My Hero, the Junkman

Posted on April 12, 2011


Panic started to set in. I had to move an entire room of heavy furniture about eight city blocks up hill. And I had two days to do it.  Now, my wife is a strong woman, but I was in less than top physical condition having recently helped my friend’s satanically weighty luggage from Asia to Europe two nights in a row (we missed his train to Romania due to a lovely but long dinner at an Iranian restaurant). With my muscles aching, I was facing tomorrow’s move with mounting skepticism. The plan was to move the bed, sofa, and other heavy furniture all tomorrow just Cari and me…to save money. Hiring a moving company here in Istanbul would have been around 400 to 500 liras regardless of how far you needed to move. However, the physical pain was tilting the scales against the monetary pain in my mind. I tried to put up a brave front. “Don’t worry we can do it, honey.”

If you ever hear your husband say those words, you know it’s time to worry. On the way home on the night before the final push, the worst thing happened. Someone placed some furniture out on our street. This is fairly common place here. When people have no need of their large furniture, they just place them on the street at night and watch Istanbul’s biological processes work. The furniture will: a) be taken by a wandering junkman or eskici or b) it will be hacked into portable pieces by gypsies for firewood or building material. Unfortunately for me, this dresser was made of ‘real wood’ and ‘just perfect for the new place’. Thus, I found myself hauling this sequoia eight city blocks in what felt like the middle of the night.( Remember the scene in Bambie after the forest catches on fire? An exhausted Bambi collapses on the ground as the fire begins to surround him. At just that moment, Bambi’s deadbeat dad, who was all but a specter in his son’s life up to now, utters the words that will save his son’s life. “Get up Bambi…I said get up.” In spite of his paternal failings, he was there for his son in that moment. When I sat the sequoia dresser down on the pavement about halfway to the new place, no one was there for me.

The next morning, my own legislative body put forth a vote of no confidence in an attempt to undermine my agenda for the day. The bipartisan motion was passed with a majority. What now? Daylight was ticking away, and I had a class at 7pm. Cari and I were walking down Bahariye when we saw him. He was my age or younger with jet black hair and two-day old stubble. He was a junkman (eskici). They push wooden carts around the neighborhood and call out EEEEEskıııciiiiiii in various sing-song ways. In a post on my old site I described their call and compared it to Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s ‘bring out ya dead’ sketch. Now, I think of them as good Samaritans for hire.

The purpose of an eskici as I understood it was to collect unwanted junk, knickknacks, hoozywhatsits, and old pugs.

While this is a necessary and cleansing function, I thought that was pretty much the limit of their job. However, we needed to try anything at this point, so we walked straight up to the guy and asked him if he would help us move some furniture with his little wooden buggy. He asked sensible questions like how far and how many floors. Then he said, “Sure.”

The noble eskici does it all.

After he made it to our old apartment he eyeballed the furniture and boxes we needed to move and then we told him a price. He agreed and we were off to work. I helped him haul the pieces down the stairs, but he did the majority of the heavy lifting. To my utter amazement, he managed to strap on everything to his cart all at once. I thought for sure it was going to take two trips. Then off he galloped.

In a decision I certainly wouldn’t have made, he actually ran up hill pulling the cart like a Clydesdale. Then we wound up smack in the middle of a Greek funeral procession which slowed us down for a moment. Once we got it all move in. I asked if he was up for another go. He agreed.

The second trip got all of the heavy stuff. But the poor eskici, thinking we could possibly have more, put his foot down and said that he was done for the day. And rightly so. Covered in sweat but with pockets full, he plodded on his way. It was at that moment that this youtube video began playing: