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They make it look easy as a dream.
Riding green, foamy curling waves on a surfboard.
I rented one while I was back in Florida for a wedding.
Now, in the water off of Cocoa Beach, I’m getting chafed red by a giant, oblong, wobbling blue surfboard that wants to tilt, dip, and pitch me under the water at every second.
I can see other beginners not having much luck on their own tropical colored boards (yellow, pink, key lime green).
The board is twice my size.
Squeaks and slips right out from under me.
The water is cold, but it’s clean.
No seaweed. Cocoa Beach both sounds nice and is nice.
After getting swamped by a few more waves, I swim the board into knee-deep water. The new plan is to catch a little wave and just stand on this thing for once.
It works. I ride the board standing up for maybe ten or fifteen feet.
Feels like being a billionaire.
As I’m sinking down into the now ankle-deep water, I see my small success has not gone unnoticed.
“Can I try that?” a young voice screams.
It’s a bunch of kids. Maybe five of them. Three girls, two boys, and a mom.
One of the girls is asking.
“What’s your name?”
“Gemini,” she says.
“Ask your mom.”
“She says it’s OK!”
I need a rest anyway.
“Sure, give it a try.” I un-velcro the strap from around my ankle.
Gemini, her brothers and sisters swarm the board in a flash. They’re screaming and fighting over it like a game of King of the Hill. I have thrown an entire family into chaos.
Gemini secures the strap around her ankle.
While this may sound like snatching the crown, it’s a serious tactical error. The weight of her three siblings carries the board into shin-deep water. She’s being pulled along as it surges up and down in the water.
I have thrown an entire family into chaos. The blue board seems as alive as a giant eel, bucking and chucking brothers and sisters into the water.
They’re trying to stand on the sinking board. Look-amme-momma-look-amme. This doesn’t last long.
In under a full minute, they figure they’ve got my money’s worth.
They shove the board back to me. It floats towards me in the water.
Their mom calls, “Thank you.”
I return to trying to do short standing rides on the board in shallow water.
I can pop into a standing position and ride the board ten or fifteen feet at a stretch. Tomorrow I should do even better.
The sun is setting. The water is lighting up warm orange. It makes a shimmering, blurry reflection of the sky.
Cold water wipes me out.
After one more standing ride, I figure I can’t top that this evening.
Tuck the board under my arm and return to the shop as the sun goes down.
The last time I wore a suit was for a wedding in May, 2019.
After all, at many jobs, you only need the suit at the interview.
But where have my shirts and ties vanished to?
Some ties were snagged by scavengers in Brooklyn after an argument that ended with clothes getting thrown out the window.
Some shirts are dressing someone poor or thrifty in Florida after I dropped boxes off at a Goodwill before moving.
At least one shirt is sitting in the trunk of taxi cab in Medellin.
Now here are I am with a suit jacket and pants but no shirts and ties.
And the closest Macy’s is an hour and twenty minutes away by car. Rush hour traffic is slow. I will barely make it there before closing time at this rate.
The Macy’s is almost empty when I arrive.
I find the section with the men’s dress shirts.
Rows of identical shirts with sets of three numbers. Measurements, of course. I don’t know mine.
Signs are posted everywhere.
“We’ve suspended our fitting assistance services as a COVID-19 safety measure.”
I pick up a shirt.
It’s held stiff by a piece cardboard stock. It is filled with lethal pins. Tissue inside it crackles. I hold it up over my chest and glance in the mirror.
“Need any help, sir?”
A woman with a name badge asks me.
“Are you the one who helps people dress themselves?”
What a dumb way to ask that question.
“No,” she says.
“I don’t know my measurements at all.”
“We stopped helping with that for COVID-19.”
“Thank you, I saw the sign.”
“Let me know if you need anything else. We close soon.”
Loud speaker announcement overhead: ten minutes to close.
I look around.
This store is a big, lonely, unhelpful, place.
And I’m not going to get my shirt and tie before the television show tomorrow, am I?
“Perhaps I can help,” says a thick accent. Hard to say where the accent is from.
The speaker is an older guy. Argyle sweater, black slacks. Macy’s name tag.
“The sign says you can’t help me with the measurement.”
He stands six feet away. Squints his eye. Holds up his hand with thumb and forefinger apart like an old carpenter who doesn’t use rulers anymore.
“Seventeen, thirty-two, thirty-three,” he says. “Now stand shoulder to shoulder with me in the mirror.”
The starting COVID formalities are over, thankfully. Apparently, tape measures are what really spread disease.
“Would you say your neck is bigger or smaller than mine?” he asks me. “In thickness.”
“They look pretty similar, to be honest.”
“I agree,” he answers.
He brings me two a table of shirts of the right size.
I show him the grey suit I’m going to wear.
He grabs a cream color shirt and black tie.
Tucks the shirt into the suit and lays the tie on top. He gestures over the pairing.
“Here there is melody and counter melody,” he says.
