Summer Jobs: The Stuff Of Legends And Humiliations


Ah summer jobs: it’s the subject of dozens of teen romances and bawdy movies. Or, you know, petty humiliation.

Today, NPR’s “All Things Considered” has a segment on memorable teen summer job stories – because, it seems, everyone has one. What is it about the school summer job that makes it different from any other employment, those years between “summer vacation” and just doing your job, during the summer? Part of it is that many of the jobs themselves are so weird: temporary gigs catering to summer visitors and tourists, or out-of-time locales like camps and hotels. Often, there are no “real” employees on the scene and it’s a sort of pseudo-adult universe without normal expectations. By definition, it’s places that are willing to take a chance on an unskilled teenager with no incentive to stay beyond September. But whatever the reason, these tend to be the jobs where you meet some of the oddest coworkers and come away with the best stories. I still remember the fellow summer resort waitress who told me, “I have a lot to teach you about life. When I was 17, I traveled around the country with a 48-year-old midget mystic. We were lovers. He taught me more about life, fear, and my body than anyone has since. I will teach you.” (I know that’s verbatim because I ran into the bathroom to write it down and recently unearthed the notebook.) I didn’t take her up on it.

A quick survey of friends and coworkers unearthed a list of “best jobs” – bookstores, reenactments, sleepaway camps, lifeguarding, Target. And then there were the bad ones. These included working at a boardwalk fish and chips kiosk, making crepes in a beret, selling CutCo knives, shilling for Greenpeace and other clipboard-wielding affiliates, clothes-sorting for the SalvA, and taffy-making. (Renaissance Faires, babysitting, dog-walking and candle-making received mixed reviews.)

The weird thing is, most people go on to have much harder, worse, more menial jobs as adults, and the stakes are much higher. But it’s those summer ones that make for the stories – maybe because they’re often the first, or because they’re commingled with unprecedented freedom or because, unlike real jobs, they end.

Let’s hear your best and worst tales, if only so we might all feel better about indignities suffered.

Memorable Summer Jobs [NPR]

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