You see me coming up your walk. I’m wearing a jumpsuit or a shirt with a bright, perhaps somewhat indecipherable logo above the left pocket. Behind me at the curb is a truck, a huge and battered machine that looks like a battle-damaged warship. This is moving day and you are nervous and anxious. Things are hectic. Your life is being uprooted. The stability, the monotony that we humans struggle to achieve is being upset. Changes.
Your thoughts: The movers are here. I hope they don't break anything.
Still deeper thoughts: Ah, these hulks, these Neanderthals. How do I deal with them?
I have seen into your lives. I’ve been in your Serra Mesa homes, your University City condos, your Pacific Beach apartments. I’ve seen your secrets. I’ve been in your bathrooms. I’ve opened your dresser drawers and seen what you hide. I know what you eat and what you read. I’ve found the embarrassing objects you forgot to put away before I arrived. I’ve seen you in the early morning before you could wash the sleep away. I’ve seen you as perhaps even your intimate friends have not.
I’ve moved you in when you were newlyweds. You were frantic and happy, eager for me to finish so that you could lock the door and make love for the first time as husband and wife in your new home. I’ve moved you in divorce, as you played out your domestic drama in front of me with shouts and tears, shredding apart what once, years ago, built all this. Some of you have died. I’ve come into your silent rooms and, with your spirit hovering around me. I’ve boxed up your objects, your memories, the material you, and I’ve carted them away to your children’s houses or to some dusty storage place. I’ve seen your lives in disarray.
She was bron with a silver spoon in her mouth, and it was my agony to be there on the day it began to slip down her throat. Her name was Melissa. She was sixteen months old and she was the most beautiful child I had ever seen. I looked at her and I lamented the lost loves of my life and regretted the fact that I was still single. Melissa lived in emotional desolation on the northwest side of Mount Soledad. Her mother was also beautiful: thirtyish, with blond hair that fell to her shoulders in an intricately planned tousle that evoked sexuality. I knew men looked at her, as I did, and became aroused, as I was. Even neatly dressed, as she was that evening, she looked as though she had just risen from some erotic encounter. Was her child a product of some such lust? Now, though, the lust was depleted. The love, if it ever existed, was gone. I was there to take apart, to remove. It was a divorce, yet another divorce.
That day had already been a long one. It had been a long two weeks, busy and hot. San Diego was moving. It is not just the weather that attracts everyone to this town, it is the motion of the place. Beneath the ground, there are the motions we rarely feel but forever await: tremors, faults, slips, plates, all that geology. Aboveground, there are the people: forward motion, social climbing, moving across Interstate 5. (West of I-5, on the west side of Mount Soledad, that's La Jolla. East of that, they’re just dreamers.) People were playing the moving game, playing musical condos. Students shifting with the semesters, the beach places filling up in summer, relationships breaking up and re-forming. Easterners moving in, drifters, the dying go to nursing homes, the dead go — somewhere.
I can remember details of that day. The paperwork, for example. There were notes attached, always a bad sign. The first move was an elderly woman. The note said, “Possibly senile.’’ The second move was the Mount Soledad house. “Divorce. Unamiable. Accept cash only and be careful.” Dark clouds at morning.
I was in the moving company’s yard, at Mission Gorge Road and Twain Avenue, warming up the truck. Divorce moves: how I hated them. I’d seen grown adults fighting tooth and nail over a coffee table. I'd been referee, peacemaker, diplomat, cop. I was already dreading that day.
My partner is Garry. He looks like a mover, or what you expect a mover to look like. Tall, huge, brawny, and in his face a hint of the look that makes people fret about their heirlooms. From Crawford High he went to the Midwest to play for a Division 11 football power. He had distant, probably desperate dreams of playing pro ball. A knee injury put him out of football, and a year or so later he left school. Garry had been working for a couple of years with several different moving companies in San Diego, jumping around to whoever was busy and needed help at the time. The moving business is full of guys like him: ex-jocks, ditch-diggers, out-of-work carpenters, Vietnam vets. These are guys who have always led physical lives, lives of exertion. They’ve put things up, tom them down, dug, split, carried, and pushed. They like the sweat and the muscle ache at the end of the day. In San Diego the weather is good, and such work goes on all year long. They like it here.
I’ve worked with Garry before. Garry does not involve himself in the human side of this job. He does not speak to the people. The human dramas, when they occur, don’t touch him. He lifts, he carries. He doesn’t look or listen, and, quite probably, he does not care. These dramas are only an annoyance to him. On the way to the job this morning we make small talk, discussing war stories of the moving trade: the lunatics we’ve encountered, the beautiful women, the heaviest pieces of furniture.
The old woman is not senile, merely a lost soul. And she is not sour and cranky but instead cherub-faced, a Walton’s Mountain grandmother. She looks as if she should be in an apron in her kitchen, smelling of baked cookies. The house is on Euclid Avenue in East San Diego, in a section that has lost its charm. For her, a lonely old woman, it is a log cabin in Indian country. The area has become a melting pot of blacks, Chicanos, and Asians. According to her son, the pot is boiling over. There are break-ins, gang fights and rapes. So there is a role reversal: the son is now protective, as the mother was when he was a child. She has returned to a state of childlike helplessness in the face of all the neighborhood mayhem, and the son insists that she move. He doesn't like his mother going to sleep each night to the sounds of muffled shouts, squealing tires, running footfalls, and sirens. He has bought her a condo in Clairemont. A cop we once moved told us that Clairemont had some of the highest crime statistics in San Diego. I do not mention this to the son.