Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Move, Part One: Seven Steps

>Like so many other things in this life--time, space, size, pain--distance is relative. You can walk several miles and not only not be especially tired, but actually feel invigorated and excited at the end of the journey, depending on what the destination is and why you're walking there.

On the other hand (or other foot, if you prefer), a stairway consisting of no more than seven painted wooden steps and a vexing dogleg can seem like a marathon, depending on what you're attempting to carry for that slight distance.

Like, say, a 300-lb. chest.

The chest in question has been in the family for decades. It belonged to my great uncle, a master plumber who built the chest to hold his tools and fittings. (His name is on a brass plate on the front of the chest.) He died the year I was born, and the chest stayed with my great aunt until she had a stroke about 20 years later. At that point, Mom took the chest and anything else of value to keep it safe from the inevitable thieves and bandits who'd break in and walk off with whatever they could carry.

How this chest met that standard, I'm not sure. Valuable? To somebody somewhere, I'm sure. But portable? The damn thing didn't even have wheels. (My brother later installed industrial-strength casters, which tore off during the move into La Casa del Terror and were replaced with a fresh set by me later.) But I took a liking to it and decided to move it with me when I left Mom's house.

It was a decision my friends regretted when I moved into La casa del Terror 11 years ago. It was a decision I regretted as soon as I tried to move it out of La Casa del Terror and into my new apartment, even though it only had to go up seven steps. I was able to slide it down the ancient, decaying back steps of the old place (using the top of the chest, which is covered in heavy-gauge sheet metal), roll it across the alley on a hand truck (borrowed from Mom) and move it through the gangway of my new building. Dragging it up those seven steps, though, involved lifting, straining, sweating and, eventually, lying on my back and yanking forward like a prisoner on a pirate ship rowing an enormous oar.

It worked. I got the chest in with minimal damage to myself (a few bruises) or the new apartment (a dent in the hardwood floor that isn't visible unless you know to look for it) and no damage whatsoever to the chest itself, which, along with the dandelions and cockroaches, will survive the thermonuclear war to come--if, in fact, it ever does, unless we manage to destroy this little blue marble we live and toil on every day.

The decision to move, however, is one I don't regret, even with all of the hassles that have come along with it, like flipping couches and dressers down those same back steps, recently declared unsafe by the City of Chicago (at least that's what the huge orange sticker said, before somebody tore it off), in 95-degree heat. For a variety of reasons--no lease tendered (to me or any other tenant, due to our landlady fearing she'd have to sell the building if the impending tax bill was too high), an increase in rent and the recent break-in attempt--it was time to go.

And circumstances just happened to work in my favor, which they sometimes do: The first week I started looking through the "housing for rent" section of The Chicago Reader, I found an apartment listed that was very, very close to where I was living; I looked at the place and liked both it and the landlord; I signed the lease just over a week later.

Great. But, also, scary: I now had to execute a move in a short amount of time and did not want to involve my friends, many of whom volunteered to help anyway, especially since the weekend when I was hauling out the important stuff--big furniture, necessities, the cats--turned out to be smack in the middle of the worst heat wave in 11 years. (And I had lived in La Casa del Terror 11 years. Coincidence? I think not.)

And, also, sad: La Casa was my home for more than a decade. A lot happened in my life while I was there. Some of it was very good; some of it was awful. A large chunk of my life--more than a quarter of it--had been spent in that apartment, and no matter how unusual the circumstances, it's hard not to look back at that space without reflecting on all that had or had not happened there.

So the move started, and by the end of that brutally hot weekend, the essentials had been taken from the old place to the new.

So ends the first part of my account. But the move? Has not ended. Oh no. It has not. More on that anon.