1. Rent below $600 a month,
2. Private bathroom,
3. I wanted to stay in the general area of where I was currently living,
4. A relatively normal roommate,
5. A gut feeling I wouldn’t hate living there.
After seeing a few really scary places, I found a listing for a room at $595, in an ideal location. It was technically a basement room, but it was at the front of the house and had big windows that let in lots of light. The private bathroom was across the hall, next to the laundry room. The rest of the basement was a movie room that I was told was only used 2-3 times a year.
So far, so perfect.
The rest of the house was bright and airy and clean. The kitchen was large and recently remodeled, with a huge deck complete with table and chairs.
Criteria 1, 2 and 3? Check, check and check.
The guy who owned the house, “Bob”, would be my roommate and he seemed pleasant and normal enough. After he showed me around we talked for more than an hour about all kinds of things, and he made it clear that he wanted me to feel welcome in all parts of the house.
Criteria 4 and 5? I’m gonna go with “Yes”.
That weekend I went back to sign the lease, and brought Chris with me. Bob was again welcoming and gregarious… Very gregarious actually. I started to realize that this guy was a talker. And, as he and Chris got into a discussion about internet security (Chris’s area of professional expertise and Bob’s area of self decided expertise), I realized he was also a bit of a know-it-all.
But no one’s perfect, right? So I signed the lease feeling confident that this was going to be a good place to live.
Things started out fine. As they usually do.
In those first few weeks Bob would drop by my room frequently to “see how it was going”, or he would strike up (boring) conversations as I waited for Chris to pick me up on date nights. I quickly realized that my part of those conversations was to say things like “Hmmm!” or “oh wow” or “Really? I had no idea.” It was all fine, but heading down the road to over-familiar. Because while I wanted to be friendly with my new roommate, I did not want to be friends.
And not just because its fun to be bitchy.
I have plenty of friends. And a very busy life. I don’t need to have social obligations when I was home. So I quickly started drawing boundaries to make sure bad habits didn’t start. Fortunately the set up of the house was such that I could go straight from the front door down to my room. In the first few weeks, Bob would yell a greeting of “Hey!” from the living room as he heard the front door open, but when I only ever echoed his greeting without expanding on it, he eventually stopped.
Occasionally I’d find myself with a night free, and I would usually use it to cook myself a nice dinner. Inevitably I would run into Bob while in the kitchen (it was becoming clear that he spent a LOT of time at home), and he would always begin the interaction with something like “WOW! Look at you! Actually using the kitchen!” or “Oh my god! You’re out of your room!”
Yeah… I really prefer that if we’re going to have sarcasm, that it’s coming from me, not directed at me. That’s just childish.
Chris actually had a theory that Bob had roommates as much as a source of social interaction as for income. To which my response was something to the effect of “Too bad, so sad. He’ll get my rent, but he’ll never get my social attention!”
But I started to feel like Bob was paying too much attention to my comings and goings, and was starting to resent me for how little time I spent with him.
I don’t need that kind of emotional guilt at home, that’s what my friends are for.
Anyway, I started to develop a vague feeling of dread anytime I thought about cooking.
The kitchen rules didn’t help.
I had to immediately wash, dry and put away any dishes or pans I used. There was actually a clause in the lease (which I didn’t notice until after I’d signed it and moved in…who actually reads those things anyway?) that said he could charge tenants $60 a month if they didn’t follow house rules, or didn’t contribute to keeping the house clean. I was not going to get a $60 slap on the wrist for a dinner plate and fork left in the sink…But since there was no drying rack and only one tiny sponge, doing the dishes was a bigger pain in the ass than I it needs to be. It should be noted too, that there WAS a dishwasher, but it was apparently just there to taunt me.
And when I did overcome my negative feelings about the kitchen, and endeavor to cook something, there was still the issue that no matter what time of day it was, Bob would appear to offer his commentary.
Him: What are you up to tonight?”
Me: My boyfriend and I are going to an outdoor concert at [local venue].
Him: Oh cool, I’ve never been there before. Its gonna rain though.
Me: We have tarps and ponchos and umbrellas.
Him: You can’t use umbrellas there.
Me: Actually you can.
Him: No…. I don’t think so (little laugh at how silly I am)
Me: (instead of reminding him that he’s NEVER BEEN THERE, I focus on the cookies I’m baking.)
Him: Are those cookies for tonight?
Him: you’re only making a half-dozen? That’s not enough.
Me: It’s just the two of us.
Him: that’s not enough for 1 person! You have to make more.
Me: Well we have a lot of other food (I’m very careful to look anywhere other than his gigantic stomach which juts directly out from his body like an undeveloped conjoined twin)
Him: Still. You’ll need more cookies!
Me: Just because we COULD eat more cookies, doesn’t mean we SHOULD eat more cookies.
