jl

jl

Thursday, 27 March 2014

3



3
"An imbalance between rich and poor is the most fatal ailment of all."


It was so sunny outside that Marty had to squint to look at the computer screen. The glass walls at the east and west entrances stretched two stories up on both sides. The entire lobby to the condo was huge. A pair of marble bridges ran about fifteen feet above the security desk in the front area, one bridge looking over each entrance. To the south, across from where Marty stood behind the counter, was the elevator lobby, separated from the rest of the lobby by more glass walls and doors. Residents needed a keycard to enter this smaller area.


Marty shaded his brow with his hand so he could make out the words on the screen. He had typed in the youtube url but another, unfamiliar screen came up instead. The entrance to his left opened up and someone came inside just as Marty made out the words. The text stated that the website could not be shown and had been blocked. Marty was hoping to play some music for the start of his night shift like he always did. This threw him off.


He looked up from the screen to see a resident he recognized, a man named Harvey Franco, the businessman who lived in the penthouse twenty-six stories up. Marty couldn't stand this man. It wasn't that Mr. Franco ever made problems for security, just that he was one of those alpha male types who looked down on working people, as well as pretty much everyone lower on the society rung than himself. Marty could see it in the way he carried himself, the way he looked at Marty and spoke down to him (when he acknowledged him at all). The building management gave him whatever he wanted, even bent rules at times to suit him. Money, it seemed, took precedent over rules when it came to dealing with him.


Marty remembered the first time he had met Mr. Franco. It was the first week of his training in this Bay Street condo and his boss instructed Marty to question everyone without a keycard. When Mr. Franco came in when Marty was alone at the desk and tugged at the elevator lobby doorway, Marty did what he was told to do. He asked the unfamiliar man if he lived in the building. Harvey Franco's face went red and his eyebrows turned upward at once.


"Of course I live here! I've lived here for twenty-five years!"


"I'm sorry sir, I'm new here," Marty replied shyly.


"I know you're new!" he had shouted back. Marty pressed the button to give him access. Mr. Franco shook his head and stepped in.


Now, standing in the lobby this sunny day, as always, Marty pressed that button to let him in, as Mr. Franco never brought his keycard. "The world is made for men like that, or at least that's how they see it," Marty thought to himself as he watched Mr. Franco enter the elevator lobby once more.


Trevor, his co-worker he was teamed up with this evening, came out from the elevator lobby right after Mr. Franco went in. "Damn sun's so bright. How late is it?"


"A bit after nine-teen hundred hours," Marty answered. "Should be setting soon."


Trevor walked up to face Marty across from the desk. He wore the same mock tuxedo as Marty did with a little clip-on tie. Trevor was just a bit shorter than Marty, though older and a seasoned guard, having done armed guard jobs back in the Philippines. He once told Marty about his stint at a government hospital, where one day a bunch of rich men came to the front of the building insisting on immediate care for their buddy who had a sprained ankle. When Trevor had refused them the rich men opened fire on the building. Trevor and his comrades fired back, hitting the already injured one in the kneecap, ultimately making their bill worse.


"I'm done with patrol, everything's the same as it was since last night.  No parties or any noise or anything," Trevor said to Marty.


"Alright," said Marty. "I guess I'll do a patrol in two hours?"


"Sounds okay," said Trevor, joining him behind the desk.


"Any idea why the youtube isn't working?"


"Oh yeah, management blocked it," he replied with a sigh. "It's too bad. I liked having music on late at night. Apparently management was upset because of the mid-week night shift playing inappropriate rap music too loud."


"Oh my God," Marty muttered. "So they blocked all of us instead of just acting like adults and asking them to stop it?"


"Pretty much," said Trevor, looking about, taking glances particularly at the two indoor bridges over the front desk space. The management office was on the second floor and management sometimes stayed late. Marty imagined Trevor was checking to see if any members of maintenance were listening. The walls had ears and the maintenance understood more English than they pretended to.


Having access to youtube was one of the few things about the job that Marty enjoyed. He wasn't constantly cruising through videos at busy hours or anything, just late at night he would sometimes put music or news on for background noise. It helped him get through the nights, especially the long twelve hour shifts.


"That's ridiculous," he told Trevor.


"I know," said his co-worker. "But what can you do?"


"Get a new job," Marty mumbled to himself, although he knew he couldn't do that, particularly now that he was living on his own. He would only quit if he had another, better job lined up. 


"I'm going for lunch," said Trevor. "You can go for lunch when I'm done, alright?"


