Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yeah, But You Can't Beat the Fringe Benefits!

Most days I think my job is pretty cool, but some days there are things I've got to do that rate pretty high on my suck-meter. I've had completely full 30 gallon trash bags break and rain day-old, baked, fermented garbage over my head while trying to get them into a dumpster that stood 6' high (to my 5'7").

If you remember the opening scene of Crocodile Dundee II (and who doesn't), it shows the lead character fishing in the East River with dynamite. We had scheduled two days to shoot the scene. The first day of shooting went fine...not a cloud in the sky. The next day it rained, so we went and shot some interior scene. The day after that, was cloudy. Since that wouldn't match the bright sunshine in the first day's shooting, we shot a different exterior. This went on for a week and we finally went back to complete the scene on the following Monday. Since it was my job to park the trucks when they showed up, I was the first person on the set. And guess what. The Props Department had left three crates of dead fish sitting there right where the trucks were going to park. Dead fish that had gotten extremely deader in the intervening week. Naturally, I had to deal with getting them out of the way.

If you ever see a movie where there's an extended scene on a moving NYC Subway train, odds are the crew loaded into the train at one of a very few un-used platforms after the evening rush hour and went out riding through the subway system all night. The thing is, the train they're on can't stop anywhere until they get back to their base camp at the station where they loaded-in in the first place. If they stop anywhere else, none of the real traffic can get through and for some reason, the Transit Authority thinks that's a bad thing. Soooo, if you know you're going to have 150 people on a train with 2-3 hours between bathroom breaks, what do you do? You put chemical portable toilets into a couple of the conductor's booths. Then, since Nathan is low man on the food chain, you assign him to deal with it at the end of the night.

One time I was in a van full of crew headed back to NYC after a long day of shooting at a house in New Jersey. As we were driving through the Lincoln Tunnel, someone noticed one of the guys who had to sit in a tiny booth in the middle of the tunnel whose job it was to watch for breakdowns or accidents or whatever. This was in the days before they had little video cameras they could patch up, so there were always two or three guys who got to their booths by way of a narrow catwalk along the side of the tunnel. Well, this guy in the van pointed at the tunnel watching guy and said, "That's gotta be the worst job in the world". From the back of the van, another voice piped up, saying, "Well I wouldn't want to trade places with him, but I just spent my day doing body make-up on a girl with the worst case of zits on her ass I've ever seen." We decided she won.

What's the worst job you've ever had...or the worst thing you had to do at your job?


Jim Wright said...

- I once boarded a suspected smuggling vessel in the Persian Gulf, we knew he was running contraband into to Iraq (this was about a month before the war started). One team secured the ship and crew, and the sweep team (me and mine) started the inspection, searching for false passports and papers, cash, guns, explosives, etc, One of my guys called me on the radio requesting my presence in the crew quarters. The whole ship was a leaking, sinking, rusty piece of shit, and the smell inside was terrible, and nowhere was it worse than in the crew quarters - and the worst of it was coming from the head (the washroom and toilet for you landlubbers). Long story short, as with many middle eastern cultures, the crew did not use toilet paper, instead they cleaned themselves with their bare left hand - and wiped it on the bulkhead. Shit was literal dried an inch thick, 6-feet up the wall. We had to inspect every inch of that room (eventually finding false passports and seamen's papers hidden in an electrical access panel hidden under the dried crap).

- A week later I was attacked by a rapid baboon, two actually, during a boarding. About 60-70lbs, and fangs the size of a grizzly bear. They'd been locked in a 120 degree hold on top of illegally smuggled dates that had been fermenting for a week. The baboons were locked in there to keep the crew from pilfering the cargo, and they were absolutely batshit insane by the time we accessed the hold. They came at us like demons out of hell. I killed one with my pistol, and my partner killed the other by emptying an entire magazine from his rifle on full auto - about three feet from my head. Which, goes a long way toward explaining the hearing damage in my left ear.

