Cold Storage



23rd St. & 8th Ave., NY, NY 10011

Neighborhood: Chelsea

Cold Storage
Photo by Rachel Stevens

I’ve always preferred to do things the hard way, without anybody’s help. For the first five years my husband and I lived in New York, half our things were in storage. The other half were crammed into a 280-square foot apartment on the fifth floor of a tenement building overlooking the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. The place was short on closet space, so we improvised, hanging a few things off an old fuse box, and quite a few more others on the shower rod. The drycleaning plastic kept them from getting wet.

Later on, when we had the stroke of luck we expected four and a half years earlier, we moved to a place three times bigger, overlooking the Queensboro Bridge. We could finally get our long-lost things from storage. We splurged on movers. They carried everything down five flights of steps, made a stop at Chelsea Storage, then carried it all up four more flights to our new place.

We were ecstatic. We spent the weekend dusting furniture and unpacking boxes of books that hadn’t seen daylight in five years.

But there was a problem. There was still a bunch of stuff left in storage that had to be disposed of. We’d discovered that some of the things we’d done without for five years we actually preferred to do without. But rent for the unit—$134.60—was due Tuesday unless we emptied it and left it broom-clean. I worked from home. My hours were flexible. I’d take care of things.

I was a model of ruthless efficiency. I arranged to have a furniture dealer who rented out props to movies come meet me at the facility. I had a 1915 maple dresser with a swivel mirror that I’d refinished myself in the backyard in 11th grade. No sentimentality. No prisoners. The dealer only offered me $40, but I ran a quick cost-benefit analysis and took it on the condition that he’d cart away the folding chairs and broken washstand too.

Now came the tricky part. Big, heavy stuff to throw away. There was the 1920s battleship of a typewriter my mother had bought in the 60s when her office upgraded to electric. It was a hunk of cast iron weighing a good thirty pounds (the dealer refused to take it), black, with beautiful white keys and the name L.C. Smith in worn, gold paint. And there were a couple of big, bulky computer monitors too. I bought them cheap when my old office upgraded.

I put everything on the trolley Chelsea Storage provided, and wheeled it to the glassed-in office downstairs. "Is there somewhere I can get rid of this?" "Nowhere here," said the guy on duty, "But there’s a dumpster around the corner on 22nd. Trolleys have to stay here, though."

Well, I paid to lift weights at the gym, so why not do this for free? I hoisted the L.C. Smith off the trolley, and put it on the edge of the loading dock. I hopped down to sidewalk level and reached up, easing it into my arms. I shuffled along 23rd with the monster braced against my belly.

I finally reached the dumpster around the corner. There were a couple of guys from the warehouse there, taking out the trash. When they caught sight of my L.C. Smith, they said they’d take it. Somewhere deep inside the warehouse they were keeping a "museum."

One down, two to go. I grabbed the first monitor, a bulky whale of a thing. I was tired from my last trip and my arms were trembling. I didn’t know how much more of this I could take. After about half a block, though, a man from the garage across the street shouted out to me, "Does that still work?" Yes, thank God. "I have another one too," I told him. I’d be back in a few minutes’ time.

I walked back to Chelsea Storage. Sweat was trickling down my back. I brushed the dust off the front of my shirt and off my black cotton pants. I stretched my arms and shook out my hands. Almost there. After this was done, I’d go home and lie down in the bath.

The last monitor was sitting on the edge of the trolley. OK, almost there. I did a deep knee bend and reached forward. Rrriiiip. I stopped short, frozen. A roar of laughter came from the office. I felt a cold breeze at the seat of my pants. I remembered I was wearing a thong.

I shuffled to the ladies room to check out the damage. The guys in the office all turned away. It was worse than I thought. A tear in the fabric along the seat seam, a good six inches. I rifled through my purse. Safety pin? Bandaid? Paper clip? Nothing. I was screwed.

I went back to the loading dock. Maybe nobody noticed. Maybe they were just laughing at something else. I didn’t have enough time to go home and change, then come back again before closing. I’d just walk, you know, carefully.

A man in coveralls came up to me. I acted casual. "Do you need help?" He was a tall Jamaican with a lilting accent. I tried to act like everything was normal. "You mean carrying stuff?" "No." His face was serious. "Your pants broke." I started to laugh manically. "It’s not funny," he said. "Look, I have a t-shirt underneath. You can tie it around your waist." "OK," I said. My eyes were tearing up.

With Winston’s t-shirt on, I hauled away the last monitor, then hailed a cab. Once I got home I washed the shirt, and mailed it back to Chelsea Storage with a thank-you note. The pants weren’t salvageable, so I threw them away—along with all my thongs. I’m sorry now about the typewriter, but I’m glad it’s in a museum.

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