In narrative journalism, some storylines appear again and again. This week’s Notable Narrative is not one of them.
Tampa Bay Times reporter Will Hobson introduces us to a Vietnam veteran’s 300-pound emotional support pig and the neighborhood feud it triggered. The setting is Bay Ranch Mobile Home Park in Largo, Fla., but aspects of the dispute will be familiar to anyone who has suffered the wrath of a homeowners’ association:
[Bernie] Lodico lives in Lot 347. Homeowners association president Malcolm Deane lives in Lot 345. Soon after Lodico moved in, Deane started getting complaints.
Lodico parked his truck in front of his unit overnight, full of scrap metal (breaking Bay Ranch Prospectus rules 8 and 11). His back yard was a mess (rule 8). His dogs barked all night (rule 19). He painted his home a pastiche of red, yellow, purple, blue and green (rule 18).
Lodico’s problems, however, go beyond association rules. He freely admits to threatening Deane, whom he holds responsible for the move to evict him. And he may have exposed himself – or not.
Both men seem to be trying to spin the story, and each offers facts that are disputed. Is the pig even still alive? Did Lodico kill it? Hobson does his best to chase down the verifiable bits. Here, he follows up on the accusation that Deane has lied about his day job:
When asked what he did for a living, Deane said, “That’s classified.” According to Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda, Deane is a breath test operator. “It is not, to my knowledge, a classified position,” she said.
Hobson lets humor rule the surface of his narrative, even as he tags the serious and complex issues at the heart of it. If Lodico is mentally ill, where can people like him live? If pigs comfort him, should he be allowed to have a 300-pound pet? Should neighbors try to accommodate behavior that veers from eccentric into disturbing? In a 1,300-word feature, Hobson can only go so deep, but he wisely refuses to reduce the account to something simple or sentimental.
The last sentence of the piece delivers a startling resolution – sort of – to the question of the pig. But to his credit, Hobson doesn’t pretend that this story is ever likely to have a tidy, heartwarming conclusion.