I was 19 and needed to move. My room-mate was crazy. Not crazy in the “such a nut, what wacky thing will he do next” sense; more like crazy in the “is he going to kill me in my sleep” sense. So I put the word out to my friends that I was looking for a place. Not long after, I found myself sharing a furnished apartment with a guy named Roy.
Roy had come out from Texas for a mutual friend’s wedding and decided he liked California, so he rented an apartment and found a job; doorman at the nearest strip-joint, the Shangri-La, an absolute dive if ever there was one. He had rented a two-bedroom place with the intention of finding a room-mate to share the cost. I was designing patches for outlaw biker gangs at the time, not making a lot of money, so the rent was a little high for me, but I could manage it.
Two weeks after I moved in, Roy decided to go back to Texas to get some more of his stuff and take care of a few things.
When the rent came due, Roy decided to stay in Texas. He was decent enough to wire me the money for that month’s rent, but now I was, as they say, scrod. No way could I afford this place on my own. Again I put the word out to my friends.
As it happened, two of my old pals from high school days were looking to get a place, so we ended up putting the three of us into this apartment, and turned it into the ultimate nerd paradise.
My new housemates were Bill and Dave. Like most of the guys that I hung out with, we had met in the drama department, and most of us had fairly rotten family lives, but Bill’s was probably the worst. When he was but a lad, Bill’s mother passed away. Around the age of 14, his dad decided that he really couldn’t be bothered to be a full-time dad any more, so he decided not to. Bill’s dad owned two houses, one in our town and another about 40 miles away at the beach. He decided one day that he was going to pack up and move to the beach house and leave Bill and his younger brother to raise themselves. He came by about once a month to drop off grocery money and pay the utility bills, and it was up to Bill and his brother to get themselves through school. That’s right, two boys aged 14 and 12 were living completely unsupervised in this suburban home. Needless to say, Bill’s house quickly became the refuge for a group of his friends. They called themselves the MUGGS.
What’s a MUGG, you ask? A MUGG is a MisUnderstood Good Guy. Today we call them geeks, dorks, nerds. MUGGS are those guys in high school who are basically good-hearted but sort of rebellious; they want to do things their own way. They don’t care what’s popular or “cool,” they do what they want. They listened to ’40s music, watched old cartoons, drove ancient Chryslers, and haunted thrift stores and swap meets. Most of them were the kind of guy that girls referred to as “a big brother” or “a teddy bear;” decent guys who would listen to your troubles and let you cry on their shoulder. The kind of guy that high school girls depend on but won’t go out with at gunpoint. There were exceptions of course, but I can’t tell you about them without risking a libel suit. At least one of them had the ethics of a weasel and the morals of an alley cat, but we’ll get to him another time.
Anyway, Bill’s house became known as MUGG Manor, and so it remained for about four years, until Bill reached 18 and his dad rematerialized long enough to round up the younger son and move him off to San Diego with him now that he was nearly grown and not so much trouble to handle.
I didn’t know Bill then. I moved into the area shortly after he graduated (he’s a couple of years older than me), but I’ve heard all the stories of the legendary place. Immediately, our apartment was christened “MUGG Manor 2” and became the de facto residence for a large and ever-changing contingent of malcontents and ne’er-do-wells. About once a week, the manager of the complex would be at my door, fire extinguisher in hand, in a panic about the smoke he saw coming from our windows. We’d tell him we’d burnt the french fries or something, never letting on that we had actually been setting off explosives in the DeSoto hubcap that served as an ashtray. We threw loud parties where we served Ng Ka Py, a foul rice whiskey the exact color of gasoline that gave you bad breath for a week and a hell of a hangover. We threw darts at Miss December, a very blond nordic-looking woman. We drew with grease-pencils on the screen of our broken television.
Bill slept on the couch and stuffed his empty pizza boxes behind it. Dave stacked up dirty dishes until they grew blue fur, refused to flush the toilet, and just generally was the most disgusting slob I’ve ever known, and I’m no Martha Stewart myself. Once I walked into the kitchen and stuck to the floor. As payback, I dyed all his food weird colors. Blue food coloring turns orange juice a hideous shade of olive green, but the turquoise mayonnaise was really unsettling.
We fought over the heater. Bill liked it cold. One January night, I was awakened by a howling noise coming from the living room. When I went to investigate, I found Bill lying in front of the air conditioner, which was cranked up so high it had icicles forming under it. The curtains were hanging at a 45° angle, due to the wind blasting through the house. It was raining outside. Bill was wearing only a sheet. Nanook of the North.
I contributed my own touches to the cheap art prints that hung in the apartment, adding a sea serpent to the ocean scene, UFOs flying over the cow pasture, and Superman soaring over a landscape. Did I mention this was a furnished apartment?
We also had a Glue War.
The Glue War began innocently enough at the Foothill Swap Meet, where we found somebody hawking the Clover Electro-Bellows. This is a device about the size of a flashlight that produces a steady stream of air to make it easier to get your fire going. They were going for 25 cents each, so we bought four to them each and took them home. Bill explained to me that they could be used as “electric cigar smokers.” Of course we needed an electric cigar smoker; doesn’t everyone?
It actually worked. Bill removed the exhaust nozzle and taped it in place over the intake
(using duct tape, of course), then jammed a cheap cigar into the nozzle, lit the cigar and turned on the Electro-Bellows. A steady stream of smoke poured from the machine, filling the living room. I should mention that these cigars were the absolute cheapest things available anywhere. They were called Bud’s Smokers, and they sold at the Thrifty drug store in boxes of 50 for $3.00. Really rank.
Not long after, I did something really jerky. Don’t remember what it was; there were so many incidents. I think I said something rude in front of Bill’s girlfriend or something. Anyway, he slipped into my room with a bottle of Elmer’s Glue-All, which he used in permanently securing everything on top of the dresser to the surface. He also wrote the word “Dipshit” on the mirror in glue. Nice. Real nice.
I waited until he left, then glued three alarm clocks to the underside of his nightstand, and set them all for 3:00 A.M.
He glued all my dresser drawers shut, painted over the face of my alarm clock, and wrote another couple of phrases on the mirror, this time in india ink. (Did I mention that this was a furnished apartment?)
I covered the front of his closet with sheets of newspaper glued across the doorway, then closed the door. When he came home, he opened his closet and found himself facing a wall.
He committed random acts of vandalism in my room.
I put the electric cigar smoker in his closet, stoked it up and closed the door.
45 minutes later, Bill came home and opened the closet. A cloud of smoke enveloped him. All of his clothing reeked of cheap cigars for months afterward.
About a week or two later, he announced his engagement. I like to think I drove him to it.
Eventually, we both directed our efforts against Dave, who had become quite the pain.
We’re all older now. Our kids are the age we were when most of us met. The next round of Glue Wars are coming. It’s inevitable. I hope they’re prepared.
I’ve figured out how to build an electric cigar smoker using a computer fan. Unfortunately, Bud’s Smokers are no longer available. Pity. But should I share this terrible knowledge with my children? Will they use it wisely?