Thursday, 13 March 2014



"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

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