THE FOURTH ROOMMATE
  Jeffrey Hager
 
Most of the problems started because James and I completely lagged finding a roommate last December. It was the master bedroom that was open, the room that was always open; it had been open for nearly a month. The girl renting it left in a huff one day, the way most of our roommates did, but that was why we always got first and last months rent from people. We had a high turnover rate and I know it wasnít the room because the room was huge for five hundred a month, with a view and a private bathroom. It wasnít the house. Our house was modern and spacious and had all the little necessities of twentieth century life, like dishwasher, washer/dryer, and free cable. There were lots of windows and long philodendron plants growing like weeds from every corner, pushing for the light in every direction. The living room was sunken for spaciousness and had a huge majestic fireplace that almost made the place look too nice for grunts like us. The house was built on the edge of a canyon and we had only two neighbors, one on either side. Past the fence in the back yard was empty space opened by the steep hillside dropping away into an impenetrable tangle of poison oak and blackberry. Hundreds of yards across on the other side of the canyon houses lined the hilltop looking exactly like ours and when I looked across I often wondered if it wasnít just a big mirror. I spent hours looking for myself on the other side and once even saw myself, I think. Our neighborhood was pasteurized and homogenized with the sort of cloned suburban landscapes that make you wonder if youíve made any progress when youíre walking down the street, double taking at every house. We didnít even need to lock our front door or anything like that because the homeowners had a Neighborhood Watch and usually scrutinized things closer than we would have preferred, and sometimes I thought they might call the police on us for just living in their neighborhood. Of course we did lock our door, mostly because of all the randoms that came by (our friends) and ex-roommates especially. As far as I knew nobody had a key, not even James or I, and locking the door meant entering and exiting through the laundry room window. We did it because we had a lot to lose potentially speaking. What Iím trying to say we had a safe house, a quiet house, a pretty nice house overall, for a rental that is.

I suppose it was probably James and I that chased the people away but we didnít care, not enough to change at least. I guess we figured if we kept at it long enough weíd finally find someone who could hang with our lifestyles. Usually weíd end up picking people we knew werenít going to work out, just to get their money and put the issue off for a few more months. I thought giving ourselves two more months weíd be able to find the perfect person, and maybe we could have if we hadnít always put things off until the very last second. It was the same routine every few months. Sometimes it seemed like it might be easier to find people we already knew. The problem was, anybody who knew us well enough did not want to move in; most wouldnít even visit anymore. We had created a colony for exiles, filled with the people nobody wanted to live with; people who didnít even want to live with themselves.

It was four days before rent was "due." Our rent was perpetually late which meant that we paid it by the twenty-fifth. It was supposed to be due no later than the fifteenth, and I think originally we were supposed to pay by the first, but our landlord was very forgiving. We had lived there for so long that we couldnít imagine him kicking us out. After four years we felt like we owned the place. Mr. Fischer knew he would get his money eventually and he liked the way we took care of the place. We were atypical renters who actually tried to improve the quality of our home instead of just beating it to shit like most college kids do in this town. Like, for instance, we painted the outside of the house for a break in rent once, and built all sorts of things like the deck that hung out into the canyon in the backyard and the loft in the garage. Mr. Fischer had never actually threatened eviction before but was always dropping certain hints that acted like unspoken threats, perhaps the scariest type.

It was the twenty-first of December, Christmas craziness going on all over the place. Our normal course of action to find a roommate consisted of hanging Room for Rent flyers at campus bus stops and bulletin boards but our flyers had gone unanswered because of Christmas vacation. James and I have a tendency to sit on things until they bite us in the ass and this was no exception. In December we had interviewed maybe fifteen people and I guess we were being a little too picky. There was one girl who seemed nice and was really cute and we both wanted her to move in, but when we called her to tell her the room was hers she said no thanks. Well, what she really said was that sheíd rather be dead, and I was so hurt I couldnít say anything, though I wanted to tell her there was no reason to be so nasty about it. Everyone else expected to move in for free or worse, on credit. Nobody had all the money, but as soon as they started that job at Safeway or the Gas-and-Go they were going to be fucking millionaires and would gladly pay us the rest. Its hard to give credit to someone else when youíre living on credit yourself. Is cash up front and a steady source of income too much to ask for? We were never too concerned about where the money came from be it job, loan, grant, parents, some other covert activity. There was one roommate who did some phone sex thing from her private phone line. Sometimes late at night we could faintly hear her laughing seductively and making noises in the bedroom while earning her money. Sometimes it sounded like there was a man in there with her but we knew it couldnít be. She weighed about two hundred pounds and chain-smoked Virginia Slims until it looked like there was a fire in her bedroom. She had bleached hair that never quite reached her roots no matter how often she touched up her color, and all I ever saw her eat were fish sticks and ice cream sandwiches. Whenever I see an ad for a phone sex number I picture her lusting into the phone while finishing off an ice cream sandwich, but she was quiet mostly, and paid her bills on time and thatís all we were really looking for. I mean if she was a prostitute and fucking guys on the couch or something then that might be kind of hard to live with, but I tried to be open minded, and of course James had a mind like steel trap that had been slowly rusting shut. I think she lasted four months, nearly a record. Iím trying to say that prospects needed to have the down payment and a steady source of income or they couldnít be considered. One guy wanted to pay with his dadís credit card, saying he wanted to buy groceries and other stuff for the house like the PG&E bill or whatever else but come on. Doesnít that seem a little suspicious? Sorry no credit cards accepted. Do I need to hang a sign on the door?

