Illustration of Bill
In 19771 was living with my fiancé Rick, a Marine helicopter pilot who worked night maneuvers and slept days. I was assistant manager at a delicatessen.
Rick was sweet, gentle, and a great lover. He was attentive and often brought flowers, cards, and gifts to show his affection.
My high school girlfriend Carolee became a constant visitor at our place. Soon she was having Rick work on her car and often borrowed his. She asked questions about what kind of lover he was and about his likes and dislikes. She began to dress to mimic styles he admired on me. I wore his favorite perfume and she started wearing the same fragrance.
One day I came home from work, trying to be quiet so I wouldn’t wake Rick, knowing he had to work later that evening. When I came in, Rick was holding a teary-eyed Carolee and explained Carolee was no longer able to live with her parents due to her mother’s alcohol problem, and she’d come to him to ask if she could stay in the spare bedroom!
At this time I was two months late on my period but had not told Rick I was sure I was pregnant.
I kept trying to keep Carolee away from Rick in whatever way I could, but between work and morning sickness, she managed to get her hooks in him.
One day I miscarried the baby, and Carolee was the only one home to help me. She was trying to assure me Rick was too young for the added responsibility and that this was a blessing in disguise.
Sometime the next week, Rick and I were supposed to go to dinner since it was his night off. I came home and got ready to go out; he and Carolee came in hours later. They were laughing and obviously drunk. Carolee was carrying a kite.
Rick tried to apologize for forgetting our dinner date, mumbling that they’d been at the lake flying a kite and they’d gone out for dinner. (It was snowing!)
At this point I told them I wanted her out of my apartment. (It was in Rick’s and my name.) I said that when I got home from work the next day, I didn’t want so much as a trace of her hair on my brush.
When I came home from work, I got the shock of my life. All my stuff was packed. Boz Scaggs was on the stereo singing, Why can't you get it through your head — it's over now. Yes, you heard me clearly now, I said, it's over, it's over now.
Rick put his arms around me and said he was sorry, but he and Carolee fell in love. Carolee, smirking in the background, said they were getting married.
I barely remember opening the window, taking off my engagement ring, and throwing it out onto the snow-covered lawn.
After an ugly scene, I threw my clothes in my car and cleaned out my bank account and headed for Florida (where I didn’t know a soul).
I stayed there four months and then ended up driving back to Chicago due to an illness in my family.
The first week back I ran into an old girlfriend of mine and Carolee’s and Rick’s. I said I was staying with my parents for a couple weeks. That same night, this girl, “J.J.,” came to my parents’ home and practically begged me to go out for drinks at a bar we used to go to a lot. I reluctantly agreed to go, though once I’d arrived, I saw many old friends and danced and had fun.
The waitress brought me a drink and said it was from a gentleman in the corner who wanted to talk to me. When I turned to wave a “thank-you,” I saw it was Rick. My friend J.J. said the reason she brought me to the club was that she knew Rick would be there that night.
As Rick walked toward me, I began to panic and tried to escape to the ladies’ room. He caught up to me and began talking so fast, “God, I’m sooo sorry, I was so wrong, please, please talk to me.”
I went to the ladies’ room and tried to compose myself, and when I came out, he was right there waiting for me. He grabbed my hand and led me to the dance floor, where we held each other and looked into each other’s eyes until we both had tears running down our cheeks.
We ended up going outside since it was too noisy there to talk. He asked if he could drive me home and I said yes — though he drove to his home, his and his wife Carolee’s home.
He made tender, gentle love to me and asked me to come back to him, telling me losing me was the biggest mistake of his life.
When he dropped me off at my parents’ home early next morning, he asked me to consider everything seriously.
Later that morning I called Carolee and described how I made love to her husband on her jungle-print sheets and gave her vivid details of our evening and our conversations. Rick and Carolee deserved each other. Then I made arrangements to move to California and put those two far from my life.
— Elayne Ketcher, Carlsbad
FIND THE KEYS OR I’LL CUT OFF YOUR ARM!
My best friend introduced me to Trisha (not her real name). She was little, under five feet tall, with curly black hair. I was impressed by her, particularly since she was a locksmith and able to change locks on my front door, so my old roommate wouldn't be able to get his stuff until he coughed up money for bills.
My friend and I were into the club scene and known for throwing parties after the bars closed. That New Year's Eve, we had 200 people come by. Trisha got drunk and decided to handcuff herself to me. She dragged me around the room. Being intoxicated and anything but amused, I jerked her into the kitchen. I produced a huge butcher knife, explaining that if she didn't find the keys and take off the cuffs, I planned to amputate her arm. Three male friends pried the knife from my hands and begged Trisha to unlock the cuffs. She relinquished the key, and we were free of each other. My party friends were amused and took pictures.
Handcuffed roommates illustration
A few weeks after that, she had her boyfriend over for the night. They were kinky, liked “doing it” with her bedroom door open so the entire complex could “enjoy." Having to get up at 5:00 a.m., I didn’t “enjoy" and got up at 1:00 a.m. to let them know it. Her macho, cowboy, cigar-smoking, hick boyfriend took it personally and started pushing me around, telling me what I needed was a good man to kick my ass. I ended up going to neighbors and having them call the police. The cops showed up and took him to jail. I evicted Trisha right then and there ... but stupid me, I gave her 45 days to find a new place to live. As the 45 days grew closer, she hadn’t even started to pack. Our living situation became strained.
I came home one day and found Trisha burning enough popcorn in my Revereware pot to set off smoke detectors. I lost it. I picked her up by the throat and banged her head repeatedly against the kitchen wall. Once my friend got through the shock of watching this, she made me let go.
Trisha finally did move, but not before her best friend came into my place of employment, drunk and swearing away, saying she planned to kick the crap out of me. Of course, I had clients at the time, so this was real professional behavior. She left. I never saw either of them again. I live alone.
Cory Cyr, Escondido
THE SECRET OF THE SHED
May 1992, I moved into a three-bedroom, two-bath house. The home’s owner, John (not his real name), had a bedroom on one end of the house. On the other end were two bedrooms and a room he used as an office.
I didn’t have too much contact with John because when he was at home he spent his time in his bedroom listening to and playing music by the Beatles. John, then 45, was obsessed with Beatles music. He played guitar and sang with a band that played gigs downtown and in Pacific Beach.
During the summer, John began telling me about his financial difficulties. He didn’t have a full-time job when I lived there. He wasn’t receiving much work as a painter and part-time waiter at a restaurant downtown. His band wasn’t getting many gigs. He said he was having difficulty paying his mortgage.
Then one Monday, I came home from work around 2:00 p.m. When I pulled up in front of the house, I noticed John’s van was parked in the driveway with a tarp over the front end. I went inside and into my bedroom. A few minutes later a man came to tow away the mini-van. I went out to the living room and asked John what was wrong. He said he had been in an accident that morning.
I went into the game room with John to look at a guitar that’d been in back of his van. The guitar was smashed. He said he was upset that the guitar was ruined.
Tuesday, I got off early from work. When I got home, I noticed the front storage closet door was open several inches and John’s mountain bike was leaning unlocked against the front of the house. Someone had put three roses in the mailbox for John. I entered the house and noticed John’s bedroom door open. I knocked. No response. I thought John must be asleep or have left in a hurry when someone came to pick him up.
This morning, I noticed the bike and doors were still unlocked and unmoved. I went to work and got off early again. When I got home, nothing had changed. John’s mail was on the table, doors were still open, bike still outside and flowers still on the table. I called a friend and told her how weird this all was.
I knocked on his door and went in and searched bedroom and bathroom. I opened the shower curtain. Nothing. No one. Outside, it was dark. I stuck John’s bicycle in the living room.
I was going to open the storage closet door to see if I could put it in there but didn’t because it was dark. Instead, I opened the storage closet door several inches and put my hand behind the door to see if there was a lock I could push to lock it. I didn’t feel anything, so I shut the door so it would look locked, even though it wasn’t.
Thursday and Friday
Nothing changed. John’s bike was in the living room, his bedroom door still open, and his mail untouched.
Around 10:00 p.m. one of John’s band members pounded on the front door. He and another guy came in the house. The band member asked me if John was dead. He was worried. He said their band had gigs scheduled at a bar in Pacific Beach on New Year’s Eve. John had not shown up. They’d called the restaurant where John worked and he hadn’t shown up for a week. Then the band member told me John had been drinking the night of the accident. The band member had called all the jails in San Diego County, and John wasn’t being held in any of them. I told the two guys about the bike and doors being open on Tuesday and that I had gone in John’s room and he’d not been there.
After the two guys left, I called my friend Jennifer and told her what they’d said. I then decided to go into John’s bedroom to listen to his answering machine to see if I could determine where he might be by the messages on his machine. There were four or five messages from his car insurance company telling John to call them regarding his accident claim and a few from some woman who acted like she and John had something planned, but John hadn’t shown up. There was one message from some guy, who didn’t leave his name, with the number of a public defender who would be able to help John. When I heard this, I was sure John was in jail. I thought the police must have figured John had been legally drunk at the time of the accident and had come by and arrested him. I called the band member’s home and spoke with his wife and gave her the messages.
I wasn’t able to sleep. Nothing was adding up. I thought it strange that the police would hold John in jail for five or six days, unless he had prior DUI or drug arrests.
During the night I decided I was going to get up and go check the storage closet in the morning, go talk with three of our neighbors who were home during the day who knew what was going on in the neighborhood, and also call the San Diego County Jail to find out for myself whether John was in jail. I got up and talked with three neighbors; they hadn’t seen anything. I was hoping they would tell me they had seen the police pick John up on Tuesday.
I went back in the house and I called the San Diego County Jail. A woman told me John wasn’t in their jail. I asked whether someone would be able to request no information be given out if they didn’t want anyone to know they were in jail. She told me no, so then I thought there was only one other place I had not checked that had been open on Tuesday.
I walked outside to the storage door. I pushed on the door and opened it. I saw the rope around John’s neck and John’s face looking at me. I screamed and ran into the house and called Jennifer to come right away. Then I called 911 and told them my roommate had hung himself. The voice at 911 asked me if John was still warm. I said I wasn’t going to touch him because he’d been dead since Tuesday.
Illustration of Rick after finding his roommate
I went into shock. A policeman called a crisis counselor volunteer. She was there until the coroner arrived. Two neighbors came over and asked me what happened. I told them John had committed suicide. For me, the worst of this is that I had been sleeping in that house for five nights while John was hanging in the storage closet.
— Rick Sloan, San Diego
THE SLEEPWALKER AND THE CLUMSY KLEPTO
She was a chronic sleepwalker. Usually when she “walked,” she did it only once every month or two. Most of the time it wasn’t a problem. Usually she wandered around or watched TV and then went back to bed or curled up somewhere in the house. If I was awake I would lead her back to her room. Other times things got bizarre.
There was the time the police brought her home after finding her walking down a deserted street in the middle of the night, dressed only in her bathrobe.
Or the time the neighbors, whom she didn’t know, found her one morning, sleeping on their couch. They were understanding and thought it was funny.
Then there was the night I came home late with a woman I had begun to date. About an hour after we arrived home, we were in my bedroom, in an advanced stage of undress, when my roommate waltzed in, wearing her birthday suit and carrying a bottle of tequila. She sat down on the bed with us as if she were ready to party. Unfortunately, my date wasn’t amused. That ended further romantic involvement. My roommate was embarrassed beyond repair.
The final straw was the night she created some Dali-esque paintings all over the living room wall.
She was a sweet person so it was difficult to be angry. Besides, she had the gift, if you will, of being able to act out her dreams no matter how surreal they became.
A few years later I had a roommate who was pretty normal and as responsible as you could ask for. At least that’s what I thought until I took an extended business trip to Paris.
When I returned home after ten weeks, she had moved out. I went ballistic when I found out what she had done. Before she left she helped herself to all the jewelry I had, a few kitchen appliances, and a dozen record albums.
My cat was missing, and when I tracked the roommate down, she said she had no idea where he was. He never returned.
My video recorder had a hole in the top as though someone fell on it.
While I was in Paris, I mailed her a cashier’s check for $1500, made out to myself, and asked her to deposit it in my bank account to cover my mortgage and car payments. When I arrived home I found that the money was never deposited, and I was behind two months on both payments. She told me the check never arrived. Because it was an international money order it wasn’t that easy to track down, but when I did, two weeks later, I was told it was cashed at a bank a few miles from my house. The bank showed me a videotape of my roommate cashing the check. Fortunately, I had the $1500 returned that night after placing a call to her father. I didn’t recover anything else.
I decided to say no to any more roommates.
— Gregory Catalano, Pacific Beach
MIR. SMELLY'S SAGA
My roommate Bruce and I had been living together for a year. No problems. One day, two months before the end of our lease, he tells me he plans to move upstate immediately. To cover the remaining eight weeks’ rent, he has procured a roommate for me named Marvin. Bruce and Marvin went way back. Bruce said Marvin was a great guy. Great. Only later did I find out Bruce had known Marvin only three days. Bruce’s travel gland was secreting heavily; he was anxious to leave town and probably would have shit copper to back out of those last two months’ rent, much less stretch the truth about how well he knew Marvin.
Marvin lasted four days.
I meet Marvin. His long, black, greasy hair falls down over his face covering only one piercing blue eye at a time. Later, I was to question whether or not he did in fact have only one eye and wore his hair that way to cover the gaping socket. Shaking hands with Marvin was my first mistake. He didn’t have a firm shake; it was more a loose, sweaty hold — like being handed a dead fish.
“Do you have an electric razor?” were the first words out of his mouth.
“Yes ... why?” I asked.
“I got crabs and the doctor says I should shave all my pubic hair off.”
This was to be the first instinctive message my psyche sent as a sign telling me to get Marvin the hell out of my apartment. These “flash cards from Jesus” were to rapidly increase in number over the next four days.
Moving Marvin’s belongings into the house was painless. He brought with him a camera, a knapsack of clothes, a blanket, and a dirty trench coat he had found in an alley wrapped around seven dead kittens. Seven dead kittens; more flash cards. Luckily, the night went quietly as my first day with Marvin ended uneventfully.
That night I invited friends over for a drink so they could meet my new roommate as he obviously had few friends. Someone brought over a horrible little board game where you had to tell opponents your most intimate sexual experiences. Big mistake. In the beginning it seemed harmless. Some of the girls admitted kissing their girlfriends on the lips; one of the guys had to tell how old he was when he first masturbated. Then came Marvin’s turn.
“Have you ever had sex with an animal?” the card asked.
Marvin grew silent, then seemed worried. My stomach gurgled.
“Answer the question!” someone yelled laughing.
