Donald Gordon, nicknamed Ducky, tells me he wakes up in his car at 4 a.m. daily. He says that’s where he lives.
“I wake up with a hangover and got F-all to do. I don’t got a house. I can’t stay at my grandma’s – I drink too much. I go to the Salvation Army. I got friends there. We always help each other out. That’s the way it happens.”
He walks from the McIntyre subdivision down Two Mile Hill to the Salvation Army where I meet him. It’s the beginning of the month and the social assistance cheques have been cut, so booze flows and the Salvation Army is roiling. The staff are trying to keep a lid on the situation, still a bit jumpy from the other day when a guy supposedly tried to snap a woman’s neck.
He thought it was his ex-girlfriend. It wasn’t.
“This place is packed,” Ducky observes. “They should build a bigger shelter.”
We walk out to the alley and I ask about his drinking. “I drink wine, cider, vodka, hard liquor. I got counsellors here and there – on my drinking. My aunts give me shit. They don’t drink no more. I’m chronic. I don’t like to be like that – it just happens.”
Ducky invites me to join him to see “the way it happens” en route to the liquor store. As we amble down the gravel alley behind the food bank, drinkers huddling in the “cubbyhole” (a doorway), saunter or stagger out to see who I am and to ask if we have any venom (vodka). We don’t.
“We call this the old Harlem Shuffle,” Ducky says of this greeting between childhood friends from the old Kwanlin Dun village. This short First Nation man is outgoing, popular and seemingly related to just about half the people we meet.
“I’m a hustler,” he explains when I ask how he gets money for booze. “I know how to hustle. The way people react depends on how you go about it.”
Just then a woman rides her bike towards us on the sidewalk, and to demonstrate his point, Ducky calls out, “Don’t run me down, I don’t have insurance!” She smiles at the joke and Ducky laughs, feeling good about the way he handles women.
Another group of guys in black hoodies approach. “That’s my nephew right here. I’m a bit like a counsellor (to these young guys). All the shit I went through – seen people beaten up and stabbed. This is only a small town. I’ve lived in big cities where it’s a meat grinder. I’ve been to jail, penitentiary.”
This seemingly easy-going guy says he used to power slam people, but as he talks I’m unclear if it’s actually the past or present. “I’m the one punishing people. Say the wrong word to me and you’ll be eating through a straw for six weeks. I don’t give a shit about anything or myself.”
I ask about his childhood, but he suddenly loses the gift of the gab. All I can get is, “My mom quit drinking but my dad and my uncle drank themselves to death,” and that they moved all over town.
As for work, my lively friend says he was a sort of mechanic, worked construction and now can only cut wood and babysit. “I’m not stationary. I have to be on the move. It’s just the way I am.”
Later, we sit in the shade under a tree on the cement curb at the liquor store. I watch the steady stream of traffic pass by. A woman emerges with two boxes of booze and she’s got an instant friend at her side – a street person angling for a tip if he takes her cart back. He gets it.
Someone in a car stares at us and Ducky yells out, “Take a picture – it will last longer!” and I burst into laughter. Now Ducky is pleased that he made me laugh and expands on his life philosophy.
“I did what I want (in life). I didn’t give a shit about anything, and that’s why I can sit here with no worries.”
I step away from this scene for 10 minutes, and when I come back Ducky is hunched forward and says he needs a ride to the hospital. The security guard approaches and calls for an ambulance.
“I forgot to take my pills for seizures,” he tells me and flops backwards, cries out and kicks his legs. By the time the ambulance arrives, Ducky is sitting up and talking to me again. When the female ambulance attendant asks his date of birth, he flirts with her. “Guess,” he says.
She makes it clear there will be no guessing games and wants to know about his other medical issues.
“Migraine headaches,” he sighs.
“Yah,” Ducky quietly admits. “Ulcers.”
They pack him off to the hospital. That night I go to check on him, where he said he lives in his car. Turns out that’s not true. Maybe it’s that problem with past and present. He used to live in a car, but doesn’t now. Ducky did tell the truth about one thing for sure – he knows how to hustle.
Roxanne Livingstone is a freelance writer in Whitehorse. She isn’t used to getting hustled.