"Yeah, no problem," Marty said. It was a pretty dead night overall and Marty wished he had brought a book. He wasn't allowed to bring his laptop to the front desk and work on his own book. There wasn't even a chair or a stool behind the front desk.


His partner came back after half an hour and let him go for lunch. Marty went to the Tim's across the street, getting a bagel with cream cheese and a large coffee. Every day he had at least three coffees although no coffee was allowed at the front desk. On the way out of the coffee shop he came across a homeless man sitting down in front of newspaper bins, his hand holding out a raggedy baseball cap. Marty put a two dollar coin, a toonie, inside and went on his way. He caught sight of the tall, shiny skyscrapers down the street towards the south, and then gazed upward at his workplace, taking in the uppermost floors and the penthouse of the condo.


"Such affluence amid such poverty," he thought. "The two extremes are neighbours."


When he got back inside it was time for him to go on patrol. This was actually a part of the job he liked. Most people, he knew, wouldn't enjoy it since it was monotonous, but for him it was a way to get some exercise and a time to be alone with his thoughts. He also enjoyed going up to the roof-deck at the top and looking out over the city, especially on the nice days. Toronto was quite a beautiful sight, a relatively clean metropolis with enough green spaces to make one think that it was a city built within a forest. Marty knew that Toronto, named for the sticks in the water, or weirs, that the natives used to make, was once a bustling trading spot for various First Nations to meet and trade. It was a place of peace primarily in the days before European colonization.


Marty took a brief view of the city once he was on the roof-deck, this time looking away from downtown. In the past he always looked at Bay Street, Toronto's version of Wall Street, at the waterfront and the blue expanse of Lake Ontario, but today he looked north, east and west. To the east he saw the high-rises of the old part of town, beyond that the long roads of Danforth, College, Queen, King, and beyond that the sprawling neighbourhoods of Scarborough. To the north he first saw the rich neighbourhood of Yorkville, and then the southern part of North York. In the far distance he thought he saw the Pallisades building, just barely; a concrete behemoth of a high-rise tower located right at the intersection of Jane and Finch. To the west he could see Kensington Market, just a bit more west was the Annex and the University of Toronto's main campus. Beyond those neighbourhoods he could just barely make out the west end neighbourhoods near Ossington and Christie. The Junction wasn't in sight, but Marty imagined it was because of the various further off buildings obstructing his sight. 


When he was done on the roof-deck he started his patrol, beginning on the top floor. This one had nicer carpeting than any other one and had only one door, the one to the penthouse. Marty hated the big gold lion-headed knocker on it's front. The man dressed up everything like he was royalty. The next floor down looked like every other one, the places only the normal rich people lived in. The corridors were a beige colour with crimson carpeting, looking like a standard hotel in downtown Toronto or Manhattan.


Marty sighed, thinking things over in his head, all the while keeping his eyes peeled for anything out of place, which was his job. "Why am I here?" he asked himself. "I've got a bachelors in Political Science, yet here I am patrolling hallways." 


In his mind Marty started to imagine he was patrolling the hallways of a space station. This sometimes helped keep his mind active, feeding his imagination, the only thing that could help him when he was at work. As a child he had grown up on science fiction. His favourite shows, movies and novels were the ones where a near utopian future was portrayed, a world where the petty squabbles of the present-day were overcome by a united humanity. As he aged he realized that less people had such optimistic projections for the future, if they even had thoughts at all on the subject.

He always valued the escape. Now he felt he needed to escape more than ever.


When Marty had finished his patrol and returned to the front desk Trevor was busy speaking to a young woman. Marty saw her from behind. She had long, semi-wavy dirty blonde hair, a slim body and was wearing tight-fighting dark jeans that fit her form perfectly. "Damn," Marty thought to himself, but kept his usual work poker face. He managed a slight smile when he got back behind the front desk and saw the front of her. She was beautiful.


"Hey," she said to him as she noticed him. "Are you new here?"


Marty felt the skin on his face go warm. "Yes, well, no, not really."


"Not really new at all," Trevor said, handing her a form and a pen. "Okay ma'am, we just need your signature here and the parking spot is yours for another month. Same as usual."


"Thanks," she said, not taking her eyes of Marty. "What's your name?"


"Marty."


She gave out her hand. He took it, noting in his mind how soft and smooth her skin felt. "Erin," she said with a smile, revealing near perfect teeth. Marty nodded, unsure of what to say next.


"You live here?" he managed, looking into emerald green eyes.


She shook her head. "No, I just park here."


"Oh," he said, realizing that she probably had a boyfriend in the building.


"My girlfriend lives here," she said.


