Sunday, April 5, 2009

Volunteering for Money

Budget: $88.23

At five-something AM on a Sunday morning, I found myself driving along the coast.

To my own disbelief, I was driving back to Somerville. The highways were empty, so I zipped along pretty quickly, passing by Prospect Hill where the first American flag (the Grand Union Flag) was raised by George Washington's army on January 1, 1776, and Union Square, where Union Army recruitment had taken place during the Civil War.

I had gotten a call that someone had heard I was a good, dependable worker, and wanted to know if I would be willing to work on Sunday. I figured some immediate cash couldn't hurt, given that I was in a hurry to tune up the bike.

I was sick of loading and unloading trucks in Massachusetts. I wanted to be off. I wanted to be doing it elsewhere, with the express purpose of continuing along my way within a few days. Any chance to get closer to departure was welcomed.

And thus I arrived, and found Mike already there, having also been asked to work. Since I had brought the car today, I loaded him into it and off we went.

"I'm a better man, now that I've been in prison," Mike told me on the way. "It was no fun, but some of the guys in there, they had it coming to them, and they deserved to be there, and they'll be there for life. Now I know what I'm getting if I f__k up again. Those guys, they ain't never getting out. No more p___y for them, ever. I met a guy there, he was a few years younger than me, he ain't never eaten p___y and never will. Can you imagine? I'd 'a killed myself. Well, I wouldn't 'a killed myself, know."

We pulled up to Harvard stadium. I'd been told the work would be easy, so I put on my "normal" clothes. Mike had worn work clothes. It was pretty much all he had. We were there to set things up for the walk for multiple sclerosis. We walked in at the same time as some girl did, and a woman came out to greet us.

"Kara!" she yelled. "A worker and two volunteers!"

Mike looked at me and laughed. "He ain't no volunteer!"

"Oh, he's not? Sorry."

But the rest of the day, with everyone I talked to, the question that instantly came up was "Have you volunteered here before?" I didn't lie. I just said "Nope."

We worked alongside the volunteers, doing the same stuff they did, carrying boxes, tables, chairs. Hanging up banners. ("I'm a cat on ladders!" Mike said.)

Mike was constantly walking around, asking how he could help. I just chatted with "other" volunteers, and did stuff when we were asked.

"The concept of physical work is truly important in a world in which physical work is frowned upon...," someone I deeply respect recently wrote me. "I strongly believe in physical work as an enlightenment tool." When the work is hard and requires the workers to bond, I think I catch a glimpse of that. Here, being told that I'm doing a great job when I was standing around talking, I definitely wasn't feeling it. But I was having a great time.

I ate free food, and got paid for the time I spent eating it. At one point, I sat down in a chair and fell asleep, and was paid for that. Even the people who knew they were paying me treated me as a volunteer, which I really didn't understand. At one point, I actually went ahead and asked how I could help, and was told to "just chill and have fun." No problem.


And then came the moment when I wished I'd had the camera on and filming a video. Mike and I were approached and asked to "move the port-a-potties back into place." We went outside, and, with disbelief, saw that two port-a-potties had somehow gotten moved about 20 feet out of line. Wondering how it had happened, we moved them back. Then we just stood outside and took in the sun.

And then a strong gust of wind blew, and, as we watched with even more disbelief, a port-a-potty slid out, sped up, hit a bump and tipped over. Two other port-a-potties followed it, but, hitting no bumps, just sped up and shot along the pavement, reaching speeds greater than most people could sprint (I estimate about 20 MPH).

Mike and I started running after them, but, in a beautiful display of chaos theory at work, they went off in different directions. The air was filled with feminine screams as people ran to get out of the way of the port-a-potties. By the time the gust of wind was exhausted and the port-a-potties stopped sliding, they had gone a good fraction of a mile.

With uncontrollable, uproarious laughter, Mike and I spent a good fraction of an hour hauling the port-a-potties back to their prior location. We tied them all to each other, and then to a pair of poles, to make sure the incident didn't recur.

At the end of the day, we were told we did a great job, and paid fifty-odd dollars each. Plus we had been given unlimited food, which we had been eating all day. All for hanging out and talking to people and having fun. Not a bad deal.

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