This neighbourhood is an odd blend of rich and poor. Gorgeous Victorian homes on one block, crumbling low-income apartment buildings on another. It’s a struggle between the NIMBY dreaming of idylic times and high property values and the down and out cruising for a fix of something – sex, drugs, lotto tickets – to dull the pain for a few brief moments.
There is always a sad collection of lost souls on King just west of Dufferin every morning. It’s worse in the summer when tiny apartments or rooming house rooms become stifling in the heat. Then they sprawl across the doorsteps of shops, take over stoops and sometimes just situate themselves in the middle of the sidewalk – drinking, smoking, puking, turning tricks and getting high, as necessary, lather, rinse, repeat. Garbage seems to collect around them, like they’re magnetized; paper coffee cups, cigarette butts, broken beer bottles and fast food wrappers gathering at their feet as they sit through the night, getting high or coming down.
It’s better in the winter, when it’s too cold for them to spend the night on the side of the road. Then they all disappear, leaving the streets empty and nonthreatening, only crawling out of bed in the late afternoon to gather in front of the usual haunts, bleary-eyed and hoping to score.
We see these people in the early morning. As we’re walking the dogs in the twilight, the sun still reaching out tiny fingers of brightness above the downtown skyscrapers, they shuffle out of doorways to greet a hard-looking man on a bike, then shuffle away again, looking for a place to light up.
We passed a trio of women today, a block or two past the usual hang-outs, but not off the beaten path. One sat on a concrete curb, one got up and crossed the sidewalk in front of us to greet a guy on a bike who was dressed like a gangster, all black baseball cap, hoodie pulled up, baggy pants. I couldn’t describe his face if I had to, but his voice was like bullets and broken glass, all cold and hard and business-like.
The third woman stood off from the others a bit. Her blonde hair was cut in a mullet, frizzed and dirty, her skin dull and tired-looking. Her body slouched, arms hanging limply, as if she was being held up by an invisible string attached to the middle of her back. Her jaw hung slack, her eyes bulged and she stared off into space – lost. A zombie. I half expected her to raise an arm in our direction and groan “Braaaaaiiins!!!”, but that would have taken more energy than she was capable of.
We walked past, hurriedly, knowing what was going down and not wanting to see, not wanting to acknowledge, not wanting to be a part of it, even as casual observers.
Two or three houses up the block, the dog stopped to sniff something and I chanced to turn around. The zombie woman stepped into a doorway, her back to the main street to block the slight breeze coming off the lake. In the dark morning, I watched the flame from her lighter flare up then burn bright and steady as she cooked her rock of crack and came back to the land of the living for a little while.