Sunday, July 17, 2005

Who's Cliff?

Finally some time to write. Good. I am often wondering where does all the time go. It’s true that we don’t get all that much free time in Americorps, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it has more to do with the fact that on are off time, we get distracted or better yet, entertained by one another that its easy to go a week without any personal time. It’s hard to get away from it all and I’ve come to learn that although I love to be surrounded by people, it can get awfully overwhelming at times. The good thing is that when I do get a moment, I have so much to write, remember and share. Such fine memories would not have transpired if I wasn’t living and working with these people. And for that and much more, I am incredibly grateful to my friends, to my coworkers, to my temporary family Shuffle Earth 3.This project so far has been filled with memories that will last a lifetime.

Last Saturday we went to the Minneapolis Dragon Boat Festival. I know they have these events in cities all over the country. When we were back in Denver during our transition round, someone was trying to get us to volunteer at a similar event in Denver. Basically it’s an Asian heritage festival. The big draw is they have dragon boats, large 10-12 person canoe like structures that race up and down the riverside. I spent most of my time watching different martial arts demonstrations. It was fascinating. The rest of my team got up and walked away. It took me almost an hour to realize that they had left. I learned a lot about mixed martial arts fighting, like how to get out of a headlock (something that I was asked a couple days before and didn’t remember from my wrestling training) and I also learned all about the art of Tae Chi. It originally developed as a deadly martial art those teachings were highly guarded within a noble family. The slow dance like Tae Chi that I am more familiar with, developed at a time when much of the Chinese populate was sick and old. The form was revised and taught to the people in an attempt to strengthen the nation.

When the demonstrations were over, I walked around a bit until I was drawn to this booth filled with people wearing bright green t-shirts that read “Who’s Cliff.” A couple of my friends were there, trying to make sense of all of this. I had trouble following the lady in the booth’s story. Something about Cliff being the president of some company and one of the paddlers on a dragon boats, except he doesn’t like to paddle. I don’t know. None of this really made any sense. The lady then asked me if I wanted to participate in this contest to get people to come to their booth. Before I knew what this actually entailed, I was given a bunch of pieces of paper and one of the green t-shirts that had attracted me to the booth in the first place. All I wanted all along was one of the t-shirts. I didn’t care about Cliff or his contests. Then something happened at that very moment, something that changed my mind. It suddenly became as clear that it wmy destiny to win Cliff’s contest. This was like the fifth festival we had been to in Minneapolis. At every one of them, I filled out every ridiculous sweepstakes slip that I saw, in the hopes that before this summer was over I’d win something. Well, after every festival, my phone never rang and all I had to show was disappointment. This just ate away at me. Why wasn’t my name picked? What did I do wrong? Why did some other sap have to win? Why not me? Now, it was my turn. I was presented with this opportunity for a reason. Just like in The Goonies. I wasn’t gonna blow it. I was gonna win this fucking contest and claim my prize, a $50 gift certificate to the Home Depot. Do you know how much PVC pipe $50 buys? I did. A lot, and it was all mine.

All I had to do was write my name on these pieces of paper they gave to me, hand them out and get various people to bring them back to the booth. Simple enough. These people aren’t stupid. They don’t care about Cliff. But they are probably bored and want free t-shirts. So I handed out these papers to random people at the park, each time making up something involving Cliff and free t-shirts. It seemed to be work. I got more papers. I was told I was doing awesome, but I couldn’t emphasize the t-shirts because they were beginning to run out. That wasn’t a problem. I just added some fine-tuning to my newly created shbeel. Approach random person, and “Excuse me do you know who Cliff is? You don’t, wow, well do you wanna find out and posssssssibly (see I added the word possibly, hehe) get a free T-SHIRT! Yes! Well take this slip to the booth over there and when you get there ask them who Cliff is, ok, great!” It worked. I did this for an hour or so before my friends were ready to go home. I didn’t want to leave until the lady from the booth approached me and told me that I had easily gotten the most people to the booth and she was confident that I was gonna win the contest. She said that I was quite the salesman and asked if I was interested at working at American Home Mortgage. I took her card and a couple more papers to hand out on the way back to the car. Last Tuesday, my phone rang. I got the call I was waiting for. I had won. I did it. At last victory was mine.

