The House, at the beginning

Having a bunch of friends and strangers live together is a great way to save money, and like a lot of people, that's what I did, for years. Loads of happy memories came from sharing The House, which is what we eventually called it, though it started in my studio apartment.

I’d lived there alone for a year or so, just me and the plush carpeting, on the 19th floor of a downtown luxury high-rise. Every apartment had a walk-out private patio, and there was a pool and sauna on the main floor which I never used, not even once. The patio was excellent, though, and being a butt-head, I sometimes tossed newspapers over the edge, just for the joy of watching pages flutter in the wind and slowly, breezily wander through the air. On windy days, yesterday’s news might travel so far I’d lose sight of it, which technically isn’t littering.

The House #1

The building was too expensive, but I’d moved in because I hoped a swanky pad would help me score chicks. Sadly, though, there was no scoring there, only snoring. And cockroaches. Despite the high-priced rent, it was the first place I lived that had roaches.

Brian was an overnight security guard at the giant medical clinic where I worked. I’d known him only a few weeks, but we’d quickly become friends. He lived on an island, and that’s not a poetic phrase — his commute to work involved a ferry ride, and took two hours each way. He wanted to live closer to his job, I wanted my rent cut in half, so Brian and I agreed to share my tiny apartment.

If it isn’t obvious from the some of the stupidity already described, yes, we were teenagers. We were both nerdy introverts, and we got along well, but two borderline grown men sharing a cramped studio led to many minor indignities. Like, it was weird masturbating in my bed while hoping he was asleep on the hideaway couch on the other side of the room. 

It was nice having a friend around, but I wanted him maybe not quite so close, so we soon started looking for a bigger apartment. We found one, just a block from the Seattle Center. 

The House #2
(under the Space Needle)

As you might guess from the name, the Seattle Center is the heart of the city. It’s a former World's Fairgrounds where the Space Needle sprouted, and the monorail runs nonstop to downtown. The Pacific Science Center (a museum) was there. The SuperSonics played in a big arena on the grounds. A minor-league hockey team played in a smaller arena, almost next door. What a great neighborhood to live in!, we thought.

And despite the ideal location, the new apartment’s rent was substantially cheaper than my gaudy bachelor pad. It even included a parking space, at no extra charge.

The only drawback was that the new apartment had three bedrooms, when we’d only wanted two. But hey, finding a third flatmate would make the place even more affordable, right? So we signed the lease, moved in, and started looking for a third. 

You hear stories about how everything goes wrong when people share their space with strangers, and we’d heard those stories, too. We didn’t want any axe murderers, sure, but Brian was a quiet guy like me, so our priority was only to make sure the new tenant wouldn’t play loud music, bring guests, smoke cigarettes, be perpetually stoned or drunk, or otherwise get on our nerves.

We ran an ad in the local alt-weekly, and concocted a two-page questionnaire to audition prospective flatmates. The first question was, Are you an axe murderer? The second question was, Do you have axe murderer tendencies? Then the questions got more personal, even philosophical: What do you do for fun? What’s your biggest fear? Your biggest embarrassment? Your proudest accomplishment? What do you think about God? What does God think about you? 

We wanted someone who was at least sorta compatible with Brian and me. Stupidly, I don’t think we asked such basic questions as, Do you have a police record? 

The questionnaire was obviously intrusive, maybe offensive, and probably illegal. It worked well, though — people who had no sense of humor refused to answer our questions, which was great, because who wants a flatmate without a sense of humor? We saw half a dozen prospective tenants, three filled out the form, and one of those three seemed like a complete oddball, so he’s the one we welcomed into the apartment.

His last name was Spang, and if I ever knew his first name I've forgotten it. He never used it. Everyone called him Spang. His mom phoned a few times, and asked, “Is Spang there?”

He'd won the flatmate lottery by answering most of our questions with science fiction. He had several boxes of sci-fi books, subscribed to sci-fi magazines, and went to Star Trek conventions wearing pointy ears. Brian and I also liked science fiction, so the three of us got along splendidly. When Spang left for work in the morning, he’d say, “Live long and prosper.” I accompanied him to a local sci-fi con once, where I bought a life-sized poster of Dr McCoy, met Harlan Ellison, and saw Forbidden Planet for the first of many times.

It was during Spang’s time that we started calling the place The House. Brian thought it was strange at first, to call an apartment a house, but Spang said the place felt homey, and after hearing him say it a few times, it felt right. Our apartment was The House.

