Bad job

Recently, I was on a search committee to hire new faculty, which inevitably made me feel pretty damned lucky to have a full-time job (not to mention tenure). On top of that, just yesterday I picked up my “Service Award,” which I received upon… well, having managed to not lose my job in the five years I’ve been employed at my school.

So, inspired by my own gratitude (and sheer luck) at having a job that I love, I started thinking about all of the jobs I had before that, jobs that were not only un-loveable, but ultimately intolerable as well.

So this is a half-punt… because I want to know, in gory detail: what’s your worst job ever?

But, first, just to get the ball rolling, here’s one of my own (in my current line of work, we call this “modeling”)…

During college, desperate for a job and determined to avoid paying rent, I went home one summer to live with my mother and work for the city of Palm Springs. First of all, that summer, the average daily temperature was probably about 115 degrees, but it would routinely top out at about 125. I don’t know how many of you have been in that kind of heat, but I don’t suggest it. But if you must visit the desert in the summer, I suggest (at the very least) making sure your car has A/C. My car, a tiny Honda Civic hatchback, did not. And, to boot, it had these awful vinyl seats that would heat up all day and scorch my skin straight through a pair of jeans. Not that I ever wear jeans, but I digress. At any rate, my job that summer was to work with a construction crew at the P.S. airport, filling in cracks in the runways with — you guessed it! — hot tar. For eight hours a day. The heat was so bad that, every hour or so, we were forced to take electrolyte tablets (with tons of water, of course) in order to prevent “heat prostration” and “extreme muscle cramps” due to excessive perspiration. It was one of the most mundane, monotonous jobs I could ever hope to imagine, but that’s not the point here because, well, did I mention the heat?

(Anyway, that job was over after three months, and anytime I’m sick of grading papers in an air-conditioned coffee shop, sipping on my double Americano, I can always say to myself: at least I’m not filling in runway cracks at the Palm Springs Airport… For the record: my deepest apologies to those of you who are employed filling in airport runway cracks… or, I suppose, to those of you who are unemployed, as well.)

So, ok, bad jobs: what’ve you got? Details, please.

45 responses to “Bad job”

  1. Ruben Mancillas says:

    My worst job?


  2. Ray Guy says:

    This is good stuff, what gives with the lack of comments?

  3. i’m punting on my comment. i’ll use it as a post next monday. thanks for the idea, j.

  4. brooke says:

    Man, Jeremy, that sounds like a horrible job. I have had several very bad jobs, but I think the more boring job I ever had was manufacturing alarm clocks for the hard of hearing. When I was in high school, I had this job where I sat in a neon-lit room all by myself and soldered and screwed together vibrating alarm clocks. Hour after hour of the same task. It sucked.

  5. Missy says:

    Cold-calling for a commercial janitorial company in the wastelands of Irvine, CA’s coorporate office parks. “Hello! May I see your office manager? Okay, then, can I leave her a message? Can you ask her if she’ s happy with your current janitorial services?” Lots of walking, no sidewalks, lots of rejection. Who wants to contract for janitorial services from a company represented by a 17 year old?

    Next worse: teaching speed reading.

  6. Dave says:

    Jiffy Lube. 2 summers in high school. Hot, dirty. Hectic work — that 15-minute oil change doesn’t just happen. Minimum wage. On the plus side, I can still intuitively find the hood-pop-thingie and the headlight switch on almost any model of car.

  7. adriean says:

    I’m guessing heat and boredom might be a commonality of bad jobs. Jeremy, half-punt or not, your post is timely for me as I think I’m going through some career angst right now, which I think has more to do what life means for me post-tenure than anything related to my actual position (but that’s a future post in itself perhaps!).

    So anyway, bad jobs that make me thankful that I am 1) employed, and 2) have the job I do…. The first that comes to mind is my most recent bad job, which was not hot or boring, but rather consumed me with dread and self-doubt, which was when I was working part time as a behavioral intervention specialist for kids with autism. For me doing this work was extremely rewarding (when actually working with the kids) while simultaneously making me feel like a failure (when I worked with the parents). Too often progress was overshadowed by one parent in particular who took out all of her frustrations, sadness, and her own psychopathology on me. It was just too much for me to handle emotionally.

