I’ve decided that furniture moving is the perfect job for someone in a new country. Sit in a van for two hours with a couple of laid back locals and shoot the shit while seeing the countryside. Then move heavy shit from a house or storage unit into the 50 cubic meter van.
The first day was the hardest. I wasn’t used to lifting heavy stuff. I didn’t know the lingo. I didn’t know what to do. After five days I feel like a pro. Couches, chairs first, base on the bottom, stackables in the middle, top stow thrown in the gaps. Heavy armoire? Forty-five it. We don’t need to communicate. Grip, lift, up, down. Easy.
The busiest day so far was 12.5 hours. Start off the morning with a cross-town move in Matamata. Then drive two hours to Taupo, a beautiful lakeside town on a gentle slope with two snow capped mountain ranges on the other side of the dark blue water, to unload two small jobs from yesterday. Then drive an hour and a half to Rotorua — a Maori town smelling of sulfur surrounded by volcanic walks and thermal pools — to load a huge storage unit with two kayaks, three fridges, beds, lounge suites, pool table and a concrete kiwi we have been told to take great care of.
I can’t stop thinking about stuff. Everyone has so much stuff. Boxes and boxes. I came here with two bags with enough clothing and stuff for a year. I’m years away from having this much stuff and owning a house. People I know from high school are getting married, having kids, buying houses and here I am in New Zealand moving a cheerful 80-year-old widow into an old folks community.
Even these houses don’t have central heating. I’m starting to believe it simply does not exist here. Kiwis rely on fireplaces, portable oil heaters and electric blankets. After three mornings with a thick frost on the grass they talk on the radio about raising children in homes without adequate insulation. Apparently 11 degrees Celsius in a house is too cold. I bought an electric blanket to cope with living in an old farmhouse with no insulation and sub zero temperatures at night. It’s hard to get out of a toasty bed, or rather the foam mattress from my van, when you wake up and can see your breath.
One of the movers, Nick, tall and athletic with blonde dreadlocks, asked me if I think they have accents.
That’s trippy, man.”
This led to an hour or so of reciprocating questions about America, New Zealand, accents, traveling and life.
I talk about the Kiwi accent. They change letters. “I” sounds like “U.” Fush and chups. “E” sounds like “I.” Pen becomes pin. Shed becomes shid.
“Hey man you wanna give me a hand with that bed, sorry, bid, over there?” I ask.
“It sounds weird when you say it right,” Nick replies.
He asks me to tell him some American curse words.
“God damn fuckin’ shit,” I say with a twang.
We love cunt,” he says.
It’s true. Everyone, everything is a cunt. If something is annoying it is cunty. It’s such a beautiful, multipurpose word.
Then there’s Kelton, or Kel, fifty years old next month and spent the past seven years in the furniture moving game. He deals with his male pattern balding by shaving his head to a “Skullet.” He’s a daily weed smoker and his missus walked out on him three years ago. His son works at KFC because he didn’t like McDonalds and he is reluctantly taking the management course but he doesn’t want more responsibility.
Kel hasn’t had a holiday in three years so some of his friends living on one of the tiny coral islands near Samoa booked him a flight to force him to visit. He had to apply for a passport. Forty-nine years and he’s never left home. He’s been on a place once for his mother’s funeral.
It’s interesting seeing how people live their lives in different parts of the world. There are always people like Kel. Work everyday, there’s never enough money, pay check to pay check, no money for a holiday, gotta pay the mortgage, gotta pay alimony, gotta save for my son to give him a better life.
It’s a simple job but it is fulfilling. The clients are always different. Some are overbearing and annoying, eager to look into the boxes in the storage unit they haven’t seen in 17 years while all you want to do it pick it up and put it in the van. Some are welcoming. My accent gives me away. The gumboot and fleece clad bloke can tell I’m not from here. I tell him I’m traveling, living on a dairy farm and doing this job for extra cash. How many cows on the farm? Two hundred and thirty. Ahh, pretty cruisey, eh? He says he works on an organic dairy farm and gives each of us a block of handmade cheddar cheese.
I’ve had a chance to see what ordinary people are like. I see their old homes, their new homes, all of their belongings. If you are a tourist taking a two-week tour around New Zealand, you will never see this part of the country.