Roomies and homies

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, November 29, 2014

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My first roommate was my older sister. I don’t recall much about the arrangement, but I think we got along just fine.

I did everything she told me to do.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

We moved when I was about 4, and we each got our own rooms. I didn’t share a room with another human being until I went to college, and then I never had the same roommate more than one semester.

That may say something about me, but I think it was just God’s way of equipping me for what lay ahead.

My first roommate was a guy I went to high school with, who was trying out for the baseball team (Lubbock Christian had a good one). He didn’t make it, so he transferred to Texas Tech.

He was gone so quickly, few people knew him. But the whole time I was in college, people wondered why so many of my closest friends were baseball players. All I can say is, like a baby duck bonds with the first critter it sees, my first friends at school were baseball guys. I bonded.

The next year, they gave me a freshman – a big, hairy guy who had a pretty good stereo (the primary thing you looked for in a roommate, if you didn’t own a stereo yourself). He only had two albums, however, Cream and ZZ Top.

To this day, when I see a big, hairy guy scratch his belly I start hearing “Jesus Done Left Chicago” in my head.

The next year I moved to an apartment and had several roommates – a guy I’d played in a band with, a Bible major, a business major and a very sincere cowboy who took his hat off and put it over his heart when he met a girl.

I lived with another old high school friend in Austin while I was in graduate school. He had a Triumph Spitfire. We got along fine, but I dropped out after deciding I’d rather be a sports writer than an English professor.

I got a job in South Texas and rented a two-bedroom garage apartment. Before long a guy I’d met at church, who was also renting, and I decided to move in together and cut our rent in half.

He worked at an aluminum plant, but he’d been trained as a classical musician, going to college in South Africa where his parents were missionaries.

Some days I’d come home and he’d be sitting in the living room floor, cleaning his guns while Marty Robbins played on the stereo. Other days, it would be a Bach violin concerto and he’d be sitting in a suit and tie reading. He was an interesting guy.

Me being a sports writer, we were pretty much Felix and Oscar – a very odd couple.

We enjoyed each other’s company and hung out together quite a bit. I learned a lot from him about cars (he had a ’61 Corvette convertible), airplanes (he later became a commercial pilot) and music. I also learned a few things about myself.

He had a piano, and being around him and another friend, who was a band director, inspired me to take piano lessons even though I think that part of my brain had stopped accepting new input.

He could play, but he rarely practiced. Sometimes, though, he would go to the piano and start ripping through some Mozart thing. When he got to a really fast part he would screw up, bang his fists down on the keys and start again. He’d hit that part again, screw up again and bang the keys.

One otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon, he did this over and over while I was on the couch, trying to read. It got fairly annoying.

That’s when I, with maybe three piano lessons under my belt, piped up and said, “Mrs. Brown says you should start out slow, then after you get the notes right you can pick up your speed.”

He slammed the keyboard shut, stormed out and we didn’t speak to each other for about a week.

When we did, it was a shout-fest argument about everything that was wrong with him and me. It was cathartic. We got along much better after that.

The next roommate I had was about three years later, when my wife and I got back from our honeymoon.

She will never fully grasp the debt she owes to all the roomies – picking up my socks, cleaning up after myself in the kitchen, keeping criticism and even witty comments (mostly) to myself.

I’m far from perfect in those areas – but who knows what I would have been like without roomies to pound off the rough edges? It allowed her to skip straight to the fine-tuning.

After more than 33 years, I’m starting to realize that the ultimate goal will be achieved when I’ve come full circle – back to where I started with my first roommate. We’re almost there.

We get along just fine. I just do everything she tells me to do.

And if I come home someday and she’s listening to Marty Robbins, cleaning guns, I’m just going to quietly go away and give her some space.

Bob Buckel is editorial director for the Messenger. This column was pre-approved by his roomie.

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