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.

Swabbing Radioactive Toilets on Taco Night

In the summer of 1994, after my freshman year of college, I lived in a small town north of Omaha and found myself in need of a job. There aren't a lot of options down there (eastern Nebraska isn't quite the tourism engine that Minnesota is), and by the time I got out of school, the decent gigs were pretty much picked over. The only thing available was a slot on the night-shift janitorial crew at the nuclear power plant just south of town.

I thought it would be kind of cool--Homer Simpson was big to me at the time--and that I'd have some "mysterious guy" cred for working a semi-dangerous job. But it turned out that it wasn't cool, and instead of thinking I was mysterious, everyone I knew thought I was an idiot. They were right.

Sean Smuda

It's tough to know where to start in listing all the ways this job blew. There's the fact that I was considered sort of expendable, and not given a radiation meter. (I was told to stick close to the more senior people who had them.) There's the enormous bitterness that career nuclear janitors have for people who are just visiting their world. I can't tell you how many "let me tell you how the world works, college boy" speeches I got from people with hockey teeth. There's the horrible memory of having to swab semi-radioactive bathrooms (nicknamed "the Augean Stables" by the other college boy working with me) at two o'clock in the morning on the nights that the plant cafeteria had served tacos to a bunch of irritably-boweled engineers. There's the night our we were all sat down to prepare us for the terrifying news that a black man would be joining the crew, and given a quick rundown on how to deal with "those people."

It wasn't completely without rewards. If I hadn't had that job, I would never have seen a bullfrog the size of a small dog jump into the Missouri River just downstream from an intake pipe. Nor would I have known that there are people who think they're sticking it to the man by getting paid 90 bucks an hour to dive into a radioactive-materials storage pool and clean it. (You use up your year's worth of allowed radiation in a couple of hours.) Most of all, I guess, I never would have known the moment of all-encompassing freedom that filled every cranny of my soul on the night I got into my car and drove away from that glowing shithole for the last time.

Keith Pille, 29
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

Too Young and Too Purdy to Serve Beer

My first summer job is still my favorite: I toiled at a concession stand at an outdoor amphitheater in Texas. It was the best hourly wage in town at $5.25 an hour and the entertainment was phenomenal. At 16, I was able to hear the muffled music and drowned lyrics of the pop stars singing only 100 yards away. Sweat would drip down my back as I made nachos and battled the other employees for the "dropped" Lemon Chill canisters that were "cracked" and unsellable.

On days when temperatures reached upward of 100 degrees, we hoped to work in the plaza where the music was easily heard. Though the sun fried our skin, it was a better option than being steamed in the concession stand with the heat lamps and the boiling hot nacho cheese that was all too similar to orange melted plastic when it met your skin.

On good nights, there was a pop, rock, or country musician playing and the beer and margaritas flowed so abundantly that those of us who couldn't serve alcohol would flirt with the customers to try to get tips. Most of our tips were what the alcohol server would split with us, but occasionally we would find a dirty old man who tipped us because we were "too young and too purdy to serve beer." On bad nights, we were stuck with the symphony crowds who were never satisfied and rarely spoke to us. They returned nachos because there were broken chips. They never tipped and always yelled at us about the prices.

The highlight was walking around behind the stage and near the busses, where we'd occasionally meet the performers, and watching the forbidden sound checks. I saw George Clinton, Scary Spice, met Hootie and the Blowfish, and even played catch with Poison. I was in 16-year-old heaven. Occasionally, I'd be tossed out on my rear. But it was worth all of the trouble when Adam Sandler not only dedicated a song to my three friends and me, but also cleared the area of all the other employees.

I often had to take the back roads home from work: I was fearful of being stopped for any reason because I was covered in itchy spilled beer. I never called in sick to work. The thought of meeting up with Duran Duran or Phish was just too tempting. But I still hate symphony crowds.

Jessie Zapata Crookall, 25
St. Paul, Minnesota

 

Just Who Do You Take Us for, Tricia?

When I dream about that summer I dream about trolls. Gnarled noses, googly eyes, orange, green, and blue tufts of plastic hair. Spinning around and around. And Ping-Pong balls. Ping-Pong balls flying past me from every direction. Ping-Pong balls that are never supposed to land in the smooth glass dessert bowls because then I'd have to give the customer one of those damned trolls and Mike the teenage manager would suspect me of stealing because no one is supposed to win the carnival games.

