It was the day of the big move.
The SRO Citadel, on Sixth Street, sat perched on granite. It was among a bevy of residential hotels vying for the title of grand jewel of the SRO Kingdom. It was an old building with old fashioned fire escapes and a for-sale sign affixed upon its drab colored bricks. The citadel was sandwiched between a pawn shop and another SRO—a whole row that seemed in perpetual competition to one-upeach other in a dignity derby of sorts.
Voices called out from windows: I’m better than you. At least my toilet flushes!And the response: Well, at least our roaches are tame—they don’t walk out with the plastic dinnerware and SSI checks!
And the arguments would endlessly ensue; then a respite–wink, a closed window—and life goes on (or off).
But it was the day of the big move and Roy would be moving to another SRO, three or four blocks to the North, in close proximity to the nationally and internationally renowned “Church of the Eclectic Slide,” where all faiths, sexual orientations, political affiliations and dietary trends are welcome.
A move—or the thought of moving, for Roy, had big implications. For Roy, to move—let’s say—from bed to bathroom, is, on some days, like moving from San Francisco to Denver by foot. But despite his physical challenges, Roy maintains a good attitude which is often aided by a “Thank you Jesus” and tall can of domestic beer.
Roy had lived in his SRO (single room occupancy) unit for several years. In that time, he became a tenant representative, bringing tenant concerns to management. At the top of the list of concerns/complaints was the building elevator. The elevator would go down and not up, or up and not down. Old parts, said management, was the heart of the problem; parts that needed to be custom made back east and shipped.
Old parts. Who in the Citadel didn’t have that problem? Old backs, old arms, legs, torsos, feet, hairlines, knees—not to mention, minds. How many had experienced the frustration of not being to move, to get up or get back down? It was a metaphor for dysfunction and a purgatory of sorts—stuck in an elevator between up and down—a gray area getting grayer by the day–and in the ambiguity of time and space one can hear the faint voice of Curtis Mayfield: If there’s a hell below…we’re all gonna go!
“Can you help me move?” Five words always caused me a feeling of dread. Yes, I replied. What else could I say? I considered Roy a friend and I thought that if I had bad knees, COPD, a bad back and host of other physical ailments, I’d want someone to help me. “Yes, yes, I’ll help,” I said.
“Ok, meet me at UHAUL on Sunday at 11:30”
I hung up and thought aloud…son of a bitch.I arrived at UHAUL where Roy was leaning against the building, his belly protruding though his shirt in the morning sun. He was already sweating. His dog Elliot was on his leash, good natured, twitching—looking like a milk dud come to life. We got the truck after a bit of confusion about which truck was reserved.
We made our way to Sixth Street.
“I got another guy…he’s gonna help us, name’s Danny. Sure as hell hope he comes.”
We pulled into an empty space in front of the Citadel. We got to the front desk.
“Elevator’s out” the desk clerk said, displaying a row of gold teeth. Roy’s body sagged forward towards the desk. He took a hold of the edge to gain his balance.
“RUFKM” Roy blurted
(For those unfamiliar with this acronym, it means: Are you fucking kidding me?)
“Hey” began Gold Teeth, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t break the motherfuckin’ elevator.”
“I know you didn’t break the motherfuckin’ elevator”
“Goddamn right I didn’t”
“Well, get on the phone and call the technician. Get ‘em out here. I got to move my shit. I rented a truck and the clock’s ticking”
“I got to get approval”
“I am the approval!” snapped Roy, as if delivering a message from God himself.
Roy and Gold Teeth went back and forth for a few minutes.
“Look” I said, “We have a dolly here, why don’t you let me go up and get a few boxes?”
Roy looked at me, a bit puzzled.
“Are you sure, it’s seven flights up”?
“Yeah, no problem” I said, taking the dolly
“Wait, hold on a minute” said Gold Teeth. “You need to sign in”
“Where’d you get them gold teeth?” I asked
“Why you want to know?”
“They’re quite stunning. I’d like to get a pair like that someday.”
“I got ‘em next door…at the prawn shop”
“Prawn shop? Don’t you mean pawn…”
“I know what the fuck I mean. Ain’t you ever prawned a ring, or a conga drum? If you were ever broke you’d know what I was talkin’ about.”
I gave my ID and started climbing the stairs. The stairs were steep and narrow. Each floor had a distinct smell; one floor smelled like an oven with a burning TV dinner while another smelled of pine cleaner while yet another smelled of cotton candy and urine.
I got to the seventh floor slightly winded.
“Motherfuckin’ elevator” I muttered to myself
“What’d you say?” a voice called out
“Who’s that? I said
I walked to the elevator. I hit the button.
“That ain’t gonna work”
“You a dummy? I’m broken”
“You picked a great motherfuckin’ time to go down”
“Go down? Hell, I can’t go up either. This is serious dysfunction. A cold shot if you ask me.”
“Where does that leave me?”
“Seven floors up with a dolly and no paddle”
“Big help you are.”
“Look kid, I’m old. My parts go out. I ain’t no spring chicken like you. I ain’t tryin’ to give you the shaft but it’s gonna take more than WD40 to get me operational.”
