Stories: Employment Lore
This month, it's jobs: the first, the worst, the best,the weirdest, the simply memorable. You may change names to protect the guilty, but don't hold back on the anecdotes. Personal grievances will have to be filed separately.
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I'll let the music do the talking
Oh no, that's never going to do. What's the point of posting under a pseudonym if you can't spill?
This requires a lot of boring preamble (sorry).
When I was a student one of the main research interests of my lab was Mycoplasma They cause various pneumonias and arthritis, we cared about sheep pneumonia. They're touchy little buggers to grow and one of the constituents of their media is serum, from blood. Cow blood in fact.
So every now and then, we'd go out to the works with a pile of buckets and visit the halal killing chain where at regular intervals a cattlebeast would clang past, upside down and deeply unconscious. A burly gent with a very big knife would step forward and slit its throat, whereupon its entire blood supply would drop out into the floor troughs. Or, since I was the newest person, into my bucket and all over me. Buckets of blood! Blood in my eyes, in my hair, up my nose, running down my arms. Gumboots full of blood. Blood, from top to toe in fact.
I've had other weird/dull/revolting jobs, but nothing beats the giant yuck factor of everything smelling like cow's blood for several days. Pay was crap too. And I've never been able to fancy blood sausage since.
Cleaning out the chocolate vats at Griffins biscuit factory in Lower Hutt, during their annual spring clean.
Involved donning full protective suit and climbing down into these enormous vats with a pressure hose.
The amount of thick, congealed fat/goo was ebough to put me off my mallowpuffs for weeks.
I worked part-time at McD's for a few years as a teen. The stories I have to tell are much less gross than onemight expect. The standard of hygiene (contrary to popular urban myth) is distinctly higher than one would otherwise expect from a bunch of 17-year-olds on minimum wage (damned with faint praise?).
However, having worked on the grills over some stinking hot summers, I did get to see people fainting from the heat - not fun in a busy kitchen, even less fun for the guy who fainted face-down on the grill, the burns on his arms took years of grafts to come right.
I still very rarely eat there - again, not from concern about food hygiene, or even disdain for their cardboard cuisine. But when you have a 10 minute break in your shift, and in that time you have to dash out back for your money, then up to the counter to purchase your half-price food (no freebies for staff), then back out to the break room to shove it in your face in time to be back on the floor before the shift-manager chews you a new one. Well, you lose your taste for the food, I probably would feel the same if it had been filet steak & caviar I had been inhaling.
I worked part-time at McD's for a few years as a teen.
Did KFC as a teen, in Panmure, saving money for my first car. Colonel Sanders (yes the real one) came to visit us. All the brown people were sent home..our staff was was 90% Maori and Polynesian...but the Colonel was a good old fashioned southern racist and wouldn't be in the same room.
In the eighties the most successful KFC store in the world was in Tokoroa.
It's true, when Herbs were seen in a KFC ad by a KFC exec (in the US), the exec said, "Is that a fu***ng ni****r in mah ad?"
I kid you not, the campaign was changed after that despite NZ having the highest per capita consumption in the world at that time from one particular segment.
For 14 months I had an evening job cleaning operating theatres at Christchurch Hospital. In many ways it was ideal for a student. The work was bloody, but the pay was good. I got free sandwiches for dinner. The location also made it easy to do stuff in town afterwards. Above all, it was memorable.
Some days we were busier than others and my co-worker (Steve) and I would literally wait in the wings, ready to quickly turnover a theatre for the next op. We saw some things. Sometimes we would walk into an abandoned room and find a large, unidentifiable organ or growth left in a stainless steel bowl for us to dispose of. I remember being surprised at how wide and high spurts of blood could travel during an operation. To this day, peanut butter reminds me of the smell of someone's skull being cut open by a high-speed saw. I still prefer honey on my toast.
But one evening was more memorable than the others. It was a busy night and I think a couple of nurses or orderlies were away sick. Steve and I got called down to help lift a heavy biker off his trolley on to an operating table. From the stairs we saw a bunch of leather jacketed guys with motorcyle helmets pacing up and down in the hallway outside the theatres. Some had patches. A couple of guys were demanding to be allowed in to see their mate. They were told no, they had to stay out and anyways, back in A&E the patient had insisted they be kept away from him.
Back in the theatre it took all of us to do the lift. The medical staff cut off the guy's jeans. What we saw was typical in that it was clear he'd come off his bike over the handlebars - a common accident. His testicals were swollen to the size of softballs. What was not typical for such an outwardly staunch bloke was that he wore particularly lurid and frilly women's underwear. To this day, when I see a motorcycle gang member I wonder if he doesn't have a more sensitive side to his personality.
I was once paid too much money to lie on my back in a field for two days and count the number and type of birds flying through an imaginary grid...
