What really burns up a roommate ...

There are some lessons I wish I had learned in college. How to choose a roommate the right way, for example. But this wasn't part of the curriculum when I was an undergrad. So before I chose my first apartmentmate, I made a list of the essentials: She should be artistic, intellectual, care deeply about the environment. She must have the soul of a poet.

I did find someone who met all of my lofty criteria. We had stimulating conversations late into the night about philosophy, literature, and Hawaiian culture. She was spontaneous, always full of surprises. On cold nights she'd invite the landlady's three cats into our apartment. You never knew whose cozy nose you'd wake up next to.

But some surprises seem humorous only now, years later. A plumber had to be called to unclog the kitchen sink one time after she made dinner. The problem: two knives and a fork. "How did that happen?" she asked with a faraway look. I was even more puzzled.

There were other hiccups that I managed to overlook: She would occasionally leave the front door ajar all night, and the toilet overflowed monthly.

But one night, as I stumbled to the bathroom, I noticed a bright red glow in the kitchen. The stove's front burner was on high, and the wall by the stove had turned black. The repairman told us that the whole place could have burned down. Our landlady said, "One of you leaves, or you both do."

My roommate moved out, and I lived by myself for the next year. I didn't need any more stimulation.

What I did need, and didn't get in college, were some basic life skills. I would have loved the honest advice in Amanda Paulson's story (at right). Idealism is fine, but not if it goes up in smoke.

• E-mail the Homefront at home@csps.com

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