A cold dark snowy evening, trapped at home alone. Time dragging. Bored, my mind started drifting and for some reason I started thinking about housemates. My thoughts went something like this: Carol and I met when we were housemates. We met Ms. M. when she moved in as a new housemate. Too bad our current apartment does not permit sublets…. And then some of the more extraordinary memories of housemates started bubbling up, like the Dead Mouse Incident….
One morning, I came downstairs to eat breakfast, half-asleep as usual. J— greeted me by saying, “Did you do that?” Did I do what? “Put the mouse in the dog’s water dish.” I hadn’t done it, and we both went over to the dog’s water dish to look at the poor dead mouse floating there. We both giggled silently.
You have to understand, we had not been getting along with N——, the dog’s owner, in large part because she just wasn’t caring for the dog. Being a black Lab, the dog liked to roll in smelly things, and when we complained about the smell N—– would bathe the dog in the tub, leaving dog hair and other gunk plastered over tub and tiles; so J— and I had to wash the dog ourselves under the outdoor shower. The dog had worms and would leave long streaks of excrement on the carpet; N—– would clean the carpet but wouldn’t take the dog to the vet to get de-wormed. Worst of all, N—– would go for days at a time without walking the dog, which made the poor animal more and more neurotic and less and less likable.
To return to the story: N—– came bounding down the stairs, accompanied by the dog, both of them as cheerful as usual. We did not warn her what was in the dog’s water dish. N—– walked over to put food in the other dog dish and screamed when she saw the mouse. “Did you do that?” she screamed at us. We both denied having drowned the mouse.
Our relationships had deteriorated to the point where I doubt she believed us. And though I’m not proud of it, I went off to work in an unusually good mood that morning. N—– moved out a few months later, and come to think of it that’s when Carol moved in. Ten years later, Carol called me in to see something on television, a story about an animal psychologist, and sure enough there was N—– on television with a new dog, another black Lab, going to visit the animal psychologist. I’ve now forgotten what sort of psychological problem the dog suffered from.
Memories of other housemates come flooding back. There was W—, the woman who refused to turn on the radiators in her room because she didn’t like the hissing sound, and who lit dozens of candles in an effort to keep warm (unfortunately, we had to kick her out because we were afraid she was going to start a fire). And S—, who was in the process of discovering she was gay while she lived with us. And D—, who was dealing (gracefully) with the memories of being raped by her father when she was pubescent. And L—, who had the same name as a prominent Boston gangster, and claimed that he once got a phone call from someone saying, “Is this L—? We took care of it.” And the time when J—‘s father died. And R— of the invisible dirt, and J— and E— the M.I.T. students, and others.
It’s easy to tell the stories of the bizarre and notable events, but it’s harder to explain how enjoyable it has been to have housemates, to just sit around the dinner table or on the front porch talking about everything under the sun. People from whom you can borrow music, people with whom you can throw parties, people who can teach you how to bake bread or cook macrobiotic food. Some of those housemates became good friends, like Ms. M., who became our housemate again for one delightful year when we lived in Oakland.
Someday, Carol will get around to making her idea for an eco-village into reality, and then we’ll have housemates once again….