I can safely say I’ve never had a bad roommate, which has led me to the natural conclusion that I must be the terrible one to live with.
I never met the landlord at my first rental.
My first week in the U.S. was spent in the fog of jet lag, hormones, and tears that came with moving halfway around the world only to find that you kind of forgot to find somewhere to live. I spent a week going from one house to another with growing desperation, trying to choose between the woman who wanted me to sleep in her living room and the landlord who promised he’d finish the kitchen “soon” and forbade overnight guests. I found a good house, took the room, and came back to sign the lease the next day only to find that the toilet had been removed. Everything was awful, until Chris showed up, quietly carried all my bags up the stairs, built my bookcase, and put me with a minimum of fuss into a house of messy, friendly stoners.
In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and de facto capital, $500 a month will get you a little room in a tin-roofed outbuilding. You’ll get above-average electricity, too. “Above average,” because you can expect frequent blackouts in Dar—that’s why most expats and well-off Tanzanians have standby generators. My studio doesn’t have a standby generator, but it is hooked into the electrical system of nearby Muhimbilli National Hospital. I don’t know how or why we get to siphon off their power, but the government does a pretty good job pumping watts into Muhimbilli. Even now, as the long dry season transitions into the short rains, and there’s no water in the hydroelectric dams.
I moved into my first apartment, one block off campus, the summer after my sophomore year in college. The unit was on the upper-floor of a craftsman-style duplex, with two real bedrooms and three pseudo-bedrooms that were actually converted sun porches, which were lovely and light-filled in the summer, but terrifyingly cold during the winter.
We lived in a brownstone off of Eight Mile in a decidedly not dangerous and predominantly gay area. To the west of us, houses began to fall in on themselves and the night became progressively darker. The streetlights were out.
Besides me, David Sedaris is the only American I know of who spent a big part of his early 20s rooming with an elderly stranger. He describes this time, during which he took up residence in a Chapel Hill boarding house out of some vague, misplaced nostalgia for an erstwhile age, in his 2007 essay “This Old House.” But the four months I spent with C.C. were a little different.
Where have you lived, Marissa Barker?