It’s summer camp time for kids in NYC, and i’m fascinated by city parents’ perceptions of agricultural labor. Namely, it’s fun! And connects you to nature! and all that happy horseshit that goes along with paying thousands of dollars to give young Brantley a true down-home farm experience. (As an aside: i had no idea summer camp was so expensive!).
See, whurr i’m from, a true farm experience consists of getting bussed to a vast field of juvenile corn at 5AM, where you board a harvester modified to carry ten pubescent boys standing abreast on a platform. The next eight hours are spent de-sexing row after row of male corn as the harvester speeds across the fields. Once the harvester runs out of gas, you spend the next three hours doing this on foot, in the middle of July. You return covered in tiny papercuts, stinking of adolescent b.o., diesel fuel, and fertilizer. It pays several dollars less than minimum wage (at the time, $5.15) since we are all underage.
By the standards of midwestern farm labor, it’s fucking plush: a job reserved for exurban kids stuck at home for the summer, and the Amish. The hard labor of cleaning dairy stalls and the picking of peaches, asparagus, strawberries, et al. went to the Mexicans. It’s still a shitty ass job, leavened mostly by the fact that agricultural labor of some sort is the only serious job a 13-year-old can legally hold.
It makes me wonder what the hell relatively affluent teenagers in urban areas do for work prior to the age of 16. Clearly, girls babysit, or catsit, maybe dog walk or something. But the traditional things i found myself occupied with at that age—mowing lawns, raking leaves, shoveling driveways, odd jobs like chopping up trees or hauling cinderblocks—generally don’t exist. Not that their existence would keep what seems like truly massive numbers of kids from fleeing the city for summer camps. I’m a bit astonished at how ingrained the idea of camp has become for an entire demographic of coastal parents. Peers of mine who went to camp were usually pretty well-off, and in addition camp was usually either Calvinist Jesus camp or Interlochen. None of this farm and field business.
I’d like to say something about whether or not such kids will even hold real jobs before they graduate college, but i don’t know, and i don’t know whether that would even make that much of a difference. Clearly, working throughout middle and high school did not cure me of my inner lazy asshole.
And when i think back to the detasselling crew, most of them are like me—they ain’t shit. Well, there’s one guy who tracks wolves in Yellowstone, but the rest are working shit jobs back in my shit state for less than shit. It’s striking how closely we’ve followed the trajectories set by our parents, regardless of how much we worked or did not as youths (even Pops was a ski bum who worked at a beer factory for a few years). Which, really, seems to say something regarding the ultimate value of working young Brantley at McDonald’s vs. shipping him off to shag his fellow campers in the Poconos. Shag away, Brantley. Yer goin ta places big.