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The Worst Jobs I've Ever Had

I've had 42 jobs in six states in my life if you count my first newspaper route in 1986 and now making lists for the Beachwood, which is a job in the sense that it's work but not so much regarding pay.

Some of the jobs have been fantastic: research director at a television production company; barista at a coffee cart at a community college; investigator at a civic watchdog group . . . the last ten years of work have been a lot of fun.

But I've also had some terrible, godawful, insanely unsafe jobs. Working wasn't quite as much fun back in the 90s when I had no real experience, no high school diploma, and a willingness to do just about anything.

I've had jobs that left me scared for my life, angry at an unfair God and questioning whether humanity shouldn't just die in a nuclear holocaust. And for $4.15 an hour at that.

Here, then, are the worst jobs I've ever had:

1. "Not-For-Profit."

A roommate turned me on to a "great" telemarketing job: four-hour shifts, walking distance from the house and $7 an hour, a veritable fortune in 1995. We had a script that we were absolutely not, under any circumstances, to deviate from. The manager made us read the script out loud to him ten times before each shift to make sure we had it right. It went something like this:

Hi Mr./Mrs. ________, my name is ________. I am calling from ________, a not-for-profit company, and I would like to invite you to an informational session at the ________, a local park district building, to learn about important changes in Social Security law. This invitation is informational only.

The call list was made up entirely of seniors. Every third phone call some poor old lady would tell us ________ wasn't there because he died ________ago. That part was terrible, but I really thought we were helping people out until the boss yelled at me for saying that ________ was a non-profit company. ________ asked if I wanted everyone to go to jail. I didn't understand, but for seven bucks an hour, I would have said my mother peddled ass to sailors.

It wasn't until smoke break that the receptionist let me in on a secret; the boss was actually selling a crazy insurance scam at these seminars and paying the telemarketing firm - that he owned - to drum up business for himself. Because he was pulling a switcheroo, it was illegal for him to claim the telemarketing firm was a non-profit but it was legal to say not-for-profit. The seniors would hear the words not-for-profit, park district, changes in Social Security, and think it was legitimate. His "informational" seminars were packed to the gills because I was helping him confuse old people. I finished my cigarette and went home. I never collected my last check; not out of an ethical stand, but because the boss told my roommate he'd kick my ass if I showed up there again.

2. The Salt Mine.

Alright, it wasn't actually a salt mine but a salt packager. The factory packaged sidewalk salt in 10-, 20- and 50-pound bags. I had to stand at the end of the packaging line to catch the bags and stack them on a pallet. Every 20 seconds, a heavy bag of salt would coming flying at me, I'd have to catch it, stack it neatly, turn around to catch the next one, on and on and on and on for eight hours. There was a reason that 75 percent of the guys working there were work-release inmates. I've never been so sore in my life. I may have lasted a week at best.

3. The Flour Mine.

A flour mill in Wisconsin. Because this was a food processing plant, it had very strict cleanliness standards. My job was to clean the grain silo pipes - from the outside. I had to climb up a ladder on the outside of the building with an air tank and a hose strapped to my back. My job was to blow the dust and debris off of the pipes to keep it from getting into the flour. I am terrified of heights. Spending my day five stories up, hanging on a ladder with one hand to hold on and another to use the hose to clean the pipes was basically my worst nightmare. How OSHA never shut that place down, I'll never know.

4. The Coffin.

I worked at a gas station in a small booth that sat between the pumps. I didn't mind the job; I could smoke, listen to the radio and the customers were easygoing regulars. The job had one major drawback: no bathroom in the booth. To pee, I had to wait for the manager to stop by on his morning rounds and then run to the car dealership next door.

Anyone who spends more than 30 seconds with me knows two things: I drink gallons of coffee and I have the tiny, underdeveloped bladder of a newborn chihuahua. I would be near tears waiting for the manager to show up some days. One day it got so bad I decided to pee in a soda can, but half of the booth was a window. Anyone standing near the booth would see me peeing. I didn't care. I leaned as far forward as I could, resting my chest against the front counter and peed into an empty soda can. I wasn't paying any attention to the station and a customer banged on the window while I was peeing. I was so surprised that I dropped the can and sprayed urine all over the inside of the booth. He knew what I was doing.

