This is the tale of a bed and a simple house move turned into a sweaty, panicked mess. Typical. There are things, some in our control and most beyond our control, that affect our lives on a daily basis. And sometimes you get stuck, sometimes there’s a taxi driver screaming at you and sometimes someone thinks you’re weird, but there’s always a way out.
And it started off by my desire to make a home for myself in Melbourne. It’s a privilege to have a bed. But it’s an even bigger privilege to have a bed that’s anything bigger than a twin size, something I’ve only had it twice in my life, or should I say two years of my life- my senior year of college and the year I was living in Spain as an au pair. Really, though, who needs so much space? I did, apparently, when I decided to move to Kensington for a month lease in a Victorian-style house.
“There are cheap, even free beds on Gumtree,” people told me. Cue my communication with Andrew, my ticket to a bed larger than I needed. He was selling a used double bed for $30. A steal. It had an obvious brown stain covering most of its lower right half, but this didn’t deter me. I analyzed the picture and looked at Erin sitting across from me. “Do you think this is pretty bad?” I asked her. In the most straightforward manner she said, “Well, I’ve had lots of friends who have thrown up all over their mattresses drunk and they still use them. It’s gross but it’s not going to kill you.”
That was all I needed to hear. From that moment on I started a three day correspondence with Andrew, who was desperate to get the mattress out of his life but insistent on making it on his own time. I wonder if he ever heard of the phrase “beggars can’t be the ones who boss you around.” He’d send me messages like, “Yeah, that’d be great if you could come at 5:23pm tomorrow.” I reminded him that it wasn’t just about my availability and his, but also when I would be able to go into the new house and….oh yeah, that I didn’t have any sort of way of transporting a double mattress.
I imagine that trying to take it down the escalators at Southern Cross would sure cause a big scene. Putting it in the train itself would put all these non-confrontational people in a huff. Angry but silent they would sit, unable to see out the window and maybe even miss their stop. Or maybe they would just jam up against it as they piled in the standing area by the doors, squishing me behind it. Someone would feel sorry about it and on their way past me quietly say, “good luck with the move, mate.”
Avoiding such things I decided to pay movers to $75 to take it. All negotiation to lower the cost failed. (To put this in perspective, this is a journey which in an Uber isn’t more than $15.) In the end, I paid $30 for a mattress but $75 to transport the piece of shit. “Bring a friend with you to help you carry it,” Andrew wrote me.
Saying goodbye to the mansion (our hostel where everything is labeled “@ the mansion”- you may recall the mansion from this post about my French roommate), Erin and I packed up our life’s belongings and sat outside hailing a cab so we could pick up the mattress while transporting our stuff and in one swift, terribly ungraceful afternoon would only take one trip.
Already late for my pickup time, the cab we called decided it wasn’t into picking us up that day. As people stared at us from the cars flying down Victoria Parade, I sent Andrew messages on my outdated ZTE phone letting him know that we’d be late. Texting on that thing takes 10 minutes for 30 words, and my fingers actually start to ache. It’s probably the same model you had in 5th grade when your parents decided you were allowed to buy a prepaid T-Mobile phone from Target with your allowance money. It wasn’t even as good as a razor. No, before the razor. You remember that one? Yeah, that’s what I have here, something that still elicits stares and gasps from people across from me on the train. They stare like they’d like me to turn off the annoying noise that sounds every time I press a button, and I stare back as if to tell them, “I know, it annoys me too, but I can’t figure it out.”
Andrew’s responses were curt and unemotional. It’s as if I’m so used to people being overly excited via text that the minute they’re not, I’m paranoid they are “mad at me” or I “did something wrong.”
By the time we finally got a cab with a tall, lanky man from Ethiopia, I was already frantic that I had pissed Andrew off. The cab driver had a thick accent and a tone of voice that, at first listen sounded like he was berating us, ended up just being his way of speaking. We gave him the address and he kind of yelped. “Eeeeeiiiiihhha where is it?” he asked. We continued to give him the address he kept putting it in wrong in the GPS. His speaking voice was so loud he was practically screaming and he kept making the same yelping noises. We were halfway across the CBD and the taxi driver still hadn’t correctly put Andrew’s address in the GPS. I was trying to be patient with him and at the same time my fingers were aching from trying to let Andrew know we would be even later than I had expected. I sent Andrew a message explaining the taxi got turned around, and he wrote back, “You’re taking the mattress in a taxi?!”
I didn’t care to respond to that nonsense. Besides, my fingers needed a break. We rushed across the street to the entrance of his apartment building with our stuff and Erin stayed on the ground floor as I darted for the elevator doors that were starting to close. What I didn’t realize was that in order to push the correct floor on the elevator the person had to buzz you up. Once I was in the elevator, I got in with a guy who was going to the 15th floor. I kept pressing the button for the 10th floor but it wasn’t working. “Can I get off on your floor then go down the stairs to this guys’ floor?” I asked him. He didn’t seem to think it would be an issue. “Yeah, go for it, try it,” he encouraged me.
