Roommate Troubles

cigarette butts rental house

BLACK DOOM OF OPTION | Garret Schuelke

Read the Story @ Revolution John.

I once had a roommate who would take a few bong rips and then play his didgeridoo at one o’clock in the morning.

Which is just to say, everybody knows what it’s like to have a shitty roommate. If you’re one of those people who has never had a shitty roommate, that’s because you were the shitty roommate.

This is obviously a very universal theme, a conflict that’s very easy for readers to identify with, which might seem like a safe bet for an author–after all, writing about what we all know is supposedly a shoo-in for a successful plot. In fact, this isn’t the case: editors and audiences alike often see so many of these universal-plot stories that they discard the piece without reading until the end.

Although this funny and eccentric story makes use of a very familiar modern dilemma, it does so in a way that is far from routine. The problem may be easy to identify with, but the plot itself is fairly unique.

This story introduced me to the term “crusty,” which Urban Dictionary tells me is a term for a dreadlocked, neck-tattooed person with a minimalist approach to hygiene and a generally punk-rock/anti-establishment lifestyle and mentality.

The story has four main characters, three of which could be considered relatively crusty:

The stars of the story are Imogene and Misty, young women with dreadlocks and an affinity for beer and cigarettes, who are in the process of being evicted from their home thanks to the delinquency of their reclusive roommate D-Fly (a fellow crusty, but the junkie sort of crusty). Mr. D-Fly was supposed to pay their rent but instead used the money on heroin, we assume. Hence the eviction. There is another roommate named Zachary who seems a little more straight-laced and generally more responsible than his peers.

Here is how the story begins:

“D-FLY! YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!” she shouted, banging on D-Fly’s door. D-Fly’s dogs started barking. Imogene tried the doorknob. The dogs began jumping onto the door.

“I’M GOING TO BUST YOUR FUCKING DOOR DOWN!” Imogene looked at Misty, who was still in the kitchen. “Mist, get the sledgehammer!”

Yes, the two main characters attempt to resolve their roommate dispute by sledgehammering his door. The scene is funny and chaotic and tells us what we need to know about these characters and their low-diplomacy household. Most importantly, this scene goes just long enough to be thoroughly entertaining and character-developing without going too far, without becoming overkill. Too much chaos, too much yelling and frantic activity and swearing can kill a scene as quickly as too little activity. This story doesn’t prioritize subtlety, but the author clearly knows when to wrap up a scene and take us to the next important moment. Overall, this piece is one continuous, real-time narrative, but its quick cuts (transporting characters to their next important move, eliminating unnecessary action) are applied judiciously throughout. This story is a work of organized chaos.

Speaking of which, there are two playful dogs in this story: Buster and Trick. There is no better way to amplify a frenzied scene than to throw in a couple excitable dogs and have them running around and barking and licking characters’ faces. Sledgehammering a roommate’s door is one thing, but having large animals around the house while you’re doing it ups the crazy–and the humor–in a big way. If you don’t believe me, this probably means you don’t have a dog of your own.

The dogs may be peripheral characters, but they add a lot to the overall atmosphere of each scene.

Point-of-view-wise, we remain exterior to our characters–no internal thoughts are described, and there’s little to no close POV work (we may get a brief glimpse of something from a character’s vantage point, as in the concluding image, but that’s about it). For a third-person story, total exteriority is a risk, as it puts the burden of character development on the dialogue, setting, and physical actions of the characters. Given that challenge, the author makes tremendous use of elements like violence, characters’ diction (e.g. prolific cussing) and scenic details (D-fly’s room is littered with drug paraphernalia and there’s a puddle of vomit on his floor; the yard is riddled with beer cans) to convey the messy, chaotic, don’t-give-a-fuck attitude of these characters. In fact, if we were to pluck the characters right out of the story, the general squalor of the house would tell us exactly what we need to know about them.

For some reason, I imagine this story takes place in Seattle. Or Portland, maybe Portland.

Go check out this fun, messy, fast-paced story.

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