Friday, July 21, 2006

Summer Job Follies

Ask Mr. Long IslandBY MICHAEL WATT

Summer jobs. We’ve all had them. Temporary employment situations that you know will end in the fall when you go back to school, motivated to study even harder because you know what you WON’T be doing for the rest of your life.

My wife Sharon, for instance, worked in a shop that offered religious items such as crosses, bibles and the like. (That’s only funny if you know my wife – a woman of compassion and spirituality but decidedly non-religious). My friends Foley of New Jersey packed china dishes; Long Beach Elaine sold nuts at the Nut House and Cannon the Attorney ran the rides at Adventureland in Farmingdale one summer. If you ever want to laugh your butt off ask him to reprise some of the exchanges he had with the customers. Darragh the Reporter was a maintenance man at a Holiday Inn in New Jersey but the stories he has from that endeavor will not appear in a family newspaper anytime soon.

But with all due modesty I am the undisputed King of Crappy Summer Jobs. You name it, I’ve done it. Well, not exactly. I somehow managed to avoid the ignominy of wearing a franchise uniform – that is, I never worked at a McDonald’s or for any franchise for that matter, save a three-week stint as a gas jockey for Hess. More on that later. I also never worked inside a mall. I did spend four hours “working” inside a Sears store, but more on that later as well.

There was the summer, for instance, where I worked as a handyman’s helper – the handyman being a pipe-smoking World War 2 vet who made Archie Bunker look like Jimmy Carter. One of our tasks was to re-tar the roof on a grocery store in Ocean Beach. In July. With the help of two old Swedish guys who HATED each other. So there I was, a 16 year-old kid hauling up rolls of tar paper while learning that I would never ever work another day in my life with anything that involved asphalt. Or cranky Swedes.

The following summer I worked as a chambermaid in a small motel in Massapequa. Every morning I got to clean 30-plus rooms with three grandmothers. It’s a long story how that came to be, or why. It was an even longer summer.

The next summer I had a number of jobs. I started working at a Hess station somewhere in Pennsylvania (I had planned to stay in Scranton for the summer of 1980. Lord help me remember, or understand, why.) That job disappeared the day I came to work to find the whole station being renovated and the old gas tanks being dug up. That was the day AFTER the station manager – a witch of woman who can only be described as a meatball with eyelashes – had me scrape the paint off the curbs on the gas-pump islands, even though she knew damn well those curbs were going to be concrete crumbs the next day.

That summer I also got to work as a stock boy in a furniture store where my nickname was “Stupid.” I actually earned that moniker. The first day on the job I was told to change the flat tire on one of the delivery trucks and I endeavored to do so, not realizing I had placed the jack square on the metal springs that served as a shock absorber of sorts. I would still be out there today trying to raise that truck had my co-workers not intervened. They also called me Stupid because I naively shared with them that right after work at the store I had to head into town to work as an intern for the local Scranton newspaper.

“How much do you get paid for that?” my curious co-workers asked.
“Nothing,” I replied, trying to explain that I needed the experience and the clippings.
“That’s stupid,” they said, almost in unison. The name stuck.

One time I got a job as a maintenance worker at a Sears store. I was told to sweep the floors on one side of the building. I did a very thorough job – this was the late 1970s and teenagers had to be concerned about keeping their jobs then – and 20 minutes later reported back to my supervisor, looking for my next assignment.

“Are you crazy?” the guy shouted, looking up at the clock. “That job is supposed to take you four hours.” So for the next three hours and 40 minutes I walked up and down the aisle of a Sears store, pretending to sweep a floor that did not need sweeping. When I was done I walked to the broom closet, hung up my broom and walked out the door, never to return (or get paid, for that matter).

Let’s see, what else have I done? Washed dishes (lousy pay - good eating). Driven a cab (that was fun but there was zero money in it). I loaded milk trucks – taking crates of milk from tractor-trailers and then stacking them on box trucks. It wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds, but I did develop some manly calluses on my hands and even on my head. It seems the box trucks had doorways designed for loaders lower than my six-foot-four and more than once I forget to duck.

Obviously I never did anything cool, like work as a lifeguard or tend bar, but I can say I was always the happiest guy around when school started again in the fall.

Thank you for reading this column.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

that was funny in a good way