As the oldest of six it's hard to imagine a length of time where I did not share a living space with someone. I grew up with my brothers, I lived with my mother when she went solo, I went to college and Job Corps and I've rented rooms just about everywhere.
In my twenty-seven years of living I'd say I've spent exactly one year and two months living completely alone. This counts the one year I lived in my own apartment and the month or so I spent motel hopping when I was down on my luck.
When you consider the rising cost of rent and how difficult it is to even see a movie without a clean credit check, I imagine I will be spending the rest of my life living with roommates. Even if through some miracle I wind up the owner of my own house I'll most likely rent out any rooms I have to defray costs.
I got along with a lot of the roommates I've had and others I couldn't wait to get out of my hair. Some got under my skin and I got under quite a few others so off the bat, no, I'm not perfect. Reading this may or may not make you a better roommate. It may or may not let you know what behaviors to watch out for in others and yourself. And if you're checking me out as a prospective roommate it may or may not turn you off to me when you find out some of the ways in which I got under their skin. I certainly hope not.
In college I was not the neatest person in the world. I never made my bed, I didn't vacuum as often as I should have and I blew all of my laundry money on Area 51 in the student lounge.
All in all not my proudest year. It drove my Japanese roommate nuts and I dare say it was one of the many reasons he wound up changing dorms.
Throughout the years I've improved somewhat. I do my laundry a bit more regularly now and I wash my dishes when I use them. But me and clutter are like the best of friends some days. It just doesn't bother me as much as it bothers some and unless it's a strictly enforced requirement I rarely ever pick up my room all that much.
That being said, if it's confined to my own room it doesn't usually bother the rest of my roommates, unless of course, my room also doubled as the laundry room as was the case with a house I lived at during my first few months living in Burlington, Vermont.
No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service
The shoes don't bother me so much as the shirt thing. Everyone's comfort level is different and lately I don't mind it so much.
During my recent stay at a Boston youth hostel it was hot as all hell and myself and a few others were stripped down to our boxers. All in all not a big deal and if it were permitted I think I would have gone streaking had their not been kids staying there as well, but I digress.
But when I rented a room at Alison Bryan's place in my hometown of Bennington, there was a roommate by the name of Russel, whom I will make special mention of shortly, who would strut his stuff in nothing but boxers, regardless of the weather outside.
It probably wasn't so much the boxers as it was Russel. He was the kind of bible-thumper you knew was hiding something and he had a very “hands on” approach to people. Very touchy feely.
So yeah, the shirtless thing was the icing on a big multi-layered cake of uncomfortable that I was forced to look at almost every night.
Some may consider it arrogant or heartless to lump children into the same category as pets. Let me explain myself.
As with pets there are really only two types of kid: low maintenance and high maintenance. At any time of the day if my actions directly effect the well being of the children, they fit into the latter category. I love kids. Many of the other hubs I've written should show you this. But working with them is such a huge difference from living with them.
When I moved to Burlington it took me a couple months of searching before I found a room in a house located in a small neighborhood.
My roommate “Sherry”, a widow with two kids who ran her own house cleaning business, was decent enough. The basement was my “room” and I paid six hundred dollars a month to live there. The only trouble is that the washer and dryer were downstairs and I had no lock on the door, which meant that at any time I could be sleeping or watching a movie, and someone would barge right in without knocking and do their laundry.
After the dish washing job at Coyote's Cafe went under I had to take a night shift position at the Hannaford's supermarket, which meant sleeping during the day.
Try sleeping in the day sometime when your roommate's boyfriend decides to “fix the door” to your room, which involves loud hammering at any given time. But even that wasn't as annoying as when her twelve year old son, Shaun, stood at the top of the stairs shouting to his friend outside.
Since the door to the garage was right next to the door to my room, this meant I had to try to sleep to the sound of, “Steve! Steven! Steven! Steven, get over here!”
I had never been as close to killing a kid as I was that afternoon when I needed to sleep.
I bought a web camera to use on Sherry's computer, since she allowed me to get on line I wanted to start doing a video blog of sorts, so I figured the kids could use the camera as well. Big mistake.
Shortly after I installed the camera I began seeing pictures that her son took of himself that would have certainly landed him a spot on Dateline if they had ever been posted on line.
Still, as annoying as this kid was, I would classify him as low maintenance because as much as he did get in my way, I was never required to assist with his upbringing.
Later that year I moved to a house on the other side of the city and rented a room with a woman named Jen and her “husband” Ryan. I say the word “husband” loosely because they weren't actually married, but they did have two kids of their own: a two and a three year old.
Again, the room I rented was in the basement. Although this was an improvement. The basement was almost a whole apartment in and of itself, with a bar, a refrigerator and sink. I didn't have a lock on my door but I had my own bedroom with a door that was completely separate from the rest of the place.
The noise wasn't what bothered me. I grew up with my brothers and we lived on the top floor apartment. As kids we weren't any louder than any other kids that age but the neighbors still gave us a hard time for it. Because of that I always vowed never to give other parents a hard time when their kids were just being kids.