Straight-faced, Marvin asked his own question, “Does that include full penetration?”
The room grew silent. I was so embarrassed, I actually left my earthly body and floated above it to escape the humiliation of rooming with this guy.
Illustration of Marvin
Marvin feels friendly. He welcomes me into his room. The area now smells like a dead horse. Growing up on a farm, I often smelled dead horses, and this room smelled like a dead horse. Next to his blanket was the only piece of decoration the room had to offer: an eight-inch-high porcelain effigy of a smiling Buddha with a devilish grin chiseled into the face. I made for the Buddha. “Neat,” I said.
“Get away from that!” Marvin yelled. I backed up.
“Sorry,” I said.
“No, it’s okay. Here.” He handed me the Buddha. “It has a lot of sentimental value,” he explained.
I didn’t ask. After handing the effigy back to him, I nervously scratched my groin.
Going to work that afternoon was a relief. I needed fresh air. After work it was late and I fumbled for my keys in the dark. As I slipped my keys correctly into the lock, a ghastly scream bellowed out of the building. For a moment I thought I had injured the sleeping building by violating it with my apartment keys. Running upstairs, I realized the screams were coming from my apartment — from Marvin’s room. I then figured out he must have been going at it with his girlfriend. Good. As long as I didn’t hear dogs yelping I didn’t care. Later I heard them leaving.
I woke up early and stumbled lazily down the two flights of stairs to get my paper. Bending down to pick up the newspaper, I noticed what looked like dried blood trailing along the concrete leading up to the building. My eyes followed the trail of blood as it continued up the side of my apartment and onto my deck on the second floor. Running back upstairs, I noticed the trail led from my deck back down the hallway to Marvin’s room. I knocked on the door.
“Marvin, are you okay?”
A grumbling oozed out from under the door. The phone rang, so I answered it.
“Is Marvin there?” It was a girl’s voice.
“Hold on,” I said.
“Really sorry about stabbing Marvin,” she said. “But he got even by bleeding all over some charcoal drawing I was supposed to turn in for the semester.”
“Hope he didn’t make a mess,” she chuckled.
“Hold on,” I said.
Marvin emerged from his room. His hair had been drenched with blood. Now that it was dry, it had turned to chunky dreadlocks. His one clear eye looked at me meekly as he tried to cover his bloodied left hand. It looked webbed from the coagulated blood filling the gaps between each of his fingers.
“I got in an accident,” he informed me.
“Phone,” I said.
Later that day Marvin left for good. I never saw him again. I heard he moved in with his girlfriend. The next week when the painters came by to paint over the blood stains on the side of the building, I mentally kissed my deposit check goodbye. Apparently, Marvin had gotten drunk, lost his keys, and scaled the apartment building the night his beloved sliced him open (Hand? Head? Arm?).
Cleaning out his closet with rubber gloves on, I found a roll of film and a worn magazine portraying naked pregnant women in compromising positions. Later that month, Bruce moved back in deciding he didn’t like it up north after all. I had a hard time forgiving him for sticking me with Marvin, but I did get retribution.
One day I asked Bruce to drop off a roll of film — the roll I found in Marvin’s closet — at the one-hour photo shop . Bruce agreed to hang around the mall for an hour and shop while the film got processed. Forty-five minutes after dropping off the film, Bruce returned to the store. Apparently, a group of children were huddled around the Plexiglas window that shows the film being processed by a machine. The photos are sent down a conveyor belt and dry in a separate section for all the world to see. Bruce walked over to the children and noticed some of them laughing and some of them crying. Bruce then noticed his own face next to Marvin on one of the photos remembering instantly the day the photo was taken.
Then Bruce saw the other photos.
Most of them were of Marvin and his girlfriend naked. Bruce panicked and ran out of the store. And to this day, whenever I see a pregnant mother or smiling Buddha I think of Marvin.
Trenton Payne, San Diego
I knew Roxie from high school — a sweet girl, she seemed — a bit shy, polite, approval-seeking. Roxie had a long-distance boyfriend, Dominick. I liked Dominick; we all liked Dominick. Dominick was thin, almost translucent. He was repulsed by pudge. I didn’t think anything of Roxie losing ten pounds every time she was about to visit him in Chicago.
I’d spend $35 on groceries Thursday night, and by Saturday, they’d all, inexplicably, be gone. Maybe I was in denial; I mean, a roommate who is pudge-conscious is a good influence, right? But, wait a minute, how does she consume three one-pound bags of Doritos and a tub of guacamole in one evening and still appear so thin, so healthy?
Okay, so pinch me that I didn’t understand why our toilet kept overflowing when Roxie was home alone. And why did she, in tandem, run the shower and flush the toilet every night?
Then, after a while, Roxie didn’t have money to go to Chicago. I had a friend, Travis, who was known to have money and a heart of gold. Travis was the next victim on my list for becoming more than a friend; I had it all planned out: “He will be mine,” I schemed. “Oh, yes, he WILL be mine....”
And then a friend told me, “Travis approached me, all freaked out, and said Roxie called him asking for money. He asked her what it was for, and she told him you needed an abortion....” Wow.
— Kelley Jhung, Del Mar
NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED
We had known each other since high school and were best friends. It was natural for us to be roommates when we were accepted at the same college. After several months, his grades went downhill, and he started keeping strange hours. I figured he was partying. I often loaned him my truck; he didn’t have a car.
One Sunday morning a loud knock came at the door. I found two police officers on my porch. I was taken down to the station, booked, and charged with three counts of armed robbery. Seems two guys wearing ski masks had robbed two liquor stores and a gas station the night before, using my truck as a getaway vehicle. My truck and roommate were long gone, but the police found the ski mask and gun in my house. I matched the description of the driver and didn’t have an alibi, so my lawyer advised me to plead guilty. I didn’t, and the day of my trial, my roommate was busted during a drug raid in Nevada and confessed to the robberies.
— Shawn Dennis, San Diego
WORLD’S LAZIEST FRATERNITY REJECT
About 15 years ago, while a junior at SDSU, three fraternity bros and I decided to rent a house together. We found a great old split-level house in La Mesa with a huge back yard with avocado trees and grape vines and even a real water spring. Every now and then, I still drive by and remember the Amazing Jimmy.
Jimmy was a transfer student from OSU. None of us knew him well, but we needed a fourth roommate. It took a month, but it became apparent that he was the odd man of the bunch. The only food we could recall him bringing home was Lucky beer ($2.49 a 12-pack), pork rinds, and mashed potatoes.
It also became apparent that cleaning anything, including himself, was against Jimmy’s religion. His unwillingness to do dishes was annoying. After a while, the general consensus was that if we refused to do his dishes, he might get the point after they started piling up. This went on for a month until one of my other roommates decided subtlety wasn’t working. Once each day he would hurl one of Jimmy’s dishes or pieces of silverware out the balcony window into a big pine tree. All of Jimmy’s dishes eventually disappeared, and he never seemed to notice. One evening, during a party, a gust of wind blew one of his plates out of the tree, and it landed in the grass next to him. With a hurt look on his face, he mumbled, “There’s one of my plates....” He put it back in the sink, petrified mashed potatoes and all. It remained unwashed and sailed back into the pine tree several days later.
Jimmy’s personal hygiene and laundry habits were on the same level as his kitchen cleanliness. He would wait until he had no clean clothes before doing laundry. If he ran out, he would retrieve some less dirty article of clothing out of his pile. After a while, our whole downstairs (where the utility room was located) began to smell like a bus station bathroom. When all of his clothes were either too slick or too smelly even for him, only then did he do laundry.
One time, during one of his monthly trips downstairs to do his laundry, one of his filthy gym socks ended up in the catch basin for the washer. It lodged down the drain, and naturally, he didn’t tell anybody. One of my other roommates, David, who was an artist, filled the basin up with red dye to tie-dye some shirts. After he finished, he pulled the basin plug and left, assuming it would drain. Another roommate, Mark, came down to do laundry at that point. He didn’t notice the dye in the basin and threw a load of laundry in the washer, set it, and left.
I came home an hour later and discovered the red disaster downstairs. Everything on the floor, especially the nice gold carpet in the adjacent family room, was now permanently dyed red and waterlogged. I rounded up David and Mark, and we spent a good two or three hours getting the water out. I wasn’t looking forward to telling the landlady about the carpet. The basin was still full, and I reached down into the drain and pulled the clog out. I held it up for the others to see. I laid the sock, now dyed pink, on top of the washing machine. We all went back upstairs, each of us cursing Jimmy. Jimmy came home later and called up in a hurt voice, “Hey, who dyed my sock pink?”
This same downstairs had a toilet that flushed up, which Jimmy loved. He used it every occasion he could, even though he had his own bathroom upstairs. One day we saw Jimmy go downstairs, and after a while, we heard the high-pressure whoosh of the toilet. About a minute later, the same whoosh, and then the sound of the downstairs door closing. I came down a little later to discover a sewer flood (as opposed to a red dye flood). Apparently Jimmy had clogged the toilet, flooded the place, and then left. Instant replay. I rounded up David and Mark, and we spent the morning cleaning up. At this point, the downstairs was so bad off, we could only hose it out. As a little poetic justice, however, sometime during the hose-out, a box of Jimmy’s extremely cheap detergent tipped over and caught a portion of the turdlet flood. I picked the box up and set it outside, where it eventually dried. Jimmy recovered the box and continued to use the “detergent” the rest of the time he lived there. Since all of us were plotting to either kill him or kick him out, none of us felt it was our duty to inform him of the new secret ingredient in his White King.
Jimmy’s next trick was performed the day the landlady was coming for an inspection. After she saw the carpet and woodwork downstairs, we could tell she wasn’t happy. She was especially unhappy when she stepped in the six quarts of drained motor oil Jimmy had dumped in her rose bed. She read us the riot act and told us we had one month to clean up or we were evicted. We eventually did get evicted, but not before Jimmy screwed all of us over in his grand finale.
About two weeks after the motor oil trick, Jimmy announced he was “going on vacation.” We presumed it was back to Corvallis, where he had transferred from, and where he said his parents lived. We didn’t give it much notice when we saw him packing some suitcases one particular Friday night, and we all went to our various destinations that night. That was the last time we saw Jimmy, but he was about to get even for the pink sock.
I came home from work the next day, which was a Saturday, and was the first home. I was astonished to discover all of the major furniture, the TV, the dishes, and even most of the food gone. Someone had even tried to take the refrigerator (which belonged to the landlady) but apparently found it too heavy. Luckily, I had installed a lock on my door at this point, because food, supplies, and things like radios and LPs had started disappearing. I came up with food missing, but Mark and David were relieved of all their furniture, stereo gear, and LPs. One of the neighbors recalled Jimmy and another man loading furniture into a U-Haul truck that morning.
Jimmy wasn’t through with us yet. Still stunned from having all of our furniture ripped off, we started getting shutoff notices for everything. Seems we had trusted Jimmy to collect the money for the utilities and supposedly pay them. What he had been doing, in fact, was not kicking in any of his own cash and playing hopscotch with the bills. In the space of one week, we had our gas and electric, water, and cable TV shut off. After paying the past-due balances and forking out for new deposits, we were all bankrupt.
We tried everything to track Jimmy down, including writing to our fraternity chapter at Corvallis. They wrote back telling us Jimmy had been expelled from the fraternity. No one had ever bothered to check him out. Turns out he was leaving SDSU because he was failing every class he had taken, and judging by the ensuing calls from banks and collection agencies, he was deeply in debt.
David, who I still hear from now and then, still wants to break Jimmy’s legs. I’ve lost track of Mark now, but for several years we kept in touch. Strangely enough, one of the last times I talked to Mark, he said he had run into someone who said they had spotted Jimmy in a suburb of San Francisco. “Not washing dishes or clothes, obviously.” I said. “No, would you believe branch manager of a [well-known] bank?” replied Mark. As ridiculous as it sounded, somehow it was appropriate. All we could do was laugh.
— Joe Kievit, San Diego
BANKER’S HILL HELL
Living in Hollywood was an adventure. The traffic, the homeless, the parties; I was even witness to the L.A. riots. Even so, nothing prepared me for what I was to encounter. I accepted a job in Mission Valley to get away from the “Hollywood scene.” Being originally from San Diego, I figured I could find a place to live quickly. I found a one-bedroom apartment in the College Area and put a deposit down on it.
On my way back to Hollywood that night, I stopped at my friend Roger’s new place. He’d moved to Banker’s Hill. It was a great old house on Upas Street. It had been renovated into, two apartments. The original front door led directly to a beautifully carved stairwell headed for his upstairs apartment. The downstairs apartment’s door was once the side door facing the adjacent street. The first floor was completely sealed off from the second.
Hardwood floors covered the huge bedrooms. There were at least two windows in every room overlooking the treetops of Balboa Park. An oven from the 1950s sat in the oversized kitchen. The hand-laid tile in the bathroom would cost a fortune in today’s market. Everything in this apartment was oversized. The hallway was so wide it looked like a whole other room. It had an eclectic look about it.
“I’m so jealous of you,” I told Roger. “This place is so hip.” Roger got a smile on his face. I had seen that smile before. Roger and I had been friends since junior high. Our relationship was reminiscent of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal’s friendship in When Harry Met Sally (without the sex).
“It so happens,” Roger said, “Karla and I have been thinking about getting a third person in here to cut expenses. The living room has two doors, so it can become a third bedroom. I’ll move in there and you can have my old room. Rent is $800 total, plus one-third utilities. What do you say?”
As a college graduate, I quickly calculated my rent would be a mere $266.66 a month. In Hollywood, I was paying $600 for a studio no bigger than my size 10 Reebok shoebox. I canceled my deposit check on the other apartment and told Roger I’d be back in a week.
It took just an hour and a half to move all my stuff in with the help of Roger, my boyfriend, Karla, my new boss, and his son. The guys lifted my couch up those stairs like professionals. Roger and I decided to make the huge hallway into a living room. The couch fit great lengthwise. While unpacking the boxes, Roger screamed with joy, “A television! You own a television! We’re saved. I knew you should have moved in here. It was destiny!”
I laughed. Roger was such a crack-up. Freaking out over my stupid, ancient, 21-inch Toshiba. It still had a turn dial. That TV was around before the invention of the remote control. Little did I know that TV would be the beginning of the end of happiness on Upas Street.
