Saturday, October 21, 2017

Debris; It'll All B O K; Some Shorts

So I almost wrote last night--rather, I did write last night, which is now two nights ago cuz now it's the morning after I started this. But, two nights ago, what I wrote was internal and navel-gazing and did not include much new information, perhaps because I had again mucked and gutted all day (two days ago).

Yesterday, however, we did "debris." And I am animated by novelty of experience and the prick of emotions; I don't even really understand these emotions, of course, because that's how emotions are. But I wanted to share some.

Also, I got some shorts.


We--the team I am on with All Hands; I have been on the same team every day, a team led by B. and D., both of whom are great and on both of whom more, later; I think I am ride-or-die with B. and D., even though you get to choose a team every day, and even though the Team Rubicon partnership entails slightly longer days.
The board on which I, daily and perhaps quixotically, have thus far done no more than affirm, reaffirm, and re-reaffirm allegiance to B. and to D.

This loyalty is not because other teams or people seem bad, but rather because I like my team and team-leads and with only one week here it seems nice to go deep. Also D. calls me "Shaggy", which, y'know-- how do you not just embrace a man who knows how to use all the tools with precision, is kind and relaxed, and calls you-- and don't get me started on how good B. is at her job, which I've touched on in the last post and will touch on again. Which--

Okay! I'm gonna go ahead and start that sentence again for ya.

We (⇐ where we went off the rails, 'graph above; the sentence did not get far) arrived at the Team Rubicon FOB ("forward-operating base") to learn that there was...a "change of plans." Instead of heading back out to the Section 8 Housing we'd been working our way through the two days before (that was the "gutting and mucking"), we took yesterday to do debris work on a large property.

What's "debris" work?

We arrive at the property. I'm sure you can imagine it, wherever you're from. A broad flat sprawl of green-ish but unkempt land off a small asphalt road. The property has a mobile home raised up on a wood-scaffolded foundation; it has another mobile home, too, off on what looks like a separate lot but is just the lot next to it. It has an RV at the back -- you can't see this, yet, but are not at all surprised when you do. It has a bunch of knotted and gnarled trees, as well as a few tall ones. It has five or six cars, or most-of cars; it would be surprising if any of them worked. A truck out front, which looks like it does run just fine.

Now savage this property with wind, rain, flood.

So what you have is these same things now covered with clotted grass--this awful hay that clings and clumps up and sticks to everything: I don't know which factor of the weather events tears this stuff up and distributes it around, but it's all over so much here, almost any uncleared structure features at least some, maybe as much as a foot deep of it. Those knotted, gnarled trees are now largely knocked over, splintered out of the ground. One of the mobile homes, the one to the left, and also the unsurprising-RV at the back are in catastrophic shambles: their contents saturated and slurried by water, knocked aside and in pieces by wind and water, covered in silt, walls and roofs stoved in, and in some cases their contents ripped from them and spread on the property like the guts of an animal cruelly and wastefully slaughtered.

'Debris' work is...clean all that up.

The work is outside, which is nice! It is also hot, sticky, and that kind of physically draining that no one really likes: not like a good workout, but like a trudge with punctuated moments of effort. It's also very satisfying. Anyone who likes "tidying up" will relate to this. What you are presented with is a big, awful mess. Your mandate and your service is to make that mess better, or at least get it closer to being more manageable.

So, while it's sticky and sweaty--working under the sun, hauling broken toilets and fragments of sheetrock and insulation (which sucks: fiberglass, be careful), the work is very satisfying in itself, before you even factor in the psychological income that comes from the sense that you're maybe helping someone. De-constructing things can be satisfying; making a pile of heavy big things disappear by moving them with a team of people you like is sweaty, but satisfying.

BUT WHO CARES ABOUT THAT ARE YOU CRAZY. I'm serious; and these thoughts kind of live simultaneously through it. Because: that's your story, all that stuff I just said. And your story does not matter at all in all this; or, no, no need to be mean to yourself about it. But, if you are emotionally sane, your story is immediately and completely eclipsed by the real story here: that of the homeowners, residents of this place.

