Thanks to all of you who took our survey for our game show panel at
Bouchercon--the annual World Mystery Convention, (Friday (10/5) at @2:45). We have wonderful, smart, hilarious answers (to be revealed at the conference and here the week after!)
But we need MORE! Survey Part II is up with 10 more questions so please, help us out by taking the survey. The link is here.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Labor Day! The day America honors its hard-working citizens by giving them a day off to grill burgers, go to the amusement park, and spend one last day working on the tan before summer vanishes.
As a self-employed writer who works from home, I have friends who kid me about every day being a holiday. And I have to admit, making a living as a novelist is pretty sweet. No dress code, no time clock, no coworkers stealing lunch from the fridge. But it was not ever so. I have had my share of awful jobs, just like the rest of the country. There was the waitressing gig where I had to dress in a corseted dirndl that constantly threatened to expose the Bavarian Alps, if you know what I mean.
There was the five-month temp job reviewing loan documents for a recently-acquired bank. The work itself was fine, but I was alone all day in a white-walled room with only a folding chair, a table, and stacks of bankers boxes. The place was down to a skeleton staff, and I went for days without seeing anyone else. At the end I felt like Malcom Macdowell's character in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (post-brainwashing.)
Then there was my ill-fated stint "selling" vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I felt so guilty trying to scare poor people into buying $5,000 cleaning systems (Dust mites! Disease! Asthma!) I would end each call sitting in my boyfriend's car, crying. Never sold a thing, AND I screwed up my bf's transmission and had to kick in big bucks to fix it. (This is why I can never be a self-published author. I need an entire sales team behind me, because my solo version of marketing would consist of me saying, "Um...I wrote this book? And...you can check it out of you want. Or not. That's cool, too.")
How about you, Reds? What are your most memorable awful jobs?ROSEMARY HARRIS: Try as I might I can't think of one. I've liked all my jobs - until I didn't. But that had more to do with its being time to move on. What have I done...bookstore manager, Cliffs Notes Sales rep, book buyer for catalog company (Publishers Central Bureau...anyone remember them?) video buyer/sales, video producer, consultant...writer.
If pressed (and so I don't totally sound like Pollyanna) I'd say working for public television was the hardest job for me. Everyone there was so earnest! And thinking about sales was declassee. I had a good laugh when that Randy Newman song, It's Money That Matters came out with the line about people working for public radio - "in any fair system they would flourish and thrive..but they eke out a living..they barely survive." Yup.
HALLIE EPHRON: Worst ever -- and there's stiff competition in this category -- was the job I took selling magazine subscriptions. Cold calling people. We worked out of a motel room and everyone smoked. I didn't last long.
As a temp I had one excruciatingly boring job after another typing invoices and filing, and I learned to take the bus all over the Los Angeles area. One weekend I gave out Lays potato chip samples at a Ralph's supermarket in Beverly Hills.
Best temp job was working as a summer temp at the main office in Standard Oil's Inglewood oil field. The engineers were adorable, all men. Every two weeks I had to learn a new job as I rotated through the all female office workers' jobs when they took vacations. Xeroxing and delivering mail isn't bad when you only have to do it for 2 weeks. My favorite was reading oil output maps for the individual wells. The traces were on 12-inch wide circles of graph paper and I had to interpolate the results. I had not the slightest idea what I was doing but the guy I shared the office with was a stitch.
LUCY BURDETTE: Sure I had some crummy jobs (cleaning motel rooms at a beach resort=Not. Fun.) But one rises above the rest.
I was desperate for cash in college so took a job taking care of axelotls in the biology department. These are prehistoric-looking amphibians and there were walls of them, each in its own plastic box of water. I can't recall what experiments were being conducted, but I do know that some of them were albino and some were grafted together, stomach to stomach. Since these creatures won't eat anything unless it's moving, I had to take chunks of frozen liver in tweezers and wave this in each axelotl's cage--then they would snap at the liver and gulp it down. They needed four or five bites a piece. A PIECE.
And then to make things worse, the boxes needed cleaning twice a week. Dump the creatures into the sink, scrub out the slimy boxes, return axelotls to their cages.
I must be winning this contest, don't you think???
JULIA: Oh, yes.
HALLIE: Hands down, Lucy.
There really ARE axelotls?? Am I the only one who remembers the Mad Magazine poem about them:
I wandered lonely as a clod,
Just picking up old rags and bottles,
When onward on my way I plod,
I saw a host of axolotls;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
A sight to make a man's blood freeze.
And so on...
HANK: Yes, MAD is the first thing I thought of when I say axolotls. I thought MAD had made them up.
RHYS BOWEN: I've had my share of jobs I couldn't wait to leave. Scrubbing the moss off the tops of five million heather pots in an unheated greenhouse in December looms large in my memory. As does wielding the tea trolley round the hallways of IBM London... not always able to control it and careening into labs that were security access only (lasted one week).
I also remember unfondly my first job in the US, doing PR for the California Nurses Association. At their convention two of us had to attend all meetings, then after the last session at 10 p.m. we had to write up the day's newsletter--typing it to a one of those skins that ran on the old copying machines. One mistake and you start over. And the evening one of the organizers showed up saying she wanted one of us to talk to the press urgently. "We're just finishing the newsletter," my colleague said. The woman rolled her eyes. "Oh come now. It doesn't take two of you to do a little thing like that," she said. That must have been the first time I had the urge to kill. No wonder I became a mystery writer.DEBORAH CROMBIE: I don't think anyone can compete with Lucy and axolotls. I was a biology major and I didn't know there were such things! But, if I must, I'll go with my first job out of college. I was secretary/assistant to two guys who ran (and were the sole employees other than me) an advertising agency. They were more or less the in-house agency for a big local car dealership, but they also had accounts like discount carpet warehouses and industrial cleaning supplies. I typed (badly), filed (badly), answered the phone (quite nicely) and got to write a little copy for the crummy accounts. None of this sounds too awful, except for the fact that these two guys were two of the biggest jerks I've ever met. After my supportive family and my supportive liberal arts college, I was NOT prepared. They sneered, they criticized, they behaved, shall we say, very inappropriately, they withheld paychecks. Then they fired me because I was late one day, having wrecked my car trying to get to work in an ice storm.
I think I've been killing them off ever since.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Debs! Yikes. Poor thing. But you won in the end, right? They're probably buying your books now.
Ah, my worst job actually turned out to be the best job, as those things happen. I was a proofreader and index-maker for Bobbs-Merrill publishing company. My partner Joanne and I had to read the ENTIRE Indiana Code of Laws out loud together--we took turns, one reading aloud and the other comparing with the words and punctuation on the galleys, and making corrections.
So imagine , the two of us at age 18 or so: "Capital c, chapter one, comma, new paragraph, capital s, section one and ON AND ON for eighteen volumes including torts, wrongs, insurance rules and steam boiler regulations.
And when we finished, we had to make the index! And to do that, we used....index cards! And alphabetized them all. About a BILLION of them.
It was paper cut city. But actually, not that awful. And the skills of that drudgery have come in quite handy. (And sometimes it was even interesting. If you care about such things.)
JULIA: So there you have it, dear readers. How about you? What's your worst job - and was it really so bad when you consider it might have been feeding axelotls?