Monday, July 27, 2009

My Worst Summer Job Ever

RHYS: I was at a marine mammal sanctuary today watching highschool kids hose out sealion pens. They actually looked as if they were enjoying themselves so it got me wondering what was my best and worst summer job ever?

I can't actually think of a best, but I can think of several worst. The reeeely worst was not a summer job but a winter and spring vacation job. I worked in a big plant nursery and my task was to scrape any moss growing on the top of the plant pots. There were zillions of pots. It was a never-ending job working my way down endless greenhouses. And it was winter and the greenhouses were not heated. They grew heathers, which are used to the Scottish highlands and therefore tough. So my fingers grew red and raw and my back very sore. And there was something else. My co-worker was an old woman who was a spiritualist. In England it got dark by 4 p.m. in winter and the greenhouses were not lit so we worked for another hour in gloom and then dark.
"They are all around us," she would moan. "We don't see them but they see us." and every now and then she would cry out, "Who is there today? Do you wish to contact someone?" Then she would go home an hour before me, leaving me alone in a dark greenhouse, surrounded by God knows what. Spooky hardly described it.

RO: OMG, that's hysterical! I hope she's made it into one of your books.

The funny thing was that I had another high school friend working at the same nursery with me. The work was so boring and the conditions so hard that we amused ourselves by creating a murder mystery. We cast all our fellow employees in the story, including our murderer and victim and every day we added to it. My first attempt at the genre.

My other really awful job was after I graduated from college. My real job with the BBC did not start until October so I had to fill in. I got a job with IBM as their tea lady. This involved steering a monster tea trolley up and down the hallways. The trolley was impossible to control and I'd go flying down halls and crash through doors. I only lasted a week.

So how about you, fellow Jungle Reds. Did you have any really fun summer jobs or any really awful ones?

HANK: I can't type--I'm laughing too hard. That's the funniest story--and I can completely envision both of them..

Worst job? Well, it might sound "worst" but I actually loved it--I was a proofreader at a publishing company. I had to read the entire Indiana Code of Laws OUT LOUD, with punctuation, while another 19-year old, Joanne, followed along in the galleys. Then we'd trade. Can you imagine? "Capital-S--section" "capital O--One". Indent. "Capital S--Steam" "Capital B--Boiler."' Capital R--Regulations."

I had a fantastic job, two summer's worth, working at the Lyric Record Store in downtown Indianapolis. (Anyone? Remember records?) I got to choose what songs were played on the store's loudspeaker system. Harry Nilssen has no idea how many of his album "Pandemonium Shadow Show" I placed into fellow teengers' hands. (Handselling! I does work..)

HALLIE: I had a million summer jobs and loved them all. Sold Encyclopedias...or actually didn't. Worked the main desk at a hotel. Gave out potato chip samples at a Ralph's Supermarket.

My first summer job was teaching folk dancing at a day camp in the Pacific Palisades. The only problem is I knew nothing about folks dancing, and had to take the records…yes I remember records…home at night and teach myself by following those shoe and arrow diagrams.

The next year I wanted a “real” job, but found that the jobs I wanted required typing. So I taught myself touch typing on my parents’ behemoth Remington typewriter. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and great practice for the slow but steady work of becoming a writer.

The next summer I went job hunting and all the jobs I wanted required shorthand. So I went to summer school and learned it. Anyone remember Gregg? Loops and lines and circles and dots? I don’t know what I was thinking. Even then my regular handwriting was unreadable. So though I ended up being able to TAKE shorthand I couldn’t read any of it back. Fortunately it turned out that only occasionally would a boss require me to take dictation, and most often it was from a machine (remember Dictaphones?) and I could transcribe on the typewriter.

RHYS: I'd forgotten. I too sold encyclopedias once--or didn't. During training I was the best student. I learned the spiel. I learned the psychology of making them hand over large amounts of money, but when it came to reality i couldn't do it. I realized it was the people who could least afford it whom i could persuade to hand over their money. So I quit.

ROBERTA: Great stories Jungle Reds! My very worst summer job lasted exactly 2.5 days. And then I begged my mother to go get the check because I couldn't bear to go back. I'd spent spring semester junior year abroad so I was late to the job market. The only thing I could find was sewing in a handbag factory. I knew how to sew, right? No prob...only this was a FACTORY with lots of women paid minimum wage who barely spoke English and a mean foreman who didn't like having a Princeton student under his supervision. And we were using gigantic industrial machines and sewing think leather pieces (Handbags, remember?), so my needle kept breaking and the thread got tangled which made the foreman very, very angry. The two days went on FOREVER! One Hispanic woman asked me how I like it after the first day. I said I didn't and she got quite defensive--rightly so. This was their livelihood, not optional spending money. It was a very humbling experience. And it made waitressing in a nice enough restaurant (my next job) feel like a walk in the park.

Ro: When I was 18, I lasted as a waitress exactly 1.5 days. I was on the 10pm to whenever shift at a diner. The guys were nice but the women were horrible. (Duh!)Then I delivered mail in Cambridge one summer. That was kind of fun, until I went to lunch one day and took the mailbag with me into a place that sold spirits. Okay, it was a bar. But they had food. Apparently that was a big no-no. At least they didn't handcuff me.

