Not My Float

About three weeks ago, when talking about the Red Cross’ blood and platelet donation policies, I used the phrase, “Not My Float!” There’s a story behind that phrase.

The Long-Suffering Wife works for a large health care organization here in Southern California. That organization usually has a float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day. That float, while professionally designed, is for the most part decorated by volunteers.

We had never volunteered, but it seemed like an interesting thing to do on a Saturday, so in mid-December we showed up at an ungodly hour of the morning to a freezing cold tent to stick plant materials on steel. Every visible speck of a Rose Parade float has to be covered in some kind of flower, bark, grass, or other plant material. For the really big floats (like this one), that’s a freaking huge amount of surface area.

This particular year the float had a Hawaiian theme, titled “Aloha Festival”.

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100_1972(Credit where credit’s due – these two pictures come from a blog by Bob and Myrna Logan. I found them in a Google search – all credit for the photos go to the Logans.)

As you can see, there was a large wooden canoe with a number of oversized figures, dolphins, sea life, palm trees, and so on. It looked fantastic on January 1st!

On the other hand, a week or ten days earlier, it looked a lot different. Here you can see a cell phone picture I took of it early in the day when we worked on it:

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In the bottom right is a huge steel pipe that was going to be one of the palm trees. I got to spend hours painting these “tree trunks” with rubber cement, then coating them with layers of corn husks. This gives them the look of a palm tree trunk.

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This ingenious design was, of course, not of my making. I was just the volunteer who was given a few minutes of instruction, a bucket of glue, a basket of corn husks, and told to get hopping. (Please.) I would have one of the float design company’s supervisors come around once an hour or so and make comments or requests, but for the most part I was told that I was doing a great job.

Until about a half-hour before our eight-hour shift ended.

At that point the big honcho came around, the artist who designed all of the floats. He was reviewing all of the work being done and it was soon clear that his vision of the palm tree trunks and the vision I had been creating did not coincide well. One or two of the trunks were deemed adequate, but two more were not.I was told to strip off about three hours worth of work, re-paint it with glue, and start over.

I started to get just a tad hot under the collar. The big honcho artist hadn’t said a word to me, he had just been chewing out the supervisor, but I started to take it personally anyway. I had spent all day doing exactly what I was told and being told that I was doing great. I was tired and uncomfortable and sore (a lot of the work was done up on scaffolding and hanging off in space in awkward and uncomfortable positions) and proud of what I had done. Now, all of a sudden, almost half of my work was crap, to be stripped off and re-done? In addition, there were only a few days left before the parade. Could they really afford the time to being re-doing large swaths of work over what I perceived to be some pretty penny-ante, nit-picky things?

Then it hit me. THIS WAS NOT MY FLOAT!

In a half-hour, I would walk out and never come back. I was a volunteer, a drone. I wasn’t in charge of anything. If it got done or didn’t get done, it wasn’t my problem, it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t my responsibility.

I had come and volunteered. I had given of myself and had given it my best shot. I had been there out of the goodness and kindness of my heart. I had been proud of what I had accomplished, to be a small part of what was going to be this big, glorious, beautiful thing. I had done what I had been told. I had done a good job.

If folks higher up in the food chain had issues with what had gotten done or how it had been done, that was their problem. If they wanted to throw away all or part of that work, that was their problem.

In the nearly six years since then, whenever I’m trying to help someone (I do have something of an altruistic streak, a leftover from my Catholic altar boy and Boy Scout upbringing, no doubt) and either get ignored or worse, I remember this wisdom. It really helps if I don’t take it personally when my good intentions, advice, and charity are dismissed.

It would be a lot easier to bring the truck to the stuff being loaded than to haul the stuff one piece at a time across the big, bumpy, empty parking lot, right? Oh, somehow I can’t see why it obviously can’t be done that way? OK — not my float!

It would be a whole lot easier to empty the file cabinet before moving it, right? And those desks come apart, don’t they? Apparently that can’t be done either. OK — not my float!

It would be a really good idea to make a backup of that hard drive before messing around with the hardware and upgrading the OS at the same time, right? You’re absolutely sure that you really, really want to do it that way? OK — not my float!

I’m an established platelet donor, I can donate whole blood only every eight weeks while I can donate platelets every three weeks, you have minor need for whole blood while you have a huge need for platelets, so I should donate platelets, right? No? You really, really want me to donate whole blood? OK — not my float!

Words of wisdom. Feel free to make them your own. It will be good for your blood pressure.

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