Last Sunday was moving day.
I should describe my new apartment before I explain what happened. My new place is in a building where I lived for the past two years in another unit. The building is excellent: renovated in 2008, no roaches, no bedbugs, laundry on premises, elevators, a guy who sits in the lobby for evening security, and a super who is highly attentive. The unit itself is, in the words of the super, “chulo” (sweet). Third floor, interesting and not-too-annoying layout, excellent amount of sky view. The tawny brick of the building and the brand new bamboo floors combine with the excellent amount of western and southern sunlight to reflect, giving the apartment’s interior pink and golden hues.
Let’s just keep that lovely image in mind as I describe how Sunday went down.
I showed up late to the storage space, having bangity-banged the empty UHaul over the drawbridge down from Riverdale later than I’d wanted. In the first hour, the list of my pledged moving helpers began to depopulate like n00bs dropping off a Second Life server during a 4chan griefing raid. Rob had mailed to say he was bowing out with one of the debilitating migraines he gets. Abby had been up all night after apparently throwing her neck out. Another friend would be out trying to recover from a nasty fight with his parents. A miscommunication with others left me with twenty minutes of a friend’s husband’s time. That left two more people to help — and it became apparent that somehow, when I had entered one of their phone numbers into my phone the night before, it hadn’t stuck. I sent a frantic email to Cameroon, where Ethan, the one person who was a mutual friend of the missing phone number, would be in the brief time window where he’d likely be online and able to help. Hail Mary.
Twenty minutes with Phil helping load a pallet, which was a blessing. Then Blair showed up — stalwart Blair, who had been through this routine with me before, with me swearing and crying as I tried to jam things into a too-small storage space, and who really didn’t owe me anything — and we got the truck mostly loaded.
We popped out for lunch at some point, lots of iced tea and huge burgers at the Piper’s Kilt. Blair is good for deep talk. She’d just been to her sister’s wedding shower, so we discussed the nature of Drama. She had a great anecdote about diffusing Drama at one point when she discovered her student account was $3000 unpaid; she approached a guy in Student Aid, who was so shocked when she did not yell at him that he held up a line of other angry students while someone else looked into her problem, and showed Blair a bunch of magic tricks in the interim. We agreed that in general, it is never worth it to yell at people, because it only makes everyone else more upset.
As we gathered the final pallet, my phone blinged. Ethan had reached Missingno, and Missingno was outside the storage space, with impeccable timing.
I’d call him Missingno, a Pokemon name — I’m going to avoid calling him by his first name, to protect him from further embarrassment — but no, let’s give him a name. Call him Irving. Big gunfighter Irving. Three fingers of two cents plain.
Irving is a furry. One of those guys who wears a mascot costume for fun, though he wasn’t wearing it on moving day, and he’s adamant that he’s not one of Those Furries who wear suits for sexual purposes. Let’s say he’s a fox furry, which he isn’t. He was raving on moving day about how foxes (attributed specific personalities as a fur-species) were overly-bubbly attention whores; so it would just drive him nuts to hear me say that. But he knows I owe him one, so we’ll say he’s a fox.
So like I said, Irv showed up just in time to see the truck off. We had three other destinations to pick up stuff, but for expediency’s sake I cut that to two. At Teachers College I discovered that I didn’t have the keys to the closet which held my stuff. So much for that stop.
The second one was on 79th street. We picked up successfully from the back door of the Apthorp; I stayed in the truck cab while Blair and Irving loaded the back. Then we rattled off to Riverside Drive.
Irving, by his own reluctant admission, likes to incongruously flash back to conversations you had hours ago, or even days ago, about something he found interesting, because he hates to let a good conversation go. Frequently, it is about obscure music. I forget if this particular stretch was where he went off about how useless Pitchfork Magazine was, or what he was planning to do next with chiptune, or whether we were just trying to find something decent on the radio. Regardless, I was focused on following Irving’s quantum leaps about music, struggling to find my way back to focusing on where and how I was driving.
Around about 81st Street there was a loud bang from the back gate of the truck. I asked Irving if they’d locked the back gate. He assured me they had.
Around about 95th Street, an SUV pulled alongside me, and the driver hollered that the back gate was open.
We have to go back, I said, helplessly. I’m sure the utility dolly fell out. God, I hope it wasn’t damaged, or they’re gonna fine me.
Irving went into a recursive state of wince. I thought I locked it, he said, softly.
I pulled over and ran frantically to the back of the truck. The first layer of stuff back from the door was gone. The lock was locked perfectly; the big mechanical lever had just never been engaged to hold the door down.
In general, it is never worth it to yell at people, because it only makes everyone else more upset.
