Brother Brown
By Kathleen Corrigan

2 am on a Thursday morning and I’m riding the Queen streetcar home. An elderly Pakistani man with big sunglasses, a pink carnation tucked into the band of his fedora and a pimped out cane with an eagle on the top gets on at Dufferin. He sits behind the driver and proceeds to talk his ear off.

“I’ve got the legs of Elvis and the soul of Brother Brown”, he tells the driver. “In fact, they called me James Brown. In the 70’s they called me Sammy Davis Jr. Because I was skinny back then.” The driver feigns interest but I don’t need to, I’m hooked. He continues to pour on the crazy. “I’m older than The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger is like a baby to me. You know how I stay young? Dancing. I was out dancing tonight and I brought my dancing shoes. Alligator skin. You better believe it, baby!”

He continues to regale the driver with stories of Toronto in “the fucking seventies” and I’m hanging off every unhinged word . “Those were the days man, I tell you what, baby. The boys nowadays they’re always coming to me for advice. They say ‘Brother James, I need your help.’ But they’ve got no fucking balls! And the fucking girls nowadays, the Gagas and the Shakiras. What’s that about?”
I often wonder the same thing.

After fifteen minutes of non-stop rambling, he gets quiet for a moment. When he finally speaks, his tone is sombre and wistful. “You asked me what my best years were.” “I didn’t,” says the driver. “But sure, go ahead.” James Brown pauses again, choosing his words carefully. I lean in. “My very best years were the meandering ones. When I was broke and ugly and just getting by. The high highs and the low lows. That’s when I lived, baby.”

Sometimes wisdom comes from the most unlikely sources. Like a seventy year old schizophrenic man who thinks he’s James Brown.


kathleen corrigan lives in toronto