When I introduced Billy to my roommate Nivan, it was for both the first as last time, as he was helping me move out of the Brooklyn apartment that Nivan and I shared. Billy was a young man of dubious sexuality and cutting-edge couture, and I was unabashedly in love with him. However, I was still slightly embarrassed when he politely shook Nivan's hand and said with the utmost sincerity, "It's nice to meet you, Mittens."
Nivan had become my roommate as part of a failed bid to prove that I wasn't a racist. I had been living in the dorms at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, despite that fact that I had dropped out of the one class I was taking there when I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't sleep standing up, and there was no way I could survive a five hour class without a single nap. So I perused the Village Voice until I found a hovel in Brooklyn that was cheap enough for my very limited budget. "Four room apartment" it proclaimed, "eat-in kitchen." I had never heard of an "eat-in kitchen" before, in my part of the world we had dining rooms. But, I thought, it would be like camping, perhaps, roughing it. And at two and a half bedrooms, even with another person, I'd have room to spare.
So I advertised for a roommate, after having been politely declined by every friend I knew, including the ones who were currently living in homeless shelters. I wanted to find someone immediately, because the first of the month and my move-in date was rapidly approaching. One of the first applicants I got was Nivan. His email was punctuated properly, which impressed me, and was scattered with attempted witticisms. The final sell was when he assured me that he was a tidy fellow. We exchanged a few emails over the course of an evening, and I had decided that I would meet him the next day and show him the apartment.
I waited patiently outside for him to show up, and was surprised when I was greeted by a tall brown man. He was probably ten years older than me and wearing a dress shirt and slacks. More than his adultness, I was shocked by his foreignness. Nivan was Indian, a group I had never previously encountered outside of convenience stores. As I showed him the room the size of a small kitchen table that was to be his, internally I congratulated myself for being so open-minded and accepting of his differences.
Move-in day came, and I watched apprehensively as Nivan unloaded a box of spices and curries into the kitchen. I needn't have worried however, for as much as Nivan resembled a respectable Indian man, he was nothing more than an American stoner who had grown up in Boston. The scent of chicken korma wafting down the stairs was never to greet me as I came home from work, instead, marijuana smoke filled our apartment as the smell of dirty laundry and bass-heavy hip-hop throbbed from his tiny room.
As it turns out, the landlord had apparently thrown up a number of walls into the third floor of his own home, and created the so-called four room apartment, which, like Russian dolls were each increasingly smaller, until the final one was barely visible to the human eye, and ended up holding nothing more than a stack of Nivan's papers. The landlord was the father of two sullen teenagers, whose mother seemed to have disappeared, probably because of their increasingly criminal behavior.
Every morning Nivan would put on a suit and head for a job doing something business-related in Manhattan, and come home to his pile of dirty laundry and have a dozen beers. After a few months, I realized that Nivan would not ever be doing laundry, as it involved hauling it up the street almost an entire block. I was granted a temporary respite when he went home for Thanksgiving, filling his car with dirty t-shirts and socks. He returned home and fired up a bowl, declaring that he never intended on doing laundry unless his mother did it for him. "And Christmas is just around the corner!" he said with exhilaration.
Every few months, Nivan would manage to coerce a skinny washed-out girl to accompany him home, and she would emerge from his room the next morning pale and skittish. These girls never stayed, and I never saw them long enough to determine if they were all the same girl, or just any number of young women from the East Coast private liberal arts college scene. They must be very open-minded, I speculated, or have spectacularly low self-esteem to agree to be bedded in a room the size of a coffin filled with more than two-hundred pounds of dirty laundry. The smell that emanated from his room was one that I hadn't smelled since I was a young teenager and had my first true male friends. At the time, I blamed it on the unwashed laundry, but it has since dawned on me that what I was smelling was the stench of chronic masturbation.
