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.

Jennifer Downham, 34
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

We Were Supposed to Look Like French Whores

My first job was working at Great America Amusement Park in Gurnee, Illinois, the year it opened, 1976. America's bicentennial was all the buzz so the dude dressed up as Bugs Bunny had an Uncle Sam top hat and tail coat. Every worker there was seasonal and most were under 18. I think if you were 18 you were automatically promoted to "lead." The workers were a combination of ride operators, restaurant workers, retail clerks, performers, and people who swept up the garbage.

Trying to model the Disney experience, new workers had to watch an orientation video. Customers were "guests"; our uniforms were "costumes." The costume was the worst. There were four areas and your area determined the costume. I worked in an area known as "Orleans Place." I guess we were supposed to look like French whores. We were 16-year-old girls wearing short dresses with a frilly slip peeking under the hem, frilly, knee-length panties, and black velvet chokers.

I've been to the park since and the workers wear shorts and golf shirts. Why the change? Well, it may be a sign of a more enlightened era. Or it may be the fact that the park has changed ownership. Great America is now known as Six Flags America, but at its opening it was owned by the Marriott Corporation. The Marriotts are Mormons, as were many of the young people who worked there. Which led me to gather that although Mormons believe you should not drink a Coca-Cola because of the caffeine, it's okay to outfit teams of underage girls like hookers.

The second-worst thing about the job was the pay, minimum wage, which was $2.20 an hour.

The third-worst thing was the schedule. Gurnee was miles away from anything back then so finding enough teenagers that could drive a fair distance proved difficult. We worked six days a week in order to cover all the shifts needed. Some summer. Luckily, gas was cheap, as it was a 20-minute drive one way.

The good things? Meeting so many other young people. Certain nights after the park closed they'd show a movie at one of the park theaters and give everyone free pizza. And as an employee you got free passes to the park. Of course you only had one day off a week and you want to spend it where?

But getting a paycheck, no matter how small, was a sign of independence. I could at last buy my own clothes, get my hair cut at the salon I wanted, oh, and pay for my gas.

Jill Huettel, 44
Burnsville, Minnesota

 

Kenny Held onto His Johnson Like It Was a Dagger Buried in His Belly

My first up-close and personal moments with alternating current started on the day I plugged in my slightly used, sky-blue, single-pickup Hohner electric guitar. Thus began a long, jolting journey of short circuits, ungrounded plugs, overloaded sockets, bare-wired patch cables, and antiquated, out-of-code wiring that must have been installed by Thomas Edison's dim-witted second cousin. Virtually every hard-working, out-of-tune garage-band rocker that I know has gotten his lip fried on a hot microphone or been jumped by some sideways juice running backward on a set of rusty guitar strings. I don't care what any textbook says, electricity has a mind all its own.

Luckily for me, my most enlightening early electrical experience came vicariously. I was 13 and detasseling corn for 65 cents an hour with a crew of scrawny-assed junior-high boys. The dimmest bulb in the bunch was a farm boy named Kenny. He was everyone's favorite bull's-eye during the frequent clod fights that broke out when Mr. Lipps, our crew boss, went back to the truck for one of the beers he kept stashed behind the front seat. We were on our lunch break and sitting at the edge of the field rows, just underway with our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Kenny must have been keeping an eye out for incoming clods instead of watching his business, because he inadvertently urinated on a barely noticeable single strand of electric fence that had been strung up to keep cows in a brome pasture and out of the corn.

He didn't have much of a throwing arm when it came to dirt clods, but Kenny sure could dance. He howled and yowled and high-stepped all over God's creation, all the while holding onto his johnson like it was a dagger that had been plunged deep into his belly by some dastardly villain. It was like he wanted to lift both feet at the same time.

Eventually, he tuckered out and fell in a heap on a patch of button weed. He lay there whimpering, seemingly unable to zip himself up. After I quit laughing, I offered Kenny part of my sandwich. It was the least I could do. He had taught me a valuable lesson.

James Pipher, 54
Lincoln, Nebraska

 

Awkward, Antisocial People Drawn to Books Shouldn't Interact With the Public

In high school I worked at the public library as a Clerk 1 (read: shelver) during the summers. I loved it. It was air-conditioned (very important in Missouri), quiet, and did not involve preparing, serving, or cleaning up other people's food. Plus, all the other shelvers were cool university students who included me in their back-room conversations as we organized returned books alphabetically on the little double-decker carts.

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