Memorable Summer Jobs

Throughout the summer, we'll be hearing from people about the summer job that influenced them the most. Melissa Block and Robert Siegel read from a few of the couple of hundred e-mails our listeners have sent in, and Block talks with writer Paul Dickson, who recounts his days working as an assembly line stocker at the Otis elevator factory in Yonkers, N.Y.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Last week, we asked you to tell us about your memorable summer jobs, and wow, you did not disappoint us.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

No, we received hundreds of emails, and they're still coming in.

BLOCK: We have stories detailing plum-picking, mango-picking truly itchy business, by the way apricot-cutting.

SIEGEL: We heard from not one but two former vacuum cleaner salesmen, and we learned about unique summer jobs like sewer smoking.

BLOCK: Sewer smoking?

SIEGEL: Evidently using smoke to find leaks in city sewers is sewer smoking.

BLOCK: Aha, okay. Well, here's a story that is the stuff of anxiety dreams. Nancy Overman(ph) of Vienna, Virginia, writes about her first summer job at the age of 14. Hurricane Agnes hit my hometown of Painted Post, New York, on the last day of school in 1972. Our school had been inundated, and I was hired to help clean it up.

Nancy tells of dragging waterlogged desks and chairs into the sun and of working through piles and piles of combination locks. My job, Nancy explains: to sort through the wet and muddy tags to find the tags with partially readable numbers and then try every missing number to find the working combination. She says she figured out about half of them.

SIEGEL: Well, here's a story from Tom Pensabenay(ph) of Omaha, who worked as an electrician's helper in New York City in 1971. Tom writes this: First summer assignment was at the McGraw-Hill Building. As the building was going up, welders cut holes in the floor every eight to 10 inches for wires that would be pulled later. My job all summer was to put rubber protectors on the ducts, or as I told friend, I put rubbers on ducks all summer.

Tom says: I started around the eighth floor and worked up to the 47th. I was so glad when summer ended. Next summer, I get assigned back to McGraw-Hill, and by then all the wiring was pulled. My job was to put the covers over the same ducts, payback, I figure, for a truly bad pun.

BLOCK: Oh, my. A few months ago, I asked author Paul Dickson to tell me about the summer job that influenced him the most, and it turns out in the late 1950s, on break from classes at Wesleyan, he had a factory job at the Otis Elevator Company.

Mr. PAUL DICKSON (Writer): And every time when I would go back to school, a professor would say: Where did you work last summer? And I said: Otis Elevator. And they'd say, with this horrible professorial laugh ha, ha, ha, I'll bet that had its ups and downs. And I had to suffer that for three years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKSON: And those were the days before internships, and then you really god jobs.

BLOCK: And what were you doing?

Mr. DICKSON: I was doing different things. I was an assembly line stocker, which was an amazing job.

BLOCK: Hard work?

Mr. DICKSON: Oh yeah. I mean, assembly line stocking, you're running around getting parts, and they a person would call out a number, and you didn't know if they were going to call out for a box of screws or a side panel. And if you didn't move fast enough, the assembly line would stop, and you would be like a demon for the whole place. I mean, everybody had to stop and, you know a lot of people were being paid on sort of a productivity level, and the foremen were and everything, so...

BLOCK: It's that college kid.

Mr. DICKSON: Yeah, yeah. It was real work, and I loved it. I just feel that today, kids don't have the opportunity to actually know what blue-collar, demanding, piecework kind of jobs are like. It's made me different. It made me less of an elitist.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Writer Paul Dickson, talking about the summer job that had the most influence on him, stocking the assembly like at the Otis Elevator plant in Yonkers, New York.

SIEGEL: Send us your stories about the summer job that had a big influence on you at npr.org. Click on contact us, and make sure summer job is in your subject line.

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