By Maria Mallozzi (Mississauga, ON)

Mistaken Identity

The fear of bums had been instilled in me by my father.  Not that he actually told me outright that bums were bad and would do awful things to me - but I understood this.

We lived in the inner city and it wasn't just the homeless that were considered bums.  It was any one - or rather any man- who invoked my father's disdain and harrumphs:  an out of work neighbour, a beer drinker negligent of an overgrown lawn, a teenager with ripped jeans or a tattooed forearm.

A man's occupation, if it involved manual labour and if he wasn't careful, could predispose him to becoming a bum.  A shower, clean clothes, and the daily newspaper went a long way to obliterate any evidence that could be used against him.  Long hair always turned a man into a bum even if it was neatly tied and belonged to a well-dressed, hard-working, tattoo less man mowing his lawn. 

My seven year old self was able to quickly identify two bums when they knocked on our door on a day that I was home alone.  Seeing their dirt stained clothing and their unruly long hair through the peep hole immobilized me, but only momentarily.  I raced to the phone to call my neighbour for help yelling, Bums at my door! Bums at my door! into the mouthpiece.  Within seconds the men started banging on the door and yelling, Furnace repairmen!  Furnace repairmen!

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