This is a multi-part story of the more than one, in fact more- than -I- care- to-admit number of moves I have been subject to, while my stay in this town for my PhD. Why did I need to write this? I believe, that writing has a therapeutic value of cleansing my heart and soul of the agonies of moving. In short, see it as a catharsis of sorts. All events are real, names of places have been changed slightly. 🙂 enjoy.
Year 2006; House 1
I arrived at the US of A, innocently wide eyed (..more clichés here…) and more than anything, naïve. I had an apartment and apartment-mate lined up through the university housing website before I arrived, so the first day I arrived, I had to just take the keys from the housing complex office and sign the lease agreement. So I headed straight to the housing complex in a taxi with my three gigantic suitcases and one gigantic backpack in tow. Wait, I need to back up a little bit.
Remember those good old days when you were still allowed 32 kgs/ 80 lbs a bag? And if you were a student on your way to US for the first time, you were allowed a third bag, free. So I had arrived, with two bags full of clothes and things that I would never need, and one bag, nay, suitcase, full of books. Among the 1% of my stuff at home accompanying me to the US, were most of my Coelho s (whom I wouldn’t take up again after a year), the full set of Potterlore (which I continuously read, to the point of being obsessive-compulsive) and many more books, whom I cannot justify lugging around, to this day. You see where I am going with this? Even then, on the first day in the US, before I actually had an apartment, I had too much stuff. Books, I can still come into terms with, because I read them nonstop. But bed sheets that were never meant to fit US beds? Scotch-brite? RIN BAR SOAP? I mean, come-on!
Well technically, I was marginally better than my friend-partner-of-my-heart-and-soul (sorry SB) , KK , who almost left for California with a semi-bag-full of nearly empty notebooks (scribbled on the first and last pages) before me and SB dragged them out and firmly stashed them in her bookcase. But not by much. We somehow had our convictions that the not-so-thin sheaf of papers/stack of notebooks in which we scratched doodles on the third night of our last Milieu would be much missed every minute of our life in US, so they had to come with us… and then our mothers had their convictions, that USA has yet not learnt the use of a toothbrush, or towels, or bed linens, or aamshotto or mukhorochak s (bless them) so, they could not be left out as well. Apart from putting my foot firmly down when my dad ran towards the open bag with a 5 kg packet of gobindabhowg rice, I don’t think I helped much. You get the general trend here. Things were put in, suitcases were weighed, things put back out, whereupon other things immediately replaced those, and weighed again, and this scenario ran in a loop. Although to my credit, I absolutely, vehemently and successfully forbade my mother to sneak in the “monkey cap”. Finally after putting George, Harris and Montmorency to shame I was on my way to that mid-sized town in upstate New York where I would begin graduate school.
I was told house 1 at XX1 Puniversity Park was a “two-bedroom unfurnished unit” on paper. Turned out it was a two-bedroom unfurnished unit without lights, in the basement of a building. Now that was pretty depressing. I wouldn’t go into much detail here how I furnished that place except for two separate incidents. In the first, after living a week in dark, I located a yard sale nearby, made a beeline for it, and I believe scared an elderly couple into selling me most of what they had for sale, including two broken armchairs and a moth eaten, big, striped floor cushion that would become a staple for my tea-and-book time. Until a friend kindly remarked, that those were pretty standard beds for large dogs in this country. I did clean it good when I brought it in and loved lounging on it, but I am sad and sorry to report that after receiving that piece of intelligence, the floor cushion had to go.
This was the logical predecessor of my next move because I had nothing to sit on in the living room; trip to the furniture give-away for students organized by a local church. Every year, the church would organize this from lots of donated furniture and other household stuff. There would be a BIG crowd of Indian and Chinese students (mostly), others melt into insignificance before our two nation’s sheer numbers here. The hungry takers would be cordoned off until a time and then they would be allowed to put their stickers on one large and one small item which then would be delivered to their places.
The furniture hungry mad rush could have shamed a crowd of starved wolves and gave me some rough bruises and cuts in the process of lunging for what you wanted, but at the end I was left without anything significant. Damn my dignified walk down to the sofa I had eyed and being roughly shoved aside by the fat, rowdy Β-School dude who slapped his sticker on the sofa and yelled to his roomies “loot liya yaar!” (This one’s a steal, buddy!). This one time I give credit (although I am not very proud of what she did on hindsight) to my ex-flatmate who waited for the guy to get out of sight, ripped off his sticker and put ours and calmly sat on it reading a book until they dragged the thing to our front doors. Then with the help of a few good Samaritans, we finally got the couch in the living room.
