What was your first summer job? - BlueStone Press
September 15, 2019
Our towns

What was your first summer job?

Story in 2 parts: Working Papers, the lessons of a first summer job


Like tiny fawns taking first steps, young people just about everywhere are wobbling this summer into their very first jobs. Who doesn’t remember that tingling feeling in your stomach on your very first day of work? Or that special thrill that came with your first dollar that didn’t come from hitting up parents?

Like most things in my life, I did a few things all together and all at once. My first jobs were concurrent: working at Emmanuel’s (where at 14, I felt completely entitled to make stocking suggestions to Emmanuel himself, and I’ll take this opportunity to point out that I was ahead of trend, suggesting perhaps some fancier cheese and truffle pate be offered) along with being chief shop girl at Linger on Second Street – where I’d meet the father (15 years later) of my kids. But my first job further afield, not under the watchful eye of parents and neighbors, and at the age of 17, was at a waterside restaurant up north from here. Wearing the restaurant’s humiliating T-shirt that proclaimed “Bite our tail! Catch our crabs!” I sliced more lemons, served more sailors and scrubbed more barstools then I care to count. On my final day, I bought a lobster and – with good intentions and poor understanding of the conditions needed for a lobster to survive – flung it into the Hudson River. I took off that waitress apron for good, and the lesson I took away was that fast cash is never not easy cash.

Yes, lessons abound from that first foray into the working world, and the BSP caught up with some readers to talk about their first jobs and the lessons they learned.


When in doubt, be the guy: Don Lafera, High Falls

My first job happened when I stopped by the Canal House to ask John [Novi, chef/owner of the former legendary four-star restaurant] if he wanted to sponsor me on a Cancer Society Bikeathon. I walked into the kitchen, and he said, "Oh, good – You’re here," and put me to work washing pots. I’m not sure who he was expecting, but I worked for a few weeks doing that. He did sponsor me, too, and I rode 100 miles that day.


Stand up, speak up: Amy Scheinert, longtime High Falls shop girl from Gardiner

Summer of 1986: A shy, introverted girl takes her first job at a tourist attraction, of all places. My first job, at age 16, was at Ice Caves Mountain in Cragsmoor. I worked in the gift shop located at the end of a long, rather isolated road. It was my job to sell tickets, tchotchkes and refreshments to tourists. Not only that, but I had to recite a “how to get to the caves” speech to each and every soul passing through. At the beginning of the summer, being so shy, I would trade off and offer to do all the menial tasks such as cleaning the bathroom or taking out the garbage, just to avoid speaking to the masses. Oh, how that summer changed me. By Labor Day, I was forced out of my shell. I have a vivid memory of a rather overwhelming holiday weekend, being slammed with tourists all asking the same questions. I remember, out of sheer frustration and quite possibly fear, climbing on a stool wearing an Indian skirt and fringe cowboy boots (good lord), with all eyes upon me, reciting that tired old “how to” speech. And that was the beginning of the rest of my life. Some of my favorite memories of Ice Caves were quiet, summer evenings after hours. Friends would meet me on the mountain after work. We would teeter on the ledge outside Sam’s Point and dip our toes in Lake Maratanza as the sun set.  

Come autumn, the crowds thinned out. I remember peaceful weekdays after school where I would lie on the stone wall, staring at the sky, listening to the haunting flute of R. Carlos Nakai. My time spent on the mountain fostered my love and respect for the Shawangunk Ridge. I am pleased to say, all these 32 years later, I live on the other side of the ridge in Gardiner. I spent four seasons on the mountain. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing


Label your Yorkie: Sharon Kennedy, Accord

My first job was as a kennel worker. I was 15 or 16. It was not glamorous at all. There were two parts to the kennel. The first part was dog boarding, and the second part was for their Yorkshire terrier show dog and breeding business. There were about 30 Yorkies, each with its own crate. My job was to clean these crates and take care of these precious dogs. Sometimes, the job included helping with the breeding part. Not fun at all! The crazy part was that all of these 30 Yorkies were put outside in their play area at the same time while their crates were cleaned. I had to memorize which dog went into what crate. They did not have names on their collars. Their names were just on their crates. Slightly scary because each Yorkie had special features and qualities that were used when it came time to show or breed. I remember thinking, “How the hell am I going to get all these dogs into their correct crates??!!”  To this day, I have no idea if Jingles was really Jingles and Bubbles was really Bubbles! 


