Moving Furniture by Canoe


Justine is seven-months pregnant. She and Max left Melbourne to be close to Justine's family, who live, here, in Brisbane.

They've been staying with their friend, Billie-Rae, a successful fashion designer with her own set-up in Coorparoo.

Their room is under the stairs, and exactly the same size as their double bed. You step through the doorway, up, onto the mattress. There's room for an ashtray at one end of the bed, but that's it. Except for the air-con.

It's a 1970's Sri Lankan air-con, jammed into one of the timber-look panel walls, and, when it's on, it sounds like a steam-train is climbing a tree somewhere between your ears.

The only other sound you can hear when the steam-train is churning timber, is the shaking of the timber-look panels as that Sri Lankan air-con tries to fly. But it does blow Arctic Frost, and according to Justine and her baby-bump, that's worth any noise "in this summer of steady 35-degree days."

Their baby is just two months away, so Justine and Max have been looking for a place where their new-born won't be required to sleep in the ashtray.

Yesterday, they found a rental apartment in Spring Hill, in a street known - to everyone except Melbourne immigrants - as the unofficial centre of Brisbane inner-city public-housing, and dole-day IV users, and addicts of illegally-obtained prescription-drugs, and all the petty crimes required for the sustainability of such substance subsistences.

None of these highly-visible street curiousities proved obstacles for Justine's nesting instincts. For pregnant women, any errand short of growing a human-being inside her belly, is completed with expedient disdain; a mere shake of the head, a wave of the hand, and it's done. They steamroll it down, whatever it is. (As long as it's not emotional, of course.)

That's how Justine did the property shopping, credit references, rental applications, bond payment, truck rental, and other rigmaroles of moving.

At the other end of the scale, lies Justine's partner, Max, who is two weeks off the booze, and two weeks onto anti-psychotic medication. The two-weeks-ago common denominator was a psychological rock-bottom, so crazy, it might actually keep Max sober forever.

Unfortunately for Billie-Rae and I, who were helping them move into their new apartment, Max didn't meet any steroid addicts in the detox ward. So at the last minute, I called my friend Jimmy to lend a hand. He'd just returned from a one-night detoxification himself, and was malleable to accept absurd suggestions; even moving furniture.

Just two days ago, Jimmy packed his ute with a tent, a sleeping-bag, a four-burner gas cooker, provisions for a week, and, onto the roof-racks, slid a full-size, Indian canoe. Then he waved me good-bye, for "at least three days at some National Park," to shake and shiver his way through an opiate detox.

At 10pm that night, he called from the nightclub strip of Surfers Paradise, and said, "It's not going very well."

He returned yesterday to his drug-of-choice with a resolution that only the recently-relapsed can muster.

I said I'd pick him up at 7:15 this morning. He said, great. I arrived at 7:50. Jimmy had no pants on. I left to buy coffee, and finally picked him up at 8:20, en route to Coorparoo.

Packing the truck was easy. It was the cool of the day and hardly above 30-degrees.

After choosing the removal items, dissembling the bed (from atop the mattress,) lugging some boxes, fighting twice with Jimmy, and fighting once with Max (which he finished by saying, "Well, just go then,") I left Coorparoo.

Fortunately for Max, all the loading was done.

He might be two weeks' sober and numbed by anti-psychotic medication, but Max is still cunning as any public bar alcoholic. He's not silly enough to lose his only, able-minded, free-of-charge removalist before the work's done.

I must say of myself, that, as well as being free, I do have some skill at removalism having been a lackluster employee of Stu's Removals for almost two years before the unfortunate incident with the tiled bench, the crystal fish, the old lady, and the fourth-storey apartment. But any credibility I had was seven years, and 40-kilograms, ago.

Today, while Justine and Max transferred bond and keys with real estate agents, Jimmy and I had time for a coffee in a West End cafe, a lemon-squash in a Spring Hill pub, a tour of the charming Spring Hill Baths, and another coffee in New Farm, before Jimmy pleaded with me to take him home for drugs; easily convincing me that his addiction would soon render him a negative assistance in any further enterprise - especially furniture removal - if left untreated.

He gobbled a handful of someone else's prescription medication, and looked much happier for it. In fact, Jimmy's eyes looked like round, watery, goldfish bowls, with a green smudge of algae on the centre of the glass. This effect made his circuitous narratives about the garage-sale sub-culture, and the vegan poetry movement, all the more amusing. Until the moment we saw Justine and Max's new Spring Hill address.

It's one of those, late 80's, colonial-brick with white-mortar, apartment compounds, built around a swimming pool the size of a bird-bath, and spanning off into a network of interconnected, three-storey walk-ups.

I couldn't tell you who the actual architect was, but he'd probably learnt his trade building those shopping complexes, which are designed to induce stress in their visitors, who have to resort to comfort-purchases and security-shopping to regain sanity.

I can tell you, though, that halfway through construction of Justine and Max's Spring Hill, Post-Functional masterpiece, the builders must've run out of level concrete, because they made all the direct pathways out of a series of upward and downward staircases.

It's like something out of an Escher drawing, except hotter.

I tried to find a more direct route from truck to unit, (like an elevator,) but just ended up swamped in sweat. Justine said, "I have only seen you this wet after swimming." That was before carrying anything.

After my first trip actually lugging junk through this labyrinth sauna, my arms were numb. I mean seriously, like I had weighted, wooden sticks swinging below my elbows; which is extremely dangerous when you're at the top-end of a couch trying to pull it up a 40-step incline. (Well, that's not true. It wasn't dangerous for me, but it could have been fatal for the poor bloke at the bottom-end of the couch, who was so stoned, he thought he was canoeing, and kept asking, "Have you stopped paddling?")

After the second trip, bearing useless pieces of someone else's crap, from someone else's truck to someone else's dump, my legs were shaking involuntarily; and there were still twenty trips to go.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities this day. Amazingly, Justine and Max have a furnished home for the arrival of their new baby, who hopefully won't need the cot and other stuff we hid in number 316's storage cage in the basement.

But if you ever need to move house, or even rearrange a room, call a professional removalist. Or, possibly, Jimmy. Or anyone else, just not me.

It's a young man's - or a stoned man's - game, and I won't do it again. Not for love, nor money. (Until, of course, I fall in love, when I'll do every stupid thing I ever did, and said I'd never do again, again. Like - ironically - falling in love.) But that's beside the point. Hopefully that day will never come, or if it does, she's rich, and can afford to hire Jimmy.

Paul Garnsey 2010


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