Herbie Schultz started to think about the first time he met Tony Barrows. He flashed back to a muggy, overcast afternoon when both Herbie and Tony were attending sixth grade at Clever Ridge Elementary School. It was about half way through the afternoon recess and two twin brothers, Hartley and Kerry Popovich were engaged in a competitive game of marbles with Herbie. Kerry accused Herbie of cheating. Both Hartley and Kerry took turns pushing Herbie in the chest rendering their opponent off-balance. Tony Barrows was hiding behind a car across the street smoking a Sportsman cigarette stolen from his dad’s pack at lunchtime. He stepped out from behind the red Ford Tempo when he heard some yelling and screaming coming from the school playground.
“You cheated, you slimy little freak. Now we’re going to kick the shit out of you unless you pay us five dollars,” Kerry said.
“I never cheated and I don’t have five dollars on me anyway,” Herbie responded with a tear starting to run down his cheek.
Hartley grabbed Herbie and pushed his face into the ground. He took a hold of Herbie’s long blond hair and scraped the victim’s forehead against the gravel. He didn’t stop until he saw blood started to stream down Herbie’s face.
Tony Barrows had seen enough. He had the reputation of being the toughest kid at Clever Bridge Elementary. Tony was older than the other kids his class as he had to repeat grade five. He was already a strong boy as he spent a lot of his free time helping his new stepdad, Phiilip, when he worked on home renovation projects that required heavy lifting. His step dad assigned all the grunt work to Herbie.
Tony ran up to Hartley and viciously struck the bully with a punishing round house right. Within seconds Hartley’s face was a mass of blood. Tony had succeeded in breaking Hartley’s nose so badly that it that only a thread of membrane kept Hartley’s nose attached to his face.
A teacher on duty was at the opposite end of the school ground when this incident took place. Tony had time to turn his head to see Mr. James, his sixth- grade teacher start to jog to the section of the playground where the altercation was going down.
Tony got right into Harley’s bloody, disfigured face.
“Listen up, Hartley you freaking scumbag. You are going to tell Mr. James you told your twin brother to stop robbing Herbie’ face in the ground. Kerry got mad and punched you in the face so hard that it shattered your ugly nose. Hartley managed to squeak out an ‘okay’ while trying to stop the bleeding with his handkerchief.
“Tell Mr. James what really happened and you and your pathetic piece of crap brother will be on my shit list for the rest of the year. You got it?”
“Loud and clear,” Hartley answered.
Tony’s smoothie recipe consisted of milk, a banana, a handful of frozen fruit, a couple of protein supplement and teaspoon of peanut butter. All he had to do was turn on the blender, wait about a minute and then pour himself a giant glass of his freshly created smoothie.
Tony alternated drinking from his black Ford coffee cup and his maxed -out size smoothie glass. Usually he had enough for two large smoothie drinks inside the blender.
Tony appeared to be a health nut, but he had a dark side to his personality. The narcissistic side of Tony’s persona gave him the drive to build up his body. Tony liked girls and knew that most of them preferred tough looking characters with athletic physiques. Tony had one straight, nerd like friend that was always amazed at how quickly and easily Tony picked up the hot girls. His friend, Herbie once asked Tony about the secret of his success with the opposite sex. Tony was more than ready to educate Herbie on the facts of life.
“This is how it works, Herbie. Women are not turned on by nerds. Most nerds are nice guys, but this is a negative when it comes to getting the attention of hot chicks. The babes like guys who are tough and look like they can look after themselves. Chicks like to feel protected and they would rather go with the guy who spends an hour per day in the weight room compared to some short, skinny four-eyed nerd who spends his free time using hybrid parts to build a super deluxe computer,” Tony explained
“Yeah, I hear what you’re saying Tony, but aren’t most greaser types, ‘losers’, present company not included, of course?”
You got a point there, but most girls don’t think that far ahead. Sure in a few years so probably be in the market Berkeley got conservative successful 9-to-5 lifer who loves kids. But that’s light-years away as far as they are concerned now. Right now, they are into what they call ‘cute guys’ with an attitude and a bit of an edge to them,” Tony answered.
