Sunday, April 21, 2019

Edward Norman — The Unexpected Roommate with an Elizabeth Arden Fixation

Before I met Edward Norman, I resented the hell out of him.

It was February 1980. I was a college senior living in a compact campus apartment at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. The apartment had four bedrooms, each barely large enough to accommodate a narrow single bed, a small writing desk, an armoire, and if you didn’t exhale, a package of Chiclets. My three roommates and I, all gay men aged 20 to 21, shared one toilet and one shower. Somehow, it worked, mostly because the four of us got along.

But one bright February morning before class — a Tuesday, I believe — my roommate Tom gathered us to make an announcement: “My best friend Edward is moving in with us. You’ll love him. He’s just like me.”

When I recovered from the shock, I had questions. Why was Edward moving in with us?

Answer: Edward has just been offered a job in Charlotte as a stylist and educator for a major beauty school. He was starting work immediately and the commute from his parents’ home, 90 minutes each way, was impractical.

Next question: When was Edward moving in?

Answer: Tomorrow.

And then, I wondered: Where would Edward store his clothes?

The answer: On a shower rod.

In our apartment, there was an odd bathroom layout with a toilet closet, two sinks running along the narrow hallway, and then a shower with two curtains. The first played the traditional role of a shower curtain, keeping the water from spraying beyond the skinny shower stall. When you finished showering, you stepped out on a small tiled drying area — which had its own curtain. That curtain’s job was to prevent others in the apartment from witnessing (and in our apartment, commenting upon) your toweling-off style. Edward’s clothes, Tom explained, would be placed on the exterior shower rod.

The day Edward arrived, I was hospitable but not overly welcoming. Frankly, I wasn’t happy about a fifth addition to the cramped apartment, especially when I was told he would be moving in and not asked if he could.

The first thing I noticed about Edward was how many clothes he was lugging into the apartment. And what clothes they were: bold silk shirts, primary-color pants, and shoes, shoes, shoes.

My next impression of Edward was formed by the vast skin care collection he sprawled across the long bathroom countertop. Elizabeth Arden this, Jergens that. Under-eye creams. Face toners. Face moisturizers. Hair care products, most of which I’d never seen before. Concealers. Foundation. An eyebrow curler.

Over the next few days, Edward worked long hours and I barely saw him. But the clothes! There was no escaping them! I had to squeeze through them to take a shower and again to exit the shower.

My resentment grew.

That Sunday afternoon, the five of us were lounging around the living room. I was on one side of the room, Edward on another, closest to the front door. He wore his brown bathrobe, which perfectly matched the color of his hair, which was, of course, dyed. His face was green—a beauty mask of some kind.

I could hear that our hopelessly straight frat boy neighbors were holding a beer bash. We’d all kept our distance from them, not wanting to incite homophobic catcalls.

And then, a wicked idea popped into my head.

“Edward,” I said sweetly. “Would you mind getting the newspaper? It’s on the doorstep.”

Edward seemed surprised that I’d specifically asked him for this favor. He, too, couldn’t have helped hearing the rowdy frat boys looming just beyond the door. Perhaps he realized I was daring him. Or maybe he was just trying to make nice with his new roommate. Either way, he rose up, stepped outside, bent down, and picked up the Sunday Charlotte Observer.

It should be noted that our front door was all glass, like the kind of door you’d push past to enter a store.. I could see Edward in all his Sunday-is-my-spa-day glory, newspaper in hand.

I raced to the door and locked it.

My roommates hooted. There was Edward, all brown bathrobe and green face, tapping on the door, mouthing the words “Let me in.” Unable to contain my laughter, I shook my head, “no.” Around this time the frat boys became aware of him. The homophobic catcalls began.

I don’t recall how long I made him stand outside. Probably 15 seconds, but I’m sure to him it felt like 15 days. At last, I let him in.

Once inside, I expected Edward to be angry at me — who wouldn’t have been? To my astonishment, he laughed as heartily as the rest of us. He genuinely appeared to have enjoyed the joke I played on him.

My resentment toward him dissolved into admiration. I’ve always adored people who are the first to have a good laugh at themselves and their predicaments. To me, it’s the polar opposite of pretentiousness, which I loathe.

That Sunday night, after the lock-out prank, my close, unwavering friendship with Edward began in earnest and continued for 36 years, despite our geographical distances, until his death in October 2016.

On that Sunday night in February 1980, I stood at the shared sink, having just brushed my teeth. I couldn’t help but marvel at all of the skin care products running along the countertop when Edward approached. He carefully explained to me what the products were for and why, even though I was only 22, I should start using under-eye cream immediately. He illustrated the correct way to apply it—dotting under and around the eye with a pinkie, never rubbing.

“One day,” he said with a wry smile, “you’ll thank me for this.”

It didn't take long for Edward (left) to influence my fashion style. Here we are, preparing for New Year's Eve in Manhattan, circa 1980-81


  1. I'm screaming laughing as i read all this having heard it before and lived it of course as i am THAT tom.
    I always hoot that i said he was just like me. He wasn't at ALL. But i loved him so much and we were such best friends that i felt like we WERE just alike. I loved him so much that i didn't think for a second it would be an imposition for him to sleep in a twin bed with my former dorm roommate who wet was 125 lbs��
    For the next 35 years we were the best of friends ending up sadly estranged as his health concerns made him withdraw. But i love him still as you do. Thanks for this.

    1. Tom, I so appreciate hearing this from you! Edward was so many things -- colorful, hilarious, sweet, mischievous, and at times completely impossible -- but ultimately so lovable. You too had a special bond, the kind that rarely happens.

  2. Our friendship was instantaneous. End of first period first day of 10th grade. Break before 2nd period. We were in a semi-circle theatre in english/history for 2 periods. I was sitting on one side-he the other. He came over to sit beside me during the break, and it was on.
    He was impossible on some levels, and to him so was i-but i'm grateful for all the years. And i'm glad he had u to love and be loved so completely too.