As a non-profit organization, my workplace depends largely on volunteer efforts and monetary contributions to survive. Our volunteers are the lifesource of the company, providing us with everything from office management to office supplies and without them we could not exist, at least not in the same capacity that we do now. They have built our stage, designed our sets, sewed our costumes, hung our lights and funded every production. For me, one of the most significant volunteer contributions has been the construction and installation of our dance floor, a beautiful sprung floor laid with an expensive marley and lined with mirrors. It is where I spend most of my time and I love every inch of it, thanks to them. Volunteers have shaped and molded us into being and as long as they continue to support us, we will continue to flourish.
That being said, there are some volunteers that are less help and more hassle, usually in regards to donated goods. I would say that about one third of the items given to us are true gold that you will see reused on stage, but the rest are just well-intentioned tripe. There was the volunteer that donated all of their used furniture to the theatre in hopes that we could use it, not taking into account that they were only giving it away because it was broken, water damaged and dog-bitten. That old adage one man’s trash is another man’s treasure rarely proves to be true; mostly, its just trash.
Also there was a volunteer that hooked us up with the closeout items from a local convenience store, the intent being that we would receive oodles of free makeup, hair supplies, snack items, canned beverages, etc. Of course, the reason that these things were being pulled from shelves were that they had long passed their expiration date and were no longer safe for human consumption. Regardless of their toxicity, the items kept coming in every two weeks. I will never forget that one fateful day when the children attacked a cart full of Hostess snacks without asking permission. The details are too gruesome to print.
One volunteer of years past has become legend. His name was Mr. Higher and he offered to paint the ceiling of our front lobby, but tried to do it during a performance for toddlers. Even after they climbed the scaffolding and finger painted on the concession stand, this man did not comprehend why this was a bad idea. Mr. Higher also brought his child to a performance for her birthday and then proceeded to tail-gate in the parking lot, serving hot dogs, hamburgers, cake and ice cream to little children out of the back of his truck in the middle of a busy intersection. So it should have been no surprise to me that his attempts to repaint our back lobby would be, well, disastrous.
His mission was to paint six golden-yellow walls the same color, concealing patches from recent air conditioning work. The color of this lobby has been debated by many. Some claim that it is a Morrocan gold, some say dark yellow, some even liken it to a Kentucky Fried Chicken golden brown. My attempts at calling it the Grey Poupon lobby have been largely unsuccessful, mostly because people grew tired of me pardoning myself to ask if they had any. I remember taking the paint swatch to the hardware store and having the associate raise her eyebrows and ask me ‘you want ten gallons of this?‘ She took extra precautions to make sure that no one else picked up this color by mistake and boldly labeled the buckets GOLD PAINT FOR THEATRE. Regardless of its true color, it was pretty when it was new, but desperately needed a touch-up.
Now, a normal person would have bought some drop cloths and tape, masked the areas that should not be painted, rolled the walls and then untaped his masterpiece. We were not fortunate enough to have a normal person.
I received a call early one morning to go down to the theatre and let Mr. Higher into the building. When I arrived, someone else had already unlocked the door, but he had not called to tell me that I was no longer needed. I returned to work later that afternoon to find all of the baseboards missing, but everything else in much the same condition as it had been that morning. Four days passed and no work had been done, save the missing baseboards and two five-gallon buckets of paint that sat inconveniently in the middle of the hallway. I began to wonder if I had dreamed my morning encounter, and if the baseboards had recently gone on some sort of strike due to their shabby surroundings, or perhaps because of the imposing presence of 10 gallons of paint.
On the fifth day, I walked in to discover that my world had been liberally smeared with dijon mustard. The carpet was yellow. The ceiling was yellow. The tile was yellow. The stairs and doors were yellow. Even the paint buckets were yellow. Worse, the dance floor was yellow. My baby, that beautiful, expensive, dance floor was yellow. I sounded like my character in Go, Dog, Go as I marched around the building, pointing out everything that was now, in my opinion, jaundiced.
‘Hey, I got a little paint on your floor’ Mr. Higher said. I just couldn’t help myself.