It was the summer of 1992. Bush pere's recession. And nobody was hiring summer help. Nobody except Whalom Park (For a Whale of a Time!) in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. A sad, rusty park staffed by teenagers paid minimum wage, nine to ten hours a day, six days a week. We pulled the levers on rickety rides and stood in sloppily painted game booths handing out Ping-Pong balls, bean bags, and squirt guns.

Only, remember, it's the recession. Nobody has any money for amusement parks. And those who do certainly aren't coming to Whalom Park. And those few who do come to Whalom, well, they're looking to get their money's worth.

When the schedules were posted every morning there was always groaning from people assigned to the particularly busy games (those hell-begotten trolls!), the ones that didn't have any shelter from the sun (the Sidewinder, an unwinnable bowling game), and the squirt-gun water-balloon race because it was always broken. And a broken game wouldn't mean any relief from work, oh no, because it was the recession in Massachusetts and closing a booth that brought in about three dollars in quarters every hour...well, that wouldn't be prudent, now would it?

The squirt-gun water-balloon race was popular because it involved guns. And water. And loud bangs when the balloons popped. Never mind that two of the guns didn't have enough water pressure to fill a thimble, never mind a balloon. Most people shrugged--all in fun anyway, right?

But one Saturday morning the matriarch of a large family who has obviously traveled a very long way to have their whale of a time, decides it is not all in good fun and that it very much matters that two of the guns in the squirt-gun water-balloon race don't have a chance of winning. This is my problem because it certainly isn't hers, Tricia. And what are you going to do about it, Tricia? And just who do you take us for, Tricia? And when are we going to get our 50 cents back, Tricia?

She's in my face and using my name the same way Chris Rock uses the word "motherfucker," and I'm soaking wet from malfunctioning water guns and standing in an enclosed booth all day and, honestly, the sweat of real fear. And in this moment I learn the most important lesson I have learned so far about dealing with customers and upper management: I just stare at her. I don't answer her charges. I don't make promises. I don't care about her or her 50 cents or the squirt-gun water-balloon race or Whalom Park or Lunenburg, Massachusetts.

I finished out the summer wearing Karen's name badge. One day I told the manager that if he assigned me to the troll game again I would simply walk out. "Whatever," he said. And he did and I did.

Tricia Cornell, 30
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

Riding Around in Sweatpants, Dotted with Oxy

I spent the first 10 years of my working life delivering the Sacramento Bee. This was in the late '80s in a neighborhood where the streets were named after Civil War battles and every fifth house looked the same. Automatic sprinklers shot up at 5:30 and motion detectors clicked on front lights and I was there to see it.

At first the route was a struggle, but it quickly came to resemble a sleepwalk. I once dressed, folded, and delivered to 90 houses and was back to bed in 25 minutes. That was with porched papers as a rule and a beat-up girl's Schwinn cruiser as my transportation. As heavy as it was, the bike was essential. With its big cushiony seat and gigantic whitewall tires I could ride over curbs and not even feel it.

My father, however, was a man whose idea of work meant that you did things the hard way. So when he saw that the route had gotten easy, he decreed that my brother and I would have to pick up another route--a daytime route.

What was nice about delivering papers in the morning is that no one, especially my classmates, would ever see me riding around in my sweatpants, dotted with Oxy and wearing a neon shoulder bag full of papers. It was a furtive pleasure, having all that morning silence to myself. What was leisurely at the start of the day, though, would become a slummy, sweaty, altogether unflattering affair in the Sacramento sun. It was the job equivalent of wearing your Boy Scout uniform to school: It invited ridicule.

What was worse is that we would not even be delivering a paper--it was an ad supplement, the kind of thing everyone but retirees picks off their driveways and throws away with annoyance. My friends Damon and Steve had such a route, which they delivered in about five minutes in Damon's white BMW. Occasionally they simply dumped all 100 or 200 of the circulars into a trash bin and went to Dairy Queen.

This wasn't an option for my brother and me since my father would supervise. So every Wednesday we loaded up our jerry-rigged bikes and rode off into the neighborhoods to fling shopping ads at houses. It was miserable. Not only were we spotted several times, but dogs were awake so we were constantly chased. People who were home threw the ads back at us. It was often between 105 and 110 degrees, and the copious sweat spawned yet more bacne. On Sundays, my father insisted on driving us, which meant running from the back of my parents' Celebrity wagon to houses and back as fast as possible so as not to be seen.

