‘Landladies’ by Langston Hughes

Hughes, Langston 1950a

Landladies by Langston Hughes, 1950

The magic trick:

Closing the story with a joke that calls back to other loose threads of the plot 

Many of these Simple stories end on a punchline. It’s not really O. Henry-style irony. More of a pure joke. It’s a very odd comparison, but I liken it to the silly one-liners that would end Sherman and Peabody adventures. That probably just did a tremendous disservice to Langston Hughes, but I mean it as a compliment, honest.

It’s got more of a modern sitcom feel to it. There isn’t really any resolution to the problem. There isn’t any redemption. Don’t read these stories for that stuff. Just enjoy the scene, the language and the humor. And that’s quite a trick on Hughes’s part.

The selection:

Just like a man can get along in this world alone. But it were part Zarita’s fault talking so loud. Anyhow when I saw all them signs I got madder than I had ever been before, and I tore them all down.

“Landladies must think roomers is uncivilized and don’t know how to behave themselves. Well, I do. I was also raised in a decent home. My mama made us respect our home. And I have never been known yet to wash my socks in no face bowl. So I tore them signs down.

“The next evening when I come in from work, before I even hit the steps, the landlady yells from the parlor, `Third Floor Rear?’

“I said, `Yes, this is the Third Floor Rear.’

“She says, `Does you know who tore my signs down in the bathroom and in the hall? Also your room?’

“I said, `I tore your signs down, madam. I have been looking at them signs for three months, so I know `em heart.’

“She says, `You will put them back, or else move.’

“I said, `I not only tore them signs down, I also tore them up!

“She says, `When you have paid me my rent, you move.’

“I said, `I will move now.’

“She said, `You will not take your trunk now.’

“I said, `What’s to keep me?’

“She said, `Your room door is locked.’

“I said, `Lady, I got a date tonight. I got to get in to change my clothes.’

“She says, `You’ll get in when you pay your rent.’

“So I had to take the money for my date that night-that I was intending to take out Joyce-and pay up my room rent. The next week I didn’t have enough to move, so I am still there.”

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