All moves are treacherous and require Divine Assistance
I moved recently. I don’t know anyone who likes to move, especially during the winter. It’s just a thing you do that isn’t fun, like a root canal. You throw all your stuff in boxes with varying degrees of care, depending on how fragile it is and how much time you have.* Then you schlep all the boxes and furniture and family members to the new place. You put the stuff away, maybe you find a half-eaten peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich in a box marked LINEN CLOSET, and for a couple of months you can’t find the salad forks. That’s about it… at least, that’s how it used to be.
* TIP: For the best bargains on the planet, stalk someone who has to move in a hurry. During one rushed long-distance move, I arrived at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix with two suitcases, both significantly over the weight limit. I had three minutes to dispose of twenty-five pounds of clothing. Crouched by the luggage scale, I handed out shoes, sweaters, and outerwear like party favors, including two pairs of Levi’s faded to perfection and an alpaca coat from Neiman Marcus. Two middle-aged women emptied out their own suitcases, stuffed half of the contents into a nearby trash can, and snatched up my jeans, shirts, and boots before they hit the floor.
My recent move felt different from the get-go. The minute I started packing, this vague uneasiness came over me, like when you’re at work and you’re going to have company for dinner, you’ve already bought the food and made the salad, everything’s under control, but it feels as if you’ve forgotten something and you can’t imagine what—and then you get home and discover that your cats ate the five pounds of salmon fillets you set out on the clothes hamper. That kind of uneasiness.
Moving is always stressful. I expected some stress, but I figured I’d relax a little when I could see progress—you know, an empty room except for a nice, neat pile of boxes. Instead, the more I packed the more anxious I got. And when I reached a certain point in the packing—the point where furniture had to be dismantled and cast-iron cookware had to be boxed up—I looked around and didn’t see anyone, and I said, “Where’s the guy?” I said it out loud: “Where’s the guy?”
That’s a big, ugly lie. I didn’t say it out loud. I didn’t even think it. If I had understood the problem—There’s no guy—early on, I would have rented one for three months. But I didn’t, because there were two factors I had overlooked:
Factor 1: I’m not a guy. I’m independent and healthy and reasonably fit, but if that were the same as being a guy, we wouldn’t need hinges on toilet seats.
Factor 2: I’m older than I was the last time I moved. Most of my friends, male and female, no longer have all their own components. They’re part human, part Erector Set. They probably injured the components that had to be replaced the last time they moved.
Factor 2 became obvious when I started scouting around for help. No one was ever home. They were all at their postsurgery doctor visits or physical-therapy appointments, except for the snowbirds—early retirees still luxuriating in their winter homes in Scottsdale.
Regarding Factor 1, I’ve known for quite some time that I wasn’t a guy, I just didn’t see it as a problem. “Well, it’s just moving,” I told myself. “I’ve moved dozens of times. I can do this myself.”
There’s always been a guy around when I moved: my dad, husband, domestic partner, “special friend,” or, strapping full-grown son. This time, there was no such person available. My full-grown son, who lived next door, was not, at the moment, strapping. He was of no use at all, in fact, having suffered a compound fracture about two weeks earlier. I’m not sure how he managed it, but the timing, from his point of view, was perfect.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve always taken the male contribution to the moving process for granted. Frankly, I thought of guys as a necessary evil when (and only when) it came to moving, and I wasn’t all that sure about the “necessary” part.
I don’t like to clump people into categories and then generalize about them. Men are as different from each other as they are from crabgrass or great blue herons. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors; they run the gamut of intelligence, sensitivity, athleticism, hirsuteness, fashion sense, dental hygiene, and likability. There are men whose company I invariably enjoy, others I can tolerate for a couple of hours, and a few I’d cheerfully poison after five minutes in the same zip code.
