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Photographs by Carly Arnold; costumes by Costume Capers

2. The Slobstafarians. No. 1: Hemp Plus cereal. No. 2: Wooden spoons. No. 3: Bob Dylan guitar tablature book. No. 4: Guitar bliss. No. 5: We have no idea what those are. No. 6: Jamaican hat makes bold statement. No. 7: Party smile. No. 8: Goblet. No. 9: Peace sign makes you 'aggressor' if you complain.

Hell Comes to Your House

From the dorms to the duplexes, no one is safe when their housemate is a certifiable lunatic--or even just really, really annoying. With that in mind, Metro Santa Cruz presents true stories from the darkest depths of housematedom. Welcome to hell--population: you and some freak.

By Mike Connor

They're out there, you know. Disgusting slobs, anal neat-freaks, raging racists, pathological liars, pneumatic sex machines, unhousebroken sleepwalkers--you name it, somebody's had to live with it. And though it might make the rest of our lives easier if they were actually lurking beneath bridges and down dark alleyways--with their telltale snarling faces, hunched shoulders and hands curled up into menacing little claws--they're not that easy to spot. They walk among us, they look and sound just like us, and in almost all respects behave exactly like our best friends and neighbors. But move in with them, and suddenly they're the devil incarnate. Or at least a bit nutso.

"It's my theory now that one out of four people you live with is going to be crazy, or at least just a little nutty," says a veteran of numerous harrowing housemate experiences in Santa Cruz, one of countless anonymous sources who relished the opportunity to vent about their experiences. Collecting stories for this article was frighteningly easy, due to the awful truth that almost anyone who's done the housemate thing for long enough has had a crappy one.

Their reasons for telling their stories varied from person to person. For some, sharing their experiences with a reporter was their way of exacting a bit of revenge, an attempt to purge the last vestiges of bitterness that refuse to be watered down, even by the most cathartic deluge of emotion. Others, not wanting to relive a miserable time in their lives, had to be coaxed to tell their stories. Still others, thoroughly cleansed of their trauma by time and psychotherapy, relish the fact that they've moved on to happier realities, that their living hells are finally reduced to harmless little anecdotes.

There were a few bullshit artists that hoped to slip in some stories about public bestiality and unauthorized nocturnal fellatio, but we here at Metro Santa Cruz can smell a skunk a mile away; we left those little stinkers to rot like roadkill on the highway of lies.

We've distilled the cream of the crappy crop down to a few basic archetypes--we chose the nice Enneagram-like number of nine, and also provided a guide full of helpful advice and legal resources to help you to avoid accumulating your own stories of housemate horror. So read on, intrepid homebody, and be warned!

1. The Pagan Sex Fiend Dormmate

UCSC students beware: you are the group most vulnerable to the perils of a kooky roommate, since you're forced to let someone who knows neither you nor your roommate play matchmaker. Um ... sucks to be you? Says one UCSC student:

"I'll never forget being sexed out of the room all the time. We used to put a [sex warning sign] up, and every time I turned around it would be on the door--when I'd go to my laundry, when I'd go to the bathroom, all the time. They had sex while I was sleeping, or even when I fell asleep reading. And they used to leave condoms all over, on the floor, hanging out of the trash can, in empty Cup 'O Noodles. And she was just the filthiest slob ever--we got fruit flies all the time. Oh, and her boyfriend snored, too. Every night."

2. The Slobstafarians

I have personal experience with this one. Problems abound in your first place off-campus, usually because many students haven't yet figured out where their living space boundaries lie. Enter two peaceful, nature-loving Rastafarians with nesting habits far worse than most woodland creatures, who eschewed housecleaning in general and washing dishes in particular like it was some form of corporate-imperialist-racist-sexist-hegemonic exploitation.

In an attempt to prove to them that they were solely responsible for the disgusting mess in the kitchen, my other housemate and I boycotted our kitchen entirely for one whole month. Meanwhile, rats infested the house. It became necessary to clean, if just to keep the rodents out, and they complained bitterly when we asked them to handle the kitchen. We revealed our little ruse, and they berated us for our vindictive scheme, which worked oh-so-beautifully.

At the end of the summer when it was time to move out, we found the charred, ashen remains of a rat in the broiler beneath the oven in which we'd just cooked such delicious calzones. Mmmmmmm!

3. The Godfather, Part IV

Let the record show that the Corleones weren't the only ones playing with horse heads.

