North Wildwood, New Jersey – Summer 1977
It had been the worst year of my young life. I was 14 going on 15 years old. But Junior High at Fels was finally over and I was at the shore for the summer in Wildwood. I was basically what my father called a Prisoner of Love. That meant limited time out. You don’t get rewarded with a bunch of fun and free time after having such a shitty school year. I think if some of the bullying laws were in place back then like they are now maybe I wouldn’t have had such a horrible time in school.
When a child is being abused at school and at home you just can’t concentrate in school. I was a smart kid, but I hated my life and didn’t want to apply myself like my more compliant and solid sister Janice.
My father was going to keep me busy all summer doing chores around the house. First of which was to scrub all of the rust off of all of the bicycles. The salt air oxidizes all things metal at the shore. It was going to be a horrible arduous task.
I was walking down 10th street one day with my friend Dominic. We were probably coming from our favorite arcade, Botto’s. We were nearly to the corner of 10th and Ocean ave. It was a warm day in June. That corner property was the El Morro Motel. It was a cute classic seashore motel. (That’s the best pic I could find of it, but that’s the genuine article)
On the door to the office was a Help Wanted sign for a pool boy. I went in and applied. I had never had a job before and didn’t even know how to go about it. But I went in and spoke to the owner. He told me to fill out a little application, and come back with signed working papers. I think you need that if you’re under the age of 18. (Maybe 16?)
My skin was clearing up in the summer sun and sea. My top braces had been taken off, and I didn’t need to wear my glasses all of the time. So I was emerging from puberty as an okay-looking boy. I felt a little more human.
I go home and tell my parents. My mom said we’d go to the local city hall and get the necessary forms. But when my father found out he was overjoyed. That’s all it took. This was the beginning of my teenage years getting better. No more prison time, I was treated better, and especially no rust scrubbing job for me. This was actually the turning point for me as a young man.
I got the job and started that Monday morning at 7 am. I made $40 a week. But for a 14-year-old kid in 1977, that was serious money. I was living on $5 a week allowance from my mom and doing fine. Comic books were 20 cents back then so for a buck you could get five! A slice of pizza was fifty cents and a soda was a quarter. Pinball was twenty-five cents for three games. So five bucks went a long way back then. The rest of the time we were on the beach playing. That was summer back then.
I go in and the owner is there to show me how to do the job. I thought I’d be skimming the pool and whatnot, I had no idea what a job was but I actually had a somewhat complex job description. Pool Boy sounds like a nothing job but here is what I did all morning at the El Morro Motel.
Bring out all of the cushions for the lounge chairs around the pool. Empty and clean all of the ashtrays between each one. Sweep around the pool area. Mix the cleaning agent in a bucket and scrub all of the tiles around the entire pool above the water’s surface. Skim the bugs and detritus off the surface of the water. Hook up the aqua vacuum and clean the bottom and walls of the pool under the water. Check the PH balance of the water in the pool and add chlorine as necessary. Clean the baby pool the same way you clean the big pool. Sweep up around the hotel in front of the rooms. Vacuum the Astroturf on the second floor outside the rooms. Empty and clean all of the ashtrays in front of every motel room. Sweep the walkways, and pick up any trash around the parking lot. Then come back at night around 7 pm and bring in all of the cushions from the lounge chairs around the pool. Take out the trash cans every week. So basically Pool Boy means the entire motel maintenance crew!
Funny thing is, now that I think about what I was being paid per week back then wasn’t all that much. $40 a week to a 14-year-old kid in 1977 was a small fortune. What do I need money for all week? Cigarettes. 50 cents a pack. Candy? 10 cents for a chocolate bar. Comic books were 20 cents apiece. Record albums were a whopping 6 bucks but worth every penny. Pizza? 50 cents a slice up at Sam’s on the boardwalk. Speaking of the boardwalk, what’s that expense? to go on an amusement ride only costs probably 75 cents. Pinball was 25 cents for 3 games, and to play games of chance was a quarter. So who needs a lot of money in the summer of ’77? Not me!
But… I worked there every day, 7 days a week for $40. That’s from 7 am to 12 noon every day. Then I go back each night and spend 10 or 15 minutes bringing in the cushions from the lounge chairs around the pool each night before I could go out and play. So let’s look at the math. 7 days a week, 5 hours a day. That’s 35 hours right there, then add the daily trips back for the cushions and that adds another hour or so of my time spent there each week. So it starts to add up.
I was only making like a dollar an hour!!!
I didn’t care. I was having a good time and had my own money and my parents didn’t hate my very existence for once in my life.
Around 11 am I would finish and punch out. This was my favorite time of the day. I would smoke a cigarette. (Fuckin’ punk I was) Then I would go back home two blocks away. The best part was, my mom would still be at the beach with the girls. Janice would be working over at Russo’s Market, so she wouldn’t be home, and as I said, my mom wouldn’t be back to the house with little April and Gabrielle until noon. So there was only one thing to do.
Put the album Aerosmith “Rocks” on my dad’s stereo and crank that shit up and play air guitar and pretend I was in a rock band and chicks were screaming my name. It was glorious. Girls hated me in junior high because I basically looked and acted like a leper, but a boy can dream for a half hour alone in his house.
So things were looking up for me. As long as I got up every morning and went to work and behaved myself, I was in the good graces of my parents.
Life was good. But it was about to become wonderful…
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