His accent is too thick to ignore.
“Where are you from?”
“I am Armenian,” he says.
I shift my head and look at the dark tie.
“Hey. I didn’t notice it from the other angle, but there’s little glitters in there.”
“Where?” He shift the tie back and forth in his hand. “Ah, yes. It is wrong for you.”
He replaces the tie with another one.
“Here there is melody and rhythm.”
“It’s for a local TV show. That one might look weird.”
“Ah, nothing to make a rainbow in the camera.”
Loud speaker: five minutes to close.
“I know this rule,” the Armenian tailor says. “I was on TV once for music.”
“What do you play?”
“Symphonies, concertos, so on. Piano.”
He puts out a final shirt and tie pairing.
“Here there is melody and harmony.”
He makes a conductor’s grand gesture.
Yeah, that’s the best looking shirt and tie pairing he’s done.
“Ok, I’ll take it.”
We go to the cash register.
“They took away our commissions,” he says.
The bay lights overhead clang off. There’s one little lamp behind him.
“They want you to work with no tape measure and no commission?”
His forehead furrows and I can tell from his cheeks there is a pained smile under his face mask.
I look up at big, dark Macy’s.
“Hey,” I ask. “Do you write your own music, too?”
His eyes crinkle.
“I don’t like to say so, but since you ask,” he says.
He pulls out his phone. Plays a video on it. It is a symphony he wrote. A violin is playing. Then come deeper clarinets and cellos to harmonize with it. The music crashes into a big all-together repeat of the thing the violin was saying at the start.
“It’s amazing,” I say.
He tucks the receipt in the bag.
“Please enjoy your evening sir,” he says.
“Thank you, you too.”
He pauses the symphony on his phone, and tucks it into his pocket.
I leave the closed store, finding my way by the few security lights.
A roommate who threatened to cut my head off, a boss under investigation for murder. Enjoy these stories & more in my bookOdd Jobs & After Hours
Throw out all your stuff and leave.
Don’t hire a moving company.
Back in the deep dark early months of the pandemic, I was moving out of Florida back to New England.
I looked up the prices of a moving company online and did a casual tally of my stuff.
Laptop, guitar, one decent sofa, one decent bed. Button downs, t-shirts, jeans. Boots and shoes. I guess it is all worth trying to keep.
The total value of the belongings is probably three times as much as the price the mover quotes me.
Moving company sends me a date, time, and price.
The moving truck will arrive one week before my lease expires.
It is cheaper than renting a U-Haul myself. This plan should work.
I punch in the card numbers to pay.
Add an electronic signature.
The moving company’s first phone call brings trouble.
Hi, says the call center rep, can you confirm your identity with the account code?
I dig up the email and recite 13 digits to her.
“Can you tell us the exact square footage of all your belongings?”
“They’re not all packed up yet.”
“Well, make your best guess about how many boxes you will have! We’re trying to avoid any adjustment fees.”
But are they really, truly trying to avoid any adjustment fees?
I walk around with a tape measure. Condense stuff into boxes in my head. Give her an answer.
When I buy the approved 18″x18″ boxes, I need two more than I guessed.
I guessed three but needed five.
I call them back. After ten minutes of hold music, they ask me to confirm my identity with the account number. Time to dig up those 13 digits again.
The adjustment fee for two more boxes is gigantic.
Still spending less than I would to replace everything though.
Three days before move out date, I am working on my laptop from a mostly packed apartment.
When some of the rooms are empty, they echo again.
It sounded like this in here when I first moved in a year ago.
The moving company calls again.
“Hi! Before we get started, can you confirm your identity with the account number-“
“I’ll pull up the email.”
The rep asks if I have my own bubble wrap for dismantled furniture or if they will have to charge me for that, too.
I bet you charge per bubble, I say to the rep.
She doesn’t laugh.
The call center rep is peppy while she menaces me with each new fee.
It’s two days before the move. I must still disassemble a bed, a desk, a chair, bubble wrap them, and pack the kitchen where I have been cooking.
A video meeting is about to start for my job will start in ten minutes.
The moving company calls me again. Demand that 13-digit number again.
“We will be there in two hours,” the moving company’s rep says after the confirmation code.
“No, you will be here in two days,” I answer.
I recite the date on the email with the confirmation code to her. I’ve got it in writing. The truck can’t show up right now.
The rep explains, again with peppy menace, that in the fine print it says the company has a 48-hour window in which the truck may arrive, and the date in bold at the top is just an estimate.
“What? How do you estimate a date? When you buy a plane ticket do they say, ‘we estimate takeoff will happen in this 48 hour window, so just be ready to dash to the airport anytime we need you?”
She doesn’t like that question. Long explainers. She explains the fine print again. I get it, I get it.
Sir this, and sir that, she says. I tune it out and zoom in on the .2-sized light grey on lighter grey font that does specify, in round-about jargon, the 48-hour window she describes.
