Please explain what just happened.

I just caught some kind of sickness and had to play a concert. My voice kind of went out halfway through the show. After the show, I arrived at Houston airport at 1 a.m. My flight is at 7a.m. Good times…

What is your earliest memory?

Throwing up through my fingers in Sunday school class with my hands over my mouth, trying to stop the vomit. My efforts were unsuccessful.

 

There’s a special room in Hell reserved for movers. It’s right beside the room holding the cable guy who said he’d be at your house between 9 and 4 and two doors down from the mechanic who swore your car needed a new filibusterator. This room, which is called something fun like The Devil’s Armpit, is only 528 square feet and:

  1. mind-blowingly hot
  2. completely and totally empty.

The way I see it, The Devil’s Armpit will look exactly like the apartment my wife Juliana and I moved to in Philadelphia in 2005. See, Juliana got a job in Philly so we moved away from Atlanta, family, friends, and grocery stores that sell beer. To help with this adventure, we hired professional movers. By “professional,” I mean “three guys in matching jumpsuits who handled our possessions like a Star Wars collector handles a 1978 IG-88 12” Bounty Hunter Robot.”

“You can never be too careful!,” Bob, the head mover called out as he carried a box marked FRAGILE out to the truck. Meanwhile, another mover walked in front to clear Bob’s path of any dangerous pebbles.

We gladly paid these men the amounts outlined in our contract: $300 (insurance policy), $800 (deposit), another $800 (1/2 the cost of the move. A final $800 would be due at delivery). Bob took the money order, we shook hands, and he and his partners drove off. It would be the last time we ever saw them. It would also be the last time we ever saw our stuff. At least, in any recognizable condition.

Juliana and I arrived in Philly a few days later. It was Saturday and the middle of August. We made the trek upstairs (the elevator was broken) to the 12th floor—to the aforementioned 528 square foot sauna—and waited for the movers to arrive. A couple hours went by. We tried calling the movers a few times only to get an automated error message from AT&T. Finally, at 10 PM, the phone rang.

“YO!,” the thick Jersey accent shouted into the receiver while the sounds of live Jazz blared in the background. “WON’T BE THERE TONIGHT!”

“Where are you guys?!?”

“WE’LL BE THERE MONDAY OR TUESDAY!”

“I want to talk to Bob. He said–”

Click.

Monday or Tuesday came and went. The movers, on the other hand, did not. Calls to both the movers and the moving company led only to automated error messages. The one time we actually managed to reach a live person at the moving company, I was told they had no record of our move. Things were looking bleak. They were about to get even worse. We took a trip to the library and Googled “moving scams.” I’ll save you the time of sifting through the dozen pages of moving horror stories by offering you the following summary instead:

We. Were. Screwed.

Here’s the scam. A couple of crooks open a moving company. They’ve got a registration, license, even those dirty padded furniture mats that smell like broccoli farts. Everything checks out. The company is listed on reputable websites and you’ll read glowing testimonials about their service. You’ll sign a contract and the movers will show up and do a real bang-up job. Then they’ll drive off and your story will become a major motion picture summer blockbuster starring Ben Stiller or, if he’s available, Jack Black.

Around 45 minutes into the film—or roughly 312 Stiller pouty faces—your move will be taken over by an “independent third-party contractor,” which is code for “new crooks who are in cahoots with the original crooks.” One day, the new head crook will call and tell you that, due to a scheduling error, they won’t be able to deliver your stuff for about 30 days. They will, however, deliver it to a storage unit somewhere. For us, “somewhere” was Jacksonville, FL.

Three and a half weeks passed. One night, around 2 AM, I got a call from yet another crook. This time, it was a gruff-voiced cretin who sounded like he’d been gargling razor blades. Let’s call him “Sore Throat.” He wanted:

1. A signed waiver that released the movers (the original company we hired) of any liability.
2. $1000 (in addition to the already agreed-upon $800 payment).

If we failed to comply, “Sore Throat” warned, “you’ll never see your stuff again.”

I contacted lawyers, the Better Business Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Everyone said the same thing, namely “you’re screwed.” The Department of Transportation did elaborate slightly, saying that if the planets were to align in a Triple Lindy formation and pigs started to fly and Ryan Seacrest went down to holding only four jobs and—this is the big one—the DOT suddenly increased their staff by, say, 200%, then, maybe just maybe, they might be able to research our claim before the next Olympic games.

