Here’s how I know that Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst disasters ever to hit this country: They’re willing to use me to help clean it up.
A couple of weeks ago, when the Red Cross said they needed 250,000 volunteers to go down and help the victims of Katrina, I went to their web site to sign up. (www.redcross.org) It turned out they weren’t looking for 250,000 volunteers, they were looking for 250,000 volunteers with specific disaster-response training. I can sort of understand that. I know they don’t want a whole bunch of kind-hearted people showing up and then standing around wondering where they’re going to eat and who's going to give them a place to stay. But I’m pretty self-sufficient and I’ve got skills: My first job in New York was driving a wholesale grocery delivery truck, so I can drive and I can lift heavy things. I know how to change the oil in a car, gap spark plugs, and use an engine timing light, in case somebody has a 30-year-old car that needs that. I know how to knit. I can type about 90 words a minute. I have a vast repertoire of obscure song lyrics and memorized poetry. I’m a pretty good shot with a handgun. I can play the cello. I know how to replace faucet washers and fix the toilet when it runs all the time. In college I had a work-study job that involved performing vasectomies on the rats in the psych lab, so I can do minor animal surgery. I got Red Cross lifeguard certification when I was 16, and Red Cross pet first-aid certification last year. That’s right: I have Red Cross pet first-aid certification, yes I do. And that’s why the Humane Society of the United States seems willing to send me down to Gonzales, Louisiana to clean the cages of the animals rescued from New Orleans.
Last Monday there was an article in the Daily News that said the Humane Society (www.hsus.org) was looking for volunteers to go down to the Gulf and rescue animals who are still trapped, but they also need people to walk and water and feed and clean up after the animals that have already been saved and are being held in the big emergency shelters in Gonzales and in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The story said “even people without experience can pitch in.” Actually, I do have some experience cleaning cages and all—I was an assistant at a veterinarian’s office for a while in college, too, because back then I was thinking about becoming a vet. I sterilized stuff and ran simple tests and fed and watered and walked and cleaned up and washed the animals that were being sent home and held the ones that were being euthanized when their owners couldn’t bring themselves to do it. And I do have that Red Cross pet first-aid certification, so send me! Send me! SEND ME!
I had to fill out an application. I had to sign a waiver, and have my signature witnessed, and acknowledge that I was “aware that working in the said disaster situation may be hazardous, and I am voluntarily participating in this activity with full knowledge of the nature of the danger involved and hereby agree to accept any and all risks of injury or death.” I had to buy tall rubber boots and heavy work gloves. When I go down, I have to take a sleeping bag and a tent, and enough water for a week and enough food for four days, and $100 cash. Like I have $100. That’s the hardest requirement for me, because Sluggo and I are on the zero-option plan until he finds a job. I just figured I’d drive down there and charge everything, the gas and all, but maybe I can get a cash advance on my credit card.
I had to get a tetanus booster shot, which gave me a 102-degree fever the next day, which apparently is an unusual reaction. Now it turns out I have to get vaccinated against hepatitis before I go down there, too. Those shots may not be covered by my insurance, but the doctor’s receptionist said they’d work with me on that, since it’s for a good cause. I’m willing to get the shots because I’ve heard back from the Humane Society, and it looks like they might send me, except they use the word “deploy.” They are not sure when they will “deploy” me. They anticipate needing people for a long, long time, and they will be sending—deploying—volunteers in waves. I don’t care if I go in the second wave, or the third, or the twenty-third, as long as I get to go.
At first, I was a little worried about writing this, because what if you read it and then you volunteer and they take you instead of me? But it turns out that no one else seems to want to go, and that’s surprised me. I thought everyone would be eager to volunteer, and that maybe if I could find just one other person to go with me I’d have someone to share the driving and the cost of gas. I thought I’d even have to turn people down, because my car’s so bitty and will only fit one other person and their week’s supply of water, etc. But when I tell people about it, they ask me about the arrangements and I don’t know the answer because, of course, there aren’t any arrangements, you just have to be ready to deal with whatever you find. I know you have to wear a bathing suit to shower because there’s no privacy, and you have to bring your own towel. I expect to work maybe 15 hours a day and to sleep in the car. I imagine I’ll eat a lot of canned tuna and crackers. I expect it to be one of the most important, most meaningful thing I’ve ever done.
Right now I’m not 100% sure I’m gonna get to go. And if I do go, I don’t know when it’ll be, or where I’ll be sent. I don’t know for sure what they’ll want me to do, or what it will be like when I get there. I just know I’m ready to help, and right now I’m just waiting to deploy.
Thanks for reading my blog post this week, and may God bless.