all-encompassingly

we still remember mitch hedberg

A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.

Jun 26th 2003

our interesting friends, part I

editor’s note: this is part I of all-encompassingly’s new series, “our interesting friends”, where our friends tell us stories. its just like we’re sitting around the old-time campfire…except the campfire has a plastic casing, is filled with silicon conductors, and there are none of those pesky mosquitos. so, here you go. today we’ll hear an anecdote from melissa, who reminisces about her first summer job and the surprising life-lessons it taught her.

If I were to describe my life in one word, that word would have to be �average.� I don’t have any stories about how I am an amazing person. I have never battled a serious illness, and if I had, I doubt that I would have handled my illness courageously. It would be more likely that I would have just stayed in bed and moaned and been very demanding, constantly using my illness to receive sympathy and juice. I did have braces for eight years and I feel as though I handled that courageously, but perhaps it isn�t really the same thing. Basically I am your run of the mill twenty-two year old college girl. I use the word �like� way too much and I�m addicted to computer solitaire. During the summer I live at home, work as a waitress, and occasionally my parents pick me up from work in the family minivan. But here it is, the story of my not so average first job.

Looking back on it I think that I led a pretty sheltered life. Up until high school I had never seen anyone my own age drink or smoke. I had heard tales of such things but they had never really penetrated the bubble that was my life. This all changed in the summer of 1995. That was the summer that for the first (and only) time in my life I saw someone under the age of eighty smoke a pipe.

pipe.jpg

It is also the only time that I have seen anyone harvest marijuana and attempt to dry it by tying it to the belt loops of their pants. I was fourteen and I decided that it was about time that I started earning my own way in the world. (Well, that and my parents kept mentioning how I should stop asking them for money. And every once in awhile my dad would talk about how good hard work is for you and how it creates within you integrity and a will to be a better person.) I thought about getting a summer job, but it is just so hard for a fourteen-year-old to get a job. I mean seriously, how can an unskilled fourteen-year-old compete with a bigger, stronger, more coordinated sixteen-year-old? I think it was my cousin, Amie, who first came up with the idea that we should detassel. Detasseling is a process which no one can understand unless they have grown up with it. Basically it is three weeks during the summer when hundreds of money hungry teenagers spend approximately 10 hours a day walking up and down rows of corn plucking the �tassel� from the top of the corn stalk.

corn4.jpg

This makes it so that the corn cannot self-pollinate. It is all a rather boring process that requires no great skill or mental capacity. Trained monkeys could do it, but the fact is they are too short and would get lost in the corn. And they would probably have to get paid more than $5.25 an hour. Early in the year the various detasseling crews begin their recruiting processes. For us it was just a simple matter of picking the best one. We finally decided on the �Psycho Detasseling Team� or �PDT� for short. The deciding factor was the promise of daily free Little Debbie Snacks. In retrospect perhaps the Little Debbie Snacks attracted some shady characters, but it really was the best deal. Free food and $5.25 an hour; you can�t beat that.

The time finally arrived for us to begin our new jobs. This required getting up early, which my body rebelled against. But my mom, being the great mom that she is, used to get up and make me a lunch which always contained two chocolate Snack Pack brand puddings. Perhaps this was partially because dad made her detassel one time and she hated it and to this day shudders every time she thinks about it. The first few days went by without incident. Besides my developing corn rash and realizing how much I hated detasseling. Corn rash is a common ailment among detasselers. It isn�t a rash at all, it just looks like one but really it is just about a billion tiny cuts on your skin from the leaves on the corn stalks. One day Amie and I were a little late, but there was still a bus there, so we got on it. Unbeknownst to us, we had stumbled onto “The Elite Bus.” This was a self-proclaimed title, which they had “earned” or “made up” after the first day when they had finished more fields than the other buses. They usually did not allow anyone else on the bus, I was a personal witness to more than one person being turned away, but somehow Amie and I slipped on and at the end of that day the entire bus had a discussion about whether we should be invited to join the elite bus crew. Amie and I sat there listening and hoping that we would be allowed to stay. The decision was finally made; we were to get on the elite bus everyday from then on. We were officially part of the group. Not only that, we were also invited to go to the Adventureland Amusement Park with them later that summer. That was a great day; probably the best detasseling day ever. The elite crew was full of interesting characters. Everyone smoked, or at least claimed that they did. Lunch time always reminded me of a story I had heard once about how after WWII cigarettes were used as currency in some places. It was not unusual to hear something like, �I�ll give you my fruit snacks for a smoke.� It was almost like a prison barter system. Some of the older kids (the 15 year-olds) developed a rapport with the bus driving supervisor and sometimes after we were done for the day he would take them to the gas station and buy them cartons of cigarettes. (The sudden influx of cigarettes would later cause the value of fruit snacks to plummet.) But the most interesting person by far was Cedric.