But if you disguised a man as a woman and sent him into a household-moving situation, he’d give himself away in about twelve seconds. That’s because, in my experience, all men—regardless of race, sexual orientation, or nationality; no matter how kind, soft-spoken, and mild-mannered they are in everyday life—undergo an instantaneous and terrifying transformation when they are moving, helping you move, or just dropping by for a beer and watching other people help you move. They
- curse loudly, nastily, and often
- curse loudly, nastily, and often, at you
- insist, no matter what you’re doing, that you should be doing something else
- insist, no matter how you’re doing something, that you’re doing it wrong
- send you to Home Depot to buy the three-quarter-inch grommets you should have known they’d need and should have bought three weeks ago
- send you back to Home Depot because they shouldn’t have had to tell you that only navy-blue grommets will work for your grommet-requiring object, whatever that might be
- always, inevitably, without fail, put the largest, heaviest piece of furniture directly in front of the only electrical outlet in the room
Honesty compels me to add that farting—publicly, deafeningly, and often—becomes de rigueur when a man puts on his moving hat. Oh, yes; baseball caps are also de rigueur.
I used to advise every woman not to even consider marrying or cohabiting with a man until she has a chance to observe his decorum during a move. She might actually have to vacate her house or apartment, buy or lease another one, and put him in charge of the move, just as a test—a lot of trouble, you say, but very likely worth it. Moving magnifies little flaws that otherwise might go undetected practically forever, like the Pithovirus sibericum pathogen that lay dormant in the Siberian permafrost for thirty thousand years before some French scientists started poking around in the tundra. Once they warmed it up and examined it under a microscope, they discovered that it was as lethal as ever if not more so, and they couldn’t just shove it back under the permafrost and forget they ever found it.
My current thinking, however, is that you should treasure your spouse for all his good qualities and then, when it’s time to move, have someone stand in for you. Your proxy doesn’t need to look like you. Just make sure that all the men involved in your move see you wearing a red jacket in the morning, then give your stand-in the red jacket and go treat yourself to a day at the spa. Your boyfriend or spouse and his cronies—-half-blinded by sweat, testosterone, and beer—won’t miss you as long as they can find a red jacket to curse at and boss around.
It doesn’t matter if you’re five-foot-two and you’re three-fourths Comanche, your stand-in could be John Madden in short shorts and you’d still get away with it, as long as he wore the red jacket. Just be sure to get back home, relieve your stand-in, and retrieve your jacket before your guy’s buddies take off. Without witnesses, he might decide to apologize—unless he’s still annoyed about the grommets or he doesn’t remember the abuse he dished out. (John Madden won’t forget it, though.)
So men aren’t at their best on moving day. So what? I have never been more sure of anything—not even that I have two eyes and two feet and a supernumerary nipple on my left breast (but we’ll let that be our little secret, okay?)—than that I needed a man to help me move. Why was that, exactly?
Well, most men are taller, stronger, and more coordinated than I am. For that matter, the same could be said of most women. But in a moving situation, a tall, strong, physically fit woman can’t take the place of a guy. There are three reasons for this:
First, women are too busy. When it’s time to move, a guy won’t show up late and out of breath, glance at his smart phone, and say, “I can only stay till 1:17. I have a meeting downtown at 1:25, and I can’t be even a minute late because I’m giving birth at 2:30 and Aaron has a swim meet tonight in Guadalajara.”
Second, and equally important, a guy who isn’t Tim Gunn or your daughter won’t critique your wardrobe before packing it. He won’t pick up your favorite linen jumpsuit, holding it as if it might be infested with flesh-eating microbes, wrinkle his nose, and say, “You’re taking this? It’s so dated. It makes you look old.” And there’s this pleading look in her eyes that says, “Mom, please don’t ever wear this, not even in the Himalayas; you might run into someone I know.”
Third, guys’ brains are wired to understand the logistics of moving. They can come in, look around for a few minutes, and tell you how many cubic feet of truck space you’ll need. When your eyes glaze over, a guy will—after heaving a sequence of sighs that go on as long as it takes to let you know how put-upon he’s feeling—condescend to translate the cubic footage into the truck sizes advertised online (15-foot, 21-foot, 90-liter, etc.).
