Doug was a wiry hippie guy who dug indie rock shows, went to waterparks by himself in his 60s (waiting in line with teenagers), and would proudly kill the interior lights in the back of his Vanagon to show you a trippy glow-in-the-dark poster. He was my mom’s friend. For a while, he slept on a distressed neon futon in the storage room. I thought of him as our Cosmo Kramer.
Unfailingly fun, he could also be a little frugal and flighty. When he wasn’t crashing in our storage room, I only ever heard from him when he needed moving help.
One day, I heard from him.
Having just bought what he called a “villa” in Florida – it sounded an awful lot like a regular old house to me – he was putting most of the contents of his California apartment in storage. This was the second time I had helped Doug move his entire apartment into storage – at a different storage facility last time, with (I’m guessing) price having been the deciding factor in the switch – and also the second time Doug had bought a home sight unseen in Florida.
The first home had not worked out so well. In fact, he had hated it from the moment he received the keys and saw it in person. He’d sold it and moved back to California almost immediately.
But that had not been a villa. Obviously, this time would be different.
So he bought his villa (did I mention he insisted on calling it a villa?) and I agreed to help him move his stuff into storage the day before he was to set off on a cross-country drive.
I awoke that Sunday morning feeling as nauseous as I’ve ever felt, with just an hour until the agreed-upon time when Doug would pick me up in the moving van. I hoped the nausea would subside as I moved around and got washed up, but it didn’t. As 8 AM approached, I considered calling Doug and telling him I wouldn’t be able to help. He was probably already on his way in the van, though, and I knew he’d have trouble finding anyone else on such short notice.
I decided to tough it out. I comforted myself with the thought that if I did throw up, at least it’d be on the plastic floor of a rented box van. No problem.
Just then, through the kitchen window, I saw a shiny black car pull up in front of the house. I thought it was a neighbor parking under our tree until wiry Doug sprang from the driver’s side door and started trotting up our walkway. I lumbered out the screen door to meet him.
“See that?” he asked, with genuine giddiness. It was the first new car he’d bought in decades.
He looked wrong as he settled into the seat of a gleaming Hyundai Elantra, like an anarchic toe projecting at right angles from someone’s cheek. But that singular contrast didn’t account for the mortified feeling with which I lowered myself into the passenger seat.
For once in his life, Doug had spared no expense. And I felt sure I would eventually throw up all over his crisp black interior and space-age console. It was a matter of when, not if.
On our way to his apartment, where the moving van was waiting (to save on mileage, as he explained), Doug intuitively did his part to bring my nausea to its inevitable conclusion. With Inspector Gadget enthusiasm, he fired up the fancy built-in seat warmers with a quick jab of his finger at the dash. After taking a moment to feel my insides begin to simmer from way down in the lower intestine, and acting suitably impressed, I managed to find the button he had used and quietly turn mine off.
“Really terrific,” I said.
He was also eager to show me how his Bluetooth-enabled car stereo responded to voice commands.
“Hey hey, check this out. CALL SALLY,” he half-hollered, taking care to enunciate those last words very deliberately.
Sure enough, his radio started dialing up Allan without a problem. He looked down at the touchscreen and tapped ‘cancel.’
“Well, it usually works great.”
If not for the chance that every issuance of breath might bring up something solid with it, I would have chuckled.
Almost there, almost there. Nobody cares if I throw up outside. Just don’t do it in the car.
Upon arriving at Doug’s apartment and surveying what was left to move, it seemed like we should be able to make pretty quick work of it. Boxes, bed, desk, bookcases, washing machine he’d kept hidden because he wasn’t supposed to have a washing machine in that apartment, a futon that would’ve surprised me in the home of a 60-something year old guy if I hadn’t already seen it in several past moves.
What’s more, Doug had an exact schematic – on draft paper and everything – with measurements and plans for where and how everything would fit. He didn’t want to make two trips in the van because that would cost more, so he’d mapped it all out. The schematic appeared complicated and I knew that trying to decipher it would make me even woozier, so I left the interpretation up to him and decided that my role would consist of taking directions and executing his plan as quickly as possible before things got nasty. He knew what he was doing.
Only, as soon became clear, he didn’t. With the van half-loaded, there were lots of odd angles and wasted spaces. Not much else would fit.
Wondering aloud how Doug’s detailed schematic had led us so astray prompted him to reveal that the schematic was for how stuff would fit in the storage unit, not the van. He had no idea how stuff would fit in the van, other than having a vague, optimistic sense that it should. In one trip, to keep costs down, even though the storage unit was just blocks away.
