A damp, long commute

My job is fine. Well, my internship is fine. The commute, however? Not so fine. I live on an island off of the coast of Seattle. Sounds awesome, right. Well, it is. Except for the fact that it takes me around 2 hours each day to commute to work. And part of that trip includes a ferry ride. Yes, I have to transfer from a ferry. That means I’m waking up around 430am every morning and getting home around 730pm. And I’m always arriving at work or home feeling damp. Whether its from the ridiculous amounts of rain or the ocean mist, I can’t manage to get rid of that cold, wet feeling… ever. Plus, I think I’m paying more in transportation costs than I am actually making with my intern’s salary. So as luxurious as living on an island sounds… its really not. Well, maybe if you work at a banana stand in the Bahamas or something.


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Assistant Nature Lady

I’m what you would call a girly girl. I like fashion and shopping and cleanliness. Last summer I needed a job, so I applied to a bunch of local retail shops thinking how awesome it would be to use the 50% discounts. And it would have been really awesome…But I didn’t get any of those jobs. So last minute my mom pulled some strings and got me an interview at a day camp nearby. I assumed I would be a counselor, which is not my ideal job, but kids are fine as long as they don’t expect me to make mudpiles with them. Anyways, when I got there I was told that the only position they still had open was for the Assistant Nature Lady. I had my interview, told them I’d talk it over with my parents and get back to them tomorrow, and walked out of there laughing. Me, a nature lady? Nuh uh. Had to be polite, though, and make it seem as if I wasn’t scoffing at their camp. Don’t want to offend anyone. I got home and told my mom expecting her to share in the hilarity of the experience. Nope. “Jenna Smith, you will call that camp director right now and tell them you will take that position gladly. I had to call up my friend who had to call up her friend who had to ask the owner of the camp to pull in a favor just to get you that interview. You will not embarass me by turning it down. Plus, you are not doing nothing this summer.” So I ended up being the Asst. Nature Lady that summer. It was terrible. We had to trek around the woods and hug trees and dig up dirt and bugs. And the heat. OMG the heat! There was no A/C in our nature hut and it was about 150 degrees in there. During lunch time I would curl up in the corner and take naps. People say excessive sleepiness is the beginning signs of heat stroke. Oh well. I survived. If the Assistant Nature Lady died in her nature hut that would have been kinda sad. My friends and family still make fun of me for having that job.


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Size Does Matter

When I used to work the phones for a big online retailer, every day I would get customers asking me detailed questions regarding products I knew absolutely nothing about. “What kind of wood is it on top of the bureau?” “Um, it’s brown, I think.” “Yes, I can see that it’s brown, but what kind of wood is it?” “Okay let me go check in the stockroom.” And by “check in the stockroom,” I meant put them on hold for 8 minutes while I called the manufacturer of the item to get the answer. My all-time favorite such conversation is this one:

An old southern lady calls in asking about an indoor putting set. Looks like one of those thin putting greens businessmen sometimes have in their offices next to their desks. The thing is, our site doesn’t list the dimensions of the putter or green or anything, and she wants to make sure it’s adult-sized. Even though I’ve never seen this thing before and I have no idea what size it is, I, trying to make the sale, tell her I’m sure she’d be able to use it. She really wants to make sure it’s made for adults, though, and she’s a nice lady, so I offer to call the manufacturer just to confirm.

“Hi, could you tell me whether your indoor putting set is made for adults?”

“Um, I wouldn’t say it’s made for adults.”

“So it’s made for children?”

“Well, no, I mean an adult could use it I guess if they really wanted to.”

Something seems mysterious here, so I decide to press further.

“Is the putter big enough for an adult to use?”

“I mean an adult could definitely use it. I just don’t know if they’d want to though.”

Still seems like this lady’s hiding something.

“Can you please tell me exactly how long the putter is?”

“Um, let me see here. Okay, the putter is four inches.”

“Four inches? You mean four feet?”

“No, it’s four inches long. The whole game is supposed to fit on your desk. It’s like a little desk game.”

I return to the customer now, wishing I didn’t have to break the news to her.

“Sorry for the wait, ma’am. So I was able to get a hold of the manufacturer, and, well, it turns out the putter is a bit smaller than we’d imagined.”

“What is it, like two feet long?”

“No, it’s four inches long.”

“Four INCHES? Are you kidding me??”

“I’m so sorry, ma’am. Evidently the whole game is made to fit right on your desk. Would you still like to purchase it?”

“Oh god no. Four inches long. I can’t do anything with a four-inch putter. How big are the golf balls?”

“About a centimeter wide, I figure.”

“Oh god no. I’m glad I called! Goodbye!”