This was just the first of many pleasant surprises. I also found out that I was going to be participating at the KaBoom build on Thursday. KaBoom is an organization that builds playgrounds for kids in a single day. They raise the money, organize sponsors and get a hundred or so people to volunteer their time. It is amazing to watch and even more amazing to participate in. Our Americorps team was there to help run activities for the kids. They had various arts and crafts and other activities for the kids to do while the playground is being built. Home Depot, which was sponsoring the event, donated a bunch of wood working crafts that we helped the kids build. During the day I even found time to help out with some of the playground construction. I assembled a tunnel and a tic-tac-toe board, which always seem to be present on playgrounds these days. To my utter amazement, these parts were completely assembled using little more then a couple pre packaged bags of screws and washers. Not a single tool. I know it hasn’t been all that long since I was a young lad stomping around on a playground myself, but I am quite certain that playground technology has greatly changed since I was a kid. I remember playgrounds as these massive wooden structures, resembling boats that managed to become beached on an island of gravel. These new play grounds are constructed with brightly colored plastics and metals and look more like lego sets. They don’t seem nearly as massive or fit for adventure. I miss the old playgrounds, like my old elementary school playground that both looked and felt natural.

The build was a lot of fun, although I couldn’t help but think that this is an easy and trivial service to provide, when the residents who watch out their windows, are in need of much more then a playground. A large number of the people living at this site are refugees and immigrants. Similar to the families I meet at my facility; they struggle everyday to find jobs and employers that will accept them. They encounter racism and numerous hardships to provide their families with many things that we would consider necessities, like food, clothing, transportation, and healthcare. While we try to entertain their children with various activities donated by the Home Depot, the mothers are busy stealing the white undershirts we intended to use for tie dying. I think to myself, what I suppose to do, tell them to stop. Playgrounds are good, but the people who are here are going to go home at the end of the day. A playground will be built, but the other needs will remain.

As the build came to an end I got another call. No, I hadn’t won another contest. This news was even better. It was a call from my team leader Jess informing me that I had to call Alyana from Americorps immediately. My latest article “No PRIDE” that I wrote for The Altitude, the Americorps newsletter, had turned some heads and prompted a meeting at campus. It turns out that not only will my article be published in the newsletter, but after reading it, the campus director changed the guidelines relating to ISP approval. This is all I know thus far. What this new change will do, I don’t know for certain. Hopefully, it will make ISP more inclusive of gay and lesbian related events. I promise to inform you of what changes have been made after I find out.

I think I’ll conclude this entry with a little bit of what I did this weekend. Friday night we went to a free concert downtown to listen to Howie Day. This was fun. There were a lot of people, almost to many and it was similar to all the other street fairs we’ve been to, like The Taste of Minnesota event on the July 4th. That event centered around free music (at that event we saw Boyz 2 Men and Smokey Robinson) and crappy carnival food too. You would think that at an event called “A Taste Of Minnesota” the food would either be A: Tasty or B: representative of the cultures and ethnicities of the people living in Minnesota. The food at this thing also sucked big time. Those bastards try using ticket prices instead of dollars to cover up how much it costs to buy some cheese curds. Those fools. I can do the conversion. Whatever. We left and got burritos the size of small babies at low and behold the best place ever, Pancheros.

Today was no small feet of its own. Get this, we went to The World Log Rolling Championships. Log Rolling! It’s great. Two people stand on a log and spin until one falls off. If that’s not enough, they sometimes spit and kick water at each other in an attempt to dislodge their opponent from the log. They even had a pool where we got to try it ourselves. My friend Nate and I went first. We collectively didn’t last more then three seconds, but I was the clear winner. Afterwards, I beat Jeffrey, also from my team, who beat Nate, so I declared myself log-rolling team champion. The event also had a bunch of renaissance fair slash lumberjack slash tradesmen slash reinactors. There was a blacksmith, a violinist, a marksman, a fur trader, a guy that made really cool clay pipes and a flint knapper. Flint knapping is the art of making primitive tools or arrowheads out of stones or things like obsidian. I know it more as a Neanderthal trade then a lumberjack craft. The guy, Blueberry was his name, was really nice and I spent over an hour with him trying to knapp an arrowhead out of a piece of stone. It’s freaking tough, a lot harder then it looks on those anthropology videos in college. I have a newfound respect for Homo Habolis and all subsequent cavemen and women. Good times. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Pizza Poem

This poem was written by a kid how lives at my work site.

Pizza Is So Sweet
By Sartu

Pizza, pizza I love to eat,
Pizza, pizza you are so sweet!
All the pepperoni and the cheese, Has a pleasure to please!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Blitz Built: Habitat Houses Are Homes

May 8th, marked the official end of the Blitz Build we were getting ready for in Miami. That means that by now the 9 houses we built the exteriors on have been completed and the families have already moved into their new homes.

1 of the 9 houses I helped build for a month and a half in Miami. Done.

