quiddities and agonies of the ruling class - a rolling new york times thread

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i think this man's most basic problem was imagining that a take-home of $2500 monthly was enough to buy a half-mil pile

not enough OTM in the world for this

butt-rock miyagi (rogermexico.), Friday, 15 May 2009 01:22 (eight years ago) Permalink

loooool @ tracer hand: voice of the underclass

(Palm) springs sprungs (Lamp), Friday, 15 May 2009 01:26 (eight years ago) Permalink

I had assumed we would start by renting a house or an apartment, but it quickly became clear that it was almost easier to borrow a half-million dollars and buy something.

languid samuel l. jackson (jim), Friday, 15 May 2009 01:28 (eight years ago) Permalink

n.e.way: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/garden/14aaron.html

ny times does seem to have a thing for pictures of the sprawled daughters of the leisure class in front of their itlianate mansions

(Palm) springs sprungs (Lamp), Friday, 15 May 2009 01:29 (eight years ago) Permalink

sorry Lamp i missed the part where you had a point

Tracer Hand, Friday, 15 May 2009 09:16 (eight years ago) Permalink

my takeaway from this article is that our "elite" journos are often just as ignorant and greedy as the rest of us humps -- not to mention that i feel a bit smug seeing how shitty the media's coverage of the whole real estate/subprime mess was.

Pull Slinky and Make Me Fart (Eisbaer), Friday, 15 May 2009 14:40 (eight years ago) Permalink

The Khaki Class

lol South

"the whale saw her" (gabbneb), Friday, 15 May 2009 14:45 (eight years ago) Permalink

i don't know crap about this guy, nor do i care, BUT

when i was 22 i dated this very cute but not-very-smart guy. it was long distance, so we wrote a lot of letters (this was in the lol 90s). in one letter he told me that being with me made him feel "quidity". i smugly laughed a little because i figured that he meant "tranquility" and wow was this guy adorable for not being able to use a dictionary. then i looked up the word "quidity" and realized that it was real (although not what he meant, i am 100% sure)

this thread is the first time i have ever actually seen anyone use this word. the end.

figgy pudding (La Lechera), Friday, 15 May 2009 14:46 (eight years ago) Permalink

maybe he was like "wow she thinks my made-up word means something.. what a dim-bulb"

Tracer Hand, Friday, 15 May 2009 15:08 (eight years ago) Permalink

what do you think he actually meant?

Tracer Hand, Friday, 15 May 2009 15:09 (eight years ago) Permalink

pretty sure he meant tranquility, like comfort (i remember this from context, but really this was a long time ago and i can't remember much about the situation aside from this strange misused word)

figgy pudding (La Lechera), Friday, 15 May 2009 15:14 (eight years ago) Permalink

Megan McArdle on the piece. Judge for yourself.

Ned Raggett, Friday, 15 May 2009 16:19 (eight years ago) Permalink

Actually I kind of like her points?

But not someone who should be dead anyway (Laurel), Friday, 15 May 2009 16:28 (eight years ago) Permalink

ya i mean... not really sure why this piece is as contempt-worthy as some are making it out to be. it's kind of brutally depressing.

s1ocki, Friday, 15 May 2009 16:29 (eight years ago) Permalink

It is in a 'there-but-for' sense for sure. Not that I was ever going to try and be an economics reporter for the NY Times, but as time has passed I'm beginning to think the soundest piece of advice I've ever received in regard to writing was something J. D. Considine told me years ago -- 1993 or so -- in response to a random e-mail or two I sent him. He pretty much said, "Freelancing and journalism is very hard work and you should only pursue it on a full-time basis if you are willing to stick to that level." I'm honestly glad I heeded that and I think what you see in both pieces, regardless of whatever else feeds into their respective situations, reflects that.

At the same time, I'm trying to put my finger on what still jars about McArdle's response and it seems to be this sense of keeping up with the Joneses as paramount driving factor/potential excuse. At what point is leisure travelling to Europe, for instance, a 'minimum necessity' -- and I speak as one who's been there a number of times now. Still, I realize it's a sliding scale, says the person who has participated in a CSA thing with a local farmer for some years now.

Ned Raggett, Friday, 15 May 2009 16:37 (eight years ago) Permalink

Literal translation: quiddity = whatness

anatol_merklich, Friday, 15 May 2009 16:43 (eight years ago) Permalink

Ned, I read her response as being more about the foolhardiness of ever thinking ANY of those things are necessities. She seems to be (gently) chiding that whole tendency?

But not someone who should be dead anyway (Laurel), Friday, 15 May 2009 16:50 (eight years ago) Permalink

Yah... she's just sayin' that you hang with people for whom this is true, you wake up with fleas

butt-rock miyagi (rogermexico.), Friday, 15 May 2009 17:17 (eight years ago) Permalink

I think maybe something to add to McArdle's response is that we have this general cultural tendency to view attention as somehow related to money, a connection that really falls apart when it comes to writers of all sorts -- it's very easy to withhold sympathy from people writing about their woes in public, as if they're coming from a position of privilege or just courting attention, but in plenty of cases they don't have much concrete privilege and writing about their experiences is just, you know, work.

he never really was that rich, especially by the standards of the new york times - but he sure lives and writes like he is. which is of course where the trouble started. getting a monthly keelhaul from the ex didn't help, either - i wonder if he writes about that in his book? - but i think this man's most basic problem was imagining that a take-home of $2500 monthly was enough to buy a half-mil pile.

Yeah, exactly -- although if I had to summarize a problem here it would basically be that a middle-aged family-man homeowner with a decent salary expected to continue living like a middle-aged family-man homeowner with a decent salary, even after a divorce that meant the bulk of his income was going to support a family home occupied by other people. This is an unrealistic and dumb expectation to seriously act on -- you'd think that $4k would be a good monthly reminder that situations done changed -- but I can totally have sympathy for the situation itself; that would suck. It would be painful to have to support the family home you used to live in and have to support yourself and your new family on a fraction of what you're earning.

nabisco, Friday, 15 May 2009 17:47 (eight years ago) Permalink

The other thing is that -- while he can't and doesn't come out and say this directly -- his one list of charges makes me suspect a bunch of money was getting borrowed to maintain a certain lifestyle for the kids

nabisco, Friday, 15 May 2009 18:00 (eight years ago) Permalink

I thought he said that very directly just by listing all those expenses! (I note though that he does seem to say even more directly that his wife did that too.)

Ned Raggett, Friday, 15 May 2009 18:02 (eight years ago) Permalink

Haha yeah, I guess the unsayable "direct" thing I had in mind was like "these KIDS were bankrupting us (that's right, Alex, I'm talking about you)"

I was going to jump past boggling at the beach house rental and wonder about the $700 at J. Crew, but I guess if you needed, like, one good suit and some decent sweaters for Christmas presents ... the world really does hold you to your socio-economic status, doesn't it -- even beyond nobody wanting to be the guy who gets divorced and suddenly has to start showing up to work in cheap suits, it'd be tough to be the guy making $100k who's like "I got you a candy bar for Christmas!"

nabisco, Friday, 15 May 2009 18:22 (eight years ago) Permalink

yeah the erm narrative here is anyways at least partly "but banking professionals who should be my Friends and Advisors assured us it would be alright!"?

However fishy such blanket blame is in general, I'm not sure it's entirely misplaced re how things rolled out this cycle. At one point around 2006, I momentarily had a crazy amount of money in my account due to family property reorg stuff, and was by phone promptly invited to an "advisement meeting" with a dude at my bank, who tried to convince me he had the correct %ages I should place my assets in (all mediated by said bank, obv). (I still was in net debt though!) I was all very cynical and noncommittal, which is not due to my deep insight or anything, just because my current boss worked in a bank in the early 00s and has spilled much shit on how those outfits operate(d?). (My fave morsel: the guys who construct the deals don't actually inform the salespeople abt all potential downsides and builtin fees, as this may hurt their sales!)

