A pregnant couple transitioning from a single room situation to an extra room situation . . . a pair of grown siblings who’d already evacuated their geriatric parents into a nursing home from out of a classic 6 condo they were looting. . .

The customers: they’d be leading the way in a taxi up front and the moving truck, a boxtruck or tractortrailer, would follow just behind—taking the transverse through the Park, crosstown. From where the sun rises on the Upper East, to where it sets on the Upper West. No matter who drove or rode, Yoav would be sitting bitch. In the middle.

This was always the fragile time, the breakable time, the time of slip and slide and jostle. The ride between the old apartment already moved out, and the new apartment not yet moved into, during which life itself would come to seem like just another vehicle, set in motion between unrelated emptinesses. For a moment, your burdens were suspended. For a certain span of mileage, you were weightless, you were free.

This was Yoav’s passage, his reprieve: sitting high above a taxi, its windows steamed from grievance, and feeling the rumbling coming up from below, springs poking his balls through the vinyl, stickshift rattling between his legs.

Each move had its own logistics, each party to a move its own subterfuges. Because the customers would misrepresent their possessions on the online form, Ruth would have to call and followup: buildings vet prospective tenants, movers vet prospective loads. Prewar or Postwar were no indications, the preferred criterion was: Yes Elevator, No Elevator. All planning proceeded from there: what floor, the number of flights of stairs, the number of stairs per flight, the number of rooms (incl. attic, incl. basement).

The desire to get finished earlier v the desire to drag a job out, because the crews got paid for their time. The desire to take a break v the desire to finish earlier, because the crews didn’t get paid for their breaks. Whether to work by the room or by item size. Whether to work by the room as arranged at move out or as it would be arranged at move in. Load the big stuff first, to maximize truckspace (crew philosophy). Load the big stuff last, to waste truckspace but require more trips, which meant more time, maximizing profit (philosophy of Paul Gall).

Because packing was distinct from moving, both in terms of expertise and pricing structure, the chief distinction to be found amongst the customers wasn’t related to melanin or age but to money—between those who’d packed themselves and those who hadn’t. Or, alternately, between those who were present at their moves and those who were rich enough to move while going on vacation. Yoav and the others would storm up to their residential fortresses that were like something out of some fantastic antique duchy of Middle Europe: blocksized and gated, their turrets set with spikes, their bastions lacking only cannon. The doorman, dressed like a general, wouldn’t want them in the lobby. The super, dressed like his adjutant, wouldn’t want them in the halls. Elevator policy was enforced, one was for service, the other for the served. Each to their own capacities. The movers had to wear sticker IDs that read Contractor. They had to read a screen and click Agree. They were warned, they were being watched, listened to, backgroundchecked, and screened for cimex, termites, roaches, warrants, priors. The patrols weren’t armed by the building ownership or management but by the city, because they were cops, just offduty. Rules included no cursing and keep your pants up at your fucking waists and don’t take your motherfucking shirts off. Finally, they’d be let into an apartment, and everything would just be out, immaculately arranged and dusted. Nothing would be boxed. Nothing would even be labeled. The movers would take it slow. They’d drive slow. They’d unload slow and make their own decisions. Slow. They’d sit around after, atop corpulent flatulent shrinkwrapped settees, waiting on Tinks, who’d once spent all of a paid weekend getting certified to move fine art and pianos. Someone would thump that pretty shaky on the stairs theme from the Moonlight Sonata. Someone had to argue that the sky was a lake and so the stars just reflections, which meant that the painting was hanging upsidedown.

If the customer was present, odds were they’d turn out to be customers—a couple. Which meant friction. What you did was, you instructed one member of the couple to stay at the old unit and the other member to wait at the new. This tamped down dissension. Still, typically what you’d get would be one member of the couple at the old unit able to be calm and without opinion, only because there’d always be that other member at the new unit yelling at you about vase placement, about what the hell were you doing taking up that cranny with that deflowered vase, and what shocked Yoav was that every couple he’d jobbed for had evinced this divide—straight or gay, irrespective of gender, there was always a leader, a commander, as implacable as an apartment’s dimensions, or a circuitbreaker impeding at midwall. The low leather suspended from tubular metal futons had to go across from each other and perpendicular to the recliner, the workbenchlike table had to be set with a chair at each extremity and disposited flush with the counter partiwalling the kitchen, and the Shaker dresser that Yoav had noted had been missing two drawerhandles prior to transport was to be situated, regardless of all physical limitations, in the bedroom athwart the bed, the customer having calculated, or having sworn that they’d calculated, the minimum clearance by which an open drawer wouldn’t bang an open door. If you couldn’t angle a table you had to amputate its limbs and hump the rest across the banisters. If you couldn’t get a dresser through the door just by taping its drawers you had to remove the drawers and then, in turning, let the hollows accommodate the knob. If the argument was with you, give in. If the argument was within the couple, stay out of it. Customers fought, as you labored, on their own time. And the nastier the fight, the nicer the tip.

Another thing about couples: they tended to move in together (hiring one crew for both members), but move out separately (hiring one crew for each member)—the lesson being that while making a life together took more toil, unmaking that life took more cash.

Ruth would put it differently, while giving estimates: if you try to save time, you’ll just wind up getting charged for an additional vehicle plus tolls.

Excerpted from Moving Kings by Joshua Cohen. Copyright 2017 by Joshua Cohen. Published in July by Random House. All rights reserved.

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