I saw a man using a standard two-wheel hand dolly move a cumbersome couch across the parking lot as I drove by. Because I’m not on a schedule anymore, I slowed and pulled into the parking lot. As I did so, he placed the dolly carefully so that the couch was vertical, undoubtedly to rest for a moment. He had the look of anyone older than thirty when confronted with ridiculous tasks such as moving furniture. I parked and exited my vehicle.
Forgetting the standard rules of social etiquette, I approached him and said, “Where are we moving this couch to?” He didn’t hesitate. “Onto that beat-up old red truck over there.”
I didn’t even turn to look. I noticed the truck as I pulled in. No doubt it had been a workhorse of a truck for twenty years, even as it slowly degenerated into a pile of parts that barely moved on four wheels. With no further words, he tilted the couch, and I carefully picked up the other end. We walked quickly across the parking lot and, without any coordination, lifted it and set it in the bed of the truck. He tied it quickly.
“Thanks,” he said.
“We’re not done. Don’t you want help unloading it? “
“Well, that’s nice, but you don’t know where I’m going with this couch.”
I laughed. “Let’s go. I’ll ride with you, or I can follow you.”
He didn’t ask me twice, nor did he counter with the usual, “Are you Sure?”
“Get in, ” he said.
When he asked, “How do you know I’m not a serial killer?” I replied with one of my favorite jokes: “The odds of there being TWO serial killers in the same vehicle are extremely low.” He hesitated a second, processed the joke, and then laughed. “That’s clever.” I said, “It’s not my joke.” He laughed again. “Well, it’s mine now.”
I didn’t know if we were going across town or to Nebraska.
“Do you mind if I smoke,” he said as he started the engine. It grumbled and rumbled.
“Go ahead. As long as you don’t mind that I might spontaneously break out in song.” I grinned. So did he.
“We’re not going far. I got a really cheap apartment in Springdale. Not too far from the airport. Do you know the area?”
I hesitated. “Yes, I do. I just moved from there. I got divorced last month. I haven’t been back to Springdale since.” It was an honest admission.
“I’m getting a divorce myself. I found out last Friday. Coming home and finding another man sleeping on the couch kind of was kind of a giveaway.” He shrugged.
“Okay, you win this round! By the way, my name is X.” After a minute or so of me reciting my litany of name-related jokes, he told me his name was Jimmy. Were I that type of person, I’d swear I heard my cousin Jimmy laughing from the grave with his raucous laugh in my head. Both Jimmys would have loved to have a beer or ten together; I could tell.
“Can I ask you a question?” I asked him.
“Yeah.” He nodded.
“Don’t you have more furniture?” It didn’t feel awkward to ask him.
“Yes, but after I threw my wife’s boyfriend off the couch, I told her that is all I’m taking. I’m going to use it as a bed, too. I don’t need all the other stuff. Look where it got me.” As he said it, I had a flash of my own spartan, minimalist life. I laughed.
Before he could ask, I said, “I’m a minimalist, too. All my furniture is in the living room.”
“For real?” he asked, a little incredulously.
“Yes, and two big-screen TVs in there, too. It’s ridiculous. And it’s mine.” I hadn’t said “It’s mine” with any dignity before then. It felt authentic as I said it, a verbalized insight into my head.
He told me his story in brief snippets as we drove. As was passed the line into Springdale, nothing noteworthy happened. It was my first return since the moving truck came to my old house on July 30th.
His new apartment building wasn’t much to look at. When we pulled in, a group of three Latinos was standing near the building, staring under the hood of a Honda. I spoke to them and told them that Jimmy was their new neighbor. Jimmy looked at me in surprise, hearing me speak Spanish. I told Jimmy to introduce himself. He did so, awkwardly.
When he walked to the back of his truck, I told him, “Be friendly. You’ll never be short a man to help you with furniture and a lot of other things if you do. Whatever Spanish you speak, don’t worry about being nervous. They had to learn our BS language.”
Jimmy laughed. “Entiendo,” he said. It was my turn to laugh.
“Don’t get excited. It’s about all I know.”
I nodded. “An effort is enough, though. For a lot of things in life.”
His apartment was on the first floor, and we went inside with the couch without breaking anything.
“Quickest move I ever made, X,” he said. “Do you want a beer? I’ve got some.”
I shook my head ‘no.’ “Do you have any diet tonic water?” It’s what I craved, but the odds of him having such a thing was unlikely.
“No. It’s beer or water. Or I can buy you lunch while I drive you back.”
Jimmy stood in the mostly empty apartment and drank a light beer. When he finished it, he moved to throw it into the trash. He realized he didn’t have a trash can. “I’ve got a list a mile long of things I need like a trash can.” I tilted my head to acknowledge I knew the truth of that statement.
We went outside to the truck. Jimmy waved over at the group of Latinos, all of whom were intently busy doing nothing with the Honda. They waved back.
Making our way back to Fayetteville, I mentioned my favorite places to eat in Springdale and how nice downtown Springdale had become. Jimmy was largely unaware of how many places he could get a beer, good food, and a little music without spending a fortune. “Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind.”
Unlike you might imagine, the conversation flowed easily. It seemed like we’d known each other for a year. When we pulled into the parking lot of his old apartment, Jimmy pointed to his dolly. It sat in the same place he left it.
“Do you need help with anything else?” It seemed appropriate to offer help if he needed it.
“Nah. Just clothes and bathroom stuff. That’s it. I’m starting completely fresh except for the couch. Thanks, though.” Jimmy stuck out his hand, and I shook it.
On a whim, I pulled out my index cards and jotted my phone number on one. “In case you get bored and want to have a beer or fancy Italian coffee sometime. And if not, good look with the new life, okay.”
Jimmy walked over to his dolly to retrieve it as I walked the short distance to my ridiculous small car. As I pulled away, Jimmy waved again.
I wondered what he’d make of his life.
His name was Jimmy, and he needed help. I gave him what I could, and that might be enough.