Mr. B, Beer and the Rockaways
It started out as a work day volunteer effort. You would still get paid for volunteering and the email thread started out with volunteering in the Rockaways and who was in? Our team leader, reached out to the Occupy Sandy teamand from there we met up at Restore and Rebuild, in a cold, community center in Far Rockaway. It was a great day to see coworkers, since we all have been working from home, due to the building damage that occurred during Sandy. I had no idea what to expect, but during our safety talk, images started to set in and as I took my pair of mud/work boots, I realized that we were going to be doing just a bit more than helping someone “clean” their home.
Occupy Sandy. I had my thoughts. Was it going to be some hippie love fest? Someone who was wealthy and had the funds to just relocate and be in New York? Who does that? And as the judgmental questions started to come into my thought. I had to remember what my yoga instructor told me “please do not think, just be”. And at once, the questions were thrown into the debris pile. Our team leader, a, tall, physically fit tanned white man and self proclaimed “drifter” went into the home and came back and told us, this was bad. As we went down into the basement, I could already smell what we were getting in. I was not a demolition or construction expert, I was just a person willing to help.
A few hours of dry wall removal, insulation and personal belongings gave me an idea about how this family lived. I guess, I am an extrovert or just nosy and wanted to know more about this family. I started up a conversation with the homeowner, B, who had just gotten work and he was almost finished working on the house and then Sandy came.B, was the New Yorker that I only saw on the bus, movies or other large public situations. He had sun burned skin, a tad dry and he was a guy who had worked all his life. He didn’t expect anyone to help him out. And yet, Occupy Sandy volunteers were in his basement and he was overwhelmed by the kindness. As we took a break for lunch, B offered to pay for lunch and we all had bagged lunchs, but we appreciated the offer. We joked about having beers after work. After our lunch break we went right back in the basement. Rotting dry wall, debris removal, and personal belongings were being thrown into big black garbage bags and stacked up to be taken away.
I got the sense that any other day, B, might have been the type of person that only occasionally came across a Black person. And, going back and forth, removing debris and talking to him, for the day, none of that mattered. I didn’t care about what box he checked off and I have to believe he could care less about what box I was checking off for the census. He was just appreciative of the help that he was getting. B, came back with a souvenir of his thanks, an 18 pack of Budweiser. It was more than just Budweiser, this was one of the best ways to say thank you to a crew that was doing the work that his wife and himself would never be able to do. Days like this made me proud to be a member of the human race. I do not want to romantize my volunteer in the Rockaways, because I left thinking what the heck was this family going to do? How many more people are afraid to ask for help and still have water in their homes? And now, my new obsession is mold. The mold that we found in the house was crazy and were hadn’t seen the worse cases. So now what happens now to these families? I have no idea, but I now that I want to go back. So, if you are interested…how about we go together? Maybe, that is what we can do for right now.