Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Building Empire Update

Hola todos!

This is to update y'all on the progress on Mr. George Strong's house on Lee St.

We are in full paint mode, putting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd coats on the walls and it is beautiful. There are 7 colors, craftfully chosen by Mr. George and Hands On's highly skilled interior decoration specialists. Thanks to the pro quality rock and mud job managed by our live-in genius Amanda, the paint is finishing clean and smooth.

Also, a committed crew busted it for 1 week plus to start and finish the siding. The house is all wrapped for Christmas and we're taking a break for break.

More updates, more consistantly. Promise.



Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Big Sneak Attack

So..Marj and I snuck away for the month of December.. we are currently bumming around in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.. which is where I grew up. There has been a lot of Christmas tree decorating and visiting with old friends... This has been helpful with passing the time while I patiently await the birth of my nephew (my best friends baby) which should be any day now. Marj and I love you guys!! For those who are not returning after Christmas my e-mail is KKernan09@hotmail.com so please keep in touch.

See you guys in January

I'll leave you with this to remember me:

My puppy.. don't let his adorable face deceive you...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A few hours in East Biloxi

I was finally able to tear myself away from the desk where I had sat for most of the week, sorting through electronic paperwork, formating files, preparing reports, and crunching numbers. I was exhausted, staying up until midnight most nights this week. You know, that's just the way it is.

I had promised the Falcon earlier in the week that I would come take photos of her cast. She's directing a children's theater production of A Christmas Carol. I had completely forgotten about this commitment, and was vexed on Saturday when she reminded me. Dang, that means I have to leave my number crunching ...

Actually, I was itching for a reason to get out of the building and a commitment to take photos was the best reason. Because the Biloxi Little Theater is right next to Mr. George's house on Lee St., I stopped in to see how the dry wall hanging was going. Luc was leading a crew of folks installing some dry wall on the ceiling, in the bathroom, and the utility room. Yeah, more drywall. It's great to see Mr. George's house moving along. He finally passed all his rough-in inspections ...

Moving from the serene symphony of measure, cut, sand down, try to place, bang on, remove, sand down, look discouraged, try to place again, and apply more banging until you have a good fit that is the process of hanging drywall, I went into the chaos of little children unleashed on Hands On volunteers. Saturday is apparently the day that the kids have found a boundless well of energy ...

I took my photos, most of which turned out poorly because of the light in the theater, my lack of experience working in bad light, and not having a good flash. Still, I think we got a couple keepers for the press release.

All I have to say .... Falcon, Ali (NCCC), and Ali (AmeriCorps), yall are saints for working with the kids. It's not that the kids are bad. It's just that the kids have so much energy, it's amazing that yall can keep up with them. I certainly could not do your job. Hats off! I'm excited to see the show.

I left to check out the Mr. George's again. The day was almost done. Luc and I were chatting and Luc saw it ... the little piggie. Yes, folks, on Lee St., across from Mr. George's house, there was a little black piggie oinking about. So cute. Naturally Luc tried to catch it. He ran after it, dropping his tool belt in the neighbor's yard.

I jogged after them trying to get a photo. The pig was smart and wouldn't let itself get cornered. Sorry, Luc, you had no chance against the wiley piglet. The funniest part of the chase was when Luc shouted at a group of kids playing near the Yankee Stadium, "Quick kids!!! Help me catch the pig!!!" One kid replied, "I ain't nevuh seen a pig."

Ahhhh ... an afternoon in East Biloxi. Dry wall, kids on stage, and pigs on the street. Does life get more diverse?

:: Chris ::

P.S. Luc, you made the blog, what do I get? :)
P.P.S. If you look hard at the photo, you might notice that it's been edited. That was to make it fit a little better on the screen. The pig really was there, just talk to Luc.

motownphilly back again...

It's hard to even begin to comprehend my experience at the Boyz 2 Men concert last night. I was standing outside the Magnolia Ballroom at the Beau Rivage Casino and all the sudden from inside the other room I heard the lyrics to "Motownphilly." When I stepped into the concert hall my mind immediately flashed back to the days of braces, koolots, awkward growth spurts and middle school dances. After dancing all around and singing at the top of my lungs we finally made our way to our seats.

The show just kept getting better and better and was blowing my mind with every song that came on. Only a few songs into the show our (mostly my) enthusiasm eventually scared away the older couple who was sitting next to us. Highlights of the show included the classics On Bended Knee, Thank You, and Water Runs Dry. Far and away, the best songs were I'll Make Love To You and End of the Road; Elly and I were lucky enough to made our way to the front row just in time for these songs. Our bodies were pressed up against the stage and were two of the few "chosen" who received roses from the Boyz while belting out the lyrics at the top of our lungs. Our faces were glowing with sweat from singing so loudly off key and our hearts were racing from the thrill of seeing, and being so close, to the idols of my adolescent years.

Before I keep gushing about the Boyz I have to backtrack and mention the appearance of one of ours truly. Halfway through the concert we somehow persuaded Mr. Chris de Veer (probably because of our charming personalities and dashing good looks) to bring Hands On Hooded Sweatshirts to the show so we could give them to the performers. As the show was winding down Elly and I made our way back to the front of the room, sweatshirts in hand, to give out to the Boyz. Just as we got up there, End of the Road came on and the crowd went MAD. Every direction you looked in the audience there were screaming girls dressed to the nines hoping to be noticed by the three guys on stage. Everyone kept pushing their way to the front with the hope to touch the legs of a singer, give them a hug, or sing along in the microphone. Luckily we were right there in the thick of things and were able to give them our sweatshirts.

They ended the show with another rousing performance of Motownphily before bowing out. I was still in awe after the lights came back on and the auditorium cleared out; I stood there grinning from one ear to the other and not knowing what to do with myself. Standing there on stage, guarding the curtain from some crazed girl to make a run for the celebrities. Once I was a little more composed I approached the man, told him about Hands On and asked if there was a chance I could go backstage and get a picture of the Boyz with the sweatshirts. 5 minutes later he came back and before I knew it i was walking backstage to meet the guys.

My adrenaline was pumping, my palms were sweating and for the first minute I was in the room I was so overwhelmed I couldn't say anything. There they were, sitting on plush couches in the room just hanging out. They were very relaxed, asked who I was and what I did. They were very gracious and very thankful for all the work we do here at Hands On and were more than willing to hold up the sweatshirts and take a picture. I thanked them very much and was about to walk out the door and they asked if my friends and I were going to attend the "after party" at club Coast at the Beau. I walked out of there on could 9. I couldn't believe I had actually met them, let alone put my arms around them in a picture.

After telling my story in one long run on sentence to the rest of the group without taking a breathe the entire time, I stood there not quite sure what to do with myself. When discussing with the rest of the group whether or not we should attend the after party, of course, the crazed teenager inside of me wanted to go. We ended up going to the club for a bit. At this point I coming down off my high, was completely satisfied with my experience and ready to leave when all the sudden the three of them walked through the door of the club. Lo and behold, Shawn from the group walks through the door wearing his brand new Hands On sweatshirt. At that point I knew we had had enough; we had sufficiently left our mark and it was time for us to go. We had reached the end of the road.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A little free time

I find myself with a little free time between installations of software at 3am and 8am. Why am I up at 3am? Maybe it was the mint green tea I had just before bed. The little bit of caffeine being just enough to wake me up in the wee hours of the morning and render me in capable of returning to the sacred slumber.

So ... I turn to completing tasks I wouldn't normally get done, which include installing software ... in between software installations, I have a little time to write about the random thought that entered my mind while reading one of the fun fact sheets conveniently posted in the bathrooms and other strategic places. There was a stastic about how much of various substances are contained in the average human body. Things like how much sulfur (enough to kill all the fleas on a dog), how much sodium, and how much water.

It was the water statistic that got me calculating. People who know me here know that it doesn't take much to get me calculating. So, it should come as no surprise I would wonder what sort of average person only has 70lbs of water in them. See, I thought that people were about 75% water by weight. That means the averge person the statistic is talking about is less than 100lbs.

It turns out that the average percent water weight in a person depends on age and body fat composition. The more fat, then less water. Hence the percentage can vary, but 65% seems to be the most agreed upon number. That means that you're looking at an average person sitting at about 108lbs. Doesn't sound too average to me ... so I looked up the average weight for adult men and women.