The first month went well enough. Karla was a nice girl from Fresno. Her fiancé was in the Navy. Roger’s girlfriend Lorelei was attending college in Washington. He’d started dating her over Christmas vacation six weeks earlier. This was the same girl he dated a few years back. He called Lorelei the “psycho bitch,” but she had changed, and now he was lovesick over her. She flew home to see him the following weekend, because their three-hour daily phone conversations weren’t enough to sustain their smoldering passion. That’s when it began. Lorelei’s weekend turned into a two-week stay. She lounged around the apartment all day waiting for Roger to return from work. She took hour-long bubble baths in our only bathroom while burning incense. She made gourmet meals for him, with groceries I bought. She never washed the dishes. The phone rang constantly for her. She chain-smoked Camels and used my drinking glasses as ashtrays (she liked the way her “smokes” made a hiss as they hit the bottom inch of Pepsi in the glass).
I was the reason her visit ended. One evening while Roger and Lorelei went to North Park to play pool, the phone rang. The girl on the other end asked for Lorelei, and I told her she was out for the evening. Big mistake! The “girl” turned out to be Lorelei’s mother. Her mom lived in Poway and had no idea Lorelei was even in town. Lorelei’s mom had received a call from an advisor at Washington State who informed her that Lorelei should formally drop out to save any remaining tuition dues.
I relayed the message to Lorelei when they came home. Lorelei was on a flight the next day to try to salvage the rest of winter quarter. Roger was a changed man after she left. He’d started smoking her Camels. The phone calls resumed. They only lasted an hour because she had studying to do. The Toshiba was his only solace. CNN, MTV, even QVC. He spent nights glued to the tube. Other than that, things went back to normal.
The second month I lived there, I asked about bills. I hadn’t paid one since I moved in. Roger wrote the check for Pacific Bell. It only made sense since there was $200 in collect calls from Washington. Karla told me they hadn’t paid the electric bill in the six months they’d lived there. A call had been made to SDG&E four months ago, but they had neglected to send one. “You realize,” I said, “they will expect you to pay the whole thing when that mistake is caught. Maybe you should call again.” Karla promised to take care of it the following week.
The following week, however, we had a crisis. Roger lost his job. He told us not to worry. He had plenty in savings, which he proved by buying a new alarm for his Honda Prelude. This car alarm had multiple personalities. It was ultra-sensitive. Every time a truck went up the street, the damn thing would start a series of sirens, toots, and whistles. A nice feature at five in the morning.
Roger went from bad to worse. The only job he could find was part-time in the luggage department of the Broadway. That gave him 15 extra hours a week to smoke Camels in front of the Toshiba. He started to take hour-long bubble baths.
The next month Roger told us Lorelei was coming back — for good. Roger neglected to tell Karla and me, however, that Lorelei was moving in with us. Her mom didn’t want her to quit school and told her she could not move home. Roger promised it would be temporary. Three weeks at most.
Our temporary situation lasted two months. Roger and Lorelei took baths together. Listening to their laughing and splashing, Karla and I wondered if driving to McDonald’s to use the bathroom would be quicker than waiting. Lorelei had been taking Prozac until her mother canceled her insurance. Life became unbearable when her prescription ran out. Roger and Lorelei fought all the time. Lorelei cried. If they weren’t crying or fighting, they were in front of the Toshiba. I started taking refuge at work, aerobics class, and the Guadalajara Grill in Old Town. Karla began to spend her nights at her fiancé’s apartment.
One Saturday morning, I ventured out to access the war zone. Roger and Lorelei were at the beach. The place stank of cigarettes. There were six glasses with cigarette butts floating in them. The glasses were stuck on top of the TV in sticky Pepsi rings. I dusted the Toshiba with Windex. Three paper towels were black from Camel ash residue. In the kitchen, the sink was filled with a pond-scum-covered collection of burnt chili and weenies and cheese omelets. The stove had bacon fat all over the burners. A 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle (“New England in the Fall”) was partially completed on the table — the other pieces were in the box and on the floor. In the bathroom, Lorelei’s makeup covered half the sink and Roger’s shaving things the other.
I dared to peek at their room. Newspaper classifieds were thrown all over the place. (At least they were looking for jobs.) Their kitty’s litter box hadn’t been changed in weeks. I think there was a bed, but it had too much dirty laundry on it to tell. Karla came home and the two of us cleaned. We hoped they would take the hint. Just to make sure though, I left a nasty note detailing the fact they were lazy pigs. I spent the rest of the day as far away from Upas Street as possible. That night Karla told me after reading my note Lorelei raged all evening that I was “the bitch of the century.” I was given the silent treatment for the next week. Roger started talking to me again when we got the bill from SDG&E. It was over $600 and had to be paid in five days or we were going to be without power. Roger started to take out the calculator to divide it three ways. I was quick to point out that four people were living in the apartment although only three paid rent. And they had run up that monster of a bill for six months before I even moved in. The silent treatment resumed.
The next day I was convinced it was time to move out. I gave them three weeks’ notice. The last days were the icing on the cake. Karla’s fiancé was being shipped out and gave up his apartment early. Guess where he moved? (Hint: It wasn’t his ship.) Then, I came to the aid of an unemployed actor from Chicago, who needed a place to stay. (Hint: It wasn’t the Holiday Inn.) He camped on my bedroom floor the last two weeks I lived at Upas Street.
The last time I counted, six people (yes, half a dozen) were living in the upstairs apartment. With one bathroom, one cat, and one Toshiba. And no Prozac. When I left, I gave Roger the TV. It was the least I could do.
— Kim Laguardia, San Diego
I moved to San Diego a little over a year ago. Since I didn’t know anybody here, my friend’s girlfriend said I could shack up at her pad for a while. Besides, she said she needed a roommate for moral support. That should have been a signal something was awry, but in I moved.
I’m not one to judge others, but it didn’t take long for her heroin addiction to get on my nerves. The house was decorated with used hypodermic needles. Maybe this was the problem she was referring to when she said she needed support. I gave it my all, but she was in too deep. She would quit for three days and then become so psychotic I thought she might lose it and attack me.
Cleaning seemed to be all that gave her a sense of control. While cleaning isn’t exactly my favorite thing, I ran around the apartment like Cinderella trying to avoid confrontation. One time, I thought she was going to kill me because I had wiped down the counter with the dish sponge. She made out lists of chores for me to do. She called them “tidying” lists. When I failed to do everything on the list, she would become offended. Often, she would start sobbing. It was as if I had broken some sacred vow.
Anything could push her over the edge. If she missed an episode of Oprah... look out! She didn’t have a car, so even though she was constantly trying to quit, she also constantly needed a ride to go get fixed. I refused to contribute, but there were times when, for my own sake, I took her to meet her man. It was that or listen to her carry on until someone took her. I only lived there a few weeks, but with all of her crises, it seemed to drag on forever. Any little change in schedule was the world’s end to her. A run in her pantyhose had the same impact as an 8.1 earthquake.
These living arrangements didn’t last long. Her mother saw her as the perfect angel and decided her daughter would live a problem-free life if it weren’t for my presence. So she gave me three days’ notice.
Several weeks later, she hit me up for money. She claimed I was in debt to her. Unbeknownst to me, she had kept an itemized tab of everything I touched while I stayed there. She wanted reimbursement for the aspirin I took, for the tampon I borrowed, for the water I used to make tea, everything! I asked about compensation for the sanity I lost while staying with her, and we left it at that. Of course, that made her break down and cry, but at least I didn’t have to be stuck in the same house listening to it!
So for those of you who think you’ve got it bad because your roommate doesn’t take out the trash ... quit whining. And, if your housing partner is hooked on smack, start roommate hunting.
— Tre’ Lynne Huxley, San Diego
One of my first roommates was Bill, a friend at college. Now the college dorm room, because it is only one room for two people, can act as a pressure cooker unless both roommates take care to respect the other’s possessions and privacy.
Perhaps the most important example of this is the sanctity of a roommate’s bed; in a one-room situation, the bed is the most inviolate possession of all.
Bill occasionally lapsed in his understanding of this fact. One of his most memorable violations of the roommate’s-bed taboo occurred late one Friday evening (and early Saturday morning). Stumbling home late that night, I had discovered our door locked and a red sash tacked upon it — the prearranged signal that he was romantically engaged. Returning home in the late morning, I discovered that the pig had done his deed in my bed. Bill blinked blearily from his own bed.
“What the hell!?” I demanded.
“Sorry, man, we just ended up there.”
“Ugh.” I sat on the corner of my bed.
“It was terrible, man,” he moaned.
“It was the wrong time of the month. I’ve never done that before.”
I sprang into the air. Upon a distant inspection of the bed,
I could see a large wet area on the blankets. I pointed at the stain, mouth agape.
“Yeah, I guess she lost it after we passed out. I had to shower and sleep over here. It was so rude, man.”
Apparently the girl had been so ripping drunk that after their amorous extravaganza had concluded and she had fallen asleep, she had lost all bladder control, and my bed had thus been defiled in triplicate.
Sometime later in the year Bill lapsed again. Toward the end of another wild, drunken weekend night, myself and some friends traipsed toward our dorm. Bill had been taken home earlier because he had gotten so loaded he had vomited in the weeds next to the party house.
“Yeah, he was a mess, John. It was all over him and he was trying to lean on me between heaves. I was so glad to get him home and throw him in his room.”
“Good, that bastard deserved it,” I chortled. “He was such a drunken ass at the party.”
Still chuckling, I strolled into my room and discovered that Bill had collapsed on my bed and was still heaving freely and, unfortunately, indiscriminately.
It was not much later that Bill’s on-campus housing days came to an end, and I was forced out with him. Somewhere, somehow, Bill had obtained a small pellet gun. The pistol was only fairly accurate, but it could be pumped up (it was an air gun) to lethal levels. Originally we brought the pistol with us on pheasant hunts and to a local shooting range for target practice, but it gradually began to make its way to our dorm room, where a rowdy Bill might plink at targets on the lawn out our window late at night. This seemed fairly harmless, so I occasionally took a break from those all-night paper-writing nights and riddled the pop cans we threw down at 3:00 a.m. This was where my participation ended, however.
Bill, or “Mr. Above The Law,” as we called him, grew bolder. Soon his shooting became a daylight sport, and his targets went from cans to the squirrels. Tiring of stinging the squirrels, Bill began pumping the pistol up; squirrel tails began to adorn our walls. He took delight in knocking a squirrel out of a tree so that it would commence death throes in front of some faint-hearted passerby.
The final act of this play came when Bill tired of squirrels, (coinciding with their increasingly rare sightings), and the end was both terrible and swift. Deciding one day to give our fellow students something to think about, Bill attempted to whack a pellet into the backpack of a passing girl, not injuring her but getting a good laugh out of her surprise and confusion. Sharpshooter Bill missed, drilled the girl in the ass, coerced my support in a failed cover-up, and we were drummed out to off-campus housing.
The slob roommate can drive a person to enraged insanity over a period of time. Roommate Brian never cleaned a day in his life. Dirty dishes, filthy floors, layers of dust, black tub scum, whiskers and dried shaving cream in the sink, dirty clothes, and general household odors did not faze him. Indeed, he contributed to the general disorder with almost an air of exuberance. His used dinner plates could be found throughout the house, and the stove looked like a battlefield after Brian cooked. Each morning he apparently would leap from the shower before he turned the water off so he could drip as much water as possible onto the floor, leave his wet towels and dirty underwear where they fell, pluck and flick his pubes about until the tile looked like a blond, curlicued carpet, then piss vigorously with the aim of a blind man in the general direction of the toilet. After work, Brian threw everything he carried on the front room floor, scattered sections of the newspaper around like leaves, and, over a few weeks’ time, managed to use every one of our glasses and cups as “spitters” for his Skoal. He proudly farted and burped like a bantam rooster, and, perhaps worst of all, he was not shy about his need to “rub one out,” as he called it; I quickly learned not to ask where our hand lotion was or why he was taking so long in the bathroom or in the shower.
There are other sorts of habits that can produce the same murderous desires as do the slob’s. One college roommate, for instance, was an excessive “snooze alarmer.” Every morning Dale’s alarm would begin shrieking roughly two hours before he had to be at class, because he was supposedly going to “get up and study.” Dale would then turn it off with the snooze button and continue to do so every ten minutes until he absolutely had to get up for class, thereby forcing me to join him in our cramped dorm room in a nerve-wracking, rage-inducing cycle of sleepless helplessness. Bill (of the aforementioned college years) decided one semester that he could not sleep comfortably without the fresh, cool breezes of an open window. It did not matter that it happened to be January in northern Washington, regularly below zero and blizzard-like.
The repetitive nature of these types of transgressions gradually creates an environment of escalating tensions where all that is needed to set off the inevitable explosion is a trigger. Brian the slob was good for a couple of triggers every few months, when he might have the audacity to state something like, “I don’t think the dishwasher got my plate totally clean. Wipe them off better before you put them in next time, will you?” By the time you are that close to the explosion, the infraction that becomes a trigger might be as minor as your roommate smoking the tires on your car when he pulls away from the house moments after promising to “take it easy,” or even something as ridiculous as discovering that he had bitten the head off the Easter bunny sent to you by an old girlfriend.
As my roommates have tended to be either bigger than me or simply oblivious to explosions, I have fortunately learned a method to at least retain my sanity, if not teach them a lesson: revenge. Brian's old, dirty underwear has been known to find its way inside his pillowcase, where it festers for months, until his nose finally notices something is amiss. And his farts and burps are weapons easily turned against him. After Bill had fallen asleep, I often enjoyed closing the windows, carefully covering him with extra blankets, and dialing the thermostat up to 95 degrees. This was a particularly effective tactic on weekends, when Bill would wake up hung-over, incredibly thirsty, and now boiling hot, sweating as if he were in a sauna. To top it off, I liked to hand him a glass of ice water when he awoke, in a gesture of good faith, and then watch as he choked on what was straight vodka. Dale often awoke, late for class, to discover that when I had punched his snooze button the last time I had actually turned the whole thing off.
My favorite and most effective revenge, though, was directed at the “shampoo bandit.” After the infamous pellet gun incident, Bill and I ended up in our fraternity house, and every morning Scott, living across the hall, would saunter into our room, steal our shampoo, and leave it in the shower to be used by the random hordes. After a couple of months of this and several bottles of shampoo, Bill and I emptied half of a new bottle into an old bottle, which we then hid. We then filled the original bottle back up with piss. I don’t know if I will ever again achieve as much pleasure as I felt while Bill and I listened to Scott and his cohorts chuckle over their theft while piss ran down their faces and throughout the rest of the day as they unwittingly went to class, ate lunch, and talked to women with their piss-hair. Our shampoo was certainly never touched again, though we had to beware of counter-revenge efforts.
The revenge factor, then, is often the only means by which a less-than-harmonious living arrangement can be made bearable. While it admittedly is not often successful in completely modifying a roommate’s behavior, it provides great mental relief and has substantial entertainment value. After all, aside from rent considerations and the plain fear of loneliness, the ability to find amusement in conflict is essential if two “casual acquaintances” are to survive living together.
