This is going to be a huge shocker, but I never really felt like one of the guys. No, seriously! There were plenty of times though when I gave it my best shot. I may not have pulled it off flawlessly, but I sure as hell tried to rise to the occasion. Some of you might guess the military, or my 4 years at an all-boy’s school, or even the Boy Scouts. Nah, not even close! The toughest environment came summers during college, when I had a gig for which my official title was Summer Scum.
I grew up in a suburb of Buffalo called Kenmore, and as many suburbs, nepotism may not have been the order of the day, but it sure did help. I got the job through my dad, and it was widely regarded as a political plum. So wide, that the first question asked of me on my first day was, “so who do you know to get this?”. Kind of sad when the best plum in town is a ‘summer scum’ gig, but it also paid the princely sum of $5.50 an hour; a 72% raise from my Denny’s stint in the dishroom. The point of the position was to keep a crew of lads on hand to fill in for the unionized regulars at the Department of Public Works, as well as do the shitty jobs they didn’t want to, like cut grass and walk the main avenues every morning picking up litter. There was one unwritten policy: we don’t hire chicks.
I did my very best to fit in, but it wasn’t easy. I dressed the part in my dad’s old Vietnam era fatigues and combat boots, but I think it was recognized early that I wasn’t quite one of the boys. I never fit well with all male environments having zero interest in sports, at a loss for coming up with crude jokes (mainly sexual in nature), never invented largely fictitious female conquests dripping with lascivious detail, or busting balls at every opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, it was all good natured (I think), but I was way out of my element. Anyway, they apparently knew this because they stuck me with Howard most of the time cutting lawns and picking up discarded Mike’s Subs wrappers with mayo schmeared on the outside so it got all over my hands. Howard liked to impart his wisdom on me as he pulled on an unfiltered Pall Mall before retching up a loogies that looked like a fried egg. “If you ever find yourself fucking a sheep, always pull your pants over your boots so they don’t fill up with shit.” I’m not making that up.
When I wasn’t with Howard, or his replacement Sam, I often got stuck on the back of a garbage truck or ‘packer’ as they called them. Holy shit was this a terrible assignment! I wanted to fit in though, so I worked my tail off to prove I belonged. If there was anything in the world that was going to wash the inner taint of femininity out of me, it was being sprayed with hot maggoty garbage juice, which happened a lot more than one would think. Heat exhaustion and muscle spasms from all the running and lifting didn’t hurt either. I hustled it though and got accepted as one of them, albeit a weird quiet one, on the value of hard work. I even picked up a nickname of dubious charm. ‘Meaty-Muff’, based off a comment engendered from the way I ate my Tina’s burrito. At least it was better than the guy known as ‘Jizballs’. Yeah, none of my proudest moments were found here.
While, surprisingly, it wasn’t the worst job I ever had, it also wasn’t exactly what I was going to school for. Well, maybe it was given my double major in English and Psychology, but still. My last summer after graduation was to be my last; a temporary placeholder until I could find a real job that never involved rooting through the trash behind Village Books and News to add to the impressive porn collection they kept in the basement. Yeah, that wasn’t weird, a bunch of sweaty garbage sauced men reading not so gently used Hustlers together in a dank hideaway. For some reason though, I had it in my head to stay.
Remaining there ultimately didn’t work out. There was only so much budget for summer scum, and no full time positions open, so I was tossed out on my keister, which was much for the best. Within a few months, and for years after, I wondered what on earth I was thinking wanting to sign up for a life of dodging liquefied dog poop as it sprayed from the back of a packer, or worse, dumping heavy cans of moldering Thanksgiving garbage in the cold November rain? Seriously, who wants that? Not me! In truth, I was running hard from myself, and I found what I conceived to be the most male environment I could find. There is just nothing pretty or feminine about honey dipping a backed up sanitary sewer on a hot August morning. I was accepted there, and no one had any cause to think I was different.
It’s no secret that so many of us do this. We seek what we perceive to be extreme forms of male pursuits in hopes that just enough of it rubs off to make us feel comfortable. We try to blend and assimilate and be one of them because that’s what we look like and it would just be so much easier than any alternative. Like anyone trying to melt into something truly foreign, no matter what kind of mighty effort is spent, we will always speak with an accent, because there is simply no living breathing cure for being born.