Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trying to be One of Those Guys

When I was still living at home and before my mom got me that sweet gig working at a muffin cart, I had to come up with $200 a month for room and board. Not a lot of cash certainly and considering the circumstances (read: stupid kid should be out of the house by now), very reasonable. However, it did mean that I needed gainful employment and as I may have stated earlier, I had no marketable skills. That's not entirely true. If you needed a surly, ill-tempered guy to stack things on a shelf or be vaguely rude to your customers then I was your guy. Problem being that I didn't have my driver's license yet so my options were somewhat limited as far as travel was concerned.

So every day I'd take the paper and scour it for jobs that a big dummy like me could handle and were close enough to public transportation. This is when I came across an ad from Greenpeace. "Holy hell!" I thought, "Greenpeace is like a group that I can get behind! I can do some work for those peeps surely." The office was on Centre St. in Jamaica Plain which at the time might as well have been on Mars to me. I had no frickin' clue where that was. I asked my dad who drove a truck all day in Boston and all he said was that it was pretty far away. I'm sure he was conflicted because on the one hand he wanted me to get a job but when I mentioned that it was working for Greenpeace he sighed and said "Oh, so you want to be one of THOSE guys?" I have to admit that I'm still not entirely sure what he meant by that. There are a number of interpretations certainly but I think he meant I'd be one of those annoying people who ring your doorbell on a Saturday morning trying to get you to give them a donation. Either that or he was annoyed with me for once again not understanding what he considered a real job to be.

After a bus ride, train ride and a walk I finally made it to the Greenpeace office. There were people sitting around in a meeting of some sort (so should have been a drum circle or something...that would have ruled) and there was no one at the receptionist's area at all. I stood there trying to look like I wasn't annoyed for a good 10 minutes before some schmuck came by and asked me if I was looking for someone. I told him about the ad in the paper and he said "Oh dude, that's what this meeting is all about! C'mon over!" Oh, see, there's absolutely no way I could have fucking known that Chad, so maybe you douches need to work on your communication skills and knock off the hacky-sack practice. 'kay? 'Kay.

I follow my new enemy over to the group and he motions to a pillow on the floor (not kidding) as if to say "Take a seat, dude". I just assumed that this guy says dude after every sentence. I opted to stand. I could hear my dad's voice saying "Get out of there now stupid. You will HATE this." but I of course ignored it. He doesn't know everything right? Wrong. Apparently I hadn't missed much in the time that I had been waiting because they were still in the let's-go-around-the-room-and-give-a-brief-reason-for-being-here stage. "Hi, I'm Mark and my mom says I need to pay her two hundy a month or she'll stop cleaning my underwear. Really, though, can't I just fill out an application or some shit?" There were probably 15-20 people in the meeting and from what I remember most of them were newbies answering the ad from the paper. I looked around and it was pretty clear that I was the only one who maybe didn't understand it was about mother earth not the commissions.

The head nozzle basically told all us recruits that we would be sent out with an experienced canvasser for a couple of days and then we'd meet with him to see if a) we were still interested and b) if the trainer thought we could do the job. Oh, and these 2 days would be unpaid. How's that for a red flag? Yea, I ignored that one too. We all piled into a few shitty vans and then headed out to an area where some chumps had previously given to Greenpeace. In this case it was Nahant. The van dumped us all off and then my trainer douche and I started walking around a pretty nice neighborhood near the coast. He had a stack of leads that were not quite the GlenGarry leads but maybe had a couple of guilt-ridden folks in there.

The big selling point for this campaign was how many poopy diapers we as Americans throw away and how they're now choking the landfills. Nice opening huh? Hey, I know you're a really busy new parent with limited time and money but stop using disposable diapers. SLAM! Soooooooo many doors got slammed in our faces. Or people would open the door, listen for a sec and then politely decline to donate. Or people just wouldn't answer the door at all (which is the option I would have gone with personally...but I would have been glaring at us from the upstairs room until we gave up and walked away..now you know Jehovah's Witnesses! Just look up and you'll see me there just behind the curtains!). But every now and then he'd get someone to donate. And they were pretty decent donations too. So I had witnessed my trainer douche actually making his commission. Not that hard at all I thunked.

