Decisions, decisions….good and bad. Really bad!

decisions_06Life is full of decisions, little ones like what to wear today or what to eat for breakfast, and big ones like buying a house or getting married or having another child. In my life I’ve had to make all those decisions and many more. I’ve learned that there are two basic things about making decisions. One, no matter how hard you try to think of all the good and bad points of a decision you can’t think of all the unforeseen things that can go terribly wrong and, two, every decision, good or bad, has consequences. I’ve learned of those the hard way.

When we are born and continuing through those early years most of our decisions are made by others, usually our parents. What to wear. What to eat. What school to go to. Soon we start to make our own decisions, like what to wear, often poorly done and what to eat for breakfast, also poorly done when chocolate cake comes first. One of our first major decisions is who will become our friends. During those formative years we are all naive and think that the friends we make will be for a lifetime. It’s the same with our first love. When I met Roxanne Rollings in Churchville I believed that we would get married and live happily ever after. Little did I know.

decisions_01Sometimes we are just the victim of circumstances, for example, when I was only twelve my parents decided to move out of Toronto to the middle of nowhere, to a farm in the country north of Streetsville. I went from being able to ride my bike almost anywhere, or taking buses and streetcars to wherever I wanted to go and never getting home before dark, to being so isolated, miles from anyone. Even when I met some friends at public school in Churchville I could never see them or do anything after school because it was literally a five mile walk. My father and mother both worked so they were seldom available or were just too tired to drive me anywhere or pick me up. Once in a blue moon, usually because of Roxanne, I did do the major bike trip to Churchville. Soon I moved on to the high school in Streetsville, which was even further away, too far to even think about biking. My teen years were basically spent with my brother and sister, who I also cared for because my Mum worked so I cooked dinner every night.

As we get older and start having that burning desire to control our own destiny this is difficult for our parents to handle. They don’t want to let go and they rarely agree with your decisions, but they also know that the only way you will learn is by making mistakes so they have to trust you at some point. My first issue was joining the band. It quickly became the only thing I cared about and nothing else, like my schoolwork, really mattered. I didn’t have any dreams of becoming famous but I loved every minute of playing in the band. Back then I had no idea that it was going to be such a major part of my life for the next ten years. Like most kids I wanted money and a car, especially after all those years of being stranded. I decided to go on a split program with high school, taking half my subjects one year and the other half the next year. That didn’t work out as planned. I got a job delivering newspapers to carriers around Mississauga and Streetsville. It was hard work but I loved getting my first paycheques. At one point as the driver rounded a curve a little fast I fell off, sliding maybe thirty feet on the pavement. What saved me was the fact that it had been raining so hard and the road was very wet. I got away with no road rash but it scared the crap out of me.

decisions_03Once I had decided that continuing in school wasn’t going to work for me my mother suggested I apply at the bank where she worked. I had no desire to get into banking but the thought of a regular full-time paycheque was attractive, even at fifty dollars a week, a fortune way back then. This led to my next major decision – a car. I happened to see an ad for an MGB that sounded perfect. I loved the idea of driving a sports car and paid no attention to the fact I wouldn’t be able to drive it in the winter without killing myself. Turned out this rich guy had gotten it from his parents as a graduation gift and he wanted to go on a trip to the Caribbean and needed the money. He had no clue what it was worth and was asking an absurdly low price. I was driving my mother’s car to get to him in Toronto and to my considerable surprise he said I could leave her car with him and take the MGB. I was in total heaven driving that car and took the very, very long way home. I was only eighteen or so at the time so I couldn’t sign for my own loan. I needed my Dad to cosign. To this day I have never forgiven him for refusing to cosign the loan for the best car I could have ever had, well, until the winter at least. Dad made it all the worse by bringing home a horrible Vauxhall Viva that he paid a hundred dollars for, which was ninety-nine dollars too much. It was a car though, bad as it was, and I remember painting the dash flat black for some unknown reason that made sense at the time. Shortly after a drunk hit me on Queen Street in Brampton and totaled the car, almost totaling me as well. That led to another major decision when I decided to buy my first new car, an Austin Mini.

