“Last one out of Liberty City, burn it to the ground.”
“Last One Out Of Liberty City”, ‘Hello Rockview’; Less Than Jake (1998)
“My advice, to anyone willing to listen, is to find a notebook that fits into your pants pocket. Use a pen with a cap so it doesn’t explode in your pocket, and start writing down whatever you can remember. Even if it’s a favourite colour. Then, later, write down why it’s your favourite colour…. and pretty soon you’ve got a list.”
The Third Of Five Lists: The First 52 Places I Remember Living
Close to eighteen months into my recovery I started writing a new journal. After a while I started making lists to sort out my memories, including one of all the places I’ve lived. Without a doubt this list has been the most work of them all. I’ve lived in at least 52 houses, apartments and rooming houses so trying to put dates on each is almost impossible. But getting them out on paper has enabled me to place important, and trivial, events into some order which otherwise were left confused and missing from my memory. Making lists, in my opinion, can be very helpful to someone with manic depression or clinical depression — which distort reality — as a means of putting perspective into our lives. As proof I’m offering mine.
This was actually the hardest of the three parts to put together. Most of the traumatic trials of my life came back to life during this period, they were then combined with some of the most alcohol fuelled tribulations. I was working 30-40 hours per week as a reporter for a large magazine, and spending the same time either mostly drunk or all the way drunk. I was also totally unmedicated… however, I would score the occasional 200 Lithium pills to try and get some kind of treatment. But Lithium and alcohol are a dangerous mix, so my one or two weeks at a time living on Lithium and twenty rum & Coke per night would make me a toxic mess. So, what I’m trying to say is, some of the years maybe a little confused. But the order is right.
1. The first twenty-four places I’ve lived… from 1970 until 1990, where I was borne until my move to Ottawa.
2. The next fifteen places I’ve lived… from 1991 until 1999, around Ottawa until I left for Toronto.
40) Toronto (Sept. 1999-Jan. 2000) Bartlet: My first apartment after moving to Toronto (#39) was a relatively clean rooming house on Dufferin and College, it had a mild roach problem but otherwise was mostly okay. Then a room opened up in a rooming house where my friend Darell was living. It was about the same cost, the room was totally furnished and it came with free cable. And no roaches. Paradise. Six months later the landlords mother, who lived on the main floor, went insane and had me kicked out. I was given two weeks notice… it is legal in Ontario for the landlord to break the lease in a rooming house if one of their relatives needs a place to live. So, of course, they invented a daughter and I was out in the street. Ends up I was kicked out over things the kid in the room next to me was doing (smoking a lot of pot in a non-smoking house). It would have been nice if D. had spoken up in my defence, but he was probably worried about getting kicked out as well… but, thankfully, I had Other Friends. Like Steve.
41) Tor. (Feb. to May 2000) Winona: Steve and Darell made up half of a punk band formed in our Little Village. When I moved to Toronto I only knew one person, Justin. But he was in a suburb somewhere and allergic to Downtown. Three weeks after moving to Toronto I met up with some people from My Village who brought me to a bar managed by another dude from My Village and, I found out that night, I was living within eight blocks of more than twenty other Fellow Villagers. So we all got mindbendingly drunk and stayed that way for three years. After Bartlet, Steve gave me his basement to live in and store my limited supply of Stuff. He’s cool like that. If you ever need a place to live give him a call. Because I was going from a fully furnished room to a totally non-furnished room, I had no furniture. So Steve even gave me a mattress. Which was awesome… and awesomely broken. I still have two dents in my back from the springs.
42) Tor. (May to September 2000) Phoebe Street: Easily the coolest apartment I’ve ever lived in. Phoebe is a block away from the corner of Spadina and Queen Streets, which put my apartment literally a block behind The (legendary) Horseshoe Tavern. I was within easy staggering distance of most the best concert venues in Toronto. More importantly, I was a block away from the only 24-hour food/sausage vendor in Toronto… when you’re staggering home drunk at 4am it’s important to have access to corn relish and smoked sausage. Especially if you have to be at work for 9am. Queen Street is, if not the coolest street in Toronto then in the top one. Maybe 1.5. I had half the ground floor of an old house. Unfortunately it was a five month sublet, so in September it was…
43) Tor. (Sept. to Oct. 2000) Winona: Back to Steve’s basement. I was also out of work at this point. I had quit the magazine, basically over bipolar issues… combined with (or compounded by) a job offer from a public relations firm for a 40% raise and totally unspecified duties. The “unspecified duties” ended up being “stuff I knew nothing about” so six months later I quit the… day before they were going to fire me. In addition to a 36-hour wake period spent packing, loading and unpacking, my move from Phoebe back to Winona involved a Jello Biafra speaking thing, spewing a lake of puke and a root canal… all in the same day.