I don't think this guy deserves much point-and-laugh, btw, though it is obv somewhat funny he writes on economics.

anatol_merklich, Friday, 15 May 2009 18:55 (eight years ago) Permalink

I don't know that that's a big surface narrative, given the "I wasn't duped" and the bit about how a banking professional's refinancing maneuvers actually worked to carve down some debt

nabisco, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:00 (eight years ago) Permalink

it's about even someone who should have known better made some really dumb mistakes, which is always a story worth telling imo

s1ocki, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:11 (eight years ago) Permalink

Literal translation: quiddity = whatness

A weird thing about "quiddity" is that the first definition, "essence", seems to be the opposite of the second definition, "a trifling point". So it can either refer to the essence of something or a minor, trifling detail? Confusing. I have a feeling that it's a word that's rarely used correctly.

o. nate, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:13 (eight years ago) Permalink

my point is that there are hundreds of thousands of people with stories just like this who don't write for the new york times and have six-figure salaries who are perhaps just a leeetle more representative of the mortgage fallout going on right now - my pointing and laughing is at the editors, not this poor schmuck

Tracer Hand, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:17 (eight years ago) Permalink

well, they wanted a personal, first-perosn story, so going with a new york times writer... kinda makes sense, no?

s1ocki, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:19 (eight years ago) Permalink

he will die at some point

cool app (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Friday, 15 May 2009 19:22 (eight years ago) Permalink

can't write about that tho

cool app (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Friday, 15 May 2009 19:22 (eight years ago) Permalink

That's a fair point, Tracer, but the fact that the Times can be willfully class-blind is hardly news to anyone who's ever read the Style section, for instance.

o. nate, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:22 (eight years ago) Permalink

what is sadder loss or death

cool app (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Friday, 15 May 2009 19:23 (eight years ago) Permalink

conceptually, I mean

cool app (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Friday, 15 May 2009 19:23 (eight years ago) Permalink

loss is a kind of death, when u think about it??

rip dom passantino 3/5/09 never forget (max), Friday, 15 May 2009 19:24 (eight years ago) Permalink

imagine in that picture that the dog is dead but the money is lost

cool app (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Friday, 15 May 2009 19:25 (eight years ago) Permalink

you can use death as a pillow but you can you the money you lost to get a bunch of people to type in the middle of the day

cool app (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Friday, 15 May 2009 19:26 (eight years ago) Permalink

imagine yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

Mr. Que, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:26 (eight years ago) Permalink

uh oh i'm losing a life

velko, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:27 (eight years ago) Permalink

actually, i am pointing and laughing at this guy too. sorry edmund.

Tracer Hand, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:33 (eight years ago) Permalink

It's funny that this guy gets himself into such deep shit but when the financial crisis comes it's actually a relief to him. For one thing, he can console himself with the spectacle of so many other supposed financial experts who screwed up at least as badly as he did. And more significantly, the banks are too swamped with delinquent borrowers to follow up on his case - so he has basically been living in the house rent-free for the past 8 months.

o. nate, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:33 (eight years ago) Permalink

ya it's pretty crazy that that's how the story ends, i was expecting some sort of bankruptcy followed by a pledge of renewal or something remotely redemptive like that but it shocked me that it ended with him in this bizarre institutional limbo.

s1ocki, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:37 (eight years ago) Permalink

that there are hundreds of thousands of people with stories just like this who don't write for the new york times and have six-figure salaries who are perhaps just a leeetle more representative of the mortgage fallout going on right now

This is definitely true, but there is part of me that thinks ... well, even leaving aside the Times's readership -- or the fact that one of the notable things about the current situation is that its impacts are being felt higher up the economic ladder -- there's also the way it's all called into question the sustainability of a whole mainstream/normal middle-class existence that is built on suddenly shaky things like debt and home values. That is probably worth thinking about, and possibly edifying for middle-class people who are recognizing a shakiness to their economic lives that they hadn't previously had as big of a worry about.

nabisco, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:38 (eight years ago) Permalink

Is 66% of your income anywhere near normal for alimony/child-support? I don't know anyone paying alimony (lol broek friends), but child support doesn't net them (everyone I know is on the receiving end) much.

My vagina has a dress code. (milo z), Friday, 15 May 2009 19:39 (eight years ago) Permalink

should have used that credit line on a better divorce lawyer, amirite

nabisco, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:41 (eight years ago) Permalink

I don't know that that's a big surface narrative, given the "I wasn't duped" and the bit about how a banking professional's refinancing maneuvers actually worked to carve down some debt

A fair enough point. The mania obv went beyond the professionals.

Talking of which: I don't know how recruiting works in this kind of business -- my biased, stereotypical prejudice says that you get the young people who are willing to work like 50 hrs weekly unpaid overtime etc from ambition alone, thus having no memory of even the Asia crisis, let alone the dotcom and the 80s yuppie downfall, thus by induction extrapolating bubble arising into Law of Nature or something. I dunno.

xpost nabisco correct on "normal middle-class" stuff after what I responded to btw. But they can't take away our Internet can they??? :p

anatol_merklich, Friday, 15 May 2009 19:57 (eight years ago) Permalink

A weird thing about "quiddity" is that the first definition, "essence", seems to be the opposite of the second definition, "a trifling point"

Haha good spot there, maybe this is a general defusing thing about words asserting importance -- see also moot (adjective):

1 a: open to question : DEBATABLE b: subjected to discussion : DISPUTED
2: deprived of practical significance : made abstract or purely academic

anatol_merklich, Friday, 15 May 2009 20:06 (eight years ago) Permalink

i suspect the second "quiddity" meaning might be contaminated with a sense of "quibbling" via misuse?

or else the identifying an object's "what-ness" is, in itself, a trifling pursuit?

roman knockwell (elmo argonaut), Friday, 15 May 2009 20:09 (eight years ago) Permalink

je ne sais quid

nabisco, Friday, 15 May 2009 20:20 (eight years ago) Permalink

i suspect the second "quiddity" meaning might be contaminated with a sense of "quibbling" via misuse?

Herring looks mighty red to me. Sorry.

Yup, we know what stuff which is what it is is (OR DO WE?).

There is a neverending demand for words meaning "thing I can't get worked up about", and obv the learnèd world (it's academic! it's just semantic!) is a fair source for this. (I like the pluralization "quiddities" btw!)

anatol_merklich, Friday, 15 May 2009 20:26 (eight years ago) Permalink

my guess was it was some 'liquiddity' pun or something?

Thread author! please inform on your intended meaning of quiddity!

Philip Nunez, Friday, 15 May 2009 21:41 (eight years ago) Permalink

yeah that came out as more of a broad generalization than I meant, but idk treating that as some norm you're challenging with your sapiosexualness is pretty lol

mh, Sunday, 11 June 2017 20:42 (seven months ago) Permalink

'for some people' lol

j., Sunday, 11 June 2017 20:49 (seven months ago) Permalink

I just read those articles above about the Toronto couple and I'm mostly baffled. I'm assuming there must be some other sources of income than the assorted part-time jobs she lists. Unless real estate publications pay much higher freelance rates than I imagine, in which case I need to get in this game.

a man often referred to in the news media as the Duke of Saxony (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 11 June 2017 21:25 (seven months ago) Permalink

Also I think it's really weird that in the main photo for the first article, which is obviously a posed family portrait, they blurred out their kids' faces. Either put the kids in the picture or don't, but doing it this way just makes it seem like they want to show off both how fertile they are and what good, concerned, protective parents they are. (Meanwhile, she casually mentions signing up the baby daughter for commercial modeling.)

a man often referred to in the news media as the Duke of Saxony (tipsy mothra), Sunday, 11 June 2017 21:27 (seven months ago) Permalink

"The idea of balance is suspect on its face. Should positive coverage be provided, as if it were a birthright, to a president who consistently lies, who has spilled classified information to an adversary, and who fired the FBI director who was investigating his administration?

