Monday, September 14, 2009

Sofas, Bridges, and Trucks –Oh My!

It seemed simple enough.  But, simple enough turned out to be a little more complex than any of us had imagined.  The basic premise served everybody; well-to-do couple discards good quality living room furniture; poor working class mom who needs new furniture accepts donation.  There were a few obstacles to be overcome so plans were developed.  The plan developers were women of a certain age who had navigated life’s obstacle courses with some degree of success.  Women who have dealt with single parent-hood and a working life in the education system, could reasonably be expected to come up with something simple and effective.  These are the kind of women who should really be In-Charge-Of-Everything. 

Life is tricky.  Life is often complicated by unforeseen forces that want to intrude on simple plans as much as they do on grandiose plans.  These forces cannot always be placated by prayer or manifold supplication –they simply have to be endured.

The first obstacle was distance.  The furniture was in Bethany Beach, Delaware.  It’s new home is in Chambersburg, PA (still pronounced pee-ay).  That, according to the odometer in the yellow Penske truck, is a distance of 238 miles.  However, I’m no longer sure of the trustworthiness of the Penske truck or it’s supporting company.  However, I shall get to that. 

The simple plan conjured up by my friend, Greta, in Bethany Beach was to collect the truck, the furniture, and drive it to her side of the Bay Bridge.  I would drive, with a friend, to meet her at a delightful restaurant, The Fisherman’s Inn, on her side of the Bay Bridge, buy Greta and her friend lunch, collect the truck and furniture and drive it back to Chambersburg, PA.  This is as simple as a relay race in slow motion.  Slow motion means you have plenty of time to pass the baton and are therefore unlikely to drop it. 

The second obstacle was getting the furniture into my house after the old furniture had been removed.  This was a twofold obstacle; old out, new in and could not be accomplished with a gaudy dropping ball and a down-count from ten to zero.  It required some careful forethought and the assistance of a number of friends and the same unforeseen forces that can complicate matters. 

Removing old furniture from my house is also not as simple as it sounds.  I live in a very old house that once served as home for railway workers.  It was moved to its present site by an enterprising railway company that moved houses for its employees to where they were most needed.  The railway station in Chambersburg was once situated on the highline almost directly opposite my house.  During the century or more in its current location, the house had a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom added onto it; the placement of the back door was changed, and subsequent owners added all manner of interesting little quirks to it.  The result is an interesting mélange of old.

In the middle of the house is a relatively narrow but long room that connects the kitchen to the hallway.  I use it as a living room; it has the TV and my Pilates machine in it.  The TV receives considerably more attention than the Pilates machine.  Here is where I wished to place the smaller of the two sofas I was about to receive.  Here is where I had a large faux leather, double recliner sofa with a drop down table top that I didn’t discover until I tried to pri the whole thing apart.  I inherited this sofa from a co-worker for a mere $25.  In order to get the sofa into the house, it had to be completely dismantled and then reassembled once all the parts had been squeezed through the 28 inch wide hallway opening; an opening that cannot be angled around as it also happens to be about 30 inches long and barely six foot tall.  The hallway wall has been repainted numerous times after each furniture departure and arrival. 

The friend who originally squeezed the faux leather double recliner sofa into the living room was unavailable.  I had to resort to my companions of creativity.  Mark is an unexpected lead singer in a rock band.  I say unexpected because he has a calm and sweet personality that does not seem to fit the presumed angst of the rock band singer.  Mark arrived with friend-with-tools and within 10 minutes the faux leather double recliner sofa was dismantled and on the sidewalk alongside a springless chair from another room.  Both now wore “Free” signs.  And, there were no holes or scrapings on the wall.  Mark would return on Saturday to help carry in the new furniture.  So far, so simple.  That was Tuesday. 

On Monday and Wednesday I spoke with Candy, a young lady employed by Penske.  I had already spoken with Michael after my online booking for the truck that would carry the furniture from Delaware to PA.  Michael assured me of the cost, the after hours drop off availability, the lack of probable problems.  All would surely be well.  Candy required that I send a permission note for my friend to pick up the truck plus a copy of my driver’s license.  I faxed, I called, I forwarded e-mail information, I ensured all was done as it should be.  It still seemed like a reasonable and simple plan.

Now here’s where everything starts to stretch out, like a never ending bridge that seems to disappear over the horizon to hoped for dry land.  Presumptions are dangerous and tricky things.  They lurk in the coyote brain of life waiting to surprise, infuriate, distort, and change the shape of things to come.  They ride on the conniving back of things known, which often turn out to be just more presumptions. 

