Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Worst Job Ever

All this talk about winning and losing reminds me of a story about Blaine, shortly after he graduated college. Like I’ve mentioned previously, he attended college through his university’s ROTC program so the Air Force would help pay some of his school expenses. Since he is one of those annoying people who has always known what he wanted to be when he grew up (an Air Force officer) the four year commitment to the military in exchange was no problem, but was just what he wanted.

The problem, actually, was that the military was “full” at the time of Blaine’s graduation. There are only “x” number of slots in the Air Force at any given time, and there weren’t enough empty 2nd Lt. slots to make way for all the new, incoming graduates. We had gotten married the week after he graduated, fully expecting we would get orders and take off for the wild blue yonder immediately. Instead, the Air Force was experiencing a glut, and put all the graduates, from all over the country, into a sort of hold status. People still had to go active duty and serve their commitments, of course, they just had to wait until the guys ahead of them either got promoted or discharged, so there would be room in the Air Force for them. (On a side note, a few years later they couldn’t get them in fast enough, and then a few years after that they had too MANY officers and held an involuntary RIF {Reduction in Force} meaning they kicked perfectly qualified people out. My goodness, you’d think running around in circles chasing tail like that would exhaust whoever it is that is supposed to plan for this sort of thing. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that a job in the military is for all time secure, because that is not always the case. Just ask a large number of our 1992 friends and acquaintances.)

Back to our story -- that wait time before Blaine could go active-duty wound up being eight months. He graduated in May, but wouldn’t begin training until the next February. So there we were, newly married, with bills for rent and utilities and car payments like every other newly married couple on the planet, but Blaine only had a part-time job, stocking groceries, which he had worked while he was in college. Living with his parents during school, and getting money from the Air Force, had kept his expenses manageable, but now that he was married and living with me, well, part-time minimum wage wasn’t going to cut it. I had bills to pay and shoes to buy, and Lord knows I didn’t make much more than minimum wage, either. This was that time in every married couple’s life where dinner consists of heating up a can of Dinty Moore beef stew --- partly because I couldn’t cook, and partly because that was all we could afford. Didn’t go through that phase yourself? Then be very, very grateful. Blaine can’t look at a can of Dinty Moore to this day without feeling nauseous. He needed a full time job, preferably one with benefits, and one that would free him from the reign of Dinty Moore.

But here was the kicker, for Blaine, and every other officer-on-hold. Yes, they were college graduates, and would have loved to work in their respective career fields. But, they all knew they would be leaving for the military in eight months. Blaine’s undergraduate degree was in aerospace engineering; what kind of engineering firm would hire him, train him, invest in him, and than happily bid him adieu eight months later?

So, long story short, he wound up working on an assembly line making beer can lids. The hours sucked (6 pm until 6 am) and he said it was the most mind-numbingly boring work he’d ever done, and that includes the stint as a bus boy at Del Rancho when he was thirteen. But, the pay was decent, and it was full time, so we were grateful. And in eight months, when it was time to leave, he and the beer company representatives parted on good terms because they were accustomed to a more transient work force.

Now, Blaine was certainly not alone in his situation of needing full-time employment for a temporary time. A few guys here and there continued to live with their parents after graduation, waiting …. A few were able to keep their college jobs and make ends meet. But lots of guys, especially guys who were married or living on their own, had to find "in the meantime" jobs to make enough money to support themselves during that time.

He finally went active, and once we got settled at our base and started socializing, inevitably, at every get together or function, the talk would turn to the wait after graduation, and what people did to support themselves. Because of course, the ROTC scholarship money dried up the day after graduation. And almost always, the conversation devolved into a “who had the worst job” competition.

Some guys had worked sales; some guys did manual labor; some guys worked retail. One guy we met had worked in a fish hatchery, but he actually liked it. Most, however, were convinced that whatever job they had was the worst job ever.

It always cracked me up to hear Blaine respond with, “No, I’m pretty sure *I* had the worst job ever.”

“Oh, yeah? What did you do? It can’t be worse than selling microwaves/mowing lawns/filing papers in my dad’s insurance agency/etc.”

And Blaine would say, with a totally straight face, “I worked on an assembly line. Standing on my feet in twelve-hour shifts. Overnight. In an un-air-conditioned warehouse. Making beer can lids.”

And yep, every time, everyone agreed, he was the winner of the worst job ever.

Then, the next May, the same thing happened to the next group of graduates. Eventually they also went active duty and many young, new officers arrived at our base. Once again, at parties and social functions, the “worst job” competition would flare up. And even against this new group, Blaine was still the winner.

