ChicagoNow has initiated a new series called “This Blogger’s Life,” which each week has a theme. This week’s is “Crummy Jobs” in honor of Labor Day. See them all here.
As I think about the jobs I’ve had over the years, nothing really stands out as “crummy.” That’s probably because it’s been 25 years since I’ve done anything but teach writing at the university level, which I love. But there are a few that come to mind…
It’s such a fancy name for such a pits of the world job. It was back in the early 80s, in the dark ages before desktop computers. My job was to copy names and numbers of businesses from the phone book onto 3×5 index cards. All day long.
Our work location was a motel. Two of us wrote the names on cards in the midst of about a dozen callers while Stu, a skinny old chain smoker of a man, paced and grunted at us.
The only thing more fun than writing down the names of every single hair salon in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and every single dry cleaner, and every single welding supplier, and every single automotive repair shop, and every single (well you get it) was placing bets on which caller would quit that day.
It usually came after a bad call. Someone on the other end would lose their shit and Todd or Manny or Shayla would slam the receiver down and yell, “I quit.” Stu had the checkbook handy. He just filled in the name and did a quick calculation of the money owed.
Here’s two hot tips for knowing a job is going to be a bad one: your workplace is a motel room and you are paid daily.
This wasn’t such a bad job. It just didn’t pay that well.
I lived in Glorieta, New Mexico and delivered papers to the retirement community that lived at the Glorieta Baptist Conference Center. My dad was a Baptist minister. I tell you all this because it’s important that you know my 24-7 job was being a preacher’s daughter. No matter what I did, it reflected on the preacher.
As the folks who lived in Glorieta were old, and as they lived, to a person, at the end of long driveway several thousand feet in altitude above the road, I had to run the papers up to their houses.
When I say that I “delivered” papers, I mean that they got the Santa Fe New Mexican on a silver platter. And I was in very good shape.
This isn’t the bad part either. Most folks greeted me with that dippy smile reserved only for preacher’s daughters like me who made them proud. “Thank you sweetie.” Sometimes they slipped a dollar bill in my hand.
At 14 years of age, this was more than enough motivation.
The bad part was that I had to collect the money for the newspaper, and I hated asking for money.
Some of you reading this are old enough to remember that the paper “boy” made the rounds, door to door, collecting the money and then paid the newspaper company for the honor of having delivered the newspaper. No matter how much you collected, you owed for the papers delivered.
I always felt like I was begging. Knock, knock. “Oh, hello dear. $12? Just a minute. Joe, the pastor’s daughter’s here and she needs some money.” They were always sweet about it. No one ever put me off or refused to pay. Some people paid without my asking.
But that phrase, “the pastor’s daughter needs some money” just felt so icky. One month I had to borrow money from my mom and dad to pay the bill.
After a while some of my customers owed nearly $100 and it was way too late to collect. If it’s hard to collect $12, imagine how hard it is to collect $100.
Hot tip: don’t take a job where you pay them.
This wasn’t a job, but a volunteer experience. I was 16 and since I’d been in second grade I’d read about Clara Barton and wanted to be a nurse.
On my first day, I donned my candy striper apron proudly and presented myself for work. They put me in a back room filing. Sunday after Sunday I filed.
One Sunday as I scanned the names on the forms to file, I saw the name of one of the cheerleaders at my high school. Despite knowing that I shouldn’t, I couldn’t resist reading. She was being treated for leukemia.
It was my very first experience with cancer. When I bumped into her at school the next week, I saw what had been there all along, the wasting and pallor. I could barely make eye contact. She died within a few months.
The next Sunday the head volunteer asked me to take an identification band up to a patient’s room. She instructed me to cut off the old one and snap on the new one. When I got there, the elderly man in bed seemed very, very ill. He was making lots of noise breathing.
I was terrified. I placed the id band on top of the sheets and ran from the room. It was my last day as a candy striper.
Hot tip: it’s harder than it looks to care for sick people.
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