Life is precious, live it: Nick Rafello, Kerhonkson

In 1977, I had turned 16 and was looking for a job, any job. I had friends I went to high school with, in Cupertino, California, who worked at a convalescent home. They said, "Hey, Nick, there's a part-time job opening up for a nurse’s aide. Come on and apply. It's an easy job, and we'll get to hang out."  So I did, and I got the job. All I could think was, "Wow, I'm getting paid $2.50 an hour, I'm going to be rich!" (I actually believed that!) On my first day, I learned I was responsible for one of four long hallways in the convalescent home. Each hallway consisted of six to eight rooms, and there were two people per room. I was responsible that the patients were bathed, dressed and ready for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. If they had dinner, it was then my job to make sure they were cleaned up afterward and then bring them to an area to watch some television. From there, I would have to help them get ready for bed. Now mind you, it's my first day and I'm trying to get a rhythm going. All of a sudden, a nurse’s aide that I didn't know, sucking on a tootsie pop, was looking for me and she was very anxious. "I'm so glad I found you," she said. "You must take care of Nellie now." “OK, who's Nellie?” I said. “Where is she?” The nurse’s aide replied, "Oh, she's next door. She just died. You have to take care of her now so her roommate doesn't see she's dead."

At this point I'm a deer in the headlights. You see, what my dear, sweet, high school friends forgot to tell me, with my NEW job, I was also responsible to prepare any and all deceased patients who died on my shift by moving the body onto a gurney and covering it with a sheet. Move Nellie's body onto a gurney? I was so nervous. OK, maybe a little scared and maybe of need of a change of underwear. I mean, why shouldn't I be freaked out? There was a dead person in front of me, my first dead person!

Anyway, I was then instructed to wheel her on the gurney into a private room. From there a nurse came in and helped me wipe Nellie’s body down and prepare her. Funny how life is, after a while, I wasn't scared anymore. I was looking at this small and delicate woman. I mean, I didn't know her, she didn't know me, but there I was, wiping her brow, her lips. Then I thought, "Was she a mom? A grandma? Was she a teacher or a scientist?" There we were, strangers in the night and not even a proper hello. All of a sudden, I felt like Nellie was in the room with me. As though she was whispering in my ear, "It's going to be all right, everything is fine."  

When the nurse and I left the room, I continued to help the other patients but I felt I need to go back and see Nellie. And that's exactly what I did. When I opened the door, there she was, with the moonlight cascading on her hair. She looked like she was sleeping, she was at peace. Nellie was right, everything was going to be all right. I will always be grateful for that night. For the little lady named Nellie, that I never got to say hello to. In her own way she taught me, even in death, life is precious, so live it.


Eleven-year-olds can do more than you think: Sarah Hoop, Esopus

It’s 1988; I am 11 years old. My mother is getting her New York state teaching certification at Manhattan College. She is a Shakespearean actress, a bit eccentric, as you can imagine, so when she makes friends with the Science Department and finds me a job cleaning snake cages, no one in my family is surprised. Not even me. She thinks it’s the best job because, as she explains, “No other kid in Brooklyn is doing this!” I think it’s utterly awful. And she calls it a job, but really I’m volunteering my time. Every week, I take a bus by myself to and from the laboratory and clean row upon row of Tupperware boxes filled with snakes. My job, my only job, is to slip on huge leather gloves that go up past my elbows, snap the top open, and clean snake droppings from each box. The smell is horrific. But I do it. Alone. Eleven years old. And they bite the glove almost every time I put my hand inside the boxes. It’s terrifying, and my mom is right, no other kid in Brooklyn is doing this. I could guarantee that; no other kid would. I look back now, still amazed at how she thought this was great, and how I survived it, but the truth is it paved my way in the world in so many ways, especially for my most recent job as a mother. I can say, with real life experience, that diapers have nothing on Tupperware snake boxes!


Have fun: Marcy Mongelluzzo, Stone Ridge

My first job was as a guard for Action Park in Vernon, New Jersey. It is now known as Mountain Creek. Action Park is widely known for the incredible number of injuries sustained there. It was nicknamed “world's most dangerous water park.” It was run my mostly teenagers and college kids. I have fond memories of that summer when I was 16, pushing inflatable tubes of adventurous people down the slides. I learned how to have fun and enjoy seeing others unwind. My favorite thing to do with m kids on vacation is to visit water parks!


You never know if you’re secretly in your future career: Lori Childers, BSP publisher

The summer before I started college I stayed with my aunt in White Plains, and somehow I convinced the manager at Gannet News to hire me in the pre-press room. I was just 18 and had to be there at 3 a.m. I was the only girl and the youngest person in the building by far, and every single person treated kindly and appropriately. At that time we took pictures of the page paste-ups with a giant camera, out came the film that was used to make the press plates behind us. It was my main job to paint out the paste-up lines on the film. There was a “stop the press” moment when a baseball game score was wrong on the front page; the sports editor came flying in and said, “Just paint it out!” Now I understand that kind of panic. It was hard to leave that job – editors were fond of telling me that’s how they started in the business. But onto college I went, never conscious I’d be in the business from that time on!