"Certainly not. That’s why efforts like a New York Times op-ed’s pitch to 'say something nice about Donald Trump' is so absurd, even meant as if tongue-in-cheek to begin with."

yess margaret sullivan


maura, Sunday, 11 June 2017 21:32 (seven months ago) Permalink

35,000! But it does include a newsroom tour. pic.twitter.com/X9xrb1s39S

— Doug Henwood (@DougHenwood) June 12, 2017

Supercreditor (Dr Morbius), Monday, 12 June 2017 18:30 (seven months ago) Permalink

that's * $135,000

Supercreditor (Dr Morbius), Monday, 12 June 2017 18:30 (seven months ago) Permalink

is there anyone who isn't completely intellectually bankrupt who continues to date a person who is not capable of holding an interesting conversation?

dating doesn't imply much commitment of time or emotional involvement, so I'd say yes, such relationships certainly exist without the necessity of intellectual bankruptcy on either side.

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 12 June 2017 18:59 (seven months ago) Permalink

How my family came to be the most hated family in Toronto (at least for 24 hours)

By Julian Humphreys

I recently found myself in the eye of a Twitterstorm. And it wasn’t only on Twitter. On Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites, my wife’s piece(s) on our adventures in real estate were causing a stir. I didn’t write those pieces, but I was implicated. And, truth be told, I helped with the writing of them, both in terms of fact verification and editorial input.

The experience was both funny and scary. And it wasn’t clear how we should respond. On the one hand, it seemed better to say nothing and just let the tempest pass. But on the other hand, so many false claims were being made about my family that it seemed wrong to not at least attempt to set the record straight.

In the end, this is my story as much as it is the story of our renovation and its aftermath. It is longer and more personal than I expected, justified, I believe, by the need to dispel preconceptions that hang around like cobwebs.

If all you want is a defence, skip to the numbered points at the end of the piece. If you want more, first some background.


On May 30th, 2017 Toronto Life published to their website this article, written by my wife, about our experiences buying and renovating a home in Parkdale five years ago. The article was almost immediately met with a frenzy of comments on social media, almost all of them disparaging.

When they found out that I’m a life coach, they deemed me unfit for the role.

The neighborhood in which I live, Parkdale, has its own Instagram account, and people freely expressed themselves there.

And, for balance, here’s one supportive comment.

The day culminated in a gofundme campaign, created by Todd Ferguson, that sought to raise $730,000 to “Help this brave gentrifier family,” promising that “if this campaign fails to meet it’s $730,000 goal, I will donate whatever pittance we raised to Parkdale Community Legal Services, The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, The Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, and ACORN Canada.” The campaign has raised nearly $5,000 from 192 people in 13 days.

So funny and scary seems about right.


Back when I was in academia and enamoured by writers like Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler, I was particularly in to the idea of origins, and where exactly we can trace origins back to. As soon as we look for origins to a particular situation or idea, we’re sent backward into a seemingly endless history, and so it is now when I think how best to frame the backstory of this story. I could either start with the most immediate, or the most distant, known origins. Both seem equally relevant. Or irrelevant, depending on what you’re looking to achieve by reading this piece.

So why don’t I start with the most distant.

My mum emigrated to the UK in 1939 from Germany. Yes, that’s right, she was a Jew, or at least somewhat Jewish. Her mum was a theatre actor, well-loved in Cologne and Bochum, her ethnicity a secret from everyone but her closest friends and colleagues. As my mum tells the story, haltingly, and almost impossibly, so full of emotion the experience remains for her 67 years later, the move to the UK was effectively a death sentence for her mother. Her lack of fluency in English meant she could not work as an actor, and she cleaned houses for a living, before finding some part-time work at the BBC, and then succumbing to cancer in 1954 at the age of 67, shortly before a potential breakout radio performance opposite Lawrence Olivier (at least that’s how the story goes).

My own mother was ten years old when the family emigrated. I know almost nothing about her teen years, other than she became friends with a woman whose eldest son later became my godfather. It is not through lack of trying that I know almost nothing. This period of her life is not something she likes to talk about.

What I do know is that she studied at the Royal College of Music, became a freelance musician, played in Yehudi Menuhin’s orchestra, before meeting my dad, also a violinist, at the relatively late age of 35. They settled in Finchley, in North London, a much less vibrant neighborhood than Notting Hill, where my mother had been living, and my mother continues to live in that house in Finchley to this day. It is a maisonnette, or a duplex in Canada’s language, and as much as I am loath to admit it (for fear of feeding the ‘entitled’ label that has been thrown around) I really hated that house. I hated that it was far from the nearest public transit, and that the public transit was far from the center of town, and that it was different to every other house on the street – and not in a good way.

When I reflect on that hatred – and I realize that’s a strong word – a whole range of other origins come to mind. Soon after moving to Finchley my mother became pregnant with my sister. And soon after my sister was born, my dad left, returning only to father me – briefly (make up sex, anyone?) – before leaving for good. As my mum tells it, she “felt me inside of her wanting to come out,” long before I was conceived. So she got what she wanted, I guess, just not in the way she wanted it.

My dad moved back to Canada with his new partner, who he eventually married and stayed with until his death last year. I met him for the first time when I was 18, when my sister and I traveled to Victoria, B.C., where he lived, on the invitation of his sister. He didn’t know she’d extended the invitation, wasn’t happy about it, and agreed to meet us for one afternoon – and then one more. I saw him twice more, when I was living in Montreal and he and his wife were passing through. The only time we had a proper conversation, I asked why his first three marriages failed, why he didn’t keep in touch with me and my sister, and why he bought that house in Finchley. So I’m willing to concede that I may have a somewhat neurotic relationship with real estate!

My hatred for that house only grew as I got older. At the age of 7 I was sent to boarding school on a music scholarship. That happens in England (or at least it did then – the school I went to no longer has boarders, nor does it have ‘the wacks’ as we called them, three hard wallops with a gym shoe delivered to your backside by the headmaster if you talked after lights out). I was happy enough living at the school, although Canadians find this hard to believe. Our musical responsibilities kept us busy, and I was around friends pretty much all day every day. But those friends dispersed throughout the country at the end of each semester, and my holidays were spent rattling around at home, with very little to do.

At the age of 13 I went to a different boarding school, again on a music scholarship. It was a much more progressive boarding school, co-educational, populated mostly by the children of England’s creative elites. Mick Jagger’s daughter was in my year, as was Minnie Driver. I dated a girl whose father was the CEO of a merchant bank, and another who was the daughter of a 60s pop star. Was I starstruck? Of course! I was a kid from Finchley. But so long as we were all living together, I was one of them. It was only when I returned to Finchley in the holidays that I was made painfully aware of how much I wasn’t really one of them. As they strolled the King’s Road, I worked. As they vacationed in Barbados, I stayed home watching TV. (I’m aware as I’m writing this that many of my friends from that time would disagree with this characterization, but that’s how I experienced it).

When I left that school at the age of 18, many of my schoolmates had apartments bought for them in central London. Real estate in London at that time was not dissimilar to real estate in Toronto right now. It was at a point where the average person has to seriously ask themselves if they will ever be able to get on the property ladder. I had hopes and dreams of making it as a musician – I was, after all, the child of professional musicians – but after many years of struggling I upped and left, first for New York and then for Montreal.

I knew no one in Montreal when I arrived. I couldn’t speak French, and I had no job lined up. But I loved the city from the moment I landed there, especially the fact that you could, for all intents and purposes, live on fresh air. My rent was $300 a month, including heat and electricity, for a downtown apartment near the Musée des Beaux Arts, and a slice of pizza was 49 cents. More importantly, you could be who you wanted to be in Montreal, without judgment. There were no values to which everyone had to adhere, other than basic democratic values of recognition and respect. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to succeed on anyone’s terms but my own. And I loved it.

I learned passable French, had a bunch of different jobs, worked on my music, and did a graduate degree in Communications at Concordia University, before landing a full-time position as an Internal Communications Consultant with Canada’s largest IT consulting firm. It was my first proper, full-time job, paying me more than I’d asked for, and it had come, not accidentally I felt, only after I gave up my musical ambitions once and for all. Or so I thought.

