Wet Hot American Summer

You scrubbed radioactive toilets. You fleeced tots at carnivals. You ground the beaks off baby birds. You sent City Pages your summer job stories--and we didn't even give you minimum wage in return.

Sam Swenson, 28
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

My name's "Rich," Numbnuts

When I was 16 I got a job at a down-on-its-luck hardware store in the Chicago suburb where I grew up. These were the pre-weekend-warrior days, before Home Depot and home-improvement cable channels, and mostly I just sat around reading or following the Iran-Contra proceedings on the radio. Once in a while some suburban dad would walk in with a cotter pin and say "I need three more of these," and I'd go in the back and hunt around for them.

I worked with these two guys, Hans and Dick. Hans had graduated from my high school a few years earlier and basically sponged off his parents, hanging out in their basement trying to learn heavy-metal guitar solos from guitar magazines and smoking a lot of pot.

Dick was fortyish, with a stupid-looking porn mustache, and he always talked about how great the '60s were and how much pussy he got in high school. His signature phrase was "I shit you not." He claimed he'd had a high-paying job in sales before he came to work at the hardware store, but "it wasn't worth the pressure." Looking back I think it's more likely that he was fired for sexual harassment or something.

Dick's real name was Rich, but I always called him Dick. He would grab my arm then and say, "Hey--my name's Rich, numbnuts." He would play mean pranks on me, like making an incision in my Coke can with an X-Acto knife so that when I went to take a drink, after having moved a truckload of fertilizer or something, the Coke would spill all over my shirt. He found this hilarious.

When Dick wasn't around, Hans and I would get stoned in the basement using hash pipes we made out of plumbing fittings. Hans was always trying to bribe me with weed to come over and "jam" with him in his basement--he was just starting to "experiment" with odd time signatures. I still get one of his songs stuck in my head from time to time: a metal waltz in 6/8 time, A major to G major, and Hans howling, "Baa-abe.../You got to rock and rooo-ooll..."

Hans was always trying to convince me that Richie Blackmore was the greatest guitarist on earth. Dick overheard one of our conversations and said, "Your guys' taste in music blows. I saw Iron Butterfly one time on five Blue Barrels. I bet you didn't know that they're actually saying 'In the Garden of Eden.' I shit you not."

J. Niimi, 33
Chicago, Illinois

 

It Is Nearly Impossible for a Gaggle of Teenagers and Twentysomethings to Keep from Rubbing Up Against Each Other

I spent two summers working at Best Buy store #575, in Wilmington, Delaware. I began my employment there during Christmas in my junior year of high school. I'd lied and said I was a quick learner, and the manager, stressed out and desperate for as many extra sets of hands as possible, hired me on the spot.

It started out as an all-right job: My best friend worked there with me, and at that time in my life, $6.75 an hour was a princely sum. I can't honestly say that I acquired a wealth of knowledge, only that those sorts of jobs in sales are perfect for individuals who like to run their mouths about things they know nothing about; and that all a young girl needs to sell anything is a cute smile and a few strategically open buttons on her work uniform. Being a chubby, unassuming misfit of a girl, that strategy never worked for me.

I worked the cash register and the only items I had to sell were $5 "Product Replacement Plans" for the junky portable CD players and two-way radios people bought as gifts for their children. I'd always mutter the replacement plan option under my breath after ringing up a customer's purchase. Mumble, mumble, mumble, replacement guaranteed for two years, a quick "no" from the consumer, and they were on their way. Every month, the store would offer perks to those who sold the most replacement plans, usually in the form of a $20 gift card. Considering my employee discount, it was never worth it--not even for the glory I could have achieved.

Every month, we'd gather for a team meeting and watch short films that featured supposed Best Buy employees discussing the best way to sell vacuum cleaners and, of course, as many accessories as possible. We were all corporate minions, selling product in an effort to fulfill Best Buy's motto, "We're in the business to make money." For all the products pushed, there were never any employee kickbacks.

I also learned that it is nearly impossible for a gaggle of teenagers and twentysomethings, packed into the same space, to keep from rubbing up against each other. During the summer, when the barely legal girls (myself included), were out of school and free of homework, we would all get together and spend the evenings after work drinking Boone's Farm wine, then using the empty bottles to play sloppy games of spin the bottle. Everyone made out with or slept with everyone else. It's a wonder no one ended up with oral herpes or something worse. I didn't care, hell-bent as I was on destroying the foundation laid by several years of Catholic schooling. I lost my virginity, figured out the best way to French kiss with a tongue piercing, and learned the reason men are truly turned on by two girls making out. Work became an afterthought, something stumbled to after a night of drinking and lies told to my parents about where I was spending the night.

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