There is an old expression. A friend will help you move, your best friend will help you move a body. This isn’t a story of moving a corpse. That would have been much easier.
We begin in the 1970’s. My best friend, Gerry, manages to find an apartment and leave the basement of his parent’s house behind. Hooray for Gerry! Back then due to the collapse of the economy twenty somethings had little or no money. Come to think of it, nothing has changed.
Gerry’s new home was a three story walk up in Roselle Park, New Jersey. It was cheap, so cheap it didn’t come with a refrigerator. He was able to procure one for free. But, as we all know, nothing is free. You pay for it one way or another. Kids today would call the fridge very retro. That word hadn’t come into vogue yet so we called it what it was, old, huge and very, very heavy.
Exactly how Gerry came to possess this electric monolith is lost to the ages. But the move from street level to the third floor? That’s something I’ll never forget.
The building had no elevator. We needed manpower. Friends who are willing help you move are always in short supply. This time, every last one of them had sense enough to be busy. My father wasn’t busy and, in fact, he was happy to help.
Let me paint the picture. Gerry and I were twenty-somethings only out of college a couple of years. My dad was born just as the first World War was ending. He was pushing 60. We should have been ashamed to ask for his help. But we were desperate. And we would be ashamed soon enough.
My Dad was 5’6” and from West Virginia stock. He was a farmboy who managed to survive the Great Depression by hoboing his way across the country and following the wheat harvest. He was no stranger to hard work. Actually, he thrived on it.
Dad arrived on the scene with a large steel appliance dolly. It was exactly what we needed except it weighed about forty pounds and that we didn’t need. He slipped the edge under the half ton box and strapped it down. After he was satisfied that it was tight enough, he turned and gave us his patented shit-eating grin and said, “I think we’re ready.”
This wasn’t a modern apartment house. It was a relic from the 1920’s. Each apartment had high ceilings. That meant lots and lots of stairs. The staircases weren’t just long, they were steep and narrow.
We managed to get the beast into the lobby and positioned it in front of the first set of stairs. Man, that was a lot of steps. A single low wattage bulb lit the way. The whole scene looked menacing.
I’ll get on top,” Dad said happily, “You two push from the bottom.”
“No, Dad. Let me take it.”
He was already in position and pulled the monster toward him. “I’ll be fine. Let’s go.”
And so the trek to the summit began. Dad called out, “Up!” with each step as he stepped backwards and pulled. Gerry and I pushed from underneath. Halfway up that first staircase I started to think that the refrigerator was filled with cement.
“Up!”, the call from above came again and again. “Up!”
We arrived at the first landing, I was covered in sweat. Gerry was gasping for air. My Dad peered around the corner of the ancient appliance and said, “You boys need a rest?”
He was fresh as a daisy. It was unbelievable. He wasn’t winded, he was concerned for us. It was humiliating. “We’re fine,” I said.
Gerry looked over at me, “We are?”
“Yes,” I hissed.
Gerry and I caught a little bit of a breather because maneuvering the box in the narrow hallway between the staircases was an absolute bitch. The fridge was almost as wide as the hallway. Swinging it around to the next set of steps took about ten minutes. We hit the wall a couple of times in the process. The refrigerator wasn’t damaged because my hand cushioned it. None of Gerry’s soon to be neighbors poked their heads out to find out what the banging and swearing was all about. I suspect that they saw us pull up with a refrigerator bigger than their car, turned off their lights and pretended not to be home. That’s what I would have done.
I had high hopes that the next set of stairs would be shorter or maybe the first set was just an optical illusion. Wrong on both counts. Ditto for the third flight.
Halfway up the final set of stairs I thought I was going to die. Not kidding. In fact, I was praying for a quick exit. Gerry and I weren’t just sweating, we were bleeding from the collisions with the walls and handrails. “Take me now, Lord,” I said under my breath.
Like most prayers, this one went unanswered.
Then suddenly with one last loud crashing sound we were on the third floor.
“Okay,” my father said, without so much as a pant. “We’re here.”
Gerry and I weren’t quite there yet. We were kneeling on the third step from the top, sprawled face down and gripping the edge of the landing. Standing up was out of the question.
I turned to Gerry, “You okay?”
He couldn’t answer. Instead, he just waved weakly.
Dad was already exploring the third floor landing.
“Is this your apartment, Gerry?” he called out.
“We should have measured first. I’m not sure the refrigerator will make it through the door.”
Oh, Dear God.
It did make it…just…with maybe a half inch to spare. I’m glad that it worked when my father plugged it in. If it hadn’t, I would have summoned the strength to kill Gerry right then and there.
I wish this was the only time I helped anyone move. In fact, I wish it was the only time I helped Gerry move, but that was not to be. A couple of years later, Gerry got tired of being an urban mountain climber and found another apartment. This time stairs weren’t the problem. The furniture was.
There are a lot of terrible inventions in the history of man. Subprime mortgages come to mind. So does the Ford Pinto and, of course, Auto-Tune. For my money, near the top of the list is an ubiquitous piece of furniture that is found in millions of homes. It is a sofa gone bad. The pullout couch.
I’m sure that contraption seemed like a wonderful idea at the time. Bernard Castro, an Italian immigrant, is considered by many to be the grandfather of the modern sleeper sofa. He began producing them in 1931. At that time, people lived in apartments or small houses. There were no McMansions. Money was tight, and so was space. There was no guest room. A sofa that can become a bed…no matter how uncomfortable…was the answer.
The guest room in a couch was not without its challenges. To fold a bed into a sofa the mattress had to be wafer thin. And that was okay. You didn’t want your mother-in-law to stay forever. But there was a bigger problem. The hinges and springs that made the sofa utilitarian were made out of steel. And steel is heavy. Moving one of these bad boys is something you never forget.
On this particular day, Gerry was moving into his new apartment and he was the proud owner of one of these spring-loaded catastrophes. Fortunately for our egos, we didn’t have to ask my father for help. We didn’t need anybody’s help. The apartment was on the ground floor. And it was just a couch. The two of us could handle that. Piece of cake.
It was heavier than it looked. A lot heavier. We decided to slide the beast. That worked well until we got to the door of the apartment. The couch was wider than the door. My Dad would have measured. I kept that thought to myself.
Taking off the door would give us about an inch and a half more clearance but it still wasn’t enough. Then I had an idea. If we lifted the couch and gave it a quarter turn it would just fit through the doorway. And if we were quick, we could get the steel sofa through the opening before our arms gave out. Gerry was skeptical, but there was no other choice.
We got into position.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“Not even a little,” Gerry answered.
“We can do this.”
“I hope you’re right.”
And with that we picked up the monster, rotated it into position and started moving.
“I can’t hold it,” Gerry said.
“We can do it, come on.”
And so we huffed and puffed, pulled and pumped. And miraculously it was working. We were halfway into the apartment. And that’s when the couch sprung open like a bear trap. For the next hour we tried to fold the couch back in on itself but to no avail. It was one of those all the kings horses and all the kings men type of deals. We had to call in a lot of favors to get three more people to help us squeeze that bastard through the doorway and into the apartment. As I rubbed my smashed fingers, I made Gerry promise to leave the sofa when he moved. He readily agreed.
I sat down on the incredibly uncomfortable couch. This was the last time, I told myself. I would never move anyone again…including myself. It felt good to think that, even though I knew it was a baldfaced lie. Gerry offered me a beer from the six pack we forgot to put in the refrigerator.
I love the taste of warm, cheap beer. It tastes like irony.