"She came back from sheepherding on a reservation in Arizona," says one person I spoke to of her housemate from hell, "where she happened upon a dead horse one day and just grabbed the head off of it. She had it on top her car, wrapped in a rug, and you could barely sort of smell it, there were a few fruit flies hanging around. But then she unwrapped it to put it in a big garbage can full of bleach water. It looked like soggy brown papier mâché covering a horse's skull. With maggots. She put it in bleach water, and she would change it once a week, but right before she changed the water, it smelled so fucking bad--it was this disgusting, bleachy, horrible dead smell that makes you instantly want to puke. It was this stinky, horrible thing for like a month, but now all the meat and maggots are gone, and it's just a white, regular skull, as if nothing ever happened."

4. The Nocturnal Urinators

It's hard to blame sleepwalkers for their nocturnal antics. Whether they're walking around talking nonsense about trying on your dirty laundry, standing above you staring creepily at you while you sleep, or repeatedly mistaking your bedroom floor for the bathroom, they can't really help it. But that's hardly any consolation for your little brother when he's curled up in a sleeping bag right where said sleepwalker likes to urinate. That'll teach you to leave your door unlocked ... unless you're into that sort of thing.

One of my own ex-housemates, nice guy that he was, invited a drunken homeless guy to crash in our living room one time. He woke me up to ask me where the toilet was, and shortly thereafter I heard the tinkling sound of urine in my shower. When I kicked him out of the house, he accused me of being racist, somehow not getting the point that I discriminate against anyone who pees in my shower. Or on my family room floor--he had also wet himself while he slept.

5. The Good, The Bad, and the Unmedicated

Please keep in mind that this story and the next two are consecutive experiences of the same informant, who apparently has some seriously twisted housemate karma.

"She was OK while she was on the medication," says this unlucky soul, "but it was obvious when she went off it. It made her talk in fragments, so you couldn't even understand her. She'd burst into our room yelling about stuff that wasn't about us, just yelling randomly. She and her boyfriend, they blocked all the doors with the couches so you had to hurdle them to get through the doors. One day, I tried to move the couches and pick up all the trash, and she freaked out and tried to throw a table at me. That was one of the two times I had to call the cops. The other time was after she moved out--she came back pounding on the door, saying, "I want my toilet seat, give me my toilet seat!" Then she smashed open a window, let herself in and threw a 40-ounce bottle at my friend's head. The landlord actually offered them money to move out."

6. The Homicidal Control Freak. No. 1: Fourth cup of coffee in last 45 minutes. No. 2: Disinfectants. No. 3: Cell phone. No. 4: Tasteful magazines. No. 5: Do you want some of this? Huh?

6. The Homicidal Control Freak

His dog was old and stank. He overcharged for the bills and then didn't pay them. He stole the other housemates' kitchen supplies. But above all, he couldn't stand for other people to use his stuff. His washer/dryer was strictly off-limits, and eventually so was the living room couch, the carpet, and the paint on the walls, all of which "belonged" to him.

"We'd been fixing up the living room to make it livable," she says, "so he freaked out and took the TV out of there right away. And then one day he says, 'The carpet in here, in the living room, that's my carpet. Don't walk on it, don't sit on it, don't touch it. I realize you have to walk across it to get to your room, but walk fast and lightly. The paint on these walls? Mine. Don't touch it, don't put anything up. The couches are mine, don't touch them, don't sit on them.' And he actually took one of the couches, turned it upside down, and marked it with a slide ruler to mark exactly where the couch was so in case we moved it or turned it right-side up while he was gone, he would know."

When his housemates asserted their rights to the common living space, he removed his couch and tried to take the carpet. Before finally giving his notice to leave, he "accidentally" left the gas on in the kitchen before leaving the house. Three times.

7. The Couch Monkey. No. 1: Sleeping bag means he didn't get that job. No. 2: Bottles, bottles, so many bottles. No. 3: Cigarette butts. No. 4: Wine 'em, dine 'em, 69 'em hat. No. 5: Remote control permanently attached to hand.

7. The Couch Monkey

Couch surfers, couch monkeys, den squatters, Wandering Jews ... whatever you want to call them, the great part about them is that most are well-behaved, and honestly appreciate the favor you're doing for them by letting them stay. But it sucks when they multiply.

