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Nickels 'n dimes and the back hall

Willy told me he hadn't found steady work this summer to help with college, and had to take a part-time that pays him only $175 a week. I refrained from telling him about my high school summer job in the town gravel pit, which paid me $3 a day for hand-shoveling from 7 to 5 into the tipcarts of the highway crew. That figured to $18 a week, except that I didn't get paid when it rained. Then, too, along in August the appropriations would be expended, and as temporary seasonal help I was the first to be ''laid off.'' Nor did I tell Willy that in my time college tuition was $200 a year.

I didn't tell him about the ''back hall,'' either. The back halls of innumerable Maine vacation ''camps'' (resorts) helped thousands of boys and girls to afford college until Uncle Sam's accursed thirst for gold slid them into limbo - Uncle Sam the while giving lip service to Education. That's pretty much true. There were other reasons for the decline of the Maine wilderness vacation camp, but the coup de grace was the withholding tax on tips. Those old camps were a thing unto themselves, with no way to squeeze into the averages of government forms. They didn't compute, you might say. On top of wages and hours regulations, the withholding on tips was too much bookkeeping. The dining rooms would've had to go, and without the dining rooms there could be no camps.

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You see, the wages paid at these camps didn't amount to much. ''Room and found'' was the phrase, and then a token payment of so much a week. Guides and other grown folks did better by the week, although guides did accept liberal tips if offered. But the waitresses and choreboys depended absolutely on tips for summer income, and guests and ''sports'' were traditionally supposed to know that and respond. That's the way it was; then Uncle Sam and the state showed up to demand proper hours and proper minimum wages, and withholding on tips. Well! Nobody could run a vacation resort on anything like a factory schedule, and as for tips - the owners had no notion of how much gratuity the McDough family lavished on Waitress Louise and believed it was none of their business. If Louise didn't level with the IRS - go after Louise. Why pick on us? As said, there were other reasons, too, but tips amounted to the last straw, and for hundreds of Maine youngsters a dandy way to earn summer money for college went down the drain.

One of the owners of a former camp was telling me one time about a Mr. Adams from Philadelphia who tried to buy his vacation into the back hall, and had to be denied. Mr. Adams erred on his arrival date, and came before the camp was ready for the season. Mr. Adams was a regular and well-heeled guest who devoted the month of June each year to angling, so when he appeared ahead of time he had to be accommodated. Mr. Adams was a good tipper.

In some places an ''opening note'' may refer to the start of a concert, or the trill of a returning warbler in spring, but in Maine summer camp parlance it means the 90-day money provided by the bank to pay the crew that opens the place , carrying the owner over until guests begin to pay their bills. Come fall, the opening note should be paid off, and with a good season that wasn't too hard to do. So here was the back hall all set up to feed the crew, everybody busy at cleaning and making beds and checking boats and filling woodboxes and setting up the dining room, and here is Mr. Adams around underfoot. His cabin was hastily tidied and made ready, but he was told he would have to eat with the help in the back hall - that is, until the dining room was officially ready on opening day. Mr. Adams hesitated briefly. He didn't say anything, but he indicated an opinion that a guest of his standing should not rightly be thrust into the company of the menials. Then he recovered himself, agreed there was no other shift, and he took off with Pete Nadeau, his guide, to whip the waters.

Come suppertime, Mr. Adams entered the back hall and was greeted by Myrtle Sheidow, back hall boss, who asked him how many hamburg patties he could eat and if he wanted a fried egg. She pointed around and everybody nodded or shook, and for three days Mr. Adams dined in the back hall with the opening crew. Somebody taught him to play cribbage, and one evening when the fiddle, squeezebox, and mouth organ were blazing Peter Nadeau taught him to do the old Kaybecker dance up and down over a broomstick. So when it was time to eat in the dining room, Mr. Adams asked to stay in the back hall. But that couldn't be.

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