In movies, a summer job is this magical experience that brings you memories, laughter, epiphanies, and opportunities to lose your virginity to boys with the cleanest hair you've ever seen. In real life they're soul-crushing reminders that you are a bag of meat born into this world to serve people with wealthier parents than you. And when you're stuck behind a grill/sneeze guard/counter, it's easy to feel like the whole world is slamming Cornettos and pashing those clean, clean haired boys except for you. Fuck summer jobs.
With summer tantalisingly close, and people vulnerable to falling into the trap of idealising the season, we're revisiting the strange, cruel, but always eye-opening world of summer jobs.
I was 18, in New Zealand, and unsure of what to do after school so I took the first job offered to me. This is how I came to be a receptionist at an animal breeding services company. While most of my tasks were pretty standard, I did regularly have to take messages down to the piggery where the more senior members of staff would be wanking prime pigs for their sperm. If you don't know, pig penises are corkscrewed and the noise they make while being masturbated will haunt your dreams forever.
Another regular task involved driving a ute around town, delivering organs that were left on my desk in the morning, or collecting sperm samples that were stored in liquid nitrogen. Once, while driving, I braked too quickly, and smashed some of my precious cargo. The dry ice smoke billowing out of the car must have looked pretty cool, at least to the people driving by. A few of them even honked and waved. What they couldn't see was me desperately trying to mop up pig jizz with tissues from my handbag.
But the biggest lowlight of the job was having to hold a pig vagina open while she was being inseminated.
THE OSTRICH FARM
A while ago there was a government push to get people to start eating ostrich meat. Go figure. I was on uni holidays at the time and somehow got invited to work on an ostrich farm. The farm was owned by the father of a friend's girlfriend, and it was her who offered me the job. It wasn't so much gross—more like a semi-munted cowboy experience.
My job was to help send them to slaughter. The procedure went like this: first you put a hood over their head—this was supposed to chill them out but rarely worked—then you'd jump in the pen and push them out backwards. You had to be careful because, given the chance, an ostrich would 100 percent try to kick you with a 100 mm claw, effectively gutting you.
If you made it to this point unscratched, you then had to get them onto a truck by passing the bird to another worker who pushed it up a ramp into another pen. Occasionally they'd manage to get loose and bolt out of the truck. If that happened it was my job to go after them, running and jumping along nearby walls to avoid being kicked.
Usually we got them back and calmed them down, but one time a bird was so freaked out it went crazy and sliced its own neck open by kicking itself in the face. When this sort of thing happened there wasn't much else to do but put it down. You did this with a shovel.
When I was younger I spent a summer doing work experience on an African game reserve. You can imagine the scene: lions, elephants, rich sunburnt American tourists frantically trying to photograph a rock they thought was a hippo.
I was there at a time when the area's monkey population had developed a kleptomania problem. As a result, the resort inside the reserve was very clear on reminding tourists to watch their belongings. But it was an African holiday reserve, so during cocktail hour (it's 5PM in case you wanna swing by) people would drop their guard, leading to an Oceans 13 style rash of burglaries.
This is how a monkey on tourist heist works: one monkey distracts everyone by being adorable and jumping around, while the others grab everyone's shit. I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty confident one of them had a signature Abu impression.
As the newest member of the team, it was my job to scale the trees these little dicks lived in and reclaim whatever wasn't damaged. It was exactly as hard as it sounds, and generally the only tip I got from the cashed up tourists after returning their things was a lecture on the dangers of uncontrollable wild animals.
Because yeah, the hyenas aren't going to steal your Canon SLR but they sure as hell will take a bite out of you. It's the bush mate.
THE SKETCHY PHARMACY
When I was in high school the dopest job you could dream of was in a pharmacy. From the outside it seemed like the low stress, makeup sample-laden wonderland that teenagers dream of. When a new super pharmacy opened in our suburb, my best pal and I got jobs there and prepared for what we assumed would be an amazing summer. We'd have cash, lightly-used lipsticks, and each other. Heaven.
Pretty soon things started to sour. Our boss seemed cool, but started asking for us to come in for an hour of early morning unpaid training before every shift. He was then hours late, leaving us sitting in the gutter waiting for the shop to open. When he turned up he always looked terrible and would head out the back to wash and shave in a sink we were told was sterile. He'd also head out there to make "special order products." I always imagined him making special creams for old ladies; until I walked in to see a lot of pills being crushed up and him screaming at me to get the fuck out.
