something that happened in my life – 736 roommate search – may 2013

and so began and ended the enthralling, soul consuming, anxiety inducing roommate search of may 2013.  there have been times when i have interviewed 15 people and not been excited about any of them.  generally 1-2 people stand out.  this time, 3-4 people stood out by a lot.  it was difficult.  

i probably take it *a little* too seriously, but it always seems to bring up some intensity that i don’t really get in my normal swath of life experiences.  this is rambly and, as mason loves to point out, none of this really matters, but here goes: 

how much does it suck to look for housing?  my place is really small, but at the end of the day, the demand for housing at my price point overwhelms the supply.  to the point where i realized that how much the power shifts.  at the point when you’re choosing one of 15 applicants (you already had to have made it past the email screen of 50 people), basically you have to:

  • be really excited about the room and ready to commit within 24 hours of seeing the room (we definitely struck basically everyone who wasn’t ecstatic)
  • be willing to move in despite not knowing what any of the housemates are like
  • you have to be in the top 10% of charming/agreeableness

how much do you really care about diversity?  so one of my big tenets blah blah is the value of diversity among the people you interact with.  but do i really want to put my money where my mouth is?  as always, we got a spread of people visiting, most notably a smalltown girl who works for her family’s honeybee business and sells honey in the ferry building to another girl with a fighting spirit who moved from mexico and scrounges by working at mexican restaurants.  a super hipster who works as a barback.  a gay guy who’s trying to make it in the city and figure things out.  a guy who owns enough facepaint to cover his entire body. 

but ultimately we went with someone who was the safest choice, whose attitude and energy matches the house really closely.  i guess i’m just sad that i didn’t really get to hear some of these people’s life stories.  but you really can’t pick them as housemates.  

how do you succeed in the interview?  housemate interviews are always such fascinating exercises.  it’s fun to try to read people, and the paths that people to take end up at the 736 dining room table are always interesting.  i’ve always been really fascinated by exactly what makes people charming and socially compelling and how to build rapport with strangers.  job interviews, you can get by with content, but, like dates, housing interviews are all about personality and winning people over.

one of my favorite moments was asking natalie what she enjoys doing on the weekends, which could be a potentially controversial answer, and she handled it masterfully with things like “brunch, discovering a new bar in the city and having a drink, walking along the embarcadero”, like she obviously knew what we were getting at, but she still needed to come across as friendly and dynamic and fun.  watching her tread the line was masterful.

i also find it interesting that only guys can pull off “cool and calm” and only girls can pull off “perky”.  definitely a warning sign if you find those qualities in the other gender.  

some people just “look” more engaged.  or they just are engaged.  but it’s crazy how within the first 5 seconds you can generally tell how you’ll feel about someone.

how soul crushing is it to interview people?  very soul crushing.  let me count the ways:

1) people who travel/make huge sacrifices to attend, but clearly have no shot of getting the room and just wasted everyone’s time

2) knowing that someone has no shot of getting the room but still pretending like they have a shot

3) forming connections and platonically falling in love and imagining a future together with a potential roommate…. only to let them down two hours later.

4) hearing about people who have gone to so many open houses, how nobody responds to their emails, about how they have been looking for months, and you still can’t offer them a room.   

AFTER YOUR 9TH CRAIGSLIST OPEN HOUSE

The Bold Italic – Whilst In SF – Arrested Development Edition

OMG WHO DID YOU PICK?!  in one of the weirdest twists of fate, the final three candidates mirrored the three musketeers, probably my favorite 3 housemates who passed through 736:

luke was like first zach in the sense that he had this cool, confident, but quiet mystique about him, but was still able to come across as friendly.  he was still borderline quirky, but also probably could have been the cool, suave guy in 736.  i could feel myself wanting to be his friend in high school, feeling intimidated by the interviewee.  concerns: too cool/pretentious for the house, doesn’t fit in or like the house, moves out after he finds a job.  

natalie was like margaret in that she was incredibly bubbly.  full of great zingers, a great smile, and great storytelling skills with a zest and energy that only rivals margaret.  she was sort of this bizarro version of margaret, though, in the sense that she was freakishly ambitious and worked a ton of jobs, emailed me specifically to ask what we were looking for, and made sure to hit *all* the reasons she was a great housemate.  i could see her being the margaret and pulling the quieter people out of their shell and being the glue that turns the house toward a more social direction, like margaret did.  concerns: she was too much.  like definitely not laid back.  definitely could have been part of a sorority, which is totally not 736-appropriate.  drives mason and ebis and chris crazy.

