Old Crazy Joe (Fake Name, True Story)
“The man ‘cross the street, he don’t move a muscle / though he’s all covered in dust / when constitutions of granite can’t save the planet / What’s to become of us.” Having been inspired today, I am now writing this true story. His real name was Edward, but all the people around that part of downtown Toronto just called him Joe (well ‘Ol’ Crazy Joe to be more precise). Honestly this was because they never bothered to talk to him or even ask him. He wasn’t really old but he certainly looked it (he was just 67 when we met). At the end of it all, he wasn’t all that crazy either. When I met ‘Ol’ Crazy Joe, he called the alley behind Toronto’s Massey Hall home. Well, I guess you could say that the small pressed pile of, usually wet, cardboard that he so studiously and contentiously guarded each day and night was home. That alley was ‘Ol’ Crazy Joe’s Turf. The company I owned had just landed an extremely lucrative contract managing a fully-owned $20-million dollar building. The building was filled with luxuriously furnished corporate condos that were rented out to executives, celebrities and relocation agencies. Not long after day one, I met this broken man, Edward. I first saw him arguing with the pigeons and probably a few rats. This ‘Ol’ Crazy Joe behind the building in the alley that my building shared with Massey Hall. I could have had no way of knowing how much impact the next 2 years with Joe as my ‘neighbour’ could have had on my life and the lives of my family. Despite that, I am very grateful. There is more I could write; we even ended up getting him a real home!
Section A: Beginning Anew
“And in the pools of light there, go wherever you choose / Just rig up a complication, and if it derails / You can throw away the rudder and float away like vapour trails.” It was the end of July, 2007. Securing such a valuable contract to manage the entire luxury condo also meant I would be moving our family household into the building, it would be impossible not to. You would never hear me complain about that though. Free of charge we relocated; seemingly overnight. Star-struck as we were thrown into a posh, fully-furnished, downtown 2-floor penthouse loft. The loft had 20-foot ceilings, celebrities for neighbours, and balconies with a 360-degree panoramic view of the Toronto skyline. Bringing my wife and two sons there for the first time took place later in the night. I decided to surprise them with dinner on the town before we went over for a visit. It was a magical tour of the building and the city lights; Looking over to her at one moment, my wife and I locked eyes. It was then that I realized we were in store for some pretty special memories and life-altering experiences. It was beyond exciting. Standing up there, so vulnerably high up, looking at the City in all her nighttime majesty. I didn’t realize how humbling that experience could have been. At that exact moment, unbeknownst to us at the time, Ol Crazy Joe was almost certainly far below, 12 whole stories down and tucked away sleeping in the alley behind the building as we stood there on the penthouse balcony. At that moment, how was I to know that he and I were about to become entangled, almost symbiotic, as an important part of our whole new adventure was to come. Right after my wife and kids had left for the day, I settled in to begin some of the less glamorous and more mundane of the tasks set before me. I was only a thirty-four year old relocation business owner, yet now I was single-handedly running an entire building with two structures, complete with an adjacent two-storey vacant commercial complex. This complex faced Yonge Street’s Eaton Centre. I had a lot on my plate that first day, many things to do. First there was the mechanical guy, who was also my plumbing guy (sometimes the guy could do both, sometimes not.) There was also the electrical guy, heating/cooling guy, the hydro service/testing guy, and the Canada Post truck’s guy/girl. Then there was the security system guy and then the fire alarm guys, one for service/monitoring and one for license testing. Of course, much to my chagrin, there was still my Bell business rep, who managed my thirty-five Bell accounts with thirty-five different phone numbers. Oddly enough we held all of our cable contracts with Rogers. There was also our Housekeepers; two beautifully spirited filipina ladies who I decided just to move directly into the building. They enthusiastically left their old homes to move into a suite on another floor in the building. All for a very reduced rent. I managed them on a daily basis. Then there was the very important and almighty elevator Guy. If I could leave you with any tidbit of knowledge it would be this: always be extra nice to your elevator guy should you find yourself with one. This leads me to the last one on my long, mundane list. My Garbage disposal guy. Who is the very man who lead me to Joe that day. A phone call from him asked me to go into the back alley because, as he said, “Ol Joe is at it again… This is the number I’m supposed to call according to the guy that managed this place… Can you come out and handle Joe?! I have to get the truck into the alley and he’s in the way acting up again!” When I headed back there to meet the truck and ‘handle Joe’, I found him back there in the tiny alley that we shared with the famed Massey Hall. He was swearing at some pigeons and seemingly ignoring the enormous rumbling garbage truck that was idling menacingly behind him in the alley.