For this indignity, we were paid one cent per ad, which meant that an hour and a half of riding around delivering 100 copies only brought in $10.

I think what rankled most about this job was not the pay or even the humiliation; it was what the day route did to my real job. After a few months of ad supplements I began to hate my paper route. I believed I had outgrown it, but I still liked it--I needed that morning idyll. Still, it was like enjoying a toy well past the age when one is supposed to like them. It inspires shame.

John Freeman, 29
New York City, New York

 

Snip, Snip

Snip. Snip. Snip. The sound had driven me to insanity. Snip. Snip. The repetitive little noise was the sound of carpal tunnel developing in my wrist. Snip. It was the sound of me at *CHK age 17 snip-snipping little plastic edges off plastic doohickeys for eight hours a day, five days a week. There were usually about 5,000 pieces in each bag and enough bags to stretch into eternity. I can only pray that I never have to hear that dreadful sound again.

When my mother first suggested the factory job to me, it sounded exciting: great pay and opportunities for advancement. In reality the pay was average and the only opportunities for advancement were from plastic snipper to parking-lot cleaner. Laugh if you will, but the task of going outside and picking up cig butts in the parking lot was the Holy Grail for us "summer help."

Each day I would shuffle into the factory at 7:00 a.m. (usually closer to 7:05, having inherited the "late" gene.) As I groggily punched my timecard, Judy, the unofficial boss of the "summer help," would lurk hungrily in the shadows, her beady eyes fixed on me, waiting for the perfect time to strike. "Do you realize you're late?" she would hiss, "You were scheduled to be here at 7:00 and it's 7:05. Do you have an excuse?"

I always considered explaining to her that lateness was a genetic mutation that had been passed through generations of my family. But then I thought better of it. Instead, I would quietly apologize and scurry to my post to begin snipping.

Every once in a while, I was asked to work one of the plastic molding machines. This "opportunity for advancement" involved donning a pair of oompa-loompa gloves and catching hot plastic pieces at the end of a long chute. The job was regarded with the utmost of seriousness and any blunder would get you sent back to snipping straight away.

Another exciting job was painting pieces. That summer I was the only one that had kissed Judy's arse enough to reach this professional pinnacle. There I was, a young Kahlo, painting plastics, flushed with the fever of inspiration. Through thick safety glasses I had to make sure that each piece looked exactly like the one before it. Other "summer help" would walk by and stare at the paint sprayer longingly, but only I had the privilege and advanced training to operate it.

I suffered through this job for two months until the day that I cracked and said "enough is enough." Judy had reamed me a new one for some asinine thing like snipping too slowly and I just couldn't take it anymore. Over lunch I spoke of revolution and convinced two of my "summer help" colleagues to leave when they were done eating and never come back. The next day, they chickened out and went back. I never did.

Valerie Struck, 26
St. Paul, Minnesota

 

Could I Bum a Chew?

I had been working at a summer camp in the foothills of Colorado for years, but during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college I decided to go to Portland, Oregon, and try my luck in the Northwest. I lived in the home of a friend from college and during the first week I was in town I spent the nights hanging out with his friends. They saw that I wasn't afraid to drink a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor (I was too shy to ask anyone to split a six-pack with me) and I really got their attention when I asked one of them if I could bum a chew.

A girl that drinks 40s and chews tobacco? These guys were definitely ready to put in a good word for me at the auto parts distributors warehouse where they worked. They pleaded with their boss to hire me. None of them cared for the two girls that already worked there. I was hired to stock shelves with auto parts and since I was in college, my boss didn't make me take the test to see if I could alphabetize and put things in numerical order.

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.

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.

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

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

There were two Fathers who regularly came down to the kitchen. One of them, Father M., the throat clearer, served as a sort of liaison to the cook. He also liked to get a good full look at me each day. While he was always pleased at how I remained below budget in my food purchasing, he represented the Fathers in their wish for more meat. Father M. wondered if, instead of chopping meats to use in sauces, stir-fries, or soups, I could give the meat a more central role. They had in mind the kind of meal where the type and cut of meat served is the simple answer to what's for dinner. For example, "pork ribs" or "flank steak."

Father K., the other priest who came down to the kitchen, did not partake of the meals I prepared. Instead, he made his own dinner out of liver powder and warm water. He would mix his gray meal in twilight's solitude, using the kitchen's blender after I had turned out the lights and started on my bike for home. I always rewashed the filmy blender when I arrived the next morning, hoping that Father K. had, somewhere in his life, bright colors or stirring poetry.

