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Sex & Low Beach
I thought I would get an internship: one that looked good on a résumé, one that paid well. None of the plans I had made in my head involved strapping on a fanny pack every morning and selling beads for nine hours. Bees? No, beads.
It wasn’t the first summer I had donned the fanny pack. I had first started peddling beads in Santa Fe the summer before my senior year of high school, and I wasn’t keen on returning to it. Friends reminded me that it could be worse.
The job really had only one requirement: that I not lose the fanny pack, which was where we kept the money. After I left it in a bathroom during my first go-round at bead salesmanship, the fact that my boss considered employing me again was a miracle. Despite this, I was unhappy: unhappy that I had to be friendly to people who had no idea how to pronounce the overwhelmingly Spanish road names in Santa Fe; unhappy that I had to pretend to care about turquoise; and unhappy that I had to listen to my boss when he started to preach about his business philosophy and how it was applicable to life.
Thankfully, I got to know my co-workers.
A 14-year-old high school freshman named Brass I worked with knew calculus and could play four instruments (none of them brass, interestingly enough). His age and unbridled enthusiasm to learn everything about the gems and stones we sold ensured that he was a better salesman than I, though I think people started buying things just to get him to stop talking.
My other co-worker was the ghost of David future, although his situation is one I never really want to find myself in. Having graduated in May from college with a degree in architecture, Sam returned to his parent’s home and to the bead stand, where he had worked almost every summer since he was 13. Sam taught me what it means to be underemployed—though perhaps he doesn’t see it that way—given that he ran his own bead business a couple years ago, working different flea markets in California for a few months. At any rate, I know he wasn’t thrilled to be living at home, given his penchant for marijuana and his parent’s dislike of it.
And while, at first, it was my co-workers who got me through the summer, after a while, my job stopped feeling like work. As the summer wore on and the heat subsided, it became a lot easier to talk to customers. My initial awkwardness was due to my own inability to imitate the faux-friendless that is crucial to retail. After some time, though, the awkwardness disappeared, and my motivation for talking to people changed. After speaking with people who were genuinely interesting, I was no longer primarily concerned with selling someone a pendant or a bracelet, but with finding out what kind of stories the people around me had to tell, some of which they communicated, and others I observed for myself.
There was the girl from Denver who lost a friend in the Aurora movie theater shooting. She was eager to talk about her newfound resolve to live mindful of how short life is. There was the old woman who was wearing a silver bracelet that I recognized as a military- issue bracelet engraved with the name of a man I took to be her son or grandson who died in Afghanistan or Iraq.
One of the people who particularly interested me was a man in the compound of the bead booth who worked lifting and carrying the pots and fountains. After nine hours in the heat at the compound, he would go to work at his second job until 7 a.m. Four days out of the week, he didn’t sleep. In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea for the management to let him drive the forklift. But now I know that I could have it worse than forcing myself to stay awake in lecture after pulling an all-nighter.
So no, a job selling beads while wearing a fanny pack isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s nowhere close to the worst thing in the world. I got paid and while, admittedly, an internship might have looked better on a résumé, at least I can spin it as “great people skills.”
Still if I never see another room filled with beads again, it’ll be too soon.
My lone lingering question about this summer is why my boss, in all the years that he has inexplicably stayed in business, never bought a fucking cash register. I’m just saying: It would be really hard to leave a cash register in a bathroom.
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