Words by Chris Kent
The only thing worse than sitting on the subway back to your apartment in yesterday’s clothes smelling like unfamiliar sex is showing up at an ex-girlfriend’s dorm room to politely ask if you could wash the stench off in her shower, or borrow some soap and a towel to wash it off in a communal shower down the hall.
I often see signs scrawled on cardboard asking to “help feed the homeless.” I was homeless once but I didn’t need any help being fed. I had a job; I had income (not a lot, but enough to eat). I even had unlimited access to new clothing and skateboards. I just didn’t have a place of my own to live.
My mother and my father both lived out on Long Island and my sister lived on the Upper East Side so I could have technically stayed with family. Alas, being a slave to the Long Island Rail Road seemed worse than scavenging about the big bad city for a place to rest my head.
I did stay at my sister’s place for a little while, but she and my brother-in-law were planning on rearing children. As soon as I found out, I felt it best to find another couch to darken.
I had friends strewn about the four boroughs—no fucking way was I headed to Staten Island, that’s as far as Long Island and filled with New Jersey—I could probably stay at a friend’s place for a bit. I filled my backpack with a few t-shirts and a sweatshirt and buy socks everyday from the dollar store… cleanest homeless guy in the city.
I found out early how easy it is to become THAT guy; the guy who’s always asking to sleep on your floor/couch/bed/table/desk by the end of the night. Shit, I don’t even like THAT guy. I did what anyone in my situation would do; I started dating a girl in the dorms. One day I borrowed her ID card and, using the skills honed in said university, created one of my own. I was now an official dorm student.
Our relationship was doomed from the beginning; with the benefit of hindsight I realize that I was the one who ruined it. There was actually a break-up and feelings were hurt on both sides. I really couldn’t drag it on for the sake of a place to stay with any sort of conscience. This was a process I wouldn’t want to repeat.
Everything changed one night hanging out with some friends outside (probably trawling for a couch). One of my ex’s best friends approached me and asked if I needed a place to stay. She just came right up to me and asked. She knew the story. She knew the deal and was just being a good Samaritan. What a nice girl.
Little did I know that she had ulterior motives. As I entered the all too familiar assembly line dorm room of particleboard furniture, Polaroid collages and shitty band posters, she told me immediately that her roommate wouldn’t be coming home that night. The natural assumption would be that I was being offered this missing roommate’s bed. This was not the case. As the story goes, her roommate would “literally have a conniption” if I were to sleep in her bed. If I were to stay, we would have to share the same undersized, hard-to-find-sheets-and-mattress-for, pre-fab bed.
She stripped down to her girly wear and got into bed. I asked if she minded if I slept in just my boxers. I remember just how hard my heart was pounding as I pretended to sleep for an hour or so. I also remember the way I tried to keep my hips away from hers. It was in similar fashion to the manner in which you’d dance with a girl at the 8th grade dinner-dance (it’s called the boner dance). The last thing I wanted to do was upset this kind girl, who was allowing me to stay in her room while her roommate was out of town, by accidentally poking her in the butt with my hard on. I tried not to breathe on or near her.
She broke the silence. She started talking about how inappropriate it was that we share a bed considering she was really good friends with someone I had just dated days before. As soon as I reassured her that my intentions blah blah blah… her tongue was suddenly in my mouth. I could no longer do the boner dance and we were both breathing pretty heavy. Without getting too graphic, she started doing a boner dance of her own.
Morning came and she got up and out of bed in order to prepare for class. There were no post-coitus pleasantries or morning sex, just, “Hey, that was cool. Stop by again some time. Do I need to sign you out?”
I was floored. That’s not to be taken as “upset” just “floored.” The only tragedy was that the next night I would have to do something like that again. Seriously though, it’s probably not even possible.
First off, if there were somebody sleeping with girls just to have a place to sleep, they would be blackballed from the dorms pretty quick, right? What a fucking scumbag. How could it work for real? What if this person wasn’t sleeping with the girls but just crashing there? What if he weren’t a total scumbag about it? Then I guess he just wouldn’t exist.
There was no way that I was going to allow myself to become a whole new THAT guy. The last THAT guy was a hard stigma to shed. This one might not wash off. Fuck, this one might require penicillin.
The next thing I know, I’m doing the horizontal rendition of the 8th grade boner dance once again. This is the sort of thing that could ruin a person.
I did that dance for two and a half years. Sometimes I crashed on the floor, sometimes in the missing roommate’s bed, but for two and a half years I never slept on the street. I lived by some sort of super hero like code bordering on respect and bullshit. It was the key to everything. As long as all intentions were clear and on the table then nothing could go wrong. Right?
