Sunday, August 01, 2010

Helping People Move

Some things about being Mormon are fundamental, like apple pie is to America. They are closely associated with who you are and what you do, but you would hardly think of them. There are obvious things that we do that everyone sees, like wearing white shirts and knocking on doors for two years, but there are less obvious things that define what we do on a regular basis during the rest of our lives, the other 93 years or so. I think that across all time and societies people do simple things that are forgotten in future
generations, even though they spend a lot of time doing them. Recently I went to a pioneer site in Nauvoo and discovered that people used to spend all day digging in rock quarries, cutting trees, making bricks, baking, or making barrels. Would you believe that it took six years as an apprentice barrel maker before you could make those wooden pieces
called staves to fit together well enough that it would hold liquid? Nevertheless, the history books will likely only remember that someone was a mayor or held some leadership position for a couple years whilst forgetting the rest of their lives.

Well, one unknown thing that defines a middle-aged man’s life as a Mormon is helping people move. It starts like this: at church, over the phone, or through email we get notice that someone is moving in or out in the neighborhood, and it would be good to have some people there to help. When the date and time arrives, there are usually a half dozen men that show up, and we help for one to three hours on average. Based on the fact that the average person moves every 5 years, and that an average neighborhood has a couple hundred Mormon families in it, you can do the math for how often a person gets asked to help.

The event is like a modern day barn raising. People need help, and we show up to help. Usually the recipients of the help are members of the church, but sometimes they are not, and we are just as happy to help in either case as we view ourselves each as friends, neighbors, and fellow children of God.

The fact that we men show up and do this thing doesn’t automatically make us homogeneous in opinion, enthusiasm, or disposition to help. For my part, I know my feelings have changed over the years. When I was younger, I used to look at it as an opportunity to have a free work out. I always came home happier than when I left, and the experience of working with others helped me to get to know them better and feel more integrated into my neighborhood. I also used to wonder at what point people became tired and injured and could no longer help in such moves, because I didn’t think that day would ever come. Well, like I said, that was when I was younger.

Another thing that it would be a mistake to believe is that all moves are the same. That would be like saying all weather is the same. There are moves that are terrific but mostly forgettable, and there are moves haunt me over a decade later. Because they are each unique, I thought I’d start to chronicle them, starting with yesterday’s. These experiences and feelings do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone other than myself.

Yesterday was July 31st, and I’ve been living in Phoenix for three years. For those familiar with the area, you know that average temperatures range between 100 and 115 this time of the year. And it is for various reasons including school schedules, that most people in this country move during the summer months. I was out of town earlier in the week when I got the email saying that there would be a move on Saturday. I felt immediately called to duty at the thought of someone in need, even though I had never heard the name before. At the same time, I hoped that something, anything, might come up that would give me an excuse to not be able to help out [My wife is horrified that I just said that].

As it was, I flew back into town on Friday night after an exhausting vacation with the family. The move hung in my mind Friday night and Saturday morning. I usually like to exercise on Saturday mornings and get a long run in. My plan for the most recent Saturday was to get in 10 miles. And it had to be early, like 5 am, or I would likely be unable to run at all. In a place like this, it is possible for the nightime low to be around 95 and if I wait until 8 am when the sun has been up for a couple of hours, the temperature can already be well into the 100s. So my first concern with a move is if it happens early in the morning, because if it happens too early in the morning, then my jog will be ruined and I’ll be bitter about missing it all day, but I’ll feel worse if I skip out on someone needing help and so I’ll opt for helping over running when push comes to shove. The trade off is that if the move doesn’t happen early enough, then it is over 100 degrees, possibly 110. Knowing that a move will be later in the day is like knowing that you’re going to the dentist or speaking in public, the loathing of the upcoming event can surpass the severity of the event itself. It is sort of like looking forward to going to Disneyland and the excitement builds all week, except with bad feelings building rather than good ones [More disapproval from my wife fo
r saying that].

This week, the move time was for 3 p.m. I tried not to think about it too much, knowing what that could mean. I also had a dilemma to face. If I ran 10 miles in the morning, I probably would want to sit on the couch the rest of the day as if I were a piece of cheese melted onto the top of a hamburger patty. Decisions, decisions. Oh well, I went jogging. Fortunately, it was a humid day. Toward the end of the summer in Phoenix we call it monsoon season. That makes it sound like we live on a tropical island rather than in the middle of the desert surrounded by cacti. But somehow each year about the same time we get some crazy storms that deliver so much water so suddenly that you can’t even see when driving in a car. Usually at least one storm each year will be a “wrath of God” type of storm in which over 100 lightning bolts per second are exchanged between the clouds with some hitting the ground. Such storms are deafening and truly a spectacle—but it is safest to watch from under cover.

