What you see is what you get


Building Houses - One Bullet at a Time

Some day I'll write a book with my buddy called "The Confusion Happens After the Shooting". It's fairly easy to look back on experiences like this and say "Well that was fun now that we know we live through it" but the frank answer is that maybe it's not so fun.

I had set up with these guys and my wife fell ill. Had she not been throwing up buckets, I would have been riding down there in a paint truck filled with tools. Aside of their one stoner buddy, the gentleman's agreement was that we would take shifts staying up during the night to watch over our tools. All of us were hunting buddies, and figured it wouldn't be a huge effort to tell when someone was looking through the tools versus an animal poking around.

The drive down sucked. They left early in the morning and agreed to switch drivers every gas station fillup. The gas prices sucked too. People were gouging prices as the pump in the aftermath and nowhere was that more apparent than the highway. This was a dick move twofold - people trying to escape get gouged. People moving in to help get gouged. The charity co-ordinating the rebuilding effort hadn't made any provisions for gas money. There were places which refused to accept plastic. The further south you would go the more common it became to see people tanking up random containers full of gasoline. We took the queue and used a paint bucket. Oil safe paint buckets apparently don't melt when you put gasoline in them - but it was a company truck. We had a small honda generator in the back and filled it also.

What was supposed to be a 16-ish hour trip ended up taking a full day, which made things a real PITA. The cops (lol) at the checkpoints (lol 2x) were mostly interested that we had live sex stuffs in the van. Empty vans (like the one in front of us) got the third degree. If you were bringing stuff in they only wanted your drivers license. The problem was the org we were supposed to be hooking up with had expected us almost 10 hours ago by the time we rolled in. We were smart enough to try to call them several times at the last checkpoint (which had working cellphones) before crossing the bridge but no-one was picking up. Straight to voicemail. Thankfully they had setup a "co-ordination station" at a cross street and we hooked up with them there.

"Your work crew number #888?"


"OK your assignment is house 45 on Blah Street."

"Uhhhm, we have a map here, and there's not a lot of signs..." Being a woman, she has no idea. After ten minutes of fumbling around we find it.

"OK we spraypainted your work crew number on the siding. It has to come off anyway. Park on the front lawn. If there's trouble you can find police back at the bridge."

IF there's trouble, the police are going to be ten blocks away is what you're telling me. At this point my buddy who is Gay for Guns reveals he brought along a ruck full of - you guessed it - guns. Which is good because frankly we all assumed the national guard would be doing guard duty, but they were busy with other things. This was after the whole problem in the stadium, so they were in legal wrangling with the local cops and apparently the org sided with the cops. God only knows. Eventually we figured out some of the helicopters were national guardsmen working with the police but frankly a helo isn't boots on the ground.

We got lost about six times. When I say it's been months and they haven't begun cleaning up the streets I mean it. Things you take for granted - street signs, lamp posts, pavement - it was all missing or covered in this thick, slippery mud. Finally we found a landmark and started counting streets (where "streets" were "tracks in the mud"), which got us to the house. We parked on "the lawn" as instructed and by this time it was probably 35+ hours on the road and the light was fading. We decided to check the house for a place to crash and found out none of the doors or windows locked, or even existed. The roof was leaking in several places. The bugs were ungodly. Power? None of it. Thankfully a genny was on the list of things to bring since power wasn't guaranteed so we put up work lights.

We decided we were basically screwed.

Roofing? We weren't equipped to do it. Doors? The locks had been removed. Carpet? Trash. We were setup and asked to to drywall, light framing work and paint. None of this other crap was on the list. We also discovered the kitchen had been looted. We would later find out a company had been paid to pick up the fridges and whatnot but at the time we figured this was a mess. Also if you want to see something awesome, put a few million gallons of water in the sewer. The toilet had exploded. Fortunately Johnny Marine Corps who had brought the ruck full of guns had also brought along MREs and water filtration equipment. This was good because we drove back to the org lot and found out we missed dinner. We now had no food, no water, and no place to poop or sleep. We had at very least made the stupid assumption the house would be in mostly cleaned up condition and ready for paint and drywall, which is what we had signed up for. After a heated discussion with the organizer we were allowed to sleep in their trailer, on the floor. This is a lot easier when you're drinking jungle juice out of a paint bucket.