44) Tor. (Oct. 2000 to April-ish 2001) Glen Road: While I was at Steve’s a friend of a friend hired me to work in the communications department at the second largest telecom in Canada. Which meant I was back to “what do I do again?” again. For the first month I was so broke I was mostly eating one meal per day… and I could barely afford bus and subway fare. But then I got me some serious Paid. So I joined Christine, a friend of a friend, and her friend Aurora in an apartment in the most expensive area in Toronto… Rosedale. I was actually able, after only being with the company for two months, to book off four weeks for Christmas vacation during which I managed to take in five Ottawa Senators (NHL) games. A few months later, as I was getting ready to quit because I was definitely about to be fired, I signed a Book Deal with a medium-level publisher in Toronto.
45) Tor. (May-ish 2001) The Projects: After I left the “Other” Phone Company weird things happened with the Rosedale apartment so I was outta there. So I moved in with Jay in his ‘affordable housing’ place in The Esplanade, which is basically a public housing project. I always liked Jay just enough I could never hit him when he got annoying. I’m not a big fan of people who talk about the stuff they “could do”, and that’s all Jay ever did. But he did volunteer to help the homeless, and he was cool enough to let me store my stuff in a spare room. I actually didn’t really live there, during this four to six week period I was couch-surfing… so I was homeless and waiting for my Employment Insurance money to start rolling in.
46) Mississauga (Summer 2001) find: But I did have a whack of cash on hand. When I left the “Other Phone Company” I actually received a severance package… I worked there for seven months and as I walked out the door they handed me a cell phone and six weeks salary (there’s a lot more to this so I’ll make it a Post eventually). In order to get a start on researching my book I thought I needed a quiet place, away from the insanity that is the Toronto punk scene. So I moved to the end of the subway line. Mississauga. My landlord in this rooming house was Ursula, she lived on the main floor. The second floor was me and a chef from Peru whose girlfriend made me pasta once a week using sauce from his restaurant. Yummy. I didn’t have a mattress at this point… I did have two pillows and a nice comforter. Turned out Ursula could read auras and, YAY, she wanted to write a book as well. Then there was the crows nest on the roof above my window. So I was doing nothing on the Book. Which pushed me another sixty miles away from everyone I cared about.
47) Guelph (2001) Paisley: And this is where I crossed the line into total insanity. It’s a rare thing to be able to pinpoint the beginning of the end, but I can. I was at a party sometime in February, 2001, and I got into a conversation with a Random Dude about some of the Weirdness that is my family. He was so interested he sent me an email three days later asking me to put together a book proposal. Four weeks later I signed a book contract, quit my job and now I was moving to the City where all of the Weirdness happened, to interview Everyone who had Ever abandoned me — including members of the Cult I was raised in, and including my father who I had only just recently met for the second time since he abandoned me, my brother and mother back in 1979. There was an entire side of my family I was meeting for the first time since I was a child, including two uncles and all of their sons and daughters, a set of grandparents and two fully grown sisters I had just met two years earlier. The rooming house I was moving into was actually meant for dudes in rehab, it was a totally dry house but it was cool because I was 90% sober… I was, however, still totally unmedicated. I really don’t understand why or how I’m still walking.
48) Stratford (January-ish to May 2002): After finishing as many interviews as I could take without blowing my fucking brains out I moved even further away from my Toronto-based friends to a little arts community known as Stratford, where I moved in with my little brother. It was a nice two-bedroom attic apartment with no heat and no source of food. But I was totally cut off, my three pre-published advances were spent, the $8000 from the Phone Company was way gone, welfare had cut me off because of their error. So I had no income except for $120 my mother was sending me for medications I had no prescription for. I’d take the money and buy some chicken parts and cigarettes, then every other week I’d walk to the food bank and back for bread and canned foods — a round trip of about 12-16 miles with forty pounds of cans on the way back. In the first month I was living there I wrote 75% of the book… about 45,000 words. From then until May I was in a depression-coma. I was suicidal, going through long fantasies many times a day, I was picked up by the police several times but never hospitalized, only because I never said the Magic Word. Then, after a desperate phone call during which my mother told me I was killing her, she cut me off as well… and a few days later my brother told me he needed a paying roommate.
