From Williamsburg to Greenpoint: An Odyssey
Original photo by Timothy Bailey (used with artistic license by Pretty Poison Graphics)
Friday, April 20th was nothing short of an odyssey.
Like Homer’s epic poem from 8th Century B.C., the journey embarked upon a few weekends ago felt like it lasted 10 long years, although the tale existed over the span of only one day. The fact that the hero’s name Odysseus means “trouble” in Greek (referring to both the giving and receiving of trouble, as was often the case in his many wanderings) should not be overlooked. Also, there is a strong theme of homecoming in the Odyssey due to Odysseus embarking on a journey home after the Trojan War finally ended. And last but not least, the themes of identity and exile that are extremely prevalent in the poem ring hard and true in this real world story as well.
Like Odysseus, Michael and I went on a journey after we were exiled from our home, a dwelling through the years that had captured our identity together as a couple. We then encountered enough trouble to test even the strongest man, only to finish off our seemingly epic duration of wandering with a lovely feeling of coming home.
Here is our epic poem.
But what’s an epic poem without a soundtrack? There just happens to be the perfect album to go along with this epistle, one from 2005 that both Michael and I fell in love with when we first fell in love with each other. Appropriately, it’s entitled “Odyssey” by the art-rock band Fischerspooner. Get ready to drop the needle on the record ’cause here we go.
The story begins on a Friday near the end of April. We awake early, have coffee and a nosh, and pack up odds ‘n ends in an endless array of boxes to compliment the pictures, plants, files, furniture, and bookshelves that fill our tiny abode to the brim. The movers are scheduled to arrive at 11:00am so we are good to go at the appointed hour. After waiting around for awhile, I call to question the delay and am advised that traffic is bad. Well, sure, this is New York after all. Is that even an excuse any more? An 11:00 o’clock appointment should mean 11:00 o’clock, give or take a few minutes, especially when one is moving domiciles and the entire day is planned around said starting time. As the day winds on and the sun reaches the middle of the sky in its never-ending arc, a sick knot embeds itself in my stomach, clutching me tightly like a hungry parasite. The seconds, minutes, and hours tick by ever so slowly. I end up making a phone call at the top of every hour, only to be told repeatedly that traffic is still bad. Yeah, I know. Doesn’t one plan for that?, I wonder.
Meanwhile, our slumlord Bill Lika (remember that name, it is synonymous with evil), who has been a jerk for almost 10 years to every single tenant at 81 N. 7th Street and was forcing us to move on that exact day, had the gall to hire a worker to lay tiles in the foyer with wet cement, essentially blocking the entire hallway in and out of our apartment with two long, narrow boards placed precariously over the construction. It’s like a balance beam from hell. In my horrified mind’s eye, I visualize someone slipping off those slim pieces of wood while carrying a 200-pound dining room hutch. Shudder. Cue up Track #1 “Just Let Go” from the Fischerspooner album or fire up the self-help mantra, “Let Go, Let God.” Either one works. I must force myself to let go of what might possibly go wrong in the future and to focus instead on the here and now. It’s a little too soon for my sanity to start slipping away, even though my mental stability is barely holding on by a fragile thread.
By the time 2:00pm rolls around, panic has settled in like a thick mottled haze until “I lost myself” (Track #2 “Cloud”). After a frantic conversation with the dispatcher, I receive a call from the driver himself stating they are close by. Thirty minutes later, they finally arrive. Three-and-a-half hours late.
I take a deep breath and head outside. “Just let go, just let go,” I mutter to myself.
When I spot the two movers pulling up in a small van, my heart sinks. The amount of furniture and furnishings in our two-bedroom apartment is astounding and requires a full-on moving van. Not a cargo van. And the men are far from burly. When they take sight of our belongings ready to be transported to Greenpoint and learn that the new apartment is up several flights of stairs without an elevator, their hears sink. I see the light fade from their eyes and hardened expressions take over. Cue up the trouble. Several calls go back and forth to the company dispatcher, discussing what can be done, while I beg and plead and stress that I disclosed everything when I set up the appointment, specifically that we have a large apartment with tons of items to move and are relocating to a third-floor walk-up. The guys aren’t having it. The time is 3:00pm now, four hours after our scheduled appointment, and all we have to show for it is a whole lot of grief thrown our way along with a little bit of blackmail. We are stuck at this point; we have to move today but are at an impasse with the movers. “You can never win,” a refrain from Track #3 “Never Win” echoes in my head with singer Casey Spooner’s vocals taunting me. Could he be right?
Finally it’s decided that a third man will join the moving team, Michael and I will pay a flat rate for all three of them, and we haggle down the exorbitant price they are demanding. Tears sting my eyes but I blink them away. In order to get this move going, Michael and I will need to pitch in and help. So we do. Is there even a choice? Back and forth, back and forth, over the two thin balance beams, staggering with heavy boxes, holding our yappy dog, and sweating balls over this unexpected manual labor.
