Break-ups, breakdowns, breakouts. Upheaval , unrest and U-hauls. The end of a relationship brings what I like to refer to as the dreaded “uproot canal.” Or, once the new apartment search begins: Nightmare on Elm street, Jarvis, Homewood, Madison avenue and Beaconsfield street.
Looking for an apartment in Toronto has been generally disenchanting and an alarming showcase of ‘decor.’ I’ve seen Pepto Bismol pink tiles in the bathroom (with matching sink and toilet), carpeted bathrooms and one bedrooms so tiny that I wouldn’t be able to walk around the perimeter of my bed. The place with the red carpet throughout had one redeeming feature: fearless red wine drinking! However, to access the deck I had to turn sideways, wedge myself between the fridge and the wall, duck, an open a door suitable for leprechauns. Then, take one careful step over the soggy, caving shingles to the somewhat stable, but still rotting deck enhanced by five very dead potted geraniums.
I have been looking at Craigslist and viewit.ca until my pupils are square. Apartment photos that look promising are obviously taken with fun house mirrors to reflect the images. What appears to be an 11 foot ceiling, is actually 5 feet. All perceived dimensions must be divided by two, sometimes three. For example, in Little Portugal, I almost suffered a concussion viewing a “one bedroom” that was ample space for a Chihuahua. The kitchen was an isosceles triangle, which meant the drawers at the point of the triangle could only be opened an inch before jamming against the wall. The stairs down to the bedroom ‘area’ would be impassable by anyone over 175 pounds or by women who had given birth to more than two children. Clearly, to live here, your furniture would have to come in the form of bean bag chairs and a child’s tea party table and chairs set.
The agent showing this Little Portugal gem immediately realized that I was no longer a potential customer when the top of my head brushed the ceiling. She pointed to the area where a bed (single mattress only) could go. Here, the ceiling dropped another 10 inches and I had to stand with my head tilted severely to the side. I enquired about the mystery door to the left that was about four feet high.
“Extra storage space?”
“Oh, no, that is the main door to the laundry room!”
Main door? Main door for a midget maybe. I thanked her kindly for her time and pointed out that I was obviously too tall for the ride. She nodded in agreement. I would have nodded back, but I couldn’t move my head in the nodding direction as it was still tilted to accommodate my height.
The following day, a 14th floor junior one bedroom on Huntley street had less floor space than an Old Navy change room. The kitchen couldn’t be bent over in, and the fridge was actually in the livingroom which was actually the bedroom. The bathroom offered a robin’s egg blue toilet and sink, located in such proximity that you could barf in the sink while sitting on the toilet. And have your feet soaking in the tub. Great for flu season.
On Dundas east, I approached a house listed on Craigslist as “spacious, sunny, immaculate–$1, 100—what a steal!” Directly in front of the house a ‘salesman’ selling heroin asked if I might prefer morphine instead, he could get me that if I wanted. I nearly slipped on a used condom, had to dodge pizza vomit and watched a dodgy pony-tailed group in bandanas and mirrored sunglasses marvel at a found crack pipe. A wrinkled woman with blue hair inched by pushing a shopping cart with two panting dogs in it. All of them wearing the same coloured sweaters. The house itself had an industrial steel door on the front with graffiti tags and barred windows. I turned on my heels but was stopped in my tracks as David pulled in the driveway in his 2009 Jetta with a Vaseline smile. He knew I was the 2:00 appointment, and this is when I should have sprinted away. He was quick to lure me inside after much urging to ignore the outside of the building. I wondered for a fleeting moment if I was being lured to my death, but hoped for the best.
The interior did shock me in a pleasing way, but so did the smell of fish head stew coming from the apartment above (where David’s mother lived) in a not so pleasing way. I was shown the backyard which had knee-high weeds and patio stones that looked like they had been simply chucked off the back of a truck in a haphazard pattern. David said he had plans to do something with the yard. And he would replace the front door so it didn’t look like a chop shop entrance. I looked down at the parquet floor and saw the DNA and clipped toenails of every tenant for the last 50 years. The place smelled like feet masked by patchouli. David excitedly pointed out the features, and the built-in microwave above the stove. “You will have to use a stool to access it though. That’s what the last girl did.” He demonstrated how I could easily unfold the stool and then hoist myself up to reheat a meal. The stovetop indicated many reheated meals, and the remnants of several breakfasts of bacon.
On Homewood avenue, where the hooker population slightly decreased as I edged away from Jarvis, I was led down a gloomy hallway to an even darker chamber by a woman in a floral nightgown (who was immediately cranky because I was 15 minutes early and she wasn’t ready. However, it was 3:00 in the afternoon). Here, the apartment offered a lovely view of the dumpsters and recycling bins and was home to 56 pigeons who burbled and wobbled about in an inch of excrement on the window sill. I entered the kitchen and cracked the new ceramic tile that had been placed on top of the former broken one to cover up the hole. I opened the fridge and almost tipped it over. The inside was sticky with an exploded bottle of soda pop, creating a sugary glaze on all the shelves. “Will this unit be professionally cleaned before renting?”
“Oh yes, we always sweep before anyone moves in.”
The windows were smaller than a childhood dollhouse and the bathtub looked like it had been home to amphibious life—turtles or a person who was covered in algae. I turned on the tap and it came off in my hand. “Oh, don’t do that, please.” Nightgown lady scolded. I poked around the walk-in closet that was bigger than the actual apartment floor space.
“Are you done yet?” The oh-so friendly landlord barked. “Because I want to go out this afternoon.”
And so the search continues. My morning runs are dangerous as I am craning in all directions to catch a glimpse of a For Rent sign on a nice, leafy, sleepy street like Berkeley or Salisbury. I’m willing to throw down $1,000 a month. All I ask for is a balcony big enough for an Adirondack chair and a cup of tea, maybe a fireplace (it doesn’t even have to work) and hardwood flooring. I don’t care if it’s only 300 square feet, I’m a minimalist (except when it comes to my books, then I’m a maximalist), but, there are certain things I can’t compromise on. I don’t want a dumpster view, or to have to push my way past belligerent crackheads in the morning. And I need a ten foot ceiling for crying out loud, I can’t feel like Alice in Wonderland and suffer daily concussions getting out of bed in the morning.
What I do know for sure is that I’m free to a good home. Preferably in Cabbagetown or Riverdale. And willing to commute to any Caribbean island as well.