Thursday, October 18, 2012

Of volunteers and Vice Presidents

Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan made the mistake of washing some dishes in a soup kitchen the other day.

This led to quite the kerfuffle about photo-ops, clean and dirty dishes, and sanctimonious affronts taken by politicos who portray themselves to be a-political.


They're all missing the obvious; the root cause.  There is simply not enough regulation of volunteers and volunteerism.  Do you see the problems this has caused? 

Now if there were a certification program for volunteers, where you could train and effectively certify them in their rights and responsibilities as volunteers, as well as what they are and are not authorized to do, then this whole situation would never have happened. 

With Certified Volunteers (CVs), there would have been no un-authorized volunteers carelessly granting Vice Presidential candidates access to soup kitchens*, coordinated through campaign aides**; there would have been no repeating of second hand and jealous opinions from other volunteers by the volunteer head of a charitable organization, making him look like a publicity seeking political opportunist.***

Certification is the way to go.  Dirty dishes get cleaned, no questions asked, with CV VPCs.****

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I have a sneaking suspicion that volunteers are being taken advantage of by greedy heads of charitable organizations who are only looking to lower costs and raise profits.***** Shouldn’t organizations which exploit free labor at least offer a guarantee of future employment, health-care coverage and counseling services for those volunteers who give so much of their own time and talent?  Surely the volunteer time should be documented and accounted for as income at tax time.  If they weren't willing to pay the cost for the goods and services they provided, why should the American people have to fund the difference?  We cannot let these organizations get away with slave-labor!  What age are we living in?

If, in fact, the soup kitchen had simply used those to whom it had provided soup for clean up, they could have killed two birds with one stone.******  If you give those who eat at the soup kitchen a job cleaning up their own dishes, they won’t need to come to the soup kitchen anymore. 

Problem solved!

* To volunteer
** Who are often volunteers
*** Which is what he is
**** Certified Volunteer Vice Presidential Candidates
***** What is with this pervasive and insistent quest for profit?  Why can't things just operate at a loss forever, like Congress intends?
****** I know, killing birds isn't nice, and certainly inexcusable in the search for profits.  Or oil for that matter.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Over on the Prescott Road, the sign reads "Roy's Small Engine Repair."

I've passed it by for years, riding my bike or ferrying Henry over to his friend Nate's house, thinking each time past, "I should really get Bert's* snow blower over to him and have him fix it," but I've always failed to slow and jot down the phone number, instead posting the task on my mental to-do list and letting it sink to the bottom, forgotten.

I took this week off.  I needed to, really.  My boss insisted and she was right.  It's not been a vacation, though I did get in a round of golf in the Maine October rain; it's been a chance to get things done.  Creating my list for the week, I penciled in "Roy's Small Engine Repair" though mostly out of wishful thinking.  On my way home from the veterinarian with our matronly Australian Sheppard Caddie, politics on the radio got me entranced too close to home and so I took the long way, past "Roy's Small Engine Repair."

I saw him walking towards his vegetable stand, which was populated with pumpkins and peppers.  I pulled into the driveway.

"You must be Roy."

"I am."

"My name's Dennis and I have a small engine in need of repair.  Can you help me?"

Questions, diagnostics, theories.  "Whereabouts you live?"

"Over on the Worthing Road.**  The big orange house."

"The one on the left?"

"Yep, you can't miss it."

"Give me an hour.  I'll look at it- it's probably the carburetor like you say.  I'll take it off, bring it back here and clean it.  We won't have to haul the the snow blower around"


Sure enough, an hour later he pulled into the drive, down below to the garage where the snow blower sat alongside my power generator, also in need of some attention.

There's something strong, American, about a man who knows what he's doing.

Roy brought forth a combination of knowledge, patience, wisdom, and experience, that I've gained from important men in my life.

I can name them.

He was Bert, my father in law, not just in his appreciation for quality in his assesment of Bert's Snow Blower- "This is a good one.  Must have cost twelve, thirteen hundred dollars in its day.  Over here, see this?" - but in his working mannerisms.  He even muttered an "Oh boys, oh boys," Bert's working-on-a-problem exhalation, and brightened up with a cheery "Yes, I would" to my wife's offer of hot tea.*** 

He was my father (and I was once again me, age ten as I held a light for him, and tried to show that I knew what I was talking about as I explained the problems and pointed out the parts of the engine.  I always could hold a light.  That's workshop apprentice day one) as he futzed and twiddled and could eyeball a bolt size for his wrench and had the right tools with him and just all around knew what to do with a small engine.

 He was my Uncle Jim and Mr. Osinksi, steel (as opposed to green) thumbed engine wizards who could make anything run, and knew where to look first, what to turn second, and what to hold third.  When he returned (an hour later, as promised) with the cleaned out carb ("Lotta gunk in there.  How long since this thing ran?") and it started on the third pull ( he, seventy if a day, and stronger and more spry than my forty-four years, supplied that third pull after my first two feeble yanks), he listened to it cough and whine.  "That's a valve not seating," he said, adjusting choke, throttle, and float by ear as the exhaust spat flames past his flannel shirt. "Get some high test in her and let her run for a while.  If that doesn't clean it off, we'll do a valve grind.

He was every mechanic to whom I've brought one of my internal combustion contraptions (cars, mowers, pressure washers), but he was kind enough and sure enough to say out loud what all the others have thought; making me feel okay and not as guilty as I should have felt.  In short, he was Father Shaeffer, who married Mrs. Toadroller and me, at confession, handing out a penance: "You're maintenance is lacking." Truth.

He was my uncle Mark, eldest of seven, with bear paws for hands, meaty things that could turn a nut without a wrench, firm but not a bench vice, confident, genuine, when you shook hands. His handshake meant something.  It was a contract.

He was Arthur Soper after a fashion, a kind man with an appreciative heart.  "How'd you come to pick this color orange for the house?"  "You have six kids?  You do the home schooling?"  "You've got your hands full."  "You must go to church."  To my wife he said, in the most open and complimentary way, "I told him I wasn't going to say this, but you look fantastic.  I can't believe you have six children." and, more than once, "You're nice people."

Roy repeated the list of things I should do,"High test.  Need a new spark plug- that one's no good.  1/4 inch bolts for that generator; that shield shouldn't be loose like that; it shouldn't shake and rattle," and mentioned his wife, Margaret, and how he'd done things on his own and take only the jobs he wants, because he doesn't work for anyone; can't.  "You're nice people."

In the middle of all the goings on, as if it were nothing, he let this out of the bag:

"I've got cancer."

"Oh.  ...Wow.  I'm sorry to hear that.  When did you find out?"


Roy, thanks for sharing part of today, of all days, with us.  You are strong, an example. Nice people.

*My father in law, whose snow blower came my way and which has sat in my garage, waiting, Maine winter in, Maine winter out, for seven years.

** I've learned of Maine, over time, that the roads, especially those named after residents and their descendents, are referred to as 'the,' as in The Worthing Road; The Prescott Road. I know the Worthings and Prescotts the roads are named after; second generations (and beyond) live on them.  Would that residents refer to The Ruffing Road someday, leading down an unpaved path, through a guarding copes of trees, opening onto a field, grass really, with a main house and sundry out buildings, on the west side of a lake.

*** Canadian tea.  King Cole.  Served hot, in a bone china cup.  "That's good tea!"