Blogging Streak, Day 23 – another AmeriCorps NCCC throw back coming at you! I’ve talked before about how as Corps members we had some pretty interesting living situations but none more interesting than our time in Tulsa living in an abandoned defunct rec center with another NCCC team. 20 corps members, no beds, 1 rec center = all the shenanigans. As we were preparing to leave Tulsa, I wrote a little goodbye letter to the strangest place I’ve ever lived. I guess by the end I realized that it’s not the walls, the location, the lack of beds or the shower facilities that make a house a home.
As always, thank you for reading,
Dear Newton Rec Center,
I still remember the first day we met. You came into our lives unexpectedly; we were supposed to be with one of your sibling rec centers on the other side of Tulsa by the police station. But fate had other plans and all of a sudden there we were, reluctantly wandering in and nervously dropping our sleeping pads and blankets down on the cold tile floors that would be our beds for the next two months.
I knew we were destined for one of those dysfunctional relationships that are typical of ill-fated, mismatched couples when I first saw your girls’ showers. There inside a flimsy yellow stall, I actually had to hold down the knob for water to come out…in only one temperature: scorching hot. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through two months of these incredibly awkward and uncomfortable one-armed showers in scalding hot water.
I still remember our first night. We had spent the day driving, then unpacking, then cleaning and trying to get settled, and we had to get up early the next day to start work. With all that stress and the clamor of snoring in the girls’ room, I couldn’t sleep for the life of me. I snuck into the gymnasium and plopped my pillow and blanket down on that old piece of carpet next to the bleachers and the kiddie b-ball hoop. It was old and it smelled and god knows what had been on it, but I just didn’t care. And then I slept a little. And in the morning it was freezing.
Sleeping got better after that. I restocked on sleeping pills and I found an absolutely fabulous set of ear plugs. And I just got used to it, I guess – even that weird light outside the girls’ window that would go off and on in intervals throughout the night. We never did understand what that was…
The beginning was the roughest, remember? During our first week someone broke in while we were at work. They stole Steve’s personal laptop and they also stole…a box of Airheads candy. The cop that came seemed annoyed and contemptuous, but despite how stressful and scary this ordeal was for all of us…I couldn’t help but notice the grim humor in the fact that there was actually a trail of Airhead wrappers leading away from the rec center. The disaster became funny in spite of itself; it was like a promise of discomfort and absurdity for the next two months.
Your relationship with us only continued to sour after that. We felt so cramped trying to maneuver through your closet-sized kitchen in the mornings and at dinner time, when 10-20 of us were trying to get in and out of to make meals.
And oh how I hated the cornucopia of disgusting that became of your various sinks. But you spewed out milk-colored water from the faucet I used to brush my teeth at, and completely clogged up your kitchen garbage disposal beyond repair during the winter snowstorm that had us shut inside for days, all just to spite us. I know you purposely tried to antagonize me with the nasty pieces of food from our dinner dishes stuck all over every sink, including the one some of us used to wash up for bed time.
But the worst was those 2 sinks in your big storage room. When we would run water in one, water would back up through the drain in the other one. It reminded me of how that zombie girl in the movie The Ring would show up to kill someone, so you can see why I hated having to stare at this nauseating sink phenomenon every time I was brushing my teeth or washing my face.
You drove us so crazy sometimes, Newton Rec Center. I began to feel so trapped. We could never leave because the neighborhood was too dangerous at night. So many times I felt suffocated because I had no place to go for privacy, no place to just chill out and be by myself.
For some reason, people just would not leave us alone while we were with you – random neighborhood kids, strange locals who were always trying to get in because they thought you were open; that woman and her daughter who actually wandered inside one evening and we let them sit in our TV room because the woman said they just needed to get away from her husband for a while after a huge fight.
In spite of everything, I couldn’t help but secretly love all of your little quirks and flaws. Take, for example, the many strange things we found in your closets – an official guide to the rules of kickball (1998 edition); some random articles of dirty men’s clothing; flags from Britain, Spain and a few other countries; a tub of broken toy parts; a couple of naked baby dolls that found their way into numerous places in the building.
Besides, I’m sure there were those times when you couldn’t really understand us, either……
Remember Valentine’s Day weekend, when we invited 20 more people over and decorated your gym with streamers and your walls with construction paper hearts? I’m sure it amused you to see us walking your halls dressed in clownish thrift store clothes.
And then there were the guys’ spontaneous wrestling matches…
Outsiders could never really understand our relationship with you – we were kinda weird together. You’re a junky little rec center with a funky-looking playground under construction in your front yard. Naturally, it was probably weird for our visitors who had to pick us up at our makeshift home in a broken down rec center where we lived with 20 other people. Coming home every night, the image that greeted us – and other passers by – was a couple 15-passenger government vans parked in the drive of a closed down rec center, sometimes with a couple of its college-age inhabitants sitting in folding chairs and smoking outside the front door, which was propped open with a beat-up half-broken broom stick so they don’t get locked out.
And then before we knew it, we were leaving our mark all over you – scattered magazines and craft supplies; a few idling pairs of dirty, standard-issue steel toed boots; sweatshirts and jackets; our inspirational whiteboard that we added quotes to throughout our stay; the bench in the girls’ bathroom that was crowded with an assortment of different shampoos, body and face washes; the collection of coloring book pages we pinned up all over the walls in the common area.
We always did seem so out of place living inside your walls.
And yet as difficult as you were, there were so many times when you would unexpectedly feel like home. Like when I would wake up on Sunday mornings and your filthy halls were filling with the aroma of bacon and toast frying. And when we would pass some time doing arts and crafts or playing intense card games at the common area tables.
Or those nights during the big snowstorm when we already knew we had the next day off, so late at night when we’d normally all be in bed, we were scattered about, having random late-night conversations, watching scary movies, making eggs in the kitchen, or coming home from the bar down the road. In your gym I discovered I wasn’t terrible at shooting hoops and spent several chunks of time with a flat basketball trying to improve my technique in your two unevenly-heightened hoops. The boys used those gym walls for countless rounds of racquetball and even found a creative spot to hang out and relax –
And at any given moment, several of us clustered on the bleachers with our laptops to pick up the next door library’s free wireless.
I remember the night that big snow storm came in – Blake and I were in the dark gym, aimlessly shooting hoops and talking, and then we watched the lightening flashes through your high blue windows along the ceilings (the ones we had to be careful not to break when we were playing kickball). You had this way of making me suddenly remember that everything I was going through, I had 20 other people sharing in the experience.
And then one morning in early March, it was time to say goodbye. It was an emotionless and hasty farewell; in the days and hours leading up to the farewell we busied ourselves preparing for departure, packing, cleaning, our last days of work, and reflecting on our project. We were excited to get out and we’re all on to bigger and better things now. We won’t miss you, but we will always remember our funny pairing for that brief stretch of time – dysfunctional and unlikely, often frustrating, but quirky and flawed to the point of being reluctantly charming.
Hanna and the rest of Fire 3 & Sun 7 :o)
I’m sitting here and I don’t know how the heck my 2011 self could have written this post without pics from that legendary alluded-to snowstorm! While we were living here, Tulsa got hit with a record 100-year snowstorm. The whole town basically shut down for a week and we missed 5 or 6 days of work. Without many shovels on hand, we had to come up with some pretty creative ways to dig our vans out of the massive amount of snow!