Him: (self-conscious laughter).
Is it too much to ask to not have to be hassled or told what to do when I’m at home? That’s what work is for.
But I wasn’t ready to give up just yet. I still kept a little bit of food in the kitchen – mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, that I would eat when he wasn’t around, having turned avoiding him into something of a hobby.
But then a “Paper Only” label appeared on the lid of the kitchen garbage can.
I assumed this meant no food in the garbage, which seemed weird because…what else do you put in the kitchen garbage? But fine, whatever. I started throwing my organic waste in the disposal, assuming that was what he had in mind as the alternative.
Except his disposal sucked.
I started experiencing increasing high levels of anxiety anytime I did anything in the kitchen. On the rare occasions when he wasn’t home, sometimes I’d dash into the kitchen and try to whip up a vegetable omelet or something, but the anxiety surrounding what to do with the organic waste cost me precious minutes. I would do this dance between the sink and the garbage as I debated which was the less likely discoverable/fine-able offense: putting food in the garbage, or gunking up the shitty disposal?
Finally I just decided to stop cooking entirely and rely only on frozen meals from Trader’s Joe’s. I confidently assumed that “Paper Only” allowed for cardboard containers and cellophane wrappers.
Then one day he came home while I was heating up a frozen vegetable lasagna in the microwave. He propped himself against the counter and started holding forth on some topic or other. As I took the lasagna out of the microwave and took the plastic wrapper off, he jumped up and said “Here -” and then pulled a grocery bag from beneath the sink and held it out for me.
Confused, I just looked at him with the wrapper in one hand, my other hand cupped under it to catch the drops of condensation.
“You can throw that in here, and so when you’re done, you can also throw the container in here too,” he said, as if this were the most obvious and normal thing in the world.
“Okay….” I said as I put the wrapper in the bag and turned back to my food.
“I’m the one who put the Paper Only sign on the garbage,” he said with a chuckle.
“I’d assumed as much,” I said with a half-smile as I sat down at the counter realizing my quick and peaceful meal was history.
“Yeah, I just prefer not to have any kind of food go in the garbage. It’s just easier this way.”
I shoved a forkful of lasagna into my mouth so I don’t ask “Easier than what? And what do you do with the shopping bag full of food containers?”
The problem, I realized, is that this is a man who doesn’t cook. As far as I could see the only food he consumed came directly out of either a cardboard box or a paper bag.
“This way you can just take the bag out to the outside garbage when you’re done. It’s just easier,” he said, as if reading my mind.
Again I swallowed my question: “Easier for whom exactly?”
To take the garbage out to the cans requires this bagging up of the offending item, then unlocking the door to the deck, which stuck and was actually really, really hard to turn. Then the sliding screen door was falling off the track and it was a contortionists’ trick to open it and get out without it falling off. Then I’d have to walk across the deck, down the stairs, across the patio to the garbage can, then reverse it all. We’re talking an extra 10 minutes minumum to my “quick” lunch.
This was my breaking point.
I started to wonder if he was just going to keep making up rules to make my life harder to punish me for not wanting to watch TV with him.
As a result my hobby now focused on me having as small a footprint in that house as possible.
I started keeping peanut butter crackers and power bars in my room to sustain me in an emergency.
One day he saw me filling up my 16 oz. water bottle from the filter on the fridge – the second time I’d done that in four months – and he commented that he was about to replace the filter. The next week when he gave me my utilities bill, he had charged me $15 for “water filter”. So now when he’s not home, I sneak up to the kitchen and fill large bottles full of water so I can get my money’s worth, but make him think I never use the water filter. Which totally makes sense in my head.
In the mornings, sometimes I hear him getting ready to leave just as I’m getting ready to leave, so I stay in my room until I see his car pull away.
Every time I leave my room, even if just to go the bathroom across the hall, I check to see if his car is outside, because it’s always important to know the movements of your opponent. Sometimes if I knew he was just upstairs in the living room, I would make extra noise downstairs so he knew I was home and NOT coming upstairs.
Occasionally I can’t avoid buying food or bringing it into the house. Like the other day, I was sick and craving apples for some reason. So I bought a bag of pre-sliced apples (thinking it would avoid the whole organic waste disposal issue), and after I’d had my fill, I put them in the fridge, and then forgot about them and they went bad. I wanted to throw them away before he said anything (or fined me), so in the morning, I waited until he left, then ran up into the kitchen, got them out and then took them to work with me and threw them away in the garbage at work with a certain sense of satisfaction that I was avoiding his outside garbage system.
Its possible I’m operating less from a position of principal and more from an irrational position of childlike stubbornness…
But on the other hand, he misled me about criteria 4 and 5, so as far as I’m concerned, its game on.
To be continued…