The Summer of ’61

By Lloyd Graff

Lloyd is on vacation this week. Below is one of his favorite summer blogs he wanted to share with you again. It was originally published in August 2015.

Summer jobs for younger people used to be common and highly desirable. Twenty years ago almost two thirds of high school kids found paid summer work. Today the statistics say only one out of three hold summer jobs.

Many factors have contributed to this fading away of summer employment. Unions are blamed for vetoing non-union hires in some plants and offices. Minimum wage increases make summer hires less attractive because employers have to pay inexperienced people more than they deem them to be worth. Wealthier parents often push their kids to volunteer or take enrichment courses or summer school makeups to help them get into selective colleges. Physical challenges like Outward Bound trips are seen as character building exercises.

But the old fashioned summer job, like unloading a Pepsi truck or testing urine in a lab, or cleaning filthy machines, can be a character builder with a lot of value, especially for young people who have lived in relatively sheltered environments.

I remember my first summer job, when I was 16 years old. I put a $6 ad in the Chicago Tribune classifieds, under “situations wanted.”

I advertised that I had writing and journalism skills, which was accurate, even if it was for the sports department at the high school paper.

Amazingly, I got a call from a man named Hadley who owned a bulletin board publication called the Civil Service News and was trying to build a magazine named Midwest Ports.

Teenagers de-tasseling corn. A traditional summer job in the rural midwest.

He interviewed me at his office in downtown Chicago in the building next to the Schubert Theater, a live performance venue near State and Madison. I guess I passed inspection, because he hired me.

The job was an education for me, but not for the journalism. Hadley was a curmudgeon who had a drinking issue. He wore sunglasses in his office. I soon realized that Midwest Ports was a boring magazine that nobody was going to read, but the Civil Service News was a sought after rag that people coveted because it carried all the fresh job openings.

Things went quite well for about a month and then suddenly, without notice, Hadley fired me. He gave me no explanation. He just said, “kid, you’re fired, get out of here.”

I was aghast and perplexed. I asked the secretary who had befriended me in the office what I had done wrong. She motioned for me to leave the office and go down to Wimpy’s restaurant on the first floor where she met me a few minutes later.

She told me point blank that Hadley had found out I was Jewish (how, I don’t know) and fired me “because he hates Jews.”

This was 1961, I was 16, and my cool summer job was over. Boom.

I had made a few bucks, enjoyed the excitement of taking the Illinois Central train into downtown Chicago, and got a dose of anti-Semitism that I had only known about from my parents’ occasional stories.

I think that kids who don’t do summer jobs, no matter how menial or nasty, miss out on something important. They need to learn how to navigate the work world with its rigors and nasty folks. For the elite kids headed to fancy colleges it is a chance to work with the people they may have to fire one day in a managerial position. It’s part of the critical seasoning process everybody needs to be successful.

Despite it’s rude ending, I cherish that first summer job.

Question: What was your most memorable summer job?

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4 thoughts on “The Summer of ’61

  1. Robert

    Interesting article as to why summer jobs don’t pay.

    My summer job was the dream job. I ran a couple of movie theaters on Nantucket. I enjoyed it so much that I worked for free on my nights off. Had to be at work by 5:30pm and was off by 11:30pm in time for the evening island parties. Had time to spend on the beach most of the days before work. Trying to figure out a way to return.

    1. Marvin

      Yes, Peeps haven’t a clue what times were like then. Just about everyone had something that peeps would hold prejudiced against, now they think it is just Blacks and other immigrants. No, we were all “victims” in a way; Polish, Jewish, Black, Irish, Italians, etc… Just about everyone had a jokes that made fun of them. It almost seemed just “natural”. I was only a kid then, 6 years old, going to a Catholic school, and I would always hear the “jokes” from the uncles and such, so it was always taken with a “grain of salt”, down inside it didn’t seem right but then I couldn’t hang or even go in certain places without getting razed or beat-up for being Catholic and having a last name of Abraham, the way I was dressed and so on. People do not realize that it starts way back with kids and kids learn from their peers or even parents and the cycle goes round and round. To make things better it starts with parent and communication between them. Then it’s the people you hang around with and so on …. It always gives me the creeps when I hear of another government program aimed at children that is going to fix everything. They cant. parents can’t, the pastor can’t, the latter two can help but it eventually is all up to you and God.
      It sounds like Lloyd figured it out, smart man, with good mentors I bet and the strength and perseverance to move on and keep going and alas knowing when to bow out of a situation that is never going to get better. Good job sir, hope you are mentoring others in the best way possible and making the next bunch of “Lloyd’s” enthusiastic and accountable. Take care and hope you get what you want for the business and good luck on to your next adventure. goal.

  2. John Martin

    Hawking the Chicago Tribune on a street corner in the western suburbs of Chicago. Made $0.02/paper + tips. would come home with $8-10/day! great money until an other kid stepped in front of a car the next town over. The kid wasn’t seriously hurt, but the news agency stopped direct selling after that. Had a regular customer that drove a delivery truck for a bakery, he would tip me with a loaf of bread. This bread was so good, my grandmother used to give a half-a-dollar to buy a loaf.

  3. rick

    I was 15 had a fight with my dad so I took a hiatus from the machine shop.

    Got a job with the local contractor humping bricks, mixing cement, and general gopher.

    Outdoors all day – it was a great time!


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