A man recalls his teenage years working a horrible job in the 1970s in this debut memoir.
“Summer is a romantic season, not one for us poor flatlanders to squander in the cold, bleak upper Midwest,” Scariano writes at the beginning of his mordantly funny and sometimes-moving remembrance. In 1975, the author’s father called in a favor to get Scariano a job in order to teach him the value of a dollar and the virtue of good, honest work. But the author admits that he might have fled the jurisdiction if he’d known that the job involved working at the Marsh Township Sanitary District—a sewage treatment plant that processes “industrial waste and sewage flushed down fifty thousand toilets in the homes and factories of Chicago Heights, Illinois.” The teenage Scariano fails to see the personal-improvement benefit of exposing himself daily to a wide array of toxins and carcinogens. The author tells the story in a series of precisely realized vignettes that vary from raucous, disgusting adventures with his colorful co-workers to surprisingly challenging tales of encountering racism, intolerance and corruption. Other scenes dramatize his first fumbling experiences with drinking and romance, and he presents them with a sweet undertone of nostalgia but never false sentimentality. He fills his memoir with the songs, TV shows and catchphrases of the mid-1970s but also with bittersweet recollections of his earlier self (“I read and read, pedal, run, swim, read, killing time, wanting to get back to school so terrifically”). Even the story’s climax, a frighteningly cinematic scene in which young Scariano is sucked into a sewage tank and nearly drowns, is turned skillfully back toward comedy. Although the era the author describes has now all but vanished, he brings it vividly back to life in these pages.
A smart, ribald and often provocative memoir.