All this talk of city salaries (see this week’s cover story, “Making payroll,” beginning on page 16) brings me back to the summer of 1991, when I spent my vacation on Long Island, working for the village of Garden City’s municipal services department.
Yep, for about 10 weeks there I was a government employee, mostly pushing a lawnmower on traffic islands, schools and public parks in the town where I grew up.
There was a whole crew of us college kids, sons of Garden Citians with enough juice to land these spots, but not enough to get us gigs at, say, the mayor’s office or Leo’s.
People from Garden City, NY are gonna love that joke.
The college kids were all pretty much just like me: floating undergrad schmucks looking to drink away the summer with our high school friends, and willing to suffer the indignities of working the Municipal Services Yard to do it.
But the lifers, the guys who worked there for their entire careers… those guys were something else: the sloop-backed garbage haulers who hung off the backs of the roving trucks like pirates at sea, the chunky operators who rode the big mowers from field to field, the white-shirted supervisors who always stood squarely with the working men.[pullquote]Lonnie made so many Polish jokes I wondered if there wasn’t something more going on there.[/pullquote]
The guy who tended the downtown gardens had written a book on the Civil War. His truck partner was the older sister of a guy I graduated high school with — at least I think he graduated — and also, according to her tattoos, a “Harley Honey.” The guy from the recycling truck had a tattoo, too, on his stomach: a skunk, placed just so that his belly button made up a critical but vulgar piece of the skunk’s anatomy.
Fred grew up in Harlem. Jeff was a huge smartass, and got really upset when the boss told him he could no longer keep pornographic magazines in the work truck. Lonnie made so many Polish jokes I wondered if there wasn’t something more going on there.
All summer long we cut the fields and edged their borders, raked up the refuse and took it to the dump. But mostly we drank beer, smoked anything we could get our hands on, took long lunches and ditched our trucks behind buildings to play boxball in parking lots with found tennis balls.
On some days, we could get the actual work done in just a couple hours.
And then in August, we all went back to college while the rest of them stayed put.