Two weeks into summer, they are bored. For them, August doldrums are already here. Depending on their chores, they get out of bed early or late and idle the hours away until mid-afternoon, when "The Bar" opens.
"The Bar" is Caffney's Restaurant, a darkly lit cavernous pub carved into the lower level of a worn apartment complex at 5521 Colorado Ave. NW. It has become the summertime hangout for a group of jobless teen-agers who say they have little else to do.
Most of them have tried futilely to get jobs. Charlene Battle, 14, registered for work through the city's Summer Youth Employment Program but later was told her application had been lost and it was too late for her to reapply. Tyrone Woolridge's name initially was left off the city's computerized list of job applicants. Woolridge, 15, is still waiting to be called for work.
Michael Robinson and Lorenzo Route, both 17, and Mark Reid, 15, also applied but did not get work through the summer jobs program. They began looking on their own three weeks ago, making the rounds at a drugstore, paint shop, ice cream parlor and grocery store. They haven't heard anything yet.
"Mostly, we just hang out at the bar," Robinson said recently to nods from the group of regulars in front of Caffney's. "That's the only thing to do."
These Washington teen-agers are among 5,000 who registered for but did not find work through the city's Summer Youth Employment Program.
Mayor Marion Barry announced recently that 20,000 youths have been placed in jobs by the city, but he chastized the local business community for providing only 200 of those positions.
Barry's administration never reached his stated goal of 30,000 summer jobs for youth. Although 28,000 jobs were created his first year in office, the program was plagued with administrative problems. Last year the number of youngsters placed dropped to 19,000 but the program was more efficiently run.
Unemployed youngsters like the Caffney bunch may yet get a chance to work before September, however, through efforts such as those of a Capitol Hill community group that has organized a last-minute drive to finance summer jobs for youths still on the city's waiting list.
As part of that program, called "Pass the Buck," District residents, community groups and local businesses are being asked to contribute to a private fund held by the Community Foundation of Greater Washington Inc. Project sponsors say donations made out to "Pass the Buck" and sent to the foundation, at 3221 M St. NW, will be turned over to the city summer jobs program within the next two weeks. The money will be used to pay the wages of teen-agers who will be placed in jobs with nonprofit organizations.
Project sponsors say "Pass the Buck" offers businesses that cannot use limited teen-age skills another way to help provide summer jobs.
"We're giving businesses a chance to contribute by funding summer jobs rather than by creating them," explained Erv Menessa, the Capitol Hill resident who started the drive late in May.
Menessa, a tanned and taut 40-year-old bachelor, seems an unlikely crusader for employment for youngsters he has never met, kids like the regulars at Caffney's.
Menessa is a special assistant to Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer. "Pass the Buck" is modeled after that city's successful "Blue Chip-In" summer jobs campaign.
Menessa said more than $10,000 in cash and pledges has been donated so far. About $700 is needed to finance each job, he said. Menessa acknowleges that the program will not finance jobs for most of the teen-agers looking for work. But "Pass the Buck" is one of several grass-roots efforts to find jobs for teens like Battle, Woolridge, Robinson, Route and Reid.
Several youth clubs and civic groups throughout the city, including Kingman Boys Club, the Eastern Branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater Washington Area and the Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1E, are soliciting odd jobs for teens such as house painting, lawn mowing and baby-sitting.
Some program organizers say even odd jobs are scarce, however. With 50 applicants, Kingman Boys Club had found work for only five youngsters last week.
Only two of the regular youthful crowd outside Caffney's have summer jobs. Marvin Battle, 17, works as a carpenter's helper in the morning and has his afternoons free. Battle passed along his part-time cleaning job at Caffney's to his 16-year old brother Kim.
Colin Paige, a broad-shouldered 17-year-old, said even finding a job at the traditional teen-age haunts is difficult. "They have a whole bunch of applications," he said, referring to fast-food restaurants. "You have to wait."
They dart in and out of the bar among adult customers being served beer and sandwiches and under the bartender's watchful eye. Too old for day camp and vacation Bible school, some of them linger there throughout the afternoon and evening, running back and forth between home and the hangout where they throw darts or occupy themselves with the two pinball machines and two video games.
"People have started calling this Caffney's Day Care Center," joked Robin Horvath, assistant manager. Horvath said the kids are welcome as long as their parents do not object and if they obey a set of house rules established just for them. Posted above a pinball machine are the admonitions: No horseplaying. No foul language. No running in and out.
Asked why she allows the teen-agers to hang around, Horvath explained, "Part of the reason is it keeps them off the street. There's really nothing else for them to do." Later she acknowledged that the video and pinball machine trade is lucrative.
Most of the kids in the Caffney crowd come from stable families, headed by bank tellers, stock clerks, nurses, secretaries, apartment managers and other well-paid parents in the Brightwood Park community between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue.
Although they get by on allowances of "five dollars whenever I need it," as Robinson said, most of them say they would rather make their own money.
Because of family support, summertime joblessness may leave these kids without money for dates, designer jeans and leather sneakers, but not without hope.
The Caffney kids have managed to avoid the drugs and crime that snare so many of their urban peers from deprived backgrounds. But even they are not without that youthful mischievousness born of idleness.
As a crowd stands around Pac-Man, one of the group gives the machine a shake. Some of them have spent a lot of time this summer figuring out ways to beat and cheat the quarter-snatching machines.
Horvath said she has to remind them of the rules of "The Bar" from time to time, but, she adds, they are "just being kids."