“Hey Bryan,” I said, pointing at the dry erase board by the phone. “There’s a message for Art to call Rosie. You don’t think there’s a chance that Rosie is our Rosie, do ya?”
“Better check.” Bryan pulled out his cell phone and searched the number he had for Rosie. “Uh, oh. It is Rosie’s number.”
“Well, I can tell you one person I don’t want calling her.” Bryan walked over to the message board and erased the message.
Rosie was someone important to us, and we didn’t know she was fraternizing with our roommate.
We were roommates back in the day when using the internet meant that you plugged your computer into the phone line, cutting everyone else off from being able to use the telephone. And since Art was busy in his chat rooms whenever he was home, he was always clogging up the line.
“You’re not seventeen years old,” I said, looking over Art’s shoulder at the computer screen. “Why did you tell her you’re seventeen? Aren’t you, like, thirty five?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s just a chat room. Nobody cares.”
I didn’t get it. What fun are chat rooms if you can’t trust the messages? Then again, this was coming from a guy who slept on the floor because mattresses were too hard; a guy who mixed up pancake batter, threw it into a cake pan, and baked it because “that’s why they’re called pan-cakes.”
Yup, that was Art. He lived an interesting lifestyle; a fish out of water living in a busy American college town, having illegally jumped the border a few years back after having left his native Peru. What do ya do? Our country is full of undocumented, illegal, ignore them because they’re not really causing any problems, people. Or are they? My Artistic views changed when he came home early one afternoon…
“What are you doing home? Aren’t you usually at work this time of day?” I asked, lifting my eyes from my textbook.
“Oh, I quit that job. My friend told me about how I can file for disability and live off the government. So I’m gonna do that from now on.”
“You’re gonna live on disability? You’re not hurt.”
“Yeah. Cool, eh?”
“You realize that you’re telling me you’re gonna quit your job to live off of the rest of us.”
“Not off you… off the government.”
“And where does the government get their money? From us.”
“You just don’t get it.” Art held a hand up as if to say this conversation is too real for me. I’m gonna go back to my bedroom and jump on a chat room.
None of the roommates were very happy to hear about Art’s plans, but Bryan was the most angry. “Oh no he’s not!” and Bryan commenced with his own messaging campaign. He left messages on the answering machines of the disability office, social security, immigration— anyone he could think of. All his messages were treated like dry erase board messages for Rosie, though, and fell on deaf ears.
“Why are you trying to make my life difficult?” Art yelled.
“You’re not going to live off of all of us,” Bryan said. “I won’t let it happen. You’re perfectly capable of working.”
“What’s that got to do with it? It’s the government, not you.”
“We’ve been through this. I won’t let it happen.”
That argument took place every single day for the rest of the time Art lived with us. Worse than that, each argument brought more fire, heating up every single time, rather than ever bringing us closer to resolving the issue.
Then one day the arguments stopped; not because one of the sides caved on the issue, but because Art disappeared.
The biggest message on the dry erase board read “Art, call officer Stevenson” and left a number. Right under that, “Art, officer Stevenson called again” and again and again. Along the right side of the board was “Art, Kmart called and said you’re not welcome in their store anymore.”
“What’s that all about?” Like a middle aged woman watching afternoon soaps, desperate for a dose of melodrama, I couldn’t help but rub my hands and encourage the situation on. I shamelessly liked where this story seemed to be going.
“So Kmart called like five times today asking for Art,” Dylan said, “and they finally left a message that he can’t come back. Sounds like he was harassing the girls who work there.”
“And he obviously left one of them his phone number. Genius.”
We waited in the living room for the time when Art would come home to see all his messages. What would he do? How would he react?
He did finally come home, but he had no reaction to the message board and didn’t check the answering machine. He’d obviously gotten the message before, because as soon as he walked through the apartment door he didn’t stop to talk or even look at us. He walked straight to his room and emerged ten seconds later with an armful of clothes. He walked to his car, came back for another armful, and repeated the same act until he finally packed up his most prized possession, his computer.
“Dylan, go ask him where he’s going,” I said.
“Because you’re the only one of us he doesn’t hate.”
“He said he’s gotta live out of his car for a little while,” Dylan said after returning from the parking lot. “That’s all he said.”
That was the last moment Art was our roommate, but it wasn’t the last time I saw him. About a year later, hanging out at my girlfriend’s apartment, in walked his familiar Peruvian face. As if I were a long lost best friend, he came up to and made a big deal out of my presence. I sat dumbstruck, mouth half open, wondering if he actually remembered who I was. And when he asked me if he could borrow ten dollars, that was the very last thing I expected to come out of his mouth. I lent it to him, out of curiosity, not out of friendship. I did not, by any means, expect to ever see that money again. A few days later, though, I came home to find a message on the board, left by Mr. Arturo himself, with a crisp ten dollar bill taped next to it. True story.