Day Three: April 11
Here's how our day started: "We're leaving in TEN MINUTES!" Then five minutes later: "We're leaving in FIVE MINUTES!" Then ten minutes later, "We're leaving FIVE MINUTES AGO!" Then finally, as we actually left: "We're leaving FORTY-FIVE MINUTES AGO!" Oops. We called our hosts and apologized all over the place, but as it turned out, they were late too. Lucky us.
We met our friend Neal at the Hawkins house from yesterday, and we got a big kick out of seeing our work in the morning light. Alli exclaimed: "It looks like PROFESSIONALS did this!" Neal escorted us to another house that needed work, though it did not need to be fully gutted. The water had only risen about a foot or so into the house, so the job here was to get rid of whatever furniture had not already been taken out, and then remove the floors and about eighteen or so inches of the walls. Additionally, there were two sheds in the back that needed to be emptied. We got right to work, and learned that this particular combination of jobs makes an enormous amount of noise. The people who were moving furniture or emptying the sheds were making the usual racket, and that noise was amplified by ten times once people started ripping out the walls and the floor.
On the walls, we needed to remove the baseboard, and then the next four or five boards from the bottom. We learned how to use flat bars and hammers to get between the boards then yank against them to pop them off the wall. Alli turned into a madwoman, and by herself removed about 70% of the wall portion that we took out. Kate, Valerie, Janeva, Rebecca, Lyndsay, and Jed focused intensely on the very difficult-to-remove kitchen floor (linoleum again), which took a couple of hours of inch-by-inch attention. Johnny and Aaron spent their whole day tearing out a bathroom in a similarly meticulous way.
Things were going along swimmingly, and we were making incredible progress. We ran into one big problem, though: there was not enough room in front of the house to store all of the debris that we knew we would accumulate. There was a trashpile across the street, so Neal told us to put the debris from this house over there. We piled up quite a bit of debris, then got our first glimpse of the neighbors who live over there; they were not happy. Neal told them and us that there was no other option, and that they would just have to work with the situation. They called their property manager, who came over yelling.
We approached him, told him about our space dilemma, and offered to call the pick-up services so that the debris would be removed today. We told them that if the trucks didn't come while we were still there, we would move that pile across to "our" side and pile it even higher. Neal went and found a crew who agreed to come that afternoon. Just to be safe, Shawny also called the Army Corps of Engineers and put in an urgent request for debris removal. The manager expressed his doubts about whether the pickup would actually occur, and talked about what a relief it had been when their original debris pile had disappeared. He said that he knew that we were trying to do good work, but that it was altogether too painful for him to face another pile in front of his own house. We told him that we were willing to make the situation right for him. He left exasperated, but he was no longer yelling.
After that bout of conflict management, we got back on the job. While we worked, we talked about the numerous frustrations that all of the storm victims need to face. Even though the property manager had seemed pretty hostile at first, we started to understand why our actions might have felt so unpleasant to him.
As this conversation was unfolding, one of the next door neighbors approached. They, too, had expressed concern about our debris encroaching on their line, so we expected another conversation like the one with the property manager. We had already pledged to keep within the lines of the house we were clearing, and we were succeeding in doing so. Instead of any further expression of concern, the lady of the house, Mrs. Hamilton, had something else to say: she was offering us homemade pralines! Pralines are pecan and brown sugar confections that are specialty items in New Orleans. Mrs. Hamilton's pralines are perhaps the greatest of all time.
Our spirits boosted, we completed the job rather quickly. We finished the bleach spray by 2:00 in the afternoon and we looked across the street. The pile had not been touched, though we had every reason to believe that the crew that was in the neighborhood would arrive later in the day. Some people asserted that we should count on the crew to come, and leave the pile where it was. Others somewhat grudgingly argued that we should move it. Our eventual solution was a new strategy we developed: "guerrilla goodness." Not only did we move the pile, but we did it happily. We sang love songs out loud into the neighborhood, including Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You," to help intensify the sense of warmth that we wanted our act to convey. We even moved the trash that was already on that property over to the one we were clearing. We swept the sidewalk and the street all along that part of the block, and we salvaged all of the silk flowers that we had cast into our debris pile and "planted" them in front. It really, truly, made us happy to know that not only had we avoided making their situation worse (again), but we had actually made it better. One neighbor came out and thanked us, saying that she couldn't imagine any crew agreeing to move that pile. We were singing and dancing, and told her quite sincerely that it was no problem.
It was still only 2:30 or so in the afternoon. The house we had cleared was not well-ventilated, and thus we were REALLY hot. We wished for a pool to jump into, but couldn't find one. We considered water balloons, but we didn't want to clean up the little bits of balloon that we would generate. We then thought about going back to the yard of the Stella Maris Center and just playing in the hose. Then, it came to us: Slip-n-Slide! We have huge rolls of superthick trashbags, so we pulled eight or so of them off the roll, taped the perforations from the backside, staked down the sides, soaped it up, then hosed it down. It was perfect. Ashley, Alli, Johnny, Aaron, Caitlyn, Kate and Lyndsay all proved to be excellent sliders. Rebecca and Shawny were the soap and water crew, and Jed took care of track maintenance. When Lyndsay had given up on sliding, she took on the job of play-by-play announcer, with Alli on color commentary. Almost everyone else, including Deacon Ernie, served as an audience. We developed a language of slip-n-slide prowess, including "power slider," "agility move," and "vogue." For you NOLA veterans, a few of them even did "the Burt." It was a blast.
We cleaned up early enough for part of the crew to head into the French Quarter for beignets at Café DuMonde. We walked around a bit, and then took a few of our group to stand on the banks of the Mississippi River for the very first time. Even for those who had been there before, it was kind of a goose-bumpy moment.
Another happy day in NOLA....