Never let a real estate agent into your house. And never let anyone else choose where you live. Two lessons that I didn’t learn soon enough.
Born and brought up in Montreal, I later found myself living in small-town Ontario, because that’s where I found employment. Lindsay, Ontario was alright, but I didn’t want to be buried there, either literally or figuratively. My wife Brenda and I had also spent one year in France and another in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, and the fact that we were both French Immersion teachers led us to believe that the world was our oyster.
“Let’s apply to the Ottawa area. We’ve been there for Winterlude, the place has had government money thrown at it for decades, and we’re both French Immersion teachers. We’re perfect for the area, the least they can do is hire us,” my wife exclaimed after yet another Sunday afternoon trip to the Peterborough zoo with our three young kids. I nodded dully in agreement; an afternoon spent watching penned -up billygoats will do that to a man.
Alas, the universe was not in agreement. At least not the Ottawa board version. For the next three years we received the standard-issue rejection letters stating that our applications would be kept, ahem, on file.
“They’re having a mass interview process coming up in January,” Brenda announced one morning, looking up from the Globe and Mail.
I got excited. “Once they see us and meet us, then we’ll have job offers for sure,” I confidently predicted. I was as optimistic as Igor the peasant on the eve of the Russian Revolution when he stated, “Come the revolution, we will have peaches and cream every night.”
Sadly, both Igor and I ran headlong into reality. At least I only ended up back in Lindsay. Igor probably found himself in a Siberian gulag.
“Well, all that’s left is to sell the house and move to Ottawa. We can look for jobs on the spot while we supply teach.” Brenda was always a risk-taker; I think that’s why she married me. You’d think that she would have learned something.
After four weekend visits to Ottawa, hunting homes from Kanata to Orleans, we ended up in the Glebe, on the advice of my granola-crunching, tree-hugging, N.D.P. voting sister. She had attended Carleton University for her Master’s degree in film-making and loved riding through the neighbourhood, on her bicycle of course.
Brenda and I both found jobs, she more happily than I. She was teaching French in a high school , right in her comfort zone. I took what I could get, teaching core French and Grade One phys. ed. in an elementary school. It was the job God gave to Cain.
And when I came home it was to full-blown renovations, which I unhappily joined into by stripping coats of paint off all our wood trim, breathing in a concoction of chemicals that I probably subliminally hoped would do me in. That, or the alcohol I would ingest every day after school in order to embalm my frayed and ragged nerves.
By Christmas I was settling in. I had secured a job at a high school teaching history and when I went off to take my son Adam to a hockey tournament in Montreal I was feeling on top of the world. Saturday night, back home in the upstairs den having a beer and watching the Habs and the Leafs, I reminisced on the previous five months of hell. Renovations completed, my reverie was interrupted when Brenda called to me from the livingroom.
“David, could you come down here for a minute. The real estate agent is here.”
Spewing my beer as I clambered down the stairs, I wondered how I could have been so misunderstood. True, Brenda had mentioned something about a larger house for sale a few blocks over on Third Avenue, and her friend Alison was enthusiastically recommending the street. But I thought that I had put the kaibosh on that. No way we’re moving again, I stated flatly. I then promptly forgot about it. Like Captain Bligh before the mutiny on the Bounty, I had just smugly assumed that my orders would be followed.
An uncomfortable session with the real estate agent ensued. Mixed messages were given, but these real estate agents have the hide of a rhinoceros. For all I knew he was leaving to write up a house offer.
At least the Canadiens-Leafs game was still on. I started up the stairs, only turning my head to say to my wife, “Why couldn’t you just have had an affair while I was gone. It would have been easier on me.”
One week later an offer was placed on a house on Third Avenue.