moving boxes
Getting everything into a box is only part of the battle. By Avi via Flickr

Last Friday, I moved across town, from suburban Virginia to suburban Maryland. I thought the movers were coming Saturday. I thought this until 8:45 a.m. Friday, when Brandon of URelax Movers called to say he was 15 minutes out. If two people have conflicting ideas of when something’s scheduled for, I’m nearly always the one who screwed up. I was already in crisis mode, nowhere near packed up. Now I went a notch higher. Oh, @&^$, I thought.

“We’ll do the best we can,” Brandon said.

We pulled out from the old place in a truck packed to the gills (if trucks have gills) that still hadn’t had enough room for all my junk. Brandon told me a little too casually that he didn’t have enough truck space. At that point, it was just another mosquito bite.

I knew my new place, built in 1936, was smaller, just not how much. Nor that there was only one drawer in the kitchen, no shelves in most of the cabinets, no coat closet, and just two tiny closets in the entire living area. In 1936, people must have had very simple wardrobes. I’d gotten rid of half my stuff prior to moving. I now realized I’d have to get rid of half of what remained. As in every piece of outdoor gear I haven’t used in the past year. Snake boots, insulated hip waders, Alaska-weight parkas—I don’t even want to think about it. Not a huge demand for that stuff around D.C., where many people wonder why anyone would want a gun except to shoot people.

The windows had been painted shut and hadn’t been opened in decades. For one thing, that’s a fire hazard. Not to mention crazy. Who never opens a window? I realized—no idea how I’d missed this—that the living room was also the dining area. I put a thermometer–humidity gauge in the basement, which was quite cool and moist. I’d need a dehumidifier running full time to stay ahead of the mildew-friendly moisture down there.    By afternoon, I was on good terms with the two older men who Brandon had hired to help. One was an old friend of his, Sonny, who had been in the moving business for decades, liked the boy, and patiently told him how to load the truck efficiently. The other was Brandon’s uncle, also trying to help him get his feet wet as a professional mover. As we were waiting for Brandon to return from another trip inside, I told the two men that I liked Brandon but that he hadn’t been good about answering my texts and calls. And when I did, he started telling me why he hadn’t called.

“You guys know a client only cares that he’s there, not why he isn’t.” Also, when he’d said the truck was too small, he hadn’t acknowledged his mistake or made any gesture—say taking $50 off the move—of reconciliation. And, while I could tell he was a good kid, a difficult client might easily have thought that he’d been trying to put one over on me, maybe save himself some money by using a smaller and less expensive truck. An apology and a token gesture would have bought him some good will—maybe a bigger tip—but he hadn’t done either.

At that point Sonny said, “It’d be great if you told him that. I keep telling him he needs to listen to me more and learn, but it might hit deeper coming from a client, you know?”     So, when the job was done, I tipped everyone well and, in front of the two older men, said, “Look, Brandon, you’ve got a good work ethic. But you need to communicate better with your clients. I got so frustrated at your not answering my calls that I’d have fired you but for a good recommendation from a friend. And, look, you screwed up estimating the size of the job and neither acknowledged it nor made any gesture by way of apology. I know it was an honest mistake, but I’ve still got at least two more trips to make. And you need to listen better to this man”—I pointed at Sonny—“a lot better.”

“I know, I know,” he stammered.

“No you don’t,” I said. “You think you do, but you’ve only scratched the surface of what this man can teach you. And I get it. You’re young, and young men always think they know everything. It comes with the territory. But you listen to what I’m saying. I’m not telling you this to beat up on you. I’m telling you because I like you and want you to succeed, okay?”

He smiled and shook my hand, as did Sonny and his uncle. While they were cleaning up and getting ready to go, both of the older men sought me out separately to thank me. Five minutes later, they did it again. “He really needed that,” said his uncle. “So I appreciate it. You’re alright, Bill.”

It felt good to know that they appreciated it. It felt good to know that maybe I’d helped the kid. He was a hard worker, was much stronger than his skinny frame let on, and, I was pretty sure, had his heart in the right place. As they drove off, I realized that feeling like I’d been of help was a better feeling than any I’d had in a good while.