In fact, don't you kind of feel sorry for rich kids who never had a summer job? And had to go away to camp or the shore?
Summer jobs are a rite of passage and here in New York the passage began with having to get working papers until you were 16. They issued working papers at Specialty Trades High School, which was right out of Dickens, a dark, satanic mill where kids went who didn't have the grades for a real high school and had to learn trades.
The irony being, of course, that kids who graduated from Specialty Trades and ended working as electricians or plumbers turned out richer than 90% of the graduates of anyplace else.
Cousin Mae got me my first summer job as an office boy for Mudge, Stern, Williams & Tucker in downtown Manhattan, the great law firm which was later the firm of those rascals John Mitchell and President Nixon himself! I was 14 years old. Cousin Mae was very important at the firm though not quite a partner; she ran the switchboard. I worked there at Mudge, Stern for three summers, the last two years as a file clerk, and had a grand old time exercising my newfound typing skills, attempting to write my first book on Mudge, Stern time.
I think I got halfway through chapter one.
Then I got an afterschool job in the research laboratories of the National Lead Company over in Brooklyn just adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge. At that point in life I was considering a Nobel Prize-career in chemistry and thought this would be a good way to combine earning a few bucks and learning the craft. It went so well that I didn't go back to Mudge, Stern for a fourth summer (there went my admission to Harvard Law and eventually the Supreme Court nomination!) but stayed at the National Lead Company.
They were the people who made Dutch Boy paint. I worked for two wonderful guys who had doctorates in chemistry, Blair Yetman and Bill von Weisenstein. They puttered about testing lead and I washed the test tubes and stuff. They used to treat me to lunch once a week and there was also an ice cream factory nearby and afternoons when it was hot Bill and Blair would send me for a quart wholesale and we'd sit around the lab eating ice cream and planning my career.
In between Dr. von Weisenstein would tell mildly dirty jokes and Dr. Yetman would chase him around the laboratory so he could catch and tickle him. I thought chemistry was a marvelous business and if I didn't find math so tough, I might have invented spray deodorant or something. So go the naive but optimistic thought processes of adolescent boys.
The following summer, my first in college, I attempted to get a job deckhanding aboard the Breezy Point ferry but Jackie Farrell, who was twice my size and three times as strong, got it instead. I spent much of that summer hoping for shipwrecks and other maritime disasters to befall Jackie and the Breezy Point ferry. So I settled for an office boy's job at Scandinavian Airlines in their HQ office on Park Avenue where I reported to a mean old dame but there were lots of jolly blonds also working there so it was OK. I had to lie to get the job, telling them I had dropped out of college for lack of funds and wasn't just a summer replacement. Then in September I resigned, lying again, claiming that a distant uncle had died and left me tuition money.
I have never since flown SAS without wondering if some official isn't going to have me arrested for perjury.
A parttime copyboy's job opened at the Daily News halfway through my sophomore year and I jumped at it. It wasn't truly big bucks but I saw it as a door opener to my career as Ernie Pyle. Or Run-yon. Or Grantland Rice. It was great fun. I worked the 4 p.m.-to-midnight trick and most nights was sent to buy a small bottle of rye for Mr. Davis, who was the foreign editor. He was great and had been to Moscow even. Mr. Owen, whose specialty was covering penitentiaries, used to dazzle the copyboys by acting out executions he had witnessed and explaining how the hangman's knot had to be precisely placed under the ear to snap the neck.
The right ear would do, he conceded, but tradition called for the left.
I left there halfway through the summer to go in the Marines on a college program for officer candidates. Then for two summers I worked unloading trucks, first in Secaucus for the Denver Chicago Trucking Co., and later at the St. John's Freight Terminal on the west side of Manhattan. There the boss was Jimmy Kane, a crony of my father. Mr. Kane was a fat, white-haired gent who wore proper trousers and an old fashioned undershirt and after he went to the bathroom, he would tug his boxer shorts up high so that they rode above his trousers by about six inches. I had never seen anything like this before and he may indeed have inspired Calvin Klein and Marky Mark and that bunch to wear their underwear outside.
I believe Mr. Kane is dead by now or I would ask him.
There were whores who sold themselves to truckers and plied their sensuous trade inside empty tractor-trailers, but I stayed away from them, and in other ways that was a swell job, paying 90 bucks a week with overtime, and I considered that at last, my fortune was made. There were four of us on the loading platform and I got along OK except that once in a while one of the guys would grouse about a heavy job and Mr. Kane would bark at him, "You got four men working the job, for Gawd's sake!" and one of the others, staring at me, might grumble, "31/2."
I never held that against anyone but kept my mouth shut and worked harder. Then a pipe we were using to lever a crate slipped and smashed my right big toe and I lost my job. I don't believe anyone had yet heard of workman's compensation.
When I graduated from college I got a job writing ads for Macy's and went in the Marines and was no longer a boy, innocent in my summer dreams.