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Take my summer job, PEAS!

B Y  M A G G I E  S A N T O L A  ' 0 1

How to decide one vegetable’s fate: First, take a random sample from the thousands of peas that pour into the plant. Squeeze 50 out of their thin, slippery skins. Plop them into a saltwater solution. Count the number that sink. Repeat every 10 minutes.
      Squeeze, plop, count. If not many sink, they’re grade A and get packaged in shiny, colorful bags that say “Albertson’s” or “Birdseye” and are shipped to your local grocery store. If a lot sink, they’re grade B and are fed to prisoners and schoolchildren, apparent equals in the eyes of the agricultural industry.
      I work at Twin City Foods, a processing plant in Stanwood famous for burning to the ground a couple of years ago. I squeeze peas.
      My shift is ruled by the clock, broken into 10-minute bites. I don’t have the luxury of losing track of time, of becoming so engrossed in my work that I can look up at the clock and exclaim, “Wow! Two hours have gone by already!” What’s worse, it doesn’t take me all 10 minutes to do my samples. Pinch, squeeze, plop, wait. We are masters at entertaining ourselves in stupid ways. My co-worker Jacob and I throw peas, teach each other songs, sneak candy and talk about anything. If you squeeze a pea just right, it will shoot out of its skin and, you hope, hit the other person in the head. Jacob once cured my hiccups that way.
      I didn’t originally plan to spend my summer nights pinching peas. I thought for sure that employers would be slobbering over themselves to hire me, a college student. But my status on my résumé was more of a hindrance than a help. “We’re not really looking for summer people,” I heard about 60 times. They knew without me saying that if they hired me, I would soon have to be replaced. Peas and I seemed like a perfect match: We would both be around only for the summer.
     
"I work at Twin City Foods, a processing plant in Stanwood famous for burning to the ground a couple of years ago. I squeeze peas."
Unfortunately, things weren’t so perfect. Something in that plant sent me into a sneezing fit about 15 minutes into my first shift. Uh oh, I thought, sniffling pathetically into a tissue. By my first break a few hours later, I was wheezing so bad I could barely speak. Luckily, I got moved to a different part of the plant, which alleviated my allergies somewhat, but I still had to load up on allergy and asthma medicine before each shift if I wanted to avoid another miserable night.
      Another problem I encountered was with my hands. After being soaked in saltwater for about 10 hours, they turned dry and itchy. No problem, I thought. I’ll just use lots of lotion during my breaks. The next day I spent my first break rubbing about a gallon of lotion into my thirsty hands and went back to work happily moisturized. Squeeze, plop . . . uh oh.
      “Look, Jacob,” I whined. Most of my peas were sitting at the bottom of the cup.
      He looked puzzled. “Is your brine right?” he asked. Another one of my duties is to make sure my brine is salty enough.
      “Yeah, it’s fine.”
      Tina, another coworker who was watching this unfold, asked, “Do you have lotion on your hands?”
      “Uhhhh . . . ”
      “Because lotion makes them sink,” she continued.
      Hmm . . . interesting.
      There were some good points about working at Twin City Foods. No annoying customers, no need to “look busy” when there’s nothing to do and no ugly uniforms (except for our lovely hairnets, of course). Plus, I finally got to see the inside of the plant, something I had been very curious about as a kid.
      Recently I went to California for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My relatives all seemed very interested in my job. “What exactly do you do?” they asked. I explained the science of pinching peas, feeling very important . . . that is, until Aunt Judy turned to my cousin and said, “See . . . you thought you had a bad summer job!”
      Ha ha! At least peas gave me one thing this summer: an excuse to never eat them again. For that I’m eternally thankful.

Maggie Santolla '01 Maggie Santolla ’01 is an English major from Camano Island, Wash. This essay was originally published Sept. 13, 1998, in the Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer.

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