Hugging Craigslist Strangers in SoHo
“Will you carry it down for me?” I asked. No way could I carry a wood kitchen table down 6 flights alone.
“I just had surgery,” he said, “but I can help you. We can do it together — it’s not that heavy.”
Alright. We set the pick up time for 5:00pm on Thursday.
My daughter waited with the car in front of the SoHo building on Sullivan Street. A clear view of the Freedom Tower gave me the chills.
I caught my breath after walking the 6 flights up and then knocked. A sweet man named Michael let me in to his apartment. After a quick hello, I plopped myself down to sit at the table I agreed to purchase. I observed how strange it was that I walked right in to this stranger’s apartment as if we were old friends. Isn’t this exactly what we are not supposed to do?
We talked for a few minutes and chatted about the table. I asked if that gorgeous crystal lamp was for sale. Nope — it was his Grandma’s. I handed him $40 and then he got his jacket on and grabbed a reusable bag from the closet. He was heading to Trader Joe’s down the street after we got the table down. If you live on a 6 floor walk up you never waste a trip down without making it useful. I could tell this man has a loving heart and it felt fun to inherit his kitchen table.
I noticed the table needed to be cleaned. Do I grab one of his Lysol wipes and do that right now? Nah, I’ll wait til I get home.
We got the table out to the top of the steps and the task before us felt huge. This would be SLOW. Obviously, the Universe wanted us to spend some time together. I told him that and we awkwardly laughed.
Negotiating how to carry a round table down 6 flights of steps is an interesting dance with anyone, but with a stranger it was, well, strange. We had no background for who would lead, who would follow, who knew what the heck they were doing.
Each of the 6 flights was divided into half flights with a landing in the middle. This put my vigilance center at ease, because the most we had to carry it down at once was about 8 steps then we could always rest it down. And we did.
I got in front and he held the back end. I moved it around and rested the table top on my shoulder. My biggest concern was making sure I didn’t fall.
We stopped on the first landing to adjust. It was awkward. We contemplated different ways to carry it down and he suggested something that made sense but when we tried it, it was the opposite of what I thought he meant.
On the next landing we discussed: Put the leaves up? Or drop them down? What was the best way to get this baby down the steps? I told him I was a writer and this would make a great article. We laughed.
I asked Michael how old he was. 42, he told me. He was younger than I thought and I wondered about his surgery. He told me how his body doesn’t quite work the way it used to. Yeah, I get it — I turned 51 this year.
And then suddenly, like magic, we hit flow. We went down one whole flight and didn’t even stop on the landing. Huge progress.
Mid-Floor 4, I did my best English accent, which isn’t that great, and with a fancy hand motion over the table I asked, “Would you like a spot of tea?” We laughed.
He told me about his surgery, about the remodeling of his kitchen and how his friend suggested he get a new table. The new one would be marble. Ooooh, fancy.
Floor 3, Floor 2 and then BOOM! There was a huge sigh of relief when we got to Floor 1. Next step: Out the long narrow hallway and on to the street. I told him the car was in front and I was grateful he was willing to help me get it all the way to the car.
As we carried down the street, I said, “You know, between the two of us we are 93 years old and we are really rocking this thing.”
Two hours before arriving in SoHo, my daughter asked me, “Did you measure the table? Are you certain it will fit in the car?”
“No,” I told her, “I am not certain it will fit in the car and I AM certain we will make it work.”
My daughter shook her head suspiciously but with knowing. She’s seen me do this before. We love to work magic.
Michael and I got the table all the way to the car and I introduced him to my daughter. This was the moment of truth.
No way was this thing fitting in the backseat of Leslie, my daughter’s 2006 Toyota Corolla that my grandma gave her when she stopped driving.
My daughter has a rule that she doesn’t lift heavy things — she must have gotten that from me, except I break my own rule when it feels necessary. So I asked her to pull it from the opposite end of the car as I tried to shove it in.
No way is this thing fitting. Damnit!
And then suddenly, by the Grace of God, the most brawny of men was suddenly in front of the building using a leaf blower. He was older and had skin as thick as leather. He was wearing shorts even though it was cold out and he was half-watching us struggle with this table. I looked at him and said, “I bet you know how to get this table in the car.”
“No I don’t,” he said.
Damn. I had hoped he would help.
And then in the next moment, he swooped in and was running this operation like a pro. Michael stood there with his Trader Joe’s bag. He could have left but this was quite a show and he was seeing his beloved table off with quite a bang.
I smiled at Mr. Leaf Blower Man and joyfully said, “I knew you’d know how to do this!”
He said, “I don’t know how to do it. But I know how to figure it out.”
He asked if I brought a drill to remove the top from the base. Haha! Now that would have been a great idea.
The next thing I knew, Mr. Leaf Blower Man snagged some other guy off the street, a friend who happened to be walking by. This guy was in business casual, a nice jacket, with his laptop bag over his shoulder. He was clean cut with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth that still had about 30% left of it to smoke. He said hi to me with the cigarette still in his mouth.
He looked determined to help get the table in the car and for some reason, I offered to hold his cigarette.
“No,” he said, “You can’t be near smoke, you’re pregnant.”
HA! I looked at him straight in the eye and neutrally said, “I am not pregnant.”
He didn’t quite know what to say, so he tried to hug me and wanted to apologize but no real words came out.
In that moment Cigarette Man committed to my kitchen table. He put his laptop bag on the trunk of Leslie, took one last long inhale and stepped on the ciggy.
I stood next to Michael in the middle of the street, who heard the whole thing. We locked eyes and shook our heads about his preggers comment. Men — we love ’em, but they sometimes say weird stuff. I told him about the article I wrote about how I alchemized the shame of people asking me if I was pregnant.
Mr. LeafBlower Man & Cigarette Man were very busy navigating the table. They needed to move the front seat up, which meant my daughter had to get out and nobody was quite sure how we’d do this. But the determination was strong! She joined Michael and I in the street.
It was then that I noticed the Freedom Tower in the exact center of the street. It was lit up and gorgeous. What a view. I remembered 9/11 and felt gratitude for the amazingness of New Yorkers.
As Michael, my daughter and I admired the Freedom Tower, there was suddenly a cheer. The table was in the car!
The only thing left to do was to say thank you and goodbye. And in that moment it was like we had all been friends for years.
We had accomplished quite a feat together.
I hugged Cigarette Man, and then Michael. I thanked them both, and then I thanked Mr. Leaf Blower Man, who stayed very clear of any weird-stranger-street-hugs.
As I got in the driver’s seat, I looked at my daughter and we laughed at yet another adventure in the life of a goddess.
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