We retraced our path down Riverside Drive. Two books lay open on the road, flayed like hit pigeons. I left them; they were among the ones I’d retrieved from the library discards. Better they get out into the public; that’s where I wanted them anyway.
Irving kept trying to talk about music. He appeared to need some direction. WATCH FOR PEOPLE FLAGGING US DOWN, I told him.
And there they were — a couple of guys out in Riverside Drive at 81st Street, waving their arms.
Hey, Gillian, they said as I pulled up alongside them.
They were a couple of preppy-looking guys, short haircuts, polo shirts, Upper West Side standard. A cart of golf clubs stood by what I realized was a pile of my stuff. Mercifully, they had cleared all of it out of the road.
A box of miscellaneous pots and kitchen stuff, the last things from my old apartment to be packed. Books everywhere, Martin Espada’s among them. It was a box or two of my absolute favorite poets that had exploded. Lots of poetry paperbacks, and a few of the disintegrating old TC library discards. Shattered glass from a gilded Mexican knick-knack display. The black kitchen console — a discard from an ex-boyfriend, but still beloved: everyone’s favorite furniture to move, as it had wheels! — had fallen out, its marble top with two broken corners, a few boxes of books still cradled safely in its center. The heavy utility dolly — no doubt the loudest source of the bang I heard — was fine, its malevolent orange bulk glowering from the wreckage.
The guys who’d cleaned up my stuff had been about to call 311. They seemed frightened for my safety, possibly angry I hadn’t come back sooner; ghoulishly pleased in calling me by my full name. Your paperwork was everywhere; we put it back in your file crate. (That fucking open plastic file crate, the one I swore up and down I would have gotten rid of by now, as it’s such a bitch to move.) We know you moved from 87 Cortland to Wadsworth. This stuff was an illegal immigrant’s wet dream, they admonished me.
How can I repay you? I asked; not something I ever ask; not something it seemed useful to ask. This was the Upper West Side; they were the ones with the golf clubs, and I was the one hauling my own valueless crap with the help of friends. They waved me off. I should at least have gotten their names. I think we were all a little bit in shock.
Irving and I gathered the loose books and other salvageables into the truck. We abandoned the broken kitchen console. I sent a message beginning “Catastrophe!” to Blair, who was headed up to the new place by subway. Then we set off.
Irving was quiet for a moment. Then: I don’t have many books, he said, but you can have your pick of mine. I even have the book from Matthew Barney’s The Cremaster Cycle.
I wouldn’t take that shit from you if you paid me, I laughed bitterly. Listen, the books we actually lost are library discards. I’d meant to get them to other homes anyway. All I really want from you right now is a little quiet. I’m likely to be really snappish if we keep talking.
Quiet for a while. Then: Do you have a favorite fine artist? asked Irving, quietly.
I’d have to think about that. What do you mean by fine art?
Yeah. I don’t know if I do either. I mean, I didn’t mean to say it was Matthew Barney. I was really into him for a while but (etc.)
Eventually we made it to the new place, where Blair was waiting. Moment of brilliance: one of the best parking spots in the neighborhood was open, kitty-corner from my building.
We started to unload. Did I mention there were no normal dollies available, and that’s why I had the utility dolly? I should have known, from not one but two prior experiences, that utility dollies only make everything worse; they weigh about fifty pounds on their own. I loaded it too heavy, and strained up the slight hill to my building, past the super’s cousin and a bunch of local elderly Dominicans out taking the sun.
¡Que fuerza, mamí! I hear. Like, So strong, mama!
It was not one of the elderly Dominicans. It was a guy in the back area of the neighboring building, in work clothes and a backwards orange baseball cap. I grunted acknowledgement, and struggled to get the back door of my building open around the overloaded utility dolly.
The guy in the orange hat kept shouting, as if wounded that I was continuing. He started to climb the fence separating the buildings — no small feat, considering the ground he was standing on was at least six feet below the level where I was, and the fence dividing the spaces was probably another eight feet, with poky wrought-iron parts on top. But he was determined. He got himself up on the spikes and began to topple into our yard, at which point even the super’s cousin, who couldn’t be arsed to help me, started to yell in concern. Such, apparently, is the force of machismo’s reaction to seeing a woman doing her own work.
Mamí, checkit out! he said. (More like “tsekhit out!”) He commandeered the dolly from me, ignoring my protests. Up close, I realized he was also probably Dominican, but had two-tone skin (being an enthusiast of spotted things and people, I recognized it as vitiligo, in what would have been a splash overo pattern on a horse); he also appeared to be drunk as a skunk, and it wasn’t later than 6 at that point.
What’s your name? I asked.