“Yeah, but what does a girl get out of this type of relationship?” Herbie asked
“She gets some street cred and it creates some drama in her life. Look at it this way. Which guy would a woman rather talk about to her friends? A clean-cut straight arrow who spends all his spare time building over-sized computers or a guy in a black leather jacket who will pull a knife on a guy who looks the wrong way at his girlfriend?”
“So, it’s the excitement factor that tips the scales in the favor of the rough boy?” Herbie inquired.
“You’re starting to get it, Herb. It’s the pure adrenaline rush of having a boyfriend that appears to be dangerous. The woman feels safe when she’s with this kind of guy. It also gets her friends jealous and she likes that.
“How did you become so smart and articulate, Tony? You quit school halfway through grade ten? Didn’t you?” Herbie asked
“That’s true, though I was born with much more intelligence than the average person. Last time they tested my IQ, I scored in the genius category. I’m kind of I’m kind of a part-time greaser, but I read a lot. It’s not unusual for me to read two to three books a week on the average. I also have access to digital copies of all the current and relevant magazines with my subscription to Texture,” Tony explained.
Tony Barrows lived in a basement bachelor apartment on Spence Street. This area of Winnipeg is well known for its poverty and high level of crime. Tony fit very comfortably into his present living situation.
This young man was heavy, but his excess weight was more than compensated for by the significant amount of muscle mass in his upper body. Tony had wide, powerful shoulders, strong pecs and bulging biceps. He liked to show off his upper body mass by wearing and assortment tank tops and skin -tight T-shirts. For his daily attire, Tony favored the color black as it emphasized his upper body mass and deemphasized his slight beer belly.
Tony was very proud of his impressive upper body strength, but he had come by it honestly. He didn’t have a great deal of self-discipline, but what little he had he applied to his physical training regimen.
Tony did not like doing housework or cleaning. There were more important things on which he wanted to focus his time. As Tony lived in a basement apartment, noisy heating and plumbing pipes hung from the ceiling. Although the ceiling pipes made his apartment appear even more dumpy than it already was, this cosmetic defect did not really bother Tony.
Tony was twenty-five years old, but he didn’t really have goals or ambitions that
society would hold in high regard. The last few years Tony lived in the present, one day at a time. This expression would have made Tony laugh as ‘one day at a time’ was a slogan used by most twelve step groups based on the original program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Tony walked over to a small kitchen. The walls were covered by faded strips of a sickly shade of light green paint.
Making himself a smoothie was the way Tony liked to start his mornings. He, of course, had to begin his routine with a large cup of strong Tim Hortons and a few hits from his vaping pen. Tony had sold some weed to one of his friends in exchange for a high -quality nicotine vaporizer. As far as Tony was concerned he had succeeded in quitting smoking tobacco, although he still loved his cannabis.
Tony really didn’t care that much about following strict healthy lifestyle. He wasn’t one of those guys who wanted to live to age eighty. Forty years of age would satisfy Tony if he could enjoy all the forbidden pleasures of life. He only stopped smoking when he concluded that heavy smoking was contributing to his long and frequent bouts of bronchitis. When Tony suffered from a serious upper respiratory infection, he usually had to put his weight training regimen on hold for two to three weeks.
Tony had watched part of a documentary on the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes and vaping. One day his friend Ron showed Tony the new vape pen and he bought at The Toke, a store that sells both tobacco and vaping supplies. Rod had a sepia colored vaping pen that produced a huge cloud of vapour. When his friend demonstrated how his new nicotine delivery system worked, Tony was immediately impressed.
There were at least twenty clients in the waiting area. They were the people that our society could not or would not accommodate. Most prosperous, well established people would rarely encounter the disadvantaged and marginalized in our society. They might read about them or hear about them via the media.
Only the truly unfortunate members of society would experience the humiliation of applying for welfare at a social assistance agency. No one could really understand the plight of these disadvantaged people but themselves.
Some of the more dedicated and compassionate welfare workers would do their own research and would attempt to have empathy with their client’s plight. The majority of these workers had not personally experienced the devastating poverty, hopelessness, depression or the physical and mental disabilities that would oppress their clients on a daily basis. Few would know what it was like to struggle with serious addiction issues.
Poverty, homelessness, mental health, disability and addiction had created a billion dollar industry for those who were in a position to profit from these societal plagues.
The irony was that the poorest and most needy in our communities were responsible indirectly for creating and maintaining full time and often permanent employment for a staggering number of agencies, businesses and workers.