Getting the new car led to one of my first really stupid decisions. At the time I was working at a branch in Weston, one of the nine I ended up working at during my short career with Toronto-Dominion, and worked with Steven Vass. I’m not sure how we started talking about car rallies but I soon signed us up for the Skylon rally, having no clue what this rally actually meant. The rally was just over a week away so my dealer told me to put a thousand kilometres on the engine so that it could be tuned before we went on the rally. Not only did I drive the long way home but I went touring just about everywhere to put the mileage on. After they serviced the engine off we went to the rally. When we got to the start we learned that this was one of the national rallies in the country and it would be challenging. The other drivers were all chuckling at us when they saw my car. They were all sponsored and had thousands of dollars of extras in their cars. They also had crews that would service their vehicles on the route. We had nothing. First we had to have a safety check which did not go well. The official gave us a long list of things we needed to be able to enter the rally, like fire extinguishers, map lights, on and on, so off we went to Canadian Tire to buy everything we needed. We passed the safety, although it was very clear that we didn’t stand a chance to finish the rally. At every pit-stop we got our time, which was always way behind, and instructions for the next leg. They were different for each leg and obviously the professional drivers understood what they meant. We didn’t but the drivers and pit-stop crews were very helpful. Just one example was they gave you a map with all the exact distances between roads. You were to take whatever roads were not shown on the map. This was a twenty-four hour rally, which even with two drivers, is tough. We finally pulled into Niagara Falls, hours late, but we made it. We were welcomed with cheers from the other drivers who couldn’t believe that we had actually done the whole course. We learned that more than a hundred drivers had failed to make it, many of them pros. Quite the experience.

Sometime in this period I met my soon to be wife. I was at a party with my then girlfriend, Bev, when Janice walked down the stairs with her friend Lynn, who had just finished warning her that I was a sucker for blondes. As soon as I saw her I left Bev and approached Janice, asking her to marry me. It said a lot that she told me to “f” off. I kept insisting that we were going to marry and wouldn’t leave her alone. I soon learned that she had been going with this guy, Doug, for three years. He turned out to be an asshole and he wasn’t pleased that I was out with his girl. As I drove her home one night he came screaming up, jumped out of his muscle car and started yelling at Janice. Her mother soon came out of the house to see what all the noise was about. That was the minute that Doug made the very stupid decision to spit in Janice’s face. Her mother went ballistic and told him never to come around again and that basically ended their relationship. Despite how our marriage turned out I still believe that she would have been miserable with him.

decisions_07Sometimes you get to consider all the facts to make a decision. Sometimes the decision is basically made for you. That’s what happened with Janice and I. I never doubted that we were going to get married but I didn’t have any details and we never discussed it, mostly because she was only fifteen at the time. We did love each other deeply and we were soon on dangerous ground physically. We were at my parent’s place which they had rented when they moved out west, but the tenants had moved out so no one was there and we ended up in the bed in the master bedroom. Well, no surprise what happened next, but we had no protection. Stupid! Really stupid! It wasn’t long before she was pregnant which back then was the kiss of death, so we got married August 16th, 1969 and Chris was born March 27th, 1970. Sure, we made the decision to get married but was there any real choice? Neither of us even talked about abortion. Her parents were devastated but they never questioned if we should get married. It was the only choice.

Here I should also touch on another one of those times where decisions are basically made by other people or circumstances. My parents had traveled out west on a vacation and when they returned they had decided to move. They put the house up for sale and started planning to move. I was working at the bank at the time and had no clue about living out west where they were going, but I also didn’t like the idea that my family was leaving me alone. No doubt we would have had a deep discussion about what I could do for work out west, but it never happened because they could not sell the house. Winter was approaching so they decided that they would stay until spring when they would put the place up for sale again. Fate stepped in because then I met Janice. Any thoughts of moving with my family went out the window. Then she got pregnant. We got married then my parents rented their place and left for the west. It was the start of some very tough years because when Chris was born I had no family there to share my joy.