Turns out we're looking at an average weight of 150ish, based on data from the NHANES III survey (1988 to 1994) . That means the average weight of water in adult human is more like 97.5lbs ....

Makes you wonder about all the number you hear people throw around, doesn't it. They say 74.3% of the people make up statistics on the spot.

Don't you wish I never had free time again?

:: Chris ::

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


“LETTERS FROM THE OTHER SIDE interweaves video letters carried across the U.S./Mexico border by the film’s director with the personal stories of women left behind in post-NAFTA Mexico, giving voice to 4 amazing women who feel the effects of failed immigration and trade policies on a daily basis. Focusing on a side of the immigration story rarely told by the media or touched upon in our national debate, LETTERS offers a fresh perspective, painting a complex portrait of families torn apart by economics, communities dying at the hands of globalization, and governments incapable or unwilling to do anything about it”.

Friday night, November, 17th, Hands On Gulf Coast hosted a ‘Dinner and a Movie’ event featuring the documentary film LETTERS FROM THE OTHER SIDE. Partnering with the United Methodist Hispanic/Latino Ministries, HOGC invited members of the gulf coast community to have dinner and watch the film together. The director and two of the women from the movie were present for a question and answer session afterwards. There was an excellent turn out with more than 50 community members in attendance.

On a personal note, for me it was a wildly successful evening. My job since returning to HOGC in late September has been to start up the Latino Outreach. It was slow going at first, but once I was introduced to Mary Townsend and Sally Bevill of the United Methodist Hispanic/Latino Ministries the pace of my life has been in constant acceleration. I now spend my days working in a rapidly growing and shifting Latino community that is trying to find its feet and be more than just the invisible hands rebuilding the gulf coast. I have the distinct pleasure to call many of my colleagues friends and have been accepted into this community with open arms. Many days I feel as though I have discovered a buried treasure, something so amazing and beautiful all I want to do is dance and shout at the top of my lungs “Look! Come see what I have found!”

Last Friday night was a chance for me to do just that. Many of my friends and colleagues from the Latino community came to the event. They sat at dinner tables with fellow HOGC volunteers and were visible, in fact the focus of the evening. The documentary is done in Spanish with English subtitles, so for at least one night they did not have to worry about translating. The movie was very powerful for them. I watched their faces change with the emotions of the people on the screen. For many of them it was a mirror of their lives. I watched young men struggle with the images of families left behind. I could see in their eyes they were thinking of their own families, their own mothers. I saw the guilt. I felt the guilt. There I was sitting with all of these amazing people who should be home, sharing their talents and hearts with the land and people they love. But instead they are sitting in a church auxiliary building in Biloxi, Mississippi, tired and weary from endless hours of manual labor. How had it come to this?

I also watched the faces of my fellow HOGC volunteers. In many I saw compassion, disgust, amazement and affirmation. Many of us are aware of the ‘immigration problem’ on a broad scope but it is an entirely different thing to watch its effect on a few families and then have the chance to meet two of them face to face. The volunteers welcomed our guests with smiles and kind words and they contributed significantly to the question and answer portion of the evening. I appreciated their insight and honesty. I was touched by their openness and empathy. I was elated by the positive feed back that followed for the next few days. The treasure chest had been opened to a few more eyes.

I am so happy and excited to be a part of what HOGC is doing on the gulf coast. We are truly rebuilding communities from ground up. Not only are we building people’s homes but we are helping them build neighborhoods and a united community that will be stronger than it was before and able to face whatever challenge comes its way, be it mother nature or uncle sam.

I leave you with a quote from one of my friends, Sergio, “With understanding, we can conquer anything”. I encourage you to seek out true understanding of the issues we face today, to dig deep into the messy, complicated side of life. Let your heart be entangled, your mind confused and your soul touched. Live life with understanding and emerge with the ability to conquer anything.

Que le vaya bien,

Elly Lehnert HOGC Biloxi

(If you are interested in viewing the documentary please contact your local PBS affiliate or contact me at elehnert@handsongulfcoast.org)

Monday, November 27, 2006

I'm thankful for....

~Thanksgiving week at Hands On Gulf Coast
~the best Turkey Day meal ever (thanks, Robin...and don't tell my mom I said that!)
~a 500 year old tree that has seen an incomprehensible amount of history & survived (thus far and we hope long into the future) to tell the tale
~a Spanish lesson for me in the midst of an ESL course for the community
~my new Mexican running buddy
~Chris' fantabulous soup
~Lionel Richie music after a night at Just Us
~the ability to block Eddie's hand and thus save myself from a bowl of whipped cream on my head
~Thanksgiving dinner conversation about authors and literature
~air mattresses
~great music and freakshow stunts at Open Mic
~the gratitude of strangers who have become friends
~the hope, energy, and determination of all the long-termers at HOGC
~a week spent in true community

~~ Laura (HON) ~~

Friday, November 24, 2006


We didn't come together to fulfill, to complete, a definition. We came to shift matter, colour, scent. The ground is more uniform beneath the tree, more planned. Yet the ground within the concrete triangle is strewn. Creation cannot be forced--forcedness alone negates uninhibited design. Function is fluid, like paint, like clay, like sleep. They made ovens from termite hills. We made an oven from a highway median. A divider brought humans together. Once, our clay saw opposing directions; now it sees the expansion and contraction of a kind of circle. Bricks made for flatness can become round. Flatness itself can be rounded.

We are not ants. We find it amusing, not necessary, to build a red mound. But it is necessary to build. Money spent on temporary creation?? Yes! Houses are temporal. Bodies are temporal. If anything is forever-lasting, it is because of a memory passed on, or because of the action's resulting action. Something would come of not acting, but Surely this is better.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


This week two members of the fearless feral four (Ali and Myself) accompanied by Marj (who is pretty much an honorary member) traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in an attempt to give 27 puppies from the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi a second chance of getting adopted into a loving home. After the three of us got over the initial shock of the size of the vehicle we would be traveling in, we packed the puppies in kennels and started on our way. Several minutes later the puppies grew restless and began to whine and bark for our attention. This condition failed to subside for the next 12 hours. Approximately two hours into the trip we realized that our supply of gas that was supposed to last us three quarters of the way to Ft. Lauderdale was soon to be depleted. This brought us to an hour and a half stand still at a lovely Exxon in Alabama due to the fact that none of us could figure out how to pump diesel fuel into our vehicle. So we went through our rounds of dog walking and giving out water. After consulting with a trucker, a gas station attendant, and my fellow travel companions we determined that this gas station was not for us and continued on our journey with fifteen dollars of gas and lots of junk food. The next eleven hours passed slowly with few honorable mentions: Panera Bread for the first time in months, two very cute puppies named Talulah and Marj the second, conquering diesel gas, and gas station movie theaters. When we arrived at the inn of America a half an hour from our destination we received our key to our very swanky hotel room and spent the next hour walking the dogs, cleaning after the Fat Poopy One, and feeding all 27 puppies. Ten minutes into these tasks Marj whimpers, “I think I found a dead body…” After realizing she was serious, I peaked my head out of the truck to find a tired bum sleeping in a ditch in front of us. He then got irritated with our presence and decided to take his sleeping bag elsewhere. At about 1:30 Eastern Standard Time we finally crashed in our somewhat, kind of, not really comfy beds and slept until 8:30. We awoke to the same sounds we fell asleep to, whining puppies. The decision was made to start on our way and clean out the kennels as we were driving. Note for all who are reading: THIS WAS A BAD IDEA. I failed to consider the fact that it would be somewhat difficult to clean out 18 cages full of poop in a moving vehicle. Fortunately, shortly after we left the hotel we arrived at the Humane Society of Broward County, dropped off our cargo, and received a nice little tour of the facility (WHERE I GOT TO SEE AN ACTUAL SURGERY TAKING PLACE!)(As well as the most pathetic bird that I have ever seen or will probably ever see). After asking where the nearest I Hop was we were on the road again but this time with a new task ahead of us, probably the most important one of all… (Dun Dun DUN) finding food. After circling the same few blocks for an hour we gave up on the idea of I Hop and settled for Dunkin Donuts. The rest of the trip was a little less than eventful. A few highlights however were: All I want for Christmas Is a Hippopotamus, A magical sleigh ride through Southern Florida, Running out of the funds provided by the Humane Society and once again relying on the ever so faithful Exxon card, AND FINALLY GETTING THE HECK OUT OF FLORIDA!

