The Education of a Minimum Wage Worker

I’ve always considered Yorktown Seafood my first real job. I’m not quite sure why, as it wasn’t the first job I was paid for, nor the first job I got by gathering up the courage to ask, nor the first time I worked for a stranger. I was 13 and made $1.26 an hour under the table. John, the psoriasis-covered owner, worked six 12-hour days per week, and on the seventh drove to the Jersey shore to catch his haul. His place, and he, were truly disgusting, but many wealthy patrons overlooked that, as he had the freshest, most generous portions of seafood anywhere, and as any teenager in Montgomery County could tell you, the same went for his fries. I have more stories about this place and my countless six-legged coworkers than I do about the skating rink, many of which involve John’s long flowing ear hairs.

But the Old York Road Skating Club was just as formative for me. I worked there in my freshman year of college every day at 6 am. I was working in the twilight zone, pre-dawn bleary, cleaning and running the zamboni for 8-year-olds that needed fresh ice every hour, for some bizarre reason. I found a child porn dime novel in the secretary’s desk & stupidly didn’t tell anyone for fear of getting in trouble for opening the secretary’s desk. I would sneak out back and sit on top of the mountain behind it and watch brilliant sunrises. I wasn’t happy in my work there. The only person I could relate to in the place was my boss, Jack Hoffman, who was rarely there but I really liked because he was a wacko well into his 50s.

As a somewhat full-of-my-own-opinions college DJ at the time, I was into progressive rock, classical, and jazz, and that was it. It was 1980. I was lamenting the decline of “music for which talent was required” (unlike what we were getting out of the B-52s that year, paving the way for – shudder – hair bands). He asked about early rock, and I argued that, The Beatles notwithstanding, bands like the Rolling Stones were what we all hadda wait through to get to the good stuff. He wasn’t a Stones fan either. I then went a step too far. “C’mon,” I said, “what did ‘Hound Dog’ do to move us forward?”

When I said that, everything stopped. Suddenly all work tasks were dropped. He pointed to a bench in the center of the large room and said, “Sit down.” As “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” pulsed from the skater’s lounge’s unreasonably good speakers, it took me exactly three minutes to come to understand. I didn’t get up, Jack was holding court. “THAT is why Elvis is, and always will be, The King.”

Ever after I was convinced Jack was a thoughtful man, although he would never let me refill the paper towel holders with more than a handful of those C-fold towels. “If ya put more in, they’ll just use more.” I hated the job, and cost kids a few ice skating lessons by oversleeping that year. But I got to drive a zamboni. And I got to know Jack.