The worst job ever …

17351021Even people who have gone on to great heights in their careers started out with some less-than-inspiring jobs.

Actor Ashton Kutcher talked about this in his acceptance speech at this year’s Teen Choice Awards, saying: “I believe that opportunity looks a lot like work. I never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. Every job I had was a  stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job before I had my next job.”

Kutcher’s career path to TV and movie stardom included helping his dad carry shingles, washing dishes at a restaurant, working in a grocery store deli and sweeping in a factory.

Carol Brendler can relate. In her new novel RADIO GIRL, set in the 1930s, teenage Cece desperately wants to be a radio star. She even gets a secret job at a radio station. But, will it be the best job ever? Or the worst? And what will happen when Cece’s secret job collides with Orson Welles’ infamous, and very public, “War of the Worlds” broadcast?

Just for fun, we asked each of our EMU’s Debuts bloggers to share their worst job ever. None involved alien invasions, but they were all memorable for other reasons.

Take it away, folks!

Tara Dairman’s incompetent embassy
“When I was 21 and living abroad in Ireland, I stumbled into a summer clerical job at another country’s embassy. I won’t say which country; all I’ll say is that Ireland was clearly not where this country sent its diplomatic A-team. The ambassador was most frequently found asleep at his desk, and his underling, who interviewed me, barely spoke English. But worst of all was my direct boss, who had a penchant for screaming and half of whose office looked like a storage center for a brand of unfiltered cigarettes from his home country, which he smoked right through our meetings. Ireland had workplace smoking laws at the time, but technically, in the embassy, we were on his home country’s soil, so I guess he was able to do whatever he wanted (much to my lungs’ displeasure). I lasted three weeks, and my payment in the end was a blank envelope full of cash euros. I’m pretty sure there is no official record of my ever having worked for this country’s government!”

Adi Rule’s substitute woes
“Now, some people enjoy substitute teaching. (Some people also enjoy hooking a car battery up to their nostrils.) And I will say that I had some wonderful experiences and met some really awesome teachers and students. But there are a lot of reasons why substitute teaching is terrible, the worst of which, for me, was the fact that almost everyone automatically thinks you’re dumb as a post. They will trust you to hit “play” on the VCR, but can’t imagine you’re capable of making six photocopies without five of them being of your butt. This was made clear to me one day when I was in for an English teacher. (It was a class I’d been in previously, where I’d told the students that when they were done with their busywork — ahem, assignment — they could read, write, or draw. One girl said, “Write? Write what?” I said, “Whatever you want.” She was totally confused. How sad is that, America?) So this particular day, they were going to learn about adjectives. There was a clear lesson plan drawn up. I was at the board, 30 seconds in, when a disheveled teacher rushes in and apologize for the HUGE MIX-UP. You see, they didn’t realize the lesson would involve TEACHING, something that would clearly cause the barely sparking neurons of a substitute teacher to short circuit and explode! So she was there to save the day and teach about adjectives! YAY! And she must have done her job well, because that day, twiddling my thumbs at the teacher’s desk, I managed to come up with quite a few substitute teaching-related adjectives.”

Mylisa Larson’s early morning cadavers
“Well, I’ve had some winners in my checkered early employment history (swatting flies for my mom at a penny a fly was my first paying job followed by hoeing endless rows of corn for ten cents a row), but the worst job would have to be that I put myself through part of college by getting up at 4 AM and cleaning the cadaver lab in the biology building.”

Joshua McCune’s telephone hell
“The worst job for me was a telemarketing gig I took my first summer of college. Non-profit stuff (American Heart Association, etc.), so I didn’t feel like a complete scuzzball. Didn’t matter. I’m the antithesis of a salesperson … if somebody says no thanks, I say thanks for your time and goodbye. WTF is a rebuttal? Yeah, I sucked. Days were only six hours long and I only did it for six weeks, but it was pure, monotonous misery. Positive note: My experience there provided some background for a critical scene in TALKER 25. Side note: The meanest people in the country (at least in terms of hanging up on you and snappishness) seemed to conglomerate in the Pacific Northwest.”

