It’s been established that Koos Inc. was the first job that I had after graduating from high school. However, it wasn’t the first place that I worked. While in high school, I worked at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant out on I-94 as a busboy and dishwasher. After that I enjoyed a stellar career at the Burger King across from Ace Hardware. Prior to those jobs I cut lawns and shoveled snow, typical jobs a junior high kid did to earn a few extra bucks. However, there was one job that I had in my youth that was anything but typical.
It only lasted one day, but it was a crazy day.
It only lasted one day, but it was a crazy day.
The job took place during summer break when I was about 14 years old. Tired of working around the house for our folks, my cousin John Dean, my brother Mike and I decided that if we were going to work we were going to get paid for it.
Being enterprising lads, we found a program through Manpower designed to obtain summer work for young people. The three of marched into the KYF to signup, determined to find a job. We didn’t care what the job was; we just wanted to get paid.
After filling out the necessary paperwork, we eagerly started digging through the listings of available jobs. It didn’t take us long before we discovered the ideal job. The carnival was coming to town for Crazy Days and it needed help setting up the rides. It was one full day and paid $1.50 an hour. This was perfect! Or so we thought…
Let me provide a quick explanation for those of you unfamiliar with Crazy Days.
Crazy Days was an event that took place each summer in downtown Kenosha. Local merchants set up tables outside of their shops to sell their goods at unbelievably low prices. Food vendors hawked tasty delights and the streets were closed off to make room for a bevy of amazing carnival rides.
It was a wonderful festival that would kick off on Friday night, lasting the entire weekend. In our adolescent minds, Thursday morning couldn’t get there fast enough. We were going to set up the rides and get paid for the honor. It was going to be great! Or so we thought…
When Thursday finally got there, our folks dropped us off on the corner of 55th Street and 6th Avenue across from Nehlsen’s Sporting Goods. The three of us were greeted by a small gathering of kids. We exchanged smiles, and then looked up at the blazing July sun. It was going to be a hot one.
Shortly after 10:00 o’clock, four rough looking characters with cigarettes dangling from their lips walked towards us. They were the carnies and were dressed in filthy, tattered work clothes. Wide-eyed, my cousin John Dean looked at my brother and me and muttered, “Oh shit.”
He was right. Oh shit.
There was no way that this trio of naive, fairly clean cut Catholic boys were prepared for what was about to transpire. Over the next ten hours we were exposed to not only, hard manual labor in extreme heat, but also to four of the stupidest, most vile, foul-mouthed barbarians that we would ever encounter during our young lives.
Here are a few highlights:
Lifting the massive, rusty base of the ride was not done with a fork truck or some sort of mechanical device. No, it was hoisted off of the back of a flatbed truck by the four grubby carnies and 6 or 7 young boys. I think that I experienced my first groin pull that day. Or maybe it was a hernia, I’m not quite sure.
Needing some nuts to secure the bolts being used, a carny ordered me to hand him a “couple of nuts”. Not wanting to incur the wrath of the unwashed cretin, I quickly handed him three nuts. He immediately called me stupid and said that a “couple” means two. A mere twenty seconds later he asked me for another nut.
Speaking of nuts and bolts, the proper size weren’t always available. When this happened, a nail was inserted into the hole and then bent over with a pliers. Honest. That is what was holding together many of the rides we rode at Crazy Days.
At one point, a pair of attractive women clad in skimpy tank tops and shorts waked by, one pushing a baby in a stroller. This caused one of the grimy carnies to blurt out, “Hey baby, I’ll give you another one!” Not to be outdone, one of his cohorts shouted, “Oh ya, I’ll give her twins!” To which the first carny replied, “Fuck you, go ahead!”
Stuff like this went on the entire day. But at sundown it was over and we were free to go home. Our “perfect” job was complete. All that was left was to find the carny boss and collect our pay.
After asking a few questions we were directed to a small, dilapidated trailer attached to the back of a pickup truck. The only problem was that the trailer had backed into a Volkswagen parked behind it and their bumpers were locked.
You guessed it, before we got paid, the carny boss had us climb up on the bumpers and jump up and down to unlock them. When that was accomplished, we were at long last paid. Granted we had to haggle with him about many hours we had worked and it was cash, but we had got paid. Finally.
Looking back, it was probably good that it was cash. We grabbed our pay, bought a slice of pizza and walked as quickly as our sore bodies could up to Sheridan Road to wait for our ride.
As I said earlier, it only lasted one day, but it was a crazy day. Until next time…from the booth.