There were at least twenty people in the reception area. They were all people that our society would or could not accommodate. Most successful and prosperous people would never encounter them and would only know about them on an intellectual level probably by reading about the poor and needy people via the media.
Only the truly marginalized would end up in a welfare office. Nobody could really understand this mass of unfortunates except the unfortunates themselves. Some of the most dedicated social agency workers would do some research and attempt to educate themselves about the plight of their clients. However, very few of them had personal experience with poverty, chronic disability and illness, addiction issues and homelessness.
People with some or all of there issues helped create a billion- dollar industry. The irony was that the most marginalized persons in society were responsible for creating and maintaining full time profitable employment for a substantial number of professional workers. Those in administrative positions made the big money. The front- line workers didn’t make a living wage unless they had a strong union. The needy people in the province were responsible for generating significant employment but the tax payers picked up the bill.
Whisper by Ken David Stewart
It was back, Big Time. Harold Peyton found himself in the clutches of the most devastating episode of clinical depression that he had ever experienced in his sixty-five years. He was used to this. Harold suffered from the type of depression that was episodic in nature. He was not depressed all the time, but large chunks of his life had been lost. During these times, Harold would succumb to the vast darkness of depression. What Winston Churchill described as his ‘black dog’.
Harold just wanted to shut down and block out the whole world. He sat in a broken -down office chair adorned with torn upholstery. Harold was a published author and was working on a new mystery novel. The problem was that he couldn’t get his muse turned on. Every time he tried to think of a new idea to move his plot along, his mind went blank.
Harold just stared at the blank word document on his computer screen. Everything that he attempted was hard. Harold was grateful that he had a month’s holiday left from his part time job as a substitute teacher. To do a job like that you have to be able to get yourself pumped up and be able to think very sharply. Right now, Harold could do neither.
Harold Peyton was exceptionally fit and healthy for a sixty-five year- old male. He was once a heavy smoker but overcame his addiction to cigarettes twenty years ago. Harold made his physical fitness regimen a top priority in his life. He rode his prized black and white Giant Mountain bike every day, even during inclement weather. On alternate days Harold would go to Shapes gym for a forty-five minute resistance training workout. Although he was still a bit pudgy, he carried his excess weight well and was still a physically attractive man. Harold looked at least ten years younger than his chronological age.
Harold lived in a modest home in the suburb of River Heights in the windy city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He loved animals and was presently the proud owner of two dogs and two cats.
Following the frustration of fifteen minutes of totally unproductive writing, Harold got out of his office chair and walked over to the burgundy colored drapes of his picture window. He tugged on the cord that opened the curtains and gazed upon the outside world. The city of Winnipeg experienced an early bitter winter during November, 2013. The picture window was covered with intermittent patches of frost and ice. Snow was now falling very heavily.
Harold honestly enjoyed the winter season especially fresh snow falls. He loved the way the tree branches looked when they were covered by shiny, white, snowflakes.
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But today the beauty of the winter season had little effect upon Harold’s somber mood. When he was trapped in this mental state, he was unable to bring himself to experience joy in things and activities that had once brought him pleasure. It was as if his happy button had been turned to the off position.
Harold thought of his ex-wife Clarissa. They had been divorced nearly five years now. Harold missed Clarissa, but he did not blame her for leaving him. What woman could live with the frequent intense darkness of his moods. During these times Harold would totally ignore her as he closed himself off from the entire world. After staring out his picture window for about two minutes, Harold could hear his dogs barking loudly and sharply. He soon realized what was upsetting them.
A white Ford 150 truck was parked directly across the street from Harold’s house. He could see the black hair of a large burly man with black hair in the driver’s seat. The man appeared to be in his early thirties. He was very angry at a young female who looked to be in her early twenties. Through his picture window
Harold watched as the burly young man pushed his female passenger out of his truck and onto the ice packed snow covering the road. The burly man in his early thirties then tossed a large orange and turquoise colored duffle bag onto the street. It almost hit the young woman who was lying prostate on the street. The angry male in the truck yelled a few vile obscenities at his female victim and then drove away in his Ford 150.
