Russian to you?
When I was 20, I moved out of my parents’ place for the first time and rented a small house with two friends I had made at university (before that particular institution decided it would be better for us to start seeing other people).
It wasn’t ideal. I ended up in the basement. It was a bit soviet-era concrete block-ish depressive down there, but the worst part is that my housemates thought of it less as “Allan’s Room” and more as “The Place With the Freezer, Washer and Dryer In It”, which led to some potentially embarrassing just-misses involving the kind of solitary activities young (middle-aged and elderly) men (and women) are sometimes wont to do when they think they are alone. Knocking isn’t a priority when you have a load of laundry to wash.
My major contribution to the household was the large TV set in our living room. It was a “moving out” gift from my parents (largely in lieu of the graduation present I’d never receive) and the two of them regarded it with a certain amount of dubiousness. As 20-something drama students, they believed the medium was—at worst—a chief cause of our social ills or—at best—a numbing opiate that robbed people of their senses. As an obsessive student of pop culture, I insisted on not only giving it such a prominent place in our home, but also subscribing to cable to broaden its entertainment capabilities, which I offered to pay for myself on the assumption they would deem such an expense to be too frivolous to consider.
For a few weeks things seemed fine, but it didn’t take too long for an unexpected personality conflict to spring up between me and “Gavin” (quotation marks used because I’m changing his name to make it harder for you to google). He was six years older than I was and had a lot of opinions, habits and preferences that very quickly got on my nerves (and vice versa).
That alone wouldn’t have been insurmountable, but we had a mutual quirk that quickly escalated the tension in the house. We both were huge know-it-alls who would never admit we were wrong about anything. This led to some rather epic fights over some extremely minor shit, including:
“The only Lolita I know of was written by Nabokov.”
“No, that definitely wasn’t the guy’s name.”
“Was it about a man who becomes obsessed with his landlady’s young daughter?”
“Then it was the one written by Nabokov.”
“Nope. It must have been another book.”
“So, you’re saying that there are two books taught at the university level named Lolita about a man who becomes obsessed with his landlady’s young daughter?”
“Yes. That has to be it. I mean, it was a Russian literature course. Does Nabokov sound Russian to you?”
(This is the best example I know of the kind of aggravatingly stupid argument smart phones have now miraculously made impossible.)
Then there was the time we got into the fight over putting down the toilet lid. Not the actual seat itself, but the part that covers the hole in the seat when the toilet is not being used. It was not my habit to put it down and he found this intolerable. Once, I walked into the bathroom and saw that he had left a note on the bottom part of the lid chastising me for having left it up.
This upset me and led to my leaving a sarcastic note in its place, which mainly focused on how if he was going to leave such notes, he could at least spell my name correctly (it had been addressed to “Allen”). During the inevitable argument this ignited, he reminded me that when we moved in I had jokingly said to “Mary” (our other roommate and his then-girlfriend) that we would have to make sure to put the seat down for her, which he then suggested was precisely the kind of joke he (and his fellow theatre criticism feminists) were “dedicated to fighting against!” He also angrily asked me to name a time when he would have ever seen my name written down that would have allowed him to know how it was spelled. I zipped my lip and didn’t mention the check I wrote out to him every month.
Another argument led to him exasperatingly complaining, “You go out of your way to disagree with everything I say! If I look up and say ‘The sky looks really blue today,’ you say ‘Actually, it’s purple!” I didn’t respond to this, because I knew doing so would just prove his point, but in my head I remembered that he was colour-blind and decided that it was spectacularly apt for him to use an example of my supposed contrariness that specifically exposed the limits of his perception.
It all started when he and Mary decided to throw a party. I had never undertaken such a task before and jokingly expressed some hesitation, which resulted in an invite he drafted and sent that severely downplayed my role as co-host and instead gave me Gilligan’s Island “and the Professor and Mary Ann” also-ran status.
This annoyed me, but I didn’t say anything about it. My annoyance grew even greater the night of the party when most of the people there (even those I’d met before) had no idea I even lived in the house, much less helped make the event they were enjoying happen. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t bother me now, but at 20 the resentment festered.
And it grew to a boil when the party ended and it was made clear that both Gavin and Mary expected me to wash all of the dishes on the sink and counter (pretty much every piece of food delivery system we collectively owned) all by myself because it was my “turn” in the agreed-upon rotation. Their unwillingness to volunteer to help me on what was honestly a fairly massive undertaking was made worse when I noted that it was the result of a party they hadn’t even allowed me to take partial credit for throwing.
Hey, Insult meet Injury! Try the bean dip and grab a drink!
The result was that the dishes remained unwashed a full week after the event had occurred. I refused to do them until Gavin or Mary offered to help, and such an offer was apparently not forthcoming. Gavin finally confronted me about it and the fight that followed was long and loud (with the eventual result that I did the dishes with Mary’s help).
A few months after that (not long after the toilet lid incident) Gavin decided the situation was untenable and told me that the two of them were going to look for another place to live.
It was a fairly devastating decision, since (despite the described rancour) the two of them were my closest friends and the center of my small social universe. Having alienated them, I found myself living alone in a small apartment and so isolated that I frequently went entire weekends without saying a single word out loud to anyone.
The only time I saw Gavin after that was another chance encounter in the same neighbourhood. I was actually prepared to walk right past him, but he (noticing the attempted snub) called out after me and we had a short uncomfortable chat and he introduced me to the woman who became his wife.
Now, I’m sure you are wondering what the preceding 1200+ words has to do with today’s question. Well, it’s the background I felt was necessary to explain the conclusion I came to when one night—out of a mixture of procrastination and boredom—I decided to google Gavin and see what he was up to over a decade after our friendship had imploded.
What I found out was this—he had written a play. A play that—by that point—had been produced multiple times across Canada. This did not surprise me, but the basic plot and description of one of the main characters caused my jaw to fall in the dropped position.
Gavin’s theatrical tale told the story of two roommates. In classic Odd Couple style, one is a channel-surfing slob who spends all of his time on the couch, while the other is a more socially confident and ambitious go-getter. Due to the slob’s sloth, the dirty dishes in their sink linger there long enough to create a sentient being.
In the article I read about the play, Gavin admitted that the slob character was based on a former roommate, but he said he first had the idea for the production a year before he wrote it in 2003—six years after we had lived together. It was definitely possible that he had a similarly TV-obsessed roommate during that time (presuming said roommate lived with him and his wife) and they’d had a similar dirty dish stand-off, but I couldn’t help but feel as though my existence had made this creative work a reality.
I emailed him to ask if this was all just a coincidence, but he never responded. I’ve never actually seen the play, so I have no idea if the portrait of the character is unflattering or familiar. It’s just something I know is out there that may or may not having anything to do with me. And it’s a weird thing to know.
(“Dirty Dishes” photo courtesy of Svadilfari)