Sunday, March 16, 2008


I’m not really sure how people wind up getting tricked into living with roommates. All through childhood, if you had to share a room with siblings, you fought, begged and prayed for the day when you could have a room of your own. And that, perhaps, is the fundamental human desire of all mankind – whether you live in a free capitalist nation or a Communist dictatorship.
But yet, after you’ve either suffered for your entire childhood with a shared room or fought your way to freedom, when you go to college you’re subjected to the indignity of a stranger sharing your space all over again. It seems that most women wind up becoming de facto sisters from the experience, forming a best-friend bonding that lasts until they are separated by the stinging gloom of death.
Guys, on the other hand, almost immediately hate who they’re forced to live with – regarding the person who encroaches on their space as an incredible asshole from the second they meet them. You’re lucky to survive freshman year together before splitting off and fleeing for private apartments far from campus.
The reason for this is that colleges usually force roommates upon you through the “potluck” system – meaning you get randomly assigned to someone whom you may not have the vaguest of connections with. I was assigned my freshman year to a guy named Matt Hunt, who despite being a seemingly functional, redblooded, 18-year-old American male, had never heard of a rock singer other than Billy Joel and drifted to sleep each night playing a loud, continuous loop of the song “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
That was weird enough having to hear that when I was alone. Imagine the embarrassment of having a girl stay over and hearing that.
That wasn’t the only special aspect of Matt’s life: He scheduled his classes to enable him to watch “Love Boat” reruns every morning (yes, on MY TV) and “Beauty and the Beast” series every Friday night (again, on MY TV). He also tried to constantly invent superheroes, and he’d do the research on them by, say, blindfolding himself and running through the dormitory hallways to see if a blind superhero was feasible.
He learned it wasn’t when he wound up falling down a flight of stairs and busting his arm in three places at 2 in the morning, when he thought no one would notice him running with the blindfold on. But it wasn’t until I saw him reading a book called “Murder Ink” – about the history of murder mysteries and which pointed out the mistakes of these novels but which also tried to teach its readers about the REAL way to kill someone with a hammer and hide the evidence that I decided a roommate transfer was in order.
I wound up spending my final three years stuck in a dorm room, living with a guy named Chris who was nice enough but who eventually turned into a Unabomber type of personality and decided to spend the rest of his life growing a beard and wandering the Appalachian Trail.
But things didn’t get any better when I moved out of college and into the big city of Chicago.
I've always had bad luck with roommates. I had three apartments in my first 5 months in L.A. - but I learned one thing: Never find a roommate through Craigslist ads. They should have a decoder box on roommate ads in Craigslist: If you see the phrase "cool laid back guy," it really means "Gay heroin addict." And if it's combined with the phrase "not home much," it means he's on the run from the law right now.
The worst roommate I ever had was a 55 year old guy named Jack who looked and talked like Dan Aykroyd. He watched reruns of "Cops" five times a day and had the drunkest, most white trash friends I've ever seen. I remember coming out of the house one day and Jack's outside with his buddies, ready to pass out from boozing, when heir apparent leader Mike asked me, "You like beer?" I said "Sure," figuring he'd offer me one. Instead, he seemed to have a whole other game plan. He replied, "Alright, I like you already. Come sit on my lap." Just then i realized I had to go somewhere - ANYWHERE - but I heard the buzz of a chainsaw coming from the front yard. I turned the corner to find another of Jack's buddies shoying off his tooth and getting ready to chop down the maple tree. I thought, "This is a true Old Milwaukee moment. It just doesn't get any better than this."
You'd think I'd learn from that but NO. I once wound up letting a killer crash on my couch. it was a guy named Bill who I got to know from working at Barnes & Noble because he was one of the people we called "regulars" - the weird street-living oddballs who were anything BUT regular.
Bill said he needed a place to crash before going to court for getting busted for drugs. I said, "Sure," in an apparent disconnection from reality and common sense. Maybe i thought i could have some of his stash (no, i don't use, just kidding). But then the next day, he said the judge told him he needed to come back in a week. Could he stay a few days? Again, figuring i'm still alive, I said "Sure."
We got along pretty friendly. To smooth things over with the landlady and guys down the hall, I told them that Bill was my mom’s cousin who needed a break for a week. That worked out nicely, until Bill wandered the outside halls a couple times without his shirt on – revealing giant prison tattoos that would terrify a gang leader. I then had the embarrassment of my landlady Sylvia going, “Well, you’ve certainly got a…”
And yet Bill and I were still friendly. So friendly, in fact, that Bill decided to tell me a secret while i was watching Leno's "Tonight Show" monologue. He tells me, "Hey since we're friends, I wanna tell you something. I killed a man."Like that's something I WANTED to know. How do you respond to THAT? "Oh, that's OK, so did I. It happens."? So he decides to explain in his gravelly voice, as I turned the volume down but kept staring directly at the television in sheer terror.
"Me and my old lady (yes, it was the first time I ever heard those words used outside of a movie) were staying in this cheap motel out in East Pasadena with another guy, just doing a meth binge, when the other guy wouldn't shut up. I mean, at all. So i told him if he said anything else, I'd punch him. He kept talking, so I hit him and BAM he went flying backwards, knocked his head against the TV that was attached to the wall (so you know this was a classy hotel) and fell forward, cracking his ribs against a dresser. We didn't know whether to leave since he passed out but we called 911. He was ok at first but he died a few days later and they got me on manslaughter."
Translated, that story from Bill meant: "I ain't ever leaving this couch because now you're scared for the rest of your life." I also immediately started making a mental inventory of where my knives were kept.
I also went on Craigslist to find a roommate with one condition: don't be a felon. I made clear the place was available IMMEDIATELY. I preferred living alone, because I'm over 30 and let's face it, when you're over 30 and have a roommate, your family thinks you're gay and everyone else KNOWS you're a loser.
So, someone told me about Allan and I told Bill a British guy named Allan was moving in and he'd have to go. Bill said "Yeah RIGHT. Youv'e got a British guy moving in here." So voila, Allan showed up, I showed Bill the door now that i knew I had a witness for protection, and I wound up having a British guy living with me for six months.
That wasn't so bad, if you're gonna have a roommate i even recommend having a Brit. At least you can tell chicks they're your butler. And in my case, since i don't drive, he was also my chauffeur.