(…or start here)

My roommate Pat had the same relationship with me as any New Yorker had with a cockroach: we knew the other was there, we didn’t necessarily like that the other was there, and we ate the other’s food; however, we were willing to accept all of this as long we never made contact with the other.

Pat had moved to Park Slope a long time ago, when it was ethnically colorful and loud and affordable. Gentrification later corroded the neighborhood with strollers and Labrador retrievers and franchise coffee bars, forcing everybody else out–everybody but Pat and his revolving door of housemates, of whom I was the latest and the longest lasting, mostly because I was never there. The place was huge, the rent was cheap, and the trains were nearby. If my roommate wasn’t such a penis, my living arrangement would have been perfect.

From the subway, I strolled home, slipped inside, scooped up the mail from the floor, and scurried to my room, sorting through the envelopes in my hand.

“My bill, my bill, Pat’s junk mail, a hand-addressed, perfumed letter from New Mexico, my junk mail, Pat’s bill …” I frowned and backed up a few steps. “What?” Stacked in the living room were dozens of taped-up wine and shipping boxes, all labeled with black magic marker. “Pat?” I called out.

His response took the form of a loud grumble. I followed it past the kitchen to his room, where he sat on his bed, looking like a fire hydrant in a buzz-cut and surfer shorts.

“Pat, are you moving?”

He glared at me with the impatience of a ten-year-old explaining how to play a tricky video game.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because our landlady sold the building.”

“What?” I gasped for breath. “When?”

“I don’t know when she sold it.”

“I mean, when do we have to leave?”

“March first.”

“That’s in two weeks!”

He glared again. “I can count.”

“Our lease said we get sixty-days notice before she can pull this kind of crap!”

“We did get sixty-days notice,” he told me. “It was in a letter she delivered six weeks ago.”

“I didn’t receive one.”

“Sure you did,” he replied. “I saw your name on it.”

“Don’t you think I’d remember something like that?”

“Lifestyle you lead,” he snorted, “I’d be surprised if you did.”

“Wait,” I groaned. “Six weeks ago I was in New Mexico with my girlfriend.”

“Were you?”

“And you didn’t think to say something when I got home?”

“Yeah, because we talk all the time.”

On the bright side, there was no further need for diplomacy. “Pat, you are a penis.”

“At least I don’t have a Peter-Pan Complex.”

“I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” I told him, “you penis.”

On my way back to the living room, I tossed Pat’s mail onto the kitchen table, which was no longer there. Let him pick it up himself.

By the time I landed on the couch, I’d pulled out my phone, called my dad, and explained the situation.

“I just can’t give you the money to move,” he concluded.

“I know that.”

“I can loan it to you,” he said. “With interest. And you’ll have to pay it back on a monthly schedule.”

I groaned. At least I had that hand-addressed, perfumed letter. As Dad droned on about finances, I gently tore my way into the colorful envelope and let my girlfriend’s handwriting take the load off.

But after skimming it, I said, “Papa, I’m going to have to call you back. I think I’m getting dumped.”

to be continued…
(… a look back, for perspective)

Landlord and Savior

Does the cliché “diamond in the rough” have an opposite? If it does, it would describe the living room in which I sat. Outside, meticulously maintained brownstones walled off the neighborhood from the rest of Brooklyn. Birds sang, squirrels scurried, and young, white people walked large dogs and larger strollers up and down bright sidewalks.

Yet this apartment rotted like a cavity within an otherwise healthy set of teeth.

But hey: rent-control.

“Why are you looking at this place?” asked Pat, whose name was on the lease. “You could probably afford something in Manhattan.”

That was a good question, but it wasn’t addressed at me. Pat had double-booked this morning’s interview for the roommate share, which would have been awkward had my current hangover not made me too sluggish to give a damn. I should have given several, considering the competition.

The soft-spoken vice president of a prestigious insurance firm sitting next to me replied with a cocky grin, “You know why divorce costs so much?”

“Nope,” Pat replied.

“Because it’s worth it.”

“No frickin’ kidding,” Pat chuckled. “Want to see the room?”

Mr. Right nodded. I stood up in agreement, mostly because I was on the verge of dozing off.

Pat led the way down a short hallway, opened a door, and gestured. The first thing I noticed when I peeked inside was the soon-to-be-former tenant piled up in the fetal position inside of a sleeping bag. He groaned and waved his hand just a little.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m Max.”

He grunted.

“Raymond,” said my rival.

The tenant grunted.

“That’s Sergio,” Pat told me. “He’s moving out later.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Sergio,” I said.

Sergio grunted.

As we headed back to the living room, Pat asked, “And what do you do for a living, Max?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“I see,” said Pat.

I may have been only twenty-three and fresh out of school, but I’d heard that phrase spoken with that tone enough times to know exactly he meant. I couldn’t afford to scratch this apartment off my list, because it was the last item on it. The good news is, I had no objection to cheating. The better news sat on the bookshelf beside me.

“The Rise of the Son” was a fictional account of the End Times, written by a convicted tax-evader, noted serial adulterer, and beloved pastor named Jimmy Prewitt. A few years ago, while deep in an ironic phase, I’d picked up a copy, because I thought it would be hilarious. It turned out to be spiteful and self-righteous. Right now, it was my salvation. Pointing, I squealed, “I love that book!”

“Really?” Pat grinned. “I’ve never met anyone who’s even heard of it.”

“Well,” I replied, “you know how the media is when it comes to Jesus.”

“No frickin’ kidding.” He shook his head. “What’s your favorite part?”

“That the Surgeon General turned out to be the real False Prophet. I didn’t see that coming.” I jerked my head toward Raymond with a convincing gasp. “Oh no! I probably spoiled it for you!”

“I wasn’t planning on reading it anyway.”

“I see,” said Pat.

I tried not to smirk.

A few minutes later, Pat escorted us to the door, but signaled for me to hang back. Just as Raymond stepped outside, though, a pair of EMTs shoved their way in. They charged past us a few moments later carrying Sergio, still curled up in the fetal position in his sleeping bag.

Pat didn’t blink. He whispered to me, “When can you move in?”

“Um,” I replied.

… And now…