49) Guelph (Summer 2002) Paisley: So back to Guelph. Same place as before. I had become close friends with the two dudes I had been living with. One of them, Buck, got me a job landscaping with one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, a dude named Angelo who had worked in the same Way-Far Northern Ontario region I had when I was eighteen. Buck, Angelo and I spent the summer working outside in the sunshine. I worked as a farmhand every summer from thirteen to eighteen, but I had totally forgotten about how… incredible it is to work at planting and lifting — Buck, a large man, and I would move tonnes of crushed stone, soil, rocks, whatever, almost every afternoon for four months. Every Friday Angelo would take us to the Italian Club for a high quality lunch buffet of four different meats, thick soups, fresh salads, shrimp and massive desserts. Buck, who was a trained chef, and I would buy thick steaks from a local butcher and he’d smother them in bacon grease and sear them on the range… Angelo, Buck and Freddie, the mother of two of my sisters, saved my life that summer. Not once, not twice, but every fucking day.
50) Village (September 2002) Home: The problem with seasonal work, however, is seasons end. Angelo ran out of work and I was crashing again… it was actually the same crash. I had been crashing for months, maybe years. But this was The End Crash. I was pushing knives into my arms. I had stopped eating, I was spending days in dark rooms… all the wonderful stuff. I had accumulated 156 Tylenol-3’s and a fairly large collection of mini-bottle’s of rum. I was heading home to see whether they’d kill me or put me into a brain dead coma when I called my mom. She recognized pretty quickly the language and the tone of voice. Eventually she said “you could come home”. This was the first time she had said that, but since then she’s been acting as though it had been “understood” forever. But it wasn’t. As sick as I ever got she had always made it pretty clear I wasn’t getting an invitation to come Home. But, here I was.
51) Village (Spring 2003) Downstairs: After six months of not talking, not moving and sitting in a dark living room, my parents told me to leave. They fronted some rent and I got back on welfare and moved into the building I’m in now. The small apartment on the bottom floor… this building is actually a sidewalk away from a busy highway. The bedroom of the apartment was six inches from the sidewalk. I was sleeping in an intersection. I was also starting a too-high dose of Wellbutrin and on the Lithium for the first time. A total lack of sleep was driving me right off the edge. So, after three months of breaking things, I moved again… upstairs.
52) Village (July 2003) Here: The header image on this blog is of my living room when I first moved in to this apartment. When I moved from Ottawa to Toronto I had two bags of clothes, some books and a radio. Four or five years later, when I moved from Stratford to my Little Village I had two bags of clothes, a few more books, a 486 HP computer and the same radio. This, right here, is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place and I am constantly amazed at the amount of crap I’ve accumulated. I’ve been medicated and in treatment since I moved back here… setting the appointments, taking the pills, seeing the doctor, getting on welfare, finding an apartment, eventually getting myself on Permanent Disability, and going through the process of finally having my name legally changed (long story) has all been done by me. I’ve received some vital financial help from my parents, but otherwise I’ve been on my own since Day One until Day Today. Anyway. That’s another post. I like my apartment. The colours suck, but I’ve got photos of my adventures and friends all over the place. I’m not calling this apartment home, but it’s as close as I’ve ever gotten.
I read all of it from #47 onwards. it’s pretty harrowing stuff, can’t imagine what it was like for you.
when I’ve got more time I’ll go back and read it all
do you need a hug? I’m sending you one anyway
47 down are pretty much all the real highlights… everything else is “then I packed my underwear, and then I packed my towels, then — later on — I unpacked.”
Thanks for giving it a shot, and I appreciate the thought. When I’m finally done with this List Stuff (three down, two to go) I’ll make a relatively short synopsis of what I was trying to accomplish.
ok, if you actually lived near me in Toronto, I’m going to be a little wigged out. Was your Winona near St Clair/Bathurst?
Yeah, pretty much right on the corner of St. Clair and Winona. I think there was a Blockbuster just down the street and one of those cut-rate shopping centres a little further down St. Clair. We had a silver and rust third-hand Chrysler minivan in the front yard. The St. Clair streetcar stopped three doors away from us… I can’t remember the actual address. 154…?
Holy Crap. We were on Atlas at the Vaughan end. That’s insane. We were like a block away.
I used to go to the Retro Cafe on Saturdays, eat breakfast and read The Star. Ah, life without kids…
I was practically in Oakville! Getting into TO was only slightly easier than a pilgrimage to Rome.
Just out of curiosity, have I ever known you when you were functional?
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