One late afternoon, having tucked a meat-laden lasagna covered with foil into the 350-degree oven, I crept upstairs to explore the mysterious Catholic hallways between the sanctuary and the Fathers' living quarters. At one door, I heard men's voices chanting in Latin. I cracked the door just wide enough to see a small, dark chapel in which the 10 hungry Fathers joined their voices in prayer.

Juli Hagstrom, 46
Marine, Minnesota

 

The Cheap Motel You Call Home

The summer after my sophomore year in college, and I decided, through no apparent logic, to try my hand as a journeyman roofer. The pay for this particular position was a whopping 50 cents more an hour than its union counterpart, and I continued down this one-way comedy of errors under the theory that 50 more pennies an hour was worth the unspeakable cruelties that the job bestowed on me.

For starters, I quickly realized that a journeyman crew of roofers is largely made up of the homeless. And not the passive sort of "I live in a homeless shelter" homeless but the "I live in a cardboard shanty by the railroad" homeless. Which is a much more proactive and interesting bunch--fellows invariably addicted to bathtub crank and cheap booze and hopelessly mired in childcare debt. One 17-year-old journeyman (with whom I had the honor of sharing motel accommodations) had two children with two different ladies. And as we pulled into an anonymous Faribault motel, he informed me that he had recently gotten a third lady pregnant. The crew and I bought him a Father's Day card in a demonstration of roofers' humor.

The dank motels where we stayed featured rooms with two beds, a permeating stench of Old Gold tobacco, and TV sets that functioned on a day-to-day basis. Most of them also housed centipede kingdoms that were constantly at war with the sugar ant tribes that resided in the bathroom.

Work began at 4:30 a.m. Because of the precarious practice of "tearing off" roofs smothered in a substance called pitch (since banned from new construction by the EPA), it was best to get the majority of the days' "tear off" work done before the sun directly struck the roof. Pitch is a dry powder that daily turns into a viscous resin when heated. This stuff is useful for filling in holes and leaks, and for burning skin upon contact, in either its resin or powder form. One day I frightfully removed my pants to find a hole burned in my thigh from a few specks of pitch that worked its way past my belt. Roofing in the morning hours between five and eleven requires heavy garments that cover as much of the body as possible. Some mornings I had to stifle laughter at the humorous sight of a dozen full-grown men wearing T-shirts on their faces with mouth holes cut to fit smoldering Pall Malls.

Another great aspect of this summer job was that the day wasn't over until the roof patch being worked on was appropriately "dressed." This, of course, was due to the tendency uncovered roofs have toward leaking. And so work usually finished for the day sometime around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., although on more than one occasion during my three months in hell, we worked past 11:00 p.m. For those keeping score at home, that's roughly an 18-hour stint.

More frightening than the actual work were those rare occasions when work was stopped due to inclement weather. The entire crew would, surprise, head straight for the cheapest bar in town and proceed to get inebriated well beyond mere oblivion. Scraps were par for the course, but a certain camaraderie existed among the drunken and destitute. I mean, when you hear a grown man sob about not being able to see his children it really hits home. Or at least the cheap motel you call home.

There were other perils too numerous to describe: the hungover lift operator who severed the gas line, or the chronic boozer who teetered on the edge of a 14-story school building, holding my arm while the foreman leapt across the rubble to help. After that summer, when I returned to college, I finally started to make the Dean's List consistently. I'd seen the alternatives and cheap crank, cartons of unfiltered Old Golds, and a shitty hourly wage had lost their appeal. Go figure.

Sam Swenson, 28
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

My name's "Rich," Numbnuts

When I was 16 I got a job at a down-on-its-luck hardware store in the Chicago suburb where I grew up. These were the pre-weekend-warrior days, before Home Depot and home-improvement cable channels, and mostly I just sat around reading or following the Iran-Contra proceedings on the radio. Once in a while some suburban dad would walk in with a cotter pin and say "I need three more of these," and I'd go in the back and hunt around for them.

I worked with these two guys, Hans and Dick. Hans had graduated from my high school a few years earlier and basically sponged off his parents, hanging out in their basement trying to learn heavy-metal guitar solos from guitar magazines and smoking a lot of pot.

