Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekendy things

Nothing exciting here, just sort of life navigation stuff for myself.

Saturday I decided to go down to the city archives again. I haven't been there in ages. This time, instead of just pulling the aerial photos and taking pictures from them, I thought I'd actually pull some of the collections. What I had in mind was stuff from the 1960s from central North York. Specifically, the photo collections of the work rebuilding the intersection of Don Mills Road and York Mills Road; the attendant extension of Don Mills Road north from York Mills Road where it used to end till the mid-60 (it's now continuous with Leslie Street north of Steeles Avenue); and the construction of the Don Valley Parkway at Leslie Street in 1963... the latter, I'm hoping, to include a number of views of the old, meandering route of Lawrence Avenue through the valley, including the little one-lane pony truss that once crossed there that I mentioned in a recent post. When I got to the archives, though, they told me they only pull collections on weekdays, but that I could email a request on a Thursday or Friday and it would be waiting for me on the Saturday. So I think I'll try that. Apparently all three of these collections are in the same box, probably with other stuff, so it should be a nerdblast. :)

East abutment, March, 2002
Lawrence Avenue once crossed the Don here via a one-lane pony truss bridge. DVP exit to eastbound Lawrence Ave. seen through trees beyond on far side. Note that this abutment has apparently fallen into the river in the past year or so.

Having nothing else planned, I hung around the archives for a bit and resorted to photographing the aerials. I wanted to see what the area where the building I'm buying into looked like at various times. Most of the neighbourhood was built during the early to mid-1960s, but my building wasn't constructed till 1975. While I was looking at the plates, I decided to have a look at the construction of the Don Valley Parkway. The DVP (and Hwy 404, north of the 401) largely assumed the route (or at least unused road allowance) of Woodbine Avenue from the vicinity of Lawrence Avenue northward. Essentially nothing's been left of that part of Woodbine in Toronto since 1977; it only resumes being a regular street north of Steeles in York Region. So it's kind of weird seeing "Woodbine Avenue" intersections with York Mills, Sheppard, Finch, Van Horne, etc., where there are now just bridges. Seeing homes along a road that's now eight to ten lanes of asphalt. One plate, from 1960, was especially interesting to me. It's been hard, in aerial shots, for me to pick out precisely where Woodbine used to end above the Don Valley. It sort of trails off, literally. A bit of its allowance was used by Lawrence Avenue in its tortuous route crossing the Don. But, Saturday, I finally spotted it. It used to end right here. South of this, it was just valley. Woodbine resumes (and still exists as such) way down here, not counting its short stretch as "Woodbine Heights Blvd" on the little promontory just to the north. But in the 1960 shot, right at the end at the barrier, is this sad, lone little house. And looking at it, I thought, wow, that's sad; it probably got creamed when they put the DVP through a few years later. Then I looked at the 1971 plate, and was stunned to see the house was still there! Its driveway fed from the little road right to the north, serving as parking for the new townhouses. And to my amazement, I'm pretty sure the place still exists, with a few additions, and its driveway now on Geraldine Court. It's this place, right here. Imagine that place at the end of a long country road, surrounded by nothing but trees on the edge of the valley. Now look at it. Driving by, would you ever imagine? I'd love to have a look at this place from the road and try to picture that.

Anyway, after that, I made my way through town to my new neighbourhood. I thought I'd check out the grocery store across the road from my new place. It's a Food Basics, the chain I use most often, and I was really impressed with this one when I went inside. It's easy to imagine getting off the bus in front of it, picking up the couple of things I'd need in an evening, and just walking home, or wandering over first thing on a Saturday morning. I think I'll enjoy that.

Sunday, just for the sake of remembering, I was supposed to visit with Dave in Hamilton. We were going to do the pub in his neighbourhood at noon. He had to back that off to late afternoon so I decided to make a virtue of necessity and suggested to my folks that I swing by. I could show them the cheat sheets for the place I was buying. Then Dave had to cancel altogether so it morphed from a trip to see him to a trip to see my folks. I was there four or five hours; it was a nice little visit. Probably see Dave in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

And now the silence

It's been a flurry of activity in the past month -- and it is exactly a month; it was Sunday night, four weeks ago right about now, that Larry brought up his plans to move out that prompted me to get serious about looking for a place to buy. Look at all that's happened since then.

  • I started looking at listings.
  • I contacted an agent.
  • I met the agent.
  • I got a mortgage broker.
  • I got mortgage pre-approval.
  • I got a real estate lawyer.
  • I arranged to be shown, and actually viewed, four different places.
  • I made a decision based on location, amenities, utilities, transit, and price.
  • I made an offer on the place of my choice, and signed off on a counter-offer.
  • I withdrew $25,000 from my RRSP and handed over a $5,000 deposit.
  • I signed for a mortgage.

Now that is a powerful list when I consider that a month ago, I'd never done any of those things (aside from looking at listings now and then), and now I've actually done all that. And in under a month. Two months from today, if it all goes to plan, I'll be handed the key.

Two months. That's the problem. There's been all this activity. Scores of daily emails. Now, it's largely down to a couple of routine chores for the lawyer (title search, title insurance), and a long wait. If the closing were now, it would seem real. But there's no tangible result for me. I've done all this, and now... nothing. Silence. My pros are off doing other things, at least for now, and I sit here looking around, trying to think what I have to throw out, and how long before I really need to get serious about doing that. But otherwise, it's just business as usual. Despite all that.