Section B: Our Only Christmas
“Makeshift we are / Lead never leaves your system no matter who you are / Makeshift we are / As makeshift as we are.” I had taken to running the condo like a fish to water, it wasn’t without challenges but I was able to manage. Time was passing faster than I had expected; One moment I enjoyed the bright summers downtown, then I was enjoying the crisp autumn air, and finally I had to begin dealing with snow and my inevitable first Christmas supervising the building. Christmas Eve 2007 was already here. My boys and I were all happy and prepared yet in the midst of it all I had begun to wonder what would Joe do for Christmas. I decided to bring the boys across the street to the Eaton Centre to let them pick something out for him and ,unbeknownst to them, I had something planned the whole time; I had planned to give Joe a condo suite in the building for the evening. On the way back from the Eaton Centre, I stopped at Swiss Chalet and grabbed Joe the very best I could and then stopped at the Liquor store to get Joe his favourite drink. The boys, my wife, and I all signed his Christmas card and placed his presents in the suite he would be staying in, and I went down and found him in the alley. I hadn’t considered how awkward it would be; all of a sudden to talk to this man and offer him a condo suite for the night, but I got through it. Thankfully the awkward situation I had put myself had not been in vain, as he accepted my offer. I had dinner accompanied by the liquor gift (and the kids gifts) in the condo suite, and walked him in the back door of the building to the his own slick pad and handed him the keys for the night. He wouldn’t have just a warm spot and dinner for the night. No, Joe would have one of the nicer, million dollar, condos that he slept behind every night. I had hated the irony of a downtrodden man laying beside such glamour, so I was very happy to have been able to offer it to him. I only wished I could have offered it to him more permanently. As it turns out, he didn’t even sleep over night. I showed him how to message me in my condo suite if he needed anything, so a few hours later I get a message from Joe to come to his condo suite. When I got there, he was all wrapped up, smiling wide and ready to go out the door. He had showered, ate, had some drinks, watched some television, did his laundry, and actually had cleaned up really well. He only spent a few hours that Christmas eve, and I just happily accepted the keys he gave back and opened the back door, letting him walk back out into the night. It was a pretty special few hours for him while it had lasted, I guess he just didn’t want to sleep there.
Section C: The Reclamation of Joe
“O’ for a good life / We just might have to weaken / And find somewhere to go” Plenty of time had passed since our Christmas with Joe, and in the interim we had gotten him his own place. He’d gone straight off the streets into his own apartment, with his own pension money coming back to him when we got him the place too. An interesting example of a true rags to riches story, rather than the delusions of grandeur you would usually hear about. Prior to this, while he was still living behind my building, Joe had disappeared for a few days. I was beginning to get worried. This gentleman in his forties that worked in an office building nearby used to come by for his smoke and chat with Joe every now and again. One day he had showed up and asked me: “I am worried, where’s Ol Joe these days?” To which I said, “I was about to ask you the same question.” He said, “You know, Joe doesn’t even have to be on the streets. I saw a lady come and tell him one day to go to back to his appointment, and get his cheque reissued. That he should go to his social worker so he can get his money and housing sorted.” Joe could, apparently, be off the streets in no time if somebody could just help him figure that out. I hadn’t known about that, and Joe never mentioned it to me since I had met him. I never knew until the moment this guy told me that the whole time I could have been helping Joe solve his problems. We found Joe a few days later and I started working on it with him and we found his social worker and got him to his appointments and he got a place from the rental support office. He had his life back in order and finally was off the streets. Edward J. Gray was no longer ‘Ol Crazy Joe’ from Massey Hall. I had learned so much, and I could write entire volumes about the daily interactions between him and I, and the time when I lived and worked downtown with ‘Ol Crazy Joe.’