We all remember our first job—perhaps an entry-level gig in fast food or retail.

However, John Kevin Scariano had a very different experience: His first job was at a sewage-treatment plant in Chicago. He’s written about that experience in his new book, Marsh Township Sanitary District.

The book begins in 1975. Scariano—now a resident of Albuquerque, NM, who works at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine—at the time was a high school graduate looking for work, so his father phoned a friend, a superintendent with the Marsh Township Sanitary District. The book’s back cover has a quote that sets things up nicely: “Because I was unable to participate in World War II, as it had ended three decades before, my father decided the next-best experience in which I could fully attain manhood would be to spend two summers working in a sewage-treatment plant south of Chicago.”

The details that Scariano shares are, in many ways, deplorable. Topics covered include a lack of safety (Scariano ended up getting an infection due to the fact that he was working with fecal matter) and the blunt, hardcore talk of his co-workers on subjects such as their war-time experiences, race issues, and their sexual fantasies involving Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Scariano notes that he saw himself as much more intelligent than his co-workers; he sometimes corrected them or threw scientific tidbits into conversations—so it’s no surprise they saw him as a snobby, know-it-all brat.

The book also discusses the fact that Mafia bosses were involved with the sanitary district; Scariano goes into great detail as he points out how involved they were. The FBI even makes an appearance.

While Scariano is spending time in crap—literally (one of his jobs was to analyze samples of fecal-matter density)—many of his friends were attending summer programs, traveling in Europe, or enjoying the typical summer experience. His father is not sympathetic in any way, while his mother does show some sympathy by having cold beers ready for him when he gets home. Scariano spends a lot of time contemplating why he wasn’t as fortunate as his friends.

Does Scariano look back on the experience fondly, perhaps appreciating his father for toughening him up by making him take such challenging work? He offers this bit of insight regarding the job and his high school friend Bobby: “Maybe I never did learn the value of the dollar; I’ve never been very good when it comes to money. But I certainly learned the value of good friends.”

Given that the now-Dr. Scariano went on to teach at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine, obviously some of the experience must have been of value. This slim volume is an interesting read—even if the topics can at times be stomach-churning.

Marsh Township Sanitary District

By Dr. John Kevin Scariano

AuthorHouse (self-published)

125 pages, $14.95

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Brian Blueskye

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Brian Blueskye moved to the Coachella Valley in 2005. He was the assistant editor and staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent from 2013 to 2019. He is currently the...

2 replies on “Western Lit: A Summer Gig at a Sewage-Treatment Plant Leaves an Impression on John Kevin Scariano”

  1. A minor correction from the author: Bobby and I were long best friends in high school, my father also strongly suggested that he take a job at the MTSD as well. Otherwise, thanks for the thoughtful mention of my debut work of creative non-fiction..

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