Summer jobs from hell 

There’s truly nothing as glorious as a long, lazy summer filled with barbecues, beach parties, bikinis and beer.

And there’s nothing like a low-paying, soul-crushing summer job to completely ruin it all.

We’ve all been there, whether in high school or college, forced to pick up a completely lame job during our brief summer sabbatical. We’ve all mournfully sacrificed those gorgeous sun-soaked days in favor of brain-numbing boredom in the frozen chill of office complexes — or back-breaking, gritty physical labor in unrelenting Hades-like heat.

Here are just a few stories of metro Detroiters’ least-favorite summer jobs.

When Royal Oak resident Michelle Kinyon snagged her first summer job at the tender age of 13, she didn’t know what pot was. She found out pretty quickly, as her boss smoked it constantly, right in front of her. When she came home and told her mother about the “funny-smelling cigarette,” her mother forbade her to go back.

“I think she could smell it on me,” laughs Kinyon.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a few years later during a summer job at a donut shop, Kinyon was fired after her boss wouldn’t allow her time off to visit her dying grandfather.

Out of desperation, artist and designer Bethany Shorb took a job in construction when she didn’t get the “fancy-schmancy graphic design-firm job” she originally wanted.

“I was the only girl on the crew, and I wasn’t a sign-holder,” says the thin and willowy Shorb.

At one point, she was assigned to demolish a Detroit public school bathroom, and extract four antique porcelain urinals from a concrete wall and floor without damaging them.

“Worse than the actual work was the smell of the place,” she recalls. “This was the end of August and no one had been [in the bathroom] since June, and some ‘floaters’ had been left in the toilets.”

“So I basically spent a good week or two with my head in a urinal with a hammer, chisel and hammer drill, old stinky shit and no A/C,” she says. “It made me work on graphic design real f-ing hard after that.”

Apparently it paid off. Shorb is now the Web coordinator for the Cranbrook Academy of Art and has founded her own clothing company,

While we’re on the subject of poo, here’s an interesting tale from our own arts editor, George Tysh.

While living on a communal farm one summer, Tysh was assigned the duty of cleaning out a barn that hadn’t been emptied in ages. Layers of straw and cow poop formed the floor, but the layers had built up several feet, and it was Tysh’s job to remove it all, with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow.

“As soon as I started hitting the underlayers, the ammonia smell would hit me right in the face. It took me a month to finish it,” he says.

But ever the Zen one, Tysh found the experience rewarding.

“I kind of got into it in a way. It was sort of a meditation thing … meditation through shit. When I finished it, I felt a sense of accomplishment.”

While spine-cracking physical labor is no walk in the park, boredom can be equally frustrating, especially when one is trapped in a cubicle on a gorgeous day.

Chad Nelson of Romeo spent a summer as a computer systems intern at Lear Corporation, an automotive supplier.

“By the second week, they had run out of computer stuff for me to do, so I would basically do nothing except spin around in a chair all day,” says Nelson. “Sometimes I would take on the enormous task of driving a [car] seat to someone, or washing a car, but for the most part, it was three months of me, sitting in a chair, spinning in fucking circles. When I left, they told me I was the best intern they had ever had.

“That still confused me to this day,” says Nelson, “although it is good to know that I can play spin-chair better than anyone the Lear Corporation has ever seen.”

Twenty-five-year-old Jason Brandt was looking for an easy-money gig during his summer break from college, so he took a job dressing in a full-body dinosaur costume and passing out balloons outside a kids store in Troy.

“It wasn’t a hot summer, but I didn’t realize how fast it would get hot in that costume,” Brandt says. “Like, standing-at-the-gates-of-hell hot.”

“One day I came in and was really hung over, and I thought I was going to pass out from the heat, so I kept having to take the dinosaur head off and sit down on the concrete with my head between my knees,” he laughs. “I got fired that day.”

And the worst part?

“My friends called me ‘Barney’ for the rest of the summer.”

Take me back to the index of Metro Times' Summer '03 Guide. Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at

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