Take this Job And Shove It



By Louise Ure


In today’s climate of high unemployment rates and few job openings, it’s probably not very nice to talk about jobs you hated. But there it is. We’ve all had a few. That office intern job where the boss wanted to guess your bra size. The summer you and your brother decided to make a little extra cash picking cantaloupes, until you realized how truly backbreaking that work was in 110 degree heat.

There are a lot of reasons to hate a job. Sometimes it’s financial, sometimes it’s the arduous nature of the work and sometimes it’s just a lack of dignity.

I got my very first job at a Dairy Queen when I was thirteen and I was paid twenty-five cents an hour plus all the ice cream I could eat. (That’s the joy of being an intra-state company versus an interstate company. They can start ‘em younger.) Not a bad job, right? Over the years, I’ve often cited that job as the only one where everybody who came in was happy and wanted to see me. (That’s no longer true. I feel the same way about book signings now.)

But then you get to the dignity part. My boss was a one-eyed man named Jack. Yes, he took full advantage of every “one-eyed Jack” reference he could, adding “I’m keeping an eye out for you” or “I’ve got my eye on you.” Then he’d threaten to lift up that black eyepatch like he was a flasher in a raincoat.

And he had the nasty habit of planting a quarter somewhere under the big ice cream machines to see if we’d find it when we were closing up at the end of the day. If you didn’t find it, it meant you hadn’t cleaned well and you were fired. If you did find it but didn’t turn it in, it meant you were a thief and you were fired. I already recognized I wasn’t the best cleaner around so I wound up just handing him a quarter every night.

The next job at Arby’s wasn’t bad until my friend Ellie cut her finger off in the meat slicer. I had to root around trying to figure out what was Ellie and what was rare roast beef so I could give it to the surgeon to try to reattach.

I found the next job just two blocks down the road at Phoebe’s Pie Shoppe. First there was the indignity of the uniforms. A floor length flowered skirt. A poofy-sleeved blouse in Tweetybird yellow. And a little linen cap like Martha Washington wore. That outfit would have been perfectly at home on Sister Wives.

One day a man came in and asked for a piece of banana cream pie. Ten minutes later he called me back over with only half the slice eaten and said there was something hard and crunchy in the pie. I took it back to the kitchen to investigate and found a half a dead cockroach. Half a cockroach, right? You know where the other half was.

“Here’s another piece,” I told him upon my return. “You’re absolutely right. There shouldn’t have been any pecans in that pie.”

And then there was Warner’s Bembridge Holiday Hotel on the Isle of Wight: a downmarket British version of a Catskills resort. The staff was housed in dorm rooms with eight beds to a room and we were expected to serve three meals a day then do all the dishes. And did I fail to mention that we were also the “talent show” in the evening? Ay yi yi. Think Dirty Dancing without the dancing.

I put up with that for all of three weeks until one old codger went down face first in the tomato soup I’d just served him and the guy at the next table only complained that his kippers were cold.

My jobs haven’t all been awful.  And most of them were not as bad as they could have been. I remember once race weekend that Bruce and I got to the track early while they were still setting up the paddock. A sunburned young man in his twenties wheeled around the paddock in a big truck with a vacuum hose on it. He’d pull up to each Porta Potty, vacuum out all the shit inside, they wipe down the walls and the seats and the floor with disinfectant. And he whistled the whole time.

“I’m never going to complain about my job again,” I told Bruce.

Compared with the Porta Potty guy, I’ve had some great jobs. One job in Singapore came with a car and full-time chauffeur. Hell, I even got paid for sitting on the banks of the Loch Ness and watching for monsters. But of all of these jobs – forty or more by my count — writing is still the best job I ever had.

What about you, my ‘Rati brethren? What’s the worst job you ever had? 


48 thoughts on “Take this Job And Shove It

  1. Laura Jane Thompson

    The worst job I ever had doesn't compare with searching for a mutilated finger, Louise, but it was certainly lacking in dignity. Straight out of high school, I took a job advertised in the paper as a "marketing manager," which was actually one of those pyramid schemes (before they became trendy). For two weeks, I walked my happy ass around Houston trying to sell perfume and cologne out of a duffle bag, and I earned a total of $23.

