Death of a homeless man

Tony Clemens

I’m not an unkind person. But I am a person who doesn’t like to be called “dear” by strangers and hates any reference to God jumping out at me as I stroll the streets in my neighbourhood. You should know these things about me–just in case we meet and you want to make a good impression.

But today, well, today I am struck with guilt over the death of Tony Clemens. Tony was a ubiquitous homeless man near my west Toronto home who died yesterday, slumped over his sign, panhandling and praising the Lord to the last. By all reports, the ambulance attendants left his stool behind. Within hours it was covered with bouquets of fresh flowers and a book of handwritten tributes, left by local residents who had presumably tossed coins in his cap.

Tony kept a blog: Homeless Man Speaks. I never, no not once, read it. Does this accelerate and intensify my guilt? Yes, I suppose it does. To be honest, I didn’t much like Tony and it was the eternal God stuff that did it. Plus he was always cheery and I never trust all-weather-cheery on the street. It seems a con somehow. I am a bitch.

Tony showed up for work each day for the last five years (slight exaggeration but only slight.) I was inside Alternative Grounds cafe where it’s warm, drinking coffee and writing or maybe with my nose in a book. I keep busy in that entitled kind of way. Tony was outside the door leaning over his stool greeting passersby and getting in the way. After a while he’d shove along dragging his wares to Timothy’s or Mabel’s or some other storefront until his welcome wore thin there. But he was loved and he is missed.

Do I regret not chatting more with him? Yes. And the irony doesn’t escape me: Tony’s Christian blather resulted in my “anti-Christian” response to him. And so I didn’t get a chance to learn about his other, his deeper and perhaps more honest thoughts; didn’t get to share bloggishness with him, writer-to-writer. I didn’t trust him because God seemed stitched to him like an unwelcome twin.

“Then you be damned,” I screamed to the hobo. 

“Turn into stone,” I wept to the hobo.

“Leave me alone,” I knelt to the hobo.

Tim Buckley, Morning Glory

Guilt and lessons learned. I am way too hung up on shedding my Catholic roots. I need to let believers believe and not assume they are Christian proselytizers. They need to let me not believe and be done with it. We need to find other ways of communicating. Yes, I would have liked to know a bit more about Tony. Because I am not a bitch.

But I still don’t like strangers calling me dear. I am only dear to those who truly love me.

I think perhaps Tony was dear to many.




About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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