“Bloody Lynne, wake up.” MAD mumbled outside my tent.
“Mumph,” My voice was muffled by a mouthful of pillow. “Areyouserious?” I whined with great consternation. The raucous song of all those infernally nocturnal animals was hardly the lullaby needed for sleep. I finally reached that magical land behind my eyelids when it all faded entirely from view. They sang throughout the night, chattering, chuckling, and burrowing beneath the ground around me.
“Yeah, I am.” She answered sullenly, hearkening me back to the bleak reality of morning. “We have to be at the bar in an hour. Big day.”
“I’m up.” I pulled my head out of the pillowcase, donned my fuzzy blue bathrobe and dragged myself out of the tent. Stuffed in one pocket was an energy drink and the other a breakfast bar. The two of us boldly trekked to the head to get ready. It was Volunteer Day.
As part of the Con our crew signed up to help rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward. We met at the pub at 6:30 in the morning as scheduled. The earliest I have been at a bar before, ever. Especially on a Monday morning. There was an interesting array of us assembled, ready and wiling to work. There was a folk band from Canada, proprietors of a pirate magazine, and an affable couple from California. The crew caravanned to headquarters. Lowernine.org, a non-profit organization allows volunteers to plant neighborhood fruit-bearing trees and help rebuild homes destroyed in the hurricane. There they sanctioned us off into teams and we were each handed a shovel and a map. Like pirates on a treasure hunt, only we were planting trees and not digging for gold we marched in step six abreast down the sun-baked streets with shovels slung over our shoulders. Our shirts matched. A few people asked what we were up to as we passed through the poorly populated parish. “You know, volunteering, planting trees, being pirates.” We’d answer cheerfully and gave them the information to the organization so they too could have their own fruit bearing trees which were already there when we arrived. There was roughly five of them in total. All we had to do was dig the designated holes and give them a home. For some of us, this was the most manual labor we had in while, myself included, having a desk job at a college publication. Then it was on to the next house. We got more than what we signed up for at the last stop. The lady recanted her life story as we planted her trees. We also hauled some rubbish to the roadside and the dumped stagnant water from her truck-bed compartment. In turn for our hard work she offered to give us a ride back to base. Seated on the wheel-well, I held on for my dear life. Mud and the dregs of dirty brown water sloshed and the shovels slid and smacked at our feet. We were launched on a torpedo tour of the Lower Ninth Ward. Sightseeing as we rocketed down the road, I was making friends with my buddy in the back of the truck, the one with the horns super-glued to his forehead. “This guy, he’s still talking,” I said to myself in wonderment, desperately trying to hear him over the rush of the wind and the screech of the tires. This guy was all right. The truck jostled and jumped. Any sense of direction was lost. Even after trekking through these very streets all morning there was no telling where exactly our driver was taking us. Not back to headquarters. Left turn, right turn and so on. Then we came to a skidding stop. Bodies and shovels collided and all conversation ceased. Before us stretched a great green mound and behind it the murky outline of the Mississippi River. Something some of us have only heard about, but have never actually seen. Not from this angle. Up close and in person. We sat there a second in silence until someone said the word “levee.”
“Its not a levee that broke, but you get the idea.” Our driver and tour guide said. “Go on have a look.” The volunteers disembarked on shaky legs from the vehicle and climbed up to get a better view of the busy port. Standing on top, one can only imagine a structure like that bearing the brunt and breaking under the sheer brute of nature. The landscape swallowed by so much water. We nodded in agreement and made our solemn descent to the vehicle and headed back to base.
At Lower Nine headquarters there was but a brief reprieve in between work. They fed us sandwiches, offered us a place to sit a spell and sent us back to work. Laying sheet-rock and slowly rebuilding houses that were still abandoned. Psalms and bible verses were scrawled on the exposed framework in permanent marker acting like wards and charms against further tragedy; an indelible addition to the infrastructure.
It was late afternoon when they no longer needed our services and the volunteers were set free. Sore, sweaty, dirty, wretchedly smelly and undoubtedly exhausted the three of us headed back to the bayou. Sadly, after such a hard day’s work there was only a matter of hours to regroup, shower, rustle up some dinner and a costume change before the next big event. Not enough time for a nap. It was the first time that two Curvy Dogs from Central New York and a Cincinnati Captain Jack Sparrow would make our piratical debut. For some strange reason, I had a nagging anxiety about the whole ordeal. Poised to enter and be counted among our kind I couldn’t help but wonder what if we weren’t accepted? Then I thought for second, we’re pirates for fuck’s sake, and we bravely boarded the bar. My fears were unfounded, washed overboard by the obscene amazement of $4 pitchers of PBR and a California-based pirate rock band called The Pirates Charles. It was lust at first sight. Once again drunk and overly stimulated I tossed and turned inside my tent. Sleep was still elusive.