Movers and Shirkers

The delicate politics of relocation

click to enlarge DESK JOB: There's one obstinate piece of furniture in every move. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
DESK JOB: There's one obstinate piece of furniture in every move.

By the age of, say, 24 or 25, we all have at least one piece of furniture that's a true pain in the ass to move. Having lived in something like a dozen apartments and three houses since moving to the Bay area in 1990, and having worked for one immaculately professional moving business and one incredibly slipshod one, my eye is now conditioned to seek that piece of furniture out. Loft or double-wide, studio or 2,000-square-foot home, invite me to your place, and I will inevitably end up standing in front of your sofa sleeper, marble-topped armoire or L-shaped coffee table, wondering about the best way to work it through the front door.

It's a tradition for young American adults to forgo hiring expensive professional movers in favor of offering their friends beer and pizza in exchange for a day of heavy lifting. It's also a corollary tradition for young American adults to come up with wonderfully creative excuses why they can't be there to help. My own most idiotic excuse for skipping out on a move had to do with being tired from chasing my then-girlfriend's dog all over the neighborhood after it somehow escaped the confines of the fence.

The best one somebody gave me for not being able to help out involved fish-sitting, and the dire consequences of not being around to feed said fish at the exact time they were accustomed to being fed.

Some people are lazy. (I know I am.) Some people actually don't have a free day to spend holding one end of a supernaturally heavy love seat while the guy at the other end talks about tilting it 45 degrees counterclockwise while not specifying whether he means counterclockwise from his perspective, or counterclockwise from the perspective of the person facing him.

But some people are just pathologically opposed to helping people move. We've all got these friends, the ones who will gladly drive a half-hour out of their way to pick you up if you need a ride, but simply cannot bring themselves to move an end table from a room to a truck, then from a truck to a room. They're the ones who will look you straight in the eye and tell you they can't come over on Saturday to help you move because there's something coming in the mail that they really need to open the second it comes through the slot.

They're not bad people; there's just something in them that balks at the whole helping-friends-move thing.

I suspect that, whether they know it or not, it's really all about that one piece of furniture: the heavy, oddly shaped, awkward, too-wide-for-the-door lifestyle solution that turns a sweaty, jovial bonding experience into a frustrating battle of wills and wits.

Everybody's got one.

At Heather and Hunter's old house, it was the desk.

Not an antique, heavy-wood, hernia-inducing monstrosity of an old writing desk, thank God; that's the sort of furniture you notice long beforehand; it tips the mental scales and immediately causes the friend that owns it to be filed in the "have a really plausible lie on hand when these guys ask you to help 'em move" folder. No, it was just your average particleboard computer desk and hutch, designed by people who apparently live in open lofts or studios with no doorways and an old freight elevator for an entrance.

We knew right off that it was going to be trouble, so after ascertaining that the hutch was fastened to the desk by roughly 700 tiny screws that could only be removed with an eyeglass toolkit or Swiss army knife, we left it for last. (Plus, it was located in a tiny cubby/office at the back of the house, assuring an extended trip through either three doorways or the Cambodian jungle that was the back yard.)

At various points during the next two loading/unloading trips from the old house to the new house, one of us would walk back into the cubby/office and make a token effort at preparing the desk for transport - taking a door off the hinges despite the fact that the whole thing obviously wasn't going to fit anyway, or repeatedly trying to use a screwdriver the size of a cop's Mag-Lite to loosen one of the tiny screws that dotted its back.

Eventually, the cherry wood dining room table was gone, the beds were gone, the frozen meat from the freezer was gone, the kid's toys were gone; all that was left were two hyperactive pugs, and the damn computer desk. By this time, one of the guys recruited to help with the move had quit working the big stuff due to chronic back problems (there's always one of these guys, too, but I can vouch for his sincerity in this particular case).

I was dispatched to find the smallest Phillips screwdriver I could - preferably the kind used to adjust pacemakers and nanobots - while everybody else stood around the monstrosity and argued about the best way to get it from the cubby/office to the U-Haul.

I returned with a pocketknife. We took turns tediously drawing the tiny fasteners from the particleboard. Then we carried first the hutch and then the desk through the Cambodian jungle, angling the desk portion oh-so-professionally through the one doorway (cock left to get the built-in cabinets on one side through, turn, then cock right to clear the built-in cabinets on the other side, making sure the keyboard platform slides out precisely to smack somebody's shin). Once they were on the truck, we congratulated ourselves for our superior logistical capabilities.

Getting the desk into the new house was somewhat easier, thanks to a chain-link gate that swung wide and a pair of French doors opening from the Florida room to the back deck.

"Where do you want it?" we asked.

"Oh, just put it anywhere in there," Heather replied.

"Yeah, it doesn't really matter," added Hunter. "We don't even know if we're going to keep it."

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