My parents sold the house that I grew up in last week. This conjured up a few emotions for me. Mainly I was struck with panic; I had to get the piano out of there as fast as possible.
I started playing piano when I was four years old. It was a perfect way for me to disappear into the love of music I was born with. I could play before I could write, and even in my noodlings on the ivory keys I was smitten with sound. My mother wanted us to learn to read music because she never had the opportunity and eventually I taught her to play. My grandmother Stella used to come over on Sundays and spin these gorgeous tunes out of the piano. “Stella by Starlight” was one of her favorites and I learned it myself after she died. She was a natural musician and writer, but the home life she was caged in didn’t allow her to explore either of these talents except in guilty stolen side moments. I think I owe her for my creativity.
When I moved into my apartment four years ago, I wanted to get my piano. I starved for it through college; the dorm had a baby grand in the lounge but I didn’t have the balls to play it with other people around. I’ve always suffered from performance anxiety. So when I had the opportunity to house the enormous instrument in the privacy of my own home, I managed to persuade my parents to let me take it into the city with me.
The dilemma was how to move it from my parents’ house in Connecticut to my apartment in Boston. I guess it wasn’t the actual distance that presented a problem.
It was all those stairs.
I called Death Wish Piano Movers. I had met two of them in O’Reilly’s pub one night my senior year of college. We got shit-faced together and they were duly impressed that I could keep up with all 500 pounds of them. One of them said he fell in love with me the second I downed a flaming shot (something about lighting amaretto on fire and dropping it into a coke … I don’t really remember) so he gave me his card and told me if I ever need a piano moved to call him and he’d do it for free. I laughed and shoved the card into my wallet. Funny guy.
It wasn’t so funny now that I was struck with the actual dilemma of moving this hulking beast of an instrument into my tiny apartment two weeks ago. I remembered his name. It was one syllable and it rhymed with “puke.” I called Death Wish and asked for him. I was laughed at. He got fired for showing up to work drunk and dropping an ivory grand piano on the sidewalk. But hey — he assured me — I could still hire them for a disgusting sum of money.
So I decided I was going to orchestrate the whole affair myself. I cultivated several willing friends from Boston and lined up half a dozen guys in Connecticut. I rented a U-haul to be picked up in New Haven and we were on our way at the crack of dawn Sunday.
We get to the U-haul pick up place in New Haven. It’s actually a hot-tub showroom. I distrust the two guys behind the counter immediately. As I approach the counter dead center holding my documentation, he addresses Benjamin, standing to my left. Because with all that estrogen I couldn’t possible be in charge.
He finally put his attention to me and I detected his age much more quickly than he would probably have wanted me to. He clearly had seen one too many years under the tanning bed and his orangey skin shone bright against his white polo shirt. His hair and eyebrows were bleached blonde. He made my skin crawl.
His sixty-something sidekick began the sale without making eye contact. They were visibly irritated by one another. But Too Tan Guy took the opportunity of the presence of two young men to talk loudly on the phone about his fleet of Vipers. Funny thing is, we didn’t even know what a Viper is but we should have been impressed, I think. This display was probably just some post-coital self-cuddling after he was done masturbating over his bank account statement in the back room.
I am not impressed.
We were there less than ten minutes, but he managed to work in some meaty sexist remarks about women drivers while I was standing there, keys in hand. “No offense,” he said to me. I should have said, “You’re an asshole — no offense.” But I was trying to play nice. I should have told him that I learned to drive at 15, on my dad’s utility truck — standard — at rush hour in downtown New Haven. I have never been in an accident and I have never gotten a moving violation. But who really gives a shit.
I get in the U-Haul barefoot because I can’t stand driving in sandals and it’s off to my parents’ house.
My dad is hyper. I get my obsessive planning/time scheduling affliction from him. I am never late. I always have the necessary paperwork, documentation, signature and peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the road in a cooler with ice and sodas. By the time we arrived at 11:03 he was having a coronary because we were late. Three minutes.
He’s rounded up a handful of beefy locals to help move the piano. I admit at this point that I’m nervous. It’s the first time I’ve been nervous yet. Shea has been assuring me in his corpse-like calm that it’s not going to be a big deal. But watching the grimace on my dad’s face as he pushes the thing across the hardwood floor (and it’s on wheels) my stomach falls.
I should add that I threw out my back when moving furniture the previous day and so was rendered useless to do anything but stand with my stopwatch, clipboard, visor, and walkie talkie.
There were six or seven men involved. Two of the guys were under 30, so I felt okay about them. But my dad, well, he’s 65. I think he aged five years before the ordeal was through.