— John Henson, Pacific Beach
BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY!
I lived in the Bay Area several years working as a computer programmer in the Silicon Valley. During this time I found myself in the middle of several wild and woolly roommate situations. The first one, but not the weirdest, involved renting a room in a house in Orinda, an exclusive suburb outside Berkeley, with million-dollar houses and attitudes to match. The landlord, James, lived in the master bedroom on-site and would obtain serial renters from a roommate referral agency. I say “serial” because as soon as they figured what a pain James was they wouldn’t last more than a few months. A week after I moved in, he decided to place his house on the market, and then the fun started. Whenever the house was being shown, he would request that our other roommate and myself leave the premises. First this was only on weekends, and then it started happening every other night. The house was to be spotless at all times, and I received lectures on leaving a toothbrush on the bathroom counter or how he found three stray hairs on the carpet while vacuuming. My roommate and I complied at first because we were both new to the area and were planning to relocate as soon as we could find places. Every time James would bark another demand he’d add, “And if you don’t like it, you can move.” It got to be his favorite line. One day, he decided my room didn’t look “feminine” enough for prospective buyers. He took it upon himself to replace my tan comforter with a pink floral design. Most of his traits were annoying as opposed to bizarre. Except for one.
James’s prized possession was a locked glass bookcase in the front room, which contained horror fiction novels, some first editions signed by the author. On many Friday nights after he downed his bottle of Bordeaux, he would pick up a book from the shelf and, to no one in particular, start ghoulishly reciting favorite passages. I soon found an apartment of my own. But looking back, James wasn’t the kookiest roomie I would have the misfortune of knowing. He was a primer.
After living a year on my own in an area even more expensive than Southern Cal, my bills started to overwhelm me, and my hour-long commute to work was getting to be a drag. You’d think I would have learned a lesson after James, but I found myself scanning “Rooms for Rent” in the newspaper. I spotted a listing for a room located six blocks from work. The price was right. I drove to the house and met Bill, who was the other tenant who had placed the ad the week before.
It was a small house with one bathroom; it was rundown, but it had charm. Plus, Bill seemed easygoing. With his round face, bowl haircut, and boyish smile, he seemed as ominous as Beaver Cleaver. I quizzed him about his background — as much as anyone can during an initial screening — basically to weed out potential Ted Bundy characteristics. He was an engineer with an undergraduate degree from Princeton, a doctorate from Stanford, and he worked at a nearby computer software company. He looked clean-cut and assured me he kept reasonable hours. I was troubled by the drum set in his bedroom. Bill told me he’d played drums since college but was an amateur and rarely practiced.
I moved in the following weekend and put my color TV in the front room since Bill only had a small black-and-white. Within a week cable was installed. Bill claimed the landlord never wanted cable because he thought it polluted the environment, but after I got to know him, I decided it was beyond Bill’s ability to set up an appointment with the cable company. The day cable was installed, Bill was thrilled. I got the impression he hadn’t seen cable TV in a long time. He was a Star Trek fanatic; now with cable and a VCR, he progressed to having 24-hour ST marathons. He’d watch old ones, new ones, repeats, and movies. Over and over again. He was so excited by watching Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time in color, he was bouncing on the couch waiting for eight o’clock. At five minutes to eight, I heard a knock on my door. Bill couldn’t get the cable channels to work; could I come out and take a look? I walked out to the TV and noticed the TV/cable switch wasn’t on. I flicked it on and went back to my room. Two minutes later, there was a knock on the door. The cable still wasn’t working. The TV wasn’t set to channel 3. I could tell that even though he was an engineer, the whole cable idea baffled him. By this point he was getting agitated, as there was only one minute to go before ST came on. He was remote surfing as fast as he could to get to channel 45. We didn’t have a cable box; the TV set channels only went to 35. By this point he looked like he was going to start crying. He stopped in the middle of the room and started wailing. A loud plaintive whine — AAAAAAA UUUUUGGHHHHH — like someone had run over his foot. I started to get worried that the neighbors might think someone was getting murdered, so to quiet him down, I promised to get the cable box soon. He shuffled to the couch and collapsed.
I don’t want to pick on anyone’s eating habits, but I remember opening up his fridge and not being able to identify a single item resembling food. There were half a dozen Tupperware bowls with substances in shades of brown and green, which I assumed were health concoctions (they smelled horrible). He kept a shelf of rotting vegetation, which he bought fresh and threw in the fridge without bothering to look at it again. I nicknamed him the “Nutrition Nazi” because he’d start telling me how I should start eating sprouts and tofu. That was until I discovered the three-foot-high stack of pizza boxes in his bedroom.
Bill was a Grateful Dead fan who would corner anyone and expound on Jerry Garcia trivia. He’d put on one bootleg tape after another and play them repeatedly. He started inviting GD fans to camp out in our living room. Every other day I’d trip over strange hippies on my way out the door. If that wasn’t bad enough, he started importing them from outside the country. One day I came home to find a girl sleeping on our couch, a GD fan from Germany named Elsie who knew little English. I got the impression she was part of an international GD fan club. She was staying a few weeks with each U.S. member until her visa ran out. Bill paid attention to her the first few days until he realized he wasn’t going to get laid, then he ignored her.
Bill had always mumbled to himself, but he began having animated conversations. One day I heard him in the living room talking to a guy named Joe about something he was disgruntled about. “Joe, I don’t think that’s right,” and “Well, you know, Joe....” He talked for a half-hour, his voice getting louder and louder. I peered around the corner and no one was in the room other than Bill. Sometimes he sat in front of the TV and talked to people on the screen. One night he was watching Hand That Rocks the Cradle, the movie about the demented babysitter. I heard him yell right in the middle of it, “Kill Marvin Bush! Kill Marvin Bush!”
The kicker came one night when we both were watching Unsolved Mysteries. The story was about a schizophrenic who killed his sister. Bill began to rattle on about the “virtues of schizophrenia.” I let him talk because it was kind of a relief that he was talking to real human beings instead of imaginary ones. He said he had been diagnosed schizo and had been in and out of - several institutions.
I told myself if he brought one more degenerate hippie home to live on the couch, that would be it. Late the next night, I heard him shuffle in with a friend of his. I could hear him say, “No, I don’t think my roommate would care if you stayed two weeks. Wait, I’ll ask her.” He starts banging on my door at 2 a.m. I was so pissed I didn’t even answer the door. Next thing I know, his friend wanders over to the drum set and starts banging away.
Next morning I cornered Bill, said something about a work transfer to Zimbabwe, and gave a three-and-a-half-week notice. I couldn’t afford to move until then and assumed that would be enough time to find another place.
Bill let his true colors fly in the next weeks. Once when I came home from work, he met me at the door and motioned hurriedly for me to get inside. He’d noticed someone following him and thought this person might be trying to break in. He said he had been walking down the sidewalk and there was a suspicious-looking fellow walking the same direction on the opposite side of the street. I asked Bill if this “stalker” had done anything out of the ordinary. No, replied Bill, he just acted strange.
I was convinced Bill was having one of his paranoid delusions. Then, three cop cars pull up in front of the house. Bill had called them to report the imaginary prowler. The police asked him the same questions I did and got the same answers. Being in a pretty affluent neighborhood, the cops looked like they were used to dealing with rich eccentrics. The only difference here was they were dealing with a poor eccentric. They scribbled notes and smiled as they left, promising to look into the matter.
Bill didn’t get up until late, which gave me run of the house for a few hours each morning since I had to be at work by eight. One morning I awoke at 6 a.m. to hear him out in the living room making a racket. He had on a Dylan concert video and was dancing around the room, singing and clapping his hands. He proceeded to go into a loud, off-key rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I locked myself in the bathroom. I thought if I could get out of there without him noticing me, everything would be okay. Let me escape, I prayed. No such luck. I ran into him in the hallway and noticed his skin was clammy and his hands were shaking. I asked him if he was, uh, okay. He grinned and replied, “I quit taking my medicine yesterday.” He darted into the bathroom and started the shower. On my way out, I could hear, um, noises. Like he wasn’t in there alone, and he wasn’t exactly taking a shower, if you know what I mean. “Oh my God,” he kept repeating.
I spent the next weeks bumming couches from friends. On weekends I’d go to the house during the day and pack. Bill wasn’t home on Saturdays, but one day he came home early. He looked upset and said, “You’re not transferring out of town, are you?” He mentioned stuff that led me to think he’d been listening with a glass to the wall while I was on the phone to friends, talking about the situation. I didn’t want to get him started, so I kept lying about the whole thing. He hovered over me as I sorted out kitchen utensils, 99 percent of which were mine. He then asked me to be a roommate reference. I smiled weakly and handed him a number. A wrong number.
I never heard from him again. A year later I came back to my hometown here in San Diego. I wonder what happened to Bill, but then I hear a Grateful Dead song on the radio and my stomach turns. Some things are better not known.
— Anne Hoen, Escondido
His name was Hank P., and he worked odd jobs for a temp service. He told me he mostly did handyman and warehouse work. That was okay with me, as long as he paid the rent on time.
Evidently he made pretty good money for temporary warehouse and handyman work. He wore nice clothes whenever he went out for the evening or on weekends.
We were sitting around drinking and watching a game on TV when we started talking about our jobs. We were both kind of drunk when he let it slip that he sometimes stole from companies he worked for by using his insider position. He took whatever the company he was working for had available. He would then turn around and sell the items he took. I quickly sobered up as I realized I was living with a thief. Hank justified it by saying that companies already compensate for the loss by marking up prices. He argued that it was his job to balance profits made by companies; if he didn’t do it, the companies would make too much money.
As time went on, I started noticing things about Hank and the way he lived. He was buying new clothes, taking weekend trips to Las Vegas, and receiving phone calls late at night.
I came home one evening and was surprised to find a big-screen TV and a stereo entertainment center in the living room. I knew immediately how Hank was able to afford it.
I didn’t know if I was more angry or scared, but I left the apartment. I came home late that evening hoping to sneak in and avoid talking to Hank. He was awake, watching his new TV and drinking beer. I was pissed off enough to confront him.
He told me he’d stolen drugs from the pharmaceutical company he was working for and sold them to friends. He said he’d found a gold mine. He made a big score on his last day, stealing several cases. I told him the company would figure it out, but he said he had it all worked out. He pulled a small gun from his boot, set it on the table, and told me to keep my mouth shut.
Apparently, if a shipment was damaged, it wasn’t distributed, for health and safety reasons. Hank knew this and used it to his advantage. He staged a fake accident with a forklift and one of the pallets he was moving. It had been raining, so the loading docks were slick. He called it the “perfect” crime. Some of the boxes were wet and crushed so it was common procedure to dispose of them. The drugs never made it to the disposal container, the large packing boxes did, but the drugs inside did not. They went into Hank’s car trunk. He offered me a few bottles.
That’s when I saw this asshole for what he was and knew that I had to get out. It was bad enough he was stealing and selling drugs; now he carried a gun and threatened me to keep quiet about something I didn’t want to know about.
Next day I looked in his room while he was gone. I would never be prepared for what I saw. Hank’s room was full of stolen property: two copiers, toner cartridges, reams of paper, and boxes of cleaning supplies. All stolen, and all in the apartment we shared.
I spent little time at the apartment. I would get my mail and check the answering machine, but that was it. I slept and showered at a friend’s house. I made damn sure I wasn’t around when Hank was, because I knew the police would burst through the door looking for him and arrest me as an accomplice. I was living a self-imposed exile from my own apartment. It took me three weeks, but I found a new job and an apartment in San Diego.
I still worry that Hank is out there carrying his gun and selling drugs. I’m glad to be out of L.A. and away from him.
J. Reynante, San Diego
Divorced at 34 with a young daughter, I knew life wasn’t going to be easy on my medical transcriptionist salary, so I was grateful to be offered the opportunity to move in with “friends of a friend” who had decided to try rural life. The price was right and the house charming and spacious, situated on several pastoral acres, and complete with a wood-burning stove, fruit trees, and solar-heated pool.
Floyd was a free-spirited friend from Cardiff who had managed the house for several years before tiring of trying to simultaneously maintain his image as a pacifist and nonmaterialist and still exert enough pressure on the ever-changing household of aging hippies, artists, and musicians to come up with rent. He was bowing out of communal life to wander as a barefoot monk, espousing the virtues of raw foods and sleeping on the beach at Swami’s. Vacating the house at the same time was a reggae musician and Floyd’s girlfriend Starshine. Floyd had dreams of getting the organic garden organized and large-scale enough to turn a profit on a regular basis. In his words, “Everything was going along fine until Starshine moved in and blew everything up.”
When I moved into the south end of the house in October, all was harmonious. The young couple living in the other end of the house seemed easygoing, and our daughters had fun together. My new roommates’ work schedule was the opposite of mine, allowing all of us time alone in the house. Ronnie and Rosemarie were a curious blend of Krishna devotee and wannabe country singers. They would fill their van with banjos, fiddles, diapers, duffel bags, and their daughter Lotus, with Back to Godhead magazines vying for space on the dashboard with the latest National Enquirer. They would disappear for days, returning tired but victorious, sprawling on the living room floor with mounds of nickels, dimes, and quarters. Rosemarie would retreat to their end of the house to watch TV with Lotus, while Ronnie would smoke pot and roll coins in wrappers from the bank. I was amazed at the money they brought in. They said dolling up Lotus in her Krishna clothes gave them an edge, especially in Balboa Park when weather was good.
The weather turned cold, and when I wasn’t at my full-time job at the hospital, my daughter and I spent more and more time holed up in our room with the space heater. Part of this was to conserve heat and stay warm, but it was also because the ambiance in the house was changing. Ronnie and Rosemarie were relaxing housekeeping, and I was beginning to recognize signs of control needs. They were good cooks (in their own way) and threw a lot of parties, inviting an assortment of friends over, but without any prior notice to me. Sometimes it was Krishna-style curried rice and veggies, and everyone would burn incense and quote Swami Prabhusomebody. Other evenings it leaned heavily towards vegetarian Southern fare with black-eyed peas, potato salad, and Hank Williams LPs. But there was always the aftermath of dirty dishes and freeloading bodies that wouldn’t go away for days. I would come home after a long day at a computer terminal typing up pathology reports and have to step over people I didn’t recognize to make it to my room. The times I did join in these parties I felt like the despised “straight person” with the “straight job.”
