Thursday, 4 April 2013

Watered Down...

Hello Friends.

Last weekend was particularly lovely, as far as long weekends go. I enjoyed an unprecedented three days off in a row thanks to kindly coworkers taking shifts they wouldn't normally work, just so I could visit with my Mom, who came to visit me from home. Mom and I had a great time catching up and seeing the city, and Doc and I enjoyed a Sunday and Monday together after seeing her off. We both had to work Tuesday morning and so tucked ourselves in fairly early on Monday night.

The nights before days I have to get up early leave me fraught with anxiety so I was still awake worrying about everyone I had ever met in my life when Jon woke up about 1.30 to get a drink of water. The tap in our kitchen had been dripping sporadically all weekend, but the apartment offices were closed due to the holiday and so we hadn't been able to put in a maintenance request. So when I heard Jon cussin' and fussin', I figured the dripping was worse and got out of bed to join him in the kitchen. The dripping was worse. What was once intermittent droplets was now almost a continuous dribble. Turning the tap this way and that didn't help much and Jon threw up his hands and let me in to give the tap a final firm twist. I figured a fast, clean jerk would somehow stun the tap into submission. Like it would think, "Oh shit, what was that? These guys are serious. I had better cut it out." So I gave the tap a mighty turn and the knob came off in my hand.

I was stunned into momentary silence that quickly turned to girlish shrieks as water started coming out of the vacant spot where the knob used to be at full blast. A water pressure heretofore only used in firehoses came out of our sink fixture and water started pooling everywhere. It was 1:30 in the morning, I was frantically trying to stem the blast with my fingers while Jon was grabbing his wet phone and the building's emergency contact list off of the fridge as we both stood, desperate, in an inch of water with a continually rising tide. Jon had to scream into the phone, both to be heard over the blast, but also as an appropriate conveyance of his frustration. Somehow, in the wee hours of the morning after a statutory holiday, we had a maintenance man removing the appropriate fixtures with the appropriate tools and turning off the water from beneath our kitchen sink in less than four minutes.

Dream: Live in an apartment forever.

Goal: Achievable. It is white middle-class privilege that saw me picturing myself in a house of my own one day. But, like having children or developing a taste for wine, the idea that I could just opt out of that supposed rite of passage looks more attractive every day.

Plan: List all the pros I can think of in apartment living versus all the cons of house ownership, so the next time I sit on a friend's back deck or have drunken sex on a basement pool table, I won't look around and think, "I might really like to live in a house like this someday."

Apartments are cheap and houses are expensive. I realize rents are ridiculously high and one doesn't build up any equity the way one does with home ownership, but buying a house and getting a mortgage seems to basically imprison people, from a financial standpoint. I know a couple who each have full time jobs, and trade off the night shift of a third job, all to pay for their home. Every second week, either he or she works all night stocking shelves, then goes to their day job, sleeps for a few hours, then heads back out. I'm sure from a fiscal perspective, this is responsible. I'm sure they will get their home paid off faster, but what's the point of owning a home you're not around to enjoy? How could the stress of that lifestyle possibly be worth it?

Apartments are small, houses are big. Unless you have children or a collection of antique bean bag chairs from the Civil War, space is not the virtue it's cracked up to be. Every Sunday, Jon and I split a chore list down the middle and clean the apartment. If we're both on our game, it takes about half an hour, after which we reward ourselves by making it messy again. I'd much rather clean our cozy space from top to bottom on a lazy Sunday than spend hours Swiffering the rumpus room only to have Brayedon and Tracedence spill their organic juice boxes the second I'm done. I'm not saying that we wouldn't love a second bedroom. Too bad they don't make apartments with two bedrooms OH WAIT! We could totally get one of those!

