Your summer dream (job)

Unless you’re a stone-cold academic, it’s about that time in the school year; you’ve been stuck inside for a month, midterms are either here or around the corner, and the polish of a new school year has begun to tarnish slightly. If you’re anything like me, this is the time of year you start looking toward summer — and with that, the “summer job.”

Summer jobs are a funny lot. They are almost always temporary and almost entirely consequence free; you’re only goal is to make enough money to make it through the summer and have some cash for tuition and books left over at the end. The real trick — at least in my opinion — is to do the least (or most fun) work for the most money; I was never a very good judge of what jobs would provide this ideal ratio however.

As a result of my poor judgment, I’ve had a lot of awful summer jobs; what follows are my top (or bottom) three.

  1. What, you don’t like coke?
    What could be better than a job at the hip new restaurant on one of Winnipeg’s hippest streets? As it turns out, disposing of medical waste would have bested it . . . also “attack-dog target” would have scored higher.

I should have known something was up when the owner played Nickleback’s Silver Side Up album on repeat, endlessly, but it was difficult to notice being stuck in the dish pit.

My job was to scrub each and every dish that went though that place, and it was a disgusting affair; to this day I can’t stand the smell of Caesar salad dressing. Furthermore, not only were the dishes caked with discarded food, but the servers thought dumping ashtrays into the dish-bins was a fine idea.

I still have nightmares about sinks filled with greasy water, bits of food and discarded butts — but that wasn’t the worst part.

The worst part was the fact that it seemed like the whole staff was comprised of cokeheads.

When a server would come in after a particularly wild night, the advice wasn’t “maybe you should give up coke,” but “maybe don’t do so much at once.” As a 19-year-old I was flabbergasted.

After a month of loyal service — and looking the other way — the owner told me that his nephew had asked him for a job. His idea was that the nephew and I would compete in a dish-wash-off and the winner would get the job. I handed him my apron and walked away.

  1. North is up, right?
    The next year I got job as a backcountry guide in the mountains. I was excited to use my outdoors skills, but when I showed up for my first day of work I learned that these “mountain folk” didn’t think much of us “prairie boys.”

Despite my extensive whitewater and backcountry experience — the reason I thought I was hired — I was teamed up with the resident “expert” in all things.
No matter what the situation or his level of experience, Mr. K, as we’ll call him, took charge. It often felt as if I were another client, rather than his co-worker.

I put up with Mr. K’s “expertise” with a smile until one day when it became clear he couldn’t read a map or take a bearing. Until then he had apparently been navigating on memory, which had been working out since we were on well-traveled routes, but the final leg of our journey took us through a new part of the park, which had been previously closed to heal after a forest fire.

Mr. K had led us into a dead end, and from his frantic turning of the map and blank stares at the compass it was clear to me — and the clients — that he had no idea what he was doing.

To help him save face, he and I went a few meters up the trail, took a proper bearing and got back on track.

When we returned to basecamp a few days later I was rewarded with reprimand by the camp boss for embarrassing Mr. K in front of clients.

  1. Would you like some E. coli with your labour?
    Tree-planting is touted as perhaps the fastest way to make a small fortune for the student, and indeed it can pay huge sums for a few months labour. However, you should be very careful before signing on with a company.

I was not careful, and so found myself in a cold and wet land, geographically equidistant between Lake Superior and James Bay.

The ground had not thawed, but we were expected to plant; the camp cook gave us a stomach bug, but we were expected to plant; there were more biting insects in one square kilometer than there are people on the planet, but we were expected to plant.

After three months of some of the harshest conditions and most difficult work I had ever experienced, I was handed a cheque for the princely sum of $1,500 and given a handshake. I could have made more working at McDonalds.

So, instead of day dreaming of June 2012, put that nose back in your books. If you study hard enough you might be able to land that sweetest of summer jobs: the revered and much sought-after “research assistant.”