Take a leap: Patrick Leber, Tillson

My first summer job was assisting trapeze classes at the Center for Symbolic Studies in New Paltz. I helped teach new flyers how to manage the bar, learn the basic swing, and land safely. In exchange I got free lessons and the opportunity to fly every day. It was an unexpected joy to have access to a trapeze rig just down the road and to join a diverse and fun community of enthusiasts. It fulfilled a dream I didn't even know I had – to become a daring young man on the flying trapeze.


Taken all together, the advice holds. Be the guy when a guy is needed, remember to use your voice, keep track of the things that are precious to you, savor life, It’s never to early – or to late - to do something that scares you, have fun, invest in the moment and – when in doubt – take a leap. Happy summer, everyone.


Working Papers Part II: The lessons of a first summer job, continued


As discussed in the summer jobs story in the July 20 issue of the BlueStone Press, for time immemorial, summer has been a season where the energetic and clear-eyed youth of America start their journey into the working world. What has quickly become clear from reader response is that those first few jobs often offer lessons that become the bedrock of not just that first job but of every job that follows. Some combination of youth, inexperience and sudden autonomy results in a foundational experience that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.


Sometimes you’re focused on the wrong problems: Timothy Bruck Jr., Accord

One of my first jobs was teaching kids how to milk a cow at local farm. Many classes from nearby schools would come in, and it was my job to educate the children about dairy cows and demonstrate the hand-milking process. The job was simple and rewarding enough, though working with an unpredictable animal around a group of unpredictable children led to many surprising situations. In addition to local classes and individuals, we also had busloads of camps come from areas surrounding the city. Hundreds of kids, who solely spoke Yiddish, would unload from those buses. The group sizes were much larger than the average class, and with the excitement and language barrier, it made the stakes of these situations much higher. One day, the largest camp group I had ever worked with surrounded myself and the cow. The boys were abuzz with enthusiasm, and when it was time for them to each have a turn milking the cow, I could feel the group moving toward me closer and closer. I began to yell out to the counselors, who would translate to the boys via megaphone, but the commotion and crowding were escalating quicker than anyone could diffuse. I suddenly found myself pinned against the cow – who was also pinned against a fence – and worried about not only my safety but also the cow’s and the boys’ safety as well. Instantly, I was pushed to the ground by the force of the group, and I had to scurry my way through the hind legs of the cow to escape. Having been kicked by dairy cows before (who can weigh up to 1,300 pounds), I was trying my best to steer clear of her burly legs. Unfortunately, my focus should have been elsewhere, because by the time I had escaped from underneath her, I was mere inches away from her rear. When her tail began to raise, I knew my nice white clothes where about to be ruined. Though I became covered from chin to waist in a deluge of hot cow manure, it was fortunately enough of a startling mess to disperse the crowd and the possible danger, leaving me a clear path to the hose for a nice washdown. All in a day’s work at the farm.


Find co-workers with good music taste: Richmond Johnston, High Falls

My first job was really collecting glass bottles for refunds when I was a kid ... then mowing lawns ... But the first job I had to punch in was for Glidden Paint Company, mixing, filling and packing paint. I learned to curse there, and bought my first vehicle (Scout pickup) ... but the most interesting thing happened in August 1969 ...


A group of four of us who worked there (with longer hair than the majority of employees) decided to attend some summer rock fests. Two of us went to Atlantic City Pop Festival and two went to Woodstock two weeks later. We all know the history, but at the time we who went to Jersey figured we got the better deal because it was sunny the whole weekend. The acts were basically the same with a few exceptions, like they had Hendrix and we had Joni Mitchell and the Mothers of Invention. I’m still happy with my choice.


Don’t pad your resume: Nicole Hurstell, Brooklyn/Gardiner

After graduating with an art degree from a conservative university in the Midwest, I moved to NYC to pursue some version of a creative career. Which version, I didn’t really know because, as it turns out, my painting focus did not prepare me much for the real world. I was a waitress. I had an internship at an art gallery, but what I really wanted was to break into fashion.

I answered an ad on Craigslist: “Must be knowledgeable of pattern making.” I sat in the one-woman Alphabet City design studio that cranked out frilly Betsy Johnson-esque frocks, a beautiful black poodle named Pepper curled up at the designer’s feet, and lied. I had experience, I said. How hard can it be? Turns out, it was very hard. On the first day, while I fumbled with pattern chalk and clumsily hacked expensive fabrics with pattern cutting scissors, it quickly became apparent to the woman who hired me that I was not qualified. 

