Roommates, aka ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’

#579 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 2009, Hills Newspapers

My daughter Annie moved into an apartment with roommates a month ago. She’d been living at home again after changing jobs and decided after a year that she was, she said, getting too used to being at home.

I’m not exactly sure what that meant but I’m guessing that she didn’t feel comfortable having overnight guests plus maybe she wanted to be in charge again of her own decor and housekeeping. Anyway, she is now living with 3 roommates, two women and one man. They each have a bedroom (Annie’s is the former dining room), they share a living room and kitchen and two bathrooms.

It’s working out well. The guy moved in a couple of weeks ago and is there during the week but not on the weekends which he spends with his girlfriend. Still, he has already twice cooked dinner for everyone in the apartment and, Annie told me enthusiastically, cleaned up the kitchen after he was done. I guess that is pretty exciting. I know I’d be glad to have that roommate.

I’ve never lived with roommates although I guess it can’t be too different from living with parents, spouses and children, all of whom I have lived with. I can sure see how some people would be better matched for living together than others. In Annie’s case, she’s easy to get along with, is accepting of most and isn’t upset or upsetting unless she’s scared or people are rude or snide.

So far she has complained, and only mildly, that she’s the one who empties the dishwasher most of the time even when she hasn’t used the kitchen. I was talking about this one evening with Anet and our friends Terrell and Scott and the conversation took off with lots of roommate stories, mostly from college days but including the time when Anet moved in with friends in San Francisco.

Actually, my favorite story about that time has nothing to do with roommates but instead about jade plants. Anet visited California while she was still in college in Illinois. It was winter. She got on the plane in the cold and arrived here in sun and within an hour or so was staring at a very large and happy jade plant in front of a friend’s apartment in San Francisco. As Anet had been nursing a jade plant in a small pot for several years and it had grown only a few inches tall, she was incredulous that a jade plant could become the behemoth she was seeing. She decided right then and there to move here.

One of her roommates in San Francisco, Craig, was a dear and longtime friend who had a cat he’d named Kitty after Kitty Carlisle which will tell you approximately what period of time it was. Craig loved Kitty and he petted her and told her she how pretty she was. Anet thinks Kitty did not bite or attack Craig but he was the only one. “She was a devil cat,” Anet told us. “If you got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you had to stomp your feet a lot to scare Kitty away or she’d fly at your ankles and get you. You knew if she could get you down, you’d be dead.”

Craig liked to cook but he hated to clean up so he’d take the pots and pans he used to his room. He’d also take glasses and plates and forks, spoons, knives – anything he used – to his room. After awhile Anet and the other roommates would go to the kitchen and the cupboard was bare. They’d go to Craig’s room and knock on the door. “Craig, we don’t have any silverware, plates or glasses. Are they inside your room?” they’d call through the door.

Then there would have to be a showdown. The roommates would ask to go inside Craig’s room. They’d carry everything back to the kitchen and wash it all with Craig helping and apologizing and then he’d cook some more and it would start over again.

Scott told about the time he was going to school in England with several roommates and the telephone bill arrived. Except for the owner of the apartment, everyone else who lived there was from some different across-the-sea home: Scott from California, one from Italy, another from Finland or places similar distances away. In England, at least at that time, the phone bill didn’t come every month; it was more like every quarter.

The first bill after the group had gotten together was enormous. Scott couldn’t remember exactly how much, but certainly hundreds of dollars. The calls were not listed by phone number but were in some sort of code so it was all but impossible to know who was responsible for what. The apartment owner who had the phone hooked up in his name almost fainted when he saw the bill. He said to the assembled, “Why don’t you all look at this and write down the amount you think you owe for your calls.”

“Of course everyone said they owed $12,” Scott laughed. He was telling us this story 25 years after the fact. He’s not sure who paid the bill or what happened with subsequent bills. I listened to this story and said that it was good that kids all have cell phones now.

Which is the good news in terms of roommates. But it’s pretty horrifying that everyone from about age 12 has a phone bill every month of anywhere from $50 to $100, maybe more if they’re texting constantly.

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