Sadly, though, Spang left after only six months or so, when he moved to a ritzy suburb on the east side. He’d gotten a job with some software company, and this is only my speculation forty years later, but there weren’t many software companies in Seattle’s suburbs in the early 1980s. Only one comes to mind, actually, so I hope Spang struck it rich with Microsoft stock dividends. All I know is, he gave us one last Vulcan salute, and we never saw him again.

The questionnaires came out once more, and this time our choice was between two applicants. One was a preppy type, 25 or so, smiling and personable, who wore a suit and tie and even a vest, when he met us to tour the apartment. The other was his opposite; he wore jeans and a stained t-shirt, his hair stuck out funny, and he struggled with the questionnaire, giving answers that were only barely legible and intelligible. The guy in the suit, though, didn't laugh once (and he wore a suit). The guy in the ratty t-shirt laughed a lot, so he’s the guy who moved in. 

His name was Bill, and I don’t want to be cruel, but it’s fair to say that Bill had some Forrest Gump in him. When we all sat in the living room watching TV, he’d ask for clarification of plot points during the commercials, even on shows like Bosom Buddies and ChiPs, which were not, you know, complicated dramas. He never read a newspaper, and backed out of the conversation when Brian and I spoke of politics or philosophy or current events. He always wanted to play checkers, never chess, and I’m not a checkers grandmaster but I kicked his ass every time.

What made it most obvious that he wasn’t too bright was that Bill thought he was very intelligent. He often offered detailed explanations of things we already knew, like how a deadbolt lock works, or why food doesn’t rot when it’s been canned. Several times he mentioned, “Friends usually call me 'The Professor'.” 

He was a likable guy, though, and occasionally the three of us ate together at the Seattle Center’s surprisingly good food court. Bill had a knack for telling funny jokes, and made me and Brian laugh a lot, though I sometimes suspected he was only reciting the jokes but didn’t really ‘get’ them. Brian and I called him The Professor, as he’d requested, and we were sad when he moved out after a year or so.

Our next tenant didn’t fill out a questionnaire, but maybe should’ve. It was my brother, Clay. He’s a brilliant math guy, but he’d suffered a bit of a breakdown, been drummed out of a very high-power mathematics job, and his wife was divorcing him. He had nowhere else to go, and we had an empty room, so Clay moved in. 

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Clay and I had been very close as kids, but drifted in opposite directions when I left the church and he became a dedicated Christian. He was my brother, though (still is) and I loved the guy (still do). He was going through a lot, and was understandably fragile while he lived with us. We had several long talks, and I tried to be helpful. He asked me to go to church with him, so a few times I did.

It was awkward, though, having my big bruddah so close in my life again. Clay was not shy about scolding Brian and I for inappropriate language, and steering everyday household conversations into Christianity. There was always a Bible on the coffee table, and a picture of Jesus was hung behind the toilet. Brian told me that Clay had twice tried to convert him. Things were probably coming to a head anyway, and then...

There were no locks on anyone’s bedroom door, which hadn’t yet been a problem. One day while I was at work, though, Clay went into my room, and took my small collection of Playboy magazines to the dumpster. The next night, when I noticed they were gone and asked about it, he said, “You don’t need that pornography in your life.” I told him he could stay with us until the end of the month, but then he’d have to go, and the next day I ran off more copies of the questionnaire.

Let’s insert a random happy memory here, to make up for that unpleasant one.

Ash never lived with us, but he was a geeky guy from work, who had a huge crush on a young woman. He’d been trying to get up the nerve to ask her out, and when he finally did, and she said yes, Ash was silly-happy about it. He was planning to take her to a Joan Jett concert at the Seattle Center, and since I lived in the neighborhood, he asked whether I knew a way around the hassles of parking.

When anything big was scheduled at the Center, parking could cost ten bucks and be ten blocks away. Back then $10 was a lot of money. Our apartment had a free parking space, but only Brian had a car, and he was away that weekend, so I told Ash that he could use our parking space. No charge.

And then I did a bad thing, sorry. While Ash and his lovely lady were at the concert, listening to "Bad Reputation" and "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” I wrapped one fresh condom around each windshield wiper on his car.

This was hilarious, certainly, but it was also Seattle, so it was raining by the time the concert let out. Ash got soaked, as he was unwinding the rubbers off his car’s wipers, and they were lubricated, so his windshield got gooky as they drove away in the rain.

Dude never said thank you, for letting him use our parking space.

