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Crap Jobs100 Tales of Workplace Hell
By Dan Kieran
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Dan Kieran
All right reserved.
Wages: $50 per job
Modeling isn't all coke and catwalks, you know. If you want someone with an enormous beard and you'd like to splat their beard with a custard pie for a kids TV program, then you'd call my agency, who'd call me.
The custard and the children were bad enough, I'd grown thick skinned about such humiliation over the years, but you would have thought they'd let me wash before kicking me out of the studio. When I finally made it to the station, at the peak of the summer rush hour, my congealed, putrid beard was beginning to smell. I got onto my train, with sweaty, grim-faced commuters, for the half-hour journey home. After ten minutes we stopped. Three motionless hours later the stench was medieval.
99 Hospital bed salesman
Wages: $12 per hour
I worked as a salesman for a company selling hospital beds in South London. The sales side was OK, the hospital staff, despite being wigged out with exhaustion and stress, still managed to smile and be receptive to my orthopedic mattresses sales pitch. But the targets set for us by our slick managers were stupefyingly unrealistic and the penalties for failing to meet them insidiously cruel. Every Friday evening we all trudged back to the office, a fifth-floor seventies tower block, to go through the sales records for that week. Whoever had sold the fewest mattresses had to suffer the weekly humiliation in front of everyone else in the company.
The terror of those moments still haunts me. One gray, drizzling winter afternoon it was my turn. I was ordered to strip down to my pants and run round the car park five stories below while my co-workers shouted and screamed at me through the windows. Obviously any sane person would have told them to fuck off and quit there and then. That's any sane person without a mortgage and family depending on their income.
Then one Christmas the boss hired a restaurant for our Yuletide bash. The four salesmen who hadn't reached their annual targets were 'slaves' for the evening to the twelve who had. We had to wait on them all night, pay for their drinks and serve their food. Even I managed to quit after that.
98 Bank clerk
Wages: $10 per hour
Working as a cashier has many disadvantages. The pay, the hours and the slow decline into alcoholism that you endure to compensate for the unrelenting misery, to mention but a few. But worst of all were the 'mystery shoppers' who spot-checked us to ensure we followed set procedures when serving. We all had a list taped to our tills: 'Greet the customer. Make eye-contact. Use the customer's name. SMILE. Say goodbye. SMILE. Don't distance yourself from the bank if the customer has a complaint.' etc. My Team Leader told me during my 'Performance Cascade' that any score below ninety-seven percent would be a total failure. A month later she thrust a piece of paper at me with a scowl on her face. She was going crimson as I read the last line, 'When I asked for mortgage advice Dan told me, "The banks just rip you off with terrible interest rates. Try a Building Society instead." Overall Score -- 58 percent.' Apparently I'd let the whole branch down.
97 Traffic counter
Wages: $9 per hour
I did traffic counting one very long day a couple of years ago. It was autumn and I had to be in Deptford -- miles away from where I lived -- at 8am. I knew the bus journey would take hours so I had to get up ridiculously early. When the alarm clock rang it was pitch black outside and when I left the house it began drizzling and got steadily worse. When I got to Deptford the rain came at me like the arrows at Agincourt and my socks quickly became sodden. Our traffic-counting team leader, a burly weather-beaten man, grinned heartily as he shook my hand, the rain streaming off his beard. He looked like an Icelandic fishing-boat captain. He was in his element.
I was packed off with a clipboard and pencil, and a little yellow thing with a button that clocked up traffic. I was positioned outside a school for the next twelve hours and it rained pretty much the whole time. I watched for cars and motorcycles and trucks and pedestrians crossing the road and marked them off on my checklist. The team leader visited me every hour on his rounds, which prevented me from buggering off down the pub.
The only shelter was a tree and I huddled there until the first school break when hundreds of urchins poured out and decided that I was the most fascinating thing they'd ever seen. I had to answer the same question -- subtle variations of, 'What are you doing?' -- all day until the last little shit had gone home. I attempted to conceal myself from them but it proved difficult as I was wearing a bright yellow safety jacket.
The only relief came when I went on my breaks. I sat completely drenched in a dingy diner for an hour at lunch, contemplating the hellish afternoon ahead, and in a pub for an hour at dinner time, contemplating whether I should jack it in and go straight home or stand around until 8. I wish I had gone home.
Excerpted from Crap Jobs by Dan Kieran Copyright © 2006 by Dan Kieran. Excerpted by permission.
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