At around this time rumours came to me from across the pond that my godfather, Richard, had sold his company for a great price. I had no idea how much, exactly, but my mum told me he wanted to give me some money. I was excited, as anybody would be, but also reticent. I was proud of the life I had made for myself in Montreal, and after four years in Montreal and a year at Concordia University I had bought in to the anti-capitalist ethic of that city.

A few months later my godfather asked me to visit him in New York, where he had a place, and we spent the weekend hanging out. At the end of the weekend he presented me with a check for US$100,000, which pretty much blew my socks off. I didn’t know what to say, other than thank you, obviously, and spent the whole night unable to sleep.

I returned to Montreal not knowing what to do with my new-found wealth. I liked my life, and didn’t want it to change in any way. But then I saw a small ad in the back of the Montreal Mirror offering jazz vocal lessons. I thought it couldn’t hurt to reconnect with music, now that I had a good job and some money in the bank. And jazz was a new departure for me. I’d played in rock bands, DJed house music, produced pop songs and dance tracks, but my experience with jazz was limited to a few jazz vocal classes I’d taken in London before moving to North America.

That small window back into the world of music led to my taking up jazz piano, quitting my job so I could spend more time practicing, completing a second bachelors degree in jazz piano, gigging throughout the city, and recording an album that was played on Canada’s number 1 jazz show, After Hours.

As much as I loved Montreal, I was stagnating, and at serious risk of Peter Pan syndrome. Even the very best jazz musicians struggle to make it work financially, and I was certainly not one of the very best. And I was committed to using my godfather’s money for investment purposes only. I didn’t want to fritter it away subsidizing a career that wasn’t able to stand on its own two feet. So when I saw that the University of Toronto was offering guaranteed funding for PhD students I applied and was accepted for a PhD at OISE, the Education faculty at U of T, to study the Philosophy of Education.

I had every intention of continuing my musical career in Toronto while doing my PhD, but very soon after moving to Toronto I met my now wife, and the idea of hanging around in jazz clubs late at night, when I could be at home with my girlfriend, became substantially less appealing.

At this point, my wife’s origins become equally relevant to this story. Her story is, however, hers to tell, and I’m hoping that at some point she’ll tell it. I will say that she came to the relationship as an equal partner financially, despite not having received a dime from anything other than her own hard work, and that the idea that she is privileged in some way (other than in the sense that we are all privileged in some way) is laughable.

I had used my godfather’s money to buy a condo in Montreal, which I’d sold in order to buy a condo in Toronto when I moved there, and my wife, who had just recently bought a condo of her own in Toronto, moved in with me soon after we met. When she was pregnant with our first child, we started looking at alternative arrangements, and ended up buying a house in Parkdale, that I hated almost as much as the house I grew up in. It was a flip, quickly executed without permits by a realtor, and nothing seemed to work. I spent way more hours than I care to remember repairing things, arranging for professionals to repair things, dealing with rats in the crawl space, and other such illustrious tasks.

The realtor had bought the house for $300,000, spent 6 months or so renovating it, and had sold it to us for $560,000. Knowing that, we figured if we were to buy a house again we would be the ones buying low and renovating, so we could ensure the job was done right, and benefit from the risk that taking on such a project entailed. So when, four years later, my wife was pregnant with our second child, and our new realtor friend told us about a house that was possibly for sale that was big enough to accommodate our family of four, and my mother-in-law in a separate unit (believe me, the separate unit was a clear stipulation on my part!) I was excited to take a look. And when I realized it was a house I had long admired, for its Victorian grandeur and hippy vibe, I was even more excited.

And so began our odyssey. At least that’s what it felt like. So much so that when it was all over my wife and I would joke that we should write a book about it. ‘From Crack House to Our House’ or ‘From Crack House to Family Home’ or ‘From Crack House to Forever House: Our Year in Reno Hell’ seemed like titles that would sell. But life went on in our newly renovated home, and the project just sat there in the background, neither one of us motivated enough to put in the time and effort to make it happen.

I had finished my PhD at this point, and was teaching online for Boston University and in person at Humber College. The work was on the one hand rewarding, and on the other depressing. Just to give you a sense of how degraded a profession professorship has become, I completed, just yesterday, the work of supervising a doctoral research project for a student in the DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) program at Boston University. That project began in November 2013, and was successfully defended in May 2017. I was paid US$1000 at the beginning of the project, and US$2000 on completion of the project. US$3000 in total for supervising a doctoral research project over the course of four years. Maybe that seems reasonable to you. It seems absurd to me, especially as by the end of the four years I was no longer in academia, and no longer current on the latest research in the field. (And if you think this is an aberration, listen here, and know that when I later became a career coach I had a whole slew of PhD clients, all of whom were looking to transition out of academia).

I was at a crossroads. I had accepted my limitations as a musician, had no desire to spend more time studying, and was disqualified from hitting the academic job market in earnest because my wife had a good job in Toronto which she was loath to give up. I was looking for something I could commit to, be one of the best at, make good money with, and enjoy for many years to come. That thing turned out to be coaching.

That may seem like it came out of nowhere, so let me explain.

Back when I was at the school with the UK’s creative elites, I’d taken up smoking. Smoking was not allowed at the school, at any age, and if you got caught a certain number of times you were sent home for a few days. After one time too many of getting sent home, my mum, who was a health nut and beside herself that I was smoking, took me to see a counsellor recommended by a friend of hers.

The first session was what you would expect. The three of us – my mother, the counsellor, and me – in a room, watching a video on all the dangers of smoking, followed by a discussion. Nothing changed. I figured that would be it. But my mother told me a week or so later that he wanted to see me again, alone this time, and that he would not be charging me or my mum for either of these visits.

That seemed odd.

When I went back, the tone of the conversation was a lot more confrontational. I remember saying – shouting, almost – “Why do you have to make everything so fucking complicated!” To which he responded by going to his bookshelf, taking down a monstrously thick volume, and putting it on the table between us. The book was a textbook, titled ‘The microbiology of the human cell.’

“It’s not me making everything so fucking complicated,” he said.

He then proceeded to give me a lecture on cell biology, including how many bookshelves it would take to hold all the information contained in a single human cell. The lesson being, we are endlessly complex beings, and attempting to oversimplify both ourselves and the world is foolish.

Still nothing changed. In fact, they got worse. On finishing high school, I graduated from cigarettes to hash. During two years spent working in London and traveling in Asia I graduated from hash to LSD. And on arriving at university I got caught up in the acid house party scene, where ecstasy was the drug of choice.

I did try to clean myself up at one point, attending a 10-day silent retreat in Southern Thailand. But the switch from partying on a Thai beach to sitting quietly for 12 hours a day in a Thai monastery was too dramatic, and I only lasted 5 days before I was back to Bangkok and their opiated grass.

What sent me back to the counsellor in the end was disgracing myself in my first year at university. For my 21st birthday I had partnered with a new friend to host an acid house party which, I hoped, would bring the spiritually-inflected full moon party experiences I’d had in Northern India to British first year university students. That led to a series of parties that were heavily influenced by the early London rave scene, especially the club Shoom, which my partner had been to many times (he would later go on to open a famous club in London called The End and release a series of dance hits as one half of the production duo Layo and Bushwacka).

My ‘disgrace,’ such as it was, was mostly self-inflicted. I was appalled that I was at UEA, which stood for the University of East Anglia, but which was jokingly referred to as the University of Easy Access. I was appalled that I had gone from singing some of the most beautiful sacred music ever written at the age of 13, to dancing all night to repetitive beats while completely off my head at the age of 21. And I was struggling with a girlfriend, who I was mad about; so mad, in fact, that I ended up going mad, tying a bandana around my head so that I wouldn’t be able to ‘see’ out of my third eye.

In that moment of madness, I feared for my safety. I knew there was only one person who could help me. And so I dropped out of university and spent a year meeting every week for two hours with the counsellor whose help I had rejected five years earlier, recording every session on cassette tape for later review.

It turned out to be the most transformational experience of my life. He had me off drugs within a week, and deep into a transference relationship shortly thereafter. Our conversations ranged from the practical – how the hell am I going to make a living? – to the theoretical (philosophy, psychology, politics, history of science). A year later I returned to university, a changed man, and mostly for the better.

