The Many Faces Of The Craigslist Roommate

Three years ago I moved to New York City with two suitcases, no money, and a month-long sublet with a burlesque dancer named Cherry Bomb. I was two months out of undergrad and had lined up a gig working in Queens at the NY Hall of Science, but on the day of my flight, I received an email explaining that the state had just cut a half-million dollars of funding for the museum and that they would no longer be able to hire me, but best of luck in the city. I paid my rent by withdrawing cash from my credit card for the next few months.

After that was a 10-person loft with a live-in landlord. It was advertised on Craigslist for $500/month, which I at first thought it was a scam, or a certain kind of shit hole, but it turned out to be a spacious, windowless room with cool roommates. The catch was, I was there illegally because the landlord didn’t permit tenants to sublet (a little fact he informed me of right in the middle of a party I was hosting). I stayed there for only a month, but a few months later I learned that everyone had been evicted because of fire code violations, or something like that. Not long ago, I ran into the landlord at a punk rock show and he gave me a ride home in his Jaguar.

The next place I moved to was the apartment where I live now: a 2-bedroom on the gentrified borderline of Williamsburg, somewhere between the pocket affluent, white, perpetual teenagers we all have come to know as “hipsters,” and the Puerto Rican and Dominican family zone. I was subletting from a girl I’d befriended after she’d spilled her latte on me in a coffee shop. She was going to Abu Dhabi, and was only supposed to be gone a month, but she never came back.

For that first month, I shared the place with a bi-polar DJ. He would sleep until 5pm every day, then wake up, head to the corner bodega and return with a $1 tall boy of Coors Light in small, black bodega bag. He would spend the rest of the evening watching old B-movies and going on bodega runs between films, when the credits began to roll. He told me that those black plastic bags triggered his depression because they were symbolic of his inability to break this daily routine.

I was making $8/hour working at The Internet Garage, hardly enough to cover my $900 share of the rent, so after finally realizing that my clumsy friend wasn’t coming back from Dubai, my best friend from childhood, June, moved from the city from Michigan and shared the room with me. There was a queen sized-bed, big enough to share, but June was a dancer, which meant I’d be jolted awake, nightly, by a graceful high-kick to the head.

Sometimes we would take turns sleeping on the lumpy futon in the living room.

The plan was to live like this until something more affordable turned up, with sufficient room for the both of us.

It was fun for a while. June and I would go out to the local bars, where our tabs were often generously cut down by kind, chatty bartenders. And when we came home, our DJ roommate would throw us dance parties that lasted till the sun came up.

After a few months of that, the DJ told us he’d decided to pursue his career in Los Angeles and that he’d be leaving in a week. June and I knew we couldn’t come up with the money for a down payment on such short notice, so turned to Craigslist to find a new roommate who could fill the DJ’s absence.

Her name was Ruby. She was 20 and had just moved to NYC from England. She was pretty, friendly and gave us rent up front, which was good enough for me, since this arrangement would be only temporary. The night she moved in she told us about the Ketamine addiction she developed at age 15, the subsequent breakdown of her family, her trip to rehab, and her obsession with some skinny hipster Brit in a bad emo band whom she needed to get away from, which was why she came to the US. Of all the revelations about Ruby we would come to learn, this day contained the most benign.

At that time, my pseudonymous blogging career was at its height; I would work from home on my laptop, blogging away. Ruby would sit in the apartment all day as well, also at her computer, but her online activities were far different from mine. Ruby was a MySpace celebrity; a “scene queen,” if you will. And when I say that, I don’t just mean she was someone who really liked to use MySpace. Ruby was someone who people wanted to marry, screw or kill on MySpace. At one time she showed me a page with at least 40 fake accounts created by internet strangers using her name and her photographs.

Ruby was a professional master of online illusion. But IRL, it didn’t hold up so well. Yes, she was pretty—pretty enough to turn heads on the street. But, to quote Cher from Clueless, she was a full-on Monet: “It’s like a painting, see? From far away, it’s OK, but up close, it’s a big old mess.”

Looking at Ruby up close, the first thing you’d notice is that she wore A LOT of makeup. In all my time living with her, not once did I see Ruby’s face completely scrubbed clean. She bleached her hair blonde with DIY dye kits so diligently, I have no idea what color her hair naturally was. She had extensions, which she bleached as well, and they would fall out all over the apartment. Sometimes June and I would be sitting on the couch and feel something brush our skin. We’d instinctively jump and swat it away as though it were a bug or something, then cringe to find a limp hank of faux Ruby hair. I once watched her ruin a perfectly good sheet while she let spray-tan chemicals soak into her skin for 18 hours straight.

But it didn’t stop there. I learned that what she did all day on the computer, what she “worked on,” was distorting her image into an even more pixelated product of perfection via Photoshop. She would show me how she’d use different tools on Photoshop, tools I hadn’t even known to exist, to expand her breasts and smooth out the fat rolls around her waist. Ruby spent almost every waking hour of her days working to produce pictures to put on MySpace.

Then I learned about the bulimia––and by learned, I mean I had to wipe it off the bathroom floor. This came after the three of us roomies went out for a drink one night. I tried to have a heartfelt conversation with Ruby, to help her. We were talking about guys, and life, and drinking white wine, and I asked why she does it all. Why she goes through all the effort just to put pictures on a screen so that people will like her. “What would happen, Ruby, if you were to put your hair back to its natural color, and you went out one night with no makeup at all, and you met someone who liked you, the real you, in real life?” She burst out crying and we went home, and then the next morning when I went to the bathroom there was vomit all over the floor. She’d had only one glass of white wine.

