Monday, January 14, 2008

Day Seven: January 2008

Day Seven: Monday, January 14

We got a little extra sleep today, but still found ourselves slowing down a bit after our day of 150% performance on Sunday. Maybe it was the 35 degree temperature to which we awoke; maybe it was the fact that we are just plain tired. Maybe we are tired because one member of our group has started some very high-volume cartoon snoring (like the loudest, log-sawing spoof version of snoring you’ve ever heard). Another group member seems to be responding sympathetically to this snorer by matching his rhythm (but happily, not his volume). In short, things have gotten pretty loud in the bus.

In any case, we had another full day at Rosie’s, where we finished hanging sheetrock on one whole side of the double. Everyone on the inside of the house did every job available, including measuring, marking, scoring, cutting, and hanging the drywall. On the other side, we almost finished the ceilings and we covered some of the walls. There’s still a lot of work to do there, but it is possible that we will be able to finish it tomorrow.

We got more evidence today that Jack Verrips is the most impressive worker we have ever seen. Yesterday one of our teams spent most of the morning struggling with the complexities of a very tight closet that houses the heating unit. Jack, on the other hand, covered the parallel closet in the other unit in about 30 minutes. Sure it was demoralizing on one level, but it was so awesome to see that we didn’t let it get us down. We’re glad Jack is here to show us the standard to which we aspire.

Erik showed some excellence too, as he went through and finished all the insulation in the center wall between the two units. Now no one has to deal with little fiberglass bits all over them for at least a little while. In general, lots of people have developed some pretty advanced skills. Most of us actually look like real pros while working, especially because we all have flat pencils behind our ears and tape measures hanging out of our back pockets. Some real standouts on the drywalling have been Samantha, Briana, Bryan, Aaron, Emily, Serg, and Matt W. Another team that dealt with some of the trickiest spaces was Matt P., Obi, Mark, and Scott; they sounded like a comedy team as they tried to conceptualize why there is a difference between the way a piece of sheetrock looks when it is lying on the floor and the way it looks when it is hanging from the ceiling.

Out in the backyard we conquered the stump once and for all. Serg, Linzy, Brad, Jed, Tommy, Nicole, Justin, and many others hacked at it for hours to reduce it down to near ground level. And then we rented a stump grinder. A stump grinder is like a huge oversized circular saw with enormous teeth that take off layers of the stump by scraping it across the top. We took this huge chunk of tree that had been occupying the center of the yard ever since the tree toppled (and even when it stood) and reduced it to a pile of sawdust in no time at all.

The rest of the yard crew spent the morning digging dozens of bricks out of the dirt so we could till the entire space and make it level. We also dug for buried treasure, which we still expect to find because we know that Rosie and her mother buried it about thirty-five years ago. We spent much of the afternoon running alternative scenarios for how to lay out the landscaping across the three backyards. Rosie was right in the center of it all and we discussed and drew option after option for how to arrange things. One of them even involved a fleur-de-lis-shaped patio. When we realized that whatever we did had to be done with no budget whatsoever, we decided to make use of those muddy old bricks and every other piece of usable debris that we could find. The plan now involves the use of bricks, blocks, extra roof tiles, rusty metal poles, and lots of seeds to bring beauty back to the space. We think it will be an entirely different place when we are done. Rosie is pretty excited and so is Nicole, who has taken on the role of the prime designer of the yard. We hope that our grand plans aren’t thwarted by the expected rains later in the week.

Tomorrow we will split our group. Some of us will return to the Habitat site where we’ve been working and some of us will go to Rosie’s to finish the drywall. It’s better when we are all together, but we will make things work until we all return to Rosie’s at the end of the Habitat day.

Today was a nine and a half hour day. That means we did 280 hours of work, to take our running total to 1735 hours of manual labor so far. Whew!

Chris shows the boys how it’s done as he grinds down the trunk of a 60 year old pecan tree in the middle of Rosie’s backyard. The stump is stubborn but so are we.

