How to fulfill a service requirement

By:
02/20/2003

You could easily waste a week questioning the merit of mandatory community service. While this may satisfy some deep philosophical need, it is a waste of time. The nuns will not back down. You might as well get it over with.

First and most importantly: Get a friend in on it, preferably one with a good sense of humor. Or better yet, someone you have a crush on, just to make it more interesting. This will prove invaluable when you’re led down to the church basement brimming with donations. Nod capably when your supervisor instructs you to organize the garage sale. Smile back at her. Give her the impression that you would readily spend your summer helping others, even if it wasn’t required to get your high school diploma. Try not to jump when she slams the door behind her. Don’t think about the fact that you won’t see the sun again until it’s setting.

Instead, set out with enthusiasm and abounding energy. You’re young, you have been taught to believe in Hell and good Samaritans. This is what it means in church when everyone chants, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Finish your day, stopping once to eat the peanut butter and honey sandwich you brought. Smile on the drive home. You’re the definition of a good citizen. People will say you have strong morals, a good head on your shoulders. Shelve these compliments because, like Little League trophies, they lose their value quickly.

Finish your first week. Calculate that it will take 14 additional weeks to fulfill your requirement. Realize your much-anticipated summer will be spent in this basement unnervingly close to the garbage dumpsters for Jimmy’s Family Rest-aurant. Refrain from conjuring up similes to describe the smell (rancid milk, your brother’s hockey bag after a particularly long tournament, a package of ground beef left in the trunk of your car for the month of July).

This creative energy could be better used plotting revenge on the nuns who thought a high school community service requirement was a good idea. Question Jesus as to where he gets off giving you a life just to live it in service to others. Curse the guilt that makes you regret talking to Jesus in this way. Convince yourself that Jesus understands, but end up asking for forgiveness anyway—just to be safe.

By the second week, you’re a veteran. Leave the peanut butter and honey sandwich at home. Go to Subway for lunch. Intend to eat a foot-long sandwich but place two separate orders, six inches at a time. Demand various ridiculous but, most-importantly, time-consuming specifications in the intricate sandwich-making process: exactly 19 olives, de-seeded tomatoes, two inches of turkey and no more than an inch of lettuce.

Then accuse your Subway Sandwich Artist of making a mistake. This will require getting the manager. An argument will inevitably ensue but remember, that is less time spent in the basement. Valiantly assert your rights as a customer. The manager will grant you an arbitrary freebie such as a large drink or two free cookies. As tempting as the cookies may be, accept the large drink and fill it with soda. Any kind will do as long as it has equally absurd amounts of sugar and caffeine. You will need both in the basement. It will also necessitate frequent bathroom breaks.

You will eventually realize that everything you needed was with you all along: the old radio in the corner, the trashy Harlequin romance novels, the deflated basketball and gold-swirled bowling ball. Find the “oldies but goodies” station on the radio and blare it as you play the games people have donated. Scrabble and Monopoly are best. They take the longest and don’t require batteries. Rediscover why hide-and-go-seek has remained a classic game for generations.

During the remaining weeks, rest assured that you’ll develop the necessary survival skills to complete your requirement. The sensory deprivation of the dank basement will eventually move you to Enlightenment, hopefully sometime before the summer is over and school starts again. Until then, fill your time by creating unique formations with the Harlequin romance novels and then seeing how many you can hit with the bowling ball. Make the rule that for every novel left standing, you must act out one scene—chosen by the other player. Try on the lingerie that well-intentioned, but naively romantic housewives have donated. Take the “I’m with Stupid” T-shirt for yourself. Who says this job has no “benefits”?

Melinda Peer is a junior in the College. She is not in the country.

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