Mine is what you might call a “pants off” household—which is to say, my roommates and I spend limited time pant-clad within the confines of our own home. Of course, guests are by no means obligated to partake, but one of our many shared values as cohabitants is a belief in the sanctity of removing one’s leg-sleeves promptly upon returning home. This represents just one datapoint on the broad, colorful spectrum of roommate experiences. In a city like New York, where few below the age of 40 can afford to live alone, there are those like me, who live with the platonic equivalent of significant others, while there are plenty of others who share their homes with glorified strangers, sworn enemies, crushes, colleagues, and, well, Other.
Cohabitation is a strange dance, much like marriage or the HoeDown Throwdown. It conjoins entirely disparate lives in sticky, intimate ways, and re-codes the very shape of well worn relationships. It demands small talk of the small talk-opposed, and instills a yearning for alone time in even the most social beings. All cases call for a certain etiquette—a trade of goods and services, toilet paper for clean dishes, the exchange of fridge real estate, the list goes on. Don’t forget to rinse your recyclables.
In any case, be it a matter of sink-vomit, communist propaganda, burnt lasagne, or the occasional ant farm, in the great tradition of New York living, the “roommate narrative” remains a rite of passage. So, in honor of that very tradition, I’ve pulled together some of my absolute favorites. Below, by way of friends, friends of friends, friends’ parents, colleagues, friends of colleagues, the occasional stranger, and a number of Instagram DMs, I’ve cataloged a roster of poignant, decidedly New York tales re: adventures in the art of communal living.
“In my first apartment in Bushwick, I had four roommates. I’m pretty sure one was a PCP dealer. I’m actually positive. She was pretty cool, though.”
“Both of my first roommates on the Lower East Side were actors, so they were always doing scenes together. I would come home to them engaged in a dramatic fight about a lesbian affair or whatever. One of them would be crying, the other would be standing on the counter, and they wouldn’t break character when I came in to get water, or make food or anything. It was impressive.”
“When I graduated from college and moved back to Brooklyn, I half moved in with my boyfriend in Greenpoint. Technically, my belongings lived at my parents’ in South Brooklyn, but it was rare that I went ‘home.’ At the time, he shared the apartment with his best friend, whose dad owned the building, only accepted rent in cash, and lived downstairs. He had been something of a film protegee in various Soho communities in the ’80s, but it was entirely unclear what he was actually doing at the time–in fact, I knew very little about him…other than that he’d spent the past year writing his own communist manifesto. He’d had it printed en masse, with thread bindings and everything! For months, copies of the 100-page manifesto would just appear in places around the apartment in piles. No matter how many times we moved them or put them elsewhere, they just continued to reappear. Now, in my own apartment, I still find them sometimes, tucked at the bottom of old bags, or wedged behind stacks of books.”
-Eliza D. (It is I)
“My second New York apartment was above a family-owned Chinese food restaurant in Chinatown in the ’80s. I was a student at the time and had minimal budget to spare. So, in exchange for free dinner, I would go downstairs most evenings and help the kids whose family owned the restaurant with their homework, which was in English. It was a very solid arrangement.”
“My roommate is a dungeon master. I didn’t REALLY know what that entailed until we’d ACTUALLY moved in together. Once a week, or every other week, I’d come home to a whole group of dudes (maybe 7-10) gathered around the kitchen table engaged in these giant games of Dungeons & Dragons. They all had characters, so you’d hear them walk through their stories. My roommate would facilitate or set the scene (‘You stumble into a hidden alcove in the ice forest, and you hear a noise coming from a box in the corner. Do you open it?’) to which the respondents would say things like, ‘I drink my last remaining health potion for extra strength and approach the box.’ Sometimes there were whole dioramas involved. Sometimes people who couldn’t be there in real life would make video chat appearances. It was such a spectacle to come home to. But eventually, after watching or listening enough times, I decided I HAD to participate, just to try it. And honestly…I’ve LOVED it ever since.”
“I had a roommate who blacked out and threw up in our kitchen sink but refused to clean it up because she ‘didn’t think it was her’ and didn’t believe she’d done it. It was on a Tuesday night and I was like, ‘Well….one of us was blackout [drunk] and one of us was me so….’ In the end, I cleaned it up.”
“I’ve heard a lot of people’s horror stories about their roommates leaving pasta water boiling and passing out, but one time, my roommate fell asleep while baking a whole lasagna. Our apartment smelled like sour tomato sauce for like three months.”
“Years ago, I lived with a guy who was really really serious about this ant farm he had. He was a freelancer and he mostly worked from home, so he would just sit at his desk and look at it. I started having nightmares about ants crawling all over me.”
“Once I had a roommate tell me I had to give her a heads up if I was bringing meat into the apartment (an odd request to honor). We arrived at that rule because, one time, I’d been cooking fresh scallops in the kitchen, and she’d run out of her room screaming bloody murder, then literally did not come back into the apartment for two whole days. She also told me I wasn’t allowed to keep my lobster claw crackers (like those little metal things you use) in the apartment because she had no use for them and they made her sad…. Oh, and on top of that, she kept my blender in her room—which was very weird—and then lied about having it when I was trying to move out.”
“Well…this is more sad than funny or strange, but my boyfriend and I moved in together in an apartment in the East Village that was like, the smallest apartment you’ve ever seen. We could barely fit inside of it. Then, we broke up. But we were both new to the city, so we waited a whole month for our lease to end, living in the same apartment, literally not saying one word to each other. I hope that will be my worst roommate experience ever.”
“I actually don’t know my roommate’s name. I’ve lived in this apartment for almost a decade, and I used to live with my best friend. He moved out because he was getting married, so someone else came to sublet. I work pretty crazy hours and we almost never cross paths. We’ve been living together about six months now and I seriously don’t know her name.”
“I subletted from a guy who was learning to play the violin via YouTube tutorials. It might have been the most painful sound I’ve ever heard. Ever.”
Feature Photos via Comedy Central.