A Load For Free
It was my third to last load: a sixty-seven pound air conditioner. I had stripped to jeans and a t-shirt, was breathing heavily and sweating vigorously as my right foot touched down on the last step.
“You’re not going to throw that out, are you?”
I had called Chris Sunday night.
“Man, I hate to ask,” I said. “But I just don’t think I can get this desk down five flights alone.”
We agreed to meet Tuesday night, after ten hour days, kid’s bedtimes, and condo board meetings. We were unlikely to be our best at nine o’clock on a school night, but it needed to be done. Everything had to go.
The apartment was empty, but with more than I cared to remember: the (oft) aforementioned red chair, the AC unit, the desk, shelving, and a futon frame. I began by karate chopping everything wood, tearing legs from tabletops like wings from a fly. Despite the racket, it was vaguely cathartic thing to do at the end of the day in the cool night air.
Still, there is navigating piled of shattered wood and bulky, six foot bed frames down five, narrow flights. I began to perspire. I began to get angry. At what, or whom, I’m not sure. Physical labor tends to trigger The Hulk in me. For that very reason, I like to listen to bands like Rage Against The Machine when I work. Tonight, though, I labored in silence. Until Chris showed up.
Chris lived at 103 West 80th for three years prior to me. Before he moved — its eight hundred square feet too cramped for his wife and new baby — he said to me, “You gotta’ keep this place in the family, dude.” It was five hundred dollars more than I could afford, but with the high ceiling and west facing views, I couldn’t refuse.
Chris left a lot in the apartment when he moved: two air conditioners, and a patio full of terra cotta pots. Just as, years prior, he had bequeathed me the (oft) aforementioned red chair. It was a big ole’ thing, probably four feet wide, a vaguely art deco mess from sometime in the Fifties when synthetic fibers were just catching fire. Chris had one too, a green one. For years, when we lived together in our early twenties, they sat next to each other in the living room first facing the television and, then, when we decided the TV was evil, facing each other.
I first began to insinuate that the chair was dumpster bound when I moved from Hell’s Kitchen to the Upper West Side. In addition to weighing seventy some awkward, bulky, pounds, it was old, dusty, and — frankly — not all that cool looking to begin with.
“Dude,” he’d say, “you can’t break up the chairs!”
And so I didn’t. I jammed it in the corner, as far from my faux Mid-Century suede gray couch as possible, and carried on. In the era of the merge, though, as Abbi and I cast aside dozens of (literal and figurative) things aside, it had to go.
The chair and desk were all that remained of the move when Chris dropped his, “You’re not going to throw that out, are you?” on me. He loped upstairs, his face screwed up in disapproval. I humped the a.c. to the basement, the bound upstairs in a tiff.
“There are probably other ways to greet me,” I said brushing quickly past him.
He lifted the desk over his head, said, “This was too heavy for you?” and walked off down the stairs. Fuming, and not to be outdone, I struggled to lift the red chair over my head. He had purported that this was possible — and even an efficient means of transport — previously, reminding me that he had single-handedly moved both from Upstate New York when we first moved here in 1995. The first time I tried, the weight of the chair compressed my spine. “Don’t break your neck,” I’d though. In anger, though, I found the might to lift the greatest weight, and soon found myself huffing and puffing as I pointed myself down the narrow staircase. The banister, though, thwarted each crooked, steep turn. Just one flight down, he met me and said, gently, “Can I help you dude?”
As we struggled — together — to wrestle this massive, cumbersome beast of a chair to the curb, my biceps and lungs burning, I thought to myself, “This is the weight of brotherhood itself.”
Each awkward shift in the chair’s mass rattled with the sound of its loose innards. As we caught our breath on the sidewalk, the White Whale slain, I said, “I kind of want to do an autopsy, to slit it open and see what’s in its stomach.”
I sat on the arm, sweat trickling down my forehead, and reached deep into the chairs massive, dusty frame. The mood lightened as I cautiously excavated the contents of our great, fraternal lost and found: seven ball point pens, six pieces of un-chewed Trident, four lighters, three teaspoons, two Tylenol Cold tablets, one packet of Alka Seltzer effervescent cold relief tablets, one digital tuner, one capo, and a gummy bear.
Upstairs, we took one last pass at the apartment, our home for more than six years. Deep in the corner of a closet, I found a piece of canvas wrapped in black duct tape. I pulled it out, unfurled it, and surveyed one of my first — and last — great oil paintings: a great swath of flat, blue sky punctuated by billowing, white clouds. It looks like a fifth grade art project. I painted it when I was thirty-one-years old.
“It’s eight feet by four-and-a half,” I said. “The same aspect ratio as a movie screen.”
“I’m gonna’ miss this place,” he said, softening still. “The sunsets, the moon rising over the water towers.”
“The blue sky,” I said.
We turned out the lights, closed the door, and walked weightlessly downstairs.