the craigslist rooms+shares tango

i know it's a loser before i'm a minute in the house.

Ken is a nervous 40-something who keeps busy with his green-energy company and has a stuffy living room without much furniture. the house is in transition, he says--it looks more like it's just never transitioned into a place people want to live. there's something in the way it smells, how unused the kitchen feels, how eager he is to get me in there. the ungainly furniture. i wade through the rest of the house showing, meeting the other clearly-near-stranger-to-Ken roommate, see the 'cozy' (tiny) basement rooms for rent with the terraced windows, get out. cross it off the list. drive back to wherever i'm couchsurfing and reload craigslist rooms+shares. the dance goes on.

finding a place in Boulder is a delicate dance--whether you partner with property owners, management companies, or individual housemates, the steps are delicate, treacherous and untaught--that, or no one really knows them all yet. an apparently ideal living situation reveals itself as a year of awkward hallway passings in a few moments; a nice group of 20somethings turns out to be a bunch of delivery-food stoners and that cozy room is about one hundred square feet too small to pay 600 dollars for. these are things you are able to ferret out on first visit: the difficult part (aside from getting email responses and being chosen for the good places among the 35 responses they've gotten today) is figuring out in a half hour tour of someone's place whether they and their roommates are the kind of people you want to spend your life with. or, at least a year of your life--no small thing, which you'll know if you've ever misread someone and spent a year living with strangers who never became friends.

Candice (Candy) is the only one staying out of the five people in her place--warning sign already (why would they all move somewhere else together without her?), but the location's okay and the price is good, and ultimately i'm going to need to live somewhere, so i take a look. cozy rooms again, like walk-in closet size, four roommates she walks on eggshells with. we chat at the end, me trying to get a sense of her, of what kind of people she would choose for us to live with, and get the sense it'd mostly be about cleanliness and respect--i.e., the house has had problems with those things in the past. and the more we talk, the more i realize Candy probably wants it manically clean and ordered. despite her artfully-fringe hair and clothing, she's got a need for rules and a goal of enforcing them. meaning a tidy house of stewing tensions. i put her on the backburner.

craigslisting for rooms when you want a home, not just a house, is a delicate dance--but the stakes are so much higher. imagine if, in the course of a dance, you were trying not merely to enjoy yourself, or meet someone for the night, or a week, but an entire year. and that further you would commit not only your presence to them, but your money, your belongings, your food, your body, your waking and sleeping hours, and quite possibly your peace of mind. no one goes to a dance hall looking for a wife, but if navigating craigslist rooms+shares is a tango, this is exactly what i'm doing.

i've been learning the steps this last week or so, refreshing the craigslist page from grocery store wi-fi or the couch i'm surfing, sending countless emails out which are variations on the same theme [1], fielding calls from strangers and visiting stranger homes in the fields around Boulder. i move through townhomes, basement apartments, mansions (well, one) and little 70s houses stuffed with the bicycles, rolled oats and detritus of three to five twentysomething boulderites making a place for themselves. and it is into this detritus i wish to move: not to partner with each stranger/landlord for an email, a showing, a dinner or a month-to-month lease, but to build with them a home, a place we each and all feel comfortable.

this is the difficulty: i don't want a place, i want a home.

i've wanted this for a while--emotional homelessness is an issue for me. i've been homeless at home before: my first year living in Boulder, not knowing a soul, i was just shooting for drama-free and cheap. i got that in spades--4269 sumac in the fall of 2010 was four strangers, four guys (or three and a transgender man) who met on craigslist and used the same building for cheap rent and a place to sleep--but not as a home. after a year of not feeling close enough to say 'good night'--instead saying 'see you later' even though we were obviously going to bed--i happily moved to 2993 folsom with two friends who were all of the warm, friendly home the previous place wasn't.

