The Birdcage Archives

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Reflecting on Real Estate

 Hello Gentle Reader,

In The Guardian there was an excerpt from Deborah Levy's most recent installment of her fluid living autobiography series: "Real Estate," (past installments are: "Things I Don't Want To Know," and "The Cost of Living,") where the author takes stock and contemplates the appeal for property; a place to call home. Perhaps even an estate; so long as its not that dreary rundown apartment block left to reminisce of its former glory days, in comparison to its decrepit ill maintained present self. Such a place is for all intents purposes a dwelling – more aptly speaking – a roof over the head to keep out the rain. To describe it as a home, is an insult to the notion of what home is. Yet, Levy reflects on her desire for a home. For a real home. One with a garden were flowers bellow and bloom throughout. A patch of grass that can be described with firm authoritarian proprietorship. Where the walls reflect ownership. The entire structure and building, from foundation to roof can be classified and designated by law as: one’s own. Each room holds within its corner, nooks, crannies, and shadows the understanding of the possessive attitude. There is something singular about property ownership. Singular in that it brings stability and assurance. Sadly, these perspectives are eroded by an undercurrent of expenses, taxes, and maintenance. Regardless, when an individual owns property, they have options, and within those options’ exists sanctuary.
Deborah Levy's preoccupation with real estate, and the concept of wanting a parcel of land to call her own, complete with a house and conveniently a garden, is riddled with the inclination of ownership. All of this brings stability and perhaps even status. Those of bohemian notions of course snub their noses at such bourgeois pursuits. A home? A garden? Such frivolous pursuits! How suburban, antiquated, and consumerist. It is terribly unartistic. It is terribly limiting. For all that stability you might as well clip your wings and call it done with. No more freedom. No more spontaneity. No more creativity. It will be flushed and squandered. Until all you know is the baseless and tasteless routines of contemporary existence that we call life. That mediocre day job, and the pitiful title of weekend warrior for Saturday and Sunday, which inevitably will be spent on housekeeping, gardening, and the otherwise general maintenance of the home. Yet, for Deborah Levy, the fantasy of envisioning a home with a garden, and a dining table that will welcome both family and guests, is not a matter of the base pursuits deemed consumable and required of today's world. It is one of stability. Perhaps insinuating back to Virginia Woolf's words regarding a woman who writes, who will require both money and a room of one's own to do so. In the case of Deborah Levy the notion of the room is inclined towards a home. A home of one's own to call their humble abode. To become a refuge and sanctuary, and housed within its walls, a room with a desk to write at. It is not selling out into the suburban ideal. It is not doing away with the creative pursuits. It is not the abandonment of any literary inclinations. It is an act of securing oneself and finding peace within that stability.
For the bohemian though, renting provides freedom (at an expense). Rent is by no means a cheap affair. You are provided a roof and a door that has a lock (hopefully), with windows without a view. It will have its issues, from leaking roofs and failed appliances; but it is a roof over your head. But do not mistake your position: you are a tenant, not the landlord. Your expectation is to pay rent on time, cover the utilities (unless included), maintain the house in cleanliness and shape, and not destroy anything intentionally. The home is only yours on the lease. This contractual relationship clearly outlines the narrative in which the transaction is to operate. The power dynamics in themselves, clearly defines the place in which you occupy within this order. Yet through it all there is freedom. Rental properties—be it some boho chic shabby shack; or a concrete canister apartment building; or some rundown slum—provides freedom, its noncommittal, expendable, and very much so not your problem. On the contrary, however, by whim or thought, you can easily be evicted and left in that precarious situation of purgatory homelessness.
Reading Deborah Levy’s reflections and ruminations of the notion of home, brought comfort with regards to my own precarious and concerning home situation. Though it never really was my home. Such is the plight of the renter. But it was always treated as if it were my own. Though the yard work tended to be neglected. Thankfully, there is always the prying neighbour to remind me that the lawn is getting long. Though she never mentions it on a personal or casual field. No, she relays the message through a formal complaint, which is then delivered by the municipality to the landlord, or an annoyed bylaw officer to me. Come the summer, there is no one as begrudged as a cantankerous cow in her garden. Over the years, I made routine reasonable attempts at keeping up with the yard work though. The first year there was even a reasonably successful attempt at a vegetable garden, which proved to be an informative orientation in the violent virtues of gardening. Yet come the spring it will be time to fight with the lawn mower. Who through its winter hibernation refuses to start without hesitation every spring. Like clockwork the grass pushes forward to the sun, and she begins scowling at her fence like a keen starved vulture. I never knew it was spring until I saw that disgruntled gardener. This of course proves the point regarding gardening as perhaps the most incurious past times. A transient seasonal chore more than an activity of pleasure.
