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.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.
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.
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:
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!