That’s all… Peace Out…

NEW squadron leader of the Fearless Feral Four (including Marj but missing ARB) Kristen

PS-Go Out and Adopt some Puppies!!!
Hands On Gulf Coast

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Importance of Blogging

I'm in New York right now, but the call of Hurricane Camp cannot be denied. That's why I'm writing a post. Just a couple days ago, the famed Blue 6 rolled through town on their way to the next spike. It was great to see them all (or at least most of them all ... next time David) and go out to dinner (why didn't you come with us Abby? :( ). In catching up a little, Abby and Crystal said that they didn't understand the importance of blogging, but now they look for blog updates whenever they get Internet access.

In New York, I'm checkin' in with New York Cares and visiting some former Hurricane Camp friends. Veenita and Janos are in school - Columbia and Fordham, respectively. Veenita told me that she and Janos love to look at the photos. They connect them to their experience in Biloxi and help them feel as though they're still part of something that continues to grow and evolve.

In my head, I know this, but it's always nice to hear that people actually do keep up with what we're doing. It also reaffirms how important a communication tool both the text and photo blogs are in providing current snapshots of the ever evolving repetoire of projects, challenges, and joys that Hands On executes, overcomes, and celebrates.

:: Chris :: (remotely from NYC ... the beauty of the Internet ...)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A day in the life

It's not that this day really captures my job, or my life, but rather that it embraces why we are here, and what we are here for. In a series of thoughts and events:

I stopped by the Howard Ave trailer park to see a resident, the older black guy who lives in a trailer there. I walk around the park after talking to him. There are a bunch of trailers FEMA has reclaimed, which I don't understand. I don;t know if it means people have found a place to go, or have no where to go. And there are the trailers with cardboard duct-taped to cover the broken windows, which I understand all too well. The Howard Ave trailer park isn't necesarily an inviting place, all concrete and gravel, aside from these new developments. The resident and I sit and talk. I sit on the steps of the trailer he is worried about losing. "They are going to start making us pay rent, water, electricity, and our own gas." He tells me about the trailer he lived in on Magnolia street before this, and I know that he has no where to go, and no amount of FEMA recertification visits are going to change the fact that there is no where to rent anymore.

I take my lunch at the Biloxi Bistro, and talk on the phone to a friend from home. My street team is going door-to-door talking to residents about the new proposed CDBG plan out of the Gov's office, a meeting the superintendent called, and the upcoming elections. I had dropped off a few of the CDBG explanations at businesses downtown the day before, and when I walk in the woman behind the counter turns to the US Post office employee ordering lunch and says, "oh, you were asking who brought this info in; it was this young lady." I eat my lunch, and the two PO guys eat thiers, but before they leave they ask me about my info, my job, where I live, and what work I do. They are transplants. Retired military. Living here a decade or more. And one week after the storm they walked the destroyed streets of Biloxi. They tell me about the erie feeling of a town with its doors swinging open, abandoned. And the hope they had brought to residents. "Neither rain nor...." I think. But I think about the trauma of being the embodiment of "normalcy" to a place you don't recognize. Of how they are doing now, as they thank me for my work, a work that started after the barges had been cleared, the roads openned, the mail regular.

It starts raining so I rush off to round up my team. We drive back to base and I explain Living Cities. At quarter to 6 I am out again, stopping by Kryzra Stallworth's Neighborhood Watch meeting, which is sparcely attended. Then off to the schools meeting. There I learn not only that schools will open in thier old locations a month before they were projected, now on Dec 4, but that they will house the boys and girls club, Head Start, and Moore Community House. I have sat with so many parents lamenting the complete lack of childcare, that this information literally makes me glow.

I set off to meet the coordination center chicks. Amy, Ginelle (sorry if misspelled), Elish, Lucille, and Tim. They are a giggly bunch when I arrive at the bar, laughing about work, and life, and East Biloxi, PTSD. The usual. I eat, we drink, and set off to Just Us. I have been reading notes from meetings that happened months ago. They lament the lack of street lights, and I've been thinking about how we could help that situation. It's the kind of thing that seperates us from the community, that helps us not "get it" about East Biloxi. But we drive off, and there are lights on every street. And not only that. Lights shine out of houses. Amy and I look in wonder. People really living in thier houses.

At Just Us, Hands On arrives in full force, after Tim and I get a chance to catch up. Astrid stands up and sings "leaving on a jet plane," tears fill my eyes because suddenly I know she won't be returning from her vacation on Saturday. The rent cast performs "Seasons of Love," Jeff and Guillermo "Don't stop believing" and many many many more. I am filled with love and sadness.

:and you will know me as"
the falcon

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thornton's Update

Well, today's almost the day that the Thornton's move into their new house. I passed Luc on Division St. and it was as if we knew that we needed to talk to one another. I pulled over to call him, then my phone rang ... he was calling me. "I'll be right back to the house." "OK." How'd he know that's where I was headed? I guess I make the rounds enough to be fairly predicatable.

It was surreal when I arrived. Normally, I unabashedly enter the house to check on folks. Today the door was closed; I felt something different about this closed door. I expected to see Amanda sitting behind it, doing touch-up painting. But no, there was something different. As I reached for the knob, I felt that I was entering the Thornton's home, not our work site. It felt wierd to just walk in.

After all this time, the Thornton's are finally ready to move into the house. We gutted the house to the studs, scraped off the mold, painted the studs with Kilz, then worked on the framing of the house. When all the subcontractors completed their work and the house passed its rough-in inspection, we hung drywall, painted, and trimmed it all up. What a transformation. It's the first house we've taken from start to finish.

Despite the low-key perusal of the house, I don't have descriptive adjectives that can accurately capture the feeling that accompanies the knowledge that Hands On Gulf Coast, AmeriCorps, and NCCC volunteers took a resident from a FEMA trailer into their home. Yeah, there's a back door that needs hanging, and maybe the ice make doesn't work, and the dryer trips the break, but the house is liveable. Lights, refrigeration, and air conditioning! What more do you need? Oh yeah, cable TV.

Luc must feel pretty awesome about the work he's done. The Thornton's still need furniture, bedding, and other household items, but the house work is pretty much done. Wow! Congrats to Luc and the steadfast Amanda for finishing the work started by Brian, the Blue 6 warriors, the Bay St. Louis crew, and all the other volunteers who passed through the walls of the Thorntons. It's the first of many!

:: Chris ::

Monday, October 16, 2006


Wow. Who would have thought a bunch of volunteers rebuilding Coastal Mississippi would take on a production of Rent? Well, I guess at Hands On we should expect as much. The creative talent, resourcefulness, and determination that marks the volunteers we have around here applies to the fun stuff, too.

Now you might wonder why I'm not talking about the work we're doing down here. That's because it's moving along. We're doing great stuff at John Henry Beck Park - making planter boxes for the community garden plots - the Thornton's are almost in their house; and we're working on two other houses from start to finish. It's pretty awesome. Still, work doesn't necessarily leave an imprint everyday. It sustains our sense of purpose; it makes us think, "Wow, my friend it working at the Gap ... I'm sure glad I'm here trying to help someone get into their house." But the truly exceptional events, especially ones that showcase talent, creativity, and energy, sustain our need to be social and human.

So, off the philosophical meandering and back to the lesson at hand ... Rent. Wow! The idea of a production of Rent has been bandied about ever since Akudo brought forth the first No-Talent Talent Show back in March. In October, it finally came together.

We've worked pretty closely with the Biloxi Little Theater since Hands On USA volunteers gutted the place last year. So tonight they let us use their stage to put on the show. About two weeks ago, you could see the cast working from the script, singing, and just trying to adapt the musical to Hurricane Camp.

How can I describe the production? I'll start by saying, "I'm not a fan of musicals." With that as the premise for me being in the audience ... I loved the show!!!

Where else can you get a group of volunteers to work full days building, organizing the community, thinking about public art, or making garden plots, then dedicate their evenings to make a full-on production of a musical? Hands On. Look no further.