Of course, once mid-May rolls around and there are all those last-minute things to do involving the closing, that'll change. And then there'll be June where I'm living here, owning there, and hauling the small stuff over on my own a little at a time each evening after work, and getting the feel of the place before my friends help me move the big stuff, and I say good-bye to this place after eleven years that have taken me from a young man to a middle aged one. But, just for now, it's been a whole lot of crescendo without a climax at the end. Just... silence, now. Two months is a long time to wait for the cymbals.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The joys of home ownership

I’m still over two months away from moving the first box, and it begins already.

Tuesday my agent got the building’s status report and passed it along to my lawyer, and I heard from him yesterday. There were a couple of things I didn’t like.

First, the condo fees are good for this year, but are estimated to do up about $70 a month next year, apparently to rebuild the contingency fund, because they’re spending $2 million working on the parking garages, 2009-2012. I already thought the fees were high, and this takes them to all the more rarefied air heights. I think I can manage it, but I sure hope they come down a little once the fund’s rebuilt.

Secondly was this stuff about parking spaces. Some homeowners would have to move spots. Some, apparently, would even have to “make other arrangements at their own expense”. This was extremely vague. Bad enough if it meant I’d have to rent a spot somewhere while paying condo fees… but what if it implied a reduction in spots and that I potentially lost my parking spot? Neither one of those agreed with me, especially the idea of the latter, which for me was a definite deal-breaker. Anyway, it was cleared up by my lawyer: the work in the vicinity of my spot was already done, so it’s not an issue in either case. But it’s funny how focused you get when real money’s on the line. This wasn’t something where I figured I’d just cross my fingers and trust my luck – this was something I told the lawyer “I need to know, not guess.”

Oddly enough, I’m still looking forward to this and I really want it all to come together.

Weird stuff

Okay, so last night I had a dream I woke up from. Nothing spectacular, but interesting enough I thought I’d record it. I was on the street in someplace that was supposedly the neighbourhood I live in, but it looked more like something closer to downtown. Crowded tree-lined streets that wandered just a bit. I was carrying a huge load of laundry in my arms. A young woman wanted to know how to get to Kennedy Road. I knew it was parallel to the street we were on, but I was disoriented and had to ask a passerby which way was south. Orienting myself, I could direct her to Sheppard Avenue, and then to Kennedy. I think she got the gist of it because she thanked me and started in that direction, but I followed after her, lugging my laundry, telling her more than she needed to know about getting there. She finally said good-bye and gave me a parting shot I couldn’t quite get, but took for “Nice puppy,” which was weird because I didn’t have a dog. But when I looked down, there was a bold, orangey-coloured chipmunk at my feet, striped, almost like some kind of jungle cat. And when it stood on its back feet and leaned on my knee, I was surprised by how large it was… the size of a cat. It let me pet it, though I had no food to give it. I had the vague sense it would be a pet for me from then on, and that’s when I woke up, needing to visit another room for a few moments. :)

Now here’s a waking one. I’ve been listening to an audio book about the turbulent romance of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Yesterday morning, the narrator said something about letters Burton wrote to her that she apparently never answered, but “she treasured for the rest of her life”. That sounded like the kind of remark you make about someone who’s already dead, but I was pretty sure she was still alive. So when I got into work, I checked on Wikipedia and, sure enough, they gave her death date. Then I noticed it was this month, this year. Then I noticed it was recent. Then I noticed, OMG, that’s today! She died yesterday, March 23. And there it was, already written up on Wikipedia. Now that, that was weird.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pony truss trip to Norwich

Saturday P-Doug and I headed west along the 401 to the vicinity of Norwich to photograph a wonderful little pony truss bridge that's been well-maintained and is still in use on a road called Middletown Line over Otter Creek, just south of a hamlet called, appropriately enough, Otterville. Sounds like my kind of place. :)

Modest, serviceable one-lane pony truss bridges of this sort used to proliferate all over southern Ontario. Most of them went up in the 1920s, replacing older wooden structures all over rural Ontario, and were themselves slowly replaced mostly in the 1960s as urbanity came to what had been places with slower paces. The northern parts of Toronto saw any number of these bridges vanish about this time. A notable one for me was the one that once carried Lawrence Avenue East across the East Don River until about 1963, when it was superseded by two six-lane box girder bridges a few hundred feet to the north, and then torn down.

N.B. Thursday, March 24, 2011 -- So apparently P-Doug was a bit miffed I didn't record that I'd found his ability to locate the bridge without recourse to a map during the whole drive quite impressive... so I'm correcting that oversight now. :)

Up until about 1960 or so, this is almost exactly what you would have seen crossing the East Don River westbound on Lawrence Avenue East, including the sharp turn to the right. That view vanished in 1963, but you can still get a sense of it here, below, in Otterville.

A little later on that day we were in northern Peel Region, exploring a trail that used to be a rail track, with an eye to coming back in warmer weather. Below you can see that there are beavers in the area, as well as human beings out to best them. Hey, Paul... Paul Bunion...

Heading home, these are some shots of the 401 eastbound from about Pearson Int'l Airport to the Don River.

More milestones

Well, today it's official. I've got a mortgage. I was in to see DD today and it's all signed off. I've declined the life insurance -- anyone who survives me can sell the place and pocket whatever equity's in it; I won't care -- but I've signed on for insurance in case anything happens to me that I survive... injury, illness, job loss. It's $74 a month or so but it's also some piece of mind.

Also today my agent, SC, was sent the assessment from the building, which he dropped off with the lawyer, NW. I've been told NW will likely contact me tomorrow about his findings. Hopefully everything's okay. I'd hate to have to start all this rolling again for some other place now. I've kind of emotionally invested myself in the new location and what it means for my lifestyle and transit. I expect it'll be fine, though.

