The one stereotypically male trait I don’t have and really, really want is the Spatial Sense Gene.
I so do not have this gene, and I am constantly, endlessly aware of it. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the instinctive way dads have of figuring out exactly what order to load everything into your moving van, or the ability to read maps and compasses, or to build stuff. I cannot hang a picture straight to save my life, a trait which drives my brother Christopher so berserk that he gets physically twitchy. Also, I could not read a map if you held a gun to my head. Most of the time, I can live with this. When I moved to New York and had to figure out how to get from Jersey City to Midtown Manhattan for work, I did dry runs every day for three days prior to the start of my job, just to make sure I had correctly interpreted the subway map. I take the bus everywhere in Portland, and I’ve lived here long enough that it’s sort of instinct. And, because I inherited a ridonkulous quantity of antique furniture when my parents downsized houses, I rarely have to build things.
But, from time to time, I do have to move. And this is where the problems begin.
I hate moving. I hate packing, I hate boxes, I hate cleaning, I hate stress. I like the process of searching for a new apartment and finding the one you love and happily picturing where all your stuff is going to go and the curtains you’re going to buy at IKEA and thinking that maybe, finally, this will be the apartment where you finally commit to actually hanging pictures on the wall in real frames with the proper hardware, as opposed to thumbtacks. That part I like. But the whole pack-up-the-old-place-and-move-your-crap part of it, this part gives me hives. I literally have nightmares about it. This is why.
My father and I have a special moving routine we have honed to perfection over the past five years since I moved back to Portland. It goes a little something like this.
ONE MONTH PRIOR TO MOVING DAY: Dad suggests that I start collecting boxes, packing up less necessary items, cleaning and throwing things away. I enthusiastically agree, and spend at least one full week carefully, meticulously bubble-wrapping one shelf’s worth of knick-knacks or picture frames and lovingly packing them into a box. Feeling incredibly pleased with my industriousness, I take a weeklong packing break to recuperate.
TWO WEEKS PRIOR TO MOVING DAY: Every time I see my dad, he inquires (with increasingly less subtlety) how the packing is coming along. I lie through my teeth that I’m “pretty close to done.” We both know this is a lie. If we’re really lucky, I have packed two boxes by this point.
ONE WEEK BEFORE MOVING DAY: Increasing panic, hyperventilating, and stress – combined with the sudden, hysterical realization that I own way too much crap and there’s no way I’ll ever be able to move it and why did I think I needed all this stuff but I can’t throw it away but how am I ever going to pack it and maybe I should light the place on fire – makes me even less productive than before.
TWO DAYS BEFORE MOVING DAY: Since I never actually got more than four or five boxes, and have easily four thousand boxes’ worth of possessions, this is where I begin busting out the Claire Willett Special – throwing crap in garbage bags. Or brown paper bags. Or Easter baskets. All the floor space in the apartment will be taken up with thousands of tiny containers full of, like, two things. And yet every drawer, closet, and cupboard will still magically be full.
NIGHT BEFORE MOVING DAY: In my entire life I have never, ever, ever made it to bed before 4 a.m. on a Moving Day Eve.
MOVING DAY: At 8:00 sharp, my father arrives with the moving van. He trots up the apartment stairs and knocks on the door, to find me sobbing because I am never, ever ready. With barely-concealed annoyance (my father is truly heroic), the division of labor begins. My brothers and sister begin hauling down to the van the heavy furniture while I continue packing eighty million garbage bags. My brother Colin’s violent loathing for my huge carved wooden Chinese sideboard increases by a factor of 10 every time he has to help me move, because somehow he always ends up the one who has to move it. He can’t even stand the sight of it now. Meanwhile, everyone is either visibly annoyed or laughing at me, I am crying and ill-tempered, and none of it is helped by the fact that I absolutely know this is 100% my fault.
Sometimes, when I think about all that I have put him through, I’m astonished that my father still speaks to me.
So. We arrive at the new place. And here’s where the fun begins, because it is guaranteed that at some point during the process I will have completely incorrectly estimated the depth or width or height of some key item, and it won’t fit through the door. Or I’ll have neglected to mention that the stairs leading up to the bedroom take two full 90-degree turns (let us never speak of the day we tried to haul two full-sized box springs up the Stairs From Hell). Once I presented my father and my friend Jesse (another one of those spatially-skilled guys like my dad and brothers) with a “to-scale” drawing of my future apartment, with all the furniture I wanted to keep sketched in on graph paper and color-coded. My dad was, shall we say, skeptical. But I was insistent. No one could convince me that my postage-stamp-sized studio apartment was not big enough for a full bed plus a dresser, armchair, loveseat, ottoman, TV table, and bookshelf – not to mention a huge carved wooden Chinese sideboard. My father and Jesse took one look inside the empty new apartment, and turned two identical pairs of Male Eyes Of Exasperated Judgment upon me, then shared a look with each other which clearly said, “How does a person this clueless get up and go to work every morning without falling down a well?” while I stood in the hallway, boiling with humiliation and crankiness. That was the last time I tried the “to-scale rendering” tactic. It was SO not worth the mockery.
