July 22, 1996 12:00 PM

UNTIL HE CAME TO NEW YORK CITY this summer, Chris Hutchins had never seen a naked lady walking down the street. “She was just strolling along” near his apartment, the 21-year-old marvels, noting with a raised eyebrow that “this was before noon.” Then there was the Mob-style shakedown he witnessed over dinner in a Chinese restaurant: “They were yelling that if some guy named Mark didn’t come up with the $6,900 he owed them, they’d burn the %$^@! place down.” Hutchins’s reaction? “I dropped my chopsticks.”

Obviously, Hutchins, a junior at Western Kentucky University, isn’t in Bowling Green (pop. 40,000), Ky., anymore. “I’d never been to New York,” he says. “I’d seen the city only in movies.” Now he’s spending the warm-weather months living in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village—and working with us in the Time & Life Building in Rockefeller Center. As one of PEOPLE’S 15 paid summer interns from around the country, selected annually by Time Inc. and the American Society of Magazine Editors, Hutchins is learning about both the editorial and business sides of magazines. It’s what’s known as training under fire—which can produce fashion victims at times. “Right now,” says Hutchins, “I’m working on the Best & Worst Dressed issue [to be published in September]. My friends get a big kick out of that because I still don’t know Gucci or Chanel on sight. But I’m learning.”

Without making the PEOPLE internships sound like summer school, learning is what it’s all about. “An Imelda Marcos story, which I was working on early for an upcoming issue, was the most challenging to fact-check,” says Marilyn Anderson, 21, citing one of her experiences as a reporter intern. “She has a lot of legal issues going on, so you have to slog through it and make sure you’re using the right words.” As a result, says Anderson, “I’ve learned about what questions you have to ask for a story, even though I am not the one asking them.”

“When Jerry Garcia passed away last year,” says PEOPLE public affairs intern Shannon Nobles, who is on her second summer intern stint, “I got to call a lot of heavy-metal radio stations to plug our issue.” The best part of that, she says, was “talking to a lot of the voices I’ve listened to on the radio.” The worst part of her job? “Thursday nights, when we have to get out the press releases, and things are running late and I’m in the office until 7:30 or eight.”

Clearly there are risks in every opportunity. And while Chris Hutchins has yet to spot a naked human being anywhere within our office—at least that he’s telling us about—he has been amazed, he says, by the way the far-flung pieces of PEOPLE all finally manage to fit together each week at the last minute. Working on college publications, he says, “you see the train derail two days before deadline.” Maybe so, says managing editor Lanny Jones, “but we come close enough to derailments around here every week too. Journalism wouldn’t be journalism without a whiff of burning brake lining and adrenaline in the air. We’re just glad to have the interns around here to keep us in touch with a saner world.”

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