Now, things started to go real downhill between me and my flat-mate. Lesson I learnt: Never, ever line up someone to share a house with through the internet, before talking to him/her at first. I made that mistake and I was paying for it. Our living practices were as different as night and day and we were clashing regularly on everything starting from the set point on the house thermostat to the cleaning routine. And then she left, and I started looking for another flat-mate frantically, as I didn’t want to be stuck with the full rent for the unit.
And that is how I met IS, who, for the records, couldn’t figure out that I was a woman from my name on the ad, and admits freely that had he done that, he would have never called for the available room in the house, as desperate as he was. Talk about intelligent Indian post-docs engaged in cutting edge research.
Year 2006; House 2
With IS, I hit it off instantly not only as great flat-mates, but as good friends. We shared house chores, he was gallant to the point of being annoying (Insisted taking the trash out of the house is something women shouldn’t be doing- whereupon my friend VG quipped, “Hey S, can I borrow your roomie for a day for doing the trash at my place?”), but mostly, we connected at a very fundamental level about things that matter the most. Like which movies to watch during dinner time and that doing laundry was a complete waste of time unless you ran out of socks. However, IS then told me his story and his time in House 2 at XX Renton Street where he was living for the last few months.
IS grew up in a small town in north India, went to boys’ schools all his life and was in general, and is, till this day, mortally afraid of women, and his fear is inversely proportional to the age gap between him and the women. So, he was fairly comfortable when an elderly lady rented him a room on Renton Street in her house. Then it was winter, and IS was still nurturing a hope that he could still rely on public transport to get him to work. Turns out he did get to work, but mostly it was by running after the bus he just missed. It got him into fantastic shape though, and he did run a 5k next summer without practically any training. However, it made coming to work a right pain in the…somewhere very painful.
Then one day he heard his landlady and her latest boyfriend slobbering away their romantic thoughts pretty loudly over beer in the adjacent bedroom. A tad uncomfortable, he imagined staying out of the house and giving them privacy was the obviously best way out. Therefore, in escalating order of granting privacy to his landlady he started staying at work later and later, until he was practically sleeping in his lab. I suspect he only went home to shower and change. One day in the middle of winter however, he came home at an ungodly hour like four in the morning and found his landlady awake in the kitchen, fairly drunk and ready to open her heart out to him. This, according to him, made him a little more uncomfortable; however, he decided to lend her an ear. As she sat talking to him and watching him prepare his dinner, she let slip that if she was any younger, she would seriously consider marrying a nice guy like him. I was not lucky enough to see the immediate reaction, but the next day onwards IS started apartment hunting like a maniac.
He found my ad on the university housing website and strangely, after meeting me, decided I didn’t scare him as badly enough as most females, and that he could share a flat with me. The fact that the building was a five minute walk from his work provided further relief from the horror of chasing buses. He signed a ridiculously worded lease with me, paid a deposit, rented a pick-up truck, loaded up his meager furniture (only a twin bed, a lamp and a nightstand) and his two suitcases weighing far less than my three monstrosities with all his worldly possessions and moved in.
Year 2007; House 3
Now, make no mistake, I was okay with that apartment at Puniversity Park, but the fact remained that a basement apartment with vinyl floors gets incredibly damp and depressing to live in a place that stays under the snow for five months a year. Plus IS decided he might leave his lab in this place and go elsewhere. Not wanting to again deal with a room-mate situation, I applied for a single bed room unit in Holler House, another university residence building for us graduate students. Plus Holler was across the street from my lab and I had a BIG contingent of friends already staying there. And if IS was leaving town, I sure needed more friends.
Now for the few interim months before he left, IS moved to XX9 Puniversity Park down the alley but not without promising to help me with my impending move to Holler House. As for himself, he had acquired a monstrous metal desk with too many drawers, and a rocker-recliner with a broken back. How he got the desk in (or out) through that flight of stairs down into the basement unit is anybody’s guess. IS, being who he was, decided that the easiest way to keep me from trying to help him with his move and thus commit to physical labor on his behalf was to plan it on a day I wasn’t in town. This he did, and later told me, that he put his huge desk upside down on his bed which was on a frame with casters on it and just pushed the thing down the alley to his new apartment. Elated at this use, he ended up using that poor bed as a cart for the rest of his move. Well, I am glad that he found a use for it, because honestly, I had never seen him sleep on it. He used to sleep on the floor in his room on the not-entirely-invalid pretext that this was much healthier for his back. When I asked him why then he got the bed at the first place, he claimed his landlady had protested that he couldn’t just sleep on the floor! Oh, well. Anyway, his new flat mate was a quiet, studious Korean guy who had three publications in the second year of graduate school and for once, IS had found more than his match at staying up and working late.
