I spent a good deal of Sunday hanging sheetrock with Donal at Karen’s house in Atlantic City. Her kitchen, which was completely gutted due to the devastation of hurricane Sandy, is the current focus of Donal’s complete restoration of her home. Karen lost nearly all of her belongings in the first floor of her small home during the storm.
As we prepared to begin to sheetrock, with me tapping back nails and screwing screws back into the lath, Donal asked me to tell Karen about all the items that our friend, Bethann, and I had sourced for her. I ran off a list, including a sofa, new 20″ TV, pair of twin beds and boxsprings, $500 cash towards flooring, five bar stools, a filing cabinet, and a bookcase. These items added to the fridge and kitchen cabinets that were already donated by other friends.
She shook her head in disbelief, smiled, and said, “The funny thing is that the bookcase makes me the most happy. I lost all of my books in the storm.” I asked what she liked to read and she said she is a non-fiction reader, enjoying Christian books and also biographies. I told her one of my book clubs was reading the biography, “Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum discovered the great American story” by Evan I. Schwartz next month and I’d lend it to her when I was done.
I asked Karen what has surprised her the most from the aftermath of a devastating hurricane and her reply was mighty quick. She said she couldn’t get over the generosity of complete strangers. To tell you the truth, I can’t either. I can’t believe Donal is intending to, not only get me and every other person he can out of their house at 6:30 am on a weekend to help him help her, but that he plans to see this thing through. It is a huge job! And one that a gentle, kind woman, who likes to read non-fiction and has worked at a homeless women’s shelter for more than two decades, indeed deserves.
Other highlights of the day, besides of course, the fact that I screwed in enough sheetrock that the soft skin between my index finger and thumb got slightly blistered, was meeting her insurance adjuster. Who, finally, that day, came to look over her home’s damage, 70 days since the storm touched ground.
It was the first house he looked at, in his brand new job as an adjuster. He, along with 360 other newly trained adjusters, would finally get into homes that hadn’t been seen yet. I paused and turned my head to hear him speak to Karen in the next room and smiled like any decent troublemaker would, when his first question was if this was a home or a row home. I almost fell to the floor in mischievous laughter and looked at Donal, pointed to the floor and said quietly, “Yeah, it’s a home alright, people live here. Duh!” It took all of me to not follow this poor guy around and make his next paycheck’s virgin expedition turn into a bullet-sweating, t-crossing hell by a girl who can run off questions faster than lightning.
I hung back though, and continued to work.
After he left, I asked Karen what she thought of the concerts and all the fancy fundraising. She said she was given four blankets, a bucket, and a mop from the Red Cross a week after the storm and hasn’t seen them since. She, herself, hasn’t seen or knew of anyone who received any assistance from any non-profit, other than small church groups. She then told me that the City of Atlantic City stopped taking debris after December 15, meaning any demolition material would have to go into a rented dumpster. Well, City of Atlantic City, for some people who have no money, have no help, and maybe haven’t seen their insurance company show up yet… way to go! Way to go Federal Gov’t, way to go FEMA, way to go stupid-bullshit-useless-feel-good-asshole-fronted-12.12.12-concert!
The only thing I heard after the 12.12.12 concert was “Mick Jagger was AMAZING!” to which I should have replied each and every time, “Ummm, aren’t we supposed to be helping people in a time of extreme crisis?? What good is watching the Stones for people like Karen?? She’s never going to see those dollar bills!” Man, I wish I could have stood on that stage and told the whole world about Karen, about her poor neighbors and friends, most of whom do not have any help, some of whom have not even gone home yet… 70 days later in the richest country in the world.
If you would like to lend a hand and help us get Karen’s house back together, please contact me. One day of labor makes a big difference. According to Donal, anyone is useful, which he proved to be true on Sunday. If I can sheetrock, you can sheetrock. And if you’re lucky, Donal might even take you to the famous Irish Pub for a cold beer and a sandwich after you bust your ass, helping a decent person get her life back together.
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