Fifteen. House-hunting like an accessory to murder – low, dark and right next to the highway. A typical cheap-for-a-reason basement flat. There were only three tones: a dull seventies brown, fake plastic brass, and ultra-beige. Tolerable, however, except for the landlord who lived upstairs. He wore beer-logo meshback caps, greasy cowboy shirts, skinny tight jeans, and a threatening leer so cliche you’d think he practiced. (“You should see this new sex-toy I just bought.” he’d say, body contorting as he mimed, “It has settings from m-MM-mm to WHEE!”) He was like a stain you could not wash away. The Twilight Zone sound of his television through the floor was a muffled nightmare of Disney movies and pornographic films – Anastasia and the Little Mermaid gasping with hot girl on girl action, intercourse intercut with technicolour, lurid and loud – that he never turned off. Unlike our hot water tank, which became a battle ground. He would sneak downstairs while we were in the shower and close the valves. When we continued to turn the tank back on, he finally removed the handle altogether, knocking it off with a wrench, while dropping hints that we could come up to talk about it with him anytime we wanted. Any time.
Fifteen point five. Halfway up the mountain, still on the North Shore, but now over by the hospital, our friend who lived in our walk-in closet with his awful girlfriend has a room all to his own. Instead of a bed, I have an six by six antique apple crate full of pillows I’ve scoured from every thrift shop I can access by public transit. My room is the room with the miniature chandelier and the attached bathroom, but only because I won the coin-toss.
Sixteen. I decide to overcome my fear of ‘physical intimacy’. The girls I know, all three of them, recommend I have a one night stand. The perfect answer to a shallow prayer, he walks out of the dark at Brenda’s one-year anniversary wake looking to find friends and score some weed. Long gold hair, almost gossamer under the street-lights, classically chiseled features and nordic blue eyes. Not the brightest crayon in the box, but twenty-something enough for teenage me. We went back to his place that night, an upstairs room in a shared Victorian house over by Commercial and First. A week later, by the time we actually got around to sex, his room was my room. I’d paid rent, moved things in, and glued quietly accurate constellations of tin star-shapes to the ceiling. The landlady, who lived across the hall, was an eccentric, middle-aged brunette who survived off dubious government cheques, letting her house to rent, and celtic cloaks she made out of doghair collected from local groomers. Her only serious drawbacks were an unlikely fetish for the pop-star, Christopher Isaac, that involved energetically masturbating to his music while in the gigantic clawfoot bathtub, and an irrational hatred for our friend, the painter one room over. Not only did she flood the landing, (water blackly seeping under our doors), we all become dangerously addicted to billiards as a way to get out of the house.