The summer between senior year and college, I took a job as a ‘marketing assistant/intern' with a woman who had started her own scarves and accessories business. Full disclosure: she was the older sister of a woman whose kids I’d babysat during high school. Fuller disclosure: The McDonald’s job that I had thought would be ‘fun in an ironic sort of way’ had lost its luster after like, um, 3 weeks. This seemed like just the thing.

Here is how M (my employer) described the job to me: “I can only pay you minimum wage, but you will learn everything about starting your own business. You will help me with marketing and packaging and you will make calls on the stores with me, and I will even teach you about fashion and design.”

Well, who wouldn’t take that summer job, right? Goodbye Mickey D’s! I’m a marketing intern, suckas! Plus Northwestern started later than all the state schools so I could keep working into early September! This was a DREAM COME TRUE!

Uh uh.

Here’s what I actually did that summer: For 8 hours a day, I worked in the loft M had rented for her new business, called something like Accessories by M (it wasn’t exactly that and it used her whole name). What did I do? Well, I will let this film clip speak first:

 Get the idea? Only you really DON’T. Because now what you need to do is substitute in 6 middle-aged women who spoke ONLY POLISH. They cut material and sewed scarves and some of these scarves were sort of double sided because THAT WAS M’s TRADEMARK THING. So the Polish ladies would sew them inside out and then hand them to ME. And I would take this wooden stick and poke it through a tiny hole and turn them right side out. After which I would iron and fold them. And the regular scarves? I would fold those, too. And package them into boxes.

8 hours a day. While listening to the 6 women speak Polish. Which I suppose I could have learned, but instead I watched soap operas and talk shows on the tiny TV that M provided. The Polish ladies loved All My Children. Also General Hospital. And pretty much every other soap.

Erica Kane and folding scarves.
That was my summer before college.

You would think that this made me an ambitious, highly motivated student who knew the black hole of minimum wage employment. You would think.

What was your worst minimum wage job? I would love to hear your stories!


  1. It's probably a tie. The summer after I finished my freshman year at Arizona State U., I came back to Maine and got a job in the local limestone quarry, doing all sorts of stuff. The night my sister, now mystery writer Kate Flora, was to graduate as valedictorian of her class, the foreman made me work late loading 80 pound bags of lime by myself. I missed 75% of my sister's graduation and the worst part was getting fired the next day because I wasn't fast enough. That debacle was followed a summer later by a job in a swamill. I started at 5 AM, working until 2 PM, mostly running a wastewood chipper. That was back before OSHA, so hearing protection wasn't offered. It usually took 4 hours for my hearing to return and the scream of the chipper to go away. Makes me very glad I ultimately became a librarian and writer...Less noisy and way cleaner.

  2. When I worked at a restaurant, I had to clean the bathroom a few times. Cleaning a public bathroom was pretty much the worst job ever.

    1. Okay, yeah. That's worse. I don't even like cleaning my own bathroom. :)

  3. Ah, General. It's been on throughout the summers pretty much my whole life...

    1. Same for All My Children. The plots moved so slowly that you could watch in the summers only and still basically catch up without even trying. :)

  4. Great post :-) Between my first and second years of college, while at home in Topeka, I sold...vacuum cleaners. For Rainbow and Kirby. This was back in the early 80s and these things were like $500! Never sold a one. But I could put on one heck of a home demonstration. My favorite part was sweeping a flashlight across a carpet and shining the light on the dirt that came up. But, "no worries ma'am...I've seen much worse," usually calmed nerves ;-) I knew I'd never be a salesman, but having to do the demos did help cure some shyness. Good times. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.


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