Friday, March 24, 2006

A History of Room-mating

"Room-mate" is the catch-all word for someone with whom you share your housing or apartment expenses. However, it alludes to the person being nothing more than that. If you live in New York City, the chances are high that you have had at least one room mate in your adult life as that is frequently the only way you can afford to live in a decent apartment in a decent area.

I have had four room-mates in my adult life: one in college, two in New York City and then one in New Jersey and that same one in another apartment in New York City. The latter was originally my landlord and then we became best friends: Kay. She wound up joining me in New York City in 1990 living in the Upper West Side on 92nd Street Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. We lived in a two bedroom, 5 floor walk up for $1100 a month for four years. Kay had not ever heard "the buzzer" that visitors and delivery people ring at the front locked door to gain entrance. The evening of the day we moved in, I ordered pizza. Kay was resting in her bedroom. When the very loud buzzer rang, I actually heard her gasp and leap out of the bed, quite startled. I was laughing so hard I could barely answer the buzzer.

Four years later, we wanted something cheaper and moved to Times Square where we shared a large studio apartment in the heart of the theater district. I had always dreamed of doing this and now I had the chance. That was $850 a month back in 1994. Our co-existence in this smaller space worked because we had different work hours, other social circles and jobs. I was producing a lot of theater at the time, Kay assisted with that with her brilliant graphic design work and set design skills. We got to be together as friends without constantly being together. We each dated but neither of us would ever move in with a guy so the arrangement worked out beautifully.

By 1998 both of us were making a lot more money and were tired of living in the large studio apartment, convenient as it was. We packed up and moved to Riverdale, just over the line into the Bronx. It was a beautiful area. We rented the second floor of a house on West 236th Street and enjoyed all the space, the closets and available parking. That was $1200-$1300 a month and no central air conditioning. We nearly died during the summer months. We liked the landlords very much and the fact we had our own private deck. However, post-9/11 cost me my job at HBO and when our lease was up, I announced to Kay that I was moving back to my native Delaware, taking Hal Prince's advice about finding work in the theater in Philadelphia and Baltimore. They did new work there with a lot less commercialism. I gave her enough notice to find something on her own or see if anyone at her job wanted a new room-mate.

Kay, a Jersey native, asked if she could come with me. She didn't want to live in the city anymore and had visited my home state enough to know she loved it.

Off we went. The cost of living is considerably less in Delaware than in NYC and I told Kay we could each afford our own one bedroom apartment. When I told friends this, they were surprised: Why live apart? they asked. The more we thought about it, the more we decided to stay together. It is amazing the kind of things you can buy when you pool money together, including getting a better apartment. The two bedroom place we have is beautiful, nicely landscaped and we have a ground floor apartment and patio. No bars over the windows or doors as with NYC. Six inches of cement and insulation around the apartment makes it hard to hear your neighbors. Plenty of parking for two cars.

The apartment is of such a size that you can't hear or see what the other person is doing so there is plenty of personal privacy. And it's $810 a month.

Still, I feel somewhat juvenile referring to Kay as my room-mate. But it's a great arrangement and one that would only change if either of us got married. There is something nice knowing that someone will realize that you did not make it home from that first date with a new guy. The safety factor is something I had not ever really considered before, but now that it has been pointed out to me, I savor this as an important aspect of living with someone who will watch out for you.

If you're really sick, there is something really great about being catered to - another person to go to the store for food or meds.

Both of us have been lucky in finding this ideal situation and have been told this repeatedly by other people through the years.

My best friend is my room-mate. I'm very lucky.

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