Naturally when I was out with P-Doug on the weekend we got talking about it all. He suggested rather than trying to do everything in just four days at the end of May, why not rent the place one more month and use June to move things over? June will be paid for here as last month's rent, and I'll make my first mortgage payment June 10th, so there's no overlap. It does mean another month's rent out of my pocket instead of into savings, but the sanity-saver of four more weeks (if I need them) to transition seems worth it.

It's hard to imagine walking out of this place and locking the door behind me for the last time, after ten years. Though I've only rented it, this is the first place that was ever really "mine", and when I look around, I see myself. It fits like an old shoe. I'll miss it. But I'm still looking forward to having something that really is mine.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fall On Me

This is one of my favourite songs ever. I don't know what inspired me to look it up this evening but I did. I remember seeing this video years ago, back when I was in high school, I think, and running out to buy the album on the basis of hearing it just that once (couldn't get the song on a 45).

The song has a new poignancy just lately; the lines "buy the sky and sell the sky and bleed the sky" bring to mind my ongoing purchase of a condo apartment several hundred feet up in the air. In a way, it does seem like a rather unnatural, highly presumptuous thing to do.

Friday, March 18, 2011


When I got off the bus this morning near work, I became aware of this strange new sense I had of the city. I’ve lived in Toronto-proper (as opposed to “Greater Toronto”) for nearly 11 years now. For all that time, I’ve been renting. I would have told you before that there’s no difference between owning and renting in terms of how you view the place you live, but this morning I felt it.

Admittedly, I’m not there yet, but I’m on the verge of home ownership. A few more things have to happen and then it’s official. But so much, so many big important steps have been accomplished, that I’ve started thinking in a new way. So while I was walking, and glancing up at the skyscrapers, I suddenly had a very real sense of attachment to the city. I’m in the process of putting down definite roots here. I have a stake in the place I can’t just pull up at a moment’s notice and float away to somewhere else from. There’s gravity and some permanence to what I’m doing now. I’m going to own some little part of Toronto, and all the infrastructure that accrues to it, instead of just borrowing it month to month from someone else. Like I said, I wouldn’t have believed there’d be a difference. Home is home. But I’m beginning to sense that there is. It’s a small, but real, revelation. It’s empowering. I wonder if, and how, it will change my outlook. I just hope it doesn’t prompt me to become some conservative old curmudgeon.

I like being a liberal old curmudgeon, thank you very much. :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Like old times

I worked late this evening to try and get ahead on some stuff; took the bus home just to see what it was like. Might be interesting to start taking it home and walking up my street. I might even take it to work, catching the route, 85, at Don Mills Station. Might give that a whirl tomorrow morning and see what I think.

Anyway, I got home about quarter after six. I had plans of roaming to my new neighbourhood to see what's in the little plaza across the street. I started supper (now half-cooked in the fridge), and I was just going down the hall to see if I could interested Larry in the drive when I met him on his way out to see friends. But they really weren't expecting him till later, so to my surprise he agreed to come with me.

We were driving down our street and turning to take a side road to Don Mills Road, and he was talking about how they make fun of Justin Bieber songs at work. We both burst into peals of laughter when he brought up a Justin Bieber "Never Say Never" poster and joked about changing it to "Justin Bieber: Never Say Beaver". He went on to suggest "Never See Beaver", but he said "you just know he's getting laid". It was hilarious. It made me feel like old times. It's not that we don't have a laugh around here every so often... it's just it had that feeling of 'before' about it... back when I'd see him a few times a month instead of every day. It made me a little wistful.

So, we got to the plaza, and saw what was there. Not all that much of use to me, but it does have a drug store and a discount grocery store about five minutes from my front door, so I'm not complaining. But the place has been there since the mid-1960s, and I imagine scores of businesses have been in and out of it over the years. I pointed out my new place to Larry, standing at one end of the plaza; you could just see the unit between another building the steeple of the church. I think I'll always remember that.

Just to have a look, we got back in the car and checked out the larger mall a couple of minutes away. It's got a few more amenities, like a stationery store and liquor store (not much use to me at the moment, but at least I know it's handy). It's about a ten minute walk from my place, and given how busy the parking lot's been every time I've been there, walking is how I'll be going to it, I think. Last Saturday when SC and I were trying to work out an offer for my new place, we tried to get to the Tim Horton's there (it's always Tim Horton's, isn't it?) and we couldn't find a spot! Well, that's not really true; there were a few on the east side, but I figure he thought it was too far to walk. That's how we wound up at the satellite office in the industrial park.

Well, Larry and I had a quick look around the east end of the mall, then bailed and went to Wendy's, bringing the stuff home. As I write this, he's out with his buddies.


While I'm here I think I'd like to remind myself about Monday, the day I took off work to get some financial ducks in a row. Really, that was out of the way by 11 or so... not long after. I had to get stuff for the cats, so I drove down the 404 to the DVP. Dummmmmb. The interchange southbound at the 401 was, as always, a clusterfuck. I don't know why I keep insisting on trusting my luck with that. It took me about ten minutes to get past it, and I immediately got off the DVP at York Mills Road, my first opportunity to exit, and then headed south down Leslie. Got the cat litter, etc., down on Eglinton, then picked up stuff at Wendy's (yeah, yeah, I eat there a lot... grilled chicken sandwiches and chili, usually), and went home. I worked on my blog here, trying to work up the guts to call the real estate lawyer, and then finally did later in the afternoon. Nothing special... I just wanted to remind myself what I did that day.

