When the van arrives and the movers tumble out of the truck’s cab, it’s obvious these guys and I don’t have a lot in common. We have never crossed paths before and I can prove this because last week, when I was busy signing my new lease and trying to hire movers, these guys were killing a guard and escaping from a mutant prison in outer space.
They’re three hours late. To their credit, however, they called first to say they were going to stop and get lunch. At the time I didn’t realize lunch would take three whole hours, but when I see them all together—four guys with a combined weight hovering around a half-ton—I figure ordering probably takes a really long time, and so decide not to harp on their lack of punctuality.
When they arrive I go downstairs to let them inside. The largest of the bunch, the alpha mover, apparently, introduces himself as the foreman, and reaches out his hand to greet me. He’s twice my size—height and width—and when we shake, his fingers reach all the way around my hand, which makes me feel small and pliable, like a duck in the hands of Paul Prudhomme. He unclasps me, and squints up at my apartment building, then back to me.
Foreman: Third floor, right? How many boxes you got?
Me: Sixty-three. Oh—plus furniture.
One of the movers: Oh fuck this…
Foreman: What floor you going to?
The same gigantic mover: FUCK!
Foreman: You got an elevator?
I glance over and see the mover level a glare at me.
I lead the movers into my apartment and they begin sizing up their work while complaining about the move they’d done that morning. The client had apparently bossed them around in a way that insulted their professionalism. I nod in sympathy. Then one mentions that he wanted to stick the guy with a blade, but didn’t have one on him. I nod, but slower.
The foreman calls me over to an open counter in the kitchen so we can review the contract, confirming the original time estimate, their hourly rate, as well as the address and cross streets for where they’re moving the stuff.
Foreman: So why are you moving out of Brooklyn?
Me: I’m not. I’m still in Brooklyn.
Foreman: Whaddaya mean? [Looks at paper]
Me: That’s in Brooklyn—by the park.
Foreman: [Pulling a blank contract out of his back pocket] Do you maybe have a calculator I could borrow?
The movers start hauling stuff out of the apartment. Using long, reinforced canvas straps to wrap just about anything—an air conditioner window unit, a bedside table, a box marked BREAKABLES!—they hoist load after load onto their backs and trudge downstairs. Each lift is punctuated with a loud fuck. When a mover straps together five boxes of books and slings them around, slamming them into his back, it’s fuck/fuck/fuck/fuck/fuck.
A stack of copies of The Onion—the leftovers from packing dishes and other breakables—sits face down on the floor. The back cover, a girl provocatively posed in an American Apparel ad, is all that’s visible.
Mover: Can I have that?
Me: Uh, sure.
He takes it and disappears.
Once everything’s been loaded into the truck, the foreman and I discuss the plan: My wife and I are taking a car and will meet them at the new apartment. He mentions that he and his crew may stop for lunch. I say that’s cool.
Our car arrives. As we ride past the moving truck, I see one of the movers inside, leaning against our dresser, reading The Onion.
We arrive at our new apartment and the movers show up 10 minutes later with empty McDonald’s bags. They start to move our stuff inside while we wait upstairs, checking off boxes and furniture from our manifest. Each trip up the stairs brings a new sputter of fucks, until two movers bring up our treadmill, which is deceptive in that it looks like it would weigh as much as a Camaro—but is surprisingly light. When the movers set it down, the taller of the two wipes his brow and says, “That had to be the heaviest thing I’ve ever lifted.”
I notice they’ve set it down on top of its power cord. So I bend over, lift its edge with one hand, and pull the cord out from under it.
On the way out, the taller mover turns back to me and says, “This is the last summer I do moving. I’m going back to my old job.”
Me: What was that?
Him: Scaffolding work.
Me: Like, on buildings?
Him: Yeah. Skyscrapers. But… the thing about that is, when somebody makes a mistake doing moving, they maybe get bruised up or something, right?
Him: But, you make a mistake on that scaffold work, somebody’ll wind up dead.
Me: Well, is it easier?
Me: Does it pay better?
Me: Then why are you going back?
Him: Because I’m done with this.
The shortest of the movers, who, I have determined after hours of watching them work, is also the strongest, starts humming a tune that I can’t quite place.
Me: What is that?
Him: That’s my song.
A few minutes later I figure it out—”Groove is in the Heart” by Dee-Lite.
At the end of the job, the foreman and I stand next to an upended chair, looking over the itemized bill. Pebbles of sweat drop from his forehead onto the total. It’s time to pay, but most importantly, it’s time to tip. What’s really happening: Pay the movers enough so you’ll never come up in their memories in any… distasteful way.
I hand him a check, then a wad of what I hope is too much cash, and he’s out the door, ducking to clear the frame.
A couple of weeks later, I’m walking in Manhattan, beneath a length of scaffolding. I look up and see that one of the workers has delicately balanced a hacksaw over the end of a bolt that’s protruding from one of the poles. It’s swinging back and forth, quickly, and looks as if it could wrench off and slice away somebody’s head.
See, I have to argue that that looks easier than moving.