Monday, September 3, 2012

Workin' Hard/Hardly Workin' -or- Getting The Axolotl

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? 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
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?


  1. That video is hysterical ...and yup, Lucy wins!

  2. Hands down, Lucy has it --- nothing could top the axolotls [but I do remember typing Sunday church bulletins on a Gestetner stencil . . . kind of being in the dark ages of duplicating compared to today’s desktop publishing.]

  3. I'm hysterical--tears running down my cheeks!! WHERE DID YOU FIND THAT VIDEO???

  4. Is it just me, or does the link to the survey, part 2 not work?

    My worst job was probably my first "real" job - corn detasseling. I was 14 or 15, walking down rows of corn pulling off the tops of the plants so only every fifth row could pollinate the rest. Tassels, whips or suckers - yank 'em all. I discovered a corn pollen allergy so I wore sweats and one of my dad's old long-sleeved shirts, with gloves, in 90 degree heat. I was glad for the gloves when I came across a tassel with corn smut, a fungus that causes kernels to become gray and very large - a delicacy in Mexico, but truly disgusting looking (Google it, and imagine eating that!). The crew was all girls, but we had a creepy male driver who used to wander the rows looking for girls taking pee breaks - yes, we had to pee in the field.

  5. It's not just you, Sandi. And I'm so ready to give more answers.

  6. Sandi:
    I couldn't make the link work, either, but if you copy the web address and paste it into your browser, it should take you right to the survey page. [There’s a couple of really tough, thought-provoking questions on there . . . should be quite a game!]

  7. Sandi...I don't think I ever want to eat corn again!

    My first job was volunteering in a library, which I did from sixth grade until I was a junior in high school. I loved it! Then I needed to earn money for college so I had to get a paying job. I became a junior nurses aide in a hospital. Although there were other duties involved, a big part of the job consisted of delivering and EMPTYING bed pans. Think "Sick" people. Think "Intestinal Disorders". I did enjoy getting to know patients who had to spend weeks, and sometimes months, in the hospital. This was back in the Sixties, when non-life threatening things like back surgery required a three month hospitalization. (SO glad I had my back surgeries in the 21st century!) We also delivered food trays, made beds, sterilized thermometers, answered call buttons for things that did not require a nurse.

    I had some odd temp jobs, including the one I was told "everybody begs to do, and you are the lucky one who gets to do it this time". The agency said I would be "folding small calendars and stuffing them in envelopes". Yeah. We had to lug extremely heavy boxes of books, empty the boxes, and repack the books in other boxes, and then lug the repacked boxes somewhere. This was prior to my surgeries and my back was already not in good shape.There was a place to toss aside books that were damaged. We were allowed to take any damaged books we might like. They were mostly books that analyzed different kinds of strategies in sports like football, etc. Since I do not believe in football, I did not want any of the books.

    My absolutely worst job was working as a telemarketer,which I did at night for about three years. Yes, there IS a Hell. Occupants of Hell work in half-cubicles while tethered to a headset, calling so-called "established customers" who have no recollection of having purchased anything from the company. Bathroom breaks were timed. (There were good employee discounts, though. The company mainly sold books -and they were not about football -so I took advantage of the discounts.)

  8. Poor Lucy, you probably had nightmares about those creatures! I sure would. shudder

    My mother insisted that I attend a private Catholic high school, even though she couldn't pay the tuition, which meant that I had to pay my own way. Which meant that, beginning at the end of freshman year, I had to clean classrooms during the summer, and after school during the school year. I guess it was character-building, which means that surely I have enough character for the whole family.

    The other worst job was as a cold caller for a temp agency. I was supposed to call doctor's offices, over and over again, all day long, even though they got the same calls every week from the agency. The best day ever was when a dentist answered his own phone and asked me out to dinner. We're still friends, almost 40 years later.

    Captcha has upped its game, I see. Sheesh. You'd think this site was Fort Knox.

  9. The link to survey #2 doesn't work.

  10. Ah, the heady days of punching out the master copy of the school paper for the Gestetner. And the sound it made -- ca-chunk ca-chunk ca-chunk. And the fumes...!

    (But we did have correction fluid. You could fill in the holes and do it again. Badly.)

    Hmm, axolotls or corn tassels. Tough call, though I suppose the axolotls (I'm getting to really like that word) didn't concern themselves with watching you pee.

  11. This link will work

  12. My worst job was digging potatoes. I think that's why I'm not a fan of gardening. On the other hand it's not the axolotls.

    I know tomorrow is Book Day for Hank. Who else has a new book coming out on Tuesday?

  13. Hilarious! Be sure to read my post on Dorothy L later today! Thelma Straw in cooler Manhattan

  14. Sandi, because you've tasseled corn, you have something in common with Cindy Crawford. She tasseled corn back in the day, too.

    When I saw "axolotol" in the headline, my mind immediately went to Frank Herbert's DUNE series. In the DUNE 'verse, an axolotl tank grows organic material. If I say more, it's a big spoiler for a book waay deep in the series, but y'all are smart and you can figure out where that's going. And, yes, that would be a terrible job.

  15. Thanks, Julia--you ruined my day. Not really, but that song is so silly (and funny) I'll be humming it and trying to salsa around the house; most disturbing to all my animals as they try to understand what's wrong with momma.

