Fighting Poverty with Passion
On the last night I spent in Deming, I pulled two lightning bolts of gaffer tape off my bedroom window. My first roommate in New Orleans was a filmmaker and, as such, moved to New Orleans with quite a bit of said tape. It ended up on our apartment windows in the second week of residing here, during Hurricane Isaac. Apparently Deming Management circulated instructions for hurricane safety that included suggestions to tape windows to prevent them from shattering should any wind-blown objects carry out a real-world version of a disaster-movie set piece.
Living on the fifth floor made that precaution seem silly (we look down on all the trees near our building), but when I came back to my room after phone center shifts in City Hall to find the tape up, I left it there. I didn’t have a great reason; I just liked being able to identify my bedroom from the street. I could see what was mine from blocks away and so too could anybody else hanging around the intersection of Tulane and Loyola. In the history of man, what actions aren’t motivated by a desire to see our names written higher, further, or bigger?
The tape stayed up until my last night in the building, at which point I pulled it off as part of packing and cleaning up.
Two years of direct sunlight–my room faces west and I look down on all the trees around me, after all–had completely dried out the adhesive. The sticky, inner layer of tape had mummified and cemented to the pane.
I spent the next 80 minutes with a wet rag and a butter knife, scraping the rigor-mortis tape leftover off the window. It came off inch by miserable inch, until finally the window looked like it did when I moved in.
This is my last scheduled field report as a Tulane VISTA, including both my time as the CPP Project Assistant at the Committee for a Better New Orleans and my year as the Outreach Coordinator for A’s & Aces. The tape incident makes for a straightforward segue into a post about the “things I wish I’d known” two years ago. Sometimes symbols are also literal.
Other times, the obvious symbols don’t actually represent a truth. That gaffer tape will mummify is one of the very few things I do wish I had known two years ago. Even that isn’t something I necessarily regret; taking it down wound up being a good opportunity to reflect, listen to music, and enjoy a piece of Zambian hard candy (thank you, Shweta!).
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my two years of community service in New Orleans, largely because I’ve learned so many things the hard way. I’ve had my share of… setbacks, but I’ve also done plenty that I’m proud of: A’s & Aces’ ‘NJTL Chapter of the Year Award,’ the staff continuation there now, and the NOLA Blight Guide, among others. Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair.
I know the watchword of VISTA service is “capacity building,” but even I’m hesitant to hope that what I’ve accomplished will remain in place for the foreseeable future. I do hope, though, that what I’ve helped to assemble during my terms of service will eventually provide some beautiful ruins for future service-minded folks to look through and improve upon. I’m happy with the mark I’ve made, but it can and should be expanded. When I started, not having a map of that terrain made my eventual destination that much more worthwhile. I’m sure that same logic will hold true for others.
So, to the VISTA who next occupies the right-hand bedroom in Deming 538: the only only piece of advice I’d give you at the outset of your VISTA service is that you not leave tape on your windows.