December 2008

#6 Craig Ruby

As I write this review of my former Bushwick Brooklyn roommate Craig Ruby I wonder how many young Americans are out there who are going about their daily lives wishing that they could instantly become French. How many of them would love to shed their American skin, their American culture and way of life to be magically transported 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to the Champs Elysees, the Riviera or even for one moment to be hovering above a bidet in a Lyon cafe rather than be in the stuffy old U.S.

I’m pretty sure that if Craig Ruby, who came to fill the spot vacated by Louiselle Moreau, had his way we would have had one of those strange private parts cleaning contraptions installed into our closet-sized bathroom. After all, if you can’t wash your ass like Gerard Depardieu, then you really aren’t ready to be French. Nevertheless, I’m sure that during his life changing six months playing his guitar at the outdoor cafes along the Seine, Craig had some occasion to use a bidet and by the time he moved in with us in Brooklyn was sorely missing it.
Like my Boston roommate Jake Funterbick, Ruby had an affinity for the French but took it ten steps further. Whereas Funterbick signed up for and then dropped out of French classes, Ruby spoke the language quite well, with an accent that could fool most Americans. After his visa in France had expired, Ruby, a Connecticut native, returned to the states in the hope of perfecting his language and jazz guitar skills to the point that he could return to the land of wine and cheese to join and ensemble and make a living for himself there. Though worn out, I thought it was an admirable goal. My mother speaks French and lived in Nice for a while. People really seem to love that country and I know I would like to visit there at some point. The problem is, France has this weird power over some Americans that turns them into not simply Francophiles but also complete assholes.


Some people say that steady marijuana smoking will ruin your brain and make you lazy. I defy you to answer me this question; how is it that my old roommate Brandt Wall was able to pull bong hits every morning, smoke a bowl during the day and hit the bong again during the evening and still be able to hook our apartment up with satellite television with nothing more than a dish and box he bought on Ebay? And not only that. Brandt was also able fix the reception each time it went out. Would a shiftless, brain dead person be able to do that?

I didn’t think so.

Out of all of nearly 30 people I’ve lived with in the last decade, Brandt ranks up there as one of my favorite roommates of all time. Sure, he could get stone drunk and high and turn psychotic, challenging everyone in the apartment to rumble with him. Yes, he did blow out power to the rear part of our apartment and drive up our utility bills with a grow light he made out of a lamp. And of course, there was that night he got so drunk he dangled my laptop in front of my rambunctious pitbull. Those were all incidents that might lead one to believe Brandt wasn’t an ideal person to share space with, but there was just so much more to this guy and some days, I really miss him.
I went to high school with Brandt, but I didn’t really know him until he moved into my current place in Albany a few years back. I knew he was short, looked and acted like a surfer and liked ganja, but there was a lot more to this guy than all that. (more…)

Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that a good percentage of Europeans who make their way across the pond to live and work are in a strange and delusional mode. So many of them profess to hate America and what she stands for and yet they benefit from what this country has to offer. Europeans have it easy in some ways because unless they are fleeing the nightmare conditions of a post-Soviet country like Romania, Lithuania or the Ukraine, their lives back at home are pretty good. Still, they can make better money over here for a few years and then go back home having taken full advantage of their time here and still get away with telling their fellow countrymen or American backpackers just how shitty the States are.

A lot of Americans worship Europe and Europeans and act as if life is much better there and if only we applied a European way of thinking. we’d be a lot better. They inadvertently treat the whole continent as one homogeneous society in which everyone gets along, is tolerant, appreciates good film, wine and eats delicious baguettes. Therefore, they are more than happy to have a visitor from France, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Spain, etc. living in their apartment, if even for only a few months. It’s as if their visitor will bring peace and stability and rational thought to their living situation.

I strongly advise against a European roommate unless they are thoroughly vetted first. I say this because I’ve had a few and once you invite one in the door, you’re opening yourself up to constant criticisms of your culture, language, family and anything else only loosely associated to your life.

My first European roommate certainly wasn’t my last, but I will always remember her as the most enduring image of what it is like to live with someone from the old continent.


# 3 Marco Smirnovsky

For those of you who are familiar with Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, you’ll recognize the photo. Although I initially felt I was going a little bit over-the-top in choosing as the image for my former roommate Marco Smirnovsky the picture of a man known for abducting women and children and eating their organs in the woods, I now actually think it’s a pretty good image. Even kinda looks like him, too.

I’ll start off by saying that Marco is not Russian. He could could easily be mistaken however for a Eastern European immigrant, in particular, one of those awkward ones from the old Soviet Block who wear tourist skintight tourist t-shirts and ask for directions to the bathroom from random strangers by calling it a toilet (as in, “can tell me you where I can find toilet?”.

Marco was actually from somewhere much, much, much warmer than the Ural Mountains, Caucuses or Siberia. He was a Brazilian who just seemed really Russian. Perhaps it was his pale complexion and and high cheekbones. Or maybe it was that my roommates and I weren’t familiar with the sound of a Brazilian-Portuguese accent. Then again, he could have actually been a security services secret agent. I’ll never know, because I think he was deported. Either way, we had trouble accepting that this kid wasn’t from the land of vodka, gulags and babushka-wearing women. After all, he did end up in Brooklyn, home of many Iron Curtain immigrants.

Marco came to us as a friend of my roommate Patrick. He showed up one night in December of 2001 with two girls from his native Sao Paolo. They needed somewhere to stay and were willing to share this tiny room with no windows. it was desperate and kind of cute, really.


Several days ago I was returning to home to Albany aboard a train from day trip to New York City with my mother. While our train went along the east bank of the Hudson River, I thumbed through Stuff White People Like..The book is pretty funny and picks apart the pretense and snobbery of corny hipster folks who thinks the sun shines out of their asses. My mother is from a generation before and is not clued in on the hipster phenomena. She asked me why it was a bad thing to like organic food, National Public Radio, jazz and other things listed in the book. I assured her that it’s not bad to like them, but that many corny people do and elevate these things to annoying levels in order to make themselves feel above others. The result is that you start to dislike or shy away from some of the things you may otherwise like. She was still confused and so I asked her, “do you remember my old roommate Jake from San Francisco?”

Before I go any further, I should note that this post is not about hipsters, but rather some of the people I have shared space with for nearly the last decade. If some of them happen to be hipsters it simply reflects the places that I have lived including Boston and later Brooklyn. Thinking back to Jake Funderbick (names are slightly altered), got me thinking of the nearly 30 people I have lived in apartments with since 1999 and wanting to preserve them–the good and the bad–in my memory. Here are the first ten I feel comfortable writing about. They are in no particular ranking. All names have been changed.

#1 Jake Funterbick

I was tempted to actually use Jake’s full name and a current picture I was able to find of him for the site, but I decided that would be a little bit too far, so instead I pulled a photo I thought was appropriate given his pretentious, arrogant and snarky demeanor. I actually didn’t mind living with him too much. I was twenty and I didn’t expect much from the roommates I shared an apartment with while I was studying journalism at Emerson College and I’m sure they didn’t expect much from me. Jake could be a fun roommate, but within a week or two of living with him, I realized he had his head stuffed so far up his ass it was hard to relate with him. Jake was from San Francisco, the first Bay Area native I really got to know. And believe you me, he made it his job–along with talking about jazz, smoking cigarettes from a case and getting high–to let anyone and everyone know that he was from San Francisco. Everything with this guy seemed to go back to San Francisco. He was well-traveled, the kind of kid whose parents put him on a plane for Europe and Israel many times in his formative years, which is all good.