Okay, so there appear to be a bunch of people who want to move to New York in the immediate future, and for those of you who want to live alone, I say: good fucking luck. There is NO WAY you’re going to afford it unless you have an offshore trust fund or you have an aunt that just died in a rent-controlled building.
I have lived in communes my entire life. They weren’t called “communes,” but that’s exactly what they were. I come from a family of seven, then went straight to a dormitory of one thousand. My next house was the Lodge, where 42 of us lived together. After that, it was Club 510 where six of us broke bread at once; then came the revolving, insane mass of humanity that congregated/lived/barfed in the Purple and Pink Houses. When I moved to LA, there were seven of us. Here, it’s just Tessa and me, and I swear to god, sometimes I walk into the kitchen in the middle of the night and I’m actually surprised that Jiffer isn’t in there stealing my Pop Tarts.
So, all you people about to get yourselves into group houses and roommates, I’m going to give you the Rules for Thriving in a Group House. You had better Clip’n’Save this blog, because you’re going to need it later.
1. The devil you know is always better than the angel you don’t.
Yes, you may think your prospective housemate is a slob, but if you think about it, you also know she’s not psychotic. Let me tell you about everyone in the world you don’t know: they all SUCK. They are all fucking CRAZY. They will sob on your shoulder about an abusive boyfriend, then steal all your money, do cocaine on the table your mom gave you, then come home drunk and take a shit in the kitchen trash can. Yes, this happened to me.
We all made fun of Jay Murray for staying in college for thirteen years and convincing everyone to buy him hamburgers, but he was harmless, funny, and had a point of view. I would live with Jay Murray again 100 times out of 100 if the other option was putting an ad in the paper. I repeat: live with who you know, because that means you know they are NOT psycho freak slut assholes.
2. Have your own room with a lock.
I didn’t always follow this advice, but since my roommate was Scott Bullock, we managed to share a room (at the age of 29) and have nothing but fun. But the rest of you: get a room, get a door, and get a lock. The fun of a commune is amazing and awesome, but there comes a time when you need to masturbate.
3. Have house meetings regularly, and figure out the dishes.
Our house meetings at the Pink House were frequently so funny that I made a movie about them. But there’s one thing that ain’t so funny: the goddamn dishes. This comes up in EVERY group house without fail. We tried everything, but still the plates stacked skyward, and calcified peanut butter remained on knives for weeks. Finally, we hid all the dishes in the basement, bought a shitload of paper plates and cups, and just threw away every mess. It was environmentally insane, but it got us through the winter of 1997.
The house meeting should always have a “bitch session,” where each housemate can yawp at the others about something arcane and weird. “Just being heard” can work wonders, even if your mind is utterly elsewhere.
4. Don’t be an asshole about rent.
There are all kinds of ways to screw up rent, but the worst is when somebody’s girlfriend or boyfriend moves in, and so they split that room’s rent. This sucks. Not only does it mean one more body to contend with in the bathroom and around the television, but it penalizes those people who are single by getting a much worse deal than their housemates who are busy fucking.
How do you fix it? Here’s what we did, so follow closely. We measured the square footage of each bedroom, then added all the rooms together to find out what percentage of “total bedroom space” each room takes up. For instance, at the Pink House, we had five bedrooms, and it looked like this: 20%, 17%, 15%, 32%, 16%. Got it? Yes, it was painstaking, but we did it.
Then all you do is charge everyone who lives in the house a $100 “common room” fee (yours could be much higher if you want). Then split the rest of the rent by percentage. For example: the rent at the Pink House was $1600 total. There were seven people living there, so that took care of $700 of “common room” fees. That left $900 to split by percentage. My room was the “20% room,” so that meant $180. So my rent was $280. This solved all arguments. I repeat: THIS SOLVED ALL ARGUMENTS! ALL RESENTMENTS AGAINST COUPLES DISSIPATED!
If you don’t do this, expect your communal house to treat your girlfriend the way the rest of the Beatles treated Yoko during the Abbey Road sessions.
5. Take on the irrational obsessions of your housemates as though they were your own.
This is the most important rule of all. It basically says that if your housemate hates something about the house, you should as well. Even if you don’t really care. Matt McMichaels HATED the construction detritus piled up in the lawn of the Purple House, so I did too. Jon Gray had ceiling tiles fall on his head while sleeping, so I got mad as well. Salem hated it when I dried myself outside the shower and made the mat wet, so I still, to this day, dry off inside the shower out of respect to 1989 Salem. If you can do this, you can live with anybody.
I realize now that this rule, as well as some of the others, prepared me for marriage. I try to take on the peccadilloes of Tessa as though they were my own, so that she doesn’t feel like she’s alone in any struggle. I really miss the expansive comraderie of the commune, but she can be enough people in one day to satisfy anyone.
some the amazing people I’ve lived with