Have you ever heard the expression "no good deed goes unpunished?" Well, as much as I hate to admit it, I have proof. There is an organization I've been wanting to volunteer with for quite some time; I have called their offices, emailed, and every year without fail, I fill out their online volunteer form with information including my work and education experience, in hopes that they might have a need for any type of help that I could provide. I won't give the organization's name, to protect them from what I'm about tell you, but let me assure you that their very noble cause is near and dear to my heart.
That said, I was thrilled when I was finally contacted by someone within this association and asked to volunteer, even if what they were seeking was less-than-thrilling work. I said I would assist them in any way that I could, so I guess I couldn't be particular, right? Let me show you what people assume you are capable of when you have a degree and work experience in marketing:
Mmhmm, you read that right. Hey, marketing, have we got a job for you! Throw some glitter on these decorations, would you? Think you can figure out how to put together this lantern, or does that require a Masters degree? I digress.
Unfortunately, the day I was supposed to go assemble those lanterns and make those mason jars sparkle, the volunteer coordinator, Anna, emailed me to say the entire office would be in a meeting and she needed to cancel our arts and crafts session. We rescheduled my visit for the next week, but sadly, the lanterns and mason jars were for an event and would no longer be part of my duties.
On our agreed upon day and time, I went by this charity's office for my first volunteer day. When I opened the door to their suite, there was an empty desk with a bell--the old "ring for service" type.
Anna, the ever helpful volunteer coordinator, appeared from around the corner and informed me of my job for the day: making name tags for an upcoming banquet. I hate to admit it, but visions of grandeur danced in my head. Anna, have you come to the right place, sweetheart. Of course, I am at this point imagining handwritten name tags, and I am somewhat of a penmanship professional. In college, I was so good with a paint pen that I once decorated 23 sets of cups for my fellow sorority sisters and their dates before our fall party--so many, in fact, that the fumes from the paint made me sick and I nearly missed the festivities (not to worry, I rallied). As Anna escorted me down the office hallway, I began font planning in my mind. Heck, I might even go retro on these folks and use that "dot" font they used back in the '80s at Names & Things in the mall...you remember the one I'm talking about:
Imagine my disappointment when Anna showed me, not to a vast array of colorful markers and a chance to shine, but to a spare drab cubicle and opened up a Word document already formatted for said name tags. She gave me a list of names to input, then informed me she was leaving to run errands, but would be back to the office "in a while." Gulp. I had been in the office for a total of five minutes and the only person I knew was leaving me without introducing me to another soul or showing me where anything was. Namely, the printer these name tags would need to come through. Never fear, I was born to be resourceful: I simply hit "print" and then ran around the office like a maniac listening for any signs of life. After two false alarms, I found it! Now, to figure out how and where on this massive machine the perforated name tag sheets actually went. I'll go ahead and tell you that office machinery is not my forte.
I caught a glimpse of my new friend Anna out of the corner of my eye, about to make her exit. Before she could slip away, I asked which of the five paper trays on this printer/copy machine/computerized office machine of terror might be the right one for printing up some tags. Anna replied that she had no idea, and that if it were her, she would load up tray one and tray four and see how that worked. People, things like this are the reason I was so happy to leave the workforce to begin with, and now here I am, a free woman being subjected to such cruelty on an otherwise lovely Wednesday afternoon? With no choice but to press on, I started the print tray guessing game.
Each and every time I attempted to print a page of tags, the printer would start (loudly) beeping and telling me to load tray five. Then, as I loaded tray five, the name tags would begin to print from another paper tray...onto plain white copy paper. Inevitably, whatever trays I put the name tag paper in, the machine would choose another tray. I looked around to make sure I wasn't on Candid Camera or Punk'd as I feverishly opened and closed trays, loaded and reloaded paper, ran back and forth to my loaner computer to press "print" yet again (yes, I know one or more margins are set outside the print area and yes, I would like to continue printing anyway). I'm pretty sure it triggered my corporate America PTSD because my palms were sweaty and my heart was starting to pound.
About a thousand tries later, I finally emerged victorious with six sheets of not-very-impressive-nor-festive looking name tags. As I had been instructed, I separated and alphabetized all of them and placed them in a neat pile on the empty cubicle's desk. And then I waited for good ol' Anna to make her return. As I waited, I looked around the office, which was pretty much an entirely gray cubicle farm. I decided then and there that, when I won the Volunteer of the Year award for my exemplary work, I would use a portion of my prize money (surely these type of awards come with money) to buy plants and cheerful accessories to spruce up the place. What can I say? I love to give.
Times goes by slowly when you are sitting in a semi-empty cubicle in a room sparsely populated by strangers working in hushed tones. After I finished my mental redecorating, I waited as patiently as I know how for our girl Anna to return. After fifteen minutes of shuffling papers around on a desk that didn't belong to me, I wandered around the office to see if there might be something else I could do. Hello, is there another tedious task, preferably involving temperamental office equipment, that I can help you with? I didn't have the nerve to wander into the cubicle farm unannounced, so I sort of ambled along the periphery trying to make eye contact with anyone. Not a soul. I finally got my purse and decided that if Anna could take her leave, so could I.
As I headed to my car, disappointed that my stint as a volunteer lasted a full 48 minutes, I came dangerously, heart-poundingly close to becoming roadkill, courtesy of one fast moving U.S. mail truck. I stood, paralyzed, as the truck came within about two inches of flattening me as it barreled along in reverse. I was still unable to move or speak from the near death of it all when the mail lady hopped out and yelled (I cannot make this up): "Oh, Lord! I almost hit you with my truck! Did you see that?" Ma'am, I did see it. I came within an eyelash of the back of your vehicle so there is no way I could have avoided seeing it. We were literally eyeball to truck. I went to my car and took deep, cleansing breaths while giving thanks for this second chance at being alive.
To recap, I spent my volunteer afternoon playing a mean game of Guess Which Paper Tray, sitting alone in an abandoned cubicle while the only person I knew in the office went out for coffee, and then almost became a stain on the pavement outside the charity's headquarters. I long for glitter and mason jars. I yearn for paper lanterns that require assembly. A couple of days later, just when I was beginning to wonder if Anna ever came back to her job and noticed I wasn't there, I got an email from her, asking if I could come back and help out again.
I'm going to take a good, long look at my schedule and get back to her.