I live a long way away from Streetsville (Mississauga), Ontario now, and it has been some time since I wandered the streets like I used to. As much as that time and place shaped me, I have also moved on.
So it was strange when I was asked me about ‘Black Kramer’ yesterday. If I remembered him. Considering the inquirer never lived in Streetsville and had only ever visited twice—and had never seen Black Kramer herself—I was shocked that she remembered enough to alert me to the Facebook post she saw about the man who was widely identified as ‘Streetsville Jason’.
[Note: Née Ralph Faustino, I have a vague memory of someone telling me his name was Ralph and me thinking it was a joke because even now he doesn’t strike me as a Ralph—a.k.a. Black Kramer because of his tall, slim build and upright hair that I see has since become dreadlock’d. Out of respect, I will refer to him as Ralph going forward…]
Of course I remembered the man. And I had apparently painted a significant enough portrait in her mind that when she saw the post, she remembered too.
But Ralph was like that.
In my teenage years, the man was ubiquitous. At any given time, he could be found floating along Queen Street. He was like an electron—his exact position could never be known until he was observed, and even then, it would differ from one observer to the next. People would talk about encountering Ralph outside the Masonic Lodge the same night that other people would mention they saw him at the Second Cup on Main Street.
I don’t have many solid memories of conversations with Ralph, although some of that is attributable to my state of mind at the time. Like most people, I remember giving him change for a coffee, or cigarettes and a lighter. On at least one occasion, I smoked a joint with him.
[Note: It is irresponsible to share psychoactive drugs with a person suffering from a mental illness…I understand that almost a decade later, so please refrain from any lectures…]
And whenever I imagine the intersection of Queen Street and Thomas Street, the image in my mind is never vacant—it’s occupied by Ralph, in his long coat, shuffling along the sidewalk, maybe even mumbling a little to himself.
In a way, I feel a little guilty about his whole situation because as a teenager he was a novelty. He was an aloof, token ‘homeless’ guy who popped up like Rob Schneider in Adam Sandler movies.
But he obviously suffered from some sort of mental illness. As stoic as he may have appeared, I would guess he was not living in that group home on Thomas Street because he was living his full potential. There are rumors he was a professor, an author, and a father. But the man most of us knew or saw was a humble flâneur, sometimes lively, sometimes detached.
Those rumors of Ralph’s past life could be true—but even if they are not, Ralph was, in a way, a professor, an author, and a father. Just not in the traditional sense.
It is a bittersweet gesture to have so many people pitch-in to try to get a commemorative bench for Ralph. If the community had shown the same coordinated support when he was alive, who knows what turn his life could have taken.
But it is too easy to look back at what we should have done. I think anyone who encountered Ralph was humbled by him. I am sure there would have been the typical ignorant douchebags who made fun of him or gave him a hard time, but I think most of us treated him with the dignity and respect due to any human being. We did what little we could to help his day be a little better. Without knowing it, that made us a little better too.
If his manuscripts are ever found, and they are not already published, and it seems unlikely he will land a bigger publisher…I will happily fund the print & distribution of his work. If they are anything like Ralph himself, they probably have a lot to teach us about being decent human beings.