Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You Gotta Move
This weekend's Standard column.
As an old blues song says, when the Lord gets ready, you've gotta move. In my case it hasn't been so much the Lord as perhaps his -- or his subterranian counterpart's -- instruments, as in employers, wives, ex-wives, circumstances beyond my immediate control and the occasional capitalist running dog feudal landlord who have forced me to relocate exactly 33 times in my 50-or-so years of life.
That's counting several US army transfers, childhood moves and the two months I spent on a coworker's couch as marriage No. 1 went down in flames. As I mentally crawled from that wreckage I was often unwillingly subjected to the sounds of his new relationship taking root in his bedroom as the happy couple explored new identities as ``School Marm and Outlaw.'' Feeling like a pupil held hostage, I figured it was a sign to move again. That was No. 23.
But last month was the first time I'd moved twice simultaneously, once by long distance.
It was my third recycle in Shenzhen after a protracted dispute with a landlord who had resolutely refused to provide a postbox key, pay for repairs and insisted that the 2,813 yuan unpaid power bill from the previous tenant was my responsiblity. She also labored under the curious misapprension that her apartment was not a fitting habitat for a litter of three weaned civet kittens that a Chinese pal had temporarily left with me. Go figure.
Meanwhile 11,995 kilometers and 15 hours away in Louisville, Colorado my son was vacating an apartment that he and I had called home for four years before I'd split for China to ``check it out, I'll probably be back in six months or so.'' That was two years ago and counting.
As such, I'd left most of my lifetime possessions intact and under the temporary guardianship of a college student. Artwork, furniture, kitchen and dining clutter, cabinets, clothing, two televisions, one non-working Mac, one operating Dell PC, 63 hardcover books, countless paperbacks, one working turntable, two CD players, one Beta format videocassette player, two VHS players, six speakers, 1,231 CDs, 807 vinyl LPs, three boxes of cassette tapes, 16 Beta tapes, four boxes of VHS tapes, three eight track tapes (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Do the Hustle Vol.1, Dean Martin: For the Good Times) and a pink Princess rotary dial phone.
The international phone calls began on July 5 -- him at 11am or so, me at 1am July 6.
``Dad, what do you want me to do with your books? Your CDs? And Agnes?''
``Agnes'' is a 500-year-old wooden French sculpture of St Agnes that my parents bought for a proverbial song in a Paris flea market in 1963. Aside from an unopened vintage British vinyl copy of Electric Ladyland a matched pair of 1960s-era Flintstones jelly/drinking glasses (Fred and Wilma), and a Ringo Starr autograph, she's probably my most most valuable posession.
I blanched thinking of her in a college student's cave amid Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World, Nicky Hilton, Carmen Electra posters, pyramids of beer cans, fetid bongs and crusty paper plates hosting 8-day old bean dip and congealed nachos.
I'm not Catholic but some of my best, well, one of my best friends is and Agnes found temporary properly reverential housing,
A yard sale took care of some of the furniture (``You only got $30 for the dining room set? I paid $1,200 for it seven years ago! What? And you threw in the couch for free?'') and basements and garages of friends in three neighboring towns and my sister in New York state were found for the rest as the weeks ticked by and the phone bills mounted.
In Shenzhen the clock was also ticking. After the civet petting zoo was returned to the original owner, new digs were found on another floor of the same building and transfers began courtesy of a Shenzhen moving company that consisted of an elderly wheezing man and his strapping son and nephew all of whom had been recruited from the street corner where they also moonlighted as trash collectors, occasional bootleg DVD and questionable quality fishball vendors.
There was only one hitch. An apartment security guard with apparently nothing better to do demanded to see receipts for my sound system and two laptop computers that he happened to see me transferring from one floor to another and my new abode.
``Receipts? We ain't got no receipts. We don't need no receipts. I don't have to show you any stinking receipts!'' I shouted at the callow-faced youth in a uniform that looked like a cross between Barney Fife's on the Andy Griffith Show and a botched second from a Croatian production of Pirates of Penzance. Oddly enough he appeared to be either unfamiliar or unimpressed with my clever reference to The Treasure of Sierra Madre and stood firm until my Chinese roomate assured him that as a two-year resident of the complex the oft-seen foreigner surely had better things to do than publicly burglarize his own apartment at 11am on a Saturday.
Fifteen hours away in the past, the international phone calls had dwindled but there were some burps, usually at 4am.
``Uh, Dad. Sorry to wake you but what about the Honda?'' The car was a problem. Inherited unwillingly from my late mother, the 1981 rust-ridden, barely working Civic probably had a resale value of negative US$150. In other words I'd have to pay someone to take it off my hands and the proceeds from the yard sale weren't going to cover it.
``I've got an idea,'' my son continued. It seemed a friend of his, a budding filmmaker, needed a burning vehicle to give his student project its proverbial money shot.
``Can he blow it up on private property? With a permit? I don't want a warrant waiting for me if I ever come back to a home I don't have.''
I was assured that all was street legal and that I'd get a screen credit (``Exploding Honda courtesy of Julian's Dad'') and my personal copy of Vampire Lesbian Kickboxers: The Prequel as soon as it was released.
He finally phoned to say that he'd turned in the keys and might get one sixteenth of the $800 damage deposit back due to some two-year-old collateral damage to the carpet involving a gallon red wine and pot of spaghetti sauce that had resisted industrial strength steam cleaning.
``It looks kind of like Jesus or Mary, maybe, if you squint hard enough,'' he joked.
I had a flash -- declare a miracle, charge admission or cut ``Jesus'' or ``Mary'' out of the carpet and sell it on e-Bay and recoup my financial losses. But no. Too late and I was beginning to feel extremely dislocated.
In the US my life was now scattered in four towns in two states and in China it was split between two apartments in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Time to give it all a rest and wait for Vampire Lesbian Kickboxers to arrive. Maybe, I mused, I can get it pirated, cash in on the proceeds and finally retire in one place and never move again.
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