Volunteering and Public Service
waiting for the bus this morning my eyes happened on a
billboard showing a child covered in what appeared to be
dirt sitting next to a garbage can. next to this
heart-wrenching image was a message,
"800 Children will sleep in the cold tonight - Help the
aside from the fact that i like to get my morning jolt from
coffee and not the destitute situation of newborns, this
billboard rubbed me the wrong way in causing me to quickly
justify my own prowess in helping the needy. in an effort
to allay my own guilt i came across the following instances
of my having helped those less fortunate.
my first foray into the field of volunteering was a
mandatory assignment to a special olympics participant. my
high school hosted the state's special olympics every year
and it was the duty of every 10th grader to "supervise" one
of the participants.
i remember my buddy having a slight limp, a curled hand
across his chest, and the unbelievable persistence in trying
to persuade me that, despite his obvious handicaps, he was
the proud owner of a pickup truck which he would "drive
around the barn."
despite my many attempts to assure him that he probably
couldn't parallel park as i had to tie his shoes for him, i
also tried to convince him that there was no way that the
dmv would give him a driver's license. at this he would
always squeal in delight and start over with his
my buddy was also a horrible olympic athlete. the few times
i managed to actually steer him to the starting line he
would either stand there and continue on about how he was
going to paint his truck or how he like how soft the horse's
"fur" was at his barn or he would summarily get his ass
handed to him by some dude with no arms, legs, or brain stem.
the culmination of my disasterous foray into the field of
volunteering came as he and i shared our lunch. i had a
subway sub and he had a bag of what appeared to be kix and a
juice box into which he tried to insert the straw all by
himself to unfortunate consequences.
as i finally rested the juice box from his clutches and
inserted the straw from him and was about to enjoy the other
six inches of my sub this ominous shadow caste down upon us.
it was the olympic coordinator, a woman of monstrous
proportions who waddled from side to side, rather than
walked, and always seemed to be beet red in the face. in
her chubby hand she was clutching what appeared to be a blue
"how come he doesn't have a gold medal!?" she asked in the
tone that one normally adopts for a quesiton such as, "did
you rape this woman?"
"he didn't win anything." i replied casually.
to this her eyes bugged out and her face turned burgundy.
"EVERYBODY GETS A MEDAL!!!"
so i took the medal from her chubby hand and placed it over
my buddy's chicken-winged shoulders. he let out a squeal
assuring me that he was quite happy that the color of the
ribbon matched the color of his pickup truck.
my second foray into volunteering was at gunpoint. my
counselor called me into his cramped little office and,
shoving aside volumes of files succinctly told me,
"you have to do 15 hours of community service or you don't
"what about the special olympics?"
"that was mandatory, this has to be voluntary."
"you're kind of making this involuntary."
it was meant to be a joke, but instead it turned into a
notch in MY file that i have an ATTITUDE.
so i went through the list of possible places to which i
could offer my wholly incapable services. of course at this
time (fall of senior year) the only place left was the one
the Home for the Mentally and Physically Handicapped on
south jefferson. wow what can i say about south jefferson?
you i grew up in the suburbs and my city was segregated as
such. in the west were the suburbs where the white people
lived. in the city was where the black people lived. and
south jefferson was that part of the city that nobody wanted
i remember my drive to south jefferson that sweletering
september afternoon. i stopped at a gas station to make
sure i was going the right way. i distinctly remember the
clerk saying, "south jefferson? what kinda car you drivin'?"
and sure enough as i crossed the bridge over the interstate
(cos there's always a bridge to these desolete areas) the
first hting i came across was the police station. that's
right...this area of the city was special enough to garner
its own police surveillance.
so as i got to the home that i was to volunteer at i parked
my car in the lot which looked more like a prison lot. with
high sparking chain link fences and barbed wire crowning the
top with extra inverted barbed wire to deter anyone
audacious enough to try a climb.
i remember sitting in this little office in the sweletering
heat glad to get out of the halls which wreaked of mildew
and mold and were about 120 degrees. i sat there in a
plastic chair, head down, sweat dripping onto the linoleum
floor as i listened to the grizzled old supervisor browbeat
me for obviously just doing this to graduate.
she sent me up to my first assignment: move furniture in
this crazy ladies room. after about 2 hours of moving a
chest to the incessant screaming of a woman who thought her
cat was stuck behind the furniture (she had no cat in the
room) i was glad to leave.
but i returned every thursday at 4 o'clock on the dot until
7 to fulfill my duties. as the weather cooled down so did
my hatred for being forced into this shithole obligation. i
started playing trouble with this black guy who couldn't
close his mouth due to his misformed teeth so taht spittle
would dry on the corner of his mouth. he had deformed hands
and i was always worried he'd break them when he pushed the
bubble to move the dice in trouble...but he never did, and
he always handed my ass to me in the game.
most distinctly i remember cleaning up this old man's room.
i was picking shit off the ground as he was talking to me.
"i don't belong in here."
"i know you don't believe me...but i don't. i'm not crazy."
"uh huh," i started working quicker to keep a story from
"want to know why i'm in this shithole?"...too late!
"cos nobody loves me. nobody wants me." at this he gazed
out the window into the park where about a thousand drug
deals were probably going down.
"you remember in the 80s during the reagan years when they
started institutionalizing everybody that had a 'mental
illness'" at 'mental illness' he did the air quotes then
skeptically looked at me,
"ah hell you were just a baby. well anyhow, that gave
people the opprotunity to get rid of those that were a burden."
at this he stopped and i looked into his eyes. they had
that weird jelly like look that old men get where their
eyelids are droopy and red. he shook his head.
"i want tabitha."
tabitha was his tabby cat. i looked at the cat which looked
at me and i picked her up from her perch at the window.
"she's the only one that still cares about me...ain't that
right?" at this he nuzzled the cats head and looked up at me,
"you know they want to get rid of animals in here, right?
cos of allergies or some shit...i keep her in here," he
sighed and looked out the window again,
"if they take her then i will be all alone...get out of
here, you're done."
so that was what that place was like, wholly depressing
except for the half an hour of trouble i got to play. i
started liking it so much that i remember calling up on
thanksgiving and asking if they were "open" so that i could
come in and help.
i played my game of trouble, helped out and then almost got
myself killed on south jefferson. you see my volvo
stationwagon had this horrible problem of not starting the
engine. and being the idiot i was i had been listening to
the song "Nigger" by Clawfinger. now you need to know the
song and it's song by some norwegian or something rock band
but they're basically saying nice things about black people
however, when played at a loud volume it sounds like nazi
so i remember getting into my car and starting it in the
freezing cold as some black guys were just beyond the chain
link fence. i had one leg out of the car with the door open
as i turned the key and tried to start it.
the engine didn't start, but my cd player did.
NIGGER!!! NIGGER, NIGGER, NIGGER, NIGGER!!!
blasted through my speakers much to the chagrin of both
myself and hte 4 black guys on the other side of the fence.
i quickly turned off the radio and with my eyes glued to
them (and their eyes on me) i said a little prayer,
"god, chain link fences don't stop bullets...please start
and my car roared into life.
so, my experience with public service is either catastrophic
disorganization or near-death situations. but overall i
like to think that i am a caring individual, one who would
help a child in the cold. i just want life to be good for