But Anthony "Spooky-Tooth" Deluise had cash. He had the money in his wallet when he came over, all eleven hundred dollars chained to his belt. He called and introduced himself as Anthony and asked if the room was still available. When I told him yes he said he would be over in five minutes. He didnít ask if he could set up an appointment. He didnít ask what kind of house it was, how big the room was, what kind of people we were or any of the normal questions. He didnít even ask where the house was or what the address was. I always wondered about this and though James claimed he never spoke with Anthony before that day I suspect he must have given Anthony the address some previous day when he was too stoned to remember.

We saw Anthony coming, limping down the street with a cast on his right foot. It wasnít a walking cast but he was walking on it anyway. He had some dirty jeans on and one worn out Converse All-Star, and a ratty looking leather jacket with three chrome spikes exploding from each shoulder. On the back "the MISFITS" was painted in what looked like white out. Clanging at his side was a mutant of a wallet chain that looked like it belonged wrapped around a car tire in a snowstorm. It jangled worse than a pocket full of quarters as he wobbled and rocked down the sidewalk.

We waited to see if he would knock or ring the doorbell. We always did this for prospective housemates. We would watch them arrive through the tinted window in the front living room and then wait to see if they knocked or rang. Basically this was the first of our many tests we performed on our prospects, like our pre-first impression. Knocking was the approach we preferred most but thatís not to say that ringing was bad. Itís just that you can tell a lot about a personís level of respect by the way that they approach a door. One guy stormed up our front steps, stomping like he was trying to break the stairs, and when he rang the doorbell and when we didnít answer in five seconds he rang it again three times in a row like we were wasting his time or something. I didnít want to answer the door at all but James said that would be rude. James opened the door and told the guy to leave because we had an asshole clause in our lease that would be broken if he moved in. The guy turned red as a tomato and puckered his face up and I thought that steam might start blowing out his ears like a cartoon. Then he stomped back to his RX-7 and did a little chirp as he pulled away. James and I always laughed about that one when it came up.

Anthony didnít knock or ring but he hesitated on the front porch like he didnít know what to do. Then he gave a little shrug and just walked in our house. "I knew you were checking in me out through that window. As soon as I saw that tinted window I thought, what a perfect place to check out chicks." He was right; it was a perfect place for something like that except for the fact that no chicks ever walked by our house. It was near the end of a cul-de-sac lined with identical looking tract homes. Normally we might have found his whole approach offensive, but we had convinced ourselves we were desperate. We were more interested in whether or not he had the financial resources we required so we welcomed him in.

As if he suddenly realized he was inside talking to us Anthony straightened up and from his head snatched his ratty blue baseball cap. He fumbled with it clumsily in his hands for a moment and then began to crumple it up like a piece of paper. The hat was shredded and grease-stained and looked like it had been lost for a thousand miles or so beneath the hood of a car. His hair was very short, almost bald, but it still looked like hair that had been slept on wrong and didnít really want to go in the right direction. He looked only slightly taller than James and I, but I later learned that Anthony could somehow adjust his posture to change his height and he actually stood six four when he wanted. It always made me feel uneasy when one minute we were speaking eye to eye and the next Anthony was towering over me like a bear that suddenly decided to stand upright. He rolled his hat up in one hand and stuffed it into a pocket, and reached his other out in anticipation of a shake. We both immediately noticed how huge his hand was. It seemed to be floating in space all by itself like one of those foam Weíre # 1 hands people wave around at football games.

"My nameís Anthony Deluise. They call me Spooky-Tooth but I suppose thatís a little personal." He smiled and we both saw how one of his upper front teeth seemed to be floating like a dim ghost in a lit window. It was spooky all right.

"My nameís Tyson." I reached out and took his hand apprehensively, afraid of its sheer volume. I didnít know where to begin to grasp such a huge object. His grip was not very tight but I could feel strength there and knew he could crush my metacarpals to rubble if he wanted. "This is James," I said, kind of bobbing my head in Jamesí direction.

Anthony held his hand out to James and James took it reluctantly as if fearing the consequences of his actions for once. The two of them didnít shake, just held their hands together and shared this intense look like they were telepathically planning a secret assassination or something. The two of them claimed that they got along fine, but it always seemed to me like each one kept a suspicious eye focused on the other. I was like the middleman between the two. Hell, I was the middleman between James and everyone. He could be such an asshole when he wanted; always so cynical, so bitter, so ready to bring someone down to his own dismal level. When we interviewed people for the room I usually did most of the talking because James sometimes had trouble remembering what he was doing. He would start these involved philosophical arguments with people that ended up just scaring them away. We showed Anthony the room first, upstairs above the living room. It always surprised me when I saw how big that room looked with no furniture in it.

