Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Janice Story, Part 4 (and Finally Done)

This one will be a bit long, but it all sort of goes together...

Janice's going away party was clearly in retaliation for the party I threw. Lucky me, I was home when it started and Stephanie was not. First Janice's boyfriend arrived with a pony keg, then some of his friends started showing up. These were friends of the real whiskey tango variety. Acid washed jean jackets and mullets in tow, they proceeded to set up camp in the kitchen and drink beer. I considered my options, and decided the best thing to do was to leave. I hung out at a friend's house until pretty late, and then returned and found them gone.

Here is what else I found. Poor Bus Couch, which had never done anything to anyone, had a cigarette hole burned into it. There were cigarette ashes everywhere, along with lakes and rivers of beer on the floor. My cordless phone from the living room was absent - we later found it smashed in the parking lot. The posters we got from the upstairs neighbors were torn up and strewn about the beer-soaked floor. This was evidently as trashed as four people could get the apartment without, you know, putting much effort into it. Probably the funniest thing she did was to change the outgoing message on the answering machine. When we set it up initially, she insisted that we not leave our names or our phone number on the outgoing message for safety reasons. After all, what if some psycho rapist freak got the wrong number and liked the sound of the voice on the answering machine? If we put our phone number on there, he could totally call back (gasp)! Needless to say, the outgoing message now gave both our names and said we definitely weren't home, and gave the address and phone number.

I immediately called Stephanie to let her know what had happened, and we decided that it would be worth calling the police. Since I had not yet located the cordless phone handset, she called them. Very sympathetic officers showed up and took a look around, took my report, and took the cassette out of the answering machine as evidence. (I guess we were lucky that voicemail wasn't that prevalent in 1995.) They gave me a business card and told me to call them when we knew where Janice was so they could pick her up. We now had a mission.

The next morning, I heard Janice come home to pick up the pony keg, and I leapt for the business card and the cordless phone, which one of the officers had located for me the night before. I called the number, but was scared out of my mind that Janice would hear me, and was just scared in general of what else she was plotting. The guy that answered the phone was decidedly not sympathetic or understanding. I guess Sympathetic Cop was on vacation as of that day, and this was his substitute, Sarcastic Cop. I explained my situation in a whisper, and Sarcastic Cop said, "Um... are you whispering, ma'am?" I told him I was, and that I didn't want her to hear me. He said, "Uh-huh." It was clear this was not going to be an easy battle, and let's face it, Janice was probably not sticking around, so I thanked him for being so helpful and hung up.

Stephanie and I had another strategy session, and through some digging around (again, friend of a friend) found out where Janice's parents lived. It was pretty close to where a friend of ours lived, so we set up a home base of surveillance operations there with Stephanie, her boyfriend, and me. It was kind of surreal - it felt like a regular hanging out/party evening except for the times when we would go driving by our target house to see if we saw Janice's car. Then we'd hang out some more, switch cars, and drive by again. Oh yeah, we were total pros at this. Finally, pay dirt. We called the police again, and they asked for our phone number so they could call us once they had her in custody. We booked it back to our apartment and waited. And waited and waited - man, it seemed like the longest wait in the world but we were far to excited to sleep.

Finally the call came in, and it was ONE IN THE MORNING. Oh dear lord, they went and arrested her at her parents' house after midnight. This was worth its weight in gold to us, we were so happy. Did she have to post bail? Did this cost someone money? It was too good. The officer in charge asked us what happened, then asked her about it, then asked questions back and forth. He indicated to us that she was very, very angry. He even reprimanded her for doing something so childish, and he said she scowled at him but didn't have much of a response.

Of course the upshot was that nothing stuck. As the officer explained it to us, "Once you live with someone in this state for more than 6 months, even if it's not a 'girlfriend-girlfriend' situation, everything in the apartment becomes community property." So, they were unable to get her for destruction of property and had to charge her with disorderly conduct. They also lost the answering machine tape so it was basically our word against hers, and some pictures of the apartment.

We were just mad. I mean sure, the fact that she got arrested was pretty cool, but we had put up with a lot, and felt like she was getting off pretty lightly. We realized that the way to get to this lunatic was through her stuff. After all, she did have a freakin' deadbolt on her door. I set about to deny her access to the few things she had remaining in her bedroom, and broke a bobby pin off in the deadbolt. Again, the Lifetime Movie heroine in me was screaming in triumph.

