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