Something about the third bedroom in our apartment was making people crazy. Well, not the general population, just anyone daring to sleep in there most nights.
Nate and I couldn’t figure it out…seemingly normal, upstanding individuals would move into this average-sized room just off the kitchen…and in 30-45 days, they would begin exhibiting odd behavior. A sudden predilection for underage girls. The need to masturbate outside the bathroom while I took a shower in the morning (oh yes). Binge eating. Cutlery hording. The new found conviction that ghosts not only existed, but held cosmic parties in our apartment.
We were concerned. There was no way we could afford our apartment in Bucktown without a third roommate. Nate was living off of financial aid and his barista job. A large portion of my income was earmarked for records, comics, and clothes. And so once again, after yet another member of our household moved out (with all of my dirty underwear, no less), we found ourselves placing an ad in the Reader (free Chicago hipster weekly).
We were familiar with the process. Half of the calls/emails we would receive would be entirely unlikely candidates for residence in Apartment 3-4F: middle aged loners (Ack! We were both 22 years old!), former inmates looking to move out of the halfway house, and the already severely mentally ill (they would email us long mission statements and diatribes filled with government conspiracies and dubious scientific theories). We would schedule interviews with anyone seeming remotely “cool” (an intangible quality somehow involving liberal politics, good taste in music, and vintage clothing). Half of the scheduled interviewees would never show up. This would leave five, maybe a maximum of seven, potential roommates.
The agenda almost always worked this way:
First, I would give the potential roommate a tour of the apartment. In a household of two cats and two bookish Belle and Sebastian superfans, I was the most gregarious resident. “This is the bathroom. You will have to share it with me. I painted the walls a color named ‘Fairydust.’ Isn’t that adorable?” and “Usually on Sunday nights we listen to all 69 Love Songs. And we watch 90210 on Thursday nights.” Oh, charming.
Then I would lead the either incredibly uncomfortable or ultra-enthusiastic individual up the spiral staircase to the living room. Nate and I would sit on folding chairs, facing the interviewee seated on the sofa. First we would ask questions we deemed “professional.” “So where do you work? Where do you live? Why are you leaving that place?” And then we would shift to the more important issues at hand. “What kind of music do you like? Do you go to a lot of shows? Are you in a band?”
This particular round of interviews left us with two options. The obvious front runner was Zach. He was in art school (score 15 points), he loved Nirvana, outer space, and Madlibs (score 55 points), and he seemed genuinely nice. Furthermore, he was appropriately shy and awkward. The second runner-up was a girl named Ashley (not her real name). Her story was complicated and confusing, but she was gregarious and funny. She worked at Pearl Paint (my eyes were filled with visions of discounted art supplies) and she dressed kind of like a 70s mom. She revealed far too much in our first conversation–gory tales of her eating disorder, shocking details about her family…nothing was held back. We decided this was charming.
But then Nate decided that we could not have a male roommate. “I just can’t deal with another guy getting all pervy and weird with you.” I had to agree with him. Even though I tended to wear at least 7 articles of clothing at any given time (this hasn’t changed) and I was far too geeky and unsexy to seduce anyone, somehow our male roommates DID develop weird creepy obsessions with me.
Nate was immune to my inexplicable charms. Furthermore, he was an amazing roommate. Sure, his side of the refrigerator was filled with strange meats purchased at the German butcher shop near his work. And he even had one of those George Foreman rotisseries. But other than that, he was a dream. He listened to my cry about boy problems–and then usually threatened some sort of implausible retaliatory violence. He was cool about changing the cat litter and emptying the dishwasher. And living with me wasn’t always easy. My frequent dangerous impulsiveness made it hard to be my friend sometimes. I would go out for coffee and return two days later, with stories about some serendipitous trip to Michigan with strangers. “Well, we started talking about sledding, and before I knew it, we were taking off in a rental car.” If I returned home from the bar, I was never alone. Weird drunken pseudo-writers. Boys with glasses. New insta–friends. And then I was always losing my keys and forgetting to mail the electric bill. Lastly, my tendency to play the same song no less than 20 times in a row had frayed the nerves of others in the past.
So when Nate said “No boys,” I had no choice but to respect his wishes. I sadly called Zach and said, “Sorry, we chose someone else. But will you be our friend? Can you come over and hang out?” And so, even after nine years and a cross-country move for both of us (he lives in Portland), he is still one of my favorite friends.
Ashley moved into our apartment a few days later. And after a few weeks of “we’re all new best friends,” suddenly the cursed third room got the best of her. The anecdotes we collected about her were numerous. Most stories started with “back when I was really anorexic and a size 2…no wait, a size 0….no wait, kid-sized with two thermals underneath…” She locked me out of my house, stole my personal possessions, tried to start fights between me and Nate, and I’m pretty sure she once tried to push me out of a moving taxi. Eventually she stopped leaving her bedroom. Her prescriptions of psychotropic meds came in huge economy-sized bottles that I thought were reserved for use in pharmacies and hospitals (think: 10000 tablets/bottle…seemingly gallon-sized). She ate a huge deep dish pizza (delivered) each day. She ran up a $500 phone bill…and then she disappeared one weekend. Don’t worry…she had been retrieved by her wealthy father. I guess it was time for her to return to her family’s mini-mansion in Highland Park.
So why I am I telling you this story? This particular roommate set in motion a chain of events that changed my life forever. Almost singlehandedly! If she hadn’t done one particular thing on one specific night, many aspects of my reality would be very different right now. And furthermore, if we had chosen Zach as a roommate, he and I would probably still be living together in Chicago…and somehow–at least, this is how I imagine it–we would both be fat and jolly.
I promise…I’ll explain the rest of the story to you tomorrow.