Note to self

You don't have to read this if you don't want to. :) This is just me, deciding to make a note of the important dates in the process of buying a place so that I don't forget. I'm already finding the timeline kind of confusing. (Note; March 17th: items in red immediately below are erroneous; see note at end of post.)

February 28, 2011 (Monday) -- Chat with Larry where he reminds me he's moving on. (This was actually Sunday, Feb. 27.)

March 1, 2011 (Tuesday) -- Started looking at listings. (This was actually Monday, Feb. 28.)

March 2, 2011 (Wednesday) -- Contacted SC (now my real estate rep). (This was also Monday, Feb. 28. What follows is correct to the date.) Met with him, along with Larry, at Tim Horton's. Larry opts out of going in on a place. I determine to go ahead on my own.

March 3, 2011 (Thursday) -- Met with SC for first showing, a one-bedroom in the building in which I'm buying. Didn't like it (as explained elsewhere on this blog). Did sign to have SC represent me as eventual purchaser, though (standing in the kitchen of the place I didn't like!).

March 4, 2011 (Friday) -- Contacted DD to be mortgage broker on SC's advice.

March 6, 2011 (Sunday) -- Submitted mortgage application to DD.

March 9, 2011 (Wednesday) -- Informed by DD of mortgage pre-approval.

March 11, 2011 (Friday) -- Go with SC to view three properties. Impressed by first one; not really jazzed by other two.

March 12, 2011 (Saturday) -- Go with SC for second look at first property from night before. We go to one of his company's satellite offices and prepare an offer.

March 13, 2011 (Sunday) -- Seller counter-offers. I agree to price. P-Doug and I meet SC at Tim Horton's and I sign off on the agreement.

March 14, 2011 (Monday) -- I take the day off to go to my branch and withdraw $25,000 from my RRSP. I contact NW on SC's advice to act as my attorney.

March 15, 2011 (Tuesday) -- I get bank draft for $5,000 deposit; give same to SC. Mortgage papers forwarded to me by DD. Discuss same by email with NW and DD; meet DD in person at 4:15 to discuss terms and sign mortgage contract. On returning home, send requested information to DD to satisfy loan terms.


At this point, I'm waiting to hear about the building assessment from NW. I think that's largely it, until some time in May when the down payment has to be made, and all the closing fees have to be paid.

Closing date is slated for May 27, 2011. First mortgage payment due June 10, 2011... first of about 910. :)

So, like the song says, "hats off to Larry"... he didn't "break her heart", but I guess he got me off my ass.


N.B. (Thursday, March 17) Okay, see, it's important to do this because I've learned I already have it wrong. Emails I exchanged with SC on Feb. 28th, the Monday, show I was much faster out of the gate, and started looking that day. That means, too, that my chat with Larry that got things rolling happened on Sunday, Feb. 27.

The next steps

The process continues. Yesterday saw me withdraw $5000 from one of my chequing accounts, now flush with the pilfered arm and leg of my RRSP, and hand it over to my rep at lunchtime as a deposit. I was also emailed the mortgage agreement by my broker. That was the most daunting thing so far. It was, not surprisingly, several pages in length. I wasn’t bothered so much by anything actually financial in it; there were few surprises there – it was all the assurances they wanted. Do I really have a job at such-and-such salary, is the property really worth what I’m paying, is it fire insured, do I have the money for the promised down payment… etc., etc. Again, I’m not bothered by the fact they want to know these things, but I was a bit bewildered by the breadth of the requests. How was I to come up with some of this stuff?

As of Monday, after the previous post, I now also have a real estate lawyer; recommended to me, like the broker, by my rep. In email, he explained some of the basics of the agreement, and pointed out the things he’s responsible for providing in due course. That took a load off.

My mortgage broker and I also mutually wanted to meet to discuss the agreement, and as fate would have it, his office is a ten minute walk from where I work. I wandered over there yesterday and we talked for about an hour. That was great. He really cleared up what he needed from me to send to them, and when I got home, I got it together and scanned it and emailed it to him. So, one more thing is signed on and backed with documentation. I even know when the first payment is due. At this point, there isn’t a lot left; it’s mostly stuff the lawyer handles now. Then the closing costs, the transfer of title at the end of May. Then the real hard part: actually packing stuff up and moving. I’m glad there’s still over two months.

I also took the bus home along Sheppard Avenue for the first time yesterday, as I was smack-dab in the middle between two of the subway stops. I found it, Route 85, reasonably brisk, which was a blessing because by the time I was heading home, I had to pee with an ever-increasing urgency. As a result the ten minute walk home up my street wasn’t as enjoyable as it might otherwise have been. :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happened so fast

So, well, Friday I was scheduled to look at three places, and I did. It was the first one I had my eye on. It was gorgeous. Really, it was pretty much everything I was looking for in terms of amenities, location, price. The other two places didn't impress me but the first one did. So, Saturday, we went back and had a second look. I was still impressed. That afternoon, we made an offer.

Yesterday, I was out at a pub with P-Doug waiting for the call from my rep that they'd counter-offered. They came right up the middle of the $5000 difference. So, P-Doug and I paid the bill, took off across town, and we met up with my rep at a Tim Horton's, where I signed. Yeah, I signed a home purchase sitting in a Tim Horton's. How Canadian can you get?

Today I've begged off work so I can go to the bank, open my RRSP, and transfer money out for the deposit cheque and, eventually, the down payment. It all happens at the end of May, which has a nice air of breathing room about it. Anything shorter than about a month would have seemed too abrupt, I admit.

