath to make sure there were no one else in the apartment which had the distinct odour indicative of a bachelor who liked to drink beer, a lot of beer.
Upon my return to the kitchen area my partner was asking him why he hadn’t called our boss in some time and paid the money he owed, or even return the calls which were made to rectify the situation.  This fellow, obviously very nervous and fidgety, came up with a couple of lame excuses such as no money for the phone, no landline and the list goes on. After a brief dialogue my partner says to him “You know what we have to do”. This was my cue because it was my turn to do the work, that’s when my partner walked past me and out of the kitchen. I started towards this grown man who began to whine out the typical words a child would cry out when dad commenced to taking off his belt. When I got close he grabbed the broom which was leaning against the counter and feebly started to poke the handled end towards me in an attempt to stave off what was coming. It was the look on his face though that I will never forget, utter terror is the only way to describe it. He looked directly into my eyes with tears building up on the bottom of his lids, mouth open with the ends pulling towards the floor and a guttural sound being emitted which also stays with me to this day.
Gapping wounds so grotesque one is unable to distinguish between what belongs on the inside of the body and what belongs on the outside surround. Running through the mind of this young man is that this could be him in just a few hours, or even minutes. Regardless of feelings of apprehension, the soldier tightens up his gear and heads for the front line. Fear grips his very being but is steadied with the knowledge he has a duty to accomplish, a task handed down by men sitting comfortable in their padded chairs & air conditioned conference rooms dictating  the fate of hundreds even thousands of your brothers and sisters… so much blood, so much pain and suffering.
I will always remember times like those with a very heavy heart. At moments like that there is that brief moment of sympathy, very brief. But then the realization sets in that they knew the game, that we all make our choices and they made theirs not to pay when they had the chance. Then coldness sets in, an indifference to the time and space that you currently reside to do what is expected of you and then you do it. Funny thing is that when I saw him again about five weeks later and sporting a cast on his right arm it was as though we were best buds. A silly thing this world we live in isn’t it. Even though everything turned out alright in the long run I still will never forget those faces of horror. I pray that none of you ever have to be plagued by such things that haunt me to this day, and probably will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
I have no idea why our Lord allowed me to carry on as I did in some instances but kept me from committing other atrocities. Why would the Holy Spirit keep me from sleeping with a myriad of women who offered themselves up to me in payment for a chunk of crack cocaine but gave me solace when it came to dealing with dead beats and thugs? Perhaps the answer lies in the question itself. 
 Upon writing this little episode of “Tough Enough”, much has happened in da hood. Well, it couldn’t be because I’ve taken so long to write it, could it? In any case, remember the lighthouse which I told you about in the beginning of the story, well it burn down. Some say arson, some say that it was long overdue and good riddins, but I say nay. I enjoyed going there, regardless of it’s less than ideal conditions it was a place where God’s presence had a true effect on me as well as many others. A lot of people would disagree and say that it was just another hangout for those who turned their backs on God and a place that God had turn His back on. I would have to say that people who say such things had blinders on and could only see their own ideal of what is comfortable for them to see. God is so much more, He is love, he is the testing of our faith and He is the grace and mercy which surrounds and lifts us up each and every day of our lives. I myself will miss the old building very much but still, it is just a building and buildings get rebuilt. Nonetheless I will miss it, for now.
There is something else, a couple people died in a very short period of time as well, within a week of each other as a matter of fact. One fellow got beaten to death with a pipe of some sort right beside the Bissel Center here in an empty lot, and the other was stabbed just a block away in what is referred to as Gazebo Park by the street kids. The details are sketchy and I keep getting different stories but just the same, and regardless of the circumstances, let us pray for their souls and the loved ones they left behind. I would also be so bold as to ask that you pray for me as well, much is going on in my life right now and I feel pulled in a few different directions.
One might ask, “How much could possibly be going on in the life of a homeless man?” you’d be surprised. I hope to be writing more than I have been. I get caught up in my own bull sometimes and would like to ask for your forgiveness for leaving you hanging as I have for so long. To those who like to read my blog regularly anyway. Hmmmm, I wonder what is next… Well I’ll tell you what’s next, and it’s a happy story for a change which I have called “First Time Summer”. It is mostly about the recreation program here at the Bissell Center and all the events & activities we did that I have never done before yet enjoyed immensely. All my love goes out to you all, especially to you Melissa. God bless and keep each and every one of you… PEACE!


  1. Bravo Johnny!! Amazing story, so articulate and I am honored that you shared this with me! I particularly appreciated the use of the thoughts of a soldier to add emphasis to your experiences. God certainly is using you and you are blessed. Kim

  2. Awesome Johnny! it really opened my eyes to a Christian perspectiveof life on the streets! God is so faithful! Thank you for also bringing it so close to home. I really regret never visiting the Lighthouse, and yes those murders have bothered me I will pray for the families and also for you. Jeremiah D. Basuric


thank you for your time and please keep coming back with your comments and suggestions