If you find yourself literally unsettled in Brooklyn and in need of a couch to crash on, not to be confused with surf on (because this wave of misfortune has already toppled you) how do you impose upon your friends without irrevocably damaging relationships?
My roommates and I were running from a roach-infested apartment still harboring the remnants of recently evicted hoarders one flight down and a landlord who was far from sympathetic.
How did we end up in this situation? After all, two of us graduated from Oberlin! Our first mistake was signing on the place the day we saw it. Hasty and foolish, yes, but after an exhausting (two day) search, this was the best four bedroom we’d seen, and right in the heart of Bedford Ave’s commercial district in Bed-Stuy.
We were wedded to each other, or at least the idea of the four of us living together—and Phoebe the dog, so five girls—the Real Girls of Designer Bed-Stuy. We were going to walk around in our underwear, do arts and crafts, read the same Indie Chick Lit books, discuss the pros and cons of innie-vs-outie vaginas over wine. We had to stick together, because what were the odds of finding four people again who shared an equally vehement hatred of cats? Plus, Phoebe would have four moms!
So the stairs were creaky and soggy in spots from a mystery liquid. So the walls had gaping holes and the garbage left behind by the hoarders piled up in the hall. So you pretty much had to breathe through your mouth. But once you arrived at the top floor, opened the door to Apartment 3 and shut it behind you, you were greeted by exposed brick walls and shiny wooden floors—game changers, every slumlord knows—and fell victim to a kind of amnesia, also known as White Girl Retard Syndrome. Isaac the landlord assured us by the move-in date everything would be taken care of.
But nothing changed, and we discovered more problems daily. The front door of the building needed to be replaced. Who knew when we’d be able to receive mail? Our refrigerator was broken. And we somehow missed the club on the first floor that bumped the bass so loud it travelled all the way up to our top floor apartment.
Still, in spite of this laundry list of grievances, we were resolute about moving in. But after spending a night with roaches in her bed and on her face and having to doze off with a spray bottle in hand only to jolt awake five minutes later to swat another creepy crawly, one of my roommates called me the next morning and said, We can’t live here.
If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, here are some do’s and don’ts to insure you don’t wear out your welcome during this trying time–assuming you were welcome in the first place.
1. Do: Buy gifts to show your gratitude (read: Alcohol)
Buy your host beer–a six pack per night–and try not to drink it all yourself while you’re waiting for him or her to come home, staring blankly at your own pitiful reflection in the TV screen because you can’t figure out which remote does what (who can operate another person’s TV, honestly?). You’ll be tempted to after you’ve abandoned your book because anxiety about your current state of uninhabiting has made it impossible for you to concentrate, and checking out apartments on Craigslist is just such bleak sauce without hitting the sauce, but don’t. In addition to providing libations, it’s a good idea to pitch in on some house amenities, like toilet paper or any product you notice they’re running low on. You could really brownnose by hitting up the closest organic store for some artisanal Brooklyn food item, like McClure’s or Mast Brothers or another fine product that no one you know in this borough can afford. When they open their fridge to those high-class goods, they’ll be certain you really care.
2. Don’t: Have a dog
You’d probably have better luck hitting the curb with the gutter punks and their pitbulls than trying to endear your scruffy mutt to your buddy-with-a-blow-up-bed. You may feel like orphan Annie, but there is no room for Sandy in this scenario. Sure, your friend thinks she’s cute when she sees her outside the coffeehouse or when she cameos at the barbecue, it’s another story once she’s inside her home. There are roommates with ornery cats, furniture and art to dog-proof and nobody will be sympathetic to her coping mechanism of playing watchdog and barking at noises in the building and “intruders” (your host and her roommates). If you can, drop off the old dog-and-chain at a boarding place (just put it on a credit card and think about it later).
3. Do: Make yourself scarce
If your host is home during the day, be sure to get the hell out of the house. Go to a coffeehouse, go to a bar, explore the neighborhood (you can pretend you’re on vacation!). Whatever you can do to temporarily unencumber your generous pal and incidental roommates of your odorous, down-and-out self. Remember, even if you’re being polite, you’re still in the way. Say thank you once, and mean it. Over-ingratiating yourself is not an antidote to the self-loathing you’re feeling right now. Don’t be overly-chatty because you’re uncomfortable; your strained simpering expression will give you away. You want to do your best not to interfere with their day-to-day routine so that when you finally do reemerge, all smiles and six-pack in hand (see #1) they’ll actually be excited to hang out with you: Freddy the friend, not the freeloader.
4. Don’t: get involved in the house drama
If you follow the advice of #3, you should be impervious to this. But you never know when some embittered housemate might vent to you, for the five minutes he catches you before you head out the door towards the closest happy hour special. Resist an easy exit of, “Yeah, Stephanie does seem like an anal bitch; see you later!” You never know who might be listening, hidden behind a pile of dirty clothes in their room. You also don’t know the apartment layout, so someone may be about to walk out of the bathroom that you, in that moment, confused for a closet. You have enough on your mind without figuring out how to assuage the feelings of somebody you barely know.
5.. Don’t: Have sex with anyone
Just don’t do it. Remember, you don’t smell good: you’ve been wearing the same clothes for days now and even if you manage to sneak in a shower here and there, you just put those dirty drawers right back on. You’re feeling bored, vulnerable, exhausted and desperate and you’re probably drunk. That’s why you’re staring starry-eyed at your knight-in-shining-apartment, you fool. You know those Craigslist ads that go something like “Free rent for a submissive girl in need”? You’re not that kind of girl. And don’t you dare bring anybody home. This couch is your lay-space not your get-laid-space. If you need to blow off some steam, have sex with yourself … just don’t get caught.