Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Piñata on steroids

I saw a sign saying “Free Candy Drop” at a sports field complex, and assumed that they were giving away candy drops as an incentive to get kids to join a team or something.  Then, the day before Halloween, I saw what a candy drop means. 

At the sports complex were two enormous cranes, dangling the buckets that construction teams use to carry cement up to workers on the upper floors of a large building.  The buckets were bright orange, and there were hordes of children in various costumes milling around, and then I figured it out.  Organized by age, groups of kids would stand under the orange buckets and then, at a signal, the bottom of the bucket would be opened and the kids showered with candy.

Hence the Piñata on steroids.  I’m sure you know that a piñata ( and I’m not going to go figure out out to do the sedilla…oh look it did it… scary… how did spell check know that..) is a hollow paper mache (spell check doesn’t speak French, I guess) creation full of candy that blind folded children whack at with sticks until it breaks, showering them with candy.

We once did a piñata for a birthday party.  The piñata was a cheerful donkey in wild colors, and cost quite a lot. I assumed it would have candy in it, but no.  We had to go buy the candy too and stuff the beast.  Another surprise, it was very hard to break it, even the adults in the party whapped away at it with no success until someone got a hammer.  So we scrabbled around after the goodies happily.  But it does seem that there should be some work and possible embarrassment involved before the shower of candy.

I’m reminded of a comment made to me this summer, the guy asked me if I thought English should be mandated as the official language of the US.  I think I replied that it was impossible to legislate away people’s culture, and that communicating was more important than our discomfort with other languages.  I really liked the guy to work with and his very jolly wife, but it was one of those moments where a political and maybe even cultural crevasse opens up without warning.  I understood it as a fear, not particularly prejudiced, but I sort of wished I could have a picture of a Boston sign saying “No Irish Need Apply” since they were both of Irish parentage.  And I remembered my mother’s Bostonian distinctions: Shanty Irish, Lace Curtain Irish ( the last was applied to the Kennedy’s-gasp).

In Las Cruces, I’m a minority, and since I have neither Pueblo nor Hispanic blood, only the latest “immigrant”.  I’m consistently treated with great good manners and warmth, folks rarely speak Spanish when I’m around, but use English instead.  And this is true in places where my “good works” are not known.  Instead of nervously wishing everyone would speak English, I’m sad that so much of my Spanish has gone to rust. 

This week on the build we had what I call Smurf Camp.  Sam’s Club agreed to give H4H $5000 and send us some volunteers.  The volunteers were “encouraged” to come out, but most of them looked upon it as an extra day off, and were generally youngish and unskilled.  We asked for 6-7, and usually got 15 or so, and they all wore blue Sam’s Club T-shirts (hence Smurfs).  The construction leader has been doing this a long time and he doesn’t do well with the unenthusiastic and unskilled, so the first day ended badly. 4-5 volunteers just walked away, and complained and someone at Sam’s Club called the boss here and the construction supervisor got in trouble for being grouchy.

The result was that the RV volunteers were pulled off the job so that the Smurfs would have something to do (and some of that was very much pointless busy work) and Steve and I were deputized to entertain them and perhaps get some of the dry wall work done on the first house.  This act was a lot like trying to interest a roomful of High School students who don’t want to be there or learn anything, so I found that gear and went to work, but it was hard.  And the RVers, understandably, were not thrilled either.

We will have to go back and fix a lot of their work, for all the careful supervision we did, and it all seemed a little pointless.  We will get the $5000, as far as I know, but I felt as though the real point was to bolster Sam’s Clubs PR with our labor.

Volunteers of various stripes are the heart beat of H4H and indeed many other similar virtuous non-profits.  It is vital that folks feel good about their efforts, both that they are doing something useful and that they have a good time doing it.  Providing and feeding this feeling is the invisible work behind the scenes, and it is often very hard.  They like to meet the homeowners and hear about their hard living conditions, and they want to be busy and contributing, and I get that, but sometimes it does feel as though we are running a camp for the bored and restless, especially when we get complaints that we are not well organized enough to worth their efforts.  Since a lot of our RV volunteers are former management types, they have little patience with inefficiency. 

The days are cool, good working weather, and the nights chilly enough that the winter feather bolster is now on the bed.  We are settled into a comfortable rhythm here, only wishing a little that we had more than Sundays off.  This work suits me, both the building part and the entertaining part, so I really don’t mind the schedule.