Part of the rite of passage of growing up in America is working a summer job. It doesn’t matter where you work, as long as it keeps you busy and gives you interesting things to talk about.
One summer I worked at a local resort. It was a modest place, a typical urban getaway, nestled along the Ohio turnpike. The owner used the money he earned as a barber to buy the land, and there he built his American dream.
The park featured a campground, a small lake, and two reception halls. The camping area had accommodations for over 70 trailers, most of which stayed put throughout the year. One of my duties was cutting the grass that grew under and around those boxy metal homes.
Officially, I was on the maintenance crew, which consisted of a few highschool boys, the owner, and a foreman. The boys were the core of the group and stayed together the better part of three summers. Besides taking care of the campground, we maintained the lake as well as the halls. During the summer, the halls were constantly booked for weddings, proms, and luncheons, and it was our job to get them ready. Mostly, though, we cut grass.
Cutting around the trailers was the toughest part, and always an adventure. Not only were we exposed to hostile encounters with dogs and intoxicated campers, we also had to contend with such hidden dangers as electrical cords, sewage hoses, beer bottles, and pop cans. Few of us made it through those years without going to the emergency room at least once.
Ironically, the only friction we ever had with the owner was over a matter related to mowing trailer lots. It was sparked by the owner’s son-in-law, who came in as foreman when the old one – a hard-working guy in his late twenties – left to sell insurance.
The owner and his son-in-law weren’t exactly chummy. Their lives collided the previous year when the latter showed up at the park with a college acting troupe to perform in one of the halls. Apparently, there was too much time between shows because months later the would-be actor was reciting lines at the altar with the owner’s expectant daughter.
Hiring an actor as maintenance foreman was the owner’s first mistake. His second was letting the newlyweds live in a house on park grounds. When our new foreman wasn’t running over hoses with his mower or trying to fish tools out of septic tanks, he was at home “checking on the baby.” The work was getting done, however, and no one seemed to mind.
But the son-in-law couldn’t leave well enough alone. After several accidental hose and cord cuttings, he announced that the next person who chopped something up with a mower would have to pay for it out of his own money. Over the next few weeks, the accidents all but stopped, but we fell behind our cutting schedule. Now no one was happy.
Perhaps to deflect the heat, the sonin- law convinced the owner to change the compensation package to force the boys to cut faster. He came up with a flat fee of a dollar per lot. For every other task, we would still be paid at the regular rate of $1.65/hr.
Two of us were told to cut the morning the new pay structure went into effect. Within hours we could see we weren’t going to get rich this way. The grass was deep and wet, and we were on the largest lots. I think we did about ten between us that day.
By the end of the next day we’d worked our way to the smaller lots, and since I had nothing else to do, I kept mowing until dark. The following evening I did the same. That week, I made over $100, nearly twice the normal amount. The foreman had seen enough and put us back on straight pay.
I think the owner was embarrassed by it all, and in a way, I felt bad for him. Bit by bit, his American dream was unraveling. His daughter and son-in-law soon split up, and before the divorce, she was shacking up with some goon. The ex son-in-law stayed on at the park for awhile, so he could be by his kids and get free haircuts I suppose.
What’s all this mean? Nothing, really. It’s just something that happened on a summer job.