“Name’s Luther,” he said, extending his mitt of a hand out for me to shake, “but you can call me Cheese.”
Ok, Mr. Cheese, I thought, trying to think of a joke about that stupid book Who Moved My Cheese?
I felt unsettled by how long he held my hand and then winked at me. Before he picked up so much as shoe box, there was a puddle of sweat pooled around the top layer of his neck flesh. I wondered if he was diabetic because I once read a book about a girl who realized she was diabetic because she sweat all the time. Please don’t die until you load the truck, I prayed because I am a good-hearted person.
I watched Luther-Cheese and his two helpers hoist all of my possessions on their backs with nothing but a frayed mesh rope. I didn’t watch them closely. For one thing all the sweat grossed me out. Plus, my possessions were grad school chic– the nicest thing I owned was a third-hand bookshelf that was crap to begin with.
I couldn’t wait to get settled in my new place 80 blocks north. Like my childhood hero George Jefferson, I was moving on up. My “deluxe apartment” wasn’t exactly in the sky— it was on the third floor of a walk-up. I was most excited to leave behind my grad school roommate who was “finishing up his dissertation” by guzzling Folgers coffee by the pot and playing solitaire all day long in his bathrobe. I judged him because I am not a perfect person.
I was going to be living alone outside the cocoon of student housing for the first time. I saw Luther-Cheese’s smallest helper– an almost-infirm 65-year old man– drop my computer on the stairs. When he looked up and saw me watching him, I saw in his toothless grin an expression I hated. “Whatcha gonna do about it?” he dared me.
We both knew I wouldn’t do jack about it, because I was 25 and couldn’t think of anything to do.
Luther-Cheese found me when they were done loading up. “You’re gonna take care of my guys, right?” Did he mean blow jobs? My face betrayed that I had no idea what he meant.
“We should each get a generous tip. Cash.” He winked again.
Jesus, maybe he did mean blow jobs.
I’d like to report I had the good sense to be pissed off. Or afraid. Or that I had burly friends who would meet me at my new place to play the bigger cheese to Luther-Cheese. None of that happened.
I stopped by the ATM machine to withdraw enough money to give them each a $50.00 tip, even though they had broken my computer and a dining room chair.
They refused to unload the truck until I paid their tips. As I handed the Cheese trio their $150.00 in tips, I prayed they would think it was enough. Luther-Cheese counted his wad right in front of me, then hurled my bed onto his back and disappeared up the stairs. They unloaded boxes with the care that two-year olds hopped up on candy corns treat their toys.
“Can I have a hug?” Luther-Cheese asked as he finished. I hated him, but was four years from learning I didn’t have to hug a sweaty old man.
I hugged him and then bolted the locks behind him– because I am a good-hearted person but not perfect.