Sunday, April 08, 2007


Roommates are Good Practice

Since I was a young boy living in rural Tennessee, I have always tried to use my hobbies to learn more of what life is about. In those days, I attempted to do this by spending most of my time reading stories of great Americans and watching nature shows on PBS. Since then, I have found that there are some things, like the real meaning of “roommate,” which can’t be revealed through a medium such as these, even if it is narrated by Marty Stouffer.

In those days, a “room” was a quiet place where I could read biographies of American heroes, like Babe Ruth and John F. Kennedy, which carefully omitted some of their hobbies which Mrs. Ruth and Mrs. Kennedy Onassis probably considered less-than-heroic. At that time, “mate” was something the narrators of the PBS animal programs would often talk about their subjects doing, even if it was something that never seemed to ever occur on camera.

However, over time, experience taught me that people would infrequently come into my life, share my possessions and then never be heard from again. These people are called “repairmen,” and they’re machinations have been too well-orchestrated over the last few centuries for you or I stop now.

Also, since college, I have spent time with many kinds of roommates, and they each had their own unique merits and foibles. Most of my roommates were encountered either here in Korea while working for the Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute, or during my studies at Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga. Even though both of these were Adventist institutions, there were times my roommates and I clearly differed in terms of lifestyle choices.

There were those whose rate of speech and depth of conversation topics suggested that the air near the local Chrysler factory was not the most harmful thing they’d ever inhaled. There have also been those who told me they enjoyed “watching movies” with an ever-growing assortment of female “friends,” which they tended to do in their “bedrooms” while the door was “shut” and lights were “off.”

Those roommates with whom I have no moral qualm I tend to group in the category of “mostly fine, but with certain irritating tendencies.” These irritations may range from the type who always forgets to turn off the light in the bathroom to the person who repeatedly and actively seeks to do irritating things under the impression that it is somehow helpful. For me, there was no greater example of this than the roommate who, at the end of every day of work or class, would ask me in his especially chipper tone, “How was your day?”
I rarely answered. However, I would often think, Not so great. Apparently I’ve come home to a wife I didn’t know I had, and I must say I’m disappointed by her appearance.

There was also the roommate who left the door locked even when he was home, even though we lived in the suburban area of rural Chattanooga, where there is little activity of the criminal variety (or any other variety, for that matter). As I arrived home at night from graduate school classes and work, I would often have to sort through my keys in the dark while carrying my books and papers. When I asked him to leave the door unlocked sometimes, he, a fairly sturdy looking young man who worked in construction, would say, “But I don’t know who’s going to come in here while I’m home.”

Man, I would think to myself, you’re a man!

Since coming to Korea to teach, I have been housed with other foreign teachers. My current roommate is a Korean-American able to converse in both languages, so he certainly is quite useful to have around whenever there’s a problem at the apartment that requires a machinating repairman to come in and trifle with something we need to keep our food cooked.

However, there is one little problem: he sings. There’s nothing especially wrong with his singing voice; but I’ve met a few people who enjoyed singing out loud without any accompanying music, and virtually all of them have little or no idea how much those around them are not enjoying it. They generally all start out singing the chorus of a well-known song and give up the words at about mid-sentence, simply continuing the melody and alternately between lyrics and sung non-words until the next verse would start. They then pause a few minutes, before beginning the cycle anew.

So, if the song in their head were, for example, “Hotel California,” what they would actually sing would sound something like this: “Welcome to the Hotel Na-na-ya-nah! Huh huh lovely place … (pause of indefinite length) Such a love-nuh huh…

Like with my previous roommates, I sit and think of clever sentences that could succinctly repudiate such irksome behavior. However, I will never say it out loud, because this would open me up to whatever criticisms of me has thus far kept silent about. Therefore all dictionaries should, under the word “roommate,” have the following definition: “Person whose qualities you must endure for a time, and who must endure yours until one of you moves up in life.”

Roommates teach all of us, especially singles like myself, how to live with other humans like ourselves until the day we find can one of the opposite gender. With any luck, I will never be in a place where I am without a roommate for an extended length of time.

I need somebody else to deal with repairmen.

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