Category Archives: Roommates from Hell

My Apology To Drizzt

If Doug and Russel were the roommates from hell, then Drizzt was a roommate in hell with me. Before the Jailbird got arrested (thus creating a permanent vacancy for me to fill), presumably for something unrelated to this particular story, Drizzt came home to find that Jailbird had broken into his room and was playing the PS2. Drizzt didn’t make a fuss at the time, which he would have been well within his rights to do, but I can only imagine how much sleep he lost until that jerk left. Add that to the crap that Doug and Russel pulled and you have to hope that he finally found some peace in his new apartment.

Why do I call him Drizzt? Because he introduced me to Bauldur’s Gate, a PS2 game set in the Forgotten Realms universe. Drizzt Do’Urden is a dark elf character that you can unlock in the game and Chris would play Drizzt along side my generic female dark elf.

We had some other things in common. Drizzt and I had a lot of the same taste in movies and literature. While I wasn’t as skilled at drawing as he was, we were both pursuing careers in writing, although his passion was more directly focused on screenwriting and producing for film.

It was Drizzt who enlightened me to the presence of the creative genius who is Kevin Smith. It began when I was watching Dogma on Comedy Central. He told me he had the DVD and asked if I wanted to watch it in it’s entirety. Then we moved on to Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back and from there we went to Clerks the Animated Series.

Although it was fair to say that Drizzt was a good friend, especially when he counted me as one of the only ones he could trust in a house with two ex-cons and a drug addict, there were times when I did not earn his good opinion. There’s no example of this that’s more glaring than when we finally got around to watching Kevin Smith’s first movie, Clerks. (Which is where you should start, otherwise you’re never going to get all of the in-jokes from the previously mentioned works)

It was getting pretty dark out and the neighborhood children were being, well, loud and obnoxious. They would run past our window and make noise. Sometimes they would throw stones at the door. The adults who were observing all of this behavior from their porches, which just happened to share a portion of the back yard, found this hilarious. The final straw was when someone lit a smoke bomb outside the kitchen window.

I got up and threw open the back door and in my early twenties, I became the crotchety old man on the porch telling kids to get off my lawn.

“Don’t worry about it,” one of the parents called back.

My brilliant and well thought out reply? “Next time I’m coming out here with a shotgun!”

In a neighborhood like Beech Street and all of it’s myriad side streets, no one is going to call the cops over a statement that wasn’t a smart idea to shout out, even in 2003, so for that I consider myself fortunate. But when the father of the brat brigade came over to confront me, it was Drizzt that had the balls to go to the door and face the music, while I went to the staircase and remained out of sight until the smoke cleared, so to speak.

If Drizzt ever reads this, I hope he accepts this as my humble apology for only adding one more log to a fire he was desperately trying to suffocate in the embers.

The Beech House

Changing names to protect the innocent is a concept that was introduced way back in the Dragnet days, when stories were based on genuine police cases and detective shows were a lot more interesting because they didn’t have to have a murder every single effing episode to keep their audiences.

It’s a courtesy, when you’re writing about real events and real people, to change names. My first brush with this was in the sixth grade, when I wrote a story that included some characters that very coincidentally had the same names as a few of my classmates. Never mind that I had known people in other schools and that some of those characters were named after people I knew elsewhere, those classmates found out about it and took umbrage. So I had to change the names out of courtesy to them.

In the workplace I would change as many names as possible, so that if those people came across my blog they wouldn’t complain about me to the HR, or the store manager, or the corporate brass. With friends that I’m on good terms with but not explicitly intimate, I change names to keep the whack jobs from possibly harassing them. I mean if a blog troll is going to make disparaging comments in my blog, there’s no telling what they might do if their parents ever tell them to leave the house for a couple of hours while their basement apartment gets fog bombed.

So where is the gray line in all of this? When is it okay to use someone’s name in a blog post, or newspaper article, or any media that others may read and come to a conclusion about?

If the person is a criminal who has already been mentioned in the news, they’re fair game. They made their own bed and now they have to lie to it. If that person is the owner of a business, like maybe a boarding house or something in the service industry, then they are also fair game. Because if I send someone to that business to spend money, then it would equally fair to warn people of that person before they spend their hard earned dollars. I’d like to say that it’s nothing personal, but any word of mouth business is going to be driven entirely by personal experience, so lets not beat around the bush.

Arlene was my first land lady. Although I paid Aunt Cat Lady a hundred dollars a month to live in her disease ridden cat shelter, she doesn’t really count. Arlene was the first person I met who rented to me because I had a steady source of income.