Laurie Ann Thompson’s injury-riddled deli stint

“It could be the time I worked for an insurance salesman, cold-calling clients — during dinnertime, of course — trying to convince them to buy an annuity, but I’m going to have to go with the grocery store deli I worked at in college. They specifically instructed us to disregard all safety precautions so we could get things done “more efficiently.” Every night we were supposed to wipe down the deep fryers with hot oil still in them (yup, 3rd-degree burns and a trip to the ER) and clean and disinfect the meat slicer while it was running and all the safeties were removed (yep, sliced off the very tip of one of my fingers). Fortunately, neither job lasted very long before I found something better!”

Amy Finnegan’s cheesy fundraiser
During my sophomore year of high school, my dance team was invited to a competition in Hawaii. Everyone wanted to go, but the trip was going to be crazy expensive. We worked for months doing the typical fundraisers — car washes, rummage sales, coupon books — but still came short. Then came the opportunity for the team to work a designated amount of hours at a cold storage facility … unwrapping single slices of frozen American cheese. Not so bad, right? WRONG. The cheese turned out to be moldy and disgusting! All of it! We were unwrapping it so it could be sold to a dog food factory, and I felt bad for those poor little dogs. After weeks of this nauseating fundraising effort, more than 20 years later, I still can’t look at a slice of American cheese without gagging. And now you won’t be able to either. (But it was a great trip to Hawaii!)”

And MY worst job? That would have to be a secretarial post I took right out of college. It’s true I might have thought I was a tad overqualified for the spot, and that feeling didn’t change when the company CEO gave me a hand-scrawled sheet of paper to transcribe. His writing was terrible, and I did the best I could, but I obviously missed some finer points. He was yelling at me for getting it wrong, when I said, “But, I thought …” and he responded in full Dolby surround-sound: “I don’t pay you to think! I pay you to type!” Yeah. That was my clue that we would not have a long and happy partnership.

But all those jobs are long gone. See, we’re all just like Ashton (although maybe not as famous or well-groomed or quite as handy with a camera). Our worst jobs led us to successful, fulfilling careers as new or soon-to-be authors. Could we have done it without those early struggles? Who knows? Perhaps they built character if nothing else.

Anyway, what was your worst job ever? Leave a comment and tell us. You’ll be entered into a drawing for a free copy of RADIO GIRL.
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20 Comments

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20 responses to “The worst job ever …

  1. What a hysterical bunch of jobs! I, like Laurie, sliced off the tip of a finger working a grocery store deli counter (though they were able to sew the flap back on, leaving me with a faint crescent scar) but my worst job ever was at Dunkin’ Donuts. My first (and last) day on the job was a Sunday morning after staying out all night celebrating a friend’s birthday. Hungover, they had me in the kitchen mopping up the incredibly sticky floor. I didn’t make it through the entire day, left after 3 hours or so and never returned. Not even for a paycheck. They still owe me about $12. From 1986.

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  2. My sister once worked for a boss who was so stressed out that one day he literally tore out his hair (and bits of scalp, I’m told). She quit soon afterwards. And no, I am not going to let me win a copy of RADIO GIRL.

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  3. I worked one summer in a factory that manufactured boat products (cleaning soaps, waxes, powders, etc.). It was hot, dirty, smelly work and the dynamic was what you would expect – workers vs. managers. But after a while, I found that mindless drudgery can free up my creativity, so I could stand there for hours with my hands busy lining up cans and filling and sealing them and putting them in boxes, while my mind worked out story ideas. I only wish that housework did the same thing for me!

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  4. Pat, are you sure you weren’t the plucky protagonist of an 80s movie? Did you ever go back to that office after all your dreams had come true, stride between the cubicles as your former coworkers’ jaws dropped cartoonishly (especially that blonde shrew from Accounting), and deliver a devastating one-liner to your speechless old boss (probably something to do with not paying him for something, but rather for something else)?

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  5. M. Carlson Davis

    I plan to buy Radio Girl, whether I win or not :). I worked between undergrad and grad school as a bookkeeper at a…truck stop. Amazing because 1) I’m terrible at math and 2) I rarely balance my own checkbook. The worst things about the job were when I had to fill in as a cashier up front and those mind-numbing hours of sitting at a desk, adding up numbers. But the location supplied a wealth of crazy characters and situations and led to my first major story publication.