The cast did an awesome job bringing the musical to the Biloxi Little Theater. With a packed house of at least 140 Hands On folks - I think the camp was probably empty - plus locals - like the Thorntons (front row seats) and Sharon from Coastal Women for Change - they had a supportive audience who cheered, clapped, and catcalled through the entire performance.

Congratulations to Astrid, Dan, TJ, Garrett, Jeff, Akudo, Elizabeth (the Falcon), Dan (Rudy), Suzanne, Luc, Caitlin, Ali, Mike, Elly, Grace, and everyone else I've forgotten for doing everything from lights to staging to playing the lead. You all did an awesome job!!

:: Chris ::

Friday, October 06, 2006

The In Between

The running toilets

Music from G-Mo and more

Warriors will return

Yes, we have departed from Hands On and are forging new roads. Life in Charleston, though does not compare to Hurricane Camp, is pleasant. Pleasant enough for us to do some roofing shingle style as well as hydro stopping style for lower income families…………………………………………….PARTY?!?

- Tori, Warriors TL

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Blue 6, Departed

Well, it's a few days late, but Blue 6 departed on 26 Sep 2006. There are many beloved teams, but few teams leave behind such fond memories as the huge Warrior W, blue milk, and photos of the team. Ah Blue 6, it's not the same without you!!!

I barely remember which days the NCCC teams arrive. Unfortunately, Blue 6 arrived around the time three other teams did. Though we had a mixer with two teams, it took a while for me to get to know them. I think pretty much everyone would agree - I know Luc would - that Blue 6 developed and gel'd as a team when we took on the Thornton's house project. They hit the drywalling, taping, mudding, painting, and finishing work as if there were no tomorrow. You could not ask for a better work ethic!

From the office, to the kitchen, to the tool shed - sorta, Tony, your paperwork left a lot to be desired, despite your gusto for building! :) - to the tool shed, to the job site, the Warriors got it done in style with a smile.

Blue 6 left us with a number of mementos. There are photos of them in New Orleans strategically placed around the building - in front of the men's urinal, the door in the office, the door going outside, the refrigerator, and the ice maker. It seemed as if they had no faith that we at Hands On would remember them. How could we forget you? My favorite going away present, though was the blue colored milk. What a riot! And people drank it, too!

It's only been a week, but it feels like an eternity. No one reads haikus any more and no one calls me "daveers".

Best of luck to yall - Tori, Tony, Dan, David, Mary, Crystal, Jessica, Danielle, Tyler, and Abby - on your next spikes. We can't wait until you're back here in Biloxi! :)

:: Chris ::


OK. So this past weekend we had a slow down for reflection, team building, cleaning, and relaxing. Some volunteers have been at Hands On for a few days shy of one year. Others have been around for a bunch of months. The nature of the operation has changed from the fast-paced gutting and demolding to more measured building and community capacity building. It was time to accept this change and share experiences.

As part of this weekend, we had an 80's prom. There was an earlier post about the genesis of the idea for prom. Well, on the 20th, Dr. DJ G-double-el-mo, showed the world what was in store musically over the next few weeks. An 80's music tournament, where the winning song would be the song that the prom king and queen danced to.

Between the 20th and the 30th of September, when we had prom, there was a flurry of activity. With the theme, Love in the Eye of the Storm, committees formed to decorate, make food, manage a budget, set up, clean up, and take photos. Volunteers began raiding America's Thrift store on Pass Rd for appropriate 80s attire. This was a Hands On event that would be spared no effort to make it awesome.

As prom night drew near, anticipation grew. People raced to find prom dates and finalize costumes. Then there were hair do's. The whole nine yards. The day of prom coincided with the massive base clean up. The folks who worked on the prom tent tied together two army tents, hung a disco ball, flashing lights, had a smoke machine, and a DJ booth. Astrid, lead on the decorations committee, printed movie posters and album covers from hot 80s hits. Top Gun, Huey Lewis and the News, Madonna, and others graced the olive green walls of the tent. Dead branches and plastic bags decorated the ceiling. Dr. G-mo-money spent a few hours with Mr. Dan the Happy Man whittling down a 9 hour play list to just quintessential songs filling 3 hours.

After a tasty dinner, folks started arriving in the tent. After a few minutes, I began taking portraits of couples and groups in front of the artistically awesome backdrop that Mr. Mural Dan created. I can't tell you how much fun it was to see the groups just ham it up in front of the camera.

I have no words to describe the pure bliss and happiness that everyone found on prom night. It was a night of clean, unadulterated fun where everyone let loose on the dance floor, singing, and just having a great time. Luc role played the bad boy silent type, aloof from the prom activities. Girls like Carrie and Kate swooned over Luc's coolness. Beau brought his NCCC team who had a blast dancing up the floor. We were even joined by Silver 2 folks - Jennifer, Alex, Eric, and Vanessa. Even Gary, the church secretary showed up!! He was awesome and after an hour of dancing, he gave us permission to have the party until 11.30!!!

By far, prom night was the most fun and best night I've had since I came to Hurricane Camp in January. I have to give mad props where props to the musical genius and magic of DJ Dr. G-mo-mold and his side-kick, Mr. Diesel D. Everyone put in tons of effort, but music is the soul of this camp. Guillermo's and Dan's effort unleashed the passion and spirit in everyone, making an unforgettable night.

:: Chris ::

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Big Stick

I took an unannounced, spontaneous vacation to Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico (pronounced wa-ha-ka, wa-ha-ka, may-he-ko).

Oaxaca is a lot like Biloxi, only the "Big Stick" is bigger.

How novel to post from off-base!

I'll be back tomorrow. Hopefully there'll be an airport IRA / love-run person. Where's old-man Steve whenya need'im?

The trip cost a total of $1300, resulting in a net income gain over the last five months of [negative] $ -1292.

I did save money by squatting in places not spatially safe from sporadic rifle fire and explosions somehow connected to an annual teachers' strike in August. Such squatting is not conducive to a restful vacation, however.

If I accidentally lose negative thirteen-hundred dollars in a locker room, do I gain money?

Don't plan on having an easy time with U.S. Customs Agents when traveling into the U.S. without baggage. Also, nobody accepts cash these days. I thought that was illegal.

Marco X (Utica, NY; utica@riseup.net; http://hamilton.facebook.com/photos.php?id=4501815&l=27880 )

Join the "Hands On Gulf Coast Biloxi" group on Facebook!

I'm tentatively planning on no longer posting on this blog in order to give more attention to the "Hands On Gulf Coast Biloxi" facebook group and my own future socio-psycho-political blog.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Well Blue 6 left this morning. Warriors may not be on time and they may not be able to spell, but they sure can work! They also write haikus ... at least Tori did. In addition to leaving us blue milk, a huge wooden warrior W held upon the loft wall with a chain, and pictures of the team with their warrior names, Tori left us a collection of her haikus, read at various dinners.

the drywall darlings
playing limbo at Craig's house
one grand sheet rock day

to me your humphrey
sheet rockin at craig's house, yea
you are the mad note

maeve mudding master
taking red 6 under your arms
put some soft rock on

detail work today
playing dodgeball with great stuff
estrogen rematch

hands on where i be
mudding and dry walling, too
i'll miss it no doubt

Thanks, Tori!!

:: Chris ::

Monday, September 25, 2006

Snake in a Bucket

We began developing the concept for a sequel to the much heralded film, Snakes on a Plane. We're calling it Snakes in a Bucket. Well, there was really only one snake in the bucket. Out and John Henry Beck, Karissa and company continue to prepare the community garden plots for an early October planting. Reinforced by a new NCCC team, the plots have been double dug much faster than with the skeleton crew of two or three park regulars.

While investigating where and how to handle an extension to the current irrigation system, there was some excitement by one of the trees on the north side of the park. Guillermo, Karissa, and Brandon found a garden snake. Wow! The rebuild of the park has brought back residents and wildlife!

It was a beautiful green and orange. Too bad I didn't have the camera to get a photo. The one day. Ah well. Brandon tried to play Crocodile Hunter and grab the snake by its tail. When it wrapped around his arm, he let go. Guillermo ran to get a bucket - hence the name for the sequel. When the snake was safely in the bucket, we brought it around to show all the other folks working at the park.

