Sunday, April 1, 2007


April 1: Day Three, Break 2007

Lots and lots of hard work made up today the day (as usual). We worked so hard that we didn’t shoot a lot of video; still, we have something for you to watch so that you can get the hang of what we are doing. Click below to get the scoop.

Some of us started the day at Palm Sunday services at St. Stephen’s Church right across the street, while others got organized in our living quarters and/or went shopping for groceries. The availability of a refrigerator in our new place completely changes our NOLA diet from what we ate during January, as then all of our food had to be nonperishable. We bought bread and lunch meat and cheese and fruit and an actual gallon of milk!

We quickly headed out to the Ninth Ward when the chuchgoers returned because we knew that both Rosie and Sarah were waiting for us to arrive. At Rosie’s, we had already committed into gutting the second of her three consecutive houses on North Claiborne. Like some of our “clients” during January, Rosie fears that her properties will be seized by the government if she does not demonstrate progress in rebuilding them. Though no one really knows if this threat is real, enough people are concerned about it to increase the level of panic. Thus, with our labor today, Rosie believes that she has a credible case to protect her property if a real threat should arise.

We all feel like old pros at gutting now, so once we got our system going, we were a demolition machine. The January 2006 group had cleared this house, so the job today was to pull the walls and ceilings and bring the interior of the house down to the framing. Sledgehammers were flying, crowbars were swinging, and shovels were scooping almost all day long. By lunch the walls were completely gone so we took a quick break and then moved on to pull down the ceilings after we had eaten.

At the same time, Chris and Tim started today’s job at Sarah’s house, which involved sanding the wrought iron security doors and window coverings that she hopes we will repaint later this week. They flipped the doors in every possible direction and sanded and scraped them by hand, with power sanders, and with utility knives. After lunch, Kate also joined them as a full-time member of the sanding crew.

Sarah sat in her car right by the sanders all day long, talking, laughing, and telling them how much she has missed having all of us around. Sarah has a new haircut and color, so we all got to exclaim over the changes we could see.

Back at Rosie’s house, things started to slow down – not because the crew was working any less hard, but because we were getting to the finish work of pulling nails, sweeping even the spaces between the studs, and finishing the demolition of the edges of each room. We all even gathered around once the group decided to tear out a closet (even the framing of it) once we realized that it was not really supported by anything at the top. We gathered around because some of the women (Bree, Shawny, Emily, and Janeva) all got some sledgehammer lessons from Justin, Elijah, Jed, and others. We talked about all of the ways that one might hold and swing a sledgehammer and tested our theories by seeing which hits actually brought the studs to the ground.

Once we finished bringing out the closet, we had turned the entire space that had been a four-room house into one large room. Now Rosie and her contractors will have a much easier time completing the next steps: abating the mold in the house, replacing termite-damaged wood, bolstering the foundation, and then starting again to build walls, etc.

Even though we got back to our place somewhat late (after 7:00), we decided to get all of our energy together, take showers as quickly as we could, then head out to St. Bernard Parish to the Crawfish Festival. We left at about 8:00 knowing that the festival would close at 10:00. We sampled all kinds of crawfish foods, including our usual boiled crawfish, fried rice crawfish, eggplant with crawfish sauce, and crawfish beignets. We then walked the festival midway, which closely resembled a county fair.

We seriously hoped to find one of those sledgehammer challenges where you try to hit the button hard enough with a hammer to ring the bell at the top. With our strong crew, we expected that bell to ring and ring and ring. But, no luck: no such game at this festival. Elijah shot a few baskets at a couple of the booths and then a bunch of us paid a dollar each to see two-headed snakes and turtles, as well as albino versions of each. And even though we suspected that the feature attraction – a large two-headed rattlesnake – was no longer among the living (the other ones all clearly were alive), we had no regrets.

We had no regrets about spending a dollar on a crawly/slithery things freak show, none about hurrying madly to get to the Crawfish Festival, none about agreeing to gut Rosie’s next house on an otherwise sleepy Sunday, and none about spending our break week driving the streets of New Orleans again.

We’re happy here. We’re happy working. We’re happy together. And we’re happy to help. Lucky, lucky, lucky us.


Bryan gets a chance to reconnect with Sarah Mercadel and show off the grimy arms he earned while gutting a house around the corner in the Upper Ninth Ward.

Kate preps the sander for more work on Sarah's beautiful "Happy House."

Jack gets a chance to talk to Sarah Mercadel and catch up on all of the news of the Ninth Ward.

Chris and Tim headed up a contingent at Sarah's house that sanded her security bars and doors so that we can repaint them. Here the group gathers at the porch to check progress.

Three of the four Verrips men take a well-deserved break on Rosie's porch. Matt is sitting in for Justin in this shot.

Bryan helps to move some of Rosie's salvaged furniture back into the newly-emptied house.

Tim was sanding security doors at Sarah's house today. He got dirty too.

Tim got to reunite with some of his best NOLA friends: boiled crawfish!

Elijah took several turns trying to win prizes at the Crawfish Festival by shooting baskets. He didn't win any prizes.