The Subtenant

I realize now that taking him on as my subtenant was not the wisest decision I ever made, setting aside my dating life, which could properly and without exaggeration be characterized as a decade-long disgrace. It’s not that I suffered lasting damage to my apartment or my body. But I now have a certain image burned onto my memory that I wish I’d never acquired. Live and learn, my father would say. If he were still alive. My father was an idiot.

It’s been a bit more than three years now since Satan first sent me an e-mail response to my Craigslist posting. Alarms should have gone off in my puny brain. I mean, who has an e-mail address like Redboy? AOL? But I hadn’t had much luck with the ad, and I was kind of low on money since losing my paralegal job when the law firm downsized as the economy went down the shithole. I had some savings and picked up a little work here and there from this solo practitioner in Westwood, so I wasn’t starving. But I needed an additional revenue flow, like right now.

When he showed up to look at my spare room and the pretty large bathroom that I was willing to share, I should have slammed the door on him the moment my brain fully comprehended what my eyes perceived. He was so pathetic, standing there on my WELCOME! mat, one large, raggedy suitcase resting by his cloven hooves, pointy tail drooping like a limp dick, horns dull and worn down to nubs. Sad. Contemptible. Wretched. But I guess that’s why I let him in. He was in worse shape than I was.

So I showed Satan the spare bedroom, which he liked, made him smile just a bit. And when he saw the bathroom with its original pink-and-green midcentury tile and immaculate porcelain tub (all in mint condition, I might add), it was as if he were a little boy on Christmas day opening up the largest package under the tree. I have to admit my apartment is pretty great, which is why I’ve been here going on ten years now. Anyway, he yelped, I’ll take it! It’s perfect! Don’t you want to see the kitchen? I asked. Nope, no need, he smiled. It’s exactly what I need!

He could see that I hesitated so he pulled out a wad of hundreds (from I don’t know where since he wasn’t wearing any pants over his goat legs) and counted out the first and last months’ rent and the security deposit. I was going to ask him how he knew the amount but I realized that was a stupid question. He held the money before me, fanning my face with the crisp bills. My mouth started to water. What to do? What to do? Well, I grabbed the money, shook his hand, and said: Welcome, roommate! Great! he exclaimed. Let me grab my stuff from the car. Car? He clipclopped on the hardwood floors to the front door, doing a little dance as he went, and I suddenly realized that his hooves hadn’t made any noise that I can remember when I was showing him the apartment. Now they were loud and scratching up the floor. I wondered if I were screwed. Well, I was. Fucked up the ass by Satan himself. Not literally of course. But it hurt just the same.

I followed Satan to the door and watched as he clip-clopped down the brick walkway to the sidewalk. I looked to the left and then the right of my four-unit apartment building just in case any of the other tenants were watching from their doors, but no one was around. I turned back to Satan as he walked up to an ancient, cream-colored Ford Falcon with a big, faded McCain/Palin sticker that seemed to be the only thing keeping a battered chrome bumper attached to the car. That tiny Falcon was filled to the gills with all of his crap. There was even a futon rolled up in there. When he got the car door open, he turned and gave me this sad little boy look: Will you help? his eyes said. Sigh. I’m a sucker for sad eyes. I helped unload his shit. When it was all set up in his room, Satan turned to me, grinned, opened his arms wide, and said, Bring it in, brah! Brah? Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck. Me. I brought it in and fell into Satan’s musky embrace.

That first night, Satan made his allegedly famous spaghetti from things I already had in the kitchen. He also threw together a nice little cucumber and tomato salad, uncorked a bottle of Chianti. It was actually kind of nice, eating with someone instead of sitting in front of my laptop watching 30 Rock reruns on Hulu and wolfing down some kind of crap sandwich. And Satan had some pretty funny stories. He could really set a scene, man. I give him that. He eventually told me how he ended up in his private pool of shit juice, to use his words. Seems he had been heavily invested in the stock market before the crash of ’08. He also had a lousy adjustable rate thirty-year mortgage on his house in Encino. Well, you know the story, Satan said as he leaned back and took a sip of wine. A lot of poor folks ended up the way I did. Lost everything. The house, furniture . . . even my Mercedes-Benz S600 . . . oh, man, that was a sweet ride! Then he leaned forward, sticking his little goatee almost into what was left of my spaghetti. But I’m coming back, he whispered. People don’t realize it because people are generally stupid, but the market is the place to be because you can only go up, right? The Dow will break fourteen thousand again, I promise you.

