Everything is stupid, and so are we. Welcome to Jezebel’s Stupidest Summer Ever, a season-long celebration of our worst, most idiotic thoughts and opinions.
Bad summer jobs are a rite of passage and we’ve had a lot of them. From retail to regional theater, tutoring to food service, office work, and more, we’ve endurned creepy bosses, low pay, and terrible customers. Join us on this inspiring journey where we revisit first or worst summer jobs.
My first summer job was selling popsicles for a fancy popsicle store the summer I lived in West Philly and worked as an unpaid intern at a local alt-weekly. The popsicle store owner needed someone to show up at the store before nine a.m. on Saturdays and Tuesdays, load up the popsicle cart, wheel the cart out of the store and into a van, drive to the farmer’s market, park the car, unload the cheerful, yellow cart from which I’d be slinging popsicles all morning and into the afternoon, set up shop, and then hours later, repeat this process in reverse. Each and every one of these tasks vexed me, physically and often emotionally; it wasn’t until my third week on the job that I could successfully load the popsicle cart into the van (this involved a steep metal ramp I would also set up and take down) by myself. (Men frequently stopped in the street and asked if I needed help and when I said no, they helped anyway.)
I was not a very good salesperson, on top of all this, although you don’t need to be great at up-selling customers to get them to buy icy treats in multiples in the Philly summer heat. On the whole, I enjoyed it! I was paid in cash if I remember correctly, and traded popsicles for fresh vegetables at the end of my shift. In one summer, I conquered my fear of driving vans carrying precious cargo and visibly sweating in front of others with no escape. It was solid and the money was good. I would recommend this job to literally anyone, so long as you are curious about discovering the depths of your physical strength and social graces in hot, humid weather.
For about three summers in a row, I worked at the Rhinebeck Center for the Performing Arts with two of my best friends as the ticket person, the concessions stand proprietor, and literally whatever else needed to be done. Looking back, it is insane that they let two to three 15-year-old idiots answer the phones, handle the money, and man the hot dogs for three whole months.
It was a great job because we ate ice cream for every meal and got to hang out with each other for hours at a time while making not that much money. On the night Princess Diana got into her tragic accident, some CNN producer gamely enjoying a regional theatre’s production of Hello Dolly! came rushing into the office because he needed to use the phone; someone had paged him about this breaking news and he needed to call New York at once. Also, one year our “boss” drove us all to the city for an overnight trip, during which we slept on the floor of his friend’s photography studio in Chelsea, under a large photograph of a well-oiled man dressed in nothing more than a Speedo.
I had two main summer jobs throughout high school. The first was working at the Pasadena Humane Society, a place that, nowadays, is best known for housing Chubbs the Cat before he got adopted. I worked with the dogs, mostly pitbulls, helping to leash-train them and take them on walks once or twice a day. Sometimes I’d be tasked with sitting in the kennels with the shyer, more skittish dogs and getting them used to humans; there was a very large Rottweiler I worked with named Carl who went from hiding in the corner to sitting in my lap as I read him stories.
The other job I worked was doing various odd tasks for a summer concert series in the park. One of these involved working the very old, very dangerous lighting rig for a bandshell, something a fifteen-year-old probably should’ve never been tasked with doing. But hey, I got to listen to so much Irish folk and salsa in the process, and I only got mildly singed by the lights once or twice!
My first summer job, and by far the most teen-soap worthy, was a two-month stint as a hostess at the American-German playhouse (excuse me, playhaus) on the military base in Hanau, Germany where I went to middle school. I fibbed about my age and was given the coveted position of seating dorks for a lackluster performance of The King & I (somehow, every season, it was always the King & I).
The only reason I fought for the gig in the first place was because the tiny theater had a live band, and I had an earth-shattering crush on the bassist, a dude literally named Crosh. He had two lip rings, dyed-black hair that covered most of his face, spoke very little English and we were going to get married. I made virtually no money, but Crosh and I did almost hold hands that one time. I also found out, years later, that whoever owned the property ended up leveling it because the building was positioned dangerously close to an abandoned hospital.
My summer job, which was my all year job in high school, was stocking shelves and occasionally working the register at the pharmacy in my neighborhood. But my real job, as I saw it, was spending as much unsupervised time in the store’s basement as possible, where I could make out with my coworker, who was six years older than I was and definitely still lived with his parents, and smoke weed, which I exhaled through a paper towel roll stuffed with dryer sheets. It was the best job I ever had.
In high school, I volunteered as a tutor with a program called Summerbridge, where I helped local middle school students finish their homework and study for quizzes—usually reading and math—throughout the school year. Though I have detested teenagers ever since I was one, I found the experience so enthralling that I wrote about my lessons and interactions in my journal at 16 (I was a very wholesome child).