The only truly scary part was watching the actual weight of the instrument become reflected on the simultaneous contortions of their faces. Unbelievably, the piano was ushered sloppily, but without damage or injuries, down the flight of stairs and onto the sidewalk. And into the U-haul.
We also moved an entire apartment worth of furniture at the same time — couch, easy chair, big TV, etc. And then all the men dispersed.
We felt good. My mom dispensed libations and made brownies. We were ready to hit the road.
And then I get a voice mail message. “This is Elm City U-haul — you have to bring that truck back IMMEDIATELY. It’s very dangerous. Very dangerous. Please call me as soon as you can.”
First of all, the moron leaves the message on my 617 phone number. So he’s calling my house in Boston where I’m moving to. Technically, I could have not heard the message until I arrived. Second of all… well, I just told you. Five tons of furniture have been moved by six men who have vacated the premises.
I’m already running through the drama of nothing ever works right for me…I’m a cursed individual… in a former life I was a cockroach and I’m paying for that piece of bread every day of my existence…
I call the guy. I calmly ask him what seems to be the problem. He won’t tell me. He says U-haul called him and told him to immediately take the truck off the road. No time to spare. I told him I had just finished moving everything into the truck. Brilliantly, he says: “Drive it down here. We’ll help you pack the new truck.” I’m like, “Fuckhead, I said I moved a piano.” I picture the two of them sitting in their office, elderly and sunburned. Regardless of Viper possession, these two old farts would be lucky if they could lift the dolly the piano was rolled on.
“I want a refund.”
“Why? What the hell do you want a refund for?”
“Because I just paid six people to move a piano into my truck and they are no longer here. And I have paid six people in Boston to move the piano further, and I will be late for them if I don’t leave right now.”
Apparently, his concern over my safety (or pending lawsuit) paled in comparison to the $175 he collected from me that morning.
“Fine. Have it your way. Drive the thing like that.”
I wasn’t sure what to d
o with his last statement. In a court of law I would have had to sign my life away in order for him to claim I was free to “drive it like that.” I just didn’t understand what was going on here.
I know my dad. I know he definitely would have succumbed to a heart attack had a even let a flicker of hesitance run across my face. So I pulled Shea aside for a consultation.
He understood there was no way we were unpacking the truck. My sister would win, and this piano would be sold with the house. I would be left music-less for the rest of my life. Doomed. I refused.
Because my dear friend has both a stolid belief in reincarnation and vast experience driving complete wrecks, he tells me he’s comfortable driving the truck as is. “Give me Ben,” he says. “I’ll take Ben and you follow me in your car.”
I barter Benjamin. Then we consult him. He calls the U-haul company for further details.
Our friendly neighborhood dickhead tells Benjamin that the brakes on the U-haul are shot, which is why we need to take it off the road. He refuses to give us his full name. Adam. He’s as legendary as Elvis; he only requires two syllables. In not so many words, we tell him to fuck off.
We hit the road.
I drive in front of the truck, in case I need to break the fall of the downhill speeding U-haul when the brakes give out. If need be, I would surrender the shiny black Verna to save an unsuspecting vehicle at an intersection. I call the boys on my cell phone and neither of them answer. They both have cell phones. Neither one of them has turned them on. I was holding mine out the sunroof, shaking it to get their attention. This fuels my anxiety.
Ironically, we stop at my sister’s house on the way. She’s giving me a bed. A peace offering? Before we hit Hartford, I have smoked four packs of cigarettes. I decide it best if I follow the U-haul instead of worrying about breaking anyone’s fall. Somebody’s got to clean up the bodies.
We stop at a gas station. I run twitching and in tears to the U-haul. “How is it?” I ask them frantically. “Are you freaking out?”
Benjamin: “Yeah. I almost fell asleep.”
Those boys. Shea decides the highway won’t be so bad, and once we get off we’ll just be careful. Careful?
By the time we hit Mass Pike I have smoked eight packs of cigarettes and I have arthritis in my hands from gripping the steering wheel.
The whole way I imagine the headlines in the papers, I imagine me standing teary-eyed in church, the guilt that the piano was worth more than my friends’ lives. I mentally write letters to parents explaining what happened. I send flowers.
It occurs to me at this point that I have never seen Shea display anger or nervousness. I have known him for seven years. He’d probably make a good brain surgeon.
After that epiphany, the rest of the way I imagine the headlines in the papers, I imagine us standing victorious in court after we win the lawsuit against Too Tan Man. I imagine the vacations we will take to exotic locales. The stereo system I will buy. The CDs I could call my own. I make a list.
