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Archive for Sunday, June 12, 2005

Summer jobs lose sense of fun

June 12, 2005

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My shortest summer job lasted only four days, thanks to the newlyweds.

Home from my freshman year in college, I'd become a busboy at a hotel in Tarrytown, N.Y. Cleaning up after midnight on my fourth day, I found 16 bottles of "complimentary" champagne.

Each bottle was to be delivered shortly - very shortly - after the newlyweds got to their rooms. But the front desk hadn't passed the word.

I suggested to the night manager that a 1 a.m delivery would be worse for hotel PR than no delivery at all. "No! It's part of the package," he insisted. "You've got to take them up."

I tried. But after making my little welcoming speech to two or three furious grooms, I just went home.

The next day my boss chewed me out for not finishing the job, and I laughed at her and quit. Sometimes you have to work for idiots, but there's a limit.

This brief period in my resume of summer jobs came to mind recently as I waited for the train to Philadelphia - to the kind of office job I've had for the past 30 years.

There on the platform were several college students, nicely dressed, I gathered, for a summer of interning. They looked altogether too serious.

I can't prove this, but I sense that, these days, more and more summer jobs are about resume-polishing than about doing something different and having fun.

My 16-year-old nephew in Oregon plans to take a college chemistry course. Some young people plan "community service" that will look good on college applications. And lots of college kids apparently want to work for companies that might hire them after graduation, as if the 40 or 50 years of serious work to come aren't enough.

Gee, I don't remember anyone doing that sort of thing when I was that age.

Who's behind this? High school guidance counselors? College admissions people? Corporate recruiters? Parents?

Or have I got it wrong?

I'd like to find out, and this is a case where readers must know more than I do. So I'd like to have another contest, as I've done from time to time.

I want to hear about your summer jobs: the best, the worst, the most lucrative, the stupidest, the hardest ...

As always, there will be no prize beyond the chance to share your account with everyone else. If there are too many good entries to fit this space, we'll put them on our Web site.

In addition to entertainment value, all entries should address the question: What, besides making money, should be the "point" of a summer job?

For me, it was about doing something outside my otherwise sheltered, upper-middle-class suburban life.

One summer, I drove around in a town-owned car taking Polaroid photos of houses for the tax assessor's office.

During one spring vacation, I was a dishwasher at a greasy spoon, where one of my tasks was to refill Heinz ketchup bottles with a cheaper brand.

And one of my summer-job periods stretched into a full year off from college.

First, I was a human mule dragging huge loads of Everready flashlight batteries through a factory in Sydney, Australia. Different from my ordinary life, it was.

The place was so noisy you couldn't talk - but you could sing at the top of your lungs with no one knowing. At lunch, the men sat on one side, the women on the other.

A friend of mine was the appearance tester. He watched batteries parade past all day, zapping flawed ones off the line with a jet of air. He kept a bottle of aspirin open by his elbow.

After a couple of months, I moved to my next job, six months of chasing cattle on horseback in the Australian outback. Branding, stringing barbed wire, greasing windmills, milking cows, shoeing horses. ... What a blast!

If I could, I'd do it today.

And that's the mark of a really good summer job.

Send an account of yours to this e-mail address - brownj@phillynews.com. All entries due by July 1.

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