jonas was like second zach because he was this free spirit with self-described wanderlust who also played an instrument and was very socially minded.  quirky and friendly and calming.  concerns: too quirky?  not luke or natalie.  the safe choice; not as compelling.

tell me a funny quora-worthy anecdote.  so, someone who missed his original appointment, called me up as the interviews were finishing up.  “i’m SO sorry, the housing search has just been CRAZY and i just totally missed your email and didn’t realize that it was today, can i swing by later tonight?! i can make 8:30PM” 

and at this point, we were already really set on two other people, so i really didn’t want to come.  either he’s a terrible candidate and wastes everyone’s time, or he’s a great candidate, and makes our decision harder.  

so i go “yeah….  8:30 is too late, you probably just shouldn’t come”

he goes: “fuck… well i have a sublet interview right now, but i’d rather go to your interview.  i can leave now and get there at 8PM”

i go: “………………………………………………… okay don’t skip your interview, 8:30 is fine, just come whenever”

so 8PM rolls around, and he shows up!  he ends up being really charming, and [the grand reveal] it’s jonas!!!  and we pick him!!!

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the final wrinkle.  so we choose jonas, who ends up… coming up with a bunch of excuses about how he can’t get me the money.  it starts off with just giving him a little slack; by the end, it becomes too late for me to go with anyone else without restarting the interview process.  people’s jaws drop when i tell them this story.  i’d like to think it’s because i believe that i can read people and second chances in the interview system, but i think it’s more so because i’m lucky and a chump and can’t say no.  but he definitely got off to a bad start. 

what do you see as the longer term direction of the house?  in my 2-year tenure at 736, i’ve seen the house become considerably more social, but after losing the zachs and margaret, i feel like we really don’t have a critical mass of social, funny as hell housemates.  it’s unfortunate, and it also feels like a losing battle to keep fighting for that. 

perhaps more importantly, and for better or for worse, i’ve become significantly less invested in the house future.  i spend about 4-5 nights a week at daniel’s now, and with the commute,  my time at home is already severely constrained. 

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we had our first house dinner about half a month after jonas moved in.  it was wonderful.  mason and jonas clicked wonderfully, and chester even stopped by.  no drama.

selfishness, friendship, and flux.  i’ve had a variety of selfish agendas when choosing housemates.  once i really wanted a guy who was a young professional.  other times i wanted a gay guy.  sometimes i choose people that i get along with vs who i think others will get along with.  i personally probably was leaning toward the non-jonas housemates selfishly.  luke because he just exuded that cool, suave attitude, natalie for her wonderful bubbliness, both more compelling qualities than earnestness and quirkiness. 

one of the things that i’ve been thinking about lately is what i’m going to do once mark leaves.  honestly, daniel and i spend probably too much time with him.  and i think we’ll be in for a rude awakening come august.  i don’t know whether i’m thinking too hard about this, but it’s difficult finding someone at the intersection of: 1) has time to be your friend, 2) sufficient chemistry to sustain hanging out hyper-regularly, 3) both daniel and i like that person.  

the roommate search always gets me a little existential.  regularly saying goodbye to people whose company i’ve enjoyed greatly. having a great time with zach in the kitchen and knowing it won’t last. zach was honestly a really great housemate.  will miss him.

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email to the house. 

hey guys,

after perhaps one of the strongest round of housemates candidates i’ve seen come through here, we are really excited that jonas will be joining us.  without creating too high of expectations, we thought he did a really good job goldilocksing the interview – friendly but not TOO friendly, engaged, but not TOO engaged.  seems like a standup guy and a person who i (and i think most of the housemates) would be able to get along with and feel comfortable with be it cooking dinner and catching up, waking up hungover and groggy, working out a roommate situation, or pregaming to go out.  as always, i hope that you guys like him, i hope that he likes us, and we can harness some good energy in the house.

i would be remiss not to mention that zach will be sorely missed from his house, from the rotating violin music genres to his cheshire grin to his fluent japanese.  he is perhaps the only one who can tell a story about freeing all the animals from the aquarium and simultaneously be totally serious and totally hilarious.  one of the more radical, most friendly, most funny guys to have passed through these doors, and we’re lucky to have had him for our brief time.

special shoutout to ebis and kim and zach who helped me grill applicants and offer their sage wisdom and advice. 

(sorry just had to write some nice emails after sending bad news to luke/natalie, blah)

james

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