"Oh, girlfriend?" Marty asked, not sure if he should be relieved to hear that or not.


Erin laughed. "Well, not my girlfriend exactly."


"We're open-minded," Marty said jokingly, though he probably shouldn't have at work.


"Nice to meet you, Marty," she said, giving the form back to Trevor. Marty watched her leave to the elevator lobby. There were many young woman in the building, and visitors, that Marty thought were attractive, but this new woman was like no one he had ever seen, at least not recently. Trevor starting telling Marty something, but Marty didn't hear it.


"I'll give you a moment," he said.


"Ah, yeah, sorry Trev. What were you saying?"


"I'm saying I'll make a coffee run, want some?"


"Oh yeah, hell yeah," said Marty. "That girl, or rather, sorry, that woman, you know her?"


"Yeah, she's been here a while," Trevor replied. "Just she usually pays for her monthly parking during the day. I used to work day shifts so that's why I see her. She's a waitress at a fancy restaurant nearby."


"She says she's got a friend in the building. Does she have a boyfriend, do you know?"


"Oh yeah," he said. "You're not going to like this. She just started dating Mr. Franco."


"Ah crap."




Even beneath his eyelids there was nothing but red light. Marty grunted, opening his eyes to the two lightbulbs on the ceiling, waking from a brief dream where he was an astronaut floating near a binary star system. He turned over, bringing the pillow over his face. From his side he could see his alarm clock/radio. It was an hour before noon. His work started at seven, another twelve hour shift.


For a second he thought of Erin, but shook it out of his mind. "Sleep. Go to sleep."


The light was too much. He couldn't stay asleep. In the past five hours he had been trying to sleep, having been asleep for a total of one hour, if that even. Every time his mind was relaxed the lights woke him up again. He had the lights on for a good reason, to keep the cockroaches at bay. He hadn't seen any, but he didn't want them coming near him while he slept. In the dark he felt random tickling sensations on his skin, but whenever he went to swipe at them they were gone.


A few hours before his room-mates had woken him up. They had been were talking loudly in the kitchen. At first Marty tried to ignore it. For some reason the trains passing by outside his window never bothered his sleeping, but the conversation in the common space was different.  At one point the Englishman starting laughing really loudly at a joke made by a deeper voiced, unknown occupant. Marty had had it. He got up and lazily tried to open the door. Immediately Richard called out to him. "Everything okay? Need to get out?"


"No, no," Marty said. "It's just, I'm trying to sleep right now."


"Oh sorry! Sorry! We'll move."


Marty got the door open and stuck his head out. Richard stood up from his chair and reached for his own door on the other wall. Marty nodded at the new person. He was a fairly big man, looked to Marty to be in his mid-thirties likely.  He had a slight afro with a receded hairline, looking to be likely mixed black and white, about the shade of Obama. 


"Hey sir," Marty greeted. Even though he was frustrated, he wasn't angry. It was obviously a misunderstanding. He had just moved in afterall and there was no way they could have known he was a daysleeper/night owl.


The man looked behind himself as if he were looking for someone else, then smiled as he looked back. "Sir?"


"My name's Marty," he said, reaching out a hand.


The new room-mate went over to Marty and grabbed his hand. "Jordan," he said.


"Sorry, wasn't trying to be a dick," said Marty. "Just tired and got to work tonight."


"No problem!"


"Yeah, it's no problem," Richard added.


"Thanks," said Marty, slowly closing the door. The other two men disbanded outside, going into their respective rooms. Marty could hear Jordan closing the door next door. They were neighbours. Marty hoped he was a nice guy. "He seemed alright. I can live here fine so long as my room-mates are decent. Ivan said they were all professional. We're all adults so we can just act like it."

Eventually he slept, got a few hours worth, then woke up and got ready for work.  He slept again on the bus, feeling miserable about having to work at a place for so little money.  He dreamed of being in an office, his own office, and living in his own house, a place he wanted to be in the long-run.  Marty hoped his situation was only temporary as he punched in for another night of work.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

2



2

"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."


"Cockroaches," Marty Goldman muttered, taking the first sip of his double-double coffee. The familiar flavour cheered him up slightly as he lit up his joint. The park along Vine Avenue, a few streets down from Marty's new place, looked decent, a slightly big space to hang out. Behind him on the bench was the familiar metallic brown barrier that ran alongside the south part of the railway. On the north side of the train tracks were the Stockyard stores that were built less than a decade before. Just north of them was St. Clair Avenue. Marty wasn't too familiar with that part of town, had only walked or biked through it a few times. The railroad cut it off from the Junction. The characters of both places were fundamentally different.