    I was too embarrassed (and, let's face it, stubborn) to quit because my parents had warned me about taking the job, but eventually I ran out of gas money to get to "work."

    I can't believe I've just admitted to that in a public forum. You won't tell anyone, right?

  2. Gretchen

    I had two. One emotionally horrible, the other physically. The first was a checker at one of those all classified ads papers before the Internet. My job was to call on the ad. "i'm calling about your 63 pickup?" "Oh, I sold that." "So then we can expect your check by Friday?" for someone whose goal in life is to avoid conflict at all cost it pretty much left me nauseous.
    The second was a job at an industrial laundry in 1979. This was before infection control was a big deal. Back before HIV and hepatitis were even public as a real danger.the first job they started you on was sorting soiled. It was exactly what it sounded like. Surgical linens (drapes), gowns, bedding from hospitals and nursing homes. Occasionally we would find a sponge or instrument in with the um leftover bits. There I was in street clothes, no gloves, picking through the nastiness. Later on I went into healthcare information systems and learned about sterile processing, sterile pathways, and the dangers of prions, so that job horrifies me now.

  3. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    Great post. My worst jobs make me shake my head because they were largely undertaken voluntarily, and for no pay. As a small child, back when we lived on a boat, I was the one who got stuffed into cockpit lockers with a rotary wire brush on the end of an electric drill to get rid of the loose paint, apparently because I was the smallest and therefore the only one who would fit. (Yeah, I know – gullible.)

    I was also the one who ended up in the engine compartments, wrapping the exhausts with asbestos cloth. Nice.

    How about cleaning out blocked drains in a stable yard – by hand – up to your armpits in … well, I'm sure you can work that one out.

    But when it comes to paying jobs, I once did a stint selling newspaper advertising, where nobody is happy to see you because they all knew that about half the money they spent on advertising was wasted, they just didn't know which half – but they suspected it was the half you were about to ask for. I did six months at that, during which time it got me so stressed I picked up a heart murmur.

    And the other 'interesting' one was working for a firm of architectural technicians/builders. Should have been a fascinating job, but the first week I was there, the boss said, "Right, we're going on holiday next week, so you're in charge. If the bailiffs arrive, don't let them take anything." I handed in my notice as soon as he got back.

    Now, however, as well as the writing, I hang out of moving cars scraping my elbows on the road, and lie in the middle of ploughed fields in the rain taking photographs of cars, and stand with two autotesters doing power slides around me, only a couple of feet from my knees.

    And I love it ;-]

  4. Spencer Seidel

    Great post! The worst job I ever had was working for a municipal accounting software company. I was a technical writer. My job consisted of cutting and pasting text all day long.

    Once, I had to leave fifteen minutes early for a doctor's appointment. My boss found out and insisted I come in the following morning fifteen minutes early. I had to send him an email to prove that I was there. I sat alone in the dark (the lights were automated) until everyone got in. He tracked our "progress" on spreadsheets with percentages so he could single us out during staff meetings. If we weren't cutting and pasting fast enough, we were issued warnings.

    Mostly, I just sat in my cubicle and hated life. I drank TONS of water so that I could get up and walk to the bathroom that was on a different floor. You know, for something entertaining to do.

    Ninety days of torture later, I found myself weeping quietly at my desk. I quit the following day.

    That job was a soul sucker.

  5. JD Rhoades

    Worst job: telemarketing. Three hours a night in a cubicle in an awful windowless boiler room, trying to sell some dodgy sounding deal where an absurdly low price got you 100 rolls of film, "free" developing, and a 35 MM camera (clearly some plastic piece of crap that would break if you looked at it cross-eyed).

    I lasted three nights. On the fourth, I went in to tell them I couldn't deal with this anymore and get my tiny paycheck, only to find the doors locked. One of the partners had cleaned out the bank accounts and skipped town. So I never did get paid, and I got questioned by the SBI. That was fun.

    Best job: club DJ. Ten bucks an hour to spin dance records, drink rum, and chase cocktail waitresses (and they don't run all that fast). Some days I wonder why I ever left that job.

  6. Eika

    I'm young enough that I've only had two jobs. One lasted a summer, and the other, right now, is at McDonalds.

    Our managers are known for saying that employees who don't come in on their day(s) off regularly when requested aren't good employees. I haven't lived long enough to have more horror stories, though. Props to you for putting up with those things when you did!