As powerful as that experience was, it was also unsettling. The counsellor was 70 when I began seeing him in earnest, and he had seen me mostly for free, despite the fact that he was not a wealthy man. I felt a sense of obligation to him, which he was loath to accept, but which did not abate. When I thought about diverting that sense of obligation toward others – paying it forward, in todays’ terminology – I could only think that maybe I too should become a shrink, so I could do for others what he had done for me. He was neither encouraging nor discouraging of this idea. He was supportive of me switching my major from English and Philosophy to Psychology and Philosophy, but whenever I expresse

d a desire to do the work that he did he was non-committal.

Even if he had been supportive of my following his career path, it’s not clear what that would have entailed. His bachelors degree was in aeronautical engineering, and his first job had been with Rolls Royce, designing engines for World War 2 military planes. He had taught at Summerhill, the renowned progressive school, and studied with Wilhelm Reich, one of Freud’s most critical former students.

I’d looked into psychoanalytic training, but the then head of the British Psychoanalytic Association, who interviewed me in an office that upheld every stereotype of the psychoanalytic consulting room, turned me off when he asked, in response to my expressions of interest, what exactly I found so interesting about the idea of working with psychotics.

I had no answer to that question, so I looked for alternatives. A PhD in Clinical Psychology seemed overly bound to experimental methods, counselling degrees seemed insufficiently rigorous, and philosophical counselling, which was a thing in the early 2000s, seemed a hard sell. Coaching seemed even less rigorous in its approach than counselling, so despite my desire to work one-on-one with people on transformational projects, which coaching seemed to be all about, I focused my energies on pursuing my intellectual interests, wherever they took me, trusting that, when the time was right, the results of my efforts would be beneficial to me and the people I served.

It was only ten years later, after I’d earned a PhD in Education and had been teaching in universities for a few years, that I looked at coaching again. It seemed to have grown up in the intervening years, and a friend of mine, who had given up a successful career in advertising to become a coach, advised me on the best training route to take.

I was arrogant enough to believe that, with a PhD in Education and a background in psychology, there was only so much I was likely to learn from a coach training program that had no entrance requirements and consisted of only five three-day weekends. How wrong I was! It challenged me in ways I was not used to. It valued experiential learning over book learning, the body as much as the mind, and called for a humility I was not used to exhibiting.

I embraced every aspect of the coach training and threw myself into building a practice like my life depended on it. I did additional training in relationship coaching, and got certified through the International Coach Federation. I coached anyone and everyone I could get my hands on – people in career transition, couples in conflict, entrepreneurs, leaders, executives. I volunteered for the local chapter of the International Coach Federation, and started an academic journal called Philosophy of Coaching. I had found my calling and there was no turning back. I was committed to getting progressively better at coaching, for as long as I was able to do the work. I settled on a niche – executives, not for financial reasons, as you might think, but because they in general have bigger, more complex problems, and complexity appeals to me. And on the eve of the launch of my new website, this:

And many other comments in a similar vein.

I quickly found out these predictions were likely untrue. The first client I met with after the story broke expressed his sympathy and assured me that he wanted to work with me as much as he ever did. But as someone who prides himself on being self-aware and a strategic thinker, it bothered me that a perception was growing that I was a clueless fool, blind to risk, especially when Arlene Dickinson, who is the kind of person I’d love to work with, tweeted this:

So let me explain what really went down during our reno from hell. Not that my wife mis-represented the facts – for the most part, she didn’t. But a) she was at home looking after our newborn for most of the year of our reno, so doesn’t know first-hand what really went on; b) she was constrained by a word limit of 4000 words; and c) she was working closely with an editor at Toronto Life, who clearly had his own agenda that overwhelmed her own.

Before getting in to the facts, though, let me say something about how the article came about. As many on Twitter discovered, my wife published a piece in the Spring issue of Cottage Life magazine about our experience buying a cottage on the Moira river for $59,000. That article came about because my wife bumped into the editor of Cottage Life, whom she knew, on the streets of Toronto, told her about our experience buying a cottage, and the editor thought it might make for a good story so asked my wife to pitch it. The story was, in my mind, an invitation to people who, like us before we discovered the Tweed/Madoc area, saw cottage ownership as forever beyond their means, to revisit that assumption and take another look. If they had taken us up on that invitation, incidentally, they would have found, among other options, a 5-acre lot right next to ours for $20,000. There’s nothing on it, admittedly, but some handy person could have taken on the project and had a brand new cabin in the woods to escape to for $40,000, which would have made living in a 500 square foot condo in the city a lot more palatable, I expect.

The Cottage Life piece was well received, which led my wife to revisit the idea of writing a book about our earlier renovation project, which had been extremely challenging, but which had ultimately worked out well. The book was conceived as a comedy of errors, along the lines of the 1946 novel ‘Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House’ by Eric Hodgins, which was made into a movie and later influenced the 1986 movie ‘The Money Pit’ starring Tom Hanks.

My wife mentioned to one of her friends what she was working on, who suggested pitching the story to Toronto Life. We foresaw some of the challenges of condensing what was a very complex, long drawn out story into a magazine length article, but my wife pitched the story anyway. That led to an invitation for her to meet with Malcolm Johnston, senior editor at Toronto Life.

When my wife returned from that meeting and I asked her how it went, she said it was great. They talked for two hours, he asked loads of questions, and she said she had a newfound appreciation for me, because she realized how much of the stress of that project I had kept from her at the time. She had, after all, spent most of the year on maternity leave, looking after our newborn daughter, rarely visiting the job site. Even today, what she knows of our reno she knows mostly from my telling her.

Later that day an offer came in from Malcolm for her to write a 4000-word piece, for x number of dollars (she is contractually obliged to not share this information, and I don’t know where I stand legally with respect to disclosing it), with a deadline of less than a week. She negotiated a slight increase in pay, and a slight extension to the deadline, and although she had concerns about how quickly the piece needed to be turned around, she got to work.

I was thrilled for her, because I could see how excited she was at the prospect of being published in a magazine with a circulation as broad as Toronto Life’s. I had concerns about how I would come across in the piece, but I was prepared to put my ego aside for the sake of a good story and in support of my wife’s career. But that all changed the next day when I found out that, during the initial meeting with Malcolm, my wife had told him about an event in our marriage that had occurred many years before, that neither one of us is particularly proud of, and that she had done so in response to his asking about the toll that the stress of the renovation had put on our marriage. In other words, she had taken an event that had occurred well outside the timeframe of the renovation, and cited it as an example of the negative impact the renovation had on our relationship.

My wife apologized to me for sharing what was an extremely personal story, and for misrepresenting when the events had occurred. She wrote to Malcolm to say that yes, those events happened, but they happened long before we started the renovation project, and that, strangely, the year of the renovation was actually one of the most peaceful in our often tempestuous marriage. But I was still not impressed. Something in the dynamic between Malcolm and my wife was off, and my support for the project nosedived.

I expressed as much to my wife, who wrote to Malcolm saying I was getting cold feet. He then called, texted and emailed me, all in one day, and when we eventually got on the phone his assumption was that I was worried about how I would come across in the piece, given the many errors I made over the course of the reno (for which I make no apology, incidentally, as I learned a lot along the way and intend to put that hard-won knowledge to work on future projects). In fact, I was more concerned that the piece would upset millennials, who were struggling to find a foothold in the housing market, and I didn’t see how what was essentially a good news story for us (as bumbling as we were, we were ultimately pleased with the outcome) could in any way be a good news story for others. My exact words to Malcolm were, “There is no upside of this story for me; I’m just looking to minimize the downside.”

