Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It Takes a Village to Move to a New Apartment


A person of superior conduct who, through the whole detail of his manners and deportment, and with the ease of a habit, a person shows respect to others in such a way as at the same time implies, in his own feelings, and habitually, an assured anticipation of reciprocal respect from them to himself.
                                             -(principally Coleridge)

When I moved us from our old apartment to our new apartment - it was me who spent weeks on the phone and the email sorting out fees and inventories with the moving company. When a manager came to do a walk-through, it was me who was home to meet him and walk him through the apartment, valued inventories and massing lists in hand. 

           My husband happened to be home as well that day.  He was curled up miserably on the sofa with the flu - and when I'd shown the moving supervisor everything there was to show, he turned and away from me, walked into to the living room, sat down next to my husband and said "So. What are your questions?"
           My husband looked at him blankly. He pointed at me and said "Ask her. She's running this move."

 The man looked at him, then looked at me and said "Who?" His face was genuinely confused.            
            While my husband goggled, the man nestled in close on the sofa and said "Right. Now let's look at the lists. Are you happy with the prices? Are you happy with the valuations? What else do you want to know?"            
            I walked out of the room and left them to it.

The men who actually packed us and moved us were an entirely different set of souls: kind,competent, splendid at what they did, and swift - rooms rolled away beneath their clever, competent fingers, vanishing into paper and bubbles and large cardboard boxes. It seemed almost cruel  to do what I needed to do to refined professional men like these.

            "Um," I was obliged to say. "We've also got stuff in the bodega (storeroom) downstairs in the basement. There's boxes of books, bicycles, our christmas tree, and, er, um.  Very much Um."
The jefe (supervisor) of the moving looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

            "There's this smell-" I hurried on before my nerve broke. "Last week a pipe broke in the building basement. The landlord won't do anything about it - we can't even reach our landlord. He stopped answering his phone sometime after the third call.  The water doesn't seem to have actually touched any of our things, and since we're moving today-
            We came down last night and looked through all our stuff, and it seems all right,  but there IS that, er, that smell.  I'm just telling you so you know."
           Down in the warren of bodegas in the building basement, it was cold and it was damp and it was was very dark. The sort of dark where you could imagine things moving  in the corners on tentacles, or many sets of skittering, articulated legs.            
             "Sorry about that," I said apologetically. "The light's broken as well. It's on a timer, but the timer snapped, and the building management hasn’t gotten around to repairing it yet."
            Outside the door to our own bodega, water dripped from a broken pipe overhead into a bucket at our feet. 

            It echoed. 
            The jefe wrinkled his nose.

            "The building management won't touch it," I said. "They say it's up to the landlord, because it's outside his bodega, even if it is technically in the hallway, which is technically a common space. We came down last night and put a bandaid on it, but it seems to have started leaking through.  At least the super seems to have put down a bucket -"
            The jefe turned the handle of the door to our bodega and pushed.

            "The door sticks," I said apologetically. "It's because of the damp, and I'm sorry about that - "
            The jefe leaned into the door and shoved. It gave way and he fell into the narrow slice of basement that was our bodega, and the smell hit us like a wall.

            "That," I choked, "is much bigger than it was yesterday."
            Hand clamped over his nose, the jefe looked up and down the little room. A ripple of water ran down the wall from the ceiling and vanished behind a row of cardboard box on a high shelf.

            "Lets have a look."  A voice said.  A crowd of curious moving men had gathered behind us in the dark hallway.  Breathing carefully through his mouth, a burly man squeezed past us, and wedging himself between  a bicycle and a pair of collapsible camp chairs, he chinned himself up onto the shelf and - 
            He came down hard.  Right onto the narrow steel stem of the bicycle, which  twisted wildly and dropped him onto us. He scarcely noticed. Shudders were passing through his body like waves - 
            I chinned myself up to look.The water ran only slowly down the wall, but in the cool underground the wall had burst out exuberantly in black and orange mould - fanning out like flowers the size of my open hand.  It was entirely revolting.
            "It's only running down the wall," I said weakly. "The boxes should be fine."
            The jefe, who had not seen the mess, nodded and reached for one. It wouldn't come. He tugged. The box wouldn't give. The jefe adjusted his hernia belt and gave one more pull-

            And the box came away from the shelf with a terrible sucking sound -  
            The cardboard box had liquefied. There's no other word for it. The bottom half of the box had become a spongy mess of rotten wood pulp and blooming black subterranean flowers. It was the most organically repulsive thing I have seen in my entire life - and that life includes almost twenty years living in humid, sticky, perpetually decomposing tropical jungle. It was purely, exquisitely, comprehensively, horrible.             

We slurped the sodden box out of the bodega and released it to ooze onto the floor of the corridor.  There, in that manky darkness, I sat and sorted through the muck, seeing what might be salvaged.  
            Plink. All through that cool creeping underground, the sound of dripping water ran. 
            Plink. Plink. 
            A moving man had gathered up the mass of seeping, dribbling, cardboard and was carrying them away to the trash. He had, I noted, gone back up to the apartment and broken into a packed box of kitchen stuff to find a pair of rubber gloves.  
            Another man - the man who had seen the flowers blooming on the wall - stood behind me and watched.  His breath was light and thready and his hands worked spasmodically, clenching, unclenching, clenching - and he was in my light. Gooseflesh down to my bones, I looked up to tell him to go away, that we didn't need two people knee deep in this slime - and I saw him, standing by my shoulder with the look of a man braced to stay whatever the cost - he had seen something he could not unsee, and he would not leave me alone with that horror. He had made up his mind to stay. It was the noblest thing I have ever seen.             
            His rubber-gloved mate trotted back from the trash, and with a shame-faced look at him, my friend knelt down beside me, scooping up armfuls of the mouldering slush too far gone to salvage. The wet weight of it was too much for him and he lurched forward - too far.  He lurched across the bucket and lurching, caught a single drop of water square on the base of his neck.            
            He screamed - a high, thin scream, and jumped, clawing at his back as he straightened,  and scattering slime from end to end of the corridor.            
            And no-one, not one single one of his workmates, not then, not later - not one of them laughed.

In fairness to the manager at the beginning of this piece - there are apparently other standards of behavior a man can play with.

            During our renovation, I had sub-contractors who folded their arms and stared at the ceiling and hummed when I spoke to them- men whose eloquence miraculously returned the moment they were in the presence of another man, after I had gone and hauled some some other man away from his work to do my talking for me- men whose sudden return to eloquence consisted principally of how "I have been trying to explain to this woman how she just doesn't get whateveranythingatallthatshemighthavewanteddone. She just won't listen."    
            The reason I was crying in the hallway of my new apartment while a pack of divinely-inspired kitchen apprentices refused to leave when I told them to? They were waiting for my husband to tell them to go.           
             Last week I had to go see an insurance agent about a policy on the our place. I caught myself putting on a fresh shirt that exposed just a little more than usual of my rather meager assets, and brushing on an extra layer of mascara, and practicing a hair flip and a giggle. And I realized that I was doing this because in actual fact, if I act a little helpless and girly, our agent beams paternally and gives me slightly better deals.            
            I thought about it, and i thought about it, and I shrugged, and put on a second coat of lipstick. If you can't beat 'em, at least get 'em to give you a discount.

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