The problem with living with other human beings has been debated by theologians and philosophers for millennia. Many believe God’s great mistake was his giving free will to people, specifically to the person sharing your refrigerator and bathroom. It’s their God-given right to decide not to do things exactly the way you want them to. At least these are the complaints I regularly heard from my college friends about their roommates. In college, everyone has roommates. And everyone I knew had roommates who used up all their ketchup and shampoo and parked in the wrong part of the driveway. I considered my three roommates and wondered, “Am I missing something?”
In truth, my roommates and I were the envy of our circle of friends, males and females alike. George, Adam, Yoshi, and I lived in a house on Gardenview Street for two years while studying jazz at the University of North Texas. Even then, we knew we were different. Perhaps it was our mutual interest in music, or how spiritually in tune we were, or how seriously we took our relationship as roommates. In truth, it was all of these things.
From the first day we moved in, we set ground rules. To avoid fighting over food, we created a food pot, or what we called “the wallet.” Each of us put in something like $20 every week, agreeing that everything in the pantry and fridge was everyone’s. Also, we’d use The Wallet money for dinners together. On weekends, our schedules drove us in different directions. But during the week, each of us picked a night to cook and we ate together.
We were as close as brothers, maybe because there were so few like-minded guys around. We’d see each other in the morning and pray for each other’s day, then return home that evening for dinner, and spend the evening talking or jamming. While everyone else in the Dallas area ate, slept, and breathed the Cowboys and Mavericks, we read books on church history and argued over who was the better drummer for Miles Davis in the 1960’s.
“I like Tony Williams.”
“Are you kidding? Tony Williams is so overrated. Jimmy Cobb is better.”
“Did I ever tell you guys about the time I played with Jimmy Cobb.”
Collective groan – “Yes.”
We expanded our evening routine only once, when one of us discovered a Celestial Seasoning-brand tea called Sleepytime.
Every few months we shifted rooms, usually because one or more of us needed a break from someone else. Adam was the resident northerner and I remember our time sharing a room included epic battles over the air conditioner. George may have been the lightest sleeper in history. Excluded middle-of-the-night activities included breathing too hard, shifting too much, and, on the occasions that I brought a midnight snack back to bed, chewing too loudly. And Yoshi preferred a room to himself where he could teach himself first century Greek and Hebrew in peace.
After a while, I think we all started to feel the urge to move on. To me, we looked less like a group of guys and more like my grandmother’s bridge club. I think it was the tea that was a bit too much for me. This is probably why out of the four of us I was the first to get a serious girlfriend. And when the end of our lease coincided with the opportunity to move into a duplex next door to my future wife, we all moved out and found other roommates.
Within just a couple of years, I was the only one left in Texas. We’ve each kept in touch through emails and phone calls. Then a few weeks ago, Yoshi contacted me to let me know he was coming to Denton for a few days. He hadn’t been to Texas in over six years, the amount of time it takes the average Asian to purge their body of southern food. So he surprised me when he suggested we eat at Cracker Barrel.
After breakfast, we drove by our old house on Gardenview. To our sadness, the years had been unkind to the entire neighborhood. Wilted trees were surrounded by neglected lawns, and sun damage had faded the color from most the houses. We pulled up our former driveway, and the first thing I noticed was an eviction notice hanging from a bedroom window that had once been mine and then Adam and Yoshi’s. Around the side of the house, the garage door had caved in. This was the garage where I spent almost an entire summer after the boys kicked me out of the house for practicing Eric Johnson’s Cliffs of Dover over and over.
It was sad to see our old home in such a shambles. Moreover, it was sadder to end our little reunion on a note like this. Kids and career have a way of clouding the past (as well as the present) and I hadn’t thought much about those two years for a while and it grieved me that to this day I haven’t been that close with any other guys since. Never again would someone call me a pathetic white boy for liking the music of Dave Brubeck. Never again would any man fold my laundry because they were looking for something to do until their casserole was ready.
Then later that day, I heard an NPR story about a book called The Yugo: The Worst Car in History. The story confirmed what I always suspected: that the value of the car doubled when you filled it with gas. It also said there were less than a thousand Yugos still on the road today. And I recalled Adam’s legendary voyage from Vancouver to Texas in his rust-colored Yugo. Somehow he had packed all of his belongings, including an upright bass, into this four-speed little thing and made the two-day trip. “It might not have taken two whole days, but the top speed is only 55 mph,” he told us. Even more remarkable was that this was his vehicle for the two years we lived together. Whenever we could, George, Yoshi, and I volunteered to drive. But inevitably, one of us would be low on gas, or maybe we just wanted some attention, and we all wound up cramming into the Yugo like a circus clown car.
“Can you turn the air conditioner on?” I asked the first time I rode shotgun.
“There isn’t any A/C,” he said.
“No, there’s isn’t any. Yugo’s don’t come with A/C.”
“You drove halfway across the continent without air conditioning?”
“Well, in Canada we don’t need it. The summers aren’t that hot.”
Then we pulled into the school parking lot. “Where’s the door handle?” I asked.
“You have to roll down the window and open it from the outside,” Adam said.
Hindsight has a way of making the past either worse or better than it really was. At the time I moved out of the Gardenview house, I probably was ready for a change. But my memories of the two years I lived with George, Yoshi, and Adam recall that they were two of the best years of my life, just a notch below my marriage. The last of us will get married this summer. And while the rest of us have wives and daughters, I am the first in the house to gain a son. It is something I pray for the boys, especially when great moments of bonding occur between Isaac and me.
Just the other day, we were riding in my truck and a Van Halen song came on. “Dad,” Isaac said, “I hear the guitar.”
“That’s right,” I told him. “That’s Eddie Van Halen.”
“Yeah, he’s one of the best guitar players of the eighties.”
Isaac took a little car and started racing it up and the down his leg. "Okay."
“But we like Randy Rhodes and Slash better,” I said.
“Oh." He examined his car for a moment. "What’s a Slash?”
And I sighed, considering all the wisdom I have yet to impart on the next generation of men.