THE 10 DAY SHIMMY
My wife was taking a bath; she could be heard splishing and splashing and humming. The baby had just gone to bed; she could be heard muttering groggily through the plastic receiver at my feet, a burst of static popping through whenever I shifted the laptop on my knees. We had just come home from seeing The Matrix II: The Electric Bugaloo and I was blogjogging on a theme, mining for mention of Mystic Gnosticism and Baudrillard.
That's when the landlords came to the door and announced that they would be taking over the house in 72 days. They had notorised notes from their lawyer, and twice-signed papyrus from the bureaucrats of our SARSy megatropolis.
Curses! I hate moving.
Because the owners of the property planned to occupy it themselves, they had every right to summarily conclude our tenancy. However, Ontario's Landlords & Tenancts Act, ever the champion of the tenant, confers in such cases a new right upon the renter: the ability to break a lease with only 10 days notice.
...I found myself wondering: wouldn't it be much nicer to get moving over with now, rather than deal with it in August, in the middle of my big job for the Japanese? Wouldn't it be great to get a month of rent back from my landlord? Could such a mad feat be done, at the drop of a hat?
This is the story of how I packed up and moved my family to a new house in less than 10 days.
Saturday 17 May
I am extraordinarily grumpy about walking the dog. My wife wants to know what's up. "I'm uptight about having to move," I say. I'm a homebody by nature, and knowing that I have to move makes my nest itchy. "Let's be proactive," suggests my wife; "let's go find a new place to live right now."
Right now is a powerful time. It is the key to that obscure, oft-ignored crust at the fringes of the renters' listings: those available for immediate occupancy. My wife picks up the phone and starts panning for gold.
In the end, three properties are culled for viewing. It is simply a matter of viewing each of them, and choosing the best. When a rentable house is available for immediate occupancy in this city, and you show up with a wife, an infant child and a chequebook, they just hand you the keys. We positively reek of stability.
We choose a property that hits 10 out 11 points on our list of prime considerations. More room, cheaper rent, nicer landlady, private backyard, private garage/driveway, good power/plentiful sockets, broadband access, broadloom, decent water pressure, highway access -- yes. Direct subway access, no.
"I could put in a little trellis and garden back there!" my wife says, pointing to a strip of weeds along the fence. The baby sits on my shoulders, chewing on my hair and holding my ears like handles. "Mfwa ha wa," she says. The brown landlady with a pink kerchief in her hair can't help but smile at our little imp. "The place is yours," she says. "We'll get a lease together on Tuesday."
Sunday 18 May
I fold up my office and put it in my hat.
I wish. Instead, I begin the slow process of breaking down my professional nest of wires, paper and videotape and stowing it away in what I hope is a safe/efficient/memorable way.
I long for my student days when everything I owned (books, clothes, compact discs, trinkets and one computer) fit into two durable equipment trunks and one knapsack. My life, shippable. A thorough manifest could be generated from memory. I packed and unpacked and packed each semester, moving from Halifax to Toronto like a gypsy with a railpass.
I used to tape my crap to a shipping palette and watched it get forklifted away. I smoked cigarettes and asked people to give me a ride back into town from whatever freight-shipping industrial-district Max Headroom-style dystopia strip-mall I'd found to carry my stuff cross-country for nickels and dimes.
Now my wife is asking me: "How big a truck do we need? Two tonne? Three tonne?"
Bit by bit my laboratorium condences to cubic form. Old habits die hard: a monitor is wrapped in long underwear and snapped into one of the equipment trunks; keyboards are wrapped in shirts, mice in socks; soft-cover books find opportunistic shock-absorbing nooks between two computing boxen...
Like the noble savage, every part is used.
Monday 19 May
It is Victoria Day, but I am packing my fireworks away with the last kibbles of this house's version of my laboratorium. I separate away the things too precious for strangers to touch, and stow them in the closet; these things will come in the car.
My brother-in-law is packing the contents of the kitchen in balls of The North York Mirror stuffed in monsterously oversized tupperware containers. These things rock. They're like the space-age freight containers you see littering the cargo bays of Star Trek ships, but they're translucent so you can see your stuff (or at least a fuzzy, indistinct shadow thereof). My brother-in-law overloads the goliath tupperware containers. The movers will later curse him in a half-joking way.
My wife compresses the livingroom into a neat ziggurat of cardboard in the centre of the room. My mother-in-law sits in the corner with the baby asking the timeless question, "Cootchy-cootchy-coo?" The dog is starting to get freaked out. He knows something is afoot. In a fit of anxiety, he eats my lunch when I'm not looking.
Tuesday 20 May
I am on contract at a downtown animation company, etching tombstones for a package of American network promos rebranding a cartoon series with flagging ratings. The Australian director wants me to track the etchings in 3D space as the stop-motion tombtones fall. The Italian compositor wants me to match-move a sky with a stop-motion cemetary. A brilliant Filipino has drawn the cel art. A fatherless Samoan is handling the client, who is a gentlemen from Atlanta whose earnest, lazy smile can be discerned in his easy drawl even through the crackling tinniness of double-speakerphone conferences.
