8 Million Stories: Roommating Rituals

Written by Jennifer Blowdryer on . Posted in 8 Million Stories, Posts.

WHENEVER I HEAR about an idea for a zany book, I picture it on the shelf at Half Price Books in Berkeley, California. That’s where I got my remaindered copy of Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks, by Kathryn Williams. Even though the price tag was hefty, close to $7 for a book that only started published life at a price of $12.95, I could tell that Williams was a seasoned hack with a few good points to make. For one thing, unlike the author of the fittingly snarky Hipster Handbook, she knows that cohabiting is a permanent way of life for many of us, not a surefire sign of delusional loserdom.

I’ve been in New York City since 1985, and lived alone for about a year and a half of that time. As I romp around middle age, I’d like to come up with a more mature term for this series of nonromantic cohabitants. Can I call them flatmates? Nah, it sounds like I’m pretending to be British. Housemates? Can you call the three narrow rooms that I’m grateful to call a home a house? Not really. And friend, alas, is not a good term for most of ’em.

Most of my bad roommates come from Craigslist. They get no common area—that space consists of my gigantic desk, filing cabinet, washer and dryer and about 900 books. They pay $900 to live in a place where shit is not getting turned off by Con Ed or Verizon, and they can use the damn bathroom almost any time they want.

Since I’m a big mouth, I have to watch out for choosing a roommate in the 19-to- 24-year-old category, as I once ended up a young lady’s Cooper Union narrative essay. It’s not very hard for a youngster to make fun of a middle-aged slacker like myself. After all, they have been granted a bird’s eye view of my poor hygiene and lack of initiative. As my former roommate and now friend Dan once put it: “You get up at 3, have coffee, check your email, go to the Bowery Poetry Club and come home at around 5 a.m.” Succinct, but terribly embarrassing!

Though years passed where I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, it’s not reasonable to expect understanding from a person still struggling with the more literal blemishes of youth, and Dan, who’s a much more understanding 29 years old now, was only 22. He was also just about the last good one I got from Craigslist.

A woman from the San Fernando Valley with a catchy name was another choice. An actress, she would’ve passed any audition—and it is kind of like an audition when you see five people from an Internet ad in one day. She moved right in, paid promptly and sent out a confusing mix of personal signals. This woman was not, it turned out, my BFF, or even my friend at all. The social mannerisms of people from Southern California replicate warmth, but it is actually more akin to a regional accent.

I’ve been in New York City since 1985, and lived alone for about a year
and a half of that time. As I romp around middle age, I’d like to come
up with a more mature term for this series of nonromantic cohabitants.

The lady was broke, and astoundingly claimed that when she had lived in Manhattan years earlier, everybody paid the Con Ed bill only once every two months. We had a brutal session involving the sad math of tiny sums of money, armed alternately with frothy indignation on her side, a piece of scrap paper and pen on mine. It took eight phone calls and canceled meetings to get the final $150 settled, and after just two months my ad was back online.

I had to find somebody who was willing to move in right after Christmas and before New Year’s Eve, so my options were limited. I found an Indian fellow attending a graduate program in business and economics. He told me how busy he was, and like a fool I believed him. Yeah, he was busy—busy flooding the shower, causing a gas leak by constantly cooking paratha on the oven and trying to turn me into a combination of a mother and romantic interest.

“I do not have to care about you,” I said through clenched teeth one bad day. My entire body ached with tension and, as usual, I was swathed in extra large pajamas and the fuzzy K-Mart bathrobe I’d taken to wearing to cover my curvaceous body. I gave the guy a spare suitcase to get him to move out in just one trip—a mistake on my part. He left with my reading lamp and over-the-door hanger.

After getting rid of him, I decided to eschew the Internet for the preferable method of a personal roommate recommendation.

My friend Moonshine had a guy from San Francisco named Frankie Sharp call me, and the minute he walked into my cluttered kitchen, where I was busy working on an issue of my sporadic East Village Commix Zine, I felt at ease. Hell, I knocked down the rent by $100 dollars. We haven’t done a prenup; we probably should, but we’re already living together in a trouble-free manner. The guy’s got a job, I’ve got a room to offer and Con Ed is getting paid. Every single month. C