Saturday, October 6, 2018


Hey look! I told a story at Strangerville Live! Check out the recording and the written version below:

This time in Strangerville, Meg and Eli talk about a heavy-handed movie. Also, Eli takes the Strangerville Live stage to share a story about his worst roommate, ever.
Roommates, by Eli McCann
Production by Eli McCann & Preg Walter

There is absolutely no more important task in your life than properly vetting a potential roommate if you are in the process of looking for one.

If you are not carefully navigating this with a critical eye, you are an idiot. I can say that, because I have been that idiot. Many, many times.

In my life, I have had approximately 100 roommates. A dozen or more of those were mission companions I had been assigned to during my Mormon mission in Ukraine, and so I can’t really be blamed for any of those, including the one who used to change into a speedo every time we got back into the apartment and then go into the kitchen to cook meals for us.

But apart from those assigned folks, I have made the mistake many a time of not paying nearly enough attention to the roommate vetting process. And because of that, I ended up once with a roommate who hoarded dirty dishes in his bedroom until there were none left in the kitchen. Then he would roll up his bed sheet, because all of the dishes were on his bed, carry the bundle to the kitchen sink, and then drop it in there for someone to clean--sheet and all.

We, the other roommates, never stood up to this behavior because there was a rumor that this person once urinated on someone’s bed after he overheard the person criticize his music (he was a professional bagpipe player—and I know I should have led with that because it is so much worse than the dish thing but I’m still so afraid of bed-urination revenge that I’ve now gone nearly 12 years without ever criticizing this to anyone).

If you can believe it, accordion dish urinator is not even one of the top three worst roommates I’ve ever had. Those honors go to:

3. A man I’ll call Peter who used to wake me up nearly every night because he was sobbing so loudly and every time I asked him about it he would turn it back on me and say that he didn’t know what I was talking about and that I was the one who was crying and it just now occurred to me that maybe he wasn’t crazy and we just had a ghost problem. But STILL, that ghost would only be the third worst roommate I’ve ever had so it doesn’t change the list.

2. A man I’ll call Steve, even though his name is Chris and he does not deserve one ounce of anonymity. I was in law school at the time and Chris, age 40, complained to me every single day that I lived with him that his First Amendment rights had been violated when he was fired from his last job for calling a gay coworker the worst slur you can call a gay person before shoving him over a desk. I once asked Chris what prompted the violent outburst and he responded “this guy just needed to know how God feels about the homosexuals.”

Chris had gotten a new job after the last one stomped all over the Constitution, but I never did find out what it was because every time I asked him he said some variation of “I’d rather not say, because I’m really not proud of it.” His scheduled shifts at this job were apparently graveyard shifts, which was good, because it gave Chris the opportunity to stay home ALL DAY and watch Fox News. Well, until he banned Fox News in the house because it was being overrun by “a bunch of pansy socialist libtards.” Also, I was under strict instruction to never answer the door because there were a bunch of “Nazi debt collectors” after him. Oh, and I forgot to mention it—Chris stole from me on several occasions. But considering all of the other things I’ve told you about him, this one seems so minor that I never remember to mention it when I’m complaining to people about that part of my life.

Despite all of that, Chris was still only the second worst roommate I’ve ever had. That’s because the top spot goes to

1. A young man I’ll call Jack. I had just moved to Salt Lake City with my friend Matt who had gone to law school with me. We found an apartment downtown. I was supremely happy to have Matt as a roommate because he rarely sobbed through the night, he had no history of urinating on anyone’s bed but his own, and he was wholly uninterested in Fox News. But then Matt met a young woman and they got engaged negative five seconds later and then married negative six seconds after that. And so I needed to find myself a new roommate to join me in my downtown apartment.

Matt felt guilty for his betrayal so he offered to do the heavy lifting and I offered to pay absolutely no attention to his roommate hunt.

The problem with this arrangement was that Matt, being not the person who would live with this new internet find, had very little motivation to make sure the new person was a stable human being. Which is exactly how I ended up living with Jack, who found the place through Matt’s Craigslist ad.

Jack showed up with his mother to meet me. His mother, Olga, lived nearby, and she was very Russian, and very beautiful.

Olga took me aside and told me that Jack’s father (her husband) was a mean and angry tyrant who didn’t appreciate Jack’s talents. He had apparently cut Jack off financially in recent months. Because of this, Olga had somehow worked up a scheme to basically launder money from her husband and smuggle it to Jack, and as a part of this process, she asked if I would pretend to be her fitness coach so she could make fake payments to me each month in the amount of Jack's rent.

