Notes from the Undergrad
Shower Beers

And ice cream for breakfast: What you learn from living with strangers


Warning to first-year students: sharing a room the size of a bus shelter with complete strangers can be a shock. Click image to see other photos by merkley??? at Flickr.com

Warning to first-year students: sharing a room the size of a bus shelter with a complete stranger can be a shock. Click image to see other photos by merkley???

It’s exam time, so I’ll start with a question you won’t be able to answer: what do squid chips, co-ordinating your shoes with your hat, and getting “sexiled” have in common? For 35 per cent of your term mark, the correct response is “they’re all things of which I would remain blissfully unaware, had I not moved into residence in first year.” I know, that material wasn’t covered in the lectures; I just threw it on the test to mess with you.

When I left the opulence of my parents’ sunless basement to share a room the size of a bus shelter with a complete stranger, I had no idea I’d learn more from him than I did from two full semesters of classes. We didn’t even have a curtain to separate us. Let me tell you, there are things about other people you’ll never discover without enduring a reality TV-esque set-up like that. And, unlike those notes you frantically skim half an hour before a final, some of these things you’ll never forget.

The sound of someone groaning in their sleep, as though they were the standard-bearer for the zombie apocalypse. The sight of underwear-only calisthenics. The smell of a room, after someone has consumed what must have been an entire deep-fried Kraken. Why can’t profs quiz me on that?

Don’t let those complaints fool you, though. I loved that guy, just as I did most of the roommates that followed.

I got my own room after first year, but I’ve lived in places with about 10 other students ever since. These squalid arrangements, while cramped, have been very educational. I imagine I’ll look back on them nostalgically one day, as I gaze out the window of my lakefront condo or Arctic fortress of solitude. After all, there are hedonistic tricks you can only learn from living with others.

Consider the story recalled by a friend: empty beer bottles kept appearing in his shared washroom, so eventually he had to investigate. The first couple of roomies had no idea what was going on, but the third explained the mystery. “Shower beers!” she exclaimed, as though it were as obvious as a moustache on a pig. He gave it a try as well and never looked back.

This is but one of the unvarnished pleasures in life you won’t pick up outside of close quartered co-habitation. Roomies have taught me the joys of cranking up the heat to 30 in the middle of winter and lounging in boxer shorts. They’ve showed me how great it is to start the day with melted ice cream on breakfast cereal. They’ve demonstrated the minimalist delight of only owning two outfits, and using the closet to instead store dry rations.

They’ve taught me handy life lessons, as well. Without my former roommates, I’d never know that hiring a stripper for a house party is a great way to get rid of excess stuff. Everything you own will get destroyed as 200 people fight for a better look! I also wouldn’t know that you can generate entirely new life forms by leaving food in the fridge for six months.

Needless to say, I’m at once excited and terrified about the new roommates May will bring me. Who knows what archetypal dysfunctional personalities they’ll exhibit once they feel at home? They could be clean freaks, study geeks, or drunks-all-week.

To assist with my selection, I’m going to take a page out of U of T’s book, and employ a little standardized testing. That’s right, rather than studying for my own exams, I’ve prepared a quiz that I plan to administer to prospective housemates. I’ll show no quarters to those who do poorly.

Final examination for Living with Joe

1. How much does dish soap cost?

2. How long do we have to let your buddy crash on the couch before we can declare him a dependent?

3. Complete the sentence: If this van’s a-rockin’…
a) don’t come a-knockin
b) time for some gawkin’
c) God, I find this shockin’

4. What’s your stance on at-home nudity?

5. In terms of alcohol consumption, you:
a) would have voted for Prohibition
b) enjoy the occasional brewski
c) are Boris Yeltsin

6. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever felt the need to refrigerate?

There, that should help weed out the deviants. Unless someone cheats by writing crib-notes on their shoes. I don’t mind the cheating so much, as long as they remember to take their shoes off at the door.

Share your own roommate anecdotes via the reader comment box below, or email them to U of T Magazine.

See other photos by Merkley.


Reader Comments

# 1
Posted by Phil Novara on August 22nd, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

I love these delightful little nuggets of information that can only be acquired in college with random roommates. Ice cream over cereal is definitely a new concept, but I’m no stranger to epic shower beers. Keep up the Boris Yeltsin standards!

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