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The Mast-Head: Summer Jobs

Wed, 06/28/2023 - 18:08

Now is the time that high school and college students get their summer jobs if they have not already. It is also the time of the year when many young people start careers.

My elder daughter began work this week in New York City and excitedly kept us all updated with pictures and videos from her phone — as a parent, these were hardly enough; I wanted to see it all.

It took me back to my own time living in the city in my 20s, walking to Chinatown for noodles, and split-second eye contact with strangers on the street. Especially in summer, there was a sense that we were all in it together, as if under a dome of our own while the rest of the world was at the beach. I still don’t really understand what it is that she is doing at work, but it sounds exciting.

My middle child is to start two restaurant jobs soon, one in Montauk, the other in Amagansett. These follow the previous two summers, when she worked at a bakery. The change may be a good thing; the only recent contact we had with its ownership was a, shall we say, spicy letter from a lawyer objecting to The Star’s coverage of its latest building plan. Such is the lot of the child of a newspaper editor: Sometimes it opens doors; as often, though, it slams them shut.

The youngest, only 13, is not legally allowed to work, though a number of his similarly aged classmates do have jobs off the books. So far this summer, he has been working out with weights in his room to “get big,” in his words, for football season at East Hampton Middle School. A niece, 16, is serving food at the Amagansett Beach Association snack bar.

In my case, the summer jobs I had here growing up were as a busboy at Georgette’s some nights and at the Sea Wolf, both at Three Mile Harbor. Later, Jimmy Minardi and I were lifeguards at South Lake Beach in Montauk, where the water never got more than waist deep and which was closed for health reasons a season or two later. Other years, I put up big tents for events and delivered party supplies like tables, chairs, and glassware. Somewhere in the sequence was my favorite, on Gardiner’s Island, mowing fields with a big tractor.

Summer jobs are important, and not just for making a few bucks of one’s own. They are a chance to see beyond one’s own immediate life and to learn to be reliable. I think the most important takeaway from my early working days was that it was important to take initiative, to find or ask for more tasks to do when an assigned one is done.

“You don’t want to be known as the guy around here who only does what he is told,” a boss with his own flair for spice told me once. That early lesson I have never forgotten.

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