There is a bit of history here. My mother babysat Arlene’s son, Howie. Not in 2003, because that would be weird. No, when my mother was in her teens and Howie was just a boy, she was his baby-sitter and this is one of those times when I like to tell people that I don’t believe in coincidences. To round out the theory that destiny guided my path here, my stepfather once rented an apartment in the house next door to us. But if you think familiarity with my family is enough to get me a room in Arlene Manor, think again.

Arlene still owned the house she once lived in on Beech Street. I don’t know where she lived at the time, but it must have been less of a hassle to own the house and rent out the rooms than to flat out sell the place. Unfortunately, as my mother once said, Arlene is the kind of person who will “Step over a dime to save a nickle”.

She would rent out to anyone just to get the cash flowing. And as a point of interest, the only reason a room opened up for me was because the guy who lived there before me was taken out of the house in handcuffs the week before she put the ad in the paper. If I weren’t so desperate to get out of my aunt’s trailer, and my only source of income wasn’t the dredges of Price Chopper, I might have taken that as a sign of things to come and held out for something better.

Let me start off with some of the good things about the house and this particular part of Bennington.

There was a genuine kitchen and a stove. Since spaghetti and ramen made up the bulk of my diet for most of ’03 and ’04, having a fairly spacious kitchen and a stove is a luxury to a guy that can’t afford his own place. Also, there were times when a ‘treat’ for me was a Mama Celeste pizza from Stewart’s, which was just around the corner. So again, the stove was like a gift from Prometheus.

There was also a nice front porch with a decent overhang. I have not yet found a place to live that has a porch quite like this. The reason I loved it so much was because it gave a great view of the road during a downpour.

Beech Street itself is a mostly rural road that eventually leads up into the mountains. In short walking distance from the house, there is a baseball field that stretches out to the woods. Cross the little stream and there is a nice path through those woods that gives you a breathtaking view of an untouched swamp area. If you’re a wildlife nut like me, you may even see a garden snake in this little patch of forest. Also, at certain times of day, you very well may see wild deer in the baseball field, which are a staple of Vermont.

The closer you get to Main Street, the more drama you will come across. It’s not exactly what Steve Hofstetter would refer to as a “ca-click” neighborhood, but there are some interesting elements there. But that’s okay, because if you keep going, there’s a nice walking route that goes across the river and eventually leads you to School Street, which is where the Mount Anthony Union High School running track is located. If you can get past the trauma of having been a student there, or having just moved to Bennington, if you can get past the fact that the majority of the morons you will meet in this town were educated at this establishment, the race track is actually a decent place to stretch your legs.

This concludes the positive aspects of living at Beech Street.

Now let’s talk about Doug.

When I came around to look at the place, Arlene was just eager to get a body into the empty room that the jailbird had once occupied. And being that I was just eager to get out of Aunt Cat Lady’s place, I already had the money order in hand for the first week’s rent and the security deposit.

A bunch of people will be reading this with their Hindsight Glasses on, so let me clear something up. I was twenty years-old at the time and had never gone through the process of renting a place before. So it didn’t occur to me at the time that this was not the normal process for renting any place, much less a room in someone’s house. Unless you were physically present at the time, keep your comments to yourself about what I should and should not have done over a fucking decade ago.

I gave Arlene the money, but the room was not yet available because they were still going through the process of getting rid of the other guy’s things. So even though I had the key to the place, I couldn’t move in yet. But I went around with a couple of family friends to bring some of my stuff in so that I wouldn’t have to go through a big exhaustive moving day.

Doug was sitting there, in the living room. Like the Jailbird, Doug’s time at Arlene’s house was running short, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way his ass was practically glued to the chair. The only other person in the house at the time was a guy I had once met on the bus, who was a good friend then and I hope considers me a friend now, enough so that I will refer to him as Drizzt, for reasons that will be made clear in my Mother’s Day Post.

It was the presence of Drizzt that probably kept things from being too awkward. Having someone already living there who knew me from a previous encounter, made Doug more comfortable with meeting a complete stranger. While bringing some of my totes into the living room for eventual transport up the stairs to my room, it was my pseudo-cousin Steve (I have more Steve’s in my life than a Minecraft Server Admin) who made the most accurate assessment of Doug from the start, “That guy is a fucking goofball”.

An example of Goofball Fuckery came when I had been living in the house for about a week. It was late one night and Drizzt and his girlfriend Hart were there. By this time, I had become somewhat known in the house for buying the Lunchable snack packs, because they were dirt cheap at Price Chopper.