‘Really? Thanks for pointing that out, because if you hadn’t mentioned it I might not have noticed! What a keen observation to bring to my attention. I probably never would have realized that the floor was yellow if it wasn’t for your sharp eye…’ I kept on and on, talking nervously in a low voice, trying not to lose my temper. He never even flinched or even regarded my sarcasm, but he did try to convince me that it could be cleaned with some Goo Gone. I calmly explained that nothing else would touch that floor until I talked with the manufacturer and that this matter was no longer his concern. Given the circumstances, I think that I behaved admirably, but my husband says that I shouldn’t laud myself for acting like a ‘normal’ person. He obviously had good intentions and you can’t be angry at that.
When I related the first part of this tale to my mom, her instant reply was that ‘good intentions pave the road to hell.’ Though I’d heard this idiom many times, I had never really thought about its meaning. I Googled it and learned that it was derived from the letters of St. Bernard, the man who inspired the name of St. Bernard’s Pass, a path through the Swiss Alps that was so treacherous it required the local monastary to raise a team of rescue dogs by the same name. Though popular in media, the monastary insists that they never equipped their dogs with miniature casks of brandy, as the alcohol would merely act as a muscle relaxer to those already suffering from hypothermia.
Regardless of the St. Bernard’s reputation as the Swiss Alps’ most reliable bartender, the actual French-to-English translation of the St. Bernard (the person’s) quote omits the first three words, stating that hell itself has good intentions and desires. Nobody seems to know when the extra words were added, but I think they change the intent of the phrase quite a bit. I guess the true meaning of this quote has something to do with the fact that merely intending to do good, without actually doing it, is of no value. A good lesson, for those of us with Dudley Do-Right attitudes. Like this guy.
Mr. Higher promised us that his mess would be cleaned up in time for the weekend and left in a puff of yellow. I thought that perhaps he would return with a new game plan, like not using an industrial paint sprayer indoors with the air conditioner running when a simple roller and paint tray would suffice. Kind of like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly, if you ask me. Throwing ration and reason to the wind, he continued on with his paint sprayer, creating clouds of golden dust in the rear of the building and causing approximately 200 children in the course of one day to ask me ‘what’s that funny smell?’ Job finally completed, he packed up his toys and went home.
The only word to describe his work is ‘astonishing.’ Now that all of the dropcloths had been removed, there were stripes of yellow paint creating roadmaps on the carpet. We were now the proud owners of yellow ceiling tiles, yellow sprinklers and a yellow water fountain. The paint that had, by some miracle, managed to adhere to the walls was now slowly dripping down from the ceiling, creating a haunted-house effect as it slid towards the floor. Since the melted wax look is only considered chic when derived from candles stuck in chianti bottles atop the red-and-white checkered tablecloths of Italian restaurants, we called in the reinforcements.
With only 48 hours until an audience arrived, our tried and true volunteers all rose to the occasion. They brought belt sanders, mineral spirits, paint brushes, drop cloths and most importantly, those little airplane-sized bottles of wine to help get us through the crisis. Much like the St. Bernard’s and their mythical brandy, they rescued us from an avalanche of latex gold dust, which I can only assume is the same color used to paint the stripes on the road to hell. They phoned in favors with independant contractors and an industrial cleaner, who took one look at our dappled carpet and proudly stated ‘yup, we’ll probly jes’ use the same orange-smellin’ stuff we use at the Chuck-E-Cheese.’
All of their magic spells took hold just in time for our weekend of performances and, thanks to those amazing volunteers, the place looked great. They even ordered the appropriate cleanser for the dance floor and cleaned all 48 feet of mirrors in the studio. As I walked down the hall, surveying their excellence, I noticed that the two original five-gallon buckets of golden paint were still sitting in the walkway. Carrying them to the paint storage room (affectionately referred to by our students as ‘the scary room’), I noticed the labels stuck on the lid, and immediately understood the reason that they were still so prominently displayed in the hallway. They read, simply:
GOLD PAINT FOR HIGHER
Who could ask for anything more?