The best way I knew to minimize the downside was to be assured that my wife had an editor who would, as I put it to Malcolm, “save my wife from herself.” A day or two earlier the Globe and Mail had published, briefly, a piece by Leah MacLaren, in which she revealed that she had once attempted to breastfeed a baby without its parents’ knowledge or consent. This bizarre story had led to a wider conversation in the media about the responsibility of editors to protect their writers’ from making fools of themselves. I was also aware, despite not being a Toronto Life reader, that the magazine was not averse to generating outrage from the stories it published, as this article, published a year earlier, had done. At least in that case, the author wisely chose to remain anonymous (and having now seen the Toronto Life editing process close up I doubt very much of that story is true.)

Looking back on that telephone conversation now, I realize that Malcolm never did assure me that he would look out for my wife’s best interests. Instead he said there were a lot of angry people out there, and he couldn’t control what people say online, but that in this case, because my wife was the author of the piece, nothing would be published unless both she and I were totally happy with it.

That was enough for me, so my wife continued working on the first draft. Because she was missing many important details of the project, we had multiple conversations about what exactly happened and when, and I got my hands dirty editing her work and adding bits and pieces here and there. Less than ten days after the contract had been signed, the first draft of just over 4000 words was sent to Malcolm.

That first draft, available here, was far from perfect, but it was broadly speaking what we wanted the article to be: a self-deprecatory comedy of errors. The ending was weak, and the article seemed a bit pointless to me, but what do I know? I’m an academic turned coach, not a journalist.

A week or so later Malcolm returned the draft with notes. So covered in red ink was the script that my wife wept. She had heard from other writers that the Toronto Life editing process was more like a re-writing process, but her ego as a writer took a hit. More detail, less cliché, was the gist of what he wanted, and much of the detail he wanted he had actively suggested. ‘Rat trap,’ for instance, to describe our former home, and ‘half-dressed, fully-dazed,’ to describe one of the tenants, were just some of his contributions. Although I could see the literary merit of these additions, a mean-spiritedness was entering into the article that was not in the original draft.

Compare the following description of the discovery of a man passed out in the basement during my wife’s initial tour of the house in the first draft, to the description of the same scene in the revised draft.

Beyond the expected chaos, we found animal feces smeared on the carpets, angry graffiti on the cabinetry, and a man passed out on the basement floor with a tourniquet still around his arm and a syringe by his side. One of our friends, who we had brought for moral support, gave him a gentle nudge, checking to see if he was still alive. I exhaled only after I heard him groan and turn over. I had met our first tenant.
That’s when I noticed it: at the far end of the room, a body. It was a man, lying on his back on a stained mattress, his face covered by a grungy sleeping bag. He had a tourniquet wrapped around his arm and a syringe was lying by his side. I shushed Julian and stabbed a finger in the man’s direction. Silence. What do you do with a dead body? After a few seconds, our contractor friend bravely walked over and gently nudged him. The man groaned and rolled over. We quietly tiptoed upstairs.
In the first draft my wife can only relax once she is assured that the man (not an ‘it’), given a gentle nudge by our friend, is alive and well (enough). In the revised draft, my wife comes across as a hysteric, stabbing a finger at a dead body, before slinking away once our contractor friend has ‘bravely’ given him a gentle nudge.

I was not aware of this shift in tone at the time, as my wife was writing the piece, not me. And our relationship hadn’t quite recovered from what I still felt was a significant breach of trust in her first conversation with Malcolm. She told me over dinner how the article was progressing, and that she’d submitted a second draft, and I figured when the time came I would get an opportunity to add my input, as Malcolm had assured me I would.

Meanwhile, photographers came to take photos of the house and of us. They were explicit about what they wanted. The magazine’s editor, they informed us, would not tolerate bare or socked feet in the house so shoes had to be worn. Smiles were discouraged, ‘neutral’ expressions preferred. Dave Gillespie, self-described ‘rocktographer’ (he has very long blond hair and wore a shirt unbuttoned to his navel), was a riot, and with the exception of our daughter having an uncharacteristic bout of moodiness, we all had a lot of fun.

We were curious to see how the photos turned out (my primary criteria was that I didn’t look fat, and my wife’s was that she didn’t look short) and before long a fully typeset pdf proof of the article was sent to my wife, which she forwarded to me. This was the first time I had seen the article and photos subsequent to submitting the first draft, and I was, quite frankly, appalled. I hated the photo, not because I looked fat but because I felt it conveyed the message that my family were miserable because the stupid patriarch of the family had been so foolish as to fritter away the family’s wealth on a misguided renovation project. Although I can see how compelling a story that is, it is simply not true.

Yes, we made mistakes, yes the renovation cost us more than it could have and should have, but ultimately we had come out ahead. We had a beautiful two-bedroom basement unit for my mother-in-law to live in that, were it rented on the open market, would bring in $2000 a month – almost completely covering our mortgage. And house prices had appreciated to such a point that not only would we easily get our money back, we would make a tidy profit in the process.

Moreover, it was as a direct result of our ‘mistakes’ that the renovation had turned out better than expected. We had originally only thought we’d be able to build a one-bedroom unit in the basement, but due to our crooked contractor’s willingness to break the rules and locate the mechanical room in an area that was supposed to be non-habitable (i.e. not heated), we were able to use the freed up space for a second bedroom. This could have landed us in all sorts of trouble with the City of Toronto had the Committee of Adjustment not retrospectively granted us a minor variance. Sometimes it really is best to act and ask for forgiveness later.

I also didn’t like the photo because in reality my wife is much more attractive than she appears in that photo.

My concerns extended far beyond the photo, though. The whole thing stank of click-bait, and there was a mean-spiritedness that ran through it now that wasn’t in the original draft. Malcolm had tried to mitigate this somewhat by altering the paragraph:

In retrospect, we could have just cut off the electricity but that didn’t feel right. Another option would have been to start the demolition with the tenants still there but we were worried that the angry tenants, one of whom was known to the police, would start smashing up the stained glass or other features we were attached to keeping.

To read:

We considered cutting the electricity, changing the locks or just starting the demolition with the tenants inside, but we felt for the squatters and didn’t want to cause them undue distress. They had had tough lives, and here we were, the privileged gentrifiers waltzing in to kick them out.

Although this sentence may appear to be kindhearted, I read it as the exact opposite – and here’s why.

Back when I taught Popular Culture at Humber College I taught the critical theory of Theodor Adorno, and included on one of my tests the following multiple choice question:

“The very intelligentsia that pretends to float freely is fundamentally rooted in the very being that must be changed and which it merely pretends to criticize” (Theodore Adorno in Rinehart)

What Adorno means by this is that:
a) The intellectuals who criticize capitalism from a Marxist perspective are not really fighting for the rights of the working class
b) The intellectuals who criticize capitalism are benefiting from capitalism at the same time as they criticize it
c) The intellectuals who criticize capitalism are not as independent-minded or as objective as they appear
d) All of the above
The answer, for anyone who has read Adorno, is d) all of the above. Criticisms of capitalism presented by the bourgeoisie are nearly always duplicitous, masquerading as in solidarity with the proletariat while cutting off real protest at the knees. And this was exactly what was going on here. By seeming to sympathize with the downtrodden, Malcolm was hoping to humanize us just enough to avoid a revolution, while dehumanizing us enough to garner clicks.

I had two very real problems with this. Firstly, I didn’t think anyone would believe it, and we would be hauled over the coals on social media for pretending to give a shit. Secondly, there was absolutely no truth to the sentiment. We didn’t feel sorry for the squatters, who had only moved in after we made the offer on the house (i.e. in the past three months), because two of the three had perfectly decent homes to go to – one in Mississuaga and one in Montreal – and the third was racist and threatening. We didn’t want to cause them undue distress, but we also didn’t want to cause ourselves undue distress. And paying the mortgage, property taxes and heating costs of a property so that random strangers can live there for free was distressing to us, as I expect it would be to you too (if not, then by all means go ahead and start your own community housing project – your generosity will be appreciated). And on top of all that, it sounded horribly patronizing, like all squatters are necessarily damaged goods.

