Comfort, Sexuality and Dissolution: Twenty Years of Housemate Memories
“I have to find people who have nothing because it’s a fully fitted house. But the trouble is people who have nothing are either a bit of a worry or they’re transient. And either means you’re never going to get a long term housemate.” — Clive Worran, the tenant.
“You really are making friends with strangers.”
*All names in this article are changed for anonymity, including the tenant.
Along the main road in Sydney’s resisting-to-be-gentrified suburb of Marrickville is an apartment complex fit for the 1970s. Clive Worran resides on the top floor, and has done so for two decades. He has coursed through a few dozen housemates who have each left their own mark. Their own shared memories. And it’s through these memories collected by Clive, these personal anecdotes and personal reflections, that we get to understand what it really means to share a home. Through the issues of comfort, sexuality and dissolution, this is the story of Clive Worran and his housemates.
Living in the same apartment for twenty years has offered Clive various temporary housemates. Some stay for a few months, others a few years. But Clive has always held hope that every one of them was comfortable.
“There was one guy, he really wanted to stay here, he was very enthusiastic about it. But the moment he moved in I could tell he wasn’t going to be comfortable,” Clive said.
Bill came from a boarding house, which he said he didn’t like, and he stayed for six months.
“Until eventually he said he found someone else to live with, which was closer to his work, and it was a really nice person, and he was sorry he was going… Which was all a pack of lies because I got a call from a real estate agent asking was he all right as a tenant at a boarding house.
“So he’d gone back to a boarding house. He preferred living with a group of people or having his own room and not having to be responsible to other people.”
Bill was never comfortable living with Clive. He would always be asking if he could use the microwave or the washing machine or the TV. Those shared items of Clive.
Clive said setting boundaries is often not a problem, because everything in the apartment is his, and new housemates feel intimidated by that.
“But, I try very hard to make sure they don’t feel inferior because of that.”
“I make the best effort I can, but it’s not always right,” Clive said. “You interview people and you think you got on alright and then after a few weeks it’s obvious it’s not gonna work.”
“But it’s only happened two or three times, so either I’m good at it, or I’ve just been lucky with the people that come in.”
And sometimes when nobody’s answering the ads, Clive would bring in the known “short termers”, as he calls them.
“There was a guy who was working up in Queensland, he was super religious,” Clive remembered. “So he spent his time in the bedroom reading his bible.”
“Good looking, lovely guy. Couldn’t answer anybody nicer. Except I didn’t dare open my mouth about god.”
Clive is an Atheist.
Jack eventually moved over to New Zealand, something which Clive knew was going to happen.
“The ones you don’t get on with leave because they’re not happy here, but in most cases they leave because their circumstances changed, and this is a temporary dwelling for them.”
As human beings we are prone to sex, whether with a partner or a random sexual encounter. Clive knew that. And while he learned the common rule of keeping unattracted to attractive housemates, he also learned not to care what his housemates did in the bedroom… and sometimes even out of the bedroom.
Like Aaron, an English guy, who was in Australia on a holiday visa.
“He was here for a year,” Clive said. “He was the only one I had who used to run around with no clothes on.”
“It didn’t bother me at all, he seemed to have no care about it. Although, I used to have to say, ‘oi, don’t go out on the balcony, you haven’t got any clothes on!’”
And as well as being an avid nudist, Aaron was also “popular with the gentlemen”, as Clive supposed.
“I came home one day, opened the front door, and he was screwing some guy on the kitchen floor, which was a bit of a surprise,” Clive said, laughing.
“They were hard at it and I had a view from the rear. And obviously they heard the door close. Aaron was on top and he sort of turned around and I was like, ‘it’s alright, it’s alright. Carry on, don’t mind me.’”
“So I went and hid in the bedroom for the next hour or so to leave them to it.”
But sometimes it’s not just about sex in the physical sense that can be the problem. Sometimes it’s the boyfriend.
Clive recalled a time when he had a couple move in together.
“One of them was absolutely lovely and the other was a prick,” he said.
“It never mattered how much I said, ‘we try not to use the dryer too much, can you hang your clothes up?’ Nope, everything went through the dryer. He’d leave the cooker on all night. The electricity bill was out the window.”
“And his boyfriend who was lovely… Didn’t say anything. And he knew I was getting frustrated.”
According to Clive, the couple owed each other from the past, which was why they were together in the first place.
“It’s a bit like twos a company, threes a crowd,” Clive explained. “And sometimes I wish I had a three bedroom place, so that there was a bit of flexibility. But, again, that increases the difficulty of getting people in.”
For a temporary dwelling, Clive has seen many housemates come, and many housemates go. They have each moved on for their own reason. Simply because things always change.
According to Clive, there are times when people leave and you just think, ‘yep, it’s a turnover, get advertising and start again.’
“It’s a bloody nuisance cause the rent’s not coming in and it’s difficult to maintain this place on one income.”
And sometimes their leaving was wanted
“But, there are some who come and I’d rather they stayed. I enjoyed having them here, we never got in each others way, and we got on alright.”
However, there was one housemate he had which Clive never expected to change so much. A housemate which transcends the previous two issues.
Andrew was a Japanese guy who came over to Sydney on a holiday working visa. To Clive, he was lovely.
“ The only difficulty was he had to push himself to do some work, because he had to work for six months to get money,” Clive said. “But he arrived with money and that was fine, paid his rent every week.”
Then Andrew fell in love, and from there it went sour.
“The guy he fell in love with was a complete arsehole. He was a con operator, a conman. He had no sense of honesty.”
Andrew asked if his new boyfriend could stay over one night, and Clive said yes.
“And then he sort of moved in. I was a bit uncomfortable with that.”
“Then this beautiful Japanese guy was conned into turning into a rat bag, and only because he couldn’t say no to the guy he was falling in love with.”
Soon the rent stopped coming in, and eventually Clive gave an eviction notice. And while they eventually left, the tracks didn’t.
“For the next six months I had to suffer debt collectors at the door. The bills came in - not for Andrew, but for his mate who used this address as his, even though he didn’t really live here.”
“I just hope he went back to Japan, and he shook himself and he realized what a mistake he made.”
There’s a sort of craft in living with housemates. A way of being able to adapt to give them comfort; To offer them freedom in traversing non-platonic relationships and sexual encounters; and the ability to move on to the next and leaving the last. But through all these issues is the art of neutrality, which is the ultimate tool for survival.
Because, as Clive says, “it’s a permanent home for me, and a temporary home for all of them.”