It isn't real to me yet. It hasn't actually sunk in that I won't be living here next summer, but in that nice place I visited a couple of times last week. I can't explain it. I'm not nervous or excited or depressed, or much of anything. I feel good that I've taken this step, but it doesn't seem as momentous as I always imagined it. It just feels like something I needed to do that I put off for years, but finally tackled. Maybe that'll change... but you know what, I hope not. I hope it always feels like this: a simple, mature thing I did that thousands and thousands of other people do every day, that was a responsible thing to do. I don't want to be awed or frightened or cowed or ecstatic about it, because I think they're all overreactions. I like that this feels normal.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Nerd dreams

I mentioned recently that I seem to go through these periods where I have dreams I remember. I seem to be in one at the moment. Last night’s dream wasn’t what I’d call one of my classically weird ones, but it was one of the compelling, interesting ones, in which the world’s just a little askew.

In this one, I had the silver car I had previous to this one, and I was driving it back to 1970 to take photos of a construction site. I was puzzled when I arrived there, trying to figure out where it was, and I finally decided it was the reconstruction of the intersection of Winston Churchill Blvd. and Erin Mills Parkway. I can’t show you what that intersection looked like before the reconstruction, nor afterwards, for that matter, because it doesn’t exist. Winston Churchill Blvd. and Erin Mills Parkway are Peel Region’s sixth and fifth west concession roads respectively, and as such they run parallel to each other 7/8 of a mile apart. Big points to anyone who can tell me the Freudian aspect of this detail. :)

Anyway, when I got there, Erin Mills Parkway was in the process of being upgraded from Fifth Line. It was a scar of reddish-brown dirt six lanes wide, with big yellow construction machines scattered on it, momentarily stopped for lunch or something, I guess. The road dipped down under the railroad underpass they were building, and at the top of the hill, beyond what had been the level crossing, was a very busy Winston Churchill Blvd. that reminded me more of Queen Street in Streetsville or Dundas Street near the Junction… lots of low-rise storefronts/apartments that don’t actually exist on Winnie anywhere (went straight from country road to suburban drive with no little towns on it in between).

This is where it gets interesting. Right in the middle of the road was this old farm house. It was due to be razed, but hadn’t been just yet. A family was still living there. I was with them on their porch, shooting the scene with a digital SLR camera. They knew I was from the future and were impressed the camera had no film. It was no big deal to anyone I was from the future; in the world of the dream, that kind of thing happened. It was like living in the old country and being visited by relatives from the New World or something. They didn’t ask me questions about what was going to happen. They were more interested in my impressions of the time they were living in.

And suddenly my dad was there, looking like he does today. I have the impression he’d come with me. But when I looked at him again, he seemed younger. The next time I looked at him, he looked like he would have been back then, a man considerably younger than I am now. He seemed really happy and self-confident. I didn’t think of it in the dream but I wonder if he meant to stay.

Anyway, that was pretty much the run of the thing. Nothing wild or truly weird. Just stuff I found nerdishly interesting. I love dreams like that.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A step closer to bank slavery :)

I seem to go through these jags where I blog a lot and then take a break (in other words, long periods where I can’t be arsed). This seems to be one of those stretches where I’m inclined to tap the keyboard.

So anyway, without further ado. Yesterday I heard back from the mortgage broker. I hope it doesn’t sound arrogant to say that I wasn’t really too concerned I’d be turned down flat; my real concern was, being a single guy who’s middle aged now, what would anyone be willing to lend me? Turns out, a lot more than I expected. Now, mind you, the sum is amortized over 35 years, and doesn’t take condo fees into account, but that said, it approaches 300K. I was just hoping the clear the 175K hurdle… that’s the range at which older places that have the room and amenities I could be happy with become possible. I don’t want to spend anything like what they’re ostensibly willing to lend me; I couldn’t pay that off if I lived to be 90. But it’s sure good to know I can make this happen. It’s just figuring out what and how now, I suppose.

There’s a fairly nice town home not far from where I live now that’s for sale. It’s around 200K, and I’m not sure I want to spend that much, but the condo fees are lower than most places in towers (partly because you’re on your own for heat and electricity… but oddly enough, cable and water are inclusive). A couple of things I don’t like about it are that it’s ground level and the parking is surface. Now that I’m taking the subway to work and seeing my car on roughly a weekly, rather than a daily, basis, I’m not sure I want to leave it sitting in the open for a week at a time… that just feels like I’m begging for the thing to be stolen. Besides, I don’t really want to leave it sitting exposed to the weather, either. So much as I love the location, if the place doesn’t make me fall in love with it, it’s already a dubious prospect.

Not too far away are some substantial two-bedroom units near the Scarborough border. They’re between 175K and 185K. They seem to be about the same size as the apartment I’m renting, and the condo fees include pretty much everything but the net and the phone. The bus is right out the front door, goes to Yonge line, from which it’s one stop to work. Alternately another bus takes you to the Sheppard line I’m taking to work now. Either way, a bit longer than the commute I have now, but not that much. Parking’s underground, and no more leaving the apartment do laundry. I’m very much in favour of that. You wouldn’t believe it, but I’ve had about half a dozen t-shirts ripped off over the years. Some people really have no shame at all. Enough of that crap. There’s a supermarket and a drug store literally across the street. These places are top of my list right now. They’re both in the same building. Let’s just say I’m pretty interested.