Despite the many years spent here prior, they are now concluding with no more years to come. The home was never mine. Rather it was an illusionary notion of proprietorship. Every month the rent paid, started to feel like mortgage payments, followed by the utility invoices. Through the years, the home felt like my own. However, in late April I was reminded that it was never mine in the first place. I was provided notice. Thankfully, the landlords are kind and sought to work with me providing me enough time to find an alternative, a new place to call home—be it my own in ownership, or by illusion at someone else’s leisure. It comes as no surprise that they wanted to sell. The Canadian housing market is burning with a fevor fever. It is bloated with inflation, pushing myself and others out of the running. There are concerns we have entered the dangerous stages of a housing bubble due to burst. Less savory landlords are seeking to gain profit from an influx of tenants who find themselves without home for the housewares. The cycle inevitably continues regarding the status of ownership, and its ability to provide one with both stability and options.
With notice provided, it is time to seek out a new abode to call home, for however long I can call it such. For those who have ever house hunted, it is an exercise of patience, coupled with haggling and often walking away. The most recent house viewed could only be described as a nightmare. The first interactions with the would-be landlord raised enough concerns on their own. He conducted a complete organ recital for his pity party. One tenant who had lived there prior made off with his washer and dryer and replaced them with less appealing and malfunctioning ones. He claimed to have replaced them. The current tenant he went on to lament, had only been in there for two months and had not paid rent, so he evicted her. Another tenant prior had allegedly burned the carpet, so he replaced it. His claims were partially found true. When asked if there any concerns with vermin such as mice, he shrugged such a question off as inconsequential. He went so far to proclaim that every house has a mouse in it. Then he changed the subject to vent his ire about the neighbour who refuses to pay their share on replacing the fence. Upon arriving at the advertised: ‘cozy,’ and ‘comfortable,’ home, I was immediately greeted by the evicted tenant who was thrilled to provide a detailed walkthrough and accountancy of her own points of contention. Even before setting foot into the house, one need only survey the front and take stock of the garbage piles that had accumulated over an undisclosed time. Defensively she explained it was not her ‘trash,’ but merely the bullshit that was left behind for her to deal with. Crossing the threshold of a home one was immediately struck by the stench of stale cigarette smoke. It hung in the air, clung to the walls, wave itself into the fabric and foundation of the home itself. The ceiling yellowed with it. The hardwood floors the landlord boasted about with pride, where perhaps a selling feature at one point. Now they were beaten, scratched, and destroyed. A kitchen disaster certainly occurred. The range above the oven was scorched and burnt. The surrounding walls charred or blackened. Though it was spacious, as it apparently lacked any concept of cozy. The paint job was lathered and slapped on indiscriminately. Further down the line, we came the famous washer and dryer—or rather washer, with water pooling around it. I thought he had replaced them.
Then came what may be described as a bedroom, perhaps, with a door that lacked a handle. The carpet inside of it a disgusting constellation of burn holes peppered throughout. The bathroom smelt like a urine saturated latrine. The smell, now a permanent fixture. The shower itself showcased the blackened blemishes of mold. The second bedroom was a strange, patterned vinyl flooring from the 70’s that looked as if it belonged in some pornographic bathhouse. The advertised beautiful backyard was overrun with weeds and quack grass. The shed a hoarder’s nest of pesticide, garbage, and miscellany. Apparently, someone made off with his lawnmower too, or he failed to mention it. The parging around the house had been weathered and eroded. Chipped and destroyed it needed to be dealt with. Entering back into the house, one begins to take note of the gaps within the walls, and the sunlight peering back in. Mice certainly existed within this rundown shambled shack. Then came the final recount from the evicted tenant. Apparently, the bills are overdue (a stack of blue water utility notices can be found accumulating on the counter). The previous tenant or tenants had failed to pay the water bills, and an outstanding balance is overdue, or else the water is shut off. The evicted tenant explained that he (the landlord) wants the incumbent tenant to pay the outstanding bonus. She told him—and I quote— “to get fucked.” I don’t blame her and would have said the same.