My first trip out to see them was in 1972. They were living in a rented house on Marshall Street in Kelowna. My Dad was working at Western Star in the factory, which was quite the shock because he had been a real estate broker back in Streetsville. He showed me their truck which had a camper, where I slept actually and their big boat that he was working on. It was a former tugboat on the coast and had been owned by a scuba diving club. It had two massive V-8 engines that he was rebuilding. My mother had gotten a job at the Bank of Nova Scotia pretty well the day they arrived in Kelowna. Looking back I wish I had paid a lot more attention to how their lives had changed and how happy they were. The old “live to work or work to live” adage. Dad said he loved getting off work at three-thirty, forgetting about work and going off to have fun. He had really changed from the workaholic he was before, something that I was well on my way to becoming. I went back home beginning to question what I was doing with my life, but I had a wife and a new young son, so what choices did I have?

From day one my marriage was abysmal. My Dad had got us a motel room for our wedding night. We were leaving for Cape Cod the next morning for our honeymoon. That night was certainly not what I had pictured for my wedding night. Janice would not even let me touch her. All I remember was sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed wondering what I had gotten myself into. The honeymoon wasn’t much better. There was no romance and she started getting morning sickness. I felt she had brought it on herself so that she didn’t have to make love to me. Little did I know or even dream that this was going to be the way our future was. Not what a hopeless romantic, which I am, needs.

The next major decision was buying our first house. Before I got married my buddy Russ and I lived in a very small apartment in a house on Main Street in Brampton which my father owned. I remember we had a TV and two lawn chairs. I don’t even remember where we slept. After I got married of course Russ moved out and Janice moved in. Soon we also had a baby to take care of and the apartment felt even smaller. One of the tenants in the main part of the house moved out so Dad suggested that we move in, which we did. I think we went from paying ninety dollars a month to a hundred and fifty a month. Dad has some major challenges with their house in Streetsville. The people who had rented it had not paid the rent for several months and then moved out, leaving no oil for the furnace in the dead of winter, so the pipes froze and burst. It was very frustrating for my Dad to handle being on the other side of the country so he just wanted out of it, including the place we lived in. He suggested that we buy it. Being only twenty I had no idea if I would be able to get a mortgage or where I would come up with the down payment. My own bank wouldn’t help me, as would no other bank or credit union. I finally managed to get private mortgage financing, a first mortgage and a second mortgage, both at much higher rates and we had to pay finder’s fees on both, which were rolled into the mortgages. We paid Dad’s asking price of nineteen thousand dollars, with a whopping hundred dollars down.

Living there was okay, but it was a challenge sharing a bathroom with the bachelor apartment, especially with a baby. I had done some work on the place, like refinishing the floors in our apartment and replacing the lead drainage pipe in the kitchen. We started looking for a place of our own and our agent, Andy Anderson, found a place on Fairglen Drive in Brampton. He said it was really rough but they had been trying to sell for months and they had just reduced their price a lot. I convinced Janice to at least take a look at it, but as soon as Andy opened the front door, the smell and the heat knocked us back. I thought Janice was going to refuse to step any further. That it was “rough” was an understatement. There were rugs nailed down to the floor in the hallways, which also smelled of urine from the animals. The living room was the ugliest black velvet wallpaper I had ever seen. The bathroom was half renovated with the sink propped up on two by fours. All the bedroom doors looked like they had locks that had been broken off so at one point it must have been a rooming house. The exterior had army green siding and the foundation had been painted bright purple. It was some ugly! Although it had a very large backyard, it backed onto the railway tracks which was a mainline. When a train went by you couldn’t hear a thing. Janice wanted no part of it but I convinced her that we could renovate and make some money so we put in an offer and we got it – cheap. I did a lot of work over the years we were there. I think we bought it for something like $42,500 and we sold for something around $59,000.

