Crummy Summer Jobs I Have Known

When my granddaughter complained  about her boring summer job, it called to mind the succession of yucky summer jobs I endured from high school through college.  My dear Dad, used his many contacts as a grocer and a member of the Jewish community to finagle jobs for me each of those summers. This is how I earned my spending money for the school year.  I believe his only consideration was that it be a paid position.  That meant working for $1 to $1.25 per hour.

The job descriptions are in order from best to worst.

Use Lestoil, “the liquid detergent modern as can be.”


Lestoil was a blockbuster liquid detergent that was invented in my home town by a prominent member of the local Jewish community.  By dint of lots of savvy marketing and tv spots, the sales of this detergent exploded in the mid 1950’s.  The summer I worked there,the owner generously provided jobs for the college age kids of his friends.  About 6 of my friends and I were hired job  to open envelopes that had been mailed into the company in response to a mail in advertising campaign.  It was something to the effect of “…in 50 words or less, tell us why you like Lestoil. ”  Everyone who responded, got a Lestoil coupon back in the mail.  Some days there were dozens of letters and some days very few.  Either way, it only kept us occupied for a brief time of our work day, even though we’d draw it out as long as we could. We enjoyed reading out loud some of the more creative uses of Lestoil that customers had discovered, such as washing their own hair with it, or the hair of their dog, at the same time they were washing their car.  Another person claimed it had cured his poison ivy.

When we couldn’t draw out the letter opening activity any longer,  we screwed around lackadaisicaly filing paper.  Getting coffee in the cafeteria was also a good activity to kill time. I had a mild crush on two of the older boys in our group, so that kept things relatively interesting until they both quit the job.

Although Mr. Clean soon came along to give Lestoil some liquid detergent competition, most people in Holyoke remained loyal to our home grown cleaner.  I feel quite certain that there’s still a partial bottle of Lestoil in every house in Holyoke with anyone over 60.

“Have a sample of the new Hostess English Muffin”

english muffins

was the opening line of the spiel I was supposed to memorize before offering a perfectly toasted, dripping with margarine, quarter piece of the new  fork- split muffin.  The spiel went on from there, at which point my presentation significantly deteriorated and became a mumbo-jumbo that never seemed to make sense as I listened to myself talk. But by then, most potential customers had moved on to the opposite end of the grocery store aisle.  I ate the muffin piece myself because it was important that a customer eat it while still warm.

It always amazed me that most people acted as if I were invisible, even when I stuck a sweet basket of english muffins in front of them.  If someone did stop to take my offering, I was inappropriately grateful.

This pathetic bit of salesmanship went on for 8 hours a day.  I’d arrive at a different super market each morning, all spiffy in my white uniform, my hair pulled back in a pony tail, hopes high .  I’d put an apron on after I plugged in the toaster. After rehearsing my spiel about 50 times before I could fall asleep at night, I’d convince myself that I knew it.  Each day, I’d find myself mumbling something incoherent again after the first sentence was out of my mouth.  I think after the first few weeks, I just dropped the rest of the spiel.  It made no difference.  Either way, I just kept eating the muffins the customers refused.

The days wore on as did the summer.  When the summer ended, I did not eat another bite of an English muffin for at least a decade.

Hold Your Nose


I scraped the bottom of the barrel in the Summer Jobs hierarchy when my father announced he’d found filing work for me at a fat rendering company.

Render culinary definition – what does render mean? › … › Cooking Terms and Techniques › Cooking Terms


Jun 23, 2015 – Definition: A culinary term for melting and clarifying hard animal fat for cooking purposes. Rendering can be done by two methods: dry heat or wet heat. In both methods, the fat is slowly cooked until it melts, and is then strained of impurities from the cooking process.

