Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Your Worst Job Ever

What was your worst job ever? This URL here explores the topic at some length.

Everybody has had one. I've had a bunch of them. It's hard for me to choose a "favorite", as it were. When you major in trombone-playing, the corporate recruiters won't exactly beat a path to your door.

I spent a woeful semester as a part-time trombone instructor at Penn State, but that's not the bad job I was thinking of. I was making so little money from that endeavor that I had to moonlight as a grill cook at a 24-hour diner. I got the night shift, lucky me. This happened in Fall of 1979, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Making grilled stickies at the famous Penn State Diner and trading barbs with the drunks at 2 AM, when the bars closed. Ah yes, I remember it well. I enlisted in the Air Force band program in November, 1979, so it was of short duration. But it made an impression. One of the things I learned was how important status is, when you're trying to make time with the ladies. Or even thinking forlornly of it. I learned, simultaneously, that minimum-wage grill cooks didn't have any status. It was so bad, I thought being a slick-sleeved airman in Air Force basic training was a step up.

The job I'd had several years earlier, though, was arguably worse. My father was a cost accountant and office manager at a textile mill in Newport News, which manufactured twine, carpet yarn, and cable filler. My mom worked in the mill, a hard, hot, noisy, thankless job. I got to experience that, as my dad got me a job the summer after high school graduation making cable filler. Wow. Now, that was a hard job, and my mom deserved the Medal of Honor for doing it for ten years.

In my profession (database programming and administration), I've had some pretty bad assignments, but it's amazing the things you'll put up with when the money is good. My former employer, TRW (now a part of Northrop-Grumman), was a "project" company, and you could wind up on a bad project for an indefinite amount of time. I will say this for TRW: the work was always interesting. Sometimes, the project managers were a little too interesting, but there were good people and good times there. Another former employer, AMS (now a part of CACI), had some wonderful people but some unfortunate projects too -- that's where I learned what the term "death march" meant (with regard to the programming field). The reference is to Bataan, and is probably somewhat irreverent, but it is descriptive.

I spent a year working for an HMO when I first moved back to Virginia. I was the only DBA in an IT shop of about fifty folks, and it was like cleaning the Augean Stables every day, except that I'm no Hercules. When Friday came around, I would always say, "Thank goodness it's Friday -- only two more days left in my work week!" I lasted a year -- essentially, working non-stop around the clock, day in, day out. Ye Olde Sweat Shoppe.

In my senior year of college, I lived in Wichita, Kansas, and worked pretty hard trying to finish my bachelor's degree. But I was broke, so I had to find some way to make a little extra money. There was a dirty little sandwich shop -- submarine sandwiches, or subs, were called "grinders" in Wichita, "hoagies" in Pennsylvania, and Lord knows what else -- between my room and the music building. They needed help, but were unwilling to pay minimum wage -- so I did it for less. Big time illegal, but mainly they were the ones who would be in trouble if caught. They had a teenage workforce in the kitchen, and I have to say, the work was okay, but I have (thankfully) never had to work with such odious people ever again in my entire life. I was fired one day, inexplicably; they didn't give me a reason. But I found out later that I had been accused of stealing money. Another one of those memories that seems like yesterday. I never had a chance to protest my innocence, but somebody there robbed the till and blamed me.

That same thing happened one other time, about two years later when I was going to grad school in Pittsburgh. I delivered medicine for a drug store, to older folks who lived in the general area -- but I had no car, so it meant a lot of walking. Again, I was being paid less than minimum wage under the table. Well, one day, I was stuck behind the cash register (one of those old mechanical ones) and had no idea how to use it. I think I must have accidentally rung up a huge amount of money, because I was let go the next day, but not until after being eyed suspiciously and treated in a hostile manner. On neither occasion was I actually confronted or accused of anything.

If someone is convinced that you're guilty, without evidence, your arguments to the contrary wouldn't help anyway. It's the most powerless I've ever felt, at least from job-related incidents. The trick is always to remember that there is no pain or humiliation felt in this life that Jesus did not feel to an even greater degree -- and if He's not entitled to decent treatment, neither are we.

Well, that's all part of being in the work force, isn't it? Jesus is our salvation, but financial independence has a Siren call that is hard to ignore. But it's good to have work if only because nothing is more destructive to one's soul than too much money and free time. It sounds fun, though, sometimes, but I'm Reformed, so I am forced to conclude that the Lord has me right where he wants me.

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