Home, sweet crackhouse

I’ve lived in some sketchy places in the past.

– Moscow, for one. In an apartment owned by a Czech named Genghis who kept a gun on the premises, and then later on in an apartment with a chain-smoking Brit and his Russian girlfriend, who had a very, shall we say, tempestuous relationship.

– The Russian wilderness, when I taught at a former Soviet pioneer camp for a month.

– A stereotypical university house with five other girls (the drama!), that was broken into twice and had raging parties complete with people falling out of windows.

So I kinda felt I had paid my dues, so to speak. I’m 25 now, with two degrees and some life experience under my belt, and I own useful adult things like a matching plate set and a kitchen island. I have a job that isn’t an internship, and it even comes with health benefits (“with health benefits” is probably the most beautiful phrase in the English language to 20somethings who have gone a few years without any dental work).

I’m starting to get settled, I suppose, so you have to forgive me for thinking my days of living in squalor were over.

And then I tried to find somewhere to live in Simcoe.

There was nothing. I couldn’t understand it. Why wasn’t there a demand for nice, airy, affordable one-bedroom apartments with plenty of charm and within walking distance of my newsroom? Well, maybe because it’s Simcoe, and young professionals aren’t exactly rushing in from the city to move here. But surely there had to be something.

And then a place came up for rent on Kijiji. It sounded promising – prime location (downtown, roughly 300 meters from work), in an old building with plenty of character, decent price, two bedrooms, big windows and lots of light…

I made an appointment with the landlord (let’s call him…Melvin) and my mom and I drove down there on a brilliantly sunny day. I’m blaming the sun for our lack of judgement in what follows, because we were dazzled by how gorgeous everything seemed in that blinding light. Melvin was industriously scrubbing away at the apartment, the smell of cleaning products was in the air, the big windows were wide open and letting in the warm sun and it all just seemed too good to be true.

It was.

Flash forward to move-in day. There were a few things that had seemed a little off on that first viewing, and Melvin had promised to have everything fixed by the time I moved in.

But wait…where was the security code to get into the building? Actually, while we’re at it, where was the DOOR KNOB?!? There was none. Just a cheap door with a hole where the door knob should have been, hanging open like an invitation to any ne’er-do-well to come into the building and wait for, say, a reporter new to town to walk up the stairs to accost.

Then there were the windows in the actual apartment. Upon closer inspection, my parents and I realized that pieces of animal hide would have been more effective at keeping the warmth in and the flies out (oh, the flies! It was like The Amityville Horror). There was a good two-inch gap between the bottom of the window and the sill. Great, I thought. I’ll be able to make snowballs from my living room once winter arrives.

Melvin shrugged off our concerns with more promises. “Yeah, I’ll get new windows installed before it gets cold,” he said. “And I’m fixing the door downstairs tomorrow, so it will have a door knob and a security code to get in.”

By “tomorrow”, he meant “never”.

He also assured me that the oil radiator that looked like it had been last used in 1936 would have no problem keeping the apartment toasty. The possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning was just a fun bonus!

Things weren’t exactly looking great. But who wants to act like a spoiled princess on their first day in a new place? I decided to stay positive.

And then my parents left, and the sun sank behind the trees, and the drunks came out, and the bar brawls started, and then the sirens and the “F you!”s added to the cacophony that was occurring directly underneath my window.

I didn’t sleep at all that first night between whatever was going on across the street at the bar/strip club and the events happening in my own building (question: what would you say is worse – listening to your neighbours downstairs have a domestic disturbance where every other word starts with the letter F, or listening to your neighbours downstairs very loudly, very graphically, making up – euphemism – after their fight? I vote for the latter, but I did have several hours lying in bed to debate this issue while holding a pillow over my ears and trying not to weep).

I didn’t think it could get worse after that first night. But the next day one of my downstairs neighbours came to say hello, ask me prying questions about my finances and then warn me about the shadiness of Melvin. Oh, and she also shared her own life story with me, from the fact that she and her boyfriend like to smoke a lot of pot (“it helps with my mental illness”) to how Children’s Aid took her kids away from her and put them up for adoption. She told me she and her boyfriend sleep during the day and are awake at night, because Melvin keeps the building so cold (I told my sister this and she said, “Katie. They sleep during the day and are awake at night because they are crackheads“) and that they can hear every single thing I do upstairs. She knew exactly what music I was listening to and what YouTube video I had watched. She then wanted to know which room I was sleeping in, who bought my kitchen island (she had gone through the garbage outside and saw my cardboard boxes, she said, and Melvin better not have been the one to buy it for me!) She asked me about my car and hinted that she’d love a ride because she has to walk everywhere. Then she ended her monologue (the whole time I was just standing there, thinking ohgodohgodohgodwhathaveigottenmyselfinto?) by reiterating the fact that Melvin was the worst landlord of all time and that she wanted to buy bagels but she only had $2 until her government cheque came the next day so she’d have to do without.

I didn’t know what to do. Do I take this woman at her word? Was she a reliable witness? Hell no. The whole time she was talking to me she was physically shaking and looking around shiftily, her feet and hands jittery. I am perhaps the least drug-savvy person in the world, so I have no idea if she was on something but I was fairly certain she was doing something stronger than pot.

I met another one of my neighbours last weekend, when I walked into my building and up the stairs (still no doorknob on the door) and stumbled onto three police officers standing in the hallway while my neighbour vehemently shouted, “I would NEVER hit a woman!” He saw me and gave me one of those “boy nods” (you know the type, when a man – well, usually a high school-age boy – sees you and is too cool to say hello, but will give you that head tilt upwards, like, ‘sup?’) and said, “hey, what’s up?”

Umm, not much? What’s up with you – getting arrested? Okay, where else is this conversation going to go beyond that?

I squeezed past the officers, ran up the last flight of stairs to my apartment and barricaded myself in there. When I ventured out again because I had to cover a story, there was a random strange man sitting on the stairwell reading a newspaper in the dark.

There are many, many other things about this apartment that I could horrify you with, but I think I’ve mentally blocked out as much as possible. The neighbours. The clientele across the street. The methadone clinic that’s going up just around the corner. Melvin, the man of many promises but no follow-through. The paper-thin insulation and the freezing, biting cold until I finally asked Melvin to fire up the radiator, carbon monoxide poisoning be damned.

I lasted a month. Today, I moved to my new apartment and I’m writing this now in warmth, silence and safety. When the movers came this morning to help my parents and I pack up, they threw horrified looks around the building. “We call this the drug house,” they informed us.

Lovely. Why couldn’t someone have told me this before I gave Melvin first and last month’s rent? (thankfully he didn’t have me sign a lease, something I’m eternally grateful for).

So that is my story of how I came to live in a crackhouse for a month.

Lesson learned: don’t be in a rush to move in somewhere before your job starts. Use the extra time to put your investigative journalism skills to use and find out if your future abode does, in fact, have a reputation as “the drug house”.

Also: Russia is way, way less scary than Simcoe.

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