Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ripping Down Houses

The smell was unforgettable, a lifeless miasma of mold and decay and rot. Gnats swarmed around our heads and into our eyes. Piles of debris spilled out of the gutted trailers, covering the green grass and burying a flowerpot full of bright red petals. Soggy mattresses, sodden clothes, sweating boards and cabinets and all manner of wooden furnishings and paraphernalia lay scattered atop each other, a ruined, discarded mess. Whole walls lay on the ground, yawning open to the sky, insulation and wooden skeleton mixing with wires and a metal outer layer that was hard as hell to tear through. The Maryland sun rushed down upon us and the humidity swallowed us, the garbage, the houses, the mountains around us and everything else in one gulp.

Now this was what we had signed up for.

As Summit 5 learned in our muck-and-guts in New York City, there's really nothing so satisfying as taking your frustrations out on a house that needs to fall. Habitat for Humanity had found an old lot with half a dozen trailers, and needed to dispose of said trailers--built into the ground, mind you, with iron frames and wooden floors and all the accoutrements of any house--in order to build a condominium habitat. Enter FEMA Corps. With a day off work and an urge to wreck, we took sledgehammer in hand and dug for some sweat. The day's assignment: moving trash into two huge Dumpsters and gently persuading things that didn't want to move by themselves.

It was extremely hard work, harder in terms of physical labor than anything we'd done since leaving New York. We lifted whole fallen walls up and over and into the maw of the garbage disposal, walls with electrical cords still hanging off and panes of glass still in their frames. John and I swung sledgehammers at uncooperative floorboards ("When all you've got is a sledgehammer, everything looks sledgehammerable"), pried and hammered and pried some more, and swung into action long iron crowbars out of a martial arts movie to wrench boards from the very frame of the house. (We also resorted to good old-fashioned kicking things really hard, every so often.) I don't know how many beams we chucked into the Dumpster or how many cubic yards of junk we'd thrown in there by day's end, but in the scientific determination of this witness, it was a lot.

I didn't see as much of Chelsea, Katrina, Malinda and Tiffany, although Chelsea worked on the same ruin that I was at for a time, but from what I saw they were also busily engaged in cleaning muck and slop out of those trailers that were still standing. Katrina (or somebody) found a whole long bleached-white skeleton of a rat, from skull to tailbones, and John found a massive something-skull under our house that had had deer antlers wired to it. Malinda found a live brown snake and there was much squawking until it disappeared under her house. I had various encounters with centipedes (ugh) and spiders, including one fat black monster with a yellow spot that scurried away as soon as daylight found it.

At the end of the day, we smelled a fright and looked a sight. I had mud all up and down my right side, a mask-mark on my face, several minor cuts, a hearty batch of unidentifiable stains on my uniform and Lord only knows how much particulate matter draped about my person. The rest of the team was in similar shape. We piled into Humbert/Roberto, our replacement van while Hildie's in the shop, and careened back to campus in contented silence. One thought, unspoken, coiled around each of our heads and slid silky-smooth through the tired air: now that's more like it.


Eleanor Estrada said...

Hooray for demo afternoon! Though I hope you didn’t get sick from getting exposed to all that mold. Did you guys have masks on while doing the demo? Anyways, have fun bringing houses down! How I wish I could do that too, it seems like a good stress release.


Andy said...

We did have masks on, provided by Habitat for Humanity, fortunately. It's a fantastic way to unwind. I'd trade half a hundred stress balls for one afternoon with a sledgehammer and something that needs to be sledgehammered into small pieces.

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