Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Summer jobs

It is a beautiful summer Cape Cod day: warm sun on my skin, warm sand between my toes, the girls playing in the water with my husband, and I am reading a good book (Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sorbel). Suddenly my reverie is jangled by the loud jingling of bells. Bells? Jingling in August?! I whirl around to see a young man running through the sun-drenched crowd of umbrellas and sunbathers, shaking with all his might a board with four bells attached to it. He yells, "I've gotcha lemonade, ice cream, come and get it!" like a barker at Fenway. Children start running after him as though he were the Pied Piper of Hamlin himself. They chase him around the whole beach, even as he runs headlong toward the water. He charges in, bells and all, leaps into the air, flips his body into a somersault and lands in the waves. After retrieving his bells, he commences to clanging them again, the kids chasing him now all the way to the ice cream truck parked at the edge of the beach.

And I think to myself, "Boy, has he got bells to do that!"

What a great way to liven up a summer job. It must be hard work driving an ice cream truck up and down the same beaches, pandering oneself to tourists and chowdah heads who come to soak up the sun and clog up route 28 on a regular basis. So instead of just ringing the bell on his truck in the parking lot, he goes to where his clientele hang out, grabs their attention, performs a cheap but effective stunt, and nails some business, cooling off from the heat of the day in the process. He takes a job with a high potential for boredom and injects a little play into it. Brilliant.

Most summer jobs have a high potential for boredom, unless you're extremely lucky. Even the most fun jobs have their nose-grinding days. Nearly all my summer jobs required a workout of my imagination. One summer I worked as an order picker in a warehouse at WearGuard, a work-clothes company. In 80 degree + heat I pulled a four-shelf, 6.5' high cart from one end of the warehouse to the other, filling orders and putting items into the buckets on the cart as quickly as I could so as to earn bonus money. I did this every weekday, from 7:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., for three months the summer I turned 21.

One day I discovered that the warehouse had great acoustics, especially for whistling. I started with the theme song to Andy Griffith's old show; you know the tune I'm talking about. It carried clear across the huge floor. Others started to pick it up. One person would start, another would continue, until we were all joining in and laughing. Then we moved onto Gilligan's Island, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and the like.

Two summers I worked in the accounts payable department of Medi Mart in downtown Quincy, MA, which was bought out by Walgreens. This was a definite nose job but the pay was decent, hence the two summers. Even so, I managed to survive in two ways: I went outside to eat my lunch whenever possible and I met friends on Fridays to go out dancing and let loose. There wasn't any wiggle room to 'inject play': my boss was a huge man with a British accent named Arthur Noone. Just say his name with the accent in a monotone; that's how he answered the phone. You just knew you couldn't fool around--at all.

Then there was my high school job at a Super Stop & Shop, the very first one of its kind. I started out bagging groceries (I'm still faster than anyone that works at the local Big Y), then got trained as a cashier. Shifts were 3 hours with a 15 minute break or 6 hours on a Saturday with a 30 minute break. What made that job bearable were the people who worked there; well, a select few anyway. I also got to see my first streaker during the summer I worked there; also my second, but alas, last streaker. And there were so many young people working there that we organized a few dances--one for Valentine's Day and another because we had such a good time at the first one.

What makes a summer job tolerable is that you know it's going to end eventually. But a summer job is also a slice of learning of what we need to know to make it over the long haul. We need imagination. We need to find good people. We may need to inject some play into the task at hand, and then let loose on Friday in such a way that doesn't interfere with Saturday and Sunday.

Think of your worst summer job--how did you get through it? How might that help you get through those days with a high potential for boredom? Maybe the seven dwarfs were right after all.

1 comment:

Andy said...

My worst summer job was at Procter & Gamble, working in the warehouse in 1985. What a hole filled with mind-numbingly painful work. I got through it by bringing a boom box and listening to music all day.

My BEST summer job was at that self-same Super Stop & Shop in Pembroke; when working was a way to get extra money and meet new friends and NOT yet a way of life. I was there for both streakers, too and ALL of the dances. :-)