They woke us up for breakfast, which was standard buffet style. Eggs and... eggs. We ate a lot of eggs. I avoided the meat-product. We asked who was working where but it was mostly useless. We did figure out the Big Picture was that each of these charities we assigned a grid number and they worked off that. We met people from Virginia but we had the monopoly on being Yanks. Most people were from the south or whatever. This is also where we figured out someone must have staged the removal of appliances - no-one else's house had them either. No-one had electricity, and no-one else had locks on doors. The conversation always began with "So did your toilet explode?"

The other universal problem were no-shows. The houses two next to us in either direction and across the street had numbers, but no crews. We assumed they got fed up with the trip or turned away by the cops. There was also a signup sheet for tool sharing, but given that the only way we had to navigate were by crew numbers we didn't want to sign up simply because we couldn't find anyone. Apparently it was a common problem that whatever job you signed up for - the house needed something else. The plan was to have a crew do some work, then the next guys would do different work, and after a few rotations the house would be done. Which is great, except we're signed up for drywall and painting and the roof doesn't hold out water, the carpets a wash and the drywall will just have to be cut up for the plumbing. In other words, it was badly organized and fucking stupid but we got the impression they just needed bodies. We were hungover and not interested in causing a scrap over it, we figured it was fucked all around so why argue when we're only here for a week.

Powdered eggs - we made a toilet from yet another bucket. We could have gone back to the org trailers each time we had to go but the distance was significant and we didn't want to leave anyone stranded. Of course Johnny Marine Corps (JMC from now on) volunteered to stay and the bucket got gross quickly. We would take a break every hour and head over while he watched the chaturbaterooms.com tools (and presumably, used the bucket). Material was all on a donation basis so we had to head back frequently anyway. There's only so much drywall they would give us at a time and it got used quickly. Gasoline was in short supply with only one station working. The gas station next door to the org supply station was charging $5/gallon but at least it was open.

At noon on that second day we heard the first crack of gunfire. We hadn't noticed it over the noise of the rigged up honda but getting away from the endless racket of the genny let us hear more. No-one commented on it, but it made the mood uneasy. We prepared for the worst as we headed back to our house. JMC saw the truck and came running out, AR15 in hand. He explained he heard the shot but didn't know where it came from. He said it was small arms. Of course he wanted to "provide overwatch" instead of working with sodden drywall but we needed his ape-like physique to help us rip up the remaining carpet. The crap-ass rancher was on a slab and by moving the carpet to the yard, it paved the way for the rest of the drywall. He wanted to use the bayonet to do it. Whatever.

We sent a guy up to lay a tarp on the roof. While not strictly waterproof, we covered what we thought was a leak with the carpet we pulled up and had to weigh it down. It worked, mostly. The ever-so-useful paint bucket collected the rest. Another bucket filled with the mud provided the weight. We had no scaffolding and no intention of doing the ceiling. We did end up cutting a hole to drain the water out. I should mention that the framing was in mostly good condition so we didn't feel a need to replace most of it. The problem was the spackle took forever to dry. Even on the days it wasn't raining the humidity was 100%. The house at the end of the street solved the problem by building a fire indoors figuring they would paint over the soot. We weren't quite so crazy. I'm not sure it actually worked, they never completed their project and left in the middle of the week. Their house was all empty beer cans and discarded supplies. We opted not to clean it up because we didn't want to have to admit knowing what was going on. Would it have made a difference? Probably not - the roofs were universally fucked and their house may have been harder hit than ours. They didn't have half the tools we did anyway - they showed up with paint brushes and hemp necklaces and the clothes on their back. I think the basic rule of volunteering for disasters is you need to be better equipped to deal with it than the people fleeing.

Night was falling on day two. We had tools and material scattered around the flat. When I said there were no locks, I meant the doors had been opened with a blow from a sledgehammer or similar and were in poor condition. Windows were missing glass or the window entirely. The smell was ungodly, it's not something which owes to writing even if we could begin to describe it. We had a problem - we had a house full of tools and supplies and had spent most of the day ripping crap up and cleaning. We had hung drywall in places which didn't need to dry out - other places were soaked. We opted to simply toss all the shit in the truck and park in the gas station lot. JMC wanted to camp it out but without proper sleeping arrangements and the fact that it was damp beyond belief, we opted for the uncomfortable proposition of sleeping securely in the truck. Once again, we nodded off one by one with jungle juice in our veins and listening to the distant rumble of helis. Again, we heard gunfire, in the distance. Maybe we could tell ourselves it was nailing.

