Non-fiction: Sublet


I called my mother on Mother’s Day, and, among other things, told her about my new place.

“Hey, I wanted to let you know, I have a new address now.”

“Oh, did you guys [she meant my friend Libbie and I] find a new place?”

“Well, I moved into a sublet for the summer.”

“What’s a sublet?”

And in that moment, I saw my mother as the luckiest person in the world.

A sublet, in case this horrible phenomenon has never been visited upon you, is an agreement wherein you live out someone else’ lease, paying a portion of their rent so they can do something more cool than you can imagine without the legal hassle of breaking said lease.

That is, in layman’s terms, the basic legal premise. In practical application, though, a sublet is a shithole the person who is leaving can’t wait to unload on some unsuspecting schmuck. And said schmuck is clearly in no position to bargain for a better life, because he is the kind of hapless Joe with nowhere to go come May.

Here are the kinds of questions I’ve learned too late to ask about a potential new residence:

Are all of the residents members of the phylum chordata? (Y’all have bugs?)

And, if so, are none of them members of the order chiroptera? (Y’all have bats?)

Are all of the residents living and not undead or otherwise supernatural? (Y’all have ghosts?)

Does the house come equipped with alimentary delivery aids? (Y’all have silverware?)

Is there wireless delivery of cat videos and work emails? (Y’all have wifi?)

Have any of the prospective subletters appeared to be under the influence of opioid narcotics? (Y’all have junkies?)

Are any of the fully living non-chiropterate chordates in the household brave former service men or women, whom we so dearly appreciate, who may not yet have fully adjusted to civilian life? (Y’all have drill sergeants?)

I encourage you to ask all of these questions and more should you ever find yourself in the terrible position of getting a sublet.


I was going to move out the Saturday before Liddie’s lease was up, which was also the day she was graduating from college. Also, her mother was coming to town that weekend, so basically it was all going to be really perfect and shit. But then things were, um, “strained” between Liddie and her mother, and when we had all had a bit to drink with dinner…well, let’s say I spent a very nice night with Jack-Santana and we all agreed that I would move the following day.

I arrived back at Liddie’s on Sunday around noon, and soon our collective brawn had gathered my meager belongings into the backseat of Bruce’s car. I hugged Liddie a bunch and thanked them both for everything in that oblique hipster way that really means I really can’t use words ‘cos I kind of owe you my life and shit, and then Bruce drove me the fourteen blocks or so to the other end of the same avenue.

Aaaand that’s when I got right back in the car with Bruce when he said that he and Liddie were going to do some day drinking. I know you’re not supposed to walk in the same direction after you’ve said goodbye or whatever, but when pitted between inspecting the very navel of abject misery or drinking with your friends, you drink with your friends.

It was a slow rolling day of bong rips and vodka drinks. Liddie muddled strawberries and we got key limes, and we sat on the plywood windowsill in the kitchen, talking about childhood and feminism. It got late, and Liddie made something fantastic for dinner, and then Bruce, so sweetly, once again drove me fourteen blocks south.

And that’s when I would never be happy again, the end!

“Do you know what happened to the small trashcan in the bathroom?”

Jesus Christ, bro, I literally just got here.

“Uh, no.”

“Ok. Ok. You’re Schlomo?”


He was pacing in such a way that blocked not one but two possible exits.

“And you don’t know what happened to the small trash can in the bathroom? And my towel, the little white towel? Did you get my email about the small trash can in the bathroom and my small white towel?”

“I did.”

“Because the small trash can and my white towel need to be put back. The trash can is for us all to dispose of our bathroom trash.”


As one might imagine…

“So you moved in today?”

“I did.”

“Because Martin told me you were moving in on the first.” (Martin was the seemingly good-natured doofus with the pre-adolescent haircut from whom I had sublet the room.)

“Well, you know, I didn’t want to move in the middle of the week, so I moved on the weekend.”

It was like the dullest exercise in a foreign language textbook.

“Ah-ha, ok. And what do you do?” His pacing was gaining in eccentricity, and I mean that in every way I can possibly mean it.

“I work for a corporate research firm.”

“And what do you do?”

“I research corporations.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been known to enjoy a little deadpan at the expense of the willfully obtuse.

“Ah-ha, ok. And the little white towel?..”


Every interaction with Sergeant Dilko was going to be like this. He was a throbbing mass of nervous energy, but he flipped it back around into intimidating other people. It was like if that guy who hit on the lady cop in Fargo was repressing a Nam flashback right in front of you.

I really tried to have sympathy when he sent out an email about some things he was “a little OCD” about. Because when a person like that says they’re “a little OCD,” what they really mean is “if it were socially acceptable to do so at my age, I would use a compartmentalized plastic plate.” I had a pretty wicked case of OCD as a teenager (yes, the kind I went to a doctor for), and I know how stressful it can be for your living situation to change a lot all at once.

But he lost me at the sign over the toilet that read “Please be GENTLE when putting down the toilet seat!!!!!” With five exclamation points. Because loud noises are perfectly acceptable as long as they’re the voices inside your head tallying imagined slights committed by your roommates. And here’s the thing – it’s not like we had some industrial metal or wooden toilet seat. It’s was of those one-ounce molded plastic dealies that would hardly even make a sound if you were, say, beating a deranged roommate with it. The toilet seat had to be closed, by the way, so that the can of air freshener, which had to be on the back of the toilet and not on any of the flat surfaces in the bathroom, did not inadvertently fall into the toilet. All of this was detailed in a house-wide email.

‘It’s cheap,’ I told myself, ‘it’s clean, and I only have to be here for four months.’

And that, mom, is a sublet.

Except the clean thing. That part was just dumb luck.

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