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Moral: Don’t bully your workers, you could really need them in the future.

In 1997, I was seventeen and looking for a summer job. Looking back on my seventeen-year-old self, I can honestly say nobody should have ever hired me. I would never hire that version of Jay Callahan for a manual labor job. I was an awful sandwich maker, maker of honey baked hams, and I was the worst house painter.

My friends, Graham and Yates, and I were all looking for jobs for that summer to make some extra cash and get our parents off of our backs. We came across a sign in a front yard of a house in Buena Vista that said Collegiate Painters. We were rising seniors in high school so we gave them a call.

The boss of our region was named Scott and was a rising senior at Wake Forest University. He was in charge of a crew that painted mainly middle to upper class houses in the Buena Vista and Sherwood Forest neighborhoods. Rob hired all of his painters from Wake, except for the three of us. We later figured out why he needed three high school kids and it was not a good reason, it was to give us the areas nobody else wanted to paint.

Eight dollars an hour was a great paying job back then, so we were pumped about all the Dave Matthews and Blues Traveler CD’s we could afford with all of that money. Most of the painters from Wake were looking for some extra cash, while staying on campus and taking summer school.

Graham took a three week bike trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, so Yates and I had a head start on filling our pockets. Our first house was a large, two story brick house with a lot of trim that needed painting. From the start, we were picked on by Rob. He gave us the worst areas of the houses to paint and was never nice about it.

Yates was tall, so he made Yates paint places like the pipes on the roofs and underneath the roof. I was short so I had to paint low windows and the areas behind bushes. If you ever wonder who gets the job of painting behind bushes right up against the house, it is most likely a seventeen-year-old. At one point, I had to crawl underneath a row of prickly bushes and spend a day painting with thorns poking all over me. Rob would order pizzas for lunch. He would make Yates and I keep working until everybody else was done eating, and then give us a lunch break of cold pizza. We would purposely paint windows shut by the second week, just so Rob would have to go back over them and pry them open.

Rob and his friend, John, enjoyed watching us suffer and were what the French would call le stupide. John was a track star at Wake, and was one of those guys that thought he was better than the rest of the world. I guess it was popular back in those days for college students to get Chinese symbol tattoos. John had a big fat one on his ankle. I am not positive what it meant, but I am pretty sure it was the symbol for jackass.

By the third week, Yates and I were over it. Graham was set to return in a couple days so we stuck it out. Graham was dating the step-daughter of the President of Wake Forest at the time. He made sure to let all of the painters realize this on his first day. They must have assumed that Graham could help hook them up with new scholarships or better grades with his connection, because they were kissing his butt right away. While I was rolling around on my stomach trying to not mix paint and dirt on the bottom of the house and Yates was shaking a mile in the air, Graham was basically getting massages. We had the cold pizza and he was getting a big fat filet.

After about two weeks of Graham being back in town, Yates and I were done. Yates picked us all up one morning. On the way to get Graham, we decided we weren’t going back to paint ever again. We just weren’t going to show up at the next house. We told Graham it was okay if he kept going, but there was no way the two of us would be with him. Graham probably enjoyed making good money while being fawned over, but he was a loyal friend so he stayed with us.

That morning we went to Toys ‘R’ Us and tried on roller blades and played roller hockey in the aisles until we were kicked out. Then we went and got free smoothies from girls we knew that worked at the Juice Shop. We spent the rest of the day at Forsyth Country Club pool, where none of us were members. We knew several members and we even had codes to get free lunches on friend’s accounts. We were living the high life.

For the next three weeks until it was time for soccer tryouts, we got into a new routine (sorry mom and dad). We would wake up and put on swim trunks and put on old paint clothes over-top of them. We would act like we were off to paint houses, and instead we would go play roller hockey at Toys ‘R’ Us, get free smoothies, and hang out at the pool all day. We even got a paint can and would put some paint on our clothes to make it look really official that we were working.

Two weeks into our summer job vacation, we were at a party and all three of us got pages from Rob. Back then, if you looked at your beeper and there was a 911 beside the number, it was very important. We knew it was Rob’s number and we made Graham call him after several other pages. He put the phone at the house on speaker and we listened in to the call. Rob asked what happened to us and sounded like he was about to cry. Apparently, several other painters quit, and it was down to him and John. He really needed us to help him complete two big jobs that week.

After listening to Rob beg for a while, we finally told him that we would try to show up at the address he gave us the next morning. We woke up that morning, put our paint clothes over our swim trunks and went to play roller hockey, get free smoothies, and go to the pool; while ignoring pages from Rob.

If you had a house in one of those neighborhoods in the late nineties, I am sorry about the poor paint job at the bottom of your house. Also, if you ever have high school employees, don’t be mean to them just because they are young. It might come back to bite you!

 

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