Then, once all the furniture is in and the eighty million garbage bags have been unceremoniously dumped on the floor for me to intermittently unpack (ask me how many are still in a pile in the spare room at my current house, where I have lived for a year and a half) (actually, don’t), then we come to the aftermath. For of course, it will have turned out that not everything fit into the moving van, since nothing was in boxes, and also I will not have finished bagging up the rest of my belongings. And since I do not drive, this is the part where things become gruesome, because I have to prevail on friends and siblings to drive me back and forth with the SECOND batch of eighty million garbage bags, and as the years progress they are increasingly less likely to find this fun. My friend Jesse – one of the kindest, sweetest, gentlest, most loving souls on the planet – informed me point-blank after my last move that I was not allowed to ask him for help moving for at least five more years. He was pretty sure he would have cooled down by then.
These memories are horrible and traumatic, and I have no intention of leaving this house for a good long time, if for no other reason than that the pain from my last move is still too raw. But all of this – the “to-scale” drawings, the Chinese sideboard, the garbage bags – pales in comparison to The Pink Bookshelf Incident.
Okay, so here’s what happened. My sister and I moved into a house together – a happy, pretty, hardwood-floored, yellow-kitchened, lavender-and-fruit-trees-in-the-backyard house. We loved this house immediately, and wanted to do all kinds of housewifey things to it. One of the many thousands of ideas that never came to fruition was the notion of a “Craft Room,” where we would put the second TV and all our craft supplies and a big folding table and we would have crafting parties with all our friends up there. In the course of fixing up the Craft Room, I moved my large bookshelf – one of those crappy white pressboard ones – in there for craft supplies. (I might as well come clean right now and say that the only part of that plan that ever materialized was the part about us storing our craft supplies in there. But really it’s just piles of bags and boxes, ASTONISHINGLY, and never turned into a room for actually, like, DOING anything.) Anyway, so I needed a new bookcase. Cat and I made an IKEA run, for a whole long list of house-y things like dining room chairs, skillets, new bedding and curtains, etc. As we were being herded like lab rats through IKEA (which is totally part of Cat’s Hell Triathlon), I fell deeply, madly in love with an enormous powder-pink wooden bookshelf. I had to have it. I convinced myself that it would solve all of my organizational problems – if only I had one giant shelf big enough for all my books, I wouldn’t have to keep so many of them in stacks on the floor. I NEEDED this bookshelf. It was Destiny.
So we get our stuff home (meanwhile, I was almost mowed down by an SUV-driving Neanderthal in the parking lot, but the day of my Three Brushes With Death is a story for another time), and I unpack the box which contains the makings of my bookcase on the living room floor, and I immediately want to burst into tears. It’s so incredibly heavy that the hardware has to go together in some weirdly specific way I don’t fully understand, and I can’t hold the pieces in place with one hand and screw them together with the other hand, and Cat is TOTALLY rolling her eyes at me, and I just want to die. “Why aren’t you putting that together in your room?” she asks. Well, the real answer, of course, is that my bedroom floor is covered in dirty laundry and I was sort of hoping not to have to move it, but the answer I give is, “There’s more room down here. If I build it here I can just carry it up the stairs.”
(Oh, dear sweet naive self. How little you remember about those stairs . . . )
So. HOURS go by. It is becoming increasingly clear that, without adult supervision, this bookcase will remain a massive pink abstract art installation on our living room floor until the Second Coming, so Cat calls our dad. He comes over with the drill, to help Cat with her two-minute project fixing the dining room chairs, leaving them both almost immediately free to hover over me in judgment and laugh for a good long time. Finally, my dad agrees to help me assemble the bookshelf. It is a ridiculously time-consuming and complicated process, the pieces are massively heavy, and when the whole thing is assembled I can barely lift my half as we awkwardly haul it to the foot of the stairs.
Where all hell breaks loose.
“Claire,” says my dad, sadly, about to ask a question to which he totally already knows the answer. “Did you measure this bookshelf?”
“Um . . .”
“You didn’t, did you?”
“I eyeballed it.”
Thus begins a nearly hourlong process in which we discover that the bookshelf is too big for the stairs in literally every direction. We tried taking off the top shelf, but it was still too tall to stand up straight and too long to go up at an angle. We tried putting the top shelf back on and removing one of the side panels, but it was still too broad to make the turn. There was literally no direction in which it fit – standing up, laying flat, tilted, flat on its side, etc. In other words, if I had measured this bookshelf, I would have realized that it had not a snowball’s chance in hell of making it up those stairs in one piece.
There really are no words to describe the look on my dad’s face as it dawned on us that we were going to have to entirely disassemble the whole thing, which we had just spent four hundred years putting together, and haul up each insanely heavy 7-foot-high-by-two-foot-wide-by four-inch-deep solid plank one at a time. Plus, of course, I had to clean my floor. But we did. We hauled it up there, I cleared the floor, we reassembled it, we sighed with relief.
Then we looked around.
Two of the four walls of my room slope with the roof at a height of about 5 and a half feet. The bookshelf is too tall for those walls. The third has a window right smack in the middle; the bookshelf is too wide.
“Where is this supposed to go?” said my dad, heart sinking. I looked around at the one remaining wall. Right in the middle, on the floor, is a metal heating grate, about one foot square, which I was strictly ordered by the landlords not to cover with furniture.
“Um . . .”
So we hauled the bookshelf upright, over to the one feasible wall, and slid it so it did not cover the heating grate. Great Hammer of Thor, it fit! Miracle of miracles! Finally! All done! We sighed with relief.
Then we realized it blocks the door.
So if you’ve ever come to my house, and seen my bedroom, and wondered what kind of idiot puts a bookshelf so close to a door that you can only get it like 2/3rds of the way open and you have to kind of squeeze through the opening . . . now you know. The answer is, THIS kind of idiot.