5. "For A Documentary We're Making . . . "

This might be the worst thing I've ever done for money, even though it was part of a job I loved. I had to call the parents of murder victims and ask them if they would appear on a television show about psychics. Their pain taught me the most important lesson I've learned at work: the stories I tell have real consequences for real people, so don't take them lightly. I could go the rest of my life and be happy to never ask another mother to talk about her murdered daughter.

6. Circus Tent.

I worked for a party tent rental company as a laborer. Setting up party tents was the most intense, dirtiest, hottest physical labor I've done; nothing but carrying huge rolls of canvas, pulling ropes and pounding stakes all day. An event would contract with the company for any number of tents, and we would have one day to set the tents up no matter how long it took. The worst was setting up nine tents in one day for Libertyville Days over the course of 15 hours. We finished that set-up on a Friday; I collected my paycheck and never went back.

7. Chicken Delivery Driver.

I had lived in Libertyville for about three days before I got this job. I lied to the boss and told him I knew my way around town. Truth was, I couldn't find my ass with both hands. I set out on my own, after training with a very strange delivery driver for two days. I got so lost on my first route that I ended up in McHenry County with a bucket of congealed chicken in the passenger seat. The boss canned me when I finally got back. I probably still owe him 25 bucks for the gas and the uniform.

8. Parking Fascist.

I worked at the Lake County Fairgrounds directing traffic for a monthly antique show. There were two parking lots; one close to the buildings where the dealers parked and one way the fuck out in the middle of a field where the customers had to park. My job was to guard the gate between the two and make sure only dealers got in. What you need to do, if you really want to plumb the depths of human capacity for frustration, deception, self-centeredness, inhumanity, and anger, is tell hundreds of people a day that they can't park in the close spots that they can so clearly see. Yeah, those spots that nobody else is in, when it is so fucking cold, and why do I have to park so far away and I lost a leg in Vietnam, you scumbag communist. I took special delight in making people soooo angry since I felt so powerless in real life. The colorful former mayor of Waukegan called me a Nazi after I wouldn't accept a bribe from him.

9. A Special Offer.

I got a job through a temp agency stuffing junk advertising mailers. I sat at a table and a woman would come by with huge bins of inserts that I had to stuff into envelopes. It wasn't the dozens of painful paper cuts (I have very delicate, supple hands) or the awful soft rock station playing overhead that made this job so terrible, though. It was the bizarre death ride home. The temp agency required that you ride in their van back and forth to the jobs (and charged you for the privilege).

One day, the driver who picked us up at the end of the shift was drunk and angry. He ran three red lights before a large woman next to me demanded, he "pull this fucking van over right this fucking second." The driver politely declined and an argument ensued.

To prove he was fine, he decided to drive at 100 mph through all of the fucking red lights. The large gentleman in the passenger seat took exception to that line of reasoning and decided the best way to end the argument was with a shot to that asshole's jaw. I contributed fecal matter in my drawers as a counterpoint argument.

A cop finally got involved and the driver did pull over. The cop hauled him off, with the van keys. We were 10 miles from where I lived, so I had to walk to a gas station and call a cab. All in all, that night of work cost me $12.


Comments welcome.


Other Lists By Drew Adamek:
* Today's Syllabus
* Shit My Dad Says
* Work Weirdos
* Things I Miss About Chicago
* 20 Albums I Wish I Had Never Bought
* Their Chicago
* Cities I've Slept In
* My Favorite 1980s Chicago Radio Memories
* Why Milwaukee Rules
* Why I'm Glad I Don't Live In D.C. Anymore
* The Beer Goggle Recordings
* A List Of Reader Comments To Drew's Lists
* Life's Little Victories

* Fan Note: Me & Metallica


Posted on March 16, 2010

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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