The last year that I was in college (which is to say the year that I was cordially invited to not return), I lived in a house with several friends I would charitably characterize as “derelicts-in-training”: The only things separating their behavior (such as waking up on a lawn) from that of your garden variety bum were enthusiasm and time. And when their time ran out, so would their enthusiasm, I had no doubt of that. It’s one thing to broke, hungover, and foodless when you’re 22, and quite another when you’re 45.
But while they were young, they were a fun bunch to hang out with. I moved into the house in the fall of 1991 after the band I was in played a basement party in the house. They were looking for someone to help pay the rent, I was looking for a new place to stay, and the constant flow of alcohol, drugs, and girls appealed greatly to me, as did the basement full of speakers, amps, guitars, and other gear. I moved in, and the first order of business was to throw a party.
As a matter of fact, throwing parties was the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth order of business. We threw three proper parties a week: 300 people on Wednesday night, 300 on Friday night, and 500 on Saturday. All parties started at 1:00 AM, and it was rare for anyone to go to bed before dawn. The remainder of the evenings were reserved for “casual” drinking, which was balls-to-the-wall drunkenness, only with seven or eight friends instead of 500.
A couple of my roommates were like me: Young men, killing brain cells while they were killing time trying to figure out what to do with themselves. One of these roommates was Carl. Carl played guitar, filmed local bands in concert for free beer and the occasional (very) misguided young woman who mistook him for a director. Seriously, he had a few “audition” tapes that quickly became something more akin to “Girls Gone Wild”. And a couple of times, that girl would come back to the house to attend a party and discover, to her horror, that her tape was playing in the living room.
Carl also had an on and off affair with a girl who rented a room across the street from us. Her name was Stephanie, and while she was never in on the hard-core partying that went on, she could usually be counted on to be in the house, beer in hand, laughingly fending off the advances of the steady stream of drunken horny guys who would approach her. Although Carl didn’t consider their relationship to be exclusive, Stephanie only begrudgingly accepted this and never took advantage of any of the opportunities that popped up (if you could call a stoned, barely conscious guy with tangled hair down halfway down his back an opportunity).
One day, Carl and I came back from scoring some weed to see Stephanie standing across the street with a police officer and a very agitated older man. As Carl was holding the drugs, he went into the house, as I crossed the street to find out what was going on. Instantly, the agitated man looked at me and said, “That’s him, isn’t it? You! You’re Carl, right? You SON OF A BITCH!”
At this, the cop planted his hand in the middle of the man’s chest and held him back. “No! I’m Greg. What’s going on? I came to check on Stephanie.” As the man backed down, the cop turned to me and asked me, “Is Carl your roommate?” Yes. “Is he at home right now?” I don’t know. “Do you know if Carl has had a sexual relationship with this young woman?”
I paused for a second as I processed the question, and more importantly what the question meant. “I KNEW IT! I FUCKING KNEW IT! YOU WERE TELLING THE TRUTH, YOU LITTLE SLUT!” screamed the agitated man. Just as the man exploded into rage, Stephanie exploded into tears, and another cop pulled up and put the agitated man in his car to “ask him a few questions”.
“Look,” I said to the cop I’d been talking to, “I have no idea what’s going on. Who is that guy?”
“That man,” said the cop, “is this young woman’s father. And he is upset because he claims she admitted to him that she had sex with a neighbor named Carl. She admits saying it to him, but now says it was only to hurt him, and that she never had sex with Carl. I need to figure out what the truth is here.”
“Why? I mean, why is it any of your business or his?”
I will always remember the cop looking directly into my eyes as he said, “Because Stephanie is only sixteen.”
Stephanie, as it turns out, had neglected to tell us that she was a minor, which Carl later likened to not telling your spouse that you’re a bear: It’s a pretty important detail. And while the district attorney was probably not interested in pursuing charges against us for providing her with alcohol, or even pot, whether or not he’d be charging Carl with statutory rape was still very much up in the air. The first question I asked was, “How the hell is she sixteen if she lives in her own apartment?”
“She’s legally emancipated,” was the reply. At that point, a lengthy discussion ensued as to whether or not statutory rape charges applied to a person who was legally emancipated. The father vigorously insisted it did, using phrases such as, “Fuck yes it does! And I want to be the one to cut off that fucker’s balls!” I, on the other hand, kept saying noncommittal things such as, “It doesn’t seem like it should apply, but it’s a moot point, probably. I don’t think Carl slept with her.”
Finally, one cop went into his cruiser and spent a while talking to someone. When he came out, I heard him whisper to the other cop, “The DA won’t touch it. It’s a dog” and went to inform the father that he was, apparently, violating a restraining order which would be ignored if he left right away. Five minutes later, I walked back into the house and went into Carl’s room to find him smoking a bong. “What was that all about?” he asked. To say that I had to perform CPR on him would be untrue, but not by much.
Other roommates had different problems with girls. Tony, for instance, liked girls just fine, but was terribly shy around them and could only talk to them if he was extremely intoxicated. This would have been bad enough for poor Tony, but he also had another quirk: When he got drunk, he became extremely boastful and aggressive. So there were many parties where I’d witness an exchange such as this:
Julie: What’s up with Tony? He’s cute and seems like he’d be a nice guy, but he’s so quiet!
