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The Summer Job
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Having recently switched jobs (again), I was reflecting on my past jobs, specifically the first job I ever had. While my friends were mowing lawns, or serving ice cream at Ben & Jerry's, I was working for a commercial painting company, painting dorms at a crumbling University. The job was so far out of my comfort zone there was no way I couldn't take something away from it ... be it good or bad.

I was given the job because the owner of the company was a family friend, and my father insisted I work to pay for my car insurance and gas. And at $7.50/hour, I was making significantly more than my peers.

"Faggot!"

It was the first time I'd heard the word used by someone who actually meant to use it. They intended to cause emotional distress to the receiver, while at the same time separating themselves socially through anger and mockery from anyone who might be a homosexual. However, since it came from my foreman Carlos, and he'd used it in the sentence, "Look at him flit around here like a goddamn faggot. Shit, we ought to get him a pair of wings and a magic wand." I had to suck it up and deal with it. Of course, I'm not gay and at the time didn't really know anyone who was, but it was the sting and malice of the word that caught me off guard. People actually talked like this?

On my first day at the job, Carlos told me he'd just gotten out of prison for cocaine possession. From the guns and Spanish words tattooed on his forearms, I decided to believe him. It was when he said, "Since I just got out of the can, I need this fucking job. Don't fuck it up for me," that the lump in my throat grew bigger. He probably knew people who'd killed other people. Hell, he may have been witness to a few murders himself. And based on that W-2 form I'd just filled out, Carlos knew exactly where I lived.

Joe was second in charge and assured me he had killed someone. In fact, he'd killed a State Trooper. He told me this with a smile that didn't say, "I'm just messing with you kid," but rather, "I killed him and enjoyed it so much, I'd do it again." To this day, I'm not sure if he was telling the truth, assuming that anyone who'd killed anyone - especially an officer - would spend the rest of his life behind bars. And yet here was Joe, gruff and angry. He spent each coffee break going through old issues of Huster we'd found in one of the closets of a dorm room, one hand around his coffee and the other - well, let's just say it wasn't visible.

From day one, everyone on the team decided they didn't like me. Not only was I a friend of the owner, but I'd grown up in privilege, had never fired a gun, and could properly locate Arkansas on a map. I was a skinny white kid from suburbia who'd only been given this job so as to be taught a lesson and discover some deeper meaning to life in the process. Carlos, Joe and the rest of the team decided they'd teach me that lesson, even if it killed me.

It should be noted that this same summer, I'd auditioned for and been accepted into a highly prestigious Operetta company. Performing only the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, this season, I'd be in the H.M.S. Pinafore. So while my days were spent in the bowels of an inner city with ex-cons and drug addicts, my evenings were something else entirely.

We were painting an old dorm at the University of Bridgeport. which had recently been sold to the Professors World Peace Academy, an affiliate of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. On the first day, just before she dropped me off, my mother told me not to go into any large rooms filled with people for fear I'd be married in one of the Moonie's mass-wedding ceremonies. The student body was almost non-existent, and those who were there were very quiet and mostly international. And so, it felt like we had the run of the building and, to an extent, the campus. Though it was disconcerting to think, should I piss off the right person, I'd easily be killed and never heard from again.

My nickname quickly became "Y.C." - short for "Yacht Club". I started ripping holes into my clothes and adopting a hybrid New York - Connecticut Valley accent around my colleagues in order to better fit in. Adding an "r" to 'idea" and dropping other consonants from the end of words. I'd read the sports pages on my way to work so I'd know what was going on with the Yankees and Mets. I swore often, and took to spitting on the ground whenever the feeling moved me. And, after a few weeks, I'd been let into the inner circle of blue-collar workers.

Upon leaving work, I'd head to the conservatory and learn steps for the various dances in Pinafore. I'd sing until my voice was hoarse, and brought a copy of the soundtrack of Pinafore to listen to on my headphones while I painted various rooms in the dormitory. I'd never let the crew catch me listening to it for fear I'd be beaten up and/or lose all the credibility I'd established with the men.

I left work early one day, lying to Carlos telling him I had some issues with my girlfriend that I needed to attend to. Instead, I went to a dance store to purchase ballet shoes for the performance.

The HMS Pinafore ran for a month from the middle of July to the middle of August. And because this was a professional show, I was required to wear make-up on stage. The issue being I'd have to get it fully removed before I went to work in the morning. And, unfortunately, I had a tough time removing the black eyeliner we were forced to wear.

Joe was the first to notice this. Luckily for me, Joe wasn't exactly bright, and I blamed the dark lines around my eyes as allergies. Still, questions were coming up as to what I did at night. Why I was tired during the day. And why I'd never brought a photo of my girlfriend to the dorm. I was able to deflect these questions as best as possible, but it was obvious to the guys that I was hiding something from them.

On my last day of work, just before my Junior year of High School started, the guys took me out to lunch. Looking around the table, I no longer saw drug addicts and murderers, but people who'd taken different paths in life. And while I would never agree with some of the choices they'd made, I knew they were people trying to do their best and provide for their family.

Toward the end of the meal, Carlos asked me what was up with the make-up and I told them the truth. I told them about the play, the singing, the dancing, all the rehearsals. Everything. They laughed, they made fun, and imitated me singing and dancing "faggy" songs on a stage. But Carlos put his arm around my shoulder and said I should have let him know about the play. He's got a son who is into theater and he would have liked him to see it.
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7 Comments

Wow, we really can all get along!

*Run DMC plays as construction crew breaks down into dance*

said SalMoIlla on July 29, 2009 11:24 AM.

So how did it end? Did Carlos force you to let his son 'see it' in the theatre?

said Tim on July 29, 2009 12:01 PM.

"But Carlos put his arm around my shoulder and said I should have let him know about the play. He's got a son who is into theater and he would have liked him to see it."

I think it should read: "But Carlos put his arm around my shoulder and said I should have let him know about the play, for he was missing his cell mate and I would have had privileges during the work for being his girlfriend."

Just saying...

Uh, and that guy Joe, had one hand around his coffee and the other was echoing his wood to the Hustler girls, right?

said Leonardo Carvalho on July 29, 2009 12:03 PM.

This is better than all those lies JW has been telling about you.

said Don't Swayze Bro on July 29, 2009 12:38 PM.

What? You guys have never pranced around a stage in ballet shoes while singing showtunes and wearing make-up? That was just me? Seriously?

And yes Tim, I had a private viewing for Carlos' son. Though I changed the ending.

said Echowood on July 29, 2009 2:30 PM.

so we can use "faggot" if we're telling a story but not if we're calling someone one? or do you have to be a ex-con to get away with using it period? can we use it in jest? i would like a ruling because i wanted to say, "cute story faggot" but i don't want to offend, i was meaning it as a joke. i wasn't implying anyone was a faggot.

said phatlard on July 29, 2009 2:30 PM.

"What? You guys have never pranced around a stage in ballet shoes while singing showtunes and wearing make-up? That was just me? Seriously?

And yes Tim, I had a private viewing for Carlos' son. Though I changed the ending."

Was it a happy ending?

Because, you know, homos jerk off perfectly straight guys who are curious, too.

Hope it was a gloriousssh summer!

B-yyyyyyye!

said Johnny Chicago on July 29, 2009 5:41 PM.
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