Sunday, March 21, 2010

Roomies 3.0

This month a new set of roommates moved into my apartment. I've written briefly about my strange living situation before, but I think it's worth a revisit given my new appreciation for the ridiculousness of it all.

To put things into context I'll start with a little background information. My roommates and I all have separate leases with the landlady. This is an unusual setup, and has its pros and cons. 

Pros: I pay my share of the rent directly to her. I don't have to worry about forking over my roommate's share of the rent if s/he's short for the month. I guess that's just one pro... but it's a pretty big one. So I think I'll keep it plural.

Cons: If one of my roommates should, for whatever reason, decide to move out, I have absolutely zero say in who my new replacement roomie will be. This is also only one con. But it's a pretty big one. So I think I'll keep it plural, too.

And, in the ten months I've lived in this apartment, I have gone through three different sets of roommates, meaning I've lived with six different people. Pretty ridiculous, any way you look at it, right?

The reason for the high turnover, I've decided, is due to a combination of things. 

There's the layout of the apartment. It's very small. "Lori" the landlady took a one-bedroom apartment and made it into a three-bedroom by throwing up a few false walls where the living room should be. As a result, the occupants are left with a long, narrow hallway, a galley kitchen and a tiny bathroom as their only "common" living area.

Granted, there is a table with two stools shoved into the corner created by the false wall covering what would be the entrance to a living room and the true wall bordering the kitchen. So at least we have our cozy little bfast nook. And let me tell you, is it just adorable...

So, needless to say, the place doesn't exactly scream "make a home here!" But, it takes more than uninviting apartment layouts to ruin the appeal of a centrally located apartment in the heart of times square, so I don't think that's the only reason people don't stay.

It also has to do with the kind of people Lori finds for this place, or maybe, the kind of people attracted to a fully-furnished, tiny and, therefore, obviously short-term space. Many of my roommates were interns, and a couple, like me, were moving to Manhattan for the first time and uncertain as to what kind of details to look for in a "good" Manhattan apartment.

My first two roommates were both French girls. They hadn't known eachother beforehand, the same way I didn't know either of them before I moved in. One was interning for the same magazine company I'd interned with the summer before (strange, strange world...) and the other was an intern at the UN. 

So, both temporary stays from the start. (Lori seems to revel in temporary stays. In fact, she only offered me a 6-month lease when I first moved in, which I jumped at, since I wasn't sure how long I'd be able to stay.)

I really enjoyed living with these French girls. They were clean and cooked delicious things and I'd studied abroad in Paris the previous fall semester so I had fun practicing my terrible broken French. 

Another added perk: the one who interned at the UN could get us into the UN bar only accessible by those with employee (or foreign diplomat) IDs. We went once just before she left to go back to France.  

It's a large room with glass walls that overlook the East River. For whatever reason, there's only one bartender (or there was only one that night) in no particular hurry to get to the several dozen UN employees surrounding the bar. Observing the room while waiting with the mob I noticed several large "No Smoking" signs in compliance with the New York City-wide ban on smoking indoors on public property. Around those signs floated big, billowy clouds of smoke from tens of foreign diplomats' cigarette butts. 

And, of course, neither the signs nor the cigarettes were mentioned.

We had a lot of fun hanging out the few months we were all in the apartment together but, eventually, the summer ended and so did their internships and they went back home.

Before I knew it, Umar and Arvind had moved in. Literally. Lori gave me no notice when she was showing the apartment and no notice that the rooms had been let. I got home from work one day and Umar was in the hallway carrying boxes to his room.

I'd sort of known I'd get another roommate, so it wasn't like I stumbled upon him and thought "Stop, theif!"

But at the same time a little warning would have been nice. Perhaps even an interview. But then, now I'm just dreaming dreams.

Arvind moved in a few days afterward in the same manner. I came home from work to find him and his entire family lugging his wordly possessions into the too-small room beside mine.

Umar was a recent graduate from Princeton, originally from Pakistan, who had moved to New York for a job. I'm honestly not 100% sure I know what he did... but I know it was some sort of engineering. Software, maybe.

And Arvind was an American-Indian (as in, not Native American) originally from Queens. He worked as a web engineer for HBO.

Having not lived with guys since an awful semester in a house with my older brother that still torments my dreams, I was pretty sure that this setup would be a disaster and began looking on craigslist for new homes.

But, much to my surprise, these guys were great. They didn't touch my food, weren't in the bathroom when I wanted to be, were never around and were generally invisible. I know for a fact that Arvind, out of consideration for the thin wall separating his room and mine, actually listened to his music through headphones rather than aloud. (I must admit I did not return the favor...) 

Of course, as always happens when you live with another human being for any period of time, I noticed these guys had a few little personality quirks that were less than desirable.

Arvind, for example, liked to hit the snooze button on his phone alarm for up to two hours before he'd actually wake up. (I never complained about this until one Saturday he forgot he'd set it and continued his weekday snooze-repeat pattern. In a desperate defense of my weekend right to sleep in past 7 a.m., I banged on our previously mentioned paper-thin wall LOUDLY. And it stopped.)

And Umar took up the guitar in the middle of his stay here. His favorite time to practice the B and C chords was anytime past 3 a.m. Arvind and I were also convinced he never bought a single roll of toilet paper or paper towels during his entire 7-month stay. Irritating.

