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.