The next day we did pretty much the same thing but in Duxbury. Apparently there are a LOT of people in that town that have money to donate so my trainer douche did really well. I think we were offering a magazine or a newsletter as a thank you for the donation maybe? I forget the incentive other than alleviating middle-class guilt. After we got back to the office (which was after a long-ass day too by the way) I met with the head nozzle and told him that I was still interested and could start the next day. I went home and told my parents that I had accepted the job and would be a contributing member of society soon enough. They were unimpressed and if I remember correctly there may have been some head shaking.

My first day as a canvasser for Greenpeace started out with a cramped van ride from the office back to Duxbury. I remember one guy asking everyone in the van who they thought was the best guitar player of all time. Really? That's what you want to talk about? It depends, ok? How's that for an answer? I can tell you it isn't anyone from The Greatful Dead or Little Feat ok? I survived that conversation and when we got to the neighborhood I'd be covering they gave me a clipboard, a small outline of a script (chock full of fun bullet points such as Japanese whaling, poopy diapers lasting 200+ years and strip mining in Russia) a stack of names and addresses of people who had donated in the past and sent on my merry way.

I remember walking up to the first door and having a guy from the window next to the door say "Don't bother, I'm not giving this year." Wow. This is gonna be an awesome job. It took another 10 houses before I was even allowed to get all the way through my spiel. And that lady only gave me $10. I think she had to give at least $18 for the newsletter thing. So, let's do the math. I've been out here for about 2.5 hours, had people tell me to get off their porch and I've made 3% of $10. Best. Job. Ever. At this point I had come to the conclusion that maybe this wasn't going to be my career choice after all but I still had another hour and a half before the van would come back for me to take me to the next neighborhood. I was in the middle of some neighborhood looking very much like the proverbial sore thumb when I thought that maybe I'd just go sit on a rock until the van showed up. That's when the cops came.

Now, the head nozzle had contacted the police to let them know that we'd be in these neighborhoods (I think it was like a permit deal too) but someone hadn't gotten that message. The cop car pulled up and the cop in the passenger seat turned the big ol' spotlight on me. At 11:30 in the morning. Sun not bright enough sir? No? Ok, you have the gun so I'll go with your judgement on this one. They asked me what I was doing and it was a much more existential question than they had anticipated. What WAS I doing? Jesus Christ I need a ride home so bad.

The cops left me to my rock and the van showed up a couple of minutes later. I told the head nozzle what had happened and he got all flustered about being "hassled by the cops". Huh? Wasn't it me that this happened to? And it wasn't really all that bad. They asked me who I was and what I was doing, they checked my stuff and that was the end of that. Calm down trust-fund hippy. Find something else over which to launch your protest about the man. Now this is when I should have told him that I wanted out and didn't want to go walk around another neighborhood for 3 more hours please. But as you may have guessed, I didn't do that. I figured that maybe it was just a bad morning or neighborhood or something and that I should give this another full try before bailing. At the next house the woman actually let me in and had me sit at her kitchen table until the husband came home and kicked me out sans donation. We had a nice chat at least though. I didn't mention poopy diapers once.

The van picked me back up at the end of the day and we drove back to the office. Everyone else had had fantastic days and really connected with the people of the community and made a difference and SHUT UP ALREADY! I get it! I'm no good at this. Now, let me out near the train station so I can go home and watch my father slowly shake his head as I tell him I quit on the third day and no I will not be getting paid.

Now-a-days when I see the canvassers in Boston I feel some empathy for them but I still cross the street so I don't have to listen to them talk about 200-year-old strained pea poopy diapers.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Supah Powers

I have a super power. I have the ability to look at someone as soon as they spit. ... Hey, I didn't say it was a great ability, but it's mine and I'm going to own it. I can be walking down the street (not likely by the way...I'm lazy), driving behind someone or even just looking out the window and I'll see someone spit. That is to say, the person may not even want to spit but if I look at them, they spit. At least that's what I suspect. See, I'm not a spitter. I can't for the life of think of the last time I just spit on the sidewalk or whatever. I just, well, don't do that. So, either EVERYONE ELSE spits, or I have a super power that compells people to spit when I happen to glance at them in public. I think I could quickly look over at a nun and she'd hork something horrible up and let it fly.

To sum up: people are gross and need to cut that shit out.

(To clarify: I'm not saying that the people look at me and then spit. That I'd understand..no, I'm saying they have no idea that I'm looking at them when this occurs)