I can not begin to describe the feeling I got when I read this on Habitat's website. I'm not even going to try. You can visit the web page to read about the event and see all the pictures:

Monday, July 04, 2005

Choco Tacos Rock Yo

I have a new obsession. The Choco Taco. It’s the best ice cream treat ever developed. I can’t pinpoint when it turned into love but I think it first started with the name. Choco Taco, a chocolate flavored taco. I began blurting it out at opportune times, “choco taco,” “choco tacos and burritos,” or “that deserves a chaco taco.” Then it became more personal. I started calling people “Choco Taco Senior.” But my love of Choco Tacos extends far beyond my infatuation with their name. They are delicious. Truly. A perfect blend of smooth vanilla ice cream, chocolate fudge and softly sprinkled nuts, encased in wonderfully crunchy waffle cone taco shell. The serving size is perfect, one taco. I think this thing must be NASA inspired. In my opinion it greatly surpasses astronaut ice cream, tang and the capri sun juice box. To think such a masterful creation is limited to gas station food marts and a handful of Taco Bell restaurants astounds me.

Nate was the lucky recipient of a Choco Taco surprise on our road trip to Minneapolis. Ever since, my teammates have been requesting a Choco Taco of their own. So last week I began my search, hitting gas stations all over the Twin Cities, in hopes of locating a Choco Taco to gas station ratio of at least 2.5 to 1. My first station was a failure. I was forced to purchase a consolation box of bomb pops. The first one I ate was covered in dry ice and nearly tore all the skin from my lip. I wasn’t too distressed. Chaco Tacos are never too far away.

That same week, before seeing Batman Begins we made a pit stop into a gas station to see if my hunch was well founded. I wasn’t disappointed. I was right, this place housed C-Tacos. “I would like to purchase these 10 Choco Tacos,” I told the lady at the cash register in a firm, annunciated voice. Well, that’s not it. Oh no. Just as soon as we get home all excited to treat out friends to the tacos, does Katie Love tap me on the shoulder with a look in eye as if she can’t wait to tell me something big. She didn’t even need to say it. I knew what she had done and I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised. She had bought C-Tacos of her own. When the craving hits, it is likely to permeate the team, causing similar responses. No biggy. The more tacos the merrier. They didn’t last long.

Our next Choco Taco excursion was just a few days ago. After coming home from the station, Jeffrey P caught a glimpse of a goldmine, a pile of garbage, littered with wantables like old wooden paneled TVs and cell phone chargers. Considering our primary, well our only TV set was an old wooden one, we thought the 2 sitting in/next to the street would make good additions. I have previous experience with sidewalk TVs. I’ve taken 3 home and I’ve had 3 of them work. I was counting on the same. We also grabbed a decadent painting of 3 horses gallivanting around a pasture. After plundering, I was talked into driving around the block a couple times in hopes of finding similar discarded treasures. After our first pass I realized how ridiculous this was. I felt like the kid who finds a $100 bill on the ground and spends the rest of his life looking for another. Ain’t gonna happen mister, mister. We went home. In the end 1 of the 2 TV sets worked and we agreed the painting belonged over the sofa (it really ties the room over). In celebration we cracked open the Choco Tacos and took it all in.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Pure Laziness? Gooooooooooooooal!

Today we spent the day lounging. We left the apartment only once during the day. Dan and Mike spent the night indoors and Christy, Desi and I went back to Coco Park to watch the Eurocup Finals. The game began at 2.45 AM. I made it through half the game before reaching a catatonic like state via sleep deprivation. Christy performed some make shift Chinese medicine on me, rubbing my upper back in as cross pattern which was suppose to give me more energy and keep me awake. The only thing that was keeping me up we're the Germans hooting and hollering in front of us. Thankfully I had enough reserved energy to make in from the taxi back to Dan's apartment. The end.

Pure Laziness? Gooooooooooooooal!

Today we spent the day lounging. We left the apartment only once during the day. Dan and Mike spent the night indoors and Christy, Desi and I went back to Coco Park to watch the Euro-cup Finals. The game began at 2.45 AM. I made it through half the game before reaching a catatonic like state via sleep deprivation. Christy performed some make shift Chinese medicine on me, rubbing my upper back in as cross pattern which was suppose to give me more energy and keep me awake. The only thing that was keeping me up we're the Germans hooting and hollering in front of us. Thankfully I had enough reserved energy to make in from the taxi back to Dan's apartment. The end.

Friday, July 01, 2005


This is an article written for The Altitude, a published Americorps*NCCC Newsletter.

