Saturday, August 10, 2002

So, our job was to take down a house. Now, you might be thinking, "what an easy job: a few whacks with a sledgehammer, a piece of heavy machinery or two, and it's done! no problem!" wrong. There is a process to demolishing a house by hand--ceiling, then roof, the walls, and finally floor. and keep in mind that there is a creek between the house and the road, which is where the dumptruck will be, so we have to carry pieces of the house across a wee bridge in order to dispose of them. Anyway...

This house was amazing. I have never seen anything so awful in my whole life. It was completely uninhabitable; it appeared to have been abandoned for several years (we guessed at 15...). The ceiling tiles were falling down. The wallpaper was peeling off. Some windows were broken. Dirt everywhere. There were four layers of carpet in the living room, all soaked through (presumably from flooding of the wee creek outside). I cannot emphasize enough how horrible it was. The property was in bad shape too, strewn with garbage (mostly pop cans, actually), muddy, no real grass anywhere--and where there was greenery it clearly had not been cut in ages. It turns out that Miss Ann (our resident) had been living there just DAYS before we arrived. How, we'll never know.

Now, I knew about poverty. I know facts and figures, etc. I understand the concept, and how/why it happens economically. But to walk into that house.....seriously, I've never experienced anything like this. And, get this: next door is a family living in an old rusted-out school bus. They have put curtains on the windows...and where the doors used to be...and they live there. Though I have not personally lived in these conditions, I feel that I can now say that I know poverty, not just about it. the condition of the home was really appalling. wow.

So anyway: we went to work. all the other members of my team got up on the roof and started tearing off shingles. I stayed on the ground collecting them and putting them into the dumptruck. (ASP rules state that you must always have one licensed driver on the ground.) A normal house has two, maybe three layers of shingles. This house had 6. in addition, underneath was tar paper, and plywood, and boards, and more plywood, and fiberglass insulation, then rafters, ceiling boards, and then the ceiling itself. It was quite a job getting the roof off, and it took us several days. We got a little bit of help the second day. The third day we got more help--people who really do this kind of stuff and know how to work with power tools. By the end of the third day a third of the house was down. Thursday we pushed down more walls and did a lot of dumptruck loads of wood, trash, and more wood. (trash includes shingles, garbage, insulation, anything still left in the house ie fixtures, counters, a sofa...carpet...etc) --we did loads and loads of those things the other days too but Thursday and Friday were particularly quick. The goal was to have the house down by wednesday...then the end of the day friday there was about half the floor left and we were all exhausted. I don't envy whoever had to come in and cut up the floor and pull it (and the foundation stilts it was on) up out of the flood mud under the house...because really we'd essentially done the whole thing like that!! Sarah pointed out that we had essentially done lunges all day, every day...thirty hours of lunges in a week! We probably have the best legs in Chicago. And the best arms too, from lifting basically the whole house, carrying it, and putting it in a dumptruck. Walls are pretty heavy!

For the last two days, another crew (from the Minnesota group) came to help us out. They were Very hard workers...they just pushed really hard. Then, after about 20 minutes, they collapsed from sheer exhaustion and had to take a 5-10 minute water break. They tried to work very fast and sometimes it wasn't safe, and most of the time our crew felt superfluous. There were a lot of bitter feelings among the kids of my crew, who wanted to work but felt like the site had been stolen away from them--and thus the glory of getting the house down was also taken away. They had done the hard initial work, and the other group came in (having heard how hard we'd worked) and had the easy part of pushing over walls, and we could practically hear them talking about how it wasn't so hard and we were was tough. Also we had a number of good systems worked out for being efficient and steady in work, rather than getting burned out and needing long breaks. Unfortunately, with the arrival of this group the systematic, efficient work and the more fun atmosphere in which Mikey could lead us all in singing oldies departed. However, that house is torn down! So, with the goal accomplished we put the personal differences behind us and thanked the other group for being such a big help.

So it was a week of hard work, but also some good times. We sang a lot on the worksite. We enjoyed our lunchtimes. We met our resident a few times, though were uncomfortable with her after the first couple of days. Her little black dog is named Pudgy, but she refers to it by a "special name" which is an unfortunately vile racial slur. We started picking up cans and garbage on her property--and she came out and asked for it because she could turn in the cans...and she proceeded to sort through and throw the garbage back onto the ground. She is elderly, has some eye difficulties (apparently--this is according to her brother Earl, who was thoroughly creepy and kept hitting on me all week long with comments like {insert annoying south appalachian accent here} "honey, I shore do looove to watch you woork..." and "why donchyou come with me, and I'll never lechoo get yore hands dirteey". UGH UGH UGH), and has always lived in this area. We had some difficulties accepting her, but the ASP motto is "we accept people right where they are, just as they are." so we had to look past her difficult spots to her humanity and remember that every human deserves a habitable home, so our work for her was not only for her but for God..."for as often as you do this to the least of these, you have done it to me." A hard lesson to learn, for sure, and we had many crew and group discussions about the difficulties posed to us by our resident...but it was so good in the end.

Another thing about this site that was striking was the large number of butterflies. In every color and design--they were just exquisite! I was constantly reminded of a sermon preached last year at Fourth by Dr. Buchanan about butterflies in the ghetto. Butterflies as signs of hope and beauty amongst the extreme poverty in Cabrini Green--and for me, symbols of the hope, renewal, and goodness amidst the extreme poverty of the site we were working on. Whenever I was unsure how to continue working so hard, for a woman that seemed (on the surface) ungrateful, I would see a beautiful butterfly--in black and turqoise, or white and orange, or whatever, and remember that sermon and that it is important to latch onto signs of hope that can get people out of the abyss--and the butterflies did that for me. I hope they do that for Miss Ann too.

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