"Damned, this room is bigger than my whole house in San Berdino," Anthony said taking a step back like he needed the extra space to take it all in. It had a large sunny window and walk in closet, and the bathroom had mirrors everywhere and fake crystal knobs on all of the faucets that sparkled like freshly polished cubic zirconias. Anthony flushed the toilet to make sure it worked and then inspected the closet carefully as if that might actually be room for rent. Some girl, one of the roommates we chased away, had painted the walls and the doors in the room lavender and it made the room look, well, very mellow, almost therapeutic. "I like this color," Anthony said, "it soothes my inner child." He carefully rubbed and patted his stomach as he said this like there might actually be some sort of small creature living inside him, maybe even a child.

James and I shared a look that in retrospect seems pretty silly considering some of the goofballs weíd interviewed over the years. It was like a this canít be happening look or a did he really say that look or some sort of similar look two people might share when they donít know what to think, and need some sort of confirmation that not knowing what to think is the right thing to think.

"So, what happened to your foot?" James asked, mustering a point toward Anthonyís cast with one elbow while his arms were crossed.

"I was at work and this three hundred pound concrete block fell onto my foot." James and I shared a sympathetic wince. "I only broke one bone believe it or not, but I broke it real good. Itís cool though, Workerís Comp."

I wanted to explore the details of how a three hundred-pound block could do that but decided to press on to more important matters. "So how much money do you make?"

"Right now Iím taking home three hundred fifty seven dollars a week and thatís after taxes."

I wasnít sure if that was a lot of money or not. I was used to money being measured in hourly increments, monthly allowances, or quarterly disbursements. I didnít know how much a weekís worth of rent might cost and never do math without a calculator.

"Of course Iíll be making more when I can start up work again, in two weeks."

"This room costs five hundred a month, and we need first and last months plus a hundred dollar deposit. Thatís eleven hundred up front." James seemed eager to see some cash.

"Not a problem. My boss hooked me with a little loan that heís gonna let me work off. I got the money right here," he said, touching his wallet. "Twelve hundred actually." No wonder he had such a thick chain on that thing.

"What do you do, for work?" I asked. I had decided he was probably a Cal Trans worker like one of those guys that puts freeways together in the middle of night, or maybe an auto mechanic.

"Iím a plumber," he said. "I plumb."

When I heard his answer I was surprised, but James looked like he had expected that answer, as if he had already figured Anthony out completely and this just confirmed every suspicion.

We all walked over to the window. I noticed many spots of candle wax spread randomly across the brown carpet like spilled pieces of candy in every color. It looked as if someone had been making candles in this room and had some sort of accident. I thought of past roommates and envisioned the pale girl with the sad eyes and the stacks of tarot cards (what was her name anyway?). I imagined her dipping wicks into vats of paraffin bubbling above Bunsen burners and swinging candles and flinging drops of boiling wax in every direction in some sort of tarot-induced frenzy. I always wondered as I was watching television in the living room exactly what activities might be going on above my head in the master suite where secretive roommates spent most of their time behind closed and perhaps locked doors. Funny, candle making hadnít even crossed my mind.

Like I said before the master room had a nice view, which we were all checking out. It faced east and, since the window had no curtain, in the morning the sunshine poured into the room like the worldís loudest silent alarm clock, able to stir the most comatose slumber without a sound. From the window our entire backyard was clearly visible as were most of the yards of our two neighbors, and of course the forgotten arroyo with our little deck floating precariously along the edge at the top of a twenty foot sandstone cliff. There was all sorts of action in the canyon. Sometimes, sitting on the deck, weíd see a redtail catch a ground squirrel, or coyotes prowling through the patches of brown grass on the opposite side, and even looking right at them you werenít sure if they were coyotes or not, so perfectly did they melt into the foliage. Once we saw coyotes snatch away a black cat that had explored a little too deep in the canyon, tearing it to shreds in moments. No wonder there were so many missing cats in our neighborhood; there seemed to be a new Missing Cat flier distributed weekly. Normally we didnít see the coyotes, only heard their disturbing noises. Donít get me wrong. I love nature and everything, but those sons of bitches were so fucking annoying when they started yowling like tortured creatures in the night, apparently in even more pain than I was listening to all that racket. Usually there was nothing but poison oak and wild blackberry down there (two of the deadliest plants on the planet) and the occasional French broom. I guess the canyon wasnít really all that much to look at, but it was better than looking at a bunch of houses like the views from the other bedrooms. My room had two windows. One faced the street and the only action there was the maniacal screaming of children playing every weekend morning at about six thirty. The other faced straight at our neighborís bedroom window, the Hendersons, and sometimes in the morning I saw Mr. Henderson getting dressed and that was definitely not a killer view.

"Itís not a good idea going down there. Nothing but a whole lot of pain down there," James said trying to sound like a pro wrestler or something

"Sounds like my kind of place," Anthony said and we all laughed. James and I laughed because we thought he was kidding, and Anthony? Well maybe he was joking but it was always hard to tell with him.

"As you can see we have a garden," I said pointing to the raised beds overgrown with weeds on one side of the yard. Pointing toward the deck, "and of course the ledo deck." From the window it seemed like our house was built too close to the edge of the canyon, almost too close for safetyís sake I would have thought if I hadnít known better. Our backyard was pretty spacious but from this window it all seemed reduced and the deck was the only discernable feature, with a musty, pill bug ridden couch and a directorís chair perched on top. To the left at the Flanders house some little girls played on a squeaky swing set. The only thing visible in the Henderson yard was the covered pool I had never seen anyone swim in.

"Do you ever check out the people in those houses across there? You know, with binoculars or something?" This spying thing seemed to be a theme with Anthony. I lied and told him no. I didnít want him to think it was a theme with me even though some days all I did was stay inside and watch other people, my neighbors and the people across the canyon, wondering what secrets they might be hiding. Weíve all got secrets and this was one of mine. There was a person on the other side of the canyon who had a telescope, and sometimes weíd catch each other in the act of spying on one another. I knew he had some major secrets hiding somewhere; the ones searching the hardest for the dirt always have the most to bury.

We all walked back downstairs. We showed him the laundry room, the loft and garage, the clean kitchen. It didnít really look like our kitchen. Our kitchen was always filthy with most of our plates and silverware piled dirty in the sink. We had a dishwasher but never used it and usually, if you wanted a clean plate or utensil, you had to fish it out of the kitchen sink and wash it in the bathroom because there was no room in the kitchen. The only time we cleaned our kitchen was when we needed to find a roommate.

"So how do you feel about marijuana?" James asked, probably because he felt like he needed to smoke as soon as possible.

At first Anthony looked around suspiciously as if unsure who might be listening. "Marijuana is against the law, which means stoners are criminals." He told us this like he was suddenly speaking before a parole board. He was an expert at answering a question in a way that betrayed no information. "Wait a minute, are either of you guys law enforcement officers?" he asked suddenly. I told him no. "Good, because I hate cops."

"Youíre not a law enforcer yourself are you," James asked like he was about to be arrested.

"Hell no," Anthony said laughing. "Now that we got that out of the way, Iíd like to say I feel strongly about marijuana, strongly in favor." He had given the answer we wanted, another skill Anthony was extremely adept at, and a heavy tension lifted off the room. We all laughed, we all smoked, and we all stared off into space and didnít really say much more. When Anthony left we told him we would make a decision by Christmas, and James and I had one of our discussions as he watched him hobble away down the sidewalk.

James and I argued all the time, but not because we didnít agree about most things. Sometimes I thought James just liked to argue no matter what side he was taking, like he would rather argue than believe in anything. The problem was arguing with him was nearly impossible because his arguments followed no known guidelines of human logic. James had invented his own rules of logic, something he called quantum logic. He claimed that pre-conceived notions were like jail cells that trap our ideas so James made up his own words and concepts all the time. If you wanted to understand what he was talking about it was like you needed to learn to speak a new language. Sometimes you couldnít even answer his responses because they seemed so far off the subject. James had to be the only fifth year philosophy major to never pass basic logic. There was only one professor that taught it at the university and he and James had some real philosophical differences. Heíd failed the class twice and it was one of the classes he needed to pass if he ever wanted to graduate without changing his major again. Heíd even talked about just dropping out instead of taking that class another time.

The easiest way to get James to do something was not to ask him but tell him to do the opposite, but of course just telling him anything wasnít necessarily easy. He was a very complicated machine and one had to exercise caution pressing the right buttons because pressing the wrong ones could be downright mortifying. I guess I just knew how to deal with all his shit because he and I had been roommates in the dorms our freshman year and weíd been living together ever since. I wouldnít say that we were best friends or anything but we had a special relationship for sure. Of course as soon as he stopped smoking pot every day he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and thrown in an institution, and only then did most of his behaviors become somewhat explained, as much as such a concept could really explain such behavior. A word like schizophrenic seems a little too simple to explain the intricacies, the enigma, of James.

We had one hell of an argument when Anthony left. James wanted to wait a few days longer to see if anyone better came along. He didnít like the fact that Anthony smoked cigarettes and James thought it was suspicious that he had all that money. James asked, how did we know Anthony didnít just rob a convenience store or something? James had some good points but nothing that seemed grounds for denying Anthony. I wanted to take the money and worry about it later because taking his money bought us two more months of time at least. I figured he would probably just end up leaving soon enough anyway like all the rest. I didnít even consider that maybe the roles could be somehow reversed, that Anthony could be the one chasing us out and making us feel uneasy in our own house. Come to think of it, telling him no and getting evicted probably would have been the best thing that ever happened to me. In some convoluted sort of way, I feel like everything that happened was Spooky-Toothís fault, even though he really had nothing to do with it. I guess my way is usually the convoluted one, and if I needed to find one fatal decision that brought me here, I suppose choosing Anthony would be it. But like everything in life, itís not that simple.