"When he moved in," says our thrice-bitten housemate victim, "he was a pretty serious student, sort of a raver. But what I think happened is that he went to a rainbow gathering or something, and he went crazy hippie. Suddenly it was 11 hippies; they multiplied. You can't just have one hippie, they bring all their friends, they'll go to a concert and then come home with more hippies. They took over the house, and I didn't even have the power to fight. After [the previous housemates], I lost the power to fight or be confrontational about anything."

There's nothing like a bad experience living with a person deep into a particular subculture to brew some serious intolerance for "those kind of people." To be fair, then: there are certainly plenty of pot-smoking, nature-loving New Age types who are also misanthropic neat freaks, and people of all cultural persuasions who are also sloppy mooches.

8. The Housemate of Liberty

Not only does this type of housemate enable the couch monkeys to be fruitful and multiply, but they also invite your tired, your poor, your drunk, your loud and your unhousebroken into the house.

"One of my friends," says a shell-shocked Santa Cruzan who once lived in Los Angeles, "he was the invite-everyone-home guy, so we got to know every single gutterpunk in Hollywood. We used to do WWF parties for Sunday Smackdown, and I got home and there were 15 under-the-bridge trolls sitting in the living room. They were full-on trolls; they were brown because they were so covered in dirt. And you're like, 'Who are you? You're interesting looking. That's a real nice nail in your nose.' I was like, 'Oh my God, you did not just pick up a bunch of trolls and bring them over.'"

A housemate who just can't say "no" to friends is equally problematic. Over a month after a particularly social housemate of mine moved out, one of the former party-goers stopped by the house to have a good time. When he found that there was no party going on, he robbed my housemate and me in our living room with boxcutters. On Sept. 11. Seriously.

9. The Pathological Liar

The following are snippets from a con artist's reign of terror. She would move from place to place stiffing landlords and roommates along the way, enlisting the ACLU to back her up when times got tough.

"Apparently, she read a book called How to Live Rent Free," says a friend of a friend of this now-somewhat-legendary Santa Cruz hellmate. "It was popular some years ago. My friend took her in as a housemate, and they got along for two or three months; my friend really liked her. Then she started to not pay her rent, run up incredible, long phone conversations on my friend's bill and becoming disagreeable. So my friend asked her to leave, and for some three months, she wouldn't. So my friend eventually got an eviction notice and saw an attorney, but this woman knew the ropes. It took another three months for the sheriff to get rid of her; in the meantime she was not paying rent, running up the phone bill and being very disagreeable. She's done the same modus operandi to at least 10 people, that's the basic outline."

'Pacific Heights' Resource Guide

God forbid you should wind up living with Michael Keaton or any similarly psycho housemates. But just in case, here's our humble guide to protecting yourself.

Trust Your Gut. If you're looking for a place to live in this expensive and overcrowded town, you're in a bad position to set the rental terms. But do try to meet with all the housemates before you move in, if just to get a sense of who they are. And don't be afraid to express reasonable expectations--good housemates will appreciate your concerns and strong communication skills. But get everything you can in writing.

Check Them Out. If you have no choice but to invite someone you don't know to live with you, don't be shy about doing a background check. Ask for references and call them.

Get All Legal on Their Ass. When things go wrong, depending on the terms of your rental agreement, your landlord might have the power to help you oust your housemate--although you can expect 30-90 days of Pacific Heights-style hell as the justice system churns through this summary court procedure. Call the California Department of Consumer Affairs for more info at 800.952.5210, or read through the California Tenants handbook online at http://www.dca.ca.gov/legal/landlordbook/catenant.pdf. Legal aid organizations can also help low-income clients. Call California Rural Legal Assistance at 831.458.1089

Get It in Writing! Work out as much as you can in writing before trouble starts. If it's already begun, third party mediators and professional arbitrators can sometimes help. Be aware, though, that any stipulations establishing grounds for immediate eviction will not hold up in court.

Don't Write Checks to Your Housemates. Whether it's the phone bill, PG&E or SCMU, none of them mind multiple checks for the same bill. Most landlords don't mind, either.

UCSC Students: Two words for your RA and your CRE: Irreconcilable Differences. Of course you should try to work it out with your roommate first, but when you still find yourself pulling the pillow over your head, trying to sleep through sex noises and Phish's latest noodling on the stereo, only to find a used condom tucked beneath your pillow like a present from the Sex Fairy, click your heels together three times and remember those two magic words: Irreconcilable Differences.

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From the September 24-October 1, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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