A year later, off the coast of the Galapagos Islands, I was searching a drug smuggling vessel. We knew he had at least a ton of cocaine onboard, it was just a matter of finding it. These people build hidden compartments into their vessels in some pretty unusual places - as such, I found myself hang upside down, two of my team holding me by the ankles, head down inside the ship's main fuel bunker over top of several thousand gallons of diesel fuel, searching for hidden welds that would indicate a secret compartment. Oh, and the ship was rolling badly in the heavy seas, and the fuel was slopping around because they'd cut away the damping baffles to hide the coke (which made the ship unstable) and I was swinging back and forth like the circus chick on the trapeze. Found the coke though, all three tons of it.

So, to answer your question - US Navy Boarding Officer was my worst job. Weird thing is I miss it.

Nathan said...

Jim's after-action debriefing:

Intel Guy: And how could you tell the baboons were rapid?

Jim: Well, they were moving pretty fast.


I now have loyal minions to deal with things like getting rid of the garbage. Weird thing is I don't miss it at all.

Jim Wright said...

Yeah, well even though it was a typo, rapid is an accurate description. Those things were fast.

Janiece said...

Jim wins, because I can't think of anything worse than "rapid baboons."

*I'm not worthy...*

Anonymous said...

Jim you definitely win. You could write a pretty awesome short story around any one of those as well. ;)

However, my worst job was as a hearing clerk/transcriptionist for the social security office of hearings and appeals. Nobody cared, not one bit. The claimants would come in with heartrending stories and one of the judges would even sleep through his hearings and review the transcript later. Maybe. It was the only job that I've ever quit with no notice, after only 2 1/2 months.

Jim Wright said...

Ah, hell, every boarding had some freaky thing happen. The things that happened to me weren't really out of the ordinary.

Frankly, the worst job I ever had was growing up on a ranch/camp/farm with horses. I spent half my youth with a hand and arm up one end of a horse or the other. I'll take boarding duty any duty. You haven't lived until you've gotten a face full of filthy water ejected at high speed out of a horse's colon while treating the animal for a blocked intestine. I can't even begin to tell you how much I loath horses.

MWT said...

Hmmm... us field scientists tend to be masochists, so while I've done a few things that other people might consider "worst task ever" ... I enjoyed them, and therefore they don't count. ;) But none of them involved fecal matter, rotting things, or fermented garbage.

The worst I've ever had to do was clean the public restrooms at food service establishments.

Nathan said...


I worked on a dairy farm when I lived in Israel (6 months in 1978), and I didn't mind any of the nasty stuff there.


That job sounds horrible as in consider shooting myself in the head as an alternative to showing up. :-)


Cleaning public restrooms strikes me as, at least potentially, a win!

Janiece said...

Nathan, MWT only wins if cleaning the restroom included fecal matter on the walls followed by attacks by rapid baboons.

Jim, I love horses, and had similar experiences to yours in my youth. The only reason we don't have any is because my Smart Man feels the way you do, and exerted his veto power.

Jim Wright said...

Yeah, I love horses too, on a bun with pickles and ketchup.
(thank you, oh thank you. I'll be here all night. Remember to tip your waitress...)

Nathan, where in Israel did you live? My cousin lived on a kabutz in Degonia, northern Israel, right around the same time.

Nathan said...

I was in the south. Kibbutz Ein Tsurim. Its about halfway between Ashkelon and a place called Kastina (which was pretty much a fork in the road with a bus stop.)

MWT said...

Nope, these were just standard run-of-the-mill civilian restrooms in average non-wartime cities. No deranged baboons.

On the other hand, I've just recalled that I did spend a couple summers on desert islands being pelted with bird poo. In that way I learned that tern poo has a clean fishy smell, while laughing gull poo looks and smells nasty (like the garbage they eat, no doubt). We also spent some time collecting dried tern poo so we could identify what fish species they ate.

Then there was the winter spent cleaning an outdoor fishtank, which sometimes had uneaten bits of mushifying shrimp at the bottom. For the most part I never touched them with my bare hands, except when an extra-large piece got stuck in the siphon.

Hmmm. And then it's arguable that a salt marsh is really a giant septic tank, and I've spent time wading hip deep in marsh mud before. Oyster poo was the worst.

Even with all that, though, I think I still lose to the people who've had to reach their arms into any mammal's butts.