Anyway, the real estate guy I’m working with is talking about bombing through five places in two hours, probably tomorrow night. I wonder what it’ll be like. Will I see some place I really want and die a little knowing I realistically can’t afford it (no matter what some bank thinks)? Will I hate the places I probably could afford? Or will I maybe be lucky and find a place I can really imagine settling into and loving, and being able to afford at the same time? It’s kind of exciting. I wish I’d done this five or ten years ago, though. Probably couldn’t have ten years ago, but five? Possibly. Wish I hadn’t put it off. Well, I haven’t done it yet, either! And if I don’t see any place I like, I guess I still won’t. Much as I’d like to stop wasting money renting, I don’t want to just grab a place I hate and have to try to unload sometime, somehow.

So there it is. Another milestone. Even if I don’t buy anything, I’ve taken the steps. Someone’s shown me a place. I’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage. I’m actually flirting with home ownership and I’m getting winks and kisses blown back. Nice feeling. But aside from marriage, hard to imagine a more real, grown-up thing to do. That’s still a little scary… though not as scary an idea as it used to be, years ago.

Well, we’ll see.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The latest 15

I remember hearing somewhere that men, reputedly, think about sex every 15 seconds. I highly doubt that's true, but all the same...

Today I was contacted by a former co-worker who likes to get together to compare career trajectories from time to time. It's been over a year since we've sat down to this. It's always lunch, but this time it's dinner on a weekend. Me being a man, I indulge myself in a pleasant little fantasy that we are about to embark on an affair.

We're not, of course. She's extremely married, with two kids who constitute about 80% of her conversation. While she enjoys a decorous bon mot, in truth, she's so demure that it's hard to conceive (pun intended) of how she acquired two children in the first place. Perhaps under lettuce leaves in the garden?

Nevertheless, brief flashes of the tall, unrestrained Amazon bursting free of layers of WASP plaster-of-Paris do smolder, almost smokelessly, in the back of my distracted mind. LOL :)

More looking back

One year ago today I sat in a meeting with a VP at the company I used to work with and walked out of it knowing I wasn’t going to become official manager of the department I’d been running for nearly a year, but was going to be working under someone junior to me who had quit when I started, prompting my change of jobs. I took a minute to look back at the post I wrote when I changed jobs last year. Thought there were a few things I might comment on.

My reasons of leaving: well, I’m hearing from people more closely-connected to the old company than I am that it’s in some trouble. The parent company spent much of last year trying to unload it, unbeknownst to them. At least till one prospective buyer accidentally phoned them directly, spoke to our president, and prompted a minor heart attack in the man the following day. This was sometime last summer, I gather. More to the point of my reasons… I’m hearing that, surprise surprise, the person they hired to manage documentation blew a deadline – as she did years ago, before I started there. Just shrugged and went home with it not finished, as did her junior, the guy I managed for over a year (little disappointed in him, I have to say). Friday, 5 o’clock, off they went. Clients didn’t get the documentation. While my boss ran things, while I ran things, we never, ever let that happen. This one, so great she was going to be my boss, she’s at risk of being fired. This is largely to the advantage of other department heads, “friends” of hers, who praised her into the job, probably in the expectation she’d drop the ball and ask for the extension that THEY used to have to ask for when THEY dropped the ball. All in all, I’m sorely tempted to email the VP who hired her and ask, “Hey, how’s that working out for you?” Apparently his time’s up, too. He’s here from England on a work visa, and I don’t think it’s going to be renewed. Cheerio, old bean! Don’t let the maple door smack you in the bum on the way out. Anyway, while I’m not happy about having to quit, I suppose it was for the best.

My commute: I really don’t mind taking the bus and the subway as much as I would have imagined this time last year. I guess I’m used to it now. It’s often a drag; it means I can’t get around during lunch or right after work like I used to. But gas is currently 123.5¢/L, about a third again as expensive as it was when I stopped driving to work, so I guess I don’t mind not having to routinely pay that!

We changed buildings a few months ago. I’m a little further from the station now, which means going outside to get to work, or to go to the food court, both of which used to be elevator rides. That I don’t much like. Nicer building, though. Looks classier.

The company: I guess the biggest change is, like dozens of other companies around the world last year, we got acquired by IBM. No layoffs, no dislocation, not even any immediate big changes. But damnation, do these people love meetings and blue tape (three meetings today, one in ten minutes…). You almost need to check with someone just to go to the can. On the other hand, they’re way into helping you build your career, and even move around between positions and locations in the company. So if I can adapt to the culture, it could be a great place to pursue my career. I sure hope so, because I really don’t want to have to look for another job again.

I guess on the whole I’m better off than I was. I have regrets: I’ll never like being essentially chased out of the last company, or being milked like a cow for a crucial year and then being traded for some idiot’s magic beans and missing my chance to really manage. But, you know, one door closes, etc. So here I am. I can do none other.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Looking back at the blog, and looking ahead...

When I started blogging, nearly seven years ago, I was originally working with LiveJournal. I kept that blog for about a year before I began to switch over to Blogger, to City in the Trees here.

I’ve had recent discussions with a fellow blogger whose work I admire and follow closely. He suggested moving over to WordPress for some of the features there. I looked into it and while a few things intrigued me, some other aspects, like the requirement to pay to embed video and the not-quite-accurate conversion of my Blogger formatting, were enough to dissuade me. Nevertheless, it got me started on a different project: finally porting over my LJ entries to City in the Trees. I’ve spent most of the weekend reviewing, reformatting, and reposting the entries here.

