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Committee Hostage

By: Bill Shankle

In my life, I've been fortunate enough to miss wars, earthquakes, and seeing my name in the National Enquirer. Believing I haven't suffered enough, or maybe being just plain stupid, I volunteered to participate in an avoidable disaster-member of a committee.

It started as a harmless gesture, inspired by community spirit and civic pride. Help plan and organize a children's “Festival of Nations” at the local center. A simple assignment of good, clean, educational fun. How hard could this be?

My wife's cousin was appointed chairperson, and she asked my wife,Ellen to join. Ellen, in turn, suggested I “help out.” No problem, just tell me what to do. With those words, my life was changed forever.

I saw no reason to attend the first meeting. Ellen was there, she could fill me in. Unfortunately, the rest of the committee had the same attitude. My wife and her cousin duly split the assignments, the chairperson promising to contact the absent volunteers. Most were never heard from again.

The festival was to promote international understanding, with displays and exhibits from foreign lands. Our duties involved making flags of nations, gluing endless postage stamps on endless poster board, recruiting immigrant friends to speak their native tongues, and obtaining a rickshaw.

Our time quickly filled with these projects, and hundreds of mindless others.

I learned the first rule of committees-no one else does anything. As my wife and the chairperson were related, she soon realized she could pawn off any activity too distasteful for the other volunteers (who, remember, never did anything anyway) on us.

Arranging a meeting with the chairperson (who, I'm sure you've noticed by now, has remained nameless) to discuss our ideas was useless. Before being anointed, the chairperson was pleasant, decent company. Now she held the same opinion of democracy as the Chinese government.

As the festival approached, we pleaded with the chairperson to finalize the program. Exactly what needed done? The chairperson, who had become less and less related to us, was now harder to locate than Osama bin Laden, and considerably less popular. We were on our own.

Finding a rickshaw in Canton, Ohio is not as easy as it sounds. After striking out in the Yellow Pages, an inventive friend agreed to build one. Using bicycle tires and spare wood, he produced an authentic rickshaw. Flaming red with dragons painted on the sides. Who cared that it looked like an Oriental traveling house of prostitution?

We spent the day before the festival decorating. Naturally, the other volunteers blew in to watch us work, advising us how they would have done it. The chairperson remained absent.

The festival went splendidly. Our flags and stamps were admired, our foreign friends spoke foreignly, and everyone had to ride in the rickshaw, my wife and I taking the place of experienced coolies. Exhausted, but all the better for our ordeal, Ellen and I congratulated ourselves. We'd done it.

After the festival the chairperson became a cousin again, the other committee members volunteered for other projects they would never work on, and Ellen and I took a short break before we started on next year's festival.

Anyone know how to build a submarine?

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