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.

The best things about the job were that we could swear as much as we wanted and we didn't have to look nice or stay clean. Each floor of the warehouse played a different radio station through big speakers that filled the whole floor with music. The basement was heavy metal, the first floor was classic rock, etc.

Near the end of the summer my boss remarked that the guys that had gotten me the job had told him that I chewed tobacco but that he had never seen me do it. (A lot of the guys that worked there chewed all day long and got in trouble for leaving their spitters on the shelves where they would often get knocked over.) So on my last day of work, I showed him that they hadn't been lying and we shared a chew.

Later, people asked me if I learned a lot about auto parts by working at the warehouse. All I really learned is that ignitions are small, alternators are heavy, and exhaust pipes are really awkward to carry.

Sean Smuda

Name Withheld, 29
Minneapolis, Minnesota


He Loved Me--Mainly, He Loved the Puppets.

I have no idea how I landed my first job. I was 14 years old. I was a puppeteer. More accurately, I sold puppets and demonstrated their use to tourists at San Francisco's Pier 39.

Ricky, the store's manager, was a gay Mormon from Manitoba, Canada. He came to San Francisco for love and had his heart broken shortly thereafter. Ricky loved retail. He loved to take inventory and to receive shipments. I suspect he loved me in some way. But mainly, he loved the puppets.

We would take turns "puppeteering" in front of the store. Ricky held a big fat white goose in his left arm-- like it was a baby--as he used his other hand to move the duck's neck. He would make the duck follow little boys and touch them with his beak. This went on until the day when the owner of Puppet Universe asked Ricky not to do this anymore. My puppet of choice was a raccoon whose face, hands, and tail I manipulated as it lay in my arms.

From this peculiar experience I learned some sociology of the human as tourist. The Midwestern male tourist was humorless, staring down the raccoon, refusing to smile, refusing to lose his pride to the ridiculous raccoon. The Japanese female tourist was gullible, scared by the raccoon's sudden movements in her belief that it was real, petting the raccoon with affection even after realizing that it was bogus. Tourist children from all nations--except France--loved the raccoon. The French preferred Ricky's duck.

My stint as a 14-year-old puppeteer did not get me through my adolescent angst, but it allowed me to begin to understand social behavior. Some people (like the Midwestern guy) are afraid of showing shame; some let their shame spill out like water. And I think you could learn something about many people by observing the effect a fake raccoon has on them.

Now, some 15 years later, I would prefer not to stand in public and hold a raccoon in my arms. But I'm glad that at one time I did.

Mark Sherstinsky, 30
New York City, New York


We Ate Their Food, We Drank Their Beer

Growing up in the steel town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Jersey Shore was far enough away to be exotic but close enough for my rattling 1970 Cutlass Supreme to make it down the turnpike without incident. Bruce may have been getting down with Sandy under the boardwalk, but I was changing soiled sheets.

I was hired at--where else?--the Seashell Motel in Beach Haven, New Jersey. (Cue Lifter Puller's "Live and Die in LBI.")

I didn't have enough experience to cut it as a waitress, or more accurately, I got fired from my first waitressing gig at a greasy spoon diner. So chambermaiding it was.

I actually liked it, which is odd because I'm a first-rate slob. You could tell a lot about people from the crap they left in their rooms and the state of their sheets.

My girlfriends and I ate a lot of food the motel guests left out. In quantities, we thought, no one would detect. This led to that time my friend was wolfing down someone's doughnuts when the guests came back to the room.

She hid in the shower. They went to rinse the sand off their feet in the bathroom, pulled back the curtain, and there was Val with their box of doughnuts in one hand and a toilet scrubber in the other, and a chocolately smirk.

People often forgot to tip, so we thought we were entitled to the donuts. Or their Rolling Rock.

It still kills me to this day, how people never think twice about tipping a bellhop or valet, but they stiff the gals who clean up after their sorry asses.

M.A. Rosko, 41
Minneapolis, Minnesota


Smashing Beaks into a Red-Hot Blade

There wasn't much work available for 15-year-olds growing up except on the farms. I detassled corn, baled hay, and pulled weeds from soybean fields. But nothing was as bad as debeaking chickens.

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