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.

This wasn't an option for my brother and me since my father would supervise. So every Wednesday we loaded up our jerry-rigged bikes and rode off into the neighborhoods to fling shopping ads at houses. It was miserable. Not only were we spotted several times, but dogs were awake so we were constantly chased. People who were home threw the ads back at us. It was often between 105 and 110 degrees, and the copious sweat spawned yet more bacne. On Sundays, my father insisted on driving us, which meant running from the back of my parents' Celebrity wagon to houses and back as fast as possible so as not to be seen.

For this indignity, we were paid one cent per ad, which meant that an hour and a half of riding around delivering 100 copies only brought in $10.

I think what rankled most about this job was not the pay or even the humiliation; it was what the day route did to my real job. After a few months of ad supplements I began to hate my paper route. I believed I had outgrown it, but I still liked it--I needed that morning idyll. Still, it was like enjoying a toy well past the age when one is supposed to like them. It inspires shame.

John Freeman, 29
New York City, New York

 

Snip, Snip

Snip. Snip. Snip. The sound had driven me to insanity. Snip. Snip. The repetitive little noise was the sound of carpal tunnel developing in my wrist. Snip. It was the sound of me at *CHK age 17 snip-snipping little plastic edges off plastic doohickeys for eight hours a day, five days a week. There were usually about 5,000 pieces in each bag and enough bags to stretch into eternity. I can only pray that I never have to hear that dreadful sound again.

When my mother first suggested the factory job to me, it sounded exciting: great pay and opportunities for advancement. In reality the pay was average and the only opportunities for advancement were from plastic snipper to parking-lot cleaner. Laugh if you will, but the task of going outside and picking up cig butts in the parking lot was the Holy Grail for us "summer help."

Each day I would shuffle into the factory at 7:00 a.m. (usually closer to 7:05, having inherited the "late" gene.) As I groggily punched my timecard, Judy, the unofficial boss of the "summer help," would lurk hungrily in the shadows, her beady eyes fixed on me, waiting for the perfect time to strike. "Do you realize you're late?" she would hiss, "You were scheduled to be here at 7:00 and it's 7:05. Do you have an excuse?"

I always considered explaining to her that lateness was a genetic mutation that had been passed through generations of my family. But then I thought better of it. Instead, I would quietly apologize and scurry to my post to begin snipping.

Every once in a while, I was asked to work one of the plastic molding machines. This "opportunity for advancement" involved donning a pair of oompa-loompa gloves and catching hot plastic pieces at the end of a long chute. The job was regarded with the utmost of seriousness and any blunder would get you sent back to snipping straight away.

Another exciting job was painting pieces. That summer I was the only one that had kissed Judy's arse enough to reach this professional pinnacle. There I was, a young Kahlo, painting plastics, flushed with the fever of inspiration. Through thick safety glasses I had to make sure that each piece looked exactly like the one before it. Other "summer help" would walk by and stare at the paint sprayer longingly, but only I had the privilege and advanced training to operate it.

I suffered through this job for two months until the day that I cracked and said "enough is enough." Judy had reamed me a new one for some asinine thing like snipping too slowly and I just couldn't take it anymore. Over lunch I spoke of revolution and convinced two of my "summer help" colleagues to leave when they were done eating and never come back. The next day, they chickened out and went back. I never did.

Valerie Struck, 26
St. Paul, Minnesota

 

Could I Bum a Chew?

I had been working at a summer camp in the foothills of Colorado for years, but during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college I decided to go to Portland, Oregon, and try my luck in the Northwest. I lived in the home of a friend from college and during the first week I was in town I spent the nights hanging out with his friends. They saw that I wasn't afraid to drink a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor (I was too shy to ask anyone to split a six-pack with me) and I really got their attention when I asked one of them if I could bum a chew.

A girl that drinks 40s and chews tobacco? These guys were definitely ready to put in a good word for me at the auto parts distributors warehouse where they worked. They pleaded with their boss to hire me. None of them cared for the two girls that already worked there. I was hired to stock shelves with auto parts and since I was in college, my boss didn't make me take the test to see if I could alphabetize and put things in numerical order.

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