Movers haul things in and out of trucks, carry bookcases up and down stairs, tear open boxes, and unload books and teacups and ukuleles and tiny ceramic figurines, all while handling the emotions and nitpicky preferences of their clients. I have lived in four countries, and never cease to be impressed by the sheer perseverance and strength of professional movers.
In every moving crew, there is the person who is responsible for taking things apart, and putting things back together. He doesn’t spend as much time in the truck or on the stairs, because he is camped out in the living room or in a bedroom, with a bag of screws, a drill, and zero instructions.
Last Friday, at my house, this person was Antoine, a thin muscular man in a black sleeveless top and a slight limp due to a recent fracture.
I last saw Antoine four years ago, unscrewing table legs and bedposts, preparing to move all of our furniture to Perth. My daughters, then seven and nine, stood at the doorway to their bedroom and watched him take apart their bunk bed. He joked with them about Australia, and told them to keep an eye out for boxing kangaroos.
On Friday, all of our belongings came back from Perth, and with them, Antoine. “It’s you!” I exclaimed, opening the door. I was happy to see this man who was so helpful to us in a time of transition. “I remember this place,” he said, wiping his feet on the welcome mat. “Nice view. Can you see them from here?”
“The Blue Angels.” Antoine was not feeling particularly nostalgic. He rushed over to the living room window and looked out, past the cypress tree. I told him they usually fly over Twin Peaks, so yes, perhaps later that afternoon we would see them.
“He’s obsessed,” said Antoine’s boss, showing the crew around our house. “He wants to fly planes,” said the big guy with the star tattoo on his neck. “Too bad he’s stuck here with us,” said the little guy with the black glasses and backwards baseball cap. They all laughed.
Within the hour, our front patio was filled with boxes marked Artwork, Bedframe 2, Kids Toys. My husband suggested they get the rugs first. Star Tattoo carried an eight-by-ten rug over his shoulder like it was a foam pool noodle. “Where do you want it?”
I showed him downstairs, and he rotated the roll and flopped it on the floor. I stared at his inked neck and thought of The Sneetches. He pulled a razor out of the front pocket of his jeans and sliced the plastic wrapping expertly, as if fileting a fish. Antoine followed us and took a peek. “It’s blue,” he announced and then cocked his head. “Did you hear that?” I reminded him the Blue Angels don’t start flying until the afternoon. Star Tattoo rolled out the rug. “That’s good right there,” I told him, and he headed upstairs to help bring in a couch. I knelt on the rug and leaned down to take a whiff, hoping to smell something, anything, from Australia. Eucalyptus, or bush fire, or maybe grilled sausage. It smelled like a rug. The song “Nothing” from A Chorus Line popped in my head. And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul to see what I had inside.
The men carried six enormous boxes downstairs, all labeled Bunk Bed. Antoine ran to the foot of the stairs to help and the small guy with the baseball cap said, “Thanks, that was awesome.” Without missing a beat, Antoine snickered, “I’ve heard that before.” The guys groaned like they heard that joke daily. The boss called me ma’am and said he had been unwrapping a tall box upstairs and discovered a spider clinging to the floor lamp, a castaway from Australia. “Scared the shit out of me,” he said. “Give me anything but spiders.”
I watched Antoine put together the bunk bed. I admired the gentle way he handled each wooden slat, applying pressure to each one after it was in place, testing its resilience.
Recently I received an email from an American friend considering a job in Australia. He asked if it’s worth it, the enormous effort of leaving the familiar, the challenge of taking kids out of their comfort zone. I wrote him back in all caps, DO IT, and later I felt that I should have added something about the fact that you’re never completely alone. That there is a world of people out there, holding you up, helping reconstruct your life after you have disassembled it.
I asked Antoine how he landed this particular role with his moving crew. He said he has always loved taking things apart, and especially putting them back together. “Ever since I was a kid,” he said, with screws hanging out of his mouth. “It’s such a sense of satisfaction.” I told him I understood. He looked at the ceiling and said, “Do you hear something?”