by Maka MacKenna
YOU KNOW HOW IT GOES. THE bills start piling up. It gets harder each month to scrape together the mortgage payment. That seldom-used guest room down the hall seems more and more like a luxury. And all your friends declaim like a Delphic chorus, "You should get a roommate."
It always seems like a good idea at the time. Your first misgiving may be at the counter where you submit your classified ad. Which category? "Roommate Wanted" is too chummy when all you're really hoping for is someone to kick in for the rent and get lost the rest of the time. "Rooms for Rent" puts you in the category with those "Weekly Renting" motels on Broadway. God forbid that someone perusing those ads should also see yours.
Face it, people looking for a room to rent fall generally into three categories: 1) Students; 2) People going through a breakup or divorce who didn't plan ahead enough to end up with the house; and 3) SSI recipients. These last never keep their appointments anyway, so your pick is from the first two categories.
Student renters are stereotyped as irresponsible, messy and destructive. All this is true, and those saintly exceptions will never find their way to my house, guaranteed.
You find out right away how their mothers raised them. I had one kid who didn't know there was a difference between liquid dish soap and Electrosol for dishwashers. He did a load of dishes with Ivory Liquid and the entire kitchen was blanketed three feet deep in soapy foam. You had to be there.
Where you live affects how choosy you can be. If you're lucky enough to live in Arcata, you have a parade of hopefuls from which to select. In Eureka you basically have to grab anything that walks upright.
One way to approach roommates is to find someone who's your exact opposite. That way you never crowd each other. I once rented to a very nice guy who was a jock. He was hardly ever around since he spent all his time at HealthSport.
He lived on peanut butter and Healthy Choice cereal and never used the kitchen which took him a long way toward being the perfect roommate. Not only did we not encroach on each other's space, we didn't even inhabit the same planet. It was great.
My first roommate experiences were in college. I had one roommate who had a nervous breakdown every semester at finals time. We'd visit her in San Francisco General where I gather they gave out some pretty festive therapeutic drugs, festive enough that our roomie went through this drill during three or four finals seasons.
Homesickness is a common affliction in college roommates. My ex-husband's roommate at Stanford was so homesick he barely functioned. In two years he put 4,200 miles on his car. My Davis roommate was so homesick for Humboldt she developed narcolepsy, sleeping 18 hours a day and rising only for classes and an occasional meal.
One snag in renting a room is that the papers who take classified ads impose a lot of rules on what you can and can't say. The Tri-City told me I couldn't put "No victims" in my ad. They wouldn't let me put "No losers" either, although I argued eloquently that both terms are opinions and therefore protected speech.
I have found -- now here come the letters -- that by and large vegetarians make poor roommates. They cook four or five times a day because they're always hungry. Then they're too wasted from lack of lactose or whatever to clean up. If you like your stove constantly encrusted with rice and your refrigerator stuffed like Fibber McGee's closet, you'll love having a vegetarian in the house.
A final word to anyone contemplating the roommate venture: avoid the film "Single White Female." Reality is scary enough.
Maka MacKenna is a Eureka free-lance writer.