My worst jobs



Growing up in southwest Michigan there is this summer job you can get detasseling corn. I don't remember what it paid, but this was the first time I got a check for a job. I had mown some lawns, raked some leaves, and did some odd errands for a little scratch to go to the Spee-D-Mart and buy candy or an Icee (we called them Slush Puppies). But this was showing up, getting on a bus, and riding out to the farms in the county with a bunch of other middle school and high school age kids.


For those unfamiliar with this task -> Fields of corn that will be detasseled are planted with two varieties of corn. Every corn plant has both male and female parts, so if both varieties of corn were left intact, some of the resulting seeds would have non-hybrid parents. Removing the tassels from all the plants of one variety leaves the grain that is growing on those plants to be fertilized by the tassels of the other, resulting in a hybrid.


How you do this is, you get a bunch of teenagers in sweatshirts and jeans to put on gardening gloves, climb into a basket attached to a tractor and drive them up and down the rows of corn, slow enough so that when they get to each new corn plant they have time to grab the tassel and yank it out. One by one - yank and drop, yank and drop. If you've ever driven by these corn fields on a road trip, you know how vast they are. It takes days, weeks, to get it all done. It's very hot and dusty and monotonous.


At the end of the first day I did the job, I don't even think I made it to dinner. I fell face first on the couch and fell immediately asleep. The older kids, and ones who presumably had risen in the ranks over a few summers, got to drive the tractors. Probably a pretty cool gig for them. Being in the basket for 6-7 hours a day, with a break to eat a bagged lunch, wears you out big time. I don't remember what I used the money for; probably to buy a CD walkman or a skateboard. A lot of the high school kids bragged about buying "fukkin' sweet Oakley shades" which were really popular back in the day.


I do remember that there was one guy who could vomit on command and displayed his "talent" a few times for the crew. I wonder where he is now... America's Got Talent perhaps??


The next job I acquired was working at a local TJ Maxx in the "receiving" department. The job listing described the work as unloading trucks, opening boxes, sorting inventory, etc. What it really was, was essentially a duped janitor. It was my responsibility to lord over the supply closet where all the cleaning products, toilet paper, brooms, mops, etc. lived. It was also the place where I would hide for 10-15 minutes thinking "I gotta get the fuck out of here."


I was the only male human that I recall who worked there at the time. Most of the employees were middle aged women. They were all very nice and treated me kindly. I walked around the store picking up hangers and dropped clothes, vacuumed the carpet at closing, mopped up spills, stocked the restrooms, and what have you. I never, ever unloaded a truck or opened a single box. There was a break-room and I found that to be a depressing, loathsome place. This was where you'd go to "reward" yourself with a crummy lunch for 30 minutes.


I did not last long at TJ Maxx, probably only 4-5 months. I really liked my next job which was working at the movie theater adjacent to Crossroads Mall in Portage, MI. Everyone came through there; all my friends from school, all the cute girls, parents, teachers, and I met some people I'm still friends with today. I remember this older college aged guy who was the first to school me about which Wu-Tang Clan solo albums were the best. In his opinion it was Raekwon's Only Built for Cuban Lynx. My friend M.Sord worked there too and we used to run around in the vacant theaters while cleaning out the popcorn and trash between shows. Occasionally, I'd find some money which was great. We used leaf blowers to go down and across all the rows and blow the trash down to the front of the screen and sweep it up.


I went to every movie that summer, because we could go for free. I saw Braveheart at least 3 times. Other movies that played that year were Clueless, Money Train, Johnny Mnuemonic, Species, Mortal Kombat, Goldeneye, Tales from the Hood, Crimson Tide, Empire Records, Strange Days, Congo, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Someone had to volunteer to dress up the like White Ranger for the kids, but the costume was huge and my friend Diddy Coz ended up doing it. I was the one who volunteered to go up on a super tall ladder and change bulbs by hand in the ceilings of the theaters. I would NOT however, volunteer to clean up vomit. No chance. The trash compactor smelled bad enough. The smell of a combination of Coca-Cola and popcorn stewing in the bottom of a warm trash barrel for hours is disgusting odor and something I'll never forget.


Perhaps the weirdest gig, I won't even say job, I ever had was helping out a friend of a co-worker in her apartment, near the river on Rush street in downtown Chicago. She apparently was willing to pay cash for someone to come into her apartment and help move her furniture and clean out some things that were too heavy for her or too high to reach. She wasn't old, really, just seemed incapable of doing some of those things. Being out of college and working nights doing live sound, I had time during the day and was definitely interested in easy work that paid cash.


The first day was basically what I thought it would be. She lived in a tall high rise and had a pretty decent sized apartment for someone who lived alone. I helped her get some stuff out from under her bed, out of the closet, and moved some heavy shelves around as needed. We took a break, she gave me tea and a snack and she suggested we sit and watch CNBC or C-Span, I don't remember which. There was a contributor coming on that she was anxious to watch. She went on to tell me that the guy speaking on the panel was in a secret, covert communication with her, because they were in love, but he was married. They had a code and she told me that based on the tie color he was wearing, she knew what the message was.


I thought that was very weird obviously, but remained polite and responded with "Oh, ok" and "that's really interesting..." At the end of that afternoon, we were pretty much done with what we needed to do and it wasn't a lot of work anyway, but she did want me to come back and help some more if I was interested. I interpreted that she was more lonely than anything else and was happy to pay for the company. I said sure and we agreed on another day.


When I came back the second time there wasn't a whole lot to do, but she enlisted me to help her do her laundry. It was somewhere in the building on another floor, so off we went. Eventually, when I had my hands on her big-ass underwear and was folding them fresh out of the dryer, I panicked (silently, internally) and exited as swiftly as I could. I went back to my co-worker and said I would NOT be doing that again. Why she even volunteered me in the first place is beyond me. Perhaps I'm a sucker and was just a nice, nice, young man.

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