When we asked if we could stay late for training rather than come in early he told us to shut the fuck up. Once my buddy—who had by now turned 18—saw him off his face at a bar, just hours before he was due to open the store. He told her he'd kill her if she told anyone. Obviously she told everyone.
Despite this we stuck it out, the owner wasn't in very much because he had plans to open another store, and it was very cruisy when he was out. That was until one day when I was minding the shop alone and got a call from him telling me to stop leaning on the counter and stand up straight. It turned out he'd had the security cameras hooked up to his home TV and spent his off days obsessively watching us on the floor and in the break room. I don't know why but that bothered me more than the verbal abuse. That's when I decided it was time to move on.
PAPARAZZI META DATA
In 2007 I worked entering keywords into the metadata fields of photographs from an international paparazzi agency. Basically we brought invasive paparazzi photos to the world. I pixelated faces of celebrity children, saw Lindsay Lohan's nipples, and up Britney Spears' skirt on a nightly basis. And from 8pm to 8pm I hunched over a keyboard drinking coffee in a state of complete tension and celebrity saturation.
I was working the night when Britney Spears shaved her head in a hair salon in Tarzana, California. We had seen the erratic behavior develop while captioning previous photo sets — the week prior she swung at a photographer with an umbrella. Also her sound bites had become increasingly bizarre. By that stage our tolerance had normalised how horrifically intrusive it must have been for her. That was until she shaved her head. Watching the photos come through over the night it became clear that because of people like me, smearing her private life all around the internet, one of the most famous people on earth was fucking losing it.
It eventually made me sick. Any celebrity picture you see is from a set of maybe 150 images and someone like me selected it to show someone at their most newsworthy (read worst). A demanding, sweaty, aggressive man would have been behind the lens, screaming abuse and trying for an upskirt shot. The pack that followed Britney Spears would have been at least 30 people. They waited outside her compound to chase her around town. I saw it all in oppressive detail, adding the words to make it searchable and very, very public. I still feel like an asshole.
After university I picked apples for a season. It sounds romantic but it was horrible. It was freezing at night and in the mornings the apples would be covered in ice and your hands would go numb. By midday it would be hot and having to get in amongst the tree branches made wearing a hat impossible.
It's hard to make any real money from picking apples, you're paid by the bin and they're hard to fill. There's a quality control person inspecting everything making sure you're only picking the ready apples. If you have too many bruised, wrong-sized, or wrong-coloured apples in your bin, you don't get paid.
The whole time you're picking as fast as you can and you have this massive bib on your front that you put the fruit in. When full it weighs over 20 kg and you're at the top of a tree with this thing around your neck.
Apple picking takes massive amounts of physical and mental stamina; for the first three weeks I could barely move. Then there's Apple Fever, which is what they call it when you reach your breaking point. Some people start dreaming of apples and hallucinating, others get angry and abusive. Some just run away.
But the worst part was there's no time for snack breaks; to maintain energy and save time you just take a bite of an apple, throw it away, and keep picking. The QC will check to make sure you're not biting into good apples. Eating apples, especially unripe ones, makes you shit a lot. The toilet is a kilometre or more away and you're already against the clock so you just shit under your tree and keep picking. Always wash apples before you eat them.
THE ABORTION CLINIC
So instead of waiting tables or stacking shelves to make some cash in my teens, I landed job at an abortion clinic one summer. Obviously it wasn't your average 18-year-old job, and to be honest I'm still not sure how it actually happened. I started off in the back filing for the GP clinic that was attached to the surgery, but was soon running admission lists and taking patients through their pre-op instructions.
A lot of the job involved managing people in various emotional states, and more often than not comforting a distressed woman old enough to be my mother.
But that was okay compared to the religious protesters. Finally being old enough to drive yourself to work isn't much of a novelty when you're trying to find a park amongst the fundies handing out images of deformed unborn babies.
But the weirdest part of the job was that it was still attached to a regular GP clinic. Depending on what shift you'd been assigned, you could spend the morning congratulating people on pregnancies and asking about baby names, and the afternoon consoling them and helping them deal with the realities of deciding to not have a child.
Looking back there were some pretty confronting moments, but I don't think I would trade it for what my mates were dealing with at work. Explaining post termination care was considerably more rewarding than dealing with other chick's puke in a pub toilet.
Illustrations by Carla Uriarte