I can’t imagine ever having a roommate again. (Roommate as opposed to choosing to live with someone, that is.) I’ve had terrible luck with roommates of convenience, whom I like to describe with nicknames in the pattern [mental state] [ethnicity] – the Simple-Minded Yankee, the Furious Jew, and the Mad Samoan.
My relationship with the Simple-Minded Yankee was doomed from the start:
My grandmother: “Do you know your roommate yet?”
Not-yet-Tulane Chris: “We’ve exchanged emails. He’s from Chicago…”
My grandmother: “Oh, Chris. A yankee.”
My mother: “Did you find out about your roommate?”
Me: “Yes, he’s from Chicago. I think he…”
My mother: “Oh, a yankee. Well, you can probably change at the semester.”
My aunt: “I hear your roommate’s from Chicago.”
Me: “Yes, Mom and Grandmother both said…”
My aunt: “A yankee. Bring plastic wrap, you know how they are.”
They were right to be cautious. “Todd” was the ugliest person I’ve ever met in real life, by a substantial margin – whatever you’re imaging, it’s not bad enough; my normally unflappable father noticeably recoiled when he came into the room. I try not to judge people by their looks, much preferring to judge them by their stationery and TV-watching habits, but homeboy was busted like a six-dollar watch. Todd brought exactly one book to college: Awesome Abs. His primary word was “dude,” pronounced “d00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000d,” like a dying wildebeest hoping to mate one last time before the lions close in. He was an enormous prude and a general nightmare to be around. I used to pretend to be asleep when I heard him come in so I wouldn’t have to talk to him; this often resulted in my actually falling asleep and waking up hours later, completely disoriented. He referred to getting drunk as “getting shitty,” which disgusted me. He pronounced it “ssshhhhitty,” which made it, of course, infinitely worse. Once, when I was terribly sick with mono and half dozing, he thought I was more asleep than I was – and sprayed me with a cloud of Lysol. I waited until he was gone for the evening and licked every possession of his I could stand to have near my face, but his illiterate cold-weather immune system would not succumb.
The next year, I roomed with a friend, which started out just fine: we were both messy, nocturnal, and didn’t like having people over. Over the summer, “Adam” had had a religious awakening. Most people experiment with drugs and sex in college, and for once I swam with the tide; Adam had decided to experiment with Lubavitch Judaism. He was technically Jewish, but had been raised as a Christmas agnostic as a compromise between his occasionally devout Baptist father and Soviet-atheist but ethnically Jewish mother, who has the distinction of being the most interesting person I have ever met. I’ll tell you about her in a future post.
So, as our sophomore year of college wore on, Adam got more and more... aggressively Jewish. IT was all very educational and novel at first, but then, as with many conversions, the initial excitement gave way to an obsession with rules. I got In Trouble for Ham Day, despite keeping the entire ham on my side of the room. He started rigging the door not to lock so he wouldn’t be using a tool on the Sabbath. (My suggestion that he stop being a tool the rest of the week didn’t go over well.) He started observing all the holidays, including the little-known drinking holiday Simchat Torah. He’d been so staid recently that it took me a while to understand:
Adam (entering): Heeeeeeeeeeeee hee hee.
Me: Are you all right?
Adam (lying in the center of the floor): HEEEEEEEEEEE hee hee.
Me: Did you… do you have meningitis? Try to move your neck.
Adam: Heee. No. Drunk. Torah.
Me: That could mean anything.
Adam: Simchat Torah. It commemorates G-d giving us the Torah, so we might… HEE hee hee. Grace in His eyes. We celebrate with drinking.
Me: “We,” Jews, or “we,” you and a family-size bottle of Turning Leaf?
Adam: Turning Leaf isn’t kosher. Manischewitz Triple Berry Trouble. With a straw. Hee.
Matters drew to a head the day before Passover, when we had a “discussion” about what behaviors were reasonable at 2 A.M.
Me: I’m going to sleep.
Adam: I’m going to vacuum.
Adam: It’s Passover. I have to vacuum.
Me: I don’t think you’ve ever vacuumed before in your life. Try experimenting with some nice, quiet dusting.
Adam: No, but there are bread crumbs.
Me: They’ll be there in the morning.
Adam: Right, but Passover… I’m vacuuming.
Me: THE ANGEL OF DEATH DOES NOT HAVE A MONOPOLY ON KILLING FIRSTBORN SONS, AS YOU WILL DISCOVER IF YOU TURN ON THAT VACUUM.
Me: Sleepy infidel.
(Yes, I know Passover begins at sundown and I assume he did too. I don’t know why he wanted to vacuum at two.) I tried to paper over the misunderstanding the next day with a light-hearted prank:
Adam: Did you put blood on the doorposts and lintel?
Me: Well, ketchup. You didn’t have any Passover decorations up, and I thought…
Adam: That’s not funny.
Me: I’m afraid it is.
Adam: I respect your religious heritage.
Me: You ran a betting pool on the Papal election called “White Smoke, Green Cash!”
Adam: Are you still pissed about losing? I told you, you had to beat the spread.
After this interlude, I managed to live alone until I finished college and moved to New Zealand for a few months. I stayed in a hostel for a while, but then some Argentineans moved in and started having all-night drum-and-sings, so I looked for apartments. The first one I looked at was old, isolated, grubby, and had several posters of German castles Scotch-taped to the wall, so I was sold. The landlady was a kind of odd Samoan woman in her late forties named Teresa Burnside, who, as I discovered, lived there.
She was crazy as a shithouse rat.
She was paranoid, largely about the water company. According to her, the water company “pushed water through the pipes” so that our water heater overflowed and raised our bill, which she combatted by strictly rationing the hot water. The third roommate, a very nice Canadian girl, and I had to tell her when we planned to shower in advance so she could know how long to have the water on. Later, when the washing machine “broke” (it worked fine for me but she thought it was broken) she couldn’t decide whether to blame me or the water company, so she yelled at us both. Then when she bought a new washing machine, she asked me if I knew anyone with a van I could borrow. I said I didn’t, which was true, and she accused me of lying and shouted at me for five minutes. She also shouted at me for:
- coming in the back door, which I hadn’t done
- being annoyed when she rented out the living room to a stranger
- accidentally using her bowl
- not doing my laundry by dissolving the detergent in a little cup of hot water I had heated in the electric kettle
- not remembering to unplug the microwave, turn off the outlet switch, and prop the microwave door open
- because there were ants in the compost
She saved all her eggshells in a plastic bag in the pantry, and decorated the kitchen with a government-issued illustrated guide to the food groups for Pacific Islanders, complete with boiled pig’s head. I had a bottle of gin in the freezer which she referred to as “whiskey,” which she thought was very exotic. She offered to ask her family on Samoa if I could stay with them, “they would probably even let you borrow a lavalava, but they might not, because they’re still mad at me for missing the last family reunion. I don’t care. I’ve been to Samoa. I want to go somewhere else if I’m going anywhere.” Like a pecan log, she had an odd sweetness under the nuts. She made delicious pumpkin soup to share, and we watched an eclipse together. Since I’ll never see her again this side of the veil, I have the freedom to remember her almost fondly.
Now that I have my own apartment, I’m free of roommate drama. All I know about my neighbors, moving from my end of the hall toward the elevator, is:
The Russian girl occasionally gets laid
The girl on her other side slams the door all the time
The Chinese guy on her other side is a reasonably talented jazz trumpet player.
They may not give me material for a post, but at least they don’t talk to me.