On Wednesday, I returned home late in the evening after a hot and tiring day of work and commitments and tasks that all had to be accomplished before the first day of in-service training.  The furniture was no longer on the sidewalk.  My neighbor rang my doorbell as I was putting away groceries and contemplating a well-deserved plate of Edy’s Butterfinger Overload ice-cream.  She had been told, and didn’t know if it was true or not, but her brother saw it happen, and so she knew that the furniture had been dragged up the high-line by some neighborhood kids and put on the railway tracks.  I contemplated this news through filters of incredulity and frustration.  It definitely had an adverse effect on the ice-cream. 

The highline is steep and thickly wooded with a good measure of underbrush.  You would have to be crazy to even think of carrying that faux-leather double recliner sofa up there.  Who would be crazy enough to do that?  The answer was simple, the neighborhood kids.  I called the police on the non-emergency number.  I have it on speed dial.  They had the good grace not to laugh.  The last time I called them was to inform them that the neighborhood kids had backed a white van over my car and it was inserted at a dangerous angle into the car’s hood.  I was concerned about the possible effect on a train driver of hitting a large faux-leather double recliner sofa at speed.  They would send an officer up to take a look.  I didn’t hear back from them. 

Friday was a hot day at work.  The downstairs air conditioner broke when they finally turned it on.  My windowless room is downstairs.  I arrived home about 5:30 to find a message from Candy on my home phone, despite the fact that I had called her on my cell phone and faxed her the number.  She wanted to give me directions to pick up the truck.  This, despite the fact that we had three conversations about my friend, Greta, picking up the truck and I had faxed her a permission note for my friend to perform this task.  A small pimple of doubt erupted and I called Candy, who had of course departed for the day.  I spoke to a pleasant man, explained my frustration and asked him to call my friend with the pick-up details, which he did.  I know he did because I checked.

On Saturday morning I was greeted by a clear blue sky.  I collected two frozen caramel coffees from Panera and waited for my friend Michelle to collect me.  The coffees were sitting on the roof of my car when I noticed the neighborhood pitbull and an unknown person over by the basketball court.  The man was talking to the pitbull, a noisy, untrained dog starved for affection as well as food.  He asked if it was my dog.  I headed down the street toward the large house two doors down where the pitbull is usually tethered with a car chain under a desolate tree.   I banged on the front door.  No answer.  I went to the side door all the while telling the stranger and Michelle where the dog is usually kept.  Michelle loves animals.  The pitbull is instantly in love with her and will do anything she wants including following her back to his prison with cooler full of green water and fly-infested surroundings 

As we walked back down the side of the house, I noticed the faux-leather, double recliner sofa and springless chair from the sidewalk on their front porch.  The sofa is still in pieces but it is arranged well.  There is some consolation in knowing that no train driver was traumatized by an unexpected meeting with my furniture.  I wonder, briefly, what the police response will be to my next call.

Michelle and I head out towards the Bay Bridge.  We left on time.  We allowed three hours for the trip, plenty of time.  We presumed that most people heading to the beach for the weekend would already be there and that those returning would be on the other side of the road or not returning until the following day.  The frozen caramel coffees were wonderful, the sky was blue, the traffic was moderate.  What could go wrong?

About an hour and half into our journey I checked my phone (maybe I will one day blog about my hate-hate relationship with AT&T) .  Suffice it to say, the phone tells me nothing.  Later, it would tell me there were two missed calls and two new messages.  I listened to them.  I heard Candy tell me that she would need my credit card number, then I heard Greta’s voice say it could be put on her card.  I was puzzled.  My credit card information was all inserted in the online booking.  I listened to a message from Greta.  I couldn't  hear all of it but I understood that they were running late.  I called Candy and I was not feeling in my most pleasant disposition.  I made a few determinations about Candy and none of them were positive.

It seems that the unforeseen forces at work in all our lives had crept into the Penske building and departed with the computer, coffee pot, vacuum cleaner, tools and other undeternined, assorted stuff.  Candy was apologetic but said my friend was very nice about it all and they put the truck rental on her card.  I aspire to be as understanding as Greta. 

I called Greta who told me that not only was Penske burgled, but they decided to give me a bigger truck and change the front tires before departure.  The result was a need to stop at all weigh stations en route and at least an hour’s delay.  Greta told me that Candy didn’t know what to do without her computer.  Greta has the opposite problem.  She stepped Candy through the process of using a credit card without having a computer.  She waited while they changed the tires.  She noticed the Penske building was located next to the police barracks. Greta was in the midst of horrendous traffic.  They were leaving about the time we had anticipated arriving at the Fisherman’s Inn. 