Chanting Krishna and frequenting coffeehouses to collect money was subsidized by $700 a month from the welfare department, which was under the impression that Rosemarie was an unwed mother scraping to make ends meet by herself. Rosemarie was spoiled rotten, appearing to believe she was above the rest of the world. She would swirl around the house in her newest sari with her nose in the air and drop comments about the evils of Western medicine or how my coffee habit was turning my blood acidic. What started as helpful suggestions regarding a purer life was evolving into aggression laced with patchouli oil.
I don’t think I would have made it if it weren’t for a friend who occasionally made the trip to Ramona to lend me moral support. My girlfriend was a single mother who put in long hours as a teacher, and she was more disgusted with my roommates than I was. We had a good time and milked humor from my predicament. We would sit outside on the porch under a million stars, getting drunk and eating pizza, grotesquely dangling pepperoni slices from our lips and exchanging roommate horror stories. She recalled one particularly disastrous situation when she was in college and living with several other students. The main issue was the mysterious disappearance of hamburger from the refrigerator on a regular basis. The roommate who was confronted seemed unable to mend her ways, and when roommate number three came home once to find not only her hamburger missing but the plastic wrapper stealthfully stashed way down at the bottom of the trash can, she took the wrapper and nailed it to the guilty party’s bedroom door, letting the blood trickle down to the floor.
My current situation was still eating at me as fall turned to winter, and my girlfriend suggested sneaking down to my roommates’ van and transforming their “Friends don’t let friends eat meat” bumper sticker into “Friends don’t let friends cheat AFDC,” but we decided to be real spiritual warriors and bust them behind their backs. If Rosemarie hadn’t been such a queen of the underhand stab, or if they had been contributing something substantial to society, maybe we could have forgiven them, rolled our eyes, and laughed, but not only were we tired of Rosemarie’s temple goddess routine, but Ronnie was in his 30s, able-bodied, and he knew better. We suspected he actually respected us on some level, and at times he seemed embarrassed by his wife’s childish antics. But he dealt with his inner conflicts by drinking and smoking more and more and becoming increasingly difficult, even when I approached him several times on the side on a “Hey, let’s clear the air and try to make this work for everybody” level. He and Rosemarie began to have more arguments, and sometimes he would do things to piss her off, like calling Lotus “Loader” and leaving beer cans on the altar. In addition, one party was rolling into the next, until it was apparent that several people had no intention of leaving at all. There were vehicles parked all over in front of the house, and the neighbors were getting nervous.
I could not afford to move, I was outnumbered, and it was time to take things into my own hands. No more returning home after working eight hours to be met by people lying around the living room smoking pot and telling me this was the Kingdom and that it all belonged to Krishna anyway. No more being told they didn’t believe in the money system, sister, and that if I wanted to participate in it, that was my problem. These people in all the Kingdom, they didn’t have anywhere else to go.
I confronted Ronnie and Rosemarie one evening towards the end of an impromptu party. I asked them to clean up the kitchen and clear the table before leaving for the weekend, so I could sit down in the morning without having to first pitch out the remains of soy hot dogs and soggy potato chips. Ronnie told me if I didn’t like it I could eat on the floor. I blew up and told him if they didn’t like cleaning up after themselves then they could tell the welfare fraud investigators about it. This one hit him from behind; the idea of having to get a job was a fate worse than death for Ronnie, and having a female roommate one-up him in front of his friends didn’t soften the blow. This soon escalated into a yelling match, and several of Ronnie’s scruffy friends gathered to watch. Ronnie was dripping sweat from his forehead as he pushed his face into mine. “Get out of here!” he thundered like a TV evangelist caught in a hotel room with his pants down.
“No, I live here too. That is the whole issue!” I screamed, ignoring the serene plaster Krishna watching from the background. “You touch me and I’m calling 911!” Rosemarie was pulling Ronnie away from me at this point, having been the victim of his violent temper herself. She started crying and tried to explain, “We didn’t want to live with anybody else in the first place. We wanted to worship Krishna and live a simple vegetarian lifestyle!”
“You aren’t vegetarians! You are living off the sweat of other people’s brows!” I countered.
Several previously bored-looking Krishna types had wandered in and were looking more awakened than they had in months. After it became clear to Ronnie and Rosemarie that I wasn’t kidding about having mailed their welfare case worker a copy of their homemade wedding announcement — yes, with their names and picture right smack in the middle by the Om sign — they stayed up all night packing and making phone calls. They had Lotus bring me a note scrawled by Rosemarie, stating, “We have decided that living with you any longer would be hell.” They were gone the next evening.
In weeks to come, a lot of mail came from the welfare department — obviously Rosemarie had not given them their new address! I was glad my tax money was no longer supporting them. My daughter and I moved back to the city a few months later and into an apartment, quickly putting the past behind us and deciding inner peace was more important than any heroic efforts at communal living.
— Jean Dickson, Poway
THE MOLE MAN
I first encountered E. when I moved into a house near campus. I had planned to live with four other students, but not on sharing the house with E. In fact, I didn’t even know of his reclusive existence until a few weeks after I moved in.
The origin of E.’s residency in the household was uncertain. One story — the most plausible to me — had him living in his car, mentally and financially broken down, just before previous roommates granted him access to a dark, narrow storage space alongside the tools and half-empty paint cans in the garage. When these sympathetic souls moved on, E. remained, like an unwanted pet who had outgrown his “cute” phase. Meanwhile, the current residents shared the kitchen, living room, and bathrooms in the house. Our bedrooms were in small cottages, separate from the house, that had been constructed on the perimeter of the large back yard, facing a swimming pool.
In the winter this “cottage” arrangement could be cold and damp, but in the summer it was downright idyllic. A “swimsuit optional” policy had been established in the yard, and this was deemed by many of our student friends a good reason to hang around and visit when the sun was shining.
Throughout the year the house was the site of frequent community meetings, potlucks, and other gatherings. However, E. preferred to eke out his solitary life in the garage alongside the main house, separated from the rest of us by a tall fence, living in the most reclusive quarters of all. On the infrequent occasions when we did see him, he was looking for leftover food in the kitchen’s “community refrigerator” or discussing plans for questionable business deals that involved 900-numbers. These never seemed to make money, or at least none that was contributed to the household expenses. Though he represented himself to the rest of the world as a fully functioning, even ingenious man, he lived a queer, reclusive existence that led us to call him “the mole.”
Because of an arrangement with the owners of the house, the four “official” residents contributed monthly payments for utilities and performed maintenance and chores in exchange for rent. All of us, that is, except E. He developed a special talent for disappearing at the first mention of work and crept in and out of the garage at odd hours, evading our requests for assistance with work and/or payments when bills arrived.
I had been living in the house for five months when I reached the turning point in my relationship with E. It happened early one winter morning, when I walked out to pick up the newspaper and watched E. maneuvering his car out of the small space where he had parked in front of my van the night before. Parking spaces around the campus were at a premium, and I didn’t think much of his “tight squeeze” until after he had left. Then I noticed what seemed to be a black crack on the paint of my van. When I looked closer, I discovered the entire front end had been pushed in. Small patches of paint the color of E.’s car smeared the spare tire mounted on the front.
Outraged, I went back inside the kitchen and began ranting at my roommates, who were eating breakfast. I explained what had happened, accused E. of all sorts of misdeeds — some real, others imagined — and insisted we discuss his latest transgression at our next weekly house meeting. They agreed and even seemed cheered by this change from resignation to deliberate action. We had been discussing what to do about E. for weeks but lacked a unified front. Now, with my damaged car, we had a cause to rally around.
At the end of that fateful house meeting we delivered an ultimatum: E. must leave in 30 days. I don’t think he took us seriously. Similar threats had been made against him before, but we had never followed through.
A week went by, then two. We reminded E. of his impending move and circled ads for “houses for rent” or “roommate wanted” in the morning papers, but that only caused him to hide out and act more mole-like. We hoped he was looking for a new place to live, but it soon became clear that E. was making no effort at moving or finding a new home. I would have felt sorry for him if he had not caused so much damage to my car, which he acknowledged doing but refused to take responsibility for.
One month later, moving day — a Sunday — arrived, and E. was nowhere to be found. We waited until late afternoon, then, before it was too dark to see, entered the garage and began removing his belongings. This was the first opportunity I had to actually look around his living quarters. They were perfect for a mole. In the cramped, windowless space I could make out a few business suits hanging in an improvised closet. Magazines and papers littered the floor, surrounding stacks of books: A poster of a scantily dressed, buxom woman was propped against the wall, across from the thin mat E. slept on.
As we loaded the last of his boxes into a friend’s station wagon, E. arrived. We asked him where he wanted to go. He looked at his few possessions disappearing into the back of the car and seemed unable to speak. It was as if we had physically assaulted him. He couldn’t believe we had done what we said we were going to do. I guess he thought his denial of the situation would see him through.
E. left in the station wagon to a place where he thought he might be able to spend the night. The last time I heard from him was when he was trying to get my permission to have his license reinstated. The DMV revoked it when I reported the damages to my car, which were in excess of $500. I refused permission. He’d never paid.
Shortly after E. left, the garage behind the house was permanently converted into a bright, comfortable living space, and all traces of E.’s “burrow” have disappeared.
— L.R. Baumgartner, San Diego
DEATH OF A PLASTIC PENGUIN
Carrying a huge silver lamé handbag and day-glo green socks, her white plastic pumps clicked as she arrived on my doorstep. I should have heeded the sinking feeling in my stomach, but I invited her in. She had platinum blond hair cut in a short flattop. The rent was due in two weeks, and hardly anyone had responded to my ad. I was desperate. She said she had arrived from out-of-town and, needed a place right away. I took the cash and felt relieved that at least I wouldn’t fall out of the housing market this month. Brenda started bringing her stuff in: a pink neon flamingo, day-glo miniskirts, and plastic see-through dresses. All this was a little weird, but before long it was going to get a whole lot weirder.
She explained she was diabetic and would administer insulin intravenously regularly. That she was diabetic didn’t bother me. That she was a drug addict did. Brenda’s favorite song was “Butter Bean” by the B-52s, which she played constantly. Brenda had two speeds in her metabolism, high speed and comatose. She would inhale methamphetamine frequently, then not sleep for days. She would either be bouncing off walls or unconscious on the living room floor. I would be talking to her, and she would drop off in midsentence and fall deep asleep. I would kid coworkers at the office that one day I would come home and Brenda would be dead.
Brenda was a compulsive liar. I started to notice something funny when friends stopped calling. I would ask if anyone had called and she would say no. I called friends on the weekend to see what was going on. They said they called and left messages. When I confronted Brenda she said she forgot and apologized.
When she moved in, she said she had bought a BMW and it would be a couple of weeks until it came in. She explained she bought a stick but didn’t know how to drive anything but an automatic. Weeks went by and the car never came. She was a particularly unskilled pathological liar.
When I told friends about my roommate, they laughed and thought I was exaggerating. They said I was being harsh and judgmental, that I should be compassionate. I invited Brenda to a barbecue over Memorial weekend, and she seemed all right. She promised not to do any meth and to take her insulin on time. At the party she acted normal. All the weird behavior subsided and my friends liked her. I couldn’t believe it.
Brenda was cooking up a surprise. She befriended several friends of mine and started feeding them outrageous lies. She told them I was a prostitute. She told them I did a variety of drugs, that I slept with her. At first they didn’t believe her, so she said she would prove it. She started taking Polaroids of strangers who came into the apartment complex and telling my friends they were my customers. Finally one of my friends asked me about it.
This was it. I wanted her out. I didn’t care if I had to move. I couldn’t take more. At night she would walk around the house with a penguin pull-toy that she had purchased on a trip to Sea World. Its black feet would flap as they hit the floor. I started going out after work so I wouldn’t have to see her. One night after quite a few beers, I came home and tripped over the penguin pull-toy. I snapped. I went to the kitchen, got a knife and stabbed the toy again and again. I got a bottle of ketchup and smeared it all over the toy and left it on the kitchen floor. In the morning Brenda found the toy.
After months of slow torture she moved out. She ripped off some of my stuff and left a huge phone bill. Brenda became pregnant out of wedlock by some Navy guy on leave. That was the last I ever heard from her.
Victor Esquer, San Diego
SOJOURN WITH THE GREAT SATAN
My roommate was from Iran, and we lived together in Dellplain Hall at Syracuse University in the pre-Khomeini days of the mid-’70s. I was a new transfer student. I had found my room and started unpacking when the door was flung open and people rushed in, gesturing wildly and shouting loudly at each other in a language that was strange and incomprehensible to me. They didn’t seem to notice me.
Silence descended and eyes turned toward me. A tall, dark-haired man walked toward me. “THIS,” he said, “is my beloved sister SHIRREEN. You will be her roommate.” The crowd parted to reveal a petite, dark-haired girl who regarded me with skepticism. Her brother continued his oration, telling me Shirreen was from “a very well-known family” in Iran, and it was his sworn duty to protect her during her time at Syracuse.
Shirreen had not yet uttered a word. I felt somewhat befuddled. Did she speak English? Was this entire crew of strangers also going to be sharing the room? Was I allowed to address her directly or did I have to speak through her sworn protector? Eventually, her brother explained Shirreen had never before been away from home and was being allowed to attend school in the U.S. only because her brother was already a student at Syracuse. The group of people were various friends and relatives who had accompanied Shirreen to the U.S., and they would not be sharing the room with us. Shirreen still had not spoken.
A formidable argument suddenly engulfed the group. Everyone began to wave arms and shout. I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted to finish unpacking. I wanted aspirin for my headache. I wanted to go home.
Once again, silence fell. All turned toward me again. Her brother spoke. “My SISTER is very religious. We are trying to decide which direction is East, where Mecca lies, for her prayers. Do you know?” Not wanting to be rude and wishing to end this debate, I pointed toward the door. Everyone smiled and nodded. For the next four months, five times a day, Shirreen would unroll her prayer mat on the narrow strip of floor between our beds and pray loudly in the direction of Mecca. I never had the heart to tell her she was praying due north, toward Buffalo.
Within a few weeks, I had learned more about my new roommate. She’d led a sheltered and pampered life in Iran. She’d had servants, and domestic chores were beneath her dignity. As her roommate, it was my duty to pick up the slack — and anything else she might discard on the floor. Any complaints of the unfairness of this arrangement were addressed by a visit from her brother, who stressed Shirreen’s delicate nature.
Although she spoke English fluently, she found it a coarse language and suggested I learn Farsi. She promised to take me home to Iran so I might see the proper way to live. “Not like in the hovels you Americans call home.”
