Thursday, May 26, 2011

Take this Job and ....

By Deborah Sharp

A guy wrote recently in the New York Times Sunday magazine about his worst job ever: Dressed in a gorilla suit, he delivered flowers, cakes, or balloons, even doing a monkey dance or singing songs. He recalled the night that a bunch of drunken college boys celebrated their pal's birthday by dousing the gorilla-gram guy with beer.

Reading about the beer-swilling celebrants got me thinking about awful jobs. High on my list was a cocktail waitress gig at a college bar near the University of Georgia. It was the 80s; I was in grad school, and always short of money. The tips were good, but I had to put up with being pawed at by legions of UGA frat boys. Even worse were the aging alumni, who'd return on game days in huge, tricked-out RVs with horns that blared ''Dixie.'' They were old enough to know better, but there they were: Drunk, stupid, dressed from head-to-toe in red and black to relive their good ol' boy glory days as Georgia Bulldog football fans.

Like the gorilla guy, I had plenty of beers spilled on me when I worked at O'Malley's Tavern. Unlike the pawing, though, I'm pretty sure the dousings were unintentional. A Ph.D. candidate in psychology, I chalked all those beer baths up to alcohol-induced impairment of sensory motor functions. Sloppy drunks, in other words.

That wasn't even my worst job as I worked my way through UGA. Ask me sometime about being a member of the late-summer cleaning crew charged with sprucing up Sanford Stadium for the opening day of football season. My job was washing down the plastic seats. They numbered eighty-some thousand back then, and most of them covered in pigeon poo. The upside: Swabbing bird turds made the spilled beer seem benign.

Joel Lovell, who wrote the Times' essay on wearing the monkey suit, concluded his piece by revealing that one of the beer-swilling college students gave him a $30 tip. He said he could have rejected the money, asserting some pride. But he didn't. ''The pay was worth the humiliation,'' he wrote.

Is it?

I look back, and remember the tips I pocketed at O'Malley's. I kept my mouth shut, plastered a smile on my face, and learned to side-step the worst of the roaming hands. The pay didn't make the humiliation worthwhile ... it just made it a necessary evil.

What was your most humiliating job? Looking back, would you have done things differently?


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I've had plenty of them, but the worst? If I told ya, I'd have to kill ya.

Beth Groundwater said...

My worst job, as far as stress and overwork go, was waiting tables at a Howard Johnson's restaurant one summer in college. The thing about waiting tables there is that we had to mix cocktails and make ice cream concoctions as well as serve the customers. I was running my whole shift, and I'd come home with ice cream smears all down the front of my too-tight uniform. (Size chosen by our sleezy manager--that's another story!)

What made it worse is that I was taking two summer classes at the same time, so I'd be in class 8 - 11, work 11 - 8, then have to go home and do homework. I wound up breaking down in the restroom one day, vowing never to wait tables again. And I haven't!

Deborah Sharp said...

Sue Ann: Now, of course, I'm DYING to hear what that worst job was!
Beth: Ah, a sleazy manager in the food service biz ... been there! Also relate to the stress of waiting tables. I still, 25 years later, have my ''waitress nightmare'' occasionally, when the orders are backed up, I can't get to them, and all the people are going un-fed in my station. Paging Dr. Freud ...

Robin Allen said...

Swabbing bird turds is pretty bad. And I would think that the worst part about that guy's job would be actually having to dress as a gorilla.

I've been pretty lucky with my various jobs, but the worst one was about 10 years ago when I waited tables at a restaurant on the Guadalupe river in one of those quaint little towns that people spend the day antiquing, wine tasting, then dancing in the dance hall. Most of the wait staff were college students, so I was "that older chick."

It was the biggest restaurant I'd ever worked in. It sat about 1,000 people and had only one kitchen and one bar. It had many sections up and down stairs and hundreds of tables. Part of the training was to know the table numbers cold and other waiters would give you dirty looks if you asked them where the table was when you were running food. It had a 1-2 hour wait on the weekends and you worked non-stop for hours.

Since I was new, my section always seemed to be the farthest from the kitchen or up the most stairs. I'd serve food and ask if anyone needed anything. More ranch dressing, please. Anything else? Nope. I'd hike the half-mile to the kitchen, get the dressing, hike the half-mile back.

Can I get some cream gravy, please? Anybody need anything else? Nope. You sure? Yep. Hike, get, hike.

Can I get some extra mayonnaise? (Never mustard, which was at the wait station.) And so it went, them getting restless because it took so long.

I lasted about a month, mostly because I wasn't making any money.

Funny that these bad jobs involve food. I hear you about the sleazy managers, Beth. And Sue Ann, surely there's something you could tell us about.

Cricket McRae said...

Driver's license examiner or condominium maid. Actually I guess the latter. It was amazing the horrible shape people would leave a ski condo in after a week, and I had to work sixteen hours on Thanksgiving and Christmas both. At least no one grabbed my butt, and I earned college tuition.

Great post, Deb!

Victoria Allman said...

I have to admit, the dream job I have now as chef on a world-cruising yacht makes all past jobs seem like the worst job.

But, before I was following the sun around the globe, I put myself through chef's school by picking apples. It doesn't sound so terrible, but when you think about the temperatures in Canada, mid-October, at 5:30 AM when I had to ride my bike through the pitch black orchards to get to work, or how many layers of long johns and mittens I would have to put on, it does make the bikini I was wearing last week in the Bahamas while barbecuing on the sun deck of the boat seem like the perfect work uniform.

It may not have been the worst job, but it was definitely the coldest.

Victoria Allman
author of: SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Captain

Allan E. Ansorge said...

My worst job was a rather warm summer spent unloading boxcars of 100 # bags of rock salt. All ovens are not found in kitchens.

Alice Loweecey said...

My worst job was in high school: I was night clerk at a YMCA. I sometimes had to step over the drunks in the parking garage to get to the access door. There wasa swimmin gpool in the basement that would develop a layer of scum and have to be cleaned, at which point all the water bugs would come into the halls and we'd have to stomp on them--snap, crackle, pop. One year they renovated the locker room, ripping out all the lockers and replacing them with new ones. Except... they didn't fumigate first. We were overrun with cockroaches! We'd be typing and a whole family of them would march out from under the typewriter. I also had the delightful job of cleaning the locker room debris--including showers and toilets. Ew!

My second-worst was as an inside sales rep for a printing firm. I had no power and no seniority, so none of the production departments would listen to me when I needed to schedule a job. It was in a very old building, with an ancient creaky Otis elevator. I always took the stairs. That is, till the morning I came to work and there was yellow "caution" tape blocking the foot of the stairs. A sign hung on it: Please take the elevator, there are rats on the stiars.


Today, my two immovable job requirements are: No toilet cleaning and no bugs.

Deborah Sharp said...

Robin: I so hear you! Anyone who is impatient or surly with their servers should try waiting tables and see how they like it. My poor mom worked as a banquet waitress 'til she was 78. Hard, hard job!
Cricket: If they had grabbed your butt as a driver's examiner, at least you could have flunked them ... or, maybe not?
Victoria: Apple picking in freeing temps sounds pretty bad .... then again, having to wear a bikini at my age might qualify as my worst job.
Allan: That's the wrong kind of ''hot'' when somebody told you they had a hot job prospect for you.
Alice: Roaches, rats, AND drunks in the parking lot? I think you win!

Beth Groundwater said...

I've eaten at that restaurant! When we visited the Texas hill country last summer. Small world. :)

Ick, Alice!!! No way would I be stomping on water bugs and roaches--or typing with them crawling out of the typewriter, either!