When the long black car pulled up in front of our building, I was already outside, a smile plastered on my face.
I’d taped a banner over the front door. “Welcome to Waterview Housing Co-op,” it said, although the last two letters were squeezed in, straggling to the bottom of the paper. The kids who lived in our building had painted it, adding flowers, animals and stick figures that grinned maniacally.
“Really rubbing our noses in it with that fancy car,” I heard a loud voice behind me say. My neighbour was struggling to squeeze a placard through the door. The cardboard was spray-painted in bright red, the letters dripping like blood. “Mayor scumbag” and “ratfink” were the only words I could make out at first glance, but I was sure there would be obscenities too.
“Aaron, please,” I whispered to him. “We’re trying to get the mayor’s support.”
“Don’t try to tell me what to do, Rebecca,” he yelled. “I’m allowed to express my opinion.” He positioned himself right beside the door, holding the placard over his head and blocking part of the sign the kids had made.
Our city’s mayor, Fred Drover, had jumped out of the car without waiting for his driver to open the door. But instead of greeting the small group gathered in front of our building, he reached back into the car, clasping his meaty red hand around a slender one, with a wrist dripping with bracelets. A foot in a strappy sandal with a very high heel emerged. The woman was dressed in a tight green sheath, looking more like she was heading to a cocktail party than touring a non-profit housing co-op.
I moved forward to welcome the mayor.
The building’s door slammed open and a woman rushed past me. She was new to our building and I hadn’t actually met her. When I’d seen her before, she’d been with several small children. Which probably explained the smears of what looked like grape jelly covering her jeans and baggy T-shirt.
“You bastard,” she screamed. “How dare you bring her here?” As her hand connected with the mayor’s face, I could see my career as a political lobbyist vanishing.
“Nice going, Rebecca,” Aaron said. “Didn’t you know the mayor’s ex-wife lives here?”
I hadn’t, and I sure regretted that. But it sort of proved the point I was trying to make—that our co-op provided affordable homes for people who needed them.
I’d been so happy to discover that the mayor had grown up in our apartment building, before it had been converted to non-profit housing. I’d thought it would be a good idea to invite him to tour the co-op and meet some of the people who lived here now. I wanted to get his support for the affordable homes our city desperately needed.
It hadn’t worked out well so far.
But I was still hopeful. I extended my hand to greet the mayor.
“Ms. Butler,” he greeted me, but I could see he was looking over my shoulder, either watching the angry woman as she rushed back into the building in tears or looking for someone more important than me. I ushered our little group into the building.
I felt a flush of pride. The five-storey brick building was over a hundred years old but it had been renovated with care. The walls were freshly painted and the woodwork glowed with polish. Every time I came home I thought about how lucky I was to live here. We received Canadian government subsidies to help keep the rents affordable and I still remembered when I’d been looking at the dank basement suites which were all I could afford before we moved here.
But Drover just frowned. “When my family lived here when I was a kid, it sure didn’t look this nice.”
At first I had smiled at his comment, ready to say something about our building’s maintenance, but he wasn’t finished. “Our neighbours were all hard-working people. My family certainly couldn’t afford to buy a house but we didn’t whine about it the way people do today. And we would never have thought of asking the government for handouts.”
He was still holding forth as we walked into my living room. “Back in my day, we stood on our own two feet.” He didn’t even blush at his own words when he saw my father sitting in his wheelchair. “I’m sure you remember the good old days, sir,” the mayor had said to my father, “before everyone thought the world owed them a living.”