Carl: Ahhh, he’s just shy. You should go talk to him. He’s really nice, smart, just a cool dude. I think he likes you too.
Greg: Oh yeah, he’s always asking about you. He’s just shy. Once he gets to know you a little better, he really opens up.
Tony: Hey! Julie! What’s up, bitch! Hey, let’s go up to my room! I’ve got a ten inch cock with your face written all over it!
Julie: What the fuck? No thanks, asshole! (storms off)
Tony: Too strong?
Carl & Greg: Yeah. Too strong.
Other roommates had very little interest in women, simply because they were too busy getting stoned as often as possible. Bob, was a weasely looking guy, thin of frame, with dull, lanky blond hair that hung just past his shoulders. He looked like the kind of kid who stood quietly at the back of shop class wearing an Iron Maiden jean jacket, stoned off his ass. Bob loved to get stoned, on just about anything he could get his hands on. And what made Bob different from any of the rest of us is that he had no appreciation for limits. He’d score a bag of excellent weed that would have the rest of us reeling after three or four bongs, and he’d smoke it non-stop until it was gone.
In addition to that, he knew no limits when it came to the method by which he consumed drugs. His bedroom was on the fourth floor of the house, and he had a bong that went from the room across the hall to the fire escape outside his window. It took a minimum of three people to operate the thing. And that was merely one of the many, many pot-smoking implements he owned. He had a large toolbox that was filled to the brim with bowls, one-hitters, sliders, small bongs, steamrollers, and anything else you’d care to imagine. When we were out of weed, we used to tilt that toolbox and scrounge shake off of the bottom. We could always get a bowl or two out of it.
One night, Bob walked onto the large front porch that we used to hang out on during casual drinking nights. It had two couches that were used to see more sunsets in a single month than I’ve seen the rest of my lifetime. As Bob came out, I handed him a beer and noticed he was chewing on something. “Holy shit, Bob, how many is that?” I asked. Bob opened his mouth to reveal a largish ball of white paper that he was chewing on. “Sixteen,” he said.
“Are you fucking crazy?” Carl barked. “Sixteen hits of that acid is going to turn you into a fucking vegetable. And every fucking time you do that, we become your fucking babysitters!”
“Oh, c’mon, man. I’ll be cool, I promise. I can handle it.” Bob said in a wounded tone. But Carl was right. Bob tended to flip out on even small amounts of acid, and although we didn’t much care for Bob, we did care that he was a good source of drugs when we ran low. We also cared that if he was found by the police reciting poetry to mailboxes, a cursory check of his room would lead to a warrant to search the rest of the house, which was not going to end well. So it was in our best interest to keep Bob out of trouble.
About an hour later, right as the acid would be kicking in, Bob shouted, “I AM SO FUCKING HAPPY!”, twirled around twice, and whipped a full can of beer onto Springfield Avenue. “You asshole!” shouted Carl. “That kind of shit is going to get us all fucking busted!” “Dammit, Bob!” I said, “You’ve got to chill out. C’mon with me.” And I led him to his room on the fourth floor, which, in retrospect, wasn’t the smartest thing in the world considering how much LSD he had taken. I sat him down and instructed him, “Stay in your fucking room. Listen to music, groove on your lava lamp, whatever. But don’t leave this room before morning, ok? You just need to chill.”
As I left him in his room, I realized that the one thing he loved to do most when he was fucked up was play with this giant candle he’d made by melting other candles together. Then he discovered you could buy sheets of paraffin at the hardware store, and so he melted that, adding wicks around the side until he had a candle that looked like a volcano, with wicks burning in twenty or thirty locations around the side. I went back into his room and slid the giant candle out of there, explaining that we didn’t need him burning the house down.
I cannot imagine what Bob did for the next three hours or so, but about 4:45 AM he walked out onto the porch wearing sandals, ripped jean shorts, a tie-dyed shirt, and a tie-dyed bandana wrapped around his head which neatly accented the purple star he had applied to his head with a permanent paint-marker. “Hey, I just want to thank you guys for the head-check. I really needed to settle down. So, you know… Thanks.”
We chimed in with a chorus of, “No problems”, “Use your head next time”, and whatnot. He nodded a couple of times and said, “Well, I’ve got to go to work!” as we sat there stunned, he unlocked his bike from the front porch railing and started getting on. “Wait! You can’t go to fucking work, you’re going to be tripping balls for at least another five hours!” “Dude, you work in the kitchen at IHOP! You’re going to slice yourself to pieces or burn your fucking face off!” All of our protests fell on deaf ears. Deaf and heavily tripping ears.
“I can’t miss work again, or I’m fired. So I have to go try.”
Of course, not all of us were as interested in Bob protecting his job. Pablo, who wasn’t keen on employment himself, said, “Hahaha, do it! Do it, you asshole! Go right fucking now! Ride your bike! Go! Hahahahaha!” And Bob, sunnily clueless, said “Thanks, Pablo!” in a grateful voice. We sat there on the couch, watching him wobble violently down the block. “How long before we see him coming back?” asked Carl. “Twenty minutes, tops” I answered.