I politely declined the arrangement, noting that I wasn't interested in starting a life of crime right after law school.

Olga was displeased, but she only pushed the topic about 30 more times.

Olga and Jack apparently came up with some new fraud scheme, and the next week Jack moved in.
I was in denial from the beginning. I so badly wanted this not to be a disaster that I told myself, against all evidence to the contrary, right from the beginning, that Jack and I were great friends and even better roommates.

On Jack’s first day living with me I asked him if he had any hobbies. He responded that his hobbies included: dreaming and resisting. I do those things too so I just assumed we would get along really well.

I asked him if he had a job, and he said that jobs were for people who didn’t believe in themselves. It was inspiring, really.

I also noticed that he had five snowboards in his bedroom. I read a whole Wikipedia page about snowboarding that very night so I could strike up a conversation with Jack since he so far was nearly impossible to talk to. The next day I mentioned it over breakfast. I brought the topic up by asking, “where’s your favorite place to snowboard?” He responded with “I’ve never been.”

I noted the sizeable collection of what appeared to be very expensive snowboards in his bedroom and he told me that he didn’t use them. He just collected them because he liked the way they looked.

This made perfect sense. I had a teapot that I never used as anything other than decoration so me and Jack were pretty much the same and this was going really well.

We had a lot of similarities. For example, Jack really liked getting high on drugs and I was high on life. We also both had a great affinity for food.

This one time I bought a gallon of milk and put it in the fridge. The next morning Jack told me that he drank the milk during the night and that he would replace it. I told him not to worry about it and that that’s what roommates were for. Then I looked in the fridge and saw that the milk was gone. All of it. Jack drank an entire gallon of milk at 2:00 in the morning.

I mentioned to him how impressed I was that he was able to drink that much milk in one sitting. He told me that he needed to drink the whole gallon because he had consumed three full boxes of pop tarts that night. And not regular boxes: the value pack boxes, which contain 16 pop tarts each, meaning that Jack had eaten 48 pop tarts before or while drinking the gallon of milk.

One pop-tart has about 200 calories. That means that Jack had eaten 9,600 calories of pop-tarts in one night. That’s the same amount as one-and-a-half roasted turkeys.

But no big deal. I was impressed. Jack was a true go-getter.

He also liked shopping. A lot.

One night he came home with bags and bags and bags of clothes from stores I had never heard of. Jack was bouncing off of the walls with excitement about his many new purchases, which he showed me. These included six of the exact same sweater, which were $700 each. The sweaters were the largest size, and Jack was a very skinny young man (despite the pop-tart habits) so he drowned in these clothes.

I asked him why he bought so many and he said that he loved them so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of any of them going home with someone else.

Jack knew how to appreciate things.

I collected all of the receipts from the many bags to add up the total cost of this particular shopping trip because I was curious and I don’t believe people are entitled to privacy from me. The total price tag came out to over $25,000, all of which had been charged to the many credit cards Olga had given Jack.

Most of the clothes Jack had bought were hideous. But, like, rich person hideous. And so it was difficult for me to sincerely compliment any of his new purchases. Then he pulled out a belt that wasn’t so bad so I told him I liked it.

Jack was thrilled that I appeared to be a belt connoisseur and so he took me into his bedroom to show me his vast belt collection, which included hundreds of options, all in the same color, and most of them with price tags still attached. The one he had bought that night was nearly $500, and it was going to be one of the cheaper ones in his collection.

After I looked through these belts, Jack decided that we had bonded enough and so he handed me the new belt and told me he wanted me to have it.

I declined the belt several times, totally uncomfortable with the gift for about a dozen different reasons. But when Jack started crying because I wouldn’t accept it, I changed my mind and gushed over it. I put the belt in my closet.

By this point it was becoming increasingly apparent to me that Jack had some very serious issues, and I was sad for him. I also knew that this was all going to hit the fan before too long, and I fully expected that Jack was probably going to have to return all of the things he had bought, so I knew I would need to give the belt back at some point.

Things escalated more quickly after the shopping incident. Jack had only lived in the apartment for about three weeks, but it already felt like three years. Olga started calling and texting me daily, telling me that she had given my number to her husband and that if he called me I needed to tell him one of a number of lies she fed to me. She warned me on several occasions that her husband was a “very wealthy and dangerous person” and that I needed to tread lightly.

Jack’s food consumption and shopping became more robust, as did his drug use.

