Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Diary of a Move

I’m starting to believe that the worst problem with moving is that you can never get much satisfaction by telling anyone about it – no matter how horrendous your own move was, just about everyone you meet has a story that tops yours.

Good thing I have a blog!

Day 1 – Monday. Moving day
The movers arrived as scheduled at 6 am. The plan was for them to load the truck with my full house of furniture and appliances – plus something like 150 boxes of books. They would drive to my new address just a few kilometers away, unload, and be done no later than noon. What could be simpler? I think this is where that ‘Man plans and Gd laughs’ line came into being.

The loading of the truck went pretty much as scheduled. The problems cropped up when I used my key – first time – to open the door of the new apartment. The previous tenant had moved out – allegedly moved out – the day before, so neither I nor the agent had seen the apartment she left.

On opening the door, what did I find? She had taken all her personal items – but left an entire household of furniture.

In one bedroom there was a waterbed – a waterbed! -- a closet covering one whole wall, a chest-high dresser and two nightstands. The room was full to capacity.

In the other bedroom there was another large closet, plus a floor to ceiling cabinet/desk structure that pretty much filled that room.

In the living room stood a sofa and loveseat and a couple of other tables. “Where shall we unload?” Pinchas, my moving man, said, attempting to be serious. He was a flummoxed as I was. The only unoccupied space was about a third of the living room.

I started calling the owners agent – who, just the day before, had assured me I would find the empty apartment I had contracted for. Call after call went to his message service – and over the next hour, none of my panicky calls were returned. Fortunately I’d rented a car for the occasion, so I threw my two dogs into the back seat and we drove to his office. I walked in. “Hi, how’re you doing?” was his cheery greeting. “Not well,” I responded, and set about explaining. To start with, he flat out didn’t believe me. Then he called the tenant himself and asked her. Yes she’d left the furniture, she said. “I didn’t need it anymore, so I just left it.”

Now there were two of us with smoke coming out of our ears.

“Go back,” the agent told me. “Stall the movers. I’ll be there by noon. We’ll figure something out.” That was about an hour away, which seemed reasonable enough for a man who was obviously busy. I returned to the apartment, only to find that the movers had stopped snorting and pawing the ground, and were now deep into discussions among themselves as to just what extent our contract should be renegotiated. They’d planned on being done by noon – clearly that wasn't going to happen. But their tone was a little threatening: Which did I prefer? Renegotiate, or shall we unload right here on the sidewalk?

We renegotiated the contract.

I’ll spare you the litany of phone calls, excuses and prevarications that followed, but suffice it to say it was well after 3 pm when the agent finally arrived – but then I must say he redeemed himself. Taking a sledge hammer from his trunk, he went into the apartment and in a fit of Samson-like strength and fury, proceeded to simply break up all the furniture in pieces small enough to carry out by himself – all except the two sofas. The movers, desperately trying to salvage their day, had started moving whatever they could into the space available in the living room. The tenant’s sofa and loveseat were no longer visible.

“Don’t worry,” the agent said, “I’ll come back and take them out later, when you’re all settled.”

Now Gd and I were both laughing.

By 6:30 pm, the truck was empty, but the apartment was way beyond capacity. Boxes were piled to the ceiling in the living room – that’s about ten feet tall, for those of you in Rio Linda. They’d even completely filled the bathroom with stuff – the only open space was a tiny area around the shower. In what was to be my bedroom, I’d insisted that they put my bed and mattress on the floor – no matter what, I was going to have a place to sleep. So they did that, but then piled boxes and pieces of furniture high on all three sides around the bed.

They were ready to leave. I paid their renegotiated price, then tried to figure out what to do next. It was getting dark. It was right about then that I discovered that the previous tenant – who’d left the furniture – had taken all the light bulbs. She’s also left all the cupboards grimy and greasy condition, and hadn’t even tried to wipe out the crumbs.

