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.

If I've learned the value of hard work, it certainly wasn't at Best Buy Stores, Inc. I can, however, do amazing things with my tongue.

Nana Twumasi, 23
Woodbury, Minnesota

 

Donny Was Mad

It was the first time I felt large in the world. I was 15, I had a girlfriend (and we kissed, a lot), and my parents were going up north and leaving me home for the weekend because I had to work. My friend Paul Tushaus got me a job washing dishes at the St. Clair Broiler for $2.50 an hour, which was 50 cents more an hour than the Uptowner paid, Paul told me. It was the first weekend of the summer, my first day of work, and *my first weekend of freedom. I had a job, a girlfriend, and a weekend of freedom. This was going to be my celebrated summer.

The plan was simple. I would take my Mom's Honda Civic to work at *CHK P.M.? 4:00 p.m. (I would figure out the clutch on the way), get off at 8:00, drive to meet my girlfriend, and go back to my house and kiss.

I was late my first day because it took me longer to figure out the clutch than I thought it would. The last time the car killed I let it roll to the side of the street, parked, and ran the last two blocks, my neck already stiff from the whiplash. When I slipped in the back door, out of breath, Donny the manager was standing there, mad. Real mad. He threw an apron at me, brought me to the dish room, showed me how to run the Hobart, and told me I better get caught up for the dinner rush because I was going to be working alone. "That Paul kid quit," he said.

The dish room was like a steam bath, but a steam bath with a slimy, greasy floor, 50-gallon garbage cans filled with disgusting old food, and an endless stack of dirty dishes covered in cement-like egg yolk smears the color of puss and catsup pools with cigarette butts stubbed out in the middle.

Eight o'clock came and went. Nine came and went. The bus pans full of dirty dishes never ended. The calls for More spoons right now or cups kept coming. At 9:40 I pleaded with Donny. I had to go, I wasn't supposed to work past eight, please. He said I had to work till close. No one else was coming in.

My girlfriend, I knew, would no longer be waiting at Linwood Playground where I was supposed to meet her. My clothes were soaked through with sweat, dishwater, and grease. My shoes slipped on French fries and empty mini creamers and who knows what else every time I took a step. The garbage was overflowing. "Empty that thing," Donny barked.

I grabbed it by both handles and pushed against the back door while trying to keep my footing. The door flew open and I smelled freedom. I opened the dumpster lid, threw the garbage can in, took off my apron, threw it in, and slammed the lid. I went across the street to the pay phone and called the Broiler. Donny answered. "Donny, this is Russell, I quit."

He was thrown, "Russell, what do you mean? You're in back."

"I'm across the street in the phone booth." I told him.

He looked through the plate-glass window, searching, and when he saw me, inexplicably, waved. I returned a different gesture, hung up the phone and walked on.

Russell Rathbun, 39
St. Paul, Minnesota

 

I Don't Pay Minimum Wage Because I Don't Expect Minimum Work

I spent the summer of 1984 as a dishwasher at a restaurant/nightclub in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. The head chef hired me on the spot based on my stellar six months of dishwashing experience. Minimum wage was then $3.35 an hour, but he said he'd pay me $3.45 an hour. He then uttered one of those unforgettable Boss Sayings: "I don't pay minimum wage because I don't expect minimum work."

I was assigned the day shift, which bummed me out...what about working on my tan? But the shift turned out to be one I could easily handle. Lunch wasn't popular there: I recall breaking a sweat, but mainly because the dishwashing machine was hot and the kitchen's air-conditioning was questionable. I was the only dishwasher in the kitchen from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and worked unobserved at my own pace most days.

I was 18 years old and shy, but my coworkers brought me out of my shell. There was Danny, a cook and former boxer who regaled me with tales of welterweight matches, the mob, and the Freemasons' secret control of our country. Larry was the cook who provided me cheeseburgers and club sandwiches in exchange for loaning him my hard rock albums to tape for a cross-country trip he was taking in the fall. His brother Lyle, also a cook, taught me how not to talk to girls. (Using the opposite of his approach worked much better.) Waitresses Julie and Sue were blonde knockout sisters (think Heather Thomas and Heather Locklear) who flirted with me as I stammered. Funniest was probably Lori, the spunky prep cook (think Kristy McNichol), who talked of wearing no underwear just to see me blush.

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