    But back to having jobs that are hot (and not in the Jennifer Connolly sense): I worked as a character at Disneyland for about a year, but mostly in the summertime when my particualr skill set was needed most. (By the way, at the time as I was instructed as a new “cast member” that I was under no circumstances to ever, and I mean ever, break the illusion that I worked as a character so I apologize if I’m ruining it now for any of you. Instead, if someone asked what we did, we were supposed to say we sold popcorn or swept up trash.) It was fun for about 2 days, then the heat inside the costumes became overwhelming as did getting puched in the stomach by 10 year old boys who had something in for the seven dwarves.

  8. miller says:

    I’m not a huge fan of hot weather, so I can’t even imagine having to do hard labor in it. As for me, one of the worst jobs I ever had was writing wills. It seemed promising since I was able to work from home, and the pay was pretty decent per finished will, but dealing with the people was awful. I’d say about 80% of the people I had to speak with were over the age of 75, and very very grumpy. Some would call me multiple times a day asking (demanding) for progress, others I’d have to call for more info since they didn’t fill out their packets correctly — most of those people were practically on their death bed. Even worse: the sons and daughters of the clients, calling on their parent’s behalf, but always trying to find a sneaky way to see how much was (or wasn’t, in some cases) coming thier way.

    I also lasted at a bath and skin care store for a mere three weeks. We were required to rub lotion onto people’s hands and arms if they requested to try a new product. There were always a few “regulars” (men) who would show up, “looking for a present for their mom/wife/girfriend/co-worker,” but VERY enthusiastic about testing every product possible. Made me feel like I should be getting paid a little extra under the table.

  9. lisa t. says:

    Best job ever: Hot Dog On A Stick. Six years in the red shorts and the pseudo-equestrian hat so that we could look like…hot dogs!

    Actually, it was a great job. Except for the mall lurkers that would come to the counter and stare and ask for free lemonade.

    Another (not worst, but would be to some) job: dental assistant to an endodontist. My mom has managed this doctor’s office for years, so from the age of 15, I did lab work and filing in the summers. At eighteen, I took a dental xray class and was trained on-the-job (not the standard procedure for becoming a dental assistant). I worked this job concurrently with the hot dog on a stick job and was in my first year of college. But I was desperate to have my own place and not live at home…just 2 miles away made all the difference.

    Anyway, ever had a root canal? That’s what endodontics works with– the roots of the tooth. I saw surgeries through the roof plate of the mouth, I mixed metals and cement that ended up filling the holes in somebody’s tooth, and smelled a lot of bad breath. Lots of rotten teeth and pus. But I’m not squeamish and it was pretty interesting. The worst part was the outfit: white polyester pants and little smocks with bears on them.

  10. Marleyfan says:

    The worst job I ever had was answering phones on a suicide-prevention hotline. I found out right away that I’m not good at telling people no.

  11. Rachel says:

    One of those college-student housepainting gigs. The foremen would consistently underbid in order to land the job, and then the crew would be expected to work hazardously fast in order to get it done. The safety rules were drilled into us in the beginning, and then we were encouraged to ignore them in the name of speed.

    One rule was never to fill your paint can more than a quarter full, because in the event of a spill, the damage wouldn’t be as great. But then you were regularly forced to stop, climb down the ladder, go to the mixing area, refill, and get back on the ladder. So almost everybody carried a full can.

    One day another crew member neglected to fasten the locks on an extension ladder, and in my haste to get back to work, I neglected to check them. I climbed about twelve feet up, and when I grabbed onto the first rung of the extension the whole thing came crashing down on me. The ladder, my body, and a full can of paint went hurtling into the client’s prize rosebushes. I was lying there, bruised, bloody, and covered with stain (causing almost instant first-degree burns in the full sun) as he screamed at me about his flowers. Man, did that suck.