Not all of them made it. A handful were complete rubbish, puzzling babblings I made while drunk, and they were dropped as being without value, either to me or anyone else. But, on the whole, I think about 90-95% of them are now here. Pretty much anything prior to May, 2005, will be from that period.

Obviously in reviewing them, I’ve had to read them, some of them for the first time in many years. I’m struck by how my focus has changed, both in blogging and in my life.

For one thing, most of the early entries are centred around Jody, a friend I knew online for ten years, and who died in his mid-20s of cancer. I was obsessive about it, but I think that’s understandable and excusable, though I have to admit—with a little bit of shame—that I find myself now surprised at the focus of it. I don’t remember it looming as large in my life as it apparently did. I also find the spiritual references a little strange. In thinking about it now, I do remember I was trying very hard to connect to something deeper at the time. I went through a lot of that over a couple of years. What’s lacking is any indication of when I finally gave up on that. I know I did at some point. I know it isn’t real for me now. I don’t think it was then, either, though it’s abundantly clear I wanted it to be.

Another thing I noticed is that my posts back then were largely about either what I was feeling, or the mundane day-to-day things going on in my life. I suppose there’s still some of that, but nowhere near as much. My postings now are much more sporadic and I don’t feel the need to blog about things like baking spaghetti squash or that it snowed yesterday. Now it seems to be much more about the exceptional things (explorations, weird dreams, strange observations, concerts, movies, political events, and so on). It’s less about me, and more about what I think about things out there.

I also notice, with rather a degree of discomfort, that six or seven years ago I was spending a lot of time sitting around boozing, and writing about sitting around boozing. It’s particularly striking in light of that fact that I essentially undertook three months ago to give up drinking altogether for a year, without anything like that level of alcohol in my life anymore. It’s been a long time since my idea of a good weekend was sitting around with my head swimming, stuffing down pizzas, and then agonizing about it the next day. Relatedly, I noticed a constant bemoaning of my increasing weight... oh no, 205! Oh no, 215! Oh no, 228!! Well, yeah. It’s currently 233, and that’s down from 251 at the start of December. 228 once seemed terrible... now it’s a goal for the month. Why did I let that happen?

Blogging has a bad rep... even I was amused by Ron James’s tweaking our noses about it: “I just brushed my hair and now I’m eatin’ chips!” There’s a narcissistic aspect in sharing your thoughts with the world, sure. But I’ve also found it valuable in remembering what I’ve done, where I’ve been, what I was feeling, and when. I suppose a diary would serve the same purpose but it wouldn’t be as fun, and there'd be no chance of interesting feedback or anyone building on what you've said or asked. Anyway, if nothing else, it’s providing an impetus to stay the course in terms of watching what I eat, and keeping the bottle at bay.

* * * * *

Other things. I don’t talk about my home life much here anymore... at least, not like I once did... but I’m on the verge of some changes that I suppose warrant mention, if only for myself one day. I’ve known Larry for about 20 years, and for the last year and a half, he’s been subletting my spare room. Well, he’s expressed an intention, “no offense, but...”, that he wants to strike out on his own, probably this summer. He raised the matter late last fall, when I was switching internet providers and he thought I was doing so to accommodate some increasing need for bandwidth. So this has been in the back of my mind for a while.

His living here has landed pretty lightly on me. I haven’t changed my lifestyle much at all. And his contribution to the rent has been valuable. It’s enabled me to wipe out both an outstanding loan of around $3500 and credit card debt of around $6000 in the space of about a year of assiduous application on my part. The only debt I currently have is a car loan, and I ashcanned the credit card last month (I’m currently using a net-rechargeable pre-paid MasterCard from Bank of Montreal for things like online purchases... using my own money, rather than borrowing someone else's). His help with the rent is money I admit I’m going to miss.

I also realize I’m going to miss him. I lived on my own for nearly a decade before he moved in, and at first I was kind of worried we might really get on each other’s nerves and damage the friendship. To my relief, that didn’t happen. He does his thing, I do mine, and every so often we put on a movie, order out for roast chicken, and have fun heckling. He’s a blast at it. I guess I’ve grown accustomed to having someone else around, even if we’re not interacting. I’m not alone. If I want to talk about something, or make a joke, or bounce an idea of someone, he’s right down the hall. Sometime this year, that’s going to end. It’s going to go away. He’s gonna go away. The weird thing is, as used as I was to being alone, I’m really not looking forward to going back to it. Kinda sucks, to tell the truth. I expect we’ll still be friends but it’s not going to be the same. It’ll be like it used to be. I’ll see him a couple of times a month... maybe. He's always been a social butterfly. After sharing space for about two years (or whatever, whenever), that’s going to be really weird. Now I’m afraid that will end the friendship, not with a bang but a whimper. I dunno. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In truth, his latest admission of it has kind of spurred me to action. It happened like this: last Monday (N.B., March 17th: it was actually Sunday, the day before), we were sitting around in the living room, talking animatedly about buying new computers this month. Kind of by accident six or seven years ago, my main computer is here in the living room, and Larry remarked that I should get a big flat screen TV so I can connect the computer to it and watch media on it. Sensing something was up, I asked what was wrong with the big Sony rear projector we have (technically, it's his, so my immediate reaction was, is it going to disappear sometime soon...?). There was a moment of silence, and then that "well, no offense" soliloquy opening. And I guess at that moment, I decided I didn't want to be stuck here by myself again. So...

