From the Ladies of Silver Lake Canoe & Paddle Boat calendar series.
Silver Lake draws people. Outsiders, mostly, who see water in this flat, landlocked town and think it suddenly has a view. In actuality, Silver Lake is a man-made lake, originally built to cool something-pipes-whatever from the electrical plant across the road. Fine in theory, but confusing to the Canada geese that live on the lake year round. It steams instead of freezing over, like real water in a real lake. Silver Lake is said to be 9-feet-deep in some places. By my estimations, there is a false-bottom of goose shitty mud, making it only about 3-feet deep.
I imagine diving into it would sound a lot like the first slurp of a milkshake.
I worked there for three years, alternating shifts between the food stand, a tin Coke trailer, and the paddle boat and canoe rentals, a warming house shack. It was one of those jobs bequeathed to Lourdes students by former Lourdes students, owned and managed by a Lourdes family. And later sold to another in the purple-and-gold lineage.
The grass around the park is teeming with squawking birds. Unfriendly little fuckers that try to eat your Big Mac and children who aren't tall enough for roller coasters. Audacious creatures that will strut right up to your car window, and scream for something higher-grade than a whatever-cent Coke cup filled with corn. Steak, perhaps. Shrimp.
Walk through the park in a pair of Tevas -- the favored footware of Silver Lake Canoe & Paddle Boat employees in the mid-1990s -- and your toes would look like they had been covered in pesto, or overly ripened avacados. If Lake Superior is the largest freshwater urinal, Silver Lake Park is the largest litter box for geese.
Frequently asked question about the lake: Can we swim in there?
Frequently answered: I wouldn't.
Wish I would have frequently answered: Please do.
These jobs required little, beyond a copy of Jane magazine, Toad the Wet Sprocket's "Fear," and sunscreen. We each had our own shoelace, which we wore around our necks, with keys to the boats. The combination to the paddle lock on the Coke stand in the brain vault.
Make hot dogs, try to sell them before they turn into something resembling ET's finger. Make popcorn. Eat popcorn. Sell popcorn. Sell coke, Snickers bars, and Push Ups. Make googly eyes at boys who inline skate, run, or skateboard past the stand. Lock stand, leave note saying "Back in 5 minutes," call friends from payphone and ask them to visit. Promise free popcorn. Note sales with a check mark in a box. Write your initials in popcorn salt dumped on the counter. Wipe it up. Count money. Leave change for the next day in a super secret location. Drop off profits at owner's house.
The boats were trickier. Unlock canoes, and leave them in aesthetically pleasing formation. Put flotation devices on the paddle boats. Turn on the transistor radio in the shack and learn to like Bread and The Association and the Twins. Lie on a picnic table in the sun, eat a Brueggers bagel. Drink an Arizona Ice Tea. Lock the shed, run to the payphone, ask your mom to bring dinner.
That summer brought a lot of families from Saudi Arabia. The women and girls draped under layers of fabric, a mix of body sweat and musky perfume. A pair of Gap jeans underneath. The men with beards and light pants rolled to their knees.
There were also lonely hearts.
"Want to go out with me?"
And there were entire family reunions, trying to cram four bodies into four paddle boats, while Grandma stood on the dock and waved. People who wanted to stray outside the buoys. People who were stranded when the chains fell off the old paddle boats.
[Protocol: Grab life jacket and rope. Lock shed. Apologize to waiting customers. Loudly hum the "Baywatch" theme song and sprint down the dock. Hop into a paddle boat, peddle to the customers, tow them to safety. No refunds.]
The first year, the other employees were all older than me. The next year, they were friends. People you could count on to roller blade down for a visit. People who agreed that creating a Ladies of Silver Lake Canoe & Paddle Boat calendar would be a good idea.
By our final summer, Dave was packing Zima in his blue cooler. We had discovered the novelty of calling Pizza Hut from a payphone by the public restrooms and ordering a stuffed crust pepperoni:
"To the paddle boats," we would say.
"The paddle boats?"
"Yeah. You know. Down at Silver Lake? We're in that little house."
This felt very rebellious.
Some nights we would lock up the boats, but keep out a single canoe. Raid the tin stand for old popcorn, Cokes, and Snickers bars. We'd paddle well out of the designated area. Leave the buoys in our wake. Under a bridge and down behind the Rochester Civic Center. Pause for snacks and turn back only when we got so far we weren't sure there wasn't a water fall ahead.
By then, the other employees were kids we barely recognized as the malformed clay-mation, dopey-faced freshman stuttering in the halls when we were upperclassman. When the food stand got robbed, we found out one of the girls had gotten drunk at a party and blurted out the combination to the food stand paddle lock.
She was fired. Then she got pregnant. These are probably linked.
I worked one too many years at the paddle boats. An infraction like going to one to many Homecoming games as a too-recent alum.