Friday, April 24, 2009

playing dirty

I try to keep this blog light and fun, even in the midst of water-filled basements and flooded dreams. Normally, such an event provides more material than and Irish Chain quilt. Well, this is one is no different. The only problem is, when flood waters invade people’s homes, they steal the silly away too. 

If I don't post, its mostly because I A). don't have time or B). I can't laugh yet.

Monday was one of, if not the worst, day so far. I worked Friday night. And again Saturday. Then I sandbagged. And worked Sunday. And Monday. And sandbagged Tuesday. 

The combination of stress, fear and sense of obligation is one I've tried to convey in my newspaper stories but have ignored here. Monday I confessed I was "flooded out." Not in the sense I had water on my property aside from that of my toilet bowl, but because I'd lost my appetite. And I'm a hungry girl for both peanut butter balls and a good interview.

So I figured a good morning of sandbagging would set me straight... straight to the chiropractor. And the guy to girl ratio didn't hurt either. 

After a breakfast of bran flakes and blueberries, this girl hiked downtown, ready to bag, tie... whatever they needed. Well, they didn't need baggers any more. They needed builders. 

Bring it on, I said.

Soon, I was the only lady in a line of uniformed National Guard soldiers. Lucky for them, they had me to explain how this sandbagging business is done. I don't know how I did it, but somehow my energy returned... 

I don't typically dress up to sandbag and Tuesday was no exception. The day started at 8 a.m. so I broke out my old all-girl school habits and wore exactly what’d I’d worn to bed the night before. After a night shift, I'm barely up that early, let alone manually laboring. But despite my unbrushed hair, unbrushed teeth (gum saves time) and maybe-I-remembered-deodorant-maybe-I-didn't armpits, I found a way to flirt. 

And by "found a way," some people may call it sexual harassment. I call it verbal volleyball.   

That's a cute-looking little purse you got there, one gent said of my Fourth of July back-pack poncho. Had he been cute, I'd have blushed, giggled and mumbled "thankss uh... you."

But since his belly resembled that of a woman two weeks til childbirth, I told him not too worry. They come in pink too.

To show him and all the other dudes up, I lifted bags from their pallets to a neighboring volunteer’s open arms. The task is one of the more demanding of the ordeal, the most being throwing them and the least being handing them back and forth. And if you think four hours of hand-to-hand transactions is simple, head north. Turn left at the sign marked "asshole."

Sometimes a kind-hearted, big muscley guy wanted to trade spots me. I told him he could move sand or he could pound it, but he wasn't getting my job. 

I learned that skill while playing football with the boys in seventh grade. You had to first prove how much better, stronger, faster you were than everyone else before they’d consider you a measly equal. Idiots. 

During the construction phase, sometimes the sandbags aren't tied tight enough or sometimes they tear a little. I like to call those sandbags bleeders. The bleeders ricochet wet sand like water sprinklers, sending it in mouths, ears, eyeballs and crevices you didn’t know existed. 

Whoa, that's a good one, I said, shaking out my shirt. 

Careful, he'll want to help you with that, said one machinist with chew in his pocket and a rose tattoo on his arm. 

I'll need someone with more experience, I said. 

I don't think they appreciated it too much as soon they were taking longer than usual to retrieve my forward pass, causing me to lose my momentum, pause and lift again. 

Sorry, the pregnant man said, I just thought you looked good holding that thing. 

I look good doing pretty much anything, I said, wondering where the audacity came from. Was that milk in my cereal or Miller Light?

Soon my morning was over and it was back to the office where I stunned everyone and myself with how not sore I felt.

Then Wednesday happened. 

Suddenly I felt like Godzilla sat on me, pulled my hair and insulted my mother. 

Ibuprofen didn’t work. But bragging about it did. Sympathy for the sandbagger? I’d ask. Anything for our savior, they’d say. What can we do to repay you?

I accept cash, check and chocolate chip cookies. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

take me to the promised sand

Last week's sandbagging adventure wasn't enough, so I showed up to show the river up again.

Some homes here inundated with water overnight, flooding basements and half-drowning parked cars. Volunteers raced to sandbag with the few artillery they'd kept in reserves. Officials had released my county's sandbags to neighboring towns fighting floods down south, leaving few sandbags to rely upon should the waters rise again. So they called the city to help bundle more.

Since I am the sandbag savior and all, I figured the least I could do was pick up the phone. And a shovel.

Armed with a red sweatshirt and two grocery bags around my legs (to prevent water seepage in both my home and footwear apparel) I tried not to crinkle with every step. If not for the melodies of Bobcats, payloaders and prison-inmate banter, I'd have sounded a sprinting woman sporting a jumbo maxi.

Which gave me an idea... if the sandbags don't work, we could always try feminine napkins. 

But before I brought that idea to the city council, I perched upon my upside-down bucket Saturday morning, ready to catch sand in my chest, nose and hair. If any was left over, we'd put some in a bag too. 

Suzie, my new sandbag sister, manned her shovel and worked it like a lady.

And by lady, I mean the retired farmer with 40 years of garden hoe experience, commented on Suzie's agility, dexterity and sheer shovel-prowess. For two hours, Suzie lifted her shovel up and bent down to alter my inside-out tweed sand holders. 

Back and forth, up and down she went for two straight hours without taking one break, deep breath or sweaty brow. 

In fact, Suzie made me feel so inept, after seven hours of sandbagging, I sent myself to the gym.

But we aren't done yet. 

In addition to bagging sand, that day I also built dikes. 

