Room with a Few

A young San Franciscan’s dream: A room in a nice house, affordable rent, and a built-in social network.

After about an hour of hanging, Amy headed for the door. Christine left soon afterward. Two guys dead set on becoming the next housemate stuck around for another four hours, causing the Danlord to smoke too much pot and completely destroying their chances.

The next morning, the Danlord called Christine and invited her to live in the Tiger House. She exuberantly accepted.

Meanwhile, Amy was still waiting. A day passed. Then another. On the third day, she was walking around Ocean Beach when her cell phone rang. She recognized the number as the Danlord's.

When there’s an open room at the Tiger House, hundreds of people attempt to live there. There’s only room for seven.
Jen Siska
When there’s an open room at the Tiger House, hundreds of people attempt to live there. There’s only room for seven.
The Danlord, whose parents own the Tiger House, has been through 33 roommates in six years.
Jen Siska
The Danlord, whose parents own the Tiger House, has been through 33 roommates in six years.

He made idle chitchat for a few minutes. What had Amy been up to? Did she go to that show the other night? Why wasn't he getting to the point?

And then, after a long pause, he delivered the news.

"So do you want to move in or what?" the Danlord asked. Apparently a second room had opened up.

On a recent Tuesday night, a thick fog swirls over the verdant backyard of 357 Frederick, obscuring but also enchanting the view. Every 20 minutes, the N-Judah screams through it, but the Tiger House residents barely notice anymore. It's become part of the rhythm of the house.

This is an idyllic night for five of the seven roommates, who are snuggled on beanbag chairs and the couch in their giant living room. They sip a California Syrah. They pass around a guava-flavored hookah. They munch Escape from New York pizza. It's all set to the elegant stylings of '50s jazz musicians Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio.

The Danlord is out of town and nobody's sure where Ben is — his lair has been dark for a while. The present five — Christine, Sawyer, Chris, Matt, and Amy — are tossing banter across the coffee table, touching on subjects like French people's inability to correctly pronounce the word "wow"; the couple of recent, stinky Austrian couch surfers; and NRBs (no-reason boners). It comes out that when Matt wants to quash an NRB, he thinks about Condoleezza Rice's hairdo.

Laughing like a jackal, Christine is curled into an old chair with a bowl of dough in her lap. Somehow, she starts talking about the Chuck Palahniuk short story, "Guts," concerning a teenager who masturbates at the bottom of his swimming pool and gets his intestines sucked out his ass. Everybody decides she should read that out loud. Right now. And she does.

Eventually, the Tiger House new class (in the past four months, the whole house, save the Danlord, has turned over) gets around to talking about the hypercompetitive selection process. It's clear that this group of pretty different people — a paralegal, a teacher, a restaurant server, a graphic designer, an associate producer, a bartender, and a guy who sells pay phones over the phone — have bonded over the daunting, shared undertaking.

They don't have much sympathy for those who don't make the cut. After all, it's necessary to be a little judgmental when you'll have to live with this person. Everybody deals with this in a slightly different way.

During an awkward interview, a little off-the-wall entertainment can be a huge relief. Matt once told a guy about how his mom was in the NBA, which caused his family to move around a lot.

Christine prefers brutal honesty. If somebody admits to something unacceptable, for instance, playing hours of videogames a day, she'll straight up say, "I can't handle that in my house."

Amy has developed a more evasive method. When somebody comes through who isn't the right fit — which can become clear pretty fast — she takes to domestic tasks, like starting laundry. Cooking. Cleaning. At the end she'll say, "It was really nice to meet you."

The roommates giggle and reflect on how much more appealing it is to be on this side of the process. Then they pass the hookah around again. Tell some more stories. Pour a little more wine. They wonder and tease and theorize and joke, and their laughter echoes off the blue walls long into the night.

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