Year 2007;House 4
My situation was considerably worse when I thought about the move. Somehow, and this has happened to me over and over again, I always accumulate more stuff than I need. I admit, I am obsessive about making my home look nice and I decorate it every chance I get. And sometimes I get carried away. Some people consider it unnecessary, and it would definitely benefit me financially if I was content with broken hand-me-down plastic stuff that’s held together by tape, but I am not. I have no problem with second hand stuff, and to this day, 95% of my furniture is pre-owned, but I do want them in reasonably nice looking and mechanically sound forms. So, at the end of one calendar year, I had enough furniture and lamps in my room, living room plus a small dinette set for the kitchen.
To my horror, I realized that IS planned to leave the back-broken rocker recliner with me as a parting present. The more I tried to persuade him to keep it, the more steadfastly he refused, so I gave in to the inevitable and accepted one more piece of furniture I knew I could do without. To top it up, my friend SR had gone home for three months, and he had left his bed, his entertainment center, his home theatre system and his big old 30 inch TV in my house for the summer, which I had to take with me. That is why, I initially thought of hiring a mover.This IS would not have me do. He felt it was fundamentally wrong for students to pay a company to do the back-breaking labor that friends could accomplish for pizza and coke. He agreed to do the lions’ share of the work himself if I could just find someone to drive a truck (None of us were licensed to drive in the US at this time). So I asked my friend KS to drive a truck for me, to which he agreed, and then I rented out the largest truck available from Uhaul. Which also happened to be available at a depot 15 miles away from my home.
On the day of the move in the morning, I and KS drove to the depot and KS blanched after taking one look at the truck. “You honestly want me to drive THAT?” In all truth, I had no idea that the truck would be so large. Upon finishing the paperwork inside, I found KS taking pictures of the truck on his cell phone. This was pre-facebook era, so KS told me, he wants to email this photo home and say he really drove it. We drove back through the freeway, and I kept maniacally muttering “Just keep to the lane, don’t change before the exit” and shut my eyes entirely when he swerved the monster off the freeway into the exit. But somehow we were there.
Then IS and KS and me loaded up the first round of stuff into the truck. Another friend ML was also supposed to help, but he hadn’t turned up yet. So we drove our first round of boxes, furniture, and my fake tree (Honestly, I still have not one but TWO of these completely unnecessary fake trees) to Holler House, where we started putting stuff in. It was getting close to the time we were supposed to return the truck so, we thought we would dump the stuff on the sidewalk and bring whatever was left first. Then KS could go return the truck and the rest of us would load them up in the new apartment. At this time ML appeared and offered to be on guard duty at the stuff left on the sidewalk for us. There were two queen beds boxes and mattresses piled on top of one another among other things. When we returned with the second batch of stuff, we found ML sound asleep and snoring on the two mattresses, while peacefully guarding the other stuff. He informed us that some old woman had irritated him to no end by waking him up and asking him whether he happened to sell all this stuff on this fine Friday of the Independence Day holiday. Then it was our back-breaking job of putting things in the new place.
And that sofa, that stolen sofa that was not destined to be mine. As it turns out, it had a double bed folded inside cushions, so it was – H-E-A-V-Y. It killed the four of us to get that one tonner into the apartment. After that KS returned the truck and we sat around amidst piles of boxes sharing pizza, while ML tried to convince IS that he in-fact has witnessed a violent fight between two groups of monkeys in Hardwar. I apologize to my non-Indian friends here, because a mere translation will not do justice to the ingenious Bengali-twisted into-hindi ML spoke- “Waha pe baandor or honumaan logon ke beach mein maar-pit lag giya tha.” IS placidly informed him that sharing a house with a Bengali for several months had given him a working knowledge of the language, and if ML spoke in his own tongue, IS would understand him far easily than now.
It took me weeks, no, months to straighten out what to put where in that apartment, because I had no idea how to pack and organize, so I lost stuff, unpacking the kitchen was a mess because I had no “open-first” box, nothing, absolutely nothing but a gigantic, royal mess. However, at the end of a month or so of pure agony of not finding things when needed, I settled down into my own one bed room apartment. I stayed in that apartment for the longest time during my gradschool years and quite frankly, revamped the entire apartment. On hindsight, that first move wasn’t needed at all. I could have sold/thrown stuff out and saved me and my friends some serious work.
And that sofa-sleeper didn’t even last a month. A friend brought a dog over with her for a visit, and her cute little puppy had a cute little accident on that sofa, rendering it completely useless for me from that point on. So AGAIN, I had IS and two other friends drag it out of the apartment. Miraculously, someone was leaving on that floor, and they had left behind their couch, an old but still nice, stain free, odor free furniture, right besides my apartment door. So we saved ourselves some trouble by switching the position of the two couches. On the flipside, this one was just marginally lighter than the old one. I heard a few choice words yelled at the corridor next day by the maintenance guys, but I was D-O-N-E with lugging around furniture. Or so I thought.
[ Continued in Part Two]