“How do I find a job?” our eldest inquired. Then 16, she needed to support her shoe habit.
Nostalgia washed over me. My father helped me get my first job at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant. Because the boss knew Dad — a charming southern gentleman in work coveralls — he hired me, sight unseen.
No wonder you don’t see many Howard Johnson’s restaurants anymore.
I learned more about human nature there than if I’d pursued a Ph.D. in psychology.
I also waitressed one summer in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The town’s welcoming sign read, “Kill your wife in Klamath Falls, the Murder Capital of the World.”
My mother helped me get this job — were my parents trying to tell me something?
I worked night shift, serving inebriated cowboys who wore the menus and pulled me onto their laps. Thank goodness for the 4:30 a.m. arrival of gentlemanly garbage guys!
I switched to janitorial work, often a solo job. Cleaning men’s rooms, I, a college music student, sang loud, high operatic scales. Few guys attempted to use the facilities with Madame Butterfly on the premises. My brother and I tidied lawyers’ offices whose open bottles of whiskey smelled like floor stripper. We also cleaned Klamath County’s 86 phone booths. We ate greasy hamburgers, laughed, sang and spent our best time together.
Then I worked at a nursing home, caring for Alex, an elderly schizophrenic with light-bulb eyes. I also met gentle 90-year-old Minnie, who daily fried imaginary chicken for imaginary threshers, and Freddie, once a dapper young stagecoach driver. I often ducked John, who thought I was an island girl during World War II.
Gradually, I became accustomed to Stan’s Bath Ceremony. Each line of his accompanying song began with a string of profanity in Bohemian, followed by:
“Take off da shoes. Dirrty, loussy, rrrotten, no-good VOOMAN!” He removed his shoes.
“Take off da socks. Dirrty, loussy, rrrotten, no-good VOOMAN!” He removed his socks.
“Take off da shirt. Dirrty, loussy, rrrotten, no-good VOOMAN!” He removed his shirt.
“AAAAAHHHHH!” This prelude to verse two was accompanied by a swing of his fist through the air. Once he donned a robe, though, Stan followed me docilely to the shower room.
My first permanent office job didn’t involve serving eggs to menu wearers or bathing Bohemians. Finally, I had arrived.
Within ten minutes I discovered summer jobs were only warm-ups for the real world. …
My daughter snare-drummed her fingers, bringing me out of my reverie. She repeated, as if I were mind-impaired: “Mom, how do you get a summer job?”
“Don’t worry, honey,” I assured her in my most motherly tone.
“I’ll help you find one.”
What was your most memorable summer job?
My first summer job was working a few hours each day at a privately owned seashell museum. The owner was over ninety years old and had collected seashells, fossils and rocks from around the world. He kept the private collection organized in his well maintained massive barn and opened it up as a museum. All summer I worked there I only saw a few people ever visit. I was hired to hand dust every shelf and item on display. That meant taking each shell or item out of its container, clean it individually, then clean the shelf area, then put it all back. There were so many items in the collection it took me all summer to complete the work. Along the way I also helped inventory new items he acquired, learned to use low level acids to clean barnacles and debris off fossils, and helped him transports displays to a couple local festivals. He sold some of his shells, fossils and such at stands in local town festivals. It was hard work for a $1 an hour plus bonuses for good work, but I was far too young to work fast food yet. He could be curmudgeonly and cantankerous, but he respected you if you worked hard and did as you were instructed. Still have fond memories of that first job.
Unbelievable, T.R.! You must have been one exceptional kid to have handled such artifacts so carefully! Sounds like this guy turned his collection into a museum so his wife wouldn’t make him give it away!
Hi, T.R., My earlier comment seems to have disappeared! To summarize: What an incredible first job! You must have been one amazing kid, as he considered you so trustworthy with his treasures. But I’ll bet he turned his collections into a museum in order to keep his wife from getting rid of them!