His Name Was Earl

What I learned from the couch whisperer

Earl Moon was a buzz saw of a man: short, wiry, and garrulous.

He was also my last hope.

I was living in New York at the time, and it wasn’t quite going the way I’d always dreamed: I’d imagined striding long-leggedly and perfectly accessorized to a fabulous job each day. But after three years, I was broke and despondent, barely jobbed, and not especially leggy or accessorized. It was time to go back to Minnesota.

Heartbroken about a city that didn’t love me back, I clung to one of the few things I owned like it was a life raft: a sofa. I’d acquired the sofa not long after I’d arrived in the city. I couldn’t afford it, of course, and it left no room for an actual bed in my miniscule apartment. But it was big and red and kind of a joyful exclamation mark about hope and possibility. I loved it. I could abandon almost every other possessions as I prepared to leave the city—but I had to have my couch.

I searched high and low for a mover and finally found a promising ad on the Internet:

THANKS 4 Oppertunity to provide your damage free, transportion/shipping. I have Taken the need 4 personal/Public Safty and Responsablity above a need to speed…DOT ph/drug screen card and safty cert. What happened 2 HONESTY and INTEGERTY in Buissness?!

It was Earl Moon. I was unclear about the particulars, but he had a safty cert—and that had to be a good thing. Not that it mattered: His services were cheap.

Earl arrived late one night, parking his pickup truck and trailer on the narrow street outside my apartment in lower Manhattan. All tendons and noise, he strode into my apartment and introduced himself with a fierce handshake. “I may look small but lemme tell ya, anybody mess with me, they’re looking at a deadly assault,” he said.

Earl circled the big red sofa, sizing it up like a horse trader. He ran his hands along its flanks and patted its back; I half expected him to check its teeth. And he talked. A lot. It was like listening to an auctioneer narrate a film of his life.
As he swaddled the sofa in layers and blankets, Earl relayed bits and pieces of his biography. He’d begun his career at a trucking company, but working for someone else “felt like an anvil on my heart—ya know?” His father had been killed while trying to help a stranded motorist and a car struck him: “Now he’s a dead Samaritan.” Earl once lived in Houston but discovered the neighbors were crack dealers and he jumped ship. Now he hauled people’s prized possessions to and fro across the country and lived out of his extended-cab pickup.

Earl circled the mummified couch with an enormous bolt of stretch wrap. Did I know he’d seen every state in the union? he asked. “They call New Orleans ‘The Big Easy’ cuz it’s easy for people to rip you off there.” Earl chuckled over this wisdom as he tried to secure the unwieldy sofa to the dolly. It wasn’t working. “Sonnava bi—pardon my French….” An hour and lots of French later, the enormous couch was finally on the dolly.

Earl stepped back, taut with satisfaction. He said, mostly to himself, “See, the couch will tell you what needs to happen—I just wasn’t listening.”

That moment was when I realized I was in the presence of something special, a mystic if there ever was one. I knew that couch, somehow, was going to get to Minnesota, and I would, too. And I knew that if Earl could figure out what his life was supposed to be, then I could, too.

With that, the 5-foot-6-inch-140-pound-NoDoz-freebasing Earl Moon proceeded to get an 8-foot, 150-pound sofa down four flights. And all by his lonesome, he loaded the sofa into his trailer, one of the only things he had in the world. He was still talking when he started the engine. I can still see his lips moving by the light of the dashboard as he raised his window.

A week later, the couch arrived at my parents’ garage. Earl was long gone, and I, too, was on my way. When I sent him an e-mail with thanks, he responded:

Hi Mary-Jo iam very busy and driving all ove r the World. Thanks so much for this wonderful Opportunity. and the interset yall have showed in MY industry i AM very happy to let the rest of the world know how a selfemployed person lives works and keep going even as the odds are against them.

Thank you, Earl Moon, for more than you know.

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