Friday, May 2, 2008

A thousand points of light minus 1

I have a confessional personality. When I do something naughty or shameful--thankfully not all that often--my friends hear about it. Endlessly. "I would have done the same thing," they assure me. But there is guilt and there is Guilt, and I seem to have capital-G guilt. Confession is the only antidote.

I'm not one to shirk responsibility, but last weekend I skipped out on an important commitment. I gypped a non-profit! Capital-G guilt, for sure. But I have my reasons, I tell you! There were Circumstances, capital-C! Here they are...

The best intentions
Bob and I got our tickets to Rolex in November. In March, a Rolex event sponsor -- a Kentucky children's hospital -- emailed me. Would I like to volunteer in the gift shop? Well, sure! Bob and I can easily put in a few hours during one of the dressage days, I reasoned, and the work (folding shirts, bagging) seemed easy enough. Feeling smug, I emailed back that we could both do a shift on Friday.

It's the end of April -- Rolex! We arrive in Lexington late Thursday afternoon. We've missed most of the dressage rides. Friday we are committed to volunteering. I wonder if I can sneak out of the tent to watch a few rides during our 3.5 hour shift. I remind myself to ask about this.

Volunteer day
It's Friday of Rolex, day two of dressage. We watch a few rides. As suggested in our instructions, I report to the gift shop tent 10 minutes early for my 11:30am shift. Bob is due for 12:30. The shop is an enormous tent filled with tables of shirts. I report to the volunteer supervisor, who takes my backpack and and stores it where they are holding packages for shoppers. She apologizes that there are not enough aprons for the volunteers, and gives me the spiel that presumably all volunteers get. In tones reminiscent of my 8th grade track coach, she gives me a pep talk on shirt folding. "Find a 10 foot square space and call it your own," she says. She makes a fist like the Rosy the Riveter poster. "Keep it tight," she urges.

The task
I feel confused. That's it? I walk onto the floor and survey the area. With a growing sense of dismay, I note that what initially seemed like a huge crowd of shoppers is actually about an equal mix of shoppers and apron-clad volunteers. Everywhere I looked I see blue aprons. There are no "free" ten foot spaces, and in some cases two volunteers seem to be sharing space. I find a rack of coats and try to straighten the coats, but the effect is minimal, Finally I move about 4 feet away from another volunteer who is overseeing the fleece vests. I scrutinize the stacks of fleece vests that were now under my care -- our care. On this warm day no one is interested in fleece. The vests are pristinely folded as if Martha Stewart had just been here.

My vest patrol lasts about ten minutes. I end up wandering and looking at how other volunteers are passing the time. Most shoppers refold the shirts nicely. Even so, the instant they move away, volunteers descend and refold every touched shirt. The time elapsed from unfolded to refolded is shorter than most bullrides. I have a slight backache from the airport seating, and standing makes it a little worse. No chairs in sight, and I'm too embarrassed to do my stretches. Wait! Did I pack Excedrin? Yes! I walk to the holding area and ask the lady there for my backpack. Perhaps her hearing aid is off, or perhaps she is stressed by her duty of watching packages. I describe my blue and green backpack, but she keeps handing me shopping bags containing store merchandise. After refusing the third shopping bag, I make a mental list of things in my backpack -- driver license, credit cards, keys, money. If it's gone, I'm toast. Emboldened, I step behind the table and pluck it from its place among the shopping bags. "Thanks, I'll hang onto it," I tell the lady.

Going reluctantly back to the floor, I swallow my Excedrin dry and hike my backpack up on my shoulder. With my pack, I am now indistinguisable from a shopper, and one of the apron-wearing volunteers asks if she can help me. I look at my watch. Oh dear Lord. Only 35 minutes into my shift.
Is it possible that some of the volunteers will be going off-shift? I check with a few, but no one is leaving. Treading lightly, I hint that the tent may be over-staffed--at this point we outnumber the shoppers. They look at me blankly. In my state of alarm, they have the demeanor of Stepford wives. Are they crazy? No. In all likelihood they are simply more dutiful, more virtous than I. But the thought of 3 more hours unoccupied and unneeded, and no one to whine to, makes me feel slightly faint.

The escape
I'm a good worker, but standing around is just not my thing. One thing is certain, I am not needed. With no prospect for useful service, I know now I must escape--not only to save myself, but to save Bob from his noon-ish to 4pm shift. The tent has one entrance, staffed by security guards who direct you to another door to exit. The exit door is at the end of the checkout line. To leave, I must walk straight by the volunteer supervisor, backpack in tow. I decide to explain the situation, like an adult, and offer to make a donation to the hospital in lieu of service.

As I approach the gauntlet of cash registers, the coordinator is talking animatedly with another volunteer. I start to slow down, intending to stop and give her my spiel. But I don't. In the split second when one goes with gut instinct, I just keep walking purposefully, straight out the door, and toward the portolets (in case they run after me and demand an explanation). In my haste I almost crash right into Bob, who is reporting early for his shift. He looks at me questioningly. Run, I whisper. Run like the wind! We make our escape, almost but not quite jogging, afraid to look back. We stop at the beer tent a safe distance away. I describe the purgatory of the gift shop volunteers. To my relief, he does not make fun or chastise me.

Bob sips his beer, and I wash the gritty taste of Excedrin out of my mouth with a diet coke. The next question is, What to do with the afternoon? I contemplate the entrance to the Equine Trade Fair in the middle distance. Bob is talking, but I'm not really listening. I'm thinking of the trade fair last year, and how Tropical RiderTM had a big sale. I hug my backpack, which contains my cash and credit cards. I have an idea, I say.


  1. Great!! I don't blame you for leaving!! Thanks for a laugh this morning!!

  2. Very funny. I would have done the same thing. Don't harbor the bit "G" for too long, they had plenty of 'more than happy to do it' volunteers.

  3. Stacey -- I'm a capital G person myself. I blame catholic school for that. I'd have done the same thing. There's always time for guilt later. But I think this post purged it from your system. Carry on.

  4. confessing is good, but sometimes being bad is good too. I am sure there are no black markes next to your name. I would have done the same thing, I am the worst volunteer ever!!!

  5. I knew where this was headed right from the start. Good for you!

  6. Cute story.

    Confession is surely good for the soul. ;-)

    The Mane Point



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