Looking through his picture window, Harold watched the young woman slowly and painfully rise to her feet. She was wearing only a grey hoodie sweatshirt, black sweat pants with a tear in one knee and a pair of well worn red Converse running shoes. She was now standing in the street shivering on a cold day in March. A black Honda Accord honked loudly at her as he came close to colliding with the girl who now had tears streaming down her cheeks.
Harold watched after the Ford 150 drove away. He stood and stared at the young woman and started to think what he was going to do about her. Harold didn’t even consider calling the police. Instead he opened the front door of his house and called loudly to the girl in distress.
“Come here young lady. You need to get out of the cold or you’ll freeze to death!”
The young female looked towards Harold with a confused and frightened look. She wiped the snowflakes off her hoodie and walked awkwardly towards the door that Harold was holding open for her.
“Thank you so much Mister. You may have saved my life. May I come in your house?
“Step into the living room and make yourself at home,” Harold replied.
“Thanks. Hey, I should introduce myself. My name is Whisper,” the strange young woman said as she found a place to sit on Harold’s yellow and orange patterned sofa. Whisper admired the brass antique lamp to the left of the sofa. The full décor of Harold Peyton’s living room had the ambiance that could only come from a man who appreciated fine art.
“Could I interest you in a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee or perhaps a mug of hot chocolate?” Harold asked. “By the way, Whisper is a beautiful name. Who gave you that name?”
“My grandma came up with it if I remember correctly,” Whisper replied.
While standing in the hall, Harold now had a good opportunity to observe Whisper. Her hair was blonde highlighted by orange streaks. It presently looked wet and tangled. There were still some snowflakes in her hair. Whisper’s make up was smudged and smeared from her tears. Whisper had a gold rod piercing through her nose. She wore orange lipstick and had a pentagon tattoo on her left forearm. She was not very attractive and was slightly overweight giving her somewhat of a pudgy look. Harold thought that Whisper resembled a naughty, terribly neglected little elf.
When Whisper finished showering and was coming down the stairs, Harold saw how much more attractive she looked. Her shoulder length blond hair was slicked back and gave off a pleasant aroma as she descended closer to the bottom of the stairs.
Whisper was now wearing a Los Angeles Kings replica Jersey. It was the design the Kings wore when Wayne Gretzky was their team captain. On the back of the Jersey ‘Whisper 99’ could be seen. She wore a pair of shiny silver slacks. The looseness of Whisper’s Jersey helped conceal her extra upper body weight. Her silver slacks were also loosely fitted, giving the impression that her legs were not too plump.
As soon as she got herself settled on the couch Whisper said, “Thank you for letting me use your shower. I feel so much better now. Does your coffee need to be reheated?” Whisper asked.
“Oh no. It’s fine. I’m about three quarters way finished it anyway.
“If you want a fresh cup just ask.” Whisper said. “So you would like to know more about my housing situation.”
“Yes. It sounds like you don’t have a permanent place to live.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, that’s presently the situation I find myself in,” Whisper said.
“So I gather you can’t stay at Tony’s place tonight.? Harold asked.
“Oh no. He might kill me.”
You’re exaggerating, aren’t you?” Harold asked with genuine alarm in his voice.
No, I’m not. I can’t count how many times that Tony has beat me up this year,” Whisper answered.
So, where were you living before you stayed with Tony?” Harold asked
“At the Headingly Correctional Center for Women.”
“You’re kidding. What were you charged with?” Harold asked.
“Shoplifting,” Whisper replied.
“Why did you shoplift?” Harold asked.
“Probably because I didn’t have any money for food and cigarettes.”
Do you steal from stores a lot?” Harold asked.
“Yeah. Quite a lot, actually. I get a cheque from social assistance, but it doesn’t provide nearly enough, especially if you smoke like I do. Mostly I steal because I need stuff. I run out of money early in the month I don’t budget my money real well. Sometimes I just shoplift when I get bored. I get an adrenaline rush from it.”
“Do you ever feel guilty about stealing?” Harold asked.
“Not really. I mean I know it’s not right, but a person has to provide for themselves.”
“Have you ever had a regular job before?” Harold asked.
“Sure. I was the human resources director at Canada Life for about five years. Then I got fired.” Whisper answered.
“Why did you get fired?” Harold asked.
“For embezzlement. They found out that I was padding my expense account pretty regularly.” Whisper answered.