4 min

Up from the ashes

Home is where the luxury is

So it turns out that when you live in the same place for 12 years, you completely forget what it is like to look for an apartment. My old dog is 11 in people years. The little guy is almost five, so last time I moved I was petless and 23 years old.

Back then I could rely on my youthful appearance and still pass as a non-smoker. I was also working as an electrician, and had the pay stubs to prove my gainful employment. Basically, I at least appeared to be a lot more respectable a tenant than I do now, what with the Player’s Light Regular lines bracketing my mouth, the two dogs, and the dubiously self-employed storyteller status and all.

Not to mention the last place I lived burned right to the ground. It was all over the evening news, making a reference from my last address rather cumbersome. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t the top pick of the possible tenant pile as far as your average landlord sees things.

Circumstance and a sublet landed me in a shared house with friends right after the fire, but the owner put the place up for sale two days after I moved in. As soon as I got back from Europe the house hunt was on. I put out the word, pounded the pavement, read the papers, surfed the cyber-ads and made the phone calls. It quickly became apparent that not only was I going to pay a lot more rent than I was accustomed to, I was also going to be sliding several steps down the food chain in terms of the swankiness of my abode.

Sure, my last place was a firetrap with a bad landlord, but at least it had funk appeal. It had a yard, and a garage, and it was above ground. It had windows. I built a home there; a place nice enough that my mom would visit; a pad swank enough I could have a fine lady over for dinner and proudly tell her: “this is where I live”.

It turns out that in today’s housing lingo “dog OK” is actually a synonym for subterranean. “Bright semi-basement suite” means there is a ground-level window with a security-barred view of the security-barred window belonging to the poor bastard living in the laundry room in the house next door.

I was shocked at what some people will try and pass off as a rental unit. I was appalled that otherwise normal-seeming folks were walking around with consciences that would allow them to live directly above another human being, all the while knowing the man paying their mortgage below them cannot stand fully upright in his own kitchen.

I felt like Martha Stewart must have when they first showed her around the old cellblock. It was that bad. One place had a toilet in one corner of the bedroom with a shower curtain strung-up around it. One place I couldn’t even get more than two feet inside the front door before the flies and the smell of garbage spun me around into the concrete backyard for some air. “You have to look for the potential underneath and what a little paint can do,” the rental agent informed me. “Plus there is half-off the damage deposit if you clean it yourself.”

I opened mould-lined closets and flushed wheezing toilets. I asked one fellow-who had inherited the house from his father, but lived somewhere else now-exactly what he thought my dogs might do to the mismatched hunks of faded linoleum he’d glued to the concrete floor of his basement that would warrant the extra pet deposit he was asking for.

I almost blurted out to another father of three: “Aren’t you worried about the kind of guy who would rent a scungee dive like this sharing a backyard and laundry room with your wife and children?”

I imagined my date having to take off her heels at the hobbit door, so she didn’t have to duck where they dry walled around the hot air duct in the middle of my combination living/bed/dining room.

I thought about the deep, dark dank of February, when the spiders need a handy place to get out of the rain. I thought of how the one decent-sized window in the front would fog-up from the lady upstairs doing the day’s laundry. I thought of how the water in my tiny metal shower stall would scald me every time one of the kids flushed the toilet before pogo-sticking down the stairs inches above my head and slamming the screen door.

I couldn’t deal. I had to start all over at 36. All my worldly goods had burned just as I was getting old enough to own more than two towels the same colour, copper pots, place mats, more than one set of sheets, pictures in frames and a mattress that wasn’t pre-owned. I wasn’t about to trade that kind of luxury living for a hotplate and a flickering fluorescent view of someone else’s furnace and hot water heater; not at my age.

I decided I’d had enough of this over-priced city-living, and I moved to Squamish. For the price of a brown-shag basement suite with a drop ceiling in Vancouver, I scored myself a three bedroom, top floor apartment with brand new hardwood floors and his and hers bathrooms. Both of my toilets flush without complaint. All five of my picture windows and my balcony gaze up at the granite profile of the mountain they named this place after. Around about eight at night, when the neighbours call the kids in from the courtyard, it gets so quiet here my ears ring for a minute when the hum of the fridge stops and the silence really sets in. In the day I can hear the kids screeching in the outdoor swimming pool, located mere steps from my front door, right next to the building that boasts a weight room, covered bike racks and a place to wash your truck.

Yesterday when I took the dogs down to the little river that runs behind my building, I crossed a bridge and walked through a playground. I went past a grove of giant cedars, and came upon the cherry on top of the sweetness that is my new digs: a fully fenced, rubber surfaced ball hockey rink, complete with painted blue lines and two nets pushed aside to make room for homemade skateboard ramps.

I can’t wait to unpack and settle in. All I need now are some coat hangers, and a dish rack…and a mop. ‘Spose I’ll need a bucket to go with it, too, and maybe some dishes. Eventually I’ll need more than just the one spoon, you know, for when I get visitors, old friends, up from the big city. What with the stress, and the traffic, and the cost of living, they’ll be needing a place to get away from it all.