Getting off on the 15th floor, I found the stairwell and started to go down. It was silent, empty and the air was stale. Rushing to not waste any more time, I ran down the stairs. When I tried to open the door to the 10th floor from the inside, it was locked. I frantically ran up again to where I came from and tried that door. It was also locked. In a quick impulsive move I started to sprint down the stairs hoping that I could just go all the way down to the ground floor and have him buzz me up, pretending that I hadn’t just gotten off at the 15th floor and attempted to sneak my way into the building. This guy already thought I was ridiculous. He already thought that I was taking a mattress in a taxi and I didn’t know the concept of timeliness. I didn’t want him to think I was insane as well.
I was halfway to the bottom when I had an epiphany. What if I can’t even get out of there? What if it’s just an emergency exit? What if it leads to somewhere else? I had my phone on me and called Erin. “The moving guy is here,” was the first thing she said to me.
“Okay, well, I’m stuck in the stairwell,” I said out of breath. “What should I do?” I vocalized the qualms that had run through my head moments earlier. We decided the best thing for me to do was to just call this guy. Admit my mistake. And face the facts: I really am not a person who pays attention to detail. All those times I put on my cover letter that I was, I was only denying my true nature.
I dialed his number. When he picked up, I said, “Hey, um, I’m sorry I’m late…”
“Do you need me to buzz you up?” he interjected.
“No, well that’s the thing, I’m in the stairwell…” I trailed off.
Confused, he responded, “How the f*** did you get in the stairwell?!”
I explained the whole situation and begged him to come find me so I could just get out of the unpleasant florescent lights and concrete jungle that’s not as cool as a Jay Z song.
I was red and panting and the visible sweat beads couldn’t help me hide the truth that I had been in there a while. He stayed on the phone with me as he came to the stairwell, which was, of course, in the wrong wing of the building. Not even sure how I did that. I knocked on the door and yelled “Andrew?!” praying it was his footsteps I was hearing. When I didn’t get a “polo!” I started having a mini panic attack of being locked in the stairwell forever. Celebrating the small victories, I felt my loud-buttoned phone and praised myself for having brought it, with credit. It’s the only intelligent thing I had done in a while.
He opened the door. “How did this even happen?” he repeated. He wasn’t rude but certainly wasn’t overly friendly. “I know you must think I’m crazy, thank you so, so much,” I also repeated. He didn’t quite make a point to tell me that he thought I was one way or the other.
He had a poker face that spoke to the fact that this entire interaction was both a nuisance and that he was indifferent about me almost getting locked in a stairwell in his building forever. Think, I might have never seen the light of day again, only in the case of a fire drill or, worse, an actual fire. I would finally meet the people I had been living a wall away from for weeks. So close, yet so far away. Two lives divided by a concrete wall. As they were rushing down the stairs in their pajamas, they would be shocked to see me and my disheveled look and ask, “How long have you been in here?” I would reply, “three weeks,” my voice raspy from a lack of water and my eyes red and dry from lack of sleep.
We walked into his slightly messy apartment and he pointed to the mattress. I mentally prepared myself to pay $30 him for the floppy, almost wireless lump of cushion I saw laying on the ground. And when I looked down, there was the stain. Erin’s comments of “my friends barf on their mattresses all the time,” flew threw my head and I hypothesized about the potential source of that stain. I looked up at him and wondered what kinds of things are you into, Andrew?
Too late for that. I started to lug it across the carpet towards the door and remembered that he had suggested I bring a friend to help me carry it. This left me wondering if since I didn’t bring a friend up here with me meant that he was going to watch me struggle to drag it. “You think you could give me a hand with this one?” I looked back at him and asked.
Regretfully he helped me take it down, somewhat more talkative but not at all pleased. On the way down we played a guessing game about where he was from. He spoke perfect English but he didn’t have any sort of discernible accent from any particular country. (Half Turkish, half British, as it turns out.)
The elevator doors opened on the ground floor and I saw Erin waiting with our Sri Lankan driver. In a quick exchange I threw Andrew the money and thanked him, and as quick as I could take my next breath he was already headed towards the elevator, running to it as if it was the Williamstown train line and another one wouldn’t come down to the ground floor for another half hour.
There we stood, the three of us, with one suitcase, one rolling duffle bag, two overstuffed backpacks, grocery bags full of half eaten food and a mattress. That night, after a short, twenty minute ride with the three of us packed in the front seat, the driver smiley and giggly the whole way, I sat in my room on the stained mattress. I felt the few missing screws and looked at the emptiness around me. I was surrounded by bare walls didn’t have anything but my life’s contents strewn across the floor. But at least I had a bed to sleep on. And it’s not a twin. And I’m not sleeping in a stairwell.
All that was a lot of effort for one month. For the record, I’m already back to a twin mattress.
This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Featured photo: Melbourne CBD.