Her father was a high-placed associate of the Shah. Shirreen felt the Shah was God on earth. Since this was before his overthrow, he was on television frequently. Each time he appeared, Shirreen let out a piercing shriek and dropped to her knees before the screen and kissed the Shah’s image. This little quirk seemed minor in light of Shirreen’s larger quirks — until the night she insisted I also pay homage to the electronic Shah. When I declined, she started to sob uncontrollably, saying I had no idea how homesick she was and that the least I could do was respect her cultural values.
Perhaps it was guilt instilled by that incident that led me to agree to accompany her to Niagara Falls. One bright, chilly morning Shirreen, her friend Lydia, myself, and my friend Jim set out in Shirreen’s rental car for Niagara Falls. When we arrived at the falls, Shirreen was disappointed. The falls weren’t what she expected. But suddenly she brightened; perhaps the falls were inferior here on the U.S. side of the border. Yes, she was sure, that was it — the falls would be better on the Canadian side. Jim and I were game, and Lydia followed Shirreen’s lead in all matters. So we hopped into the car and sped across the bridge to Canada.
Shirreen liked the Canadian side. The day started to hold promise. We were having a good time together. In my magnanimous mood, I spent my last ten dollars buying Shirreen a goofy Niagara Falls T-shirt. She seemed pleased and put it on immediately. Then it was time to head back to Syracuse and midterms.
As we approached the border checkpoint, Shirreen and Lydia began muttering in Farsi. Jim and I sat oblivious in the back seat, tired and happy, watching the rain that had started to fall. Suddenly, Shirreen pulled the car to the side of the bridge and stopped. “I can go no farther,” she announced. “Why not?” I asked. Lydia turned and looked at us with woeful eyes. “We did not bring our passports. They will not let us back into the U.S. without them!”
Jim and I could not believe it. How, we asked, could they have sped off to Canada, knowing they didn’t have passports with them? This seemed to galvanize Shirreen into action, “It is no problem,” she said, “I will handle this. They will let me in.” She started the car toward the checkpoint. Jim suggested Shirreen and Lydia not say anything to the border agent — keep their mouths shut and no one would be wiser.
But when we pulled up to the border agent, Shirreen rolled down her window, smiled at the agent, and said in her obviously non-American accent, “You MUST let me in! I am an American! See — I HAVE AMERICAN EXPRESS CARD!”
The agent ordered us to pull over to the customs office. Shirreen smiled politely and then gunned the engine and made a break for it. Several customs agent vehicles sprang into pursuit. The chase was over quickly. In her haste, Shirreen inadvertently drove the car up onto a parking median, where it stalled out.
We were surrounded by uniformed agents and, as Jim pointed out, lest Shirreen get more escape brainstorms, they had GUNS, guns POINTED at us. We were escorted into the office. Shirreen and Lydia were taken to a different room and Jim and I placed in a room that looked like an interrogation cell. I wasn’t too nervous yet. I figured that no one would mistake me or Jim, with our blond hair and blue eyes, as Iranian nationals.
Then the door opened. In walked the meanest, toughest, scariest female customs agent. Jim said, “Officer, this is easy to explain. See — ”
“You’re in a LOT of trouble, BUB!” She screamed, pointing her claw-like nails at Jim. “You could be sent to jail for AIDING illegal immigrants!” After several hours trying to convince officials WE were American citizens, we were released out into the rain with Shirreen and Lydia. Shirreen and Lydia had cut a deal. We would all return to Canada and Shirreen would get her brother to bring their passports from Syracuse.
All was fine until we arrived back in Canada. Shirreen drove to a beautiful hotel, parked the car, and turned and looked at Jim and me. “Of course,” she said, “you do not expect to stay here with us.... You will have to find your own accommodations.” Our protests that we had no money to pay fell on deaf ears as Shirreen, still wearing that goofy T-shirt, waltzed into the lobby, American Express card in hand.
Jim remembered he had a friend near Buffalo. We called collect, and the friend drove to Canada and picked us up. We entered the U.S. without incident and borrowed money from Jim’s friend to take a bus back to Syracuse.
Shirreen’s brother brought the passports to Canada, and Shirreen and Lydia returned to Syracuse in the rental car. Shirreen and I finished the semester as rather stony roommates, and then I found a nice apartment near town with another roommate.
I’ve often wondered what became of Shirreen and her associates. The Iranian revolution occurred the following year, and the last I heard, Shirreen and her brother had returned to Iran shortly before the U.S. Embassy was captured.
Carolyn Z. Lawrence, Jamul
MODEL FOR DISAPPOINTMENT
I should have realized answering a “roommate wanted” ad to share an apartment in the Haight/Ashbury district of San Francisco with two other women would amount to more than I’d bargained for. We were all students at San Francisco State University, and they’d rented a spacious, three-bedroom flat that I instantly fell in love with. I still remember how it smelled when we moved in — fresh air with a lemon twist — nothing like the moldy cat-pee hell den it would become.
That place had a revolving door. After two years of sifting through roommates (and their respective felines), my head ached when Janice, roommate No. 6, told me she was moving out — and in with her boyfriend. I wanted to cry. She was cool, and her cat was the only one that hadn’t felt the desire to mark its territory all over the flat. Luckily, however, somewhere down the line my brother had moved in, so I gave him the oh-so-much-fun task of finding a new person to live with us. Big mistake.
Anjeanette (phonetically pronounced Ahn-jah-net; said only with a breathy, 1-900-HOT-TALK voice) showed up shortly thereafter. She was a 23-year-old transplanted model from New York, or so she said, and the first time I saw her I knew she was trouble. She was about six feet tall and probably weighed 120 pounds. She had dark hair with perfectly spiraled curls and those abnormally full “model lips.” She was also wearing skintight, suede pants with a halter top, cowboy boots, and a leather jacket that had a few too many spikes. Her skin was pale, and her huge, brown eyes looked sunken into her face. She looked hungry. I almost felt like I was supposed to feed her, like she was a lost puppy or something.
Since my brother had already told her she could move in, I decided to give it a shot and welcomed her into our home. She and I actually talked a few times, when she wasn’t locked in her room or the bathroom we shared.
After approximately a week, the “men” started showing up. The first one, I thought, was for sure her dad. He looked to be at least in his 50s, and he was very polite. He came to pick up Ahn-jah-net for dinner and brought her home at a decent hour. That’s when she told me he was her “friend.” She had a lot of other “friends,” too. They came in all shapes and sizes, but most were at least ten years her senior.
Her “ex-husband” was the most memorable, though. He’d call and leave messages on her constantly too-loud answering machine at 3 a.m. When he’d find she wasn’t home, he would always go into a drunken bantering of curses and profanities that shocked even my not-so-virgin ears. This is normal behavior for a 54-year-old man, right? He lived in Southern California, and I never thought he’d actually come visit.
This man was scary. He had bushy, white hair and a fake tan and looked like a leaner version of my mean history teacher from high school. He stayed for a weekend, and Ahn-jah-net didn’t warn us he was coming. I didn’t even know he was there until I went to walk past her room toward the kitchen one morning and heard his voice inside as I approached. The door was open, so I glanced in. That’s when I saw him. He was standing there drunk and staggering, babbling on about some indescribable nonsense, wearing nothing but leopard-print bikini briefs. I never saw him again, thank God. I even stopped paying attention to her vast array of admirers. That’s probably about the time I had something to concern myself with — the bathroom.
Personally, I have always believed common areas should be kept clean by all parties concerned. I also think the cost of “supplies” for such areas should be shared equally. Apparently Ahn-jah-net did not share my reasoning. At first it was okay. She was using the shower gel, the shampoo, and toilet paper. Whatever. I figured she’d buy some after we ran out. Wrong. So I bought some more, and more, and more.
Then she was using my toothpaste. Then I found black curly hairs in my deodorant. (EEEW!) But when that special time of month came, and I discovered she’d been into my tampons — I was pissed. You know, I figured that since I bought them and always had stock on hand (or so I thought), that they’d be there in my time of need. NOT.
How do you diplomatically ask someone, “So, why did you use all my tampons?” Should I have walked up to her and said, “I see you like Playtex.” Or how about, “Can you tell me where to find some feminine protection around here? Mine seems to have disappeared.” I could actually feel my nerves begin grinding against each other. It wasn’t pretty.
I felt personally invaded in a way I’d never imagined, but it didn’t even come close to my next discovery — my wet toothbrush. Who in their right mind would use somebody else’s toothbrush? Especially someone you don’t know all that well? That is SO GROSS.
At that moment, my heart surged up into my throat, but rather than gag and possibly choke to death from the sheer nausea of knowing MY toothbrush had been in Ahn-jah-net’s mouth (or worse, one of her “friend’s” mouths), I went to the opposite extreme. I took everything out of there. I took my shower gel, my shampoo and conditioner in one, my deodorant, toothpaste, and everything in the bathroom, including toilet paper, and hid it in my room (which I locked). The only thing I left was the garbage can with the empty tampon box and defaced toothbrush in it, and my towel and facecloth.
I figured she’d be forced into buying her own stuff. But for the last month I lived there, as I carried my toilet paper or toothbrush with me each time I needed to use that dreadful room, I found nothing. I had no idea what she’d been using for toilet paper. After a week I feared my towel or facecloth may have been elected and replaced them. What was she using to brush her teeth? WAS she brushing her teeth? Did she buy new bathroom stuff and keep it in her room, too? I didn’t know. I never would have even looked in her room again for fear of what else I might see besides the hideous “ex” until ... the kitten.
Ahn-jah-net brought home this little gray kitten that was way too young to be taken from its mother. She said she got it from her “friend” who lived up the coast. The little thing could fit in my hand, and I am a petite person. It couldn’t even lift its own head up by itself for longer than a few seconds. So it would be logical to lock it in one’s room with nothing but Purina Cat Chow and a newspaper with dirt on it, right? Ahn-jah-net thought so and left it home that weekend while she traveled back up the coast or wherever the hell she went.
The second she left, I opened the door to this sweet little meowing thing to let it out and spoon-feed it some milk (as I’d been doing for the past few days when Ahn-jah-net wasn’t around). It was so tiny, though, I didn’t think it was going to live. It slept with me that whole weekend, on my pillow.
During that final month I let Ahn-jah-net go ahead and think the kitten was hers, that it was actually eating Cat Chow — but it was mine. Then she announced she would be moving out at the same time I did, back to her “ex-husband,” as charming as he was. That was when I informed her that I was taking the kitten with me. She predictably didn’t object. That was also when my brother’s typewriter and binoculars “disappeared,” and we never heard from Ahn-jah-net again.
— Julie Fadda, San Diego
LIFE WITH A BUSS-KITTEN
Her name was Dorothy. Not “Dot.” Dorothy. Just like in The Wizard of Oz, except that everything besides her name was different.
I had a three-bedroom house in Contra Costa County back in 1979, which might have been a pretty smart investment if you overlook that I had to bring in a roommate to make mortgage. My first attempt at the landlord game was with a bank teller who turned out to be one of those neo-Nazis. I’m not kidding. After he unpacked his stuff, he announced that he intended to run a concentration camp one day and perform all sorts of unspeakable acts against those he deemed to be undesirable. This guy was a little weird, to say the least. Without going into his story, let me say that even if one overlooked the obvious problems of living with a goose-stepping, latter-day Eichmann, this nitwit had personal habits that were quite popular with several of my least favorite species of bacteria.
I kind of helped him decide to move out. It was the right thing to do.
Then Dorothy answered my ad in the paper. When she called on the phone, she said that my “NO NAZIS” caveat had intrigued her. Her voice intrigued me. I’m telling the truth when I tell you that I’ve never called one of those “1-900” numbers for phone sex, but I can understand how some losers get suckered into it. She had one of those voices, a soft, throaty monotone like you hear in the movies when some starlet is doing a parody of a femme fatale. But with Dorothy, it was real.
It is clear to me now that from the very beginning I wasn’t being very rational. I was lonely. I wanted the woman to match the voice, and I wanted her to fall madly in love with me as soon as our eyes met. I invited her over to look at the house.
The woman matched the voice, and I fell madly in love with her as soon as our eyes met. The reader will note the slight variance between fantasy and reality ... sometimes life is hard.
This was before every beach bunny was jumping to aerobics classes. Dorothy, though, had one of those bodies that was simply perfect. No matter which way she turned or bent, every single inch of her tanned flesh looked like it belonged to one of the girls in a Vargas cartoon. She had shoulder-length, straight brown hair, which doesn’t sound very dramatic, but like every other physical quality about her, it was just ... perfect.
I’m not the kind of guy who carries on conversations that would make for good shampoo and conditioner commercials, but I’m not kidding; if someone told me she was a space alien and came from a planet where everyone had hair that was made out of something much softer and shinier than anything we have here on Earth, I wouldn’t have dismissed the thought out of hand. You could say I was smitten. And when I looked in her eyes, I saw they had absolutely, positively no interest in me, whatsoever. None. Zip. Zero to the extreme. But in the fashion of men who encounter perfection, I was sure she’d love me if she got to know me. I stood there pretty much entranced, barely able to comprehend half the conversation. I nodded a lot and agreed with everything she said. I also knocked a hundred dollars off the rent.
Not everything that seems like the right thing to do is the right thing to do.
I helped her move in. The first clue that things were not good was when she unpacked her collection of photographs in frames. There were about 30 of them. Most of them were of bald headed dudes wearing robes and beads. I told her I was real spiritual also. “I just knew it,” she said. “Nothing happens by accident.” Boy, did I agree with that. You bet the cosmos brought us together. “Sorry, I’m fresh out of incense, but go ahead and light the couch on fire if you like, that foam rubber smolders real good....”
So the first week, she rearranged all the furniture in the house. Actually, “furniture” doesn’t quite describe it all. She rearranged all the matter in the house and the garage. Then she put up some mirrors opposite the windows and doors, as well as some mirrored sun-catchers. She explained there were astral spirit beings that would be coming and going a lot, as they had been for eons, and if I didn’t have all the dense matter lined up properly and use mirrors to compensate for deviations in cosmic polarity brought about by unbalanced photon streams, I would piss off the little spooks, which I had apparently already done, and why hadn’t I noticed? My efforts to joke around it elicited cold disgust, so I quickly reversed tack and let her know I was going to defer to her in all matters pertaining to other dimensions. I mean, after all, nothing is a coincidence, and we were certainly brought together for something....
I was getting real good at letting those deep and mystical-sounding hints drop out here and there. She was as good at remaining incomprehensibly aloof and adroit at avoiding all my subtle invitations for an “even closer” relationship.
I think her father was rich. She didn’t work. Her standard uniform was a loose-fitting tank top and running shorts. She had the most uncanny ability of looking like she was always posing for a 1960s soft-porn magazine. Fabric was always either clinging or drooping in such a way as to provide maximum distraction without actually exposing those precious few inches of flesh that are crucial to reproduction or breastfeeding.