Ali wanted to start Hands On Snakes. I said, "No." Animal Rescue Ben (Waldman), who tirelessly traps cats at night to get them help, who has campaigned to have pets microchipped, who rescued 27 puppies from death in Jackson County, said, "I don't do snakes!" and ran away screaming ... actually, he didn't run away, he just walked away and said, "I do small animals."

So that was our fun at the park. A beautiful snake on a beautiful day.

:: Chris ::

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The little stuff

Last night I was struggling for a blog post until the EDP happened. I just struggled to write some boring stuff about dealing with money here at Hands On - like how tedious it is to deal with receipts, etc. - but a random thought interrupted me.

We've had a bit of a shift in eating over the past two months. Rather than get all our food from Winn Dixie, which is super expensive, we've gone with a wholesaler. The quality of the food has not met the high standard of volunteers who lived under the wonderous cullinary concoctions of some very creative cooks, but we've made improvements and strides. Tonight's dinner, cooked by Monica, was awesome ... falafel, pita, grilled marinated chicken, yogurt sauce, feta-tomato-onion salad, and hummus ... mmmmmm ....

But even better is that Crystal, our kitchen overseer, found a produce vendor. We received our first shipment a couple days ago ... raspberries, strawberries, kiwis, grapefruit, mushrooms ... ahhhhhhh.

The greatest joy has been watching the volunteers devour the box of kiwis. Folks will just gobble up a couple at a sitting, for snack, for dinner, for dessert. It's amazing how something so simple as fresh, tasty fruit can have such a huge impact on morale ... just look at this happy volunteer!

:: Chris ::

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Holey Schmoley

This camp ready to throw down on September 29th. Tonight's EMERGENCY DANCE PARTY was but a fortaste of the scope of our upcoming prom. Im gonna start stretching and trying out new dance moves in the bathroom mirror when nobody is looking. Im going to find ways to freak out like i've never freaked out before. I'll learn the worm. Im gonna not speak for 3 days before the prom so I can sing every last word of every radical tubular song that Dr. G pumps out at the top of my rested lungs and voice box. Im gonna get the biggest, poofiest dress there ever was and make my hair go in directions only the Super Mega Aqua Net can control. Has it ever happened before? Dunno. Is it going to rock? Si, senor. Claro. We are going to Degrassi Jr. High. We are Thriller. We are pre-crack Whitney. There may not be a Delorian in the lot but via transcendental medition we will spontaneously create a fleet of them. 88mph and 1.21 GWhz into the most stellar party that Biloxi has ever witnessed. Be there or be skwair.
Everyone Here

I didn't know what to write (EDP)

I spent a few minutes writing some stuff about the great work that happened today. Blue 6 Warriors finished dry walling Craig's house, we looked at some new work, we removed a huge (600+ lbs) concrete block from one of the garden plots, and we got most of the green house finished. I wondered how I would make this interesting and fun ...

Then I went inside for the second round of the music tournament. See, at dinner, Dr. G started the third music tournament. That sentence gives Dr. G. so little credit for the amazingly creative idea of an 80's music tournament, with advancement and voting modeled after World Cup soccer groups, in which the winning song will become the 80's prom song.

The first round of the tournament was fine. Decent music, close results. The second round, mind blowing. It was like watching the Brazilian national team play soccer against the Biloxi High School junior varsity team. Though I (finally) chose a good song for the tournament - Talkin' in your sleep by the Romantics - I was summarily trounced by Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Total Eclipse is a Dan Sherman and Dr. G. song. They sing the duet. It was rousing beyond belief. So much so, that they both acknowledged it was blatant cheating - like Diego Maradona's Hand of God goal in one World Cup. Everyone in the main hall was dancing, singing, or writhing (on the clean floor ... thanks Monica!) with musical passion. Even I, stoic, bean counting de Veer who was once asked, "Do you ever laugh?" couldn't help but sing along.

The song also eclipsed the arrival of the new NCCC team. Imagine if you just walked into your second spike and you see a bunch of young volunteers singing 80's music and dancing around with unabashed enthusiasm and joy - we basically looked like party animals. What would you do? They just stood in the kitchen doorway dumbfounded. Astrid and I both saw stares of wonder ... wondering, "What the heck have I gotten myself into?"

By the end of the evening, though, they joined in the Emergency Dance Party that had been declared. After the tournament songs were played, Dr. G. continued to spin sweet tunes of 80s goodness. We just kept on rockin' on.

After the dance energy was spent, he tallied the scores. Landslide. Of a possible 99 maximum points (33 voters times 3 points max for voters top vote), Total Eclipse received 88. Of the total points available (198, 6 points per voter times 33 voters), Total Eclipse took 44%. That's ridiculous. How does the statistician explain such an anomaly? The performance. Dan and Dr. G. simple stole the votes.

Awesome night. Glad the new NCCC team is here and we're glad they got to see a genuine Hands On moment.

:: Chris ::

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hands On Gulf Coast

Due to a number of recent departures, and lots of rain the mood around Hands On has been a little low, but a spontaneous post dinner Monday night gathering has inspired just the cure. The time has finally come my friends, for Hands On Prom 2006. This 80s extravaganza, themed Love in the Eye of the Storm, will occur on Friday, September 29th in the base common room. Prom Committee will be co-chaired by Eddie and Monica. Sub-committees include Music & Entertainment (chairs- Guillermo and Dan Sherman), Decorations (chairs- Astrid and Karissa), Refreshments (chair-Suzanne), Prom Court (chairs- Araceli and Brannon), Photos (chairs- Carrie and Chris), Keepsakes (chair- Falcon), and Clean up (chair- Luc). The rest of us just need to get our best 80's dresses, suits, and hairstyles ready for a night never to be forgotten...

Weekend Work

Over the weekend, we had a crew of folks from Outback Steakhouse come through. Most of them had some sort of construction experience and helped out on a couple of our projects. Luc was hanging doors when the Outback guy (sorry I never got your name) showed up and said, "I've been a contractor since 1971." Hmm, I think we can use you ... so Luc got some help hanging the doors and he was pleased.

Brian also got a crew for Mr. George's house. Brian Deubert does our framing and rough carpentry work. He was ecstatic to have a couple burly men who had lots of framing experience work with him on the house. That house needs a lot of tender loving care. By tender, we mean really tender. Lots of jacking, installing headers, and getting the load from the roof to the floor without having the rafters sag like wet spaghetti noodles. Unfortunately, again, I didn't get to see the folks this weekend - I was too busy getting whooped on the soccer field - but I did see the results of their work this morning.

Brian was happy to have learned a lot from his crew and to have some pretty serious work done to Mr. George's house. The floor was leveled (the one in the photo) and lots of new wood was installed. The frame looks like its coming along. I'm excited. We've had Mr. George on our books as a client needing lots of help for a long time. It's great to get him to the point that electrical, plumbing, heating & AC, and mechanical can all come through to do their thing.

The next challenge for Mr. George isn't necessarily finding the skilled labor, it's finding the funding. He's pretty much run through his FEMA money and his insurance money. Sheli, our case manager, has been with Mr. George from the beginning. It's tough to only be able to help a little, but she's not going to let Mr. George slip through the cracks.

Thanks Outback for the help! Thanks Sheli and Brian for keeping with Mr. George.

:: Chris ::

Soccer Tournament

This Saturday (16 Sep 06), we played in a soccer tournament. Sally, the Pastor of Beauvoir Methodist, asked us if we would field a team. I asked folks at a dinner meeting if we wanted to play. Charley Burks jumped up for joy and said ... well, I can't write what he said, but I'll paraphrase it, "Yes, we would love to play a friendly game of soccer with the latino community".

Hands On volunteers - hard working, hard playing, cigarette smoking volunteers who have poured so much soul into rebuilding Biloxi that they have neglected their physical fitness - against teams fielded from the latino community, upon whose feet soccer balls are permanently attached between the ages of 2 months and 120 years?

Yes, your Hands On volunteers stepped up to the plate, I guess there's no plate in soccer, but I don't really know any soccer metaphors. We approached the soccer game with the same sort of enthusiasm and resolve that we approach all our problems with. Unfortunately, enthusiasm and determination do not make up for a decided lack of skill.