Too exhausted to think straight, I made my way through the 20” wide path to the bathroom, where I took a very careful shower – trying to avoid the boxes. It didn’t work – they got wet, but I was too tired to care. I finally located my birds, parakeets, whose cage was sitting on top of a stack of stuff about two boxes in, right where the dining area would be. I lifted the cage out and at least put it on the edge of a stack. Poor things couldn’t exist with boxes on all four sides of their cage. Then, after taking the dogs out for a short walk, they and I dragged ourselves, single file, to the bed. With no sheets, no light, no fan, no AC, a rolled up towel for a pillow and no dinner for any of us – we slept.

Day two: Tuesday
Emerging from my bedroom cave the next morning was profoundly depressing. The situation was worse than I remembered. I couldn’t even imagine where to start – except that I’d be darned if I was going to go without light another night. Of course I had light bulbs – somewhere. The first course of business that day was to go on a basic shopping trip – bulbs and cleaning supplies of all kinds. I couldn’t start without that.

The other kicker for this whole episode was that Beersheba was in the hold of a totally ridiculous heat wave with temperatures exceeding 100 and humidity hovering in the 70% range – very unusual, but there it was. The heat and humidity made everything exhausting. By the time I got home with the carfull of stuff I’d bought, fed and walked the dogs again, I was wiped out. I still couldn’t think. So all I did for the last couple of hours that day was to sit and stare at the 50-60 pound boxes of books that were now hovering several feet over my head. How was I going to get them down? Especially when all the space I had was a narrow pathway to the bedroom and bath?

I put the entire situation on the ‘too tough to work’ shelf, and picked up a book. Much better.

Day three: Wednesday
This is when the miracles started. Even though my ancient cell phone hadn’t properly functioned for years – it doesn’t work at all unless it’s connected to a power source – now, by some miracle, it rang. The Chinese are famous for their notion that if you ever save someone’s life, you assume responsibility for them forever. I think there’s an Israeli corollary: if you ever rent an apartment to someone, you assume landlord responsibility for them forever. There on the phone, impossible though it was, was Cyril, my very first landlord in Israel. “How’s it going?” he said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”


Cyril came, managed to get the stove – which the moving apes had manhandled -- hooked up to the gas. He showed me how to restyle some of the electric plugs, which were the old type that accepted only rectangular plugs, not the newer rounder ones. Now I could connect a fan! And he fixed the washing machine – also seriously abused and battered – so it didn’t leak.

Amazing. Inspired by this bit of progress, I called a local charity that helps new immigrants. Within ten minutes, they arrived and hauled away my own sofa and loveseat. I really had no choice – I’ll have to use the tenants. But that helped. With those two enormous pieces of furniture blocking everything, I couldn’t even start unpacking. With them gone, I was in business.

I started in, box by box. I had no plan, except to unpack the next box. Whatever it was, wherever it went, I unpacked it and put it generally in the direction it was going to be. Books went almost randomly on shelves, kitchen stuff anywhere I could put it down. By the end of the day, I had cleared the bathroom – those boxes that had gotten wet held pots and pans, so no serious damage was done. I’d also cleared a small part of the living room. I felt pretty successful.

Day four: Thursday
At 9 am sharp, the door buzzed – there was the Bezeq man, just as I’d previously scheduled. The only problem was that in this new reality, I had no idea where to find either a phone or the computer for the internet hookup. I’d packed both in an old trunk, but I couldn’t even see the trunk under the mounds of everything else. I told him I’d have to reschedule.

All in all, that was probably my biggest mistake. From the day I moved until the day I had a ringing phone again, 21 days would pass. The thing is, August is the big moving month in Beersheba. The technicians are heavily booked, day after day. First I couldn’t get an appointment, then when I did, they couldn’t get anything to work.

I worked steadily all that day, eventually discovering that a box of books, toppled from a height of eight to ten feet, doesn’t really suffer all that much damage. The biggest frustration was, my cell phone had now given up almost completely – now it blinked “low battery” even when it was connected to the power. How long would it hold out?

