Take this job …

This month Jack is schlepping around, looking for someone who will hire a fifteen year old with no experience. He has very high standards. Nothing in food service, or with pets, kids or yardwork. He’d like full time with a little more than minimum wage.

Something having to do with playing video games all day would be ideal.

Remember your first job? How about your first few? At Jack’s age, I was still babysitting people’s horribly behaved children for about a buck an hour and pilfering whatever goodies they stocked in their cupboards. I also walked dogs and cleaned pools.

There were okay jobs and there were less than okay jobs.

Then there were the truly extraordinary …

Suckiest Jobs Of All Time.

The town where I went to college isn’t all that big, but it’s spread out across the North Idaho prairie where the wind can blow strong enough to knock you off your bike.

January, 1989, was colder than usual, with more snow. That month I moved off campus to share a duplex with a roommate who had a car. She said “it’s a little far, but they’ll let me keep my dog. And I’ll drive you wherever you need, anyway.”

She may have overstated that driving-me-wherever-I-needed thing. When I needed to be at work at 8 am on a Saturday morning, she usually needed to be spending the night with her boyfriend.

The snowfall that month totaled more than 3 and a half feet. The temperature hovered in single digits. My walk to Eric’s Café in the Mall, where we served cinnamon rolls big enough to choke a t-rex, was just over 2 miles. I wore keds and almost never a hat.

I’d taken the job when I lived on campus. Since then I’d also become a reporter for the school paper and signed on for a full load of classes. I didn’t really have time for the cafe, but for some reason I felt bad about quitting.

Turns out I didn’t have to.

“You get here on time, but then you spend about twenty minutes in the bathroom,” Eric said when he fired me.

After skirting two miles of show drifts along the Moscow-Pullman Highway at 7 am on a Saturday morning, that’s how long it took my hair to thaw.

That was not my worst job ever, but it was a contender.

In high school I worked as a “trap girl” at a gun club. I pushed a button every time a shooter yelled “pull,” to release a clay pigeon. I tracked pigeons hit and lost. Sometimes when I pushed the button, a flurry of clay pieces flew out of the little cement box at the end of the field.

If that happened, I was supposed to give the person in the box time to clean out the machine and insert a new pigeon. Push the button again too soon, they told us, and the eight year-old boy cleaning out and loading the machine was likely to lose an arm.

Trap shooting must not be very fun, judging by the people who do it, or else they’re a cranky lot. They would get impatient when I didn’t push the button a nanosecond after broken pieces of clay pigeon flew from the box.

How long was I supposed to wait so as not to cut some kids arm off? Twenty seconds? Thirty? Nobody told me.

Sometimes when I called “lost” for a pigeon that wasn’t hit, I’d get to argue with some armed redneck about whether anyone saw a minuscule piece of the pigeon fly off in one direction, the main corpus of the thing in another.

The guy with the gun almost always won that argument.

The job paid less than $2 an hour, with an occasional donut. There were tournaments where we’d work two 12-hour shifts over a weekend. Taking home less than $50 and a maple bar in exchange for a weekend arguing with armed rednecks really sucked, even though I can proudly say I never accidentally amputated an eight year-old boy’s arm.

Jeez. How was that job even legal at any time post Upton Sinclair?

Even that wasn’t the worst job ever.

Nope. The prize for worst job EVER goes to Merritt’s Country Café, where I waitressed for three days.

Okay, I AM a sucky waitress, and I hereby offer my heartfelt apologies to everyone whose toast I brought after they’d already finished their omelet.

Merritt’s was open 24 hours: two twelve-hour shifts. Each shift was staffed with one waitress, a busboy and a cook. I was trained by a cranky gal just coming off her shift. She sat at the counter and smoked, taking a load off while directing me.

“It’ll get crazy in here sometimes, particularly after the bars close,” she said. At which point the owner would call her step-daughter to come help.

“If THAT happens, do NOT let her get change for the jukebox from the till.”

I would be responsible for balancing the till at the end of my shift. In the event of a shortfall, I’d also be responsible for making up the difference from my tips. Apparently step-daughter was as good at counting change as I was at waitressing.

The following evening was ladies night at the horse races, where women got in free and drank themselves silly until around eleven or so, and then needed a famous Merritt’s plate-sized scone to sober them up.

Step-daughter arrived to help. I kept one eye on the till for a while, but then the busboy quit and I had to wait tables, and clear them and be the cashier. I also got to wash the damn dishes and make milkshakes, which it turns out were the second most popular thing on the menu after famous plate-sized scones.

Stepdaughter didn’t know how to run the dishwasher or make milkshakes. She volunteered to cashier.

To be honest, I don’t remember if the till was short that night. I do remember wearing strawberry milkshake, and hating my life.

My third day on the job, there was a new gal to train. I told her about the busboy and the milkshakes and the step-daughter. It was after my shift. I was crabby and gave her instructions without moving from my stool at the counter.

Later the owner of the establishment called to tell me the gal I’d trained was my replacement.

“Don’t cry, honey, I’m sure you’ll find something better,” She said.

Tell me about it. I was crying because I was so freaking grateful. And I was exhausted. I hung up and went back to bed.


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  1. Hmmm. Sounds like you and my mom may have gone to the same college. Small world.

    All of those, by the way, sound worse than my worst job. I worked as a temp one summer and got sent to find misfiles in the file room of an insurance company for a week. Only the files were coded by number rather than letter. And I have dyscalcula (numbers and I are not on friendly terms). I went home with glaring headaches every evening. At the end of the week the temp company called to say that the insurance folks wanted me for the rest of the summer.

    I politely declined.

    1. Small world, indeed.

      And numbers and I are not compatible either, so I totally understand. Now, a job where you had to work with numbers and wear a strawberry milkshake, that would be pure hell.

  2. Those jobs sound awful! Right up there with my college catering job where my boss asked me if I was a cheerleader, because \”he liked cheerleaders.\” How do you spell harassment? Gimme an \”H\”! But, I wasn\’t wearing a strawberry milkshake, so it could have been worse! –Meredith