Perhaps against other Biloxi teams, we'd have done OK, but not against the 18 - 24 year olds Our Lady of Fatima fielded. They had a couple folks who should have been playing on some serious Division I NCAA teams. Anyway, we had fun.

The MVP of the game we played against Fatima was Eddie Sherman. He got off a plane a few hours earlier and agreed to be our goalie. Though 14 or so shots got past him, that's not his fault. They, the other team, were really good. Carrie said, "You arrived just in time." "What to get rockets launched at me all day?"

And launch rockets they did. Despite the score differential, one of the Fatima players (one of the best ones) came to Eddie after the game and asked if he would play keeper for them tomorrow (Sunday) in the final. "Why do you want me?" "That ball I kicked was going in, except you stopped it."

So, Hands On gets its props despite the loss. Better luck next year. Neal, Naomi, Brian Shingledecker, Meryll Davis, Nick Wilson, Krissy, Cassidy, and a few other folks whose names I can't remember, you all need to come back for next year's Festival Latino!!! We can win!

:: Chris ::

Friday, September 15, 2006

Projects, People, Parting

Another day, another mural, another group of skilled volunteers who came to Biloxi and made a difference in the life of a local.

I spent some of the day doing the admin work that I'm supposed to do. It can be really interesting at times, but it hardly compares to working with an artist. William is a fabulous artist and Dan has a way with kids. Together, the dynamic duo motivated Hands On volunteers and kids from the Boys and Girls Club to paint the side of Le Bakery. Talk about amazing. Each time I came to visit, I loved the mural more. The creative energy that exists in all of the folks who worked on the mural inspired me to have fun taking photos.

Moving from the mural, we stopped by another of my favorite projects ... JHB Park. Karissa was in the skid steer and Astrid was on the tractor. Talk about crazy. Astrid on a tractor. It wasn't the first day, but dang. Astrid on a tractor! I always think of the Pace Picante sauce commercial where the rough and tumble cowboys are sitting around a camp fire reading where the picante sauce was manufactured. One of them shouts "New York City?!" in alarm and surprise. You might wonder where the connection is, but Astrid's from ... "New York City?!"

The park is moving along. The drainage channels between the plots are almost all filled with gravel. The sod is turning a nice green in the places that get regular water. The trees and shrubs look beautiful. It makes me proud to be close to the volunteers who make this park an awesome place to be.

Moving from one great project to the next, there was the Thornton's House. You might ask, who are the Thorntons? Are they a new family. We know you've been working on the Thorton's house ... except some of us can't spell, namely me, and so I've been incorrectly spelling Pat and Sandy's name. Ah well. At least Luc can hang doors in the house. We're getting to the finishing stages, but it will be a while before the Thornton's have dishes in those beautiful oak cabinets!

The day ended on a bit of a downer because Paul Hammond, a super guy, is leaving tomorrow. He is an older gentle man who worked in artsy non-profits. He's got construction background from building stage sets. He's got management from running non-profits. He's got personality and caring from being a great human being.

I rarely say stuff in the meetings about folks, despite how I feel about them. I feel more comfortable with writing. Seeing Paul go is deeply saddening. He is dedicated, committed, compassionate, caring, and knowledgeable. The organization always loses when folks like Paul leave. Luckily, people with personalities like Paul become part of the woodwork and leave an indelible mark on the people they meet. So despite Paul's physical departure, his spirit and contributions to each of our lives remain vital parts of the culture at Hands On. He joins the ranks of the recently departed (no, not dead, just gone from Hands On), who include John Harlow and Niko Poore. We'll miss you ... promise to get a couple MOU's, an org chart that works, and the Thorton's house finished while you're away.

:: Chris ::

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Murals by day, murals by night

Playing with paint is always fun. After July's mural project with the Boys and Girls Club, Dan Sherman was exhausted but happy. He set his sights on the next project, a wall of our favorite local business - Le Bakery.

Fast forward to 13 September and the latest mural project is underway with the Jackson (MS) artist William Goodman, VI. The metaphorically inauspicious clouds that hung over the 12th materialized into grey, water laden clouds that plagued the mural painters sporadically throughout the day.

Early in the day, William was able to spray paint the outline of the design. By early afternoon, most of it was complete and the small team of painters had begun filling in the squares. The threat of rain hung in the clouds all day, but struck with guerilla-like intensity and surprise in the late afternoon. With sun shining 500 feet away, the rain washed out the freshly painted colors that hadn't dried yet.

Not to be bested by a little runny paint, Hands On volunteers go the distance. So after dinner, a crew of ten or so people went back to the mural to make their best effort to have the wall prepared for the 13 or so kids from the Boys and Girls Club who were supposed to arrive at 9am to paint their pictures inside some of the bigger squares.

Sue, one of the owners of Le Bakery, was out watching her wall transform from drab white primer into an awesome array colors. She bought pizzas for the crew; her excited smile revealed the impact the progress was having on her.

I was excited, too. It was just one of those nights in East Biloxi where the air carried a cool breeze and a focused intensity of volunteers hell-bent on making a positive impact on Biloxi's visible spaces. I sighed a sigh of joy that despite the rain and the sadness of yesterday's departures, we've still got the drive and enthusiasm that helps residents and business bounce back from Katrina's devastation.

:: Chris ::

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Hmm, it's never fun to write about frustrating stuff, but yesterday (12 Sep) was one of those days where a couple projects had special joys to treasure. Take the roofing job on Division St. One of the volunteers was installing some flashing in a difficult to reach spot and floop ... deep cut to the middle finger. She needed to get to the emergency room for five stitches.

Over at the park (John Henry Beck Park), there was the gravel delivery. "Astrid, I don't think this is the right gravel." It was the grey limestone, fine-cut. It looked like the kind of gravel we had in the backyard that turned into something like concrete. Definitely not the kind of gravel you want to allow water to drain away from your community garden plot.

Astrid called to check on the order. She relayed that the concrete company somehow keyed the order incorrectly and the gravel we got was too fine. They would bring different stuff and ... yes, they would take back the 14 tons of unsuitable gravel. Luckily, the folks hadn't spread too much of the gravel into the channels between the garden plots. It only took a couple hours to dig it all out.

To top it all off, John Harlow and Russell Freeman left camp. John left for good, Russell for just a couple weeks. Everyone was sad to see the beautiful John-Boy go. He was a constant, hard-working, heckling, fun-loving presence at camp. He and Niko rebuilt John Henry Beck Park. The send off was sombre. A group of friends gathered around and just moped together in the misery of losing a best friend. Only Russell was able to suggest, "Anyone want to shot-gun a Bud Water?"

It made for a sad mood at camp. John, I'm proud of the work you've done, the commitment you made to Biloxi and your comrades at Hands On. I hope to hear you on NPR (or at least about you on NPR) sometime soon! Good luck and we're happy that "This Machine Still Lives".

:: Chris ::

Friday, September 08, 2006

Clockin' lots uh dollahs

Well, my day is never really exciting, but today was a bit of an exception. After waiting months, literally, for the permanent tags for our cars, they arrived today! I was the only one excited about the plates, but that's OK. It's my job to get excited about the little stuff.

I didn't even get a chance to check on the progress at the Thorton's house today. Tomorrow ... after the Mud Run that Erika plans to do. ...

Hmm, boring entry because I spent my day working on an org chart and then spent my evening sifting through financial data that tells us how we spent our money. It's kinda interesting to look at the numbers. Despite not really wanting to do this stuff, I know I have a knack for it and I actually enjoy playing with databases. I found using Access much easier for manipulating the data than Excel! Any computer geeks out there want to comment?

Bottom line is that it's not cheap to run a place like this. ... I wish people with interesting stories would blog ...

:: Chris ::

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Thorton's House, moving along

You know when you get a thumbs up from the site supervisor, you're doing a good job. As you can see, Luc is happy with the progress the team is making on Pat and Sandy Thorton's house.

Since mudding the house a couple days ago, the team has textured the walls, painted it with primer, painted two coats of finish paint, installed crown molding, and layed down the flooring.

Outside, Erika - our esteemed director - bought lots of dirt, mulch, and plants to make the outside look as beautiful as the inside. I was lucky enough to get to dig a hole and plant the Texas Sage plant.