RHYS: I think we all needed jobs like this to make us the writers we are--women who have experienced Life! Also who have worked with all strata of society and seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Of course my first real job was in BBC drama and then I saw the good, the bad, the glamorous and the extremely bitchy.

So who has got a great worst summer job to share with us?


  1. I want the potato chip job. Seriously.

  2. I was a Fuller Brush girl in high school one summer. Instead of carrying the suitcase of samples, I carried catalog brochures, and if someone wasn't home, I had to leave the catalog and then do a follow-up visit. I hated going back, hated trying to convince people to buy brushes and cleaning supplies. There were incentives for sales, though, and I apparently did well enough to "earn" a set of parfait glasses, which thrilled me - it felt so grown up.

    On the real-job topic, my son had a similar experience to Roberta's: he worked the night shift at the Yoplait yogurt factory for two summers during college. One adult coworker told him sternly, "You gotta promise me you'll go back to school in the fall, Allan. I never had the chance." My son realized how lucky he was and assured the man he was, indeed, going back to school. He now has a BA in History to prove it (and no idea what he's going to do next!).


  3. Wow, I didn't do anything that could compete with your jobs!

    I was a bank teller a couple of summers....I didn't enjoy it. That's really about it!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. I grew up a Western girl. I have two that convinced me I really never wanted to live on a ranch (unless I was the rich boss - lol). The summer I was twelve (and was a late-bloomer, luckily), I worked the hay harvest. In Oklahoma. In August. Alfalfa hay down the shirt when you're hot and sticky is not fun! Being said late-bloomer, I could rip my shirt off, rinse off, and put it back on after a thorough shaking. I got over any fear of snakes that summer.

    The other job involved calves, dehorning, castrating, and doctoring. Uhm...yeah. Needless to say, typing and shorthand (I STILL use some of those loops and dots when taking notes) ranked right up there in my high school curriculum.

    Records? I'm looking at buying a USB turntable that plugs into the computer so I can listen to all those albums tucked back in a closet!

  5. OH! And before I forget, Hank, it was amazing to meet you at RWA and your class absolutely rocked. I probably learned more from it than I did any other seminar I attended.

    And no. That is NOT a spot of brown on the tip of my nose. ;P

  6. Ooh, and I forgot... in the sleazy job category I sold magazine subscriptions by phone - the 'office' was a a bedroom at a motel. I was pretty good at it (lonely people like to talk on the phone) but I couldn't stand what I was doing.

  7. All I did was write, fold and mail election forms, and empty envelopes with the replies. Some of the replies made it more than worth while though.

  8. Silver--thank you so much! It was fun to meet you too.What a surprise and a treat to see you there. And thanks, I really enjoyed teaching that class--how to use TV techniques to write a better novel--and it was fun to watch people listening.

    Oh, Sheila, folding and stuffing. I did that for an election campaign. I got really efficient at it. It was actually kind of fun, because you could see how much you'd accomplished. And when you were finished, you were finished.

    But--replies like what?

  9. My worst: Department store clerk at a downtown store, which meant an interminable bus ride and dealing with people in ways unfamiliar to me. I was (still am) not the sort to approach customers, and didn't know how to talk to the wealthy ladies (although I did wait on Elizabeth Montgomery, but had no clue who she was because I'd never watched "Bewitched" until someone told me about it -- original, not reruns).

    Best summer job. Being a maid in Yosemite National Park. It wasn't the work (I had a section in one of the "permanent" campgrounds), but it was in YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK! (Oh, and there was that guy who worked there, too)

  10. Ooooh, I just got back from Yosemite and I found myself jealous of some of the kids that worked there. Why didn't I ever do that when I was younger? Think of Half Dome. El Capitan. Think of those hard-bodied hikers...and a new crop every week. Maybe in my next life..

    BTW Hank, I had guests this weekend and one of them was a young girl who had been to RWA. She was very impressed that I know you!

  11. Worst job -- definitely being the overnight answering service for a group of doctors, businesses, etc. I got the job because the owner said I had a "sexy" voice. I would try to sleep next to the switchboard and sometimes it worked. Totally ruined my social life but as I recall, I wrote a lot of poetry during that period...

  12. Good lord Pat, you were hired for a doctors' answering service because of a sexy voice?? For the short stretch I had an answering service, I only wanted someone who could reliably spell and actually take the message:)

  13. I wouldn't call it my worst summer job, but being and manual elevator operator at 42 st & 8th Ave. in the Big Apple was interesting to say the least. At 8 in the morning I'd fill the elevator with 19 or 20 people and no one would give a floor number. So, I'd smile and say, "First stop 15th floor!" - then everyone would shout at once in random order!!! You'd think "driving" an elevator would be easy, yet every job seems to require specific techniques. These elevators we're not self leveling - so you actually had to bring them into the floor properly so there was no step between the elevator floor and the landing as well as reorder and remember to stop at specific floors.

    Worst job was QC inspector at a jewelery box factory!!!