From time to time, through turns of conversation, I get on the topic with an interlocutor about summers jobs. The debate ensues as to who had the worst summer job or jobs, the best summer job(s), the hardest summer jobs, et al. I feel, and of course this is a matter of my own opinion, that I've had the sh*ttiest summer job of anyone I've spoken to. The story went down as such...
Every summer break, whilst still in college, I'd come home. Happiness ensued in my family household, for another child was in residence, at least 'til the end of the summer. The joy diminished by week two, when my slumming ceased to be entertaining and started to become annoying to my parents, particularly my mother. Monday would start with her walking into my bedroom, and speaking to me (while I was in a dead sleep) about getting a summer job. Day Two started off similarly, but with a bit sharper tone to her voice. Day Three (Wednesday) began with her kicking the side of the bed and rapaciously telling me to "get a job, and don't come home until you have one". Words such as these to a slumming college student on summer break were similar to crucifix and garlic to a vampire. This might have gone on for a few more days until I could take it no more.
And so I grabbed The Pennysaver, a Long Island staple publication, filled with adverts, local news, stories of minor import...and Help Wanted ads. Scanning this paper for jobs that I could do, I came across a landscaping job opening that looked promising. And so I called the number. "Do you have any landscaping experience?" the voice asked on the other end of the phone. "Sure!" I said. "Like what?" the voice asked. "Well, I mow my parents lawn!" I lamely answered. I guess it was good enough. And so I went for my interview. Ted was his name. He was an older man, but might not have been older than I am at this moment. He LOOKED old, though, in a kind of weather-beaten but hearty way. "I'll start you off at $5 an hour; if you last, I might raise it to $6". This being 1987, that was pretty decent money. "Be here at 7:30 am tomorrow". Wow! At least my mother won't harass me tomorrow morning, I thought.
Up at 6:30 am, my mother dropped me off. The owner of the business, Ted, also had his son Ted Jr. (known as TJ) working for him, as well has his daughter, who's name escapes me. He also had some other schlub who looked approximately the same age as me, but had round glasses and full facial hair. (He didn't last.) We had a short meeting in the garage to strategize. And off we went, into the truck I went with TJ.
We arrived at a rather large cemetery. I didn't quite understand at first, but it dawned on me that this wasn't any ol' landscaping job. The title of the business said it all, "Ted's Lawn Service and Cemetery Maintenance". They weren't kidding about the cemetery, because here I was mowing in-between headstones within ten minutes. The surreal aspect of this scene was further enhanced by the fact that the cemetery grounds were littered with the carcasses of dead starlings, who were the collateral damage of a fumigation campaign against tree and leaf damaging insects. And off I went, hour after hour, kicking the carcasses of dead birds out of the blade of my lawnmower.
I made it through the day, and I'd never worked a harder day in my life than that one...up until that point in my life. (There were MANY more hard labor days in my future...) I came home at around 7 pm, at dusk. I remember it being a beautiful summer sunset, but it mattered nothing to me, for I was completely exhausted. Every muscle ached, my face was slightly sunburnt, and I recall being so wiped out that I didn't even eat dinner. (So wiped out, in fact, that I slept in the living room couch while my family ate dinner in the other room. )
This was the first day of my summer job in 1987: mowing cemetery lawns peppered with dead birds. An eleven hour day.
It would get evermore surreal as the summer ground on. And I was 19 years old.
(To Be Continued)