It took a day to get the stench of stale cigarette smoke to dislodge from my nose. While the landlord himself wanted an account of what I thought of his rental. I told him it wasn’t meant to be. He went on another vent regarding how he cannot afford it being vacant, to which I responded, but you have several people expressing interest. His bluff was caught. Regardless, anyone who did look would never pay his bloated price. You always hear of the tenant from hell, but no one ever mentions the landlords of their derelict wastelands of homes. Their housing hazards. Their neglect and refuse. 
In the spirit of Deborah Levy, I continue to envision and dream of a place to call my own. One that knows that facilitates and fosters the sense of ownership and proprietorship, while maintaining discretion and privacy. A home is sanctum and a sanctuary. It is refuge for the for recluse and denies entry to the would be interlopers of the world. I casually stroll through the real estate websites and envision the homes that pique my interest as my own. There's one just north of the park off a main drag, but close to a grocery store. It's an older home, but well maintained. The kitchen was recently renovated, and though I am not a great practitioner of the culinary arts or the science of baking, I can appreciate a decent size kitchen as a requirement for most cooking. The neighbourhood itself is mature and established, meaning developed trees have grown throughout, and there is a sense of character within the neighbourhood, a sense of established identity. Though if I were to envision or contemplate a dream home, the matter grows increasingly nebulous. Perhaps in the redeveloped barracks, where the row houses appear like the brick houses one envisions in London. Or perhaps a quant brick Victorian home, oh how delightful, with its period charm. Then again there's no point in contemplating the improbable and impossible. The situation as it stands blows up both those thoughts back to the back of the brain. There is a time for dreams and wishes, and then there is time for immediate consideration with the pragmatic practicalities of life.  Hopes and dreams are nice with their pinched delights, but life is a startling and shocking affair and leaves little preoccupation with the baseless daydreaming. Though if the place were to have a yard, that would not be so bad. Though don't expect flowerpots strewn across the place, though lilac bushes would be nice. They require little effort to grow and seem to handle even the greatest amount of neglect. But at least with a yard, I would be able to have a postage stamp parcel of grass to sit on. Though living close to the park, would be nicer still, that's where you can stroll; read a book on the bench; watch the birds; feed the ducks; or a place to get away from the house or the concerns of daily life, if only for a minute. There is truly something marvelous and awe inspiring about the way in which people adapt and terraform the land to their own will. Amongst buildings, houses, shopping complexes and roads, there exists parks, trees, and flowers and the natural world, which is not defeated but controlled.
Of course, the urban and city life was always what I aspired for. Rural roots are dusty and dreary. Riddled with nosy neighbors and gossiping Gladys’s. Perhaps though more undesirable about rural life is its alienating expanse. Heralding from the prairies there is always a consuming nothingness that hisses on the warm summer winds, or in the starved howls of winter, as they blow across the prairies. Surrounded by 'nothing,' but skies and farmers' fields, often left one wondering and planning their escape away from the crushing expanse. In the distance at night, you could always spy the light pollution of the nearby city. Its clotted orange clouds hung overhead like a smothering chandelier of light and cloud, always operating as a beacon in those dark and endless winter nights of my childhood home. Of course, when visiting one took on more moral superior dimensions; criticising the garbage left littering the streets; the rushing people who don't apologize for bumping into you; the increased probability of crime. None of this ever happened in the country. But instead, there was a pulse. There was a palpable understanding of life. Events happened in the city; people were made in the city. Lives were lived in the city. In the country one slipped further and further into oblivion, into being forgotten or unknown, until there was gossip to share over the fence. Whereas the city offered possibility and potential in anonymity and discretion. So, its city life from here on out. 
For now, Gentle Reader, the hunt continues. If I did not appreciate my current and soon to be previous landlords before, I am certainly filled with gratitude for them now. Though considering the situation, I cannot resent them for wishing to sell and find their rationale completely understandable, even if it is inconveniencing. Though I do believe their treatment of me has made my tastes more refined; while others would say snobbish, difficult, and picky. Yet, if I am going to spend the amount of money being advertised, then I believe my accommodations should compensate and create an environment and situation that works for me. In the end rentals refute roots and ensure that life remains unstable on the shifting sands, so a reasonable trade off should be convenience and workability; though the counter argument is always going to be, we keep the rain off your head and from being homeless, as if somehow that is a charitable statement. Where in reality it sounds almost twistedly Dickensian in the thought that one must be cruel to be kind. 
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary
To Read an extract from Deborah Levy’s newest autobiographical prose work, please the following link to The Guardian: