Unfortunately, this past week we had to stop being polite and start getting real in Casa Cochabamba. Written and photo evidence shows that Ted has indeed departed our lovely home (que lastima - what a shame), leaving an empty room on our terrace. We knew finding a suitable replacement would be a tall order, but we were confident we'd be able to find one before paying April's rent on the 12th. Sure enough, a number of potential flatmates responded to our ad on Craigslist and we proceeded to hold two getting to know you sessions: the first a French painter/sculptor/tango dancer and the other an Austrian who had returned to Buenos Aires after spending a year here during high school. Our other roommates met the French lad before Julia and I did, since he came by while we were at work, but he dropped by again in the late afternoon, which made us think he really wanted to live here. He later expressed his interest in staying for many months, an ideal position since we loathed the prospect continuing to look for new roommates so often, and raved about how the room was perfect for his artwork. He seemed nice enough, and we even happened to know some similar people who vouched for him, so we all decided that unless the Austrian guy really made a really strong impression on us that we would go with the French guy. The Austrian fellow arrived nearly an hour late, and although he was alright, he didn't surpass the Frenchmen, so we called him the next day to invite him to come live with us. He happily accepted and moved in but a few hours later.
I have never had to incorporate a new roommate into a preexisting situation and knew that it would not be easy, especially since the five of us that remain are pretty close. We generally hang out in our living room on our computers, watching television together, playing cards or boardgames, reading, drinking mate, or just talking. While not all the time, we often cook together, go out together, and of course Julia, Jessica and I all play Frisbee together. To boot, we all had such high expectations after living with Ted for 2 months, but we were ready and willing to welcome a new person into the mix. Actually, we were excited because the Frenchmen wanted to only speak Spanish, something we should be trying to do anyways but sometimes need to be nudged into doing. I fully understood that it could be intimidating to a new roommate to enter into a house with already established relationships, and imagined it wouldn't be an instantaneous transition from newbie to roomie, but felt confident that open-minded, fun loving people such as ourselves would be able to integrate our new friend into our lives, even if we weren't best friends.
As predicted, our new roommate was somewhat reclusive at first. It is easier to stay to yourself when you live upstairs, which was actually one reason why I didn't want to live up there in the first place (that and having to traverse the narrow stairs at night if I had to go to the bathroom, especially when it's raining). It didn't bother us that much that he stayed upstairs a lot and didn't socialize very much - he is an artist after all, and was often times sketching or painting. But it started to seem strange when he would come and go while some of us would be doing something in the living room without so much as a word. We would try and invite him downstairs to hang out or to eat, and he only accepted once. Otherwise he would only come downstairs if he needed to get a drink of water or take a shower (with one of the various lady friends he brought back). As Ulises put it, he treated the house like a hostel and us like strangers. We had an encouraging evening when he joined us for a homemade pasta dinner and some conversation after wards, but all was back to normal the next day.
Two days later, he dropped the bomb on us that he would be moving out at the end of the month and refused to pay the full month's rent, which we should have made him do the moment he moved in. He and Julia got into a bit of a discussion that consisted of the following: Julia told him there was no way he could move out and not pay his rent and then he could find someone to pay him back, which is the normal procedure for anyone who ducks out early on a commitment they've made. He stated that if he wanted he could leave without ever seeing us again, so we were lucky he was giving us any money. He thought he could only pay a little chunk of his obligation and not find anyone to replace him. Julia told him this wasn't how it worked. Julia left for work, and he started moving his things out a few hours later. He decided that it was better if he just moved out that day, still refusing to pay his share of the rent, still refusing to find someone to replace him. Did I mention that our property manager, Elizabeth, was coming that night to collect our rent for the month? He says he wants to talk to her and that's that. Even better, our friend Andrés, the Embassador of Buena Onda himself, shows up in between classes and is witness to these proceedings. Elizabeth arrives, we all sit down, and she tries to tell him that he cannot do what he's doing. She tries to get him to at least pay half the rent for the month. He refuses, acknowledges that what he's doing is wrong, unfair, and straight up sh***y, but stands pat on his refusal to pay anything more than a third of the rent without finding a replacement. I'm at my wit's end by this point, completely dumbfounded and frustrated by his persistent defiance. Eventually he makes his final offer, which is the same offer that he's been making the whole time, and we have no choice but to accept it and let him go. In the end, our property manager was ok with us not having all of the rent and the money that he left gave us some time to find a new roommate without losing any money, but in the end, this guy was also a jerk and we were happy to move on without him.
Fast forward to Friday night. We are setting up for our asado in Megan's honor, which was a truly wonderful affair with delicious meat and great company. Whenever we have a get together we set up the speakers on the roof to provide an obviously cool and hip soundtrack. Ted always kept the speakers in his room, and I was sure they were in the room when we cleaned it before the Frenchmen's arrival. Now they were gone. We looked all over the house, waiting until all the roommates were back just to make sure, and finally came to the one undeniable conclusion: this guy had stolen our speakers! We were enraged, Santi and Ulises were even ready to comb through every milonga in the city in search of our tango dancing thief, Julia, Jessica and I were looking forward to talking to the people who vouched for him so we could find out what happened. Luckily enough, Santi spotted him on his way out of the house that night hanging outside the milonga next door. He admitted that he took the speakers, claimed it was by mistake and that he thought the person before him had left them so they were fair game (excellent logic, I might add), and the girl he was with - a different one from the others, I assume - diffused the situation by telling Santi that he would bring the speakers back tomorrow. Santi promised that if he got home from work and our house remained sans blue-speakers, he would be sorry, for we knew where he danced. Sure enough, he brought them back the next day, and I think it's safe to say we won't be hanging out with him anytime soon.
But do not fret my friends, we have found a new roommate! Nick, who came over the night that Mr. Frenchmen moved out, told us he had a friend of a friend who was looking for immediate housing and that he would be here for a while. His name is Brian and he's a recent graduate of University of Colorado, Boulder Law School and member of the Colorado Bar. We invited him to said asado, really enjoyed his company, and the rest is history. He moved his stuff in yesterday, has a set of keys, and has begun scoping out new furniture for his room. And already, it's evident he is more likely to fit in with us than our failed experiment. Last night, his very first night in Casa Cochabamba, he hanging out with us in the living room, listening to music, playing boardgames, and talking. While he could never replicate Ted, it looks as though he will be a good replacement. But that doesn't mean we're not going to collect his rent right away.