When Janice arrived to collect the rest of her stuff, I decided I shouldn't be there. I went and hung out with the upstairs neighbors and observed, instead. I saw Janice come out and wait in the parking lot for something, and then the police arrived. Yep, in retaliation for us calling the police, she called the police. It was almost funny until I saw a cop prowling around on the roof overhang trying to break into my (deadbolted) bedroom. I decided to intervene. I guess Janice was convinced that Stephanie and I, being the master criminals that we are, had broken into her room, taken her stuff and stashed it in my room, and then changed the lock on her door. Yeeeeah. I let the cop into my room and showed her that I didn't have what Janice was looking for (her cookie sheets, I think) and that settled that. Then the cop helped Janice move the refrigerator so she could get in the other door to her bedroom, in the kitchen. I bet she was really glad we hadn't figured that out. It was at this point that she decided that poor Anna didn't deserve a bed. I fished the bobby pin piece back out of her lock to avoid repercussions from the landlord.

The only other major thing she did was to cut off our phone service completely. Not only did it tick us off, it meant we had to pay the reconnect fee, which made us angry all over again. Anna was a good sport and helped us pay for it, but we felt guilty about dragging her into the whole mess. Janice didn't give up completely though. She did several other minor things, like repeatedly removing our names from the mailbox downstairs (oh no), and renting out "her" parking space to one of the other neighbors. We politely explained the situation to him, and said we hoped he didn't give the crazy lady any money, since after all, we had her arrested once! The look on his face was semi-priceless.

As you might be able to tell from the details that I still remember after all this time, Stephanie and I have told this story many, many times. We would be in some social setting and someone would bring up a roommate story, then we would volunteer ours or someone who had already heard it would request that we tell it. Combined we could do a much more thorough job, since we each had our own separate run-ins with Janice.

We always ended it the same way: the most ironic and scary part is Janice's major and eventual degree.

Social work.
The Janice Story, Part 3

Once Janice had a deadbolt on the door to her room, Stephanie and I started to worry. I mean, if she was so worried about us messing with her stuff and created this little fortress, what attacks was she plotting from within? Inevitably, Stephanie and I got locks on our bedroom doors. I wonder what the next tenants thought of all this. They probably couldn't even guess at what actually happened there, it's too off the wall.

Finally, we neared the end of the school year. All three of us were graduating, and even though Stephanie and I felt like we had been through a war together, we were optimistic. After all, hallelujah, Janice had let us know that she was not staying for the summer and would be subletting. The first thing we realized is that she would be taking the couch with her, so we started hunting yard sales. Once we bought a replacement couch we were wondering what to do with it. And sure, storing it at one of our parents' houses would have been an option, but we decided that would be wasted effort. We set it up in the living room, in front of Janice's couch. We now had what appeared to be a bus in our living room. We were fairly certain this displeased Janice a fair bit, but hey, she wasn't allowed to watch the TV so why not set Bus Couch in front of Forbidden Couch?

As graduation neared, we had a going away party for Janice. Naturally, she was not invited. It was extra nice because she wasn't even home - it was always nice when she wasn't home, actually, things were so relaxed. We talked to our friends about the weird stuff that had gone down, and laughed about a lot of it. At some point Janice came home and scurried into her room, but I must have been elsewhere or not paying attention - I kept talking about her as if she weren't there. Later somebody told me she had come home, and I felt this adrenaline surge and panic about it. At some point I had become fairly afraid of Janice and her instability.

Stephanie and I almost felt like the heroines in one of those cheesy Lifetime Movies of the Week, except instead of an abusive husband, we had Janice. Little things, like having a graduation party that we called a going away party, made us feel like we had a modicum of control over our own situation. Our upstairs neighbors were PhD candidates in math and were truly nerds with hearts of gold. At some point they gave us little posters that said, "Keep Your Chin Up!" We taped them to our (deadbolted) bedroom doors. The other "oh you're such a rebel" moment was when we put our Dean's List notifications on the fridge with magnets. We had a fairly good sense that Janice had not made the Dean's List.

Finally, graduation. The morning of the ceremony, Stephanie and I were in the living room hanging out until it was time to get ready and go. Stephanie was sitting on Bus Couch, writing out invitations to her graduation party, and had the phone book out to look up addresses. There was a knock on the door, and Janice's mother came in and went into Janice's room. We didn't pay much attention to this until she came out and started lecturing us about how we shouldn't be mean to her daughter and how we should be ashamed of ourselves. We dutifully ignored her since that seemed like the wisest move. At this point, she walked over to Stephanie and yanked the phone book away from her and held it behind her back and told us we were acting like kindergarteners (pronounced "kiddiegartners").

The whole situation was bizarre and unreal. It was also humorous because it was really easy to get her to forget what she was talking about. For example, I pointed out that I hadn't been at the apartment all that much since I had to practice. She started regaling me with tales of her cousin Eugene, who was a music major at such-and-such college, and how wonderful he was. When this would happen, Janice would emerge from the bedroom and start lecturing us about what horrible people we were. This tag teaming went on for a good half an hour before they got tired of it. Nothing was resolved - I'm not sure what they were going for but whatever it was, they probably didn't get it. Later (friend of a friend, remember?) we found out that Janice's mother was banned from a grocery store in town because she shoplifted. Suddenly Stephanie was extremely suspicious about some of her jewelry that she was unable to find.

