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  LIFE AS A LOSER #28: "LIVING IN SQUALOR... AND FEAR."  
   
   
 

 My junior year of college, I had a roommate named Ryan. He was a nice enough guy who worked with me at the Daily Illini. (Ryan was one heckuva newspaper designer in school, heís now one of the head designers for the Chicago Tribune, and heís only a year older than me; yep, Iíve wasted my life.) Ryan and I got along adequately, but we were both closer to our third roommate Mike than we were to each other. I actually lived with both of them the summer before my junior year, in one of those glorious sublets for those losers left behind in campustown in July, and we figured it would be a good test run for the upcoming year.

Well, since it wasnít really our apartment, and since we were going to be bolting in August anyway, I never felt particularly compelled to make certain our living arrangements were pristine. That is to say, I never cleaned the place, or even my own small segment of it, in the three months we lived there. When we moved out, I left before Ryan did and headed back to Mattoon for a couple of weeks of R&R before school started up again. We had no security deposit to answer to, so I didnít find it all that necessary to clean up any of the random shit lying around our apartment, namely three-week old pizzas, empty beer cans and some sort of substance around the ring of the toilet that resembled human hair, though I couldnít be sure.

Ryan was a neat freak - well, I call people like him ďneat freaksĒ; most people might refer to them as ďpeople who arenít goddamned slobsĒ - and he just couldnít stand leaving the apartment in such disarray. So he figured heíd tidy the place up a bit, assuming Iíd done somewhat of the same before I bolted. Wrong. Iíd left about 15 dirty, nasty-ass washclothes lying in the shower and various paraphernalia strewn across the kitchen floor. Iíd even failed to pick up some socks that were in the corner of my room.

Needless to say, Ryan was plenty pissed. I met some old friends in Mattoon and came home to a smirking father who spat, ďYouíve got a message on the machine.Ē It was Ryan, spewing forth a stream of profanities and basically saying that I was a disgusting waste of flesh, and that next time, I was peeling my own damn underwear off the wall. My memory has faded, but I think Ryanís charming signoff was ďAsshole.Ē It was that or ďPrick.Ē I donít remember exactly.

I was reminded of this episode recently because, for the first time in about a year and a half, I have a roommate. When I lived in Los Angeles, four of us shared a big-ass apartment meant for two people. I was lucky enough to have two close friends as fellow dwellers, and the third roommate was enough of an idiot that I didnít have to deal with him, so my inherent slob quality was taken as a personality eccentricity rather than grounds for an execution.

But when I moved to St. Louis, I was determined to live by myself. This wasnít because I didnít like my previous roommates; I just wanted to have the experience of being able to sit in my boxer shorts at 3 a.m., spill nachos on myself, read an Andy Rooney book and not have to answer to anyone. And I enjoyed it immensely; itís always nice when you have the freedom to, rather than get up and walk all the way over to the trash, just dump your ashtray on the carpet. I picked up about 75 percent of my current bad habits in St. Louis, and I loved them all. I didnít think it would be a big problem; I had no plans to have a roommate other than the cat in the near future, so why try to be clean? For that matter, why try any self-improvement at all if you donít have to?

Then came the unexpected move to New York. Initially, I had planned on living in the Times-supplied hotel right by the office for a month, during which time I would go through the hell of finding an apartment in this city. I knew it would be daunting, but I figured the month would be more than enough time to deal with sleazy brokers and the stench of paying $1200 for glorified closet space.

Then my friend Brian contacted me. Brian worked with me at The Sporting News. A sports nut like me, he became one of my best friends at TSN, mainly because we shared a healthy appreciation of the NBA Live PlayStation game and we saw the world in similar ways. (Donít worry about him; heís got all the good traits I donít have). When I had initially arrived at TSN, I knew nobody, and my friend Chris took me under her wing and introduced me to the social circle. Feeling I should do the same for new faces, I warmed to Brian immediately, even though, as he informed me in our first conversation, he didnít drink and was a devout Presbyterian.

And, of course, um, I do, and Iím not. (One of my favorite moments of my first week in New York was when Brianís parents were here helping him get set up and cooking us breakfast; I was halfway through mine before I realized that, oh yeah, weíre supposed to pray first. But Iím getting ahead of myself.)