Next days breakfast still sucked. This time there was bacon but people were eating it like candy. It was gone quickly and they filled the space with those fucking eggs. The biggest travesty was the total lack of coffee. Someone had a french press and was sharing. JMC reminded us we don't know where the water came from. Everyone but him had a cup.

The house was a wreck. The carpet had worked, but the paint bucket was full of water. An animal had slept in there and shat on the floor. The worst part was the drywall and paint were gone. They took the sawhorse also. Who steals a sawhorse? There was mud tracked all over the slab - they came in through the back and made a few trips from the look of it. The yard was filled with so many indistinct footprints it was impossible to see where they went. The organizations inventory control person shrugged and just gave us more drywall. More paint. We considered driving over to the bridge but what would the cops do? They controlled the bridge, not the district, and those helos in the sky apparently did nothing for deterrent or enforcement. We didn't see a single patrol car outside of the lot.

I don't think the theft suprised anyone, it wasn't uncommon to see people wearing three coats, or carrying shoes. I suspect the big ticket items were looted at night. Our house didn't have a lick of electronics left in it, but why would anyone assume they were working? How could you test them without power? Or maybe they wore three coats because it was in the 50s at night. Maybe they carried their shoes because of the mud. Some people didn't get the doubt, others probably made out like bandits in the cover of darkness. There was just us. We made a sawhorse out of paint buckets.

We worked

The day was coming to a close and we had extra drywall. We had put up some lumber in the frame which probably wasn't up to code, but what was. Years later someone pointed out we're not supposed to notch the timber for wiring and the drywall was made in China, but at least it was something. Their rancher will be the last to be condemned, most likely. We fired up the genny to get some light and resolved to hang the last of the drywall before calling it a night so we didn't leave anything around. This caused two problems - the bugs were ungodly. JMC also pointed out three people at the end of the street who were sitting there watching us. I suppose without jasminelive TV or light, things get boring but we had just been looted that morning. The lights and the genny noise pointed out right where we were and we had been dumb enough to light it up. JMC said he didn't want to leave anything out for the skinnies and we had enough drywall and timber that it was either leave the drywall or leave the tools, but if we wanted to take the tools we would have to unload the truck.

Given the fact that it was probably 10pm now and our buddies hadn't moved on, and we were all dead tired, we opted to camp it. Time management, lol. We tossed the most expensive tools in the truck. JMC pointed a light into the yard and walked out with his AR above his head Mad Max style. We figured if the helos were looking we might actually get some police here or at least intimidate our buddies. We pointed a lamp at them and they moved on. We opted to take two hour shifts which would give us coverage for 8 hours. JMC commented if the police showed up "Dial 223 for police".

Next morning we had to clean up the carpet. One of those heli jockeys had flown low enough over us the carpet was in the yard. Thanks buddy. He also blew around our trash bags.

We became very interesting to the wildlife that day. Perhaps it was the pile of empty MREs from four people blown all over the yard but fuck-all if we're eating more eggs and fighting over bacon. We had been filling three of those deer park water jugs from a tanker and drinking out of those when we were not drinking the jungle juice and somehow the bugs from the work lamp found those. The little swimmers were killed by JMCs water tabs. We ended up dumping them and refilling it anyway. Deer and dogs had setup shop in our yard and picked over the blown around trash from the heli. Cats were around too but looked well fed. The dogs would grab an MRE bag and run off with it. They all universally looked starved. Some of them had collars. A dog with a hamburger where it's leg used to be wandered into the yard. Finally we were the source of one of those single gunshots.

By this time it was day four and we had to be gone tomorrow. The liquor was dry and we hadn't touched the siding or the roof. The drywall was almost done. At some point we got fed up and simply started shimming out the studs and taping the drywall. We would spackle over the seam. The house drywall was half inch, but ours was 3/8ths (roughly) so it made the wall wonky in places. It was either that or not get the drywall done. We hadn't painted. We opted to paint in the last day and let it dry when we were gone. This also gave it the best chance of looking decent for the next crew. It was all a wash anyway. We understood if we spent the entire week fighting residual water, the painting was likely all for naught. With no doors and no windows the drywall we hung was slowly absorbing water from the air anyway. I'm not sure how they built this house in the first place and I'm not sure how it would stand after us.