At this point in the conversation I got a little scared. I mean, he was talking crazy shit. He had that look in his eyes just like my dad when he came up with his insane schemes to make money. And where did it lead him? Broken-hearted, poor, and dead, that’s where. But I listened to Satan spin his tales of future riches and actually hoped things would turn around for him.

Anyway, that was the last meal he cooked for me. From then on, it was roommate hell. Literally, I guess.

TRANSGRESSION #1: I have—or should I say, had—a top-of-the line, old school Denon turntable that I paid dearly for in 2003 to play my pretty impressive collection of blues records. A collection that would make your head spin on its axis. Mississippi Fred McDowell. Lightin’ Hopkins. Elmore James. Otis Rush. Robert Lowery. You know, real blues. Heartbreaking lyrics. Jammin’ rhythm piano. Major key tonality. Sexy slide guitars. Raspy, mean-ass harmonicas. None of that commercial imitation claptrap. A collection that I’d been creating since I was in high school when my friends were listening to shit like the Foo Fighters, Oasis, and Collective Soul.

So one afternoon I get back from meeting with that solo practitioner to get a couple of research jobs and I hear “Everyday I Have the Blues” from one of my all-time favorite albums, Otis Rush—Live at Montreux 1986. Performing with Eric Clapton and the great Luther Allison doing vocals. Eddie Lusk on keyboard. I mean, what the hell? When I get into the apartment, I can’t believe the scene: my albums are scattered all over floor, black vinyl everywhere. The Devil is on the couch humping this cheap-ass, meth-head skank who is moaning and screaming in beat with Rush’s electric guitar licks. Empty Samuel Adams bottles everywhere. A bong the size of my forearm on the coffee table. The room stank of mota, sex, and beer mixed in with a whiff of ass. When the Devil realized I was standing there, he looked up, lost the gross grin, and mouthed: Oops!

TRANSGRESSION #2: He would steal my Honey Nut Cheerios, one bowl at a time, every other day. But what really pissed me off was that he denied it when I confronted him. Honey Nut Cheerios? he asked. Me? I hate the stuff. Too sweet. I have to be careful because diabetes runs in my family. Me, I’m a Raisin Bran man myself.

TRANSGRESSION #3: The last straw, as they say, involved my mother. Okay, don’t start cringing. It’s nothing like that. The Devil did not molest my mother. Sadly, it was the other way around. Mom came by to drop off some mail that had ended up at her place for some odd reason even though I hadn’t lived with her for so many years. But when she handed it to me, it was mostly junk mail. So I realized that she just wanted to see the roommate I had been complaining about for months. The Devil was sitting in my favorite (and only) recliner, reading the Wall Street Journal, one hairy goat leg crossed over the other, cup of French roast on the lamp table to his left. I have to admit, he was getting his shit together. Better groomed. Doing crunches each night so that his paunch had been replaced by a bit more definition in his abs. Even his horns were looking sharper. And of course, the moment Mom set eyes on him I knew what was going to be in her future. Ever since Dad died, Mom slept with anything that had a dick and at least one ball. I sighed, went into the kitchen to get her a Diet Coke. And when I came back, I saw them: Mom was on her knees sucking off the Devil, the Devil’s eyes were closed, his head back, enjoying it. Then he opened his eyes and mouthed: Oops!

So, you see, my brain is now permanently scarred. It’s been two months since the Devil finally left, three full fucking years as my roommate. He made a killing in the market . . . he was right about that Dow Jones. Bought a huge place in Malibu off of Pacific Coast Highway, right on the beach, not far from his cousin, La Diabla. But I finally got rehired by my old law firm so I don’t need to sublet the extra room anymore. The economy is picking up. Obama won a second term. Monthly job reports looking steady if not on fire. Things are improving, no doubt. But I do believe that I will be haunted, forever, by that one bad decision.

My advice: never, never, never sublet to the Devil. You will live to regret it. I promise you. End of story.

Daniel A. Olivas is the author of seven books, including The Book of Want: A Novel and Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews. He earned his degree in English literature from Stanford University, and law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. Since 1990, Olivas has practiced law with the California Department of Justice. A second-generation Angeleno, he makes his home in Los Angeles with his wife.

From The King of Lighting Fixtures by Daniel A. Olivas. Reprinted with permission from The University of Arizona Press.

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