The next decision that was made, greatly affecting my life, but not one I was allowed to make, was when Janice learned she was pregnant again. She simply told me that her and her mother were going to a hospital in Toronto for her to have an abortion and that I had nothing to do with it. I was incensed that we weren’t even going to discuss it, insisting that I had a legal right to be involved in this decision. She didn’t give a damn. When I think what has happened with my kids I always wonder what this other child would have been like with me, but I’ll never know.

 

We ended up buying or renting houses until the last one before we split. At every one of them I busted my butt doing renovations, all of which earned us more and more money, growing our original one hundred dollar investment. The last one was what had been the builder’s home on Mara Crescent. It had a lot of upgrades, like a Jacuzzi in the bathroom, ceramic tiles, upgraded cabinets, french doors and a very large deck out back. I did a lot of landscaping, front and back, turned one of the bedrooms into an office with all tongue and groove paneling, added a door between the kitchen and the garage, built all kinds of shelves and a workbench in the garage and did a whole lot of decorating. Of course, as with all of our houses over the years, Janice never so much as picked up a paint brush. I did everything. When we bought the place it was a somewhat unusual deal. The owners wanted to build a home in Caledon so they wanted as long a closing as they could get, so we gave them six months which helped us to get the deal. We had sold our townhouse for the highest amount ever in that neighborhood and the buyers had no problem with the long closing. The old “buy low, sell high” saved our bacon on the last place. We bought at around $179,000 and by the time we moved in the same home, without all the upgrades, was going for $221,000, in fact, that’s what our next door neighbors paid. After a year apart and paying all her bills I had had enough so we put the place up for sale. We got $189,900, a large drop from what they were before the crash, but we still didn’t lose anything on it because of what we had paid.

For all the years we were married my wife had always said if we split everything would be fifty/fifty. I always wondered about that because every cent we had earned on the houses we had owned was exclusively from my work. She never did a thing. But I also hated lawyers so I knew I wouldn’t challenge the fifty/fifty split. Suddenly when we sold the house, in which we now had about a hundred thousand dollars of equity, plus I had paid every mortgage payment on any houses we owned, she decided that she needed more to “support our daughter”. Remember that she had sat on her ass for the last two years, not even looking for a job, so I had paid for everything plus I had done all the work. Regardless, she knew I would never agree to go to lawyers so she milked that to the hilt. I basically took my last cheque from my last client and gave her the rest. She got about ninety-five percent of everything plus things like Heather’s IKEA furniture which had cost some three thousand dollars. She also took all of my Rosemond prints and even my thirty-five Charlie Brown books, something she had never even looked at. I was just happy to be done with it all.

The next major decision involved my mother. In 1991 she had been diagnosed with fifth stage melanoma and given a less than five percent chance of living more than six months. It was devastating news to the family. I had been apart from my parents for more than twenty years. My marriage was over. I found myself making appointments to see my kids. I was living in Markham where I didn’t want to be. My work with my last client was coming to an end after six months. I made the difficult decision to move out west to be with my mother for whatever time she had left.  I just wanted to spend as much time with her as possible and wasn’t really thinking beyond that. My parents came down with me, helped me sell some of my stuff and traveled back to BC with me, arriving in July of 1993. For some seventeen years they had been going south to Yuma for the winter, sometimes renting their place out while they were gone. We really didn’t know if Mum would be okay to travel that October but she insisted she was. It was the last year they went because now that Mum had been diagnosed with cancer the health insurance was absurd, I think more than three thousand dollars just for her. After all the stress with Mum and moving the day they left for Yuma was one of the best days I’ve ever had. They left early in the morning. I was still in my pajamas. Had my coffee in my hand and sat down in Dad’s chair and for the first time in my life didn’t give a damn about anyone but me. I think it was the very first time I finally believed that my life was now up to me. No more doing everything for everybody else. It was wonderful.

