Summertime means minimum wage misery, hilarity

Dan Treadway

Growing up, summertime always meant swimming pools, sleep-away camp and girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch. But as I got older, my parents’ attitude about my favorite time of year shifted from “go out and play” to “go out and get a damn job.”

And I did.

For the most part, they were horrible.

While some provided me with a helpful blip on my resume, most of my summer jobs gave me nothing more than sunburns and a few funny stories.

Since you’ve already made it this far, I suppose I’ll share a couple of these stories with you.

The summer of my sophomore year I interned at a media organization I believe I’m contractually obligated not to name. They may or may not be last in ratings in their respective nightly time slot. I worked upward of 40 hours a week for $10 a day. Interestingly, it wasn’t this that made me feel like a peasant — it was how I was treated by my boss. I was yelled at, shooed away, and I don’t recall one point during the summer of her looking me in the eye while giving me orders. One day she summoned me to her office and when I entered, she handed me a dollar bill and told me to go to a parking garage and find a guy named Mark, who would have something for me. Before I could ask her any questions she shut the door to her office, insisting she was busy. I assumed that I was either picking up important footage or otherwise involved in a very low stakes drug deal.

After finding the right parking garage (there were at least four at the intersection she told me to go to), and finding the right Mark (there were at least three that worked at the parking garage), I was presented with a plastic sack. I now understood what the dollar bill was for and handed it to Mark as a tip. I open the plastic bag to discover that I had not been sent out that morning to retrieve important footage or crack cocaine, but rather my boss’s lunch. I promptly closed my eyes and bowed my head in disappointment and thought to myself, “This lady better write me a damn good letter of recommendation.” (Her secretary wrote it for her.)

While this experience was slightly humiliating, I at least got practical work experience from it. This could not be said of another summer job I had during college as a bounce house operator for children’s birthday parties. While the job itself is not listed on my resume, I learned more about life, love and the American Dream during that long summer of hauling bouncey castles around town than I did from just about all my other college experiences combined. The job basically required me to go to houses, explain to drunk parents why their children shouldn’t be in the bounce house during lightning storms and make balloon animals (which admittedly gave me great satisfaction), all while dressed up like a wizard. In exchange for my dignity, I got covered in dirt, but not tips.

I’ll never forget working at one birthday party for a 9-year-old. I was set up outside the bounce house — making sure only six kids entered at a time, that they were all close in age and that they didn’t try to kill each other too graphically inside the contraption — and taking requests to create accurate depictions of Joe Jonas out of elongated balloons. A strong candidate for Mother of the Year walked up to the bounce house and placed her roughly 2-year-old child inside while I was talking to another parent. I told her that she needed to remove the child because there were multiple kids currently engaged in a Civil War re-enactment inside, and it was dangerous for a young child that could barely walk to be in a bounce house with older kids. She waved me away and insisted that the child would be fine, probably assuming that she could always just procreate again. The company I worked for had strict rules about not touching the kids at the parties, so I did my best to try to call the child to the entrance of the bounce castle as other kids flew all around him. The child looked at me quizzically, and in a moment I will never forget for as long as I live, he reached in his diaper and pulled out a hot dog … and then began to eat it. For safety, but more so for sanitary reasons, this was not a good thing. The kid began going to town on the hot dog while walking toward me, and then he stopped and sure enough, he regurgitated the hot dog all over the bounce house. It was at this point he began crying. I removed him from the castle, and the drunken parental onlookers had a mighty chuckle.

I did not receive a tip.

These are a couple of my better summer job experiences, and I encourage you to share any summer job stories that you may have in the comments section of this column.

Treadway is a UT alumnus.