If the summers I worked at Mt. Rushmore were the best I ever had, the summer I worked at Office Max was the worst.
To be honest about it, though, the job at Office Max itself was one of the best parts of that summer. It's just that it seemed as though just about everything else about that summer was destined to go wrong.
Explaining why is going to prove at least a little difficult for me, as there are several contributing factors to that, and at least in my own mind, they're all of relatively equal importance. The best thing to do, then, would be to just pick one and go from there.
To that end, I suppose the youth factor is as good a place as any to start. See, I turned twenty in August, 1997. Here in the United States, twenty is the last birthday you get before you're done being a child. And that probably explains why a lot of the other things were the problems they turned out to be. I was pretty much the very definition of foolish, immature, and childish at the time, and I had a lot of growing up to do. I'm not sure how much of that I've actually done since then, but that's a matter for another time.
Add to my foolish youthfulness at the time the truly bizarre fact of my having been born quite literally on my grandparents' 30th wedding anniversary, in 1977. That's something that nobody could have anticipated or planned for if they'd tried.
I should say, before I go on, that, from the way I understand it, that nobody had expected either of my paternal grandparents, let alone both of them, to reach that milestone. Both of them had had some rather serious health issues for quite some time by then. So the fact that both of them were alive and well enough to celebrate their fiftieth in 1997 made it that much more special for everybody involved.
Of course, I had a bit of trouble getting my head around that at the time. As I said, I was a young, foolish, and at least somewhat selfish, twenty-year-old at the time, who had plenty to learn about life in general.
That, too, ties into the next thing that made the summer of 1997 a little harder than it needed to be. I don't think there was a specific term for it at the time, but by then, I was a confirmed Internet addict. This was bad for several reasons, not the least of which is that at the time, dial-up connections were still very much the order of the day when it came to home Internet browsing. This meant that the phone line was tied up, blocking incoming calls when I was home. As a result, potential employers couldn't call me to set up an interview, and went on to other potential employees.
As a result, it was a real stroke of luck that I'd not needed until then that I wound up getting interviewed for my job at Office Max the moment I turned in my application. Fortunately, I've not needed such luck again until very recently. A good thing, though, is that there's been quite a bit of change in the roughly fifteen years since then, and blocked phone lines won't prove as big an issue as they had back then.
By the time I'd got the job at Office Max, I'd already wasted the first month and a half of summer break tying up the phone line downloading Sonic the Hedgehog fan fiction from AOL's cartoons forum. Although this is a trivial thing, it certainly doesn't help matters any that I've forgotten all of it by now. It should, of course, go without much saying that my parents were not especially pleased with my behavior.
So, when I got the job on the night crew, doing some remodel work, I think everybody's day was made. When I got the job in early July, I was under the impression that the job would last until the middle of August. The job we were doing, you see, was taking the stock off the shelves, shifting the shelves around, and then putting everything back, section by section.
Of course, the way my luck ran, and really, still does run, that's not quite how things worked out. It turns out that my coworkers and I on this particular crew proved so efficient at what we were doing that we managed to finish the job two weeks early. Quite an accomplishment, as I remember being told at the time, and I must admit, I'm still proud to have been a part of that.
The bad news, though, is that as a result, I was out of work again by my birthday. This put a real damper on things, and as a result of my possibly understandably sour mood, I did the dumbest thing I could and spent the rest of the summer moping around instead of doing better things with my time, like enjoying my grandparents' 50th anniversary and/or getting another job. As I said, though, I was young, stupid, and still kind of selfish at the time. I'm not excusing my poor choices; just trying to explain them.
As I write this the better part of fifteen years after the fact, it's easy to say I know what I should have done, if not right at the beginning of the summer, then after the job at Office Max ended. At the time, though, it wasn't quite so clear. All of that, though, is a story for the next, and perhaps last, entry in this series.
Before I move onto that, though, I should start wrapping this up by at least trying to talk about my coworkers. They certainly deserve that. After all, without them, the feat of pulling our job off so damned quickly would never have happened. With that in mind, it's really a shame that I only remember a couple people in general, which is bad enough. It's worse that I don't remember these guys' names because we were floor mates at the start of the fall semester where we went to college. It was a wild year on the first floor of Brown Hall's east wing that year. I don't remember if they made it past semester time that year, but I do remember hanging out with them a couple times in the course of the fall semester.
To truly wrap this up, though, I should close with the big lesson I should have learned from the summer of 1997. That lesson is that I wasn't quite ready for college yet, simply because I had a little much growing up left to do when I graduated from high school. There were several options for how I could have done that. I could have kept my job at the local shopping mall for another year. I could have joined the military. Or some other option that I'm not thinking of. But, as they say, hindsight is 20-20, and since things didn't go quite that way, the sensible thing for me to have done would have been to first apply for the job I've got now and then to not spend so much time on AOL.
As I said, though, hindsight on a rather childish part of my life, and not much to be done about it now but tell my story so that maybe someone else won't make the same mistakes.
Next time: my last college job and my current means of employment.