Yesterday, I participated in Minor League Baseball’s “Habitat for Humanity” volunteer project. A proper article on the event can be found HERE, but I figured I may as well provide a more me-focused perspective. And that perspective is this: I have no construction skills whatsoever. It’s just embarrassing. I may be adept at taking public transportation, playing pinball, and sporadically updating this blog, but when it comes to the ability to do skilled physical labor, I offer absolutely nothing.
The day started a little after 7 am, and I was the last one on the bus due to a miscommunication involving what time we were supposed to be on said bus. As I hopped on board, what I should have said to those assembled before me was “Chain, meet your weakest link.”
I spent the bulk of the day working on the future home of Ms. Clorestine Haney, a single mother of two eager to have her own house in New Orleans after spending the last four years in Baton Rouge as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Clorestine was exceedingly likable, and I was happy to pitch in on her behalf. But, really, what I accomplished over the course of seven hours could have been done by a skilled laborer in about 30 minutes. This is not an exaggeration.
I was placed on the “blocking” team. For those who have never “blocked” before (I’m looking at you, Detroit Lions’ offensive line), the task entails nailing pieces of wood in between wall studs. These pieces of wood then provide support for cabinets and other such domestic attachments.
The thing is, the wood often needs to be nailed into very tight spaces, and there is therefore no opportunity to hammer it in in a straightforward way. Instead, one must “toenail” — that is to say, hammer in the nail on an angle, often underneath and diagonal to its ultimate destination.
And I just couldn’t seem to do it right. As those around me slowly got the hang of it, I would find myself spending upwards of a half hour nailing in a single block of wood. There were many, many missteps. I spent a lot of my time trying to extract nails that missed the block completely, and were simply lodged in the walls. Often, I would get the block in place only to find that it was not quite in its intended location, and I would then have to start over yet again. In all, I found a dizzying array of ways to make a mistake.
Naturally, this made me very self-conscious. I couldn’t help but think that everyone who saw me was secretly laughing at the glacial pace upon which I was proceeding. I fostered this conception by constantly making self-deprecating remarks about my lack of skill (later, I even wrote a blog about it).
But, by and large, everyone else was wrapped up in their own tasks. Therefore, my lack of production went largely unnoticed. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but fear like an imposter at the end of the day, posing for a group picture as if I had, you know, actually done something.
None of this is to say that I don’t want to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity again, or ever engage in physical labor. I rather enjoy the latter, actually, and have had successful stints in the past as a kitchen “utility” worker (Foulkeways Retirement Home, 1995-1999) and package handler (UPS, 2002-03). And I truly would welcome the opportunity to participate in a Habitat project again — after all, there would be no where to go but up.
But the biggest realization that I came to yesterday is that no matter what it is specifically, I need to volunteer more often. It’s something I have done sporadically through the years, but there’s no excuse for the fact that I do not to it more often. I have the time to play in a pinball league and meet friends for drinks and blog about the Minor Leagues and all sorts of other frivolous matters — it goes without saying that I should therefore also have the time to give back in some way.
Just don’t ask me to do blocking. Seriously.
Talking ‘Bout Last Night — After my long day of failure, I decided that the proper course of action would be to go out on the town. An impromptu Google search for “New Orleans concert listings” turned up the fact that the Baseball Project was playing at a rock club in the French Quarter! I have blogged about the Baseball Project in the past, and was disappointed when I missed them in NYC last week. When I saw that they were playing, I knew I had to go. It was my destiny.
The show was at One-Eyed Jack’s, one of the best rock clubs I have ever been to. It was perfect in size (400 capacity, not too big, not too small) as well as design. Here’s a picture I lifted from the website:
Also, there was a very well-maintained “Elvis” pinball machine located in the venue’s front room.
As for the show itself, it was billed as “An Evening With the Minus 5, the Baseball Project, and the Steve Wynn IV performed by Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck, Steve Wynn, and Linda Pitmon.” So while it wasn’t all Baseball Project material, they ended up playing nearly every song on the album (as well as loads of other stuff). The crowd couldn’t have numbered much more than 75, but they were extremely enthusiastic and a jovial mood prevailed throughout. Those who like raucous rootsy garage rock (and baseball!) couldn’t have asked for more.
For me, the highlight of the show was the encore. They led it off with “Harvey Haddix”, which tells the story of the perfect game that wasn’t (Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings before losing in the 13th). The song’s chorus is a recitation of every player in Major League history who has thrown a perfect game, ending with “Why don’t you add ol’ Harvey to that list?” (live, they revised the chorus to include Mark Buehrle, who threw his perfect game after the song had been written).
“Harvey Haddix” was followed by something wholly unexpected and thoroughly enjoyed — a cover of Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues”. This song, a propulsive (and exceedingly paranoid) meditation on rock and roll life in the post-hippie 70s, is the highlight of 1974’s “On the Beach.” And if you like Neil Young even a little bit and don’t have “On the Beach” — well, then, that is a situation that needs to rectified immediately.