Next: The House, at the end.



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  1. >You hear stories about how everything goes wrong when people share their space with strangers

    Not strangers, but I remember a time when (I think this is true) You, me, and Shawna were toying with the idea of renting a house together in San Fran. Steph was the outlier. She was sure that it would ruin our friendship, and maybe make the universe itself explode.

    Who knows? It might have been fun!

    1. I very vaguely remember that, and yeah, I think the four of us sharing a house might've been a blast.

      More specifically, though, I remember that Steph had some an assh*le college roommate, which is probably what spooked her off. Also, my wife was sort of a screamer in bed.

  2. Why on Earth did you censor"asshole?"

    Also, Shawna made a lot of noise, and I do as well. Not so much when alone, but when together, it was loud. A lot of laughter - I would pretty regularly laugh loudly for like 30 seconds after an orgasm. Humans are fuckin' weird.

    1. I censored assh*le because I thought it might annoy you. Success?

      You laugh? I kinda love that, but I've never heard of anyone who laughed after an O.

      Long long ago, I dated a girl who was very ticklish down under. She laughed a lot, but laughed so much that she never got as far as the O.

    2. Alright, here's some TMI:

      My ex-wife gave amazing hand jobs. I was always good at eating her out, and she was good at hand jobs. I dunno what she did, but damn. It was always after a hand job that I laughed. It was a combination od tension release, sexual release, and, mostly, feeling like a ridiculous lunatic at how good it felt, and how utterly stupid we all look when we come.

      Unrelated : Have I told you about my sex-induced thumb injury?

    3. You laughing makes me laugh.

      You may have told me about your sex-induced thumb injury, or I might be misremembering a Kurt Vonnegut short story. Remind me?

    4. She was on her knees and elbows, I was going to town with my thumb, rather hard. Heard a very audible "CRACK!" But there was no pain, so after a moment of testing it out, we continued.

      This was easily 15 years ago, maybe as many as 20.

      Every so often, starting a few years later, I'd feel some pain. Not much, and not bad, but some thumb pain.

      Then about 8 years ago, I got it more frequently, and worse. Maybe 4-5 times a year, sharp painright at the joint where my right thumb meets my hand.

      Now, I get it frequently in the morning. Maybe twice a week. Very bad pain that lasts 30 minutes or so. Massaging it helps, as does some cannabis-infused cream I sometimes rub on it. But it's so bad that I can't really grip anything with my thumb when the pain is bad.

    5. Damn, that hurts even from here. Pain's usually gone after half an hour, or just decreased?

      Great story behind the injury, though.

    6. Pain is usually gone by the time I'm vertical for 30 minutes and doing things. Zero pain for the rest of the day, usually.

    7. It was literally, we both fucking heard the "CRACK!" and stopped out of concern. Nothing like having your sex act stopped by a loud, disturbing noise.

  3. Speaking of Bill's losing the plot of CHiPs or whatever. For some reason, I often have trouble figuring out what's going on in --so far -- the early episodes of Mannix. It's on some tiny TV station out of NJ and I catch more of them and so many of them have me completely confused as to who is on what side and why. I've struggled from time to time with following the crime in movies but never a TV show before. Maybe I"m too tired when it's on or maybe it's just not very clear. It doesn't help that everyone is a white guy in a suit.

    1. Mannix was one of my favorites when I was a kid, and I think it *was* a little more complicated than your average private eye show. Great music, too. And as I recall, about half the episodes feature someone killing someone in a parking garage. They *loved* the parking garages.

      Trivia: It started as almost science fiction, with Joe Mannix working for some detective agency that had a super-computer for solving crime, but I think they jettisoned the computer real quick, maybe halfway through the first season, and made him just a private eye.

    2. yeah, I'm watching Season One right now and Mannix has a boss who vacillates between calling Joe M. his best agent and hating his guts. The company is called Intertech. Is that what they called the crap company in Office Space? hmmm...

    3. Oh my golly, are Mannix and Office Space part of the same extended universe? Man, that would be better than Marvel.

      I haven't seen any Mannix since it was in prime time on CBS, but it'd definitely better after season one.

      I had a crush on Peggy Fair, and she's not there until season two.

    4. >The company is called Intertech. Is that what they called the crap company in Office Space?

      Close, but it's "Initech."


    5. Reality is usually disappointing.

      I like the name Initech because it's so nonsensical and means nothing, like Google and Apple and Etsy, GoDaddy and Twitter and Skype, and on and on.


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