During the next two days the only person that called was Mr. Fischer, and it wasnít to wish us a Merry Christmas. I told Mr. Fischer that we had found someone and that he would get his money as soon as the holiday was over. Anthony moved in on Christmas day. I wondered why he didnít have anything better to do on Christmas than move. Of course, all I was doing was standing around watching him. I would have offered to help but all he had was one backpack full of clothes and enough stuff to fit in two paper bags. The only thing of value he owned was a cherry red Fender electric that he never played too loud because he didnít have an amp. He had no furniture at first, not even a bed, and the master bedroom looked even emptier after he moved in, his handful of stuff lined on the window sill and a pile of blankets thrown down in a corner. Soon, furniture began mysteriously appearing in his room as if summoned through magic ritual. A desk, an empty dresser, a king-size mattress, what I considered a very fancy lamp but what James called a piece of art deco crap. Anthony claimed he had borrowed the stuff from his girlfriend, but I guess stole would have been a better description.

His girlfriend seemed almost scarier than he did. She was tall and pale with red and black hair and piercings in every orifice and on many visible appendages of her body. She never really spoke just stared at you with these big, dark eyes that looked like very deep pools, filled with dim secrets that might best be left alone. When Anthony would disappear to talk on the phone or something she would try to saddle up to any male in her vicinity like she was trying to have some sort of lurid affair during his five-minute absence. She would sit next to whoever was on the couch and her hand would creep toward his thigh like a snake sneaking up on its prey. I could never understand what it was all about but I guess she was trying to induce Anthony into some sort of jealous, murderous rage. Thatís probably how ninety percent of his fights started. I would just lock myself in my room whenever she came over rather than be caught in such a potentially painful position.

Anthony had an unpredictable temper on him, thatís for sure. Sometimes weíd all be joking around about something and everyone would be laughing and then all of a sudden heíd be ready to throw down and start breaking things. Sometimes he would blame his heritage, saying something like he was cursed with the blessing of being Irish and Italian which, he always explained, was like mixing ammonia and bleach. He would claim that he could only think with the blood in his veins and not with the head on his shoulders. (Sometimes we wondered if he actually had a head on his shoulders. James claimed it was just a big block of wood, a cleverly designed prosthetic head.) James and I knew that the Bushmillís Irish Whiskey he drank in binges caused most of the problems. Pouring Bushmillís into an Irishman, well, thatís also like mixing ammonia and bleach and anybody standing too close is bound to get hurt. Having witnessed the explosion on numerous occasions Bushmillís seemed the most logical explanation to me. If there was an empty bottle in the kitchen it usually meant something had been broken or soon would be. Usually though he ended up just staying out all night and did his damage elsewhere. Sometimes, after he left for work at eight in the morning, we wouldnít see him again for days.

Every night, as Anthony passed through the various stages of his drunkenness, which usually only turned violent if he had been drinking whiskey, various secrets would emerge like nocturnal predators poking their noses in our unlocked door. In the early stages he always wanted to show everyone his pierced dick. He would drop his pants with little or no warning and begin waving his penis around like a fucking flag he wanted us to pledge allegiance to. (He called it the blarney stone.) He confessed he was a high school dropout, which seemed unfathomable to me, the college dropout. He had quit school to go on tour of the U.S. with a straight edge punk band. They kicked him out in Miami when Anthony showed up too drunk to play. Apparently guitarists are everywhere but good bands are hard to find; they went on to gold records and Anthony went on to twisting pipes. Whenever anybody mentioned the bandís name, Psychosis, Anthony would begin grinding his teeth and clenching and unclenching his fists until it looked like he was holding on to a couple of beating hearts in his massive hands. It made you fear there might be an explosion of blood.

Anthony had endless reasons for coming to Santa Cruz. He had moved from LA to be closer to his girlfriend who was now a college student. He had moved for a change, for the fresh air, to get away from the crystal meth he had been doing every day. Methamphetamine makes you crazy he said, it makes you do things before you realize it, things you would never have done if youíd had time to think about it. There were about fifty people in San Bernardino who wanted to kill him because he had been in hundreds of fights. When he spoke about them he always became very tense and jumpy like his next one might start any second. Sometimes heíd have a black eye but usually it was bruised knuckles or cuts on his hand from other peopleís broken teeth.

When you thought you had heard every disturbing fact Anthony invariably produced another. Calling Anthony unpredictable would have been a simplification of the phenomenon; he had taken unpredictability to a new level. Living with him was like asking yourself what in the hell youíre doing as youíre waiting in line to do it again. What Iím trying to say here is it soon became obvious we had perhaps made a wrong decision. But going back wasnít really an option; it never is. Forward is the only real direction, even if forward means retracing your steps, and retracing your steps, at least you know where youíre going.

