I Am Not My Housemates’ Keeper


My youthful housemates are a consistent reinforcement of my long-ago decision to not have children. To clarify, they aren’t bad seeds. They are nice, clueless boys who do very little all day, and who seem to have few mid-term (let alone long-range) goals. They exist for the short-term pleasures of eating take-out and chilling out in the living room after a long day of even more chilling out in their shared bedroom.

I suspect that their parents formulated a game plan of sorts by finding a nice room in a nice house in a nice neighborhood to dump these kids — sanity being a decent trade off for a couple thousand bucks per month in rent and expenses. These “kids” are adults (so to speak) but they are marginally- to un- employed and disengaged from school. Thus, they spend their days (which start at around noon and end at 2AM or so) in their room, watching movies at top volume and filling the house with marijuana smoke.

I’m allergic to pot smoke, it seems, and this allergic reaction manifests in mild but persistent paranoia and anxiety. This was especially inconvenient during the marathon push of finals week. While striving to get my essays and projects turned in on time, I would realize that my thoughts were racing and old injustices were re-opening their screaming maws to haunt me once again. It finally occurred to me that second-hand pot smoke was being piped directly into my room through the heating vents.

When I complained about this to our shared landlord, Steven, he confronted my housemates point-blank, and was met by equally blank stares. “Marijuana? No, sir, I don’t smoke marijuana — certainly not in the house.” Later, when I called my landlord in to stand in the hallway to witness the thick, visible smoke wafting from under their door, he shrugged and said, “I just don’t smell it.” I didn’t know if he was bullshitting me, or if he had suffered some tragic accident that left him unable to smell.

My therapist told me that I was too passive. “If it were me, I’d have gone ape shit on those fools during the first week.” At her behest, I looked up “gas lighting,” which is when someone pretends not to understand something that’s going on in order to make another person feel crazy, and suggested that the lads were pulling a fast one on me.

Truth be told, I had started to wonder whether or not I actually smelled the smoke. Maybe I smelled incense, or maybe a skunk had sprayed right outside my window? Maybe an especially ornery family of skunks was spraying continually again and again?

Worse than that, I wondered if I needed to pay some sort of karmic debt for my own misbegotten youth. Was this the price I needed to pay for the depression and substance abuse of my twenties: to tolerate the behavior of my sweet but dopey and spoiled young housemates? These are the thoughts that played repeatedly in my head at 1AM, delirious from finals week and from half-inhaled, second-hand pot smoke that I could not escape — even though I’d opened up all the windows in my room (during a roaring nighttime rainstorm, to boot).

Another issue has been the noise. Once, I got a peek into their room as I was walking by the door, which stood ajar. They had a small couch schooched up to rest directly in front of a very large television, where they spend most of their time playing video games and watching movies that heavily feature machine gun fire. The beds and chests of drawers were afterthoughts and shoved carelessly and haphazardly into the far corners. If I was looking for feng shui and a flow of chi, this was not the place to find it.

I can’t bring myself to hate them, because they are nice people. They wash their dishes and are respectful to me — me, who must seem like a doddering old woman inexplicably living in student housing. Additionally, I’m afraid that they have a difficult time ahead of them. If their parents just want them out of their familial houses, and are willing to pay to have them sit around and smoke weed all day, what’s going to become of them? They’re not in school and the one who works at Costco frequently calls in sick (and brags about how there are never repercussions). They don’t go out; they simply sit and smoke pot, drink a six-pack each per day, and watch movies all day long. This doesn’t seem like the path to success to me — no matter how unassuming and middle class they are.

I recently agreed to clean the communal kitchen every evening so that my 82-year-old landlord can watch his beloved shows on PBS in the late evening, instead of doing the tidying-up himself. It has become a welcome end-of-the day meditation for me. I wipe down the counters, sweep the floor and take out the trash.

I noticed that, even though I would clear away the beer bottles that had accumulated on the counter, fresh ones would appear the next day, like magic. This wasn’t your standard cheap beer that twenty-somethings are famous for buying by the case. No, there wasn’t a Pabst Blue Ribbon or Coors can in site. Instead, expensive and exotic microbrews were the order of the day, and rows of the bottles would line up like people waiting in line at the airport security check.

No matter how often I took them out, new ones would appear. After a couple of days, I refused to bus the bottles, and they multiplied exponentially. Finally, Steven threw up his hands and took them out to the bin, after I’d made it clear that I wasn’t going to pick up the boys’ trash.

My friends tell me I need to move into a house for grown ups, and I repeat my assertion that I can’t leave until I graduate college. “I’m only paying $900 per month to live there, and it’s right down the street from school!” While the financial and locational aspect of my living situation is certainly convenient, I have another fear: I don’t want to move into a house with people my age, where we have to have community meetings once per week where we use “I statements” and have respectful but passive-aggressive, Bay Area-style arguments about whose turn it is to take out the perfectly separated trash, compost and recycling. I’ve read the want ads for share living spaces, and they read like new-age diatribes. Some even go so far as to list astrological requirements for a roommate. Sometimes, the bullet-pointed list of what they require from a housemate is much too precious and picky:

• Vegan

• Doesn’t support toxic “corporate” stores, such as Macy’s or Costco

• Voted for Bernie Sanders

• Into yoga, Pilates and/or mediation

• “Likeminded,” whatever that means

• Needs to tolerate their multiple pets (and significant others) in the shared spaces

I treasure having a crotchety landlord (who likes me best) who isn’t afraid to raise his voice while enforcing the no-nonsense rules, and who cleans the entire house on a daily basis. I’m afraid I’m too much of a wimp for a normal shared living environment, where I’d have to confront the person who is leaving crusty old burrito detritus on the dinner plates, or to stand up for myself when someone gets angry that I’m not devoting enough mindful energy to scrubbing behind the toilet.

So for now, I’m stuck muttering under my breath at the whippersnappers who start making noise the moment they wake up, and who bring stoned friends over to guffaw at the lyrics to the novelty songs they’ve found on YouTube. It won’t last forever.