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Recalling the joys (more or less) of college roommates

By Minx McCloud

"Two people wanted to share three-bedroom apartment. Females preferred, but will consider male. Must like cats. Nonsmokers only. No druggies."

Remember those ads? I saw one on the grocery store bulletin board the other day, and it brought beads of sweat to my brow. Three strangers sharing a house. Have they learned nothing from the TV show "Big Brother?"

Jim and I have had limited experience in this area, but we do have some interesting memories.

Jim's roommate liked rabbits. He liked rabbits a lot, which would probably explain why he had a complete bunny hutch with five inhabitants in it on one wall of the room.

My first college roommate was tiny and cute and, being big and not so cute, I hated her immediately. Luckily, I arrived on check-in day 15 minutes ahead of her, which meant I could stake my claim on the best bed, the best dresser and the best desk, the only three pieces of furniture in the stark room. I chose the bed next to the window, seeing it as a plus during the warm late summer weather, not realizing I would freeze my buns off when winter hit.

She arrived with a meek boyfriend in tow and stridently announced that people called her "Mouse." After I got to know her, I sent my dorm mates into gales of laughter by calling her (behind her back) "Rat." It wasn't funny, but back then, we were easily amused.

I grew up in the "free-love" era of the early 1970s. I neither defend nor apologize for this statement. However, in spite of my live-and-let-live philosophy, I was not about to lie in my bed at night pretending to sleep while Mouse and Joe groped at each other in the dark.

I mentioned the inappropriateness of this behavior to her and she ignored me, until one night I got four of my friends to wait outside the door, and at the crucial moment, intone in unison, "Yes, Joe, yes, yes, yes!" The trysts stopped, at least in our room.

Jim was not much luckier. His roommate liked rabbits. He liked rabbits a lot, which would probably explain why he had a complete bunny hutch with five inhabitants in it on one wall of the room.

Trouble is, Tom didn't like to clean the rabbits. They were fun to cuddle and they were a riot when they hopped around the room sniffing everything, but the cleanup was tedious. Therefore, I avoided Jim's room as much as I could. Try to imagine a dirty animal cage at the Bronx Zoo. Pick an animal, any animal. I picked hyenas. That's what Jim and Tom's room smelled like.

The fact that 30 years later, Jim still tells me that he never thought it smelled that bad is a testament to the strength of our marriage. Needless to say, if I think the garbage smells and he insists it doesn't, he finds himself hiking out to the cans 20 nanoseconds later.

I ended up with a "single," for which I paid through the nose. Never again would a roommate darken my doorstep. I painted the walls maroon. I had a Persian rug that my folks had stored in the basement and a gold-colored, fringed bedspread on the bed. There were all kinds of artsy prints on the wall. You walked in my room and expected to see a sultan and dancing girls.

I added a black light at one point and it was "party central" in my dorm. Of course, it was very elite. You had to be able to recite four verses of a bona fide work of English literature to be in our clique. Man, were we jerks. Ah, youth.

Meanwhile, Jim had moved off campus and was living in what was described as a bungalow on the north shore of Long Island. For the initiated, "bungalow" means no heat, no air conditioning, thin walls, sporadic electricity and water, and a landlord who searches the place without warning at least once a week. Oh, but what a view of the water.

Jim was very happy with his roommates. They seemed very personable. They kept to themselves and were very laid back. Much, much too laid back.

Jim is a very oblivious fellow. Let me give you an example: We were in Times Square in New York City and a guy walked past us wrapped entirely in tin foil and wearing an aluminum antenna.

"What a riot," I said. "That guy is so funny." (He was talking about trying to get back to his planet.)

"What guy?" Jim asked. I rest my case.

So, it was not unexpected when he called me one day in a panic because all those nice people visiting the house at all hours were not friends of his roommates, but "clients." Yes, there was a thriving drug business going on in that bungalow and Jim got out by the skin of his teeth (before a drug bust), losing his deposit and my faith in his powers of observation.

Meanwhile, I had one last experience with a roommate other than my future husband. Her name was Petra and she was the most private person I have ever met. One day, she left a note on the door for a friend and while I was in the room, her friend called.

"There's a note on the door for you," I said. "Do you want me to read it to you?"

Her friend said yes, and I read her the note. Petra freaked out! "That was for her eyes only," she yelled. (All the note said was, "I am in the cafeteria.")

"She told me to read it," I whined. "I was only trying to help."

End of Petra as roommate.

So, it's easy to understand that when I see those ads searching for a roommate, I get chills. What can they be thinking?

Quite frankly, I'm still trying to understand how the heck we get marriage to work, but that's another column.

Minx McCloud is a free-lance journalist who writes about life in New Jersey. She can be reached at To see her most recent column, click here.

This article is copyright 2001 by Minx McCloud and appears here with both her permission and the permission of The Princeton Packet.

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