Mountains of disgusting fat would be collected from the butcher departments of local supermarkets.  It was then brought in trucks to be rendered at this plant.  I worked in the office which was separate from the building where the dirty business took place.  Unfortunately, the stench from the business at hand permeated everything within a mile radius.  I had to hold my breath as we got close, or alternately, cover my nose.
Filing has got to be the dreariest job in the world.  The beaten down regular office workers ignored me. There was zero camaraderie.  I filed. and filed. and filed. I can still picture the office clock as I  counted down the hours and minutes of each day until I could flee that dreadful space.  Another very long summer.


Know Your Blueberry Muffins

basket of blueberries

Once upon a time, blueberries were a seasonal treat.  Now, they can be enjoyed year round.  Once upon a time, the brief season was highly anticipated, marking a mid-summer’s high point. At my mother’s side, I quickly learned to be able to discriminate among available muffins.   Growing up, they were on our breakfast table almost daily for a precious few weeks, when one otherwise ordinary bakery on High Street in Holyoke, MA took to baking perfect muffins with a take-no-prisoners ferocity.

There are three important categories for blueberry muffins that need to be recognized. Only muffins in Category C are to be savored.  The others are to be mostly ignored, particularly if you have any self respect.

A.  The not-so-good kind, made with artificial blueberries, often from a mix.  Not bad if it is from a mix and you dump the artificial berries and add lots of your own fresh ones. Only tolerable they’re so fresh and you can eat them warm. If you haven’t baked them yourself, AVOID them.

B.  The cakey, dry kind, perhaps well-intentioned, but always missing the mark.  A muffin of this category was an unfailing disappointment.  Looking good from the outside, but too dry and too skimpy on the berries.  Turn away.


C. The moist, overloaded with blueberries kind.  Intense respect. A muffin from this category was always a revelation; plump and irregular, muffin streaked through with indigo blue berries that burst during baking.  The fluted paper cup is a nice touch, but is not necessary.  Ditto for a crumb or sugar topping, or adding any extra ingredients.  It’s like guilding the lily.

If you’re able to, eat your muffins warm.  I also recommend, splitting and grilling them, then coating them lavishly with melted butter and forgetting any thoughts about a diet.

extraordinary muffins
The Way You Want A Blueberry Muffin to Look
best muffins




Are You City or Country???

city mouse vs country mouseSome things about yourself change during a lifetime , others remain remarkably consistent. But then, some day you are likely to find, as I have,  that what had pleased you so consistently doesn’t bring as much pleasure as it once had.

I knew I was a “bi” before there was a name for it. I fancied myself part city mouse and part country mouse.  Maybe a little more city.  Now that I’m “older,” the life of the country mouse seems more appealing than ever and the city mouse routine is loosing ground.

City Mouse

My original city side liked the glamour, the energy, the cutting edginess of the big city.  I was particularly enamored  by the style, and the diversity of choices.  The city made my mind expand with ideas and experiences that I’d seldom, if ever, find outside the city..

When I was a teenager about to travel into NYC, I would think carefully about to wear.

city slicker

No matter how carefully I chose the outfits, in my own mind, I never made the grade. Now, I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin, and NYC has grown a lot more casual and forgiving.

At last, I don’t much care what other women are wearing, because it’s simply become irrelevant. By the time you’re in your 70’s, you’ve become largely invisible to the world of fashion, and have been for decades. That can make shopping challenging, but it’s also liberating.

Regarding the Big City world of food, I believed religiously that there was no place  better to eat than in NYC.  Now, I continue to enjoy the restaurants here, but detest the noise that literally bounces off the walls and floors.  Tables are too close together in this land of precious real estate.  Conversation can quickly become impossible if there are more than two people sitting next to you.  It’s then a game of endurance and the pleasure is gone.

Once restricted to Jewish environs, bagels are now available  just about everywhere. As youth, coming to NY meant eating a classic corned  beef or pastrami on rye.  Now, attempting that feat is an invitation to indigestion that could last and torture for an entire afternoon.


OK, for live theatre, dance, and museums, NYC is unbeatable, but now there’s lots of inspiration online too.

