The roommates I've had, v. 1-2

Several days ago I was returning to home to Albany aboard a train from day trip to New York City with my mother. While our train went along the east bank of the Hudson River, I thumbed through Stuff White People Like..The book is pretty funny and picks apart the pretense and snobbery of corny hipster folks who thinks the sun shines out of their asses. My mother is from a generation before and is not clued in on the hipster phenomena. She asked me why it was a bad thing to like organic food, National Public Radio, jazz and other things listed in the book. I assured her that it’s not bad to like them, but that many corny people do and elevate these things to annoying levels in order to make themselves feel above others. The result is that you start to dislike or shy away from some of the things you may otherwise like. She was still confused and so I asked her, “do you remember my old roommate Jake from San Francisco?”

Before I go any further, I should note that this post is not about hipsters, but rather some of the people I have shared space with for nearly the last decade. If some of them happen to be hipsters it simply reflects the places that I have lived including Boston and later Brooklyn. Thinking back to Jake Funderbick (names are slightly altered), got me thinking of the nearly 30 people I have lived in apartments with since 1999 and wanting to preserve them–the good and the bad–in my memory. Here are the first ten I feel comfortable writing about. They are in no particular ranking. All names have been changed.

#1 Jake Funterbick

I was tempted to actually use Jake’s full name and a current picture I was able to find of him for the site, but I decided that would be a little bit too far, so instead I pulled a photo I thought was appropriate given his pretentious, arrogant and snarky demeanor. I actually didn’t mind living with him too much. I was twenty and I didn’t expect much from the roommates I shared an apartment with while I was studying journalism at Emerson College and I’m sure they didn’t expect much from me. Jake could be a fun roommate, but within a week or two of living with him, I realized he had his head stuffed so far up his ass it was hard to relate with him. Jake was from San Francisco, the first Bay Area native I really got to know. And believe you me, he made it his job–along with talking about jazz, smoking cigarettes from a case and getting high–to let anyone and everyone know that he was from San Francisco. Everything with this guy seemed to go back to San Francisco. He was well-traveled, the kind of kid whose parents put him on a plane for Europe and Israel many times in his formative years, which is all good.

The problem was, to Jake, the world was not an oyster but a poorly informed rube in need of class and culture, the kind only a San Franciscan could provide. Watching South Park’s “Smug Alert” episode years later, I realized exactly the type of person I had shared space with. I had lived with something of a stereotype. Smug, self-indulgent and with a strong sense of entitlement, the world was beneath Funderbick. To him, his tastes were refined and everyone else’s was questionable. I never saw Jake as a particularly bright person, but at the time, nursing my own self-confidence problems in a big college town, I admired his ability to have fun, despite the consequences. That was until I realized that sometimes his form of letting loose was merely unleashing an entirely too big ego upon others. He fashioned himself as a gonzo style observer of life and often tape recorded conversations with people without their even knowing it. Still, he had fun, which is always commendable. If there’s one thing Jake did bring to me, it was the knowledge that one has to take the good with the bad. He wasn’t a bad person, but he wasn’t exactly cool either. Just sorta thought he was and for a while, he had me fooled.

The funniest thing about living with this guy was the fact that he had no real knowledge of how incredibly vacuous he came across. Jake subscribed to the New York Times and the New Yorker, the first of which usually stayed on our stoop for a day or two before being thrown out, the second of which collected on top of our coffee table as the weeks passed. Another roommate used to pick up the New Yorker from our table and look at the cartoons amazed that anyone would even pretend to like the publication. I must admit, nobody read the thing, ever. Funderbick also claimed to like jazz very much. I think that in my time living with him, I only once heard him listening to jazz and it was unlistenable, the kind that is discordant, without melody and organization. Just crap. Crap made for folks who don’t really like music all that much but want others to know they liked it. To Funderbick, I was probably an unsophisticated dumb hick, which given his worldview was certainly correct. Roommate’s like that are tolerable until they creep into your space. My only truly negative memory of him was one that spoke to his Bay Area sense of entitlement, when he moved the furniture in my room around so has to be more pleasant for his TV watching. At the time my uncle had passed away and my cousin–who moved to San Francisco some years before–needed help around his mother’s house. I asked him about the incident and he assured me it was a part of the San Francisco culture, to be a bit insensitive without even knowing or meaning it. It was an interesting lesson. I’m not too sure what Jake Funterbick does these days. The last I’d heard he was making a documentary films. I wonder if he still listens to jazz…Well, sorta listens.

#2 Ilyana Lamden

My first summer in New York City was an adventurous time for me. It was June 2001 and I’d just finished my second year in college in Boston and wasn’t sure I’d go back. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to live in a dirt cheap place in Brooklyn for a few months (I think I paid $120 for a closet-sized interior room that broiled like an oven whenever it got above 80 degrees). I got a crappy bookstore job, but I entertained myself taking the train to new places, looking at the beautiful buildings and churches and swimming at Rockaway Beach. Problem was, I never wanted to go back to my place. The neighborhood was Bushwick. My room was in an second floor apartment right next to the Manhattan bound JMZ track. Even a kid sifting through garbage in a Romanian slum would call it a shithole. Right outside my door were robbers, crackheads and even a few murderers, not to mention subway trains screaming above every few minutes. Bushwick back then wasn’t a nice place (I’m not sure it is today), but if they had enough confidence and were smart, one could survive unharmed each day. Unfortunately for the natives, the decaying buildings, free-flying refuse and abundance of dollar stores wasn’t enough to keep outsiders like me away. I wasn’t the only bridge and tunnel person there. There was a steady drip of hip folks eastward down Broadway. I shared space with one of them, Ilyana Lamden.