But what bothered me the most was that Jack started to despise me, which felt really unfair considering that I was a model roommate compared to Jack. I knew that he despised me because Olga started coming over more often to hang out with Jack (they were best friends) and they would gossip about me in Russian, totally unaware that I understand Russian.

Most of Jack’s complaints about me were that I was “boring” or uptight or nosy, but what really got me was on one occasion when he told Olga that my clothes were ugly and Olga freaking agreed.

I found myself spending more and more time away from the apartment, staying with friends for days at a time, because I was far too uncomfortable to be home while Jack was there.

One afternoon I stopped by the apartment to pack a new night bag and water my plant and there I found that my bedroom had been ransacked and many of my personal belongings were missing.

This was the final straw for me. So I called Jack and told him what I had discovered at home. A small piece of me still wanted to give Jack the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we had been robbed by someone totally unrelated to Jack. Maybe he was a victim, too.

But Jack confessed the moment I mentioned the topic that he had invited some friends over the night before and that they had robbed me but “thank God” they didn’t touch his snowboards.

I told Jack that I had had enough of this and that I was going to report this to the police. Jack began screaming at me, calling me a snitch, and then ironically telling me that he was going to tell his mom on me.

And I finally lost it. For the next ten minutes I scolded and lectured Jack for all of his poor life choices. I told him that being a grown man who lives off of his mother’s money without making a single attempt to get a job is pathetic. I told him that no one older than 10 should eat pop tarts. I told him, in Russian, that I actually speak Russian. And finally, I told him that I thought his clothes were freaking ugly.

Jack started crying.

The next day I got a call from a very upset Olga who told me that my yelling at Jack had caused a nervous breakdown and he had moved back in with his parents.

Olga told me that Jack had developed some serious mental health issues, which included going on compulsive shopping trips. She also begged me not to report the robbery to the police because she was worried Jack might not be able to handle a police investigation.

I’m not sure what I should have done in this situation. All I know is what did do. I wanted to be rid of Jack and Olga as quickly as possible.

So I told Olga that I was going to give her a list of the things that were stolen and that I would not call the police as long as she paid me back and got all of Jack’s stuff out of the apartment within 48 hours. Also, she and Jack were never to contact me again.

Olga agreed, and the next day she showed up to pay me off and gather all of Jack’s things, including his many purchases that were hidden all over the apartment and which she had planned to return to the stores.

Olga asked me to come to her car with her so she could show me something. I did. She opened the back door, and inside the car were several antique Russian Orthodox icons. Olga told me that these icons were worth the same amount I had demanded she pay me and that she would help me carry these up to the apartment.

I told Olga that I was pretty sure Russian Orthodox icons were not a recognized currency in this country and that I would really prefer U.S. dollars.

She tried haggling with me for a while, telling me that she didn’t want to give me cash because her husband would wonder what the payment was for and she would have to admit that she was still helping Jack.

I told her that that sounded like an Olga problem and that I was done taking responsibility for Olga problems.

She threatened me several times, telling me that if her husband found out about this, I would be in trouble, too.

I reminded her that I actually didn’t have a problem involving police in this whole situation if that’s what she would prefer.

I was very calm. Very cool. And quite proud of myself.

Finally Olga pulled out an envelope of cash and threw it at me, yelling viciously, “I’m glad my son is done with you! I should have never let him live with trash in the first place!”

Olga collected Jack’s items from the apartment, occasionally yelling insults at me as she came and went from the apartment. She slammed the door on her way out when she finished. I could hear her yell “trash” one more time as she marched down the hall.

I got the last laugh though.

I kept the damn belt. And I’m wearing it right now.

Even though I don’t really like it.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. And I thought I had trash roommates. I have stories, but none on this scale.

  2. This is amazing. And Cringy. And I want to smack Olga. So if you needed a roommate and he didn't work out, what did you do when you finally got him out. Did you trust Craigslist again?

  3. Your roommates are the equivalents of my dates. This is Suz, I'm too lazy to log in.

    1. I haven't dated any Russians, the closest I've come was a date when I lived in Ireland with a French guy named Philipe who spent 4 hours trying to convince to fly to Reunion Island with him so he could "show you the feeling of true beauty" whatever the hell that meant, and kept talking about how powerful his family was and how people shouldn't upset him.

  4. I had to count all the roommates I've had so far and came up with 31.

  5. Makes for good stories.... 😆

  6. Wooooooow. And I thought dating was bleak; turns out it's EVERYTHING!

  7. We have a great dane and he sits on the couch with his back legs hanging over the edge like a human.

  8. This makes my roommate who locked the bathroom doors so no one else could use the bathroom look tame.