Last night here. Tomorrow we were leaving. We had managed to not shoot anymore dogs nor did we need to turn on the work lights. Most of the dogs were friendly and we stopped bothering with trashcans since the place had garbage all over it anyway. The routine of pooping hourly had set our internal clocks, nights were occasionally rough but the next yard over became the night latrine. Not like they'll notice under the mud. Doesn't smell any different anyway. JMC had a secret stash of liquor he had been sipping all day and he shared to make sleeping on the slab a bit easier.

We woke up to glass breaking. At first we figured it was the windows to the house until we remembered there were no windows in this house. We had parked the truck tail in so we could get at the tools and supplies via the back, someone had figured out the driver side was on the corner of the lot and we couldn't see it from the house. We knew it was the window when we heard the door open. JMC popped off a round in the air, he was outside before we knew what was going on. Next thing we know it's a goddamn Nigger New Years with JMC emptying the clip. Maybe two clips. The fire was so dense that it sounded like a roar rather than a series of pops.

The next morning we decided to pack it up. We hadn't slept a wink anyway after the smoke and noise. There was a small pile of brass we picked up. The cops never came by to see what was going on. The work truck was missing it's driver side window. A hammer was laying on the console. We left most of the kitchen without drywall, it was the last room we were going to do, it was also the worst since years of use had spilt food behind where the stove used to be. According to JMC, five guys came by. They tried the rear of the truck first which is what woke him up and then finding it locked, one of them opted to smash the glass. The truck had two bullet holes in it where he had spray-and-prayed, I'm sure the houses up the street had more. They all ran as a group so he saw no reason not to try to split them up with casualties. We opted to leave by going around where any bodies might have been.

The cops on the way out didn't seem to notice the two holes in the truck. A heli didn't swing by. No police came after the fireworks. There's probably still MREs in the yard. We checked out and turned in the remaining drywall. They didn't want the paint back. An officer gave us a cursory look in the back of the truck to make sure we didn't have any remaining supplies or whatnot but didn't seem so interested as to check our belongings. The cops on the bridge didn't bother to look in and just waved us on by. No-one batted an eye when we dumped out the rest of our paint cleaned with the gasoline bucket. There's probably still a white painted stormdrain there.

The ride back was quiet, maybe due to the fact that none of us could hear or maybe it was the gravity of what was done and we all wondered if we would be arrested in the next year. On one hand, there's no drywall and no hope in New Orleans. The group who had decided to help themselves to our drywall - we would have given it to them if they had asked. We were there, after all, to build houses. It wouldn't have been any skin off our backs, we weren't paying for the drywall anyway. On the other hand, they didn't ask. Maybe it was because the charities weren't handing out resources to those who had stayed or moved back in. God only knows. On our way out we were asked if we were leaving because of the shooting. We were told the cops were taking care of it and we wouldn't have to worry. Supposedly it was dealing with a pack of dogs. We laughed.

Done done it

If you're American, it's still fairly easy to go to Cuba, though not directly. Fly to Cancun, enjoy that for a few days, then fly over to Havana on either Cubana Airlines or Aero Caribe (Mexicana).

At the Havana airport, we got a bit of an interview as they tried to assess if we were there to do harm or not. The questions were simple, not out of line, and once the immigration officer was satisfied, we were cut loose without even a baggage inspection. The passports weren't stamped, thus leaving it up to us if we wanted to fess up to US customs when returning home. I've heard that US customs usually doesn't care, though some people have had problems. We weren't even asked.

We stayed on Old Havana in a Casa Particular with Cuban family. They were cool and sweet, and we were the same in return. We ate together, drank together, and talked about everything from A to Z.

We booked our own transit to several hours east to the city of Sancti Spiritus. The bus was a Mercedes. The seats were hard as wood, but still an OK ride. The countryside was clean and nice. We returned to Havana with 2 Cubans in a Russian-made Lada car. They saved us a few dollars over the cost of the bus, and they made a nice bit of money taking us back to Havana where they were going to see some friends anyway.

I'm no travel writer, so I'll stop short here. It was a worthwhile trip. I wanted to see with my own eyes. While I have no desire to move or live there, I found it much better than I'd suspected it would be. I'd go again, and probably will one day.