this year, i missed the bus: leases in boulder are almost all august-to-august, in sync with semesters of the four colleges in town, and during that time i was hard at work picking corn and selling onions at farmer's markets in north dakota. so coming back this year in october, after harvest, i was out of the loop, my friends all resettled in new and lovely places, and i couchsurfing rather than paying rent at one of these lovely homes.

correction: i AM out of the loop. and getting back in involves the craigslist rooms+shares tango.

so every morning i open the familiar white-and-blue page of the Boulder craigslist site, checking what was posted since i was last there, replying to anything decent under 600$ (there are plenty that are above 800 just for a room in someone else's place), checking my emails for responses, checking my texts, checking my missed calls, responding to all that, setting up an appointment or two to see places, finding some breakfast--and by then it's time to reload craigslist or get out on the town.

Marsha is an indeterminate late-40s who owns but does not live at 2511 cold creek: she lets me in the back door because no one's around to unlock the front--or they are too locked in their rooms to answer the bell. the kitchen smells of BBQ sauce; the living room is stocked with dormlike furniture. a pile of sticks sits in the front of the fireplace, with more on the shelves of the 80s-era entertainment center, because 'David likes to burn wood in the winter.' it looks utterly unused. she says the roommates are probably in their rooms, where they usually eat dinner. my room would be the end of the basement hallway, an oblong room with a tiny window that looks five feet under the rear deck towards sunlight, blocked anyway by the line of apartments across the yard.

how long will i search for a home?

at some point, you have decide whether you are going to settle or not. whether you're willling to dance this tango five days, a week, two weeks, a month... a few months. i'm not, but i'm not at my limits yet. though Marsha's is the cheapest place i've seen, at 400/month, i've known almost as long as Ken's place it's not right, and i tell her so honestly. we wish each other luck in our searches, and part to continue the dance.

ultimately, it's a crapshoot. you have no idea whether you're going to get along with these people, whether you're all going to end up holed up in your rooms, or cackling wildly over nightly dinners, tangled up in a love triangle or all secretly dancing the rooms+shares tango for a better place. it's a crapshoot, and though all i want is a warm and lovely home, i too must shoot the crap.

don't get me wrong, there are alternatives to craigslist. some of the most promising places so far involve squeezing in with friends who already have places--promising mostly because i know them, am pretty sure we'll get on well, and they already have lovely house vibes. there is, too, the word-of-mouth network, through which i've gotten a couple of tips on nice places soon opening up. there are other sites online, though they tend to be for whole apartments and houses, not just rooms. there are even other lost souls, stumbling through the tango, with whom you may meet and agree to tango together through the dancing sea of hosts and posts. the dance brought me in contact with one of these, Tricia, through a friend of a mutual friend, and she seems promising--but ultimately, she is another unknown step in a tango full of them, and some friends of mine are currently living with just such a fellow dancer who turned out less lovely than she initially seemed.

as of today, i am still on the dance floor. some friends and i looked at a 2.5m dollar house today, and are trying to scheme how to swing the 5900/mo. rent between 7-10 people. some other friends are hoping to jettison a bad choice in favor of me moving in, and there is a commune of artists in north boulder that may invite me to come see the place if they come to consensus on the matter. i am sure Ken, Marsha and Candy are still looking for renters, and if not, it's been an hour or two since i refreshed craigslist. may one of these houses become a home.

[1] something like this:  I'm a recent CU grad (master's in anthropology), have lived in Boulder for two years, and am just returning from a summer working with my dad in North Dakota, looking for a good spot. I earned enough money on our (organic veggie) farm this summer to live on the rest of the year, so the plan is to focus on a longtime dream: writing novels. What I'm looking for in a place is quiet during the day, and friendly people like to chat at the end of the day, cook (I do almost daily), share meals when it works out. ... etc. 

3000 miles, 12 days, 6 states, 2 countries, 1 motorcycle, 1 mind

blogs from 12.6.22 to 12.6.08: medical tourism by motorbike and the thoughts that came up.