Saturday, March 04, 2006

Working as an Autonomous Worker

New Orleans was a revelation for me. Volunteering there was a pleasure and I hope to go back maybe at the end of April. You can read earlier posts about the kind of activities I participated in, but they don’t really give you a feel for what it’s like. Cleaning a house of mold is fucking hard. Wearing a biohazard suit, rubber gloves, safety goggles (over regular glasses), and a respirator in humid eighty-degree weather is taxing. The respirator crushes your nose. And my goggles tended to fog up, making it difficult to differentiate between the areas on the floor and stud walls that had been scrubbed clean and sections that were still in need of work. On the bright side, the biohazard suit helped protect me from the mosquitoes, which were out in numbers and hungry for fresh blood. And thankfully, I managed to join in the work after most of the tough labor had been done on the house—it had already been gutted of its owner’s possessions, all the drywall and insulation below the four-foot mark had been removed, and the flooring was already ripped out. The owner was living in a F.E.M.A. trailer in the backyard and is a story in himself.

A black man born in the Philippines—his father was in the marines—he spent a good part of his childhood growing up on Bourbon Street. While there, he learned “everything he needed to know about life” with a pair of binoculars. At 18 he too joined the marines, an organization to which he would give 30 years of his life. He was promptly shipped off to Vietnam as a sniper. Not long after, he got his first kill after another sniper revealed his location by shooting him in the wrist. He would go on to kill many more, including two men in Hanoi for their diamonds. He and a friend who had worked as a jeweler used the diamonds to stud a large gold ring that they were crafting together. He spent 39 months in Vietnam and later also spent time in Cambodia and Laos. After returning to the U.S. he eventually settled down with a wife. Today she’s in the hospital, and has been for quite some time, for reasons unknown to me. At 58 he’s retired and spends his days engaging in a variety of recreational activities, including visits to the nudist colony a couple miles down the road. His fridge houses copious amounts of pot and moonshine, the latter he makes in Mississippi. He carries thousands of dollars in cash in his wallet because he doesn’t believe in banks, has a .357 magnum with a laser sight under the front seat of his car, and a 9-millimeter lying on his bed. He used to play the organ and saxophone in a jazz band, but has mostly given that up. Though, on occasion he’ll still tootle around on the sax. He found the volunteers to help with his house through his church. The man’s as multifaceted as Epcot Center.

His home is now almost ready to get moved back into. The walls need some taping and joint compound, a paint job, and some molding. New floors need to be installed and a new kitchen and bathroom too. But considering the amount of damage that was inflicted, it’s come quite a long way. At least, he shouldn’t need to worry about possible health problems arising from breathing in mold spores while sitting in his living room, watching television.

Here's some video taken of the lower 9th ward by the H.A.W.C. kids:

If for some reason this doesn't work, you can go to the H.A.W.C. site here.

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