Swimming dogs and underwater columbariums
Tues, Oct 7, 2008
Now that we know where we're going, we don't have to be outside at 7:10 am to do our morning service and race out to the job sites. So everything happens half an hour later, and I get to sleep in until 6:00 am.
(The cook starts the coffee, which is essential for a group from Seattle to function.)
Sunrise over the Rite Aid
This morning I'm doing a make-ahead French Toast (which I made-ahead last night), so I fire up the oven, toss it in and head downstairs to read a local paper called "The New Orleans Levee" with the motto "We Hold Nothing Back." It's like "The Onion" only local, and I read about the coffee gang wars (with the Starbucks Latino Kings) while I drink my coffee.
(I just discovered that I've been spelling "levee" wrong all along. This is something that Laura would have corrected right off the bat, but she's not on the bat, so you get fuzzy spelling.)
Since I'm not making dinner tonight, I'm heading out on a work crew, so that means I need to remember to eat breakfast (yesterday I forgot) AND make my own lunch. I've been warned that where I'm headed is hard work and I should pack a big lunch, so I toss in extra Fig Newtons.
Five of us clamber into a van driven by Carl (one of us workers) and head off to our work place.
It is amazingly humid outside. The cars look like they've been rained on, but it's just condensation from the humidity (benches that are under cover are also soggy). The humidity seems to be about 200% and just thinking hard makes you sweaty.
Nope, that's not rain; that's a dew point of 70° F
We arrive at our workplace. It's so close that if it's raining at our workplace, it's raining at the Home Coming Center!
It's a duplex, with a unit up front and one in the back. The building has a brick outside that's been stripped to the walls and struts and our job is to add dry wall and other stuff (which I haven't done yet, so I don't know what it is).
"Our" house! (Is a very very very nice house!)
The deal is that the homeowner lived two houses down, but his house got totaled and the insurance company wouldn't pay to rebuild it (their last offer was $20,000; "Look at the neighborhood! It's devastated! Property values are WAY down!").
So he bought this duplex two doors down while he, his wife and his teenage daughter live in a trailer. (This trailer is tiny. The RV we rented for the I-State tour was bigger. Imagine living there for months, but don't imagine for too long or you'll go nuts.)
Anyway, we get to work hanging drywall.
Sandy and Mary get their tools organized
The coolest thing about drywall is that I get to use a gun-shaped tool (an electric screwdriver). The second coolest thing is that this is something I know how to do! I learned it building houses (well, two houses, but still more than one) in Mexico with Fr. Dan through Gateway Mission.
That means I can actually be useful!
We're on break, trying to drink at least five gallons of water each to make up for what we've sweated out. I soaked my first shirt through with sweat and switched to a backup shirt.
Chuck, Sandy and Mary demonstrate the proper way to take a break
Our crew chiefs (Lindsay, Amy and Brian) are still learning
Connie (the housewife from last night) brings by a couple of guys from Bridgeport, Texas. Seems their hometown is about in the same shape that New Orleans was three years ago and they are desperately looking for tips. So Connie's showing them how her outfit works (it's officially called Beacon of Hope).
We're explaining to them that we're demonstrating the importance of taking regular breaks. They seem like a couple of nice guys who are totally in over their heads. But Connie's helping them, so it'll work out alright.
Connie shows the boys from Texas how it's done Louisiana style
The owner shows up and sees walls where before there was empty space and is thrilled to meet us. The young people who have been our work party leaders have been calling him Mr. Brown, but he tells us to call him Billy-Bob.
[I had to sign a thing with the Diocese of New Orleans that says I won't reveal any identifying characteristics of the folks we're working for. So this isn't his real name. And he might be a she.]
(Dog lovers might want to grab a tissue for this next part.)
I've been working in the back unit, hanging drywall with Chuck. Outside the back door is a husky dog chained to a post. He's quiet, but he's got a weird thousand-yard stare that's pretty unsettling.
Rover: note the thousand-yard stare
Then Billy-Bob tells us about Rover (also not HIS real name). They've owned Rover since he was a puppy (Rover picked them out at the pound) and they were raising him to be a guide dog (on account of Huskies are well-known for their smartness).
Then Katrina happened and Rover was left behind (at that time most shelters wouldn't allow pets). Rover swam for three days before he got rescued and taken to the local humane society.
Once there, he was put in a cage, which he hated and he practically tore his nose off trying to get out of it. A family doing pet rescue work up in Illinois heard about it and offered to take him in (since they had a place where he could run around).
Meanwhile, Billy-Bob is desperately searching for Rover and checking in regularly with the local Humane Society. One day he says, "This is the last damn time I'm checking for him. That's it. Today." Of course, no Rover, and no word of where Rover was.
When he got home, Billy-Bob's teenage daughter showed him a picture on the Internet. It was Rover.
Now to get him home, because Rover doesn't like cages, remember? Well, the Illinois folks are just as crazy as any dog lovers, so they drive Rover back to New Orleans in their Cadillac Escalade.
"Hell," says Billy-Bob, "I ain't never even been to Illinois. That damn dog has traveled more than I have." He pauses. "Ain't never been in a Cadillac Escalade, either."
