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 www.youtube.com/fema, 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.