"Hi, is this Nick?"
"Hi Nick, I'm Mark. I saw your Craiglist notice about the room for rent, and I was wondering if I could possibly arrange a time to come over and take a look at the place."
"Oh, sure thing, man. Just one question, though. How tall are you?"
"Uh....around 5'10 or so."
"Oh. That's going to be a problem, then. You see, my basement apartment is a really small basement. I'm looking for someone maybe 5'5 tops, or else you're going to have to crouch down whenever you're walking around the place."
"Yeah, sorry about that bro."
"All right then, nice talking to you. Bye."
Somewhere, Wilt Chamberlain nods and whispers, "Welcome to my hell."
It's never good when the person you're supposed to meet isn't there for your appointment, but it's even more aggravating when the place looks good on the surface. Case in point: I was supposed to meet a guy about an apartment sublet in what turned out to be a very nice building up in the Davisville area. I get there and note the big parking lot, the attractive lobby, the lack of exposed asbestos in the ceiling, and I'm thinking this place looks pretty promising. The trouble was, my appointment didn't answer his phone. I figured out his buzzer number and tried it, but no answer there either. I decided to wait around for a few minutes, a grace period awarded solely because the building looked so great, and sure enough, he eventually called back. He asked me if I'd mind waiting for 15-20 minutes since he was just finishing up a jog.
Now, okay, I'm not a runner by any stretch of the imagination so I'm no expert on planning routes. But still, this isn't like getting caught in traffic or something that's out of your control. If you're out on a run and you realize you might not get back to your place in time....you can just TURN AROUND. And if you say, 'Oh, well, I need to keep going to get my heart rate up and get a proper jog in since I'm a real keener,' then maybe you should've taken that into consideration before you went on the damn run in the first place.
But again, the lure of the nice building. So I reschedule my next appointment and wait around in the aforementioned nice lobby (take that buzzer code, I'm stealthy) until Joggy McRuns finally shows up, sweaty as an ox. We then go upstairs to take a look at his place, which, oh by the way, ended up costing $100 more per month than he noted in the ad, and oh by the way, ended up being totally unfurnished. Had I been a more theatrical sort, I would've said "You should've kept running, pal" and then immediately turned and left. C'est la vie.
Put it this way --- would YOU want to live in an apartment (not just in the building, but the apartment itself) with a vaguely white-trashish couple, their two (TWO!) infant children and the guy's brother, who looked vaguely like the taller McPoyle twin on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia?
You know you've been renting for too long when it suddenly dawns on you as you drive up to the building that you've seen the place before. Yep, I had been shown this very house before back during Housing Search '08. Now, I just made up an excuse on the phone and canceled my appointment without actually going in, which might've been a time-saver in spite of being a dick move and (potentially) a mistake. After all, what if they'd remodeled the place in the last two years? What if the basement that was far too small and cramped had been extended thanks to the removal of a non-load-bearing wall? What if the kitchen had actually been given its once-per-decade cleaning? (It certainly hadn't during my first look.) What if they'd had a garage put in the back, rather than their old backyard of weeds and oblong pieces of metal? Maybe I gave up on the ugly duckling without seeing that it had really turned into a beautiful swan. I mean, the front of the house certainly still looked ugly, but everyone swan enthusiast knows that its back plumage is the finest example of.....yeah, I'm rambling, this place was a dump.
You know you've been renting for too long when it suddenly dawns on you as you drive up to the building that you've seen the place before --- AND THIS HAPPENS TWICE. So the day after my first double-feature, as it were, I find myself at yet another place I'd previously seen, this one from last spring. This time, I actually went in since there some extenuating circumstances. During my initial visit, of the three rooms in this townhouse, two were quite nice and one was crappy (guess which one I was shown). So I figured, maybe this time I'm getting to look at one of the two good ones. The odds were probably in my favour, right? Right? Sigh.
