It’s not what you know, but who you know

The summer between freshman and sophomore year in college I planned to live with my grandparents and paint houses for money. I was looking forward to it having worked only in restaurants before. I loved the idea of being outside all summer, plus it paid better than the minimum of $3.35 an hour at the time.

Our friend Paul had a painting business everyone wanted to work for. My buddy Dennis told me he got enough gigs to last the whole summer and wanted my help. I envisioned the perfect midwest summer of sipping beer and listening to music.

One perk was not having to get a haircut. I had quite a mop going and wanted to go for a surfer bum look. I had really dark brown hair and even after 2-3 bottles of Sun-in, the best I could do was orange.

Disappointment came quickly. Dennis really only had one house to paint and he wanted it for himself.  I guilted him into splitting it with me because I had nothing else lined up, and Summer had already started.

Instead of making a couple thousand bucks that summer, I was only netting $150, and even that wasn’t a guaranteed if I was dependent on Dennis paying me.

My folks arrived with on the last day of my painting gig and were not fans of the new look. Mom said I looked like a god-damned Aborigine. She insisted I color it, so we applied some Just for Men, and I was back in black. When the light hit just right, it looked purple.

The news about the job didn’t go down well. Fortunately, my grandma’s cleaning lady Janet had connections. Both her kids worked at Bob Evans, the breakfast place, not the sausage factory.

They needed waitstaff, and even though I didn’t have waiting experience, I did know my way around the restaurant biz. The job was mine to lose, I just had to lie and say I had dropped out of college and wouldn’t be going back to Champaign in the fall.

I started on a Tuesday night and reported to the night time manager Glenn. Like me, he wore a black string tie and short sleeved shirt. The only difference, his was yellow and mine white. He kept his part of the orientation brief by saying, “We’ve got some mean mean bitches here. Just stay out of their way.” Then he let the video do the rest of the talking.

That summer, I cleaned up. Of all the places I waitered later I never made as much as I did there. Weekends were the best, I turn tables 3-4 times in a 6 hour shift, and never have to split tips.

Even though I never once though of dropping out, I was more than ready to go back to college. Quitting turned out to be easy. Half the people that worked there when I started were gone including Glenn. So no one really remembered I wasn’t planning on going back.

With the money I made that summer, I spent a good chunk on a sweet pair of Kipsch speakers that I hid from my folks. But that’s another story.