The apartment was falling apart between Nivan's absolute unconcern and my well-meaning but ultimately destructive efforts at home repair. The landlord who lived on the first floor of the house visited us occasionally, whereupon we would frantically hide ashtrays and open windows. The landlord had relegated his children to the second floor of the building, in a likely attempt to hide his pornography addiction from them, which I discovered when each month, as I deposited my rent check under his door, I would hear the fever-pitched moaning of filthy movies in the background.
The landlord's daughter was sixteen, but due to what I speculated were the high levels of hormones in the Brooklyn milk supply, she was built like a thirty-something woman. The knowing look in her eye and adult men that I saw hanging around our stoop didn't help matters much. Apparently her father felt the same way, because one day as Christmas neared, I was walking up the stairs to my apartment, and when I passed her door I heard shrieking. I stopped for a moment and took in the rattling metal industrial chair that was hanging over her doorknob preventing her from opening the door which had already scraped a hole in the carpet. "You stupid motherfucker," she wailed. "When I get out of here I am going to stick this chair so far up your ass that your head is going to pop off your motherfucking neck!" On the slim chance that she was addressing me, I slowly crept past and continued on to my apartment, trying not to let the stairs creak on the way.
As I watched Nivan open a beer, I suggested that perhaps that what was happening downstairs was child abuse. Nivan wiped off his chin and contemplated the idea, as pounding on our floor erupted from the room below. "Yeah probably," he finally said, handing me a cigarette. In general, Nivan and I ignored each other completely, save for the passive-aggressive notes we left for each other, my missive suggesting that he might start cleaning the body hair which jettisoned from his anatomy at the slightest opportunity, out of the bathtub, provoked an angry response accusing me of leaving a used band-aid on the floor,but now, with the specter of an overgrown sixteen-year-old woman/child being abused in our very house, we spoke for the first time in months. After I finished the cigarette, though, we returned to our separate universes.
Ten days later Nivan disappeared. I assumed he had left for Christmas, because a fair amount of his laundry appeared to be gone. While he was gone a package arrived that I needed to sign for. It was addressed to 'DJ Nizzy Nice.' As I was sending the UPS man away with the package, it dawned on me that perhaps this DJ Nizzy Nice was Nivan's alter ego, and I accepted the box of what appeared to be records. I then realized that perhaps my roommate had a secret life of some kind that I was not aware of. Or perhaps just a fond affection for slightly pathetic nicknames. When he hadn't returned after three weeks, I started to worry that he might never be coming back, and, holding my nose, I braved his room. I searched for his parent's phone number, but when finding nothing but an unopened box of condoms, I left, empty-handed.
It was another two weeks before Nivan returned. When he walked in the door it was as if I was seeing a ghost, for over the past month I had convinced myself that he would never be coming back, and partook liberally of his jar of unused laundry quarters. He deposited his bag in his room, went to the refrigerator and retrieved a beer, it was like he had never left. "So, how was your vacation?" I asked. He went back to his suitcase for a moment and returned with a packet of photos.
"I got engaged," he said, tossing the photos on my lap. I leafed through them, there was Nivan and his parents, dressed in colorful garb with a beautiful young woman who was clearly out of his league.
"Wow," I said after a moment. "I didn't know you were dating anyone." It was as if he had walked in and told me that he was really a unicorn, it seemed incomprehensible that Nivan could have had this totally hot girlfriend on the side, and that she had consented to marry him. I wondered if there was something about him that I had missed, something eligible, perhaps, something rich.
Nivan laughed. "Dude, my parents hooked it all up, it's like, arranged. I went to India with them over Christmas and got engaged. I have to go back and marry her in a while. I think there's a contract or something." He took a long swig from his beer and smirked. "It's cool," he said.
Nivan's leap into the world of matrimony didn't improve his tidiness, nor did it stop him from bringing the pale, awkward girls back to his room. I didn't hold out much hope for his wife's future happiness, but at least his mother would finally be relieved of laundry duty.