Amherst Magazine

My Summer Vacation

As students slaved away in investment firms, restaurant kitchens and statehouse corridors in July, we e-mailed the faculty to find out how they’d spent those long ago (or, in some cases, more recent) undergraduate summers. We asked: what was your most memorable—your best or worst—college summer job? Here is some of what they told us:

Robert Sweeney
William R. Mead Professor of Art

My best summer job, which I had for three summers, was as a live-in bellhop at a resort in Connecticut. My job was to ride with the guests in their cars to their cabins, take in their luggage and run back to the office for my next customer. I made all of my money on tips, selling ice and soda cabin-to-cabin, picking up people at the train and running the movies at night. I learned to become a ferocious little capitalist, working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, but made at least three times the money of the average summer job. My worst job I took after I had burned out and could not face another summer at the resort. I sold knives on commission door-to-door. I was threatened with attack dogs and baseball bats. I lasted a month, until I found a better job ($10 an hour in 1969) working in a private mental hospital. I was assigned to shadow patients who were dangerous to themselves or to others. Lots of adventures, including being taken halfway out of a closed third-floor window by one patient intent on jumping. We both survived.

Geoffrey Woglom
Richard S. Volpert ’56 Professor of Economics

I delivered mail from the James Farley Post Office in the summer of 1964. It was the year that the old Penn Station was torn down, Herman’s Hermits made their first U.S. tour, and I got to deliver the mail in the Empire State Building.

Catherine Sanderson
Associate Professor of Psychology

My best was working with the New Jersey Network for Family Life Education, training teachers to discuss sexuality in a balanced way and evaluating sex education curriculum.

James Maraniss
Professor of Spanish

I worked on the bologna line at the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison, Wis., in 1963. After my shift, I’d go out to a bar with Eddie and Vito to forget about the line, in which I would have placed cellophane, wet with soy oil, over the bologna canisters as they rushed by furiously, interminably. I couldn’t sleep, because of the beer, and cramping legs, but it didn’t matter because I was 18. During breaks, I would read poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez. The boy next to me on the line was reading Darkness at Noon. His name was Tom, and he was interested in smashing the system. I didn’t think about that seriously; it was only a summer job, but it paid well, union scale. The company had placed signs on the bulletin board promoting the passage of the Medicare bill. Now I’m nearly eligible for Medicare, and the assembly line is automated. I heard that our foreman, Steve, who was confounded by our insouciance, had to be retired because he got MS. He seemed invulnerable then amid the noise and the machines, where he was so masterful.

Michèle Barale
Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies

I was a nurses’ aide in the ER of a small Chicago hospital. Moments that stand out include (but are not limited to) having some of the following objects thrown at me by impatient/sleep-deprived docs: hemostats, forceps, dressings (clean and otherwise) and a chair. I learned to duck really fast. There was also the man who walked into the ER with a large kitchen knife sticking out of his chest, accompanied by his wife, who said she would do it again if he fooled around with that blonde one more time. He died, and she was arrested.

Andrew Dole
Assistant Professor of Religion

My best: I was a chimney sweep in Boston during the summer of 1987. I learned how to drive in the city and its environs, inhaled more soot than most people do during a lifetime and saw countless urban vistas from rooftops of all different sorts.

David Sofield
Samuel Williston Professor of English

In 1954, I was a tennis pro. It sounds grand, but it meant teaching kids, most of them obviously reluctant, the basics. As far as I know not one pupil at the River Forest Tennis Club carried on with the sport.

Frank Couvares
E. Dwight Salmon Professor of History and American Studies

In 1967, the highest paying job I could find in Suffolk County, Long Island, was at the American Flag Pole Co., which had a defense contract to make tent poles. I got assigned to a de-burring machine: I’d grab a four-foot length of pipe from a box on my right, dip the ends in a coffee can full of oil, push the pipe into the machine, then stack the pipe in the box on my left. After three days I quit and spent a few days planting onions—almost as bad. Then I landed a job at the St. James Country Club painting beach cabanas. When I finished the cabanas, the owner asked if I’d become chef’s assistant in the kitchen. I got good pay, all I could eat and tips on cooking from the master of the kitchen, a retired Swiss chef. The latter did not suffer my incompetence gladly, but he never doubted he could turn a clod into a fair cook, and he did.

Kim Townsend
Class of 1959 Professor of English

My best, hands down: a summer in/under the mountains of Colorado mining uranium.

Adam Honig
Assistant Professor of Economics

The worst summer job I had was working for a stockbroker at Smith Barney cold-calling potential clients of “high net worth.” The next semester I applied to Ph.D. programs in economics.

Rhonda Cobham-Sander
William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Black Studies and English

I worked for the Town and Country Planning Ministry in Trinidad, assigned to a team whose task it was to check out all the beaches in the neighboring island of Tobago. For six weeks we drove around the island, documenting the accessibility of every beach we could reach, measuring the backshore development area and testing the water quality. The ministry flew us back to Trinidad every weekend. By the end of the summer, when flying into Tobago, I could recognize and name every single stretch of sand I could see from the air. I also had perfected my body surfing skills.

Jay Caplan
Professor of French

Early one summer, the manager of a resort in Maine asked me to fill in for the cocktail pianist, who had suddenly quit. I tried to satisfy the customers’ requests for their favorite songs (“Hey twinkle fingers, play ‘Stardust’ for me!”). One item that was not in my repertoire was “The Maine Stein Song,” which I learned was a favorite drinking song of University of Maine alumni; the manager rushed over to Bangor to buy me the sheet music. A few years later the Squaw Mountain Inn burned to the ground.

Stephen George
Manwell Family Professor in Life Sciences (Biology and Neuroscience)

I worked each summer at the British Columbia Research Council. People would phone us with questions; if anyone asked how to remove human blood stains, we were supposed to put them on hold and call the police on the other line. Pulp mills were and are a staple of the British Columbia economy, and they dumped pollution into coastal waters. Our lab analyzed the effluents and tried to reduce their impact on marine life. I spent time on assignment at a mill; the temperature inside was 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and to counteract salt loss from sweating, we regularly swallowed salt tablets.

Peter Lobdell '68
Senior Resident Artist, Department of Theater and Dance 

My best summer job happened the summer before my senior year, the summer of 1967. I was hired as a fore deck hand on the Maharanee, a 55-foot yawl being delivered from Virginia to San Diego via the Panama Canal. The owner had changed jobs from East to West coasts. I was paid berth and board and a ticket back East from San Diego. I had sailed a lot, I thought, but never before in blue water. I discovered true sea sickness; I got my first, and only, tan, right through the whites I habitually wore. The skipper was a winner of the solo trans-Atlantic race and shunned clothes out of sight of land. We stopped at Jamaica, Panama, Acapulco and San Diego. I returned to Amherst with just the slightest hint of a seaman's rolling gait.