Near a Drug Front in Montreal, a Two-Bedroom in L.A. With Five People, and Other Places I’ve Lived
by Leo Margul
De Bullion and Prince Arthur, Montreal, QC — $500/mo. + utilities, 2005
In Montreal, many apartments are floors of a former single-family home, and have stairs on the outside as a result. Our landlord liked to perch on this staircase, literally right outside of my window, and argue with various contractors. Learning to subsist independently after my freshman year of college was tough, and my landlords, I guess, assumed that the best way to help with the transition was ambient conflict. Many mornings I awoke to the silhouette of two people arguing about some sort of repair work that I never witnessed.
Soon after moving in, some overeager construction worker tore a hole in our bathroom ceiling. We could see into the apartment above us. Our landlords covered this with some thin plywood and told us they would “get to it.” They didn’t get to it until we withheld part of our rent. Our windows had no locks on them, and a few months later our apartment was robbed. Between my laptop and the backup on my first generation iPod, I lost my music collection. Since this was 2005, it was mostly poor-quality Metallica songs mislabeled as Nirvana from Napster and Kazaa (Lite, I was careful). Another time, we moved our landlords’ “showcase” dish cabinet into the storage room after one of their contractors broke its glass door. We knew we would be blamed, and prepared for an eventual showdown.
Despite all these setbacks, we were determined to make it through the year. And we did! At our final meeting with the landlords, they demanded $1,500, mostly for this glass door. My normally very relaxed Trinidadian roommate led a charge, angrily listing everything they had done to us that year. After an awkward pause, we emptied our wallets to the tune of about $67, and walked out of there never to speak to them again.
Mont Royal and Esplanade, Montreal, QC — $550/mo. + utilities, 2006–2008
The same roommates and I moved further away from school, into a former restaurant facing a park. The apartment was ideal, especially after what we had just gone through. Less ideal, however, was the Quebecoise drug front two doors down from us. After moving in, I went to explore the local cafes and found “Patisserie,” promising all kinds of baked treats. I opened the door to find a completely vacant room, save for an empty vending machine and a black leather couch occupied by a portly fellow wearing a robe and watching TV. He stared me down, and I closed the door, muffin-less.
The place became even more suspicious when, during our housewarming party, a gentleman came to our door with a baseball bat. He pointed to “Patisserie” and told us “boss says you’re bringing too much heat to the block.” We let him look around which seemed to appease him. Months later, one of my roommates left our front door unlocked, and we were robbed again. Most of our valuables were safe, and one roommate had his backpack with his school work in it taken, presumably to carry all of our stuff. When the police came, they asked us if we knew there was a drug front next door. Angry after being robbed, we asked why they didn’t do anything about it if they already knew. They didn’t answer, but that summer another roommate saw police cars in front of the cafe, and afterwards it stood vacant. Google Streetview says it’s now a plant store, hopefully this time it’s the legal kind.
Palms and Overland — Los Angeles, Calif. — $700/mo. + utilities, 2009
Perhaps the least weird thing about this apartment was my room, which was covered in a purple Disney’s Alice in Wonderland mural. I decided to pursue comedy in L.A., so I drove across the country from Boston. I knew no one in the city, so I found a room on Craigslist. When I got there, I found five people living in a place with two bedrooms. The ad had surprisingly left this bit of information out.
Two people lived in a 5(!)-by-20-foot hallway, splitting their space with a curtain. They paid $500 a month for that privilege. The last person lived in a windowless room with his door in the bathroom wall. So he couldn’t leave if someone was in the bathroom. There was no kitchen — just a fridge — so we had to do dishes and prep food (for the hot plate) in the very same bathroom. This meant that if you wanted to shave, you had to do everyone’s dishes. We all grew beards. The shower was tiny, so you could only stand in it diagonally or you’d knock over precariously stacked bath products from five people. My friends would ask me if my L.A. life after two weeks was like Entourage, and I would look up at the purple Cheshire cat grinning at me. I was neither Vince nor Turtle.
One of the hallway dwellers was a Croatian ex-model/alcoholic. She would occasionally sleep with the occupant of the main bedroom, a 45-year-old aspiring wedding DJ, for free rent. One day, while she was using the bathroom with the door open, she asked me to drive her to a job interview. She complained about the route I was taking until we got to her prospective job, a strip club. Concerned, I stuck around while she requested wine during the interview.
There were also two cats constantly around. I had about half a shelf in a cupboard allotted to me for food storage, so I would keep cereal in my room. I was very jealous of the cats and their cat food shelf. My bathroom roommate, a French exchange student who spoke little English, and I were both allergic to cats. We were both new in town, unable to communicate and with little to do, so sometimes we would compete to see who could hold a cat the longest. Despite having to defend my cat holding title, I moved out within three months. As I was told by the caterer downstairs (our place was illegally zoned); this was the longest a tenant had made it in the apartment.
N. Hoover and Sunset Dr. — Los Angeles, Calif. — $606/mo. + utilities, 2010–2012
When I saw the amount of cupboard space in this place, I was literally on the verge of tears. The apartment featured three real, normal bedrooms occupied by a total of three people. Sure, stained carpet from the ’80s covered the place, and our landlord frequently showed up unannounced, but I was happy to live somewhere normal. For the first few weeks, I beamed at the cavernous space enjoyed by my cereal.
The variety and uniqueness of the noise my neighbors created never failed to surprise me. A professional opera singer moved in downstairs, and chose to practice at midnight. It was very confusing to be angry about such a beautiful soprano. Another neighbor hung a wind chime about one foot from my window, creating less than harmonious night melodies. I had no way of contacting her, so when I saw her walking her dog while I was driving, I pulled over to ask her to please take it down. I learned women do not enjoy being approached by strangers jogging from their cars, but the wind chimes came down.
Monon and Griffith Park — Los Angeles, CA — $660/mo. + utilities, 2013-Present
I moved into a lovely, spacious one bedroom with my girlfriend, and (hopefully) tastefully furnished it entirely off of Craigslist. The windows open sideways, so we can’t put in an air conditioner. During the summer nights, we have to stack books until they reach a window and plop a fan on top. Also, all the circuits are old so whether or not the oven or heat will turn on is a toss-up. But the walls are white, no one lives in our hallway, and we bought renters insurance. My girlfriend has yet to agree to a cat holding contest.
This story is part of our Real Estate Month series.
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