Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Jobs

A few weeks ago I was listening to NPR and heard a portion of a show on jobs that people had had in their youth. The interview I heard was with a man whose one-time job had been at a race track where he had to collect horse urine - directly from the horse - to test for drugs. While that sounds horrid, sort of, at least he got to work with horses. I like horses; I wouldn't have minded being around them for a summer, depending, of course, on HOW I had to collect the urine.

When I was in college I had summer jobs, bad summer jobs, the kind of jobs that keep you in college when you decide after your sophomore year that you want to "take some time off to travel in Europe." One summer, for no particular reason that I ever heard, my mother decided that good jobs could not be found through classified ads in the paper; they could only come from friends of friends of friends and that's how I got two really bad jobs.

The first I found through my college roommate. She had heard about a job interviewing homeowners about their childrens' schools. How difficult could that be? It sounded fun, really, meeting new people, sitting in their living rooms, drinking offered iced tea and chatting. We interviewed and were hired.

However, what we discovered at our training was that our job was really selling encyclopedias. (Does anyone still publish these?) So off we went, in teams of two, dropped off at neighborhood entrances. Our canned pitch gave the impression that we were from the school board, taking a poll of homeowners about the education their children were receiving. Getting in homes was pretty easy; getting out was REAL easy, once the homeowners realized what we were up to.

The first and only night out, we got through our assigned neighborhood VERY quickly (imagine that), and our boss left us for a really long time sitting at the drop-off point. Finally, he picked us up. There were three of us college kids in the back seat and one in the front. The boss and the woman we thought to be his wife were also in the front seat. The boss drove astonishingly recklessly and at one point, his wife said something to him that set him off and he smacked her really hard across her face. We all looked at each other in alarm and each of us quit that night, by phone, once we were safely home. The boss was angry with us and threatened to charge us for our training. That never happened, but whatever he would have charged would have been worth not getting in the car with him again. I hope that woman quit whatever her role in his life was too.

The second job that summer came from word-of-mouth, again from my roommate. We were hired to make Avon perfumed candles at a candle factory that had received an order that they could not complete without temporary help. We worked in a huge un-air-conditioned, tin-roofed warehouse space. It was hot, really, really hot, in order to keep the candles from hardening too quickly to allow the workers to fix any imperfections in them.

The individual candle containers arrived on racks on benches in front of us and we had to then put in the wicks, pour in the wax, and pull on the wicks to make sure they were in the center of the candle. The scents of the wax changed throughout the summer. Ugh. A thirty-something man was our supervisor and he was tough. The candles had better be perfect or he would threaten us with firing. At the same time, we had a quota to make and if we didn't, he would threaten us with firing. After a few weeks there we would have welcomed firing I think. I sure knew that quitting college was not an option. Who would do this job for life?

There were plenty of people there who did. I felt sorry for them. We were snotty college kids, probably making snarky remarks about the job. We made LOTS of snarky comments about the supervisor. But no doubt we were working with permanent employees who were there so that their snotty kids could go to college. The only skilled job that I ever saw there was making the hand-dipped tall candles. That required talent. Other than that, it was hot, mind-numbing, boring work.

And smelly for those of us making the perfumed candles. I wore the same shoes each day so that I would only have to throw away the one pair at the end of the summer. Repeated washing did not get the scent out of my clothes and those I threw out too. I said for years that I could recognize any Avon perfume from one-hundred paces. I don't know if that's still true, or if Avon even still sells the candles.

But lots of other companies do sell scented candles, and I feel sorry for the people who make them - I suppose they're all in China, and any job is better than no job, but still.....

The summers after that one I worked in offices, still doing boring work (that I found through classified ads), but I was really grateful not to be in a factory.

Horse urine or scented candles?

Honestly? It's a toss-up.

1 comment:

Becca said...

my dad's company would hire children of employees for the summer as a form of scholarship assistance. we got paid union wages to be janitors in a rubber plant. we had to wear long pants, long sleeves, hard hats, steel toed boots and safety glasses to clean NASTY men's bathrooms and scrape rubber globs off the floor of control rooms and lunch rooms. We worked alongside people who were there because it was the entry-level to become a processor or technician in the plant some day, 5 or 10 years down the road. It kept me in college too.