Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Mustard and Ketchup Fight

      Some people have asked me about the mustard and ketchup fight I mentioned recently in Betting on the Minimum Wage. Here's the story.

     It was the summer of 1966. I was in high school and went looking for a summer job. I honestly don't remember how I found out that our local amusement park was hiring -- maybe I read it in the local paper; or my dad might have made the suggestion; just possibly I figured out for myself that an amusement park might need kids to work there in the summer.

     Anyway, I was hired for the minimum wage at the time of $1.25 an hour. I started working in a food stand in the park, selling fountain drinks, ice-cream bars, cotton candy. I was only working there for a few days when the manager -- did he recognize my innate talent, my executive potential, my high-class upbringing? -- asked me if I wanted to move into the main snack bar. It was considered a more favorable place to work (for one thing, no evening hours), and so I said yes, sir -- although there was no pay raise that went with the new job. I guess, these days, you'd call it a lateral move.

     The main snack bar was a big place out by the picnic tables. It opened early so park employees could stop off and get coffee and a bite to eat before the park opened. A lot of the employees came over to us for lunch as well, since we offered an expanded menu of hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, and fries.

     Also, since we were near the picnic tables, groups like a busload of kids from the city or a school class trip, would come over for their main meal.

     I learned a lot that summer. I learned how to make coffee in a big urn -- and it was pretty good coffee, too -- and I learned how to make hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches (the hot dogs were okay, the grilled cheese sandwiches were pretty awful). I learned how to stack inventory, a skill I use to this day in our kitchen at home.

Ready for action!
     I learned a lot about making change. It wasn't long before I didn't even need to count the money. I just knew if the charge was 60 cents, and I got a dollar, I pulled out a quarter, a dime and a nickel for change. If the charge was $1.20, I automatically handed back three quarters and a nickel as change for two dollars. Nobody ever gave me a $5 bill. That was big money in those days.

     However, I also got my first introduction to the unintended consequences of government regulation. The snack bar was open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Employees worked 9 hours, with one hour for lunch. But I was under 18, and so according to State of New York child labor laws, I was not allowed to work more than 8 hours. But instead of being able to come in an hour late, or leave an hour early, I got two hours for lunch. It wasn't enough time to go do anything, to leave the park and come back (besides, I rarely had my own car). So all I did was sit around for two hours and not get paid.

     The amusement park was about ten miles from where I lived, about a 20 minute drive. My family had two cars. My dad took a train to work. My mother had one car, and I had to vie with my two older sisters for use of the second car. So I didn't get to take it for the day very often. Instead, I usually carpooled with a fellow named Billy who lived near me. He was older, maybe 22 or 23, and going to college part time.

     The summer of '66 was a hot one. I remember being happy working out by the picnic tables, under the trees, where it was cooler, instead of in the middle of the park. I got to know kids who ran the rides, and I rode the big roller coaster a couple of dozen times. Then I got bored, and when I wasn't working I sat around the picnic tables and read books or magazines.

     About halfway through the summer I was asked to help out with the ice-cream truck. That was a lot of fun. The truck delivered ice-cream pops to the stands around the park. I got to ride on the front bumper of the truck. It stopped at each stand, while I jumped off, ran around to the back, and pulled out the ice-cream order for the day.

     There were six or eight kids who worked at my stand. Joe was the boss. He was a distinguished-looking older man -- tall and thin with graying hair, and he took the job seriously and ran the stand by the book. His assistant, Walter, was even older, and he was a fellow we could pretty much ignore.

     One August afternoon, we were all looking forward to getting back to school, back to our real lives. Business was slow. Joe was off doing something else in the park, leaving Walter in charge. I was sitting at the cash register, when Billy tumbled out of the back of the stand. He was laughing. A second later I saw a shot of red go flying over his shoulder. Then another kid came through the door. He was armed with a ketchup squeeze bottle in one hand, and a mustard squeeze bottle in the other.

     The kid squirted the mustard bottle. One line hit Billy in the shoulder; another missed him and landed on my pants. Billy grabbed a mustard container from the counter, turned, and fired back at his assailant. Then he shouted to me. "Come on, Tom. I need reinforcements!"

     Just then, another kid came out of the back, shooting with both hands, ropes of ketchup and mustard flying through the air. I grabbed a mustard and a ketchup, and joined Billy, fighting off the other two kids.

     Within seconds, four or five kids were running through the stand splashing mustard and ketchup all over one another, and also getting it on the counter, the floor, and a couple of customers. Walter was yelling, "Stop it! Stop it!" But, like I said, nobody paid attention to Walter.

     I remember running through the back of the stand, over to the other side, when Billy came up behind me. He vaulted over the counter and started shooting at someone. Just then, Joe walked into the snack stand.

     He put a stop to everything, real quick. Billy was fired. He was gone in less than an hour. So were a couple of the other combatants.