  12. W2 says:

    delivering cheeseless pizza to a cranky-because-he’s-dieting Roger Ebert.

  13. Scotterpie Godfreaky says:

    I had a job collecting shopping carts in a supermarket parking lot with two angry guys that wanted to kick my ass. I lasted exactly 4 hours on the job before I (literally) ran away. I never looked back and now I don’t own a large publishing house and I don’t make $37 mil a year.

  14. Dave says:

    See, I actually stuck with all my sucky jobs out of some combination of misguided Protestant work ethic and fantasies about developing good character, and I don’t own a large publishing house or make $37M a year, either. There is a lesson in this, I believe.

    10 wins the thread, btw.

  15. Scotterpie Godfreaky says:

    Oh my gosh Dave! We have so much in common. We should totally not join an exclusive country club together. Or maybe never go yachting off of Nantucket.

  16. autumn says:

    My first thought is when I worked a booth at a local swap meet where I sold auto accessories, made custom license plate frames (think: GET IN, SIT DOWN + SHUT UP or MY OTHER CAR IS A HORSE). the job at the swap meet wasn’t that bad (think: ices and break-time meandering) but I had to quit once we started setting up booths at car shows (think: large roving groups of beer drinking men who love cars).

  17. LHD says:

    Lots of good jobs: working for San Diego Park & Rec for 7 years, I ran a class called “Snoopy Sports” teaching 3-5-year-olds basic sports skills (which is about as advanced as my own sports abilities reach). Also worked there every summer as a day camp counselor, taking busloads of kids to the beach and Disneyland every week. This was much more enjoyable than it sounds to me now. After then enjoying jobs as a graphic artist, an editor, and a band manager/booking agent, I landed what has been my dream job as a professor . . . until it became the worst job ever about a month ago, with a dear friend/colleague/mentor completely freezing me out, Mean Girls-style, and making me almost as afraid to come to work as I have more recently become since I received a VA Tech-referencing death threat from a student that has all my classes locked down with cops outside. Get me back on the Disneyland bus, stat, because this is the worst job ever.

  18. lisa t. says:

    LHD needs and $37 mil a year and a yacht, stat.

    Where are the intellectual moneybags that read greatwhatsit? We’ve got a crisis here.

  19. lisa t. says:

    For better readability, please remove the “and” from the comment above…or place “deserves” after it.

  20. LHD says:

    Who needs moneybags? I need goons.

  21. Jeremy says:

    My other “bad” job was writing for a publication called Limousine and Chauffeured Transportation Magazine. ‘Nuf said.

  22. Stephanie Wells says:

    Hmm . . . does that top editorial assistant for “Pulp and Paper Monthly”? Cause I might have you tied there.

    by the way, I love the way the title of this post sounds like you’re scolding the job like a dog: “Bad job, BAD! NO!”

  23. Jeremy says:

    Actually, I’m scolding myself for the half-punt. (As in, you haven’t posted for, like, 2 months, Jeremy–is that all you’ve got? Bad job! I really just wanted to go to the movies with Ruben last night…)

  24. Jen says:

    But punts tend to end up with really interesting commentary – I think it’s a great idea to not be all wordy an’ shit. Sometimes the kernel of the idea is all you need, ya know?

  25. Jen says:

    Ok, here’s mine:
    Temp agency assignment: go down to the basement of a storage facility for an insurance co. (or something – I don’t actually remember the business). Row upon row of shelves containing box upon box of containing files upon files. I had to take each box off the shelf, copy each paper in each file onto microfiche. Repeat. At 4:55 the pinch-assed supervisor came down to check on my progress – I had just finished an entire box and was getting ready to leave, but he insisted I stay until exactly 5:00, which meant taking a box off the shelf, opening it up, copying one paper, replacing files into box and box onto shelf. I didn’t do it, and I never went back.

  26. Mark says:

    I had one job that I worked for just one day because it was so horrible.

