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be careful what you volunteer for September 18, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned.

Everyone says “never volunteer.” But I disagree. Volunteering isn’t always bad. I had been working three part-time jobs when my boss at one of them called me and said “come in at 1:00 tomorrow; I have something I want you to do.” I did as he requested, and I ended up landing my first real full-time job with one of our contractors. At the time, I’d been with that company for two years, and was hoping to move into full-time employment. Everybody won.

But volunteering can backfire, as it did when I was five years old.

I was a nice kid. For a while, anyway. I raised my hand in class; I was eager to help out; I thought impressing the teachers was important. So when my P.E. teacher asked for a volunteer, I raised my hand. She picked me and remanded my custody to The Coach, who usually worked with the older kids’ sports teams.

Now, if this was 2008, you might fear for my safety, but this was the Reagan era, and though I was at a private school, it was a secular one. The Coach simply needed my assistance with something.

We went into the boys’ locker room and, against one of the blocks of lockers was a ladder. The Coach said, “some of the older kids throw stuff back behind here, and I don’t have anyone small enough to clean it out. Can you help me?”

Of course I could. With The Coach holding the ladder, I climbed up, and then he climbed up and lowered me into a four-by-four recess behind the lockers. He handed me a trash bag, but I barely noticed it.

Because I was smelling the vilest thing I’d ever smelled.

It was horrific. Scarring. I remember it to this day — the off-gray walls, the dark-green lockers, the old underpants, the socks, the trash, the sneakers, and above all else the stench of mold and what I now refer to as “the smell of ass”. I think my eyes were streaming as I cleaned up, throwing away as much trash as I could until finally The Coach said “okay, that’s enough.” I handed up the bag and then he lifted me out and helped me back down the ladder.

I was nauseated. Sickened. I made it back to the classroom and spent the entire half-hour lunch period with my sandwich pressed to my face, breathing in the scent of wheat bread and turkey. I barely ate. I must have been redolent with funk. But I eventually recovered, and went about my day.

My parents never said anything. My P.E. teacher never said anything. I didn’t even think to avoid The Coach — he was actually a pretty nice guy; I remember that.

But I will never, ever forget that dank, disgusting hole and that disused pair of briefs that I picked up between two fingertips and dropped into a gigantic black trash bag.

Lesson Learned: Volunteer at your own risk. Sometimes it’ll lead you to a great job, but other times it’ll drop you in a disgusting pile of trash.



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