As the joint and coffee simultaneously reached their halfway points, Marty noticed some people entering the park, a woman and two little kids. He put the joint out. He always thought it was rude to smoke when kids were around, even if they mistook the smell for a literal skunk, it was always awkward for their parents.

Marty put the joint in his pocket. He had had enough for now. The coffee high was starting to hit him too. He felt pretty good. Despite the news of his multiple insectoid room-mates, he had a lot to be thankful for.

"Finally away from there," he said in his mind as he made his way down to the next street. It was a quiet residential area, home largely to families and middle-aged people from what he had seen so far. Two new neighbours had already smiled at him when he had been making his way to the park originally. The place seemed friendly. "Not like back home where they look at you funny for even nodding to them."

Only a few neighbours ever said "hi" to Marty back then, only a select few that the family knew. These people were friendly but Marty didn't particularly like them, not because they were ever rude or disrepectful, but more because Marty found that he had nothing to say to them. When he was a child they were the adults, and by default they were smarter than him. As he grew to adulthood himself he gradually stopped seeing them this way. Once he went to University and started expanding his knowledge he started realizing how little these older people actually knew about the world. Aside from his father he had very few people he could have a discussion with on topics that required some amount of critical thought. It was in this environment that Marty had started smoking weed. He knew people at University and some other local people in his neighbourhood who did it a lot. In high school, even though he grew up in the general Jane and Finch area where weed was plentiful, he never got into it. It was only later in his college years. Being active in student activism and local politics had taken a lot out of him. He felt immense stress from the various battles and struggles he had taken part in. Readily available was the herb that calmed him down, made him think clearer at times, and helped him deal with the daily isolation that he had encountered after graduation. He needed out, he needed somewhere else, but the free food and bed in his dad's house made things too easy.

On the way back to his house Marty took in the unfamiliar sights around him. He wandered through a back alleyway that was wide enough to fit one car at a time. A bunch of the houses had their garages in the back near their yards facing these back alleys. Grafitti, both crude and beautiful, graced the walls of the backs and sides of buildings and garages. A bunch of signs and signatures that Marty didn't recognize ran from one end of this alley to the other. Morning Glory climbing vines ran through some of the fences, their vines twisting around everything they could grab at, and their flowers of white, pink, purple and blue blooming in the daylight. At Marty's street he turned a corner from the old synagouge, admiring the Star of David that was set at the top like how crosses are usually on church steeples. In front of one house was a Canadian flag, a Scottish one on another; a Maltese one, a Polish one, a Ukranian one, and on one house was a painting on the door that resembled something aboriginal.

"Individuality," thought Marty, sighing in contentment. "No, here there is no crime, no by-law, against those who express themselves."
When Marty arrived back in the house, this time noticing that the door at the top of the small stairs, the door to the kitchen area had no knob on it, just an empty hole where the knob should be.  Through that hole he saw his new room-mate, Richard, sitting at the table.

Richard nodded at him as he came in.

"Hey," Marty replied, raising his coffee cup. "I found Tim's."

"Ah, good work!"

Marty went into his room and started unpacking. He only had a few clothes. He was going to go back to his dad's and get more stuff in the following week. His closet was filled up with the few items he had brought in only a few minutes. Marty put on some music on youtube to help him out. The whole time he was frantically turning about to look for cockroaches. Every now and then he thought he saw something from the corner of his sight, but whenever he turned it was gone, either had run off or had never been there to start with.
The last thing Marty unpacked from his hiker's backpack was his work uniform, a black security uniform, a sort of mock tuxedo with a clip-on tie. He hated working at that condo on Bay Street, but now more than ever he had to keep the job. It had been only two months since he first got the job, lucky enough to be hired by the building itself. Currently he worked four nights (overnights) a week and then had three days off. The first day off was spent trying to re-orient his sleeping schedule by staying awake for half the day and then sleeping until the next morning. This was usually his own free time where he would work on his writing.
Marty had been working on a novel. It had started out as a single short story of less than twenty pages, but Marty's imagination was on a role, and the short story was tacked on as the introduction to a grand epic about a modern North America that had never been colonized by Europeans, a sort of alternate history. His story was called Windigos and told the tale of native Indians (never called Indians though since Columbus never came along to make that misidentification) who had kept their land and transformed into new kinds of societies.  Marty had a lot of creative leeway. The narrative switched multiple times between various characters, men and woman (but mostly men since Marty always had a hard time writing female characters), over thousands of miles of distance, from the advanced oligarchs of the Pacific Coast, to the Five Nations Empire in the Eastern woodlands, and the refugee people from the Southwest, the Hopi, who flee from an unknown power in the South (will be revealed to be the Aztec in one of the later chapters).
"Being here will give me the time and space to finish this book," Marty thought to himself as he looked up from his desk.
Someone messaged him online.
Jimmy: Yo marty, want to come over and have some beers and bong?

