(Wow, this is turning in the War & Peace of moving stories.)
I met the movers outside. I had hired four and, as noted, two had arrived. Where were the other two? The two guys with me didn't know, and neither did the guy who runs the service, Sal. Sal, by the way, sounded pissed.
One of the movers was Ray, a fairly wiry Latino guy in his mid-20s, and the other one was a good deal older, a very good deal heavier, white and sounded like a tres-butch Harvey Fierstein. It didn't exactly fill me with confidence that the first thing Harvey (not his real name) did was light up a cigarette.
Harvey was peeved that the other two weren't here yet, but felt confident that this move would be a piece of cake. After all, they were simply to move the boxes into the truck, not unpack them on the other end. How tough could it be?
We examined the the interior of the truck. The first thing I noticed, after how large and empty it looked (maybe I should have gotten the 14 footer after all?), was that the blankets I had rented from U-Haul weren't there. God dammit! Now everything would get scratched.
I didn't know what to do! My car was parked at U-Haul, so I would have to drive the mother f-in TRUCK the entire way there, and back, just to get the blankets. In the meantime the other two guys could show up and then they would be getting paid to wait. I talked to Harvey about it.
"How much you got?" he wheezed, in between puffs. I explained that though we had many boxes and bags we only had three or four real pieces of actual, meaningful furniture. Two old walnut dressers and a night table that I had inherited from my grandmother, by way of my sister, our dining room table and that was it.
"Okay, okay," he rasped, "no problem. That's nothing! You don't even NEED the blankets for that little. We'll make sure of it."
I was confident if he was, almost, and decided to let the move commence sans blankets.
Harvey and Ray moved a few boxes, a few bags, but nothing heavy for the next 20 minutes. Harvey explained that they really couldn't do too much because they lacked the heavy straps that are required for fastening heavy boxes to your back. He almost said it accusingly, as if I was supposed to have the straps. "Don't you have anything like that?" he growled, shaking his head as I answered that I did not.
Finally my phone rang again and it was the other two guys. They were somewhere in the vicinity, I was told, and would be there soonish.
Finally about 10 minutes later the other two guys showed up, with a backpack that contained the much-desired straps. These two guys also had all the paperwork for me to sign, and the rest. On every move there is one guy who is basically foreman, and runs the show. This guy was Phil, a very professional black man in his mid-40s, who went over everything with me thoroughly. Very professional, that is, for a guy who was almost an hour late, but I digress.
Soon all four were sweating and moving large boxes down our stairs. Almost immediately Harvey began to caterwaul and explained to Phil that his back was still recovering (from something), so he'd have to sit this one out. Phil didn't seem bothered by this in the least. So Harvey, rather agilely, climbed up into the truck and started to sort out where all the boxes should go for maximum efficiency. In this way moving is sort of like Tetris, or Jenga.
After about another 20 minutes I asked the guys if I could go to the local deli to get anything for them. Ray, without missing a beat, told me that it would be really cool if I bought him a sandwich. Okay, I answered, I meant something more along the lines of Gatorade. He was disappointed, but somehow dealt with it.
So I went a couple of blocks over and got a multi-hued variety of sports beverages for the guys. (Each and every color somehow looked like you could use it for radiator fluid.) When I returned they gratefully grabbed for them, and downed them. Even Ray.
Phil walked up to me not long after the real moving had commenced, with a quizzical look.
"Had I moved you before?" he asked. I couldn't remember. We had now used these guys three times over the span of two years. I did remember a few of the movers--including the superman who somehow moved one of my heavy, heavy dressers all by himself--but I was not sure about him.
Then he started to carry a box of our books.
"Okay, now I remember you," he said. "Dave has the books." What he meant by this is not that we have so many books, we don't. But that I always make the mistake of packing way too many books per box, and they always rip the box as these guys try to carry them. I felt really bad about this, and vowed next time I would buy the special boxes that are used to transport books. They're small, basically. I think I also made that same pledge the last time we moved.
What can be said about the next few hours? As anyone who has ever been moved can attest it's a stressful situation, even if you're not carrying the actual boxes. For starters the place always looks like total shit. Once everything gets moved dust bunnies the size of hedgehogs become rapidly apparent. And you find everything you had forgotten you had dropped on the floor. Sometimes, by the way, it's better that some of this stuff stay lost. Change, change and more change is also to be found, making your floor resemble the bottom of a fountain. In addition huge swaths of dust will surely be wherever there had been a rug, even if you had just cleaned under there last week. If you own pets, as we do, tumbleweeds of pet hair will roll down your hallway, now freed from their place under the chair or couch. In short it's gross.
I went around sweeping where I could, while also doing my best to stay out of their way, as their time was my money.
In truth I felt bad, having these guys do my work for me. The screwed up part is that I feel it is, all this time later, still my work. Why should I feel bad, I paid these guys to carry this stuff? But I did, I just did. Moving sucks, that's for sure, but it sucks much worse for them.
