Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alea Iacta Est III

Alrighty, hopefully I can finally wrap all of this nonsense up.

Detracting for a second. After reading over some of these, my syntax and spelling is downright atrocious in some of these posts. Why didn't anyone tell me? I guess it's no surprising that most of these are produced in a single go, with very little backtracking or editing to speak of. I get lazy. It's word vomit to me. Oh well, perhaps I'll pretty up this one or some of the others a bit more. No promises.

So. I left off with the new gang convoying out to coal country. I remember being a bit apprehensive in the morning, but quickly setting into that uncomfortable ease that takes over your body as you submit yourself to an adventure. We were told we'd be there at least 2 weeks, most likely 3, since that's the limit for FEMA deployments. Timelines are nice. There's a simple comfort in finiteness. When you know something will end, at least you know something, which is quite precious in this crazy life.

We arrived at the Presbyterian Church in Welch, WV after dark. It was a decent day's drive and though we weren't excited to be getting up at 5am the next day for at least a 12hr day of work, the adventure hard begun.

I already did a 20-30min stand up routine of the day-to-day activities in front of all the other teams when we went back to Maryland for the second transition period. Also did a hell of a presentation in front of a bunch of FEMA and Americorps higher ups, much to the NCCC admin's chagrins. Perhaps I can try to recreate it.

Around 6am you wake up on the church rectory floor. Sticking to the mattress some morning, freezing your ass off others. Weather in WV is quite finicky in the summer. Get in line to take a piss. Put on your sweat and shitmud crusted uniform. Eat breakfast downstairs amongst the hateful Christian literature. These were the Presbyterians that had books everywhere discussing the "disease of homosexuality." Always good for a laugh in the morning.

By 6:30-7am we were in the van and on the way out of town. It was usually about an hour's drive through the switchbacks. I usually drove home at night and dreamed of riding my motorcycle through these pristine roads. Seriously, I might go back to WV just to ride. Forget Deal's Gap, MacDowell County is the destination. Back to the task at hand. Our work sites in Mingo and Wyoming Counties were only about 30mi away, but anyone who's lived way out yonder knows how easily that can turn into an hour, especially with washed out roads and the National Guard directing traffic.

Around 8am we'd meet at in the parking lot of a former diner and get our daily assignments. Usually this was one or two trailers in the area that had anywhere from a couple inches to a couple feet of water/mud/shit flowing through it 3 weeks prior. Yeah, we didn't get out there until well after the floods had happened. Most people were quite surprised and dumbfounded that we had even shown up. Most of the Christian Men's organizations had shown up to do immediate relief and they didn't think anyone else would show up. They were skeptical to say the least. But after our second week word had gotten out about the kids in gray shirts cleaning out houses for free.

So we'd get our assignment and sometimes we'd have directions, sometimes we'd have to find it ourselves. This part of the country doesn't really have maps and no one has street addresses. There's places like 'Steel's Hollow' and 'Buffalo Creek Hollow.' These places aren't on maps, you have to ask around.

Once we find our houses we go to work. I think by the third or fourth day of work we had our routine down. The people who went under the house to rip out the moldy, wet insulation and ductwork knew who they were and the people who went inside to tear out drywall, paneling, insulation, floors, furniture, etc, they knew they were. I was inside man. I dubbed myself far to large for squeezing into the foulness under the houses and trailers and no one disagreed. And everyday I tried to remember to thank everyone who went under the houses. The mud under there smelled like that time you went to the bathroom. Then you left the bathroom. Then you had to go back into the bathroom about 10 minutes later and you're just about gagging from that ghastly creation that you can't believe you bore. It was awful some days. But, if you ask anyone on my team, it was the prolonged highlight of our year. We worked our asses off in the heat in the rain. It was direct service. We'd take long lunches and sit out in the sun next to the river, or huddling in the van away from the rain. Then we'd barrel out and tackle the job of the day. We'd work til around 5 or when we all decided the job was done and make the trek back to Welch. A small example of team enjoyment: music in the van. Up to this point my old team's van had been pervaded with an onslaught of Miley Cyrus/Kelly Clarkson/every other shitbag from American Idol/the shittiest rap imaginable and a dash of NPR. No one could agree to like one thing. My new team in WV would find bands we all loved on a daily basis. On a given day we would be listening to and discussing the likes of Interpol, Kings of Leon, The Clash, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Devendre Bearnhardt, country so bad it was great. It was amazing. Smiles for miles in our van "The Beef Bus," complete with 'stank bag' full of dirty coveralls and uniforms. We'd get back to the church and most people would just chill. This was a huuuuuuge difference from normal "corps life." Usually you have meetings, PT, reflection time and other nonsense after work throughout the week. It's complete bullshit. Luckily none of that dumbness was expected. Lots of day I would work out anyways, but because I wanted to. I found a sweet set of about 50 stairs behind the police station across the street. When I ran up and down it, prisoners in the jail transferring to "the yard" would yell and spit at me. Fun times. And reflection was a constant thing, how could you not talk about the crazy life of mucking out a moldy, dilapidated house all day and then the nice old lady who really had nothing insisted on making grilled cheese sandwiches for everyone? And it was the best damn grilled cheese ever.

