It wouldn't stop raining. My shift ended, and rather than spend an extra moment at the first job I hated, I walked in the blinding rain back to the employees' locker room.
The rain soaked my little straw hat, my striped shirt and my white pants. As I walked, fellow employees at Six Flags Over Georgia cheered me from the shelter of food stands and rides. I removed my shirt. More cheering.
I kicked off my shoes and stuffed my socks in my pockets. It thundered. I stopped in front of the Dahlonega Mining Train and removed my pants. I walked the rest of the way in my briefs. More cheering when I walked through the door. Everyone shared the same sentiment – that an amusement park was a miserable place to work. So miserable, you couldn't get yourself fired by staggering around nearly naked.
Years later, I realized that my summer at Six Flags was part of liberating myself from my own history – a process that would continue in a few months when I enrolled in college. I was a skinny, mainly shy kid who hated every moment of high school. Had they profiled Columbine-style murderers then, I would have been high on the list.
I lived in the so-called Golden Ghetto of Sandy Springs and spent a lot of time trying to escape the stifling conformity there. I often took the bus to the downtown library and, the summer before, I volunteered in the Head Start program. I felt weirdly at ease with the otherness of people I met in such experiences.
But it was, contrarily, at Six Flags that my misanthropy came into full flower. It started the day I went to work. I actually lied my way into the job I ended up hating. I'd applied there a few weeks earlier but never heard back. So I just showed up one day and said I'd received a call to come in. The woman in the employment office looked confused but signed me up. "Damn, she's dumb," I thought. Little did I know that she had just consigned me to the third circle of hell with the gluttons of rural Georgia.
My job was to cook hamburgers and hot dogs and wait on customers. Just as I'd had very little contact with urban downtown residents, I'd had nearly as little with the great unwashed of the rural South who seemed to be the park's main customers. I did not find them interesting, to say the least.
Customers would place absurdly complex orders. "Gimme six chili dogs, two without onions, one with onions and relish but no mustard, and don't put no ketchup on the ones without onions, aintcha got no coleslaw?"
To the delight of my co-workers, I began repeating the orders back to people, affecting a twangy accent and misstating as much as possible: "Thass a good choice. You wantcha six chili-cheese dogs, one with onions but you want pickles on two of 'em and some mayo on all of 'em, hold the chili, right?"
The other employees looked on in horror or stifled laughs. Many of the customers walked to another stand.
It was not unusual for me, on very busy days, to go out front and push people into line. They acted like the pursuit of a chili dog was a three-alarm fire in a movie theater. A few times, I used a broom handle to corral the crowd while mooing loudly. "You're going to get fired," someone said. "I sure hope so," I replied.
One day, someone from management appeared and asked if I would like to become a relief worker for people on breaks. I figured the mobility would reduce my boredom. Of course, this was like taking my act on the road. I became widely known for my impersonations of customers.
My most nightmarish daily assignment was busing tables in a barbecue restaurant for an hour. The stuff I found on tables was nauseating, reminding me of the rat carcasses vomited by a neighbor's snake. "Would you like that to go?" I sometimes asked confused customers who left a hideous mess on the table.
I became so well-known for my irreverence that I was stunned – and deeply offended! – when at summer's end I was not given one of the paltry scholarships the park awarded exemplary employees. It was another lesson that irreverence is seldom rewarded even if it entertains people.
I like to think my nearly naked walk through the park was the first case of streaking and, in case you are wondering – no, I have never set foot in Six Flags again.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
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