Places I’ve Lived: Upstairs, Downstairs, Wood Stairs, No Stairs
by Alex Leitch
We have all lived places. Where have you lived, Alex Leitch?
Moulton Hall, McMaster University, Hamilton ON, $1300/mo including tuition and food.
Housing 600 19 to 21 year old women, Moulton smelled like a lipgloss factory explosion. My roommate and I were lucky: The room was big enough to house four students, which it would do just a year later, and had two windows, one of which looked over a forest path. I set up a motion-activated webcam to watch the path, which resulted in hundreds of hours of underlit footage of undergrads making out, and about fifteen minutes of them losing their minds at a lost deer. There was a residence requirement of a meal plan twice the price of real food, with no actual food available which had not first been deep-fried. The possibility of living here more than a year never crossed my mind.
Sussex St, Hamilton ON, $425/mo inclusive.
A second floor, two-bedroom flat with not a single right angle anywhere in its construction. The light in the apartment was beautiful, so I signed on without checking the basement. The laundry was down there, through a nasty cellar door with a habit of concussing people and past a load of spiders. My roommate loved house music and romantic twists of fate. I loved not being surprised by large, strange men at odd hours. This personal preference turned out to be a dealbreaker when, after dark one night, I answered a pounding at the front door to a mountain of a private investigator. He brought with him a lady wailing in German who turned out to be my roommate’s long-lost mother. As he shoved past me and my grimy baseball bat, declaring the absolute legality of his entrance to our home, I decided to find somewhere else to live. The laundry situation provided a useful excuse.
Cline Ave N., Hamilton ON, $400, inclusive.
From upstairs to downstairs: Cline St. was a basement set into a hill in an eight-person share with huge windows and no real insulation. My girlfriend and I moved here in terror of coming out to our indifferent roommates. Our rooms were enormous, and the initial promise of a semi-private laundry room bath-and-shower was great for an art student budget. Then the toilet exploded, changing the room to a reluctant-at-best laundry. Advantage to single shower between seven women: experiment with every shampoo and bath product on the market! Disadvantage: Dealing with our upstairs housemates, ever, for any reason, much less the division of washroom cleaning duties. Upstairís rolling battle over utility bills came to a head when one of them, for reasons known only to her strange and private gods, shut off the furnace.
The water pipes miraculously survived, but our housemate relationship did not. We moved the moment the ground melted.
Despite the melodrama, this was my favourite apartment and best year of college. I recall it warmly when I forget to close a window in winter.
Lower Horning Ave, Hamilton ON, $325/mo inclusive of cable internet and laundry.
A three-bedroom, one-shower, 450-square-foot apartment in the basement of our landlord’s house, located next to a Mennonite church which our landlords faithfully attended. We referred to Lower Horning as The Blue Cube for our series of art-school ragers, as the landlord decided an institutional blue colour provided most bang for his renovation buck. His renovation buck sadly did not extend to proper soundproofing for his ventilation ducts.
The air vent thing shouldn’t have been a problem, but the poor man had for-sure never had a case of the Art Students before. The Blue Cube quickly came to house five: me, my new girlfriend, my old girlfriend, her new boyfriend, and her best friend. Normal people would have moved. Art students are broke. There was a rental boom in the surrounding area that doubled local prices, so for $325 a month, we stayed put. I, as Bad Roommate, routinely used my basement window as a door to avoid my housemates and discussions of chores.
This rental lasted two years and quite audibly took the landlord’s marriage with it.
Universitè de Montrèal, Montrèal, QC, scholarship.
A single room with sink all to myself, on the eighth floor of dorms, in Montrèal in summertime, with no roommates whatsoever. Heaven! The room itself was tiny and probably had roaches. It was hard to tell, since I was never in it: I was out learning dirty bar french and dirtier ASL while walking all over the city. I made friends quickly because itís easy to be friends with people when you know you’re leaving. Thunderstorms saw ten of us piled into a single room, watching John Waters, reading Dorothy Allison, eating cherries and cheese curd, finding out how to be young and gay and strong in French. I was in love with Montrèal like it was a person, so thoroughly in love with the city that it was impossible to go, but my family needed me, and so I went.
Woodbine Heights Blvd, Toronto, ON, $400/mo inclusive.
After school there was nowhere to go and not much to do, so I moved home to I wait for life to come find me. I paid the mortgage in the meantime, sometimes food, sometimes emergencies. My parents are artists. The relationship has never been clear, who is raising whom, who is protecting whom, or from what.
Gerrard St, Toronto, ON, $750/mo inclusive
A former parlour in a former wealthy district, this gigantic split-level single room had its own functional fireplace and an upstairs mezzanine. The kitchen was tiny, the ickle bathroom perfect after a minor renovation. I loved the space. The space was perfect. The rent was perfect. The fireplace was perfect. It was all perfect, except, of course, for the location. Someone was stabbed or shot enough for a public bleed-out on the corner every two weeks. There was a constant presence of anti-abortion protesters across the street yelling at the clinic next door. The junkies, everywhere, always. My personal last straw was a man standing outside my enormous, lightly-barred, heavily-draped windows at 2 a.m., setting string raccoon snares and talking to the critters he was catching. The shrieking was unbelievable, the neighbours unfortunate, so when the recession hit and my parents needed help, I gave up my freedom and moved home again.
Woodbine Heights Blvd, Toronto, $600/mo inclusive.
Two bedrooms, a beautiful garden and private studio in the basement, no mumblers, little violence, about a 40-minute walk or an unreliable bus ride from the nearest anything at all other than the industrial park. This was an acceptable compromise in the face of a brutal recession, but I spent most of the eight months sleeping on various couches in the core of the city — and sometimes in other countries — rather than in the suburbs. When the mortgage was paid down enough to leave, my cat had gone a little feral. She appears to enjoy upsetting my mother with gifts of most-of-a-goldfinch.
The garden is still beautiful.
Euclid Ave, Toronto, $1053/mo inclusive.
The second and third floor of a house, one faux-clawfoot bathtub, in-apartment laundry, dishwasher. My roommate and I moved here after I more or less lived on his bachelor-pad couch for six months. The two levels are separated by stairs, and my bed is in the peak of the roof. There is a skylight which I can clamber out to watch the sky, the CN Tower, and the other hipsters writing music on their roofs. There are many trees. The landlord pays for burnt-out lightbulbs. Although I am still The Worst at being a roommate, this is working out, right up until the next one, and the one after that.