When I spoke with Malcolm a few days later, he told me he had included this sentence to ‘protect’ us. When I said I’d rather he take it out, he said it wasn’t just there to protect us, it was there to protect the magazine’s editor, who might be called upon to defend the piece. He was extremely reluctant to take it out, but eventually agreed to replace it with “We considered cutting the electricity, changing the locks or just starting the demolition with the tenants inside, but it didn’t feel right.” In fact, none of that was true. As the first draft makes clear, we thought of these things “in retrospect.” At the time, we considered begging them to leave, we considered paying them to leave, and we considered having them evicted – eventually opting to pay them to leave because it seemed the most expedient. Only later did we think, after speaking to a lawyer, that we could have started the demolition, without breaking any laws, and they likely would have left of their own accord.

The two other substantial sticking points were the photo and the caption overlaying it.

This was Malcolm’s response to our concerns with the photo:

As for the photo: I definitely hear you, trust me, but this is a bit trickier. As a handling editor, I’m able to change the copy relatively easily. But photos and art involve many more people, some of whom outrank me. I assure you I’m working on changing it. So you know: we don’t usually send the photos out to the subjects—photos and display are the editorial team’s purview, as spelled out in the contract—but I did so as a courtesy to you guys. Inevitably, subjects examine and “read into” photos far more deeply than the reader ever does, and it opens a can of worms. That said, I understand your concern: you think you look happy and your family looks sad. Our objective is to try to convey the appropriate tone, and if everyone appears happy, the risk is that you guys look smug (the “hey, look our gorgeous house!” concern you raised when we spoke); if you look despondent, the story seems like a tragedy, trying to elicit reader sympathy, which isn’t ideal. We seek the middle ground, and that’s what our team saw in the selected photo. People say that you guys look great—many have remarked on your beautiful family—and tonally neutral.

However, I hear your concerns, and as I mentioned, I’m trying to negotiate with the team here. I will keep you posted on my progress later today.
No progress was ever reported.

As for the caption overlaying the photo, in the proof it read:

I told Malcolm that ‘filled with drug addicts and squatters’ was, in my mind, insulting to drug users, as a house is filled with things but full of people. In other words, it portrayed drug users and squatters as passive, inanimate objects, rather than people with agency. I suggested that at the very least it should read ‘populated by drug users.’

Throughout this difficult conversation Malcolm was clearly miffed, and as someone who has been in the editor’s role myself I understand why. Who was I to be telling him how to do his job? I didn’t even have a formal role on the project. But I did have the power to pull the plug on the project, which I was sorely tempted to do. As he resisted my suggestions, I told him that I was just trying to get to the point where “I don’t fucking hate this piece.”

In the end he agreed to make the changes I asked for. Later in the day I emailed him the following:

In the end he made nearly all the suggestions I asked for, leaving only

We were the victims of a shoddy contractor and bad luck, but also of our own colossal ignorance and hubris
when I had thought ‘colossal’ was an unnecessary qualifier.


Like I said to Malcolm, I was trying to get to the point where I didn’t hate the piece. Whether I ever got there I’m not quite sure, but I did know that if I exercised my right to nix the piece at this late stage I would have had a very upset Malcolm (whom I wasn’t so concerned about) and a very upset wife (whom I was). In retrospect, obviously, I would have been doing her and myself, and maybe even Toronto Life, a huge favour in saying no, but hindsight is 20/20. There were x number of dollars on the line (already allocated to paying off our recently purchased cottage), and both Malcolm and my wife had worked hard on the piece, even if, in my opinion at least, it had only got worse in the rewriting. So off it went to the printer, and a couple of weeks later a hard copy of the magazine arrived in our mailbox.

The only indication of things to come was an email from a Parkdale resident who lamented the damage the article would do to the neighborhood. I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant by ‘the neighborhood,’ nor the damage she anticipated, but my wife wrote her back a polite email in an attempt to understand more. Nothing more was forthcoming.

When two weeks later it was posted online the response was instant and overwhelming. My wife was described as “the most hated person in Toronto right now” and that was just the beginning of what felt like two full days of non-stop bile. I’m a pretty confident person, and have a clear conscience about the choices we made, but I still felt sheepish walking around the neighborhood. Thankfully, no one spat at us or threw eggs at our house as I half expected them to. Instead, friends and acquaintances went out of their way to say how sorry they were about what we were going through. Ex-students of mine at Humber and even random strangers reached out to say some version of ‘don’t let the bastards get you down,’ with some emphasizing the fact that they were millennials and they didn’t begrudge us our nice house, even though they recognized it was likely they would never be able to afford one of their own.

Once the reaction and the reaction to the reaction had died down, more specific criticisms of the article emerged. Although they were numerous, I will attempt to answer as many as I can in as complete a way as I am able. Just in case anyone is interested.

1. You did nothing for someone you thought might be dead

The man passed out with a tourniquet around his arm was in his own home, which we were touring prior to purchase. We were concerned enough about him to make sure that he was alive and well (enough). We could have called an ambulance, I guess, but that, in my mind, would have been a gross invasion of his privacy. I saw him several times subsequently, and he seemed to have no memory of the incident.

2. You ripped off an elderly couple by paying lower than market rate

It’s impossible to know whether we paid lower than market rate, because it was a private sale. The sellers were pleased to be rid of the property, and we were happy to take it on. Supply met demand, and although in the short-term expectations differed and had to be resolved through small claims court, we all walked away happy in the end (I know because the sellers lived on our street and we became friendly).

3. You complained about illegal tenants after buying a crack house and therefore are either clueless or entitled

All the tenants who were living in the property at the time that the sale agreement was signed were given two months’ notice and left within that two-month timeframe. In other words, your assumption that people who live in crack houses are the kind of people who do not honor rental agreements is false.

4. You claim you’re ‘cash-strapped’ and ‘a young family without a lot of money’ when you have a condo in Toronto, land in Mexico, and recently bought a cottage, meaning you’re either clueless or entitled.

Firstly, ‘cash-strapped’ is in the headline, and writers don’t write headlines, editors do. My wife does, however, say that we were ‘a young family without a lot of money’ and whether this is true or not depends on what you consider ‘money.’ We are house rich, cash poor. Or, put another way, we have a lot of long-term debt, and not much short-term cash flow. That alone does not, in my mind, make us clueless or entitled, it just means that we have a lot of work to do to pay off debt, which is what we are now in the business of doing.

5. You made a bunch of incredibly bad decisions and therefore must be a bad coach (life, leadership, executive, whatever)

I am confused by this, because on the one hand yes, I made some bad decisions. And yet we came out ahead. Was this luck? Or strategy?

My decisions were based on three assumptions:

i) This is our forever house, so it’s worth making an investment upfront and not compromising on quality.

ii) The more involved I am, the better the outcome will be (this was only partly true, and based more on a desire to be involved than an accurate appraisal of what I had to offer)

iii) It’s better to move forward without all the answers in place than to not move forward at all, an assumption best expressed in this quote attributed to Goethe:

that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

As for why I hired a guy off the street, which many people seem flummoxed by, it was a lot more gradual than my wife’s piece suggests. After the first contractor left, myself and one other laborer continued to work on the project ourselves. Robert, the guy on the bike, was invited to join us, so I was working alongside him for a few days. During that time, he convinced me that he knew what he was doing (the blind leading the blind), and before I knew it I was in too deep to easily extricate myself.

My only excuse is that I was not alone in falling under his spell. Somehow he kept the city inspectors, the structural engineer, TSSA enforcement officers and concerned neighbors all at bay – until I eventually kicked him off the site and the dams burst. All the people he had been ‘managing’ with his gift of the gab were now free to express their concerns, which they did, plentifully.

6. You have no empathy or consideration for those less fortunate than yourselves, as evidenced by the fact that you kicked out the people who were living in your house, seemingly with no concern for where they might end up

It’s true that we gave two months’ notice to the tenants who were living in the property at the time we signed the sales agreement, and we have no idea where they ended up. If this strikes you as unfair, then petition the city to change the law with respect to eviction of tenants subsequent to the sale of a property.