Anyway, Brian quickly became one of my favorite people in the world, and when he told me heíd taken a job at Fox Sports in New York, I was deeply saddened to see him leave. But then after the Times finally called me, and after Brian had his first nasty broker experience in New York, he rang me up and introduced the possibility of us being roommates. The deal: he would find a place to live, Iíd sent him a check, and bam, Iíd have a place to live. No fuss. Having heard all the horror stories about finding an apartment here, I figured, yeah, Brian, go ahead and do all the dirty work. The check will be in the mail if and when you find a place. For that, I figured I could deal with having a roommate (and a TV) and not being able to smoke in the apartment.

Well, Brian found a place in Greenwich Village, I checked it out with New York friends, they said it was cool, and just like that, I was here. Neither of us had much time to worry too much about the particulars; we had a place, and we didnít have to pay a broker fee - non-New Yorkers: do you realize a broker fee is two monthís rent and non-refundable? God, I love Brian, and we were in New York. Mission accomplished. Now comes the hard part - preventing Brian from killing me as long as possible.

Donít get me wrong; Brian and I have been getting along fabulously so far, and weíve spent each Sunday since I got here watching the NFL playoffs and playing PlayStation, just hanging out. Iíve had a bit of a personal crisis of late, and Brian, as always, has been a valued confidante - even if his advice is usually, ďYouíre an idiot.Ē I think weíll have a lasting friendship. But when the honeymoon is over, when we settle into our lives here, those cute, weird little things that I became accustomed to when I was living by myself will start to become real annoying, real fast.

Brian appears to have done this roommate thing more recently than I have, or heís just far more organized than me (probably both) because thereís all this stuff I didnít know I was supposed to do. Like, whatís the deal with this whole bill-paying thing? I mean, I know you have to do it, but on time? Really? What if youíd rather go out to the bar? How important are lights, anyway?

OK, I exaggerate (a bit). But itís already obvious that the practical things that need to be done in an apartment are all being taken care of by Brian. He set up our voicemail, got all our utilities turned on and has written down all the bills that are due, letting me know when and how much to pay. He left me a note the other day saying we should get a dry-erase board for the refrigerator so we wouldnít need to use notebooks all the time. Good idea; I wouldnít have come up with it. He also left me a note telling me he had done the dishes; I didnít even know we had dishes.

Weíre fortunate so far that nothing has really gotten too dirty yet, but Iíll be honest with you: I didnít clean my toilet once when I lived in St. Louis. That seems like the type of thing that Brian might expect to be done once in a while. Itís not that I donít want to do it (though I donít); the problem is that I just never notice things like a dirty commode. I think a lot of it has to do with my lack of a sense of smell, which is also why Brian will probably get real annoyed by the litter box real quick.

Oh, and thereís my room. We have one of those railroad apartments where Brian has to walk through my room to get to his. That seems like something that would bother him more than it would bother me, but the problem is, nothing bothers me. Not dirt, not smell, not dust.

Most of my stuff has yet to arrive from St. Louis, so my room is basically random suitcases and unopened boxes all over the floor. I know Brian is the type of guy who would probably start putting stuff away, somewhere. Not me. Iím perfectly content to just let everything sit there, unorganized. No problem for me. But when you have to walk through an eyesore - and underwear lying everywhere - just to get to your room, I can imagine how a normally mild-mannered Presbyterian would veer toward a life of murderous fury.

Then there are the supplies normal people need to survive. When I was in St. Louis, I would never buy anything until a week or two after I ran out of it. I suspect that after a week or two of no toilet paper, Brian might start to protest. Itís possible.

Now that I have a TV, I have a bad habit of falling asleep on the couch watching some crappy movie on Cinemax or that pretentious guy on Inside the Actors Studio. Thatís fine when I live by myself, but itís Brianís couch, and I bet heíll start to get frustrated about my lame ass always taking it up when he gets up in the morning.

Nothing has gone wrong so far, not in the slightest. Weíre getting along great, hanging out, leaving each other roommate notes, getting adjusted to the city. But I know me, and I know Iím a goddamned slob with no idea how to take care of myself. Our saving grace might end up being our radically different schedules; Brian works during the day like a normal human, while I have that oh-so-attractive 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift.

That might be the only way to ultimately keep me alive. When I end up unwittingly but inevitably irking the otherwise ridiculously nice Brian to the point of homicidal rage, Iíll just hide until it blows over. Or maybe Iíll just try to become a better person, make myself cleaner, more considerate, careful and responsible.

OK, letís not get carried away. Itís easier to hide. In fact, I think I see a good spot under the bundle of dirty clothes in the kitchen ...

 

*BT*

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