Of course, Rover isn't training to be a guide dog any more (he'd need YEARS of therapy). And the back yard isn't fenced, and there's no room for him in the tiny trailer. So he spends his days chained up outside his new home, waiting.
Turns out that I've learned quite a big more from Fr. Dan than just how to put sheets of dry wall up on a wall and screw them in, and I didn't even know that I'd learned it.
Lesson 1: When you're done with what you're doing, look to see who else needs help. If nobody else needs help, look around and see what needs doing. Don't just stand there waiting for somebody else to tell you what to do. This is pretty much Fr. Dan's standard operating procedure. He said he found that the more he was involved with a build, the slower it went. So he tends to hand the group a set of plans and walk off talking on his cell phone.
As a result, you learn to think and figure out what needs doing. I feel sorry for the folks here that end up standing around waiting to be told what to do next.
Lesson 2: Don't waste materials. Screws aren't free and neither is dry wall.
Lesson 3: But, Jesus--you're not in prison! Have some fun!
Chuck hard at work making drywall fit
Sandy and Mary work on their sections of dry wall
Brian doing some intricate drywall work
Lindsay and Carl cut drywall to fit
The front room, currently decorated with drywall (kitchen area to the left)
So even though it's sweaty hard work, the morning passes quickly and it's time for lunch. We start out eating outside, where there's a nice breeze, but pretty soon a thunder storm comes in and between the lightning and the pouring rain, it's not much fun to eat on the front lawn.
We time how long it takes for the thunder to reach us after the lightning strike, and it gets about 1/3 mile away. (Later on, the natives claim that nobody ever gets hit by lightning in New Orleans, so it doesn't bother them at all. I'm still bothered.)
Carl and Chuck get ready to pound down some lunch
Mary and Sandy after a hard morning of hanging dry wall
There is no running water at the house and even though Billy-Bob is a nice guy, we don't feel right about all of us tromping through his tiny trailer to use the toilet, so we pile back into the van and drive the five minutes back to the Home Coming Center to use the john.
Plus, the Home Coming Center is air-conditioned (did you hear that, Laura? Wouldn't this be a fabulous place to live?) and we enjoy a few minutes of humidity less than 100%.
As we're getting ready to go back to the van, the skies open up and it begins to pour so hard that Noah would be nervous. Even though the van is parked ten feet away, none of us wants to get soaked running to it.
The rain stops. So we walk out to van and drive back to the job site.
There's a small room in the house called the "HVAC return." It's about four feet wide and two feet deep and for reasons known only to the people who write the construction code in New Orleans, it has to be lined on the inside with drywall. There's no door, and no way in or out.
So we devise a scheme that involves putting one of our supervisors, Amy, inside where she will screw in the drywall and then extricate herself through the 3 foot by 18" opening at the bottom. Fortunately, Amy isn't claustrophobic (I am, and I'm nervous just thinking about being in there) and she's also young and limber and although it takes a while, it does get done.
Amy looks at the narrow space she's about to crawl into
Amy crawls in
Brian gets ready to take a picture of Amy in the hole (note her feet, and yup, that's the back wall just behind them)
What it looks like from inside--Amy drilling in screws with inches to spare
Amy gets ready to clamber out
Amy admires her work from the outside
We pack up the tools and get ready to take them out to the pick-up truck. And, of course, it starts pouring down rain.
Mary puts her tools away
One great thing about going on mission trips with Episcopalians is that we believe that God gave us fermentation for a reason and we should take advantage of it.
Den Mother Kathy has made sure that we're well stocked with local beers and wine and that they are cold and ready when we come back from work. My first stop after feeling the blessed air conditioning is at the frig for a cold beer. Aahh!
Now that I'm properly rehydrated, I head for the showers, but suddenly a huge driving rain starts up (are you noticing a pattern? I am). It's tempting to just stand outside, but I'm pretty sure if I started soaping up without any clothes that I'd get to meet the local constabulary.
The reason that I'm not making dinner tonight is that the lovely ladies of St. Paul's (the church next door that runs the Home Coming Center) are making dinner for us.
Originally, we were scheduled to wander over there, which we were all kind of looking forward to, since we've only seen the inside of the Home Coming Center and the inside of gutted houses for the last couple of days.
But they took a look at the weather and were worried that we'd drown if we tried to walk across the street, so they brought dinner to us. It's roast beef and gravy, salad and rice (she tells us to put gravy over our race; Hisako and I look at each other and mouth "Is she nuts?"; she's from Japan and I'm from Hawaii and you don't put anything on rice in either place).
After dinner, the Jr. Warden of St. Paul's, Margaret, starts telling tales of fleeing Hurricane Katrina on the last plane out of New Orleans with her invalid friend. From Florida they watched the footage of the flood, which showed St. Paul's covered in 10 feet of water. Her friend's parents were buried in the columbarium, and when she saw the flooding, she remarked "Mamma nevah did like the watah," as she shook her head.
We also meet Connie's husband, Chef Dave, who is thrilled to talk about food (like any good New Orleans resident). He thanks us for being here and says,
"When you come here you do more than just the work. You give us hope."
That's it for today. Tomorrow is another work day (Farmer's Market/Street Fair thing tomorrow night) and Chef Dave promises that the rain will end about 1:00 am and it will be gorgeous tomorrow. He should know—he's a chef!