Visiting family - For many of us, the holidays are a great time for seeing mom and dad and brothers and sisters. We get together, have laughs, eat lots of junk as well as good meals and share gifts. But for some of us, this can be a very tense time. Much of this revolves around having to deal with in-laws, people's spoiled bratty kids and wacko relatives you don't care much about. Not only that but sometimes you end up spending large amounts of time at your parent's house where the DVD seems to be stuck on the same Disney movie that seems to be in an endless loop. I don't know what it is about kids but they can watch the same Disney crap over and over and never seem to want to watch anything else. This can get even worse when even the kids get tired of these movies but everyone refuses to turn off the DVD player. Usually someone flips out and eventually turns on the news or a salvation saving football game.

Getting through this part is easy if you are well prepared. First the obvious thing to do is to drink yourself into a condition where you could chew your leg off and you wouldn't feel it. However, many times you're at someone's house where drinking is not allowed (like my mother's). If you know this ahead of time or discover this after arriving it can be easily fixed. Simply get in the car the minute you discover this and get to the nearest chain drugstore to load up on coughing medicine. I don't mean the crap that doesn't do much when you take it. I mean the stuff that is barely sold over-the-counter without a prescription that you have to sign for. Then you can tell everyone you are coming down with a cold (not uncommon for this time of the year) and you can spend the rest of your visit in a stupefied numbness, constantly taking naps and generally being left alone by everyone (they don't want to get your cold).

You won't be bothered by that aunt you always hated kissing, your uncle's bastard little kids become almost amusing, talking shit about another relative and going to Christmas Eve church services become entirely possible and almost tolerable, if not downright amusing. There have been numerous years I succeeded with this technique while spending one or two weeks out of town staying with in-laws. Have you ever noticed that one relative that does the most outrageous things and doesn't seem to care what happens? Well, they discovered the secret mixture of alcohol and cough medicine. Alcohol and cough medicine can get you through almost any family visit or visit to the in-laws. That crazy brother or sister or their spouses becomes an amusing sidebar for the holidays and you can easily throw them under the bus along with everyone else for that matter.

As an alternative method, you can also attempt to get the intolerable members of your family totally plastered. That way it can be halfway sane to be around them and it might even surprise you that they will become witty. If nothing else, this technique can take the focus off you and put it on them. Now, if Christmas is at my house a variation on this idea would be to stock up the liquor cabinet and serve lots of spiked Christmas punch. You can even sneak Ever Clear into that bratty kid's Coke who's idea of a coloring book is the walls of your hallway or the walls of the back bedroom your relatives won't keep them out of.

One year I received a phone call from my mother telling me that my sister was in the middle of a complete and total mental breakdown. She had just found out her husband had been having a kinky, sordid sex affair with his ex-wife who happened to be in town, her teenage son had ditched the complete semester of high school and knocked up one of the cheerleaders and she just discovered her teenage daughter was taking birth control and recently had an abortion. In addition to THAT she didn't have enough money to buy Christmas gifts for everyone because of the private detective fees she'd hired to find all this out. It was enough grief and stress to knock anyone's dick in the dirt.

So my mother (bless her heart) wanted to call me at the last minute to prepare me for the shock when I arrived from out of town. Damn! thanks mom but I don't think I'll be able to get tickets this year to come and visit. I don't care how disappointed everyone will be not to see me. Fortunately, all the immediate family drama ended when she was hospitalized in the local psychiatric hospital. Then everyone was able to talk about her more rigorously in the 3rd person. I survived by sitting around with my bottle of Robitussin and Sudafed (the good stuff) and laughed my way through the following week reading Shakespeare, Proust or Euripedes' Greek tragedies.

It seems like every other year there's a sister or brother that brings a boyfriend or girlfriend over for Christmas dinner who is a Vegan. Invariably, they will spend 4 hours trying to convince everyone that eating meat will make your dick fall off or give your wife breast cancer. While they are doing this the smell of prime rib or that smoked, honey-glazed Ham your mom or wife is making is driving you nuts thinking about having a bite, while half the women are preparing this wonderful meal and they left YOU to entertain this vegan jerk. In this case it is best to take them outside to the backyard and pistol whip them with a .45 revolver and tell them to Shut The Fuck Up. It works every time because they are more than likely a gun control freak as well. It will subdue them into submission and they go off and sit in the corner the rest of the day and behave themselves.

So there you have it. Hopefully, your holidays will be sane, fun and joyous. If not then these are but a few ideas to make it through the holidays and come out on the other end a little more sane and a lot more happy.

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