Dick was fortyish, with a stupid-looking porn mustache, and he always talked about how great the '60s were and how much pussy he got in high school. His signature phrase was "I shit you not." He claimed he'd had a high-paying job in sales before he came to work at the hardware store, but "it wasn't worth the pressure." Looking back I think it's more likely that he was fired for sexual harassment or something.

Dick's real name was Rich, but I always called him Dick. He would grab my arm then and say, "Hey--my name's Rich, numbnuts." He would play mean pranks on me, like making an incision in my Coke can with an X-Acto knife so that when I went to take a drink, after having moved a truckload of fertilizer or something, the Coke would spill all over my shirt. He found this hilarious.

When Dick wasn't around, Hans and I would get stoned in the basement using hash pipes we made out of plumbing fittings. Hans was always trying to bribe me with weed to come over and "jam" with him in his basement--he was just starting to "experiment" with odd time signatures. I still get one of his songs stuck in my head from time to time: a metal waltz in 6/8 time, A major to G major, and Hans howling, "Baa-abe.../You got to rock and rooo-ooll..."

Hans was always trying to convince me that Richie Blackmore was the greatest guitarist on earth. Dick overheard one of our conversations and said, "Your guys' taste in music blows. I saw Iron Butterfly one time on five Blue Barrels. I bet you didn't know that they're actually saying 'In the Garden of Eden.' I shit you not."

J. Niimi, 33
Chicago, Illinois

 

It Is Nearly Impossible for a Gaggle of Teenagers and Twentysomethings to Keep from Rubbing Up Against Each Other

I spent two summers working at Best Buy store #575, in Wilmington, Delaware. I began my employment there during Christmas in my junior year of high school. I'd lied and said I was a quick learner, and the manager, stressed out and desperate for as many extra sets of hands as possible, hired me on the spot.

It started out as an all-right job: My best friend worked there with me, and at that time in my life, $6.75 an hour was a princely sum. I can't honestly say that I acquired a wealth of knowledge, only that those sorts of jobs in sales are perfect for individuals who like to run their mouths about things they know nothing about; and that all a young girl needs to sell anything is a cute smile and a few strategically open buttons on her work uniform. Being a chubby, unassuming misfit of a girl, that strategy never worked for me.

I worked the cash register and the only items I had to sell were $5 "Product Replacement Plans" for the junky portable CD players and two-way radios people bought as gifts for their children. I'd always mutter the replacement plan option under my breath after ringing up a customer's purchase. Mumble, mumble, mumble, replacement guaranteed for two years, a quick "no" from the consumer, and they were on their way. Every month, the store would offer perks to those who sold the most replacement plans, usually in the form of a $20 gift card. Considering my employee discount, it was never worth it--not even for the glory I could have achieved.

Every month, we'd gather for a team meeting and watch short films that featured supposed Best Buy employees discussing the best way to sell vacuum cleaners and, of course, as many accessories as possible. We were all corporate minions, selling product in an effort to fulfill Best Buy's motto, "We're in the business to make money." For all the products pushed, there were never any employee kickbacks.

I also learned that it is nearly impossible for a gaggle of teenagers and twentysomethings, packed into the same space, to keep from rubbing up against each other. During the summer, when the barely legal girls (myself included), were out of school and free of homework, we would all get together and spend the evenings after work drinking Boone's Farm wine, then using the empty bottles to play sloppy games of spin the bottle. Everyone made out with or slept with everyone else. It's a wonder no one ended up with oral herpes or something worse. I didn't care, hell-bent as I was on destroying the foundation laid by several years of Catholic schooling. I lost my virginity, figured out the best way to French kiss with a tongue piercing, and learned the reason men are truly turned on by two girls making out. Work became an afterthought, something stumbled to after a night of drinking and lies told to my parents about where I was spending the night.

If I've learned the value of hard work, it certainly wasn't at Best Buy Stores, Inc. I can, however, do amazing things with my tongue.

Nana Twumasi, 23
Woodbury, Minnesota

 

Donny Was Mad

It was the first time I felt large in the world. I was 15, I had a girlfriend (and we kissed, a lot), and my parents were going up north and leaving me home for the weekend because I had to work. My friend Paul Tushaus got me a job washing dishes at the St. Clair Broiler for $2.50 an hour, which was 50 cents more an hour than the Uptowner paid, Paul told me. It was the first weekend of the summer, my first day of work, and *my first weekend of freedom. I had a job, a girlfriend, and a weekend of freedom. This was going to be my celebrated summer.

