Thursday, March 8, 2012

In which I have a weird roommate who thinks the peeling tile in the bathroom is my fault

When I first moved to Temuco, the city where I lived when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I shared a house with two other gringas.

It took me a while to get used to using the term "gringa," i.e., female foreigner. In Panama, where we lived when I was in high school, it was a serious insult, on the level with the n-word. When I moved to Chile, I heard "gringo" and "gringa" bandied about casually and I flinched every time I heard it. I asked one of the Chilean Peace Corps trainers about it and she laughed, telling me it just means "foreigner" in Chile.

Not all words mean the same thing in all Spanish-speaking countries. When I was working in Miami, the company had marketing materials where they referred to one of the product features as a "pico." "Pico" means "beak," as in a rooster's beak, but in Chile, it is also slang for man parts. I tried to point out the error to my boss - they had had the translation done by a firm in Cedar Rapids because you sure can't find any translating agencies in Miami, but he just shrugged.

Back to Temuco. I don't remember how I found Bridget and Yolanda, my roommates. Bridget was a Scottish student majoring in Spanish and Portuguese. She was spending her junior year in Chile. Yolanda was American, working on her thesis in political science, I think.

Bridget and I got on like a house on fire.

Yolanda and I - not so much.

It was all three of us for the first month. The house was big and old, but had only two bedrooms. I had what was essentially a closet - a small room between the two bedrooms that didn't even have a door. I had a sleeping bag that took 2/3 of the width of the room. My feet almost touched the wall when I was lying down. I am not that tall.

I stacked my clothes on top of my duffle bag next to the sleeping bag. I had brought my boom box with me (why? why? why would I transport something like that all the way from the US to Chile by air?) and had some cassette tapes. That was the extent of my decor.

After the first month, Bridget left for a few weeks, so I got to stay in her room on an actual bed. Poor Yolanda. She was strange. I didn't help matters, though, by hosting a Peace Corps Christmas house party at the house. However, I was paying a third of the rent, so it was as much my house as it was hers. Still, having over a dozen people strangers - to her - in the house for three days was maybe a little much.

That was when I discovered that one can leave a turkey - a cooked turkey - out overnight and survive to tell the tale. We didn't have a refrigerator in the house - used appliances were hard to find and I sure wasn't going to buy a new one for a rental property. Yogurt, too, does not have to be refrigerated.

Yolanda and I didn't spend much time together. She creeped me out. When we would eat together, she would pick at her toenails, then reach for her food. With her fingers. I don't mind the picking of the toenails and I don't mind the eating with the fingers, but the two should never mix and they should definitely never mix when one is not eating alone. Toe picking is a solitary activity that should be followed by hand washing.

She had grody underwear. I know she didn't have much money, but I have never seen such dreary, gray, drab, elastic shot underwear in my life and I am known for my thrifty ways. But there has to be a line somewhere and that somewhere is underwear that looks like my grandmother wore it 50 years ago and then used it to wash the floor. Of the basement. After a flood.

But her nastiest habit was the way she wiped the bathroom floor with her towel. And then didn't hang it outside to dry. And then used it again. On her body.

We had a troublesome shower. It was completely inside the house, with no windows to the outside and no other ventilation. The showerhead sprayed water out of the shower and onto the bathroom floor, no matter how you had the showerhead adjusted. This meant the bathroom floor was wet after every shower.

I used a rag to wipe the bathroom floor, but Yolanda used her own towel.

Which, as I mentioned, she then left inside, where it did not dry but merely went from sopping to damp and then to horribly stinky. That bathroom reeked with her nasty mildewing towel.

I stayed in that house for about six weeks, then found new quarters. I didn't like living with Yolanda and once Bridget returned, I did not want to pay a full third of the rent to sleep on the floor in a closet. Bridget and I moved out to Maruja the Bruja's house and we were happy, except for the bedbugs and the shower that almost killed us, etc.

A few weeks after we had moved, Yolanda came to my office. She had moved as well, as she could not afford the rent all by herself. Her landlord was keeping her deposit to repair the peeling linoleum on the bathroom floor.

Yes, that is what happens when a floor is exposed to water for two years, which was the time Yolanda had lived in the house. The adhesive gradually loosened under the tiles and the linoleum curled up around the edges.

I would maintain that the landlord has the responsibility to ensure that the showerhead is directing water within the confines of the shower and not without, but if the landlord is not informed of the problem by the person who signed the lease and who has a financial interest in keeping the property as she found it, perhaps that problem belongs with the tenant.

Yolanda wanted me to pay for part of her deposit.

I had lived in the house for less than two months. She had been there for two years.

No, I told her. No way.

But it was my fault that the floor had gone bad, she said. The problem didn't start until I showed up!

I pointed out that the reason the problem hadn't shown up until recently was that it had taken two years of her getting the floor wet - without complaining to the landlord - for the problem to develop.

She was just like Crazy Carmen, the Washington DC landlady who blamed me for the leaky shower that caused the ceiling problems. I lived in Carmen's house for only a few months. I noticed that water dripped from the shower door onto the floor, so I bought a squeegee and squeegeed the door every time I showered. The other renter, with whom I shared the upstairs shower, did not squeegee. After I had been in the house for a month, the plaster under the shower became damaged. Carmen was convinced it was my fault.

Correlation is not causation, ladies. If I am squeegeeing the door and wiping the water off the floor, then I am not the cause of the problem. Or, better said, I have taken all reasonable steps to prevent the problem and the next step is the landlord's: repair the showerhead, re-grout the bathroom, whatever.

Yolanda claimed that it was me plus my many houseguests who had caused the problem. I laughed and told her that most of my Peace Corps friends were environmental education volunteers who did not believe in daily bathing. Even the business and municipal management volunteers were known to skip a day. Or two. Or three. It was cold in Chile! And we had to pay for the gas to heat the shower water. Nope. Not their fault.

Yolanda was furious, but I was not giving her $200 - of my $600 monthly stipend - to cover her deposit and her problem.

She had no way to compel me. I suspect that if she ever got into the subleasing business again, she asked for a share of the deposit up front. I would.