Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Weary of juggling pianos

Commentary by Jim Banholzer


Jim Banholzer

In the spring quagmire of '97 I was mucking mud off cars in what I hoped was a temporary job during slack. Suddenly, I saw three pretty girls with hands on hips staring at an unmoving sofa on the ground. I asked if they needed help. Little did I know at the time that this would lead into opportunities to see professionally decorated interiors of hundreds of grand homes throughout this valley—via hauling in heavy furniture.

When men move amoires up staircases, it's helpful to take precautions. Peppy wants to help but needs to stay in his kennel. Tying pads around sharp corners of heavy objects aids for "bumps" but takes away gripping ability. Removing and labeling shelves and drawers is beneficial as is tying the doors shut on the furniture. More important is foreknowledge of the moves your coworker is apt to make—just like he's your sports teammate preparing for an assist. If you're lifting 300 pounds up a narrow staircase, it's best to work with your shoes on. Just bring a couple of towels for the landing areas where you might drag in dirt or snow.

One fellow worker went out of his way several times to help me on short notice. A few weeks later he had a gig for a store that believed in selling even heavier furniture. Naturally I felt obligated to help him in return. One weekend we ended up moving stuff in and out of the same house for three different companies. The lady there must have thought that all of us furniture guys looked alike.

Eventually I developed enough knack at it to become a senior mover. Sometimes we amazed ourselves with methods of squeezing sleeper sofas sideways through doorways while glum bystanders commented "You'll never make it." One of the tightest spots witnessed was when a young lady came back from a client's house in tears as she had stuck a wicker chair in a doorway and was not able to budge it in or out. We somehow slipped it out without marring the entrance too badly.

Not long ago my grandmother told me about how grandfather's back went out at the age I am now--almost ruining the family. Pop Pop had been working as a butcher--lifting heavy carcasses across hard floors for the old A&P food stores. He was, however, able to reinvent himself as a traveling meat inspector. I mulled this over and realized that eventually one of these lead gun safes or 9-foot slate and mahogany behemoth statues was going to befall me bad.

Then an acquaintance mentioned that he was busy with plenty of moving work at a higher rate. We conversed briefly about the dodgy areas movers and shakers get into--never knowing for sure how many windows frames and doors you'll have to pop off until you arrive at the scene. Sometimes complete with icy walkways and three flights of slippy stairs.

My brother had been a guard for President Reagan vowing to take a bullet for him if necessary. I was no longer willing to carry on a tinier version of this family tradition—by using my wrist as a cushion to protect some small potato barristers' banister from scratches. After I said this, the man trying to recruit me fessed up and revealed a bad bruise he had taken that very morning. He figured at the moment he was slipping that his body could heal easier than dealing with the headache of repairing a wall.

I had been teetering in my decision like a piece of unbalanced furniture. Now, this wax sealed it. It was time to do something about reinventing my own self. A lot of pride had come along with being a "can do" guy, able to contort my body around furniture and haul it through labyrinths of hallways into seemingly impossible set-ups. But that last piano hoisted up steps played a moving swan song of David Bowies "Ch-Ch-Changes".

Therefore, I'm quite grateful to have been given this opportunity to reinvent myself. If you can grin and bear it, I'll distill and ferment stories gathered from dozens of the backbone of America type jobs I've worked. From jackhammer blues to delivering the news, into tales with toboggans as vehicles sometimes with interesting rapscallions aboard calling themselves Dukes or Dauphins.

Any alchemist worth his weight in snow spun gold can tell you a proper recipe to make these new granolas puff is; one part humor, one part truth stranger than fiction and one part meaningfulness with a suggestion for action. Though some of what I write requires as much analyzing as a Simpson episode, I'll do my best in mixing up the concoctions so that they will settle in with you in a good way.

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