Fortunately, this Saturday was just a regular rainy day, so the temperature was down about 10 degrees or so from the typical highs. My jog went well and I came home, showered, and spent the rest of the day thinking “I better not do anything big because I need to be here at 3 to help somebody move.” In essence I had mental paralysis all day because I felt like I had an appointment hanging over my head and I had a hard time thinking of what I should have been doing with my time. So basically, it blew my whole day. Later in the day I checked the name of the person moving in the email and confirmed that I had no idea who it was that was moving. About 30 mintues before heading over I used Google maps to figure out how to get over there because the track houses in this part of Phoenix are often hard to navigate and are more like spider webs than neat grids.

I made sure to show up about 5 minutes late. Usually, nobody shows up right on time and if I show up on time I get overwhelmed because I spend about 10 minutes believing that nobody else is going to show up and I’ll be expected to move an entire house alone with some stranger. That happens a lot, I show up at a house that is a complete disaster, unpacked, smelly, weird residents, a whole house to move, and I go through something like an anxiety attack but I try not to let the residents know that I’m about to freak out and run screaming through the streets. I feel bad when I have my serious face on, because I’m normally a pretty jovial guy, but in situations like that what I’m thinking for 10 m
inutes is “why God, why me, why is this happening to me? Why didn’t I just hide out at my house and go to the movies with my family and then I could say I forgot about it and then hear about what a horrible experience it was the next day from the poor sucker who showed up late and had the 8 hour moving experience from Hell?”

On this particular day I showed up 10 minutes late and the only person there was the owner. I didn’t recognize him so I had to make small talk with a stranger. And he had ear rings, so I was pretty sure he was a member of the church who never goes to church. Uggh. That makes me wonder how it happens that people’s only involvement with their church is accepting help from it from time to time, but never showing up or helping anyone else. This happens a lot. I think the idea on our end is that we should help other people no matter what they do or don’t do and regardless of what church they do or don’t belong to. Most people that show up to help moving seem to emanate a sort of Christ-like love and would give the shirt off their backs to those in need. But I’m getting older and more bitter and I’d rather be doing something else with my Saturday. Plus I’ve been living on student loans for 3 years while going to school and raising a family and I’m just not in the best state of mind. I think those feelings will change when I’m living normally again.

A minute after I showed up, another person from church showed up. Whew, that brings it up to three people to move a whole house. Lucky us. The house was only partially packed, and the resident seemed way too relaxed. He wasn’t really expressing a plan, which meant we'd have to ask him every 3 minutes what he would like in the truck and in what order. I think he mentioned something about buying pizza and drinks right then, even before starting the move. I was thinking “Hey, I’m not here for a party, I want to get home and eat with my own family. Let’s just get stuff in the truck and get out of here.” Within a few minutes about three other guys showed up to help move, and at least one of them was somebody I greatly enjoyed hanging out with, so things were looking up.

The truck was the smallest Uhaul truck you can get. People usually are trying to save a buck by getting the smallest truck, even if it requires multiple trips. The house was about 1600 square feet, so an average 3 bedroom house for Phoenix. The stuff was not going to fit in one trip, that much was clear.

From the standpoint of filling up a truck, that is pretty much the same every time and this was no different. Men put in the big furniture first and fill in the cracks with boxes. We flow like ants into and out of a anthill, avoiding each others bodies as we go about the task of filling a truck.

As far as unique things about this move, this guy was running a business out of his home that involved books. There were enough bookshelves and books to start a used book store. Technically, he was a book store, a virtual one on the Internet. The other unique thing about the move is usually we just do one side of the move, such as loading or unloading, but not both. And it usually just takes an hour. In this case he was moving within the neighborhood and we had to do the load and the unload, twice. By then 3 hours had gone by and everyone’s wives were calling them—after all it was 6 pm and families were expecting to eat dinner together. Even though we hadn’t moved everything, we had moved all of the big furniture that would require multiple people. The rest could be packed into little boxes and moved by the owners as their time permitted.

As we left, the resident offered us some free product from his business. Even though he had been a stranger, hew was a good guy that I'm sure all of us could get along with. I think we all felt fairly good about having helped someone else. We’ve all been the recipient of similar help from time to time, so it’s nice to at the very least do the same for others. It’s always nice to get back home to the family, knowing that a good deed has been done.