What am I doing instead of the fantasy I tossed? Here, have an excerpt.
In 1994, I was working for a newspaper, which I don't want to name in the interest of self-preservation, as a copy editor/page designer of the Living Section. It was my favoritest job ever and I still miss it. When the management decided to have a booth at a Volunteer Day, I agreed to help man the booth. I used to be a Girl Scout. I used to be a Boy Scout too, but that's a different story. I liked volunteering. The whole day was spent urging people to volunteer for whatever causes spoke to them. There were tables also for the Jaycees, United Way, and of course Scouting. I had several folks try to recruit me to their causes, but I liked one of the causes we had on our table- the Humane Society.
The next day I called Herkimer County Humane Society, and I asked what I could do. They told me their hours for dog walking- in the afternoon while I was at work. I said I was available only in the mornings and on weekends- was there something I could do then? I could almost hear his shrug. You could come and clean cages, I was told. That would be fine, I thought, and I scheduled a start date.
How bad could cleaning cages be? Everybody poops. There would be a lot of that. Spilled dog food. A heavy ammonia smell from the urine and cleaners. And of course a heavy dose of animal fear and hope. It's how most animal shelters smell to me.
My first day at the shelter was early December. It took longer than I thought it would to get from my apartment in Poland to the far side of Herkimer, technically in Mohawk. It was dark at 8 something in the morning, and there were a lot of cars on the icy driveway. I approached the logical entrance and heard an argument going on inside. The door was locked. When I went to knock, the door was opened roughly and a man ran outside. I didn't look at him. I seized the opportunity to get inside. I was stared at by angry, shocked faces.
"Um," I managed, 'My name is Georg, and I'm here to volunteer. I called a while ago?"
A frail older lady recovered first and took charge. "Good. We're glad you're here," she snapped. "You can help Pat with the cats."
I looked at the two men in the room. The tall grey-blond man nodded. The shorter darker man looked poleaxed. "She can help me with the dogs," he blurted.
The frog-like woman croaked, "That's fine. Dusty will help me with the cats then." Apparently, she was Pat. You would think with a name like Georg I would know better than to fall for such assumptions, but no, I have my stereotypes too.
The seated man stood and introduced himself as Jazz. I liked his mustache and his long hair, and his thin wiry build. He looked like he had a sense of humor in his dark eyes, but he seemed off balance. The whole vibe of the room was strange, but I wrote that off to the argument I walked in on.
"Let's get to work," Alma said. Of course, I didn't find out her name for months. I didn't see her again for a while. She came regularly and took all of the dog blankets and cat blankets that had not been coated in sickness or poo, washed them, and brought them back, every week. She was more than 70 years old and had dedicated her life to this shelter. She had a will of iron. The argument had been mainly between herself and the caretaker of the shelter, causing him to leave in a huff, and he never came back. Jazz ended up assuming the caretaker role, except he never did get the title nor an increase in pay. And he really didn't want these things either very much. But I didn't know this – I just followed those brown eyes into the Dog Room, and listened as he told me what he wanted me to do to help.