The sun shines in on Matt as he carries the drywall and ladder from the front of Rosie’s house to the back room.

Nicole lays down the bricks for the patio in Rosie’s backyard.

Shawny grabs hold of the stump grinder from Chris and shows the boys how it is really done.

Tommy measures the small space in the closet in order to lay down the drywall.

Everyone joined outside to watch the stump grinder do in an hour what we were able to do in a few days.

Shawny taking control of the stump grinder.

This group gets to work putting sheet rock on the ceiling of the second house.

Rosie looks over her soon-to-be new garden.

Putting up sheet rock isn’t easy, but here everyone works hard to get it up.

Day two of the stump and almost gone…

Emily finishes putting the insulation in one of Rosie’s houses

At the end of another looonngg day, what’s better than a hug? Matty and Shawny celebrate as we clean up.

Soulja Serg raising some dry wall up to the ceiling.

The longest yard… Julie and Jed measure out one of the many pieces that will make the ceiling of Rose’s houses.

Our meal of quinoa. It’s a healthy grain that everyone actually happened to enjoy!

Everyone is putting up installation and drywall.

Yummy Lunch at Rosies prepared by the SOULJAS!!

After the other part of the group removed the massive tree stump and continued to landscape the backyard of Rosie’s rental property, the sun begins to set on the pee pee tipi :) .

Day Six: January 2008

Today was a slower day. We were all getting

Day Six: Sunday, January 13

Today is Shane’s birthday! This is the third birthday that Shane has spent with us in New Orleans, including his legendary 21st birthday two years ago. It’s hard to believe that now Shane lives in New Orleans and is working to improve things here along with his longtime girlfriend Brianna Hardy. We are very lucky to have him as part of our team, not only because he lends a helping hand, but also because he is hilariously funny, deliriously happy, and exceptionally skilled at some of the tasks that we are undertaking. Happy day, Shane!

Today we started the big push at Rosie’s other properties next door to the house we moved her into last May. As we’ve noted before, Rosie is unable to cover the taxes and insurance on all three houses that she inherited from her family unless she can rent one or both of the ones in which she is not living. We hope to get them ready for occupancy by the time we leave. If today is any indication, we will succeed.

We slept in just a bit since we didn’t have a deadline for our arrival set by Habitat. We decided to wait until 8:00 or so to go to work, rather than our usual 7:30 start time. We got moving so fast once we got up that we made it to Rosie’s right on time. She was gushing over our group, as she had not yet seen all of us working at the same time. Actually, the word “working” doesn’t even begin to capture it. The level at which we were laboring exceeded our sense of our own capabilities.

Most of us jumped right into the job of sheetrocking, whether or not we had ever been trained in drywall before. Jack helped us to figure out what we were doing then he, Chris and Justin each took a section of the house and supervised as we learned what to do. All of them were astounded at the speed with which we learned the ropes. We started with the ceilings, which are, of course, the most difficult parts to install. Thirty of us shared a total of only five ladders, which complicated our ability to do everything we wanted to do as quickly as we wanted to do it. Because we have an abundance of very tall team members, though, we managed to make do.

We had all gotten the bare basics on drywall installation from Chris and Justin, but we had not thought carefully about a number of things: 1) the walls of houses in New Orleans are generally not square, making lots of difficult cuts a necessary part of any job, 2) there are dozens of little places like switchboxes, light fixtures, vents, and door frames that require very difficult precision cuts, 3) to install drywall on a ceiling, it is necessary to hold your arms over your head for a long long time, 4) there is quite a bit of math involved in installing drywall, and 5) it is not at all difficult to break the corner off of a brand new piece of sheetrock.

Another primary job of the day was to finish the installation of insulation. Lindsay S., Briana R., Brianna H., Emily, Alec, Mark, and Erik were particularly dedicated to this undertaking. They had to learn once again that fiberglass is, in fact, glass. They had little bits in their hands and even on their faces, but they all followed instructions and washed with cold water to remove it.