Shortly before I moved in to the dump, Ilyana had moved in. She didn’t let me forget that she was a permanent and I was merely a subletter (I obtained the room through a friend of a tenant). She’d just finished SUNY Purchase with a degree in graphic design, which can only lead a graduate to the nearby Big Apple and a fruitless search for work. Ilyana was what I would call a slow moving train wreck. She wasn’t yet certifiable, but if she isn’t now she’s at least in some need of outpatient psychiatric treatment and only because the social worker hasn’t reported her to mental health board. And, when I say crazy I mean delusional crazy. Out of work for most of the summer, she still managed to find ways to survive and do coke on our coffee table with her friend and fellow roommate Carmen ( featured later). I’m not sure if the drugs factored into her brain chemistry but Ilyana saw, heard and believe things that truly no half-sane person actually would. She used to rail against anyone who doubted our Israeli bodybuilder slumlord wanted to screw her, though he made it abundantly clear to Ilyana he not only didn’t want anything to do with her. He also insulted her personally her to make sure she understood. Ilyana also thought every guy wanted a piece of her action, everyone accept for David, her ex beau who also had made it abundantly clear he was through with her. For two years he’d been screwing a Czech girl but Ilyana told anyone who would listen that it was just his way of making her jealous. I asked her once who initiated their breakup and after some tiptoeing around the facts she said it was David. I then asked what his motivation would be to make her jealous. She insisted that it must be so. Strangely, she had a picture of the girlfriend that she produced for me one night. She was pretty, I must say. Much prettier than Ilyana, and most likely nicer and more sane. Of course I didn’t tell her that, though I did laugh when Ilyana insisted the new girl was ugly. I was amazed when a week after the 9/11 attacks she told my friend and I that she wished the girl were on one of the fated planes.
Ilyana would have been just an inconvenience were it not for her incredible penchant for conflict. Literally every move you made, scrap of food you ate, word you said was examined. It was impossible to have a quiet night, even behind closed doors. She’d often come knocking, even if just for a one-sided chat. It took me some time to figure out how she made ends meet. The leaseholder, a friend, told me he was going to boot her and let me take her room in the fall, but I didn’t want to be a part of that. I figured on moving somewhere else eventually, but I ended up being Ilyana’s replacement. She was doing fine with money until her friendship with Carmen soured. Carmen moved in shortly after I did, ostensibly for the summer while the leaseholder Kyle was away. He knew her through friends and didn’t want her there, she was so shifty, but Ilyana managed to get her in. I’ll get more into Carmen in her entry, but suffice to say, she was every bit as shifty as Kyle warned. Never have I seen two friends use each other more, backtalk each other more and loathe each other with more simmering intensity. Neither had jobs, but Carmen had an Ecuadorian boyfriend named Albert who she used to for money. Ilyana got a piece, too. One day I came home to find a heap of brand new women clothing on our coffee table. There were tags attached and Ilyana and Carmen were trying to estimate the value of their loot to split it down the middle. They’d stumbled upon the lucrative art of “shopping” at Bloomingdales and selling their finds at a used clothing store. This was Carmen’s world, but to Ilyana it was something new and she didn’t quite know the rules. Carmen had brought her to the pot of gold, Ilyana had to to surrender a bigger cut.

The best part of their friendship was how fickle it was. Sometimes it was possible to sit back on the couch at watch the two of them fight. Usually it was about money and didn’t involve shouting. That was until the day Carmen’s little brother torched Ilyana’s aloe plant. It was a sentimental gift from her mother, she screamed at Carmen. She wanted, actually demanded that Carmen punish her brother (who perhaps was showing early sociopathic behavior). I sat back and watched the drama unfold. For three days they fought like crazy about the aloe plant. Both said hurtful things and Carmen cut Ilyana off from the Bloomingdale’s heists and took the keys to her boyfriend’s car away, making it next to impossible for Ilyana to get to a part time graphic design job in Westchester.

Eventually, they made up and even moved in together. What I found most interesting about their dynamic was how much they loathed each other but still remained dependent on each other. One day shortly before she moved out, Ilyana’s vintage coat went missing. Sharing an apartment with a known clothing thief lead Ilyana to one suspect, Maiko, Kyle’s exceedingly polite Japanese girlfriend, who was staying with us briefly. Of course it was Carmen who stole the coat, and Carmen who I saw put it back in Ilyana’s closet, but it was funny nevertheless. They ended up moving to Williamsburg together. I haven’t seen Ilyana in years, but the memory of the girl, her eyes rolling around in her head, her annoying voice, it still haunts me today.

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One Response

  1. […] and by the time he moved in with us in Brooklyn was sorely missing it. Like my Boston roommate Jake Funterbick, Ruby had an affinity for the French but took it ten steps further. Whereas Funterbick signed up […]

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