Essay from A. Iwasa

Crushes in the time of COVID
by A. Iwasa

Woman resting on a couch in a dark room with a blanket over her and the curtains closed. Light from a window illuminates a green houseplant.

Though I’m sure I’m not the first person to riff off of Love in the Time of Cholera during this pandemic, here goes.  And I’m not going to Consult The Oracle about it, I’m too stoked on this name.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the greatest works of fiction that I’ve ever read.  When I asked a Colombian friend if he ever read Marquez in English, he laughed hardily in my face.  When he was done, he asked, Why would I do a thing like that?

My feathers were a bit ruffled; I wanted to know how true to form the translations were, I think that’s pretty normal and important.  Later I brought it up with a Peruvian comrade who sometimes does translations for print, and he simply replied reading Marquez in English would be criminal.

Though when COVID went pandemic, he wrote “I’ve been completely broke during this whole time, but now that I’ve some money, I’m gonna find a way to get as many Camus’ and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ books as I can since I feel 2020 has for sure been stolen from their intellectual property. Hopefully I can keep from spending my money on beer, burgers and ice-cream.”

So here I am, trying to bask in Marquez’ glory a bit.  Camus is also apt, and I wish I’d thought of that one.  I’ve long given up on trying to write fiction, because I know I couldn’t make up a good handful of the people I’ve met over the years, nor the situations we seem to regularly find ourselves in if I wanted to.  And rest assured, sometimes I wish I had!

When US Shelter in Place orders started to roll out in the spring of 2020, I panicked.  I had been in Tucson, Arizona for about four months, by then the only reason I was still there was the 2020 ‘Zine Fest, and it was cancelled.  I’d had hopes of going to the Chicago ‘Zine Fest a week afterwards, and it was also postponed.

I freaked out.  What if Shelter in Place becomes Martial Law?!  Was Chicago ‘Zine Fest just an excuse, and should I cut things short in Tucson and just get going anyways?

One of my housemates flipped out on me when I suggested to him there was more than one way to clean cast iron without ruining the seasoning.  You’d think at 39 I would have known better, but I had this illusion that perhaps we were peers, especially considering I was paying more for rent and utilities for considerably less room and time in the House than him.  I suppose there’s no excuse for me dropping my guard like that.  I even thought the proof was in the egg free pan, when I was done eating, with no additional cleaning because the seasoning was perfectly in tact, but no.

Man's laced up boots in front of part of a moving truck.

There was no way I was going to risk getting stuck with this person for upwards of 18 or more months.  I called my old boss from Chicago’s Starving Artist Movers and hammered out the details of working for him a bit again, and split using most of my last paycheck.  

For about 13 months of a recent 20 or so month Hobo’s Holiday, I had been working for and usually with David La Tortuga, Starving Artist’s founder.  But I’d been gone for nearly a year; Food Not Bombing, teaching weaving workshops, printing, reading, writing, forest defending, walking a great deal, hitchhiking a bit, though mostly publicly transporting myself around my old stomping grounds on the west coast from Tucson to Olympia via San Diego, and back. 

I lost my paid gig at a print shop in Tucson, so really nothing was holding me back as Food Not Bombs and its COVID spawn, Food Share were flooded with mostly new volunteers.

Young man and young woman in a room in front of a window with open blinds and the sun entering.

I’ve actually been wanting to write about Starving Artist Movers for a while, since my time with them had greatly improved my life.  But whenever I brainstormed about it, I worried that some of the things I’d write about what made the job so enjoyable, might make La Tortuga sound like someone you wouldn’t want to hire to move your stuff, whatever on earth that may be, such as a giant box full of 20 pound weights (which I thought were cast iron pans until they started pouring out of the bottom of the box…).

Anyways, back to the Corona Virus Pandemic of 2020.  My trip did seem magical at first, especially as I saw a super cute, orange haired artist painting Davidcito’s new box truck as I walked up to his humble, Evanston abode with all of my gear.  Though it was mostly a dud after that, one of the few moving jobs I worked that visit turned out to be one of the best ever.  

It’s been my experience that people seem to have either very little stuff, or a great deal of things.  All the moving gigs I’ve ever worked have been one extreme or the other.  Also, although the harder jobs tend to be just mostly tedious, there always seems to be at least one or maybe two things that are very difficult.  Sometimes they are actually impossible to move into the new place.

Black dog inside a small boat out on a lake, hills and trees in the distance.

I’d been warned this job was going to include a several hundred pound piece of machinery, but I needed the work.  It’s the main reason I’d come back to Chicago!

It turned out the first customer of the day was also a working artist, whose apartment was also her workshop.

