As we celebrate the social and economic contributions of laborers, I find myself recalling some of my own laboring. It began when I was 12 years old (probably a little too young) in a candy store my grandmother operated. Since then, I’ve had a number of jobs at coffee shops, churches, auto plants, newspapers and hotel breakfast buffets. I've spent time as a radio host, a ghost tour guide, a freelance writer and an administrative assistant in the past year alone. Here is a list of some of my least-favorite jobs and why I decided to leave—I have yet to be fired from a job. Fingers crossed.
What were your least favorite jobs? Why don’t you have them anymore?
Bulky candy man
In order to keep a mentally ill aunt from destroying herself financially, my grandmother devised a plan to let her manage a bulk candy store under her watchful eye as general manager. For three years, I worked for less than minimum wage and caused a mighty ruckus with the ladies. Well, that’s not true. Actually, I gained a lot of weight from eating gummy frogs and drinking Icees all day. But I thought I was hot stuff, and that’s all that matters in the end. My grandmother decided to close the store after my aunt embezzled a couple grand and used it to buy prescription drugs. I once dressed as the Icee Bear for Halloween and got in trouble for "harassing teenagers." We found bugs once in the Japanese rice crackers.
Production assistant for TV news
WKPT is an ABC affiliate in Kingsport, Tenn., that is consistently fourth in ratings among four stations. I got this job in high school for a while after I decided I was too good for the Dobyns-Bennett theater department and needed to explore a more challenging, realistic career (read: I was a complete a@#%(*!). My job was either to run the tapes for the stories (this was before everything was digital) or operate one of two studio cameras. The most trouble I caused involved several instances of running the wrong tape at the wrong time during a live broadcast. The worst was after NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt died at the 2001 Daytona 500. The sports anchor had created a lengthy package (don’t giggle!) as a tribute. Instead of that tape, I accidentally aired footage of the current Miss Kingsport reading a book to schoolchildren. He was understandably furious. This was also the job where I first learned about Hotmail.
Java City barista
The two coolest jobs you could have while in college were either a barista at a local coffee shop or a clerk in some sort of record store. Before I got the coolest job ever at WUTC, I briefly held a position as a campus barista at UTC’s Java City in Fletcher Hall. I went through weeks of training with corporate to learn the proper way to steam and serve cappuccinos, macchiatos and all of those other specialty drinks. After a month of working, I became concerned when all of my co-workers received a paycheck and I didn’t. Being a hotheaded 18-year-old, I stormed into the campus office and demanded payment "or else." I must have been such an intimidating figure to the man wearing a cowboy hat and boots behind the desk. They searched for what seemed like an hour for a "record of my employment" but came up with nothing. To them, I was not an employee. I just left and never returned. You can be damn sure I never drank their coffee again, either.
There’s a point during a long stint of unemployment when desperation sets in. You become willing to sell all your possessions and scour Craigslist for just about anything somebody is willing to toss your way. You ask yourself, "Could I eat my cat if I ran out of money?" and then, suddenly, something pops up. This "something" for me was an opportunity to invest and become a part of a "leather printing" business with a casual, much older friend. I won’t bore you with details, but I stupidly gave this man my last $1,000 because he promised I would get it back 10 times over in the near future. I "worked" (which really meant driving him around to various meetings) for several months before he paid me anything. He owed me about $2,000 in compensation for work plus my original $1,000 investment at the time of his death. It’s hard to trust people these days.
I supervised a group of people as they sorted through metal parts for about a year before I lost my mind. The job was with a third-party containment company based out of Knoxville. My job was to make sure our team properly inspected a variety of parts for defects before they were shipped to Volkswagen and put on a car. The stress was tremendous. Factories have a sort of culture of screaming that trickles down to the lowest people on the totem pole. As an outside company, WE were the lowest people on the pole, the gum on the bottom the shoe, the easiest and most logical to blame for any and all problems. Much of my day was spent being screamed at and forcing myself to scream at others. We were told one day that we were fired and then an hour later rehired back. I quit with no hesitations, and nothing else lined up. Life is too short to be miserable for money.
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