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.

During those summers I learned that no matter the day of the week or how early we opened, there were always at least four people waiting on the steps for the doors to unlock. That I am intimidated by switchboards with their banks of flashing lights, indecipherable labels, and complex transfer operations. That the public's appetite for The Bridges of Madison County apparently was insatiable. But the most important job lesson came from observing what we shelvers called the "lifers": the full-time, professional librarians, and the amazing bitterness some of them exhibited.

They barely concealed their contempt for the patrons when they were face to face with them; in the back room it flowed out endlessly. Being a bookish nerd blessed with social skills, I always enjoyed chatting with patrons when I was out in the stacks, and it shocked me that anyone could hate random strangers as much as these people seemed to. Now I understand a little better. Rancor built up after 20 years of being asked where the bathroom is, or hearing the same excuses for late books, or having to point out the Danielle Steele section again. I think it was a combination of the wrong person for the job (maybe quiet, awkward, antisocial people drawn to books shouldn't have to interact with the public regularly) and familiarity breeding contempt.

Now, being five years into the workforce, I can't imagine doing the exact same thing for another five, let alone the 35-plus needed to reach retirement. I learned that a job can't be static or you start to resent it, no matter how great it was at first. And that people have sex in the stacks way more often than you'd think.

Joyce Pickle, 30
St. Louis Park, Minnesota

 

Come Bite Our Wieners

Minneapolis's northern suburbs had few employment options in the summer of 1992. There was a grocery store, a McDonald's, a Burger King. But I hated fluorescent lights and feared how burger grease might affect my complexion. So I did what any self-respecting, burgeoning 11th-grader from Circle Pines, Minnesota, would do. I took a job at Metro Gun Club, a nearby shooting range that served Snickers and Budweisers on the side.

This will come as a surprise to those who know me today. I've grown up to be a left-leaning opponent of Minnesota's conceal-and-carry law. But in those days I was just another Ford-wheeling kid in working-class America--not quite from the trailer park, not quite from the Majestic Oaks development down the road. Like anyone, I needed a job to fund a fashionable back-to-school wardrobe, so I ventured off into the land of rifles and clay pigeons.

I liked my job at the gun club because I got to work outdoors. And the job itself was easy. When a group of drunk, old men purchased a round of skeet shooting, I would grab a colleague and pad off to their assigned lane. When we arrived, the shooters were usually standing around fisting beer cans and comparing their overall performances that season.

My colleague would run off into the field ahead, where he climbed inside a small dugout that housed a clay pigeon-propelling machine. I stayed behind, positioning myself in a chair just behind the gun-toting men. I was connected to the dugout via a long cord with a bright red button. When a shooter yelled "pull!" I pressed my thumb hard against the button, sending a bright-orange clay pigeon soaring out of the dugout into the sky. If the old man happened to be a good shot, the orange disc shattered in mid-air. If he missed, the disc sailed off into the abyss of orange debris that covered the field far ahead.

Later I traded places with my colleague in the dugout. I always dreaded my time there. The dugout was a dank, dusty place furnished with the pigeon-shooting machine and endless stacks of clay pigeons. My job was to keep the machine well stocked and over the course of the summer, this responsibility attuned me to the natural patterns of skeet shooting. By summer's end, I could place pigeon after pigeon on the contraption's throwing arm without getting my fingers bloodied by its violent snapping.

There are other things I remember about that summer: the pretty blue eyes of a potty-mouthed, pot-smoking boy who also worked there; the battery-powered radio I lugged along to the dugout so I could listen to Jonathon Richmond cassettes; the chair where I leaned back at the head of the skeet lane, closing my eyes and tipping my face to the sun.

What I remember most is wrapping up my final shift there on a late summer's evening and dragging my tired feet through the dirt parking lot. Some old men had parked their pickup trucks in a circle and built a fire in the middle. They were having a weenie roast. I slowed my step as I walked by, the smell of their cookout wafting through the air, pulling heavily on my hungry stomach.

"Come bite our wieners!" hollered a gray-haired man who met my eye and hoisted a roasting stick high into the air. As he turned to his buddies and laughed, I scurried into my car and motored away as fast as my little four-cylinder could carry me. The next summer, I found a job in the shoe department at Dayton's.

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