A letter from Katie Botkin in Idaho:
I have to say, I haven’t always had the best of luck finding a roommate in North Idaho. Most nice professional single women here tend to want their own place, because they move from someplace like New York and the rent is so much cheaper.
There was one guy a couple of years ago who moved in and then the job he moved for fell through. He moved out promptly. There was one girl who liked to stay up cooking very late, and then accidentally left a pizza burning in the oven all night. She moved out less promptly. Then there was the girl with the super-hippie boyfriend.
This last time, I wrote up a detailed description on Craigslist, describing myself as a light sleeper who disliked drugs and wanted the house kept clean. I got a response more quickly than I’d anticipated. Another guy, but he described himself as employed, quiet and not into drugs either. We exchanged a couple of e-mails. He was fairly articulate and seemed nice enough. So we met up.
At the meeting, I asked him for his references. He wrote down a few names for me. Before I called them, I tried looking him up on the internet. He had a common name, but now I knew what he looked like.
Within one minute, I had found an article from a semi-local newspaper with his photo. As it turned out, he had been arrested for getting in a race-related brawl, and someone had tried to prosecute him for passing out white supremacist literature, which of course they couldn’t legally do.
For a few seconds, I wondered if my usually-inclusive nature should include even white supremacists. And then I decided that because of the color schemes of my friends, that might be a risky decision.
I e-mailed the guy and made up some excuse, not knowing what else to do.
The next guy who contacted me about the room had a long and complex last name. He was originally from Uzbekistan, he said. His father was an atheist Tatar and his mother Russian Orthodox. He was a 31-year-old divorced computer programmer moving up from Eastern Washington. I thought: well, at least he’s sure to not be a white supremacist. I asked him if he’d ever been arrested. “No,” he said. “But I was down in the dumps after I got divorced.”
This one has turned out to be (after more background checks) actually quite an excellent roommate. He works until 11 and then comes home and goes to bed. He washes his one dish every morning. I mean, it’s been all of two weeks, but in that time he has also told me some of the funniest childhood stories I’ve ever heard, in the half-hour between his coming home and going to bed. Last night, he was relating how when he was a kid, they used to shut down the school by breaking a thermometer and tainting the grounds with mercury. Then there would be radiation alerts, and they’d all get sent home. Or else they’d put rotten eggs behind the furnace.
He likes Sandpoint. He says it’s like Amsterdam, minus the Red Light District.