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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A Carl’s (non?) Summer

<cation isn’t really an appropriate term for a Carleton summer. Most Carls forfeit their leisure time for more productive opportunities. Whether it’s Jane Smith’s fellowship building homes for impoverished children, or John Smith’s internship with a stockbroker, people stay busy. (I probably should have checked those two hypothetical names before I committed to using them. If there is a John or Jane Smith here on campus, my sincerest apologies.)

Last May, I was freaking out. With the exception of a brief academic program at the beginning of June, I was worried my summer would be pretty mundane. Many Carleton friends had substantial summer plans, but all I had to look forward to was Happy Hour whiskey-diets at TGI Friday’s. Did you know it’s $2.50 drafts and half-off rails from 9:00 pm until closing time? Indeed, even in the recession, chain restaurants are looking after families.

Alas, I did find something to do with my summer. I’d like to say I got involved with “service work,” though I suspect some in the ACT Center might have trouble with my labeling it that way. More specifically, I got a job selling ladies’ shoes at a Nordstrom, an upscale department store. Technically, then, I did perform “service work.” But instead of supporting the underprivileged, I “served” stacks of  $300 boots to girls in  $300 True Religion jeans. Fun fact: In retail, we call these kinds of jeans  “premium denim.” But I digress.

Even though selling shoes isn’t especially intellectually demanding, I did quite a bit of thinking. When I first met my co-worker Patrick, he immediately chided me,  “A History major? What the hell are you going to do with that?”

His question, surprisingly, hurt. What do you mean, “What am I going to do with that?” I like history. And yet this would not be an adequate response for Patrick. Here, I can tell people I’m a History major and raise few eyebrows. For the most part, it’s a well-respected major, and I certainly stay busy. But outside our hallowed campus, in the real world, majoring in History is crazy talk. Paying thousands of dollars a year to read old books can sound weird, especially for those who assume college should offer vocational skills. At the beginning, I found talking with co-workers to be awkward. Their conversations might revolve around cars (almost everyone drove a BMW), past jobs (I knew a lot of former “Abercrombie” managers), or relishing in their employee discount (“You like these Ferragamos? Got ‘em 40% off plus my discount!”).

Whenever they’d go out for their smoke breaks, I’d tag along. Standing awkwardly with my arms folded, I felt out of place. One conversation was particularly memorable:

Brent: “Guys, Randy Orton came in yesterday, and I sold him a pair of Bruno Maglis.”
Me: “Who?”
[Laughter] Lindsey: “You don’t know Randy Orton? The wrestler.”
Me: [Quickly hoping to recover]: “…Oh, I think he was on NPR one time.”
Brent: “PBR?”

It seemed I had spent so much time in the “libe” that I had no idea what people in the “real world” worried about. I eventually became friendly with a lot of the people at work, but  I had to make an effort.

At Carleton, we like to celebrate our quirkiness and passion for academia. Indeed, it’s what gives this school its character. However, the same quirky behavior celebrated here does not always translate perfectly off campus. In fact, college-aged customers were usually the most difficult to connect with.  During a conversation with some sorority sisters buying heels for their formal, I tried explaining our “Silent Dance Party.” Wrinkling her forehead, one girl considered the idea: “Wait…why would you dance in the library? Don’t you have clubs?”

Truthfully, my summer “service job” was rewarding. It provided many opportunities for reflection. No matter what you’re doing outside of Carleton, you have to communicate with people from a variety of backgrounds. Finding common ground with a stranger is not always easy, but it’s essential. So even though I didn’t publish any articles or make any business connections this summer, I did get one thing from my shoe-selling stint: a crash-course in socializing.

-Dustin Goldberger is a Carletonian columnist

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