Some rural homes had water issues of their own, so volunteers hauled bags through backyards and flooded driveways building a dike and tearing up

For most of the project, we stood in an alternating line, tossing what felt like overweight toddlers. Some of the toddlers must have had accidents however, as my red sweatshirt is no longer so. 

At one point, the gaps between me and my neighboring tossers were so large, I needed a hop, skip and a U-haul to get from one person to the other. 

Whoa! hey, a fellow tosser said. We can shift a little so you don't have to toss as far.

Don't worry about me, I said, to both the dude and the James River. Bring it on.

He didn't let me, but I didn't at all feel bad about flexing my muscles after. Suzie had me and every other sandbag tosser beat. But my biceps followed closely behind.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Saga of the sandbag

I'd signed up for two 6-hour sandbagging shifts, but the flood gods must love me as I only worked one. My first shift was canceled because the coordinators ran out of pallets. 

So yesterday I packed my wallet, phone and $15 men-size-small construction gloves and headed for downtown. 

I didn't have anyone to go with, but to my surprise, a co-worker had signed up for the same shift. Suddenly he was shoveling and I was bagging/barfing. In fact, I think my lungs are dirtier because of sand-inhalation than they'd be if I smoked a pack a day.

And it wasn't just my lungs. 

It was my arms, chest and down my shirt too. If I'd have packed duct tape, I'd have taped the collar of my shirt to my neck. Even if tearing the tape tore my skin, at least I wouldn't still be picking rocks out of my flesh.

For those who like me, had never sandbagged and are unfamiliar with how taxing is, allow me to explain. Pressing my fingers with an iron is more fun.

Just kidding. It wasn't that bad. It was worse. 

The set up is like this: imagine the standard elementary cafeteria size-table with three holes in it. The carpenter stuck upside-down orange construction cones in the holes to guide the sand. 

The sand, by the way, isn't like the sand on the beaches of Mexico. The sand is wet and muddy and although I didn't see any worms, I'm sure I ate three or four. 

For most of the bagging effort, I sat on a bucket like a cow-milker and bagged that sand, turning my head and closing my eyes with every scoop. I must have made faces too because soon, FEMA people with video cameras zoomed in, trying to get a Pulitzer-prize wining shot.

Look for me soon at, the guy said. Now my newspaper cohort and I know what its like on the other side of the lens...

The best part of bagging, however, is the food. 

Little Ceasers, American Red Cross and a handful of volunteers stood in line to feed us. Every two hours. Normally a person doesn't need three meals in six hours. But we did. Actually, I didn't. But the dilly bar would've gone to waste without me. And we have enough troubles.

So back to work we went. Except this time I took the backseat and tied. And by backseat I mean I stood.

See, a young gymnast of about 11 years was assigned the tying task, but she took a little too long and didn't tie quite as tight. An untied sandbag is about as useless as trying to block water with our fingers. Good luck. 

So 11-year-old sat on the bucket while I bent down to tie the bag and stood back up to haul the honkers onto the wooden pallets. 

Now, sandbags are cheap and made with the least expensive materials. That means I had to tighten plastic string between my fingers. I have no bruises, but a couple cuts. 

My back, however, is still mad and me. I grunted and groaned with every lift. Today, it feels like one of those cymbal-clapping monkeys took his instrument and beat me with it. And then spit on my broken body. 

To add insult to injury, the football players behind me tossed the sandbags like lateral passes. Assholes.

Anyways, after a second break and a full glass of 2 percent milk, I was back to the bagging. But not for too long as my co-worker needed a break from all the shoveling. I can do it, I said. 

Except that I couldn't. 

Not without looking like an idiot anyway. I tried to bend at the knee instead of my back... but I think not wearing deodorant is more attractive. I stuck the shovel in the dirt and barely lifted any sand at all. In fact, what my co-worker could lift in two scoops, I needed four. In case I hadn't lost enough dignity, the guy next to me shoveled both his bags and then helped me with mine. 

By the end of the shift, my head ached and my muscles bruised. The only solution, I decided, was to soak myself. In beer. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

take this job and glove it

In preparation for this flood, ahem, water release, I had to make a stop at the neighborhood hardware store. To me, hardware store is more an oxymoron than a place of business but alas, dad said buy leather gloves. So I did. 

And so the story goes. 

Naturally, I didn't know what kind of gloves to buy or where a store would locate such hand protectors. In fact, I didn't know a lot of things. Did you know you could by both heavy-duty power hoses, extra strength mildew-cleaner-offer and Hershey's chocolate all in the same location?  

I don't know if it was the length of my hair or the click of my high heels, but the hardware personnel somehow knew this shopping experience was a first for me. 

Soon a nice lady with a ponytail in her hair was showing me leather padded gloves, leather insulated gloves and chemical protectant gloves. 

No, no, I said. How about these purple ones? 

Those are for gardening, she said.

But they're the cutest, I said.

She told me no. I shouldn't bother sandbagging in those and with that attitude, I shouldn't bother sandbagging at all. You're a city-ruiner, she said.

Ok, she didn't say it. But I could tell she was glad she lived uphill. 

I told her if I could survive this winter wearing snow boots only once, I deserve a little credit. And by credit, I mean credit card for my hard-earned summer shopping spree.

Leather gloves or none at all, she said.


I don't know what the different padding, textures and colors meant. I just knew they all were both ugly and smelled like the inside of a cowboy boot. I settled for the only Men's Small (for my dainty little hands!) in the whole store. 

Sandbagging begins tonight. Wish me luck. Or send peanut butter balls. If I can't save the world, at least I'll have a tasty treat to keep me busy until the coast guard comes.


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