Not one of my friends even feigned surprise when I announced I was moving back to Vancouver. It turns out they had a pool going. The piano player reckoned I would last until February, whereas the hockey player had her money on November. Some figured I would want to come back by Christmas, but pride and belligerence would force me to hold out until spring.
When I found out my friends were placing bets on my return, I was tempted to stick it out just to save a little face. But I soon came to my senses. Having to be right was a terrible reason to not correct the wrong that was me living in Squamish. Maybe I have matured.
What was the final straw? Was it when the leaves all fell, revealing a summer’s worth of McDonald’s detritus strewn in a soggy donut around the park where I walked the dogs? Was it when the cute rock-climber girls all went back to school and the rednecks didn’t? Was it the gang of teenage boys that followed me home from the store that night, swilling something stolen from the parents’ liquor cabinet out of a two litre Coke bottle, too close and too loud to be just being friendly?
It was two Friday nights ago, when the guy who lives right below me, who I affectionately call Missing Link, stopped me in the hall on my way up from the laundry room. He had a three quarters empty case of beer under one arm and was only looking out of one eye at a time, rattling his keys around in one hand in the hopes of finding one that would work in his front door.
“Dude, I gotta tell you man, I thought you were a fucking faggot until I met your girlfriend. She’s hot.”
“Thank you.” I said, mostly because I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to a comment like that, and I was pretty sure he thought he was complimenting me. Anything else would have been well, un-neighbourly, not to mention dangerous. I no longer risk angering men whose biceps are bigger around than my thighs.
I locked my door behind me, and leaned up against it. There was no more pretending. I wanted to go home. I missed East Vancouver. Not only was I growing tired of looking over my shoulder, my wardrobe habits were already starting to slide. It was starting to be okay to go to the video store with my boots untied. I knew what would happen next, the evidence was all around me.
I had to get out of Squamish before track pants became acceptable evening wear, or I got gay-bashed. I knew it was just a matter of time.
My sweetheart and I began the process of searching for dog-friendly housing in Vancouver again. She had just been given the word that her landlord planned to renovate the entire house in April and they were all going to have to move.
It seemed impossible, but the rents had gone up even in the five months I had been living in Squamish. It appears the yuppies have been buying-up character houses in my beloved neighbourhood faster than you can say half a million dollars. They’re renovating the basements, renaming them “garden suites”, and getting tenants to pay the better parts of their mortgage payments for them.
Some call this a good investment. I call it a crime. Wait until the yuppies find out that the artists and working people are being priced out of East Vancouver, and that all that character they moved to our neighbourhood for has had to relocate, in search of affordable housing. One day they will wake up and head to the coffee shop, only to find investment bankers and corporate lawyers to talk to. We gave them Kitsilano after the ’70s were over, and just look what they did with it. Who will they rent their garden suites out to when that happens? All that beige paint and laminate flooring will have been for nothing.
Right after my house burned down, the last thing I wanted was another absentee landlord who didn’t care about his house. Now all I want is an absentee landlord who doesn’t care about his house; a home where I’m allowed to have dogs, cook meat, paint colours on the walls, and be a writer.
It wasn’t on craigslist, and it wasn’t in the papers. We found it the old fashioned way; walking up and down the streets we liked and looking for For Rent signs. It didn’t look like much from the outside, and the inside wasn’t much better, at least at first glance. We had to squint and imagine what a little paint could do and how there were probably wood floors underneath the tattered carpet.
It has two bedrooms, the whole attic, and a sunroom off the back where I can write. I liked the landlord right off the bat how he shrugged about the dogs and told my girlfriend how good looking she is, like a movie star. How he winked at me, and how one of the lenses of his glasses has fallen out and been glued back into place with what looks like tub and tile caulking.
He showed us pictures of his kids, and bragged about how they all went to university, and gave us a card to get 25 percent off dental work at his son’s practice in the West End. We filled out a lease that read “NO DRUNKARDS PLEASE” across the top, and then he insisted we, drink some of his neighbour’s U-brew wine with him. He wouldn’t stop talking, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
“You girls can fix it up nice, just like the two ladies on the main floor did. You will like them, same lifestyle as you.” He winked again. “I don’t bother you, you don’t bother me, I don’t raise the rent, and we are all lucky.”