Between the ages of 18 and 29, I had 20 different roommates. Twenty. That means that over the years I have been intimately acquainted with the grooming, eating, hoarding, drinking and sexual habits of 20 very unique little snowflakes. Some were good, some were bad, and some were so bad I still get queasy thinking about them.
In college, having roommates was a ball-- a 24-hour, three-ring circus filled with impromptu karaoke parties, giggly pillow fights and a neverending waterfall of ramen noodles. I changed roommates every year and lived with good buddies every time. This was exactly the way our young hassle-free lives were supposed to be lived--we made communal meals and snuggled during movies and curled each other's hair.
We sat on breezy apartment balconies with our feet curled under us, feeling grown-up as we swirled glasses of red and gabbed for hours about our dates, our decisions and our dreams. We didn't bicker about keeping things clean or decorating preferences. We were too young to be too set in our ways. We were flexible and we were fun. We were creating the kinds of memories you look back on at 34 and think, "Damn, those really were the good old days."
Once college was over, the roommate thing took on a different vibe because we all understood that the arrangement was no longer born of desire, but financial necessity. I moved to New York, and left those good buddies behind. I was forced to live with strangers in a very strange town, and that offered up some truly scary possibilities.
What if she steals my stuff?
What if she stays up till 4 in the morning playing Ace of Base every night?
What if she likes to vacuum naked?
What if she tries to kill my boyfriend by copying my haircut, crawling into bed with him and stabbing his eye with her shoe?
What I got instead (and in no particular order) was:
* A neurotic clean-freak who scolded me every time I dropped a crumb, called my boyfriend's house to ask when I'd come home to mop the floors, and flew into an inexplicable rage after I threw away a disposable almond-scented Softsoap bottle that she'd kept for five years because she liked to sniff the empty container. She also corrected my mother's grammar and routinely burst into my room to show me newly purchased bra and panty sets. While wearing them.
* A hoarder who kept no fewer than six half-eaten jars of peanut butter in his room at all times. Pizza boxes were discarded after they reached knee-height.
* An exhibitionist who liked blow-drying her hair in the nude--one foot propped on the sink and the front door wide open.
* A Wall Street exec who was so busy she made a sex schedule with her boyfriend (every Tuesday, 1 a.m.)
* A nanny who lived full-time with her employers, but rented a room in our apartment so she could have a place to bring guys home to.
* An attention-starved executive assistant who bragged about her affair with her boss, tried to make out with me at bars to lure guys and eventually went on a reality show about...roommates.
* An angry day trader who worked from home and hurled expletives like bombs when his stocks went down.
* A snotty name-dropper from Beverly Hills who never missed an opportunity to remind me that his father produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and his best friend was Monica Lewinsky.
At the time, their idiosyncracies drove me up the wall and I dreamed of the day when I'd no longer have to ask anyone else to pony up their portion of the cable bill. Looking back I am grateful for every kooky habit, every annoying personality trait, because not only do those memories make me laugh deep from my belly in hindsight, they also make me tremendously appreciative of my current (and hopefully last) roommate--a long-haired technical director who tucks me in every night, washes the dishes after every meal and has never once left the toilet seat up.
I can live with that.