There’s nothing quite like a college roommate, that mysterious figure who appears with overstuffed suitcases and a Pink Floyd poster, who keeps you up by snoring or partaking in other nighttime activities — and yet who, almost without you noticing, becomes a trusted friend.
It’s a classic bond, as fundamental as a law of science.
“Even people who are entirely strange and indifferent to one another will exchange confidences if they live together for a while, and a certain intimacy is bound to develop,” wrote Goethe in “Elective Affinities,” also translated as “Kindred by Choice,” a novel about marriage and the principles of chemical attraction that could apply just as well to the close quarters of a college dorm room.
A certain Supreme Court nominee is testing the principle, however. And in the process, he’s revealing another age-old truth: Be careful what you do in college. Because your roommate is watching, and may one day spill.
That became apparent this week when James Roche, one of the men who shared a freshman-year dorm room with Brett M. Kavanaugh at Yale, mounted a last-ditch campaign to counter the portrait that the judge has painted of himself, as the Senate prepared to move ahead with his nomination to the Supreme Court.
Roche, who had previously described Kavanaugh as a “notably heavy drinker” who became “aggressive and belligerent” when intoxicated, reiterated in a Slate column and a CNN interview Wednesday that his objection was not to his former roommate’s alcohol consumption. Nor, he said, could he substantiate the assault allegations against the nominee, who denies them, including one from his time in college.
Rather, he disputed Kavanaugh’s testimony that he had never drank to the point of “blacking out,” as well as his eyebrow-raising explanations of sexually explicit slang. “I can say that he lied under oath,” wrote Roche, who runs a software company in San Francisco. He told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that his recollections were based on what he had seen up close. “Our beds were 10 feet apart for a couple of months,” he explained.
Roche is hardly unique in speaking out about a bunkmate-turned-political heavyweight. It’s something of a pattern, in fact, most notably plaguing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who ran for president in 2016.
Some former roommates emerge to warn the public in advance about an ambitious figure they once knew. Others appear after a public downfall to dance on an old adversary’s grave. And, of course, there are many counterexamples — cases in which old roommates have attested to the integrity of figures with whom they once shared a living space.
Several years after Kavanaugh and Roche were living in New Haven, Conn., Cruz was rankling his roommate 130 miles down the coast at Princeton.
Craig Mazin, now a Hollywood screenwriter, lived with Cruz during their freshman year on the Ivy League campus. He has had much to say about the experience, including as early as 2013, when he told the Daily Beast, “I would rather have anybody else be the president of the United States. Anyone. I would rather pick somebody from the phone book.”
The same year, he said on the Scriptnotes podcast that his problem with Cruz, who is now in an unexpectedly tough reelection campaign against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, was not political but personal. He called the Texas Republican a “nightmare of a human being.”
Mazin said he had fielded complaints from women about Cruz strolling through the dorm hallway in a bathrobe. In 2016, when Cruz came under a spotlight as a White House contender, Mazin took particular issue with a position his former roommate had defended as solicitor general of Texas. A 2007 legal brief justified the state’s ban on sex toys by observing that “there is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals for nonmedical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.”
“I was his college roommate. This would be a new belief of his,” tweeted Mazin, who co-wrote two of the “Hangover” films. Some of his other posts about his old roommate include unprintable insults.
Cruz hasn’t said much about Mazin’s barbs, although others have come to the senator’s defense, including his college debate partner, David Panton. Ian Tuttle, writing in the National Review in 2016, accused Mazin of harboring an “abnormal fascination with his freshman roommate.”
Social media was also the terrain on which a man who once shared a dorm room with Kevin Nicholson — an unsuccessful candidate in this year’s Republican primary to oppose Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) — waged war against his onetime bunkmate.
“I was @KevinMNicholson roommate in college,” wrote Adam Tillotson, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He is everything that is wrong with politics — self serving, pugnacious, & narcissistic #fraud.”
Tillotson, the president of the Wayzata Education Association in Minnesota, lived with the Republican politician at the University of Minnesota. In a since-deleted post on the then-candidate’s Facebook page, Tillotson accused him of delusions of grandeur — putting ARFS1, short for Air Force One, on his license plate — and of misbehavior toward women, the Journal Sentinel reported.
“Everything was about Kevin,” Tillotson said in an interview with the newspaper. “He’s a more polished and more educated version of Donald Trump.”
An aide to the Republican dismissed the allegations by calling Tillotson a political partisan.
Now, a row with a former roommate has a candidate for state senate in Missouri on the defensive. Ryan A. Dillon, a Democrat, threatened to beat his roommate in 2006, the woman told police at the time, according to records unearthed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The two were students at Westminster, a private college 100 miles west of St. Louis, and were feuding over emails that the roommate had sent to the candidate’s ex-girlfriend, according to the newspaper.
Dillon called the matter “fake news,” while his former roommate, Jill Weissgerber, told the Post-Dispatch that she didn’t consider the encounter “a harassment issue” but rather “an issue between roommates that got a little bit out of hand and it’s been settled for 12 years. We’re still in contact.”
And in Illinois, a former roommate of Nick Sauer’s found cause to celebrate this summer when the Republican state lawmaker resigned after his ex-girlfriend said he had used naked photos of her to “catfish” men on Instagram. “After speaking with my family, I feel it best to step away from my public responsibilities,” Sauer wrote, not addressing the specific allegation. Collin Krum took to Twitter to declared himself unsurprised by the revelations.
Former roommates have piled on in the most unfortunate moments. But they’ve also stuck up for their old companions at decisive junctures.
Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, stood up for Reince Priebus, with whom he shared a room at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, when the GOP official was ousted last year as White House chief of staff. “Dumb move,” he wrote on Twitter, and — in a throwback, although not as far back as their college days — included a GIF of Joaquin Phoenix flashing a thumbs-down sign in the 2000 film “Gladiator.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), the 2016 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, earned a ringing endorsement — although he wasn’t spared embarrassment — from a roommate during his time at Harvard Law School. In a long Facebook post days before the election, Charles Hirschhorn, a TV executive, wrote, “He’s the best person I have ever met.”
But Kaine, who lived in an attic bedroom, was hardly perfect in his law school days, his former roommate acknowledged.
“He does not like to clean the bathroom,” Hirschhorn disclosed.
“He’s as confused by romance as everyone else,” he revealed.
“He has no fashion sense,” he judged.
It’s not just the world of politics where old roommates may have leverage. But in other industries, at least some prominent people have been able to get out ahead of possibly embarrassing revelations.
In an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” last year, actress Reese Witherspoon confessed that she had engaged in intimate acts in front of her college roommate, according to the entertainment website Hollywood Life.
College-era companions have proved themselves relevant long after graduation by dredging up past indiscretions, but also by inspiring action in the present.
In 2013, when NBA center Jason Collins described in Sports Illustrated his decision to come out as gay, he cited the example set by Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), his roommate at Stanford.
“I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade,” Collins wrote. “I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. … I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, ‘Me, too.’ ”
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