    I was in college and my uncle offered to get me a job through a friend working for RPS, a delivery company similar to UPS. I was going to school at BYU and the job was in Salt Lake City, 45 minutes away. Somehow I thought that wouldn’t pose a problem. The worst part about it was that the hours were from midnight to 7 am. Since I had just learned about No Doz and Mini Thins, I figured I could go to work, come home in time for classes, then sleep in the afternoon and start all over again.

    On the night I was supposed to start my new job, there was a blizzard. Maybe not a full blown blizzard, but one of those where you’re the only car on the road and the plows haven’t come out yet and you’re wondering what you’re doing outside. I knew what I was doing, I was starting my new job! I left around 10.30 to make sure I’d make the 45 minute drive in time, and I got there just before midnight. I had a quick smoke, then went inside and introduced myself.

    The rest of the night was so horrible. Basically they would back a semi truck up to a conveyor belt and unload the packages onto that. Delivery trucks were parked in rows on each side of the belt, and you were supposed to pull the packages that were on your truck’s route. Except since I wasn’t from there I didn’t really know whether a package went on my truck or not, and the big information sheet they had posted near me didn’t help much either.

    I guess I was being trained, in that they explained to me what to do for 10 minutes then let me go. I had my own truck, and a woman came by every 15 minutes or so to see how I was doing. I was doing terribly. The inside of the truck was divided into six sections, then each section subdivided by 3. Once a section (or subsection) filled up, you weren’t supposed to put the next packages in the nearest section, as you’d suppose, instead you were supposed to magically make the packages fit into their correct section that was already too full. Somehow this seemed pretty fucked up, because 5 of the sections were empty and only one section was getting packages and it was overflowing.

    Anyway, this job sucked. And next time you’re wondering why your package is broke, it’s because those little bastards at the warehouse are throwing your shit around from one end to the other.

  27. RPS Management says:

    We appreciate your kind words for our fledgling company; we couldn’t have been successful without your support. Oh wait, we went out of business shortly after you were hired. No wonder UPS has a drug testing program.

  28. Ruben Mancillas says:

    This is a great post and I was honored to go out with a real live card carrying Movie Watcher but my mind is still reeling from my wife’s corporate defying disclosure of her Plushie past.

    Does this make me a Furry?

  29. Curacha says:

    Well Jeremy, my worst job too was in Palm Springs. Throwing (and sometimes “placing”) new phone books to the greater populous of the Coachella Valley. Unfortunately not only was it hot when I did that job, it was also raining. Which not only made bundling the books harder, but as you know, the only thing worse than the dry heat of the desert is the horrible humid -I can’t breathe- weather there. That and the fact I was getting about 10 cents per delivery.

    Yes, I’ve mopped CUM from the floors of North Beach peep shows in San Francisco. Yes, I’ve silk screened hundreds of yards of 12 color designer fabrics by the Hell’s Angels club house, and have hand screened intricate Celtic pattern t-shirts (in silver, on BLACK shirts -ugh!!). I’ve painted “trompe l’eau” interiors for a crazy woman’s company for the rich and not-so-famous…but there’s NOTHING like working in Palm Springs, and in the Palm Springs heat.
    Although, I’ve never lived in Arizona…

    No matter how many people post (including me), working outdoors in the desert heat…no salary is too big for that kind of suffering.

  30. Curacha says:


    What i the hell is a “Double Americano”?? is that like an espresso with 2x the water? or 2x the espresso with 1x the water?
    I got made fun of in Italy this year for ordering 2 espressos, because the “normal” Italian espresso seemed “too small”. Are Americans coffee glutens as well as everything else?

  31. but there’s NOTHING like working in Palm Springs, and in the Palm Springs heat.
    Although, I’ve never lived in Arizona

    hey. that was uncalled for!

  32. Dave says:

    Mmm, coffee gluten.

  33. Tim Wager says:

    I’ll be your goon, LHD. Point to the ass and I’ll kick it.

