By Mike Wilson
For those who might be inclined to jump to conclusions, I must warn that this is not a nostalgic cruise; rather, it’s about remembering nightmarish summer jobs occasioned by my recent survey of my “lifetime earnings record” on the ssa.gov website while contemplating the potential joys of retirement.
I confess that before reaching the high status of taxpayer, I was a child of the underground money economy. I’m assured that the statute of limitations has now expired, so I admit I’ve mowed lawns (usually for $2), moved a dump truck of fine gravel for my next door neighbor by wheelbarrow up ‘to his beagle enclosures since the gate was too narrow and – worst of all – steam-cleaned a tanker truck used to haul grease and grease away from restaurants. The owner of this business gathered all the 13-year-old boys in the neighborhood on Saturday mornings to clean the truck cabs for $5 a day, and the big truck tank was for those thin enough to fit through the top hatch. in the Chariot. (Hard to believe now, isn’t it?) It was truly disgusting, but potentially more disgusting was the revelation that all that old fat was meant to be made into the “emollients” you ladies will see on the labels. of your lipsticks.
Anyway, back to the official list of federal revenues:
• 1969, $125 — My gym teacher and junior high swim coach ran a YMCA day camp during the summer. So I had to serve as a monitor and lifeguard for five weeks. I rode my bike several miles back and forth and started at 7 a.m. every morning. Most of the time, we took all the campers out into the countryside to a site near Herb Parsons Lake, and there we played games, hiked, fished, and had lunch. Another counselor and I were tasked each day with hauling the large cooler full of half a pint of milk about a quarter of a mile to camp from a lakeside country store. It was there that I first discovered Gatorade, and the hype was such that I was spending a dollar a day – one-fifth of my gross salary – to get an ice-cold liter.
There was an annoying camper named Echelberger who tormented the entire staff. It was easy to understand why his parents didn’t want him home for those five weeks. I picked it up on the last day: I saw a bream nest dug in the mud at the bottom of the lake and I bet it a quarter that it wouldn’t wade and stand on “that stump”. When he triumphantly took the last step, he sank completely.
On rainy days we took alternative trips like a dairy tour. One day on the one-way tour, I found myself stuck in a room where an employee in waders was raking cottage cheese curds into a giant concrete tank. Those familiar with my aversion to most white foods (ranch dressing, mayonnaise, sour cream, etc.) can best appreciate the disaster that was narrowly avoided… Perhaps you can sympathize with my shock at finding out that the Uncle Sam was going to keep $1.75 of my hard-earned $25 that first week.
• 1971, $340 – Our good church friend, Mr. Cannon, owned a sheet metal business that fabricated ductwork and installed central air conditioning systems, sometimes in new construction projects, but he specialized in renovations, especially of huge antebellum mansions in northern Mississippi.
The first scare was my first day, when he arrived hungover and asked if I had a driver’s license. I swallowed and said yes, and soon he was dozing as I guided the one-ton chainring with the 4-speed stick down two-lane Highway 78 for nearly an hour. Arrived at the house, I was treated to a first exploration of the crawl space, where I found rubbish (old whiskey bottles, etc.) and very old animal skeletons. Perhaps I was the first to enter the crawl space that was not hiding from the Yankees. I got used to working under old houses, but I never got used to having fiberglass – which was itchy like the devil – under my clothes every night wrapping conduits all day.
After a few of these homes I thought a new apartment complex would be a giveaway, until I realized that the black clapboard attics of the new apartment buildings were by definition not air conditioned. on our arrival. Summer in Memphis is hot enough without working in a 135 degree oven!
• 1972, $765 – Another church friend, Mr. Clark, had a flooring business, and I was hired that summer to serve as assistant and factotum to his older brother, whose description of work apparently read “only ever lays the floor”. So I took old flooring (which required hours of gouging with a special curved chisel with a shovel handle for old linoleum in sprawling downtown mansions), sanded the bare floor, hauled in rolls of new vinyl-asbestos (yes, the A-word) the floor or carpet, and mopped up while the brother sat on a bucket of caulk, chewed on his cork, and watched impassively. He never uttered a syllable in transit. The crusty old receptionist/accountant called the toilet “the Crapper”.
• 1976, $1,050 — Van-Go (apology) Accessories, Inc. After June graduation and our wedding, we went to Ft. Lauderdale to spend the summer before I start grad school. I had talks with John Deere International Headquarters, but ultimately I couldn’t in good conscience accept a job representing them in Latin America for just two months and then walk away. The state employment commission sent me to a cinder block building with a tin roof where custom seat covers and tilt and swivel seat mounts for van conversions were made. The windowless back room was full of undocumented immigrant seamstresses who couldn’t complain about not being paid overtime for obvious reasons. As a new, efficient shipping clerk, I was able to clear a months-long backlog, so the manager started liking me. He even gave me four new tires for my ’66 Impala if I stayed until the fall. Luckily I didn’t: I saw in October that the unoccupied building had been destroyed by a bomb. The van accessories market has experienced fierce competition…
• 1978, $2,019 — Browning Ferris Industries. It may seem like I’m stepping into the world, but in reality, this company had the garbage collection contract for the then affluent suburb of Germantown, Tennessee. My wife was great with a kid, and when we got back from a year in Mexico, I found out that my graduate student health insurance at UMass had expired. So I took up the challenge of raising $1,800 in cash, the cost on those days of giving birth. Garbage collector for $3.50/h or return to the aluminum factory for $3? It was obvious. Being a garbage collector today is comparatively child’s play. Back then, there were no rolling containers or trucks with mechanical arms to empty them. We were equipped with 60-gallon plastic drums on rolling carts, and we had to go to every backyard to empty the cans. I also equipped myself with a 3 foot long hoe handle to ward off the black labs. July 5 was one of the worst days of my life, as a two-day supply of festering bags of sun-baked rib bones and watermelon rinds awaited us. I got a reprieve for the past two weeks when the foreman graciously put me in charge of driving the dust truck and spraying water on the dirt roads of the landfill.
Maybe now people will understand better when I – despite my abiding love of the outdoors – proclaim that I’m glad my career took place indoors.
Mike Wilson is Chair of Modern Foreign Languages at Catawba College.