However it was sunny and I often fell asleep.
When I was 16 I worked at a chicken slaughterhouse in the weekends, soaked in blood and smelling of death it was one of the coldest jobs on the planet. The production line gave you a range of tasks to enjoy: dragging the bird into an inverted cone and cutting it's head off; removing feet with secateurs; plunging the carcass into hot oil; throwing it into a plucking machine; removing the larger more stubborn feathers with pliers, removing it's innards; stuffing giblets into a plastic bag and inserting said bag down neck of chook; weighing and bagging the bird. They gave me a couple of chooks each weekend to take home but I didn't eat chicken for a long time afterwards. The pay was $3 an hour.
During this time I helped my uncle wrap insulation and chicken wire around the ventilation system at Crown Lynn pottery. This was before OSH. The ladder was over 30 metres high, completely unsecured, very old and rickety. And we wore no harnesses. I got home covered in a rash that stayed for a week. But at $50 a day it paid better than the chicken farm.
I escaped home at 16 and spent ten soul numbing weeks working at the Ministry of Works in accounts. The first thing that struck me when I started at MOW was their policy of employing disabled people for 25% of all staff appointments (this wasn't how I got the job BTW). I was surrounded by a 50 year-old woman with a thick beard on her face, a guy with a glass eye, 5 people with missing limbs, a few mentally handicapped people etc etc. There was an upside - the canteen upstairs in the State Services commission building sold roast meals for $1 and coke for 20 cents - all government subsidised. The work was mind-numbing. Everything had to be done in triplicate. If you made an error typing a list of 100 numbers out then you had to start again. I left the civil service after reporting ill during university orientation week and naively admitting that it was a case of alcohol poisoning. On arrival back at work I was usshered into a meeting of ten managers to talk about "my future". I was on $140 a week. They paid me $1500 to resign. I got a job in a factory 2 hours later. Three months later I got my first job in publishing and have been in media for 21 years. I thank the demon drink for saving my career. If it wasn't for The drink the pub dry day, the togo party, the boat races and then the pub crawl day I could be a public service Wallah in Welly. I imagine I'd be at Bellamy's as I write this...
Worst job - push hoeing tobacco for $3.50 an hour. Basically it involved walking up and down rows of tobacco plants 8 hours a day removing the weeds. It was mind numbingly dull.
Picking the stuff was even worse. Sitting in a small hard plastic seat at the bottom of a giant harvester contraption, bundling sheafs of green tobacco leaves into a highly dangerous chain belt contraption (get your timing wrong and lose a finger) where they were whisked to other stooges on a platform above who then put them into special kiln racks. By the end of the day you'd be covered from shoulder to wrist in tobacco sap. You'd end up black and sticky and have absorbed vast quantities through your skin - nicotine via osmosis - and naturally feel like shit.
Worst job - dairy worker - horrible hours, horrible pay, being crapped/urinated on by cows etc
It had it's upsides though - when not in the shed I was outside in the sun.
I've always found the job interviews more amusing, perhaps because I tend not to get the job...
Being asked by someone in the seafood industry how I felt about 'bottom trawling', que smirking, girly nervous giggling and answering, 'umm.. personal choice? I mean, it's none of my business really'
Being asked, 'so why do you want to work for me?' and replying, 'uhh.. morbid fascination?'
1996, auckland. i had a job washing dishes and making sandwiches at a cafe called 'picasso' in an art school in grafton.
being an ancient building in a seedy(ish) part of town the place had a chronic rodent infestation. i was working every day there, and my first job each morning was rodent removal.
we'd lay poison each evening, and then clear away the little blighters who bought it as and when they turned up.
this involved snooping around the kitchen for dead mice in the cupboards, under the ovens/fridges, in the flour, etc. you know, the usual kitchen-prep type stuff.
finding the mummified mice who'd gone into the ovens after the crumbs from the muffin-trays was always "a laugh". one got stuck in the vents once, and i had to extract it's little corpse by separating it's head and torso. must have been trying to flee when the ovens started up and was cooked to death.
the worse thing though was that the boss was incredibly cheap, and lazy to boot. so he wouldn't have us empty the sugar bowls in the evening. or cover them. we'd just dust the bowls with more sugar to hid the tiny footprints in them, and made sure we took out any poo or crystalised wee we noticed.
I've always found the job interviews more amusing
Yes, and the crappier the job the more ridiculous the interview...
Why do you want this job?
Because I need a job, I have bills to pay.
What makes you the best candidate for this job?
I haven't seen all the other candidates have I?, so how can I say I'm better?
What are your career goals?
Right thru High School I dreamt about a career in (name the dead-end low-skilled job you're applying for). I dropped out of University because I realised what I really wanted to do was (name the dead-end low-skilled job you're applying for).
How much experience have you had in this type of work?