Although things were fairly good it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I had to find work pretty quick. My very expensive custom van sat in the driveway just waiting for the day they would come and get it because I could not afford the eight hundred dollar payments every month now. That lead to an almost fatal decision in January to drive to Ontario despite it being the dead of winter. I had a very expensive DJ system that I needed to sell and a guy in Bolton who owned a music store said he would sell it for me. I also really wanted to see the kids so off I went. I had talked to Heather to tell her I was coming down to see her. I knew that it was only a matter of time with the van so I might as well use it while I could. The drive was a disaster and I’ve covered it elsewhere so I won’t go into all the details again but I almost didn’t survive the trip. After all that after I dropped the system off in Bolton I couldn’t find my daughter. I learned that they had hidden Heather away and were not going to let me see her. I ended up staying with my son for three weeks, hoping I would get to see her but nothing changed and I drove home through the tears. That was over twenty years ago and I have not seen or spoken to her since. I miss her every single day. On top of everything else the idiot in Bolton sold my three thousand dollar system and ripped me off for every dime.

I ended up staying in the Okanagan for fourteen years, most of it while my mother was amazingly still with us. She sure beat the odds. As I said earlier, sometimes you get to make your own decisions and sometimes they are made for you. That was the case when my Dad passed away in May of 2005. My mother had advanced Alzheimer’s and could not be left alone. My brother and sister never offered so I had no choice but to move in to care for my Mum, what turned out to be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I really had no choice other than to give up any thought of having my own life until she was gone. Through a number of incredibly dumb decisions by my sister my mother got a lot worse and finally died in late 2007. I was so angry with my sister that I could not go to my Mum’s remembrance ceremony because I wanted to kill my sister. We have not spoken since.

After I had sold their place and gotten Mum into proper care I took over the mortgage on a manufactured home that was a disaster. I worked day and night, seven days a week, completely gutting it, redesigning the layout and rebuilding everything. When I was close to finished I talked to a few Realtors, all of whom said it was the nicest one anywhere and that it would fetch a really good price. Then disaster struck. The day before I was to list it one of the local Indian Chiefs came out in the local paper saying that anyone who bought a manufactured home on native land was “stupid”. He said that the ridiculous prices that they were selling for was only because of Realtor’s greed. He reminded everyone that there was no tenancy on any of the parks so they could be redeveloped and everyone thrown out with nothing. Overnight the market crashed. No Realtor would touch it for fear of being sued. No lawyer would touch it. Even the private mortgage I had arranged just in case I couldn’t sell fell through. I was screwed. I owed money to people like Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Home Hardware and I had borrowed ten thousand dollars from my friend Crystal’s parents, who saved my ass because I had no money to finish the place. With no possible sale, no mortgage to pay the bills and no way to survive now the stress was literally killing me. My doctor told me to find a way to get out from under all this stress or I would die. I was diabetic and stress kills.

After much thought and research I decided to go to Panama. I transferred the ownership of the place to my friend, Wade, to try to protect it from being seized by a creditor. My electrician had just broken up with his wife so I offered him a place to stay. After I decided to go to Panama I asked him if he wanted to rent the place by just paying the pad rent of three hundred and fifty dollars a month and he agreed. One thing I did warn him about was the roof. Although I had reinforced it wherever I could and coated it with a new material to stop leaks I told him that these roofs cannot take any snow load, especially if it is melting and getting heavy. I told him to keep an eye on it and clear it off of any snow buildup, as my father had done for thirty-five years with their place. I get a call in Panama from Wade telling me that the jerk had never touched the roof and it had caved in. He estimated it would cost about twenty thousand dollars to replace the roof, which obviously I didn’t have. He ended up selling it to a young guy who was going to fix the roof himself. He was borrowing money from his parents and he needed me to take back a five thousand dollar mortgage which I really didn’t want to do because I was selling it to him for less than half what I would have gotten before the crash. I didn’t have a lot of choice though so I accepted it. Of course a few months later Wade phoned to tell me that the guy couldn’t pay the five thousand so I lost that on top of everything else.

