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Community Service

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I sit down at the desk and the phone rings. “KPFK, may I help you?” I politely inquire. “Listen, don't connect me to that comment line. I don't want to hear Alan Minsky's recorded voice telling me to leave a message. I have a few opinions, and I want to tell you that I don't think a radio station that is for the people by the people should have so much on about the Republicans.” The woman's voice is fever pitch, machine gun pace. “I can't get my hand to the dial fast enough to turn it off. And this is a station I supported. I've spent $100, sometimes $300, to support this station. And why are they pushing Obama? I voted for Obama last time, and I won't do it again. Are they kidding? I won't spend another cent if they keep pushing Obama.” 
I give what I think sounds like an interested, “hmmm, okay,” and she continues, but I don't hear what she says, because Sue from membership comes out from the back room and hands me a piece of paper with a name and number written on it. “Call them and tell them their premium will be late,” she whispers. I nod and then murmur “hmmm” to the woman on the phone to let her know I was listening intently, even though I wasn't. She has a lot of steam but finally slows, and I take that as an opportunity to say, “Alright, well thank you for your opinion. I'll be sure to pass that along.” I say this carefully with measured sincerity. She hesitates and her voice changes. She sounds almost meek. “Well, thank you for that, and…umm…happy New Year.” “Happy New Year to you too,” I give her back. “But you know, I just can't stand that they let those Republicans have so much air time.” She is excited again. ”I mean really, this is not a radio station for the Republicans.” “Right,” I agree. “And I'll be sure to pass that along.”
The radio station is where I chose to do my twenty-two hours of community service. It was a punishment for not paying any attention to a ticket received about a year a half ago, which demanded I show up in court to present proof of car registration. Community service, if a person has the time, makes more sense financially than paying jacked up fines. In traffic court, you might receive what seems to be a light penalty—say $50—but the city of Los Angeles then adds a 220 percent tax. It can really add up. 
KPFK, may I help you?” The phone is now ringing quite a bit, several lines lighting up. “Who is this?” demands an indignant-sounding man. “I'm a new volunteer, can I help you?” “This is Steve,” he grunts. “Hi Steve,” my sincere voice says. “How are you doing?” I try to personalize this with a lot of concern. I want him to stop sounding upset. “Are you still in the hospital?” Steve worked at the radio station in the mornings but had recently been absent since he'd been admitted to the hospital a couple of weeks ago. He had become infected with MRSA— a dreaded staph infection that is especially resistant to antibiotics and is popular among athletes who share locker rooms and, in a more severe form, hospital patients. It's flesh-eating. Steve was a jogger, and somehow his big toe had become infected, which caused the toe tissue to die. This had resulted in the amputation of half of his big toe.  Everyone at the station was nervous about getting it. I shuffled my feet a little uneasily under the desk, wondering if his MRSA-infected toe had left any residue where my foot now rested. “I'm doing better,” Steve says, not indignant anymore. I don't really understand why he sounded so huffy to begin with. “I guess I'll be going home tomorrow,” he says. “I'll still be on antibiotics. Can I talk to Jessie?” I say sure and walk down the hallway to let Jessie know that Steve is on the line. “Just go ahead and transfer the call,” Jessie says in her nice, soft voice. Her skin is light velvety black. At least it looks velvety. She has a crop of fuzzy curls on her head and pretty brown eyes. She is always very pleasant. I like her, I say to myself as I trot back to the front desk and transfer the call.
There are a lot of people going in and out of the front door now. Another radio show is starting in a few minutes, and the guest speakers arrive. I greet them all. I press the button under the desk to allow the guests entrance to the production area. Before and after the shows they gather together in little groups outside and discuss the liberation of Africa, boycotting Shell, and other things.
An older woman walks in. She is roundish, with curly short gray hair and glasses. She carries a stack of leaflets. “I write poetry” she announces to a nearby woman. The leaflets give the time and place of a poetry workshop that the older woman is teaching. “I tell everyone that anyone can write a poem. One of the first things I have them do is write ten sentences. But the sentences all have to start with—she pauses for moment, lowering her voice—“‘when I am quiet…’.” The older woman smiles at the other woman, who smiles back, and they share a moment. “Anyone can write a poem,” she says.
Ethan walks by. I am on the phone again talking to someone who wants to know where the protest for something is being held that night. The man on the phone can't remember what the protest was about, he just remembers that it is happening at 7:30, and he wants me to tell him where. Ethan waves as he strolls toward the door to leave. He is young and cute with dark hair, dark eyes, and an easy smile. He is also at the radio station to do community service. I asked him earlier what he was doing community service for and he said, “Oh, DUIs—two of them.” He waved it off with one of his easy smiles. “Oh, no,” I had responded. “I'm going to slap you.” He then said that he doesn't drink anymore. He found God, and he's going to be a missionary. “I used to just want to drink and party and do drugs and have fun. But then I met this guy who told me about God, and it's really cool.”
The phone stops ringing so much. I go online to the KPFK website and read about all the reasons to boycott Shell gas. It makes sense to me. I decide to boycott Shell gas too. I'm also boycotting eggs. I find it hard to fall asleep when I think of what a terrible life a hen has. Not to mention the male chicks that are thrown live into grinders when they are just born.
It's five, and I put the closed sign on the door and lock the front door of the station with a screwdriver the way I was shown. I find Jessie to say good night and arrange for my next volunteer day. I'm almost out the door when I remember and say, “Oh, I just want to tell you that there's a woman who's going to quit supporting the station if they keep talking about Republicans. She also doesn't want the station to keep pushing for Obama.” “Oh, right. Okay, thanks,” she says. Then I walk out into the early night. It's almost dark as I turn the key in the ignition and drive away.


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