  7. Cornelia Read

    Chamber maid at the Tickle Pink Hotel. The owner's daughter wanted me to come to John Birch summer camp with her, and I was sorely tempted just so I could be a subversive liberal spy. But the job was so boring I was almost happy when I crashed my moped one morning on the way to work, because the ambulance took me in the opposite direction and I was too damaged to go back for the last two weeks of the summer.

    Then there was serving frozen yogurt at Zaro's in Grand Central, the following summer. Also have done a lot of stable work, cleaning up horse shit, which I didn't mind nearly as much.

    I like writing best. Well, okay, like Dorothy Parker, I like "having written."

  8. Mark Terry

    Cook at Burger King. I lasted 3 weeks. Partly because it was 30 miles from where I lived and that was my first experience with long commutes. It was also my first experience with employers that don't believe an employee should be standing around doing nothing even if a customer hasn't come by in 90 minutes. Go mop the floor! Again! I don't care that you just did it 10 minutes ago. Do it again! Ack!

  9. Jena Snyder

    I was a "Compulsory Big Game Inspector" with BC Fish & Wildlife.

    Hunters had to bring in the heads of the mountain goats and sheep and they'd shot so I could measure the horns and determine whether the kills were legal or not. I also had to extract canine teeth from grizzly bear skulls, grind them down, and determine the age of the bear. Some of the hunters brought the heads in right away. Others didn't.

    Believe me, there's nothing quite like opening a sealed garbage bag that's been bouncing around in the back of a pickup for a couple of weeks, and dumping out a skinned grizzly skul. Thank the patron saint of all crappy-job workers I had a big sink in my office so I could hose off the maggots, and a window that opened to let out the eau de dead thing stink!

  10. Tammy Cravit

    It's funny, but I think my best job and worst job were one and the same – when I was 17 or 18, I taught photography at a summer camp. This should be everyone's dream job, right? Outdoors a lot, got to go sailing and swimming and canoeing with the kids when I wasn't teaching, plus I got to spend a summer at camp and get paid for it. Right?

    Ah, but beneath the rosy veneer things were not so simple and idyllic. The camp had a tendency to let the kids (whose parents were spending gobs of good money to send them there) get away with murder. And, of course, the kids knew it. As a result, all kinds of mayhem ensued.

    The staff all took turns on "night duty", watching three or four cabins apiece once a week so the other staff could go to recreation programs or get drunk. The kids knew this, knew the schedules, and often created trouble. But nobody was expecting the night that a cabin-full of 15-year-old boys ganged up on my friend Brandi, who found herself heart-stoppingly close to becoming the victim of a knifepoint gang-rape. (As I found out later, when she appeared in my doorstep in tears.) Only the return of that cabin's counselor, who'd forgotten his asthma inhaler, saved her.

    And then there was the 9-year-old juvenile delinquent who took offense to my telling him to sit down and be quiet in the dining hall. He expressed his displeasure by grabbing a bottle of Tabasco sauce. Suffice it to say, I now have a fairly good idea of what being pepper-sprayed probably feels like.

  11. Louise Ure

    What great stories this morning! Laura and her cosmetics from a duffel bag, Gretchen sorting surgical laundry (ick!), Zoe as gullible boat grunt and stable hand. Spencer, those are truly soul-sucking jobs; you describe it well.

    JD, telemarketing vs club DJ? no contest. And Eika, I suppose McDonald's can be it's own special kind of hell, although I hope you never find it to be. Cornelia, you DEFINITELY should have gone for the John Birch Summer Camp. What fodder for a book.

    And Mark, I think fast food managers are born not bred. They're all sadists. Jena that inspector job sounded really cool until you got to the part about the maggots.

  12. Becky LeJeune

    Great post! I don't think I have anything that compares in the way of bad jobs. Sure I had to wear dinner most nights (because I was a klutz) when I was a waitress, and didn't like customers who thought we were a daycare (amazingly, that's happened at both my waitressing job and my bookseller job). I avoided bathroom and body hazard cleaning at both because of a quick gag reflex.

