SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
November 28, 2010

I was Assaulted by The Residents!

 

My whole body was covered in dust. I was crouched on the dusty floor, pulling out dusty albums to separate them into a keeper pile and a crap pile. I wanted to toss all of them, given as I had no turntable and didn’t intend to pick one up in the near future. I still preferred vinyl over CDs (mp3s aren’t even an issue), but the hundreds of vinyl albums I had were nothing but a waste of space. Morgan, however, insisted that I keep them, given the current trend back toward vinyl.

            “You could sell them,” she said.

            “I don’t want to sell them. I want them to go away.”

            I’ve been throwing out an awful lot of things as I pack. Oversized posters of Humphrey Bogart, stolen street signs from Philadelphia, books, clothes. I found myself saying things like “I do not need decorative bricks,” as I carried them down the stairs to the trash. My ex-wife had grabbed a bunch of large, heavy, decorative bricks the day we moved from Philly to New York and insisted we take them with us. Never again would I move with decorative bricks.

As for the albums, Morgan and I compromised. I’d keep them, but would separate them into two sets, and consider selling the crap. Nihilist Spasm Band, the Russian Meat Squats, Mahler and Sigmund Snopek III stayed. Peter, Paul & Mary, Stump, and Henry Rollins went away.

The batch I was working on was on the second shelf from the bottom of a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. The shelf above the albums held my collection of Residents CDs. I don’t know how many I had all told, but it more than filled the shelf. Forty years worth of albums, singles, compilations, anthologies, box sets and special editions add up. That would be the last thing I boxed up. I wanted to have access to them as long as possible before stuffing it all away in a box and taking it to Bay Ridge.

            I had moved into the soundtrack section of the vinyl, and each handful was a surprise. I was getting close to the end of the shelf. I reached into the shadowed corner and grabbed the remaining records. They wouldn’t budge. I tugged a little harder, but still they wouldn’t move. I repositioned myself for better leverage and gave another yank. That’s when I discovered that those last few were actually load-bearing albums.

As I said, I don’t know exactly how many Residents recordings I own, but every last one of them came crashing down upon my skull, together with the shelf that held them.

Once the clatter and skitter had stopped, I slid those last records out. The one on top was the Rocky soundtrack.

This happened after a week of solid and seemingly fruitless packing, and constituted the first disaster beyond multiple stubbed toes. Had it happened on that first day, I suspect I would have stood up and walked out of the apartment without bothering to put on my shoes or lock the door. Once outside I would have just kept walking. Given that the apartment was already filled with boxes, the exhaustion and dread had been reduced to a constant, sickly hum. There was no point in fretting about anything now. Instead I set the vinyl aside for the time being, grabbed a new box, and began picking the Residents discs off the floor and from behind boxes. I’m pretty sure I got them all.

            After 30 years this is the repayment I get? I thought as I filled the box. Well they’ll be hearing from my lawyer.

            There’s no point in telling anyone that moving is a hellish ordeal. We’ve all been through it, and we all know. Not being able to see what it is you’re packing adds a certain level of mystery to the proceedings, but I’ve been finding the worst part of it all is obtaining the boxes. I had a few around, but filled them all on the first day. Now every morning before anything else I head out to make the box-grubbing rounds. I hit the liquor stores and supermarkets first, but once the free supply has been exhausted I’m forced to head over to the U-Haul outlet on Fourth Avenue to buy the rest of the day’s supply. The moment I turn off the sidewalk to cross the parking lot to the front door it’s like stepping into Calcutta. Instead of beggars, children and monkeys, however, at U-Haul I’m immediately surrounded by swarms of day laborers.

“You need help, boss?”

            “Movers? You looking for movers?”

            “Help you move?”

I try to be polite, not wanting to catch a shiv in the ribs. “Not yet,’ I say. “Not for a couple weeks yet. I’m just here to buy boxes.”

A few minutes later I walk out again, overloaded with expensive cardboard. It’s then that the ones who didn’t stop me on the way in grab their chance. And the ones who stop me when I’m overloaded always turn out to be the chatty ones.

            “Hey boss, you need help moving?”

            “Not quite yet, no.”

            “Can I give you my number so you know who to call?”

            I sigh and stop and rest the cardboard on my foot. “Sure.”

            “You got a pen and paper?”

            “No.”

            “Well remember Luis, okay boss? I’m Luis.”

            “Really.”

            “Yeah I’m a professional mover, not like these other guys. You call Luis, I’ll do a good job.”

            “All right.”

            I heave the boxes again and move on to the next, where the same conversation takes place. Some had the good sense to bring their own pen and paper. A few even had business cards, though they were mostly for other people so they had to write their own information on the back. On my kitchen table right now I have several small pieces of wrinkled paper containing hand-scrawled phone numbers for Miguel, Carlos, Alfredo, and, for some reason, Maurice.

            By the time I get home after all this each morning I’m usually so exhausted that packing boxes is the last thing I want to do, but there’s no choice. There’s twenty years of crap collected here and I need to do something with it because that “vacate-by” deadline is looming fast. And there’s just so goddamn much left to do.

            When I reached the bottom of the stairs with two of the heavy decorative bricks, a young man was staring at the For Sale sign.

            “You sellin’?” he asked.

            “What?”

            “This your place? You sellin’ it?”

            “No, I’m the tenant who’s being forced out.”

            “Oh man, that sucks.”

            “Don’t it, though?” I concurred, then paused. “So . . . you wanna buy some bricks?”

 

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