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Pensacola with a purpose: an ASB diary

Part Two: Machetes, chain saws and the joys of 98-cent pizza

Part two of a five-part series. Click here to read part one.

Tuesday, March 7

Katie and Kendrick are standing in front of a refrigerator that has been without power for more than a week. They are pulling out slabs of rotted bologna, packages of stale sweet potatoes, and jars of rancid mayonnaise while trying hard not to look at or smell anything. But there’s a problem they just can’t ignore — the ham sitting in a roasting pan.

“Don’t look at it!” Katie says as Kendrick pulls it from the fridge.

“It’s covered with white spots!” Kendrick wails as she opens the lid.
Squealing and grimacing, they dump the ham into the plastic garbage bag I’m holding out to them. A trickle of warm liquid rolls slowly across my wrist.

“Eeeww! Ham spatter!”

“Eeeew!”

“Gross!”

It’s the end of a long day of weeding, digging, cleaning, and chainsawing, and the ham is an extremely unwelcome surprise in a string of unexpected events. Today’s job site is not the trailers we thought we would be going to; instead, Daryl leads us to a home two blocks from our hotel that he describes, aptly, as a jungle.

It turns out to be a double-wide trailer owned by Carolyn, the mother of four foster children, who have been temporarily relocated until the trailer is made habitable. A large woman who uses a portable oxygen tank, Carolyn is living in a small house next door. Her backyard is overgrown with palm trees, weeds, and vines that are just a few feet from the back door. Our task is to clear away 18 feet of dense growth and spread new dirt by the front steps to level off the recently reconstructed wheelchair ramp. Daryl drops off several machetes and a chainsaw for the yard; Karen, the surfer/snowboarder/kung-fu artist, who has turned out to be somewhat accident-prone, whoops with excitement. Dan looks wary, and when she heads out back with a machete, he follows discreetly.

We learn quickly that palm fronds are very sharp and very tough and that the vines here are thick and heavy. Everyone crouches down and begins hacking and hauling, dragging rotted boards and old cinderblocks out of the backyard and slowly thinning out the brush. Waterbugs — the name given to inch-long flying cockroaches — are everywhere, and Daryl has warned us that it’s snake season. But slowly the pile diminishes. Evan turns out to be a machete champion, and Dan is a whiz with a chainsaw. By lunchtime the backyard is transformed.

It is only our second day of work here, and already the daily peanut-butter and jelly picnic has become a pleasant routine: Amy, who is badly allergic to nuts, fetches her turkey sandwich from a separate cooler; Matt sticks Doritos between the peanut butter and the jelly; Dan finishes my bag of baby carrots. The conversation consists of most-disgusting roommate stories.

After lunch, we clean the fridge and play in the dirt, shoveling and tamping it down to make a smooth surface. We play one last round of Dumpster Monster, where somebody climbs in the dumpster to stamp down the branches and leaves, and everyone heads back to the Mallory Apartments.

We are living in two apartments next door to each other, but only one of them, the one shared by Kendrick, Karen, Stephanie, Becky, Evan, and me, has a kitchen, so we host dinner each night. Tonight our meal is 98-cent frozen pizzas from Wal-Mart, which, we agree, are really pretty tasty, although Amy notes that we’re so hungry and tired that just about anything would taste delicious. Some of us eat leftover hot dogs from Sunday: the girls heat them in the toaster oven; the boys eat them cold. Last night, Kendrick asked us to play the game called Rose and Thorn, in which we all say one good thing and one bad thing about the day. Tonight, everyone’s excited about a walk to Walgreens and a round of Mafia, a role-playing game that asks players to create and solve a murder mystery.

Today, we would all agree, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as they did on Monday. After the rush of knocking down walls and working side by side with Terry, weeding and cleaning are a bit of a letdown. Plus, it’s our fourth consecutive day in one another’s company, and the relentless closeness has unleashed a few tempers. At least one “You’re not my mom!” incident was witnessed by more than a few people. But so far these things have blown over quickly. Maybe it’s exhaustion, maybe it’s maturity, and maybe we’re all still glad to be here — just not every single moment.

Tomorrow should be problem-free: we are scheduled for a half-day of work and a half-day at the beach. Make that: tomorrow should be fun.

Read Part Three

Read more Alternative Spring Breaks stories.