When it comes right down to it, it was our own fault. James and I always tended toward the sketchier characters when we were searching for roommates, or they tended toward us. Hell, I guess we were pretty sketchy characters ourselves. It was the people that were just happy to have a place to live that were the least likely to start asking questions. But everyone asked eventually and the longer that someone lived with us the more inevitable the question became. What the hell was up with the fourth bedroom, the one that had a deadbolt and a padlock on the outside and nobody renting it? Of course weíd tell them it was Mr. Fischerís storage room and that we werenít even sure what was in there. But the illogic of that lie usually just made people more curious, especially when they could hear faint humming and buzzing noises coming from inside. Fortunately few reached the point where the truth had to be addressed; roommates were usually gone as soon as they realized something covert and suspicious might be going on. Anthony always acted like a dumb-fuck, but I know he was pretty smart. I know he had some sort of brain in that big, wooden head, despite all the alcohol he ingested trying to kill it. He must have known what was going on right away, but he acted like he didnít notice the room was there. So from our standpoint it seemed like a pretty good arrangement. I mean, Anthony had his problems, but he also didnít seem to mind ours, or even notice them for that matter.

We make decisions that we have to live with everyday, and Anthony was like a decision we made that we were never sure was necessarily a good or bad one. My sense of it changed all the time. Even now, sitting where I am, Iím not really sure. Sure it seems so horrible now, but ten years from now, who knows? Our fourth bedroom (James and I called it the fourth roommate) was a decision we had to live with too, every day. And it was one of those things itís hard to walk away from even though you know itís illegal and perhaps even wrong.

James devised the plan. James had a million plans but he only followed through on about one half of one percent. I took his idea and implemented it and from there it all escalated until the whole thing began to control every part of our lives. Itís strange, we do these things to try to gain more control over our lives but our decisions end up controlling us. A lot of times people will spend their entire lives trying to live with a decision that only brings them distress and pain. Either we learn to deal with our choices and the stress they bring us, or we make new choices. Me, I always steer my decisions toward the choices that carry no responsibilities and hopefully no consequences. If thereís one thing Iíve learned (probably the only thing) itís when to turn around and walk the other way.

But this was the one time I couldnít just slip through the cracks at the last second, I guess because it all went down so fast. I could tell things were falling apart; it wasnít hard to see. Anthony had been living with us for almost three months and his behavior had changed suddenly, or maybe it was such a slow change that we didnít notice until it was too late. He had started doing speed again, I realize now, but back then it seemed like he had just started to completely lose his mind. He was spending more time at the house than ever before. He would explain that he and his girlfriend had broken up every time he spoke. Steph and I broke up, did I tell you? Actually, weíre just taking a little time off. Blah, blah, blah. Oh by the way, did I tell you? Steph and I broke up. He would run up and down the stairs fifty times in a row, and throw drawers open and closed in frenzies looking for items that didnít exist. He would sit up all night playing the same chords over and over on his guitar, stuck on repeat for hours, and then would blast scratchy old Minor Threat LPs at four in the morning.

James was worried too, and it took a lot to make James notice anything. He was taking Philosophy 102 (logic) again this quarter, and between that and Spooky Tooth James was wrecked. He had been smoking more pot than ever and had started to look vacant and tousled, like a complete vagrant. James was always offensively skinny, and especially then, with long tangled hair and a scraggly face, and clothes that hung off his bony limbs like thirty-gallon Glad bags. It was about a week before payday (thatís what we called it) and our supply had run dry. James had resorted to scraping the tar out from inside our pipes and bongs to get high, what I called smoking ghetto hash. Scraping resin is what most call it. Anyone who thinks marijuana isnít addictive could have taken one look at James and changed their mind forever. He was like a fucking surgeon digging that resin out, using miniature screwdrivers or the leather punch from his pocketknife to probe every available pore for THC. His mind was always working so fast and furious that he needed the pot to keep himself sane, and of course to keep those around him sane as well. Once we had a contest to see who could go the longest without smoking and I broke down first because James became so obnoxious after about twelve hours that I couldnít take it anymore. At least thatís what I told James, and myself.

But that was before the fourth roommate moved in, which was when everything changed. All the days began to blend into one another and I lowered myself into the pit of deceit that still follows me around like a stray cat I fed one time. It just had so many levels. Like my parents, they think Iím still in school and as far as they know Iím still going to graduate next spring. My grandma thinks Iím going to win a Nobel Prize for biology and I havenít been in school for almost three years now. They kept sending me money and I kept sending them forged report cards and registration receipts. The fourth roommate began to demand my increased attention, and the payoffs were huge once we perfected the system. Of course we squandered and smoked all of our profits, and now Iíve got nothing to show for the last four years except memories so obscured by smoke Iím not even sure of them.

I hadnít seen Anthony in days and James had been scraping resin every two hours or so for a few days in a row. He would scrape the resin out of the same pipe over and over in an endless cycle that left him with fingertips covered in an oily residue, which he would also try to collect with his tools. It was a study in absurdity, in desperation, in pointlessness, in futility, in all of the things addiction is. I hadnít been smoking for a few days and was bouncing off the walls with energy I didnít know how to contain. I had just finished washing all the windows in the house, every last one, when Anthonyís ex-girlfriend appeared at our door. She looked even more pale and frightening than usual, with jet-black lipstick and two silver hoops through her lower lip, but was still kind of sexy in a ghoulish way.

"Hey Steph, howís it going? Anthony isnít here, I donít think. I havenít seen him in days."

