I Know How Sisyphus Feels: My Stint As A Mover
by Chason Gordon
At a molecular level, there’s not much of a difference between matter and empty space. Just try telling that to a mover.
I saw the ad for the moving company online, and the job requirements seemed to lay out the basic standards of life: “Must be able to lift fifty pounds. Must be on time.” I knew I could do one of those things (lift fifty pounds).
Upon arriving at my first house, I hoped to be the guy inside the truck who arranges the boxes others hand him from the ground. When the ramp was unloaded, I realized that no such role existed.
The owners gave us highly specific instructions regarding the fragile items. “This box can’t have anything on top of it, this one can’t shake, and this one can only hover in midair. I assume your truck has an anti-gravity compartment?”
Now, movers don’t often sit around and wax nostalgic about their first box, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It sat on a pile of three boxes like a kinged checker, and was the standard cardboard color, with a label that said “Living Room.”
I lifted the box like a pro, bending my knees and outstretching my pinkies, and walked it to the innards of the truck. There’s nothing nobler than relocating matter. After setting the box down at a right angle so as to maximize the space, I wiped my forehead, completely satisfied with the task. I was still marveling at my accomplishment when my boss said, “Did you just bring out that one box?”
“Um … yeah.”
“Try to carry more than one if it’s possible.”
As the hours passed, the house emptied and the truck filled up, which I guess was to be expected. Many of the boxes varied in size and shape. Some were long and tender, some were wide and heavy, and some were light and fluffy, same as people. They had labels like “Basement” and “Family Room” and “Jeff’s Shit,” but my downpour of sweat smudged their identifications out of existence.
Through the haze of fatigue, something occurred to me: these people were not moving into the truck. They were moving into another house, and apparently helping them do that was also our job.
There’s a certain emotion a mover feels when the back of a massive truck is opened to reveal the horror show inside. You feel as though you’re staring at a beginning with no end, that the truck has no back wall, but simply extends forever, eventually taking you into the core of the earth. You feel like no matter how many boxes you unload, they will be replaced by others as the family buys more and more shit. You feel many of these things, but you don’t feel them for long because your boss yells, “Chason, let’s go!”
With every step, I gaped at the amount of sweat gushing through my pores, and worried that my body was juicing internal organs to meet the demand. I saw mirages of waterfalls containing refreshing and replenishing water, but when I opened my mouth to take in the life-giving nectar, I was hit only with falling boxes, and fell to the ground, futilely letting them pile on top of me.
Yet there it was, shining from a sliver between two boxes: the back wall. It felt like a thousand Tetris victories rolled into one. The job was finished.
We gathered into the truck and gasped a collective sigh, whereupon my boss walked up to the driver’s side, got off the phone, and said cheerily, “You guys up for another house?”
What entered my apartment later that night was not a man, but a wisp of dust, a primitive creature who could barely understand the concept of shapes to get the key into the lock, turn it, and fall to the ground. I spent the next hour sitting in a cold shower, occasionally dabbing my body with a sponge soaked in Gatorade.
I kept going. My coping mechanisms over the next few months were impractical and limited. I fought the relentless exhaustion with the only weapon I had: laziness. I stood motionless in rooms for as long as I could. I carried single, light boxes and pretended that they were filled with tungsten. I no longer bothered to carry the boxes with any kind of an “I’m at work” tempo; I carried them lackadaisically, as if perusing the aisles of a bookstore.
One time, while depositing a box in the same manner someone would slop down a dollop of mashed potatoes, my boss glared at me and said, “Chason, do you want to keep this job?”
No, no, no, no. “Yes.”
“Then you’ve got to move faster.”
I never did move faster and only regarded the reproach as a marker of my inevitable decline into unemployment. My boss called every time he needed me on a job, and so when I stopped receiving the calls, I asked no questions, and had no intention of following up to confirm what I already knew: I was no longer needed.
At the conclusion of his essay on “the Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus writes that, “Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
One must not. I knew Sisyphus, and I know that’s not true.
After the moving job, my days of boxes were not behind me, and I soon started working in a shipping/receiving warehouse. But the stairs and ramps of my past were replaced with conveyor belts and freight elevators, so despite the same pay, I saw it as a move up.
Chason Gordon is a writer whose work has appeared in Seattle Weekly, Paste Magazine, The Globe and Mail, and Splitsider, among others. You may find less of him at @chasongordon and literallyhumor.com.
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