Listen, go get yourself some lunch. You can eat in the courtyard. Then afterwards, we can find some work so I can pay you for the day. Oh, just make sure, under no circumstances, do NOT give Pepper any people food. She has a very sensitive stomach.”

I went out and bought a burrito, then sat in the courtyard to eat, forlorn. With the first bite, all the burrito’s contents flopped out the poorly rolled end. I watched in horror as Pepper scrambled over to the spill and began gobbling up all the delicious forbidden human food. 

Pepper, NOOOOO!” I screamed, which caused the designer to come running. She arrived to find me on my hands and knees pulling shredded chicken and lettuce out of her precious dog’s mouth. Apologizing profusely. I was told to leave and I did. I'd like to say that I haven't exaggerated my skills on a resume since this debacle, but that would be a lie.


There’s nothing like $3 an hour to motivate the youth: Rich Parete, Marbletown

My first job was working with my brother John at the house of a neighbor who had chickens, pigs, rabbits and a horse. I was 13 years old and only worked Saturdays.  We would build and repair fences, clean the chicken and rabbit coop, collect eggs and feed the animals. Once in a while we’d slaughter chickens or a pig. Mr. D. (because I couldn’t pronounce his last name) had an old Willys Jeep, and we’d cut dead trees and pull them out of the woods. He’d cut the trees up, and we’d split them by hand. Mr. D bought us lunch at Nibble Nook every Saturday. We were paid $3 an hour, and we’d go home exhausted. We definitely learned what hard work was.


Boys change everything: Kathleen Miller, High Falls

When I was 18, fresh out of Catholic High School, I got the coveted job of camp counselor at Father Kane’s summer camp, just outside of Youngstown, Ohio. I was so excited to get picked! This was the time period that they were building Route 80, and every night we’d sneak out and walk along the middle of half-built road and smoke. I was the only girl not committed to enter the convent in September. I’d never even considered it. But after spending the summer with these future nuns it somehow seemed glamorous. You wore a habit, you lived a devotional life, I could see it all. I was going to join up come January and become a novice, and in just two short years I would become The Bride of Christ. The other girls all went in as planned, but between kissing my future sisters goodbye and joining up, I discovered boys. And the world changed.


Family really is the best source materiel: Doug Motel, Rosendale

My first job was working for my dad, who is a tennis pro. My exalted position as “ball boy” at the public tennis courts in Ocean City, New Jersey, consisted of running wildly around the court, dodging fuzzy, yellow missiles as my father's students tried to master the skill of the sport. The days were hot, long and treacherous (depending on the student's talents), but after-work hours included rides on the boardwalk amusements, saltwater taffy and a cornucopia of interesting characters that I later included in my work as a comedy writer and actor


You can always bet on ice cream: Mary Collins, High Falls

My first summer job was in an ice cream parlor in my town of Warwick. It was in the middle of town, a very old-fashioned store with two halves, one side an ice cream soda fountain with little round tables and chairs, no more than five tables with a soda fountain on the side. The other half was a candy store, with the office in the back. I found out later that the owner was a bookie because I didn’t understand that the men going in and out were placing their bets, totally illegal. I loved the store because I could make myself an ice cream sundae, with all the toppings and nuts from the candy store to top it all off. I saw everyone in town who came in for ice cream, and I felt so grown up at 13 because I took care of everything myself. Things were very different then. Warwick is still a wonderful village, and I have family still there.


Diligent work is rewarded: Alison Quin, Stone Ridge

One of my early summer jobs was with Manpower, a temp agency with an office near my home in Virginia. I had various jobs through Manpower, including being a mystery shopper at gas stations, rating cleanliness and service; putting discount stickers on bags of dog food in grocery stores as part of a promotion; and inspecting liquor stores to see how far conversion to metric measurement had progressed.  At the end of the summer, my boss paid me to take her three kids to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.  That was fun.


Jobs come and go, but memories are forever: Neal Campbell, Tillson/New Paltz border

I ran into my first boss on Saturday! I started working full time at 14. My brother got me the job, and I worked with him on a landscaping crew that summer. I worked like 60 hours a week for a really demanding guy; that this is really where I learned my work ethic for the rest of my life. When it hit the end of the summer I asked him if I could have off for Woodstock ’94. He said, “No. If you go, you’re definitely fired. But that being said, if it was me, I’d do it. You can always get another job for some other a**hole, but this is something you never get another shot at.”

Being on the other side now, as a parent who will someday be watching my kids getting their working papers, I have such gratitude for the patient adults who taught me not just how to work, but also how to be in the world. What luck to find a responsible grown-up to help shoulder the task of ushering young people into the world as responsible citizens! Yes, there will be mishaps, and perhaps they will take off to go to that concert, but I can promise one thing: Give a kid their first job and they will never forget you.


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