Sure enough, twenty minutes later, our porch erupted in laughter as Bob was seen violently wobbling around the corner. He pulled up to the porch, locked up his bike, and looked up at us with a sheepish grin on his face. “I got fired.” The star on his forehead had been replaced by a big, red, oozing sore. We later pieced together what happened by talking to the hostess, Lindsay, who we knew from attending our parties. Bob had entered through the front door and was immediately accosted by the manager.
Manager: What are you doing! You’re supposed to be working today!
Bob: I am. I’m ready to go!
Manager: Dressed like that? What is… Is that a star on your forehead?
Manager: Go into the bathroom and clean that off! There are some scrubs in the back. Put them on! And get to work, no screwing around.
Bob: All right, all right… Jeez.
Manager: Lindsay, do you… Do you think Bob takes drugs?
Lindsay: Ha! Hahahaha! Really? Hahahahahaha!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
After fuming for five minutes, the manager decided to confront Bob about his drug use and went into the kitchen to discover that Bob a) had rubbed off the star on his forehead with a Brillo pad; b) was taking nitrous oxide hits off of the whip cream dispenser. He was fired on the spot.
Luckily, for all of us, we were evicted a few months after that. A roommate had bailed on us, and we were short on the rent, which caused the landlord to begin eviction proceedings. It seems that although we were the only tenants the landlord had in a string of old, ancient houses available for rent, he was more interested in taking a tax loss on them than dealing with our druggy asses. And although we probably pulled in anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a week just charging for cups and keg access, we blew that money as soon as we made it, on booze, drugs, and… Well, more booze and more drugs. We really didn’t have any other interests other than getting laid. And so we couldn’t pay the past due rent. We got really, really high for the court date.
I say it was lucky that we got evicted because if we had kept going at that rate, we would have all wound up dead or in jail. In fact, two of us did wind up in jail, briefly after we got evicted. Pablo, who I mentioned earlier, would literally have been homeless if we hadn’t let him crash in a spare room. He owned very little, with his prize possession being a manuscript of Barton Fink, signed by the Coen brothers. As we all moved into small apartments, allowing someone who did not work or contribute to the bottom line to sleep on the couch was out of the question. So Pablo merely moved away for a day or two, then moved back into the house via a window he jimmied open. He was discovered by the Sheriff a week later.
Somehow he got my number and called collect from jail. Carl, still my roommate, answered. “You fucking dumbass! No, we don’t have any money to bail you out! Seriously, we had to pay first and last month’s rent, we had to turn our utilities on… Look, we have no money for you! Why don’t you sell your fucking Barton Fink manuscript? … You’re kidding! … Sorry, Pablo. Good luck.” As he hung up, he turned to me, “You know that fucking manuscript he was always showing everyone? The Coen brothers didn’t sign it. He did.” If Pablo didn’t wind up living the life of a homeless man, I’d be very surprised.
Bob, in the mean time, was able to insert himself into a few drug deals and scrounge up some money to rent the top room in a house that had been divided into apartments. One day, as he sat playing with his candle (which was now over five feet tall and at least as wide), a friend stopped by to remind him that he had promised to help him move something. On his way home afterward, Bob decided to take the edge off by stopping at a bar for a quick beer. When he came home about an hour later, his house was surrounded by fire trucks and cops.
He had left one of the wicks on his volcano-candle burning, and the candle itself started on fire which caused the alarmed tenants in the apartment below to get showered with super-heated wax that had leaked through the floorboards. Luckily for everyone involved, the fire itself stayed relatively small and there was no appreciable damage beyond the new wax floor coating and the million or so gallons of water they poured on top of it. Not so luckily for Bob, one more item attracted the fire department’s attention. “Is this your toolbox?”
We received another collect call from jail, and once again Carl answered it. “Hello? Holy shit, you too? What happened? … … … … … … … HAHAHAHA!!! YOU FUCKING DUMBASS! HAHAHAHAHA!!! You and that fucking candle! We told you you’d burn the fucking house down with it! Hahahahaha… No, we don’t have any money. Hey, ask Pablo, he’s probably in the cell right next to you! Hahahahaha!!!”
I don’t like to think that I was all that different from my roommates. But I was the only one of us who could ever be found reading a book in that house. I also noticed that I was the only one who discussed the future in any terms other than how we were going to get drugs for next week. Maybe Carl thought of the future a bit too, but no one else did. It was as if I had stumbled across a warning, placed there for my benefit. “You want to know a surefire way to wind up homeless? It’s simple: You have fun, and you don’t stop having fun for any reason. And you continue doing this until fun is no longer possible. The wreckage that remains? That’s your life, and you earned it.”
I consider myself lucky because by turning my back on that life, I earned something else. I can still have fun, though it is often at the expense of working hard. I can still be happy, although I am sometimes sad. I can look back with fondness, yet look forward to the future with hope. That is all we can ask for, really.
Still, it is a hard thing to realize that while I can think upon those days with a smile on my face, I cannot find any of my former roommates’ names online, and I shudder to think what that means.