I hate moving. Really, really hate it. It's right up there with my hatred of Hitler and Stalin, cancer and world hunger, military actions and people who hog the passing lane on the Interstate, which is why I do it as little as possible. Part of the problem is I have too much stuff, books mostly, which translates to dozens and dozens of boxes to be packed, sealed, lifted, transported, lifted again, opened, unpacked, and arranged in some semblance of order. That's the ideal; what usually happens is I become overwhelmed, give up, and just dump them in huge piles all around whatever living space I happen to be occupying. My poor ex-girlfriend waged a running battle with books in the bathroom since one of my favorite places to read is in the tub.
"Sometimes I think you care more about these damned books than you do about me," she used to say. Well, scream would be a more accurate description. "Can't you at least get rid of the ones you've read? Why do you have to keep them for so long?"
Because. I'd rather drown kittens than lose a book.
She didn't understand. Margaret was not a reader. Fashion magazines, sure. Glamour, People, Us, things like that, check. All of them instantly forgettable; all of them entirely disposable. But unless by chance she was reading the current self-help tome du jour, and that only happened maybe once every two years, she never touched a book unless it was to move mine out of her way. "There's no room to sleep on the bed! Or sit! Or walk, for God's sake! What the hell? The sofa is not a bookshelf. Why is Norman Spinrad in the bathroom sink?" She couldn't wrap her head around the idea that books are my friends, my children. Sure, some of them are bastard children, misshapen and malformed, but I love them none the less.
In all fairness, she was somewhat justified in her resentment. I had-- I have-- books everywhere. Stacked on shelves, stacked in front of shelves, on my desk, on her desk, on the kitchen counter, in the kitchen cabinets, scattered across the dining room table, the bathroom, the bedroom; virtually every horizontal surface was (and is) a potential (and actual) book depository. On the other hand, love me, love my books. Margaret chose neither.
Here's a confession for you, to my shame: under my bed there's a huge trunk filled with yellowing paperbacks I haven't opened since the late 'Eighties, but in no way am I willing to get rid of any of them. The fear is I might want to consult one of them someday at, say, three in the morning, when the bookstores and library are closed and in my mind that would be inconvenient at the least, mindbogglingly annoying at the worst. I do not suffer either well. Also, in this post-literate age I live in constant fear of Fahrenheit 451 becoming a reality. This should tell you the extent of my obsession.
Which is one of the reasons I broke down and got myself a Kindle. Three thousand books at my fingertips occupying less than the space of your average self-published poetry chapbook, plus the ability to purchase books 24/7/365 and store as many on my hard drive as memory will hold; it's online crack for bibliophiles.
Yeah, my name is John, I'm powerless over books, and my life and that of those around me have become unmanageable.
Anyway, the point of all this is I hate to move and it's mostly because of the books. Mostly. The other annoying thing is every time I have to move I have to do it by myself and that just plain sucks.
Okay, confession two: I have a low threshold for boredom and moving things from one place to another is boring. And tiring. And sweaty. And just plain no fun. Yeah, beneath my aging exterior beats the heart of a restless thirteen year old without access to television.
And on this day in particular, a singularly irritated thirteen year old.
Where the hell was Ron? Ron knows how much I hate to move and I'd been counting on him to help out, but he was nowhere to be found, leaving me with a U-Haul full of weighty boxes and rickety thrift store furniture.
"Hey! You must be the new guy."
I turned around to see a punk rock slash wet dream by way of Goth culture. She was tall and lanky with a Bettie Page haircut, black Doc Marten's, strategically torn skinny jeans, a ripped black camisole with plunging neckline, ghostly pale make-up with heavy eye shadow, and a biker jacket that looked as if it had been torn off a dying Hell's Angel.
"Yeah, I guess I am. And you..."
"And you look like you could use a little help."
"Man, that is the understatement of the decade."I said. "My partner was supposed to be here an hour ago, but I guess he had better things to do."
"Partner?" She gave me a lascivious wink.
"Oh, it's not what you think. We're strictly hetero, 'not that there's anything wrong with that,'" I said in my best Seinfeld voice."He's kind of my business partner when he's not pulling a disappearing act."
"What business?" She peered around to see inside the U-Haul.
"Uh, well, I suppose I'm not at liberty to discuss that at present," I said.
"A start-up or something? Computer programming? Data mining? Amateur porn production? I've got a friend who'll do amazing things on camera with a can of Betty Crocker frosting and some whipped cream. And she'll work cheap."
"You're not in the recreational pharmaceutical industry, by chance?" Sarah shot me a huge grin.
"Good God, no! Why would you think that?" My heart skipped a beat.
"Only that there are a limited number of reasons why people choose to live in this neighborhood willingly and that's one of them, but not to worry. It would be definitely cool if you were."
"No, no. Nothing as exciting as that, I'm afraid."
"You should think about it, ya know. Those berries in your back yard pack an... interesting... punch."
"So you know about those?"
