Sunday, February 8, 2009

bad do-gooder

It's taken me over a week to feel comfortable talking about the traumatic experience of last weekend's early start. A friend persuaded me it would be a good time to help with a Habitat house. I had worked on one years ago in Virginia and had enjoyed the experience. Still, they always say to go with your gut, and, after hearing that I had to be at the site by 8 AM on a Saturday, my gut said "no and double no." But, we always have a good time together, and I'll try a lot of things at least once. Plus, the contact had said it would be "inside" work.

Did I mention it was somewhere between 30-40 degrees outside at 8 AM? I give a range of 10 degrees mostly because after standing there for 10 minutes I had lost most feeling in my face and hands. There was a huge group of people assembled with obviously varying levels of experience. I had managed to bring a hammer, but that was about all I was equipped with. Quite frankly, I use it to hang pictures in my house so I couldn't claim much actual experience with it. After we went through leader introductions and general safety guidelines we donned our protective goggles and flourescent construction helmets.

Turns out "inside" work translates to, we have the frame built, and you'll be working within the frame (translation in Rebecca's dictionary: outside work in the cold at 8 AM on a Saturday wearing someone else's helmet and dirt-smeared goggles). I was still not to the point of giving in. I was determined to be happy and friendly. We found ourselves in a small gaggle of women waiting further instructions and went about introducing ourselves and where we worked. When I mentioned I was at the local university, one lady exclaimed "Oh! A student!" To which my wonderful friend quickly corrected her with "No, she teaches, she's a professor." "Adjunct faculty," I amended but grateful for the clarification. "What? You look like you're twelve!" At which point the conversation stopped because the words that would have come out of my mouth (I'm a freezing giant with a hammer at an unholy hour of the morning. Be very careful what comes out of your mouth." or "At least give me credit for being in my twenties. You don't look so hot in goggles either sweetheart.") were not appropriate.

Turns out we would be hammering nails all the live-long day. And they don't start you out at the beginner level. They wanted me to pound in nails at an angle and with little operating room between the hammer and the floor. I pounded the same nail (and the area around the nail) for at least 10 minutes. I don't like asking for help, but again, I was going to do this right and give it my best shot so here was my opportunity to learn. I asked a fellow volunteer next to me; she wasn't a reflective hammerer so she really couldn't communicate her nail-pounding strategy. Then, I asked the guy who was a co-leader of our section of the house and he grunted and mumbled some ideas, then left. I kept banging. I'm here to tell you that that little nail didn't move. At all. Finally, I asked the other co-leader. She patiently gave me some suggestions, watched me practice, helped correct errors and sent me on my way. The nail was in. It probably would've brought a greater sense of accomplishment if it didn't appear that I had just ruined the chance of this particular door ever shutting completely.

Undaunted and with some new hammering knowledge, I tackled a few other nails. I moved to a new door frame, bent over and went to pound the nail with a fresh, confident vengeance that landed on the side of my finger. Sure enough the bruise formed promptly and my knuckle slowly swelled to avoid further bending.

Time for a break.

At the end of the break there was only 45 minutes left before I had said I would leave. I congregated with the group awaiting further instructions. Out of nowhere, a beam descended from on high and landed on my foot. Doubting, though maybe hoping a little bit, this was a message from God that I should get out even earlier than I planned, I turned to the person picking it up to see what had actually happened. Turns out my foot was of little consequence since the beam had actually ricocheted off of another volunteer's head. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we wear hard hats. It is also why I would have been grateful for steel-toed, construction-worthy boots to blunt the bruise that was invariably forming across the top of my foot. But, I only had a hammer.

The last minutes passed uneventfully. I learned some new hammer/nail angles and anticipated soreness in my arms and lower back. Turns out there was even more that I didn't know about construction: it's not your arms and lower back that will be sore - it's your butt. I attempted a surpressed-gleeful goodbye, admired my friend's fortitude for staying longer and bolted.

I went home to nurse my swollen finger, tender foot and soon-to-be achy backside. I'm glad to say I tried it once, but I probably won't be doing it again. Maybe if it gets to "inside" work that actually translates to working inside a fully constructed house, I could handle it (and starts at 10 AM). Hammering is clearly not my forte. At the very least, I hope I managed to do more good than harm, but I'm not even sure about that. There is a closet in the house that might be problematic.

1 comment:

  1. hahahahahahaha. i just read this and it made my night :) i say boo for false advertising! "inside" = where nature can't touch you

    maybe they'll call when they need help decorating :)