And there is my electronic signature under it.
Nothing much I can do.
“I have a meeting for work in two minutes. I can’t stay on the phone with you for long, but I can’t have everything packed in two hours.”
“Let me put you on hold and we will see about rescheduling, but keep in mind if you need to reschedule there is-“
“An adjustment fee?”
“Can you call me back when you know when you can be here?”
“No, we don’t do callbacks. Please wait on hold.”
Major key piano hold music.
The work meeting starts. I hang up on the hold music.
Three hours later, I call the moving company back.
Major key piano hold music again. The same four chords for forty minutes.
“Thank you for calling Go Mover, may I have your account number please?”
I dig up the email they sent me so I can read out the 13-digit account number they assigned me again.
Finally, they say they can be there on Saturday morning. But I must pay an adjustment fee just to get the date I was originally promised.
Saturday comes. No call, no show. No answer. I leave maybe seven voicemails.
My lease ends on Monday. I’ve got one Sunday to figure out what to do.
I call the apartment complex. Ask if I can please stay one more day till Tuesday. Just till the movers arrive.
The apartment clerk panics. Raves about a security escort out of the apartment for overstaying the lease. Raves about trespassing charges. Raves about personal object removal fees.
I get the idea, I say. I’ll be gone. Hang up.
The movers call me back. They ask me for the 13-digit account code they sent me.
Let me dig up the email, I say. They tell me they can now only show up on Wednesday.
“Just don’t bother. I know I’ve already sunk money into your company, but at this point, I just want you out of my life.”
I hanged up.
Which felt great for maybe two seconds.
Because after two seconds I was in an apartment with boxes on boxes of belongings, books, and furniture.
I now had no plan of how to get it out of here before apartment security escorted me out and loaded me down with fees.
Trespassing, inconvenience fees, charging me because they had to throw my stuff out.
I check the cost of renting a U-Haul and driving it up the whole east coast. It’s four times as much as everything I own. U-Haul does not want trucks in the north east right now, so the prices are spiked.
But for just one day, a U-Haul is doable.
I rent one, drive it to my apartment, and park it outside. Load in the mattress and bedframe. A few big boxes of clothing.
“Hey you,” I call to a stranger in a hoodie prowling around the mailroom.
“Need any free furniture?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I’ve got nothing in my place but me and my dogs.”
Have a sofa. Take the desk and swivel chair. Roll up the rug and walk it out. Want the bed? No, he’s got one. Salvation Army will get that.
As I leave, he shoves sixty in cash into my hand.
“I can’t take it all for nothing,” he says.
I triage my whole life. I want the books. The guitar. Need the laptop. Most of the clothes.
The rest, I load into the U-Haul. Truck it to Salvation Army. They say they accept full beds but not at this location. I drive forty-five minutes to Fort Lauderdale.
I return the U-Haul to the rental center. Drive my Toyota Corolla back to my apartment. Throw the few bags my life now fit into in the back seat. Twist the key and settle in for the long drive north.
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There was some book, The 5 AM Club.
It’s about these guys who meet a tycoon on a private island to wake up at 5 AM.
But if you sleep in just one hour to 6am, there’s a diner already open before sunrise in a quiet town of off-gridders way out in the middle of nowhere in Arizona.
Dusty and I are outside the town’s one gas station.
We are meeting a driver who will deliver a shipping container out onto our land. The container will be a box for our campsite and tools.
Every shop in town was supposed to be closed at this hour.
But the town’s one, single, solitary diner has lit up its OPEN sign.
Red lettering, blue oval around it. All in neon. You know how they look.
Outside, it is pitch black and ice cold.
The thought of waiting in a diner after a night of camping out in this weather sounds like salvation.
But only if it is really open.
I mean, did they leave the light on by accident?
I pull the diner door.
Coffee is on. You can hear it dripping into the pot.
Three guys in cowboy hats have their hands wrapped around mugs. They are nodding and chatting.
One could easily be a new Marlboro Man.
Right kind of sharp hat, jacket, & jaw.
“This place open?” I ask one of them.
“It’s closed, but we know the owner. We open her up and put the coffee on. Have yourself a cup.”
Seems like the kind of thing you can only do in a place like this.
It’s self serve. We walk behind the counter and fill mugs.
It’s incredible. Though really, it’s just diner coffee.
But we slept on the ground last night, which makes this hot coffee incredible.
And yes, just as you might imagine, this is a time and place where the real shop gets talked. Where the real deals go down. Where the after hours conversations (though we are all here before hours) get held.
We collect business cards. One guy knows offgrid electricity.
The other guy does plumbing. The third does foundations for structures.
But this only becomes known after a little, “Where y’all from? What y’all up to?”
Hours go by.
Shipping container guy arrives hours after he said he would.
We leave cash for the coffee & meet the driver to bring the container out to the land.
One last thanks & seeya around to the 6AM Club.
They say stop by anytime, they’re here every morning.