I was just about to finish college, and had landed my first “real” job. I was an Editorial Assistant at the top-rated TV News station in Calgary. (CTV, in case you were wondering). I remember having to ask for a particular night off so I could attend my Graduation dinner. (My boss allowed it…Thanks, Murray.)
Looking back now, I realize I knew a fair bit about the world, but very little about life. I figured it out, mind you. Fierce independence filled the gap until knowledge and experience could lay a foundation.
I had to move out of college residence after graduating, so I did what anyone would in 1996. I bought myself a Calgary Herald and flipped through the classifieds. (That’s in the newspaper, kids…actual paper with mostly actual news). I found an ad for a one-bedroom apartment that might fit the bill. It was a relatively short drive from my work, fully furnished and $300 a month. My goal had been to find the cheapest place I could, and this was definitely it. You see, I was officially out in The Real World…that mysterious place that every adult had warned me about. I had to find a way to live full time from a part time paycheque. The job I’d landed at the aforementioned top-rated news station was only part time because I was young and green and paying my dues. But hey, I was in The Biz. Running scripts and editing copy and interviewing Joe On The Street…The wheels of the Dream Bus were fully in motion! Part time paycheque be damned.
So I took the very cheap apartment. It wasn’t pretty, in fact it was pretty ugly. It had painted cinder block walls, some old furniture and a main door buzzer lock that neither buzzed nor locked. But it was mine and I was really quite proud of myself for doing All The Things. I didn’t know what to say when my landlord insisted I pay rent in cash each month. It didn’t occur to me he was hiding his income from the Big Bad Tax Man. All I knew is this was a major inconvenience! I would go to the bank machine one day to take out $200, then go back the next and take out $100 more. Withdrawal limits for a 19-year-old can be so…limiting!
There was a neighbour who made homemade wine in his little apartment. He would bring me a bottle from time to time and I politely accepted it at the front door, then replaced the deadbolt before pouring the wine down the sink. I might have been young, but I wasn’t totally naïve. I always rinsed the bottles and returned them to him…sometimes with a little baking I’d whipped up in my tiny kitchen. Hmm, maybe he threw that out too. Old, but not totally naïve. I also had a neighbour who stood at the front of my car and looked under the hood with me on occasion, pretending he might know some things to do to help it start. He didn’t; but he tried. Then he would appear shocked and impressed when I’d get it going. I was impressed too, but would pretend not to be shocked.
There wasn’t much I could do to spruce the place up but a few little touches did help. With my first paycheque from my Out in the Real World job, I bought a kitchen mat, two placemats, a pot holder and some tea towels covered in sunflowers. I'm sure they looked very similar to these, and all the other sunflower kitchen kitsch of the day. Somehow that cheap apartment felt a little less pretty ugly, and a little more pretty.
I was just 19 when I moved into that place. Does anyone else look at their kids and think…you are way too young to be as old as I was when I was that age? My oldest will graduate soon and I have a whole new level of hope for The Real World. I hope it’s kind to him. I hope the wine-maker is an honest, elderly gentleman. I hope the car-looker is a genuine person who might lend him the right sized wrench. I hope the landlord takes cheques or e-transfers or some other kind of convenient payment method.
I hope he can look past the cinder blocks of his cheap little first apartment and notice the sunflowers. I hope he’s happy when I fill his fridge with food, and I hope he knows how genuinely impressed I am to see the vacuum marks on the carpet. I hope he opens the door and gives me a big hug and sees how proud I am of him for doing All The Things. I hope he cooks me supper in his tiny kitchen and tells me all about how things are going in The Real World;
...and I hope he takes no offence when I spend the night in a hotel. 😉