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.

Christy DeSmith, 28
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

No Matter How Many Times You Wash the Uniform, You Still Reek of Oil

How could I have been so stupid? What on earth caused me to think a restaurant was a walk-in-the-park place to work? I can only guess it was all the spinning and falling down I did as a child that allowed this to happen. Let me tell you how it really was.

I stunk. Not just figuratively, but physically as well. Polyester has a nice way of collecting and absorbing grease. So, no matter how many times you wash the uniform, you still reek of oil.

The orthopedic shoes I wore made Grandma's seem fashionable. The rubber soles did work well, until you mopped behind the salad bar and slid from fruit to rolls in one chaotic glide. Not pretty.

The sundae bar was a great place to take on challenges and witness miracles. Would I survive the Sunday brunch without hurting small children wielding caramel, hot-fudge-covered hands? Could sprinkles and chocolate chips possibly travel any farther away from their little metal homes? Those kids put clowns to shame with the figures they could create out of soft-serve ice cream on the counter and on the floor.

Despite all the nasties and years of therapy, though, a few positives did emerge from this experience. Good friendships, the first boyfriend, free food...and the money didn't hurt either.

Melanie Moritko, 33
Apple Valley, Minnesota

 

The Pressure Hose Tore off a Quarter Inch of My Skin

When the summer after my junior year in high school rolled around in 1990, my parents told me I could no longer use athletics as an excuse for lack of summer employment. They wanted me to find a job and save some money for college. My grandfather was a longtime dairyman who delivered milk to area businesses and the local college. As a result, he had many connections within the grocery business, which he pledged to use in getting me a job at the local Pick 'n Save. I was thinking that I could easily handle the monotony of bagging groceries and offering the "paper or plastic?" option to shoppers.

But when I went into the main office and sat down across from the store manager, he informed me that my grandfather's recommendation of me was not so good. Despite this warning, he decided to offer me a position as cleaner in the meat department. Because I was painfully shy at the time, I felt it would be disrespectful to him and my family if I refused, so I followed him to the meat department in the back and met Don, my future boss. Don informed me that I should show up at 4:00 p.m., five days a week, and stay until the job was finished. I would make $4.15 an hour. Most nights stretched on until 11:00 p.m. or midnight. Whenever they decided to use the dreaded Brat Machine, however, it added a good hour to my day.

I would arrive in the late afternoon, wash about 50 to 100 bloody trays, and watch my hands slowly deteriorate from what I found out later was corrosive soap. When there is a picture of a hand with a big dent in it and a chemical drop above that dent and it says "corrosive"--this was a sure sign that I wasn't going to be waving hello to too many girls that summer.

After washing the trays, and finally getting some gloves two months later, I would break down all the saws and soap up all the machines and spray them down with a pressure hose that at one point accidentally shot a quarter inch of skin off my already ailing finger. Next I would squeegee the mess of you know what (I'll spare you the graphic detail) and, then, finally, leave.

When I got home, my dog had a special interest in me and would follow me with a little greater will than usual. The ultimate compliment though, after those three months of hell, came when I ran into one of the guys from the meat department a year later. He told me they missed me because I didn't leave chunks behind the doors.

Paul Domer, 31
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

The Fathers Wanted Meat to Play a More Central Role

Between my fourth and fifth years in college, I took a job as a cook for a group of 10 Catholic priests who lived together in community. Monday through Friday I prepared lunch and dinner for them in the church basement kitchen. My connection to the Fathers above was through a dumbwaiter that conveyed their meals each day. Dinner was served when I felt the clunk of the landing, and the thick rope that I pulled stopped advancing.

The Fathers' meals together in the dining room above were as wordless as a table of grown farm brothers at chow time. From below, I heard chairs being pulled to the table, serving spoons double-clinking my hot food onto each plate, ice water from the aluminum pitcher glugging into glasses. I heard Father M. clear his throat as he always did, a good many seconds before speaking a few careful words. When the meal was over, more scraping of chairs and the clank of the emptied dishes being piled on the tray of the quietwaiter--the term I preferred out of respect. An occasional "thank you" from one of the Fathers made its way down the shaft as the plates and platters descended back home to the kitchen.

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