The West |


by Hugh Behm-Steinberg

edited by Lisa Locascio

Not long after we placed an ad for a new roommate, a wolf moved into our apartment. My partner Amanda and I argued a lot about it, but the other people who answered the ad all seemed even more incompatible, and we needed the rent money. The chickens complained vociferously, though.

The wolf was nice, largely kept to himself, paid rent on time and was fastidious with his share of the chores. When we had our weekly dinner, the wolf sat in a chair and ate from a plate just like the rest of us, and helped with the dishes afterwards. The chickens took to hiding, only coming out when the wolf was at work. We got used to a chickenhead poking out of a dresser drawer or cabinet, or from underneath the couch, checking to see if the coast was clear.

“Do something,” the hens would tell us, and we’d say “start paying rent and we’ll talk.” No one wanted to kick the chickens out – they were here first, and we all swore up and down that we would never be the sort of gentrifying assholes that would move into a rundown chicken coop, slap a fresh coat of paint on it, and then kick the longterm residents out on the curb.

We had many pointless, circular roommate meetings. We started getting a lot less eggs. Neither of us could understand how the wolf could be so patient, but each of us was secretly grateful that he was. Gradually we achieved détente; there was a schedule, defined boundaries, trust-building exercises that all of us committed to make work. I maintained a comment box next to the door, and we measured success by the gradually diminishing number of complaints, the steadily increasing number of eggs, and the regular rent checks from the wolf, which kept us all afloat.

To celebrate, we decided to throw a party. Amanda and I invited our friends: mostly vegans who kept trying to hit up the chickens for approval. The chickens invited a lot of pigeons, who fluttered all over the place, drank most of the beer, and snogged in the laundry room.

The wolf’s friends arrived late; suddenly the house felt crowded with a new sort of energy. The vegans decided that they needed to protect the birds from the wolves, so, trying not to look even more uncool than they actually were, in ones and fives they guided the birds into the master bedroom and lured the wolves out towards the kitchen. The living room remained a sort of neutral zone as the vegans escorted wolves or pigeons across it to the bathroom or out on the porch to smoke weed.

Still, all things considered, it was a great party – lively tunes, dancing, the building swaying back and forth, lots of networking and buzzy hookups. The wolves in the kitchen, the vegans in the living room, and the birds in the master bedroom – loud but the good kind of loud.

Of course the neighbors were going to complain, and of course the cops were going to come, and of course someone was going to arrested, and we kept having to make nice with animal control. Still, it was awesome. Chickens and people and a wolf living together, staying up till three AM discussing the latest graphic novels. If you want to live the bourgeois lifestyle, sometimes it’s worth it to rehab a chickencoop, even if you have to illegally sublet one of the rooms for $2,000 a month to make it work.

Unfortunately, the wolf found out from one of the vegans at the party that the overall rent we paid for the place as the master tenants was only $1,500 a month. He backed us into a corner and started growling, and said since his rent ought to have been $500 a month, not $2,000, he should be living here rent free until he was all caught up. “I’m being very reasonable,” he snarled. We said he signed a lease to pay $2,000 a month, and then we played the staring game. This infuriated the wolf, who shredded all the bedding in our room. Feathers everywhere, which disturbed the chickens.

Our weekly dinners passed in silence. Chores went undone. The first of the month rolled by with no rent money from the wolf.

“Let’s play Willow in the Wind,” Amanda said. “Or Hawk Circling a Field, or I Got a Lollipop. We can get through this,” she said. The wolf stayed in his room and blasted Prokofiev. Another month, no rent money.

The chickens stopped eating and began exhibiting anti-social behaviors. Terrible things were left inside the suggestion box. When the lights went off because no one paid the electric bill, the wolf said that’s ok, I can see in the dark. When the gas went next, the wolf said let’s see who can best endure the cold. The landlord slipped a 30 days notice in our mailbox, and the wolf left scratch marks on the bannister as each day grew closer to all of us living on the street.

We’d come home and find the place crammed with wolves. They’d snarl and drink all the beer and rip apart the furniture, one minute being friendly and the next being total assholes. “Let’s go to your grandma’s house,” they’d say. “Let’s huff and puff,” they’d say. “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf,” they’d sing. We had to barricade ourselves in with the chickens. The wolves would howl, the chickens would squawk and shit in terror, and then the cops would come and threaten to report us to animal control. This happened two, three times a week.

I told the wolf the damages would have to come out of his security deposit. “Fuck off,” the wolf replied.

We had to sneak around our own apartment. It smelled like wolf everywhere. Our vegan friends stopped returning our texts.

Finally, we called a roommates’ meeting in the kitchen, and in the candlelight Amanda and I offered to move in with the chickens and put our bedroom up on Airbnb; that is if the wolf paid the last two month’s back rent, plus a little extra right away to fix the place up and get the utilities turned back on. Otherwise all of us would get evicted, and with the place going market rate, none of us would be able to afford living there after that.

The wolf kept his ears back and displayed his teeth, but we really needed the money, so we lowered ourselves into the submissive posture, and we stayed there as we made our case. Then we offered up one of the chickens.

We’ve done worse things to stay in this city.