Extensive! (Zero practical experience but I have done extensive research online, thankyou Google)
Are you afraid of long hours and hard work?
Not for the first 3 months. That's when your guarantee with the Recruitment Agency expires and that's when I start working to rule. It'll cost you another small fortune to recruit someone else to replace me; so you'll decide to keep me for a little while longer, hoping I'll improve.
When can you start?
Well, with unemployment being at record lows I guess I'll take a 3 week holiday before I start this job. And of course I need to give 4 weeks notice to my current employer, which I won't do until after I've taken the 14 sick days I'm owed, so ... shall we say just before the Xmas holidays?
A mate and I were hired to do odd jobs for a company that makes high precision machinery. One of the tasks involved organising and repacking for storage the owners entire collection of National Geographic magazines, some of which dated back to the 30's. Pro tip - load them into the giant box *after* you place the box in its final resting place.
In 1988, the year that acid house happened, I was working for a company called MRIB in London. There were two sets of music sales chart in the UK: the BBC-Gallup ones, and the somewhat less robust charts compiled by MRIB.
One of the treats of the job used to be calling the HMV and Virgin stores in Edinburgh and listening while the lassies there read me back their chart returns in in their lovely Edinburgh accents.
There were several really nice people there, but I didn't get on particularly well with the co-owner, Luke Crampton, who had been a child star in the BBC production of The Glittering Prizes .
By the time he asked me to leave as the result of a minor (seriously) drug bust inadvertently coming to their attention, I was delighted to take a month's pay and buy a ticket home for the summer. Their reaction - apparently it brought back some heavy memories for Luke's business partner Dafyd - was a little ironic given that at the time Luke was publishing tipsheets full of house records that were loudly encouraging the use of recreational drugs. Then again, I don't think he really listened to the records.
Only one thing bugged me. The other part of my job had been writing what became __The Guinness Book of Rock Stars__, mostly by having half a dozen other rock histories open at once and cobbling together new entries from them, but also through having some idea what I was on about. It was hardly a work of literature, but I wrote at least a third of it and, although Luke and Dayfd have their names on the book, mine isn't.
And bugger me if the thing isn't going for quite good dollars on Amazon.
I'm going to keep this short...
Most confused job I've ever had - cleaning out septic waste tanks with a mate in the height of summer in the Wairarapa...
The hours were crap (pun intended), it was hot and sweaty in our plastic suits, we got great treatment from our clients (cold drinks, showers, feeds), and got well paid (I was better paid than anyone else I know at age 17!).
It was an eye opening experience which actually instilled in me a work ethic - met lots of great people and earned lots of money - but I'd never wish it on my worst enemy :-)
November 1988. After 14 months of cleaning operating theatres in Christchurch, I had enough cash to fund a working holiday in London. On the day of my last history exam I boarded a plane and arrived with enough money to last me ten days. I figured that would be plenty of time to find a job and a place to live! The first agency I called wasn't interested in my brand new B.A. The recruiter encouraged me to instead talk up my accounts experience (i.e. high school maths).
Whether my optimism was well-placed or I was just lucky, I found a job on day three and a bed soon after. I hadn't calculated on the gap between starting work and getting my first pay however, so I did have a three-day stretch where all I had to eat was a loaf of white bread. Fortunately I met up with some friends of a friend willing to share all they had in the kitchen, which at the time was a stack of ten dozen cans of cheap beer and something unrecognisable in the fridge's vegetable tray. No-one drank the tap water. The guys comprised most of a local band called, "The Logs", which had created their own genre of Mexican meets punk, played at high speed and with as many guitars as possible. They had persuaded someone they knew to write a review in a music magazine as having played Wembley, but in fact their only gigs besides friends' parties had been busking outside the stadium. I played them my tapes of NZ music and of that they had a preference for the Headless Chickens.
As it turned out, the theme of excess alcohol was to continue in my day-time work. My job was in the accounts section of a marketing company located in the city, near the Thames. The accounts unit was managed by a round, ruddy-faced Irishman in his 40s. The rest of the unit was made up of foreigners except for two English people - a woman from the North and a young black guy who ran a pirate radio station in the evenings. One of our regular trials was dealing with the company's sales people wanting their commissions ahead of time - they were Oxbridge grads with the exception of one girl who had been to Reading. They didn't understand "no". But back to the alcohol. Our manager was a great guy, but I soon learned he wasn't around much. On my first day he took me and some others to the pub for a couple of drinks - and refused to let me pay. The next day I still hadn't been told what I was meant to do, and he didn't turn up until 10am. The DJ took pity and taught me how to use some accounting software. On the Wednesday our manager gave me some work to do and then went to the pub for lunch - and didn't come back until the next Monday. Generally his weekly schedule was - Monday: 10am - 4pm; Tuesday: 10am - 3.30pm; Wednesday: 9.30am start and off to the pub for lunch at 12pm (no return); Thursday: AWOL; Friday: AWOL; followed by something similar the next week. I was mystified at how this could go on, but it had and it did. I learned the office was held together (managed) by a very underpaid and somewhat bitter Nigerian woman in our team.