In my real, year and a month stint with Starving Artist, I had no serious complaints about any of our customers, and thankfully vice versa.  I think a lot of that had to do with the accuracy of the company’s name.  If people wanted College Hunks Moving Junk, or White Glove Movers, they could actually call them, but instead, they called us.  Perhaps not starving, we were artists, and our clients were always really cool to me.

But I almost never helped move anyone that I thought would hangout with me.  In fact, I frequently felt like a rented friend, and frankly a bit guilty accepting good money, especially when people were really nice and did things like give us food.

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when only for the second time our client was young, covered with tattoos, and seemed like someone I would hangout with.  To boot, she thought she recognized me?!  I’m horrible with names, but good with remembering faces and tattoos.  I’m fairly certain I would have remembered meeting her, even if it was only once, and years ago.  Also, she was a leather worker, my original craft.

After getting my Leather Working Merit Badge when I was 12 or so, I inherited my granduncle Gusty’s leather working materials.  In fact, to this day, the template I use for pouches came out of those supplies.

Also that day, a new coworker, Chris, I just met turned out to be really cool.  I was looking forward to meeting them, since their in was Glad Matt of The Glad Rags.  A nice person, good worker and talented musician, I figured they would be birds of a feather and all that.  I was not disappointed!

But this was a hard job.  A great deal of stuff, coming down from a third floor walk up.  Also, a neighbor was taken away on a ventilator by an ambulance, a grim reminder of the pandemic.

It also turned out there were actually two multi-hundred pound machines to move, down stairs, on to the truck, then back off again, up thankfully straight to… only a second floor loft?  I mean here, I had been misinformed that we were also going to a third floor walk up, so this was a relief.  In addition, the customer had a friend show up to help, and she turned not only also be just as nice and pretty, but a fiber artist!  She actually made the mask she was wearing, she was impressive.   

After unloading the first truckload, we took a lunch break.  This always makes the job more enjoyable for me, and this was oddly Davidcito’s idea, a rare occurrence.  The client actually bought Chris and me falafel and waffle fries, and we had a nice talk while La Tortuga and Rooster dealt with an unrelated SNAFU, on their lunch break.  This was actually probably why he suggested taking a break, but I wasn’t going to argue!

I gave our clients, it turned out the first customer’s friend was going to be our second client later that day, copies of two of my recent ‘zines, also giving them to Chris

We giddily joked about how we had to abandon social distancing, and one of our customers called lunch a falafel make out party.

We reconvened with Rooster and La Tortuga at the first apartment, and like a woman out of my dreams, our first client gave us all coffee!  Also, our second customer’s mom dropped off a home cooked meal, enough for all six of us working for later, and I swooned.  Whenever our clients were local, and their family turned out in anyway, I always thought it was really sweet.  Sometimes it was just in references to how a family member or two helped with the smaller things before we showed up, but other times they really did just as much as work as us!  Once a father helped Davidcito move a bed I couldn’t get up a staircase for the life of me, when we were moving his daughter, I thought that was about as cool as it gets.

But frankly, I think the occasional moral support was just as slick.  And of course a friend or two turning out occasionally was also really nice.  Sometimes they were what made us able to go on to a second scheduled gig with the amount of work they did!  Or at least wrap things up at a reasonable time, which can sometimes be no small feat.

But back to this gig.  The second load only filled the box truck half way, so we went to the next customer’s since they were moving in together.  Even though she was also a working artist, using her apartment as a workshop, her stuff barely filled the other half of the truck.  Also it was a first floor unit, though it started to rain fairly heavily to keep things interesting.

I couldn’t fit anywhere in the box truck, so rode in the first customer’s truck with our other client and Chris.  Somehow internet dating came up, and our first customer asked if I had a partner, and I could have keeled over and died!  I’m aware that I’m projecting here, but it’s the kind of thing I’d only ask if I was interested in someone.

After we finished unloading the trucks, we ate dinner together, and the second client gave me shoes and sandals, because she had noticed my shoes were falling apart, and all the thrift and boot stores were closed.  For the millionth or so time that day I wondered if these women could get any greater?!

The first customer gave us stickers and pins promoting her business, and paid us, including a fat tip.  I try not to get hung up on the whole tip thing, since paying movers is so expensive anyways, and I’m not sure how widespread knowledge about tipping movers is.  But it’s pretty great when clients do it!

She also offered to give me yarn when she dug her’s out and I figured out what I was doing.  Of course, if I was a cartoon, hearts would have been floating all over.  I offered both of our customers something out of the small part of my weaving inventory I carry with me without price tags just for such occasions.

Sadly, my housing situation ended before I could figure out something else.  After a couple nights sleeping in the box truck, I headed back to Tucson the easy way.  But as Chris said once during that job, it felt like the first real day they had lived since the lock down started.  I couldn’t have agreed more!