What was important to us in 2015? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the quiet reverberations of the year’s big issues, and the loud ring of its smaller ones.
Whatever mystics and mathematicians say, the future remains thoroughly unknowable. Standing on the border of this dark and mysterious country, we can do nothing but cling to the brightest available light, and hope that it might reveal the shapes in the distance, illuminate one small corner of the path we’re ceaselessly marching. And if that light happens to cost your career’s entire productive output and most of what you considered your identity throughout your twenties, well, at least it has convenient subway access and a kitchen that you could really, you know, do something with.
All of which is to say that my particular future looks like a two-storey semi-detached house that is old enough that someone has definitely died in it—probably from falling plaster, judging by the state of the ceilings. It was purchased on the working assumption that I, too, will one day die in it, which is mildly scary until you remember that I will have free range to do whatever I want with those wall sconces until the grim spectre of death steals me away: if you think the unconsidered life is not worth living, try one where all your light fixtures are brushed nickel.
Until that day, though, I will live secure in the knowledge that the largest financial commitment I could possibly make almost probably definitely wasn’t just a hangover of the dream of a generation that figured burning poison was a solid basis for an expansionist global economy—and that I’m not just a pudgy simulacra of an actual human, dutifully mirroring the appetites and aspirations of the people to whom I owe the entirety of my being and understanding in the hopes that they will affirm that I am a real boy. No, at some point I lay awake in my old apartment, listening to the squirrel try to claw his way through the popcorn ceiling and, fully of my own accord, decided, “You know what? It would be great if I was the one who had to pay to fix this problem.”
Even admitting your purchase to fellow homeowners is basically like branding “Please speculate about my personal finances” on your knuckles and then punching them bloody.
Possibly there was some other nascent motivation, although once you have encased yourself in a mausoleum of lifelong debt, it’s hard not to see everything in terms of finances, like a cartoon wolf stranded on a desert island transmogrifying his companions into talking chicken legs, except with overdraft notices. There is no better way to tell capitalism that you sincerely apologize for all those things you said than by tying your mental health to its whims at an attractive variable rate. I have ruined dinners with active pouting about the evils of fast fashion, but I cannot look you in the eye and tell you today I would not hire a Bangladeshi orphan to unclog my sink if I could get one over here for 39 cents an hour and they had the strength necessary to lift a pipe wrench.
Perhaps in some shithole cultural outpost like Montreal it is possible to acquire property without feeling like the fat industrialist in a Victorian-era political cartoon, but in Toronto, where I live—I’m in the media, you knew this—the average price of a house is basically the number a child makes up when you ask her how many stars are in the sky. When even the standard down payment is a princely grumpteenfinity, you can’t help but plant dismal seeds in the minds of all your contemporaries. In my household, talking about money was considered slightly more uncouth than farting while you receive analingus on the Thanksgiving dinner table, but even admitting your purchase to fellow homeowners is basically like branding “Please speculate about my personal finances” on your knuckles and then punching them bloody. To the people who sanely regard home ownership as slightly less plausible than killing a wood witch so you can live in her gingerbread hut, I may as well be slapping my wallet down on the table and telling the waitress to lick it until her tip pops out.
(Let us not even get into the smirking killjoys who are going to let a thing like historically unprecedented prices and impossible interest rates keep them from diving into this godless melee; they are useful only for those rare times you want to wander the streets on moonless nights choked by unbridled panic over the hash you have made of your one, pathetic life, or as dinner guests for when you want to make sure you will not be the smuggest prick in the room.)
Not that I expect your sympathy; I am well aware that I can dry my tears in the beaver fur lining of my bourgeois rentier coat, which my realtor was kind enough to include in the purchase price. And anyway dealing with the mild opprobrium of the wretched masses who will die penniless and be buried in unmarked graves is still preferable to talking to other homeowners, who inevitably start discussing forthcoming or dreamed-about renovations with all the haughty sincerity of interwar European diplomats wondering what is to be done about this belligerent German chap. Pretty soon you will spend entire drinking sessions comparing notes on Home Depots and saying things like, “Of course Gluckstein is just the king of neutral tone paints.” Heaven help you any time someone on their street is selling, unless you happen to enjoy watching people you thought of as friends greedily cackle about rising personal equity like a leprechaun accountant.
Though in truth it is not all bad: the first time you manage to replace a ceiling fan with YOUR OWN HANDS in a place that YOU own, you will throw away every hammer in your possession, confident in the fact your fourteen-pound penis will be capable of handling things from here on out. You will meet a cheerful surrogate father figure at a community association meeting who shares your existential horror at having the neighbourhood in any way associated with whatever in sweet blue hell “Urban Fairies” are. You will come to appreciate standing on your porch confident in the fact it will take the bank several months of missed mortgage payments before they even start trying to evict you.
And you will enjoy that view. Because it will be all that you will ever see whenever you look towards the future.