Day 17: a tale of two houses

Used my near-miraculous ability to evade hangovers to my advantage for our first build day in New Orleans. We split into two groups to work on two new houses with the St. Bernard Project. A couple founded SBP in 2006 when they came down to help with Katrina recovery and found that the city’s strategy of gutting then rebuilding entire neighborhoods at a time was slowing down individual families’ abilities to get back into their homes.

We worked on painting a house that was almost completed. A single family, single story new home, it stood on 7 foot tree trunks in an attempt to bring it above the water level. This created both a nice shady outdoor spot for the family to hang out and the need for us to use extremely tall ladders to paint the top. I was afraid of these, so I held the base of Laddersaurus Rex (they all had names like that, like Taylor Swift, and Bill Nye the Ladder Guy) for Kevin to climb up and paint. We carried on like this for the morning. In the afternoon, a SBP client (a woman who the SBP had helped refurbish her Katrina-ruined house) came and told us about her experience with Katrina, seeing her neighbor die trying to help others into escape boats, working in the hospital, and returning to her house to see the furniture had all surfed into other rooms. She loves her house now for its robin’s egg walls and porch to sit on, drink beers, and have company to.

From the build site, we vanned to an alum’s friend’s house. And what a house it was. It was in a nice area of the city that I hadn’t seen before (easy to achieve since the only pieces of the city I had were the route through the Lower 9th we biked in on and the path in between our commune in Arabi and our build site in Gentilly). The middle aged couple whose home it was used the destruction it suffered from Katrina as an opportunity to turn their house into a cruise ship. Upon entering, you’re greeted by a full bar. Turn the corner and you pass a wall of wine bottles suspended on a mosaic of corks. The kitchen bleeds into living and dining areas, bordered on one side by a wall of alternating stripes of dark wood and clear plastic that flashes a different color on the beat of whatever song is playing (the night we were there, party remixes of top 40 songs). Then the master bedroom, where a signed Sex and the City poster hangs because you gotta keep that close at all times, a guest room and another room for sitting or something. The upstairs holds three more guest rooms, just in case. But the most important part of this entire house/casino to me were the bathrooms. The master shower was the size of a room, and had a double shower head on one side, another shower head and a detachable head on the other, and a waterfall head on a third. It also had an almost-floor to ceiling window so you and you friends could look outside as you lathered each other. You know, for modesty. Another bathroom had a shower that opened onto… ANOTHER SHOWER, BUT OUTSIDE. But all this is nothing. One of the men of the house told us he speaks in an Elmo voice when drunk, so friends started buying him Elmo toys. When the decorator got ahold of this, they knew they had to feature these artifacts prominently. Hence, the Elmo bathroom, with its wall of mounted Elmo toys lit from behind with lights of ever-changing colors. Also they had a pool, tennis court, and hot tub, but whatever, they have a bathroom full of Elmos.

I spent my first half hour in this place photographing in disbelief before I felt ready to immerse myself in it. I chatted with the woman working the party (Velma), ate a weird number of deviled eggs, did a few laps in the pool, got into the hot tub with the mini bottle of wine I got from their drink refrigerator, then kept drinking. From the looks of it, so did everyone else. We took a bus home around 10 or 11 (remember: 5 am bike day /6 am build day wake ups).

People’s significant others began rolling in for the long weekend (both in federal holidays and Bike & Build scheduling)— 6 of them all together. Hilary’s fiancé even surprised her by showing up after he had told her he had to cancel. Joe has set a dangerous precedent by responding to my incessant strategizing to get him to see me the week I was in Seattle with a screenshot of the tickets he had bought before, but I try to not expect random miracles too often. And one relationship ended this weekend, so the SUS16 relationship body count now stands at 2 (one would assume being away for so long simply aggravated existing issues?). But the biggest and tiniest people on our trip have gotten together, so that’s entertaining on a size level, plus we’re only down net one.

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