It’s hard to imagine the words “cheap”, “accommodations” and “Vancouver” in the same sentence. But in the 1990s when Valerie and I attended university as a young married couple, there were still a few bargains to be had. As we waited for an on-campus space to open up, we searched for a place between Kitsilano and Point Grey.
I followed a lead from a fellow summer student, and contacted his former landlady (landperson?) Sandra. Proof that some people are worthy of sainthood – Sandra, whom we had just met over the phone from 500 miles away – picked up the paper and checked out local apartments for us and found us a great place on West 4th. I say great, because we were desperate and it was in our budget – at $700 per month. It was worn, with a tiny kitchen and dodgy two prong outlets on old knob-and-tube circuits. We biked our sorry asses up the hill to the University for two months, until we saw an ad for a place right near campus.
West 5th and Sasamat. A basement suite previously occupied by a single student, it was $500 per month. I am sure that the owners were a bit quizzical about a couple wanting to live in this broom closet of a space. But c’mon – we were going to save $200 per month, a bunch of commuting, and that damn bike ride up the hill. Sold! All our worldly belongings fit in a Ford Ranger so it was easy to make the move.
It had seven foot ceilings, a weird little kitchenette and a shower with an odd smell and an old plastic curtain that would slap against you with a mildewy caress on those cold Vancouver winter mornings. No bed frame, futon on the floor. There was a nasty old couch, but we had a few pillows and often sprawled on the floor to watch the 14 inch black and white TV we lugged around. As we lounged on our pillows, it wasn’t long before we found out we weren’t alone.
What the hell was that? A floating speck in the vitreous humour of my eye? Hmm, it’s gone now, I thought, dismissing any concern. That is until Valerie blurted out something unladylike, I think it rhymed with “fire truck” and pinched the flea that was biting her on the face. Bringing my head down to carpet level, I could watch the intricate arcs of the Point Grey Flea Circus on display.
Trauma has limited my memory somewhat, so I don’t recall what we did just then. I am going to say “serious vacuuming” and lots of time out of the house. The first rule of cheap illegal suites – no complaints…
When we left to head north for Christmas I emptied a full can of Raid on the carpet to let it work its magic, and when we returned the Circus had left town for good.
It was kind of lonely after that, at least until the day that Valerie decided to make an extra special home cooked meal (translation: more than one pot or pan) . I can’t recall what she was cooking, but she needed to cover a simmering pot on the tiny apartment stove with two working burners. She reached in the cupboard, found the matching lid and tipped it onto the pot, dumping a dozen scurrying silverfish into the food. I’m sure it was something like “fire truck” once again.
We did not go to war with the silverfish. They got the cupboard – after all it was theirs when we arrived. We kept a few dishes on the counter, upside-down and called it a truce.
We made a soft commitment to our landlords that we would return the next fall. In the end we had to break it to them (and the silverfish) that we were moving onto campus. Our number on the waiting list had come up, and we were off to the saffron and pink married housing apartment tower jutting into the skyline of south campus. High fiving over our good fortune the day we moved in, we turned off the torchiere firetrap lights and turned in for a flea and silverfish-free existence. Aaaah…
Our dreamy existence came crashing down the next morning as Valerie went to run some water for coffee and let out a screech. There in the sink were three of the largest cockroaches we had ever seen. “Oh, you must be the new folks! We’ll let everyone know.” Or so they seemed to say as they scurried for the corners.
The blasé response from building management led us to believe the problem was not a new one. An aging stoner came up to our apartment and put out a bait paste laced with borate or some such – “Totally eco-friendly!” He said. Translation: tasty, and ineffective.
We must have complained again, because an exterminator came in with something perhaps less “eco-friendly”. When the roaches got word the exterminator was coming, they headed for cover with military precision, retreated to safe territory in the adjacent apartment, and waited out the death cloud. On “all clear” they came pouring back into our apartment. I am pretty sure they were the same ones, at least the scars and tattoos seemed familiar.
I was a slow riser, and sometimes (often) I would get up and Valerie would be gone. There would be plastic containers and drinking glasses all over the apartment, and I would do the morning roundup. Not knowing what else to do with them, we tossed them over our eleventh floor deck. One day we looked over as the cockroaches dropped nonchalantly through the air. Those brave, nonchalant bastards, we thought – such small brains. That is until we saw their wings unfolding as they glided onto a deck below. Somehow we got the feeling we were just pawns in their schemes to expand their territory. This was confirmed when we found cockroaches hitching a ride with us on the elevator, presumably to visit their relations on other floors.
We finally discovered a working control method, using sticky traps that offended our sensibilities even then, in our pre-vegan state. When you peered inside you could see the trapped masses struggling weakly and looking you right in the eye as if to say “Heeeeeelp meee!”
Although we were deathly afraid of bringing our little friends home with us after university, none seem to have survived the trip.
Now so many years later, I can joke about those creepy crawlie times. But as this piece is growing a tad long already, I will ask that you excuse me. I think I heard something like “Fire truck!” out in the garden. Valerie may have discovered that our garden is overrun with pillbugs. Nothing like a nice “crunch crunch” to ruin the aesthetics of that first bite of spring strawberry…