The final big job at Rosie’s was the continuation of clearing the back yard, including stump removal and elimination of a series of fences. As it turns out, in the days that theses fences were installed, the practice was to drop some concrete into a deep hole then drive the poles four feet deeper than the concrete blob. We decided to remove them entirely rather than just cutting them off at the ground. We have a tendency to choose the more difficult path. We rocked them fiercely in all directions until we looked like we were stirring dirt cauldrons, then dug under the concrete blobs until we thought they were free. Then we employed our most powerful weapon of the day: Alec.

Once we were ready to pull the huge poles and their anchors out of the earth, Alec would squat all the way to the concrete blob and just slowly lift it all by himself. It was like Hercules had joined our crew. Once he had cast them aside, it took two or three of us to drag them out front and lift them into the dumpster. We had to make sure that they didn’t fall down vertically or they would stick out over the top, so we had to javelin them into a container that was higher than most of our heads. We managed.

Whenever someone needed a break, they didn’t sit on the porch or hang out on the sidewalk; they went into the backyard and hacked at the massive pecan tree stump with an axe. We have made quite a difference in just one day, but we are considering renting a stump grinder to get the thing all the way to the ground. Still, we like hacking at it so much that we might just leave it there and chip away at it day by day.

Our special guest worker today was our friend Jerrad from Habitat. He brought the puppies, who are now named after Mardi Gras crews: Bacchus and Isis. We took turns cuddling them and feeding them, and those of us who have been here a few times before started realizing that there was a metaphor unfolding before us. That is, in our first trip, we made the sad discovery of a dead puppy in one house we were gutting on this same street; at that point, the city, too, was lifeless, hopeless and sad. Last year, we were visited by a three-legged dog that managed to get itself around even though it had been abandoned; the city then seemed to us to be getting somewhere, even if things weren’t at all “normal.” This year, we have these sweet puppies in our world, and we can see that it will take lots of love and care for them to survive and flourish; we sense that hope is growing in New Orleans too, and we are glad to provide some of the love and care that this grand city needs.

We finished another ten-hour day today, with a couple of extra crew members helping us out. That means we did 335 hours today, bringing our running total to 1455 in five days’ work. We hope to put in 5000 hours this month. We’ll see. . .

Everyone helping to put up drywall on the ceiling.

Shawny and her motherly side

Lindsay and Tommy measuring out a piece of drywall.

Justin putting in a last piece of insulation.

Before the yard was torn out.

As you can see what used to be three yards is now one, and is almost completely cleared out and ready to be landscaped.

We had quit the feast today! Angel hair pasta, meat sauce, and homemade tomato sauce, left over birthday cake, and ice cream from Rosie. Thanks Chicas and the Men!

As darkness quickly approaches everyone works diligently to complete the sheet rock in the front room.

Mark and Emily put up their very last piece of insulation in the ceiling.

Here Rosie is looking out over her backyard while we work to clear it. In the background you can see Sarah’s beautiful house, which we painted last Jan Term, and the amazing ramp we built over Spring Break 07.

Elijah is taking a break from work on the roof.

Today was a slower day. We were all getting a bit tired. During lunch Amanda, Eric, and Brad take a quick nap during our lunch break.

The BLOKES and Wild Dogg (Zac) have formed a pretty tight group.

The Morning began with the whole group moving wood across the site. Lately people have been stealing wood from the Habitat site so we had to make it harder to get to.

The floor is finaly done so all its artists stop for a fun picture with their beautiful masterpiece

Erik and Brad cut into one of our favorite New Orleans delicacies. A treat courtesy of Rosie after a long day’s work.

We wanted to get one full piece in before sundown. The entire crew worked hard to get it done.

Kate and Lindsay R. work by floodlight. Kate sports a genuine Justin Verrips original; it’s said to bring superb sheetrocking skills to anyone who dawns it.

We wanted to get one full piece in before sundown. The entire crew worked hard to get it done.