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THE PENCOPAL PROJECT

2004-08-18 - 9:51 a.m.

PENCOPAL, VOLUNTEER EXTRAORDINARE

Last night was my first stint as a Kerry/Edwards ’04 volunteer. As usual, my imagination got the best of me. I pictured a warm, cozy room swathed in red, white, and blue. The room in my mind was set up like a swanky lounge, and young activists sat around tables, engaging in passionate political discussions between calls. Incense wafted from behind a huge Kerry/Edwards poster, and Kerry himself came to Plymouth Meeting, Pa., to personally thank us. We sipped Chardonnay and discussed the finer points of running for president. Right, so I may have been slightly delirious while dreaming up this scenario, but a girl can hope, can’t she?

The building was in deeper into the burbs than I'd ever ventured, and the stern brick façade belied the fact that there’d be no swanky lounge style phone banking that night. I sat in my car, facing a nursery school, eating a salad with a goal to lose my vacation pudge. Children scampered up and down the slide and chased each other across piles of wood chips. I wondered why no one thought it was weird that a random chick was parked next to the nursery school, watching the children play. I could’ve been a child kidnapper or something. Weird.

The phone banking home base was a large room bearing a giant union insignia. And the room was empty. I’d made sure I was 15 minutes late, so as not to appear to be the overeager volunteer that I actually was. A moment later, a cute boy walked in. I made a mental note to ask The Beautiful Girl Who Loves Jamaican Ska if she wants to volunteer with me; perhaps she can do her civic duty, then get down and dirty with this cutie. We chatted for a moment, he gave me a script and some names, and I got to work. Over the next two and a half hours, I’d log 150 calls. While he talked on the phone to his girlfriend. Or someone. Sweet.

It’s funny how you amuse yourself when engaged in an activity that’s rote or boring. Things that normally wouldn’t have appealed to me were now hysterically funny. Like hang-ups. One woman answered the phone, and before I’d even said anything she yelled, “Don’t ever call here again!” Women are also very suspicious of other women calling for their husbands. "This is his WIFE, can I help you?" What if I'd said, "No, bitch, I want to talk to him, not you," or "Look, I don't want his nuts, I want his time. For volunteering." I told the phone bank volunteer what I wanted to say, and we shared a good laugh, but then he stared at me for the next half hour. I think he was scared I'd actually do it.

There were a large number of near-death elderly people who somehow made their way onto their list. They sounded so happy to receive phone calls.

“Hello, may I speak with Mrs. X?” I asked.

“Yes, YES! This is Mrs. X!!!” came the urgent reply. I almost wanted to jot down some of the numbers and call these people again next week, just so they could have a little human contact.

“Blah blah Kerry/Edwards ’04, blah, would you like to volunteer, blah?” I asked.

“Um, no, honey, I can’t walk,” or “I’m 85,” or “You’re calling a nursing home!” were some of the replies I received to my queries. And people sure do love to give you more information that you require. One woman had just come from the orthopedic surgeon and she had to get two needles in her knee. I tut-tutted sympathetically. Another man had a daughter in the hospital, one woman couldn’t walk more than a few steps at a time, and another woman was too old to leave the house for long periods of time, but she’d gotten clearance from her doctor to leave the house long enough to vote. That one pulled at my heartstrings.

The best call of the night was a man I’ll refer to as The Count, ala Sesame Street. Our whole conversation was me reading from my script, and him answering everything I asked him just like the count would. “Cynthia is not hoooooooome, ha ha ha ha ha,” and “Tryyyyyy again on Thuuuuuuursday, ha ha ha ha ha.” My co-phone bankers got a kick out of my impersonation, but they, too, were easily entertained. There definitely weren’t any young activists wearing "Fuck Bush" t-shirts. The other volunteers were older retirees, and one guy was about my Dad’s age. But the reality is rarely as good as the fantasy, and the important thing is that we all had the common goal of getting that fucknut out of office.

 

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