Doug, a recovering drug addict who was not recovering so much from alcoholism, was so wasted that I could have earned this post a cleverness credit by changing his name to Drugged or Drunk, but I didn’t think of it until now. I’m not sure what set him off that night, but it could have been the fact that I finally managed to pry the remote out of his emaciated hands long enough so that I could watch The Golden Girls. Drizzt’s girlfriend was enjoying the episode too and maybe Doug was feeling a bit indignant at having his place in the pecking order so effortlessly usurped.

He staggered into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.

“Hey, did you see what Nate buys for snack?” He pulled out one of my lunchables. “Look at this. A grown man is eating lunchables.”

He proceeded to laugh like a moron for twenty solid minutes while the rest of us sat there in uncomfortable silence. I’ve never in my life been at the point where I could get vicious with someone that I was living with, so I didn’t put him in his place for messing with my stuff. But needless to say, he put a real miasma over the other occupants of the house.

Russel, who also rented a room and incidentally worked at Price Chopper for a short amount of time, wouldn’t even spend a minute in the living room. For a while, I followed Russel’s lead, going right up to my room as soon as I got home. Doug ran his mouth again.

“Oh there he goes, hiding in his room like Russel.”

Understand that Doug had not paid the rent in a while. But he tried earning his keep my cleaning the kitchen up and making nice with Drizzt. And for the record, I think Drizzt just did his best to tolerate the guy as much as humanly possible. Drizzt would later confide in me that he suffered from OCD among other things and that living in a house with an ex-con (Jailbird) and a drug addict only exacerbated a lot of his symptoms.

Doug would fall asleep in the living room but he would leave the inside door of the kitchen open and lock the screen door, presumably to let some air into the house, or to possibly tempt a dangerous drifter, I couldn’t tell you. The kitchen door was the only way to enter the house, because for some reason none of our keys would unlock the front door. We could open the front door from the inside, but if the screen door was locked, we could be stuck out there all night until someone woke up to let us in. Russel had this problem once or twice and there is nothing like being awakened in the middle of the night by someone who is just trying to get into his own home and has to resort to shouting.

Finally, Arlene sent her son in to kick Doug out. I wasn’t there at the time, but I imagine a baseball bat was involved, only because I had my own reasons for wanting physical harm to befall Doug. But I returned home after a hard day at work and I was looking forward to seeing my mom, who had been living in Alabama at the time and was preparing to return to Vermont. So Doug’s leaving the house would definitely qualify as being in the win column at that point.

Unfortunately, Arlene’s good judgment of character would make an even bigger splash on our lives later that year.

According to Russel NSFW

Russel was fired from Price Chopper. According to one of the grocery clerks, Russel failed to disclose a felony on his application. This was not an official statement and none of the management would have been in a position to say anything. In retrospect I knew of at least one front end supervisor I could have asked but it didn’t occur to me until much later.

No one knew for certain what the conviction was. But we all had theories and some of us politely kept them to ourselves. Russel was well known to certain members of my family and a few friends I had managed to make and they had their own stories.

I have nothing against religion or anyone who is devoutly religious. Believe it or not, when I call someone a religious whack job or a Bible Thumper, this is not an attack on the denomination itself. Christans, Jews, Wiccans and Vulcan-Pastafarians can all be religious whack jobs or thumpers.

Religious Whack Jobs are people who are barely above the level of mental functioning required to be considered harmless. While still scary, religion gives them a focal point. Something to mutter to themselves on the bus, something to yell at strangers or write on their cardboard signs, or a frame of delivery for begging for change.

Whereas Bible Thumpers are people who very loudly proclaim their religious viewpoints. They smile brightly, wear the designated outfit, and make sure everyone they come into contact with knows that they are Christians, Catholics, Baptists, Wiccans, or Scientologists. But all of that pushing and all of that wild gesticulation that they call prayer, all of the recitations and the declarations are all to cover up the fact that they are hiding something. They get your attention and keep it focused on High so that you never think to look Low.

Russel was most definitely a Bible Thumper.

We were watching Gattaca, my favorite movie. Drizzt and I bonded over a shared interest in film and the creative aspects of writing and performance and we often watched films and discussed them at great length afterwards.

Russel came in to the living room during the opening scene of the movie, where Jerome Morrow is giving a blood sample to punch in at Gattaca.

“Bar codes are a sign of the Beast,” Russel said, by way of casual conversation.

This became a running joke between Drizzt and I. A few times, however, I made Drizzt uncomfortable when I baited and teased Russel. Mostly it was because that was what Doug use to do all the time and in Drizzt’s mind, I was going beyond simply teasing and moving into the realm of bullying and this was before either of us knew what Russel had actually done. One of example of this was pretty blatant.