In addition to the Hands On and AmeriCorps NCCC (Blue 6) volunteers working on the
house, the electrical contractor was in the house installing ceiling fans, light fixtures, and electrical outlets. At this point, I don't see big changes - like no walls to walls, no color to color - instead, I take pleasure in the small details.

It's neat to see the sockets ready for a face plate. In one room I noticed the plywood board and black plastic had been replaced with a window. "Who installed the window?" No one seemed to know. It must have been the window fairies.

Soon, we'll be hanging interior doors and finishing the crown molding. By mid-September, we hope to be done with the house and have the Thortons moved in by the end of the month!

:: Chris ::

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hippie Tom

Wild Bill is another one of those charachters. You know, like Hippie Tom.

Hippie Tom was kind've a hippie. As he told everyone he met, he was somehow making money by going to graduate school for engineering. He was late twenties, shoulder-length hair, and from an affluentish Salt Lake City family. He absolutely despized liberal arts education. He really liked to work, he really liked to drink, and he really liked to complain. He also really liked tie-dye shirts, hitch-hiking, backpacking, wandering, and the Greatful Dead; that's where the "hippie" in "Hippie Tom" comes from. He really only got along with me. Nobody else cut him enough slack.

I can see how Mikenificent (aka Bearded Mike, aka Attorney Mike) might have had reason to not want to have anything to do with Hippie Tom; Mike related to me how he would not be able to fall asleep easily after Hippie Tom would crawl into his adjacent tent after telling Mike how much he (Tom) hated him. But Hippie Tom said that to everyone. Hippie Tom was never quite able to work out the delicate balance between working, "playing hard," and having to get up in the morning.

I've been told by Richie [f-word-ing] Wilson that I'm the second craziest person he ever met, second only to Estock, a crazy, Ayn-Rand-ish former-Soviet-Bloc civil-engineer who designed square buildings with no windows.

Wild Bill is just Wild Bill. He's wild. If he didn't drink a double-handful cocktail of solvents used to clean a floor of paint, I would really have no justification for why he's crazy. But he is crazy... in a likable way.

Wild Bill is friends with Fat Matt, which is a funny name.

Wild Bill looks forward to becoming certified to spray boric acid on the frames of gutted, sanded former/future homes. If there was one person I could choose to be in charge of spraying acid regularly, it'd be Wild Bill. After all, he was a KILZ paint-spraying master. He could weather a backfiring paint gun that left his face saturated with mold-killing primer like no one else. He said that it burns the eyes-- yeah, I'll bet it does.

Back to Hippie Tom... Animal Rescue Ben was in New Orleans recently, and he ran into Hippie Tom. I've long known that Hippie Tom was running his own one-man relief show by squatting at a former utilities plant. I've been wondering how he's doing. Apparently, as could be expected.

Animal Rescue called to Hippie Tom, who trotted up to Ben and greeted him. After a few niceities, Hippie Tom lifted up his shirt to reveal three fresh, inflamed wounds. "Look at this. I got stabbed three times the other day!" Hippie Tom then let his shirt fall back down and said "Yeah, that kinda thing happens 'round here. Well, I gotta go. Later."

I'm glad Hippie Tom's still kickin'. He guarantees a good weekend in New Orleans for $20. If you want his e-mail address, send me an e-mail.

The Mr. Thorton of "The Thorton House" used to play old-time-country music and bluegrass professionally. His "band's" played live for us a couple times. I used Animal Rescue's computer to record the last one. Everyting was just right about the recording with the exception that he may have set the sample rate to one fourth of the original quality. You can hear the recording at the link below. Cut and paste. The top one is a single mp3. The bottom one is a series of mp3s by track zipped together.

Oh yeah, Bicycle Ben got a new electric guitar. He got a super-sweet, brand new setup for $700. His guitar can be played acousticly for practicing (mic.ing?) and he has this awesome little vacuum tube amp. You know, the kind you're supposed to overdrive. Bicycle plays alotta Johnny Cash.

Gigagone.com seems to be super-sweet for one-click file hosting. There's more of them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_one-click_hosters

I'm sorry I've ever used yousendit. Hopefully these are downloadable and much easier / faster to dowload.



Marco X (Utica, NY; utica@riseup.net; http://hamilton.facebook.com/photos.php?id=4501815&l=27880 )

Join the "Hands On Gulf Coast Biloxi" group on Facebook!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

John Henry Beck Park

Well, 29 August came and went. We had a huge day, but no one wrote about it. I'm rectifying the situation with this post here.

Since early April, we've had two volunteers working on John Henry Beck Park in East Biloxi. They had a vision for a green space that the whole community could enjoy. From their initial interest in building a park, a plan developed in fits and spurts. By the time 29 August 2006 rolled around, Niko Poore and John Harlow waded through beauracracy heaped upon beauracracy, delays, lack of equipment, hot weather, and long days.

Despite the frustrations, on August 29th, it all came together. In honor of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the City of Biloxi, Hands On Gulf Coast, and KaBOOM all worked together to reopen the park. KaBOOM built a playground while lots of Hands On folks and community members layed sod to turn the brown park into a green oasis.

In recognition for their efforts, John and Niko received the President's Volunteer Service Award. For me, seeing the look of total surprise on their faces when they received their award put the icing on the cake. They deserve every bit of recognition they received and more. I'm proud of what John and Niko did for the park.

:: Chris ::

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A good day to mud

This isn't really my project to comment on, but I'm going to do it anyway. It provides a little balance to Marco's commentary on interesting, yet not-project related activities.

For those of you new to the blog, this is an open forum for people at Hands On Gulf Coast to write their thoughts about any of the experiences they have down here.

That said, it's time to write about the Thorton house. The East Biloxi Coordination Center received a grant from an "anonymous" donor that everyone knows is [censored].

Pat Thorton and his wife live at 282 Graham Ave and are among the first families to receive money and labor to turn their house from a gutted shell into a fully functional home. Luc Lamarche (pictured above), son of the beloved Yvon Lamarche, is the site supervisor who has put his all into the project. Since the framing inspector gave the final OK on Wednesday last week, Luc has led the Warriors, NCCC team Blue 6 from Charleston, on a grueling journey of installing insulation, hanging dry wall, taping, and mudding.

I've simply been documenting the progress in the house. It's very, very exciting to see the bare studs turn into dry wall. Luc and his crew have put in long hours, but manage to maintain their excitement and enthusiasm for the project. What's exciting for me is that this will be the first of many houses we'll rehab in the course of the next year.

Chris (a.k.a., de Veer!)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bonking, Labor Power, and Sexy H 2 0

I'm not familiar enough with a wide variety of sports to know if the term is somewhat universal, but "bonking" is nonetheless a concept that more people need to become familiar with.

Cyclists are familiar with the sensations behind the term "bonking;" you've been riding out, have not returned, and are exhausted... but you need to ride back. You're trying, but it's really, really tough. Essentially, you're exhausted. But it's more psychological than that. You have some energy. You're just really, really tired, really, really hungry, and really, really thirsty. Those country-road inclines and head-winds are Lucifer incarnate. You think about how peaceful death must be. Car exhaust and plantlife smell delicious. You become delerious.

For me, bonking is very important. It's the best way for me to rapidly increase my endurance. In a matter of six rides, I can increase my morning / afternoon distance capacity from 30 miles to 100 miles.

Though there's no other bonking like cycling bonking-- it would not be reasonable to allow U.S. citizen workers become extremely hungry and dehydrated-- the concept still works (no pun intended). How about some philosophical analysis? All meaningful "work" results in material (physical) product / change such as mining raw materials, producing consumer goods, or rebuilding homes. Work is a measure of labor output. The quality of a worker's labor output is measured in the quantity of labor a worker issues out to the world, divided by the time over which the worker did the labor.

Labor over time => Labor Power (which most workers exchange for wages)

Workers should work to their physical / psychological limit, especially yuppies. Perhaps after six sessions of such work, volunteers will see their stamina, output, impact, and physical and psychological health increase.

I know what you're thinking, but I assure you that there are greater ironies in the world.

Okay, so if you're working, you need to drink lots of water, perhaps as many as six quarts/ liters in a day. You know someone's not working if they're not drinking a lot of water. Anyway, what about those strange canned waters? Actually, I've come to love them. I take them quite seriously, seriously enough for a comparative taste analysis.

