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.

They taught me many of the lessons I would apply to future jobs. Like: Look busy and you won't get assigned more duties. And: Take a long coffee-and-newspaper break first thing in the morning, before the boss shows up and impedes your enjoyment of the sports page.

There is one memory above all others from that summer that I take with me. It is of Wally, a tall, elderly, bespectacled, soft-spoken cook who had only exchanged the most generic of pleasantries with me. As I finished chatting with a waitress, he sidled up to me and slyly whispered, "Bill, are you pussy-whipped?"

Bill Tuomala, 38
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

Yelling, Blood, and a Whole Lot of Foul Language

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college I worked as a construction assistant for two guys who were taking framing jobs on the down-low while they collected unemployment. The foreman, "Jim," had recently quit drinking and smoking cold turkey. As a replacement for the calming effects of nicotine and alcohol, he swore at me more or less continuously for the 12-hour days we worked. The other guy, "Dewey" (he collected his third or fourth DUI that summer) knew Jim from high school and mostly avoided the tirades.

Despite the abuse, the work was steady and outdoors, and it paid much better than a temp agency. Overall, I enjoyed many memorable moments, but none was as special as my first exposure to a pneumatic nail gun. Unlike the movies, the nail gun we used had a safety sleeve at the tip that had to be pushed in for the trigger to fire. While ostensibly a good idea, after about 10 minutes you figure out that the most effective method of operation is to leave the trigger depressed constantly and just jam the gun into whatever it is that you want nailed.

One day I was building a wall for a garage and having a hard time getting the base to line up straight with the beams. Evidently I was going about it entirely too slowly because Jim grabbed the nail gun away from me, unleashing a flurry of helpful counsel, like: "Are you fucking retarded?" and "Could you be any cocksucking slower?" He steadied the wall and began nailing in rapid succession, WHOOMP WHOOMP! WHOOMP WHOOMP! WHOOMP THUD! And then there was yelling, blood, and a whole lot of foul language.

I looked down to see that he had nailed through the meaty connective tissue between his thumb and index finger and was stuck to the wall. The nails are barbed and covered with glue so there's no pulling it out the way it came. Dewey had to snip the head off with a bolt cutter and pull the nail all the way through his hand. Other than that first flurry of swearing, Jim didn't say anything. He just grimaced, wrapped his hand in gauze, and went back to work. After about an hour he was pretty pale and called off work for the day.

I managed to go the whole summer without injuring myself. But a couple of weeks after Jim's accident, Dewey nailed himself to the underside of a joist while standing on a ladder.

Name withheld, 30
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

The Top Man on the Board

"Get the chalk! Get the, get the chalk!" For those who have simmered in the boiler rooms of fly-by-night telemarketing institutions, those words from David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross have a special bittersweetness. The man yelling it is an aging salesman who is recouping his status as "top man on the board." My own most-cherished summer-job memory is of my own unbroken, nearly-three-month stint as Top Man on the Board as a 16-year-old telemarketer in the smallish town of Des Plaines, Illinois.

The painful thing about telemarketing is that it is all hoodoo. Its charms are the gossamer ones of seduction, not the muscular ones of persuasion. It is all vibe, all unconscious carriage. Miss it by millimeters and you queer the deal. Recently I tried to re-up my telemarketer mojo by doing a phone-a-thon for John Kerry. I started out like a sneering bombardier, trawling in lots of e-mail addresses. Within a few minutes, dismayed by the onslaught of frumpy dialers around me, my kill ratio fell off to nothing. Was I changing the words I was saying, the speed with which I said them, even the emphasis on certain words? Not a bit. But Mr. and Mrs. Swing Vote in Ohio could tell that the soul had moved an inch.

At 16, all I knew was that I could make money--real money, more money than I had ever seen at that point in my life--by doing what the hulking boiler-room-manager exhorted us to do: "Keep smilin' and dialin'!" What were we selling? Public-service airtime to gas stations in Arkansas--literally. The PSA messages were usually the most banal stuff. (Ma'am, have you ever thought what it would be like if your little Timmy played in traffic and got himself hurt? Well, we at Full Contact Media don't feel good about that either. That's why...) But if you could guilt old ladies into coughing up $30 to do something for the public good--well, rack 10 old ladies up a day and you might be Top Man on the Board.

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