The directions he had been giving were based on putting stuff in the van in the exact opposite order that it would be loaded into the storage unit, with little regard for how you might go about loading a moving van of very different dimensions.
With Doug wedged at the far corner of the van between a bookshelf and a desk, a sofa projecting diagonally into his face, I figured this was probably a good time to devise some sort of plan.
Just then, Doug got distracted by a neighbor and wriggled out of the van.
“Yep, moving. Florida. Not a house. A VILLA. No, we don’t need any help, but thanks for asking. You don’t want this lush futon, do you? It’s still got some life in it.”
While he was thus occupied, I mentally shuffled his possessions around like LEGO blocks. When the neighbor left, we began the work of pulling everything back out and reloading the van according to my new plan. This time, everything fit. It had taken us two tries, but the van was loaded.
To Doug’s credit, his detailed storage unit schematic was exactly right. But by the time we had pulled everything out of the moving van and begun placing it into the unit with the utmost precision, I was feeling worse than ever. So bad, in fact, that I had to keep stopping what I was doing every few minutes to sit in the back of the van, away from the sun.
After several such breaks, I finally told Doug that I was feeling sick to my stomach, had been since I woke up, and was only getting worse. He looked at me blankly, seeming unfazed by this news. A couple times, I wandered off around the corner of our row of units to try vomiting, to no avail. I helped with the last few heavy things and we climbed back into the van.
Could he buy me lunch, he wondered?
“No thanks, nothing sounds great just now. In fact, if there’s nothing else to be done at your apartment, would you mind driving me back in the van instead of in your car? Just to be safe, you know.”
He looked at me like I was crazy.
“No, the moving van place is just around the corner. See, here we are. And it looks like we’re just under the mileage where we’d have to stop and add gas.”
I told him, I thought. I can’t be held accountable for what happens next.
He returned the moving van while I stood out front, eyeing the nearest trash can.
After a couple minutes, he emerged.
“Great, all finished. Now, the apartment is just that way…”
From the remark and the fact the he had already headed off in the direction indicated, I gathered that we were to travel the mile back to his apartment by foot. Cabs are expensive. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t insist on one. But although I do sometimes walk for exercise, I don’t generally walk for exercise after climbing around in a moving van on the verge of throwing up.
At least we’re outside, and in a cheaper part of town where the gutters are already awash in vomit, I consoled myself. Maybe the fresh air will do me some good.
Doug offered to buy me breakfast again on the walk back.
I had the feeling I wasn’t being heard and suddenly recalled that, prior to his retirement, Doug had been a government office worker. A bureaucrat, with a bureaucrat’s slowness to accept and adapt to new information. Little surprise, then, that trying to impress the gravity of my current situation on him felt like waiting to hear back from someone at the Social Security Administration.
One of the last things you think about when moving is the stuff still in the fridge. Doug remembered it on our way in to grab his car keys from the kitchen counter. He’d be leaving the next day and would have to throw most of the food away unless he got rid of it. Would I mind taking some with me?
“That’d be fine,” I said, still holding the front door open.
He pulled out a couple empty paper sacks and invited me to grab whatever I wanted.
“Actually, I think you’re going to have to do it,” I said. “Just whatever you won’t use tonight and don’t want to throw away. I can’t look at food right now. Sorry.”
There, that was good. Polite enough, but I washed my hands of it. I’ll just lean against this wall here…
Ugh, I forgot that he also has a bureaucrat’s love of list-making. Is he really going to name each item aloud as he places it in the bag? “Hot dogs, soy sauce, frozen quinoa, off-brand ice cream, snow cone syrups in strawberry, watermelon, grape…” Where does this guy shop, anyway?
I carried two bulging, fragrant bags of half-used groceries to his car, loaded them into the backseat, and settled in for the ride home. On the passenger side of a new Hyundai Elantra, the soy smell wafting forward, so help me God.
I tried to warn him. I tried.
Somehow, I made it home without incident, deposited the bags of groceries on the kitchen floor, bid Doug adieu, and collapsed face-down onto my bed. My mom, who was awake by then, greeted Doug, put groceries away, and allowed herself to be talked into a ride in his new car.
When I awoke from a nap that afternoon, she gave me some cash he’d left. The equivalent of minimum wage, it was more than he’d offered for past moves.
“Did he show you the seat warmers?” I asked.
“He did,” she said.
“Did he do the Bluetooth voice command thing on his radio?”
“He did,” she said.
“Did it work?”
“No, but he was sure excited about it. And he said I can visit him at his villa any time.”
I finally threw up the next morning.