On NPR this summer they've been featuring life-altering summer jobs tales. Which made me reflect on a summer job I held for many a summer and gladly do not do any more...
in an effort to coerce me into eventually taking over his orthodontic practice, my father hired me as summer help as an orthodontic assistant from an early age (I think I was 12 when I started working for him--clearly I needed no previous qualifications for the job; nepotism was all that was required). This was back in the 70's, in the days before sanitation precautions like face masks & sterile rubber gloves. Instead I was forced to deal mano a mano with a host of greasy, pimply faces, infected gums, & stench breath that could've knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard.
Bad enough I had to don a tight mustard-yellow zip-front rayon top that made me look like an extra from Star Trek (coupled with stylish stretch white polyester pants and white platform-soled nursing shoes that looked like something Herman Munster might've worn to a Great Gatsby party), and be subjected to the molar-grinding strains of hideously trite and repetitive Lite Rock all day long. But I then had to suffer the repeated indignity while checking each patient for loose bands of being pelted in the face throughout the day with chunks of lurking chewed up food bits, rarely brushed from the braces-clad teeth of hygienically challenged pre-teens.
(while some mouths did bear a remarkable resemblance to this one, I was happy that none of my patients were actual cadavers)
This job tested my olfactory system as well as my stamina for the aforementioned food-flinging indignity, and to this day I don't hesitate to chastise a kid in braces for having puffy, infected gums that emit odors akin to that of 3-day old shrimp carcasses.
Back then I felt almost an obligation to follow in my father's footsteps, if only because he'd worked so hard to get to that point (and because my three clearly wiser brothers flat-out rejected the notion, so I felt badly for the man).
You can imagine how thrilled I was when I realized that my ongoing shortcomings in simple high school math classes would ultimately hold me in fabulous stead, never able to get into a dental school with my failings even in remedial math, excusing me from ever having to worry about whether I'd have to take over dad's practice. It was almost worth being lobbed in the face with mascerated Doritos several times a day. Almost...
Alas, on a writers meager salary, I occasionally wonder if the financial comforts of a life of orthodontia would have at least better-prepared me for eventual retirement (as I now envision my twilight years burdened with having to hand out smiley face stickers at WalMart instead). But no doubt by now I'd have been felled by the myriad diseases I caught while breathing too close to those germ-laden, smelly 'tweens. Better alive and poor than wealthy and dead I guess!
Jenny Gardiner is the author of WINGING IT: A MEMOIR OF CARING FOR A VENGEFUL PARROT WHO'S DETERMINED TO KILL ME (Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books), the Books-A-Million Pet Book Club pick for June. She is also the author of the award-winning novel SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER, and a novel just released exclusively to Kindle, SLIM TO NONE. You can visit her on her website: www.jennygardiner.net