New York, New York

My Move to Brooklyn

In case you haven’t heard, everyone is moving to Brooklyn. Not everyone, though, has an SUV. Departing the Lower East Side for quiet living, with the aid of Russian warlords.

I made my home in a Lower East Side hovel for the past three years, hoping that I, like Andrew Carnegie and Jewel, would get a chance one day to improve upon my humble beginnings. When a friend announced she was subletting her $800 one bedroom in Brooklyn, I knew my ticket out of the ghetto had arrived. I was still not a steel baron or a hot folk artist, but at least I could leave behind the urine in the stairwell, the ‘Fock you’ graffiti, the elderly men catcalling at me from their wheelchairs. I was getting out, to a neighborhood of cleanliness, decency, and aluminum siding. There I would find backyard gardens filled with tomatoes and fig trees and Italian matrons who scrub their stoops on their hands and knees. But before I settled comfortably into my new life, there was the little matter of the move itself. I was facing the young New Yorker’s eternal challenge: how to carry a collection of IKEA furniture down six flights of stairs and across a bridge?

A few weeks before the event, I offered favors to my friends and coworkers in hopes that my charity would be returned with moving assistance, gratis. (I also hoped my absurdly altruistic offers would force the recipient to decline my help while thinking of me as a really great friend.) In casual conversation, I offered to help pay my supervisor’s student loans. When a muscle-bound friend needed a cheap ticket to California, I said I’d take the week off and drive him. I mentioned I was a potential bone donor, if anyone had a need.

As the moving date grew near and no one offered to help, I grew desperate. I remembered that my friend Hilary’s grandmother once helped her move, which at the time seemed ill-advised, but perhaps she was stronger than the average elderly woman. Maybe she was a retired personal trainer or a relative of Linda Hamilton. I considered my other options. Given that I lived in a sixth floor walk-up, I could A) Devise some sort of pulley system, B) Set everything on fire, later re-furnishing with insurance money, or C) Hire professional movers. The choice was clear: now that I was upwardly mobile, I didn’t plan on doing anything myself.

I chose my moving company because their ad in the yellow pages was no-frills—‘MOVERS,’ with a Brooklyn number—leading me to believe they wouldn’t charge much. The Russian dispatcher quoted me a price of $72 an hour for three men, for three hours. That was eight dollars cheaper per hour than the West Indian moving company that also had an unimpressive ad. I preferred the West Indian dispatcher (he promised moving would be ‘a good time’), but it appeared ‘MOVERS’ would be more cost-effective. I scheduled the move for 8 am on a Saturday. This would give me time to be out of the building by mid-day, the time when drunken neighborhood men take over the stoop to discuss gay-bashing.

At 10 pm the night before, as my boyfriend Dmitri and I were packing things in boxes designed to hold malt beverages, Michael the dispatcher called. He wanted to know if I would like to hire four men instead of three; the process would then go ‘extremely faster,’ he said. ‘The price will go up to $90 an hour, but the move would be extremely faster,’ I explained to my boyfriend.

I had a pang of anxiety about my decision the next morning when the four men arrived and all but one appeared to weigh in around 120 pounds. Though they were small in stature, their cold eyes and leather accessories gave the impression of Russian warlords who spent their days raiding Chechnyan villages. Before getting started, Boris (the designated English speaker) asked us to sign a sheaf of papers, which we did, idiotically, without reading the fine print. Boris smiled and noted that my Dmitri had a Russian name. One of his henchmen then pointed out that his surname was ‘Jew.’ This same warlord later became enraged about a particularly heavy box and, glowering at me, demanded ‘seeltzer.’ I rushed to the bodega, thinking that maybe seltzer is what they drink in Russian military encampments, before killing innocent women.

The Russians’ disregard for my belongings did allow things to move quickly. I watched uneasily as Boris and another man, their hands coated in black grease, lifted my light-colored couch. Fearing another seltzer episode, I decided not to suggest gloves or protective cloth. Boris shook his head at a large white mirror wrapped in blankets and suggested I take it with me in the cab. ‘Glass,’ he explained. The mirror weighed a ton and was the reason I hired professional movers, I said. He eventually dragged it down the hall, looking indisposed. As the men finished stacking some heavy bookcases on top of a delicate wicker basket, my boyfriend gave Boris directions to the Brooklyn address. It was 9:30. We were right on schedule.

Brooklyn was leafy and quiet as we arrived in the new neighborhood. On the street corners, Madonnas were displayed, Lenin-like, under glass. When we turned on to my street, I was troubled to discover that my new stoop was inhabited by an obese family wearing sweatpants. There was no moving truck. We were reluctantly introduced to ‘Pinky’ the elderly, shirtless landlord and to a 400-pound man with only one eye. ‘Is it hot enough for youse?’ the one-eyed man asked during the frequent lags in conversation. The movers finally showed up at 10:30. Suddenly the dispatcher’s estimate was looking on the low side.

‘The warlords and the Italians are not mixing well,’ Dmitri reported from the truck, where he had a good view of Pinky harassing the movers about not nicking the walls and banisters. Up on the second floor, Boris looked stressed. ‘This landlord no good,’ he said ‘you will move soon again, I think.’ Pinky’s tyranny did seem to prompt the men to work at a faster pace, however. The seltzer-loving mover grew taciturn, only occasionally making threatening-sounding remarks in Russian. The men were finished in under an hour, at which point Boris thrust the bill at me. There were some enigmatic charges, such as $75 for five ‘additional boxes’ that I don’t recall seeing. Everything included, the estimate was exceeded by about $200, but I didn’t have to petition Hilary’s grandmother or drive to California.

It was the next evening when I realized the large white mirror was missing. I called Dmitri in a panic. I thought it had probably broken, and after examining the contracts we’d signed, I was chagrined to learn we had signed away our insurance rights in exchange for a reimbursement rate of 39 cents a pound. Dmitri developed a conspiracy theory involving the connection between movers’ heists and Brooklyn junk shops. I hysterically vowed to claim the mirror weighed 2000 pounds. After planning out a wrathful voicemail message, I called MOVERS and was surprised when Michael answered the phone. Apparently the company was run out of his home. Perhaps, I thought, he was gazing contentedly into my mirror as we spoke. I sputtered out my accusation. ‘Oh yes, this mirror,’ he said calmly. ‘It gets lost in truck.’ Someone would bring it by the next day, he explained.

In a spirit of vengeance, I let Pinky know exactly when the movers would be arriving. I buzzed them in the next afternoon and heard the familiar tirade from downstairs. A harried Boris appeared, set down the mirror, and scurried out of the building. Now, the trials of a professional move behind me, I could finally settle into my well-appointed railroad with the drop ceilings. I looked forward to a summer of Italian ices, Feast Day processions, and repairing all the things the movers broke.