How to Make Money in the Summertime

by | Aug 9, 2022 | Fiction, Issue Twenty-Eight

Be sixteen. Go down to the Shell gas station at the corner of Welch Road and Route 309 and talk to Con Salt while he’s working the pumps. Don’t ask Con any personal questions because he’ll keep you hanging down there all day. Ask Con if there’s any work going around this summer that you can pick up. He’s always got that under the table shit going on, and you feel you’re established enough to start getting a cut of it. Mention how your brother used to deal for him to establish an in. Con says he doesn’t have any work for you, but his pops does. He tells you to go to the Presbyterian church off Mill Road tomorrow morning. When you get to the church, meet Con’s dad at the back of the property by the maintenance shed. You’ll meet and introduce yourself to two strangers at the church thinking they’re Mr. Salt before the actual Mr. Salt introduces himself to you. He doesn’t take off his work gloves when he shakes your hand. Try not to focus on that, he’ll be monitoring how much eye contact you’re making– he’s just one of those types. Tell him Con sent you here (though he already knows that). Mr. Salt will give you the rundown of the job while adjusting his hat, which you notice says “Vietnam Veteran ” on it. You point to it and tell him your grandpop fought in ‘Nam. Listen to him tell you how he’d love to go someday. Salt informs you your official title will be “Assistant Groundskeeper ” which, he explains, really means you’ll just be helping him dig graves. Ten bucks an hour. No taxes. Write your hours down at the end of the day. You’re told to round up your hours because Salt says he’s no professor so he don’t wanna be doing no math.
You’ll want to wear your Converse on your first day, but don’t, because Mr. Salt will make you wear his extra pair of work boots. Ignore the liquid you feel rise into your sock when your foot presses against the bottom of the boot. Mr. Salt tells you to meet him on the far side of the cemetery behind the church, out between the Korean graves and the monument for veterans of the Spanish-American War. You don’t know where any of these things are, but the graveyard is only two acres and completely flat, so Mr. Salt is clearly visible from any spot on the property. He’s already dug out a new hole with a backhoe between two older graves. He’ll tell you to jump in the hole and straighten out the dig to be exactly five feet, nine inches deep. The whole six feet deep thing is apparently bullshit. While you straighten out some stranger’s future storage unit, the thought will occur to you that only three feet of dirt separates two corpses on either side of you. You’ll wonder, if the walls cave in and those caskets appear would you have technically cracked open a cold one? Don’t spend too much time thinking about this. Lay down a base of concrete at the bottom of the grave. Apparently, that’s how it’s done so the casket doesn’t pollute the earth around it. Be skeptical about this. Don’t worry if you mess up while pouring the concrete. Mr. Salt tells you the customers never complain here.
Pull yourself out of the hole while Mr. Salt moves the backhoe behind the tree line. The caravan of mourners will be coming soon, and you are not to be among them. Head back to the maintenance shed. Pass a headstone on your way with an epitaph that reads, “He touched many in ways they’ll never forget.” Try not to laugh. Ask Mr. Salt what you should do now? He’ll tell you to sit back and watch the show. “Time to see the fruits of our labor,” he’ll say. Wait outside the maintenance shed and watch a parade of vehicles led by a hearse enter the graveyard. See them gather around your work. Mr. Salt will be filling his lower lip with tobacco while the mourners take the center of attention out of the back of the hearse. He’ll offer you a lip, but reject it. A minister has taken his spot at the head of the grave and begins a eulogy, but the only words that make it to your end of the property are lines on how death is a bittersweet experience. “Man, if I’m getting paid to listen to this shit, I at least want it to be good,” Mr. Salt will say while hocking an amber wad of spit toward a patch of grass in front of an acid washed headstone. The mourners will start dropping flowers into the same hole where you spit out your gum. After the crowd starts to dissipate, you’ll be subbed back in. Don’t worry about making eye contact with these people during the walk over. They’ll act like they don’t see you. Overhear a man walking past you say that the service was too long. Take your shovel and one by one pour a little bit of dirt onto what Mr. Salt will call, “the star on our tree.” Try to pretend you understand what he means. Wipe the sweat away from your face, and finish up for the day. Log your time card. Round five hours and twenty minutes up to six. Collect your sixty dollars and zigzag through the graveyard on your way out, counting how many more sixty dollar plots you’ll fill by the end of summer.

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