More vituperation: a taxonomy of

More vituperation: a taxonomy of service camp crews

I painted a whole bunch of the new house this weekend; I put a second coat of ‘Moss White’ on the used-to-be-red bedroom, and two coats of the same color in the hallway and living room. In fact, I finished everything except the bathroom, hurrah!


Usually, I really, really hate painting, because painting is the ghetto team of every service camp I’ve been a part of. Every organization I’ve worked with or for is roughly the same. At the beginning of a day’s work, you’ll be presented with Rorschach test in the form of a job signup list. Your choice immediately and irrevocably reveals the innermost recesses of your personality:


  • If you have carpentry skills, or if you’re just unafraid of hammers and bad jokes, you volunteer for carpentry. Minuses: bruised fingers, many unlovely ass-cracks on display. Pluses: learn to use a hammer, learn many bad jokes. (“Damn, I cut it twice and it’s still too short, har har!”)
  • If you’re unafraid of hard work and are generally good-natured, you volunteer for landscaping and/or yard duty. Minuses: hard, dirty work, thin-walled lawn bags have been purchased at the dollar store. Pluses: Best cameraderie.
  • If you own a Slipknot hoodie or have any sort of haircut that would look appropriate at a tractor pull, you volunteer for demolition. Pluses: you get to bash walls with a crowbar. Minuses: you own a Slipknot hoodie.
  • If you are some kind of giant saint walking the earth, you put your name on the list that has no volunteers on it: cleaning and mopping. Minuses: probably involves shoveling ankle-deep cat poo out of an explosively smelly row house. Pluses: Grateful Habitat leader will personally bring you an extra sugar cookie at lunch.
  • If you fall into none of the above groups, however, if you’re only half-sold on the idea of spending a day in service, if you’re boring and bland and willing to be told what to do but don’t want to do something too hard, you sign up for painting. Or you get put there; painting crew is the big catchall of a service camp, because you can post all the warm bodies like pickets and give them minimal instructions and walk away and they’ll still be there an hour later without requiring new instructions. Got someone who doesn’t know what they’re good at? Painting crew. Showed up 90 minutes late for the start of work? Painting crew. Complains about the temperature of the coffee in the 40-cup church percolator? Scraping crew, a service project’s Ninth Circle of Hell.

This is not to say that everyone on painting crew is a boring, whiny waste of space who knocks off early and grabs the good sandwiches in the lunch line before you can get there. I have many good friends who were on the painting crew at last year’s [My employer] Volunteer day. I don’t think less of them as people; they simply didn’t know any better, and this year I’m sure
I’ll see them carrying shrubs or carefully sorting the nails in their carpenter’s apron into two piles, depending on which way the points are facing (“You see, the nails pointing this way are for the other side of the house, nyuk nyuk!”)


Meanwhile, this weekend I was the painting crew, and I actually kind of enjoyed it.

More vituperation: a taxonomy of

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