I must not have been completely horrible, because as a graduating high school senior, I was offered my first summer job as a teacher at the summer program alongside other college and masters students. I requested to teach English, my favorite subject, but was instead assigned science, one of my least favorites. I chose to teach Chemistry because explosions are cool and of all the sciences, it is the one I am least bad at. I also taught art. If I recall correctly, I got paid about $1,000 for six weeks of teaching 7th and 8th graders, one of whom requested my autograph because he was convinced I would one day be famous. I had many enlightened realizations that summer: I don’t like writing lesson plans, teachers don’t actually cease to exist when they leave school, and kids always know what’s up.
I did data entry at an office supplies company based in beautiful Worcester, Massachusetts, for $10 an hour—mostly school orders, if I remember correctly. I also spent a lot of time reorganizing the kitchen, moving things around and stacking things on top of other things for the sake of filling time. I had a crush on every salesman. None of them asked me out. After a couple of days working there, my supervisor pulled me aside and respectfully asked that I stop wearing cutoffs to work as they were not appropriate office attire. She was correct. They were not.
The summer of my senior year of high school I worked at a gift shop. We sold greeting cards, decorative soap, miniature books of aspiring aphorisms, and quirky novelty items, including these creepy battery-operated fake cats whose stomachs would steadily rise and fall as though they were breathing.
We also had a selection of run-of-the-mill stuffed animals, which drew regular visits from a middle-aged woman with concerns about the prevalence of “stuffy abuse.” She felt that Beanie Babies and such had souls and were mistreated by their neglectful owners. But every time I heard the phrase “stuffy abuse,” I thought about the boy in grade school who was rumored to have cut a hole in a stuffed animal so that he could fuck it.
Cool summer, filled with lots of character-deepening thoughts.
My first summer job was also my first paid job, working at a children’s summer school (daycare?) when I was 14. It was part of a summer youth employment program in New York that I signed up for to make money and, alas, I did not choose to work there. It was the job assigned to me. So you could say the kids chose me. I remember helping out with kids who were around five and six years old, I think, and sometimes with toddlers, and I remember preferring the older kids. There was one girl who enjoyed my company and talked to me all the time, which I found sweet.
It made me feel like kids were not so bad to be around, and it also helped that I was able to use the money to go to the mall and buy things.
One summer after my junior year in high school, I was a minimum wage employee at Marshall’s, which I’m pretty sure I picked because I’d been enjoying shoplifting from the store for several years (sorry Marshall’s). I don’t remember much about the job beyond endlessly having to rearrange the bras that people refused to put back properly on the hangers (please put bras back correctly on hangers people!!!), but I do remember the store manager leering at me one day and calling me “jailbait.” I was 16. Fun times.
“Don’t let them start drinking before midday,” my manager had said, referring to the 40 or so backpackers staying at the Melbourne hostel that was my 2014 summer job. I had offered to work the solo Christmas Day shift in order to get away from my family, and I alone was in charge of organizing the hostel’s free Christmas lunch of beers and sausages. Working at the hostel often felt more like babysitting—if babysitting involved supervising a horde of constantly drunk, mostly British backpackers—and I had seen how out of hand they could get. But it was Christmas! And it was hot! They were thirsty! How bad could things get?
I guess it was kind of funny when one of the rowdy, shirtless British lads decided to put flour through his beard in order to be Santa, getting white powder all over himself and the driveway in the process. But it wasn’t until he drunkenly pissed in his cap and placed it the head of a fellow guest that I truly realized my folly. The piss formed lumps with flour, and the girl’s drunk friends, justifiably furious, chased drunk Santa onto the roof of the two-story hostel, from which I then spent an hour trying to coax him down, phone in hand so I could call an ambulance if/when he fell. This was the hardest $17.50/hour I ever made.
The summer after my sixteenth birthday my parents told me I had to get a part-time job to “save for college.” So, like every good basic, I went to the nearest suburban mall—a place that’s now so broken and abandoned it could have been the set for that scene in Gone Girl—and landed a job at the Limited Too, the now-defunct clothing store for adolescent girls. I worked there on and off for the next three years. That first summer, I answered the phone by saying “Summer is fun at Limited Too.” When back-to-school rolled around, the phone script changed to “Back to school is cool at Limited Too.” The in-store soundtrack, perfectly calibrated to entertain both adolescent girls and their mothers, alternated between songs like The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and Hanson’s “MMMbop”—two songs that are now spiritually joined in my mind.
I’m not sure how much I saved for college because I spent most of my salary buying “going out” clothes at the Express down the hall, where I got an employee discount. They were all wildly inappropriate—the kind of clothes you have to hide from parents—and only fashionable during a fleeting moment in late 90s suburban Miami. But I did learn a lot of valuable lessons including, quickly recognizing a brewing mother-daughter fight over clothes, the weight that a neon inflatable couch could sustain, and the cruel reality of scrubbing body glitter out of a carpet. I also learned that a surprising number of parents were happy to buy their pre-teen daughters push-up bras, which the store sold for at least two seasons.