The Third Roommate

Jon Orbach

I didn’t know my roommate before we moved in together, but when we got here, we realized that despite our differences, we shared a special bond.


JON: Generally, when you have a roommate, it goes one of three ways: You hate each other, you tolerate each other or you become friends. But sometimes, there’s a fourth option. And no, it’s not falling in love. 

((Sound: Music))

I found my roommate from a group chat for the incoming class of my grad program, and yes, it was essentially random.

Here are some of the only things I knew about him: His name was Pablo, he was from Mexico, he was a little bit older than me, and he liked to play guitar. I had no way of knowing then that it would be that last thing that was going to be so important. Let me explain.

I’ve always liked singing. I’d just never done it in front of people. 

As a child, I used to pretend to forget things in my parents’ car just so I could have some privacy while I belted out Camila or Frank Ocean. Pablo felt similarly about playing guitar.

PABLO: Until I came here, I will always got very nervous playing in front of people. And I think that the part that you were singing with me and that was very nice too like… it made it something like music to share.

JON: But we didn’t just start combining forces immediately. There was a buildup.

PABLO: I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do remember that feeling of, of like, sitting on the couch in the living room. And suddenly hearing you play music and starting singing like very, very, very loud and very, quite well. So it’s, it was like, Oh, wait, he sings this is this is this promising.

JON: Yeah, I sing in the shower. Like in a shampoo commercial. Sometimes it feels like the sound of the water hitting the floor cancels your voice out. Pablo, though, was forced to get vulnerable in the living room. Playing guitar in the shower could have ruined the strings and would likely result in wasted water.

Luckily for us, though, it wasn’t just that we both liked music. It was that we liked a lot of the same music.

((Sound: Pongamos que hablo de Martinez))

In particular we shared a love for an artist from Uruguay. His music is beautiful, unpredictable and relaxing. 

Jorge Drexler.

PABLO: He’s very important because he’s Latin American. And he plays Uruguayan music, but also, the fact that he’s from Uruguay, he has like Brazilian influences and also influences from Argentina. But he lives in Spain. So he’s like, in the center, and like, like a sun and other musicians revolve around him.

JON: Drexler and his music quickly became the bedrock of our relationship. One day, after we’d had a fair amount of mezcal that Pablo had brought from Mexico City, he brandished his 12-year-old flamenco guitar. He started strumming…

((Sound: Pablo playing Inoportuna))

…and it sounded beautiful. And I knew all the words. It was Drexler’s 2006 hit Inoportuna, so I asked Pablo if he minded if I sang along.

As we grew more comfortable plucking and singing together, it became a near-nightly routine. It proved a cathartic relief after long days of work or simply just a nice time to spend with each other. 

PABLO: I would say that music is like our third roommate. Like, the roommate that makes everything easier for us.

JON: Pablo and I have never had any drama as roommates, but our differences make living together strange. Let me make it clear. He gets up early; I get up late. He’s sweet; I’m snarky. He’s a good cook; I have other talents. He’s tidy; I still have other talents.

But when the music’s on, none of that matters. All we’re focused on is creating sounds.

PABLO: It’s a nice feeling, no? To, to.  There’s like an atmosphere, you create an atmosphere. And like, I don’t know, like intimate or like that you’re sharing something. Like a warm feeling.

JON: And the more we played and sang together, the easier it got. The more fun it got. Sometimes we’d even play around other people. It was a weird feeling for me. But there I was sharing incredibly intimate moments with new friends, and it didn’t even feel that forced. If it weren’t for the idea that I could always look to my left and be in the safe hands of a guitarist who felt the same and shared my love for people like Drexler, it probably would never have happened.

PABLO: You’ve always been like willing to sing and to, wey, to enjoy that moment and having fun with it. And it’s a very nice memory like taking time to bond in that way. It’s special. // For me, it’s a similar feeling to when I’m cooking. You know that when you’re cooking, you’re cooking for someone and you want them to feel comfortable. And, and happy.

JON: Pablo and I won’t be living together next lease. While we don’t know what we’ll be doing or even where we’ll be next year, we do know that we’ll be seeing each other in March, when Jorge Drexler plays a show in New York. It’s yet more proof that no matter where we are, our third roommate, music, will always be there to make things…  just a little bit easier.

In some cases, you hate your roommate, in others you tolerate them, in others yet you like them, but sometimes you just add another.

((Sound: Music by Pablo and Jon))

ISA: You two adore each other. you two tell me that you adore each other, but don’t say to each other. So… (he says that?) He always tells me how much he likes you. And you always tell me how much you like him, but you never say to each other, you just show it to each other in very weird ways. I would say, probably with singing. We can all see how much you love each other. When you start singing. It’s almost like the perfect love song. Except it’s like, the perfect roommate song. Um..

((Sound: Music ends))

PABLO: Wey, qué chingón estaba, no mames.


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