Wednesday, March 24, 2010

berry picking.

i'm not working today but i feel like writing. so i'll tell you a story about my first job.

when i was a kid, i was always babysitting and stuff like that, but my first real job was picking berries when i was ten. i went with some neighbor kids and their mom. we all crammed into their beater station wagon and set out for the blackberry brambles just after dawn. it must've been about 6 or 7am, i guess. much earlier than i was used to getting up on a summer morning.

i remember being super excited about the idea of earning some money for school clothes and madonna posters. i envisioned myself working hard all summer and then bringing a giant sack-full of presents home and distributing them like a tiny santa claus. i planned to make good.

when we arrived at the blackberry place, it was already teeming with other pickers, mostly women and children. the mom and kids i was with seemed pretty annoyed. "shit, look at all those early birds getting OUR WORMS," was the general sentiment.

we went and signed in at the front table, received our baskets, and set out to work. i tried to choose a bramble that didn't already seem too picked-over. harder than it looked. i found one i thought looked decent and started picking. "ouch," i said with genuine surprise each time i got pricked by a thorn. i had forgotten about that part--the thorns. oh well, no matter. just be a little more careful.

i kept picking. and getting pricked. after about an hour and a half, the early morning cool wore off and it was suddenly blazing hot. it hadn't anticipated this. i was wearing pants. i rolled them up, but then my legs got scratched up. so i put them back down. hot was better than bloody.

i kept picking. and picking. and picking. and finally my bucket was almost half-full. ...wait a minute, i've been picking for HOURS and my bucket's not even all the way half-full yet?! i went to go weigh it. i had picked TWO DOLLARS worth of berries. i was really going to have to step it up.

i began to pick like a maniac. i filled up my whole bucket and started on another one. i got that one about a third full before the whistle blew for lunch. oh, lunch. of course. i should have brought a lunch. i looked around for the neighbors i had come with. when they were nowhere to be seen, i assumed they must be hiding to avoid having to share their lunch with me. i sat down behind a tall bush and started in on my berries. i ate them, one after another after another, dazed, till the whistle blew for us to get back to work.

after lunch, i felt almost drunk on berries. my belly was giant and full, like the rats in the movie "charlotte's web," after they go to the state fair and gorge themselves on scraps. i decided to sit down for a minute and let my berries digest. i watched the other pickers moving slowly up and down the rows of brambles, their berry-purpled fingers moving with a nimble speed that seemed otherworldly to me. how were they filling up their buckets so fast? how were they not totally pooped out by now? why was i the only person not working? wasn't anyone else so hot and tired they wanted to cry? i got it together after a while to fill up another whole bucket and then it was finally, thankfully, time to weigh in and go home.

i think i made something like six dollars that day. i was outraged. six dollars for getting up at the butt crack of dawn, laboring all day in the sun with nothing but berries to eat all day? what a rip. or, as we said in those days before we knew how culturally insensitive it was, "what a gyp!"

the next morning the neighbors came to get me but i wasn't ready in time and they didn't want to wait. i was glad. so. my berry-picking career lasted all of one day. and for the whole rest of the summer, whenever i wanted a quarter for the ice cream man, my mom would say, "no you CANNOT have a quarter! quit nickel and diming me! if you hadn'ta quit that job, you could have all the ice cream you wanted!"

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