This year brings a scarcity of summer jobs for America’s youth. It is unfortunate that so many will miss the tremendous learning opportunity that summer jobs present. I don’t know where I’d be today without such opportunities.
My first summer job, other than making spin art and being forced to play kickball, was at for a supplier of home security devices. My task was to assemble and mail marketing materials. The work was routine, and I was soon able to stuff, seal, and put postage on the envelopes while reading the books that my English teacher had assigned over the summer. The system went fine until I accidentally sent one of our paranoid customers a copy of 1984 with our catalog.
The next summer I answered the calling to sell high quality cutlery. We were trained to use the bonds of love to convince our family and friends that the wisest move they could make in their lives was to plunk down $600 for a set of butter knives. If they balked at the price tag, we reminded them that the knives’ warranty could be bequeathed to later generations, like the estates of English gentry. To seal the deal, we would demonstrate that the knives could cut pennies in half, perfect for salad or guacamole.
The most educational summer job was working at a convenience store. My first day on the cash register I produced an error of $900, and the IRS showed up and demanded free Slurpees. There was so much to learn. I had to remember which cigarettes were running promotions and which ones prevented osteoporosis. I had to know the price of every size of soda cup, from the 12-ounce regular to the 20-gallon Mega Gulp that included free use of the store’s dolly. I had to serve hot dogs to customers without scrunching up my face.
Selling alcohol required extra vigilance. Minors would try all sorts of tricks. One time a young man told me he was 45, but that he suffered from a rare disease that made him look 19 and wear his baseball cap backwards. I asked for identification. He said he forgot it at home. When I told him that, despite his condition, I could not meet his request, he threatened to sue me and then pedaled away on his bike. I am still waiting for the summons.
Approximately 90% of our business, it seemed, was selling lottery tickets. A man once gave me a list of six numbers to play, saying that those were his magic numbers. I informed him that, statistically, he would have the same chances of hitting numbers one through six in order, and I showed him the math on a napkin. He dismissed me as crazy. I was about to pull out the calculator, but the line was getting long and people were starting to throw packets of Equal. The next day the man played his magic numbers and the numbers one through six.
My shift was eight hours long with no break for lunch. When a friend of mine saw me snapping into a Slim Jim between coffee station drills, he said that the law entitled me to a half-hour paid lunch break for every eight-hour shift. I didn’t know if my friend was right, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me, and I told my co-workers I was forming a union. That night at home while I stenciled my picket signs, a black car drove by and lobbed stale doughnuts at my front door. I had gotten the message, and took a few of the doughnuts for lunch the next day.
I hope that the economy turns around soon, so that young people can have the same learning opportunities that I did.
Did you have any memorable summer jobs?