When she was around, I was always in a physical and emotional state that celebrated passion over reason. So I acted like it made perfect sense to me that we played tapes on the stereo ... for hours ... that were nothing but chants by Buddhist monks living in Idaho. I agreed with her that I had also often thought of the earth as the nucleus of a helium atom, and that the moon was an electron, and that we were in a state of political and economic turmoil because everyone knows a helium atom needs two electrons, and that accounts for our patriarchal mythology and our general contempt for the Earth Mother, not to mention a lot of the preservatives showing up in cereal boxes. All of this would have been cured if we only had one more negatively charged valence particle that so happened to weigh about 60 trillion tons and was made out of green cheese.
Mind you, nothing stayed the same. The infatuation with the mirrors and the little spirit men, which were frightfully important the first week, lasted about a month. The mirrors came down, and pictures of some Bhagwan look-alike took their places. I made a sarcastic comment about the polarity of the photon streams no longer being important, and she gave me one of those looks that told me I had regressed about two past-lives in my quest to plumb the depths of her yin consciousness. I could have kicked myself right in my own root chakra.
No matter. The Bhagwan wannabe only lasted about one mortgage payment. He was replaced by two weeks of militant vegetarianism, which was followed by nightly meditations where we tried to contact the mind of a cotton T-shirt, which was followed by two days of primal screams, which was followed in some order or other by sacred bongo drums, prayers to Zoroaster, fondling holy beads (that looked a lot like regular beads), tantric writing (I don’t want to talk about it), and some charming trick where we both spent no less than 90 minutes each evening with mouthfuls of water that we weren’t allowed to swallow. The whole time I was making a complete buffoon out of myself by going along with whatever loony-tune spiritual quest she wanted. If she wanted something, I was going to embody it. You bet.
Never mind that I had completely given up on dating, reading, working out, or any other pursuit that didn’t rhyme with “Dorothy.”
Enter the plot twist. We had “the talk.” She’d never showed any interest in coming to my bedroom. One fine day I was leaving the bathroom, which is attached to the master bedroom, and I was delighted to see her standing in the doorway to my most holy of holy places. I had finished my time in front of the mirror, streaking my face with sacred ashes. She gave me the “that-was-last-week” look, with which I’d gotten too familiar over the previous six months. No matter, though. By this time I was pretty well desensitized to looking like an idiot, so I didn’t wash them off. If I hit my face with water, I might wake up. Not only had she entered into my personal shrine, she took me by the hand to where we both sat down on my Sealy Posturepedic altar.
Letting go of my hand, only to grab my forearm, she said, “You know, I’ve been pretty stupid....” Hoping that I didn’t lapse off into convulsions, I feigned ignorance of what she could mean. Naturally I assumed she was going to confess her miraculous epiphany, where the disembodied spirit of Popeye the Sailor materialized in front of her and told her to go to bed with me.
“A lot of the stuff I’ve done here has been pretty dumb.” I was too cool. I played it off like it was no big deal. “But we have other things to talk about. You remember when I first moved in, we talked about how you were real open-minded?” I remembered nothing of the kind, but I was ready to rekindle the spirit of the ’60s, where she and I could intertwine our temples and slip off to Nirvana, at least until the next eclipse. I assured her that I was a veritable poster boy for the next civil-rights march they hold at Woodstock.
“You know, Yari is the sweetest person I know, and I have no doubt that you two are going to fall in love with each other, but I want to ask your permission before Yari comes and it becomes the three of us.” Now, I wasn’t a complete idiot; I asked if there was anything I needed to know before it became “the three of us.”
“Yari is from a different cultural background. Yari says that’s a problem for some people.” I laughed. Hey, I was the guy who advertised for “no Nazis.” Images of a multicolored threesome right from the pages of a men’s magazine were now dancing four inches in front of my face. I told her that if she thought Yari belonged with us, I couldn’t imagine it being anything but perfect. After all, nothing happens by accident. I reached to put my arm around her (and maybe fall backwards together?) as she was popping up to bound out the door. Once again, like the bar of soap in the shower, she was hard to grab.
“Yari” (no apparent last name) looked like he was a Rasta-man from Jamaica, but his accent was nowhere near Jamaican. I assumed he was Ethiopian or something like that. If there is any good part to the story, it is that Yari and I didn’t “fall in love” with each other. He showed me about as much interest as he would a cockroach, which didn’t exactly break my heart. Dorothy, on the other hand, was a different matter altogether. The sparkling look of fascination that I never saw in Dorothy’s eyes for me was now there for Yari. He was her new guru. I first tried to believe it was going to be a teacher-chela relationship, but when she carried his wicker suitcase to her bedroom, I very casually locked myself in my bathroom and threw up for 20 minutes.
When I came out they were wearing different clothes and were walking out the front door together. Yari had already assumed his standard position when walking with Dorothy, where he followed close by her side, continually patting her buttocks as if the contact between his hand and her behind were part of some life support system ... for somebody or other. I mean, he did that all the time.
Or so it seemed.
So we became one big happy family. Yari was the new master of ceremonies for things cosmic. The trappings were different, but the theme was the same. Another week, another chapter in “Can You Top This?” A lot of the time, Yari wanted to give lectures to his new disciples. He would prop himself up on cushions on the couch, and Dorothy and I would listen intently nearby. Dorothy would watch him with rapt attention and blatant adoration. I would watch him with disbelief. Disbelief in Yari, disbelief in everything he was saying, and especially disbelief that Dorothy was going to throw her perfect body away on this escapee from a commercial advertisement for Zig Zag rolling papers. He didn’t work. He didn’t even do dishes or wash clothes. I was hoping that if I toughed it out long enough without antagonizing Dorothy, Yari would wander out in the traffic one day and have an out-of-body experience. I couldn’t shake this sense that if I stuck by Dorothy long enough, she’d come around.
So we were a family. You bet. After a fashion, Yari’s monologues got repetitious, and I think they bored even him. So we started watching television together. This is when I started catching on that things were more screwed up than I had suspected. The week that The Exorcist was on, Yari became an expert on demons and possession. This lasted about two weeks. The climax to this adventure was the cleansing with smoke and cranberry juice that Yari did on the third bedroom, which had apparently become a recreation room for some winged things with horns from the dark side. No problem.
We watched one of those ridiculous science fiction movies from the ’50s that were in black-and-white, and for the next three weeks, Yari was an expert on UFOs and space aliens ... with whom he’d had considerable contact. I’m not making this up; for the entire week after we watched The Bridge Over the River Kwai, that silly bastard was marching around the house whistling the stupid British marching song.
If I ever so much as hinted to Dorothy that I wasn’t completely enchanted with Yari, she’d go nutso and accuse me of everything from being jealous (moi?) to “not being willing to face the truth within, which Yari was here to teach.” After all, nothing happens by accident. Yari was here because I needed him. My spirit was calling out to him, and the universe provided him.
The woeful dearth of accidents in the universe was apparent, as Yari never did wander out in the traffic as I’d hoped.
Possibly one of the biggest moments of the “Yari Occupation” was when we were having a conversation about New Jersey, and for some reason Yari had to pipe up like he’s an expert on New Jersey. On this one occasion, I was too tired to be polite, and I challenged his knowledge on New Jersey.
“Mon, you must be to knowing, I was borned and weaned in New Jersey.” So I told him I thought he was Ethiopian, and he tells me he’s an American. So I ask him about the accent, and he said he got it “traveling.” It gets better. He couldn’t speak any languages other than English, but he had this accent that sounded like he could have been a cab driver in Washington, D.C.
And to Dorothy, this made perfect sense.
“Mon, you must be to understand, I have been to the peaks of wisdom, and I speak with the accent of those who live there.”
I’m not making this up.
So I sold the house. I took a bath on it. I lost everything I put down, and I didn’t care. The week it went up on the market, Yari and Dorothy moved out without saying goodbye. They didn’t have to. Dorothy, who previously manifested nothing in her eyes for me, started to show unabashed contempt. I was rejecting her Christ and was therefore damned and unclean. All my efforts to become what she wanted were a total failure.
Maybe not a total failure.
I learned I can hold a mouthful of water for 90 minutes without swallowing.
— M.R. Shevock, San Diego
WORLD OF ILLUSION
I met Pauline in 1986 in a club on a Navy base in Coronado. We hung out that evening together and had a great time. We realized we had much in common. She was a manager of a women’s clothing store, and I was about to get out of the Navy. She was 23 and I was 19.
We decided to spend Saturday in Tijuana. I picked her up and we went to Mexico. We drank, ate hot dogs with bacon, took pictures, and flirted with cute guys.
From then on, Pauline and I were friends. We double-dated, hung out at the beach, and danced in nightclubs from the Red Onion to Maxi’s.
Then in April 1990, my younger brother Robert had flown from the Midwest to spend the summer with me. A month later, my roommate moved, leaving me stranded with bills. So I found a roommate named Chris. He turned out to be a flake and moved out, leaving me and my brother with no money. I called Pauline (who was in the process of looking for a new job and a roommate to help with her bills). Robert and I decided to move in with Pauline.
I’d been wanting to show my brother a good time in California, but Pauline insisted on going everywhere we went. June 1990, I was laid off from my job. It went downhill from there. It was a constant struggle to pay rent and bills and feed my brother and myself. Pauline still hadn’t found work and had no money. Robert and I spent days walking downtown going from high-rise to high-rise handing out my resume. I was fresh out of paralegal school and was not getting any calls to interview. Then, my brother flew home in August. I found a job in October as secretary for an executive suite firm. Knowing I had a paycheck coming in two weeks put me on top of the world.
Then, on Monday, October 8, Pauline did not come home. I was worried. Pauline never stayed out all night. Next morning, I left a note for Pauline asking her to call me. About 9:30 a.m. I got a phone call from a police officer asking if I was Pauline’s roommate. I was scared something had happened to her. He asked, “When was the last time you saw Pauline?” How long had I lived with Pauline? How long had I known Pauline? I answered his questions and then asked what had happened. He said, “Were you aware Pauline was arrested for grand theft of $80,000 yesterday?” I was in shock, and then he hung up the phone.
I regained composure, then called the Las Colinas jail to see when I could visit. They did not have “Pauline Patterson” in the computer. I explained about the phone call from the police. After a while on the phone, she said, “I see what has happened. Pauline is in the men’s jail downtown.” I said, “Why?” She said, “When Pauline was arrested, she was brought here first. We did the normal procedures and found that Pauline had ‘men parts.’ ”
I said there must be some horrible mistake, we must be talking about different Paulines. I said I was Pauline’s roommate and friend for four years. She said, “No, I’m afraid there is no mistake. Paul Jarvis Patterson was arrested yesterday in a bank in Poway for grand larceny.” She told me she was sorry to break the news to me. She said Pauline was in the “transvestites/ homosexuals” cell downtown in the men’s jail.
I ran home that night and packed my stuff. While packing, I found several of Pauline’s private documents and photos of her when she was a child. In one photo, Pauline was a little boy on a swing set. Then in another photo, Pauline is smiling and playing in the Florida sand with little girls.
In a notebook on the kitchen table, Pauline had written out exactly what she was going to do with every bit of the stolen $80,000. She’d written down a Cutlass Supreme (her dream car), pay our rent and bills, and then she wrote my name and in parentheses had written “divide all money left with my best friend.” I cried. Then I found some documents from a doctor with whom Pauline had begun processing paperwork for a sex-change operation. Some of the money was going to pay for this. I found her birth papers. Come to find out, she was only 19 when I had met her. Also, she had told everyone we had ever met that she had gone to college in Italy. Pauline could talk with anyone and carry on a conversation that would convince you she must have a Ph.D. I can remember at least a dozen times when people we met would say, “Pauline is so worldly and smart. She can talk about any subject and know what she is talking about.”
At first I was scared, then shocked, then mad, then hurt. Then I felt these feelings again, several times. The few times that I have told this story, the response is the same. Everyone always says, “You mean you couldn’t tell she was a man? Didn’t you ever see her naked since you were roommates?”
I do not know what happened to Pauline or where she is. The bank dropped the charges and she’s not in jail. Possibly she went back to Florida, where her family was from. I hope Pauline has found her true identity and is able to live as she wants to live, without having to hide it from the ones around her.
LONE STAR RULES
I’ve been a renter since I left Texas. My name is on the lease wherever I live. My name is Frank Stans, and you could look it up. All the Stans people like a lot of room, and I’m no different. So I get a big place, big by these damned California standards, and of course I’ve got to have roommates. I’ve had five of ’em in three years. Not a damned one knew how to behave. Not one from five knew his ass from some other.... Well, I don’t want to be bitter. As soon as I can, I’m leaving this wimped-out town.
My first roommate had a genuine hangup about the kitchen. You could probably write a story about his mother, a story full of B.S. based on Freud. I’m a primate — I eat when I’m hungry, and so did all my ancestors. If they didn’t, they died. No wimp is gonna make me dead. Nobody can tell me not to eat this or that, just ’cause I didn’t deliver it. Hell, if he ate my refritos, I wouldn’t squawk. The son-of-a-bitch pitched a Fit nearly every week. If we aren’t here to keep each other alive, then we shouldn’t be here. Well, he sure ain’t here anymore. Good thing he moved out or I’d have eaten his picayune ass and spit it out.
Next, I was treated to a cotenant (that’s what the bookworm dipshit said we were — imagine that!) who must have had something wrong with his ears. He couldn’t stand anything but silence. Homo sapiens, I say, ain’t bred for silence. We’re a noisy lot, but I guess there will always be some freaks. Ted from Encinitas was a freak. Ted, if you read this, kill yourself. This jerk screamed when I listened to talk radio. He whined when I turned on Letterman, and he pouted when I put on KSON. Like I said, I need a lot of room, so there was no point in playing the stuff soft — I needed to hear it no matter what room I was in. Ted from Encinitas likes quiet. Where I hope he is now, maybe he’s got it. If you see him, tell him to shut up. That’s his favorite phrase.
In a lot of ways, he was like the next jerk. Where do I find these guys? I thought, him bein’ from Idaho, and white, and born in this country and all, he would speak English. But he must not have liked the sound of it, ’cause he never had anything to say. Look, folks, am I so strange? When I got somethin’ on my mind, I share it. Y’all must understand, you’re readin’ this literary rag, right? My dipshit roommate, Norman the Mormon (though he wasn’t, who could tell?) never had nothin’ to say. And, he said, he moved out — after only six weeks, can you believe it? — because I talk too much. Look, if you’ve got somethin’ to say, say it. Now. That’s the way inspiration works; it don’t wait around. If you don’t want to talk to me, you can suck eggs, you can drop dead. Do you catch my meaning? Norman, who paid his rent, never knew what I was talkin’ about. What a shithead.