    Guess I'm extremely fortunate, can't remember any really horrible jobs. Although some folks might find the idea of stepping out of a helicopter and having to watch where I stepped to prevent acquiring blood/body parts/secretions on my boots. At the time, it was a terrific adrenaline high. That's why flight nurses do their jobs until their bodies can't handle the hours, or their minds, the stress.
    Now, off to salsa as I vacuum.

  16. Okay, I had to fiddle with it several times, but I believe I've fixed the link to the survey. For some reason, it wouldn't work properly unless it was embedded in a word.

    Lucy: You can find ANYTHING on YouTube. I'm just glad there wasn't any axolotl p*rn out there.

    My family's been singing the axolotl song all morning. It may become our new Labor Day tradition.

  17. Is it only a coincidence that "axolotl" is one of the answers in the Sunday NY TImes crossword yesterday?

    The video is hilarious!

  18. Julia, the video is HILARIOUS! It may be come our Labor Day tradition, too!

    Good God, captcha has gone nuts.

  19. My worst job was when I was a kid (10-13). I had to pull cotton. "Pull" cotton, as opposed to "pick" because to pull you wear gloves and pull the whole boll while to pick you use bare hands and tear the cotton out of the boll. Very hard to do without bleeding on the white fiber.

    Big, heavy bags. I wrote about it once in a poem--
    "I come from canvas cotton sacks (200 pounds for an adult
    “but you’re a big girl now, eleven,
    you can pull enough cotton to fill that ol’ sack”),
    from Lifesavers and Nehi Orange
    and salty peanuts dropped into sweating-cold bottles of RC Cola
    and traded among us kids for back rubs
    when we couldn’t quite stand up straight after a day in the cotton rows."

    Hot sun, having to pee in the fields. torn up hands, aching shoulders, and quite literally unable to stand up straight at the end of the day.

    But Lucy may have it with the axolotls. *shudder*

  20. How can I have gone through life never knowing that axolotls existed. I had lots of strange pets. I could have had one (and then fed him Salamander juice!!)

  21. Undoubtedly I can't compete with axolotis, but my worst job was as a temp transcribing interviews with mothers of small babies. The interviews had to include all room sounds—typed phonetically! I didn't finish that one.

  22. Julia, don't you mean you HOPE any axolotl p*rn out there?


  23. Salamander! Salamander! Salamander, La La La!

    If this turns into an earwig I'm blaming you.

  24. Oh my gosh, de-tasseling corn, pulling cotton, cold telemarketing, cleaning school rooms--we at Jungle Red writers have A LOT OF CHARACTER!!!

    Thanks for reminding everyone Darlene--LUCY has a book out tomorrow too:)

  25. I'm glad you survived the axolotls --

    Probably my worst/shortest work experience was in a Hostess Bakery . . . if you ever want to eat a Twinkie again, you don't want details . . .

  26. I meant to say "don't you hope there isn't any axolotl p*rn out there?"


  27. Yup, LUCY!! Funniest thing ever..I really thought they were a made-up thing!

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. I'm sorry. I know I'm tired, and overworked, and a little frazzled (thank you, Darlene! for mentioning...)

    but that video is the FUNNIEST thing I have EVER seen. Ever. HOw could anyone even think of it?

    I am going to play it for Jonathan just to see his baffled face.

  30. Obviously, when the Reds appear at Bouchercon, we need to start off our game show panel by singing and dancing to the Axolotl Song.

  31. Oh, yes, Julia, I can't wait to see it!

    Happy, happy book birthday tomorrow, Hank and Lucy!

  32. I have been unable to access the video because i have been using my Kindle to access JRW - no video access on the Kindle. I feel like I have missed out on something!

    I just returned home from vacation about an hour ago. I spent the past week in Virginia with extended family. Over breakfast this morning I was telling my sister about today's blog. She asked "did you tell them about the warehouse job the two of us had one summer?" The reason I did not mention it this morning is that I really liked that job, even though our duties were kind of odd: there were about half a dozen of us, all college students from different sorts of backgrounds. We got along really well and enjoyed each other's company. We were working in a warehouse for a company that manufactured hair care products that were bottled in glass bottles. The manager had the one other permanent employee slam large boxes of bottles onto a table, one box for each of us, and we had to pick through the boxes and pull out the NON-broken bottles. We did not have any sort of gloves to wear. The manager liked all of us and knew we all needed the money for school. We suspected that he instructed the pemanent employee to slam the boxes down as hard as possible so that there would always be broken bottles in each box, thus prolonging our jobs, which were temporary. It was pretty mindless work and we did a lot of gabbing over the glass shards. When we finally went through all the boxes (the manager used to come by and tell us to take our time and be careful, he didn't want anyone to get hurt), he apologized for not having any more work for us. I think it had been dragged out for about three weeks.

  33. One of the jobs I did not get was a gas station attendant. I was young, thin and kind of green.
    The owner asked me if I had any "experience" and I thought he meant selling gas..methinks he meant selling myself. Looking back I imagine myself sticking my leg out a la Claudette Colbert and giving the potential gas customers a lear and a smile.
    Another job I escaped was a potential caretaker to a child who went into rages and attacked people with scissors. Flash forward to today and I have the fondest memories of being an IBM hassles just fun.

  34. Short term stint as a telemarketer. At least it was all for non-profit organizations. I lasted a week. UGH. Agree totally with Deb Romano on this.

  35. Sold used cars. In Las Vegas. Was trying to get through school, and we all know how goofy that can be sometimes...:)