August 11, 2009
The new Barn of Bliss – no longer a barn, but just as blissful – is a ground floor (read: glorified basement) apartment in an oh-so-trendy neighbourhood in Toronto. It’s the kind of kid-friendly, dog-friendly, yoga studio rich, fountainous and park-ridden neighbourhood that makes you either swoon or vomit, depending on your proclivities.
The area is under construction. (This is because, if you don’t know, Canada has been said to have two seasons: winter, and construction.) Additionally, they’re redoing our windowsills to restore them to their delightful prewar, white washed, pansy-filled glory. Because of all of this, you can’t move for dust and dirt.
We mop the floor every day around noon and every night before bed, we have to use a potato scrubber to get the grime off the bottoms of our feet. (Not joking.) We don’t have our own furniture yet, and I’m about 8 weeks behind on work in the middle of an August heat wave. But there’s a courtyard with a fountain in it and a fantastic Starbucks and pretty darned adorable hand-painted sign outside our door that says “Tradesmen’s Entrance” that was probably put there in the forties and nobody’s thought to remove it. The front foyer has fancy art and asymmetrical chairs and it’s very hoity toity, but I come in the tradesmen’s entrance. Maybe it reminds me of my roots. Overall, I love this place.
But today, the power went out, and the poo hit the fan. (It was metaphorical poo hitting the metaphorical fan, our fan being out of commission and all.)
We went to our on-site somebody-or-other, asking why the power might be out. “Dunno,” she says, not even looking up from her computer. (As subletters, we are basically insects as far as she’s concerned.)
“Could it be that the previous tenant didn’t pay their bill?”
“Nope,” she mumbles, still not looking up. “They woulda hadda come see me to get access to the power box.”
“Any thoughts on what else might have happened?”
She lets out a chesty sigh commensurate with her considerable girth and says, “I’ll put a work order in, but it’s the maintenance guy’s day off. Don’t know when somebody’ll come.”
Several hours pass, and we call the power company. Since our home phone comes through our cable, and our cable is powered by electricity, we do this from a pay phone in a thunderstorm. Turns out, yes, the previous tenant has skipped out on their bill. They can’t change the name on the account when there’s a disconnection in place, and they can’t turn the power back on until the balance is paid in full.
The only problem is that because of the privacy laws, they can’t tell us what the balance is, or what account number we should pay it to. So how do we get the power back on?
“Don’t know. You might want to check with the management company.”
This was about the time in the day when I start to freak out. I go back to the apartment, and our charming representative is not in the office. Meaning to tear around in a fury trying to find her, I go in the front door for the first time since we’ve moved in. There, stickied to the glass, is a notice of our pending disconnection. It’s dated the day before we moved in.
Now, with amount due and account number in hand, I haul ass to a pay phone to pay this stupid thing. We are off to the races.
Except we’re not, because the time to get a work order in has passed, and we will have to wait until tomorrow.
Now, I well and truly lose it. The weeks of virtually non-existent internet access, the disappointed customers, no phone, no clean clothes, missing my mother horribly, it all comes crashing in. I am standing on Yonge Street, crying my eyes out. My shoes are soaked from the rain, and the dirt that is perpetually coating my skin is mixing with sweat and raindrops and rendering my eyes useless. I am crying so hard I can barely breathe.
“Are you running?”
“Ma’am, I can’t hear you. Can you stop running and catch your breath so I can hear you properly?”
I am begging and pleading and imploring. I am telling him that my son has an illness that the heat will make worse and he will scratch himself in his sleep until he bleeds and his skin will get infected. I am telling him I will pay whatever it costs, whatever overtime they have to pay, whatever guy they have to bring in, I will pay it, happily, in cash if he needs it, but I need my power back tonight.
Eventually, he caves and sends a work order. The man is on his way. I tell him to come to the Tradesmen’s Entrance.
And now… the point!
I live a life of relative luxury. I work very little and get paid a lot. My life is pretty close to the one people dream about when they sneak a few stolen pages of the Four Hour Work Week in the bathroom stall before a meeting. But it has its drawbacks. One of them is that you get pretty used to having things go your way. And when they don’t, you are thrown violently back to the way it used to be.
The on-your-knees pleading with God that the sick day you just took to take your kid on a three-bus-long ride to the hospital again is not the one that’ll get you fired and cancel your health insurance.
The deciding between buying food and paying bills.
The knowing that the plastic motorcycle for your little boy is going to be the one purchase that ensures you can’t pay rent this month but you know the look he’s going to give you. It’s not going to be disappointment or anger or pouting – those you could handle. It’s going to be understanding, and resignation, and a brave face, and those are emotions your little people shouldn’t have to know about for a long, long time. The decision to buy it anyway and figure it out later.
The powerlessness I felt today was like a brick to the face, and who do you tell? Who do you tell that the biggest problem you’ve had this year was going without power for a few hours? Who can understand how hard it was, how it was like a nightmare of going back to an old life? Who gets that?
If you’re reading IttyBiz because you dream of being A Big Deal On The Internet and you’re beating yourself up because you’re not as good as [insert A List cool kid here], cut yourself some slack, OK? You want to be like those people or these people or, God help you, me. But please understand, we don’t live in perfect little bubbles.
Nobody wants to talk about the scary bits, or the painful bits, or the ugly bits. Nobody wants to tell you about the bricks to the face. And why would they? Nobody wants to talk about the parts that hurt. We all just want to be brave and move on.
So when it’s hard, and when it’s hurting, and when you feel like you’re getting nowhere or more likely moving in reverse, please remember – nobody’s got it better than you. Maybe we don’t have day jobs, but we’re just as close to losing it as you are.