Continued from page 1

Then came “The Real World.” The granddaddy of reality television. A series about … roommates.

Mouthy roommates.

Obnoxious roommates.

Rock ‘em, sock ‘em roommates.

The show embodied a zeitgeist shift. Somewhere along the way - possibly when Jennifer Jason Leigh stabbed her roommate’s boyfriend with a stiletto heel in “Single White Female,” probably when Kevin almost quit the first season of “The Real World” - the genial roomie of yore was replaced by a more sinister paradigm. The roommate from hell.

Or, as MTV viewers called him, Puck.

The roommate from hell was different. Scary. The dreaded Other. She was liable to borrow your jewelry without asking, if not murder your friends, like Leighton Meester in the recent film “The Roommate.” Perhaps she would plan out an adult website business, complete with graphic photos, right there in your shared living room.

And no, the preceding sentence is not the plot of another movie. It’s an actual story from a Chicago newspaper.

Art imitates life. In the 1960s, Lucy from the comic strip “Peanuts” charged 5 cents for general psychiatric advice; these days, she could retire a billionaire before finishing junior high simply by specializing in roommate-related talk therapy. Go online. At sites including, anonymous angst radiates from every pixel, with stories of dirty dishes and clogged toilets, untrained puppies and unwanted sexual advances.

For one contributor, the only thing worse than a roommate from hell was said roommate moving out: “… he trashed the room, stole my leftover pizza, left air fresheners plugged into every socket - and he knew I am allergic. He left the carpet in what I can only assume is a health-hazardous condition, black marks on the wall, broke the blinds in his room; I’m actually scared to touch anything in his bathroom; there’s bits of weed and stem in every dresser drawer … to top things off, he went into my room and stole $500 - the same amount as his damage deposit … “

“Since I entered this contest, six or seven people have come up to my desk at work,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “It’s always a roommate horror story. Some have been ridiculous.”

To wit: Mr. McLaughlin works with Mark Evers, 52, an information systems analyst from Bethesda. Years ago, Mr. Evers rented a spare bedroom to a student couple. The pair was friendly but messy, prone to leaving dirty dishes and pots strewn across the common kitchen.

Mr. Evers would scrape and scrub, then ask the couple to do the same. The messes continued. Eventually, he started preparing meals and storing them in the refrigerator, telling the couple simply to use the microwave and place the plates in the dishwasher.

Oh, and when the couple placed their broken-down automobile on blocks in the home’s driveway - and days of inactivity became weeks - Mr. Evers fixed their car.

“The thing is, you have to work with people and give them breathing space,” Mr. Evers said. “Make them comfortable. We parted on great terms.”

Story Continues →