It’s been a month since our carpet and tile was taken out and the reflooring was interrupted by the discovery of a leak in the master shower. Since that time we’ve been living with and walking on unfinished cement floors, which are in a constant state of erosion. The furniture still sits where it doesn’t belong and my clothes, the counters, the dishes and glasses, the bath towels, and the bedding are all coated with dust. At this point I have been gritty for weeks and my dust allergy has me popping Sudafed and Claritin several times a day.
Since I’m inhaling grit in my home, it’s no wonder that I feel the need for some fresh air. And what a happy coincidence that the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity decided that quick, they’d better get that house painted because we’re fixing to have several days of rain.
Habitat’s David’s thing, not mine, but this isn’t their scheduled day, which means many of the regulars won’t be available.
“I’ll come and paint as long as I won’t end up standing around waiting for decisions to be made.”
I have a picture in my head of several well-intentioned workers slumping aimlessly in a circle around a can of paint, brushes in hand, as they await direction, but the people in charge are so reluctant to sound bossy that the workers never receive clear instructions. Being subjected to dithering leaders is the worst thing about charity work.
“We’ll be happy to have you,” David says, glad that I’m coming out of my house-focused funk. “There’s plenty of painting to go around.”
Seventy degrees and humid with a pleasant breeze. Hard to believe that three days ago it was down to twenty-seven. I arrive late because I must let our work crew in before taking off. At the Habitat House I’m greeted and made to feel welcome by the other volunteers. I’m given a paintbrush and told to get started. So much for my fear of ditherers.
I introduce myself to the man painting to my right. He tells me that he’s been building Habitat houses since 2001. Worked on twenty of them. Good for him.
I dip my brush and start poking at the wall. I’m not gifted in this area. I tend to scrub instead of stroke.
“I’ve got to leave for a doctor’s appointment,” one guy announces to the whole group. “I’ll be back in half an hour.”
This draws laughter because the guy’s delusional. A doctor appointment eats up at least two hours.
Another painter calls the shade of paint “Babyshit,” which is funny because it’s true.
One thing about Marble Falls is that there are no zoning restrictions. You might find a real nice house adjacent to a falling down one. Next to this house on one side is another house, similar because it’s also Habitat-built. However, on the other side is a property that’s a cluttered disturbing slummy mess—leaning walls, bald roof, screens curled, dirty walls surrounded by dirt. Old stuff propped against more old stuff—mattresses, poles that serve no purpose, rusted tools.
The man and woman who live in this long-neglected house wander over. The woman is tall and thin and there’s something disarranged about her features. She walks up the steps and enters the house as though she has a place here. She remarks on the progress and when people cease to pay attention she continues talk, talk, talking to no one as she shuffles through the construction zone like a spook. The man who came with her takes a place on a bench and, with a vacant eye, watches us paint. He seems to possess no volition. I find the pair disturbing.
“What’s with those two?” I ask my co-workers.
“They hang out and watch.” The man on my right is clearly confounded. “We’re they entertainment. Like they have nothing better to do.”
“Looks like mental illness to me.” I say this because this couple is acting crazy and they must be doing it for a reason.
“The city’s fined ’em twenty-five thousand on account of the state of that lot,” says the guy on my left.
“I think they’re trying to get ’em out of there.” From the right.
“It’s their home. Where would they go?” I ask. “Marble Falls isn’t in the business of creating a homeless class.”
“It’s a puzzle.”
Mostly the conversation is made up of grumbling about the lack of a leader in the building of this house. From the beginning a lot of bickering and hurt feelings took place and continued to take place until the person who had agreed to take on the role of Head Guy resigned. These people I’m working with today view this as a hindrance, but I’m not seeing it. The house looks good and it will be finished on schedule. Everyone’s working together and they’re all getting along. The electrician, roofer, and plumber have done what they said they’d do. All this success without somebody hovering around dithering over what to do next and how to do it. What could be better than that?