Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bethump’d with Moves (apologies to William Shakespeare)

Itty Bitty Kitty crouched in a corner of her cat carrier, drugged, emitting little yelps with the regularity of a dump truck in reverse. The night had descended early, rain pelted the windshield, and I slowed to 45 MPH as fog enveloped the Interstate.

Like all moves, the loading had, and the road ahead now was, expanding like a fiber pill in the stomach—but without the pleasantness of fiber. Seven workers, and it had still taken all day to puzzle Mary’s belongings into the mammoth truck.

As the mass of Mary's possessions pressed from behind, I leaned forward and grasped the wheel tighter, knowing we had to press on regardless the weather. The speedometer needle fell. The hours to Williamsburg stretched. Nine…ten…twelve…

Beyond Itty Bitty, Mary sat erect in her seat. Was she really leaving bookstore management to care for the mother of a friend? Evangeline. Eighty-nine years old. Evangeline. Dementia (extent not yet precisely known). Was it bipolar illness they’d mentioned too? Evangeline. House on the Chesapeake. A space for Mary to make art. It would have its compensations.

Helping move a friend once or twice in a lifetime is enough to satisfy most, but only two weeks later, I succumbed to volunteer-fever again. This time, the movee, Christal, had arranged to have cable installed and new furniture delivered at her new house—a repossession—on moving day. That left the rest of us to move her belongings—belongings she mistakenly believed she had packed.

Every move has its surprises. But a cross-town move is always easier, and the paid helpers did eventually relent, and did not bolt halfway through the job—a job three times the size they’d been led to expect. Finally they finished and left, the dust settled, and Christal and I flopped in the living room to dream of dinner. Her boyfriend, Sunil, crawled into the shower.

Cold, only, streamed from the shower. Hot water boiled in the toilet. The house had been renovated, but repossessed before the owners could move in. Sold as is. No inspections. Thank God, I don’t do plumbing.

And I’ve kicked back for a long rest.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

In the Night

As midnight approached, I dashed from the Omni Hotel—a guess at the quickest way around CNN Center, the route to the MARTA train. I’d come from a too-short evening, visiting too-seldom-seen, out-of-town friends. I hoped to make the last train. Winter rain fell hard on my head. I paused under an overhang to think again, before I’d gotten too far.

A beggar emerged from an alcove, breaking the empty-street spell. He shambled on. A man appeared, asking if I needed help. He shivered in his T-shirt and jeans, his blond hair a close-cropped brush. I glanced at the tattoos marching up his arms. His face belied the hard in his eyes.

He was returning home from the restaurant where he worked—also headed for the train. He tilted his umbrella, attempting to cover us both.

“Live in a halfway house,” he said. “One year so far, another half to go.” He'd spent 5 years in prison before that—convicted at the age of 18. I didn’t ask. He didn’t offer. But I knew a 5-year sentence plus so long a in a halfway house meant he’d committed a violent crime.

I, still in the mood of my earlier visit—the here-and-now and the transcendence of long-time friends—and he, beyond his usual circle, we spoke easily as we slogged toward and then waited for the train.

Mistakes. Redemption. Doubt. Hope.

We shared the train to King Memorial, and before he hopped off, I saw his eyes will catch up to the thoughts and kindness he offered that cold, rainy night.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


The New Year has swept in, and a phalanx of vacuum cleaners is massing next door. After the never-ending end-days of 2008, when wave after wave of economic gloom rolled through, life shows signs of returning to normal in Stone Mountain. ‘Normal,’ of course, is a relative term.

In my neighborhood, diverse in race and culture, things fell uncommonly quiet the last few months. The Bosnian family next door—Bosnian-Americans now, having gotten their citizenship—could always be counted on for generous dollops of color. Swarms of relatives dropping in to roast whole lamb over an open fire—front yard parties late into the night.

But the cops cracked down on the noise this fall, and then they forced Ned to clear the back yard of engine blocks, mufflers, and vacuum cleaners—his growing heap of treasures, stock in trade of his then latest business: scrap-metal recycling. Neighbors rejoiced as truckload after truckload disappeared, and then scratched their heads when a long-bed pickup filled with 40 upright vacuums drove off. In formation, the Hoovers leaned forward, waiting—waiting for the signal. Fantasia, the motorized edition.

Now, even Ned’s moved-off business has failed—scrap prices having out-sunk the stock market. However, now he's back. Home renovation—homes in distant places, thank God.

But peering over the fence, I see a formation of Hoovers massing anew. First sign of a returning economy washing color back into my neighborhood? Or is it the motorized ghost of President Hoover, self-begetting?

Only time will tell.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


If the last quarter knocked you off your game—or at least, like me, had you struggling and unable to find much humor to feel or express—it’s time to look back in a different way as we go forward through regime change and a promise of brightening times to come.

Last year: YouTube - Uncle Jay Explains: Year-end!