MWT said...

Oh. And I have a friend of a friend who used to be a pharmacist having to deal with the Medicare Part D "donut." She regularly and frequently got phone calls from people begging her for help that she couldn't give them, or laying out their last wills and testaments as they died.

Nathan said...

So far, MWT's friend wins...hands down. Although I suppose he/she could have lied to the person and claimed that their wishes would be honored, in which case even though it would be a total lie, it would serve to ease someone's mind...which I'd think would not be which win.

Shit. This actual running the blog and having to set the tone, and having to not sound like an hard.

OTOH, in the middle of reading about various bird poo, I had to stop reading because I was laughing too hard. My post about worst jobs had turned into "Who's had to handle shit". Then I recalled all the havoc I've played with all of your blogs by "turning left at Albuquerque", and realized, "I did set that tone.


If I ever start sounding whiny about a thread taking a detour I didn't envision, one of you Collaborating Founders (hereinafter C.F's) need only post, "Nathan, STFU".

Said instruction will be cheerfully obeyed when conveyed by any card carrying C.F.

Jim Wright said...

Ha! MWT's friend wins for sure, nothing could suck worse than that. Though like you, Nathan, I had tears in my eyes reading about bird poo - the very fact that MWT can tell the difference between speices of birds by the smell of their crap is utterly hysterical to me for some reason. Science is hell!

Oh, and we will hijack as we please and there's nothing you can do about it bahwahahahahahaHA!

MWT said...

EXXXcellent. I guess I've returned the favor for that accident story about the engine falling out of the car. :)

I wish I could link to my friend's story about that pharmacy job in her own words, but unfortunately the forum it was on is presently hosed due to a miscommunication about a server bill. Like Jeri, she just couldn't do it anymore and had to quit.

Random Michelle K said...

I worked various food service jobs (including fast food) both during and after college.

At one job we were told that management preferred to hire and train new employees rather than give raises. It wasn't disgusting in a human fecal matter manner, but pretty horrifying never the less. (This was the same job where the cooks would sometimes entertain themselves by throwing the cockroaches they caught into the deep fryer. So that should tell you about the building.)

For various classes I had to learn about Medicare and Medicaid--including Medicare Part D. Again, not actual digested food, but...

Physically, the worst was the multi-day span where the a/c was out of commission in the restaurant where I worked. Temperatures were so hot in the kitchen that we (the cooks) would hang out on the walk-in cooler and stare out the little window waiting for a ticket to pop-up. We'd run out, make the food as fast as possible, and then run back into the cooler. Luckily, everyone had a sense of humor, which made the whole thing bearable. (Well, I think a sense of humor is mandatory for any job, but especially for food serve.)

Nathan said...


No need to apologize for the lack of fecal matter in your entry; its not a pre-requisite for a job being shitty.
And, you've reminded me of a job I totally forgot. When I was 17, I spent the summer working in the kitchen at a summer camp, helping cook for about 300 kids ranging from 10-16 years old. Part of the initiation was that you had to learn to juggle three chickens (dead), before they'd let you do anything more than peel onions or potatoes.

Every Thursday, we'd have the "identify what I deep-fried contest". Entries included aprons, light bulbs, and road-kill, among other things. Also, I have a distinct memory of one day when someone decided serving cow-tongue would be a good idea. Picture the 200 gallon soup vat boiling away with a bunch of tongues licking their way to the surface.


Tom said...

No way I could compete with those "worst jobs." My life has been pretty tame.

The worst I could come up with involved burial detail in the Army, when the widow, in a fit of grief, started dragging the body out of the coffin. Freaked me out, but never stopped me from being an Honor Guard.

Or when I had to regularly repair the X-ray equipment at the Harris County Jail, inside with the inmates. I got used to that, and it wasn't bad, but friends have said they'd never be able to do something like that. It turned out that a female ex-roommate happened to be in that jail at the time, but I never did see her.

My sister breeds and trains championship Quarter Horses, so she could match the "arm up to the shoulder inside a horse" tales (or tails?).

Nathan said...

I can see the widow freaking out as a tense moment.