I spent my high school prom night working the night shift at the Village Inn, happier to be folding dollars into my pocket than shelling them out for carnations and wine coolers. I got traded to the other team, and worked at Howard Johnson’s for a brief stretch. I showed such promise in the service industry so I was recruited by Ginnie, a 72 year-old waitress who smoked Benson and Hedges Deluxe Ultra-Light Menthol 100’s, the cigarette with the longest name. Ginnie respected work above all, and as the story goes her dying words to the evening shift manager of a 24 hour chain pancake house were, “I’m sorry.” True to her values, not finishing her side-work was her final regret on this earth. She was good people, and if I could find her kin today, I would tell them that she was a ball-buster who treated this high school kid right and despite my frequent requests, she never let me bum a smoke.

I studiously avoid topical blogging, but service is on my mind today.

To be honest, I always meant to be a famous writer, which is a plan with some flaws. I know now that the goal is to be an honest writer, and through that to hope to be a good writer, but back then I just wanted to be paid for my words. I wrote a lot about people who helped people. Being close to those kind of folks and telling their stories seemed like a good way to go. As I suffered through early rejections and numerous unpaid publications I questioned my motives. I decided that helping people was a safer bet. If it turned out to not be my calling, I thought, I could rest easy that it was still time well-spent.

Service and charity are not altruistic, far from it. Giving someone a leg up, or standing next to those who need support is both priceless and intoxicating. Those who choose to help others are not self-sacrificing, they are self-fulfilling. They chase a good buzz.

A little secret for you- dealing with volunteers is a pain in the ass. If you volunteer one hour of your time, it probably costs some full-timer two hours to prepare for you to be there, get your feel-good, stroke you up, and send you on your way. Don’t stop doing it, just understand it is for you more than for anyone else. Each time you do it, you require a little less handling, and eventually you might break even on the day.

There is still time for me to be a real writer. It might be too late for you to become a trapeze artist, but the circus still comes to town.


10 Responses to Service

  1. I LOVE you dude!

    I have always subscribed to, ” if all else fails then lower your standard”. But lately I have been thinking , ” perhaps there is more going on than “I” am aware of..”….?

    Altruism…Ha! Live it!

    You ARE a famous writer me friend…….True



  2. Some well-respected writer said, “A real writer is one who writes.” Amen.

    What I learned from making music on the side for 25 years was, don’t try to make your passion pay. I wrote and played my own songs for years because I could not do otherwise, no matter how wise it would have been. Yes, I’ve had regrets, but in the larger picture, I know that they’re piffles.

    When it all went sour was when I put all my eggs in the music basket. When I did it because I was on fire for music? That was time well spent.

  3. In ’05 yours was the one that proved a blog could be a writer’s tool, and could consist of more than dry entries about one’s wailings, breakfasts and broken hearts.

    Thank you.

    Volunteers ARE a pain in the ass, altruism is overrated, and the intoxication is less heady than it once was.

    It’s worth heading out on a deer trail now and again — it isn’t as well-worn as the singletrack you’re used to, but you know they’re partying out there somewhere and they may just be looking for a scribe…

    …what with their lack of opposable thumbs and all….

  4. Besides always loving your writing, I’m glad to see the ugly truth about volunteering brought to light. Why else would be Boomer generation be paying for the various volunteer vacations they can take around the globe, getting their rocks off on helping the poor indians who, on the happiness scale, probably rate higher than they do.

  5. This post has made me wax nostalgic about the Village Inn days when you first learned to work and Joe L (not his real name), when I asked him to warm the pecan pie for me, nuked it to 280ยบ. at least. Passive aggressive servers are a dangerous breed of humans and volunteers are the second most dangerous. ๐Ÿ˜‰