Until the night we met our new neighbors Dave and his wife Amy, who went on to become very good friends of ours. Everyone was talking, yadda yadda, and Dave mentioned that while waiting after graduation, he had held “the worst job ever.”

Blaine went on to tell his tale, blah blah ….. “making beer can lids.”

Dave looked him in the eye, and said, “I was a ticket taker.”

And Blaine scoffed, “Ticker taker? How bad can that be?”

Dave paused,

And then replied: “In a porn theater.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a NEW WINNER!!!

Please come to the podium to collect your prize: a jumbo can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew.


M, Ms. R, Mom, Auntie M, Marey said...

I guess taking tickets in a pron theatre and making beer can lids just barely top my job of grooming poodles...I "do not like" poodles and it was degrading...but it was money, we had just got married and my husband was still in college...and we did't like Dinty Moore either :)

Grandma J said...

Oh how funny! I had to run and get my Purell.
I found ramen much cheaper and more filling.
Thanks for the morning laugh!

Jeanette said...

Ooooh, that should be on that show, "Dirty Jobs".

Anonymous said...

I can one up that, though thankfully I wasn't the one doing the job. I was introduced to a friend of a friend one night whose job was to clean the rooms in those theaters afterwards. To this day it still makes me cringe. For some reason, lol, they couldn't get people to apply for the job, so as manager, he had to do it.

Shannon in Iowa

Qtpies7 said...

We lived on Ramen Noodles and Tuna Helper. Once a month we splurged and got to eat hamburger helper! I never, never, never want to eat another Ramen noodle.
I can't even fathom living on the $100 a month food budget we had then, because we spend the same amount a month on food now that we MADE a month back then in the first year of the military, lol. We have 7 kids to feed, but still, thats a LOT of money on food.

Renee said...

Ugh - I wouldn't want to be a ticket taker, either. I thought telemarketing sucked.... I have a lengthly list of jobs I wouldn't want and ticket taker has just been added along with cleaning hotel rooms, pedicurist, and fluffer (person on the sidelines who keeps the men erect in porn movies.). Just haven't found the job that I would want....

Anonymous said...

Eeeeeewwwwww! I guess there's nothing someone won't do in a time of need. I lived on Kraft Mac & Cheese (5 for a dollar), Ramen noodles and any discounted meat in the supermarket - how I survived I'll never know. I think back to those days and can't imagine going through it again. By the by - do you know Spahetti O's now have 9 essential vitamins???? Where were they when I desperately needed 9 essential vitamins????


Mrs. Who said...

Oh, My God, we feel the same way about Hamburger Helper. If we even look at one those packages, we feel ill. We spend more now on groceries for one month than we did for six months back then!

Pink Lady said...

Great story! I thought I had some bad jobs, but I think your friend wins!


Becky, in N. TX said...

My husband and I look at pictures from those lean years and say.....

"We must have been livin' on love, 'cause we sure weren't eatin'!"

Thanks again for making my morning coffee more fun because it included a laugh.


GaMama said...

I hardly ever sign in, but do I have a worst job ever for you. While my husband attended college, he worked as a student worker at the UGA experiment station (in Tifton). His job was feeding flies. Yes, they raised flies and he had to feed them every day. They had several kinds of flies...each eating something different. One group ate blood. He had to go to the meat processing place in town and pick up blood once a week. He soaked a paper towel in it and then put it in the pen with the flies. Another set ate cow manure. He had to go several days a week to collect fresh manure samples for the flies. Kind of gross huh?

Cate said...

And to think all this time I thought making color copies of murder scenes was the worst it could get. Yep. Worked for a company that did color copies for law firms.

Lauren said...


Not sure it's the worst, but in a similar situation I did this: I had just graduated from veterinary school--full-fledged DVM--and moved to Seattle. I had lots of uncertainty about the move back then, and had trouble finding a vet job that worked for me. Yet graduation money was running out. I called a temp agency, expecting office work. Instead I found myself doing 12 hour shifts (6am-6pm) in a sweltering dog food manufacturing plant for $6/hour. Quality control. Which meant tracking the # of lamb lungs and bags of carrots and potatoes being dumped into the grinder. Did I mention my allergy to uncooked carrots and potatoes, all being nicely aerosolized around me? OK, I only did it for 2 weeks--the plant offered to send me to canning school and make me..."retort manager". As much as I'd have loved that job title, I knew I had to get away.

Two runners-up: washing the puck marks off the plexiglass at my college hockey rink for a year; then working for a laboratory studying sleep issues--my job was an overnight shift keeping the monkey awake during a sleep deprivation study (I did that twice only--I couldn't bear to do it again).