Belly Timber – By T.R. Healy

November 9, 2008

“You about ready to get this rascal out of here?” Irv, the manager of Wolford’s Piano and Organ Company, asked his lead mover.

Clyde shook his head as he walked around the enormous Steinway, which was wrapped in three thick moss green blankets. Its legs were removed and also wrapped in blankets.

“You know you’ve got a good forty-five minute drive to the cruise boat?”

“I know,” he said, making sure the straps were secure.

“The sooner you’re on your way the sooner you’ll arrive.”

“Thanks for pointing out the obvious.”

Irv grinned. “I’m just trying to be helpful.”

Clyde rolled his eyes at the other members of his moving crew then made sure the lid was locked.

“All set?”

“I suppose.”

“There’s no supposing when you’re moving something close to a ton in weight.”

Clyde grinned now. “I know, Irv. I’ve been doing this for almost eleven years.”

“So you have, and with only one accident I believe.”

“I don’t remember.”

“I do.”

Then, on the count of three, the crew tipped the instrument onto a piano board and then onto a dolly and started out the back door with Clyde reminding them, as usual, “You move the piano, guys. Don’t let it move you.”

*

Clyde began moving pianos the summer before his senior year in high school when his Uncle Sherman, a longtime mover, asked him to fill in for members of his crew when they went on vacation. He was surprised how satisfying he found moving to be and how lucrative, and always looked forward to receiving a call from his uncle. Soon after he graduated from school he went to work full-time in the moving business. At six foot seven, a shade under three hundred pounds, he was, by far, the biggest member of his uncle’s crew, and because of his size and strength his uncle frequently reminded him “to lift with his legs, not his back.”

He had always been big, even when he was in elementary school he was the biggest kid in his class. Other kids teased him about his size, some unmercifully, so that often he would pray that he would stop growing but he never did until he became the enormous figure he was today. He should not have been surprised since his parents were large people with huge appetites for what his mother referred to as “belly timber”—the kind of sturdy meals that were sure to fill you up and put flesh on your bones. The bigger he got the better off he was, they believed, unaware of how self-conscious he was about his size. Some days, it seemed, all he saw were the derisive grins of classmates who often called him “Clydesdale.”

He was too awkward to be much of an athlete even though football and wrestling coaches were always pestering him to turn out for their teams. He never did, though, not wanting to subject himself to further ridicule. Really, the only time his size became an asset was when he started moving pianos and, for once, he didn’t feel embarrassed about his appearance. Sometimes he was almost proud because, as his uncle said time and again, “Without you, son, we’d take twice as long to move some of these music boxes.”

*

Slowly, with Clyde giving directions, the movers guided the Steinway across the steep gangplank onto the dinner cruise yacht. The plank was ribbed so every couple of steps they were compelled to lift the piano over each rib because they didn’t want to disturb any of its delicate components. Clyde figured it would take only a couple of minutes to cross the plank but it took almost seven. As always, steps were the most difficult part of any job, and on the yacht they were required to negotiate the piano down a winding stairwell to the party room on the lower deck. Again, they moved like snails, with Clyde reminding them that they must not scuff the Steinway because refinishing a piano was almost as expensive as replacing it.

“Treat the piano as if it’s yours,” he said, repeating something his uncle often said.

The person who hired them indicated there were only a few steps they would have to climb but, in fact, there were twelve and they were short and bumpy. Round and round they went, carefully negotiating each turn. By the time they reached the last one the backs of their undershirts were black with sweat and their faces flushed.

“Do you want a minute?” one of his crew inquired after Clyde congratulated them on their effort.
He nodded and sat down on the piano stool and rested his fingers on the keyboard. Then, tentatively, he began to play “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” which he often did after completing a job. He wasn’t very good but he wanted the people who hired him to know that he was not the clumsy oaf others regarded him when he was younger.

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T.R. Healy

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