Russel was talking about how he felt that people who are mentally challenged should have their tubes tied. This is also a guy who has a very “scientific” viewpoint on how someone can become gay. Now he professed a very eugenic viewpoint on people with disabilities. I very subtly commented about how I wish people who committed felonies would receive harsher punishments. “Like people who fail to disclose on their applications.”

Drizzt became noticeably uncomfortable and I made it a point to stop throwing stones in that particular glass house, if for no other reason than to not drive Drizzt away as a friend and a possible future business contact.

Another point of interest to make is that Howie, Arlene’s son, moved back into the house. He was paying sixteen hundred a month for an apartment he barely lived in and this was his childhood home, so I guess he made some deal with his mother. Russel had a problem with it, feeling like he was being “placed” there to watch us. I can’t imagine why it would have even concerned him since he was renting a room from the guy’s mother.

During this time, I had all of my Fridays off at Price Chopper. The reason was, I had started helping out at my middle school’s chess club sometime in early 2003. I was somewhat of a permanent fixture there and even few of the parents knew who I was and what I was doing there.

Also, there was a kid at Price Chopper who was sixteen. He was still in middle school because of a little incident that landed him in juvenile hall for a year, but he was working now and putting all of that behind him. His stepmother was a front end supervisor and his biological mother lived on one of the side streets off of Beech.

His biological knew my mother. Pretty much anyone who knew my mother had the best opinion of me, because they knew that she was not afraid to smack me if I stepped out of line. When she found out that I was keeping an eye out for her son at work, she openly encouraged him to spend more time with me. And whenever he had a beef at work, or school was giving him a hard time, I told him he could swing by my place just to shoot the breeze.

This was still just a little while before the average sixth grader with his own allowance could afford a cellphone. So it is a time in my life when a cellphone would have vastly improved situations, especially when the kid, whom I will call Edmund, (After the character in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) actually did come to my house.

Russel would often strut about the place in only his boxers. It was his house too and though it made the rest of us slightly uncomfortable, we didn’t say anything. My problem with it came when Edmund showed up and I wasn’t there. Russel had come to the door as described and saw no problem with inviting a kid that he knew to be sixteen years old into the house.

If you’re beginning to formulate a theory as to what Russel’s conviction might have been, I warn you now, the ending will not be pretty. Turn back if you’re easily shocked, or if the subject matter makes you uncomfortable, because I won’t be pulling punches. Like the title says: Not Safe For Work.

Often times, I would encounter the kids from the middle school out and about in public. As I said, some of the parents knew who I was. Most of the teachers knew me from when I was a student and appreciated the idea of a former student taking an active role as a volunteer. One kid’s parents, started telling stories that they made up in their heads. He would relay these theories to me and in their hate-filled version of events, I was just a creepy twenty year-old hanging out with seventh and eighth graders.

Understand that there was an ad campaign around this time encouraging adults to “keep a kid off drugs” by having positive interactions with them. These parents would have preferred it if I started passing around a crack pipe.

One day, there was an article in the paper. Russel had been working at the Dunkin Donuts where the old Wendy’s use to be. The article was strangely focused on Russel and how he was such a wonderful customer service associate, who knew everyone’s drinks and was an all around great guy. I should have known that something was up when I saw his name in the paper. The Banner had never shown such a keen interest in a random employee at an equally arbitrary chain store.

I came home from work sometime later. Drizzt’s girlfriend was leaving the house and she told me, “A sheriff came by the house looking for Russel.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, he didn’t say why. But he did say to watch him around kids.”

Only two more puzzle pieces to go, kids. I freaked out and caught the bus to Manchester. Yes, that Manchester. I got stuck there because I didn’t know the bus schedule at the time, which caused quite a stir among the family members as I used the phone at the Manchester Price Chopper to call everyone I knew to see if I could get a ride back home. Drizzt’s girlfriend was the one who wound up saving the day and on the way back to Bennington, we all had a wonderful discussion about Russel.

Drizzt’s boss strongly encouraged him to move out of there. Apparently she even asked him what he knew about me and, this is coming from Drizzt, “Nathanielle’s been honest with me from the start. We talk all the time and he’s the only one there that I can trust.” That gave me a lot of warm fuzzies. And it made me even angrier with Russel when Drizzt finally found a place and moved out. But the final straw that made Drizzt leaving all the more painful was when he left a note saying that I had first dibs on the food in his cupboard.

Oh, the dick moves were right back on at that point.