Once the van has been loaded to the gills, then the process begins of the back-and-forth to the new place. I liken it to an unexpected, hurtful “Kick in the Teeth” (Track #4). “You may not realize, when it’s done or why, but it may be the best thing….”
And it was the best thing. My cloud of doom and gloom begins to lift. Ever the optimist, Michael’s positive attitude begins to rub off on me and, when he decides that I should stay at the new apartment with Chavez and place things in the appropriate areas as they arrive, I’m stoked. Suddenly, we’ve got “Everything To Gain” (Track #5). And everything to clean too. The place is a pigsty. The toilet and tub are black; the stove is smothered in laminated grease and splattered sauce; and the refrigerator is an untamed wilderness complete with globs of hair. Yes, hair. And yet, being a Virgo, I happen to be more than content to remain at home and scrub every surface until it’s livable. Track #6 is called “We Need A War” and I am down in the trenches. As is Michael. His Taurean instincts rise up to take charge of the three movers. And guess what? It works. We are an unbeatable team. He does his thing (back and forth, up and down the stairs, back and forth again), I do mine (clean, shush the barking dog, clean some more), and slowly but surely our forces combine to ease everything to completion. By 7:00pm, eight hours after the movers were supposed to arrive, everything is moved in. Of course, the last scene with the movers was a tearful one for me when they practically robbed me to get a tip. What I had, I gave them. It wasn’t much and they truly worked hard but they already forced us between a rock and a hard place, and their services ended up costing two to three times more than we had bargained for. Such is the price of a long, arduous journey, a price that I was more than happy to pay, actually. For believe it or not, after all the Sturm und Drang, Club Chavez had been officially relocated.
Exhausted and sweaty, we had about an hour to get ready before Michael had to show up for a brand-new DJ gig at The Bedford back in Williamsburg (our old ‘hood). There would be no real unpacking this night nor would we be there to hold our scared little dog and help him acclimate to his new surroundings. Worst of all, we wouldn’t even be clean for the evening. When Michael jumped in the shower, more troubles bubbled and boiled. The tub was clogged. Not only clogged, but a glut of hairballs, dirt and gunk filled the tub to the brim. There happened to be an old plunger in the bathroom which Michael used with gusto. Unfortunately, he had to give up twenty minutes later. That dirty water wasn’t going down. As a result, he took a “whore’s bath” in the kitchen sink while I washed my grubby hands and changed clothes. Then we were off to a new venue and a new DJ gig from 10:00pm to 4:00am. Nothing went off without a hitch there either, mind you. One of the CD players was spotty at best—about 45 minutes into his set, Michael tried to play 20 different CDs in a row, all to no avail. At this point, he just had to shut down the entire system and reboot it in the hopes of clearing the problem. It worked. “Will I have to start all over? Yes I will.”(Track #7 “Get Confused”). It worked four more times later too.
And yet we still had a blast, despite all the technical difficulties. We had not only survived a horrendous moving experience, but we were surrounded by loving friends and family who were there to support us in every way possible. Things were looking up. Even though I wished the entire weekend was over and that it was already the middle of next week (“Wednesday” Track #8), as if the move was all in the past or something, I went to bed hoping for the best.
The next day dawned bright and beautiful. When we looked at the mess of crap cluttering up the new digs, we weren’t defeated. Instead, we tackled what we could with a renewed vigor, knowing that the space would be beautiful once we stamped our personalities all over it. Hour by hour a feeling of coming home enveloped us. Two bottles of Drano fixed the shower. Boxes were emptied and broken down. Favorite items were discovered and displayed. Sunlight streamed in the large open windows. The dog ran back and forth with excitement not fear. We were actually “Happy” (Track #9). Sure, it wasn’t exactly a suite from an expensive hotel (Track #10 “Ritz 107”)—the floors are hilariously slanted and everything seems to be reversed from the norm—but it was our stuff, our place, our life. And by the time we had to leave for my own DJ set in Manhattan that night, we had made the house a home.
All the headache and struggle and trouble had been worth it. Although we had been exiled and put through an excruciating journey, we had established a new home, together. All that hard work was worth it. I think that it was worth it because of all the hard work. And every day gets better and better; the boxes diminish, the décor flourishes, and my heart swells. The new neighborhood charms with its myriad of churches, tree-lined streets, beautiful brick buildings, local convenience stores, an actual supermarket or two, and a subway stop only a block away, all set to the musical tolling from the bell tower of the stately Roman Catholic Church next door, like a living heartbeat, counting out every precious hour, reminding us that we are all in this journey together as one. The last track of “Odyssey” is called “All We Are,” and the chorus repeats, “We are as one and one is all we are” in an endless chant, a loop of love. Every day at our railroad apartment on Manhattan Avenue is a blessing, and I thank the God of my lucky stars for opening my eyes to this epiphany.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “odyssey” noun (‘ä-də-sē) as “1: a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune; 2: an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest.”
I think that is exactly what we had. And I am a better man because of it.
Fischerspooner “Odyssey” © 2005