Michelle and I approached the Bay Bridge.  The lines were long and sedentary.  A haze of carbon emissions and heat rose  into the morning brightness.  The cars snaked out across the broad expanse of the toll-booths weaving in and out of lines only to crawl with mind-numbing slowness towards their destination.  

We hit the EZ pass lane with relief and a smidgen of gratitude that we had circled around the block to retrieve my pass before leaving Chambersburg and the pitbull.  Within minutes we were through and heading across the bridge.  More calls to Greta indicated they could be even further away than expected.  We decided to while away the time at a nearby outlet mall. 

There are some places I should not go.  The first time I tasted a Harry and David’s chocolate truffle, I knew I should never, ever set foot inside one of their stores.  I have to admit after that first bite, I did check out the locations of their stores.  But, I managed to resist any movement toward one of those stores.  As we pulled into the mall, I noticed from my unaccustomed spot in the passenger seat that there is a Harry and David’s store off to our left.

            “I’ve never been in one them.”

            “You are not serious.....”

Michelle flipped the car around the one way system and slotted it neatly into the parking lot directly in front of Harry and David’s.  The gods have a way of tempting the weak; first of all they provide the best parking spot, then they make sure that the greatest number of samples are present in the smallest possible space.  I had no intention of spending any money above and beyond the cost of the Penske truck, gas, lunch, and a few dollars to recompense people for their time and energy.  That was as far as my meager budget would spread.  Somehow I managed to stretch it even further to cover two boxes of the maltballs on special –they were the first sample hit just inside the door, a jar of asiago cheese spread, another jar of mango salsa and one bag of dark chocolate truffles for those dark days ahead.  At least, that’s what I told Michelle.

Two hours and numerous calls later, calls that AT&T saw fit not to deliver to my cell phone, we finally made the rendevous with Greta at the Fisherman’s Inn.  Lunch was at 2:30 and it was wonderful. 

Another trip back across the Bay Bridge at a speed no EZ pass could expedite.  It just had to be endured as I fiddled with the air-conditioning, the mirrors, the seats, the placement of my cell phone, chocolate maltballs, and water bottle, all the things that the long distance driver needs at hand.  The trip was singularly uneventful.  All the weigh stops were closed so it is still a mystery to me what happens in those little pull-over strips.  The Penske truck performed its job well as long as I did not require it to go over 65 miles per hour.  At that point it began to shudder and sway and scare me.

Chambersburg dragged itself closer and closer and once again that relationship with AT&T failed me yet again.  Finally as I was pulling into my street I learned that Mark would be there with a friend.  And sure enough he arrived within minutes on his bicycle with his former girlfriend, AJ.  He was already hauling stuff out of the truck by the time I answered the door.

Some summer days in Chambersburg the humidity is sufficient to make breathing an iron-man exercise.  Saturday was one of those days.  We were all covered in sweat as we quickly realized the sofas at their smallest point were not going to pass through the 28 inch doorframe.  A great shuffling of big things and cushions and chairs and tables occurred.  Eventually the small sofa and chair adorned my built in front porch, the large sofa was in the front room with fireplace and computer and the papason and spare chair were in the television room.  All was well.  And best of all, AJ decided she wanted to buy my house.

Michelle retured and the Penske truck was dropped off in its unlikely spot shared with a tombstone distribution center.  Some alliances just should not be questioned. 

When I walk into my home these days, I am instantly reminded of the beach.  Against the first edict of The Art ManofEsto, the green and pink furniture matches the art and also the color scheme of the front porch.  I wait with the endurance and patience for the time when I can place the furniture in the living room of the townhouse I have picked out – just as soon as I sell this old house in a falling down neighborhood.  It’s a perfect investment, a great fixer upper, a home for the inspired creativity and energy of the young. 

When I reflect on this small adventure with obstacles, I know there are some things that reach beyond the sphere of presumptions whether or not they are about presumed knowledge. I know that given an EZ pass and a sunny day, there is nothing that women of a certain age cannot make happen.  I know that everyone needs at least one comfortable chair to sit in at the end of a long, hard day.  I know that dark chocolate truffles help make the troubles of a long, hard day seem less important or oppressive. I know that bridges cross impassable spaces.  I know that friends help weave together the fabric of a life helping to bridge the difficult and painful spaces, the spaces filled with obstacles.  I know that laughing along with the unseen forces at our efforts to control the uncontrollable makes the chair more comfortable and the chocolate smoother, creamier, and far richer than I dared to dream.


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