I was telling a nineteen-year-old recently that in pre-internet days people often took their chances when seeking roommates. In my twenties I was still trusting enough to drive over to a stranger's house to answer a “roommate wanted” ad from the classifieds.
I was single, and secretly I hoped my potential roommate would turn out to look like George Michael or John Bon Jovi. .
When the door opened, I was greeted by "Gary." Black shaggy hair, and equally shaggy beard. And mutton chops so long I wondered if chewed on them when he ate. This guy could’ve been Paul McCartney from the cover of the Let it Be album, except it was twenty years too late.
And Gary appeared to be pregnant with twins.
But he was friendly, and led me into his living room, circa 1970. The carpet was shag, and avocado green. A plaid couch with permanently indented cushions sat flanked by two orange, circular velvet chairs. I half expected Tom Jones to swagger out in stretchy bell bottoms, singing “What’s New Pussycat.”
But I had to admit, Gary was gracious. He asked me my cat's name, and offered me a beer. That it was only ten a.m. might have given me pause, but I was naive. I tried to ignore the pool hall odor of stale cigarettes that permeated the space. This meant if I took the place I’d spend most of my time behind my bedroom door. Even though we'd share a bathroom, at least Gary’s looked spotless. I told myself it would work as temporary.
I didn’t even notice the body hair at first.
After a couple weeks, black hairs, two to six inches in length began materializing on the bathroom floor, tub and countertop. I’d prepared myself for the inevitable raised toilet seat, but who expects to sit on a hairy one? The hair just appeared one day. Like some werewolf from the neighborhood had stopped by to borrow a cup of sugar, and asked to use the bathroom.
I broached the subject to Hairy Gary after work one evening. Burbank temps had been hitting near ninety, so I found him sitting shirtless in front of the air conditioner. He slouched in the orange, velvet chairs, a cigarette between his lips, and a moat of empty Coors bottles around him on the floor.
He stared, transfixed by the Giants game. I stared, transfixed by the lawn growing on his neck, shoulders and belly.
“You know, Gary,” I said, “I noticed some dark hair in the sink and tub…" I deliberately chose words which pointed blame in no specific direction. My being a redhead left me without a single dark hair on my body. The implication sounded obvious enough without an accusation.
“Huh,” he remarked, without taking his attention from the TV.
“I hardly noticed it at first,” I lied. “I mean, I drop a strand or two myself. But last night I while soaking in the tub...uh...whole clumps floated right past me.”
“When it reaches the clump stage…” By then I was grasping for non-offensive wording.
“A quick wipe after every shower would keep the drain from clogging, don’t you think?”
He didn't turn his head, but finally his gaze turned towards me. “Then go clean it up. ”
Baseball season stretched into football season. The beer and cigarette ritual continued. Now pizza crusts also surrounded his throne. Piles of hair surrounded everything else.
It was my own fault. My inability to be direct had turned me into a boarder in Hairy Gary’s apartment. But I'd grown up with a crazy uncle who collected his own beer bottles and cigarette butts. These, as well as guns, and he regularly threatened to blow everyone's heads to kingdom come. I was terrified of confrontations with men.
I started dropping less subtle hints for Gary, but still within boundaries of polite decorum.
I left Post-Its asking, “Missing these?” with black hairs attached.
One day, I recorded an outgoing message on our answering machine that said:
IF YOU’RE CALLING MASHAW, SHE’S PROBABLY AT WORK, OR THE GYM.
IF YOU’RE CALLING GARY, HE’S PROBABLY PASSED OUT IN FRONT OF HIS USUAL TWELVE-PACK, AND PIZZA. LEAVE A MESSAGE.
I was terrible. I'm embarrassed now by my passive-aggressive way of handling our conflict. My friends thought it was hilarious. Gary did not. When he found out about it, he pounded on my bedroom door and screamed for me to change that damn message. But my fuse had been ignited. I flung open the door, and screamed right back that he should clean up after himself once in a while, and I was sick of living with a slob. Several minutes of yelling ensued, and afterward, I actually felt exhilarated.
The next morning however, I cringed, remembering my behavior. I wondered if I should apologize as I watched my English muffin turn brown in the toaster. Maybe he'd try to be cleaner now.
The toaster popped, my muffin went flying, and landed on the counter top. When I picked it up-you guessed it. A thick, black hair was attached.
I moved out soon after that, happily settling into my very own studio apartment.
But only following my own three month-long cleaning compulsion.