Panama was my first experience in a foreign country. As much as I had done months of research before I left it still doesn’t really prepare you because it rarely talks about the bad stuff. I had decided on Boquete in the mountains, partly for the climate and how much it looked like BC.  I was developing a number of city portals for Panama and had registered domains for most major cities. The sites had many local features, such as classifieds and local photos but one of the strong points was local news. I knew that my limited language skills would never work for selling advertising or for getting into the local community to learn what was going on. This is the fateful point where I met Verushka playing pool. She would change my life in ways I could never imagine, not one of them good. Although she was only twenty-one and looked very sweet, she was actually a master criminal. At one point she was very down and I asked her what was wrong. She said that they had been evicted from their home and could not get into their new place for two weeks. When she said that meant they would be on the streets for two weeks I told her that they could move into the penthouse as long as they helped me with some of the painting. Within a couple of hours in moved her mother, two sisters, three children, two parrots and a dog, plus about a hundred boxes of whatever.

The two weeks came and went and she was just full of excuses as to what was going on. To make a long story short they ended up staying for two months and I only got them out by telling them we were going to fumigate so they had to leave for a few hours. Then we changed all the locks on the gates. They returned with the police in hand, telling them all kinds of lies and before I knew it I was arrested and handcuffed in the paddy wagon. Only my poor Spanish saved me when they realized that she was lying about everything. The police gave them until the next day to move out and when they left they stole everything from the penthouse apartment right down to the batteries out of the TV remote. I spent hundreds of dollars with the courts and translating and the police trying to get everything back but got nothing and was forced to return to Canada because I had twenty-one dollars in the bank. I had invested over eleven thousand dollars in the house I was renovating and hadn’t seen a dime so I sold everything in the house to raise money to get back home.

I certainly appreciated the roof over my head that my cousin in Toronto offered me when she learned of my troubles in Panama, but I knew it was short term and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I still couldn’t go back to Kelowna with the mess I had left everything in. I didn’t want to live in Toronto. I happened to meet Denise online and soon I moved to London, Ontario to be with her. I was so in love with her and thought we would be together forever. That ended badly when she made the choice to go and visit another guy in Ottawa that she had also met online. It really hurt and I was now at a loss as to what I was doing in London. After living in my car and at various homeless shelters I got a job at Home Depot and soon had an apartment and furniture and life was okay. I hated London though and knew I had to do something.

Modesto Penaherrera street, Cotacachi

As I approached retirement age and would receive my pensions I knew I could not afford to live in Canada. I was so sick of winter now, mostly because I wasn’t snowmobiling, downhill or cross country skiing anymore like I did in BC so now winter just sucked. I knew I would never return to Panama so I started researching countries that were warmer and where the cost of living was less. After months of research I decided on Ecuador for a host of reasons. Obviously it was one of those major life decisions because I was leaving my home country. I would not see my kids or my five grand-kids, ever. I would no doubt die in a foreign country not surrounded by anyone who knew me for any length of time. There also was a sense of adventure with improving my Spanish and discovering a new country a lot different than Canada. And no more winter!

Although I made my share of decisions in Ecuador, like where to live, most of the things that happened, none of them good, were the result of decisions made by other people, whose goals seemed to be just to rip me off as much as possible not caring one bit about my well being. Numerous reasons forced me to return to Canada and that hasn’t worked out well either. I am only surviving thanks to the good graces of a charity that is providing me a place to live at an amount I can afford for now.

Having learned a lot about how you can’t possibly control everything in life I am far more cautious about what I do from here. I believe my choices are to return to the Okanagan, where I was truly happy although things would be much different now, or I’m looking at the Lake Chapala area in Mexico. There’s about thirty thousand Expats there now, both Americans and quite a lot of Canadians. The question is whether I can afford to live there because our dollar is still absurdly low at around seventy-three cents, plus I will lose one of my pensions after I’m out of the country for six months. Regardless of my poor experience with Ecuador I’m researching if I can create the same type of city portals to make a little extra money to replace my lost pension. Stay tuned.