"I know. Thatís why I came by. I donít think heís coming back. I just want to get all my stuff back, all the stuff he stole." Steph always seemed more relaxed when Anthony wasnít around. Sometimes it seemed like she was afraid to move or even breathe when she was with him.

"What do you mean heís not coming back?"

"He was too much of a drunk asshole and now the cops are looking for him. Iím positive he went back to Berdino."

I found all this very relieving in a way, but also very disturbing. "What did he do?" I asked.

"He broke all the windows out of my boyfriends car. His í67 Cadillac is practically destroyed. He grabbed a skateboard and just went crazy." I could imagine it all. I saw the maniacal glint in his eyes, the skateboard swinging, the profanities pouring out of his mouth. I saw the empty bottle of Bushmillís and the broken glass, all things I had seen before. "He ripped off all the mirrors and the hood ornament and threw them all down a porta-potty."

"I seen him two days ago," James called out from the couch. "He was leaving with his backpack and his guitar case. He looked real stressed. He said he did something real stupid and that he was going to San Bernardino for a couple weeks. That was it." James turned his attention back to his scraping. The sound of metal on metal grated my already hyperactivated nerves.

"You didnít think to tell me that? What the hellís the matter with you, resinhead? Stop scraping that shit, itís starting to piss me off!" I could feel an irrational anger spreading through me and it made me want to smoke some resin to take the edge off, which of course made me even irrationally angrier. James tossed me this psychotic glare, and I could tell he was about to unleash some quantum logic on me. Luckily Steph saved me just in time.

"Can you help me move some of my furniture?" She grabbed my arm gently and gave me a tug towards the upstairs. I thought it was obvious what she had in mind, and since Anthony wasnít around I thought what the hell. I could help her move some furniture all right.

We went up to Anthonyís room. It looked just like I expected--a total disaster. There were a few new holes punched in the walls and a big one in the ceiling and it smelled like the dirty underwear that was tossed everywhere. He had obviously exited in a big hurry because he had left behind a lot of stuff, even his leather MISFITS jacket. I assumed he wouldnít be coming back, but I knew better than to expect any action out of Anthony.

"Do you think Anthony is coming back?" I asked Steph. She was looking at the collection of trinkets that lined the windowsill. There was a shot glass that said Anthonyís Bar, a couple Disneyland ticket stubs, a picture of Anthony with a huge purple Mohawk. She was looking at a picture of herself and Anthony taken in front of the Disneyland gate, with Mickey Mouse smiling in flowers behind them. They both looked very young.

"Iím sorry, what?"

"How long have you and Anthony known each other?"

"Since fourth grade. Anthony used to walk me home from school every day."

"How long have you been going out?"

"Oh, off and on, since seventh grade I guess, but we broke up last summer, because I felt like I didnít know him anymore. He was doing so much speed and crack and anything else he could get his hands on. He would get really violent sometimes, but never really directed at me. He followed me here. He tells everyone weíre still going out but we havenít been going out for almost ten months now. When he first moved here I was really scared."

"Heís been stalking you then?"

"I guess so, but he told me he had quit the drugs and was making such an effort to change. I hung out with him because I just couldnít turn my back on him. I thought about calling the police a couple times but I could never go through with it." She walked over to the dresser and checked all the drawers. They were all empty. "If you guys have a garbage bag Iíll get rid of a bunch of this shit," she said pointing toward the clothes that were piled everywhere but in the dresser. "I donít think Anthony is coming back."

The way her shirt clung to the supple transitions at the base of her spine was exciting me unexpectedly. I took a couple steps toward her and reached forward and touched the bottom of her back, hoping to explore the delicate curves there more deliberately.

She turned very quickly and pushed me away. "Iíve got a boyfriend bozo. Just go get the bag." I felt somehow deceived because she really did want me to help her move her furniture. I wanted to ask about all the times she had made advances toward me before, but decided I better just go get the bag.

We cleaned out all the garbage in there, almost two bags full, and loaded all the furniture into Stephís station wagon. She had a lowered, charcoal colored Malibu Classic with tinted windows and shiny rims and remote control door locks. It made me laugh every time I saw it because it looked like a centerfold from Low Rider Magazine. She took everything but the fancy lamp, the mattress, the stack of old punk records, and the leather jacket. Anthony had stolen the lamp from someone else, the mattress was downright scary looking, and she didnít want to see that jacket or those punk albums ever again. I requisitioned the lamp for my room and left everything else in there because there was no place else to put it.

Steph warned me that the cops would probably be coming over to ask some questions, and when I told this to James, he fell into a small panic. He collected all of our clean scraped paraphernalia and hid it under the house. He lit incense and waved sticks around like sparklers. He was screaming things like they canít come in without a warrant man, donít invite them in, we should talk to them in the front yard. I wondered what in the hell he was saying we for. I knew as soon as the cops arrived James would probably hide in the closet or under his bed and leave me to do the talking, again. Of course thatís what happened. When the black and white patrol car pulled up to our house James suddenly disappeared. I had seen the cop coming through the big tinted window in the front living room. I met the officer in the front yard by pretending that I was only going out to check the mailbox, even though it was Sunday. Luckily there was still mail in there from the day before, which I pretended to read while I also pretended not to notice the police car. While he was asking me questions I could see some of the neighbors watching me through their windows, ever vigilant on neighborhood watch. The Flanders pulled up in their mini-van fresh from church and stared like they had never seen a police car before. I suppose in all their minds I had already been arrested and convicted of whatever crime they suspected me of.