The plan was simple. I would take my Mom's Honda Civic to work at *CHK P.M.? 4:00 p.m. (I would figure out the clutch on the way), get off at 8:00, drive to meet my girlfriend, and go back to my house and kiss.

I was late my first day because it took me longer to figure out the clutch than I thought it would. The last time the car killed I let it roll to the side of the street, parked, and ran the last two blocks, my neck already stiff from the whiplash. When I slipped in the back door, out of breath, Donny the manager was standing there, mad. Real mad. He threw an apron at me, brought me to the dish room, showed me how to run the Hobart, and told me I better get caught up for the dinner rush because I was going to be working alone. "That Paul kid quit," he said.

The dish room was like a steam bath, but a steam bath with a slimy, greasy floor, 50-gallon garbage cans filled with disgusting old food, and an endless stack of dirty dishes covered in cement-like egg yolk smears the color of puss and catsup pools with cigarette butts stubbed out in the middle.

Eight o'clock came and went. Nine came and went. The bus pans full of dirty dishes never ended. The calls for More spoons right now or cups kept coming. At 9:40 I pleaded with Donny. I had to go, I wasn't supposed to work past eight, please. He said I had to work till close. No one else was coming in.

My girlfriend, I knew, would no longer be waiting at Linwood Playground where I was supposed to meet her. My clothes were soaked through with sweat, dishwater, and grease. My shoes slipped on French fries and empty mini creamers and who knows what else every time I took a step. The garbage was overflowing. "Empty that thing," Donny barked.

I grabbed it by both handles and pushed against the back door while trying to keep my footing. The door flew open and I smelled freedom. I opened the dumpster lid, threw the garbage can in, took off my apron, threw it in, and slammed the lid. I went across the street to the pay phone and called the Broiler. Donny answered. "Donny, this is Russell, I quit."

He was thrown, "Russell, what do you mean? You're in back."

"I'm across the street in the phone booth." I told him.

He looked through the plate-glass window, searching, and when he saw me, inexplicably, waved. I returned a different gesture, hung up the phone and walked on.

Russell Rathbun, 39
St. Paul, Minnesota

 

I Don't Pay Minimum Wage Because I Don't Expect Minimum Work

I spent the summer of 1984 as a dishwasher at a restaurant/nightclub in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. The head chef hired me on the spot based on my stellar six months of dishwashing experience. Minimum wage was then $3.35 an hour, but he said he'd pay me $3.45 an hour. He then uttered one of those unforgettable Boss Sayings: "I don't pay minimum wage because I don't expect minimum work."

I was assigned the day shift, which bummed me out...what about working on my tan? But the shift turned out to be one I could easily handle. Lunch wasn't popular there: I recall breaking a sweat, but mainly because the dishwashing machine was hot and the kitchen's air-conditioning was questionable. I was the only dishwasher in the kitchen from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and worked unobserved at my own pace most days.

I was 18 years old and shy, but my coworkers brought me out of my shell. There was Danny, a cook and former boxer who regaled me with tales of welterweight matches, the mob, and the Freemasons' secret control of our country. Larry was the cook who provided me cheeseburgers and club sandwiches in exchange for loaning him my hard rock albums to tape for a cross-country trip he was taking in the fall. His brother Lyle, also a cook, taught me how not to talk to girls. (Using the opposite of his approach worked much better.) Waitresses Julie and Sue were blonde knockout sisters (think Heather Thomas and Heather Locklear) who flirted with me as I stammered. Funniest was probably Lori, the spunky prep cook (think Kristy McNichol), who talked of wearing no underwear just to see me blush.

They taught me many of the lessons I would apply to future jobs. Like: Look busy and you won't get assigned more duties. And: Take a long coffee-and-newspaper break first thing in the morning, before the boss shows up and impedes your enjoyment of the sports page.

There is one memory above all others from that summer that I take with me. It is of Wally, a tall, elderly, bespectacled, soft-spoken cook who had only exchanged the most generic of pleasantries with me. As I finished chatting with a waitress, he sidled up to me and slyly whispered, "Bill, are you pussy-whipped?"

