Freshman Year, Roommates, an Introduction: Part 1
Or How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love the Stench
San Francisco, CA — 2012
My first friend in college was my roommate, naturally. His name is Liam, and we didn’t share the same bedroom but we shat, showered, and shaved behind the same door in room 905 at The Towers at Centennial Square — never at the same time, mind you. The dorms were apartment-style with two bedrooms marked AB and CD. I was in room AB with E.J., a black albino Brony. Liam was in room CD with Cesar, a professional pole dancer and part-time drag queen. There was one bathroom, much too small, and a living room and kitchen divided by a medium-sized counter on which you could pour milk into your bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or possibly divvy up grams of whatever you needed to sell in order to pay for other substances outside your inventory. However, I had nothing to sell in order to pay for the substances I desired, let alone Cinnamon Toast Crunch; I also didn’t know of anyone to buy from because I didn’t know anyone at all yet — nor did Liam, but he showed me his medical card, told me there was a dispensary on Ocean and Capitol, just a couple bus stops away, and that’s when I knew we were friends.
I initially didn’t like Liam when I met him on move-in day, not because he was a rich white kid from Encinitas in San Diego whose future was secured by a trust fund, but because he introduced himself as a cinema major whose favorite movies were Moonrise Kingdom and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If you’ll recall that old Groucho Marx joke, typically attributed to Freud’s Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious — that I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member — it makes sense why I didn’t like him. I too was a cinema major, though I switched to English Literature and Linguistics that very semester, and I loved Moonrise Kingdom and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I’m incredibly selfish over the things I like. Only I can like what I like because the universe was created solely for me. If I ever find out that anyone else likes Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, I’m literally going to cut a bitch and then kill myself. But over the course of two semesters, after actually getting to know him as a living, breathing human being with his own set of debilitating fears and insecurities, of the thoughts which kept him up most nights, and of his hopes, dreams, and aspirations, common interests and ideas concerning everything and nothing, it dawned on me that I was wrong from the beginning to look past his being born a rich white kid from Encinitas in San Diego whose future was secured by a trust fund — rich “liberal” white kids are an insufferable breed — but he was the only roommate who smoked weed and, again, had the means of getting it. So we weren’t really friends (at least for me), but if anything, I owed him some sort of friendly loyalty at the least. At least until I’d meet Vera just two doors down. But that’s not for now.
My actual roommate is called E.J. and as I mentioned, he is a black albino Brony, meaning: he is 1. African American, 2. afflicted by a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes, and 3. a devoted follower of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. He had long blonde dreads which smelled of freshly chopped onions and walked like dueling cowboys, and by that I mean he had no hand-eye coordination: his arms wouldn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, swing in opposite cadence with their respective legs. A more apt description would be to imagine a walking wall.
I liked E.J. and every now and then I check to see how he’s doing on Facebook. I don’t actually reach out to ask how he’s doing; I simply read his recent posts and look through his photos without liking them. I like seeing how well he’s doing now, but I don’t “like” these updates because then he’ll receive a notification and then he’ll be reminded of my existence, and then he’ll most likely message me to check to see how I’m doing, because he’s nice like that, but that’d mean having to keep correspondence with another person I’ll just end up ignoring which I’ll feel bad about because I already have a hard time as it is getting back to my own dearest friends, so why not just avoid that whole mess and stick to creeping?
My only memory of E.J. really is the smell of freshly chopped onions. Now, I’m not entirely confident whether his dreads were the source of the stench or if it was his body odor in general but I think I still hold it against him for reasons no more insulting than having inconvenienced me on hung over mornings because I now throw up anytime I smell onions whilst drunk. Every morning smelled like someone was preparing salsa no one was going to eat especially if the window wasn’t cracked open all the way overnight, but because he was from San Diego, like Liam, not fully adapted to the Bay Area chill and because the window was on his side of the room, hanging over his bed, I had to do the only thing I could do: learn to stop complaining and love the stench. But I couldn’t. Nor could I say anything to him because he was already black and albino and back then I felt he had the worst of both worlds and I didn’t want to contribute to whatever insecurities he was and might’ve been trying to get over. Also because he was a Brony. Not that there’s anything wrong with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, let alone being black or albino, I just had a feeling that those facets locked him in the crosshairs of discrimination and strife his whole life that even the open-hearted majesty of the Bay Area couldn’t fully release him from. After all, even I was looking at him through that very scope.
