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World of the Work

By Gretchen Giles

A GROUSE is what I intended to write, but I've grudgingly had to reconsider. I wanted to complain about the state of the Petaluma River--that turgid, silt-heavy trickle pushing stickily against turd-colored banks studded with shopping carts, old bikes, and rusty unidentifiables. But a group of volunteers recently got together and cleaned much of that junk up. I wanted to dis the lack of Petaluma bike trails, but darned if another gang of neighborhood residents didn't mass themselves last month to clear weeds and debris from an Eastside trail.

Sure, it's too bad that no one's volunteered to personally renovate the Lucchesi Park swimming pool, needed by area youth for meets and practice, or to change the sorry truth that the second largest city in Sonoma County drearily exists without a cinema. Certainly someone should volunteer to return my video rentals on time and save me the late fee.

Because what this grouse has secretly morphed into is actually a salute to volunteerism. One son wouldn't have art class without it. Another wouldn't have attended the opera. Even I force a thin weekly smile and lead a fifth-grade book club, always glad to arrive and always glad again to leave. I guess dumb runs thick in my blood: I didn't even notice that taking an hour from work each week--to terrify a group of 11-year-olds into understanding the graduate-school term "world of the work" as applied to author Judy Blume's juvenile literature--was volunteering. I thought that it had more to do with ensuring that my own 11-year-old doesn't become an illiterate heroin addict, as per those studies indicating that parental involvement in schools equals a drug-free Harvard graduate, guaranteed. Selfish, I believe, is the term.

But I don't even see my son when I drop in on his classmates each week. I see and hear them. We fight about why I never bring treats. We commiserate over the terrible cover illustrations that clearly have nothing to do with the story. We discuss metaphor and character arc. We applaud large type and frequent pictures. And yes, we submerge in the world of the work. Apt and neat and finally winning on the grouse, isn't that exactly what volunteerism is--world, work, we?

Perhaps, during summer break, I'll take it upon myself to build a pool with a cinema.

Bring the popcorn--you're all invited.


Gretchen Giles, a frequent 'Bohemian 'contributor, works plenty hard when she's not volunteering or just fooling around.

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From the July 5-11, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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