Hay: Up frustration street and down depressing avenue

So what’s your most non-favourite thing to do in the middle of the last month of summer?

Swat mosquitoes? Pay your overdue Visa bill? Get that dental surgery you’ve been putting off?

For me, it’s all of the above, plus an even bigger non-favourite thing: looking for an (expletive deleted) apartment! When you only have 1.5 days to find one. 1100 kilometres away from home.

Oh, it’s been a long while since I personally had to find a place to personally hang my hat, but when you have two rotten kids that are ambitious and ubiquitous and always somewhere far and away and back and forth on life’s great adventure, it’s not unusual to find yourself offering to “help out” by wandering the streets of strange distant places “assisting” your capable offspring in finding some suitable digs.

And so it was last week that the rotten kid, (the daughter one) and I found ourselves stumping around the large west coast city in the excruciatingly rare heat wave and the extraordinarily oppressive forest fire haze coughing, hacking, sweating and stumbling (me, not her) valiantly pretending (me, not her) that we were actually making progress.

Oh, the R.K. had done her research, due diligence and homework all right, but circumstances beyond our control (aren’t they always?) dictated the necessary last-minute 1.5 day high-pressure accommodation anxiety marathon. Luckily she was well prepared with a list of excellent sounding apartments that were only marginally above her budget and slightly further away than the desired location. So headlong into the fray we went.

And you know how these things turn out. It’s uncanny how the reprobates listing the apartments somehow leave out the most accurate descriptions of said advertised property. You know, truthful adjectives like “ramshackle” or “run-down” or “uninhabitable” and good old accurate nouns like “dive,” “rat hole” or “crack house.”

The first place we went to – a “quiet, well-kept second floor unit” was still inhabited by a family with a deranged dachshund that unleashed a constant barking barrage, a large black cat with a talent for shedding and an unusually powerful smell that could only be described as a cross between a soiled diaper and decomposing cabbage. We were greatly relieved to stumble back out into the heat and the haze where we couldn’t breathe.

The next place, advertised as a “spacious” and “recently painted”, we finally found in a side street that looked like the apocalypse had come early. Even the elevator was from Nightmare on Elm Street. It was the size of a two-hanger closet. It made a phone booth look like Madison Square Gardens. Also, it was thrashed and trashed. We reluctantly entered the vertical coffin just as another fellow squeezed in. On the second floor the door opened and there stood a rather scary and sweaty person wearing only torn walking shorts. And 1,000 scary, sweaty tattoos. Luckily, with three of us already in the elevator there wasn’t room for Tat Man to join us. On the fourth floor the R.K. and I burst the heck out of the hades box and escaped out the back stairs.

And on, and on like that – up Frustration Street and down Depressing Avenue – all day long. But finally, the next muggy, sticky day, just when the idea of living out of a dumpster was starting to look like a viable option, the rotten kid snagged a good one.

Happy days! And then I remembered the old adage: the misery of finding an apartment is second only to the act of actually moving into said apartment. I think I’ll book dental surgery that week.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer writer and filmmaker.


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