Recall, if you will, the opening of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis:
When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. He was lying on his back as hard as armor plate, and when he lifted his head a little, he saw his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover, about to slide off completely, could barely cling. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes.
BERLIN (Reuters) – A 91-year-old German sparked a rescue operation when he slipped mending his roof and got stuck fast in tar “like a beetle on its back,” police said on Tuesday.
Passers-by were so shocked to see the elderly handyman working on the roof they first thought he was planning to commit suicide, according to police in the eastern city of Magdeburg.
“In fact he was just re-coating the roofing with bitumen. But then he slipped,” said a spokesman for police.
“When we got there, he was like a beetle on its back, with his arms and legs sprawled out and completely glued to the roof,” he added. “Due to his age, he couldn’t free himself from his unfortunate situation.”
Local firemen carefully detached the man using ropes and ladders. He was unharmed, but had sticky clothes, police said.
Lest you think I am callously amusing myself with the poor gentleman’s anguish, let me point out that my favorite line in The Metamorphosis is actually at the end of Chapter 1: Gregor’s father is chasing him violently back into the bedroom, through a too-narrow doorframe that crushes the edges of his beetling body, and the narrator informs us that “now this was really no joke anymore”—as if, up till this point, waking up to find himself transformed into a “monstrous vermin” had been quite a laugh. In fact, what I love about this line is how it marks its own moment of metamorphosis, the moment at which a tragic situation tempered with the comedy of the absurd—a man changed in his sleep to a giant bug, or, perhaps, a 91-year-old German man repairing his own roof—suddenly becomes a situation in which the absurdity is itself tragic. Thus the moment “this is really no joke anymore” is precisely the moment neither the character, nor we as readers, can free ourselves from the “unfortunate situation.”
Plus, nothing sucks more than being publicly humiliated and sticky to boot.