My friend Matt has a tiny butt. It looks like it was designed for another human altogether. Still, when it's mashed across my face, as his denim-enclosed ham is across mine right now, size doesn't matter. It's getting hard to breathe. I didn't see any of this coming when he picked me up this morning.
Matt's devotion to arriving late is tested when he really wants something. He arrives right on time, and we head out of the city. He has that look in his eye. It's the look of a guy who wants a free wood stove. He saw it on Craigslist, the place where men like Matt find things they don't need and can't live without.
The morning sun warms the leather interior of the old Mercedes station wagon. I feel more talkative than usual, but our conversation is blunted. Matt's focus is on the stove. I might as well be talking to myself.
"It'll go in the man-cave," he says, oblivious to my monologue.
"How heavy is this sumbitch?" I ask. "There'll be three of us," he says. That doesn't tell me anything about the weight. That's not useful at all.
"How heavy do you think this wood stove is?" I ask again.
"It's full size."
"But how heavy is it?"
"It's in his basement."
This is how the conversation goes for several miles. I'm left to imagine what it'll weigh. As much as a washing machine? As much as this Mercedes? The heaviest thing I lift on a given day is a vacuum cleaner. Matt works out with those freaky, loop-handled kettlebells. His arms look like Popeye's.
We turn off the county road. The Mercedes crunches up a gravel drive that leads to a new log home. Matt palms the car horn to announce our arrival, and an old boy steps out onto the concrete front porch.
He's a portrait of country muscle in canvas, like a model in a Carhartt catalog. The rate of Matt's breathing has visibly increased. He gazes upon Carhartt like a Mormon encountering Joseph Smith. Carhartt speaks.
"I dunno if that station wagon is gonna handle it."
"How heavy is it?" I ask.
"It's in the basement," he says.
We pull around back and rappel down four steep steps into the cellar. Once downstairs I realize there are not two more motivated men than one who wants a free wood stove and another who wants to get rid of it. Matt and Carhartt throw their bodies on the stove like NFL players on a loose ball.
"WHOA!!" I shout. "Wait a second. How about the three of us pick it up and put it down? Just to get the feel?"
They straighten up and turn toward me. I've clearly disappointed them. We gather around the massive cast-iron beast with the claw feet. Hell's own furnace. We bend at the knees, grab six handfuls of black, and count to three.
Gravity is a murderous thug. Every joint in my body locks. The hurt starts out warm, almost soothing. Then it ignites. Nothing in this stove has ever burned hotter than the muscles in my back right now. The Franklin trembles in the air a couple inches off the floor, and in a moment of clarity that often precedes losing consciousness, I have a revelation. I want my mommy.
We ease the thing back down to Earth like a lunar module carried by cavemen. I force back tears. I don't want to do that again. I look over to the cellar steps, a distance of 15 feet. It might as well be the Appalachian Trail.
"Let's do this," Carhartt says.
There's a scene in the movie The Exorcist. The one where the possessed girl Regan, tied down against her satanic will, endures a wildly bucking, leaping bed ride. Smoke smolders from the top of her head. Her eyes roll up and away, out of sight, creating two white, soulless holes. A vile chain of expletives spews from her mouth, itself a foaming, rabid orifice.
This is me for the next 10 minutes. I shouldn't say 10. For at least three of them I'm completely faking it. My hands are on the stove but with no more pressure than what's needed to guide one of those Ouija board things. Matt and Carhartt barely notice I'm not lifting my share, but once we're outside more muscle is needed in order to get the stove up and into the back of the Mercedes.
Matt's all the way inside the car now. I'm halfway in, getting my Exorcist on, when my arms give out. The sudden redistribution of weight and energy thrusts Matt's bottom into my face. The back of my head is trapped against the car's interior. For a long moment Matt can't move and neither can I. My girlish shrieks are muffled by denim. Carhartt's muscle and reflex save the day, and I emerge back into daylight like a freed coal miner. Thank you, Carhartt, for saving my life - or at least my dignity. Matt? Well....
On the way home I break the news to Matt that there will be no Andy helping unload the stove. He understands, but there's no stopping him. I can already see him dialing in his next victim.