“WD 40, Wesson Oil, Super glue, dental floss, all that shit…”
“What about the landlord?”
“He’s broken too”
“Ok, thanks. Talk to you later.”
I looked around Roy’s room. Boxes were stacked by the wall near the poster of a golden cross radiating light through a cluster of clouds. A smattering of beer cans, magazines (Car and Driver) and DVD’s lie scattered but, for the most part, we were ready to go. I loaded the dolly with three boxes. Seven flights was high, any higher and I’d be in the Alps. I made for the staircase.
“Hey shit stain” a voice called out from down the hall
“Yeah? A voice responded
“Can you loan me a few bucks?”
“You never paid me from the last time!”
“Man, I told you, my check’s gonna arrive any day now”
“I ain’t doin’ it this time, man”
“Well, can I borrow your old lady?”
A door slams…silence
The staircase was steep, going up or down. I thought of Roy down in the lobby—bad knees. Stay put my friend. I edged to the staircase. I checked to see if the boxes were secure on the dolly. I began my descent.
It took a good deal of effort maneuvering downward, as the dolly seemed to have a mind of its own and a different agenda in terms of navigation. I rolled past scrutinizing eyes peeking through curtains and doors. I made it to the lobby where the other “mover” stood with Roy, arms folded.
“Tony, this is Danny” said Roy.
We shook hands.
“Man, my old lady threw me out” said Danny
“Why?” asked Roy
“Because I’m here helping you”
“You ain’t done shit yet”
“That’s what I need to tell you. My back…it’s…”
“I knew you’d pull this shit, Danny” said Roy, cutting Danny off, throwing up his hands. “You’re as useless as tits on a motherfucking bull.”
“Hey, at least I brought the motherfucking dolly” Danny replied, pointing. A dolly stood near the wall.
The conversation continued between Roy and Danny and I quickly realized that Danny’s last name was Dolittle and that it would be me and doing the duty mostly solo. To Danny’s credit he brought a sturdier dolly, larger than one UHAUL provided but heavier to negotiate up the stairs. I left Roy and Danny–who was now sipping a curious liquid from a brown paper bag which he now passed to Roy–and went up seven flights.
The dolly was heavy—bulky and cumbersome—like a human being riddled with ailments. I got four boxes—Thunk-a-thunk-a-thunk. I descended halfway down the fifth floor staircase when I heard faint sounds—dainty footsteps approaching from the rear. I looked back. It was a slightly built young man wearing a stained sweatshirt mumbling through a partially smiling mouth. Why did he have to open his mouth? His incoherent words (Or muffled babble) telepathically prompted the boxes to perform a most impressive acrobatic maneuver. The boxes, unaided, launched themselves from the dolly, somersaulting down half a flight of stairs, tumbling with the momentum, reminiscent of that ski jumper on the intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports, whose monumental mishap on the slopes was relived, in all its glory, on weekend telecasts for years.
I looked at the spilled contents scattered about. The mumbling guy to my rear gingerly stepped over the contents that were now without a home. Take it easy, he said, not mumbling this time, as he made his way downward.
I put the items back in their boxes; among them a picture of Roy, 40 pounds or so lighter, perhaps 20 years younger—another time, another life. What was his life back then? All I knew of him was that he worked in the past at county fairs. He worked on crews that set up carnival rides, then breaking them down to set up at other county fairs. I’d been to many county fairs as a kid. I loved the corn dogs and rides. I remembered a picture my grandmother had taken of me on my first pony ride. I put Doug’s picture back into its box.
I went down the stairs and made it to the lobby. I put the boxes in back of the UHAUL. Roy was sipping from the brown paper bag.
“Maybe one more load,” said Roy, sweating. I looked down at his dog—he too was sweating.
“Ok, I said.
My forehead was sweating, my back was sweating, my ass-crack was sweating.
“Let me help you this time” Roy began.
He took a hold of the dolly. I sensed it was a bit heavy for him. I would help.
“Say man,” Roy said to the desk clerk. “Can you just keep an eye out for my stuff in the pick up? I don’t want anybody to steal anything.”
The gold toothed desk clerk waved a dismissive hand.
“Man, don’t nobody want any of that bullshit.”
Roy shook his head and walked up the stairs with the dolly. We carried it together. Danny Dolittle had disappeared–a liquor store run. Roy made it to the seventh floor, stopping several times to catch his breath and rest his knees. We walked inside his now half empty room where he confronted the possessions of his life, now boxed.
Some boxes appeared sturdy, some not. There was a small refrigerator, a dresser and a few more large items. How would we move them without an elevator? Roy sat on the edge of his bed, catching his breath. He began to laugh. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.
“Why are you laughing?” I asked
Roy looked at me, shaking his head.
“That desk clerk, I guess he was right. He said that this was God’s work. Maybe the elevator went out for some kind of purpose. Maybe we would have gotten into some kind of accident. Who knows? All I know is that there are people who are worse off than me. Good news is that the elevator repair guy is on his way. Hope he gets here soon.”
He looked around at what had been his home for the last seven years.
“Don’t nobody want any of this shit,” Roy said, echoing the words of the desk clerk.
We both laughed then got busy trying to figure out the next move. Thunk-a-thunk-a-thunk!