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    There's an Animal in My Room!

    You and your roommate might be, well, different breeds. But who says you can't get along swimmingly?

    by Josh Johnson

    Assuming the ark didn't get ESPN, I wonder if Noah ever passed the time by writing a how-to book on living with roommates. He certainly would have been qualified.

    The man spent over a year confined to a mobile petting zoo that could double as a supermarket aisle (inhabitants included chickens, turkeys and a man named Ham). That makes Gilligan's three-hour tour seem like a Caribbean cruise.

    And if God would have stretched Noah's lifespan beyond his scant 950 years, into, say the 21st century, he surely would have been invited to speak at colleges across the country.

    Why? Because Noah knew the facts about roommates. It takes effort to live with others. There were probably moments when Noah would have had an easier time predicting the outcome of Super Bowl XIX than figuring out the intricacies of one of his arkmates.

    But before anyone gets the false idea that sharing a room rates up there on the heinous scale with calculus homework and all-you-can-eat tofu, look on the bright side. Living with a roommate has great potential for joy and growth, and it may even be more educational than some of your classes. Building the relationship just takes communication and mutual respect.

    I remember being thrilled upon receiving a "roommate questionnaire" in the mail before my freshman year of college. This meant, I concluded, that college officials were going to hook me up with someone exactly like me. At that moment, I had the intelligence quotient of clam chowder.

    I received a roommate named Tim who loved God and basketball. Bingo, I thought, a match made in heaven. But it wasn't that easy. Lucky for me, Tim was a good communicator. And through my experiences that first year, I can now pinpoint a number of issues that all roommates should discuss before one of them has his toes inadvertently stomped.

    Early Bird vs. Night Owl

    Through research (I asked my mother), I've found that college students are extremely particular when it comes to sleeping habits. Some like to go to bed at 11 p.m., while others avoid sleep as if it were piled-up laundry. Regardless, roommates are bound to want to turn in at different times every once in a while, and an understanding of your roommate's desire to sleep will be appreciated—and hopefully reciprocated.

    Another potential hiccup in the realm of Zs-catching has to do with alarm clocks. I, for example, sleep deeper than a hibernating grizzly bear. To compensate, I invested in an alarm clock that sounds like a rooster with laryngitis. This puppy is loud. I have received complaints about it from neighboring countries, so you can imagine what Tim must have thought.

    To make matters worse, I'm one of those people who subconciously hits snooze every seven minutes for like three hours. I used to set my alarm for 5 a.m. just so I could be up in time for church on Sunday, and I'm not talking about the sunrise service.

    Obviously, my sleep habits needed a wake-up call. I had to try to adapt so I didn't drive my roommate crazy. Tim helped get me up in the mornings, and I started making it a priority to get out of bed before my alarm crowed more than three times.

    Neat Freak vs. Trash Collector

    I was surprised to learn upon attending college that someone other than my father thought my room should be clean. Here again is an important concept to hash out with your new roommate. Tim liked to put his clothes in the closet, whereas I tried to keep the closet empty so I'd have a place to throw my clothes on parents' weekend.

    Once we took each other's habits into consideration, the floor looked a little less like it was carpeted with my clothing. And neatnik Tim tried to restrain himself from using my T-shirts as cleaning rags.

    Isolation vs. Train Station

    I think Tim was secretly competing with the Rose Bowl in Pasadena with his efforts to break attendance records in our room. He thrived when a capacity crowd packed our small quarters like a U-Haul.

    I, having a knack for decorating our room with my personal items, was less enthusiastic about turning our room into Grand Central Station. I've heard rumors that some people are like me. In college, a man's room is his castle, and sometimes it's nice to be able to have a place to shut the door on the rest of the world for a while.

    So before your roommate throws an all-school bash—and you get caught with your pants, well, lying around the room—sit down and find a compromise between his party place and your personal space.

    Supertones vs. Sandi Patti

    Ah, the issue of music. This can be a touchy one. Ever hear about the guy who chucked his neighbor's stereo out the window after repeatedly hearing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" waft into his living area? He lived on my floor freshman year.

    Tim and I had pretty similar tastes, but I still felt like squirting hot dog condiments into his CD player every once in a while. The bottom line is that no matter how much I liked what he put on, there was something I would have liked just a little better.

    Probably the best case study of this is the tension between country music lovers and those who, to put it mildly, abhor it. Some people can't seem to take a little country in their musical diet. Tim was fine with it, but I've had people pull a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde on me when I turned the dial to a good country station. At that point, the following conversation generally occurred:

    country hater (at the sound of Kenny Rogers): Ohhh Nooo!

    me: What's the problem?

    c.h.: Ohhhhhhh Nooooooo! (Gasp, choking sounds, punches person next to him)

    me (freaking out): Should I get some help?

    c.h. (beginning to foam at mouth): Ohhhhhh Noooooo!

    me: Whoa, chill out, OK?

    c.h. (spitting fireball through radio, stopping Kenny mid-tune): What are you looking at? I'm cool. No problems here.

    That said, you may want to chat about musical tastes with your roommate well before unpacking the CD player.

    Bottler vs. Gusher

    For people like me, it's tough to come out and talk about those whimpy, girly things called "feelings." Guys, especially, find it easier to be macho and only show emotion when talking about football and car parts.

    But a roommate will be able to tell when you have had a rough day, and if you're a bottler, and he's a gusher—or the other way around—there can be friction. Some people like to talk about their strains and stresses, while others would rather be left to themselves for a while. Just make sure neither of you bottles up anger toward each other or anyone else—a habit that's truly destructive.

    Make this topic part of your checklist when chatting with that stranger-turned-roommate for the first time.

    Making it work

    Of course, all of this communication only works when it's transferred into action. Make sure you have listened to your roommate, and then respect him for who he is.

    God's pretty creative, you know. He whipped up a bunch of unique characteristics for each individual, and when we learn to look at our roommates as special creations of God and not oddball aliens who deserve to be fed kitty litter (though it will seem that way sometimes), college will be even more fun.

    One last thing: Pray. Pray for the roommate you have or will have. At college, pray with your roommate. It's all part of building an awesome relationship.

    And when the floods come, perhaps you'll view your situation as a floating animal party, not a cage of wild animals.

    Josh Johnson will graduate this spring from John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.