We get off at the Newton exit because there’s fewer stop lights. We are grateful to have made this last minute decision because Memorial Drive is closed on Sundays and we would have been re-routed directly through Harvard Square. Omigod.
When we get to my house, I am jumping with joy and screaming in relief. Shea parallel parks the huge vehicle without mirrors, between two cars in one go. I can’t stand him.
Phase Two has been completed.
Phase Three involves a mid-day July sun and two flights of stairs; one of them cement.
Both of them upward.
I have hired two students to help and I am anxious until they arrive. One of them is six foot seven and his name is Thor. The other was wearing a t-shirt with the arms sliced off because his pecs had split the seams. They are shining with sweat and raring to go.
The piano came off the truck easy as pie and the boys took to the stairs with spirits high. They began their ascent. On the step between the first and second flight up, there was three pure seconds of absolute terror during which time stood still as I watched my beloved piece of history sway, an ankle falter, the piano rock precariously, and I turned away.
And they were through the door of the apartment.
I don’t recall ever having been so relieved. Aside from that pregnancy test a while back.
There is one last challenge. I feel like I’m watching an episode of American Gladiators. Veins are standing out on foreheads and forearms. Water is drunk by the gallon. They boys have taken to communicating in grunts. The last challenge that remains: The entrance to my apartment is 33 inches wide. The entrance to my bedroom (the destination) is roughly the same. They are perpendicular to one another. Thus, the piano would have to either bend in half, or be stood up the long way on its side to get it into my room.
Now we’ve already established that both my father and I are completely anal. So we conspired over the phone before I even rented the U-haul. I was armed with a tape measure, he a calculator. There were diagrams and algorithms established. It would work. There would be a few inches on either side. As I deliver this piece of information, Thor leans over, turns the piano on its end, slips it through the doorway and tosses it down in my room against the interior wall. It is ready to be played.
I doled out $80 and sent him and his compatriot home.
So the U-haul.
In the morning, in my sun dress and sandals with my sensible bag I am driving the behemoth around the city in search of Diesel fuel. I remember there is a place next to the highway that has it. And a big turn-around because of the trucks that pull in. So off I go.
It takes me half an hour to find the gas tank but once that’s settled I’m ready to pull out. Except I’ve forgotten that every freaking street in Boston is a One Way. You never go out the way you came in.
Or is that Lynn?
It’s rush hour on a Monday.
I get completely lost. I have no working mirrors. And to make matters worse, I have a *general* idea of where the U-haul place is. Stopped at a light, I call across the cab to a female truck driver who pulls up next to me. I ask here which way Boston Ave is. My ex lived on Boston Ave and I went there, oh, a million times. I’m asking for a point, just one extended index finger to lead me in the right direction. She tells me to pull over, pulling out a map. So I double park the house-size truck on two lane Main St., backing up traffic for miles. This is a dire situation.
She’s driving a truck full of Port o Potties, which need desperately to be sanitized. I hold my breath as she searches the map. She’s from Wisconsin.
In a moment of serendipity, she’s actually making a delivery on Boston Ave so she tells me to follow her. As we pass the U-haul place, she stops her truck in the middle of the street and runs halfway toward my vehicle waving me wildly in the direction of the clearly-labeled flourescent orange parking lot. “Good luck, kid!” she yells, manning her Port O Pots and driving off into the sunrise.
I arrive at U-haul safely. During the inspection, I relay to the guy that the brakes are shot. He asks me why, and I tell him the story. He looks upset and puzzled. Goes out and checks the vehicle while I wait.
When he comes back in, he says briskly, “The brakes are fine. U-haul would never put a truck on the road that wasn’t completely safe. And if they did, they wouldn’t tell you to drive back from wherever you were to return it (good point). This guy rented you the wrong truck — this one is for round-trip only. It has to be returned in New Haven. So he’s just trying to cover his own ass by getting you to bring it back so he doesn’t have to drive all the way up to Boston to pick it up himself.”
My teeth hurt from clenching my
jaw for 24 hours. I looked down at my swollen knuckles, sore from gripping the steering wheel. I remember the empty packs of cigarettes piled up in my car from driving 45 mph on the highway all the way to Boston, having a nervous breakdown.
And having returned the truck, I take the bus to work, smiling to myself over the thought of Adam having to close his business for the day and endure the self-important prattlings of a Viper-obsessed, sexist Too Tan Man for three hours on the drive back to Boston to claim his vehicle.
I smile even more when I fantasize about the day his lawyer gets my certified letter.