"Hell, yeah! Oh, hell yeah! Everybody in this neighborhood knows about 'em. They're kind of a thing at parties. The woman who lived here before you used to make a kind of kick-ass wine out of them and give it away to whoever asked."
"Really! Oh, I'm Sarah, by the way. Sarah Sparks. I run a kind of anarchists' collective across the street when I'm not pulling espressos for Instagram addicted hipsters on Cary Street." Sarah pointed to a somewhat dilapidated house with four gargantuan Harley-Davidsons in the front yard.
"Well, nice to meet you, Sarah Sparks. I'm John Griggs, occasional technical writer and, currently, pissed-off moving man. Pleased to meet you." We shook hands.
"A sweaty moving man, too, it appears. But that's okay; I like 'em sweaty. You want some help with all those boxes?"
I hesitated before saying anything. Sarah didn't look like the weight lifting type, but she did look like the punch you in the face type if I pointed that out."Well, yeah, that would be great, but are you sure you have the, uh, time?"
Sarah put her fingers to her lips and let out with a bloodcurdling, earsplitting whistle. A moment later four huge, hulking guys in dirty jeans, faded leathers, and jailhouse tattoos emerged from the house across the street and came running over toward us.
"Boxes," she said, pointing to the U-Haul. "Inside. Now."
Without a word, the guys immediately started off-loading the boxes and furniture and hauling them into the house, the faint smell of marijuana and malt liquor following in their wake.
"My Stooges," Sarah said. "I forget their names, so I call 'em Larry, Moe, Curly, and sometimes Shemp. Shemp and Curly kind of alternate coming and going."
"Which is who?"
"Doesn't matter. They're all four of them big and dumb and pretty much interchangeable."
"And handy," I said. "No household should be without one."
Sarah laughed. "Damn straight! And they're pretty low maintenance to boot, for the most part. Just fuel 'em, feed 'em, and fuck 'em as necessary. The rest takes care of itself. And as an added bonus, they come with their own reefer and beer."
I didn't quite know how to respond. Miss Manners doesn't cover conversations like this one; then again, Miss Manners had probably never encountered an anarchists' collective. Hell, I've never encountered an anarchists' collective, much less one run by Joan Jett's evil twin, but I wasn't about to complain. The U-Haul was being emptied at blinding speed.
"Where do you want the boxes labeled 'books?'" a voice boomed from the apartment.
"You got pizza? Or beer?" another voice boomed.
"We've got beer, you knucklehead. What we need is pizza," a third voice boomed.
"You morons gonna help with these books?"
"Now you see why I call 'em 'The Stooges.'" Sarah shot me another huge grin. "They can read and converse in full sentences, too. And they play a pretty mean game of D & D, when they're in the mood, except they all want to be half-orc fighters with dragon scale armor."
"What do they do when they're not in the mood?" I asked.
"You're better off not knowing and we'd better go in and supervise before they find your liquor supply. Otherwise, you'll get a live demonstration."
The Three Stooges (four, if you count Shemp) were nothing if not energetic. They had my stuff moved astoundingly fast, wrangling even the heaviest boxes with an ease and grace that reminded me of ballet, if there were such a thing as two hundred and eighty pound ballet dancers. Sarah and I didn't have to lift a finger, except once to dial the nearest pizza delivery joint.
All six of us were sitting on the front porch, finishing off the pizza crusts and drinking lukewarm beer while the Stooges described their latest Ravenloft campaign in excruciating detail, when Ron the Nerd finally made his appearance.
"Jesus God, John," Ron said, as he exited a pick-up truck that had seen better days. "Who are your friends?"
"Our new neighbors. Come and say 'hi,'" I said. As Ron mounted the porch, I couldn't resist whispering, "And don't show any fear. They can smell it. It'll make them go berserk."
Ron actually gulped as I went through the Stooge introductions, grimacing as he shook each powerful hand in turn.
"And this is Sarah, the ringleader of this motley crew."
"Motley Crüe?" one of the Stooges said. "I know those guys! They're par-TAY animals!"
"Down, Curly. Up, Ron," Sarah said when she noticed Ron's attention was focused on her cleavage.
"Oh, uh, "Ron stammered. "I was just admiring your tattoo."
"That's Neptune, King of the Seven Seas. And of my boobs. That's Curly, king of shallow graves in desolate wooded areas."
An awkward silence followed, but to his credit, Ron at least had the decency to blush. "Gotcha. No offense intended."
"Nah, I kid. Look at them all you want. I was just yanking your chain." Sarah laughed. "I'm kind of proud of the twins. Grew 'em myself."
"Okay, now that we're all friends again, where the hell have you been? You do remember we were supposed to move in today, right?" I said.
"I didn't forget, but man oh, man, something came up that you're never going to believe! Uh, could we talk privately for a moment?"
"Okay, guys," Sarah said to the Stooges. "That's our cue to leave. These boys have business to discuss and I'm in the mood for a little Risk. Nothing like some world domination to round out an afternoon."