Sunday, May 02, 2004

Man With A Van Day!

You meet this Don guy outside his girlfriend's apartment building on 63rd between 2nd and 1st. You got your van into a space down the block. You'll pull up and double park when the girl's down on the street to keep an eye out. This Don guy is a lot smaller than you.

"Did you ring the buzzer?" the Don guy asks.

"You only gave me the address," you say. "Not the apartment number."

You and the Don guy head inside and up the three flights to his girlfriend's apartment.

"What's her name again, Don?"

The Don guy says, "Sarah."

You go up three more steps before you say, "Pretty name," up to Don's back. Don's leading you up the steps.

"You live with anybody?" Don asks.


"This is my first time," says the Don guy. He smiles down at youover his shoulder. He's excited about it.

Don's putting his key in the lock when you remember you didn't ask for the money yet. You always get paid up front. Three of your first four jobs ended with a haggle over the rate. The fourth one ended with you sitting around waiting to get paid while the college kids you helped to move kept trying to put another beer in your hand. Since then, it's always up front, in full. If they wanna argue, they can go find another van.

"Oh, hey Don. About the money."

"Right. Sarah's got it."

The Don guy opens the door on a ransacked studio. Dresser drawers hang open and half-empty. The bed is naked except for a comforter. The closet door is flung wide with a pile of sweaters and jackets strewn out on the floor like the thing exploded. The open windows flutter the curtains bulbous into the room, just to make it all look a little more desolate. Don's looking at the fridge. There's a note on it.

"Oh fucking hell," you say. You're not gonna get paid.

The Don guy is reading the note. "Holy shit," he says.

"What the fuck's it say Don?" you ask.

"She freaked."

You're really not gonna get paid. "How bad Don? Is this for real or is she gonna come running back by the end of the day. Read me the note."

The Don guy gives you the same incredulous look he's giving the piece of paper in his hands. "Dude, I hardly know you."

"Check it out Don." You're pointing a finger at him. "This involves me too here. You hired me for a job that I might not be allowed to perform. And before I explain to you that I get paid for my time no matter what obstacles beyond my control prevent the job from getting done, I'd like to know whether there's gonna be a job to do."

The Don guy looks at you, then your finger. "She freaked, all right. I'm not gonna read you the note."

"She's not moving in with you?"

The Don guy shakes his head, his eyes still down on the note.

"Okay Don, but is this just a cold feet thing? Could she come back today?"

"How the hell should I know?" he says.

"Well how've things been between you two lately?"

The Don guy folds up the note. "Look, let's just go to a cash machine and I'll pay you what we agreed."

You sit down on the computer chair and pull a leg up on your knee. "Now hang on. I don't wanna get paid, be on my way back home and then have you calling me up telling me she changed her mind and can I come on back seeing as you went ahead and paid me already. Now, how've things been between you two lately?"

The Don guy flops into the papasan chair. He pulls some of her belts and a winter cap out from underneath him. He hangs onto the winter cap, playing with its frayed threads. "Things have been fine. Except she started mentoring kids. Like tutoring, but also kind of being a big sister. Young teen girls. It's all she can talk about."

"She just started doing this mentoring?"

"She got laid off from her job in February. Which is what made us decide to move in together. Or not the only reason, but it's what got us talking. She can't afford this place right now."

You get up and go to the kitchen. "Nothing wrong with that Don. I've been moving a lot of people in together and almost all of them's doing it for the rent cut." You peer into the fridge. There's some orange juice. You hold up the carton to the Don guy. "You want a glass?"

The Don guy nods. You pour two glasses while he talks. "This one girl. Nicole. She's fourteen and screwing her boyfriend without a condom. Sarah's been begging her to make the guy use a condom but she won't. She doesn't care if she gets pregnant. Sarah says she wants to get pregnant."

"Sarah wants to get pregnant?" You're standing over the Don guy with the glasses in your hands.

"No. No. Nicole does." The Don guy takes his glass of orange juice. You sit back down at the computer desk. "Like, her best friend got pregnant. And she wants to join the club. Get the attention. Sarah's been talking about Nicole every night. Like Nicole's a bomb about to blow and she's running out of time."

"So Don," you say. "I hate to ask this because I know the answer's gonna suck. But when did Sarah start packing?"

Don picks up the winter cap again. "Last night I hung up with her around one. She said she was gonna start then."

You have a breath to let out, and you let it out slow, through your nose, so it doesn't make a sound like a sigh. "She hasn't been too excited about the move then, has she Don?"

The Don guy shakes his head. "All she ever talks about is Nicole and the other kid she's mentoring. Terence. But Nicole's the one she's worried about. Terence she says is just real stupid and lies a lot. Terence is trying to be cooler than he is. But Nicole's really walking a tightrope."

You down your orange juice, get up out of your chair, and you hold out your hand. "Lemme read the note Don."

The Don guy grabs the note from his lap. "What for? I'll just pay you and you can go."

You crouch in front of him and look him in the eye. "Don," you say. "I'm a Man With A Van. I'm not in business for families of five moving out to the suburbs. I'm in business for kids just starting off after college and for people like you. People in their late twenties and early thirties who might be making a big mistake and are scared shitless about it. I've moved a lot of couples in together and by now I can tell by the way they're talking to each other whether it's gonna work or it's gonna be a big mistake. It usually comes clear when we're all three of us trying to angle the couch down the corridor. But you see, she's not here for me to know whether this is gonna work out. All I know of her is she's looking for something to do with herself, the mentoring and all, and that don't bode too well for her taking the big leap with you. But if I read her note, I'll know whether I should take your money and hit the road, or whether you should go get us some egg sandwiches while we wait for her to come running back through the door. Now lemme read the note."

Your hand is out in front of you. The Don guy looks at your hand, then into your eyes, trying to find something he can trust. He finally puts the note on your palm, gentle as a feather.

You go back to your desk chair and you read while the Don guy watches.


After we hung up I sat on the floor for 4 and a half hours. I didn't do anything, I didn't even think about anything. I looked at the clock at five AM and felt like I'd just come out of a coma. I don't know what I'm doing. With anything. I'm going to pay my rent for this month and I'm staying at Megan's for the week. I'm sorry, but I just can't make a decision like this, or any decision, the way I am right now. I'm sorry Donny. I love you.



You fold up the note. You get out of your chair and you hand it back to the Don guy. He's looking up at you like you're a priest about to give him his first communion.

"Go get us some egg sandwiches Don," you say. "I'm gonna turn on the TV if you don't mind."

The Don guy smiles. He hops out of the papasan chair and bounds out the door.

Happy Man With A Van Day!