Even better was the pitch from the girl showing me around (a different one than the previous year, for the record). This was an F-minus performance all around. First, she spends five minutes complaining about the crappy plumbing, which segues into a 10-minute rant about the landlord. She then notes that she is subletting her room because she "wants to get away from" one of the other roommates "who keeps stealing my stuff." Yes, that's right, stealing stuff. Now, this girl seemed like a bit of a drama queen, so there was no doubt a bit of exaggeration involved. But when you're trying to sell your room, you probably shouldn't mention your roommate's kleptomaniac tendencies.
Some places, though, sell themselves. I found myself getting so fired up on my drive to one appointment in the Beaches that the landlord could've told me I was living with not just a klepto, but Lex bleedin' Luthor and I still would've happily signed up. If you're never headed down Queen East to the lovely Beaches area, do yourself a treat and hop on the streetcar sometime. I took the route down Lakeshore past those awesome multi-coloured beach condos as the road turned up into Woodbine, and then hung a right onto Queen and watched in amazement as Toronto suddenly morphed into Bayfield or Kincardine. It would've like living in one of those charming beach towns of my youth except connected to a major city. The place itself was awesome....nice two-story home right on the streetcar line yet within walking distance to the beach and the lake.
Like I said, the place pretty much sold itself, which unfortunately my appointment decided to take to heart. That's right, the douchebag never showed up. A couple of phone calls and messages placed at the scene and over the next two days were to no avail, and sadly my dream apartment was not to be. Since I was on a Beaches bender, I drove around the neighbourhood looking for any other 'for rent' signs, and actually called one listing under a View-It label. Sure, the place ended up going for $2500 a month in rent, so I desperately racked my brain trying to think of anyone else who I knew might be looking for a place to live in Toronto and couldn't mind rooming with me.
There were not one, not two but three instances during this year's housing search when I found myself being shown a not-quite-suitable place by a very attractive woman. Pop quiz for all you would-be Barney Stinsons out there: how do you properly handle a "So yeah, I'm afraid I'm not going to able to rent your place but since I have your number anyway, want to go out sometime?" scenario?
Now, the real Barney would probably just advise to move in anyway and spend the summer working your mojo, but two of the places were out of my price range and the third place was....well, kind of a dive. It was a shame. She had kind of like a young Kyra Sedgwick thing going, except not modern-day Clayface Kyra Sedgwick, the Kyra from 15 years ago or thereabouts when she was actually attractive. Good-looking girl, seemed quite pleasant, but when your house is a dank, musty two-story affair with one room devoted entirely to plants*, it's a tough sell no matter how cute you may be.
All three of these circumstances were unfortunate since of all the different people I've lived with in Toronto, I've yet to experience living with a hot, single woman. I've lived with plenty of women before, but they've either been in relationships or been 75 years old. Is it too much to ask that one of these years, I get to be Jack Tripper? I don't mind pretending to be gay for a few months if that's what it takes...and if this leads to a Don Knotts-esque landlord, all the better. Also, man, I need to get new references. Of all the umpteen sitcoms about men and women living together, I'm still citing Three's Company 30 years after its prime?
* = What was once the dining room had been overrun by an endless amount of plantlife. Now, I'm not trying to be cute here and imply that they were growing weed, it was actually just plants. So clearly, this wasn't Clayface Kyra Sedgwick, this was Poison Ivy Kyra Sedgwick. Had I moved in, I would've been constantly worried that Rick Moranis was going to try and feed me to the room.
Of course, what if I had hit it off with one of these hypothetical hot female roommates, only to have things go sour? I saw a preview of that situation at another place. It was a young couple, Jen and Mike (I don't remember their real names, these are the generic substitutes) probably a couple of years younger than me, and things were going quite pleasantly until I casually asked why the room was becoming available.
Mike: "Oh, well, Jen is moving out since we've broken up."
Jen: "[look of sheer bitterness on her face]"
So basically, things only could've gotten more awkward if I'd asked if they were cool with my sacrificing a live goat every week. Jen left the room not long after that, and Mike gave a bit more background. Apparently they met when they moved in together, fallen for each other, and now things had cooled off to (judging from Jen's look) sub-zero temperatures. The place was already not hitting enough points on my checklist to be worthy of consideration so I decided to leave before I unraveled more details from this soap opera. Also, had Mike ended up being a serial roommate-dater, things might've gotten even more awkward had he put the moves on me if I'd moved in. I'm only willing to go so far for a rent reduction.
