Carl is the fellow who sits on the corner near my work and greets everyone Monday to Friday. He skips the rainy days and he knows when it’s too cold outside, albeit -15 degrees Celsius hasn’t bothered him much this year. He sits on a crate (from memory I think it is a green crate), he wears many layers and a roughed up winter coat on the outside, and he’s grown his beard out – multicoloured in red, white, and brownish hues. The top of his head is covered with a toque, I think it’s a red one, and I’ve never seen his face without all teeth showing – this fellow is a smiley one. All this evidence leads me to believe he has been homeless for more than one Canadian Winter.
Carl wishes everyone a great day, he gets excited about the weather being pleasant in the coming week, and Carl tells me he is grateful every day that he is alive. Carl is the most optimistic person I’ve met in Ottawa, and possibly ever. Even with the aforementioned positives, I still think Carl is homeless.
I didn’t say “Carl suffers from homelessness” because it really doesn’t appear that Carl is suffering. Carl seems to be in much better shape than myself even, mentally of course. His clothes are a bit more raggedy, but his smile shouts affability and sincerity much more than mine.
From the day I stopped walking past Carl and saying “hello”, and began stopping to ask how his week has been, I’ve developed a keen interest into Carl’s life – an interest I haven’t exhibited as of yet. This interest, by the way, appears to be purely selfish.
When I started viewing Carl as an acquaintance rather than a stranger, I happened to be in a mindset of uncertainty. Still adjusting to life in a new city, I was feeling a bit demoralized and was hoping to find myself once again, very soon. When you’re looking for something, you see so much more. When you’ve found what you need, you are once again blind.
Twice, I’ve taken off my glove to shake Carl’s hand – sadly, only twice. The first time was when I asked what his name was and introduced myself. The second, to wish him a merry Christmas. The physical sense of human connection is a bond that glove to glove contact does not reveal. In these moments, I’ve felt like more of a friend to Carl than the others he greets. I hope he sees me in the same light.
The point of this blog is that, since I’ve been in Ottawa, male friends have come in the minutest of chances. Almost every colleague I’ve befriended is female, therefore leaves me asking them to introduce me to their male counterparts as male friends. Asking to join an existing clique of friends is easy, but becoming an ally within that group, not so easy, especially among the “boys”.
What I do not have and what I am seeking is more male friends, for the purpose of maintaining homeostasis and balance, of course. Most of my friends back home were guys, so finding similarities and staying within comfort zones here is easiest while I’m still recalibrating my life here in Ottawa.
I’ve always resonated with females much easier – they tend to be responsive and less guarded than men. Men have societal expectations to fulfil in toughness and grit – qualities which I lack. Women are great listeners and have always seemed interested in what I have to say, rather than look me up and down in an alpha-male mindset, but obviously I have digressed….
Carl is someone I would like to ask out for a beer. Carl is someone I don’t want to give money to, but he is someone I want to give my time and heart to. Money is something I have, time is something I have less of, my heart will always be full for everyone who wants, needs, or requires it. Time is something I can feel good about giving, money is something I can give Carl later on when we get wasted together and I say, “f*** it here’s 20 bucks Carl.” Now that I think of it, heart is something that is felt and shared, not given. Something you give away is something you lose, such as time and money, but not heart. Heart, you share.
Asking Carl for a beer would lead to three responses:
- Carl says, “no, I don’t drink” and we grab a coffee instead.
- Carl says, “piss off, clown.” and I go home sad.
- Carl says, “fuck yeah” and we go out to the nearest pub.
In the latter of responses, there could be four outcomes:
- Carl and I become friends and grab beers once in a while, I still say, “hi” every day and things continue as usual.
- Carl and I become friends but it’s slightly awkward and I feel like I need to give him money or take him for beers often.
- Carl and I do not get along and every walk to work is awkward when I approach that corner.
- Carl and I do not get along and he switches corners, which is even way worse than the option above.
- Carl and I are pals, I help him reach his goals, he helps me reach mine, we appreciate and enjoy each others’ company, and we are both happier and better people because of it. Carl and I are friends.
The last option is my favourite. Every life could be a little bit more human and connected, in this day of technology and in a city of busyness with diminishing work-
life balance we need each other frequently and on a personal, more intimate level than gloved handshakes and winter weather chats.
So, I think I’ll ask Carl for a pint. I want to hear about his outlook on life. Why is he so jolly? Can I capture that jollyness within myself??? Can I share it with others? Will I be able to give as much as I receive? If you have a secret to happiness and a life of love, share it with me so I can emit it as well.
Maybe I can help Carl. Carl will help me.
Not asking Carl for a beer will always leave me wondering if we could have been friends. Asking Carl for a pint sounds limitless.
And if Carl disappears one day and doesn’t show up with his crate, Carl will only be that guy on the corner to me. I don’t want that. I want Carl, my friend, to be a memory, not an afterthought.
Perhaps maybe, just maybe, Carl is wondering too?