Janice was in charge of getting a subletter for the apartment, since she was the one subletting. Naturally, she set about to try and get us the worst roommate possible. Fortunately, Janice's idea of the worst roommate possible was somebody who smokes and possibly does drugs. As it turned out, we got Anna, a sweet southern hippie chick who was surprised when we asked her not to smoke in the apartment. She was such a relief after Janice, it was unbelievable. Don't think that Janice let her off the hook though - she had agreed to leave her a bed to sleep on, and naturally went back on that little promise. More on that later. Anna had to sleep on a borrowed mattress on the floor until she bought a bed.

Of course, before she moved out, Janice had to have her own going away party. (To be continued so this post isn't 5 miles long)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Janice Story, Part 2

As background, I should mention our living arrangement. There were two bedrooms in the apartment, and then there was a "bedroom" that was really a slightly converted porch. There were also two parking spaces allotted to our apartment. I was willing to take the tiny "bedroom" (I spent most of my time in a practice room anyway) and I didn't feel the need to have a car on campus so I didn't use the parking space. To even this out, we agreed that I would pay slightly less rent than Janice and Stephanie.

The two parking spaces were in a driveway (the apartment was a converted house) and forced Janice and Stephanie to park each other in, depending on who got home first. This obviously became a problem as neither one of them trusted the other one with her car keys, and sometimes you'd just rather walk where you're going. I remember a particularly bad screaming match right around the time we decided that Janice wasn't using our stuff and vice versa.

Anyway, back to the story. During Christmas break, I picked up the phone to call one of my friends that went back to Milwaukee. The call wouldn't go through no matter what I did, even using a calling card, so I called the phone company. Near Christmas. I spent about an hour on hold, and finally talked to someone who told me there was a long distance block on my line. I asked him to remove it, and he asked me for THE PASSWORD.

Immediately knowing who was behind this injustice, I took the phone into Janice's room and explained to her that I needed the password so I could call my friend. She said she had no earthly idea what I was talking about and I explained to her that the guy at the phone company begged to differ. She grabbed the phone, told him she was in the middle of something important AND HUNG UP ON HIM. You know that feeling, that one where you literally see little flashes of light behind your eyelids? I now had that feeling. I'm not proud of this, but I gave her a big ol' shove onto her bed and screamed at her. She picked up her stuff and said (in the most dramatic tone possible), "I have to go, there are PEOPLE WHO NEED ME!" And left.

Once we were finally able to talk about this rationally, she explained that she would be happy to take the block off of the long distance, "when Jen starts paying her rent." Apparently, she was asleep when we negotiated the rent split deal. We told her she could swap bedrooms with me or give me her parking space, and then we would pay the same amount of rent every month. Then she said she would unblock the long distance but that I would have to put it in my name. I should mention here that we never had any trouble with not paying bills or being behind on bills, but I think she was plotting her next move, and didn't want to leave us with any way to get back at her.

Fast forward a little bit to a time when I have a friend visit me for the week-end. Stephanie and I are hanging out in the living room (on the floor of course since Janice's couch is off limits at this point), and we are discussing whether or not my friend can sit on Janice's couch. After some serious consideration, we decide that friends have no part in this war, and are free to sit on the couch. The friend sits on Forbidden Couch.

Later that night, Stephanie is studying in the living room (on the floor), and decides it's time for bed. She gets up and turns off the only light that's on the apartment. Right at this moment, Janice returns home and opens the door. Stephanie is startled and lets out a little yelp, which Janice takes as an admission of guilt. Clearly the only reason she can be startled is that she had been sitting on Forbidden Couch. After Stephanie goes to bed, Janice feels the couch cushions. Oh yes, you heard me right, she feels the couch cushions - and they are warm!

The next morning, I wake up and wander out into the living room and see that Forbidden Couch now has no Forbidden Cushions on it. What the...? When Stephanie gets up, I point this out to her, and she is equally clueless about what might have happened. We begin reconnaissance activities: the hallway, the basement, the kitchen, but do not locate the cushions. Finally, it can no longer be avoided - we look in Janice's room. OH GOD there they are, wedged between the recliner, bed, and dresser. For the next few weeks, Janice hauls the couch cushions with her from her room every time she wants to sit on Forbidden Couch. Granted this is not often because she is no longer allowed to watch our TV.

One week-end, Janice's father showed up with power tools. After everything we'd been through I guess we shouldn't have been surprised when he installed a dead bolt on her bedroom door. Oh yeah, she would unlock the apartment door with one key, then carry all her stuff to her bedroom and unlock that door with another key. Now, the Forbidden Cushions were safely locked in her room and we couldn't get to them. Thank goodness.