For me, there’s too much ugly concrete. Too many buildings with the name TRUMP on them. Way too much traffic.  Too many luxury apartments towering over the city.  Too many people. Too many close calls.  On a daily basis, I come close to getting run over, be it from a reckless taxi driver turning into the pedestrian crossing or from a hell bent bicyclist riding the wrong way down a one-way street.

Country Mouse

So, I guess it’s no surprise that when we took an overnight trip to the NW Connecticut countryside, it felt like entering paradise. Here, the true charms of early summer easily revealed themselves.

Fields and meadows of waving grasses.  Green and deep woods. Deserted two lane country roads that insistently whisper, follow me.


By the ponds, marshes and lakes. Admire the wildflowers clamoring for attention during their brief growing season. Vines of wild raspberries and blackberries, clumps of daisies, pale pink clusters of mountain laurel, forests of ferns, all vying with each other for the title of Best in Show.  My country side mouse was grateful for the relief from the turmoil of the city. Deep breath in.

mountain laurel

And last, but not least, there is the quiet. Quiet. Quiet, only interrupted by the gusts of wind in the trees and the birdsong.  Deep breath out.

Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly….
~Pablo Neruda

Beyond the Blue Horizon

The venerable old synagogue in Park Slope, Brooklyn has seen a lot of life.  It’s known joy and sorrow and been a part of its community for about 150 years.  Recently, my granddaughter’s high school class used the sanctuary to hold its graduation, a time of celebration and just a little sorrow.


My tears were prompted as the grads filed in and I heard the familiar grand strains of Pomp and Circumstance played by the school band. I don’t remember crying at my own daughters’ graduations, but with more time on my side, this graduation was a significant marker of time, as my first grandchild reached college age.

I thought back to my own graduation.  About all I recall is the handknit dress I wore; a white ribbon confection that my mother had worked on for months.  I felt excitement on the occasion because it marked the end of my life living at home.  Dreams?  Mainly just of living in a sunny, tropical environment, studded with sparkling beaches and exotic palm trees.  Sad to say, there was nothing more defined in my mind than that.  Career?  Few options existed for a girl graduating a small town high school in the 1950’s. The mantra I’d been fed and swallowed was go to college and live happily ever after in a blissful marriage to a nice Jewish boy.  Actually, with a few additions, it worked out quite well!!

Today, the dreams of my granddaughter know no boundaries.  How delicious.

I spent the summer of my graduation counting down the days to college and lustily singing Beyond the Blue Horizon, when I was driving alone in my parent’s car.  The emphasis was on “Goodbye to things that bore me.”  At that time, it was sufficient to know that everything that felt written in stone in my life would soon change.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the inspiring lyrics, here they are:


Beyond the blue horizon Waits a beautiful day
Goodbye to things that bore me Joy is waiting for me
I see a new horizon My life has only begun
Beyond the blue horizon Lies a rising sun.

I think Johnny Mathis did a cover of it.

The tinge of sadness I felt at my granddaughter’s graduation came from the deep understanding that time is moving very swiftly.  “It seemed like yesterday…” was the phrase that hovered just behind the experience itself.

The graduation photos being posted on Facebook are ubiquitous and look uncannily alike, no matter the family or setting. Smiling kids, smiling families.  For the lucky kids, there will be years ahead of stimulating intellectual and personal growth.  Disappointments will be moderated by the continued support of teachers, friends and family.  For others, not as lucky, life will be less forgiving. But for now, advice abounds to “reach for the stars”, “embrace fear”, and “blaze a path forward” where others fear to tread.

Now, as the cameras click and capture the excitement, my wish to all graduates  is that they discover, on the road ahead, new paths for self expression, inspiration and self realization.  From the inevitable setbacks, may they learn that “This too shall pass.”

And it goes without saying, may all graduates know a world at peace, with love, generosity and respect for all.