After dinner most people would gravitate to the ping pong table where epic matches and tournaments were held. While I did not participate, I somberly revelled in a stress free life surrounded by fantastic people caught up in a bizarre situation and making the best of everything.

This all feels a bit scattered, but it was 6 months ago and I'm picking the memories as the neurons are firing. The big family meals were a great time to talk about the day with the other teams and just relax, laugh at life and amaze yourself at how18 people can suffice with one refrigerator and a handful of decent cooks. I made a variation for my mom's chicken divan a couple nights for everyone and it was quite a hit. In a rare MIRG moment, here's the recipe, as requested from a former WV disaster teammate.

um, let's see......

-large can of cream of chicken soup, could use cream of mushroom or really cream of anything...
-cooked, shredded/cubed chicken, a few breasts worth
-cooked broccoli, large frozen bag of
-juice of orange/lemon/lime--roll the fruit hard on the board before you cut it
-half cup of mayo
-a ton of shredded cheese, a cup or two
-salt and pepper, any other spice you might think tastes delicious, tony c's is fantastic

-cook the chicken and broccoli beforehand, cut it up and throw it in a baking dish
-mix together the soup, mayo, juice, 3/4 of the cheese, spices
-mix together everything in the dish
-top with the cheese then crackers
-bake at 375 until its bubbling and smelling delicious
-broil the top so it gets brown and sexy

This recipe guarantees mucho "mmmmmmmmmm's."

There's far more minutia I could recount if asked in person, but I'll try to squeeze out a few more important themes.

We never had enough tools, even when the Americorps higher ups asked us what we needed and we replied, they said they would "try." Obviously complete bullshit when FEMA was paying for everything. Whatevs, we still got every job done because we were awesome.

At the beginning I was labeled as threat to the milieu. The first of work I was asked by the supervising Team Leader to ride with her so we could have a "chat." The whole conversation felt like a long winded one-bad-apple-spoils exercise. I get it. People are influenced by me. I'm supposed to be happy and nice all the time because otherwise people will feel the need to express emotions that aren't happy and nice and positive. Fuuuuuuuuck. I used to be such a nice guy. Americorps made me an asshole. Sometimes.

By about the 11th straight day of 13hr days a lot of us wanted a night of beer. Not just any beer, outside beer. We had already investigated a local tavern called the "Executive Lounge," which really is the perfect name for a strip club. This was met with a lot of peculiar locals and not so locals who were very amused in our presence and bought us lots of beers and gave us job offers of building prisons and stories of the like, which was nice, but my lungs are still recovering from the ambient smoke. And I'm pretty sure it was just a gambling front. We wanted to work hard and just have a beer outside. Americorps has a fairly reasonable rule that you can't drink within 25 ft of housing. And since housing was a church rectory, that didn't seem prudent to begin with. So my good buddy and interim team leader Ethan and I decided to mosey on over to the gaggle of police officers across the street. After a decent amount of predictable ball busting, we explained to the good ol' boys that us volunteers just wanted to dink a six pack outside semi-legally. The cheif of police was even there and told us of a secluded parking lot up the hill that overlooked the valley. As long as we kept quiet and cleaned up, there'd be no problems. The cops told us this. It was a great night. Very Shawshank-tarring-the-roof. Sometimes it is the simple pleasures. Even one of the cops came up there to give us a little shit and check up on us. A week passes and we thought nothing of it. But we were in a small town, bullshit spreads. It got back to the supervising team leaders that we had been drinking on the church steps. Amazing. They freaked out, locked down the church until the truth was found blah blah blah. Ethan and I and everyone who had been there immediately stepped up and told them what was what. The fucking chief of police told us where to drink. Then we got a silly lecture about how they were still "disappointed" in us. Another word that gets thrown around NCCC like it's going out of style. Silliness.

There were many more fantastic singular moments, like finding cock fighting is alive and well in rural WV and watching the Pens take the Stanley Cup while drinking corn whiskey from a jar with my new best friends. But I think I'm exhausted on talking about WV for now. It was simply fantastic. Some the most physically arduous and odorous work I've done and probably the best. It's amazing what being surrounded by fantastic, like-minded people in the same situation can do to your moral. I smiled a lot in WV.

my team, The Home Wreckers

Next up, the supreme dumbness of DC and Obama and The Moose and The Motorcycle.