Day five: Friday
The one thing different about this move was the psychology of it. Normally most of us humans seem to get depressed at the end of the day, whereas in the morning, everything tends to look better. For this move, it worked the exact opposite. At the end of each day, I’d be pleased with my progress, thinking I was doing pretty well. But when I’d walk out into the living room in the morning, I was depressed all over again. By Friday morning, the whole situation looked impossible. I was totally knackered, no reserve of energy left at all.

Quite frankly, I lost it. The months of stress, the weeks of packing, the trauma of the move itself were too much. I took the day off. I shopped a little, walked the dogs – who were getting increasingly frustrated at being confined in such tight quarters. I’d managed to build a path to a window and put the birds there, but by Friday they still were not chirping and now I was afraid they’d stopped eating, too. All five of us were all stressed beyond capacity. As I made minimal preparations for Shabbat, I simply chose not to see our living conditions at all. If I don’t see it, it’s not there.

Day seven: Sunday
Shabbat was restorative. The house was still in utter chaos, but Friday and Shabbat off helped. I started in with new vigor, working as fast – and as long – as possible. Without overplaying the ‘age’ card, I will merely note that there is a definite limit to how many hours a day I, well beyond retirement age, could struggle with boxes of books. Six hours was my maximum. After that I was dangerous to myself and everything else.

Days eight, nine and ten
Lait, lait, we say, slowly, slowly. Box by box, room by room, order was being restored. While it’s true that everything takes longer than you think, progress seemed excruciatingly slow. I finally located the trunk with the computer and recalled Bezeq to come back, but now they were totally booked for the next full week. So still no telephone, still no internet.

Fortunately, a very kind lady called to say she’d had a message from my daughter on Facebook, asking if she knew me, and if she knew if I was okay. “I know she expected to be off line for awhile with the move,” my daughter in California wrote, “but this is taking too long. Is she okay?”

With my family overseas assured that I was okay -- just without phone or internet – I relaxed a little, which in retrospect wasn’t wise. That created another problem entirely, but not one relevant to the move.

In any event, both my bedroom and my office room were now almost clear of boxes. The only major problem was getting the closets reassembled, something the movers hadn’t been able to do the day we moved – there was no place to put them. Pinchas, my mover, promised he’d come back and do it later – and I was naïve enough to believe him. He agreed to come three separate times, but didn't show up. He was done, I guess. He’d been paid. He’d moved on.

There are times when one has to remember that the goal is not to prevail but merely to survive – this move was one of them.

Epilogue: It’s now three weeks since moving day. I have five boxes of books left to unpack – which will have to wait for a trip to Ikea. There are only three other boxes of miscellaneous stuff remaining – I suspect most of it will end up by the dumpster.

Yesterday I had another “free stuff” day, offering things for which I had no room to anyone who could use them. I found good homes for my dining room table, my beloved trunk, two kitchen stools, several chairs, lamps and a big closet I simply had no space for. It’s good – most of those things were items I’d acquired when I was a new immigrant. Now others – mostly new immigrants – can use them again.

The good news is, it’s over. The move is over. Period.

The bad news? There isn’t any. Not really. I like the new apartment, it’s just deliciously quiet. The neighbors – mostly Russian, except for energetic young Hugo upstairs, a very new immigrant from Argentina – are friendly. I like the neighborhood. The dogs are learning that life on a leash – as compared to running free in a yard – isn’t all that terrible. The birds are both singing and eating.

Life is good.


  1. Loved your play-by-play tale of The Great Move. I have horror tales to tell of moving, too, but you win. I cannot top your tale, although I did move during the worse blizzard in ND in decades.
    May you now be able to relax and enjoy your new home.

  2. I've moved 30-something times, but yeah, like Sally said, you win. lol!

    I loved reading your move diary... I wanted to read more!!! :)

  3. Ah, there's more -- the saga continues. Maybe next I'll write about how the full-sized 8-line clothesline -- uprights and all -- ended up in my living room. It's still there, thank goodness, drying four washer-loads of clothes that needed to be washed before they could be put away. AAUUUGGGGGHHHHHHHHH

    Maybe next week I'll get it outside.

    See? Yet another only-in-Israel story. Stay tuned!