It sounded like he said “Wendy.” Later in the evening, I couldn’t get him to respond to this name, but like I said, he was drunk. He was also Dominican, so the name was not surprising in the slightest (don’t believe me? Go see In The Heights, whose main character’s name, Usnavi, is explained in a humorous anecdote around the second act twist).
Blair caught up with her load. We processed into the building. Wendy looked at me. You marido? he said, tentatively. I thought he was indicating Blair. No, I told him, she’s not my wife.
But that left me with the task of making it abundantly clear I am not single. The day was already stressful enough without having to fend off romantic overtures.
You babys? asked Wendy, so I said Yes. I have two babys. (It is pronounced babys. Shut up.)
Where you frong?
¡Ohhhh mai gaa! This was shocking to Wendy. You drive here?
Yes, I drove here from California.
Where you babys?
I’d painted myself into a corner: I had driven all the way here, and was apparently alone. The I’m-not-single argument just got even harder. (I should explain that “my boyfriend is in Africa for two years” did not feel like a solid enough defense.) Somehow all of this turned into a yarn about how I’m only here studying for a year, by myself, and I would go back to California and my babys at the end of the year. Yes, driving back. Again.
By this point in the conversation we’d dropped off a load in the new place and were back to the truck. Irving was abstractly moving the loose books in the truck from one stack to another, looking like he planned to carry them one by one into the apartment. STAY WITH THE TRUCK, I told him as he got underfoot, then realized he wasn’t listening. IRVING, STAY WITH THE TRUCK. Only utterances beginning with his first name appeared to be getting through, maybe because he was still shell-shocked from the Riverside Drive disaster. Or maybe not. He tried another few overtures about music as he clambered into the truck cab.
I felt a little bad, but not too much so. We really did need someone staying with the truck; when I’d gotten a parking ticket while moving two months ago, the cop explained she wouldn’t have issued it if there’d been someone in the car. And if Irving kept it up like a space cadet, he was likely to be more in the way than anything else.
You estudia? asked Wendy, looking at the books.
Sí, I said. Es como comprendo español, I said, poorly, running my hands over the loose books. Martín Espada and the poets he taught me, Marjorie Agosín, Jack Agueros, Pablo Neruda, bilingual editions from which I did in fact pick up some Spanish.
I had a flash of insight. Eso es mi marido, I said, indicating Irving. Il es completamente INUTIL. (A word I remembered thanks to In The Heights.) Irving’s my husband. He’s totally useless.
¡Ohh mai GA! ¡Mamí! chortled Wendy. That wasn’t exactly fair of me. Wendy started instructing Irving on loading and moving carts (once it got too late to leave another set of hands idle), practically slapping him away from them when he pulled instead of pushing. One particularly long session of drunken bellowing occurred when I snatched a cart away from Irving; Wendy insisted that Irving’s job was to help me. ¡Tsekhit out! he insisted, steering Irving’s trembling hands to the cart handle.
Wendy was getting progressively drunker and louder as night fell. He periodically excused himself to go work on chores for his building, mostly hauling trash. But he persisted in helping, and truth be told, we might have been there until midnight if it hadn’t been for him. He produced a large wheeled garbage cart, into which he put more stuff than we could have managed with the dolly and granny cart. ¡Mamí, tsekhit out!
It took a while for me to realize he was using the same cart for the trash and my stuff — meaning my stuff was marinating in recently-produced garbage fluids. Wendy was also toting some 32-ounce convenience store cup full of what smelled like beer, which slowed him down and also threatened spillage. He tossed the last of the loose books into the bottom of the bin, where they were small enough to get right into the crevices full of toxic leachate. Loaded up, he slammed the cart into the doorway, threatening the shape of a large lamp and gouging off the surface of the knuckle of his thumb. I protested. You need a bandaid! He waved this off, bleeding heavily and getting some on my boxes.
After stopping to harass every couple we passed on our way into the building at the top of his lungs, Wendy got the last cart up to my apartment. The lamp was less intact than it had been. As we dug out the clotted books, I noticed it wasn’t just Martín Espada; Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter and one or two Carolyn Chute books were also among them. Steinbeck, too. Something seemed right about that, or painfully sharp. I think all of them would have found something to their books being in the muck of a garbage tip because of Wendy’s haste to help a damsel in distress.
Inspired, I took it upon myself to enlighten Wendy. ¡Mira! I said, and started to read him, in halting Spanish, a poem of Martín’s which I thought would resonate with him. Jorge The Church Janitor Finally Quits.
No one asks
where I am from,
I must be
from the country of janitors,
I have always mopped this floor.
Honduras, you are a squatter’s camp
outside the city
of their understanding.
No one can speak
I host the fiesta
of the bathroom,
stirring the toilet
like a punchbowl.
