One thing we all just ate up was that if we wanted to be a Good Employee and Get A Raise, we should spend our “off” time doing things for the good of the business, without pay.

How many of us wasted time and our own money going to work potlucks, work outings, and other stupid things with people we hated, so that someone else we hated could deny us a 50-cent raise six months later? How many of us clocked out and then tidied up a little around the office if the boss was looking?

During COVID, I saw the tide shift a little. Most funeral homes now pay their employees for being on call, even if there are no deaths during those hours. Most understand that no one has the time or inclination to do worthless things “for the business” on their days off. But it wasn’t always like that, and one mandatory community service assignment ended with me knowing what automatic rifles feel like.

Around 2008, I had been at a particular funeral home for about three years, and the manager told us it was now mandatory for us – the hourly funeral directors, that is – to do community service, and it had to be in such a way we could hype the funeral home. One director asked if his Little League coaching qualified and was told it did not. We were given a list of pre-approved stupid volunteer assignments and I picked two, because I wanted to be a Good Employee.

I joined a church, just some random church on that list that was friendly and inclusive, and I got our dumb little ad in the bulletin like I was supposed to, but then I had to Do Church Stuff so it wouldn’t look like I joined because work made me. The pastor and his family were very nice, probably genuinely, and went out of their way to Make Me Feel Welcome. They freaked out when I had a glass of wine at some pizza thing.

But the real service to our community would be when I joined the Chamber of Commerce. It was, of course, dorky. Looking at this fifteen years later, I can’t see myself as the kind of person who would ever join a thing for free where I had to talk about the funeral home, but I did it. I awkwardly introduced myself and explained that the funeral home could do “any kind of funeral services, we’re on 6th Ave, come by” and everyone acted like I had said something profound.

A police officer in attendance later caught up with me and said he was familiar with that funeral home because they handled services for a kid who died at school in a freak accident. The medical examiner called it a one-in-a-million chance. The entire town was shut down for that funeral, and I was the embalmer.

So the officer invited me to the station so he could introduce everyone to the one who worked on that kid. The Chamber of Commerce assignment eventually turned into me hanging around the department going on ride-alongs. One day that officer invited me on a recreational shooting trip with the SWAT team.

The instructions were to wait in a Fred Meyer parking lot, which I did, in my little shooting outfit. But then, the one who invited me called to bail. He said I could still go; “Just go up to the van, tell them you know me but I couldn’t make it.”

I literally got into a van full of armed strangers with the password “Doug sent me”.

And that was all they needed to hear. Well, if Doug knows her…

It was an incredibly awkward ride. How did you meet Doug? Where is Doug? Has anyone called Doug?

They decided it was probably ok, because Doug, but that I would have to pay for any ammo I used, and then we went to one of those places in the woods where you can shoot.

So for several hours, for the good of the business, I blew up watermelons with an MP3 and a Thompson, which are really big loud guns owned by a police department, and still people had questions about Doug but none of that mattered because I had found a new thing.

Community service is awesome!

Then we all went out for pizza and they freaked out when I ordered a Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

So – if your job forces you to do community service – at least there’s a good chance of something like this happening.

The Little League coach said it best – being a funeral director is enough of a service to your community. We don’t actually need to do anything else.