     I was not fired, I got away with a reprimand. Maybe it was because I was the youngest kid there, or maybe because Joe knew I hadn't started it. But I was demoted. I was taken off the morning ice-cream route, and put to work cleaning and scouring shelves.

     The incident occurred toward the end of August. I worked through Labor Day, then the park closed. I do remember, at the time I'd been hired, there'd been some mention of an end-of-season bonus if I stayed for the entire summer. I didn't get the bonus. That's another lesson I learned -- if you want your bonus, behave yourself. But at least I can say, I was never fired.


DJan said...

That would have been quite a mess to clean up. Did that task fall you also, the youngest? Good story! :-)

Olga Hebert said...

I never got the appeal of mischief that made messes which is why my siblings all call me the prissy one. I do think it is good for youngsters to learn some lessons the hard way though. And it is important to have some fun in life.

Anonymous said...

This is so typical of the male species. You never see females getting into that kind of mischief. Like Olga, I was rather prissy. Of course, when I left Hawaii after graduating from college, all hell broke loose in my personal life.

BTW, thanks for getting rid of word verification. I'll comment on your blog more often, now.

Tom Sightings said...

Olga and Glenda, sorry to be such a "guy" -- but ya know, by now I've matured! I have to say, I'm getting a lot of spam now that I've turned off word verification. I'll keep it off for now. We'll see how it goes.

Denise said...

Funny story. Should be a Top Ten of Life! But I was gonna say that my blog goes through "spam spells" and I don't have word verification on. It seems like the spammers target one entry that wasn't a big hit or anything and keep spamming it. I do not understand it.

Stephen Hayes said...

A fun story about your childhood. I can't say I've never been fired. I'm just not a team player and i have problems with authority that made it necessary for me to be self employed.

#1Nana said...

I don't like either of those condiments, now if it were chocolate sauce, I'd be in the middle of the battle!

Anonymous said...

Ha ha. My first job at age15 was behind the candy counter at Kresses dimestore. I sold nuts, popcorn and all kinds of candy. The beginning of my end, as I had never had much candy before then. the war and sugar rationing...and my parents told me it was bad for me.
We didn't have mustard at our counter, katsup neither.

Anonymous said...

I was 18 and moved over 1,100 miles from the God-forsaken state I had to live in until 18 years of age, worked for the broadway dept. store in the linens then toys,etc. worked from july early til new years eve, fired and worked the whole damn day, I learned a lot with that job, got over $1.25 an hour because I worked in high school at a shi-shi dept. store for $1.35 big money then, I learned about unemployment insurance in California and how to get it I did, never told my beloved grandmother just collected stayed at the public library for a few hours walked all around and found another job at $1.66 went to college and got a federal govt. job and worked til I nearly dropped! Many young people I worked with stole from that dept. store and acted like yahoos, I never did they fired me for telling people the truth about toys which did not work at all, guess I was suppose to lie..I got a decent job with my college classes and never shopped that store..every job I got I worked like hell and remembered it was a JOB not play, which I see many young people think it is..too bad, once when a person is fired it sticks in your mind..I had never been fired since that time and they even got me to work the whole damn day which was illegal I found out at the unemployment office and made the dept. store pay me an extra day.oh, my goodness..ciao!

Tabor said...

That was a good way to learn a lesson or two rather than having something worse happen when you had a more serious job and was older. I never got fired either, although I had some near misses as a waitress.

Kirk said...

I worked my way through university starting in 1968 and earned $1/hr to start then. If the minimum wage was $1.25 I guess it didn't apply to me as I was 18 and worked 20 hrs/week max.

Anonymous said...

Many college graduates cannot get even minimum paying jobs in Washington state at nearly $10.00 an hour, OUCH, cause those student loan repayment bills start soon after graduating! I say work in college learn what you like get done with school as fast as possible, yes go to school in summers, tuition rises like hell here and get on with one's life..No one gets to work for almost 40 years like my hubs did and I was damn near that when I just got too tired of the bs. I work for nearly free for the poor at a non-profit and can sleep well at night.many need food and shelter and I figure if you say you believe in a god any religion and ignore the homeless and hungry you don't believe in anything, it can and does happen, homeless and hungry to many educated citizens of this great country, so why not help them with a leg up, no charity but a leg up..happy Passover today and sunday easter,if more people lived the life of the new pope who in my opinion is a saintly humble man the woes of the poor would be eliminated. but of course the roman catholic church is not really happy with sainted mother sure is happy in heaven with Pope Francis who really lives the Love your fellow man as you Love your God!

Laura Lee Carter aka the Midlife Crisis Queen said...

A dollar twenty-five! My first job only paid $1.10! I feel cheated!

Anonymous said...

Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much
about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but
other than that, this is great blog. A fantastic read.
I will certainly be back.

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