Mind you, running around and playing is one thing. Standing outside my bedroom door and screaming, or using my web camera to take compromising photos of oneself is not.
While I lived at this new place I had another night shift job at Brooks Pharmacy. It was easier to get sleep in the day and because my room didn't get direct sunlight it was a lot cooler in the basement.
But usually when I got home the kids would be awake watching TV. Oliver, their three year-old son would run up to talk to me and here I was, tired and needing to go downstairs. And that little gate that's supposed to keep kids out did no good because he knew how to unlock it.
“Can I come down?” He asked.
“Sorry, buddy,” I said, looking downstairs. “There's paint stuff all over the floor downstairs and I don't want you to get hurt.”
“I'll be careful.”
“Well no buddy, I need to get some sleep,” I replied, trying not to sound frustrated.
Later in the week when I mentioned this to Ryan, he said, “Whenever you don't want the kids downstairs just make sure the safety gate is locked. Oliver doesn't know how to open that and-”
I drowned the rest of it out because of course Oliver could open the gate. Parents take note. When the guy you're renting a room to knows more about your kids than you do it's time to read a whole other hub.
Norman Bates was a better Landlord
Ah Russel. Dear Russel.
When I was renting a room at Alice Bryan's house all those years ago I had the good fortune of meeting God's faithful servant Russel.
Russel was always quick with a hug, ready to thump the Bible at a moment's notice, and always pointing out “signs of the devil”, and telling people what books to read and what CD's to avoid and who was going to heaven and hell.
You know who Russel and many other child molesters who “find the lord” remind me of? They remind me of the main character in a Washington Irving story about the guy who sold his soul to the devil to do well in the money lending business. In order to avoid having the devil collect his debt the man kept a Bible on him at all times and prayed loudly and fervently at church and in public.
Not to say that Russel sold his soul to Old Scratch but he may as well have. It started of subtly.
First he got fired from his job at Price Chopper, for what I later found out was a failure to disclose a conviction on his application.
Then a police officer came by the house one afternoon after Russel had given an interview in the Bennington Banner during his job at Dunkin Donuts. Russel wasn't there but he told us to “watch him around kids.”
As it happened I had this kid from work under my wing. His mother knew me and my family and she encouraged him to talk to me whenever he needed to vent to someone. Because I lived nearby I told him he could stop by the house anytime to chat. This was before I found out about Russel.
So, basically, I had invited a sixteen year-old into the house of a guy the police warned us about. Amazing.
A month or two later Russel started mumbling about “going your own way” and people “not giving him the time he needed”. His brother came by and they packed up his stuff and he turned himself in at the police station.
The next day the Bennington Banner, saints of Journalism let me tell you, practically put a map and marked it with an “X” telling the whole town where he lived. This town includes the parents of the kids at the chess club I used to go to. The one from Chess Club Stories.
It would have taken one parent to realize I lived at that same house and in a town like Bennington it's Death by Association. It was among the many reasons I stopped going to the chess club.
Leave Each Other Alone for God's Sake
So, barring a reference check and what's becoming a trendy background check, there are some major annoyances associated with roommates who think they need to be my mother/father/whatever.
Sherry had a very motherly streak about her. She gave me a mattress to replace my inflatable one when that popped, she was always quick to offer a ride to work and she even got me The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for X-mas which was one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone has ever given me.
Christopher and Mike were my best friends when we lived in the same house together.
But those were my good roommates. Russel aside there were some very annoying roommates and some of the most annoying things they did was to get into my hair.
Up front I am not the most sociable person in the world. When I've dealt with people, mainly customers all week, all I want to do is sit back, play video games, read and do whatever I can to get as far away from people as I am possibly capable.
At Jen and Ryan's house, Ryan had this tenancy to tell me when I needed to relax. Relaxing to him was jumping in the pool with all of his family members present and “enjoying myself” after working two jobs everyday for six weeks straight.
When Mike, the other roommate who moved in a few months later would get high in the basement, Ryan would come down in a drunken stupor and exhale large smoke clouds of pot, ensuring that I pretty much had to leave the room. (Not that I'm sure I wasn't getting high from Mike's second hand smoke, even though he was exhaling into a towel, but I don't want to get into that now)
Ryan, who had lost his driver's license because of DUI even argued with me loudly because I didn't want to get my license and I said it wasn't that big a deal.
Don't get me wrong. I want to get along well with my future roommates whomever they may be. But I don't need them up my ass.
So just remember that when you're looking for a place to live and your options remain with finding a person to share a space with, you are playing a game of craps. The odds are in your favor that you'll wind up sharing a space with an ex-con, not yet-conned, or about to be convicted felon. Or maybe you'll wind up being an unwitting baby/pet-sitter with all of the legal entanglements that come with being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But if you do find that one perfect roommate, the one whose your best friend as well as your landlord/tenant then hold on to that person. Judge all potential roommates by that standard, no matter how financially needy you may be.