My furniture came in two separate shipments. The essentials first: bed, desk, kitchen table, dresser and chair. Then the quasi-essentials: two tall-enough ladder style bookshelves from Overstock.com, cheap renditions of their more upper-crust cousins at Crate and Barrel. I spent my third or fourth night in New York assembling the “easy” pieces on my own: desk, chair, standing coat rack and a stepladder. It took me five hours. For the rest I decided to hire Urban Assembly, who charged me $45 per piece of furniture and sent over one Hispanic guy with a power drill to do the job.
He worked quietly save for the whirr of his power drill, starting with the bed, then the dresser and finally, the kitchen table. When he began unpacking the dresser and laying out the various pieces, the instruction manual slid out behind him. I waited for him to refer to it, but he ignored it. I picked it up, asking if he needed it but he shook his head. He didn’t need it. “My English no good,” he said, “But my work, my work good.”
I nodded, skeptical – I’d assembled a smaller, cheaper dresser back in college which had taken my father and I nearly two hours and multiple referrals to the manual to build – but shrugged and returned to my computer. A half hour later I turned to find the dresser done and him in the kitchen, laying out the legs of the kitchen table. A few minutes later that too, was finished. He said softly as though asking for some kind of permission, “Miss? I finish.”
He invited me to check his work, which considering the two hours he’d taken to complete everything, was very good. The dresser drawers slid open and shut without issue. The extendable flaps of the kitchen table raised and lowered easily and my bed seemed sturdy, capable of supporting whatever shenanigans were supposed to happen on the bed of a twenty-seven year old woman living alone in the city. Mostly, Netflix, tea and reading. Perhaps all at once.
I thanked him and only then noticed how profusely he was sweating. Earlier, I’d had the good sense to turn on the air conditioning, but had not thought to offer him a glass of water. Embarrassed by my thoughtlessness, I did so now along with a handful of paper towels, intending him to wipe his forehead. Instead he sheepishly bent down to wipe the floor where drops of sweat had fallen.
“It’s okay!” I said, “I’ll clean the floors later anyway,” but he didn’t understand or was embarrassed himself and spent a good five minutes searching for spots to wipe.
Finally, he stood, gulping the last half of the water glass and packed his tools. I tipped him twenty dollars, not knowing if it was too little or too much but he took it happily and bid me good day, leaving with the slightest bow.
I looked around my studio. Boxes and plastic wrap were still strewn about, but these I quickly folded and threw away, clearing the floor. The bones of the room were intact: I had a bed to sleep on, a dresser to put my clothes in, and a kitchen table to eat at. The afternoon sun came streaming in, warming an already warm studio in which everything was in its place. I had now, in New York City, a room of my own.