THERE I was, at the height of the great Disco Summer, selling hot dogs in the shadow of a six-story, elephant-shaped building on the shores of Margate, N.J. Most nights, my shift started at midnight. It was June 1977, just after my freshman year at Wesleyan, and I was hard at work at Lenny’s Hot Dogs.
那是迪斯科音乐正值流行的夏天，在新泽西州马盖特市的海滩边，我在一座大象形状的六层建筑的阴影下卖热狗。很多时候，我的班次都是从午夜开始。那是1977年6月，我在卫斯理大学（Wesleyan）刚刚结束了大一的课程，正努力在雷尼热狗店（Lenny’s Hot Dogs）工作。
The big rush came just after 3 a.m., when the disco across the street, The Music Box, unplugged its rotating mirror ball and its denizens spilled out in search of hot dogs, frozen yogurt cones and Lenny’s pepper hash. At that late hour the lines stretched from Lenny’s across the parking lot, past Lucy the Elephant, and toward the rumbling Atlantic beyond.
汹涌的客流在刚过凌晨3点时涌来，那时街对面的迪斯科舞厅“音乐盒”（The Music Box）关掉了旋转的水晶球，舞厅里的人群涌出来寻找热狗、冻酸奶蛋卷和雷尼辣椒碎。在深夜里的那个时刻，顾客的队伍从雷尼热狗店一直向后排，穿过停车场、经过大象露西（Lucy the Elephant），一直向汹涌的大西洋的方向延伸。
Lucy the Elephant is now a National Historic Landmark, but Lenny’s, sadly, has been gone for decades. Still, plenty of freshmen will spend this summer selling hot dogs, waiting tables, tending bar or supervising the archery range at clam shacks, taverns and summer camps from Maine to California.
One question, of course, is what kind of work is best for college students?
For many, summer employment means taking whatever job can best reduce the burden of debt, which was more than $30,000, on average, for members of the class of 2015.
Other students, both with and without the burden of debt, feel the pressure to take on internships. The fields of politics, media and entertainment, to name three, now virtually demand a period of unpaid work.
But there are times, I suspect, when a mind is a terrible thing not to waste.
One example of a mind well wasted is that of my friend Richard Russo. Richard, who is now a novelist, worked on a construction crew, not as the guy who worked the jackhammer, but as that guy’s assistant. One day they had to break up a concrete wall, and it was Richard’s job to hold the business end of the jackhammer steady — and horizontal — while the other guy operated it, leaving Richard feeling, for the rest of the summer, as if his brains had actually bounced around the inside of his skull. I had another friend, Billy Warden, who dug graves one summer and learned, on the occasion of some not very deeply buried 19th-century caskets collapsing just beneath the place where he was standing, what it was like to be hip deep in dead guys.
完全浪费头脑的一个例子就是我的朋友理查德·罗索（Richard Russo）。现在已经成为小说家的罗索曾经在建筑工地工作，不是操作风钻的那个家伙，而是他的助手。有一天，他们要拆掉一堵混凝土墙，理查德的工作是抓稳风钻钻头的一边，保持稳定，而另一个人操作风钻。这导致理查德一整个夏天都觉得自己的脑子真的在头颅里面弹来弹去。我还有另外一个朋友，比利·沃登（Billy Warden），他有一年夏天挖掘坟墓。有一次在某个埋着19世纪棺椁的坟地，墓穴比较浅，就在他站的地方塌陷了。他由此知道了站在齐腰深的死人堆里是什么感觉。
I had a lot of so-called stupid jobs between high school and the time I turned 30. I sold hot dogs. I worked as an office temp. I was a messenger. I sold T-shirts at Grateful Dead concerts. （They sold faster when I hawked them with a British accent.） I cleared brush. I cleaned swimming pools.
And for years and years and years, I mowed lawns.
There was a lot to like about mowing lawns. For one, the smells: the sharp, green scent of freshly cut grass, the fumes of gasoline, the whiff of exhaust. Then there was the sound: the endless roar that made it impossible to hear anything else, including the voice of the irate homeowner standing less than two feet away, yelling that I’d run right over his tulips. It was dramatic, too: Sometimes I’d plow through a field of fallen apples and applesauce would spew out of the mower in a shocking arc of sweet-smelling goo. Other times, I’d run straight over a rock, and the mower would stop with a tremendous clang, as if the engine itself had just been executed, military-style, by firing squad.
The summer after I worked at Lenny’s, I was a teller at Continental Bank in Philadelphia. I thought it was clever to give my customers their money in $2 bills, or in Eisenhower dollar coins, or in some strange combination of Kennedy half-dollars and $50 bills. My drawer, at the end of day, was always “under” or “over,” and all the other tellers had to stand around as I counted and re-counted the float. One time, I accidentally left $10,000 by the coffee maker in the lounge. I had no choice except to tell my boss the truth: I’d been on my way to the safe with the cash when I remembered we were out of creamer.
These jobs made me aware of class privilege in a way that my hours in Econ 101 surely did not. I remember getting back to Wesleyan after my summer at the bank and gushing to a teller, “I was a teller this summer, too!” only to realize, as she glowered at me, that what had been a summer lark for me was, for her, the continuing reality of her working life.
My own sons are engaged this summer with work that feels more relevant to their college majors — my older boy, the actor, is a production assistant on a television show; my younger, the astronomer, has an internship at an observatory in California, searching for planetoids and brown dwarfs.
These are very cool jobs, to be sure, and I am insufferably proud of my sons: How could I not be? But I also wonder whether their summer jobs are as likely to build their characters as their résumés. I am hoping, for their sakes, that these opportunities provide them with both.
One of those mornings after my shift at Lenny’s ended, I walked home along the beach as the constellations of summer — the Scorpion, the Archer — sank in the skies behind the six-story elephant. Later, a flock of sea gulls took wing as I approached, and circled around me as the sun burst over the ocean.
It was several miles back to the house, but I was in no hurry. I had faith that I’d get there in time, if I just kept walking long enough.☐