Then there was the gauntlet of the office Christmas party. Everything was laid on and everyone got very trolleyed. Of course the toffs didn't show at all. Someone said they were induldging in champagne cocktails at the inner city flat someone's Daddy had given them as a graduation present - and might come later. A South African woman came up and asked me if there was anyone in the office I fancied. Pressured to surrender a name I did so and was introduced to the girl. Our conversation involved something along the lines of how she liked to party with the American soldiers at a base near where she lived. With my last remaining wits I headed for a tube station, boarding the first train that came along. By a stroke of sheer luck it happened to be the last northern line train for the night/morning and got me home.
After ten weeks I couldn't bear to pretend to have no work to do any more and I decided to leave. I also needed a chance to let my liver recover. By then, our team manager had finally left also. One day he was just gone and nothing was said. The Nigerian missed out on the job which was filled by a contractor. On my last day the managing director said he was sorry to see me go and took me and a couple of others out to lunch, and a couple of drinks - at the pub.
After ten weeks I couldn't bear to pretend to have no work to do any more and I decided to leave.
I had some work with some of the same components, at a music magazine publisher, where I somehow got wotk as a temp sub-editor. Every now and then I'd get a little bit of copy to edit, I'd do it, it would get taken by a motorcycle courier to the typesetters (a monstrously ineffcient practice) and then I'd sit around for for an hour. No one seemed to find this unusual.
At that place, it was the security guard who was an alcoholic. He would sit at his desk in the foyer, reeking of alcohol, and when I addressed him he would look at me uncomprehendingly.
Doing the same job at a competing publisher, I was twice ticked off for finding too many mistakes in the copy - it would piss off the typesetters, apparently.
The amount of alcohol that could be consumed during lunchtime at the pub was a feature of a couple of other jobs. It didn't work for me with the editing jobs, but I have fond memories of sinking three pints (or occasionally four), with a spliff there and back, when I worked at Virgin Records.
Yes, and the crappier the job the more ridiculous the interview...
Leanard Rossiter had a good response to the "do you drink?" question.
His Reggie Perrin response was:
Only to excess.
He got the job at the sewerage works.
Then there was the gauntlet of the office Christmas party.
Gawd, I had a similar experience, working for a family owned trading business in Leicester Square in the late 1980's.
Christmas party was held in a tacky Covent Garden pub in a wood panelled function room, and the CFO of the company - early 60's, public school educated, season ticket to Lords, centre court at Wimbledon, pin striped suit and a bowler (truly this man was a walking stereotype) type of guy who seldom deigned to speak to us plebs, who proceeded to get slaughtered on the free booze, tried with varying degrees of success to fondle all the women from the office, was in turn threatened with bodily harm by a small delegation of male work colleagues, and who then fell asleep in the toilet with his immaculately polished brogues poking out the bottom of the cubicle. All before 9.00pm.
Dulux paints, circa 1980, my job was to clean out the vats that paint was made in. I had a high pressure hose, and every solvent known to humankind on tap.
The factory workforce at the time included a major portion of golf mad pacific islanders, many spend their lunchtimes in the carpark driving golfballs into a paddock across the road. One guy in particular, stout, maybe 35ish, was particularly mad on the game.
Years later, I was working for the Dept of Corrections, being led through the labyrinth that is Mt Crawford Prison to a computer room deep within. We went through the sex offenders unit, and who should be there to greet me (although I'm not sure he recognised me) bewigged & clothed like Dame Edna, but the golf mad paint maker from years ago.
<quote>The amount of alcohol that could be consumed during lunchtime at the pub was a feature of a couple of other jobs.</ quote>
As a kid I had various reasons to visit Press House in Wellington in the late 70s/ealy 80s and observed the same behaviour there. The evening subs would finish 95% of their work well ahead of knockoff time, disappear to the pub and return before the close of play to knock of the last page.
Couldn't happen now. Getting horrendously drunk in work hours isn't so acceptable. But still, I assume since then we have changed more than the UK?
Dulux paints, circa 1980, my job was to clean out the vats that paint was made in. I had a high pressure hose, and every solvent known to humankind on tap.
Heh - yeah, I remember seeing more than a few guys there who seemed pretty well permanently toasted after many years in the solvent room. The days before OSH I presume.
Also remember the huge poker games on pay-day, when everyone got paid in cash in little brown envelopes, and then the card school would immediately start up and relieve some poor unfortunates of all their dosh before they even got it home to the families.
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