As William Shakespeare might say, now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York.
Everyone who lived through it was highly discontented with the altogether un-metaphoric winter just past. Glorious summer is not quite upon us, in York or elsewhere, but those looking for a glorious summer job might feel a twinge of that old discontent creeping back.
It has been a long time since I have looked for a summer job and, for the sake of all the people out there on the prowl, I sincerely hope things have improved in the interim. The town I come from is so small, not only is there nothing to do, there is no place at which to not do it. It must be the tamest place in the western hemisphere. One thing the area had in abundance was corn fields. The rows of corn came right up to what passed for the city limits. One field my dad owned sort of snaked around behind one of the few streets in town and was actually inside the unincorporated village. That’s what the signs on the edge of town said. “(Name of Town) Unincorporated.” As though a visitor couldn’t guess.
At our school, no one had ever heard of a computer but we all had at least a nodding acquaintance with hybrid corn. Back in the olden days, hybrid corn companies got hybrid corn by hiring small town hicks like ourselves to remove the tassels from the stalks they didn’t want pollinating the rest of the corn. The crop was planted six rows of corn destined to have the tassels removed and then two rows of corn whose job it was to pollinate the rest of the field. The criterion for employment was the ability to count to six. Many were called and many were chosen.
The job entailed the mind-numbing task of walking up and down rows of corn yanking the tassels out, known in the vernacular as detasseling. We detasseled in the rain. We detasseled in the broiling sun. We detasseled through swarms of insects intent on eating us alive. We detasseled when the mud was so thick and sticky it threatened to suck the shoes right off our feet. It gave me a whole new empathy for the poor downtrodden migrant worker because, brother, I was one and that is about as trodden down as you can get in the Miami Valley.
Being fifteen years old, though, we saw it as an unmatched opportunity to get the best suntan of our lives. I don’t think sun block had been invented yet and if it had been we would have scoffed at it. If we were going to be mud-caked, bug-eaten, dehydrated tools of The Man, we were going to be darkly tanned mud-caked, bug-eaten, dehydrated tools of The Man. This particular Man would haul us out to the cornfield du jour, dump us out along with our packed lunches and a large container of water, and return late afternoon to retrieve us.
One day, The Man forgot to come back to get us. Because these captains of industry were not always, shall we say, models of benevolence towards employees, it took us a while to figure out they weren’t just late; they weren’t coming. This was decades before cell phones. One of us trudged off to the distant farm house to use the telephone (“Someone will reimburse you for the long distance phone call. I promise!”) to try to convince the person at the other end of the line there were ten teenage girls sitting in a ditch in Darke County with mutiny on their minds.
One summer in a frenzy of industry, I decided to get an early summer job to tide me over until the corn ripened. There was a soft-serve ice cream place in Piqua that paid even worse than detasseling corn. But it did offer free meals for employees. During the month I was there I regarded hot fudge as a beverage and gained eight pounds. It was a race to see if the corn would be ready before I’d have to buy bigger clothes.
Every job I’ve had since has endured the comparison to my exciting career in agriculture. And every other job, since none ever included sitting forgotten in a Darke County ditch, has come out ahead. Except in the suntan department.