It’s difficult to live in New York City for any length of time without being on the receiving end of a shakedown. I had a few doozies when I first moved to the city, but since then I’ve honed my Spidey-sense. I thought I’d long passed the point of being bribed by deliverymen, plumbers, contractors, and the like. Oh, was I wrong.

This time, the culprit was a charitable organization. You can see how a person could be fooled by that. The charity was coming to pick up a desk I wanted to donate. I made an appointment through the organization’s website. I entered a special note: No elevator in building. Fifth-floor walk-up.

The day before, I received a voicemail from a guy at the charity to confirm the appointment. No mention of a specific arrival time or restrictions. In late afternoon the drivers arrived and I buzzed them in the building. They came trudging up the stairs, mopping their brows and complaining about the climb. This kind of complaining is like a dentist being annoyed over having to fill a patient’s cavity. I was so glad they showed up at all and I’d finally get the desk cleared out that I missed the first clue. This is NYC and walk-ups are not uncommon. These guys move furniture all day long. For a living.

Now let’s go to the actual conversation.

Guy #1(We’ll call him Henry): Whoo-wee! There’s no elevator in this building? This is crazy.

Me, trying to keep it light: It’s a good workout.

Guy #2 (We’ll call him Johnny): You think I can sit for a minute? I gotta catch my breath.

Henry: We got a bit of a problem here, ma’am. He shakes his head in sympathy. My boss says we can’t move anything from higher than the third floor.

Johnny takes a bandana from his pocket and wipes his face.

Me, my heart sinking: What? it doesn’t say that on the website. I even wrote it in the special notes.

Johnny looks at the print-out of my information: Yep. It says that right here…No elevator in building. Fifth-floor walk-up.

Me: So, if that’s a problem, why wasn’t I told yesterday when the appointment was confirmed?

Henry and Johnny both shrug.

Johnny reviews the print-out again: Looks like you made this appointment….

Me and Johnny simultaneously: Two months ago.

Johnny: I bet you need to get this desk out of here. He taps Henry on the shoulder. I hate to leave you in a situation, but if I tell my boss we took this desk, we could get in trouble.

Henry: Lots of trouble.

Like a babe in the woods, it’s slowly dawning on me.

Johnny: But, look, I want to help you out. We’ll do you a favor; you do us a favor.

There are only two choices in a shakedown:

  1. Pay up to get your 80-pound desk moved four flights of stairs and into the home of someone who could really use it.
  2. Don’t pay up and take a hammer to your desk (thereby freaking your dog out) so you can move it downstairs piece by piece to leave it on the curb for trash day.

Me: Fine. Just move it.

Henry, jumping up with new found energy: All right! I’ll go get my hand truck.

I could have told him from experience that the hand truck wouldn’t be of any use. The turns in the stairwell are too narrow. But he had to learn that on his own. Thirty minutes later, they decide, instead of lifting the desk and carrying it down the stairs—admittedly a difficult proposition, but they are movers, FFS!—they decide to slide the desk down on its top. By the time it reached the moving truck, the desk was scratched and battered, doubtful anyone could use it unless it had a fresh coat of paint and missing screws reattached.

But I went back into my apartment, my wallet a bit lighter, and I did a little happy dance in all that extra space.


Have you ever been on the receiving end of a shakedown? 

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