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A Summer Job @ the Zoo, what could go wrong?

We all have memorable summer jobs as a kid. And if you are lucky these jobs will shape and influence you for the rest of your life. I know it has for me. My Dad told me about his summer job at 17 years old working on a section gang that turned him from being a boy to a man. I believe his specific words were, “It put hair on my chest”. He went from being a house painter and hoping it would rain so he wouldn’t have to work, to his father getting him a job on a “section gang”. He believed it would toughen him up, which it did. Needless to say his mother didn’t know about it, til he pointed it out one day to her as they passed a section gang working. She started to cry, and that was the end of his summer job. I saw my teenage son also having a cushy job of sorts, editing videos and such. I knew he needed a physical job to also toughen him up. I wanted him to experience working in the heat and sun and being exhausted when he got home. So I got him a job digging ditches for The Rain Gods, a first class company that installs home water sprinklers and lighting. Needless to say, he went through 3 pairs of top of the line Mark Work Warehouse work boots in one summer. Thank goodness they had a 1-year guarantee, and I keep receipts.


One of my more memorable jobs in the 70’s was working at the Rochester, NY’s Seneca Park Zoo. Back in those days zoos really were animal jails. I look back at those days and never gave it a second thought about how sad and miserable these animals must have been. Every day was an event. One misstep and disaster could strike. For instance one day I had the job of testing the water used for the seals. I put the chemical testing kit down beside the pool and didn’t the monkeys come and reach through their bars and steal it. I panicked. Was it poison? Did I just kill the monkeys due to my incompetence? My boss just laughed. Can you imagine if that were today? So many things wrong with that scenario in today’s job descriptions. Yet there I was, within a monkeys reach. Or there was the time I was feeding the cats from the catwalk. I had to hold a 15 lb. piece of meat while lifting the door on a pulley and throw it in the cage. The meat had conditioning oil on it, so it slipped from my grip. The panther jumps up to the 2 ft. by 3 ft. opening and starts clawing at it on the floor of the catwalk to get the meat. Thank goodness I was smart enough not to reach down and try to pick it up, because his claws were out reaching for it. Needless to say I just kicked the huge piece of meat to the cat. My stories are endless of the situations I was put in that were dangerous. I’d rake the pastures of camels, zebras, buffalo (and yes water buffalo) while they were walking around me. When I asked what I should do if they come around bugging me, they just told me to swat them with the rake. Go figure.


Complacency could easily set in. I got firsthand experience in that too. The night watchman’s family was good friends with my Dad, as his father was the GM of the Rochester Amerks when my Dad coached them. He often told me how he petted the tiger which seemed very tame. I told him he’d better watch her, for I was the one who fed her, and saw the way she was when feeding time arrived. Sure enough, on the way to work one morning the radio announces that a man was mauled last evening by a tiger. I knew it was Jaye. Somehow the tiger ended up looking bad, but everyone knew it was his fault. They put the tiger down, and no one ever spoke to Jaye again, including me. Cherry’s do have a tendency to blame the victim. (Except for my Mom).


I learned two things on that job. One was it’s an art looking busy doing nothing. The other was what my Mom didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. When she asked how my job went that day, I’d just grunt like every other kid. She knew too, what she didn’t know was just as well. Now my Dad was another story. He loved my stories, but always ended it with, “don’t tell your mother”. Good advice, one that I adhered to throughout my adult life. No point in upsetting her, was Dad’s and I philosophy.

Ending of the Animal Jail in Rochester.

For those of you who don’t know what a section gang is.

Coach of the Year in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Amerks.( also in the NHL with the Bruins, just an FYI)