When I first met him I wondered how his dad must’ve reacted when he emerged from his mother’s womb. The second thing I wondered was if doctors are able to detect albinism beforehand so as to avoid any fallacious finger-pointing along with any overall discomfort in general. I wanted to be friends with E.J., I really did, but we lacked the chemistry. One time I tried to say something relatable, remembering how once in junior high I saw an albino family in The Guinness Book of World Records and saw that same family the following year at Disneyland, and how in some parts of Africa albinos are hunted for their body parts because superstition holds that their body parts can bring riches, success, power or sexual conquest, and that maybe he should avoid going to those parts in Africa wherever they may be. Then I thought I shouldn’t say that, so I just kept quiet and continued with my math homework.
We did however connect on one thing once, but I can’t remember over what — maybe videogames which I would have lied about because I was never really into gaming, but I knew enough through social osmosis to be able to talk about aspects beyond the superficial. But when we finally “realized” we had something in common, he asked me, “Did we just become best friends?” alluding to Step Brothers, which I didn’t know how to respond to because I didn’t at all feel like we did, become best friends that is, because whatever thing it was that we shared in common was, if anything, merely a byproduct of the necessary conversations that must be exchanged between two roommates at the start of their new lives, out of, you know, courtesy. I also didn’t care for the movie. Like it was fun, I guess, but isn’t worth having to justify why quotability is not synonymous to quality.
If I did have to justify why I didn’t like Step Brothers (that much, anyway), I’d justify my not liking the movie, I think, because I know some of my friends like that movie, and because they like things I don’t necessarily like, vice-versa, and while it’s ok to like different things because we’re all individuals I still find myself pandering to the interests of others’ so as to remain on their good side, as though my disinterest in Step Brothers would be the Jenga piece of my undoing: a fear that not agreeing with your friends on trivial matters, such as movies, is blaspheming against the church that is Friendship, totally ignoring all the true moments of bonding shared between us. And even though E.J. wasn’t necessarily my friend with whom I shared absolutely no bonding experience apart from living with each other, I, well, again, shared a room with him and didn’t want to give him the wrong impression for the rest of the year since he quoted it with such zeal and the expectation that I was already a fan. I did get a kick out of the scene when Will Ferrell’s character puts his balls on John C. Reilly’s character’s drum set. The balls looked very realistic.
I replied with a hesitant yet drawn out, “Yep…” though he didn’t pick up on it. And we carried on a conversation I don’t at all remember because I was already thinking about my new friend Vera from two doors down. We conversed with our desks between us so we weren’t actually speaking face-to-face. Most of our conversations went like that, with our desks between us, rarely face-to-face.
And arrive we to Cesar who never fails to correct those who pronounce his name wrong, “It’s SAAAY-zar, not [LevioSA],” — the professional pole dancer (or “pole artist,” I suppose) and part-time Drag Queen who performs under the name Candy… something, Glitterbottom I think, I forget, I just know Candy was her first name — and with whom I grew the closest. I don’t know why, but we just clicked. We didn’t enjoy any of the same things and we disagreed on most subjects, and I couldn’t stand that he had an Angry Birds blanket, but perhaps we got on well because we were both from “small” conservative farming towns marked by pollution, decay, and police brutality. Or perhaps because we inadvertently had a few classes together, one of the most memorable being German 101 in which we the students all staged a coup and got Fraulein Muller fired for being a shit teacher. Didn’t save our grades however. Or perhaps because we pretended to date for a year and a half in order make some money. Probably that.
