This is the sixteenth of many excerpts from Heather Lowe’s novella titled Catharine. It explores her love affair with downtown St. Catharines through a series of shamelessly exaggerated vignettes.
Let’s be honest, there is a part of me that loves apartment hunting. It’s not the unknown possibilities of a new home or the exciting prospect of decorating said home, it is my blatant and unabashed curiosity. There is something truly magical about viewing someone else’s apartment that causes me to feel like I am perusing the set of a television sitcom. Sure, I know it’s voyeuristic and maybe a tad morbid but it is also amusing and fascinating to see how other people live. Especially other dwellers of The Garden City.
The great apartment hunt allows me to explore and drudge through the seven distinct boroughs of The Garden City for a rather tiresome weekend, albeit a memorable one. I sift through a main floor apartment in The Hill that is, in its most basic form, a litter box. The grey, grainy, litter sticks to my socks as I pass by endless cages of dogs and cats and a lizard…? The second bedroom is filled with crumpled and stained magazines, moldy fishtanks and pieces of what I can only assume is a rusty and long-forgotten bicycle. I hold my breath, I smile kindly and I thank the young couple for their time.
I saunter through a gorgeous home in The Midfield and admire old original hardwood merged with modern, clean upgrades. The apartment seems to be hidden in plain sight and possesses a beautiful, modest yard. A sacred place for wild flowers, cherry tomatoes and a sizzling grill. I can smell the homemade hamburgers already. As I leave the Midfield apartment I feel as though I’ve never wanted something so badly in my life. I begrudgingly continue on my hunt but all the while, I am secretly hoping to get that phone call, “Call off your dogs, the hunt is over! Move in whenever, we’d love to have you.” This daydream is a calming and pleasant escape during this eye-opening and exhausting weekend.
I encounter a small one bedroom on the outskirts of the downtown core. You know the place, it’s slightly scary and everything in that end of town seems to be boarded up, dusty and desolate. The apartment is on the third floor and as I enter the lobby, I am greeted by the muffled sounds of screaming, indistinguishable music, the smell of Woodstock and mysterious stains on the hallway carpet. I arrive at the door of the apartment and I am received by the building manager. She is rough around the edges and looks as though she has seen her fair share of god knows what. She smiles at me like she pities me and I can’t help but feel like I’m wasting her time. I browse through the small apartment and she lists off the details, “No parking. No laundry. No security. No pets.” I stare out the kitchen window at the orange brick wall of the building next door. “You don’t want to live here,” she says, “You seem like a nice young girl and you don’t belong here.” I trust her immediately and thank her for her honesty. As she sees me out, she suggests, “maybe a different area of town would be better, you know what this area is like.” I can imagine, from her ominous tone and the way her voice softens slightly, what the area must be like. I suddenly feel saddened as I walk away from her and that area of town.
I’ve been obsessed with my meager love affair with The Garden City and the rejuvenation of the downtown core that I somehow forgot or ignored the fact that not everyone who lives in The Garden City is so captivated by its charm. Not everyone is thriving on the artistic buzz. Not everyone can afford to spend endless nights at The Pub. Not everyone is inspired by the revolutionaries the way that I am. Somewhere along the way, I dismissed the poverty, the tragedies, the heartbreaks, the break ups and the misfortunes and now, they are placed directly in front of me. My magical sitcom set is far less magical now.
I get the call from the Midfield apartment and after I move in, I sit in my small, sacred yard and think about how I’ve spent years as a voyeur in my own city. I’ve observed, exaggerated, and painted everything with a shiny, glossy coat. I created a partly fictional place, said it was everything I wanted it to be and then I turned around and I wrote about it. My great apartment hunt has chipped away and peeled back the glossy coat and my heart sinks as my love affair with The Garden City suddenly takes a very real push into blinding reality. “This must be the beginning of the end,” I say to myself but, let’s be honest, that’s probably just me exaggerating again.