My Mom stayed in a hotel nearby during her visit, as my parents have always done when visiting, which makes me feel guilty, but only for a moment. But my folks certainly don't visit often and I'm sure a lot of the appeal for them is staying in a hotel and not with us. We bought Mom some wine in anticipation of her arrival and, after picking her up from the airport, dropped her off at her hotel, with her luggage, magazines from the airport, and bottle of white in tow. While she checked in, Jon and I went home to get changed and pick her back up again for dinner. I called to tell her we'd be leaving soon and heard the Food Network on in the background. "Well don't hurry," she said. Similarly, and maybe this is complete immaturity, but when Jon is away, I love having a friend come sleep over, and share my bed. Sure, if I had a big house, I could put them in the guest bedroom in the east wing, but how else could we literally talk until we fall asleep? I remember once, years ago, hosting my friend Shelene when she was in town for a workshop. Shelene gets me particularly giggly, but one night we both had early wake-up times the next day and were determined just to fall asleep with no chatter. In the darkness I could hear this weird sound like maybe she was grinding her teeth but she couldn't have been so deeply asleep so fast. I whispered, "Shelene, what are you doing?" and she whispered back, "I'm eating some granola bars." I don't know what was funnier: the fact that she was lulling herself to sleep eating in total darkness, or that she was eating "some" granola bars, like she'd brought a selection into bed with her. We both laughed so hard, I'm confident we slept better.

Apartment buildings are full of people, houses might just house you. I know, on the face of it, this looks like a point to houses, and I'm sure that it probably is. I've had several neighbour issues over the years, from the girl next door who plays her music well into the night, to the arguing couple downstairs who ought to just get a divorce already, but there's an upswing to this I'm sure most people don't realize until they are sleeping solo in big houses for the first time: in an apartment building, you're never really alone. Right now, as I'm writing this by myself in the apartment, I'm also no more than ten feet from another human. I can smell whatever the Lebanese couple is cooking for dinner across the hall (I think it's tires?) and the Chinese girl next door is playing "I knew you were trouble when you walked in (trouble, trouble, trouble)" on repeat. These are annoyances, sure, but also oddly comforting. I don't know any of my neighbours very well in this building, but I have to believe our casual nodding in the elevator means that we're not strangers and that if anything happened to one of us, the others would be right there to help.

I once lived in a walk up full of grumpy adults. This wasn't the nicest building and was really only built for single people, and nobody had a thing to say to each other. One of the units belonged to an old couple who occasionally got visits from their two young granddaughters. There was no space for them to play inside and so they ran around outside, yelling and screaming, and more than one tenant would roll her eyes at me if we met in the lobby, picking up our mail. "They're back!" we would say, conspiratorially, mad that our peaceful grumpiness was being interrupted. But one day as I could hear the girls playing from outside my window, the screaming suddenly stopped. I heard a kind of thud, and then a low, guttural cry from one of the girls. I ran downstairs and out the door to find her. Turns out she had tripped and just gotten the wind knocked right out of her. Grandpa was soothing her through her tears and she was none the worse for wear. What almost made me teary though, was seeing nearly all of us grumpy tenants crowded on the front stoop, or leaning out of our windows, checking on the welfare of this little girl. Don't tell me there's no community as a result of proximity. We weren't friends, but we certainly came together that day, and you might not get that kind of instant support in your own backyard.

Apartments you rent don't belong to you. Your house stands alone in your name. Sure it's a pain in the ass not being able to paint my walls or install a skylight, but I'm surely glad the rising water levels in my apartment weren't my responsibility. After the emergency maintenance man shut the water off, he mopped up our kitchen and living room, and brought in the industrial wet/dry vacuum to keep the water from leaking downstairs or from warping our floor. All we had to replace really was a toaster on the counter and most of our towels. He replaced our tap that night. Before he left, we madly scrounged for change and gave him the pathetic five dollars we could muster. If the exact same scenario played out in a home that we owned, if we had to contact one of those 24 plumbing agencies to send a guy over in the middle of the night, driving in from God-knows-where, how much more would we have lost due to damage, and how much money would it have cost? A few hundred dollars? A few thousand dollars? I shudder to think.

I was about ten years old when we moved to a house where my brother and I had our own bedrooms. I was fiercely protective of my private space and dreamed that becoming a grown-up meant that you could have everything in your own space all the time: your meals, your own television, all your friends. Now, I ostensibly have exactly that. My home is not a financial burden or even a solid anchor. If, for instance, we decide we really must have that second bedroom, or more closet space, or a balcony, we can simply up and move to a bigger castle in the sky. I wake up every morning in a place that is just exactly how I want it, noisy neighbours, random fire alarms, and exploding faucets notwithstanding, and there's no monthly rent that can approximate just how rich that makes me feel.

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