I had dealt with a small handful of quirky roommates by the time I ambitiously signed away my privacy in a one month studio share. In the past, I always had the same roommate problems. One person would assume too much responsibility cleaning, and the other would, understandably, slack in that regard.
Confession: I was that roommate for a while. In college, I lived with my sister, a girl who seemed to truly relish in the responsibility and order derived from a long cleaning session. Who was I to deprive her of that? I seemed to just be living in an extension of my childhood home where I wasn’t expected to do a single chore, and it.was.glorious.
Then, the worst happened. My sister graduated, and I was left to fend for myself. The party came to one final soul destroying end. I sighed, dusted myself off, and picked up a sponge.
I had a roommate move in for my final year in college. Things were going swimmingly, until we had a couple of ant invasions in the kitchen of our condo. I became obsessed with doing the dishes, thinking I may as well stop feeding the damn things at the very least. My roommate wrongly assumed dishes were “my thing,” and she stopped doing her dishes altogether. Before long, every dish was complimented by some sort of sticky film, chunky leftover food, or excessive crumbs. I knew full well that I would eventually hit my breaking point, so I knew it was time to take action. So, in true passive-aggressive fashion, I vowed to insinuate that she was out of line.
My first attempt to fix the dish situation came in the form of a cold war. I stopped doing dishes altogether, and I assumed she would tire of the ever-increasing pile and take a sponge to the plastic. I was sorely mistaken, however, as it seemed I had underestimated just how long she was willing to live in crumby squalor. She carried on with her daily activities, seemingly unaware of the tower that was committed to leaving no hula girl printed cup behind. I, however, developed dirty dish-induced insomnia, as visions of crusted silverware danced in my head. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, the cold war thawed in less than a week. At that point, I broke down and started scrubbing.
As I tackled days-old crumbs, I realized a more proactive strategy was of the utmost necessity. I was going to make her feel my paranoia, adopt it as her own. I wasn’t territorial.
“We can’t neglect the dishes like that,” I explained. “We had a HUGE ant problem before. They were in all my food, had basically taken up residency in that cabinet,” I said. I continued on with some graphic imagery meant to disturb and alarm her, knowing full well a simple confrontation would have done the trick.
Again, I’m passive, let’s not fight it.
Miraculously, she understood the need for reform. People don’t change overnight, so she basically just started soaking her crummy dishes rather than leaving them defiantly piled high and dry. Still, I got a little shiver of accomplishment each time she rinsed out a pot and housed it in the dishwasher.
Jump ahead to one of my temporary New York sublets, where the answer to my “Where is the garbage can?” question was, “Oh, do we need one of those?” This was the blissfully unaware response of someone who had been in the apartment for nearly six months by the time I moved in. He was a certified hermit to make matters worse, so there was no shortage of half eaten pizza boxes and greasy fast food bags piled up against the wall to the left of the refrigerator. I lived there for just a month, so I wasn’t even about to tackle the ill state of the bathroom, which my friend pegged as “hostel-style.” A garbage can though? Now that’s necessity.
For some reason I thought I’d insult the man if I actually bought a can, for I assumed I may have been toe-ing the line when I bought soap for the bathroom. Rather, I bought a box of trash bags and decided I’d start the trend of throwing the trash in a bag I tucked in a drawer of the kitchen counter. Luckily, he left town for a week at one point, at which time I kicked off the experiment by attacking all the residual trash collected before my time as an occupant. Five trips to the dumpster later, and the apartment was somewhat presentable.
Upon his return, I proudly showed off the short order cook-style garbage bag on the side of the counter. He was underwhelmed, and somewhat confused at the need for such a thing. I proceeded to make a big deal out of buying takeout food (because, would you cook in that apartment?!) and then throwing away the remnants.
“I’m taking out the trash,” I would always announce, so he could learn by example. I’ll never forget the first day I saw him nonchalantly toss a beer bottle in the trash, as if he’d been doing it his entire life. When his back was turned, however, I silently transferred the bottle to recycling. I didn’t live there long enough to explain that concept to him, so I left that to the future roommate to tackle.
When I shared a studio with a 35-year-old Yugoslavian lady, I knew it would be challenging to see eye to eye on certain things, considering our age difference and for cultural reasons. For instance, she could not understand that, while she spent somewhere in the neighborhood of eight hours a day watching “Friends” episodes on DVD, I would expect her to relinquish the remote for half an hour so I could watch a new episode of “The Office.”
“Friends is a great show, I love it too. However it has been off air for at least five years, and this is prime time!” I said with mounting frustration, trying to suppress my shrieky voice. A tearful (at least on my side) fight later, I watched maybe half of the episode of “The Office,” which was accompanied by her running commentary about how the show is inferior to “Friends,” and how I was, apparently, acting like a selfish brat.
In another instance, when we had finished off our last roll of toilet paper and had used all napkins and paper towels as well, I suggested she buy more while I was at work. I left $10 on the table, asked nicely, and ran off to work at 8:30 a.m. When I returned home around 8:30 p.m., I found her exactly as I left her, lying on the couch in her negligee watching a sappy Lifetime movie. Yes, occasionally she took breaks from “Friends,” but the other option was always something far less desirable.
She looked up at me as if I were an exotic stranger, just now registering that she’d been paperless the entire day. “Oh I would have gotten toilet paper, but I didn’t leave the apartment,” she explained, as if it were completely normal to spend 12-plus hours in a room not quite 500 square feet. I’m left to assume she had resorted to using her guest towels as toilet paper. Note to self: always bring own towel when visiting others.
Angrily, I grabbed my $10 and made a mad dash for the dollar store. Upon my return, I calmly explained that, while buying toilet paper required leaving the apartment, I didn’t think it was asking too much, seeing as how she was missing out on any and all life outside the cramped studio. Where was my passive self, you ask? I surprised even myself when I actually found the confidence to boldly confront her. I had dealt with more difficult situations in the past.
I did not stick around to see the progress of that particular roommate, but I’m confident that thanks to my confrontation, her next studio-mate at least got in 20 minutes of uninterrupted sitcom time. Lucky bastard.