"Shit," he said, checking the time on the computer. It was already almost six.
Marty: Kind of late? I was out, went to the bank, then went for a walk.
Jimmy: So? We can order a pizza or something.
Marty: hmmmm...no, I don't think so. I just moved into the new place. Pretty tired right now. Maybe this coming Tuesday?
Jimmy: Ah right, you moved. Forgot. Why didn't you call me? I could've helped.
Marty: There was one bag. I'm going back to get more at my dad's in a week. I am going to buy some new stuff soon.
Jimmy: K.
Marty: Just found out...I have cockroaches.

There was a pause before Jimmy replied.
Jimmy: Ah shit. You know what helps with that?
Marty: An exterminator? I don't have money for that right now.
Jimmy: Vinegar, mop with vinegar and wipe your tabletops with it. Do it once a week. We did it all the time when I was a kid. Also, catnip is good for keeping them away.
Marty: Ah, alright. I'm going shopping soon. Thanks!
Jimmy: No prob. I gotta jet, ttyl.
Marty: Later.
Marty sighed. It was going to be much harder to hang out with Jimmy. Friendships were always hard to keep the further the distance. This was especially true for Jimmy since he was more a friend of convenience to Marty than anything else. It wasn't that Marty didn't like Jimmy, just that they only ended up being friends because they were practically neighbours and they both liked to drink, smoke weed, and watch old movies. Jimmy and Marty only started hanging out regularly since less than two years earlier.
"And how often am I going to be even be up there?" he asked himself, sighing again. A thought came to mind that nearly instantly made him feel better. "He can come down here."
"Yeah, what are you thinking? You have your own place to chill now."

Some tiny little brown thing by his laptop's keyboard tore him out of his good feelings. When Marty moved his hand to the right it scurried away.

"Yuck!" he cried, jumping up from his chair. "Fucking nasty!"

Without thinking he snatched his jacket off from the back of the chair and ran out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He paused for a second, catching his breath and looking around to the sink. It too looked nasty. There was a pot of brown water in the left sink basin and blank gunk was all over the right sink's drain.
Marty locked the door to his room and opened the fridge. His stomach, despite what he had just seen, was rumbling like a bag pipe. Marty saw an empty ziplock bag in a crisper at the bottom, a packet of ketchup on one of the side ledges, and a tiny brown speck at the uppermost floor. Marty zoomed his eyes in on the speck.
"Ah!" he yelled, shoving the door shut. "Fucking disgusting!"
The image of the middle-aged British guy flashed in his mind. "Cockroaches," he said over and over. "This place is disgusting! This is like living in a warehouse!" He had to go outside and buy something for dinner.
All the way down the road he was thinking about how he would keep the cockroaches away from his food. There was no way he was going to put a pest killer chemical anywhere near his food. Vinegar and catnip were most likely going to have to do, although Marty wasn't so sure he could douse his food in vinegar to keep it in the fridge.
As he turned onto Dundas Street West he came across a store with jugs, tupperware and other random storage things in it's front window. Next to it was an antique store with old furniture and appliances crammed in the front. From what Marty had read about the Junction, the area was known for it's odd little stores, particularly in the realm of antiques. The place was both practical and charactered. He kept moving along until he reached a street heading south and followed it until he reached a big grocery store, the only large store he had seen yet.
Inside it was bright and cool. Marty went through the fruit and veggie sections first, grabbing baby carrots, red delicious apples, some brocolli and some peppers. He wanted to start eating healthier now that he was always buying his own food. Next he got some cereal and some organic milk. He also got some soap, shampoo, laundry detergent and some floor cleaner. Of course he also got vinegar and catnip. The total was less than forty dollars. He had about five bills ($500) in his bank account at the present, but the coming paycheque next Friday would be an estimated seven bills. Budgeting was going to be hard and he knew it would prove to be the first major challenge to overcome.
"Okay, so I got the thousand dollars from Dad deposited and pulled out of the bank already, just have to give that to Ivan tonight, then I got to watch my money from now on."