    There was the job with the tax consolidation folks where my boss timed our phone calls and said I wasn't spending enough time chatting with the clients. Although I did excel at writing nasty letters to mean and unresponsive clients and tax reps — most edited down or not sent at all. That particular boss did enjoy pitting her assistants against one another. The worst part about that one was when I found out the other assistant made twice as much as I did even though we did the same job and started on the same day. He was classified 1st assistant for some arbitrary reason I never figured out (and no, it had nothing to do with work ethic or quality of work either). I sucked it up until they fired my third "new" boss and quit alongside her (different boss with actual morals).

    Minor complaints all, I'd say. Especially in comparison to some of the things I'm seeing here!

  13. Louise Ure

    Geez, Tammy, those kids sound like serial-killers-in-training.

    And Becky, you were smart to recognize early on that you weren't good at waitressing. Apparently, I'm a slow learner.

  14. Karen in Ohio

    My best and worst jobs were the same, as well. A former insurance client, a kitchen and bath firm, ran an ad looking for a kitchen designer, so I went in and asked the owner if he thought I'd be any good at it, and if so, was he interested in training me? He loved the idea, and I loved the work, taking to the CAD programs instantly.

    I was on my way to becoming a fairly decent designer when the owner, who had recently been divorced, showed signs of some kind of walking nervous breakdown. He appeared to be functioning normally, but the company was in a slow death spiral. First we all had to walk a fine line between ordering for our clients and worrying about the money getting paid to the suppliers, then we were expected to start taking turns cleaning the showroom, including the yukky bathroom. My computer solitaire addiction started at that time, because the company atmosphere was so stressful. We all knew the axe would fall, we just didn't know when. The when: the federal and state taxing authorities found out they had not paid employment taxes in over a year. They don't take kindly to that sort of oversight, and the doors were locked.

    Someone else reopened the store later under a new name, but my heart wasn't in it. I felt so bad for my former boss and friend.

  15. Gar Haywood

    Louise, you are funny as hell. But I gotta tell you, my first thought upon reading this post was:


    Why in the world doesn't Louise weigh 386 pounds???

    Worse job I ever had was the worst job I ever had because I loved the work itself (associate editor for a computer technology news site) but the people were BATSHIT, and I mean BATSHIT in 78 pt caps. It was the agony and the ecstasy, every day. At my exit interview (I got fired for being too…well, they never really could say why), after the business owner declined to hear my thoughts on what he could do to make his operation less insane, I said, "Well, you're the boss." And he replied, with a grin, "Not anymore!"

    That's that kind of jackholes these people were.

    Getting pink-slipped never felt so good.

  16. Louise Ure

    Karen, I love the fact that the man hired and trained you for a job you had no experience in. That's a true mentor and I'm sorry his business went under.

    And yeah, Gar, Dairy Queen, Arby's, Phoebe's Pie Shoppe. You can not only see where my interests lay, but just how limited the job market was in Tucson in the mid-sixties.

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I waitressed once for a whole two weeks when I was 16.

    Never, ever, ever, EVER, again. I would rather pretty much do anything else, and I've got a good imagination about what "anything" might mean.

  18. judy wirzberger

    The beat and worst in the same summer. Best at 16 working on the SS Admiral that plied the Mississippi every day letting tourists sun, eat, dance and play arcade games. Only paid 65 cents an hour but all the workers were teens- ah could have been a musical!

    Worst babysitting a 9-year old brat overnight and getting paid $1- shoulda been a horror movie.

  19. Rae

    Ooh, fun post! Had lots of fun working as a waitress, bartender, short order cook, sales clerk, funeral director, and optician (not all at the same time – usually 😉

    The only job I really hated was a two-week stint at a recruiting firm. It was all cold-calling, trying to get companies to let us recruit for their open positions; and trying to get people to give up their perfectly decent jobs to interview for those positions.

    The manager (think the Gary Cole character in “Office Space”) literally blew a whistle when we were allowed to go to lunch, and blew it again when it was time to pick up the phones after lunch.

    I lasted two full weeks, and then just walked out. Ugh.

  20. Alafair Burke

    In a period of college-desperation after my financial aid was cut, I was a telemarketer one summer. Did you know you have to say NO three times before the telemarketer is allowed to hang up? Managers eavesdrop on the calls and fire you if you hang up too soon.

