During the summer some kids go to camps, others chill with their friends, and handful get summer jobs. I am in the third group. I have been job hopping for the last three summers; I’ve done everything from bag groceries to file paperwork. This summer I lucked out; I ended up at the Winchester Country Club. Some of you might have seen me there; I was in the snack shack serving fries and scooping ice cream. Living the American dream.
I spent a lot of time with people last summer; serving kids food, joking with my coworkers during work, and observing my various bosses. I liked some things I saw; I did not like others.
On any given shift I would probably serve a hundred orders. That might sound like a lot, but bear in mind that at minimum half of all orders were little plastic cups of goldfish. The kids and the adults too, were crazy for those little orange fish. We literally went through three or four large cartons of goldfish every day. I can’t even look at them anymore.
What I found interesting was the way my various customers asked for their goldfish. Most simply asked, “Goldfish?” and they would receive their food. But at least one out of every ten people I served were not quite that nice. I remember one kid, barely ten years old, bypassed a line of twenty some odd people and screamed “GIVE ME SOME GOLDFISH.” This would just be an interesting story, if it didn’t happen Every. Single. Day. After politely telling him he had to wait in line, he would return to the back, grumbling. By the time he got to the front I could see the fire in his eyes, I was very, very glad I had a sturdy counter between the two of us. There are no words to describe his anger.
There are other stories along these lines. Tales of arrogant and stupid teenagers trying to haggle for free food. Passive aggressive baby sitters. All stories that boil down to one very simple truth. At the heart of many people is an egotistic black hole. When left up to their own devices they will demand attention and immediate results, and will swiftly anger should their absurd demands not be met. Some people simply lack any degree of sympathy.
Despite the fact that do not have consciences when they see others as their equals they will dredge up some respect for their fellow man. In the eyes of the club members all of the staff were their inferiors; in our own eyes we were all more or less equal. What I found interesting was in that equality leaders rose, each with every different agendas.
The leader I remember the most was just as angry as the Goldfish Boy, but she channeled her rage into her work. Her work method was to work as quickly and efficiency as possible and decapitate anyone who got in her way. You have no idea how frightening a ninety pound white girl can be. She emerged as one leader, simply because everyone was scared to death of her.
The other leader was the exact opposite. A fun guy, always quick with a joke or a funky dance move. He was friends with everyone; there was not one person that didn’t enjoy talking with him. He would always conjure up some interesting tidbit or metaphor regardless of whatever the conversation was on politics or the diet of the sparrows that lived by the Country Club (We believe it is mostly Goldfish). He is the nicest guy; he was the other leader we looked up two.
I suspect many of you suspect I am leading up to a massive battle between the forces of good and evil, the conflict of the century. Well I’m not. Despite the fact the angry, angry girl gave him many offenses he never once took the bait. He would just smile in return and say something polite. In the end he also earned her grudging respect simply because he was able to stand up to her, much more than anyone else could do. He emerged as the supreme leader of us coworkers because he was nice. It’s as simple as that.
The topic of my speech was a summer experience. I could have talked about anything in the summer, from the days I spent at the Jersey shore to my treks in South Carolina. Instead I choose to talk about the mundane, about working a minimum wage job at a random country club. I did not talk about it because it was interesting, but because it had the greatest effect on my life of all the events of summer. It was at the country club that I learned about people.
The lessons I learned from the people I worked with this summer are so simple that they are often forgotten. Some people are angry because they are self-centered. Being polite and kind will get you better results than yelling and screaming. There are other lessons that I do not have time to address. And with each lesson about humanity only created new questions. The only solid conclusion I came to was that in order to succeed is to get to know people around you. That is the only fact I learned this summer.