During daylight hours they can often be sorted out among piles of shoes, shirts, shorts, sheets and beer cans in their cluttered three-bedroom apartment. Utterly collapsed, they are asleep like rag dolls, with tanned arms and legs dangling over the edges of beds and couches.
Or they can be found on the bench (when they aren't in the water), their bodies again arranged for slumber, not sunbathing. The have succumbed to the deep, sound sleep of fallen warriors. Victims of intense play between the hours of midnight and daybreak. The cherished sleep is essential for replenishment of young bodies.
They are Pike the waiter, Eric the barboy, Hub the bouncer, Harvey the dishwasher, Rodney the busboy, Bernie who makes zucchini sticks, and a marathon man called "Muskrat," a bellboy. They are all in their early 20s. If they were older, they'd be dead by now. They are what keeps summer resorts like Ocean City running. They are Summer Help -- overworked, underpaid and living life to the limit until the summer runs out.
They're all college students, and six of them got together last winter to rent this apartment for a year. A seventh joined in, and there has been talk of adding an eighth. The original six occupy the bedrooms, and the newcommers have been assigned couches. But a random visit often finds no one in their assigned bunks. There are no rules here. Overnighters, and regular mid-week visitors like Mark, huddle in sleeping bags on the porch or on the floor. In the morning, fallen warriors are everywhere. It looks like Jonestown.
It's also difficult to say who belongs sometimes, because there are so many friends of friends who show up unexpectedly, and at times complete strangers have taken advantage of the group's generous nature. But young spirits at the beach are always high and open and free, and concerns are not for worldly wants.
The search is always for fun, looking for waves to ride, girls to chase, parties to crash. Weekends are for the tourists, and this means that Summer Help must work hard to serve them. But come Sunday afternoon it's Summer Help's time to party hard and, together, the "Howies" (surfing enthusiast) and "Schmokies" (beautiful waitresses) gather in lovely group portraits of youth at its most exuberant. It's a time of their lives they will never forget, but they're too young and much too busy to realize that now.
Within this clan of restaurant and saloon workers there has evolved a culture that is natured by beer and camaraderie. Thank God their one important meal of the day is provided by their employers -- at home they consume junk food and eerie stuff like generic peanut butter. The dress code is simple: shorts and shirts. They almost never wear trousers or dresses, and they are rarely alone.
Sometimes they're visited by parents, who are always shocked at the social combat conditions under which they live and insist on giving them a "decent meal," which is O.K. by the kids. Some of these parents are ghosts of summer past, and the sense of lost youth is real and, sometimes, hurting.
Summer Help seeks out equals: waiters and waitresses, bartenders and barboys, busboys and bellboys, dishwashers and cooks.