Anheuser-Busch water comes in blue logo/text-on-white cans. Aesthetically, the can design is interesting at best, though it's not necessarily ugly. Conversely, Miller canned water comes in the sexiest cans I've ever seen-- a two-toned blue on blue. You know a company that hires Errol Morris to direct a series of television commercials has their act way together in terms of aesthetics.

Anyway, the short story is that Miller water has a bit of a shocking presence as it travels past the lips. Conversely, "Bud Water," as it is called, glides its way in, if it's chilled. Bud water, however, has a curious, very light but lingering after-taste. Miller water has none. Further, Miller water's 'shocking presence' is immediately lost as it glides down the tongue.

I have to say, Bud water is good, but Miller water is better. Many generic plastic-bottled waters taste awful. Especially Van Andel Propane company water, which boasts that it's "Award Winning!." Beer-company waters also come in 40 oz glass bottles. These are in extremely short supply, however, and I've never actually seen one.

Marco X (Utica, NY; utica@riseup.net; http://hamilton.facebook.com/photos.php?id=4501815&l=27880 )

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hello, Alex...

This blog entry is a free association covering several important issues.

According to the FCC, broadcast media is supposed to be a public service. Though people do tend to think of commercial broadcast media as a public service, as Noam Chomsky points out, commercial media has only narrow-minded objectives-- the propagandization of consumption and seclusion. Hugo Chavez learned the hard way about the dangers of private media when, after he was democratically elected, the Venezuelan media people, smiling-- almost innocently-- broadcast on the media networks that they owned, that they would, "for the good of the country," rewrite the constitution and ignore the election.

Some of the motor vehicles we just bought came equipped with XM radio, free for a year. This actually turns out to be a rather large burden-- every car ride, be it 15 or 45 minutes, is permeated with an incessant barrage of 2-3 second sounds of various XM radio stations as the [edited, plural, negative connotation] in the front seats can't content themselves on a single station for more than a single note.

Anyway, I thought I'd take control of the new film night here at Hands On. I made a few rules: all films must be in the English language (not dubbed), all films must be under 120 minutes runtime, no documentaries, all films will be from an open request list, the films will be shown in the order that is objectively guaranteed greatest audience satisfaction (showing what critical, lay audiences consider the “best” films), all films will be shown in their original widescreen format, no documentaries, and nothing more than abstractly political.

I love documentaries and all but don't watch English language films that are not documentaries. It seems rather sad to have to exclude Terry Gilliam's Brazil, one of the best films of all times (a film I wrote a sixteen page analysis of using Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization-- hands down the most important book of all time) because of its 150-minute runtime. Someone even requested it. I would've had to say no. The rules aren't just the rules that I felt like making one morning, they're more of an Aristotelian epiphany, a revelation of the way things should be-- many people confuse the way they'd like things to be and the way they are, desires with reality; in this case, the heavenly film night.

There's only one heaven and one heavenly film night-- that's my model.

A community should take into consideration the desires of all of its members. Though I'd like to show everyone some awesome German, French, Slavic, Japanese, or Chinese-language films, I know the net aesthetic effect would be greater with an English-language film, something-- sadly-- most Americans desire.

Dubbing is the most terrible phenomenon to strike the film industry. I don't care about your attention issues. If you're too disinterested to read the subtitles, look at a plot synopsis. I mean, I don't speak Italian but I still listen to Italian operas. I don't care about tastes. In the John Stewart Mill sense, I'm an elitist-- Mozart is better music than Britney Spears, it simply cannot be phrased as a subjective question. There's a reason that no people seriously interested in film will watch a film that is dubbed or not in it's original aspect ratio (if there's a reasonable alternative [look at Turner Classic Movies on basic cable and see how they defy, 100 percent of the time, the standard 1:1 “formatted to fit your screen” ratio]), it's because they're not stupid. Similarly, most people interested in film do not restrict themselves to English-language films.

Anyway, there was this rumor that Aramando said that the food at the Salvation Army was no good. When this rumor was found out to be false, it was changed so that Arman said that the food was no good. I'm going to bring an end to this rumor once and for all: Arman has the same appreciation for the Salvation Army-- hell yeah!, breezy football field, ginger ale, and seven mayonnaise packets!-- as me and has volunteered his luncheon services many times. Thank you Arman.

Also, the official title of the Hands On Gulf Coast warehouse / cafeteria / sleeping quarters / indoor “base” is the “Beauvoir United Methodist Fellowship and Family Life Building”. As of this blog entry, it's known as “Alex” for short. Yes... Alex... As in: “Alex is air-conditioned, well-lit, and spacious, but has it's drawbacks; no natural light, electric elements in the kitchen, the noxious grey interior colour and totally unsexy exterior, and moldy discharges from the ceiling.”

The last open mic was 'quite rather good.' And that's an understatement. Again, I apologize about the usual, low technical quality of the recording. Download it at the link below. The link is only good for a week. You have to cut and paste it, people.


Marco X (Utica, NY; utica@riseup.net; http://hamilton.facebook.com/photos.php?id=4501815&l=27880 )

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Free Entertainment

Starting immediately, I'm going to gather "crews" to "go out for a night at the casino." We're all going to carry wallets empty of everything but our ID's. Essentially it's going to be a contest with rules so that it's sustainable.

The objective: to make as big an anti-gambling scene as possible without getting kicked out. With the abundance of casinos in the area, this game could last a long time, especially if the confederate onlookers don't enter the casino with the scene-makers and observe from as much a distance as possible. "Oh my God! I just lost all my FEMA reconstruction money! What am I going to do?! I can't even afford a gun!" [Loud, nearly incessant balling interspersed with choked coughs and some inaudible words, then] "I'll have to use a rope!"

How about after we get kicked out of all of the casinos, we try things like public expressions of "Yeah, so maybe I am sleeping with your wife!" That would work great almost anywhere.

I went to download.com and downloaded "soulseek." Prokofiev's first symphony was relatively easy to find. A few days ago I was stumped as to how to go about downloading music now that major search engines block certain searches, such as those relating to the free, clean, bootleg version of Kazaa. Anyway, problem solved.

Now that I've actually listened to Prokofiev's first symphony, I don't really like it. I guess he just was trying to make something that wasn't as scandalous some of his former work-- work that was much, much better.

There was this troupe that came to my college before I went there. They pose nude on stage, covered with chocolate. Imagine if that's not what you were expecting. I suppose early Prokofiev was the same way.

I went to this concert titled "Bang on a Can"once, expecting to hear some twangy goodness. Instead, it was all these people from Juliard and such-caliber institutions playing this refined stuff. I heard they have this other troupe that makes enormous instruments with industrial materials from the Home Depot. Home Depot and Music. I don't see the connection.... ( It was a joke about Hurricane Camp, folks).

I love vanilla ice cream. For anyone who doesn't know, vanilla ice cream caused the downfall of the Soviet Union. The logic is as follows: alcohol was suddenly banned in the Soviet Union, so the masses stopped going to work-- as they could still go out onto the streets and eat ice cream. The ban was then lifted, but people really didn't feel like going back to work.

Ice cream: the sweetest fruit of industry. I'll have to make a Squincher-vanilla float. For those of you who don't know, Squincher advertises itself as "the Beverage of Industry," supplying an essential 1/50th RDA of potassium.

I wish there was a conditioner that you put on your house that would work the way hair conditioner is supposed to work. Maybe it works on trees, or wounds or something. This needs to be researched. Anyway, exibit A: hair that's almost totally destroyed. Exibit B: hair that's treated with conditioner, totally not destroyed. Next hurricane, hair conditioner is going to become liquid gold. Exibit A: Destroyed home. Exibit B: home treated with Hair Conditioner, totally not destroyed.

I decided to make this entry as an excuse to add the link to the music tournament (available for 100 downloads, but only for the next 7 days). With a Windows "download accelerator" (download.com) you can download it significantly faster. You can even search for it, install it, and download the file faster that you would have been able to simply download it.

Anyway (cut and paste, or tell me how to hyperlink):


Marco X (Utica, NY; utica@riseup.net; http://hamilton.facebook.com/photos.php?id=4501815&l=27880 )

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