On the way back, carrying two plastic bags, Marty noticed a grafitti sign on one of the back alley walls. It read: Decolonize.
"When would you ever see such a thing in North York?" he asked himself as he turned back onto his street. He wasn't thinking of the roaches anymore. He felt happier having both food and the good feeling of living in such a vibrant place. 
Before he got home he came by the variety store with the plastic jugs and tupperware. He looked down to his groceries. Minutes later he came out of the store, carrying a container and two tiny plastic cups. He put his food inside it once he was standing in the kichen. With the tiny cups he filled with captnip, placed one in the fridge, and another on the floor near his room's door. Bachelor life was on it's way.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Thursday, 13 March 2014

1



1


"Home is where the heart is." - Pliny the Elder


"My new home," sighed Marty Goldman, looking up at the three story house on the end of the street; a tiny cul de sac with less than fifteen houses on it.  To his right, just beside the house there was a metal wall and beyond that, he knew, were train tracks.  This was the hallmark of the Toronto Junction.  

When the vroom of his father's car disappeared down the other end of the road the sound of an oncoming train took over.   Within seconds the whole street was engulfged in the sound of the roaring train.  Luckily Marty was a heavy sleeper.

He felt the buttoned up pocket on the left side of his shirt, and then the thousand dollar cheque his father written him for the first and last month's rent.  Dr. Goldman, two days before told him that he needed him to move out of the house he had spent most of his life in. Also his father was taking in Andrea, his new girlfriend he had met a few months before on a dating website.  She lived in Scarborough, but was eager to move in. 

"It's about time you moved out," his dad told him that same morning. "You're twenty-seven years old and I don't have any legal obligation to keep you here. You work full-time too."

"Not right now, my hours have been cut," he protested dryly.  He knew there was no point in it though.
"Well, you can always get another part-time job. Besides, you have to leave at some time. Look at me, Marty, I'm fifty-eight years old. I have the right to my own life." When Marty protested again it moved his dad to go downstairs to his office and retrieve his chequebook. Hours later Marty was going through Craigslist on the internet, looking for a place. 
$500 furnished room for rent in the High Park area caught his eye. Wi-fi being included was a major plus as Marty was on the internet on his laptop often and that was really all he needed. The best part was the mention of the High Park area. He had always enjoyed spending time in that part of Toronto, down Keele Street, way south from his boring North York suburban location near Finch Avenue. When Marty was in high school he used to go down to High Park on the weekends and meet up with some friends he had met on the internet. They were a group of meditators, most of them older than Marty at the time. They would find a little clearing deep in the woods of the east ravine section of the old park and meditate in a circle under a great mossy cliff-face. At the time Marty needed that escape.  It had a nostalgia factor. Whenever he saw those old houses on the side of the park, the ones on Parkside Avenue (the street that Keele Street morphed into just south of Bloor Avenue), the ones at the top of the hill with the tall wooden staircases to the front doors, he felt at peace. Something about them.  He envisioned himself living there one day in his thirties, leading a cultured family life. The buildings down there had so much character compared to the sterile conformity of Toronto's exterior suburban sprawl.

When he had arrived at the house from the ad later on that day he was disappointed. It wasn't really in the "High Park area", it was twenty minutes north of there, in an entirely different neighbourhood. This was The Junction, which, despite Marty's disappointment, he knew was known as an up-and-coming neighbourhood in Toronto. It wasn't quite downtown, not like Trinity-Spadina, or Queen Street West, or down Yonge Street, or Cabbagetown, but it was definitely not considered suburban. It was kind of in between the two, the two Toronto's.

Out in front of the house, that first day, was the landlord, Ivan. He was a large older man, looking like he may have been very muscular and fit when he was younger, but now only with a big chest, arms and a bulgy belly. He wore a plaid red shirt, a thick Stalinesque moustache, and a broad smile. Ivan saluted Marty and went forward to shake his hand. "Nice to meet you," he said in a deep voice with a thick (probably) Russian accent. Marty smiled back and said the same. His potentially new landlord led him inside the house into a little landing that had four steps of stairs going up to the left and a dozen or so going down to his right.
Ivan led him up the small steps, opening up a door and then entering a small kitchen.  Along the wall to Marty's right were two doors, on the far left were two others. In the room's center was a round white table, above it hung an antique looking light and fan with wooden blades, and on the far wall between the two opposing walls with doors sat a counter with a window above the sink and an old rusted oven on the right beside it. The floor itself was white, had just been cleaned judging from the strong bleach smell, and the ceiling was an off-white with brown streaks. Tiny shining specs littered every other inch of it.
Ivan then showed Marty his potential room past the second door on the left wall. It was small, much smaller than the bedroom Marty had woken up in that morning, around eight or nine square paces total. The bedframe was up against the far wall under a small rectangular window with broken-down looking blinds covering it. To the left of the bed was a wooden desk with two shelves on it, perfect for Marty's needs, and a dresser the same height as the desk just beside it nearer the window. To his right from the entrance was a large closet with no door that had a small dresser inside. It looked fine for five hundred a month. Ivan told Marty that it was mostly professionals living in the house, that Marty would probably be the youngest, and that the only thing he forbade as landlord was smoking cigarettes on his property. Marty didn't smoke, at least not cigarettes, so it was no problem.

