Toronto, Ontario. It was the summer of 1981 and I was working co-op in Toronto for The Royal Bank of Canada while going to school in London. I was living in a student residence just off of Yonge Street.
It was summer, and my younger brother was down for a visit. He came down every few weeks to get away from London, and this was one of those weekends. My brother was just shy of his 15th birthday, 6 foot 3 inches tall and about 220 pounds….a little guy.
We were out on Saturday morning having breakfast at a Big Boy restaurant on Yonge, just across from The Eaton Center. We were seated by the window, overlooking the mall. At the corner, or actually….just a bit down from the corner, was a man, early to late thirties hustling the passers by on Yonge Street coming from the mall and heading to the subway. He was dressed in a military combat jacket, combat pants, army boots….nothing out of the ordinary for the time…except he had no arms…none.
Around his neck, he had a sign, which we could read from across the road…”Please help….I fell on a grenade in Vietnam and had my arms blown off”. He must have a real good friend to first, dress him and second write such a nice message signboard for him to put around his neck. On the ground, between his feet was a beret….in it was money, change and bills from the punters walking past.
My brother and I were just about finished breakfast and getting set to leave when my brother pushed his chair back like it had just shocked him, and the next thing I knew, he was a 220 pound linebacker charging into traffic, bouncing off of car hoods straight at this street hustler. From where I sat, trying to get out of my chair, I could see the armless man, look around and squat down to the beret, and his hands come out from inside to pick up the money.
Now, I’m charging out and across the street, having just tossed money on the table, being chased by the restaurant manager with my change. My brother, who was, I would guess at least six inches and 50 pounds heavier than the Vietnam scammer was screaming “fake…fraud” …”he’s got arms….he’s got arms” and was grabbing his jacket and pulling the sleeves and lifting it up showing the arms and hands beneath. Nobody stopped….nobody. Not a cop, not a pedestrian….nobody.
“Fuck off…get lost you fucking nut bar….get lost….let go” yelled the “handicapped man”. “Fake…Fraud” yelled my brother. “Get lost…Fuck off….Fake….Fraud”…went the song….for a few more minutes. Still, nobody stopped. The restaurant manager had paid me my change, and left….laughing hysterically all the way back across the road. The two combatants had by now stopped. It was just the three of us now…and still no cop in sight.
“Kid….here’s twenty bucks”…”fuck off and leave me alone”….”get out of my face” yelled the man at my brother, who was now looking at his new found fortune. I grabbed him, took his ill gotten booty and left for the subway. I told him not to do that again, you don’t know about people down here. He didn’t hear me…he had twenty dollars more than he had five minutes ago.
Sunday morning. Toronto….we were seated across from The Eaton Center once again having breakfast at Big Boy. Things were going well until…..you guessed it….who should set up shop out front of the mall again….Vietnam Vet Man. But, as luck would have it…he looked different than yesterday. Same jacket, same hat…..but…his arms had grown back, his legs were gone and so were his boots. He was now on a wooden mechanics dolly, with a new sign letting the world know he had lost his legs to a grenade. Yesterday, it was his arms…today his legs. His recuperative powers were formidable.
I expected my brother to charge out again, knock over his chair and attack at will. Not this time. He finished his coffee…ate his eggs and bacon….and watched. I was ready….nothing. We paid….crossed over to the now legless man, and watched. My brother, who was quite vocal yesterday…just walked over to him, looked at the hat….the dolly and the now legless individual before him and tapped him on the shoulder.
He looked up….my brother looked down on him…which at six foot three inches tall to a man removed from his legs over the past twenty four hours, must have been imposing, and said “Fuck”. My brother said “HI….remember me?” At this point, I looked around for a cop….they didn’t seem to frequent this area I was learning. Anyway, he looked at my brother, reached into his jacket….pulled two twenties out and said “Here…now please…fuck off”. We took the cash….and left.
Easiest money we ever made.