Part of me was curious to find out how and why the burned-out, abandoned variety store underneath the room I was viewing had fallen victim to fire. The (much larger) part of me didn't even want to guess. I spend the interview politely nodding while wearing the 'no way in hell' face that I usually only see when I'm trying to chat up a woman at a party.
On the bright side, if the store had already been burned out once, there's NO WAY it could POSSIBLY happen again, right? I like those odds! Pyromaniacs and insurance claim-seeking arsonists operate under the same logic as lightning bolts, right?
Before we get to the final entry, let's go with what I thought was the final entry. As per the tradition, the Housing Search began in late January with the obligatory 'Hey guys, I'm moving to TO and was wondering if you knew of any available places...' e-mail and FB message to my various Toronto friends. Now, as luck would have it, one friend got back to me almost immediately to say that he was moving out of his current house and needed a subletter for almost the exact period of time that I was going to be in town. What a stroke of luck! I happened to have business in Toronto a few days later, so I swung by the place and had a look-see. My friend wasn't there, but one of his roommates was, and this quite fetching woman (one of three actors who lived in the place, so it had the nice bonus of a showbizzy vibe) showed me around this quite fetching apartment. The place was pretty much perfect aside from the lack of a parking spot, but hey, I'd gone four years without needing a street parking permit, might as well suck it up and finally get one, eh?
So all seemed well, and after I got back to London and weighed my options (I had seen a few other places that night), we agreed on an early March move-in date. As I was patting myself on the back for seemingly wrapping up Housing Search 2010 by early February, I should've checked around my spinal region for the knife that had quietly been stuck into it.
Strike #1: The Facebook message a couple of weeks later asking if I could possibly move in by mid-March instead. Ya see, a friend of hers was coming to town and needed a place to crash, blah blah blah, sure, fine, that's not a big issue for me.
Strike #2: The other Facebook message a week later now saying that the out-of-towner was going to be staying until April 1, so would it be okay if....? So a bit more of an imposition, especially since my work responsibilities were due to begin in the middle of the month. But I figured I could always stay at a short-term place in Toronto for a couple of weeks (it would give me time to set up the parking permit anyway), and it would also save me a bit of rent money. So once again, I readily agreed.
Strike #3: The final Facebook message saying "oh sorry, we found another renter who was willing to move in for the full year, and he's already paid up front." First of all, the place was open for a full year? Second of all, you were still showing the place?? Third of all, WTF??? The Search had suddenly been born anew. Now, no leases were signed nor money exchanged during this agreement, so it's not like I was being conned or anything. But really, this was just poor form all-around. I guess they were more comfortable having the cash in hand, since I was just some guy from London that nobody could vouch for. You know, except their FORMER ROOMMATE. I decided to take the classy route and write a "hmm, that's disappointing" response instead of the ode to expletives I wrote in my head, but still, it was pretty deflating. On the bright side, my non-parking permit streak continues! Eat it, Toronto Parking Services! I'm streets ahead of you clowns!
While that missed opportunity led to another few weeks of frantic online searching and two more two-day trips up from London, it ended well, friends. I'm writing this from my room in a perfectly nice little townhouse, where I'm living with (ironically) another actor. Actually, another roommate is a guitarist and a recently departed roomie was a practicing opera singer. It led to some pretty interesting sound collages between his jamming downstairs and her arias upstairs. I felt like I should be, I dunno, rapping or something.
The place looks like it will work out well for the summer, provided that I don't spend half my time trying to coax the house cat out from underneath my bed. He's one of those cats that greatly enjoys hiding in every possible nook in the house. Case in point: I was in the bathroom the other day when I hear a noise from within the room. I pull back the shower curtain to find the cat just sitting there in the bathtub, looking at me. It was disconcerting. For one thing, I didn't know the cat was German (rim shot). Also, if a videotape of me on the toilet ever shows up on the internet, you know who to blame.