In Providence

In Providence: Living on America

“I have no idea what she does for a living.”

We’re sitting on her couch. It’s a couch in a living room in an apartment on America Street on the west side of Providence. The living room doesn’t have much in it aside from the couch, but there’s an Amy Winehouse poster on the wall and some dead flowers in a vase on the window.

“She sits in that room and when she comes out she asks me how I’m doing and I tell her that I’m doing very well and she goes back in her room. She doesn’t go to work. I don’t think she comes from money. She only wears the one shirt and I think — I think I’ve seen her in two pairs of jeans, but it could just be one. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Her roommate has been living with her for the past seven months and she claims that during those seven months she’s never actually seen her leave the apartment for any reason.

“I just don’t know what she does for money. I’ve never seen her eat. A few times I told her she was welcome to whatever was in the fridge just because I wanted to see if she’d eat any of what I’ve got in there, but she didn’t touch any of it. I don’t think she showers either, but she doesn’t smell bad. I don’t get that close to her, but if she wasn’t showering at all, I bet I would smell her by now. I don’t care about that stuff. Smells don’t bother me, but if I’m living with a vampire then I’d like to know that.”

Before this roommate there was another roommate who juggled at corporate events and somehow made a living off of it. It might be anecdotal, but it seems like lately more and more people are finding ways to exist without doing any of the things we’ve been told we need to do if we don’t want to wind up destitute. It used to be that the people with the weirdest jobs were on HGTV shows shopping for million dollar properties while claiming to be professional swing set inspectors, but now they also live on American Street and every so often you can hear them speaking French.

“For no reason at all. I just hear her talking to herself in French. My ex-boyfriend spoke French, so I had him come over and listen and he said she’s just talking about a movie she likes, but he couldn’t make out which movie it is. The point is she’s talking to nobody. She told me she doesn’t have a cell phone, because she thinks they cause meningitis, and she had this long explanation for why that is, but that was the first day she moved in, and I tuned her out as soon as she started talking, because I thought she was going to be really talkative, and that I should learn how to zone out on her, but she’s barely said a whole sentence since then unless she’s in her room alone shouting in French. She shouts the French. She doesn’t just speak it. She shouts it.”

When asked if she’s ever invited her roommate out on the town, she tells me she has — by way of leaving a message on the dry erase board on the wall in the kitchen. The response was written in blue marker and it said — I HAVE CHESS 🙂

“The smiley face was nice, because it means she didn’t want me to feel bad, but what does that mean? What does ‘I have chess’ mean? Is she playing chess? She doesn’t have a chessboard. There’s no computer in there. She told me she doesn’t have a laptop, because the government listens in on them, which would have sounded crazy 10 years ago, but it’s kind of true now so I don’t judge her for thinking that way, but if she doesn’t have a phone or a computer–and she doesn’t have a chess set. I can see into her room when she opens the door to come out and stand in front of the window in the living room at night. There’s no chess set in there. How can she have chess? Chess with who?”

I should be interviewing her roommate, but when I ask her roommate if I can, she says, “No, thank you,” but she invites me to sit with her in her room, and I say, “Yes” because I have to, because I’m a writer and I’m supposed to jump at chances to sit quietly in a room with a person nobody can figure out, but when we’re in there, she just asks me how I’m doing, and I say, “Great,” which seems like too much, probably because it is, and we don’t say anything after that.

When we’re done, I thank her for her time, and I go back into the living room and report that this is going to be the most boring thing I’ve ever written and why am I writing an about town column if I’m going to half-profile people who never go out on the town?

“It’s January, Kevin. Nobody’s going anywhere. Everyone’s just holed up. I think it’s strange, because she’s got a whole apartment to be holed up in and she’s choosing the smallest of the holes, but I still get it on some level. It’s a scary f***ing world out there, right? She doesn’t seem scared, but she must be a little if she’s making up chess games and standing in front of windows all the time, right? Right.”

I agree with her even though I have no idea if she’s right.

But I’m also pretty sure she’s not wrong.

Lately, in America, it seems we’re all living somewhere around there.