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Oregon Family Magazine

Teenagers On The Job

07/02/2014 ● By Sandy Kauten
“I’m giving notice at work today,” said my 17-year-old daughter Marie. She’d been working half the summer as a waitress.

“Are you sure you should?” I asked. “I mean, you’ve barely learned how to refill the ketchup bottles, and now you’re quitting. Is that fair to your boss?”

“Dad, don’t worry about Zeke. No one can take advantage of him; he’s, like, a sociopath or something! I’m sick of working there. Now that I have experience, I can find a nicer restaurant closer to home.”

As a supervisor, I’ve had plenty of youngsters absorb my best lessons and then slip their shackles to flee to a better job. Sociopath or not, Zeke had my sympathy. His beanery was merely Marie’s academy.


“Hey Rick, your daughter’s been late to work twice this week,” said Howard, the owner of a gift shop in our little town. Sally, at age 15, works the counter and helps unpack stock. Howard, an amiable acquaintance of mine for years, continued, “She does good work, but I can’t have her just wander in when she feels like it.”

“Thanks for telling me, Howard,” I said, “But that’s gotta be between you and Sally. Give her a tune-up and if she doesn’t perform, fire her. It’ll teach her a lesson.”

He backed off saying, “I’ll talk to her.”

Sally had better watch out. Her friends are minding babies, flipping burgers or shoveling manure (hopefully not at the same establishment). They would love to land a nice, clean, easy job like hers.

That night I was chatting on the phone with my big brother Steve. “I’m discovering a new realm of frustration,” I told him. “My kids are a little too casual about their job responsibilities. It’s embarrassing.”

He laughed. “You’ve got a short memory. Remember the summer we worked for Dad?” Our father was the director of a college library, and the summer I was 16 and Steve was 18 he’d put us on the payroll.

I couldn’t help smiling. “Yeah, that was the summer of hilarity.”

“That’s right,” he said, “I don’t remember what was so funny about carrying boxes of books and rearranging those big shelves, but at the end of each day my sides ached from laughing.”

I said, “Remember when we set up the Art Department shelves too close together and old Mrs. Gilmore went in there for a book and got stuck?”

Steve said, “Yeah, she was a little too plump for the space. Instead of helping her, we ran into the stairwell so she wouldn’t hear us laughing.”

“No sense in humiliating the poor lady,” I said.

He said, “Remember when you spilled a cartload of books while you were flirting with the Strumski sisters in Processing? You were something. Half the time you were horsing around, and the rest of the time you worked SO slowly.”

“Yeah, Dad would tell me, ‘Ricky, walk like you’re heading somewhere! People look at you and say: What am I busting MY hump for? The boss’ kid is barely moving.’ Do you think that’s why he fired us?” I asked.

"He fired YOU; I had to quit early to leave for college,” Steve said.

“I guess I wasn’t the model employee,” I said.

“You were not even a human resource,” said Steve. “You were a baboon.”

Actually, Steve only saw me in action on one job. My early work record was characterized by non-performance punctuated by scandal. When I was a 17-year-old dog catcher, I established a feral dog pack in a neighboring municipality. (I couldn’t bear to see the strays euthanized.) At age 18, when I was a janitor in police headquarters, a tear-gas bomb emptied the building and I was blamed. (It was an unavoidable accident.) At my first real job out of college, co-workers coined the expression, “as slow as Rick Epstein,” and nicknamed me Lightnin’.

I should be ashamed to relate all this, but I guess I’ve forgiven myself. (If nostalgia were a crime, I’d be on Death Row.)

It wasn’t until I rolled into the newspaper business at age 26 that I started earning my pay. You find the right kind of work, you grow up a little, you take on a few responsibilities and the next thing you know you’re 51 years old and telling a young employee, “I’m not saying you have to wear a tuxedo, but at least clean up to where you look as though you sleep indoors.”

It’s easy to forget, but encouraging to remember. Compared to me, my daughters are superstars. But I’m not going to let them read this particular memoir nor am I going to soften my austere attitude. Hypocrisy? That’s such an ugly name for my constant companion.

By Rick Epstein