He had told Ivan then, just two days before, that he was almost certain that he would take the room. Ivan told him that he could not guarantee that the room wouldn't be claimed by someone else in two day's time. Marty still took the two days to gather up his belongings and called the landlord in the morning, telling him that he would be there to move in by noon.
And that's why he stood on the sidewalk in front of his new home, ready to enter a new chapter of life.  His dad, a medical specialist, had given him a good childhood, particularly compared to many other kids that lived in Matty's neighbourhood growing up in the greater Jane and Finch area. Marty lived a bit east of the often maligned Toronto intersection at the northern edge of the megacity, in an area that was more or less middle class.  Many others around his age that he had known had single parents who usually fought a monthly war not to get evicted. One of his old friends he grew up with lived with senile grandparents who usually forgot to make dinner and made the kid do all the grocery shopping. Others were raised more by gangs than they were by parents.  He couldn't stay too bitter at his father.
Marty took a look about his new street. Just down the street, where his cul de sac met another road, was an old synagogue that he had checked out the other day. It was erected back in 1911 and was a city heritage spot. That in itself was amazing for Marty. There were no heritage spots up where he used to live, save an area that was once a native village near the ravine of Black Creek.  Nothing was left of the native village though, it was only a plaque in a field up there.  Everything there was spread out; rows of houses, box stores, parking lots. Here, closer to downtown, every block had a story to tell. Marty was looking forward to this aspect of his new area.

Another train was passing by the time he went over and knocked on the front door. Ivan answered and smiled warmly. "Hello!" he greeted, waving his newest tenant to come into the cramped landing space again. "Thank you for taking the place. So, do you have first and last month's rent?"

Marty nodded and undid the button to his shirt pocket. He took out the cheque. It was written from his dad to Marty, but Marty had signed the back of it.

Ivan frowned. "No, I need only cash."

"Cash?" Marty asked, a bit taken back. "I usually don't carry loads of cash around with me!"

Ivan laughed. "No! No! But can you go to the bank? Maybe by tomorrow?"
"I guess I can," replied Marty.

"Good!" said Ivan, clasping his hands together. "Okay, first come to the basement."

"The basement?" thought Marty as he followed Ivan down the stairs into a thin space. There was a doorless doorway at the base of the stairs and beyond that a hallway like a submarine, with doors on one side and counters and sinks jutting out from the other. Ivan led him to the end of this hallway into a storage space. Marty took note of the walls here, looking to be a composite of metal sheets, pieces of cardboard and planks of wood. It was very raw, possibly put together recently, this whole mish-mash of material that fronted as a room.

Blocking his view of the far side of the room was a bunch of furniture, some stacked on top of one another; what looked like an old refrigerator, some electronics, and Marty even thought he saw a broken mannequin lying atop the heap.  Ivan was a hoarder. Beside this big pile was an upright mattress, a big thing with a brownish stain along one side. Ivan and Marty took different sides of it and started moving it through the thin hallway. Within minutes they had it upstairs in the kitchen again.
At the stove was a thin balding man, looking to be middle-age, maybe in his late forties. He had khaki shorts on and a stained t-shirt. As he saw Ivan and Marty enter the room he waved a hand to the new tenant. Marty nodded at him in return. Seconds later the man retreated into his own room, the left of the two doors across from Marty's new room. Ivan opened the door to the room and they carried the mattress inside and placed it on the wall by the door. Ivan went forward and grabbed the bed-frame, causing it to crash against the floor.  Then the two of them slumped the mattress on top of it.

"There!" said Ivan, clasping his hands again. "Now, just enjoy life!"

Marty smiled. "Key?" he asked.

Ivan's eyes went wide. "Oh yeah! Wait here!"

Marty sat down on his bare mattress. It was a nice day, the sun was beaming in through the window. "Man, this is sweet," he thought to himself. "Finally on my own! This is where real life begins."
 
