As of last Tuesday, I finally met every one of my four roommates. Before I moved in, I was forewarned that everyone in this apartment “keeps to themselves”—which, in my case, was a benefit, since I certainly kept to myself in my last apartment, seeing as my roommates rarely spoke to me in English. However, I was fully unprepared for the extent to which these people would simply not be present. Within a week of my moving in, I had still only met two of the four people living in the apartment, and by “met” I mean “seen.” Now, after living here a full two weeks, I have concluded that three of my four roommates are either simply never around, or they are secretly accountants (being that it is now tax season).
The fourth roommate, J___, however, is a constant. He is more-or-less the one “in charge” of the apartment, being the one from whom I rented the room (although I must clarify that he is not the proper landlord). I know he takes the place very seriously, because before I moved in, he detailed about a thousand “protocols” about the way apartment operated, all of which I, at the time, found reassuring, since they meant that the place would be kept tidy and that I would be left to my own devices. However, as the move drew nearer, these communications began to worry me—particularly when he told me he was “making a rare exception” by renting to someone five whole years younger than the “norm” and that guests were pretty much not welcome, right after I told him someone would be staying with me--pretty much to help me move in. What was this, a dormitory?
However, I swallowed my misgivings, because he very willingly allowed me to come see the room once it was empty, so that I could get an idea of what furnishings were in place, and was very agreeable about spreading out the deposit payment for me, which helped me out. What’s more, I was fully confident I would adore living in the new common space when he told me that he mops the floor every weekend (note: prior to moving out, I had been planning to wash the kitchen floor in my Queens apartment for the first time in the year-and-a-half I had lived there). Living with someone who feels compelled to clean more than I do? Sign me up!
Unfortunately, this good will could not to last. Moving day was stressful enough, but when I walked into my bathroom with the expectation of its having been cleaned--which is what J___ had promised when I had come to see the place earlier that week: “I cleaned your bathroom”, had said--I instead discovered green Comet powder strewn everywhere: all over the sink, the toilet, the tub, the floor. Basically, in order to even enter the room, never mind use it or—god forbid—put things inside it, I was going to have to get out some rags and clean it. What a pleasant moving-in chore.
Needless to say, I swallowed this slight—since maybe it was his idea of cleaning the bathroom?—and succeeded (with the invaluable help of my friend R___) in moving into my new apartment. J__ and I had a few odd encounters after this, most of which made me realize how territorial he is of counter space, but for the most part, nothing too extreme occurred. (The worst that happened was that when I was unpacking, I put my Magic Bullet food processor and electric kettle back in a corner of the counter. I had told J___ I was bringing both, and he had replied, "Oh good," to the electric kettle, and, "I hate those; they're impossible to clean," to the food processor." When I came back downstairs later, the kettle was moved to a different part of the counter, and the food processor was nowhere to be seen. J__ later informed me that he had stowed it away with the other dishes.)
The next significant event occurred just one week later, when I received a love revolving spice rack as a birthday present from my sister. As soon as I received it, I knew the verdict would not be good. It felt juvenile to have to ask to put something on a shared kitchen counter, but J___ had already marked this whole apartment as practically "his," so I felt obligated to run this by him. And sure enough, when I brought it home and walked in to find him at his regular kitchen post, he replied with the usual, "There's not enough counter space," and, "if everybody put something on the counter….” He also cited the fact that there would be a number of redundant spices in the rack and also in our cupboards, which I sort of agreed with, but which, for me, would not have been an issue since I could send the superfluous ones home with my parents whether they were in a rack or on a box. Nevertheless, off went the spice rack, up to my room and into a box to await the arrival of my parents, who will, eventually, be taking all of my redundant cooking supplies back to Pittsburgh.
A few days later, my friend D___--the one who persuaded me to take this NJ apartment, in fact--came over to help me put shelving up in my room. D___ has known J___ far longer than he has known me, so on his way out of the apartment, he banged on J___'s room door to say hello. (J___ was clearly inside, although he barely responded. Apparently he was napping.) Later, when I returned to the house, J___ told me that "when D___ comes over as 'my guest,' I need to remember that he is my guest and take responsibility for him. And shouldn’t let him bother J___, especially on Shabbat." Unbelievable! That he would say this to me--the person who broke her lease to fill his vacant room in the middle of the month--about the mutual friend who persuaded her to do it. The friend he is allegedly closer with!
Then, this past weekend just put the icing on the cake. Literally.
I set out to make a carrot cake for a colleague's birthday. I made the three cakes on Saturday night when no one was in the apartment, and I left them on one edge of the counter to cool until I could ice them on Sunday. When I came downstairs Sunday morning, I found J___ in the kitchen. "It's like musical cakes," he told me. I was a bit confused until I saw my cakes all shoved away in another corner of counter space. "I moved them," he said, "So other people could use the counter." I stayed in the kitchen to make more food for the next hour, and in that time, no one else came downstairs at all. I don't even think anyone else was home. And, would you believe it, in that hour, J___ wanted to move the cakes again. He even asked if we could stack them. (I told him we could not. I offered to put them even farther out of the way, on the coffee table, but he didn't like that idea, either. So I just put them back where I had had them originally, which seemed as far out of the way as they could get to begin with.)
To make a long story short, when I finally started making the icing, I realized I was missing two crucial things: a lemon and toothpicks. Luckily, someone else had a lemon in the refrigerator, so I used that one, figuring I'd have to run out and buy toothpicks anyway, so I'd quickly buy a replacement lemon then. I even wrote a little note, in case "said person" came downstairs and started looking for their lemon while I was gone. Then, I washed all of the dishes, put all of the remaining icing utensils and cake paraphernalia in a neat pile on one section of countertop, and hurried around the corner to buy a lemon and some toothpicks.
I wasn't a block away when my phone buzzed with a text. I opened it up to read, from J___: If you need to leave things out, please do not leave them in spaces other people may need to use. Um...so where then was I supposed to put the stuff? Should I have taken the cake to my bedroom? I was only going to be gone for five minutes! I texted him: I'm coming right back. And I did come right back, only to find all of the lights in the kitchen and living room turned off, which meant that in order for J__ to have seen my cake out on the counter, he had to have come out of his room, discovered my things there, turned off all of the lights, and gone back into his room. Clearly my things were not bothering anyone except him, and he didn't even want to use the kitchen!
Needless to say, I replaced the lemon, and finished icing my cake. What is most unbelievable, though, is the fact that while I was icing the cake, J___ came out of his room and complimented me on it. All day long, he hadn't spoken one word to me. He had been cooking earlier, and I had told him his food smelled good, and he didn't respond. We had cohabited the kitchen for probably several hours, and he hadn't spoken one word to me the entire time. He had sent me that ridiculous text message, and now expected to be nice, since I hadn't "violated" his kitchen code after all. How very unbelievably ridiculous!
And this is how things have gone the entire time. He's not a mean person. He has offered me advice on where to buy items locally and directions on how to get places. He even offered me cooking advice (although at the time I didn't really want it--but I do like to talk about and learn hints for cooking!). We ate dinner together the other evening at D___'s apartment, and I really did not mind his company the way I do when I am stressing out over whether or not he is judging the way I use the kitchen leave something in the stairwell.
It's just really ironic, because with the exception of my senior year of college, I have always lived with people I don't know. And of everyone in this apartment, J___ is the only one I "knew" (or at least had ever met) ahead of time! One of life's ironies I suppose....