In my academic life, I have had a number of excellent jobs. Even the academic jobs that weren't so great had certain interesting aspects to them. I even enjoyed being a teaching assistant as a grad student.
In my previous (non-academic) life, I had many awful jobs working with despicable and/or insane people, and I thought it might be fun to list some of these jobs. I have recently been working late to finish some papers and get manuscripts (re)submitted, and at a time like this, it's good to be reminded that things could be far far worse.
Top 10 Worst Jobs I Have Had Thus Far
(10 = least worst; 1 = worst worst)
10. Library worker: front desk
This job was mind numbing most of the time and I was not allowed to read (in a library!). There were a surprising number of rude people checking out books, but one of the pleasures of the job was that it was easy to get revenge on rude people. For example, one could 'forget' to demagnetize their books, causing the rude people embarrassment and inconvenience when they tried to exit the library. During one particular encounter with an extremely rude person, I dropped her library card down a slot that led only to a drawer immediately below the front desk, but there was no way for the rude person to know this. I screamed Oh no! That slot leads to the furnace in the basement! Your card has been incinerated and you cannot check out these books! I then 'found' the card, but in my confused state, forgot to demagnetize her books. This is why this boring job is the least worst of the list.
This job was not so bad either. It was kind of disgusting dealing with all the leftover food and the industrial dishwasher was loud and the job was boring, but I liked my coworkers.
8. Newspaper deliverer
I delivered newspapers back in the day when this was a job that kids did. I walked or rode my bike in all weather and placed each newspaper in the door or mailbox, depending on customer preference. I collected the newspaper fee each week in person. I had the stereotypical experiences with dogs: that is, I was bitten on more than one occasion, and had to go to the emergency room once for a bad dog bite. The most vicious and insane dogs had names like Angel and Mimi. I did this paper route diligently for years, but it turns out that my mother had put the route in my brother's name, it being more common for boys to have paper routes back then, and he got awards for my work. I am sure that this has emotionally scarred me in some way, but not as much as some of my other jobs.
7. Sandwich maker
This was horrible, but at least it was brief. I worked long shifts with no breaks and was not even allowed to sit down. I had to use sharp objects and machines to slice and dice vegetables and meats. The deli area was extremely hot. After I fainted a few times from exhaustion, I was fired.
This was also horrible and also brief. In fact, I only did it once and I hated it. The experience did not start well because it was my mother who made me agree to babysit for two obnoxious twin boys who lived on our street, and I was not happy about being forced to do this. Then, in a bizarre twist of fate, my mother was invited to ride in the Goodyear blimp that very day and to bring a guest. She refused to bring me because I had made a "commitment" and I couldn't break that commitment just because it was the one and only time in my entire life that I was likely to be invited to ride in the Goodyear blimp. So my mother went without me. As the twins shrieked at each other and threw food at me, I vowed never to babysit again.
5. Library worker: book shelver
This was a bad job for three reasons: (1) it was boring, (2) my supervisor had many bizarre rules that were difficult to follow, and (3) the library patrons were dominated by residents of a nearby institution for the mentally disturbed. I worked on some floors of the library that were totally dark unless I turned on the light in an aisle. I was only allowed to have a light on as long as I was in an aisle, and then had to turn it off and walk in the dark to find the next aisle. This was stressful because of reason (3) above. Some of the library patrons thought it was very fun to sneak up on me in the dark and then scream suddenly. Note that I had this library job before the one described in #10, so at this time I did not deserve to be tortured in a library. Also, some of the less stable library patrons thought it was very entertaining to leave razor blades in some of the books I was shelving, as well as disturbing notes. My supervisor did not care about any of this, but she cared very much that I follow the rule about the lights. This was a bad job.
4. Waitress in seafood restaurant
I have nothing good to say about this experience. I worked long shifts with unpleasant people and had to dress like a cooked lobster. Huge buses would arrive and 100 people would want to be served at once. Someone always injured themselves on a lobster and would get mad at me just because they were clumsy and were bleeding on their coleslaw. The bus people would leave a few nickels under their plates as tips. The cooks said lewd and crude things to the waitresses and the manager yelled at everyone. A surprising number of customers were not nice. When I am visiting my ancestral home and drive by this restaurant, I shudder to this day.
