Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Accidental Roommate

You know folks, living in this fabulous firehouse has its benefits and certainly has had its odd inconveniences as well. Not that I'm complaining. I love it here and wouldn't trade it for any other place in the greater New York area - however, every once in a while I get thrown a curve ball.

In May of this year, I received a convoluted message that a Harvard student was coming to stay in the firehouse for the summer. Just like that. Plus, I heard this info second-hand so I couldn't ask any questions. All else I could learn was that she was "doing an internship at a TV station in Jersey City."

That sounded rather odd to me, as I didn't think there was an actual TV station in JC, but I put the idea out of my head and hoped it wouldn't come to fruition.

A few weeks later I got a phone call from a very upbeat and earnest-sounding young woman. She said that she was coming to intern at none other than WMFU which is widely regarded as the best freeform radio station in the US, and that her boss would be, coincidentally, an old friend of mine. I had been a supporter of this non-commercial radio station for years and knew it very well - so that was our first common denominator. Though when she announced that she was arriving the next day, I was taken aback. I needed to give up my bedroom to her but I still hadn't moved-in my new deluxe bed from my former house. I didn't feel at all prepared for her arrival, yet there was no stopping it; she started work the following Monday, ready or not.

When Nayeli arrived at my door the next day, I impulsively hugged her - somehow knowing we'd be fast friends. She looked almost like a younger version of me and she was already wearing a cute outfit that I might just need to borrow.

We gabbed the whole day together; about the radio station, the many bands we both liked, about how she would be happy to babysit for my girls (YAY!) and then discovered that the one student I happened to know at Harvard was one of her very best friends. The coincidences were piling up.

In just a few days I went from being irked at the arrival of an "intruder" in my palace to loving the notion of having a roommate or housemate, more appropriately. The firehouse is so big that we never got in each other's way. She had the Battalion Chief's room and her own bathroom with the killer showerhead. I had the master bedroom (which I swiftly moved my bed into) and access to the terrace. I was sort of the Queen Bee, and she...the Battalion Chieftess.

The weeks went by and summer was fully upon us. We entertained almost nightly blasting music in our spacious empty living room and re-discovered New Order; we danced to new Avril Lavigne with my girls, and we got into a brilliant Jersey City Ramones-style trio called The Impulse. Totally on impulse I decided to invite the band to play in our garage one night in July. Afterall, the firehouse garage is enormous, and the band was enthralled by the idea; they said YES immediately.

We made the gig time early hoping that the neighbors wouldn't complain--at 7:00 pm, it was practically an early-bird special. I purchased a few cases of beer and transported them home in a baby carriage, which was somehow fitting. Nayeli invited some of her friends and I invited lots of parents and their kids. With the garage door open all the neighborhood passers-by could get an earful as well.

By 7:15 The Impulse was warming up and already creating quite a racket. What I hadn't considered was that the pressed tin that decorates the walls and ceiling of the garage would create an acoustical terror-dome. One reveler told me that she first heard the music upon exiting the PATH train; that was three blocks away. I was getting kind of nervous about the noise, plus there were a few too many kids running free-range in the house.

Suddenly, a neighbor-- an uninvited neighbor -- came into the house looking rather grim. He informed me that someone had called the firehouse owner in California and said that there was a huge party going on in his home with a live raucous band! The owner called this guy and he relayed the message to me.

I almost passed-out with dread. How could I jeopardize the sanctity of this wonderful home with a boozy neo-punk rock band? What on earth was I thinking? I quickly phoned the owner and explained that reports were wildly exaggerated; I reminded him that it was only 7:30 here on the East Coast. He was a great sport about it, however, he did suggest that I close the garage door as not to create any further complaint.

Doing that was a huge buzz-kill. It was now about 900 degrees in the garage and if you thought the sound was ear-splitting before, now it was positively tooth-loosening. In the end, I pressed the red "open" button and raised the garage door; the band played on in fresh air and evening light. Forget the neighbors; this was a pure punk moment.

And so it became the defining moment of the summer. Nayeli and I had created our own little scene which, for better or worse, became a much-talked about event in downtown JC. If we didn't set our status as rockstars per se, we solidified our rep as Rock-the-Firehouse concert promoters.

Throughout the summer, we fell into our groove and got along perfectly, with nary a cross word expressed. Nayeli also had to endure my vicious diabetic cat, Kaos. Whenever I would go away for a weekend it became her task to give Kaos his shots as he is profoundly diabetic. He is also kind of old and ornery so he enjoyed taking swipes at Nayeli's ankles, and more than once sunk his teeth into her calves. She was always good-natured about it, but had no problem conveying her lack of love toward this kitty.

Occasionally, I had to step out of my "I'm a teenager too" role and sometimes be a "mom". I'll admit that I would get annoyed at Nayeli for drinking the last of my milk, or for forgetting to take out the trash; or sometimes, more protectively, I'd find myself saying things like, "You cannot wear that on the subway."

Usually, I just pushed the age distance out of the way, and kind of felt my own inner-teenager come through. There was a day, when Nayeli's friends and I just hung around on the terrace, playing music and basking in the sun. We intended to go out and do stuff, but truthfully we were enjoying being slothful. We pretended that we were staying at a fancy hotel in the South of France. We drank fresh lemonades with garden mint, read trashy magazines, then deconstructed the decline of Britney Spears, and why it's prudent not to put Coke in baby bottles.

Around that time, she and her friend, Mischa, also from Harvard, decided that they would try their luck at being go-go dancers. Nayeli had been invited by a bar-owner in Brooklyn to test out her routine the next time a band played the back room (nevermind her being underage, of course).

The night of the event, she and Mischa donned ridiculous spandex get-ups, matching in fuchsia with wide stretchy belts, and worked their groovy magic. It didn't hurt that Nayeli borrowed the coolest boots I own: platform, skin-tight, and sort of plasticy. I, now in full parental mode, drove the girls to the venue and hung-out while they tested out their synchronized moves. Somehow (despite the micro-skirts) they avoided being overtly slutty-looking, and were actually quite entertaining and fun.

That night, a huge success monetarily (because who can resist tipping gals in spandex), made them both decide to take up careers, whilst at Harvard, being professional go-go dancers for parties and bars. I applauded this entrepreneurial endeavor as it certainly beats slinging burgers.

And so, just like summer's last pink rays, the internship ended and it was time for Nayeli to leave the beloved firehouse and head back to school. By then I had grown so accustomed to her that I tried to convince her to transfer to Columbia instead and stay in New York. That was not going to happen, but we both knew that we had created a magical summer experience; much better than either of us had imagined.

Again, I thought of how I resisted the idea of an "intruder" to my domain and in the end was all teary-eyed upon saying good-bye. I shall include my favorite photo of Nayeli from this summer, where she is wearing all my clothes including a JonBenet t-shirt I had created in the 90s. She calls this her "Clueless" look and, by the way, there are my plasticy boots in full badass glory.