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  6. Worst job ever was being an artist’s model for an art school. No, it was not nude modeling; I was covered, but having to hold still for so long made me nearly pass out. And people were LOOKING at me. Like, really looking. Ugh. I think I lasted one day, maybe two, then it was on to construction work.

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  7. Ha! I loved reading all of these (well, except for the ones that resulted in loss of body parts–yipes!), and having met many of you in person only makes picturing you in these jobs more absurd.

    Mylisa, I think that yours takes the cake. And Pat, did we have the same boss?

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  8. Sixteen years old, typing personal correspondence for an blind woman who would dictate and yell at me when I misspelled things. (She had tattle-tale friends.)

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  9. Erin

    sounds like an awesome read! Would love to be the lucky winner of an autographed copy!

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  10. Mike Jung

    A couple of friends and I once spent a summer temping in a Worcestershire sauce factory, primarily crushing garlic. We’d dump huge burlap sacks of whole garlic into a giant metal tray and comb through it with our hands, looking for debris (Pencils! Chewed gum! An entire pack of menthol cigarettes!), shove the garlic into a hopper that led into a mammoth garlic-press sort of machine, fill plastic barrels up with the resulting garlic juice, cap the barrels and roll them into place in the aging room, clean the garlic pulp out of the press, and start all over again.

    By the end of the day the reek of garlic coming off of us could probably be detected across the entire tri-state area, and I had to put my work clothes and shoes in the back yard at night. On the plus side, no vampires…

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  11. Mine was emptying trash cans at my grandparents summer resort. My family lived on the resort and my sisters and I helped with everything from cleaning cabins to saddling horses for guests. We loved almost every part of working for/with our grandparents. We even loved riding in the back of the 1950’s jeep with the rattling trash cans in the back…but emptying them wasn’t a fun part of the job! Most people who came to the resort spent a good bit of time fishing. Imagine trash cans with ripe fish guts!!! And this was before the days of trash bags so there wasn’t anything to mask the smell or the view! Yep! The Worst!

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  12. Lea

    Growing up my Dad always said the worst job he never wanted to do was to work at McDonalds. Mine was janitorial… toilets in particular. I found out in High School that he had done that worst job of his because having a way to support yourself is a bare essential. It helped a lot to hear that because when I went to college the first and only job available was janitorial. I’m glad I got a chance to do the worst job ever; it adds appreciation for every job after that.

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  13. Congratulations on the release of RADI GIRL!

    My worst job was definitely a waitress at Pizza Hut while I was in college–polyester uniform complete with elastic-waist brown pants and fashionable visor. One table I waited on was a family with kids, one of whom threw up all over the table and carpet, and I had to clean it up. I’d have understood if they’d left no tip, since they had to get their kid home, but they left 27 cents for me on the barf-covered table. Um, thanks.

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    • Thanks, Natalie! I’m told that when I was an infant I punctuated a lousy family restaurant meal by doing just what your patron did. And apparently what I left on the table was all that waitress got by way of a “tip.”

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  14. Dennis

    I worked a summer during college at a packing plant. The boss was super cheap and there were more than a few short cuts taken in the name of economy.

    Without getting to graphic the 3 months I worked there made me a vegetarian for nearly 5 years. To this day anything less than fully cooked meat still turns my stomach.

    Worst job ever!

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  15. Kim

    RADIO GIRL sounds so good! Congratulations to Carol on it’s release (tomorrow, right?).

    I’ve held a few crummy jobs. When I was a teenager, I picked worms to sell as fishing bait. I was paid by the pound, and I wasn’t paid much. I also picked dyer’s woad for the local Weed & Pest department and was paid by the 50 gallon bagful. Changing sprinkler pipe hand lines was also tough for me, especially when I’d pick up a pipe and dump out a family (or neighborhood) of mice. But the VERY WORST job I’ve ever held was one where I worked for a school district at their district office. It was my job to feed Scantron-type tests into a machine. Zip. Zip. Zip. All. Day. Long. The job got worse when one of the office workers chucked a Sharpie at me when I jammed the scanner. I think I could’ve tolerated the job, if that hadn’t happened.

    My FAVORITE job was when, as a recent college graduate, I ran an after school program for at-risk youth. Man, I loved those kids. Incidentally and ironically, the program was run through the same school district that I worked for when I was a scan-gal.

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