3. Cook in awful restaurant
Even worse than being a waitress is working in the kitchen of a bad restaurant. One summer I worked in the kitchen of a restaurant that was run by a man with a really bad temper and questionable rules to increase worker efficiency. For example, he decided that it would save time if we removed burgers from the grill with our hands instead of using implements. If he saw us using an implement, he screamed and threatened us. So we got burned, and then would run into the walk-in freezer and submerge our hands in vats of pickles. The boss soon realized what we were doing and prohibited us from leaving our work station after extracting a burger (by hand) from the grill. Near the end of the summer, he got very angry at me and started telling me that I was a loser who would never amount to anything because I couldn't even do my job well as a cook in this lousy restaurant and that I didn't know anything and that he was so much smarter than I was blah blah blah. As soon as he stopped yelling, I started quoting the beginning of Book I of the Aeneid, in Latin -- at the time, I knew quite a lot of it. He fired me. Has anyone ever been fired for quoting from the Aeneid? It was truly a worthwhile experience (and I had been about to quit anyway).
2. Servant for wealthy insane people
A college friend and I responded to an advertisement for a summer job working for a family that had a house on a certain island off the coast of New England. The family liked to hire college students to "help" with some light housework, occasional child care, and occasional cooking at their summer home. Much time off was promised, and we would be treated like "one of the family" and paid well. Once we were on this island with no way to escape, the nice people of this family informed us that we would do all the cooking, clean the large house from top to bottom every day, and take care of their beastly children (who liked to spit, throw hard objects, and scream if not given their way). Our time off mostly consistent of going along with the family on "fun" outings at which we had to fetch things for them and basically continue to be servants. Soon after arriving, one of the family members had a screaming fit because we had allowed someone to pluck a grape from a bunch of grapes without using the grape scissors. Our pay was docked. On a daily basis, the grandfather would wander into the kitchen, look in the freezer, scream "There's not enough ice! Make more ice!". We would make more ice. Then the grandmother would wander into the kitchen, look in the freezer, scream "There's too much ice! Get rid of all this ice!" and throw it all out. Then the grandfather would wander back in.. (etc.). Our pay was docked. One night there was a storm and a shutter flapped loose. The next day, the eldest daughter yelled at us for not fixing it in the middle of the night. Our pay was docked. And so the summer went. The only member of the family who was nice to us was the youngest daughter, but she was only nice because she had recently joined a cult and walked around in a daze that may well have been chemically induced. My friend and I kept ourselves sane by writing novels in the style of Jane Austen about our experience and the dark secrets that our employers no doubt were keeping in the attic.
1. Farm worker for tragic farm family
In my Youth, I always did well in school and I always loved to read. One might think that my mother would be happy about this, but at some point in my teenage years she decided that I was becoming "too intellectual" and that I needed to spend a summer carrying out strenuous manual labor. I objected to this anti-intellectual plan and I believe I even called my mother a Maoist at some point, and that did not go over well. So, I soon found myself indentured to a friend of a friend of my mother's co-worker's dentist, or something like that. I was not even paid in money. I was paid in vegetables. The farming family consisted of a middle-aged couple, their young son, a grandfather, and another relative of some sort (a young man, perhaps a nephew). The woman of the farming family had recently survived a suicide attempt, and spent her days staring out the window at me. The young son spent his days kicking kittens and puppies and trying to make the large hog eat something that would make it ill (or, even better, explode). The young man had some emotional problems as well, and he liked to jump out from behind tractors and corn stalks to scare me. The grandfather was extremely nice but demented, and every day he told me how to get from the farm to Florida, mentioning every route number in turn, over and over and over. The farmer man was nice but he didn't really know what to do with me, as he was somehow forced to participate in my mother's Cultural Revolution-like experiment to cure me of being so intellectual. So he used to make up jobs for me. I spent two entire weeks walking up and down the rows of corn, straightening any that had been knocked over. I spent an entire week walking up and down the rows of potatoes, crushing potato bugs by hand. I shingled and painted the farm house, even though I had no idea what I was doing. I got heat exhaustion and was constantly on the look out for the disturbed young man who liked to scare me. One day as I lay under a tractor, delirious and nearly unconscious from the heat, I decided to become a professor.
11 years ago