This Isn’t What I Expected | My Worst Job Ever

During my freshman year of college, I worked at Miller & Rhodes, a department store that shortly after went out of business, but that’s not my fault…I swear! The best thing about working in a department store is you get an employee discount on clothes! The worst thing is that you have to use the department store credit card to get it.

Working over the Christmas season, I netted around negative two hundred dollars.

This, however, was not the worst job I ever had. It just caused it.

Working off debt

Summer vacation arrived, and a credit card debt needed to be paid off. Talking with the local temporary staffing company, I begged for anything they had. Desperate to regain debt-free status, I enthusiastically screamed “I’ll take it!” without asking what “it” was. She tried to explain why I probably didn’t want it, but I wasn’t listening. Just give me the job! I can do anything! Ahh…the naive rantings of the young.

worst job outfit

The actual sweater was even brighter!

Figuring I would be filing papers or answering phones as usual, I borrowed my sister’s EXTREMELY bright, turquoise sweater. (See the outfit in the picture).

Fashionista Reporting For Work

Pulling up to the building, I noticed it was a very plain, brick building with a tiny sign that I almost missed. Grabbing my purse stocked with hairspray, lipstick, and gum, I took a deep breath and ventured in.

“Good Morning!” I peppily announced with a friendly grin.

My chipper voice seemed to startle the girl behind the counter, and she darted into the back.

The small lobby was disturbingly drab without as much as a picture or plaque of any kind on the wall. Strangely there was no furniture to sit on, so I had to guess they don’t get visitors.

Suddenly a stoic-looking, middle-aged lady dressed in jeans and flannel shirt appeared. I identified myself as I curiously glanced around to discover where the filing cabinet or phone system was hidden.

The Adventure Begins

Following her through a system of long hallways lined with safety posters, I suddenly felt like Dorothy in Oz. I wasn’t in Miller & Rhodes anymore.

We stepped through double doors into a cavernous warehouse which was a bustling hive of activity. The sounds of machinery and heavy smell of burning plastic overwhelmed me.

Hmmm…I don’t think there are phones back here.

You know that moment that Dorothy steps out of the house into Oz and the picture turns from black and white into color? That wondrous moment of awe!?! This was the complete opposite.

Leaving the world of color behind in the parking lot, I had entered the grey, dreary heart of a plastic bottle manufacturing plant. Still trailing my guide, I took in the sights while trying to figure out what I was doing here. Dressed in drab clothes with handkerchiefs tied around their heads, busy workers tended to the huge machines that ran the length of the building. It was the Willy Wonka of plastic bottles.

When I saw the workers’ dirty hands, I second guessed my choice of white pants, and my curled, hair spray-set hair swept back into a colorful headband seemed silly. My heels echoed throughout the endless room, and they seemed to say “Look at this girl!! HA! She wore heels!”

I was a foreigner in a distant land, and by the looks of the stares…an unwelcome brightly-colored, misplaced one.

My job

We came to a stop at the end of the metal, steaming creature, and my guide pressed a button.

Warm, empty, plastic shampoo bottles exited out of the molder and filled the assembly line. My job was to grab them off the belt and pack them 100 to a box. It seemed simple enough until I was also instructed to inspect them for defects. Any bottles that didn’t meet standards were to be thrown back into the melter. I would have practiced some basketball shooting if I’d had known because the shoot was a few feet over my head.

My gold bangles were confiscated for safety reasons, and I got right to work.

In the beginning things were fine, and I quickly packed away my first box with only a few defects returned to the melter’s shoot. Shortly after my feet began to ache from the heels I wasn’t used to wearing, and I enviously eyed the tennis shoes of the other workers and caught their snickers when they looked my way.

By box two I realized that the machine gets faster after it is fully warmed up and the bottles came pouring out. I kept losing count, and the bottles were backing up. My solution was to dispose of five bottles, so I tossed them into the melter to catch up.

With each passing minute, I got further and further behind as the machine seemed to spit them out at an ever-increasing rate. After quickly glancing to see if anyone was looking, I tossed 10 bottles for every 10 I packed. I wasn’t doing well at all. Bottles began spilling onto the floor.

Just like this…only with bottles

A whistle signaled the 10:30am break, and I welcomed the chance to catch my breath. The line was shut down, and I followed everyone to the break room. Happy to be off my feet, I sat all by myself at a table drinking a Dr. Pepper while wishing I was anywhere else. No one spoke to me, and my feet throbbed in pain. Happy to end the awkwardness, I returned to my station and looked forward to lunch.

The backup of bottles continued to get worse and worse until I was doing nothing but throwing them into the melter. I don’t remember that I even cared if anyone saw by that point.

bottle packing nightmare

During my lunch hour, I quickly escaped and drove the ten minutes home to change clothes and grab a bite to eat. My tennis shoes and jeans were a welcome comfort. I frantically scribbled a note on several scraps of paper for my mom. Something about this being a nightmare, and if I don’t return then assume I jumped into the melter.

I didn’t want to go back. Even if I didn’t get paid! However, I’m not a quitter; so my conscious drove me back even though my feet and body attempted to resist.

The rest of the day is foggy in my memory, but I do remember being surprised that they asked if I wanted to come back. Come back?!? Do this again?! Mentioning that this probably wasn’t my talent, I politely declined.

Memories best forgotten

If I had a picture from that day, it would have looked something like this:

factory workers and me

What’s the worst job you ever had?

Tell me about it in the comments. If you decide to write about it on your blog, let me know and I’ll add a link here.

If you haven’t seen the Women of Industry series from Kelley’s Break Room check them out.

UPDATE (6-29-11): I’m included in Kelley’s recent Name That Job #5 so see if you can guess the right answer about my past jobs. You already have a hint here…so it is like I gave you a cheat sheet!

