Summer Jobs, or How To Hit Yourself In The Face With a Boomerang. What Fun Jobs Did You Hold Down?

One of my very first jobs was in a toy shop in Harvard Square. It was 1997, I was on my J1, and in comparison to my other part time Boston job in a cafe on Newbury Street patronized by rich old ladies and New Kids on the Block (seriously, they all came in regularly, all together - apart from Donnie, who was apparently too cool to hang around with his old mates), it was pretty cool.

The shop was called Learningsmith, and it supposedly sold educational toys, but it was co-owned by the public television company that produce Sesame Street. This meant it sold all sorts of amusing Sesame Street related products as well as elaborate fun science and art kits and many products that clearly had no educational purpose whatsoever. My co-workers were nice, and so was my boss, and every day one of us would be given the task of standing at the entrance to the shop, playing with an eye-catching toy like a robot dog or something. This would apparently entice rich parents to come in and buy stuff, and it generally worked.

NKOTB were always so excited to get an extra piece of toast NKOTB were always so excited to get an extra piece of toast. Except Donnie, he wasn't mad about the toast.

One day I was on toy duty, and was given an amusing item called a Roomerang. It was basically a fool-proof lightweight boomerang suitable for indoor use that, because it wasn't shaped like a standard boomerang, would come back even when thrown by a buffoon like me. All morning I stood there, throwing the boomerang and catching it. It was genuinely fun. I was living the dream. And then, just after I threw the roomerang for the zillionth time, someone called me, I turned my head, and the roomerang flew back and whacked me IN THE FACE.

You may not have been hit in the eye by a polystyrene boomerang, so I can tell you it hurts (but not terribly) and I'd have left it like that if I hadn't been wearing my contact lenses. I didn't have my glasses or lens stuff with me, so I popped across to the opticians for some solution, who told me if you're hit in the eye you should ALWAYS go to hospital and, well, to cut a long story short, I ended up with a $400 medical bill from Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital for a two minute check-up which confirmed that there was nothing wrong with my eye.


So yeah, working in a shop can be a dangerous and indeed expensive business. But as Shopgirls, a  new BBC series shows, back in the 19th century the retail sector was a source of economic and social freedom for women.

These days shop work doesn't often feel very liberating, not least because everyone who's worked in a shop has some customer horror stories. I have friends who were sleazed on, insulted and had their entire day disrupted by annoying and/or creepy customers. One friend returned from a toilet break to her section of a big bookshop to find a small child pulling down books and and putting them on random shelves. When she stared in horror, the child's dad proudly said, 'She's playing shop!' before strolling off, leaving my friend to go through all the shelves and find the books that were in the wrong places.


In Learningsmith, we were told the refer to the customers as "guests" and, to my horror, there was even what was called the "G.U.E.S.T." system, which was a little like the D.E.N.N.I.S. System in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, only slightly less creepy. We had to Greet the customer, Understand their needs, Educate them about the stuff in the shop, Show them the stuff and..well, I can't remember what T was, but you get the picture. Customers - I mean, guests - didn't always want some weird foreign girl following them around the shop "educating" them about Cookie Monster hand puppets, and who could blame them? But I had to do it. It kind of felt like being in a cult, but the robot dog made up for it.

In fact, in general, working in that shop was a pretty good introduction to the world of work. Even if I did hit myself in the face.


So what delightful summer jobs did you manage to hold down in your youth? Have you any hideous customer stories to tell? And did you ever hit yourself in the face with a plastic boomerang?

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