Back to the scam. The movers have all the power. Sure, you could sue them…and you’d win. But you’d never see a penny from the judgment. The crooks would simply declare bankruptcy and close up shop. Then, the very next day, they’d reopen with a new name and phone number. Cue Stiller pouty face.

OPERATION: UP A CREEK was well underway and we had no choice but to employ the age-old WHIPPED solution (see Jon vs. Kate). I called Sore Throat and agreed to his terms. The very next day, the moving truck pulled up in front of our building. A tall, lanky guy—another independent contractor—jumped out of the cab and, without talking, opened up the back of the truck.

Inside? Furniture that looked like it had been attacked by a chainsaw. Clothes, covered in mold from spending the past month in a wet storage unit, thrown around. And boxes, stacked floor to ceiling, in the shape of basketballs. Except the ones marked FRAGILE, interestingly enough. Those were shaped like footballs.

 

Ben Stiller is caustic without a cause, something like Napoleon had he served as a mere comedian/actor or, better put for his times, court jester. Stiller has the perfect life and exudes confidence to such an extent that one wonders whether confidence is a kind of systemic poison that serves as an irritant not to the person who swallowed the poison but to those within vicinity of that person. All of this is to say my interview started poorly.

Think of the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. You know, the kind of stories that make you cringe every single time you tell them, even though it’s been, like, eight years since you had brunch at that little café in Smyrna, Georgia and you had to go to the bathroom really, really, really bad and, because God has a really terrific sense of humor, there was somebody in the men’s room who was not coming out anytime that year, which left you no choice but to duck into the women’s restroom where, again since God is a regular comedian, you discovered someone had clogged the toilet, meaning you were up to your ankles in toilet water, and the whole thing was terribly embarrassing, particularly when you walked out and saw not only the manager but also your horrified date.

Of course, in accordance to the ancient rules of comedy (see “Stiller, Ben”), any “Oh, Crap!” moment is comically enhanced by the infliction of pain, either physical or emotional. Take, for instance, when I was a 6th grade student at Rock Lake Middle School in Longwood, Florida. There I was, with my spiked mullet and startlingly enormous glasses, thinking I was quite the stud. In reality, I was slightly less cool than my classmate Billy Jeffries who, according to legend, was still wetting the bed.

Anyway, it was March and the big news around school was the upcoming 6th grade dance. I had my heart set on asking Michelle Johnson. Now being the stud that I was, I went about asking out Michelle in the classic studly way: I wrote her a note. But this wasn’t just any note. This was a literary masterpiece where I transcribed (in nauseatingly great length) my deep feelings for her—not to mention about 9 jillion references to how pretty she was and what a cute couple we’d be. I wrote the entire three-page manuscript during Social Studies class. I was just about done when the teacher shot me a “don’t make me come over there” glance. I quickly folded up the note and slid it inside my Social Studies book.

The bell rang and I walked out of the room, confident my note would sweep Michelle off her feet. It wasn’t until my next class when I had a horrible realization:

I had left my Social Studies book behind.

As soon as algebra ended, I ran (see “Runner, Road”) back to the Social Studies room. Yes! The book was right where I left it! The note, on the other hand, was gone. Little did I know, that jerk Billy Jeffries had found the note and, at that very moment, was in the library making a few hundred photocopies of it. Thirty minutes later, those copies would plaster the school walls. Twenty minutes after that, Michelle would call me a “giant spaz!” in the cafeteria, loud enough for everyone in the zip code to hear.

Moral of the story: Never ask someone out in a note. However, if you must, DO NOT let the note out of your sight.

I told that story because, up until a few days ago, I thought I had a secure hold on Stupid Stock. Of course, that was until I accidentally stabbed myself in the thumb with an Epipen needle. For those of you who don’t know, an Epipen is a crazy large needle carried by people with food allergies in the event they eat a peanut or something. So basically, as your throat is closing from the allergic reaction, you’re supposed to take the Epipen and stab yourself in the thigh. Now I won’t get into the details of how I stabbed myself (some things are truly too stupid to disclose) but let’s just say that I discovered the answer to the question, “hmmm…I wonder which side the needle comes out of.”

As I sat there with my thumb bleeding like a character in a Monty Python movie, my only thought was, “Howthehell am I going to explain this to the doctor?” Fortunately the doctor didn’t bother to ask, probably because he was too busy deciding whether or not I should go to the emergency room.

Anyway, looking back, all’s well that ends well. The hole in my thumb is closing and I’m almost to the point where I can eat a shish kabob without whimpering.

Moral of the story: Don’t play around with an Epipen needle. However, if you must, point the thing at Billy Jeffries.