Bill Tuomala, 38
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

Yelling, Blood, and a Whole Lot of Foul Language

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college I worked as a construction assistant for two guys who were taking framing jobs on the down-low while they collected unemployment. The foreman, "Jim," had recently quit drinking and smoking cold turkey. As a replacement for the calming effects of nicotine and alcohol, he swore at me more or less continuously for the 12-hour days we worked. The other guy, "Dewey" (he collected his third or fourth DUI that summer) knew Jim from high school and mostly avoided the tirades.

Despite the abuse, the work was steady and outdoors, and it paid much better than a temp agency. Overall, I enjoyed many memorable moments, but none was as special as my first exposure to a pneumatic nail gun. Unlike the movies, the nail gun we used had a safety sleeve at the tip that had to be pushed in for the trigger to fire. While ostensibly a good idea, after about 10 minutes you figure out that the most effective method of operation is to leave the trigger depressed constantly and just jam the gun into whatever it is that you want nailed.

One day I was building a wall for a garage and having a hard time getting the base to line up straight with the beams. Evidently I was going about it entirely too slowly because Jim grabbed the nail gun away from me, unleashing a flurry of helpful counsel, like: "Are you fucking retarded?" and "Could you be any cocksucking slower?" He steadied the wall and began nailing in rapid succession, WHOOMP WHOOMP! WHOOMP WHOOMP! WHOOMP THUD! And then there was yelling, blood, and a whole lot of foul language.

I looked down to see that he had nailed through the meaty connective tissue between his thumb and index finger and was stuck to the wall. The nails are barbed and covered with glue so there's no pulling it out the way it came. Dewey had to snip the head off with a bolt cutter and pull the nail all the way through his hand. Other than that first flurry of swearing, Jim didn't say anything. He just grimaced, wrapped his hand in gauze, and went back to work. After about an hour he was pretty pale and called off work for the day.

I managed to go the whole summer without injuring myself. But a couple of weeks after Jim's accident, Dewey nailed himself to the underside of a joist while standing on a ladder.

Name withheld, 30
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

The Top Man on the Board

"Get the chalk! Get the, get the chalk!" For those who have simmered in the boiler rooms of fly-by-night telemarketing institutions, those words from David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross have a special bittersweetness. The man yelling it is an aging salesman who is recouping his status as "top man on the board." My own most-cherished summer-job memory is of my own unbroken, nearly-three-month stint as Top Man on the Board as a 16-year-old telemarketer in the smallish town of Des Plaines, Illinois.

The painful thing about telemarketing is that it is all hoodoo. Its charms are the gossamer ones of seduction, not the muscular ones of persuasion. It is all vibe, all unconscious carriage. Miss it by millimeters and you queer the deal. Recently I tried to re-up my telemarketer mojo by doing a phone-a-thon for John Kerry. I started out like a sneering bombardier, trawling in lots of e-mail addresses. Within a few minutes, dismayed by the onslaught of frumpy dialers around me, my kill ratio fell off to nothing. Was I changing the words I was saying, the speed with which I said them, even the emphasis on certain words? Not a bit. But Mr. and Mrs. Swing Vote in Ohio could tell that the soul had moved an inch.

At 16, all I knew was that I could make money--real money, more money than I had ever seen at that point in my life--by doing what the hulking boiler-room-manager exhorted us to do: "Keep smilin' and dialin'!" What were we selling? Public-service airtime to gas stations in Arkansas--literally. The PSA messages were usually the most banal stuff. (Ma'am, have you ever thought what it would be like if your little Timmy played in traffic and got himself hurt? Well, we at Full Contact Media don't feel good about that either. That's why...) But if you could guilt old ladies into coughing up $30 to do something for the public good--well, rack 10 old ladies up a day and you might be Top Man on the Board.

I remember very little about the sales room, the pitch, the number of dials per day. What I do remember was what I did with my $300 paycheck each week. I cashed it at the "downtown" bank, then headed over to Knickers, a faux-flapper steak joint. There, I sat myself down in my telemarketing dress shirt, and ordered a prime rib and a baked potato. Make that meat rare.

As I waited for the sexy flapperette to bring the plate, I meditated on what was now ahead of me: money, connivance, luxury, deceit, sex, privilege...the whole erotic, wised-up impasto of being full-grown! I could become like my grandfather's friends, hard-drinking, loud-yelling guys who were always talking about how it was in "the real world"! If I just kept smiling and dialing, I could be Lee Marvin for Chrissakes!

Minutes later, of course, I grew up for real. The prime rib arrived, slightly overcooked.

Matthew Wilder, 36
Los Angeles, California

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