The cop, Officer Bradley, kept on telling me this Anthony Deluise character is a real asshole, you sure you havenít seen him in a few days, heís a real asshole this Anthony guy, and I was just thinking, tell me something I donít know. Nothing he said seemed like anything a cop was supposed to say. I was afraid he might want to come in and inspect Anthonyís empty room and start poking around the house, but we only spoke for a couple of minutes. When he left I felt like our house might finally be free from the suction of Anthonyís debilitating influence.

James and I had a little party, just us of course. We cut down a little stalk and flash dried it in the toaster oven. We got really high and even broke into a bottle of cheap tequila that had been sitting on top of our refrigerator for longer than I could remember. We went into the master bedroom and punched a couple more holes in the wall. We threw all his old punk records out the window, sailing into the canyon like Frisbees. James put Anthonyís leather jacket on and screamed OI, OI, OI, as loud as he could, bouncing up and down like a pogo stick. The only thing left in there was that scummy old mattress. James and I wrestled that muddy, old thing down the stairs and out to the deck, and threw it out into the canyon, like the final symbolic purging of Anthony "Spooky-Tooth" Deluise from our life. That was Jamesí idea too, but having the tenacity to see the project through was my fault.

Now I know what youíre going to sayóit was our own careless stupidity that got us arrested, and I canít deny that. To tell you the truth I canít believe we didnít get caught years before. I feel like it was inevitable the way things were going, like we would have got caught no matter what we did. If we had decided to scrap the entire operation I think we would have gotten caught trying to dispose of the evidence. I suppose its naïve to think I was powerless, that I was in the grips of certain forces that seemed determined to bring me down. I guess I like to think that because I just like pointing fingers, except, of course, when Iím pointing them at myself.

When youíve been living on the edge as long as we had you can never be sure what might send you tumbling down, from what direction the push will come. The stupid mattress of all things. We were always so careful not to attract attention to ourselves, but that dirty old mattress was like a trail of cigarette butts straight to our door. Iím not even sure why we did it. It was one of those stupid things you do in blinding flash of the moment, the things that you could have done a million different ways but for some reason you chose the path that was obviously wrong. If my mom knew what happened to me she would ask, what got into you? In truth, I think the spirit of Spooky-Tooth may have possessed me in that brief moment before it departed from my life forever.

Itís the mattress, you see, the mattress that brought the cops back to our house. I had no idea the valley behind our house was a freaking nature preserve. They had to protect it from the encroachment of neighborhoods like ours, things that were so obviously foreign to the natural order of things. The cops came right into our backyard and started digging around next to the deck, where James had started some sprouts for the outdoor growing season. Of course when they saw all those little marijuana seedlings they became very curious, and who could blame them. They found everything soon after that, the fourth roommate, the scales and bags and all the other incriminating evidence. By the time they were done looking they had slapped more felony accounts on us than bumper stickers on a hippie bus; things I had forgotten I had even done. I almost expected them to tell me they had found the body of that missing little girl in the attic or something. They got me for eleven felony counts, like cultivation, intent to distribute, credit card fraud, forgery, other things I forgot on purpose. James went totally crazy his first night in jail, saying things like youíll never take me alive copper, as he was banging his head against the metal bars in his cell. They took him away, he was still alive, and I havenít seen him since. They tell me heís under heavy medication now, even heavier than the skunk #1 we grew. That shit would make your lungs feel like they were going to explode. Heís in some experimental schizo program in Boston now, which is where his parents live. Every day I wonder if Iíll ever see him again.

If James went crazy when he stopped smoking, then I went sane. Everything became so crystal clear after a couple weeks, I felt like I had been living the last four years of my life with my eyes closed. Some of the people in here tell me I never shut up, that the only thing more inevitable than the sound of my voice is the lights out bell, but that only happened since I went sane. I donít know where all the words come from; I used to have to struggle to come up with something interesting to say, but now it all flows like my mindís coasting downhill, words falling like apples out of a tree.

Probably the most ironic thing about the entire incident is that old Spooky-Tooth is still running around free somewhere. On the other hand, heís might be even more of a prisoner than I am, even though he hasnít been arrested yet. Karma can find you no matter how far you run, no matter where you hide, and life on the run isnít much different from a life behind bars if you ask me. We become imprisoned by our actions whether we get caught or not.

Like I said before, probably a million times, you canít go back, only forward. Thatís all Iíve got planned, all you can really plan in here. One day at a time, just trying to get through one day at a time. Tomorrow Iím going to contact my folks, honestly. I know Iíve been saying it everyday, but I feel like tomorrow will definitely be the day. Yep, thereís something special about tomorrow. I can feel it.