Today a group of 10 Williams students went to the local elementary school to do “tutoring.” Unfortunately for us, the most pressing need at the school today was sorting books, so we didn’t get to talk to individual children or do any tutoring. However, I love sorting, and I love books, so it was all right. This school had a lot of its books destroyed in the hurricane, which was terrible, and then it got a huge number of donated books from everywhere in the country, which is also overwhelming.

We went through perhaps 20 boxes of books, sorting them by type (picture book or chapter book) and genre (part of a series, has “God” in the title, Disney or television character books) and boxing them up again. The good thing is that the books are very well sorted. The bad thing is that we didn’t really accomplish anything tangible; we just moved books around.

My job, which I took upon myself, was to collect and sort books that were in a series. There were many series I had heard of and read myself (Babysitters’ Club, Nancy Drew, Boxcar Children, Goosebumps), many I hadn’t ever seen before, but that other people knew well (Alex Mack, Captain Underpants, Mary-Kate and Ashley), and many that someone had clearly started, thinking it would take off, that flopped (I don’t even remember their titles). The others were unpacking boxes and separating picture books and chapter books, with several sub-genres within those. Every time they saw a series book, they would give it to me, and I would sort them. I even put the ones with numbers (Babysitters’ Club, Boxcar Children, Goosebumps) in order. There were, for example, five copies of the book wherein Karen, the younger sister of Kristy in the Babysitters’ club, wins the county spelling contest and gets second place in the state spelling contest. Apparently this is a book parents really like to buy, or perhaps one they really like to discard and send to hurricane victims.

We worked in the school library, and the librarian was quite possibly The Meanest Librarian Ever. Four classes came in to get books while we were there — first, second, third, and fifth grades — and if I were in any of those classes, I bet I would be well on my way to disliking books. Every time a child expressed any sort of interest in a book, the librarian yelled at the child. A boy picked up a book off of the table to look at it? “Did I give you permission to touch the books on that table? Get away from that table and be quiet.” A first-grade girl tried to check out a chapter book. “This is not a first-grade book. Put it away and go stand in the corner. You won’t be checking out any books today.” I kid you not; this happened repeatedly, and there are other examples along the same lines.

When we got back, Caitlin and I went for a short run, and at the end we encountered the rest of the group, who were going to walk to the beach, so we joined them. “The beach” in Biloxi is certainly a beach, but you would not want to take your family there, as the beach is condemned and swimming is prohibited. The sand is in big piles in rows, like really long sand dunes, from the machines that scoop up the sand and filter out all the debris. On the ground and in the water there is also a lot of debris — broken glass, pieces of insulation, and large identifyable objects. Today, for instance, we found:

– a bumper car — seated two, still had the pole that touches the ceiling attached
– a Hooters nametag for someone named Brooke, who was a “trainer”
– the top half of a teddy bear, with a ribbon still tied around its neck

We walked back along highway 90, which is right next to the ocean and is where all the businesses, hotels, and stately homes were. As we were walking along the sidewalk, we came upon something that looked like a marble gravestone right there on the sidewalk next to the highway, which said essentially, “Jefferson Davis’s House.” We looked up, and indeed, there was the shell of a stately mansion there overlooking the ocean. There were the remnants of a nice entryway, with marble stairs and pieces of fluted pillars, and marble blocks that informed the viewer that this was the home of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy. Interesting. His house is on some nice grounds, with nice trees and grass and such. The house, though, is not so nice anymore.

We walked back past the Biloxi Colosseum, a big round convention center where FEMA’s headquarters is currently located, which is across a small road from Jefferson Davis’s grounds. Outside there are literally thousands of chairs — first stacks of thousands of folding chairs, then stacks of chairs that stack on top of each other — which are just laying out there, discarded, because they are rusty. Assuredly they were stored inside and got wet, and now no one will use them again, at least not in the convention center, because they are rusty. I suppose many people have problems of this kind.

The things you find are really strange — the nametag, the bumper car, the teddy bear — but you have to remember how they got there. The water came through people’s houses and tore the walls out, and then floated up all of the objects in the house. When the water receded, the objects either came to rest on the ground, or floated out to sea, where they will either remain or come in on an incoming tide and come to rest on the beach. Did I mention this already? This is my favorite fact, so I’m going to offset it by itself:

There is a major shipping lane for container ships that runs eight miles off the coast of Biloxi. When they dredged it after the storm, they found an eighteen-wheeler tractor trailer out there — full of live grenades.

Now, I didn’t get this from the guy who was running the dredger, so I’m not sure how exactly a ship managed to pull up an eighteen-wheeler, or why (and if) live grenades are actually shipped around in eighteen-wheelers in this country. However, it is probably true that a large truck was found in the shipping lanes eight miles off of Biloxi, and that, my friend, is pretty amazing.

(The above is cross-posted from here.)

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