But, all general minor roommate annoying habits aside, and I'm sure they had their own gripes with me, we coexisted remarkably well, given the roulette-like risk of the situation.

Then, last month Umar and Arvind left, too. Both for bigger, cheaper apartments. Which makes me think I, too, will be moving on soon.

But until I do, I now have a new set of roommates. Roomies 3.0, if you will.

There's Bas, short for "Sebastion" and pronounced "Boss" who is from Holland. And then there's Dries, pronounced "Drees" as in "Drew Brees" but with a "D" (sorry, couldn't help myself, just had to throw in that bit of New Orleans Saints shout-out) who is from Belgium.

Bas is interning for a web programming company.

Dries is an intern for a foreign diplomat. 

They didn't know each other before moving in together.

Anyone else noticing a pattern? Because, honestly, I'm beginning to feel like I stepped into Bizarro world.

Living with Bas and Dries is a completely different dynamic than either the situation with the French girls or the situation with Arvind and Umar. 

They're great guys and we're getting along pretty well, but I seem to see more of them than I ever saw of Arvind and Umar (which was hardly at all) and even Clara and Brune (who I saw several times a week).

And so as a result I'm bursting with funny stories about them which, given the public nature of this blog, I probably shouldn't publish. But, I'm going to. If you're reading this, Dries and Bas-- love you guys!!  :)

One of the first things I noticed about living with these guys is that they, like the French girls, share a foreign language. Only their common language is Dutch, of which I don't even have a broken knowledge of.

So of course, when they're together in the kitchen or the hallway or the nook, our few common living areas, they speak Dutch. Loudly. And in my bedroom, behind walls so thin they should really be called stiff curtains, it's like I'm in the on the conversation, only I can't understand a damn thing! Except for a few English words thrown in here and there-- "time square" "pissed" and, more often than you'd think, "fu*&ing" I'm totally in the dark. They could be plotting to kill me, or worse, drink the last of my milk, and I'd never know.

It's pretty funny, because they try to be polite about it and if I'm around, they'll speak English so I can understand. So if I exit my room, for a glass of water or to use the bathroom or to make dinner, they immediately switch to English-- and I have to laugh because it's a nice gesture, but really, by this point I'm used enough to the Dutch that they could just stick with it. I may even learn a few phrases by immersion!

Also, these kids can't seem to stay away from all kinds of drama.

In the first few weeks of living here, poor Dries has lost his laptop and passport (on the same night, in either a bar, the taxi, or a McDonald's), has gotten a 100$ ticket for trying to let Bas in a subway turnstile on his single-ride swipe, and has locked himself out of his room at the apartment while in his bathrobe, necessitating the borrowing of my metro card and Bas's clothes for a 1 1/2-hour trip to Lori's in Long Island for the spare key. 

In turn, Bas has shattered a glass meant to hold toothbrushes in the bathroom, locked himself out of said bathroom (and, consequently, everyone else just before our morning pre-work showers), and had a potentially devastating miscommunication with his female boss. Apparently in Holland people use the slang "mom" for "moment". i.e.: "I'll get that done, mom." means, "I'll get that done momentarily."  His boss was unaware of this alternate translation and thought he was calling her "mom." I can only imagine the scene she created and poor Bas trying to explain his way out of it...

Basically, my home-life excitement levels have picked way up now that they're a part of it and I couldn't be happier.

Of course, as always happens when you live with another human being for any period of time....

Let me just say that someone ate the last three pieces of my bacon. Also, inexplicably a pitcher of lemonade I'd made ended up in the freezer?  And there are often dishes left in the sink. I can only assume that in Holland and Belgium there is some sort of dish fairy that comes back behind you and washes them for you. I'll have to let them know that in the U.S., there exists no such fairy.

Pet peeves aside, these guys are a lot of fun and we've had a great time going out together in the city. I'm looking forward to seeing what other kinds of shenanigans they can get themselves into over the course of these next few months... could be anything.


This week's question of utmost importance: What're your biggest roommate pet peeves? If you don't see yours in the poll on the right, leave it in a comment!

<3 Leigh


  1. Leigh, as always, I enjoyed reading your most recent blog! I have lived with 2 roommates for the past 9 months, and we get along great...EXCEPT, for the fact that one is a total slob. She never cleans and pick up after herself. The living room is scattered with all of her stuff. My other roommate and I tried ignoring it, but it is getting worst lately. And get this, she has a "phobia" of toilets, so she never cleans them, and also the whole bathroom also, apparently.
    Great post, it brought the ranting streak out of me! lol

  2. I hear that the Rosetta Stone works miracles. . . maybe pick one up on your way home and learn some Dutch. Only then, might you discover who ate your bacon.

  3. @Truc Ah yes... the all-too-common "toilet phobia". It's a debilitating disease, really. Also, it's definitely fun when your living room becomes an extension of another roommate's closet.... lol! Thanks for sharing your own roommate woes!! :)

    @Kaci Crafty, Kase. I, too, hear Rosetta is foreign-language-teaching-on-crack. Won't they be surprised when I learn to speak fluent Dutch overnight? And after that I can learn some other language that no one in the apartment speaks and have super secret conversations about them with myself. Ha-- I'll show them!