In the old days, vagabond newspaper reporters — I was a member of the club — changed jobs as easily as the ribbons on our upright Royal typewriters. Spend a year in Colorado Springs, head for White Plains. Something better turned up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, or Laramie, Wyoming — see ya around.
It was an exciting, on-the-road kind of life — all but gone now because of media consolidation — and even more thrilling if you were hauling a family around the country. We — my wife, Wink, and our four kids — were like a small Bedouin tribe, breaking camp in one spot and settling in another. Instead of tents, we nestled in rental houses. How many times can you pay first month, last and security?
Into middle age, we continued our itinerant ways — sometimes for employment, others not.
We moved from Blue Point to Vermont to Laurelton, Queens, and then Roosevelt Island under the 59th Street Bridge. Five years later we returned to Suffolk — Bayport first, and then an encore in Blue Point. We lived briefly in Brentwood before reaching “home” — a cottage near the water in Huntington.
These days, the very thought of changing addresses again makes me long for an extra afternoon nap. When a couple down the street shipped out recently, I heard myself mumble: “Better you than me.”
A van the size of Kansas took up half the width of our narrow lane. Subcontractors arrived in a panel truck to build crates on the spot — impressive. Movers labored from morning to night and came back a second day. They mopped their brows and guzzled water. They worked and worked. Up the ramp and back down. Box after box after box. Phew.
There may be a philosophical angle to this.
Moving around is sort of life-affirming. You’re starting over, hopes renewed, better days ahead. It’s an optimist’s game.
Along the line, though, what once seemed infinite — all things possible — seems so no longer. That’s how it works, right? To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, there’s a time to shove off and time to stay put. Me? I’m going nowhere.
That doesn’t necessarily apply to other members of the family.
A few weeks ago, my son, the schoolteacher in Queens, decided to quit one Kew Gardens apartment for another.
Seasoned veteran, I offered my services.
“Great,” said my son. “Maybe you could drive the truck. You’ve had experience.”
Smart guy, he wanted no part of steering the rental — a first-class rattle trap — off its crowded lot in Jamaica, through side streets and into traffic rivaling rush hour in Bangkok.
We had some hairy moments — the heap almost ran out of gas, headlights wouldn’t turn off, the light switch fell behind the dashboard, side-view mirror worked loose, we couldn’t find our way back to the rental agency for a while at day’s end — but avoided catastrophe. The job got done and Sonny-boy and I parted without scheduling family therapy. Nothing can test a father-son relationship like a 100-pound dresser and steep staircase.
As we loaded box spring and mattress, end table and ironing board, I wiped away sweat and remembered all the other days like this — the moves of a lifetime, always the same.
“I’m outta here,” I said eight hours later. “All yours, now.”
“Thanks, Dad,” said my son. “Really, thanks.”
“Anytime,” I lied. At home, Wink and I went for pizza at the brick-oven place. I had an Italian beer, Peroni, in a frosted glass. Perfect.
“Boy,” I said. “Moving. Something, huh? Remember the time I landed the U-Haul on the neighbor’s lawn near your parents’ house in Omaha and your father had to tow us off?”
“Or the size of that truck you drove when we moved to Vermont?” said Wink.
“We were young.”
“Long time ago.”
The other morning, I was standing in the kitchen, gazing past pots and pans and into the living room. Pictures of grandkids on Ikea shelves, magazines on the Ikea coffee table. I could see up to the loft we built years ago — easy chair, reading lamp. On the back steps, I scanned our tiny yard, plush with hostas and impatiens. This is it, I thought. Here for the duration. Not budging.
Just then, Wink looked up from a story in the paper about another apartment conversion in downtown Huntington village.
“Maybe, someday?” she said. “What do you think?”
“Gee, I dunno, maybe,” I sighed, imagining bulky dressers and steep staircases and wondering if, in our case, Ecclesiastes got it wrong.