    In high school, I worked mall jobs. Benetton was my best job because I got a good discount and loved folding all those cool tee shirts to get them perfectly aligned. The worst was a store called Cricket Alley that had weekly sales quotas. The manager called us "Cricket Girls" and made us answer the phone "Have a Cricket Day" and "Merry Cricket."

    Sales tips learned there? 1) Get every customer into the dressing room and then keep throwing outfits to try on until they find something they like. Then look for more. 2) Make the first outfit to try on something that will make the customer look fat so you can then say, "I don't think that flatters you. Let's try something else." Then they'll trust you when you tell them they look good in the next hideous outfit. 3) Make weird outfits out of overstocked pieces in inventory, and then tell all the customers it's the new rage. One spring, we had too many navy skirts and peach tops, so we told everyone peach and navy was the hot new color combo in California. I'm pretty sure I started a plaid and stripes (together) craze too.

  21. Reine

    Donut shop- worst ever job: The owners had a statue of the Buddha with candle and incense on the floor next to the Hobart mixer. My first task of the morning was to put a donut on an old melmac saucer and put it on the floor by the shrine. My first day I had just placed a fresh donut on the saucer when the owner ran at me yelling, "No! No! Day old! Day old! I had to get the oldest sickest looking donut for the offering, and… well, it made me feel cheap. Years later I met the Dalai Lama and asked him what he thought about that. Did I do wrong in his mind? He said, "You are not a Buddhist. You are not in trouble, but you can tell them I will be buying all my donuts from Dunkie's now."

    Best job: That was my best job.

  22. Louise Ure

    Judy, you were woefully underpaid at both jobs although the Mississippi river boat sounds like fun.

    Rae, call calling is one of those things on my "don't-make-me-do-it" list.

    And Alafair, thanks for the Triple No insight. Does it count if you say it all at the same time?

  23. Jake Nantz

    One of my worst was clearing lots on Bald Head Island so people could climb the little staircase in the middle and survey the plot to see if they wanted to buy it and build a house there. Great on the beach lots, not so much on the ones back in the maritime forest (the part that wasn't protected) where poison ivy abounded. Woke up at the start of week 4 with my eyes swollen shut and itching all over my body. Three rounds of medical steroids later, it was finally clearing up and I wasn't allowed to go back to that job again (I was 15 at the time).

    Today I'd have to say my worst is also my best, and that's teaching. The apathy, laziness, and pure lack of concern for learning how to do things for themselves rather than being spoonfed just so they won't have to think of an answer (right or wrong) on their own sometimes makes me sick. There are days I just want to grab a Louisville Slugger and beat them to death, and hope my wife can find a better life knowing I'd die in prison for what I'd done. Then there are other days when the kids who do WANT to learn, even if they aren't the smartest or best student, will work their tails off and then one moment they finally get it. That instant, when it all comes together for a kid who really wants to get it, regardless how long it takes them, is absolute magic. I don't know that there is a finer feeling in the world than knowing I had some small part in helping that to occur.

    Sadly, these days, I seem to have more of the baseball bat kids than the workers. Even the smart ones are little shitbags, and yet their parents are convinced they hung the moon. Ignorance (or complete and utter denial…or maybe just stupidity) must truly be bliss.

  24. Debbie

    Not a horror story but perhaps a little comical. It was my first day of training at a grocery store and I had just returned from vacation in Florida. This was back in the day. Remember the time before scanners? When each item had stickers, yes young people, stickers on them. Every little item including the frozen items. Stickers, btw, don't like staying on frozen food. Two stickers, no stickers…price check. Yes, the good old days when price checks were constant and you were expected to memorize the flyer because the stickers didn't always get changed. Produce had price look up (plu) codes. You needed to be familiar with all the produce, be able to identify it and have memorized the code.
    Did I mention it was my first day, not of work, but of training? My first customer arrives, I enter everything according to the stickers, 'ring on deli', 'meat', 'groc'…. Then the produce (yes people used to know how to put things on the belt(. We packed 'em in bags, the bags in boxes…sometimes brutally heavy. Cart the box to a conveyor belt after recording the box number, and send it on it's way outside for customer pick up by car. Did I mention that I had just returned from Florida? Yes, it's an important detail here. Along comes a somewhat orange ball and I pick it up and enter the code for an orange. Trainer right beside me scoffs and says loudly, "That's a grapefruit. Don't you know a grapefruit when you see one?" She continues with a lecture about familiarizing myself with the produce department. I said nothing, I never do when berated, humiliated, or am caught off guard. Why didn't I say,'No, that's what passes for a grapefruit in Canada.' L'esprit de l'escalier. If you are from a southern state specifically, please, do not look at our citrus produce unless looking for comical inspiration.

