26. Urban New Jersey
They’re getting a second chance; even after they dragged me around Princeton at 3:00 in the morning, I’m going to Jersey City and staying with Joe and his roommates. Jersey City is easy to get to, New York is easy to get to from Jersey City, and you can make the next connection. I leave with Joe around 10 PM and we get to his place in half an hour.
In short, the place is a dump. It houses six guys—Joe, Rahal10, Damien11, Matty U, Shankar and Greggums12-—all 23 to 26 years old. They all work, some also going to school. Joe used to claim, especially in the first two weeks when the company didn’t have a keyboard for him, that even I could do his job. But yes, the place is a dump. Random clothing drapes over couches and chairs. Though there are two sinks in the house, both are filled with dishes. Both fridges are barren, the one upstairs filled only with condiments, half empty soda bottles, and a package of Eggo Waffles. The carpets sport random debris, and a wooden chair by the taped up recliner has an overflowing ashtray on it. By the wall, the garbage pail has become more of a pit; house policy says to heave trash in that general direction. Beaten up boxes serve as shelves, and the TV console—with two Play Station 2’s, a game cube, an X-Box, a TiVo imitation, a DVD player, a separate sound system, and a digital cable box—is a tangle of wires. Around the ashtray, there are five remotes to work everything. One box contains a variety of electrical engineering textbooks mingled with comics and books about planes. Another cardboard box houses a wild collection of video games and DVDs. By the TV a small hedgehog-esque LED display oscillates colors creating a dizzying aurora borealis effect. And this is just the first floor.
When I get here Matty U is watching TV, smoking a cigarette and drinking straight from a bottle of Jack Daniels. His pants and belt are also undone. A roll of toilet paper beside the phone acts as tissues. Many people currently lounge here, including Krishna, a house friend. He amuses us with stories of Shankar’s drunkenness, of Shankar messing with his game.
“So Shankar keeps singing, ‘Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks,’ while I’m talking with this girl. And it’s like C’mon, man, just stop signing for a few minutes.” Shankar doesn’t remember this, and we all laugh.
The house cat crawls on top of Greggums. He had found her as a stray and, in New Jersey fashion, decided to keep her. Now picking her up and heaving her on top of me, Greggums introduce Kitty, saying, “Here’s Kitty.” Then Matty U makes me take a swig, because “everyone here has too.”
Greggums then opens a giant bag of unshelled peanuts, accidentally ripping the entire length of the bag and spilling half of the contents onto the floor. Muhammad, always the problem solver, gets a large plastic bowl and the two put the ripped bag into the bowl. Then they scoop the peanuts off the floor and put those on top. Greggums starts to eat them, and with the garbage too far to throw a shell, he simply puts them back in the bowl. After a while he passes the bowl, and Muhammad points out Greggums’s interesting decision. Then he does the same thing, putting the shells back in with the peanuts. Once I get them, I need to hunt through the shells to get the peanuts, but since we’ve gone this far, I argue, why should I have to get up to throw away shells? I follow suit and the casings go back with their uncracked brothers.
But this house is living the life. Or maybe, they are living the dream life of a group of sixth grade boys. TV and DVD’s all day. No one making you clean your room. Video games ‘til dawn. Walking around in Pajamas. In the house there are at least three Play Station 2’s, and when I inquire about the need of the newer ones, Matty U says, “The new ones are slimmer.” On the back of the toilets, instead of a Maxim or Playboy, they have Video Game Monthly. The main difference between middle school and their current lives is that they now have to pretend to be clean, to be unlike themselves, almost every day and go to work. Yet if I remember correctly, sixth grade was all about being someone you weren’t.
It’s not like they don’t have the girly mags. Some of the roommates have girlfriends, but Damien is the soft-core pornography aficionado of the house. He “just likes breastuhses.” He devotes one of his room walls to hanging photos of beautiful women in seductive poses.
“That must get you all the chicks,” I say.
“Another wiseass Kimmel,” he responds.
It’s one in the morning, and I’m tired from staying out until four the night before and waking up early to visit the nursing home. They, however, decide to give me a tour. Of their video game collections.
“This is Katamari,” Matty U says. “It’s awesome. You’re this alien prince ant or something, and you roll this sticky ball called a Katamari around picking junk off the floor with it. You start small, but the bigger your ball gets, the bigger stuff you can pick up.” I’m hooked by the opening sequence, with floating pandas, annoyingly catchy music, and a interesting storyline—you’re the Prince of the universe, and your dad the King got drunk and knocked all the stars out of the sky, leaving the cleanup to you. We play this for two entrancing hours, but it’s not lost on me that the game is essentially cleaning up random crap.
Just when I’m good to fall asleep anywhere, Matty U and Joe bring up going into New York to play foosball on a regulation table. We take my car, head to the tunnel and don’t get back to the house until four. I’m seven dollars of quarters poorer and very tired. I’ve just learned more about foosball strategy and technique than I thought possible. But I’m finally back and I get to the couch, remove the bowl of peanuts, and throw my coat over myself and my feet off the edge.
10 Known alternately by first name Muhammad, he’s a hunched over 6’5”.
11 The shaved headed commercial artist with a penchant for ogling.
12 Of course his name is Greg, but the house likes to give him this diminutive, kind of like Steakums.
back to text