A Moving Experience


It is said that if women fully remembered the pain of giving birth, they would never have children again. I have a similar theory about moving.

After the last box is emptied and broken down, we forget how grueling the experience was. Otherwise, we would stay in the same place forever.

I write this in an altered state of consciousness brought on by a week of sleep deprivation, constant anxiety, and intense labor. Right now, I realize how foolish it is to contemplate packing up everything you own and transporting it to a new home.

But based on past experience, I know that conviction will fade, along with the bruises and scrapes from hauling furniture up stairs and through doorways. Still, I hope I will retain a few lessons.

First and foremost, hire professional movers. True, they're expensive, and sometimes they break stuff, and they never know where to put the boxes. But here is the main point: They are not you.

My wife, Michele, and I had initially planned to move everything ourselves, which was, of course, utterly insane. Fortuitously, she hurt her neck a few days before the move, and we ended up hiring Victor, who works in our old apartment building, and his brother Rick.

The three of us drove a fully loaded 17-foot truck twice from Manhattan to the new place in Riverdale (a.k.a. the Bronx, but not at the rent we're paying), and we still weren't done. By then it was 11 p.m., and Victor, Rick, and I were ready to collapse.

Our new home is a townhouse that you reach by walking up two sets of stairs. I told Victor and Rick this was nothing compared to the fourth-floor walk-up where we used to live. It did not seem to console them.

If you cannot afford to hire professional movers, do not pack books in those big boxes that grocery stores get eggs in. You will regret it later.

Speaking of boxes, the reusable potato chip crates with the interlocking flaps on the bottom may seem nice and sturdy, but they are designed to hold potato chips. Whatever you are moving, it is probably heavier than potato chips.

Finally, do not rent a U-Haul truck in Manhattan. The truck we got had a big sticker inside the cargo area bragging about its marvelous features, most of which it did not actually have.

Almost all of the padded rails had been torn off, there were no tie-downs, and neither the dome light nor the hazard lights worked. The side mirrors had to be wrestled into the proper position, yet they were easily jarred out of place when the truck was moving.

The final indignity occurred when we tried to return the truck. We drove up to the U-Haul location at 132nd and Broadway about 8:30 p.m., me in the truck, my wife and our 6-year-old daughter, Francine, in a car. Metal shutters were drawn over every door and window, and the fence around the parking lot was chained closed.

I called U-Haul's toll-free number from a pay phone, and a friendly message told me I could return a rented vehicle after hours by parking it in a nearby space and leaving the key in the drop box. I scanned the exterior of the building and spotted a container near the exit. Inside the fence.

I tried to squeeze through an opening between the gate and the fence, but I couldn't quite make it. Then inspiration struck.

"Francine," I said after parking the truck, "do you see that box on the side of the building, under the sign? We'd like you to drop this key into that box."

Francine was enthusiastic about her mission; she immediately began climbing the 15-foot fence topped with razor wire. I showed her the opening instead.

When Francine got to the box, she could barely reach it and had trouble getting the key into the slot. Finally, we told her to just leave it lying on top.

When I called U-Haul a couple of days later to ask for the bill total, I suggested to the man who answered the phone that they put the drop box outside the fence, which is where customers tend to be when the gate is locked.

"Drop box?" he said. "We don't have a drop box." Under our careful guidance, Francine had left the truck key in an ashtray.