The next guy — Jesus, why does this happen to me? — the next guy had the soul of a clerk, for sure. Schedules, and calendars, and due-dates, and time, and toe-the-line; that’s the kind of stuff he liked to worry about. If my rent is late, the world ain’t gonna stop. Landlords ain’t the Mafia, are they? I was in a hole; money was tight. So one month, he paid the whole thing. Who asked him to? A lot of you folks are carryin’ around too much guilt or too much damned-fool fear. Don’t be afraid of the property owners. They’re not better armed than we are. That’s what I told this dude — I showed him my grandaddy’s rifle. It’s a Sharps 50, a pain in the neck to use, but it looks fine.
After the next month, when I figured since we were paid up-to-date, I didn’t need to sweat the small shit, he went ballistic. “Where’s your rent? Where’s last month’s?” I don’t need that. He paid again, and I threw his ass out. Nobody yells at me about money. I’m a stand-up guy, and I nearly knocked him down. But instead, he left. Some folks never learn to carry their own weight.
Back in Texas, we learn to sit in our own shit. Now that may sound gross. But this is what it means. If it’s your fault, you gotta pay for it. Makes sense, right? My last roommate never got the concept. When he moved in, he brought a bunch of delicate crap with him. Lamps, crystals, pansy-assed glasses with long skinny stems, even a table with a glass top. He brought it in. Its presence, if you don’t mind, was his fault. I ain’t gonna change my patterns for some bunch of fancy furnishings. Can you believe it? That’s what he called the stuff in the lawsuit: “furnishings.” To hell with him, and his lawyer, if he really has one. I doubt it. The stuff that broke was not worth havin’, and I’m sure this great country of ours won’t support his damned-fool claims. I did not, repeat not, intend any damage. And I never will again share my home with such an ass.
So. That’s my story. If you must count every slice of bread, if you can’t stand a little conversation or some background music, if the day of the year is more important to you than the case of beer, or if you love shiny little friggin’ things more than human life, then leave me the hell alone. I don’t want to be your roommate either.
— Barrett F. Green, Ocean Beach
A QUESTION OF VALUES
A handful of years back, I had what I thought was a great roommate, an absolutely ideal one, at that. We got on splendidly. Our devotion to Paul Weller and his various bands was unequaled. We both also had a tremendous weakness for northern soul and jazz.
Our tastes in most everything was so similar that the upstarts around town found the whole thing unsettling, at times. Perry and I firmly believed in the power of sharp suits and that all the secrets of the universe were to be found in a pretty girl in white stockings. Very similar, to say the least.
Everything was great until that autumn day when Perry came home holding, rather firmly, a Pearl Jam compact disc. I thought he was kidding, but, and after all this time, this still brings me a chill of sadness, he wasn’t, he was not kidding. He avoided eye contact and quickly dashed off to his room. The walls were thin, as walls in modest dwellings often are, and soon the living room became filled with the most dreadful noise; as soon as my fallen mate sang out “Evenflow,” I left in a state of disbelief, of shock. I didn’t return until late that night, a few pints in me, and not much more.
After that day everything changed. He sold all his records. We drifted apart. I made a point of not being around too much, except when I knew Perry would not be around, nor his new batch of friends. On one such night I made plans to have a young lady over for an evening of my rarest grooves, blue gin tonics, and perhaps a bit of romance. We, that is, the young lady and I arrived at my place around 10:30 p.m. My mood was great; not only was I looking forward to Chelsea’s very charming company, but earlier that day I had bought a slew of rather rare soul sides. As I opened the door, much to my dismay, I saw a couple of Perry’s friends on the floor, mumbling. I confronted Perry with an angry tone, demanding an explanation. All he was able to slur was, “Sorry, dude, shit happens.”
I quickly took the hand of my date and walked swiftly toward the door; a fellow in rather large, slightly wet jeans offered me a “hit.” I avoided stepping on his outstretched hands and closed the door with considerable force.
Shortly thereafter Perry moved out, and I moved back home. In my room hangs an autographed poster of Paul Weller. I don’t think this would mean much to Perry; last I heard he became a roadie for the band Smashing Pumpkins.
Damn it, Perry, I would have paid good money for those suits that you gave away.
— Alfred Huete, Spring Valley
It was supposed to be a money-making project. It was supposed to be company for me while my family was overseas. It was supposed to be a friendly hand reaching out to unite the nations. Instead, it was almost an international incident!
It seemed such a good idea at the time. Back in 1985, I lived in picturesque, rural Stratford-on-Avon, England, the home of Shakespeare, the land of the Cotswolds, a mecca for tourists and scholars. Every year the local School of English Language would have students from other countries spend the summer in Stratford to learn English. The idea was that they roomed with local families to learn about English life firsthand. The families received a fee in return for room, breakfast, and dinner. I was only working part-time, so we thought it would be a good way to earn some extra cash.
I did not hear from the school for a long time, and when I did, I should have paid more attention to the alarm bells ringing in my head. “Although school has technically started,” the “den mother”-type placement advisor said, “this student was not happy where he was originally placed. He is 25 and a pilot in the Kuwait Air Force.”
My brother had been in the British Royal Air Force, so I thought I could at least show the visitor pictures, if he couldn’t speak English. “No,” the lady assured me, “I understand that the Kuwait government insists their people speak perfect English before they are allowed to take the trip.”
Now, Royal Air Force pilots are generally handsome, dapper, and not a little flirtatious, so I was really looking forward to my visitor. The man that appeared at my door that cold October Saturday was not at all what I had imagined. He was 4 feet, 8 inches; he had on so many coats, he looked 150 pounds, but when he took them off, he was actually about 110! He told me he had suffered a wasting disease when he was a child. He had dark, close-cropped hair, and black eyes. He had an almost translucent complexion, but his dark hair covered all of his face, his hands, and his very prominent ears. He walked with a strange, swinging gait, as if both legs were artificial or certainly had been severely weakened. I was to learn later that he walked as little as possible and would drag himself across the floor on his knees, much to the amusement of my two-year-old!
The visitor was, at first, very polite. He said I would find his name unpronounceable, so I should call him “Hamet.” I showed him to his room and asked if there was anything special I needed to know about his diet. “I only eat salad or chicken,” he said, “and just a few other things.” Luckily, I worked at a food store, so I could buy the salad half-price. As those of you who have traveled to Britain will know, a traditional British salad consists of a lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato, with, maybe, a slice of cucumber — if you are lucky! Salads are normally served in Britain at the height of summer — often that is the only indication that it is summer! I had to purchase exotic vegetable mixtures that had exotic prices to match.
Hamet said that he did not eat beef or any pork products. I served chicken casserole for dinner, which he proceeded to wolf down with his mouth wide open! The salad was shoveled down at an alarming rate, and my plan to serve the remainder the next night was soon quashed. I tried to remember that people from other countries do not have the same table manners as we do, so I did my best to ignore the food dribbling out of his mouth onto the tablecloth. After he had eaten everything, he said, “I want more, more food!” I scrambled some eggs for him. Finally, he seemed satisfied and went to his room.
Ten minutes later, he came back to the kitchen and said he was cold. I explained that 35 degrees was quite usual in Britain at this time of year. I told him we had heating that kept the bedrooms at a constant 70. “I’m cold,” he said. I promised him I would find a portable heater for him. He then asked me if the chicken I had served was “hel-al.” I did not know what he meant and asked him to explain. What he described sounded similar to kosher, but when I suggested this might be what he wanted, I thought he was going to attack me! He ranted and screamed about “Jewish dogs! I spit on them!” and “I would cut out my tongue before I would foul my mouth with their filthy food!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’ll phone around tomorrow and see if I can find any.” He seemed happy with that.
Well, Stratford is a very small, middle-class English town. Britain is not known for its religious tolerance, so I bet my last penny that I would not find a specialist butcher in the close vicinity. The nearest butcher was 50 miles away. I broke the news to Hamet as he gulped down four portions of salad. “Good,” he says, “you will get it tomorrow, and I will show you how to cook it.” I had no car, so I said, “If you want it, I’m afraid you will have to get it.” He reluctantly agreed.
He spent all the next day looking for the shop. When he returned, he had spent the equivalent of $35 on six chicken breasts! The method of cooking was to boil the chicken in water to which had been added a few herbs. I have to say, the meat looked as gray as it tasted! He would not allow me to freeze the leftovers, so he ate it for three days running. As I served the last of the meat, I said, “You will have to buy some more meat tomorrow.”
“No! You will buy here. I will say a prayer over it, and I will suffer the way you cook it!”
By the end of the second week, I was a wreck! All the money I had received was going on food. My electricity bill was going to be enormous; he had the portable heater on day and night. He only spoke to me to give me orders. He expected his sheets changed every day and would complain how dirty my carpets were.
The final straw came when I had a phone call from his embassy. It was a message for him to call back later. I called the school, and they said they would pass the message on to him. When he arrived home, he screamed at me that I should have come to the school, found his classroom, and given him the message personally, instead of allowing “low secretary people to hear my private business.”
I totally lost it! What did he think I was — a front desk clerk? I told him if he wanted that type of service, he should check in to the nearest hotel. I was doing him a service by allowing him to join my family in our home, and he was treating me like a slave.
Well, as this was the second place he had been kicked out of, he started to apologize. He said he only had a few more days, then they were going up to Scotland. I refused to let him back in the house and said I would have all his things brought to the school. Then he started to accuse me of disliking him for his religious beliefs. I said he could worship pink elephants as long as he didn’t treat me like a piece of dirt! I never did hear what happened to him. The Scots probably left him out as bait for the Loch Ness Monster!
— Vivien Parry, Encinitas
Sara was in my brother Mike’s class, two years behind me at San Diego State. My impression of her then was of a sweet, nondescript girl, clever in the English class we had together but unremarkable in every other way. She and Mike shared an interest in photography and took a few classes together.
I graduated in 1981. After living at my parents’ in La Mesa for 18 years and with a parade of roommates for 5 years of college, my first priority was finding a place of my own. I lucked into a sunny one-bedroom apartment on Nautilus Street in La Jolla that seemed like paradise. Best of all, I was alone.
But only when I chose to be. Those were carefree times; herpes wouldn’t make the cover of Time magazine for another two years, and no one had even heard of AIDS. There were three women from college I still dated. There were two more from the office where I worked, and one old high school flame that flared intermittently. There were quite a few very short-term romances. I was tan and fit, gorged with my youth, in love with women.
Then one evening in late August 1982 Sara stopped by unannounced. I hadn’t seen her in over a year, but I knew the story from my brother Mike: Sara had gotten pregnant last fall. The guy offered to pay for an abortion, but when she refused to have one, he took off. Her parents in Denver, who were paying her tuition and living expenses at SDSU, refused to help with the pregnancy. She finished the school year and moved into a home for unwed mothers somewhere downtown. She had a baby boy and put him up for adoption. My knowledge of the story left off there, three months earlier, when Mike had left for grad school in San Luis Obispo.
Turned out Sara was getting kicked out of the unwed mothers’ house and had a three-week gap before she could move into a new place with friends near SDSU. She wanted to stay with me. I tried to talk her out of it, but she started crying and swore she wouldn’t be any problem. I warned her I led a pretty active nightlife and I wouldn’t change that just because she was around. She said she understood. My good nature got the better of me and I relented.
Sara spent her days down at Windansea, sunbathing and shooting photos, and her evenings cooking me dinner. It was great for a few days. But then I went to happy hour after work and didn’t get back home until 11 p.m. Sara was sitting on the couch, arms folded, staring at the TV. I asked what was wrong. She exploded, shouting that she had cooked dinner for me, and I hadn’t even had the decency to call and say I wasn’t coming home. She threw a pillow at me and ran crying into the bathroom.
The next day was Friday. Sara was still asleep on the couch when I left for work, so we didn’t talk. I went out that night straight from work and decided, things being what they were, that it was better for my date and me to spend the night at her place. I ended up not coming home until late Saturday morning. Sara seemed fine.
The next week, after a few more home-cooked meals, I went to the Elephant Bar in La Jolla after work and ran into Elaine, a girl I’d had a big crush on in high school but had never gotten to know. We really connected that night. I called Sara from the bar and explained the situation to her. Any way she could go see a late movie and not come back until Elaine and I were safely in the bedroom for the night? Sara said okay but she sounded pissed.
After a romantic candlelit lovemaking session, I explained the Sara situation to Elaine. She was cool with it. She even sat and talked to Sara for a while the next morning before she left. Sara acted sullen the whole day. I thought, screw it, it’s only for another week and a half. I was mad that I had let myself be talked into this.
That night I came out of the bathroom (which Sara had converted into a darkroom) after getting ready for bed and found her sitting on my bed. “Don’t you find me attractive?” she asked.
“Sure I do,” I said, a sudden sense of dread coming over me.
“Well, we’ve been living together for 12 days and you’ve never even made a move,” she said, coming up to me and putting her arms around me. I explained that I respected what she must have been through with the baby and all, and I didn’t want to take advantage of her at a vulnerable time. Tears trickled down her cheeks. She said she needed reassurance that she was still attractive. She made the moves that night, but I didn’t resist. Of course, I was sorry the instant it was over. She assured me, though, that she didn’t expect anything more.
Except to move from the couch into my bed. We slept together a couple more times. Then one afternoon after I got home from work she started talking about how we would manage to see each other once she started back to school. I told her we wouldn’t be seeing each other once she moved out. She got upset. I said the whole thing had been a mistake and that I felt really manipulated. She started screaming at me and throwing things. I snapped and starting screaming back. I was going out, I shouted, and when I got back that night I wanted her gone.
When I returned around 10 p.m., my cottage was in shambles. All the dishes were smashed on the kitchen floor, and the sheets from the bed were lying in the bathtub. They had been set on fire. The couple who lived next door said they had heard screaming and things breaking all evening. I was furious, but at least Sara and her things were gone.
Two days later I returned from work to find my front window broken and every tree on the block stapled with eight-by-ten black-and-white glossy photos. Across the front of each in black Magic Marker was scrawled, “John Worden is a Whore!” The image was murky, but I could see it was a photo — shot through a slit in the curtains of my bedroom window — of me and Elaine making love by candlelight. As long as I lived on Nautilus Street, I never quite lived down that little episode.
A couple of weeks later I mentioned Sara’s wacked-out behavior to my brother Mike over the phone. He must have felt guilty, because he admitted to me he was the guy who had gotten her pregnant. I quit talking to Mike for a few years after that. I heard Sara dropped out of school and returned to Denver.
— John Worden South, Mission Beach