by Amanda Simpson
The summer after I dropped out of college, I was working as a face-painter at a theme park and living in a vegan anarchist house and waiting.
The house I lived in—like some Jonathan Franzen composite approximation of millennial lives—my ex-boyfriend lived on the couch for several months, brought roaches in with him. Used my computer to jack off, somehow contracting viruses that still plague the desktop to this day, no matter what programs I’ve run through it over the years. We did whippets around the kitchen table as a way of, like, breaking bread. I was mad at authority all the time, because I was constantly told to be.
My cat went missing and came back pregnant with six kittens. She would steal bites of your mock chicken lo mein. I was subsisting on PBRs and Hot Fries and American Spirits. I was really “discovering” binge drinking. My coworkers and I would drink Gatorade mixed with Aristocrat and sneak it into movie theaters. Sometimes we’d have to open the next morning on like two hours of sleep.
I didn’t know if I was going to go back to school or what I would study if I did. I kind of just wanted to have fun. I have never had a driver’s license– sometimes my dad or my mom would drive me to and from work, other times coworkers would. My supervisor, T—-, would start to fall asleep behind the wheel on I-95 sometimes on the way back.
Because an amusement park is considered “the entertainment industry,” labor laws are not closely regulated and we would be scheduled for crazy amounts of overtime, open to close for days and weeks on end. I got into five hour energies and trucker pills.
Working under me were four college students that transferred to America for work– two Germans, one Bulgarian, one Russian. They all lived on air mattresses in a big white foreboding ominous building that kept getting code violations for infestation and plumbing issues. Its lobby had faux marble, faux-Grecian stuff all over. I once went into their basement and there was a mattress and a blanket on the floor. The work exchange employees were drinking as much as we were, if not more.
I was managing the body art department and my best friend, S—-, who was easygoing and big into astrology, was my assistant. T— and I were close, too, and I was equally close with her boyfriend, D—-. They were both artists, they introduced me to good art and music, we had cookouts together in addition to the debauchery I mentioned before. I had crushes on the bad boys who worked at the airbrush t-shirt booth: they looked out for S—- and me, stood up for me against shitty customers, made designs on t-shirts that struck the kind of sense of humor I had at the time: a syringe with the phrase “addicted to you,” for instance. If a customer was a dick, one of them might hide a penis in the design on that customer’s shirt. They would do whippets behind the airbrush stand (it was next to the ice cream place, so they would use the discarded cans of whipped cream), and I would stand watch.
I had been working there since I was fifteen, but this was my first year in a leadership position. We did glitter tattoos and airbrush tattoos and henna tattoos. We painted a lot of butterflies and Spider-Men and Green Goblins and princess crowns. The customers would get tattoos on their lower backs to show off at the waterpark, then get mad that it would wash off from the water and the water slides’ friction, even though we would warn them about that. They would hand us sopping wet wads of cash from inside their bathing suits or shoes.
The work felt rewarding because it contained an element of creative expression and people usually appreciated it. I was exercising a talent and seeing myself improve and customers gave me compliments on it, which made me feel validated. My dad talked about how proud he was of my work ethic and didn’t express any disappointment that college hadn’t been working out.
One night around midnight, I was waiting for the last tattoo artist to sign off on tills before taking them to the cash control center, which is like a bank behind the scenes of the park– the employees wear lab coats. The Russian ran up crying, reporting that the money was all gone. If she were to get fired she’d get sent back to Russia.
“What do you mean the money’s gone?” I asked, impatient.
I called T— and she was upset. “You’re gonna go look through every single trash can in the park,” she said.
“I’m not gonna do that,” I said. “I’m gonna go home.”
T—- came down from her office to my area of the park. The Russian got on the nightly bus that would take the international employees back to the apartment every night.
“What do you mean you’re not going to do that?” T—- asked. “This is a big deal.”
I was furious and exhausted and without patience. I was running on the kind of energy that can only ever be used to desperately insist that I get some rest. We stared each other down. I loved her and I didn’t want to end our friendship but there was just no fucking way I was going to go looking through every trash receptacle in the park for a mystery wad of cash right now. My vehement inaction and excess crazy emotional energy collided and I took off my shoes and threw them as hard as I could across the park and took off running.
I ran two laps around the empty park. The asphalt felt smooth and warm underneath my bare feet. I felt the night heat and the humidity and the warm tears all over my face. I focused on the stars, concentrated on them, their distance and the brightness and the blackness around.
D—- helped me find my shoes. I picked them up but didn’t put them back on. My Dad, as he had done many nights these past amusement park summers, had been waiting for about four hours to pick me up, listening to Jimmy Buffet in his car. I told him I had quit and about the missing money. He understood.
They never found the money and the Russian didn’t get fired. I stayed friends with T— and D— and she hired me back the following summer, at the much less strenuous woodcutting shop, programming the little designs people ordered into the laser woodcutting machine.
I felt painfully embarrassed by the way I acted that night, but in retrospect my embarrassment was only so strong because I felt so much care and respect and affection and admiration for T— and D—. This was probably August of 2007, so my friend S—-, who’s into astrology, would probably have said, among other things that maybe didn’t apply nearly as much, something similar to what cafeastrology.com says about this time period: that my sign had been in for an encounter with a partner who demanded concrete answers but who wasn’t on the same page, that the source of the conflict would probably have been money, that “the necessity to strike a balance between autonomy and dependence” would become “apparent.” She might also say that Venus was in retrograde around then, and thus it was a time to reflect on what I wanted out of life, and that, in the words of one post from astrology.about.com, “In the chaotic and temporal world, looking to something larger that is also part of yourself can fill you with awe and make you feel connected.”
Amanda Simpson is a hospitality industry professional living in Brooklyn.