  25. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Jeez, Louise…I could've written this post. Except for the part where my boss tries to guess my bra size, of course.
    I've had dozens of jobs. My first job was when I was thirteen, too. I worked with Arabian horses, and my only pay was horseback riding lessons and all the ocra I could take from the owner's garden. The worst part was when I confused birthing for breeding and volunteered to help out, hoping to see a beautiful young colt being born. Instead, I had to sponge the weiner of our studd horse, Louie.
    And I was a waiter at Bob's Big Boy, and a dishwasher and busboy and waiter at various restaurants, some good, some hideous. I worked slinging hamburgers (remember, I'm a vegetarian) at Jack in the Box, too. I've pretty much hated all my jobs. Except for writing. I love being the writer. First, a screenwriter, and now, even better, an author. I can't wait to leave all the shit jobs behind forever. I've been "grounded" enough already. And, as far as building "character,"…those jobs have done their job, I've got plenty of character, thank you very much.

  26. Louise Ure

    Reine, you really told the Dalai Lama that story? That is so cool … as is his retort.

    Jake, so sorry about all the numb/dumb baseball bat kids. I honestly don't know how you manage to keep on keeping on.

    Debbie, I've had that same "what passes for a grapefruit" moment. In my case, it was choosing a wine … in Texas. They offered "red, white or pink."

    Stephen, I'll bet that's the last time you ever confused birthing and breeding.

  27. Reine

    Louise, I did. He is so funny, maybe because you would never expect him to say the things he says. I think that was his 2003 visit to our school. He was one of the speakers during commencement week- Class Day, I think. At the church one of the students asked him about the importance of prayer. His response was, "Prayer is important. But study hard, more important." It probably sounded funnier with a church full of students.

  28. Toby Neal

    First 'real' job- babysitting. Mostly good, but got fondled by a drunken dad weaving all over the road drunk, taking me home. I was twelve. Did I tell? Of course not.

    A lot of housecleaning, yard work, waitressing, hostessing, cocktail waitressing, cleaning condos followed during college.

    Then, I sold shoes. In one of those high-end shoe stores that caters to old ladies. I saw, smelled, and handled the truly atrocious damage that can be inflicted by high heeled shoes. I now go barefoot or ergonomic.

    Still better than finding a finger…

    Many, many years of all of the above later, I now have my dream job as a therapist where I can study the full range of human pathology, get paid for it, and write about it (suitably disguised, of course)

    I really think being a psychologist or therapist is the perfect job for a writer. You make your own schedule, you get to think things like "He'll make a great character" and take notes on it while nodding and looking wise and supportive. You get to hear things that are truly stranger than fiction and figure out how to tone them down enough that anyone would believe them in a plot. Really. Just sayin.

  29. toni mcgee causey

    One of the worst jobs I had was working in a pharmacy when I was 15 and dealing with the fact that so many people couldn't afford the medicines they needed. Or the basic necessities. Or the fact that the married proprietor was having an affair, and that his manager was stealing him blind. Not a happy place except for my two co-workers who were funny and warm and made the nightmare of being yelled at daily bearable.

    My second job, at a locally owned fast-food joint. Same as above: lots of unhappiness, lots of yelling. I quit after someone else screwed up a window order and the people got home and called to complain. The boss decided I was at fault (I'm not sure why–probably because I stood there, looking confused), so I was punished: I had to clock out and bring the guy his food, which was about 30 minutes away from the store. I was 16, and the owner had no clue who the guy was or where he lived (the guy gave me directions). I was terrified. I should have quit before going, but I dutifully went and delivered the guy his corrected order. (We didn't deliver. That was a first and last time, apparently.) I quit the next day with my family's blessing. (My parents don't believe in quitting.)

