Washington Ave Miscellany

or, How I Managed To Get Into A New Age Paraphernalia Pissing Match

Washington Ave (Click to enlarge)East St. Tammany Habitat For Humanity require volunteers to circle up with them at 6:50 every morning at the Central Baptist Church on Robert Boulevard in Slidell. Not just the first day of the week, but every day. Don’t go straight to the worksite; come to the church first and sign in.

Well, I was staying the night with my aunt and uncle in Covington. Since I didn’t know the exits on I-12 very well, I thought I’d commute to work via Highway 190 (Causeway Boulevard in Covington; Florida Street in Mandeville; Gause Boulevard in Slidell). Just getting to Lacombe seemed to take as long as driving from Metairie to Slidell had done yesterday morning. Did I really want to go another 25 minutes east just to be a good girl and show up at the church? When I got to the North Pontchartrain Drive turn-off, I was really tempted to just head up to the Beech Street work site and wait for the crew there.

It’s a good damn thing I didn’t. They weren’t sending anyone to the Beech Street site today.

This I found out after I showed up at the church late again, this time nearly causing an accident when I recognized the church’s driveway late (if you are the driver who nearly got sideswiped by a silver Mazda 6… er, sorry?). Those of us who went to Lacombe yesterday they mostly sent to a Slidell worksite, the one on Washington Avenue.

Washington Ave (Click to enlarge)On Washinton Avenue, there’s another “pod” of Habitat homes in various stages of progress. A couple of them have their siding on; a couple of them are still showing the Tyvek colors. Here are some of the things I ended up doing today:

  • Moving cabinets from storage in the big steel truck box to storage in the sheds behind each house, so that the truck box could be reorganized and the cabinets could be distributed among the houses they were to furnish. Sadly, one of the hand trucks had flat wheels, so this was a harder job than maybe it ought to have been. None of the cabinets got damaged or muddy, though, so no-harm-no-foul.
  • Protective steel plates (Click to enlarge)Banging steel plates into the struts of one of the houses; these went over areas where plumbing or wiring passed through, to protect such from being pierced by screws during the drywall installation. The steel plates are made with pointy bits at each end so you just hammer ’em in like they were nails. It’s amazing how many wire crossings you miss the first time you look, especially when you’re getting tired of dragging the 11-foot ladder around the place. Note to others dealing with 11-foot ladders: the lockable hinges release when you bang them upwards.
  • Helping to saw and nail reinforcements to shore up a fuse box. The central stud in the pantry wall, which abutted the box on its left side, was sawed off just under the box. That piece was sawed down to create a cross-bar that would go right under the box. We nailed it straight up into the remaining bit of stud and diagonally into the studs to the side. Then “kickers” were installed to provide extra support at either side of the cross-bar, since diagonally “toed-in” nails don’t provide a lot of support on their own. (Reminder: I am not a professional construction worker. If I am misusing terms here, it’s only to be expected.) All the sawing was done by hand, as the electric saw was unavailable. Some of the sawing was even done by me! Go me.
  • Helped strip rubber sheathing off the 8 to 10-foot lengths of wire coming out of the fuse box; these wires were then to go out a hole in the wall to the power meter, I guess. Note to the unwary: While it may sound like fun to put four people on a length of wire and have everyone heave at once until the sheathing slides off the 8-foot length of wire, this is not in fact the most labor-efficient way to do it. But it was kinda fun.

Lots of electrical and plumbing work was also going on at this site. I kinda wish I’d gotten to the church in time to be assigned to those tasks, ’cause I don’t know very much about ’em, and it would be neat to learn. Or I could have been assigned to Maple Street and learned roofing! Ah, well, maybe next time.

But speaking of electrical work, today I had that first inevitable comment on my habitual jewelry. I typically wear a brass “third-eye” symbol (remember the sci-fi drama by that name on Nickelodeon back in 1984 or so?) and a silver pentagram with a copper snake threaded through it. Like I said, they’re habitual, about as much so as my wedding ring. And every once in awhile, I get someone asking about it. Sometimes it’s another Pagan who wants to let me know he’s one too; sometimes it’s a Christian who wants to know whether I’m a harmless Wiccan (yes) or a scary Satanist (no) or in any case a potential convert (please no).

Today, the question came from the head electrician working on the site, and it came in the form, “Where’d you get the necklace?”

Me, I was a little wary–like I said yesterday, Habitat is of religious origins, and while the group themselves are tolerant of those with different beliefs, who knows whether any of their volunteers might decide to take offense. So I kept my answer brief: “I made the triangle in an eighth grade metal-working class at Country Day, and my Mom found the pentagram at a shop in the Quarter called ‘Armed and Dangerous.'” And then I (somewhat rudely, I admit) walked away on the pretext of having finished my water break.

Next time we crossed paths, though, the electrician had another question for me. “So how big is your biggest crystal?”

Oh my Gods, I thought, he’s a New Age type too–and he’s trying to engage me in a ‘thinging’ contest.

“Er, well, I don’t really collect crystals these days–”

“Mine’s, like, this big.” [Hand gestures indicating Madame Zelda style crystal ball]

“Yeah, that’s pretty big, all right.”

“I have this staff, it’s this tall, it’s got…” …and he goes on to describe in great detail all the crystals and animal bits decorating it. I’m just not entirely sure what to say here. I could say, sorry, but I grew out of my ‘thinging’ phase some ten years ago, but that would be obnoxious and patronizing, which he doesn’t deserve. I mean, this guy’s putting in four times as much work as any of the regular volunteers, and he’s awesome. But, bless his heart, he’s a thinger.

So I tell him I bet if I had a staff like that with all those dead animal bits hanging off of it, my cats would turn it into a bare stick surrounded by shredded feathers and fur in no time. He tells me his cats stay away because of all the psychic energy the staff radiates. I congratulate him on acquiring such a potent piece of paraphernalia.

And the day continues.

Habitat volunteers do this neat thing after the house’s basic framework is complete. They bless the house. They scribble their blessings onto index cards and plant the cards all over, sticking their corners or edges in between the studs and the boards. I expect they stay there when the insulation is laid in and the drywall is hung, little prayers and spells and good wishes and hope forever sandwiched inside the walls of the house.

Jesus, we thank you....
“Jesus, we thank you for the building of this house, the volunteers, those who will live here.”

With a new house....
“With a new home comes a new start. No matter how good life has been to this point, now it will be better!”

I am so pleased....
“I am so pleased to be able to help in some small way w/ the building of your home. I know all the love and prayers of all the people who worked on it will be w/ you forever and will multiply and bless the home, and those w/in, many-fold….”

Blast off!
“Blast off! Have fun!”

It’s beautiful beyond words. Which of course doesn’t stop me from trying to put it into words; that’s what writers do. But writers sometimes have to recognize that the attempt to do so, though necessary, is in a way futile.

Stats for the day:

Lunch: Dominos pizza. (Yesterday it was macaroni salad with chicken and a yummy cold tuna casserole with raisins.)

Injury count: Nothing big, just a bunch of blisters on my left hand from participating in the wire-stripping tug-of-war without wearing work gloves. Dummy.

Weather: Overcast but dry. We were able to keep working straight until pick-up time at 2:30 and quitting-time at 3:00.

Eventually I found my way out of the maze of residential streets back to Front Street/Highway 11, got on I-12, and headed back to Covington–this time to stay with a different branch of my Mom’s side of the family. My cousin had just got into town, and she and I had some serious hanging out to do.

We also had some serious snowballs to consume. But about some of that, more later.

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