After about five minutes he stood up and went over to look out the window. It was a beautiful late summer day. The backyard had a small patio and beyond that it was cluttered with various things; a discarded wooden bedframe, metal poles, wood planks, a cracked porcelain sink, a dilapidated shopping cart, a three legged coffee table, cinder blocks piled on top of one another, and many other things his eye didn't immediately catch.  There were drying lines lined up above the stuff, some electrical chords in turn hanging from them. It was now even more obvious that his new landlord was a hoarder.

Marty started picturing the yard without the junk piles. The space appeared to get a lot of sun. He wondered if he could maybe garden there. Back at his dad's place that was one of his hobbies. He grew an assortment of vegetables, sunflowers and herbs in the space in front of his old townhouse until the condo corporation that ran the townhouses tore them out, citing some weird by-law against common space growing. Marty argued with the maintenance man one day, telling him it was absurd that common space could not be used for common purposes such as growing food. That was the thing about Toronto's suburbs, at least most of the neighbourhoods, Marty found; t here was no real sense of community or character, just neighbours who lived in perpetual isolation from one another. 

"At least I'm away from that," he said aloud.

Another five minutes passed before Ivan came back to him. He held a tiny key in his hand. "Here," he said. "It is yours."
"Thank you," replied Marty, standing up from the bed, going over to the door to try the lock. The key fit in and he  easily turned it. "Thanks."

"No problem."

"Do you think I can maybe plant some things here next Spring? I'm into gardening."
Ivan shrugged. "Gardening? Planting what?"
"Oh, lots of stuff, just vegetables in general. I grew corn, beans and squash back home before. Can I do that here? I'll share the produce."

"Oh yeah!" Ivan said with another welcoming smile. "Why not? Maybe you can teach me.  Now, how about the money?" Ivan asked, holding out a calloused hand. "You have?"

Marty nodded. "I will get it tomorrow at the bank."
Ivan looked confused. "Bank? Do you have the money?"

"I will go to the bank and get the cash. We already talked about this," he replied slowly, finding it difficult to believe Ivan had forgotten already.

"Oh yeah!" Ivan said, nodding. "Okay, tomorrow! So, you can enjoy life here. This is your room and tomorrow you will pay me."
 
Marty nodded back. He was starting to feel tired, even if it was still early in the day. Maybe it was the stresses and excitement of moving out. "By the way, do you have a coffee-maker?"

"Hm, you drink coffee?"
"Every day," Marty said. "Hope you have a Tim's nearby."

"Yeah," said Ivan. "Wait." He went out into the kitchen. Marty followed. Ivan opened up the cupboard under the sink and started rummaging through some things inside. After a few seconds the older man pulled out a coffee-maker, a tiny old one the size of a teacher's pencil sharpener, full of dust with brown-black stains all over the inside of it. Even the handle was covered with a greenish grime-looking substance.

"I'll go to Tim's."

"Here," Ivan said as if he hadn't heard, placing the appliance on the counter. Marty thanked him anyway to be polite. Ivan smiled and left for the front door.

"Oh boy," Marty sighed once he was gone, looking at the disgusting coffee-maker.

The door across from him, the one with the bald man who had greeted him earlier, opened up. His new room-mate smiled quicky over at him. "Hey there," the man said, his English accent now apparent. "How're you doing, mate?" He gave out his hand.
Marty took it. "Okay, just moving in today."
"Richard," he said.
"Oh yeah; Marty. Nice to meet you."


"Same," said Richard. He went over to the fridge on the opposite side from the sink and counters. "Do you want something to eat? I've got some leftover beans I'm going to fry up."
"That's okay, I'm not hungry," said Marty. He needed coffee. He had already eaten recently. "Do you know where the Tim's is?"
"Oh right," he said, grabbing a tupperware container out of the fridge and closing it behind him. "It's just down the street from here, on Dundas. There are other places to get coffee nearby that are better."
"Nah, I'm good," said Marty. "Thanks though."
"No problem. By the way, be sure to watch out for cockroaches."
Marty felt a lightness in his stomach. "Cockroaches?" he asked, starting to scan the room wildly.  He saw nothing.
"Oh yeah," said Richard. "We got them."
"Ah shit," Marty thought. He headed back into his new room, feeling too fatigued to even start unpacking. He realized then and there that it had been a big mistake to move into the first place he saw on the internet. He had never dealt with roaches before. Paranoid now, he eyed the room's walls, suddenly feeling a tickling sensation all over his skin.
With that, he unpacked just a few small things from his bag. He went over, sat at his new desk and started rolling up a joint. "Enjoy life," he muttered to the room.






By: Jesse Zimmerman

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Junction Landlord

Starting next week there will be weekly additions to this ongoing work of fiction.