Man with Van: Part I

The movers are late.  After half an hour I call, giving faux casual concern when I ask if they have someone gotten lost in the Manhattan maze.  “This is Raul’s brother,” a man says, “We’ll be there soon.  No problem, lady.”  His casual demeanor is even more casual than my own – the interactive equivalent of a puff off of a joint.  Words luxuriating in the air like dank smoke.  I hang up the phone, processing the lack of apology and the feeling that I will be working for these two today, and not the other way around.

My search for a mover began just two days previous.  Living in New York City, you get this perverse notion that everything you need can and will be provided for you immediately, whenever you want it.  Sandwiches, coffee, you name it.  For whatever reason, mostly lazy complacency, I placed movers into that same category.

A Craiglist query led me to a long list of “Man with Van” search results.  The phrase was alien to me until I moved here; my first experience being a late night, overpriced trip from Park Slope to Chinatown, where I chatted obnoxiously to a man who barely spoke English to mask the terror knowing I was driving across the Williamsburg Bridge at 10 p.m. with a complete – albeit hired – stranger.  Neither the sofa I was carting nor I, myself, were chopped into convenient pieces.  Crisis averted.

The minutes dragged on slowly.  Every second longer I had to stay at that apartment meant another half of Tums I would have to ingest on account of the not-so-latent anxiety that I would have to encounter my roommate one more time.  Over the last two months, I had become incredibly adept at sensing when she had left the building, mostly indicated by the rapid decrease of my own blood pressure.

Cars pass outside my window, honking and angry the way they always are.  The fire truck in the station adjacent to my building comes in and out multiple times.  I scan the clusterfuck street from hell for the clean maroon cargo van displayed in the advertisement.

Flat rate.  Reliable.  Man with Van.  347-555-5555.

The photograph below the advert was obviously a stock photograph, but one that I assumed was chosen based on the car that they actually owned.  Using an image of a van just to further point out that you provided one in said service seemed so unnecessary that I didn’t even consider it as an option.  That was until about 11 a.m., at which point I established that I am a naïve little idiot.

A white, rust-eaten van pulls outside of my building.  The anterior walls are marred with claw-like scratches and cigarette smoke pours out of the open windows.  It might have been new in 1995, but I could easily be off by a decade.  Please don’t be them.  Please don’t be them.  Please don’t be them. I chant to myself in vain, knowing deep in my gut that this is most certainly Raul and I have most certainly been duped.  The man in the passenger seat scans the building for a number and, upon finding the one above my door, hops out.  Mother fuck.  My doorbell rings.  Mother fuck fuck fuck.

I open my door to the hallway, watching a short man in a gray wife-beater tank and shorts near his ankles walk towards me.  I brace myself for the ever-real possibility that each Craiglist experience can lead to death, which I’m sure it says on their website in a disclaimer written in Size 7 Helvetica.

The man is Raul’s brother – the casual puff of smoke I mentioned from the phone half an hour earlier.  He tells me his name but I immediately forget it, mostly because my Fight or Flight instincts obliterate useless senses like hearing and comprehension.  I hold my keys in my hand in preparation for turning my fist into a Wolverine-like weapon where I gouge this dude’s eyes out or break my hand in the process.

He surveys the living room with my stacked boxes and few bulky items, their size and number seeming larger than in actuality, its contents threatening to eat the room whole.  I blame this on my soon-to-be-ex-roommate’s hulking seven-foot tall entertainment unit and her recently acquired piece de resistance – a brown, cracked leather sofa wrapped in brown tape – picked up late last night for $40 bucks or for free on some rotting corner of downtown Manhattan.

On his face is a look of malpracticed concern.  “How much did my brother quote you?” he asks.  I know I’m headed down a slippery, scamming slope – a slope I will slide down with venomous words about false advertising and piece of shit cargo vans, a tirade finished off with a dollop of “Don’t even fucking go there.”

I tell him what his brother told me: $150 for one trip and another $50 if we had to come back for more.  He places his hand on the corner of a stacked box, looking upwards like a plumber surveying a broken water main, and tells me that he thinks it’s going to be more.  Curtly, I inform him that he’s more than welcome to leave if that’s the case; I’ll just figure out what to do on my own.  I do not tell him that if he and his brother had shown up in a shiny maroon van that I probably would have allowed myself to be the shmuck who falls for that type of garbage.

After a phone call in Spanglish to his brother – the only part of it that I understand is a “I’ll do it.  I don’t care” – he drops the price gauging altogether.  That’s the last I hear of that.

As a child I moved houses only a few times.  Each involved me hand packing my life and wrapping it in newspaper.  From there, everything went into a U-Haul with dirty floorboards or got shuttled via inefficient mini-trips in one of my parent’s cars.  We never hired movers; movers were for rich people.  Once my mom researched a company called Bekins, an upscale moving service with a green logo and typeface that reminded me of an organic grocery store.  After the Northridge earthquake in ’94, these trucks were everywhere, moving people out of state, out of shattered houses and into temporary homes.

Now in New York and away from my family or any friend close enough that I could justify abusing without shame or remorse, I had no other option but to put my move into the hands of another.  I contemplated renting my own truck and doing it myself, but the thought evaporated quickly.  “Treat yourself,” my mom said, “Just sit back and let them do it.”

By the time Raul parks their hulking piece of rust, I have already started to put my boxes out on the street.  I can’t help but help.  That and after watching Raul’s brother manhandle my boxes clearly marked “Fragile” I realize that the only way I am going to be able to decorate my new apartment with the delicate nic nacs of my former life, I’m going to have to do some of this myself.

It’s the first of September and the day is hot, ridiculously hot in an unholy way that makes you think about killing people.  Sweat drips down from my armpits and into my tank top like it did back when I played organized sports in high school, uncontrollably and unattractive torrents of I-can’t-help-myself sweat.  I’m in good company, though; Raul’s brother’s gray shirt is sopping wet in the center, a dark gray bib imbedded in his gray tank.

“Hey, Jen.  Is there a grocery store around here or something?  I need to get a drink,” Raul’s brother asks.  Me being me, I offer like a PTA Mom to go get them a soda or something if they’re thirsty.  And me still being me, I don’t understand when Raul’s brother says he can go get it himself.  “I’m going to play a joke on Raul,” he explains.  I’m not sure what type of joke involves soda, but I do find out that apparently there is a type of joke that involves a can of Coors Light.  Raul’s brother comes back with beer in a paper bag and two cups.  Apparently the joke’s on me.  Then again, I already knew that.

While the boys drink beer next to the van, I continue to unload my life onto Broome Street, careful to avoid the piss and spit that so lovingly cover its sidewalks.  Raul’s brother attempts to teach me a valuable lesson of life – one of many he will dole out that day – when he tells me that it’s important to have fun, especially on hot fucking days like today.  “Otherwise, man.  Pssshhhh,” he says into his cup.

The apartment is nearly empty, save for my platform bed (which we momentarily think might fit on top of the van) and the sofa.  Raul runs some sort of packer’s mathematical equation in his head and begins to push all of my stuff that’s already in the van closer together.  “It can all fit,” he says as he crams my leather chairs into one another, collapsing the walls of cardboard boxes.  His math was a bit off and his logic premature; when he goes back inside to “measure” the sofa, he just gives a shrug followed by, “I think we’ll have to come back.”