Tuesday, 26 July 2011

In Defense of Spending Money On Rentals

The other day I had my good friend Emma over for tea. Good Emma has been one of my best friends since the ninth grade, when we found ourselves too self-conscious to take Gr. 9 music (and subsequently bear the social suicide of forced membership into Grade 9 band) and opted for Grade 10 drama instead. Because drama nerds are far cooler than band geeks.

Good Emma sat on the couch, holding her cup of steaming tea, and looked around the apartment.

"You've done well," she says, approvingly. "You've done a lot with this place."
"Thanks," I say. Then I pause. "Remember when I lived in the hole?" I ask, quietly.
"Yeah..." She says. And then she repeats, more slowly this time, "yeah..."

Contrary to accusations as of late, this is not a blog. Therefore, this is not a blog post. This is an essay in defense of spending money on your rented living space.

My move to Toronto came on a bit of a whim last summer. Okay, a total whim, reinforced by my parents announcing a move to rural Ottawa that fall. Perhaps filling a subconscious need to one-up them at every going away party thrown in their honour I announced my move to the bigger, scarier, trendier city of Toronto (filled with a handful of good friends to safegaurd at minimum a handful of happiness.) 

Short on funds and time I took an apartment sight unseen. Well, sort of.

a) I did a skype tour with a blonde woman wearing bright red lipstick. Polly, we'll call her, was an artist who lived in the home with her family and two tenants - the 'german and italian doctors.' (My adventures with Polly and this band of characters are an entirely different non-blog post.) 

b) My friend (and vintage fashion blogger) Caitlin sent her wonderful boyfriend Jon to scope it out.

"I just need to know if it's mouldy," I tell him via e-mail. "I loved it from the skype tour and the location can't be beat. But if there is any reason why I couldn't possibly live there, tell me. But I'm 90% taking it." (Read - given that I have no job or other such purpose tying me to this decision, successfully renting an apartment is the only thing that can legitimize this move.)

He wrote back to describe the apartment as a 'poorly furnished cellar.' He recommended I hold out for something better.

But no mould?

I'll take it.

(I was wrong about the mould.)

In the early days of the aptly described 'poorly furnished cellar' (it's amazing what lighting and camera angles can do, even on Skype) I sat with my two high school best friends and asked their advice. They nodded along encouragingly to everything suggested. One of them threw a blanket over the massive grey elephant sitting in the corner. George was his name, I think.

"It's got potential. I think you can work with it," says Good Emma.
"How about a westernized 1920s Turkish?" says Vintage Caitlin.
"Yeah...Think art deco," Good Emma agrees.
"And try to give your landlady back her art, will you?" ...This came from both.

My Attempt at '1920s Turkish'

The idea was to work with the low rusty drop ceilings (via drapey, luxurious fabric - read, 'Turkish')
and antique (read - old and decrepit) furniture, not against. I never did work up the nerve to give the landlady back her paintings of swirly vaginas.

I did what I could with textiles and knick-knacks. Some furniture re-arranging. But with the limitations set out by my landlords (who opposed nails in the wall for hanging pictures), not to mention the (literally) rotting bones of the room with which I had to work, my hands were pretty much tied.

Let's put the experience this way:

I had two identical bamboo plants. One in the hole and one on my desk in my cubicle. Neither got any natural light. The one in my cubicle thrived. The one in my apartment shriveled and died.

Or this way:
My parents dropped me back off in Toronto after my Thanksgiving weekend visit. It was the first my mother was to see of the place. She wept the whole five hour drive home.

Some highlights:

1) I woke up regularly with rashes.
2) Lacking the luxury of a bathroom sink (a surprise upon arrival) I spat out toothpaste and washed cutlery in the same place.
3) After noting a black, tar-like substance stuck at random to my naked body for the fourth time, I realized that the shower was covered in black mould. (Before your judge me as blind and clueless, consider that the shower tiles were black, too.)

I found myself complaining to anyone and everyone who would listen. I couldn't stop myself. And I didn't have reason to, considering each new day presented a new disaster.

"My bathmat gets more wet throughout the day instead of dry...I think there's a leak under the floor.."

"My landlord isn't replacing the rotting wood from that leak..."

"They're re-doing the floors upstairs and my apartment is filled with dust. And...[soft wail]...a rat got in..."

It seemed that if I got it out of my system in public, where I ultimately had to appear cheerful regardless of my vent (read - could not succumb to a nervous breakdown), I could crawl back into the hole feeling empowered to spend just one more night.

The squeaky wheel does get the grease, however (if not from your landlords.) Merely 3 weeks into my new job and a (fabulous) co-worker offered me up her (fabulous) condo (nay - loft) to live in while she was on vacation for a month. That's how bad it was. Practical strangers offering me up their homes.

In the end it was none of these things that broke me, actually. It was an entirely different unpleasant ordeal. On top of my toxic hole, literally on top, was a 9 year-old learning the recorder. A 9 year old I was occasionally asked to babysit, in fact.

........deep sigh.

Finally, in February, MB arrived (thank f*ing Jesus) and we moved into our new apartment. It was a fixer-upper, but it came with the blessing to do whatever we wanted with the space.

"It's a fixer-upper," I'd say to friends with a smile. The permanent, giddy smile that comes only after one has crawled out of a deadly cave and into the healthy sunshine. "We've got a lot to do!" I'd jump and kick and prance.

"What?" They'd ask, understandably confused. "Don't rented apartments come move-in ready?"

Not this one. (Consider Super My Ace.) But did I care? No. I had moved out of an artist's cellar and into a place to call my own. Moreover, it had windows and fresh air and it was clean and it was dry. And with the 1960's thick concrete walls, it was, above all, quiet. 

And so began the home reno, serving no other purpose than to make me feel comfortable and happy in an environment that is a personal expression of (MB and) myself.
We re-painted from top to bottom.

We ordered custom blinds for our oddly-sized windows.
We purchased a PAX wardrobe from IKEA that cannot leave the room without being disassembled and thus has become a permanent fixture. Or so says MB.

We overhauled the heinous kitchen.
All of this time, money and energy spent, and we won't see a penny of it back. Unless of course, the new tenants buy the blinds (otherwise those babies are coming with us.)

This past weekend we spent another small fortune on a few small projects. When the cashier rang up the total on paint and supplies I was stricken by that nervous, nauseous feeling that only comes when your gut is telling you you are buying something superfluous you can't afford. (A feeling the US is all too familiar with.)

And then I remembered the hole. The hole. The hole. The dark, mouldy, hole, filled with the sounds of a screaming, musically-challenged child.

And I'm quite happy to cut my losses in 3-5 years. 

(When MB drags me out of here kicking and screaming.)


Caitlin Rose said...

Hilarious! I laughed out load so many times and read jon like 5 passages from it. this is a short story. is it in your book or what?

Bri said...

Well I'm very happy about that friend, thanks. It is not in the book....not even close. In fact, it is becoming more and more apparent that the book is crap.

What can you do.