Cesar found out that a group of grad students from the Downtown Campus on Powell were conducting a long-term study involving gay couples and that for every session of research you committed to, you’d be compensated $40 in cash on the spot. It occurred every six weeks for a whole year and a half, and all that was required of you was to sit alone in front of a computer with free water and chocolate and a pleasant calendar with buff men in underwear and appropriately themed hats — for instance, on December an incredibly buff blonde man in a Speedo three sizes too small would wear a Santa hat, maybe a candy cane dangling on his ear, and on August, my birthday month, there’d be a group of firemen all posed with hoses held in such a way to make you think about your dad for some reason, but it’d make sense because it’s really dry in some places in August and sometimes there are fires and when there are fires they need to be put out and so it wasn’t an arbitrary decision for the naked firemen to be on August I don’t think, again, thematically appropriate — and you’d just answer questions about how you handle yourself in specific situations between you and your partner, a lot of it having to do with infidelity, condoms, HIV, and lies. But the questions were vague and hypothetical enough to not have to draft out an alibi to learn by heart in case we were compromised, though in looking back I can’t help but feel bad for meddling with an academic study, but past is past, and to be fair I did answer honestly, drawing from past experiences not quite with men, yes, but love knows no gender, or at least as much as I could anyway, but perhaps the blame is on the ones who conducted the study because it should have been so clear that Cesar and I were in no way a couple. I’m not saying it’s their fault for “failing” to see past our fiscal-focused lies, if anything I commend them for looking past surfaces and accepting that our love transcended our outward appearances, but come on — Cesar was, and still is, a high-maintenance power bottom with a killer body he bled, sweat, and cried for, in other words, earned, and always walked as if to the beat of “Deux Garçons Pour Une Fille” by April March whereas I was still recovering from my high school obsession with all things Hunter Thompson, always in ill-matching clothes too big for me, stained yellow teeth as opposed to his pearly whites, worn out tennis shoes or sandals as if I was Zuckerberg or a homeless person, accompanied by the hiccupping brass from any Tom Waits song, you pick. If someone told you Lupita Nyong’o and Kid Rock were an item, you’d slap them and tell them not to be silly: Givenchy prefers not the company of Mossimo, as they say, isn’t that right?
I did ask Cesar after we walked out the doors of the Downtown Campus for the last time, from our final study — which we didn’t even celebrate, not even over like a glass of wine or champagne, or even Chicken McNuggets as he’s so fond of (God how I envy those with a fast metabolism)— if I was his type, to which he laughed, casually mentioned his latest Grindr hookup, a Harvard grad allegedly (big whoop, I bumped shoulders with the Queen of England at the Royal Highland Fair in 2009 and got a blow job from someone related to Pablo Escobar, though not by blood I have to admit) and then he pranced away towards the Embarcadero into the mix of the finest characters the Financial District had to offer, he being not the finest.
When Liam learned of our “involvement,” mine and Cesar’s that is, he expressed jealousy. Something I still don’t understand because he didn’t need $40 every six weeks since he had a Trust Fund to pull his pants up for him and because as “progressive” as Liam made himself out to be he was still obviously homophobic, some lingering SoCal vibes I imagine. Like, in theory he was all for Equal Love, probably started some shit with his mom over Prop 8 because he wasn’t yet old enough to vote No on it, probably had a gay friend or two, or maybe three, but it seemed like he was ultimately moved by the Zeitgeist, just wanted to fit in. He is, I believe, what you call a “White Feminist.” I actually have a distinct memory of the exact moment when I knew for certain I didn’t like him. It’s the night we went to see STRFKR, back when they still went by Starfucker, at The Lodge at the Regency Center on Sutter and Van Ness, the night we stumbled into a Robert Mapplethorpe-themed tea room on Folsom where we met an Old Twink and his camera where I was introduced to a fantasy I would never forget: the night I was baptized into the world of Chicken Hawks and learned something new about myself, something repressed.
Also, I asked Cesar over Instagram what his Drag Queen name was. It’s Candy Glitterbomb, not Glitterbottom. I was close.