Worst Jobs I’ve Ever Had

I’ve had plenty of back-breaking, mind-numbing, or just plain miserable jobs.

Male Lady Liberty

Male Lady Liberty throws a peace sign

I installed a vapor barrier liner underneath a house: thirteen hours a day in a crawl space that is indeed a crawl space with knee pads providing minimal cushion against the limestone gravel. My friend Justin and I hauled heavy rolls of thick plastic sheeting underneath the house, cut pieces to fit the awkward angles, and wore masks while using spray adhesive to connect all the pieces and hopefully cut down humidity inside the house. I became a human mole. Standing up straight had never felt so good.

One day, I agreed to move a family with my friend Adam. We arrived at their house around 8am and finished after 9pm. This was before flatscreen televisions had taken over the market, and these folks had a behemoth that must have weighed three hundred pounds without any surfaces conducive to getting a good grip. Have you ever sweated through a shirt and kept it wet long enough that the fabric began to chafe your skin?

The man of the family was nice to bring us lunch, but he had chosen McDonald’s. My stomach did a backflip. I managed not to vomit on his hardwood floors.

When I finally got home around ten, my arms were so tired I wouldn’t have been able to wash my hair.

For a couple of weeks during the summer before my senior year of college, I did data entry for Southwestern Company in Nashville. All the students who had moved to some remote town and sold books every day for three months brought their thousands of papers, slips, and records to the corporate office off of Briley Parkway to see how much money they had made. I sat in a dismal room listening to my gay co-worker talk about his Disney lithograph collection, his partner’s issues with his Church of Christ minister father, and the fights that they got into in New Orleans during Mardi Gras with aspiring gay bashers.

“Never mess with a burly gay man in leather,” he warned me.

Noted.

The middle-aged African American woman who sat at the computer to my left kept telling me how cute I was, trying to give me massages, and insisting that I would be rich one day.

Though I appreciate the vote of confidence, I already have a mom and I’d rather not take off my shirt, thank you.

I keyed in numbers in the appropriate fields for long enough that the zeros began to dance. I drank more water until I felt bloated so that I could take more bathrooms breaks. I considered taking up smoking, but that would have meant more time with my handsy surrogate mother.

The motivation behind the job was working long hours, getting overtime, and making $16 an hour or more for my upcoming study abroad semester in England.

Only thirty minutes of sunlight in the morning on my way to work each day made me second-guess the wisdom of this endeavor. If I had begun to develop a taste for blood, I would have quit.

I’ve been a waiter at the banquet hall in a retirement home. I’ve been a Sales Associate at J. Crew. I’ve been a valet parker. I’ve been a high school English teacher. I supported myself an entire summer by going to garage sales and thrift stores and selling crap on eBay.

I’ve been a youth minister at a big Nashville church. I worked at a fireworks tent every summer for six years and watched the members of DC Talk pack the $300 worth of fire, smoke, and color that I sold them into their white Hummer.

I’ve watered plants and watched dogs. I’ve spent enough hours mowing yards, weedeating, raking leaves, and spreading mulch to have a degree in it. I’ve trimmed hedges and painted garages. I’ve gotten paid to clean up after a party and have found a list of prizes, which included one for the first woman to show her boobs.

Classy.

I’ve cut apart fallen trees with a chainsaw and hauled the logs to the dump. I cleaned and organized replacement parts for a heavy equipment rental business. I’ve sold origami. I’ve borrowed the most popular books from the library for months at a time and charged my classmates 10¢ a day to rent them from me. I’ve done inventory at a Christian bookstore. I’ve tutored athletes at the University of Tennessee and modeled for a heating and air conditioning company’s brochure.

I’ve endured all kinds of jobs, and some of them were not worth in dollars what I lost in time, energy, and other opportunities.

But I’ve never taken a job that cost me my self-respect. I’ve never opted to wear a cheap Statue of Liberty costume, hold a Liberty Tax Service sign about $50 returns, throw up peace signs at passing cars, and dance in the cold beside a major thoroughfare in Knoxville with my air traffic controller headphones and flagging enthusiasm.

