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 chickens were crammed into small wire cages, which stretched hundreds of feet in large, long sheds. Beneath the birds was a deep pit of chicken manure. Chickens in these constrained quarters would peck one another to death and when the casualties got too high, the chicken farmer called in the debeaking crew to flatten their beaks. And so I spent endless hours grabbing the chickens out of the cages and smashing their beaks into a red-hot iron blade. The heat, stench, and $4-an-hour pay were bad. But the worst parts of the job were prying dead birds out of the bottom of the cages and chasing down birds that escaped from the cage only to end up spraying chicken shit as they flapped frantically as they sank into the manure pit.

I was motivated to stick with the job by the notion of purchasing a recent technological breakthrough, the personal cassette player. I spent about a hundred very hard-earned dollars for it but unfortunately soon found I couldn't afford to buy the huge quantities batteries required to listen to it.

Dan Garry, 39
Plymouth, Minnesota

Sean Smuda

 

The Parents Knew Their Child Would Wet the Bed

The summer I turned 17, I learned that boys receive preferential treatment on a dude ranch, creme de menthe is a liquor that will impair your driving skills, and it's wise to be wary of the bathroom of anyone who tells you about her spouse's fiber consumption.

Tucked snugly between the Beartooth and Absarokee mountains in Montana, I spent the summer before my senior year of high school cleaning cabins, looking at the stars, and receiving my comeuppance in the world. I was a cabin girl (a.k.a. cleaner of beds wet by children whose parents knew the child would wet the bed, keeper of towels and sheets, and defender of the laundry house from baby bears).

I arrived a naive overachiever and left an awakened individual.

 

Ranch law 1: If It Needs to Be Cleaned, the Cabin Girls Will Do It

A day in the life of cabin girl: Wake up at seven, eat breakfast, wake up guests with a cheerful knock and "Good morning, breakfast in half an hour," and then clean for four hours. We changed towels, made beds, wiped down shit-splattered and pubic-hair-littered bathrooms, and peeked in the underwear drawers of the cute male guests. After cleaning, we helped prepare lunch: cutting carrots, cleaning plates, dishes, and pretty much everything else put in our path.

A post-lunch break consisted of the following: naps, sun-tanning, playing in the river, and binges on Snickerdoodle bars and ice cream. Doing laundry, sweeping, and dumping dead mice in the creek filled the late afternoon. Dinner was more of the same, washing dishes and mopping floors. It wasn't glamorous and sometimes it downright sucked, but the work was never as bad as the feeling of being shit on.

 

Ranch law 2: Cabin Girls Are Literally and Figuratively at the End of the Ranch Food Chain

I choose now to believe the buck had to stop somewhere and cabin girls were designated buck-stoppers. When guests were unhappy, it was our fault because we cleaned their sleeping quarters and the rest of the ranch. The boys, our counterparts in age, ruled the roost and had a field day creating scenarios to get us in trouble. We were accused of sitting on the job (we were waiting for a load of laundry to finish), and driving drunk (I had two sips of an iced coffee concoction that tasted like crap and accidentally included *creme de menthe.) It seems trite now, but I hated the fact that everyone took the boys' stories as the gospel truth.

It was work that chapped my hands, taxed my muscles, and opened my naive eyes. That summer was great fun and taught me that no amount of hard work could prepare me for the reality that business can be personal.

I made fat cash and a best friend, and decided not to be shit on at work again if I could help it.

 

Amanda Rider, 24
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

My Locker Was Stuffed with Porn

Porn and polyester. My first summer job involved wearing a brown polyester uniform and making and selling chicken, biscuits, coleslaw, and Styrofoam-tasting mashed potatoes. In the course of that summer at the local KFC, I think everyone in my family gained 10 pounds.

I learned that grown men are more obnoxious than those junior-high boys I had gotten away from by going to an all-girls high school. I can't remember how many times my backroom locker was stuffed with porn, but I sure do remember the manager giggling while I stood there feeling a combination of amusement, embarrassment, and disgust. I also remember telling my mom at the end of the summer, "If I ever start wavering on my decision to go to college, remind me of this job!"

Something good did come out of that job, however. A certain brother-sister chicken-and-biscuit team, Andy and Mary Ann Wolf, got me out and into the music scene: My first underage show was checking out Husker Du at the Whole.

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