I check in at home via my space-age pocket-telephone: my wife packs on.
That night on my way home on the subway I get a sinking feeling. I turn the corner outside of the station and see my landlord's fat blue wagon. I screw up my courage and find him in the backyard, where he is surveying the grounds. I tell him that we're leaving, that we'll give him 10 days written notice tomorrow, that he'll owe us a month of rent.
To my surprise, he takes the news well. I become cautiously optimistic that I may in fact get my money back without resorting to lawyerplay.
I pause to queasily hope that that smiling brown lady wasn't shitting me when she said the place was ours.
Wednesday 21 May
Second and final day of my contract with the cool kids at the downtown animation company. Everyone discusses why they felt the Matrix sequel sucked. The Mexican director who looks like a hispanic Laurence Fishburne tells me that the Watchowskis have ripped off significant chunks of a comic series called The Invisibles. I buy a collection of the first few issues from a local geekhole while on my lunch, and read them while I eat a dijon frankfurter and drink tea in the park.
I check in at home via my space-age pocket-telephone: my wife has arranged for the transmuting of our telephony, broadband and postal services to our new address. A 3 tonne truck with a gang of 3 movers will arrive tomorrow at 9.
My wife picks me up from work and we drive across the city to the new property. Our new landlady clucks at the baby as we sign the lease. We jump in the car and drive to the home of our old landlord as I scrawl out our formal notice of the termination of our tenancy on a scrap of blank storyboard paper. We stop at a convenience store and take a photocopy. Written notice is hand delivered, and our premature exit becomes irreversible.
The final packing: miscellaneia is stuffed where it fits, orphaned cables are labelled with question marks, small treasures and much dust are found under moved furniture. Our smallest kitty is overjoyed to find his long lost menagerie of rawhide mice. I find my birth certificate. My wife finds everything she had lost since the last time we moved. Reluctantly, I dismantle the last of the network hardware and kill the household Internet connection.
Seriously freaked out now, the dog pisses on the livingroom carpet in a fit of punk desperation.
Thursday 22 May
The day of reckoning arrives. The dog is deposited with the in-laws, the cats are locked in the stripped-bare washroom, the baby is sat by my mom. A short Sri Lankan, a toothless Cape Bretoner and a tall, lanky African arrive precisely on time and begin loading the long truck in clockwork lockstep. At first they are quiet, but as time goes by they become more chatty.
The Sri Lankan helped move us last time, and remembers me. "I remember your glass desk," he says; "you still have it?" The Cape Bretoner thinks he's funny, but isn't. His quips are irritating, but tolerable. The African is in cool command. We talk about dogs. (Most people can find common ground talking about dogs. Who doesn't have a lazy, safe opinion on dogs?)
"Who packed this thing?" the Cape Bretoner asks for the sixth time, pausing to grin as he sweats a megatupper tub into the back of the truck. "Where's your brother-in-law now, eh?" (The question is in itself supposed to be a punchtime, somehow, but I fail to see how exactly. Perhaps it's over my head.)
The Sri Lankan helps me take apart my glass and metal Ikealith of a wrap-around desk. He asks me about my computers, and so on. "Do you have many clients?" he wants to know. "How do you find them?" He's a sweet guy, and seems bright. (I wonder why he's still a mule on a moving team after more than a year -- maybe whitey won't give him a break?)
The African is a brilliant space-planner. When they are finished the view inside of their truck looks like a Borg cube: every square metre of space occupied. They are just able to close the door, which gives me for the first time a simple, quantifiable measure of how much crap my wife and I own: three cubic tonnes.
(I've gone from two trunks and a knapsack to a three tonne truck. When in the name of chocolate did that happen?)
At the new house we realise that we don't have a key to the garage, so our garage-matter languishes in the driveway as the crew unloads the truck. The landlady is on her way over with a key, and has requested that we give her the first cheque as a certified cheque. My wife and I take turns exploring the daily limit of our various bank cards in order to swap around the immediate and unfrozen cash necessary summon an instant bank draft. We do this in an awful hurry. We return to squat by our orphaned objects in the driveway only to learn that our landlady's car is ailing, and that she will be delayed.
My wife and I permit each other the rare luxury of a cigarette.
We conduct the movers as they come down the ramp from the truck. "Livingroom," we say, or "kitchen" or "nursery" or "laboratorium" or else. The Sri Lankan helps me resurrect my desk, and the African helps me figure out how to fit everything into my new office. What I scratch my head over for ten minutes with a measuring tape he resolves in a single glance, and a simple bass pronouncement. "Now you're gonna have to put that bookshelf here, man, and that file cabinet there. It's the way."
The African is a Mozart of space. I cannot disobey him. Things are arranged just so.
As the sun begins to set the landlady arrives with a key for the garage. The dog and the baby are dropped off, and we release the cats amid the clutter -- they immediately take up enjoying the carpeted stairs.
The old landlord calls and informs me that his lawyer disagrees with my interpretation of the Landlords & Tenants Act, and that we will owe them rent up to the end of our original lease. I chuckle. I politely tell my landlord that he should have his lawyer "double check" that before getting himself in a world of whoop-ass.