About three hours after the move was supposed to begin the apartment was mostly empty and the truck was mostly full. (Glad I got the big one after all!) There was just one thing left, the cats! They had sat in their extra large kennel for the entire move, complaining for every minute of it. Now it was time to load them into the cabin of the truck. I asked Ray if he could help me with it, as the crate was simply too large for me to do by myself. He was kind of surprised but said sure, and together we carried the meowing plastic box down two flights of stairs, down part of the street and into the front seat of the moving truck. The food spilled, their litter spilled and their water spilled too, but we did the best we could. They too would have to deal.
Now there was just one last detail, Harvey said.
"Do you have any rope, or anything like it?" Rope, huh? No one told me we'd need it. No, you need it, he croaked, because that's how he's going to secure all our belongings in the truck so they don't slide around during the long drive to Kentucky. Without it all our things will shift around and get crushed.
Oh shit, rope? Where in the frak do you get rope on last minute's notice? I had an idea, a hope really, but not much more than that. Maybe the local five and dime store? You know, the one that has off-brands of everything, sends faxes, has copies for five cents and is somehow also a pharmacy and notary? That one?
I had no other options so I ran the four blocks to see if our local everything store indeed had everything. It killed me to pay these guys to literally sit around as I did this, but there was no other choice.
The trip there took about eight minutes. I ran in, breathless: "Do you have rope?"
Amazingly, they did! It was in the back of the store near cookware, a rack of discount sponges and the copy machine. I picked up two bags of it, yes the rope came in bags, and ran back.
As I returned I listened to Harvey conclude a lecture to Ray about how screwed up it is to be a mover. "There's no future in it," he said, "and all you end up with is a messed up back. No future."
I didn't want to interrupt but since I did have the rope I thought I should. Harvey shrugged and walked me back to the truck. Once there he asked if I had a knife. (Somehow I thought one of these guys would.)
Aha, I did! In fact in the tool chest--thankfully packed near the tailgate of the truck--was my old trusty lock blade, purchased in Thailand in 1999.
Sounded good to him. He took the knife opened the blade, locked it of course, and then tried to cut a length of rope. Tried is the operative word here, because my knife couldn't actually cut jack shit. I mean it couldn't even have cut butter. It was so dull and crappy, why did I hang onto it for 11 years? These are the sort of questions moving makes you ask yourself, over and over.
Suddenly Harvey had an inspiration, a smoker's inspiration. He grabbed his lighter, lit it, and placed the flame under the synthetic rope. In a few moments the braids became twisty, melty and then ultimately were snapped. Voila! In turned out he only needed about ten feet of rope. Now, though, I was the proud owner of about forty feet. I guess I would save the rest, for god knows what.
As Harvey tied everything down Phil went over the cost of the move with me. At $115 an hour I would have to pay them $350, factoring in their time to get here (only movers get paid before they start a job) and all the rest. I thought this was pretty high, considering that two of these guys, including him, were an hour late. I said I needed to call Sal. This was greeted with dismay by all of them, especially Harvey, who had just returned from the truck.
"You can cal Sal, but it won't do anything," he said. "Hey, look, we don't even do jobs that are under three hours, it's not worth our time!"
Really? This was news to me, considering that I had originally hired them for two hours, terms agreed upon by Sal.
Despite Harvey's derision I called Sal anyway. Once on the phone I explained how I felt I was being overcharged, because the guys were late. Now when you factor in the hourly rate, versus how much time they were not there, I figure it comes to ...
Sal cut me off. "I don't do the numbers! What you say, $50 bucks?"
Okay, $50 bucks. Did I still get ripped off? Probably, but the clock was ticking once again and I needed to get to what's next.
The move now was officially done, and I signed all the papers Phil wanted me to sign. Then I tipped them $80, which I thought was fair. Harvey took the money, but looked at me like I had just put his cigarette out in his beer. The other guys also took it without much emotion one way or the other. Ah well. Soon enough they all departed, back onto the subway and another job moving other people's stuff.
It was time for one last look through the apartment. After this was done I would have to go. I wouldn't see this apartment again for a long time, if ever, maybe. We had found subletters, so maybe we could return down the line, but it truly did feel like goodbye. We'd had some hard times here, for sure, but some very good ones too; wonderful parties with friends new and old, festive holiday meals, bright winter mornings where we looked out our window to see snow. It was a life.
Now the apartment was truly empty. The closets were bereft, Stella's room was depressingly barren, our bedroom looked like no one had lived there, ever.
I went downstairs, into the living room, empty, our big closet, empty. The kitchen. I checked every cabinet and they were all empty ... except for two. And these had all our pots and pans in them, crap!
Luckily I had a few garbage bags left. I loaded the forgotten cookware into them, and carried them downstairs and into the back of the truck, as they clanked and rattled. Then I spun through the combination on my 27 year old MasterLock (still works!) and opened the cargo hold. It was just about jam-packed, but there was still a small amount of room for one or two more filled garbage bags.
Then I locked up the back, refastened my lock and climbed into the cabin. Cromwell and Talisker took this occasion to give voice to their thorough disapproval regarding this entire arrangement. And one of them had already pooped in the litter-box. So, with a heart half-full of regret, out roughly $400 and smelling not exactly like a rose I started up the truck.
To be continued ...