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room for rent
The disability payments were being cut down since, according to their doctor, I was getting better. I had been without work for months and needed money so I decided to share my place and split the cost. My place was small. They called it a “studio apartment,” which meant it had only one room. The kitchen was set off in the corner and my little bed sat over against the opposite wall. It was a cozy arrangement.
My first roommate was a guy named Thurber. He breathed very heavily through his nose and when he spoke the words came out in high-pitched squeaks. Thurber moved quickly with jerks and twists like spasms and for a while I thought he was diseased. He had dark circles under his eyes. Before he moved in I had placed two small green plants on the windowsill but once Thurber saw those he pitched them out the window. “Damn plants!” he yelled after them. Later on I brought in a larger banana plant and he screamed at me, “Get that fucking plant out of here!”
Thurber had answered my ad for roommate-wanted by showing up at my door with his bags. I am a somewhat meek person and I let him stay even though I was suspicious of his shifty appearance. Thurber said he was a good cook and would prepare fine meals for me. I said, great, I like good food as much as the next guy. As it turned out Thurber hardly ever cooked and when he did he made a chaotic mess which sat there for days until I cleaned it up myself. Thurber’s taste in food was always too hot for my palate and his dishes usually looked nothing like whatever he said they were supposed to be. “This is Lemon Chicken,” he once said. But the food in question looked more like baked beans, or maybe some kind of Sloppy Joe.
Thurber snored loudly, too, and this was finally why he had to leave. “Thurber,” I said, “you snore like a pig and I can’t sleep. Perhaps you should find somewhere else to go.”
“I don’t snore,” replied Thurber, but he left the next afternoon. As he packed up his stuff he casually slipped several pieces of my clothing into his bag. He also took a brand-new toothbrush of mine and a large lamp. I was standing right there watching him.
My next roommate was a woman named Cynthia who claimed to have some children whom she kept at her sister’s house. I never saw them. Cynthia read three or four magazines a day and it wasn’t until a few weeks of living with her that I learned about her hooking business. When I was gone she would take men into our place and give them head for ten to twenty dollars apiece. According to her she never had real sex with them and I’m inclined to believe this because I have been in whorehouses before and they have a certain electricity to them. It’s in the air. I never felt this electric feeling when I walked into my home. A man who lived next door told me about all the male visitors and so that night I said to Cynthia, “What’s going on here?”
She said, “Oh, I just give them blow jobs for money.”
After Cynthia, Clyde moved in and he stayed for only three days. He had a large duffel bag full of clothes but he never changed outfits once since I knew him. He liked his blue jeans and T-shirt, I guess. Two guys with toothpicks in their mouths showed up on Clyde’s third day and they stood in the doorway staring at Clyde for quite some time before one said, “Let’s go, Clyde.”
Jimmy moved in next and he was a real card. He told jokes to me all the time and some of them were very funny. I remember one in particular about a rabbit working in a gas station which had me laughing off and on for hours.
“You should be a comedian Jimmy,” I once said.
“That’s what they all say,” he said.
As far as I could tell, Jimmy helped out a man who took bets on college sporting events. I’m not nosy and I don’t pry into the lives of other people. Jimmy had simply told me that he was “in sports management.”
I appreciated Jimmy’s sense of humor a lot and then one day Jimmy did something which made me appreciate him even more. He brought in a small orange tent and set it up right inside the apartment. He put his blankets and pillow in there and said, “See, this way I have my own room.”
Jimmy and his tent had been in the apartment for nearly two months when we heard a loud knock on the door.
“It’s me, Thurber,” said the voice behind the door. It was high-pitched, whining even.
“Come on in, Thurber,” I said, but I did not get up to open the door for him.
Thurber rattled the handle a little bit and then whacked the door with his hand. It was locked. I still didn’t get up and so after a while he went away.
Jimmy said, “I know some friends who could kick that guy’s ass.”
“That would be nice,” I said.
A few days later Thurber came into our apartment. He let himself in with a set of keys he had kept from before. His lip was fat and purple and both his eyes were black.
“I need to wash up,” he said.
Thurber limped over to the sink and splashed water all over the place. “A group of men kicked my ass for no reason,” he said.
“If you had keys,” I said, “why didn’t you let yourself in earlier?”
“I never even met those fuckers before in my life.” Thurber was covered in water, pink from his own blood. He looked terrible. His hair was greasy and his clothing was matted with dirt.
“You look terrible,” I said.
Thurber spied a group of potted plants by the window and lunged at them. His skinny arm knocked them over and the dirt spilled onto the carpet.
“Why is there a tent in here?” he asked me.
Jimmy answered him from inside. “It’s my tent, asshole,” he said.
Thurber looked down at the tent which had just spoken to him.
“You’re kidding me,” he said.
“No, I’m not,” said Jimmy’s voice. “And those were my friends who kicked your ass. I asked them to do it.”
Thurber was amazed. He stumbled around and stuttered a bit and then walked out the door. He left drops of water all over the place and a putrid smell which lingered in the air for a while. The plants lay overturned on the carpet.
“Keep me posted on any developments with this Thurber fruitcake,” said Jimmy one day as he packed his bag.
“I’m going away for a while so I won’t be around,” he said.
“Okay, fine,” I said, and then that day I found myself a pet dog. I didn’t know how long Jimmy would be away and so I wanted some company. I have always wanted a dog.
The dog I found had only three legs. He was missing a front one so he hopped forward on one paw. Like most three-legged dogs this dog managed quite well for himself and I didn’t feel sorry for him at all. While Jimmy was gone the dog and I went out for frequent walks and once I got a citation for not having a leash on my pet.
“I’m really sorry about this officer,” I said. “It will never happen again.” And I meant that. I want no trouble with the law. I used a piece of rope instead of a leash though...
From the Hardcover edition.