Hidden Lessons in Differential Equations

differential equationsUnless you love math you probably went “Huh?” Not to worry. There won’t be a test.

This is like an Aesop’s Fable without the cute animals but including a balding professor and a lesson to be learned at the end.

I started out my freshman year of college as an Electrical Engineering student at NCSU.

Whoa! You probably thought you were at Mitch Allen’s Morpho Designs and had to take a second look because this is way more up his alley. I’ll wait while the shock wears off……….ready?…ok

It took me about 3 months to learn:

  1. I hated electrical circuits and would rather eat nails than do this the rest of my life.
  2. Drafting was fun only because of the cool tools, and I felt like Mr. Brady looking over architecture plans on the drafting table. (Explains the stick figures?…maybe)
  3. It’s possible to have a 7 average in a class and not be a star athlete (It was the notorious Chris Washburn years).
  4. Blowing up resistors and capacitors at amazing speed and quantity in lab is frowned upon.
  5. When it comes to picking lab partners, skill outweighs the novelty of being the only female in a room of geeks, so no one wanted to be my lab partner. (Due to #4)
  6. I needed to switch majors…ASAP.

Economics/Business Management with emphasis in Computer Science and Marketing here I come! Phew!

However I loved math! Despite the fact that I could have easily finished my math credits in business math, I chose to stick it out and finish the Engineering math route instead – which brings me to my final math class and the hardest class I ever took…Differential Equations.

The population of female engineering students from my perspective was…one. Me. I never had another girl in any core classes. So it was no surprise to walk into the tiny 20 desk room for Differential Equations class and discover I was the only one…again.

My teacher was a stereotypical math teacher that resembled an even geekier version of Dwight from the office but with no hair.

Dwight Schrute who I adore! Mr. D. E. Professor who I did not adore.
Dwight Schrute who I adore meet Mr. D. E. Professor who I do not.

After three weeks I was so lost and confused in the class that I resorted to a road trip across town for some tutoring from Dad, the genius that doesn’t forget a thing. He taught me a different method, and we discussed how horrible the book was.

Long story short, I went to my professor’s office to have a chat. This was the first and last time I ever met with a professor in my college career. For fifteen minutes I went on and on and on about the trouble I was having, how I learned a better method, and how useless the book was.

The rest of the semester I was a target in his class. Three times a week at 7:20am, I would sleepily plop into my seat in the front row and receive the usual sarcastic “Welcome, Melinda. So glad you could join us today,” from the professor. Constantly picked to solve equations on the board and always singled out as being the only “business major” with a “what are you doing here?” attitude, I put up with being the class outcast.

Remember the feeling when a semester is over and you can’t wait to run to the used book store and sell back the $150 textbook for $50? Money! A rare college treat!

The Revelation

Standing in line dreaming about spending the money on a delicious pizza, I all of the sudden looked at my textbook as if seeing it for the very first time. All those nights pouring over the inside chapters of maddening math problems, and I never once read the cover which said:

Differential Equations by D.E. Professor.

Moral: BEFORE ranting about how horrible and useless a book is for fifteen minutes, check the author. Especially if your grade depends on it.

OK there is a test…or more of a joke

What did the mathematician say after Thanksgiving dinner?

Hint: sqrt(-1/64)

Courtesy of my genius son who found this hysterical at 12:30am while my brain was spinning. This one is for you Mitch!

The Surprising Dangers of Ketchup

Public Service Annoucement:

ketchupAlways concerned about the health of my readers, I am compelled to share this story in order to save you from the same fate I suffered. Danger lurks in the most unsuspecting of places so keep your guard up.

In the midst of putting the finishing touch on my gourmet, handmade-because-Mom-loves-you meatloaf the other night, I grabbed the new ketchup bottle out of the refrigerator. I know…please feel free to alert Martha Stewart that I was cooking from scratch. My kids didn’t believe it either.

If you have ever tried to open a new, unopened bottle of ketchup that has been chilled, you know it is impossible. My daughter and I took turns at the opportunity to show off our arm strength and open the stubborn thing. It wasn’t budging, yet we uselessly continued to strain and twist rather than resort to the easy method of running the bottle under warm water.

Somehow during this process, I managed to pull a Gluteus maximus. I couldn’t write about it because I was in too much pain from the teasing I was receiving about my inability to put the dishes into the dishwater without groaning in pain with each bend.

The realism of the pain captured in this picture makes you feel like you were there doesn't it?

Did the kids rush to my aid? No.

THIS is how I’m paid back for all my sacrifices for them?!?!

I’m making a note of this in their permanent records.

What I Got For Christmas

Welcome to the guess Melinda’s Christmas present to herself game. Have I been bad or good this year? Hmmm….

What did I buy this week?


new couch

A much needed couch?


A splurge on a purse proving there really is a Santa Claus?


Four new tires for The Tank?


Ultra cool surround sound system so I think I'm on a real battlefield while playing Black Ops?

If you guessed C you are CORRECT! Yes my car decided it needed four new tires just in time for Christmas. Since they don’t fit under the tree and I’m not interested in playing mechanic and installing them myself, I got my present early.

I called my daughter from the waiting room while my car was in surgery to share my exciting news. I also asked if she was interested in my bringing home the 4 used tires which could be used for:

1) A pretend tire swing. I would never actually get a rope over a tree branch, so imagination would be required.
2) A bed frame so it looks like she’s sleeping in a car.
3) A fun hiding place if they are all stacked on each other.
4) They could be like a new pet to walk. Think of the hours of fun spent rolling a tire around the block.
5) Setting up an Army training course in the backyard.

She turned down my tempting offer of fun, so I paid the disposal fee and left them there.

I am the excited owner of four new tires. It’s just what I wanted.