(No, I don't actually use the term "whoop-ass" in the conversation. I'm Canadian, after all. The whoop-ass is merely implied.)
Friday 23 May
My wife can't find the nubbies that hold the shelves in the bookshelf units, preventing us from unpacking the library (and thereby clearing the livingroom of a dozen large, heavy tupperware cargo units). She believes they may have inadvertantly been packed in with the kitchen stuff. The kitchen stuff cannot be unpacked because my wife is not satisfied with the quality of the tack in the cupboards, and wishes to replace it, so the bookshelf nubbies cannot be found. She cannot replace the tack without going to the store, and she is "too fucking spent" to go to the store.
I cannot set-up my office until I find my precious uninterruptable power units, power bars and extension cords -- all of which are AWOL. The basis of my network/power set-up is a device called the sixfer, and I briefly become a demented zombie tearing through the house pawing through boxes and cursing my lousy missing sixfer. I shake my fist at the stucco ceiling. "Six-ferrrr!!"
It is raining. Some select power outlets don't work. The blinds are bent. You have to flush the toilet twice to make your poo stay down.
We give up.
My wife and I spend the rest of the day reading comic books. I finish the first Invisibles collection, which she then begins. She buys a cool graphic novel called Y: The Last Man: Unmanned about the last man on earth and I pick up the first Sandman collection, to which I was first introduced in 1995 by a Japanese-Mexican with a fabulous name. I had forgotten just enough of it to make re-reading a delight.
Our broadband install was supposed to be today, but has been moved to Sunday. Internet withdrawl begins to set-in.
The old landlord calls. His lawyer has conceded the point. Our cheque will be waiting for us when the landlord comes to inspect the property for damage.
Saturday 24 May
We spend the day at our old house, cleaning out the garbage and giving the place a bit of a scrub. My wife and our friend the hairy museologist roller over the mural I painted in the nusery, erasing it. The museologist's Indian wife waxes the hardwood floors, and lets me bum a smoke.
Later, we have a barbecue and eat cheeseburgers. The museologist's Indian wife's honky friend who works for Warner Brothers boasts that 'Reloaded had been the top grossing opening of all time, besting Spider-Man. The museologist's Indian wife who works for Sony Pictures disagrees: the Matrix numbers include one-and-a-half days' worth of "cheat" showings. Her friend concedes the point. He amends his boast: "Highest grossing R-rated opening!"
I enjoy several beers.
Sunday 25 May
We meet our old landlord at our old property, which they inspect. They are clearly shocked at the gorgeous condition of the house, and I am forced to wonder just what sort of hooligans they imagined my wife and I were (previously they had intimated that they expected there to be a lot of damage that we would have to pay for). I get my cheque for the extra month of rent, and deposit it within seconds of leaving the scene.
Broadband install fails due to the fact I mistakenly admit to the technician that I am a renter, and he refuses to drill new holes in the walls without written permission from the owner of the house. A call is put in to the landlady, but she is not available, likely off worshipping her god.
We order chicken and ribs from Swiss Chalet. Yummy. (Why doesn't the chalet carry poutine? It's so un-Canadian.)
Also: I get some.
Monday 26 May
I find my sixfer and begin resurrecting the laboratorium power-system, discovering stable outlets and weak outlets and plugging appropriate devices into each. Ethernet cable is doled out, peripherals are reconnected, and files are dumped back in the filing cabinets. Trunks and bins are folded and stowed, miscellanea restored, paintings re-hung...
I wander outside and notice that I am the only cracker on the block.
Nearby schools let out, and a sea of West Indian and East Indian children flows into the streets. Bad-assed poser-gangsta youth lope and swing their way between parked cars, calling out to women. The scene is punctuated by the occasional flickering little Asian kid, and I even catch fleeting sight of a young wigger, a flash of peach in the multicultural parade.
It is said that this megatropolis is, by the numbers, the most ethnically diverse of them all (having recently inched out Instanbul, I believe). Rather than reading this factoid in a newspaper, I am now living it.
Tuesday 27 May
My wife and I turn up the soil for a garden in the back yard. A bird-feeder is erected. She plants sunflowers in the front yard. Coolio black guys driving slowly in cars check her out, and say things through half-rolled tinted windows. "Goodness!" I remark; "They're more forward than Swedes."
Another cable technician comes, and this time he succeeds (barely) in installing cable TV and broadband Internet access. He advises me to buy signal boosters to clean up the weak TV signal, which he bypasses for the broadband. I don't have to lie about being the homeowner: this guy never asks. Holes are drilled. LEDs alight -- data is flowing. E-mail is checked, a world restored.
The books still aren't unpacked, but I care less now. I have my fix.
We go out for a fine dinner, and coo to the baby over French onion soup and escargots. Despite our colourful neighbourhood, there's nothing but whitefolk at the steakhouse. I have filet mignon medium rare, and it melts like meat butter on my tongue.
Back at home, we fall asleep watching cartoons.
Wednesday 28 May
I fritter away the morning farting around on the web. See? What you're reading now is the result. Now I'm eating a spicy goat roti, and I feel fine.