Of the three people who moved in after the sale agreement was signed I had concerns for only one, as the other two clearly communicated to me that they had other options. The third requested to continue living in the house subsequent to our taking possession. As we intended to start renovating immediately, and as the heating and property tax bills alone came to over $1000 a month, we could not accommodate his request. I do not feel that it is my personal responsibility to bear the cost of housing people I do not know. I was happy to give him several days to get organized, but when it was clear he had no intention of leaving willingly I was left with no choice but to pursue other options.

Today, I see him around the neighborhood, and we are cordial.

7. You were bailed out by your godfather (alternately and often described as an ‘uncle’ or ‘rich relative’) and fail to appreciate that others don’t have anyone to bail them out

I am extremely aware that others don’t have anyone to bail them out. I was fortunate enough to receive a gift of US$100,000 from my godfather at the age of 29, but prior to that I was on my own financially. It is important to note that I did not, and have never, asked to be given money or to be bailed out by anyone. It is a testament to the generosity of my godfather that he offered to help me, when he was under no obligation whatsoever to do so. His gift substantially changed my life, and I show my gratitude by honoring his generosity as best I can. I could have snorted $100,000 of cocaine, but instead used it to prepare myself, however tangentially, for a career in which I feel I make a positive difference.

8. You fail to appreciate your privilege, as evidenced by the fact that you say ‘We didn’t even own a car’ and ‘I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of the soon-to-be four of us sharing 900 square feet.’

I was painfully aware of the fact that ‘We didn’t even own a car’ came across as entitled, and requested that Malcolm remove it. However, my wife liked it, so it remained. Please take up your concerns with her.

Although it’s fair to say that we both had concerns about living in a 900 square foot condo with two young children, it turned out to be one of the best years of our lives, living in such close proximity, and I recommend it. That being said, a previous draft of the article included the detail that our youngest daughter spent her first year sleeping in the corridor, which is perhaps not ideal.

9. You are asking for our sympathy when you deserve none, as a) you are in a more fortunate financial position than many and b) you brought whatever financial straits you are in upon yourselves through your own foolishness.

It was not our intention to solicit sympathy. The photograph, I feel, substantially contributes to that impression, as do the closing paragraphs, where my wife suggests we might be in financial peril if interest rates rise. Knowing my wife as I do I believe she included this in a misguided attempt to not appear smug. She likes to be liked, which in this case was her downfall.

I 100% own the poor decisions I made, just as I own the positive outcomes those poor decisions contributed to. I recognize that there are many people in less fortunate financial positions than we are, as I also recognize there are many people in much more fortunate financial positions than we are.

10. Although your house looks nice you don’t know how to decorate (and you can’t play Twister on the wall).

I am aware that we could decorate better. If or when we can afford the luxury of hiring an interior designer, we will do so. In the meantime, we do our best, making our own furniture and artworks, which sometimes work out well, and other times less well.


It’s been a couple of weeks since I started writing this response. It is much longer than I intended and I have revealed much more about myself than I would have done had I not met, on the first day of writing, a man who is well-known in the neighborhood and who casually informed me that the reason he is able to winter in Mexico and summer at his cottage on Lake Ontario is because he inherited a vast amount of money from his father. When I asked him what his father did for a living, he said he was a tobacco company executive. I figured that if this man can accept the reality of his situation and share it with a complete stranger, I can accept the reality of mine. Sometimes the facts are the facts, and there’s no escaping them.

I have learned valuable lessons from the experience of being the most hated family in Toronto (at least for 24 hours). I’ve learned that, in the absence of sufficient information, people make a lot of assumptions. I’ve learned that Toronto Life is a pretty low magazine, in multiple senses of the word. And I’ve learned that it might be time to update my sense of myself to better reflect my current reality (I still think of myself as broke most of the time, which accurately reflects my cash flow, but not my assets.)

My wife is on her own learning journey and has issued the following statement:

My article was meant to be about a renovation and our fairly dramatic mistakes along the way. I have listened to the feedback. I understand why the story and my insensitive descriptions triggered anger around real issues of affordable housing, homelessness and more. I’m going to take some time to reflect on everything that has happened.
It occurs to me now that, for the past 10 years, my wife and I have been attempting to achieve the Canadian dream – to get married, have a family, own a home and a cottage, and retire comfortably. We have not been unconcerned with others in the pursuit of that dream. We have given generously of our time and resources to others, both professionally and personally.

If you feel we have been too aggressive in the pursuit of that dream, please say so in the comments below, including how you believe we could have or should have acted differently. I welcome your input.


, Wednesday, 21 June 2017 18:40 (seven months ago) Permalink

kinda the defn of tl;dr

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Wednesday, 21 June 2017 18:41 (seven months ago) Permalink

I was gonna post exactly that!

Chocolate-covered gummy bears? Not ruling those lil' guys out. (ulysses), Wednesday, 21 June 2017 18:55 (seven months ago) Permalink

i like how he wrote that as an attempt to show he's a salt of the earth kinda guy, been unfairly maligned, then right in the middle

A few months later my godfather asked me to visit him in New York, where he had a place, and we spent the weekend hanging out. At the end of the weekend he presented me with a check for US$100,000, which pretty much blew my socks off. I didn’t know what to say, other than thank you, obviously, and spent the whole night unable to sleep.

, Wednesday, 21 June 2017 18:58 (seven months ago) Permalink

who among us has not gotten a check for 100k from a godfather

Chocolate-covered gummy bears? Not ruling those lil' guys out. (ulysses), Wednesday, 21 June 2017 18:58 (seven months ago) Permalink

yeah, I'm going to stick with my original assessment that the gentrification angle wasn't the wildest part of the story

also, lol:
In other words, she had taken an event that had occurred well outside the timeframe of the renovation, and cited it as an example of the negative impact the renovation had on our relationship.

he says this after paragraph after paragraph of life events completely irrelevant to anything other than making him seem really interesting

mh, Wednesday, 21 June 2017 19:27 (seven months ago) Permalink

extra lol:

I also didn’t like the photo because in reality my wife is much more attractive than she appears in that photo.

mh, Wednesday, 21 June 2017 19:28 (seven months ago) Permalink


Dan I., Wednesday, 21 June 2017 19:52 (seven months ago) Permalink

Back when I was in academia and enamoured by writers like Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler

I checked out here

badg, Wednesday, 21 June 2017 20:22 (seven months ago) Permalink

il n'y a pas de hors-texte: a new approach

mark s, Wednesday, 21 June 2017 20:34 (seven months ago) Permalink

mah wahf

mh, Wednesday, 21 June 2017 20:35 (seven months ago) Permalink

"To be sure, the ability to nap at work is far from widespread, experts said."

Larry Elleison (rogermexico.), Monday, 26 June 2017 19:55 (six months ago) Permalink

two months pass...

does this count as a quiddity or agony? because i'm agonized https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/fashion/weddings/may-december-couple-marc-wallack-cynthia-zhou-.html

assawoman bay (harbl), Sunday, 27 August 2017 13:13 (four months ago) Permalink

As 45 year age differences go, that is surprisingly not-creepy.

louie mensch (milo z), Monday, 28 August 2017 00:04 (four months ago) Permalink

The 2.6-carat diamond thing was uh something, I'm not sure what

mom tossed in kimchee (quincie), Monday, 28 August 2017 21:09 (four months ago) Permalink

the actual phrase, for reference:

“I didn’t really know what she liked,” he said. So he described their relationship, including the age difference, to salespeople and came away with a 2.6-carat solitaire — a nod to Ms. Zhou’s age at the time, 26.

this really sounds like the jeweler is the most cynical fucker on the planet, good for them

mh, Monday, 28 August 2017 21:14 (four months ago) Permalink

two months pass...

"I'm Rich, and That Makes Me Anxious"


dinnerboat, Monday, 13 November 2017 16:15 (two months ago) Permalink

"My Asshole, Let's Contemplate It"

IF (Terrorist) Yes, Explain (man alive), Monday, 13 November 2017 16:31 (two months ago) Permalink

wonder why they don't have commenting on that article...

IF (Terrorist) Yes, Explain (man alive), Monday, 13 November 2017 17:46 (two months ago) Permalink

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