Through the gaps where construction workers have ripped out an interior wall, clouds of plaster dust last week flew from the master bedroom and into the living room of the Doyle family's house on Baldwin Avenue.
In the bedroom, two construction workers clawed away at a wall of plaster that was crumbling and crashing to the floor.
Andrew Doyle, 11, and his sister, Felicity, 5, coughing occasionally as they ran through their house to survey the progress by a construction crew hired to make earthquake repairs. The children had just arrived home, minutes after participating in an afternoon earthquake drill at school.
Sharon, their mother, was now in the kitchen that was crammed with chairs displaced from throughout the house. She was loading a basket with clothes she had washed.
More than 2 weeks old, the project to repair the two-story, gray, wooden house has reached full force. And the Doyles--mother, father, daughter, two sons, golden retriever and cat--have packed up and essentially moved out, squirreling away their furniture and most of their belongings into boxes and into rooms shut tight and sealed with duct tape.
Financed by their earthquake insurance, they moved on Oct. 14 to a two-bedroom, $135-a-night suite at the Residence Inn in Arcadia.
"We're not quite moved out," said Sharon, 43, "and we're not quite accepting that we are not in the house anymore."
On occasion, they return to the house, whether to do laundry, or find a missing shirt left behind or for Sharon to work on her computer in her office in the guest house out back where she makes a living writing television scripts.
By all accounts, the chaos has reached a crescendo: both at the Doyle house, where each day contractors' trucks arrive filled with construction gear and topped with ladders, and at the Residence Inn, where family members try to adjust to a new routine a five-minute drive from their house.
"Hey, look what they did to the carpet," Felicity said, finding the stairway carpet ripped up and only a pad left in its place. She scurried from room to room, the floors covered with chunks of plaster, as if she followed a trail to discover something new in a place once so familiar, but now strange and exciting.
From a gaping hole in her second-floor room, she could see the living room below. Dust rose into her face.
"Ooooooh," she said. "The chimney got took away."
In the driveway, workers carted away trash barrels of plaster and heaved them into a dumpster. Nearby was a helter-skelter jumble of sticks that once were laths in the walls.
The change from Baldwin Avenue to the Residence Inn has not been easy.
"For the first three days, the kids were crazy," Sharon said. "They had to do everything, try everything and jump on everything."
From husband Bart's point of view, the adjustment has taken even longer at the Residence Inn, which he initially opposed as the temporary home. "It took two weeks before people started sleeping--between the dog, the cat, the kids," said Bart, 41.
Soon after the move, Felicity told on her brother, Andrew, who had conducted an "experiment" with Mitten the cat. He had dropped her from the balcony of the loft bedroom at the Residence Inn and sent the animal flying into an ensemble of couches in the conversation pit.
"It was too awful to even yell at him about," said Sharon, who suspended Andrew's allowance for one week.
At last report, Mitten was missing.
There have been other casualties.
Andrew's piano lessons were cancelled for six to eight weeks since he has no piano to practice on. The contractor was fearful something might happen to the Doyle's new grand piano so the insurance company paid to have it moved into storage.
"It's like everything is off kilter," Sharon said. "We're late for everything."
The decision to move in the Residence Inn, instead of a Sierra Madre rental house overlooking the San Gabriel Valley, was prompted by the ease of maid service, meals and amenities that the furnished suite seemed to offer, Sharon said. "Bart allowed himself to be convinced," she added.
The family, she said, has desperately needed convenience in the last month. "A lot has happened," Sharon said. "My friend died of AIDS and I've been in conniptions over a script."
Three weeks ago, Sharon's mother underwent a cancer operation in Washington. "I was calling home every day to my mother. And I'd get to these points and I'd call up Bart and say: 'I can't do this anymore!' I really did have hysterics at one point."
Bart's work life has become particularly tense, too, owing in part to the recession. As general counsel for the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, he is finding that his association members increasingly need complicated legal advice that, he said, directly relates to a slump in housing construction.
In an attempt to take a break from the pressure the other night, Bart and Sharon walked to have dinner at a sushi restaurant near the Residence Inn. Andrew baby-sat for his brother, Nick, 8, and younger sister.
It was wonderful, Sharon said. But when she returned, she faced the problem of where to find Andrew's soccer uniform. Finally, she remembered it must be back on Baldwin Avenue. So, off she drove.
"At 1 o'clock in the morning," she said, "I was searching the house for a soccer uniform." She found it where it had fallen behind a chair.
The other afternoon, after Sharon finished loading a laundry basket with clean clothes at the dusty house, Andrew entered the kitchen with a sneeze.
"I'm allergic to this dust," he said in a voice of consternation.
"Everyone is allergic to this dust," his mother said. "So let's get out of here."