Next: things start to get even uglier.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Janice Story, Part One

I was reminded the other day of a roommate I had in college. Her name wasn't Janice, but for the purposes of this story it will be. My friend Stephanie and I moved in with Janice when we found out she was looking for two roommates for a pretty sweet place near campus. Janice was a "friend of a friend" kind of person, not someone we knew, but someone we knew of. I'm going to go out on a limb now and recommend you never, ever do that. Interview potential roommates if you don't know them yourself, people.

The first sign that things were going to be a little bit rocky was when we borrowed a small square of Janice's saran wrap. Stephanie had made some pudding, and we had just moved in so she hadn't stocked up on all the keep-pudding-fresh essentials, so she tore of a small piece of saran wrap and used it. Being a considerate person, she informed Janice and told her that she was going shopping the next day and shouldn't need to borrow anything else.

The next day, we came into the kitchen and saw that every box containing a bulk quantity good was labelled JANICE in capital magic marker letters. We thought, collectively... "hmm."

The next thing we started to notice is that none of the furniture in the apartment belonged to Janice. In her bedroom, she had a full set of furniture - bed, recliner, desk, two dressers(?), TV, and VCR, but in the living room was my recliner and TV, Stephanie's computer, and my printer - Janice's couch was the only thing she contributed to the community. She also had a mini fridge in the living room, but we weren't to use it. This becomes important later, but the reason this came up initially was that Janice would sit in her room and type up papers for school on her word processor thing, but then come out and print them on Stephanie/my computer/printer - and would just turn it off without shutting down when she was done. We actually managed to clear this up without bloodshed, but the days were early.

Another sharing issue emerged, and the second dresser went into the kitchen to store all of Janice's dishes and crap. We were forbidden access to the Dresser of Janice.

There were several more my stuff/your stuff issues as we went, including the time that Janice gave a tampon of mine to one of her friends (seriously, what the hell?), and managed to break my shampoo bottle and not say anything about it since, you know, that's totally OK and normal.

Some insight into Janice: Once, I agreed to play piano for her boyfriend's sister's wedding. We had song choices more or less narrowed down, but I didn't get to meet the couple until the rehearsal. We headed to downtown and found that nobody was at the church to meet us. After we sat in a car outside a church for about an hour making awkward small talk, the groom showed up and said he got mugged outside the tuxedo rental place. Now, we were in a city to be sure, but not in a city where the tuxedo rental places are dangerous. When the rehearsal/wedding were called off, it became clear to me that he got cold feet, but seriously - that's your excuse??

More insight: One night I didn't have anything to do, and Janice invited me to go out dancing with her and her boyfriend. I thought well, alright, maybe this will help us get along a little better, but it was really just more evidence that I was living with a crazy person. As soon as we went out on the dance floor, Janice started accusing the girl next to us of intentionally bumping into her. After that point, it was pretty much on. They slammed into each other over and over again, and we got followed into the parking lot when we left. Thankfully, there was just a lot of yelling curse words back and forth, and no actual fight. I decided going out with Janice wasn't a good idea.

Midway through our tenuous coexistence, I broke up with my fiance. It was a really good thing that it ended, but left me a bit emotionally vulnerable. I ended up hanging out with some guys who were much younger than I, but obviously they couldn't go to the bars with me. We ended up at the apartment late one night and they (being underage) asked if I had alcohol on hand. I didn't but Janice did. Despite it obviously being the worst idea in the world, I took two beers from the Forbidden Mini Fridge and, being conscientious and stuff, left Janice a note with some money. A little bit later, she came out and told us SHE needed HER SLEEP and we should shut the hell up. We moved the conversation to my bedroom, though it was a bit awkward since I didn't know them extremely well and we had to sit on my bed - more about my room later.

The next day there was a screaming match over the beers and the noise. It was like I had a wild bachelor party in the apartment or something, the way she lectured and yelled and carried on. I mostly smoothed it out by telling her it wouldn't happen again, which I was pretty sure it wouldn't anyway so it wasn't much of a loss. Later that day, the mini fridge got moved into her bedroom with everything else.

At some point, Janice accused us of going in her room and touching her stuff. We thought - eh? Why on earth would we do that when we have everything we need in the shared areas? Shortly after that, Janice got a phone call and Stephanie opened the Forbidden Bedroom door to see if Janice was inside. Janice was out, but had propped a pair of her shoes just on the inside of the door as a booby trap. Stephanie shrugged and replaced the shoes when she left.

Later, one of us was looking for her again and forgot to replace the booby shoes. OH IT WAS ON. Despite everything we did, we could not convince Janice that we had no malicious intent when we opened that door. As an end result, Janice told us we weren't allowed to use anything of hers anymore. Having come to the realization that we would only be without a couch we said FINE - but you can't use anything of ours anymore, either. Bear in mind now this includes the microwave, toaster, kitchen table, and everything in the living room except the couch.

It only gets stranger from here on out.