My ex-girlfriend at the end of the 20th Century (1995–1998) and I made the mistake of letting an acquaintance stay with us. This fellow, “Bill,” was from Los Angeles (or so he said) and living in his car. He was an actor and had been cast in a local production. To add to what little money he was getting for the show, he said he would find a day job and get on his feet and go from his car to a motel room or cheap studio apartment. He just needed a temporary place to crash for a week or two. Many of us have been in this position at one time or another, so I found it easy to sympathize. My girlfriend and I decided to be kind; we offered our couch.
He hardly ever left that couch. He never went out to find a job. In fact, he was replaced in the play because he was not attending all of the rehearsals. At one point I woke him up and reminded him that he had rehearsal that evening, and he said, “Oh, I’m not called tonight.” The director was a friend of mine, so I knew this wasn’t true. The director later asked me, “What’s the deal with your roommate?”
“He’s not my roommate!” I said.
He started asking to borrow money; I assured him that I had none (which was usually true), but my girlfriend, being the kindhearted soul, would dig up a few dollars for him so he could go get something to eat at the taco shop or Jack in the Box. When she cooked she would make a plate of food for him, and he would have dinner with us.
I asked her not to do this, and she said, “We can’t just let him starve. That’s not right!”
I insisted that he had to go. “You tell him,” she said. “I won’t.” She didn’t have it in her to give people bad news.
Every time I attempted to sit down with Bill and explain to him that he had overstayed his welcome and that he should pay rent or find somewhere else to live or go back to sleeping in his car, he would take over the conversation and go into some kind of hard-luck, sad story. He would talk about the death of his mother and how that affected him, about siblings who stole his inheritance, about being betrayed in love, about being bipolar, about having suicidal thoughts, and so on. Then he would start to cry — he would burst into tears and hug me, as if seeking some brotherly support.
I was left in a tough spot. I turned to my girlfriend, and she was in tears too. Any sad story would get to her. She would give me that “look” and shake her head, “No.”
Weeks turned into months. Bill was planted on my couch like a flag on an island, claiming territory, endlessly snoring and farting and driving me insane. I tried the rude tactic — I would slam the front door when coming and going to wake him up. I played the music and TV loudly. I would get drunk in front of him (he didn’t drink) and act obnoxious. When my girlfriend and I had sex, we did it so loudly that he must have felt uncomfortable. I would walk out to the kitchen naked to get some water or soda, hoping that would bug him, as he was always shy about sexual topics.
He was bothered by the loud noise all right. He had the audacity to ask me to turn my music down and not to slam the door. “I need my sleep,” he said.
We were now three months in. I again brought up the issue of rent, and he replied, “I have a check coming in the mail.” Yes, he was having his mail sent to my house, but no checks were on the way.
Then my girlfriend came up with a plan: We would be the ones to move out. We would intentionally find a very small apartment, one that could never have a third person in it, and tell Bill we were moving because we couldn’t afford the rent anymore. Which was true; I did want to get out of that place and find a cheaper home. I mean, Bill wouldn’t have the gumption to assume that he would move with us, would he?
When we told him, he was quiet for a moment and then said, softly, “Oh.” We moved, and Bill ended up moving in with a theater friend across the street. He ran into her on the bus (his car had broken down), and she happened to be drunk. He told her that he no longer had a home because we were moving. He wept. She felt sorry for him. She said, “You can sleep on my couch until you fix your car and things get settled.” I wish I could have warned her.
Two months later she said she was going insane because Bill never got off her couch — all he did was sleep. She had tried to get him to leave, but he kept saying, “Give me a few more days.” She said she barely remembered telling him that he could stay with her in the first place, then the next day he showed up at her door with his suitcase, and what could she do?
I told her how we resolved the problem. “I’ll do that, then,” she said. “I’ll move.”
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