It is often said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t believe in hell, but I’ve met the guy who paves the roads to get there. For the sake of his anonymity we’ll call him Jake. Jake was a tall dreadlocked dude from Jersey. He and I both skated for the same clothing company and became friends instantly. Since he liked living in New Jersey about as much as a fucking root canal, he thought it best to move to New York and become my “roommate.” Yeah, I know, we don’t have an apartment, and it’s twice as hard to get two people signed into the dorms as it is one person, but we shared the same space for over a year, and “roommate” fits the bill a bit better than say, a word like “spaceman.”
Jake is a pretty charming motherfucker. He had this amazing ability to remember everything about a person upon meeting them, however brief the encounter was.
“Hey there, remember me? I’m Jake, we met at Union Square last year? You were friends with that girl So-and-so from NYU. Are you still studying art history and restoration? Those are some great sneakers you’ve got on. Did you guys ever find those pumas you went shopping for?”
To me, that’s fucking magic. It’s also fucking dangerous. Somehow, with no job whatsoever, no income of any kind, and no place to live, Jake never struggled. He was worse than I was, or maybe better than I was. We were in the same boat.
Looking back on it all, I’m really surprised that we never slept on the street. But, you know how Aretha Franklin is always jabberin’ on about r-e-s-p-e-c-t? Jake and I would have been blackballed from the dorms as soon as one of us turned douche bag. And that never happened. Granted, every morning I would get up and look for the tall dreadlocked bastard. Sometimes it was just a trip to the room next door; sometimes he was curled up with the “roommate,” sometimes he’d be missing until the next evening. We were eventually just part of everyday dorm life.
Of course the salad days would soon come to an inevitable close at the hand of a beautiful woman… actually, two beautiful women. One of these women had been helping me out for quite some time. This fine lady will henceforth be known as Alice. She and I were friends, we had a “thing” here and there but I was never allowed to spend the night. The wicked witch of the west side of the room (her roommate/sister) would never allow it. She hated me.
Alice would however, give me showering supplies, a towel, and/or a place to stay when her sister was out drunk… all the good things. Enter: the other woman. One morning after brushing my teeth, I caught a glimpse of a little pixie-haired girl. Wow, I had an instant attraction to her. She was slightly awkward yet naturally beautiful without seeming as if she had any idea of it at all. She also… walked into a room DIRECTLY ACROSS THE HALL from Alice. Being interested would mean jeopardizing my tenure at the dorms.
As soon as we met something must have clicked. We started to spend too much time together and we were headed into dangerous territory. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but
coming clean seemed to be the only honorable thing to do. She had been seeing someone else and was planning to tell him about me, as I would break the news to Alice about the little pixie-haired girl. It was tough, no one likes break-ups, but it seemed to go as well as it could.
One night I returned to the dorms with my newly found pixie-haired girl fairly late and was denied access. I would have politely stated my case but I must have eaten something that disagreed with my stomach and there was an internal war being waged.
The security guard then points to a sign behind his desk. Not a flyer or a post-it, not even an 8”X10” glossy print out, but a fucking sign! There was a big picture of my face on it and a bold warning: “DO NOT ALLOW DORM ACCESS TO THIS STUDENT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. He is a commuter with a forged dorm ID card.” Fuck.
My stomach started to gurgle. I ran to the dorms next door. Sure enough, same sign. I had to find a place to take a crap, and it was urgent! With my legs clamped tightly together I waddled to one of the buildings that held classes and lectures as quickly as possible… same fucking sign! Luckily for me, I spent a lot of time at the deli around the corner. The facilities at the bodega were cleaner that I had expected. It was probably cleaner than the whole damn establishment. All in all, nothing felt more like rock-bottom than sitting on a toilet under the fluorescent lights in the back of a 7th avenue convenience store at 1:30 in the morning.
After that, all the security on campus knew me by name. The Jig was up. I was denied entry to the dorms for the rest of the semester. There really wasn’t any way that security was able to tell that my ID was fake, it was perfect… an exact replica of the real thing. Something went wrong from the inside. There was a rat. I can’t blame this cute little rodent, however, I was blatantly scamming the system. Apparently I hurt someone’s feelings somewhere along the way, and getting me kicked out of the fucking dorms made her feel better.
Jake eventually moved in with some girl and stayed on rent strike for a year because of a clogged drain. I crashed at work for the remainder of the semester on the boss’ futon and sooner or later got a place of my own. I’ve gone through a billion roommates and a small collection of landlords, and if I were to attempt to sum up the so-called lessons learned, it wouldn’t turn into a story about scamming for a place to sleep or hooking up with girls to crash in the dorms.
There’s something to be said for having the freedom to do whatever you want; to exist with nothing but a skateboard and a backpack filled with the renewable resource of t-shirts. As far as helping to feed the homeless is concerned, they don’t need to be fed unless they’re hungry. And if they’re homeless foe the sake of education, they probably only need a couch and some soap from time to time.