For my part, last week, I started looking for a place to buy. I’ve been lamenting flushing $1200 a month down the toilet in rent for a long time now but I've always had too much immediate debt to really move on it. Now there's a chance. I’d like to start building equity, and hopefully own a place I can retire in one day. It’s a big step. Geographically, financially, it really ties you down. I asked Larry if he were interested in going in with me, at least for a couple of years, to build up some equity, but he’s politely turned me down. He wants his wings. I guess I can’t blame him, though in terms of what he’s said he’d like to acquire himself eventually, I think it’s a mistake. But that’s strictly my opinion, and I don't presume I'm right.

Anyway, as I say, I’ve started looking around. I’ve signed with an agent. I’ve sent my info to a mortgage broker. I’ve looked at local listings. I even went to a showing on Thursday... ugh, the place was awful. It was two-thirds, maybe half the size of my current apartment. It looked chintzy, and it seemed like the last time anyone took an interest in remodeling it Saturday Night Fever was top of the box office. Empty, too, and had been for a while, I think. This could be a long haul. Especially since I have no idea, yet, what anyone’s willing to lend me. I suppose I’ll find that out sometime this week. But the ball’s finally rolling. I should have done it years ago, but at least I’ve actually made the first move, for real, at last. I wonder if this time next year, I’ll be blogging from my own place.

And I wonder if I’ll be seeing much of Larry in it.

Friday, March 04, 2011

My dreams are against me!

Another aspect of dreams I’ve been having lately stems from the fact that I went on the wagon for a year in mid-December. I’m trying to see if I can go a year without drinking at all. I used to drink by myself when I was bored, or on weekends, just to get a buzz and sit back and enjoy movies. It was never a problem, but it was A) expensive and B) kind of disquieting. It wasn’t hard to imagine it going from chillaxing to something necessary to get through the day if it went on long enough. So I quit drinking at home last summer. Made it strictly a social thing.

Then I noticed I was really looking forward to the weekends… getting out with guys to heft a few. One day one of my friends baled at the last minute, and I recruited Larry, my roommate, to head out and go instead. He was game, but afterwards I started wondering if I was drinking to be with my friends, or going out with my friends to drink. Unrelatedly, and at about the same time, Larry mentioned that a bunch of his friends had just come off a year of self-imposed sobriety, and I started wondering if I could manage that myself. So, a week or so before Christmas, I just decided to give that a go myself.

We’re coming up on three months now during which time I haven’t touched a drop. Except in dreams. I can recall about a half dozen dreams so far (including one last night) – and who knows how many I don’t remember – in which I’m out with friends at a pub, and I order a beer or a mixed drink, and I’m two or three mouthfuls in before it dawns on me I’ve blown it. My dreams keep rapping me on the knuckles. I’ve been out with friends to pubs a dozen times since I went dry and, of course, I’ve never once made this mistake. I haven’t found it at all difficult (this is not to say I haven’t thought it would be really nice to have a drink or a beer or two from time to time, usually at the oddest times). And yet, for all that, I’m a miserable failure at even this simple and obvious task when it comes to my dreams. I must be masochistic or something.

John Lennon and his what??

I had a weird dream last night; the first dream I’m able to remember in quite a while. I was out at a mall with Larry and we passed this kind of kitschy, junky storefront. There was a little TV there running an ad for these weird, cartoony Beatles action figures. The ad was kind of light and 60s-style and some guy was singing a little ditty about each of the figures, including the following:

“…John Lennon, and his phallus…”

I kid you not. So Larry and I both looked at each other, laughing our heads off, and started going through the figures. We found some, ostensibly of John, but they looked instead more like Albert Einstein or Mark Twain (I guess it was John in disguise, like in Yellow Submarine). The figure was posed like an Oscar statue, and sure enough, there clutched in his hands was a large, black, rubber dildo. Well, it was hilarious, and we had to have a couple. Larry shelled out, using his bank card. But instead of $7.14, the girl put in $714 (I have no idea why I remember the number so exactly), and he didn’t notice till sometime later when we were in a restaurant (a sort of faux 1950s greasy spoon with high tone 21st century prices) and he looked at the receipt and started freaking out that he wouldn’t be able to pay his share of the rent. He went off to find the salesgirl and somehow she wound up in the restaurant with us. She was a plump, good-looking 20-something with freckles and short reddish hair (kind of a grown-up Peppermint Patty, I guess), a good sport about it all, and she and Larry started flirting and getting into one another. I remember starting to feel jealous of them and like a third wheel. Well, there you go; my dose of surrealism for the night. :)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

We love you too, honey...

So this morning on the subway I was treated to an interesting sight. I'd actually speculated about this kind of thing before but I'd never actually seen it. I settled into my seat and because I didn't have a book with me, I just listened to my MP3 player (an audio book about Richard Burton and Liz Taylor's stormy romance). Just before the train left, in stepped a ponytailed man in his forties. He sat down in the side seats in front of me. There, on his neck, peeking out from the collar of his leather jacket, in carefully scripted, flowing cursive letters at high as a man's thumb, was tattooed Fuck Off, running from under his right ear towards his throat. If there was more to the missive, I'm not privy to it.

I've occasionally wondered about, but never thought I would actually see, something like that, unless possibly on a part of the body usually only seen at the beach (and probably a nude beach at that), but there it was. Every time this guy goes to work, or buys milk, or kisses his wife, or hugs his child, or sits on the subway; or you happen to meet the Prime Minister or the Queen, the President of the United States, the Chancellor of Germany, or the Emperor of Japan — there it is: Fuck Off. Intimidating? Yes, and no doubt intentionally. Pitiful? Far more so. He rode two stops and left, and I had to wonder what kind feelings the people waiting at home have concerning his arrival.