Someone called looking for Russel. A woman. Russel had, at one point, asked me not to tell him if this particular woman had called. I was too polite at the time to tell him, “I’m not your fucking answering service”. But this time, I just happened to be eating something.

I pick up the phone. It’s that woman. I put the phone down and resume eating. Then I pick it up and say, “No, I’m sorry, he’s not here.” Was he there, or was he not? I don’t know and I cared not.

Russel was there for probably another month. Then, out of the blue, his brother came by to help him move stuff out of his room. Then, he left the house. And the very next day, there was much bigger article in the Bennington Banner and this time it was front page news.

Russel was a convicted sex offender. He was on parole, but and to quote him they, “weren’t giving me enough time to do what I have to do.” The story was that he offered a 14 year-old boy a Nintendo 64 in exchange for sex. A neighbor caught them in the middle of it. Funny how he had plenty of time to do what he “had” to do then.

The worst part is, the Banner exercised it’s usual care and discretion by telling readers exactly where he had lived before turning himself in to Bennington’s finest. They practically put a map with an “X” on the spot. If any of those kids’ parents from the middle school had read that, you know it’s only matter of time before one of them found out that I also lived there and declared Death By Association. As far as I know, that never happened, but I had to stop going to the middle school for a while out of sheer fear that someone would find it and jump to the wrong conclusions.

I quickly found Edmund and told him not to come to the house. Then he told me about the incident with Russel in the boxers and I was sick to my stomach that I had invited this kid into my house, with a known sexual predator.

There was no word at all from Arlene or Howie about Russel. I thought about posting the Banner article on the refrigerator door, but thought against it. Russel was gone and there was no point in shoving it in anyone’s face.

To this day, I don’t know if Arlene still owns the house, or if she still rents out rooms. I hope if she comes across this, she understands that I bare no ill will towards her, or Howie, who was in his own way as good a friend as Drizzt. He was even the one who gave me a ride to the hospital the day my sister was born. It was also Arlene who gave me a reference when I applied for a job at the Bennington School. So, it isn’t my intention to slander them or paint them in a negative light.

Hopefully by now, if they are still renting rooms out, they have become a bit more discerning.

A Footnote In The Beginning of My Adult Life

College didn’t work out for me. I didn’t want to give it another year and so my only option was to find a job and leave the nest. When asked to describe what Vermont is like to live in I tell people that it is not a place you want to be stuck in if you don’t know what you’re doing. This was as true of Bennington in 2008 (the last time I officially lived there) as it was in 2001.

I had a little bit of money from the financial aid check I got in college. And when my mother moved to Alabama, I rented a room in my aunt’s trailer for a hundred dollars a month.

Arguably, my aunt, my then ten year-old cousin, with the functional mentality of an untrained howler monkey, and her live-in boyfriend/perpetual-television-tester could all be considered my very first roommates from hell. My aunt definitely qualified for the title of crazy cat lady, in that she took in every flea bitten, disease ridden cat in the neighborhood. But the cats did have one thing going for them that neither the pocket leach nor Dances-With-PlayStation could have. The cats left the house at least once a day.

However, I do need to be fair to Aunt Cat Lady. She taught me a valuable lesson about life in the real world. And that lesson is to never, ever, ever, trust anyone with anything that you do not the entire town knowing about. She taught me there is always going to be a loud mouthed buttinski who takes it upon herself to tell everyone else how to live their life, but can’t seem to recognize the correlation between the stones she throws and how cold she is in her glass house.

For a year I lived in this house. I worked at Price Chopper, where Aunt Cat Lady also worked the night shift as a cashier. When I got my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, Aunt Cat Lady rammed every piece of information she could find down my mom’s throat. She insisted I was in denial because I refused to give the diagnosis any more of my time than what my so called “team” in middle school was giving it. When I lived with her, this just got dialed up to somewhere beyond eleven.

In 2002, she found a listing in the paper. Someone was renting out rooms. The rooms just happened to fall into my price range. She called the land lady on my behalf and proceeded to tell said land lady, without my consent, about my Asperger’s. So you can kind of see where Aunt Cat Lady gets some of the blame for why I never got trained as a cashier at Price Chopper. Because the woman did not seem to think that privacy and confidentiality were things that applied to her, and because the world would not bend over backwards to accommodate her own son and his issues, she felt the need to stick her nose in everyone else’s business regardless of how much damage she might do.

Consider this the last time I ever let that woman take up another word of this blog, much less any more of my time. She is a footnote in the early stages of my adult life. The Roommates from Hell series begins appropriately enough when I moved into the house on Beech Street.