Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Maxed Out: Whistler’s housing crisis claims another victim

There’s never really a good time to bump into J.J.
Say it ain't so, J.J.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

-Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

As with so many things, the depth of thought French writer M. Karr sought to illuminate with that phrase has been hijacked and made facile, stripped of meaning, in modern parlance reduced to the single, all-purpose shrug, “Whatever.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It has come to mean that everything regresses to the mean.

Had the remainder of the thought behind the soundbite caught on as well, we’d have a different take on the concept. But then, we’d have to understand a lot more French than most of us do. The rest admonishes us thusly: “Turbulent changes do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo. A change of heart must accompany experience before lasting change occurs.”

How many deeply conservative, deeply religious people who were fundamentally opposed to the normalization of homosexuals and same-sex marriage remained so... until a child of theirs came out of the closet and triggered a change of heart?

That has nothing to do with what follows, but seems an apt way of describing what M. Karr was getting at.

Last Tuesday was an unusual day for me. Tuesday mornings generally find me pecking out this piffle for the back of Pique instead of skiing; afternoons are a write-off. I prefer to avoid afternoons on the mountains, because tired people and crowded ski-outs are not among my favourite things. But last Tuesday was so sunny, so tempting, I found myself on the mountain mid-afternoon following my Wonderful Wife shredding great conditions in Blackcomb Glacier.

But like I said, it was sunny, warm even. And there was a patio beckoning and the promise of a cold beer. Everything seemed, well, perfect.

Until it didn’t.

“Yo, bro. Long time, no see.”

I’ve described J.J.’s voice as very much like the sound of a couple of shovelfuls of gravel in a spinning concrete mixer. But that afternoon it sounded like the concrete mixer was being dragged behind a truck... on its side... over rocks... still spinning. A voice that makes Tom Waits sound like a castrato soprano.

There’s never really a good time to bump into J.J., but sitting on a sunny patio I know for a certainty, as sure as “gesundheit” follows “achoo,” that “buy me a beer,” will follow, “yo, bro.”

And so it did this time.

“J.J., what’s up? It has been a long time.”

“I’m leaving on a jet plane,” he sang.

“Don’t know when I’ll be back again...” I replied.

“You leaving too?”

“No. Why? Are you leaving?”

“I am indeed. This is adios, my friend. The last beer, so to speak... unless we have more than one.”

I was shocked. J.J. leaving Whistler? He was one of the first people I met in town those many decades ago. A fellow expat American. A former CIA operative. A man of many secrets of the “If-I-told-you-I’d-have-to-kill-you” variety, except in his case I think he meant it. For a long time, Whistler’s only private eye! A snoop. A ne’er-do-well. And a guy who owed probably a million beers to his small group of friends, none of whom ever expected to collect.

“Say it ain’t so, J.J. You can’t leave here. Where would you go?”

“I haven’t gotten that far yet. Been thinkin’ I could slip back across the border, stay under the radar and head to Key West. I still know some guys with boats down there who wouldn’t turn me in, assuming the government is still interested in me. Maybe just knock around the Caribbean as a mate.”

“How do you expect to get across the border? You’d light up the biometrics alarms even with false documents. And you’re still on just about every no-fly list in the world, if I’m not mistaken.”

“I thought I’d reverse the wave, dude. Head to Quebec and cross into the U.S., at Roxham Road. It’ll probably blow their minds to see someone sneaking out of Canada there.”

“So what brought this on? I thought you were dug in here. Seems I recall you saying it’s the last place in the world anyone would look for you.”

“My most excellent landlady sold the house. The new scum who bought it aren’t interested in renting the suite. They said they’re going to move their son in.”


“Yeah, except they don’t have a son. I checked. The bastards are just getting rid of me so they can rent it out for way more than what I’ve been paying for the last 18 years because they paid too much for it and want to recoup some of what it’s going to cost them to carry it.”

“Have you tried reasoning with them?”

“Did you really just say that? There’s no reasoning with them. I went right to threatening to break their knees with a baseball bat. Hard to do, though. They live offshore and have some weasel lawyer running point for them.”

“Tried threatening the lawyer?”

“No. As much as I’d like to, I really don’t want to run the risk of becoming persona non grata in Canada as well.”

“It seems to be happening all over town, J.J. People getting booted or priced out of their market rentals, homeowners not wanting to fight with or pay off bad tenants to get rid of them, people who have lived here decades cashing out of the homes they built after scraping together enough to buy the lot because they’re sitting on an unexpected fortune but still find it hard to afford to stay. It’s just sad, dude. Sad.”

“It is, I’ve seen it happen to lots of other people,” he said. “Maybe it’s partly my fault. I never really put anything aside—well, not that I’ll admit to. It was always ‘live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself.’ I had no idea tomorrow was going to be so expensive and no idea people would get so damn greedy or selfish; no idea the places I always thought would be available to rent would just disappear up someone’s media room.”

“Hard to compete with a hundred-inch TV, dude. When do you have to be out?”

“End of April.”

“Maybe something will come up.”

“Maybe pigs will fly.”

“Maybe we should have another beer.”

“Maybe you should let me move into your extra bedroom.”

“Maybe we should have another beer.”

“Maybe you’re right. Better than nothing. And what the hell, there are at least a dozen or so more lottery draws between then and now. Anything could happen.”

“That’s the spirit. Maybe there’ll be a change of heart. Then again, more likely the pigs will fly.”