The Spanish music of my name
is lost –
Ay, mamí, ayyyyyyy, mamí, groaned Wendy. I couldn’t tell if it was hitting home, whether that was because it was poignant to him or because he was really drunk, or whether he just found it grindingly boring to have some possibly lesbian, possibly lying, possibly single woman who’d imposed on his time and muscles for hours read poetry, of all things, to him. I tried to give him a copy of the book — I had two, anyway — but he waved it off. Ahorita, I think he said. Later.
We unloaded the stuff, he wandered off, and there was a moment of panic as I couldn’t find my keys. I gave them to you, right, Irving? Irving swore up and down I hadn’t. I looked all over the piles.
Then Wendy returned. ¡MAMÍ! he bellowed, looking as concerned as the guys who had found the moving truck wreckage splattered across Riverside Drive. He produced the keys, and was agitated enough to explain in a way which made absolutely no sense to my garbled translation powers. Maybe I’d handed them to him, maybe I dropped them. He impressed upon me as hard as he could that I needed to be more careful. Mamí, he said, mamí, one more time, for emphasis — tapping the keys to his temple through the orange cap — tsekhit OUT, mamí!
I gave Wendy all the cash I had in my wallet; just 22 bucks. I wish I’d had more to give him. I would no doubt have been in tears that evening, or eviscerated someone, probably Irving, had Wendy not been there to help.
(The next day, Wendy saw me while helping someone else move. He asked about the book.)
Irving and I jounced the empty, banging truck back to the Bronx around 11 p.m., getting lost in Marble Hill along the way. Irving explained that Marble Hill is legally a part of Manhattan probably because did I notice it was on a kind of a cliff that dropped off? And then at the bottom it was a flat marsh, well when they had to build the drawbridge they dynamited part of the hill which they were quarrying anyway and then filled in the flat part again so the bridge could connect and this was all Irving’s theory at least he didn’t know for sure that was right but that’s probably why it’s part of Manhattan and it’s kind of ritzy and did I know all the elected officials from the Bronx lived there? Real rich folks, NO I had not noticed the fancy houses, I was trying to figure out why this godforsaken one-way single-lane street appeared to be getting NARROWER making it difficult to DRIVE MY RENTAL TRUCK between the parked cars without SCRAPING IT and what the hell happened to Cartesian street grids if this was legally Manhattan and how the hell did I get so far from the UHaul lot?! Irving is not real big on the practical details of what is real right here in front of us.
But I needed to feed him, at least I felt obligated to, because he did help me move a cart or two and actually get rid of some furniture I didn’t really need anyway and which was kind of satisfying to lose out the back of a truck in a giant crash because it was a hand-me-down from an ex-boyfriend who was super materialistic and nesting at a time when I wasn’t and that’s why I broke up with him.
So I found myself hiking through the Bronx close to midnight from the UHaul place with Irving, the tops of my thighs so beyond sweaty after a 90 degree day of moving that they felt like they had been badly super-glued together and then torn apart again in a crippling case of what I think my roommate Katie called “chub rub.”
Fortunately, because of same materialistic ex-boyfriend, who lived in that neighborhood, I knew exactly where we should go, and it wasn’t far. It was an unironic tiki-lounge-looking place under the subway, called Land And Sea.
Irving was quiet for a second when we walked in the door, taking in the glitter-cottage-cheese ceiling, 70s-modern-leftover decor, and lobster tanks where one of the inhabitants was standing on its tail, appearing to give us a Bronx salute with its claw.
Then he blurted out: This place is either going to be completely awesome, or it’s going to give me food poisoning.
The appetizer portion of the menu, though, was stocked with things which looked like they’d likely been frozen and then deep-fried, so Irving judged that anything lethal had probably been killed off. One of said items was Philly cheesesteak spring rolls. Which we had to order, natch. Along with disco fries and fried plantains.
The cheesesteak rolls arrived, with both cheese and Asian-style dipping sauces. They were served on triangular plates. I commented on how incongruously up-to-date the plates were.
It’s postmodern. Like breakcore, Irving said. He then proceeded to lay a perfectly brilliant analogy out on the diner table:
Breakcore music consisted of samples from various musical styles, which its proponents eventually didn’t have to go out and seek themselves, and learn where they came from. Likewise, there was probably a catalog out there of the newest latest restaurant gear — and arch fusions like Philly cheesesteak spring rolls — from which any restaurateur could pick and choose wholesale, without ever considering the original context of those plates.
And my head, too, is off in space enough that somehow, despite his complete and utter ineffectuality with things like boxes and driving, Irving sutured up the whole broken day just by putting that together in a shitty/awesome unknown restaurant in the Bronx.
Next time, though, I’ll hire movers. And I won’t send a fox to do a spotted drunkard’s job.