The greatest difference between my day doing doing 'debris' work and the two days before, doing and 'mucking and gutting', was not the work itself -- though the work itself was, in itself, very different. The difference was the presence of the humans whose space and stories you've entered to do this. The situation at the Section 8. housing, where the tenants have mostly vacated, is apparently atypical; in most cases, the residents themselves have petitioned the org (sometimes through an intermediary, local collective) and as such they are present. Which was the case yesterday, as we did the debris work. So, if your story [narrowly viewed] goes like mess ⇒ work werk work ⇒ cleaner! pretty satisfying!, that is quickly submerged by the actual narrative of this place, which goes

home, life ⇒ STORM ⇒ ??? ("oh, my G*d...")

This is so starkly true there's not that much more to say, descriptively speaking. But I'm saying it because I know that I find it easy to lose sight of what we're really reading about when we read, in the news, "X,000 residents displaced" or "XY,000 homes damaged by flooding."

We spent much of the afternoon clearing the remains of one of those stilted-up motor homes. Once we were done, what remained was a ruined stage: the ceiling and walls had been damaged and cleared out before we got going; we had cleared the debris that was left, and now this thing that had been a home was a bare, shattered floor with some hazardous holes (water damage) and the ramp leading to it.

As the bulldozer (which Team Rubicon refers to as one of "the heavies"; they have all this big equipment and call it "the heavies") came in to tear this last remnant down, I happened to walk past K.: one of the home-owners. She and her husband, V.--I'm almost sure they were owners; certainly, they lived here in a structural way--had been present all morning. K., in particular, had been vocal and warm and grateful to us throughout. sidenote: Not that he, V., had not been. He just spoke less English, I think, and also was active with his own salvage activities. end sidenote So I happened to walk past K., just as the bulldozer began tearing into the wooden base of this structure, making the big ripping splintering sound that that makes. And I saw something come over her. A physical shift, a clear physicality like a shimmer through her muscles -- one of those things that when you see it it's not being nice or considerate to reach out, just your body does it for you before you think. So I said, "Are you okay?"

And she nodded, but clearly was feeling something. So I hitched up my step and paused by her and gave her a fist bump. And she raised her fist, bumped mine, said "It's going to be okay," and started to cry. She'd been sunnily and even cheerfully thanking us, all morning -- she was visibly tired, but her affect towards us had been totally giving and generous, despite the ruin of her life all around her. What she was doing right now--sitting in the shade, crying--seemed completely, completely appropriate.

She was sitting I was standing; I sort of moved to hug her and she leaned for it; we hugged for awhile and her tears got on my cheek, they were warm.

I repeated her, saying that it was going to be okay, a few times. She gradually retracted and I smiled at her and...went on working. Once I got out back, where we were clearing debris from the catastrophic remains of the not-surprising RV, I told A. what had happened and said maybe K. could use a little company and off A. went. [The initials are confusing, here, reader-Friend: I'm sorry. You have met this A. before, though. She is not the expert veteran A. who explained about drywall; rather the fellow-noob who started when I did, but is much better than I am at everything. And I'd noticed, earlier that day, that she'd--with ease and immediacy--fallen into chattily empathizing with K. earlier that morning).

A. went off for few minutes. Later, she told me she and K. had had a good talk, about K. and V.'s lives. And about how the work we were doing would hopefully help.

Here, I Have These Shorts

I didn't pack perfectly for this trip.

I didn't pack awfully! I was prepared, packed before, etc. In fact, the main way I packed poorly was in that I overpacked, and in my defense I was just bringing all the things that they said, even though I suspected--and indeed, was correct in suspecting--that they'd have many of these things, in surplus, at the base.

But I forgot a couple of useful things, the main one being a pair of comfortable shorts not for running (brought those), but for hanging out at base in the evenings.

Buuuuuuuut: there is a "free stuff" box! And, on my first day, you better believe that I rummaged right through it. And found--yes!--shorts. They are these; they are perfect. They are a woman's size 10 pair of Old Navy black shorts. The waist is very big on me, and the rest of them are...not so big, so I really need a belt to wear them or it gets little risqué.
The shorts, which I know you'll agree are like perfect.

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