I consider myself lucky.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Comments Closed

12 Comments

  1. Posted February 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    lol. I wondered where this was going.

    Let’s see…I’ve sold Irish dance shoes, babysat numerous children, cleaned house for a rich couple with a mansion that the husband bragged about as he showed me around, painted dormitories at our alma mater, worked as a receptionist for a real estate company, sold concessions at a movie theater, wrote wedding and engagement and birth announcements for a newspaper (although I was once asked to write a divorce announcement for the “Celebrations” section), edited a ridiculous tabloid about pop culture, and worked for a travel industry newspaper that made me write supplements about places I’d never been before.

    None of my jobs, however, required a costume.

  2. Nick
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    While most would not consider this a “worst job” I feel like sharing because of my idiotic logic in taking the job that years later I have come to regret. One summer after my freshman year of college I took a job at the local Sony Plant building LCD tvs. I had the option of taking the first shift (8-4) for $8/hr or the second shift (5-1) for $8.50. I made the dumb decision and took the second shift job to make the extra 50 cents an hour!! Had I of done the simple math I would have come to the conclusion that the extra 50 cents was totally not worth it. 50 cents an hour is $4 a day, $20 a week, $80 a month and $240 for the summer. I sold my summer after my freshman year for $240 and that’s before they take the taxes out. I missed hanging out with my friends, home cooked meals made by my mother, and biggest was I missed out on the easiest side job I ever had… Umpiring Little League Baseball, if you ever get an opportunity to umpire kids baseball it worth ever cent. You get to watch baseball, kids having fun, and once you learn how to control a crowd and earn respect it’s a cake walk. Sigh. Makes me think that the biggest factor of a worst job is what you gave up that was worth more than the pay you received.

  3. Justin
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    My name is Justin and I also agree the worst job was laying vapor barrier. Thanks Rob for the great job.

  4. Posted February 16, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Costumes or not, this is still a fine list. I particularly like the words “tabloid” and “concessions.” Did you wear a little hat?

  5. Posted February 16, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Woah! Huge insight. Forget about what the job is going to pay you. What’s it going to cost you? A tyrannical, soul-withering, egomaniac boss is worse than going bankrupt.

  6. Posted February 16, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    I was going to email you! The lunches we packed at home were so much more delicious because we could be back out in the sunlight and shade again. You were there when we cleaned up after that huge party at McM****’s house. Yikes.

  7. Ryan
    Posted February 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    My worst job- inventory of every road sign in downtown Nashville

  8. Posted February 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Ouch.

  9. Hunter
    Posted February 19, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I worked for a car rental company summer before college on Murfreesboro Rd. in Nashville. Need I say more. We rented Daewoo’s, ever heard of them? Yeah me neither. Oh not to mention we rented out one PT Cruiser, which felt like driving a larger version of a fisher price toy. I would have to stand out in 100+deg. weather with a tie on washing these crappy cars as only foreigners returned them, as well as being solicited by prostitutes. I never took them up on their gracious offer. I would pick people up at the airport who by some miracle had heard of this place in a 1994 Chevy Astro van with no AC to bring them back only to see their disappointed faces as they saw our lineup of Daewoos to rent. Worst job ever.

  10. Posted February 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    There’s nothing like being solicited by prostitutes to help you realize you’ve found your calling.

  11. holly
    Posted February 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    the summer before our vienna trip i took a job at a call center… pretty sure thats what hell is like. stuck in a giant windowless room filled with people then stuck in their own half walled cubicles talking to angry customers that are allowed to cuss you out cause you can’t hang up on them… plus you aren’t allowed to talk to your fellow employees. so you are left with just your own head or those angry customers on the line from 8-5… real fun :)

  12. Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Miserable. I’d probably take to lying to the customers or writing poems about what I would say when I quit.