When her month was up, she asked if she could stay for two more weeks. June was in favor of it, because she didn’t really look too deeply at Ruby, and money was more of an issue for her. But I told her she had to go. All things considered, what really pushed me over the edge with Ruby was her tea consumption. She would drink close to 10 cups of tea, daily. I think she only capped it at that because she ran out of mugs, which she would never wash. And every morning when I went to make coffee there was a sink full of dirty mugs and tea bags and it all became too much.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    i thoroughly enjoyed this… thanks

  • Robert L.

    This was one of the better articles I’ve seen on this site. Something straight-up and somehow affecting, yet with few pretensions about it. Lovely.

  • Melanie

    but what about Troy Davis? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514965701 Gonzalo Mauricio Garcia Villeg

    Can you link us to Ruby?

  • hannah

    oh this was SO GOOD.  If Kat George had written this article, she would’ve given a brief summary of Ruby and Toby and that’d be that.  but you went off and talked about June and your job and whatnot and it was just much more satisfying than most TC articles. 

  • S.H.

    One of the best in a pretty long time, yes! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this small part of your life…

  • S.H.

    One of the best in a pretty long time, yes! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this small part of your life…

  • ryan chang

    i really, really liked this. great piece.

  • ryan chang

    i really, really liked this. great piece.

  • SK

    finding a roommate on craigslist is like playing roulette–every once in a while you find a gem and end up walking away with a really great roommate, and other times, like every other time, you end up getting stuck with a kid who leaves hair in the sink and the shower, leaves cocaine on your new glass coffee table, and makes the apartment smell like dead people. i speak from experience.

  • Mashka

    Really liked this, wanted to keep reading more! I’m actually moving to NYC in 2 weeks and in with someone I know- but we were very recently joking about how it’s so much better than random Craigslist roommates. Though these all sounded quite interesting to say the least.

    My worst/strangest Craigslist roommate situation was moving in with a Bosnian girl in Boston last year when I moved out of my boyfriend’s condo when we broke up and was desperate for a place to live. Turns out the girl had just borken up with her bf too and he had moved out so she needed a roommate to cover the rent. I moved into the smaller bedroom, things were fine until I found out she was an illegal immigrant, could hardly pay rent let alone other bills, couldn’t pay her cell phone bill so didn’t have a phone and casually asked if she could use my cell # to give to Comcast when we installed cable (which had previously been shut off)… then one day I come home and find a strange man in the living room surrounded by a ton of boxes. Turns out her boyfriend was moving BACK in and she hadn’t thought to mention it to me whatsoever. Eventually she told me that his family was coming to visit and they “needed to use my room” so I needed to move out. I was pretty happy to do so anyway… but then I couldn’t escape her wrath for months later as somehow my phone # circulated to all of her overdue bill payments and credit collection agencies were calling me nonstop leaving messages asking for Alisa. According to Facebook, she’s since fled the country and now lives in Germany. 

  • S N Cosme

    This was really, really wonderful. 

  • http://twitter.com/izhastings movement san diego

    Great read! I’d also like to see Rubys profile 

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    This was really good but I felt like you either needed to be stronger or more downplayed with the ending. Still, a great read.

  • Aja

    I hate a roommate in London who had a problem with ketamine.  She was a nice girl but that stuff really messes you up.  

    • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

       “Had”.  I didn’t hate her at all.  She had a good heart.

    • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

       “Had”.  I didn’t hate her at all.  She had a good heart.

  • http://twitter.com/kaimcn Kai

    Believe it or not, NYC is not the only place you can avoid twiddling your thumbs in the suburbs.

  • http://fastfoodies.org Briana

    This was just plain good writing, I thought.

  • macgyver51

    Kind of an entertaining read, great writing,  until the end. Lets be honest, you could have experienced all of that in most suburbs, you would have just paid half of what you did in rent. Nothing ruins a good piece like self centered language and overdone NYC worship.

  • https://twitter.com/iamthepuddles Jordana Bevan

    Abu Dhabi? Dubai? The bad part about making up destinations is you forget to be consistent :(

    But otherwise this is a SUPER GREAT ARTICLE. Dear TC Regular Writers: Take note.

    • http://millikandaily.com Arikia Millikan

      She made her way around the UAE. Those cities are only ~120 km apart. Thanks kindly for the compliment, glad you enjoyed the essay.

  • Leigh

    I like this, I admire the way that you dealt with all of the people in your life, you seemed to maintain healthy boundaries

    the thing i have noticed about living in nyc is it is so fucking hard that you always assume you are super lucky, so then every needy person seems a little less fortunate than you and you feel you should look after them or listen to them or blah blah and before you know it you’ve given yourself away and no one is there for you 

  • http://www.oneyearintexas.com Perfect Circles

    This started out like a romp and turned deadly serious.  

    This is Ruby.  Please stop talking shit on me.  I have enough problems without this google alert popping up.

  • http://www.oneyearintexas.com Perfect Circles

    This started out like a romp and turned deadly serious.  

    This is Ruby.  Please stop talking shit on me.  I have enough problems without this google alert popping up.

  • Kim

    So I read through the whole thing and thought it was pretty good. But would have liked a little more self deprecation to balance the character judgments you made of your roommates. They sound like fair judgments, but it doesn’t hurt to bring yourself down a little bit too.

    • http://millikandaily.com Arikia Millikan

      Oh, that’s a whole other essay…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514965701 Gonzalo Mauricio Garcia Villeg

    Can we share an apartment?. I’m awesome and unique. I’m a gay man who can cook. You’ll love me and we’ll be soulmates 4 ever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514965701 Gonzalo Mauricio Garcia Villeg

    Can we share an apartment?. I’m awesome and unique. I’m a gay man who can cook. You’ll love me and we’ll be soulmates 4 ever.

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