Every day in the not-too-distant lands of Westchester or Park Avenue penthouses (any category of “up”), people move out of their homes, and their belongings go with them. They call movers and they go to brunch and they come back and all their stuff is in a new place. It’s a simple process, really, a matter of physics and packing tape. But for those of us stuck on the ground, for whom “up” is five flights and penthouses come wrapped in plastic at the corner bodega, moving in Manhattan is a strange and fascinating hell. And for all of us who have endeavored to transport ourselves from point A to point B on this island, there is a story being told about “the worst moving experience ever.” One person’s CD collection goes missing, another tells of a magical moving truck that takes four hours to drive five blocks, yet another mistakenly spackles the dog. We’ve all heard it all. Well, almost all. The very nature of the gripe is to think that your story must be the worst. Needless to say, I have more than a hunch about mine.
Thursday, 2 p.m.: Being a New Yorker, I tend to instinctively value my belongings over my own life. I would never, say, liquor up my grandmother’s china vase and send it by itself down Avenue D trying to hail a cab at 3 a.m. Thus, with plans to escort all my worldly possessions from my shared two-bedroom at 70th and Columbus to my new studio on 73rd before the first of the month, I call my lovely new landlords and demand that they install a new basic lock. I am set to pick up the keys to said lock on the following Tuesday. That’s five days. I can wait five days.
Friday, 9 a.m.: After a week of stealing boxes and bubble wrap from the office, I start moving more fragile and valuable belongings (glass slippers, passports, vodka) on foot down five flights, up three blocks, and to my new place on 73rd. My roommate moves out Friday too, so I actually spend most of the day keeping out of his way and scrubbing the shit out of my antique new apartment with every cleaning solution, and Brillo pad, I can find. I take 15 or so “breaks” by walking over to the old place and carrying more things to the new. About 30 trips up and down the stairs later, I go out for the evening and return in the wee hours.
Saturday, 8:10 a.m.: I get up to prepare for the movers who charge by the hour so I’m trying to do as much moving of the things/boxes packed over the past two weeks as I can by myself. I am wearing shorts, a tank top, and flip-flops. Why is this relevant, you might ask. Why is an early-morning outfit description ever relevant? For the first time in my three years of living at my old apartment, I lock myself out.
Saturday, 8:30 a.m.: After pounding on my downstairs neighbor’s door to no avail, it occurs to me that I should try to break in through the roof. I manage to unlock the roof door without the alarm sounding (a fact that would bother me tremendously if I weren’t moving out that day) only to find that for the first time in his years at our apartment, my roommate has locked his window grate. But wait, my window has no grate. So I climb over the fire escape and, upon realizing that my toe barely touches the sill and this is not an action-adventure movie, climb straight back over and go downstairs.
Saturday, 9 a.m.: I ask the coffee shop people across the way to lend me their phone. I call a locksmith. As I sit on my stoop and wait, leering at peppy weekend joggers, I think that maybe the locksmith will be my future husband. Maybe this will be the story we will tell our kids and speeches will be given at our wedding about hearts and the importance of having the key to them.
Saturday, 9:25 a.m.: He pulls up in an ’82 Camry with his ponytail dangling out the window. The trunk is plastered with bumper stickers like the automotive version of a mullet. He says: So, you locked yourself out, huh? I say: Looks like it.
Saturday, 9:45 a.m.: It’s a total of $280. Like most people who live here, I am prone to the constant suspicion that I’m being ripped off. But it’s too early to process this. There’s all this money, and then there’s the shower and coffee it can get me. I hand him the cash. But wait, that’s the money I had reserved for paying the movers, so I go to the ATM and take out as much as I can before the machine informs me with a friendly message that reads: “You’ve reached your daily limit, dumbass.” Or something like that.
Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: I think I might have eaten something, but basically, I’m just moving, cleaning, spackling, packing, a lot of “-ing.” Too much. My calves are starting to throb. A good friend comes over to basically hang out, keep an eye on the movers for a few hours, and lend me money since everyone needs cash today and I physically can’t get any more. I’m exhausted and tired and sweaty and feel like I haven’t slept in days. Because I haven’t.
Saturday, 5:40 p.m.: My friend leaves. I look around my new place and sigh at the clutter. I start to unpack and go to throw away a single box.
Saturday, 5:48 p.m.: I lock myself out. Again.
Saturday, 6 p.m.: I jiggle the lock to my new place, which will not move and which also sits about three feet above my doormat, which reads “Déjà Vu Déjà Vu,” frontward and backward. This can’t be happening. I knock on my new neighbor’s door and borrow her cell phone. I call the landlord, who is somewhere in Connecticut. He informs me that The Super is on 96th Street with a spare key that I can get if I go now.
Saturday, 6:30 p.m.: What do I really need now after two straight days of physical movement? A sprint! By God, yes, a sprint! So I book my ass up to 96th and meet The Super. Beautiful little man, I think I’ve never been so excited to see another human being in my life. I say: Are you the key master? He says: What? I say: Nothing. He hands me the key and I look at it and my heart sinks. It’s the same key as I already have. The sight of them matching up perfectly together . . . trauma. My landlord was wrong. This person does not have the new key. He is, in fact, the devil disguised as a smiling Puerto Rican man. The disappointment fuels my run back to 73rd.
Saturday, 7:15 p.m.: I am so fucked. I sit on my stoop and breathe. My landlord won’t be back from Connecticut until Tuesday. I would call a friend or a co-worker or the ASPCA except that all my numbers and my phone for that matter are locked behind a big oak board. What’s so annoying about locking yourself out or leaving a wallet somewhere or any mistake without prior escalation is that it could so easily have not happened. But it did. And twice in one day. And even if I could access my wallet, I couldn’t use it to get cash until midnight.
Saturday, 7:45 p.m.: I do it. I call my parents collect from a pay phone. I think they think I’m in jail. I worry for a moment that this is their natural conclusion. Then again something about the boxed pay phones in New York feels like TV prison anyway. This is around the time I lose it and start to cry. My lungs feel small. I tell them that I’m going to go back to my old building to read the same locksmith number off the same sticker and hope my old neighbors are home so I can borrow their cell phone.
Saturday, 8:15 p.m.: I tell the locksmith dispatcher that he should either give me a break or charge me double for being an idiot. Up to him. He laughs, says he’ll give me a $20 discount. Meanwhile, one of my saintly parents drives into the city to bail me into my apartment: $260. And I wait for the locksmith, sniffling and knowing all my lights are on.
Saturday, 9 p.m.: The locksmith pulls up. He is the same locksmith as the one this morning. Hi again, he says. I tell him that he knows my life better than any of my friends because he is one of the few to have seen both my old place and my new. He takes out his drill. Again. I tell him that he has a very urban job, what with all the drunks and deviants and dumbasses in this city. I wonder aloud about all the strange people and places he sees. He changes the lock and fills out the receipt and points down with his pen. He says: That’s a funny doormat.
Sloane Crosley is a senior publicist at Vintage Books.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 25, 2004