For the most part, strangers don’t scare me. Call me naïve but I believe people are inherently nice. So when I needed a place to live the second summer I lived in Chicago, I went to the most logical place – Craigslist.
I was in search for a mostly furnished place, roommates and cheap rent. I was working at Nine West again. I was lucky they hired me back. While I showed up for every shift on time, I was usually pale, not showered and reeked of booze from the prior night. It was a minimum wage job with few hours that left me with little options.
The first person I contacted was a guy in his early thirties. I had never lived with a boy outside of family. I was open to the idea but it made me uneasy. This was before the Craigslist killer so the worst I was asking myself – could he be a creep? He lived a few blocks from my sister, Lana, so I wandered down to meet the guy and to see the apartment, by myself no less (maybe I am naïve). The place was nice but I couldn’t get over the lone book he had on his bookshelf – The Nanny Diaries. I love the book but it was a red flag. The only book you own is the The Nanny Diaries? I don’t care if you are a boy or girl, I need more variety in my life. Seriously, you own one book and that’s the one you choose? It was a deal breaker.
The next ad I answered was a furnished apartment full of Columbia students. They were all my age (21), and it was 100% furnished, which was perfect. My parents refused to buy me a bed for the summers between the school year, so they bought me a $50 cot from Bed, Bath and Beyond instead. It was extremely uncomfortable. I imagine it was similar to sleeping on a hammock made of bones. I made it through one summer on the cot, and if I had anything to do with it, I would not make it a second.
When I showed up there were three roommates. They gave me a tour of the place ending with the bedroom I would be renting. Their roommate was studying abroad for the summer. I eyed the oak bed confirming it came furnished. When I was done asking questions, things got weird. They brought me to a room where I sat on a different bed. They left the room and returned with a video camera. I was confused. They were already recording; the red light was blinking. They informed me they would be asking a series of questions. If my answers proved to be the best of the other candidates, I would get the room. I went along with the charade because I am a sucker.
I left their apartment feeling violated. I didn’t want to be filmed. I certainly didn’t want the room but it didn’t matter. They never called.
I think about that video from time to time. I wonder if it still exists. If it does and tragedy strikes landing me on Nancy Grace, I guarantee you that video will show up. But don’t be fooled, it wasn’t my proudest moment.
The final ad I answered was a three bedroom apartment with two Columbia students. They were looking for a roommate(s) to help with the rent for the summer. I walked through the door and fell in love. It was an open floor plan with central air. I was sold.
I moved in the next week – my cot, bedding, a suitcase of clothes and two boxes. I traveled light.
I was so excited. I had such a good feeling. It was in a great neighborhood and I couldn’t wait to bond with my new roommates over drinks at the neighborhood bar. Once I was unpacked and settled in – approximately twenty minutes after I arrived – I was ready to go.
Ten minutes later, I realized this may not be the summer I thought it was going to be.
• Two other girls move into the apartment. Since there were only three bedrooms, I shared a room with the girl, Anna, who had two cats. My cot fit nicely in the corner. The other girl, Jenny, lived in the pantry. It fit a twin size mattress and nothing else. I must admit, I was envious of her shelf space.
• The central air I was so excited about was never turned on once. My roommates were too poor. We also didn’t have cable or bunny ears! I watched zero tv that summer. And I LOVE tv.
• There was no furniture in the main rooms. I ate every meal sitting on the floor of my shared room leaning against my cot.
• Anna’s cats hated me. I didn’t like the fur on my clothes. Every day was a battle because they had that sick cat sixth sense. Prancer would sit on the bed by the closet door waiting for me to open it. I would open it just wide enough to get my arm in and yet, the bitch was still able to jump in. It was a scratching match I always lost.
• Together, we were like the beginning of a joke: a Jew, a Catholic, a Baptist, an Atheist and an Asian walk into a bar…..go!
• I’ve always considered myself to fall into the norm. Sure I have my moments, but in the grand scheme of things I was your average twenty something. They, on the other hand, thought I was the weirdest person in the world. However, I was not the one giving myself enemas in the bathroom. I gagged every morning I saw the buckets. One particular day, the bathroom had mysterious green stains. The rug was thrown away shortly after. I don’t know what happened but I imagine it was some sort of ass explosion.
• Leanne was a devout Jew. I loved this about her because she was the second Jew I had met in my life (I grew up Catholic in the Bible belt). I had lots of questions. She took all of my questions in stride and educated me. The only problem was she left candles lit every Friday night for Shabbat. While I respected her religious beliefs, I could not get my proper drink on knowing we had unattended lit candles at home.
• One night, I wandered into the bathroom to chat with Leann as she got ready for a date. She was a cute girl looking for Mr. Right. She had her arms over her head fixing her hair, when she turned to look at me, “Does this look okay?” I was alarmed. I don’t think she had ever shaved her armpits. I had a brief internal struggle but I responded how I hoped my friends would respond; so I said, “You look great but you have to shave your armpits. They are out of control.” Really? And I was the weird one?
The summer was not what I had imagined. It was better! Every day was a new adventure. I never talked to those girls again, but I would love to hear their version of that summer. I’m sure it starts something like this:
So we had this roommate one summer. She was a giant lush who hated cats…