I was a teenager when first introduced to “smut.” In the late ’70s and ’80s I didn’t have an iPhone or the Internet. I couldn’t Google it. I didn’t go looking for it on purpose—in fact it grossed me out when I discovered it while working a summer job. I’d ride my bike from Edgewater Park to a small farm stand not far from the train underpass on what we called River Road in Burlington Township. For a few dollars an hour my friend and I would sell fruits and vegetables and that favorite summer staple, Silver Queen corn.
Few customers left the stand without a half-dozen ears or more and there were always a few people every day who insisted I check each ear for perfection. Peeling back the layers I’d be afraid to find a worm that often was still snacking. Turned out a worm was no big deal. The worst was coming across a big, gray, slimy glob that looked like weeks old chewing gum devoid of color stuck on the corn. It was a fungus called smut and to this day when grocery shopping I check ears of corn with a little trepidation.
When driving by the housing development that replaced the old farm and stand, I’d tell our daughter and son I once worked there selling produce. Other times we would talk about the different places I worked during high school or college. Sometimes Tom would chime in about his own work experience as a teen in the Midwest detasseling varying rows of Pioneer hybrid seed corn. I would tease him about that job and he’d mock me by saying “OK, Sears security.” We’d have a good laugh busting on each other.
Seriously though, I did work in the security department of a Sears store while in college. It was a fun and interesting job though I wasn’t as intense as Kevin James’ character Paul Blart in the movies. Back then I could follow a suspicious customer all over the store with cameras everyone can plainly see in the ceiling. I’m not spilling secrets here—just saying my skills following shoplifters with cameras also helped me track a fellow employee I just HAD to pay back for a few terrible tricks he played on me.
Sometimes people would need a parent of a lost child or an errant husband paged. On one of my shifts a call came in to me on the switchboard from the hardware department. The “employee” on the phone was talking to me and a “wife” in the department at the same time, clarifying how to say the husband’s last name so I could page him.
“Can you please page Mr. Wrench?” the “employee” asked. “His wife can’t find him,” he added.
“What’s his first name?” I naively responded.
“Ma’am, (he pretended to ask the non-existent wife), what’s his first name? Allen? Allen,” he told me.
I pushed the button on the switchboard and over the public address system I said: “Would Allen Wrench please return to the hardware department? Allen Wrench please return to the hardware department?”
That day I learned what a real Allen wrench was and what a prankster one of my coworkers was. Months later he got me a second time with a more embarrassing name. My boss, who happened to be in the office at the time, cut me off immediately.
One workday as I checked out locations in the store with the cameras I noticed the prankster was about to walk by a family looking at a sale item on the floor. With perfect timing I hit the microphone button on our office walkie-talkie and mimicked a loud bodily function noise that came through his walkie-talkie at the same moment he passed the family and appeared to have publicly passed gas. They stared at him in disbelief and disgust. I had the last laugh and later whispered into the walkie-talkie, “Gotcha back!”
I tell our kids I really enjoyed most of the jobs I had in high school and college because I made a little money, made new friends and figured out what I liked and disliked doing. Teenagers looking for or starting summer jobs now will discover the same thing and enjoy the opportunity to grow more responsible and independent. They may also figure out as I did once that a bad fit doesn’t have to last forever.
I lasted about an hour working at a fast food restaurant in a mall in high school. On my first day the really nice boss asked me every 15 minutes, “How do you like it so far?” By the fourth inquiry I was tired of slipping around the greasy floor in my sneakers and clinging to the counter so I wouldn’t fall down. Lemonade dripped on my hands no matter how careful I was at the dispenser and I couldn’t bring myself to touch the food that had to be cooked. I promptly quit, thanked him for his training then waited outside the Barbara Moss store where my sister worked until it was time to go home.
I managed to make it through a summer as a salesperson earning commission at Baker Shoes. I didn’t make much money though because my competition included three men in their 20s who charmed women the same age looking for high heels and potential boyfriends. I was more successful, believe it or not, selling tires, batteries and oil changes at an auto center. It’s also where, without consulting a mechanic, I poured five quarts of oil into my car when it only needed half of one. Live and learn.
Looking back, my favorite early job was the one with all the perks. I sold tickets, popcorn and candy at a movie theater and briefly considered a career editing movie trailers that ran before the main attraction. My paycheck wasn’t big but the free movies saved the college student I was then plenty of money. I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I enjoyed showings of Raising Arizona and other blockbusters with a free bowl of popcorn in our laps.
All of those jobs helped me through college to pursue the television news career I set as my goal. In June of 2000, at a media event I participated in for CBS3 at Veterans Stadium, I met Tom. Nearly 15 years later as I prepared this column he let it slip we had more in common. He says he lasted only one day at a fast food restaurant, not liking the food part and joking the hat he had to wear wouldn’t fit over his perm. Well, to quote one of his trademark radio phrases, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
Robin Rieger is a former anchor and reporter with CBS 3. A lifelong South Jersey resident, she lives with her husband, Philadelphia 76ers Radio play-by-play broadcaster Tom McGinnis, and their two children in Burlington County.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 3 (June, 2015).
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