Cedric was one of our supervisors. He was a very large black man who drove a red Mustang without any license plates. Cedric told us that if we gave him our detasseling pay checks, he could get us Tommy Hilfiger Jeans, “real cheap.” I was pretty much petrified of Cedric. He would bring several sandwiches with him each day for lunch, but he would eat the greater portion of them by the time we had arrived at our first field, usually around seven in the morning. Cedric�s job as a supervisor was to walk behind us and make sure that we hadn�t forgotten any of the tassels, but he rarely left the bus. By the time Little Debbie Snack time had come, they had been mostly devoured…by Cedric. And at lunch time he would walk up and down the aisles of the bus taking our food. I recall the day he stopped at our seat and said, “What did your mom pack for you today?” My cousin cowered in the corner of the seat and I suddenly discovered that I had lost the ability to speak. I was forced to respond by giving him one of my puddings. After a while, it became apparent that Cedric wasn’t really doing any work and yet getting much more than his fair share of the Little Debbie Snacks. And so the other supervisors fired him. (The fact that they formed their own little coup and fired Cedric is still confusing to me. They didn’t seem to have any authority to do so, but then again, it is survival of the fittest out there, eat or be eaten, stand up for yourself and get a Little Debbie Snack or cower in your seat and not only will you not have a Little Debbie, but suddenly your pudding is also gone.)

So Cedric got fired. They broke the news to him when they dropped him off at his car one night. He was told not to come back the next day, but perhaps it was his addiction to free Little Debbie Snacks, or perhaps he just loved the whole camaraderie brought on by detasseling, who can really say, all I know is that Cedric was very upset. So upset that he spent the entire night drinking. Then, in his alcohol induced state he showed up at our field the next morning. Not only was he drunk, but he was also carrying a firearm.

corn1.jpg

Meanwhile, we were busy detasseling, when one of our other supervisors came running into the field (looking back, it seems like the supervisors were rarely really supervising) and he told us that we had to hide in the corn, that Cedric was there and that he had a gun and was drunk and he was threatening to shoot someone if they did not give him his job back. So we hid. As I recall, we found a little clearing and sat around listening intently for any gunplay and trying to appear brave even though we knew that our lives were at stake.

Okay, so the truth is that I never really felt as though my life was at stake. As I recall my main thoughts centered on how great it was that we were getting a break and that we were still getting paid. Twenty minutes later we heard someone coming toward us through the corn and we all got up, ready to scatter if it turned out to be a gun wielding Cedric. But Cedric was gone. Somehow one of the other supervisors was able to talk Cedric down and he went home and we came out of the corn field and returned to our work. Cedric was never heard from again, but some said that on a clear day they would look out of the back windows of “The Elite Bus” as they ate their Little Debbie Snacks and swear that they saw a red Mustang without license plates following behind.

And there you have it. I would like to be able to say that my dad was right and that I learned the value of hard work but really, the only time that I valued my hard work was when I got my paycheck in the mail. Well, at least I learned that I never wanted to detassel again and also that I never again wanted to encounter anyone like Cedric. Since then I have had many experiences and I have met many different people and I think the most important lesson I have learned is this: Sometimes, when life gets tough, you might have to give up a pudding. But, that�s why you have two.

Comments are closed.