By: David Edelman

Last week, June 19-26, was gay pride week. In cities around the world, millions of people took to the streets to enjoy events celebrating GLBT awareness. Such a weekend festival took place in Minneapolis, an event that many members of our team, Shuffle Earth 3, thought would be a great ISP opportunity. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case. Campus denied our request for ISP. This is hard to understand when many gay pride events, and especially the festival in question, met all Americorps qualifications for approval. Americorps’ policy states that for an event to be an acceptable it must be with a non-profit organization, fall into one of the five service areas and participants must be involved in activities unrelated to influencing state and national government. As a volunteer and observer of the event, I can say with confidence that the Pride street festival in Minneapolis fulfilled all of these conditions.

Pride is “a not for profit organization or group whose purpose shall be to organize Pride events.” In terms of area of service, a Pride event is an education-oriented festival. Pride outlines this in its mission statement clearly. Pride’s mission is “…to validate the existence of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender persons on an international level through education and awareness.” At the event in Minneapolis, educational stations relating to GLBT specific issues were meshed with the majority of booths unrelated to sexual preference/identity. These included information on topics like smoking, cancer, STDs and home ownership. There was even a booth to check your carbon monoxide intake and inform you about the risks of exposure. The Red Cross had a booth. The YMCA had a booth and numerous other organizations that Americorps actively partners with participated in the festival.

In addition to the education offered, the festival services the Americorps*NCCC mission by helping to strengthen communities. Pride draws an incredibly diverse group of people, organizations and businesses from the community together for a similar purpose and experience. GLBT individuals are often misunderstood by people in their community as being different in ways totally unrelated to sexual preference or orientation. One of the purposes of the festival is to highlight the world of things that are the same. Regardless of whether you are gay or straight, we all like to be outside on a nice summer day, eat good food, listen to live music, we are in need of banking, higher education, financial services and free pens offered by the various information stations sprinkled along the park. As volunteers, we helped by conducting a survey of festival-goers. Many of the questions revolved around community issues, including if there is a need for a GLBT community center in the Twin Cities.

In terms of this event being politically charged, the Pride festival is a cultural festival, no different than any other ethnic or cultural celebration. It was no more political then any other festival that has been deemed acceptable. Last May, as part of their ISP requirement, Americorps members volunteered at The Cinco De Mayo festival in Denver, a cultural street fair with food and festivities similar to the Pride festival. The organization that ran the event, NEWSED, specifically lists promoting politics and developing political leadership as part of their central purpose.

It is easy to dismiss a highly visible event as being political and avoid the chance of criticism, but this is only a superficial perception. The Pride festival in Minneapolis is not just a parade of drag queens and half naked men dancing upon floats. The festival is a fun and informative street fair that serves as a reminder that people must be themselves if they are going to thrive as a community. It is disheartening to see such an idealistic organization, which places so much emphasis on diversity itself, disregard not only the right, but also the need for Americorps participation.

After writing this article, Americorps director Barbara Benner published this response.

First, I want to applaud you for conveying your thoughts and feelings regarding this issue in a well-written essay. Your comments are researched, provide documentation for background information and are heartfelt. You have a clear understanding of and commitment to the mission of NCCC and the valuable resource we can provide in communities as well as a logical, questioning spirit.

As any organization that is committed to continuous improvement, I have determined that our policies regarding ISP approval for gay pride activities are too narrow. I have directed the Unit Leaders to consider more carefully the approval of ISPs that relate to gay pride activities. As you know, the Corps Member Handbook states that members are prohibited from engaging in political activities. This means that we need to limit our activities to those that cannot reasonably be construed as advocacy by objective observers. We need to focus on the ISP activity itself to consider the issues involved. Helping to set up or tear down a Pride Festival, provide logistical or security support, conducting surveys of community issues, or staffing booths for other non-profit or government organizations are acceptable ISP opportunities. We should make the decision to approve or disapprove based on the activity and not focus on the cause unless it is blatantly illegal or inappropriate. I would not classify gay pride activities in those categories.

With that said, the issue of gay awareness is a deeply divided one with many people on both sides of the issue who are earnestly committed to their opinions and ideas for correct behavior. In addition, the media can often focus on those who are gay or lesbian as deviant, or exhibiting behavior outside of the norms of society. We would have our heads in the sand if we did not realize this in our present society. Therefore, I will direct the Unit Leaders and yourselves who will be serving at these events in the future to be mindful about how you are being represented. As the Code of Conduct states, your conduct (and those surrounding you) should always be in the best interests of the AmeriCorps*NCCC.

Again, thank you for asking good questions and modeling a character filled with integrity. These are traits that I have grown to know and admire in this Corps.

Barbara Benner