Presented with the truck’s dimensions in linear feet, I’m perfectly capable of figuring out, without a calculator, how many cubic feet it will hold, but if I made a small mathematical error, like putting the decimal point in the wrong place, and I came up with a figure such as
342.286 million cubic feet
…I’d do a little victory dance and call to reserve the truck; whereas guys just know, using the same arcane mathematical skill that enables them to keep track of batting averages and RBI’s and lifetime All Star Game appearances for baseball legends such as Stan Musial and Willie Mays, that 342 million cubic feet would hold Wembley Arena and the Staples Center.
You’ll definitely need a guy if you’re driving a moving truck halfway across the country. Guys not only understand that the truck has to be balanced, they can tell when it’s not balanced, and they know what you should put in that space above the cab and over the wheel wells, and they know how to tie everything down so that, once you’re under way, your ski poles won’t slip loose and go shooting out the back of the truck and impale the driver of the car behind you. I don’t own any ski poles and I only moved six blocks. Just saying.
When it comes to packing and unpacking—except for your wardrobe, as previously alluded to—I’m not sure there’s a gender advantage either way. My ex-fiancé, whom I’ll call “Riley” because that’s what I called him for the eight years we were together and it’s become a habit, was the consummate packer. Whether we were going away for a weekend or moving out of the Palace of a Thousand and One Nights, he packed everything with the same deft care and innate competence you see in a mother when she’s swaddling her day-old infant. He folds clothes in tidy stacks that look like they just came from one of your swankier department stores. My clothes look like they were folded by a person wearing a baseball glove on each hand.
Alas. For this move, I had no Riley, no Dad, no son, no “special friend.” I had no on-call guy, just several kindhearted friends and in-laws in various stages of spinal disk degeneration. With one day left and nothing packed except underwear and spoons, it became necessary to do the unthinkable—pay strangers to help me move. Guys you know will move your stuff for beer, even if you own three grand pianos and an eight-foot anaconda. Strangers want cash.
I found four college students (two of each gender) who would accept five hundred dollars to take my furniture and packed boxes and throw what wasn’t packed into piles in their pickup truck, drive to the new place and unload everything without regard for logical placement—pressure cooker in bathroom, bottle of bleach on velvet love seat next to bag of onions—and return for the next jumble of piles and lampshades and boxes filled with stuff you’d never move if you’d taken the time to sort, like four-foot stacks of margarine tubs and dried-up shoe polish. They must have made forty-five trips inasmuch as unpacked stuff takes up a lot more room than tidy boxes. I can’t say that even today, more than four months after I was supposed to have all my stuff cleaned out of the basement apartment (and the adjacent boiler room), I actually have all my stuff cleaned out of the basement apartment (and the adjacent boiler room). At some randomly selected point I just decided to be done moving. Nor do I have the possessions that are here, in my new apartment, neatly arranged in their proper places. There are not enough proper places for all my possessions. For all I know, the college students shattered my mother’s priceless Limoges tea set and helped themselves to selected items from my hopelessly unstylish wardrobe.
But it’s summer now, and I’m on the second floor (instead of in the basement apartment adjacent to the boiler room), and I have large mullioned windows in abundance (instead of four small windows mostly obscured by a sloppy trim-painting job), and I even have transoms and lots of old oak. I will never move again, not even if the landlord doubles my rent and forces me to house a pair of pit bulls and a leaky container of plutonium… unless, of course, someone fitting my Guy profile happens along and he wants to marry me and move me into his exquisitely restored Victorian farmhouse. Okay, I’ll say. But I’ll still get the stand-in and make myself scarce until the last half-jar of pickle relish is safely tucked away in the refrigerator.
A final bit of advice if you’re considering a move: Don’t do it, I don’t care if you’ve had two sets of triplets since you moved in to your current place. But if you absolutely have to move, even if it’s just a lamp and it’s going only as far as the next room—start praying immediately. All moves are treacherous and require Divine Assistance in addition to at least one guy and the red decoy jacket. Before you buy one, if you’re in the vicinity, you might scan the baggage check-in area at Sky Harbor Airport.