    Similar to Mark (but perhaps more upscale, on account of brand recognition), my worst job probably was loading trucks for UPS on the southside of Chicago one summer during college. The day before my interview, a friend had given me the worst haircut of my life, and in a fit of pique I shaved my head. (This was in the mid-80s, when not too many people shaved their heads.) I think they gave me the job because they thought it might be fun to break down a white boy who seemed to have an attitude.

    My job was to sort and load the packages for three trailers. The boxes would come down chutes from a conveyor belt and pile up at the mouths of the trailers, spilling out on the floor. I had to memorize which zip codes and towns went in which trailers. In my memory, the list of different towns went on forever, but in reality it was probably only 2 or 3 pages long.

    This was well before computer tracking was widely available, so I had to check every box to make sure it was in the right truck and then mark it with a heavy-duty crayon with a number (mine was 6; I’ll never forget that), so that they would know whom to blame when a package went astray. Not all towns in a particular zip code went in a particular truck, and the zip codes weren’t really consecutive either. All the while I was checking towns and zip codes, the packages were piling up and supervisors were running up and down the line yelling at people to move faster. To make things more interesting, the supervisors would every once in a while test people by sowing in some mis-sorted packages, just to keep us on our toes.

    After checking the zips, I had to build walls with the packages about 5 or 6 feet tall, from one side of the trailer to the other and “fill in” behind them. “Filling in” essentially meant throwing packages over the wall and into a heap on the other side. (The throwing of packages was not openly encouraged, but there was just no way to do the job as quickly as you had to and not do it.) Once I’d built a wall and filled in behind it, I built another one about 5 feet farther back in the truck and repeated.

    Did I mention it was summer in Chicago? It gets hot and humid — nothing like Palm Springs, I’m sure, but pretty bad all the same. Also, and of course, the trailers were not ventilated. About 15 minutes of this work would have me completely soaked in sweat and covered with little fibers of cardboard that came off the packages. (Some people even wore masks to keep the fibers out of their lungs.) To make the heat worse, you had to wear thick clothes, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, gloves, and heavy boots, to protect your arms, legs, toes, etc.

    I lasted about 5 or 6 weeks before I got suspended for a couple days for mis-sorting some packages. (If you lived in central Indiana in the summer of ’85 and had a package go missing, that was probably my fault. I’m sorry.) A few weeks after that, I’d had all I could take and quit, picked up my check and skipped out on my last day. My supervisor, a wiry guy named Harold, left me with words that still sting, over 20 years later: “You’re leavin’, huh? I thought you were a man of your word.” Ouch.

  34. Curacha says:

    Dave wrote: Mmm, coffee gluten.

    Hey, I was drunk when I wrote that! Cut me some slack!
    On the other hand, some sort of coffee flavored seitan would make a great vegan breakfast.

    I’ve heard summers in Chicago are also terrible…

  35. Jeremy says:

    curacha = moracha? (hey, moracha!)

  36. Jen says:

    Wouldn’t that be “borracha”?

  37. Jeremy says:

    i don’t know what “borracha” is. but “moracha” is a friend from high school.

  38. Tim Wager says:

    “borracha” would be a drunk lady.

  39. Stephanie Wells says:

    Tim, I love when you have a “fit of pique.”

  40. Jen says:

    Borracha is a booze gluten. Um, glutton.

  41. Dave says:

    Did you hear about the guy who was diagnosed with celiac disease but kept gorging himself on bread? He was a gluten for punishment.

  42. bryan says:

    that’s the funniest joke i’ve heard in a long time.

  43. […] The worst job I ever worked involved scientists, shit, an incinerator, and dead bodies. Lots and lots of bodies. But I’m getting ahead of myself. […]

  44. beth z. says:

    hey jeremy- thanks for the post–could not stop laughing out loud when i read…
    “the heat was so bad that, every hour or so, we were forced to take electrolyte tablets (with tons of water, of course) in order to prevent “heat prostration” and “extreme muscle cramps” due to excessive perspiration.”
    my worst job—sporting goods/shoe store–i will never forget the line that a rather older gentleman recited to me “these shoes would look a lot better on the floor next to you when we wake up in the morning”—i was all of 16–eeeeww