    The most annoying job, though, was as a janitor when we were first married. The buildings were office buildings, so they weren't horrible and the bathrooms were usually not awful. But there were a couple of women who were convinced that every janitor was lazy. They had the practice (and this was before I came along) of always putting a dead cockroach behind a credenza. I couldn't move the credenza and I was 8 months pregnant. The vacuum wouldn't fit underneath its stubby legs, so I'd always have to try to lie down on the floor and fish it out. These were the same women who would take those little three-hole-punch circles–you know, the leftover bits–and at the end of the day, every day, they'd toss them in the air around their desk so that it looked like it snowed. This was to make sure that I dusted and vacuumed, only the vacuum doesn't always pick the damned things up, so I'd be back on my hands and knees, picking them up. (I still get annoyed, thinking about that woman.) I finally got fed up and showed up at her desk during the day and very sweetly introduced myself (8 months pregnant, remember) and asked her if she was having trouble with her hole punch? Because I'd be happy to replace it so I didn't have to crawl around on the floor anymore. Miraculously, there was never any more paper. Or cockroaches.

    The worst job, though, is owning your own business when the economy is falling apart around your ears and you have clients who can't–or won't–pay and you have to take drastic measures just to stay afloat. Many years ago on what would turn out to be one of the easier crises I've dealt with, I stood toe-to-toe with a man who was a sub-contractor, who was an ex-con, who had to finish a piece of concrete that day, or we didn't get paid, and if we didn't get paid, the employees didn't get paid, and one of them was about to be evicted because he was behind because of medical bills. In that economy, everyone was fleeing the state and it was seriously hard to find workers, much less *good* workers, and this guy was really good at his job. But he was 6' something and trying to hold up my job because he had me over a barrel and wanted some extra money. Money I didn't have. And I stood there, chin-to-chest, so furious I could have spit nails, informing him that by God, we *had* to have that concrete poured in order for everyone to eat, and he was going to pour that concrete or I was going to cream him in front of all his men. (If he had thumped me, he could have knocked me down.) And he stood there a very long minute (I had, ironically, said all of the above without resorting to personal insults), and he broke into this huge smile. I will always remember Otis' smile, and he said, "You awright, Miz Toni. I don't think I mind you a'bit. I'll pour your concrete."

    I think it's probably a really good thing I didn't know that the reason he was an ex-con was because he'd been in jail for second degree murder. He told Carl later that he liked me and I was respectful, even if I was crazy. He wanted Carl to tell me he'd always have my back, so if I ever needed to get rid of anybody, to let him know and he'd take care of it. I was quite flattered.

    Publishing, really, was quite a lot easier. 😀

  30. JT Ellison

    I'm with Alex. I was a "hostitute" one summer at Bennigan's. That part was fine, but when they needed me to run food? Nope. Not good at it. Terrible. Embarrassingly bad. Which is why I always tip 20%, no matter what. It's hard, degrading work. But the rest of the time, from 14-20, I was a lifeguard. That rocked.

  31. Laura

    I once managed a clothing store (largely aimed at tweens with very showy clothing – read: skanky)
    We were expected to be walking and talking mannequins. And as soon as an item of clothing went on sale we couldnt wear it anymore – and if they wanted to push a style no matetr how ugly, we had to wear it. (We also paid for all of this out of our own pockets) We had to have full hair and makeup done, wear fake tan and heels, and once I distinctly remember being forced to wear short shorts and a tank top in winter. I'm pretty sure I looked like a hooker.
    When I first started working there they took us all to a training day where all of the girls (no one bigger than a size 8) were told that working for this particular company meant "maintaining a healthy lifestyle" read: don't get fat. Or else.
    It was horrible, stressful and we were treated like bimbos. And I'm pretty sure I developed an addiction to fake tan. THANK GOD I now work in a bookstore. Where what I think and what I read matters more than my bra size and ability to stand all day in heels.
    Oh – I also once got told off for leaving a book behind the counter – it wasn't the sort of "image" this clothing store wanted to promote. (wtf?!)
    Laura 🙂

  32. KDJames

    Geez. I'd forgotten how much I hated babysitting. Thanks for that reminder, guys.

    It's hard to say which job was the worst. I worked at a pie shop too, during one college break. No customer contact though. I worked from 11 PM until 7 AM. The first week I baked pie crusts. An entire week of feeding non-stop trays of them into the huge sweltering wall of rotating oven shelves and shoveling them back out once they were done. The second week I was promoted to food prep. Spent eight hours doing nothing but capping and cutting up strawberries. Then peeling and slicing bananas. Uniformly. Even took it in stride when there was a HUGE tarantula in the banana crate. It was dead. And then they had me "stir" the whipped cream. It was a huge vat and the way you stirred it was to push up your sleeve and stick your arm down into the freezing cold whipped cream and use it as a spatula. That was seriously hard work. And ridiculously unsanitary. I was living at my parents' house then and I'd come home covered in food debris. Mom made me strip down before I came inside. There wasn't a third week. I still can't eat pie.

    Then there was the paper delivery route when my kids were pre-school age. I thought it'd be a good way to make some extra money. I had to be at work at 3 AM and I had 328 houses on my route. More on Sunday. Shift started in a huge warehouse where you'd unbundle the papers and fold and shove them into plastic bags (double bags if it was raining, which took precious time you just didn't have). And you had to deliver them all by the deadline or you were docked pay. I drove a 5-speed car back then. I got really good at shifting and braking and steering with one hand, even in the cul-de-sacs, and throwing papers out the window and over the roof of the car with the other, even in the fucking cold rain. Seven days a week. Except I only lasted three weeks. I kept falling asleep, sitting up, while playing with the kids in the middle of the afternoon. And then I had to replace the brakes on my car, after all that constant braking, which cost more than I'd made in those three weeks.

    But the most miserable job was the one back when I worked in international banking at a British bank in Atlanta and my manager was a woman from Barbados and she hated me. Well, she hated all white American women, but she especially hated me. Honestly, she'd sit in her office with the door open and loudly tell anyone who would listen how very much she hated me. Typical white American woman that I was. Sigh. I loved the work I did, fascinating job, but she made my life miserable. Didn't help that her boss had made a big deal about recruiting me away from a competitor and she was afraid I'd replace her. She'd stand there at the front door and if I came in at 8:01 and wrote down that I arrived at 8:00, she'd furiously scribble it out and write 8:15. I suppose it also didn't help that the branch manager insisted I come have drinks in his office with all the other officers after work on Fridays. He was from Scotland and was one of the most outrageous people I've ever known. She was never invited. And then I got pregnant with my first child and quit that job and spent the next seven years doing the best job I've ever had — being a full-time stay at home mom.

    Thanks for prompting this lovely trip down the less traveled parts of memory lane, Louise. 😉

    Now if only I could figure out how to make writing my full-time job. Speaking of which, back to it.

  33. KDJames

    Yeah, early morning. But also late hours. It wasn't unusual to work 10-11 hours a day at the banking job. And then walk through underground, which was the shortest route to the cheap ramp where I parked my car. This was not the glittery renovated party-time "Underground Atlanta" of later years, but the dark dank deserted infrastructure several blocks distant from there upon which a new city was built. The bank building elevator went down to that below-lobby level, though I was one of the very few people who ever pushed that button. Down where there was a whole other parallel world of crumbling streets and uneven sidewalks and abandoned rail lines. Where the only sounds were scurrying rats and distant footsteps, neither receding nor advancing, and the cool drip of water from unknown and unseen sources. Where I walked several blocks each way every morning and evening in my short skirts and three-inch heels, keys spread out between my fisted fingers, just in case. Believe it or not, that lonely poorly-lit section of underground, full of untold history and imagined memories, was one of the things I loved best about that job.

  34. Gretchen

    Best job ever was baskin robbins. When the ice cream tubs were almost completely empty we'd take them in the back and rinse them out. Of course I might have taken a couple fingers full of icecream on the corner and popped it in my mouth first. Hey I was fifteen then. Oh hell, I'd probably still do that now.

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  36. pari noskin taichert

    Two vie for that honor: My first real waitressing job, the one with the sexist boss and the older waitresses that were jealous of my youth and attending college.
    Second: my second baking job — worked in an underground oven filled area from 2-5 am, then had to be cheerful and nice and continue cooking above ground in a small stall. I had to serve customers while all this was going on. AND the worst part is that my boss never gave me my money — money due me — until I asked her for it for several days. I lasted two months.

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