And while I can’t seem to find the product on my old company’s site — they must’ve taken it down after receiving too many complaints, I reckon — I was able to find it here, with some dimensions listed:



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Don’t Whistle While You Work

The guy who sits next to me at work is named Drew. I hate Drew. Not because he’s a jerk, not because he’s a kiss-ass, not for any great reason, really. I hate him because he whistles at his desk. Like, all the time. I’ll ask him politely, “Drew, I hate to be an ass, but can you please stop whistling? I really need to focus on this report.” And he’ll be so great about it, it kills me: “Dude, I am so sorry. I’ve really gotta get that under control. I don’t know why I whistle so much. I don’t even really like music.” To make matters worse, he’s a terrible whistler — very airy, pitch and tempo all over the place. Sometimes I find myself humming whatever song he’s whistling in an inadvertent attempt to guide him back to the right key. And whenever I try to make myself feel better by talking shit about Drew to our coworkers, I’m met with fierce opposition: “What are you talking about? Drew’s a good dude. A great dude. You really think he’s a ‘rotten shithead’ because he whistles sometimes?” And I know they’re right. Drew’s not the dick — I’m the dick. But oh well. At least I don’t whistle at my fucking desk.


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Customer servant

Last summer I was offered a job as a “customer relations specialist” with an ecommerce startup in Boston. I was thrilled. Me, a specialist? In ecommerce? Where do I sign?

As training got underway, though, I soon realized I was not becoming an ecommerce specialist. I was becoming a phone bitch. My job was to answer phone calls from angry asshole customers that our shitty company had somehow screwed over. The first week was brutal.

“Where the fuck is my nightstand?”

“I’m so sorry for the delay, sir, it looks as if your order is still being processed–”

“–Still being processed? I ordered this piece of shit last week.”

“Yes, you’re absolutely right, sir, although this item does have an advertised lead time of 3-4 business days.”

“Lead time? Fuck that. Where’s my nightstand? I want you to go into the back room right now, get me a nightstand, put it in a box, and send it to my fucking house. Can you do that for me, or are you too fucking stupid?”

“I wish I could, sir, but the nightstand is actually coming from our warehouse in North Carolina.”

“Oh, I see. You’re drop-shipping this shit. You’re just the fucking middle man. Put your manager on.”

And that pretty much set the tone for the rest of my tenure at Shithole, Inc. Answering phones, getting screamed at, apologizing for things I didn’t do, getting no credit for things I did well. But hey, at least there was a killer snack room!


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Tuna on Robert down

Tuna on Robert down; Burgers a pair in the well, one takes cheese. Who knew that you had to learn a new language in order to work at the HoJo’s on 52nd St. and 8th Ave. The thing was that, if you did not already know the restaurant ordering lingo, no one would cook your order. You had to wait at the grill, looking pathetic, until one of the hard-boiled waitresses or kitchen workers would take the time to tell you how to order a tuna on toasted rye, or 2 burgers, well-done, one of them a cheese burger. They would reluctantly help, all the while rolling their eyes as if you should be born knowing short order slang.

That wasn’t the shittiest part of the job, though. I worked a 7:30 to 3:30 shift one summer there before graduating from college. I would wait on 70 to 80 tables a day, every patron in a mad rush. HoJo’s is right in the middle of the theater district, so customers all waited until the last possible minute to come in for a quick bite before curtain time. Now, if you are taking the time and money to go to NYC to see a Broadway show, wouldn’t you try to make a nice meal part of the experience? I would think most people should be willing to shell out a little more for a lunch nicely prepared in a restaurant that offers atmosphere. HoJo’s was pretty much the opposite of that dining experience, and people tended to take out their disappointment on the waitstaff. They expected champagne treatment on a cheap beer budget! I was between a rock and a hard place- the nasty kitchen help and grumpy customers! The other waitresses pretty much treated me like Cinderella, too, passing all of the French Canadian customers my way. Apparently, tipping is not customary north of our border…

Of course, there was that one manager who had some kind of weirdo crush on me. He kept complimenting me on how I looked in my mustard and brown checked HoJo’s uniform. He would follow me in and out of the kitchen staring longingly as I refilled ketchup bottles. The summer finally ended and I prepared to go back to finish my final semester of college. I actually made a friend go in and quit for me- returning my uniform, hand washed one last time. I won’t ever forget that shitty job. Every day I left with pockets full of quarters, covered in french fry grease, tired to the bone! There were even a few times I delivered a meal with tears running down my cheeks. Now I overtip waitstaff, even crappy ones. I know what they may be facing. I am forever connected to them- like soldiers in a foxhole. I understand!


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a real “shitty” job

Immediately following graduate school, I worked for several years with individuals who had been moved from huge institutions and were being reintegrated into  communities in small group homes. Most were of adult age- but without adult-level self-care skills. In other words, one of the major parts of our day revolved around trying to toilet train grown-ups who had no idea what a toilet was all about. Our students (or clients) wore great big diapers, which was a good thing because they took great big shits. That was, without a doubt, a shitty job. Oh, in other ways, I loved my job. It was rewarding. I felt like I was doing important work. I met caring, like-minded idealistic people at these jobs.

But, oh, those shitty diapers. There was no getting around them. Put eight or so adults in a classroom and imagine each of them taking a rather large crap at some point during the day. You just could not get the smell out of your nose. I would leave at day’s end, certain that I would stink up the subway or bus on my way home. It was a smell with a life of its own.

I remember most clearly one young man, Ronald, who had a habit of ingesting string of any sort. You could not leave any unsupervised sneakers within eyeshot of Ronald. Lickety-split, he would rip out the shoelaces and swallow them whole. That wasn’t even the worst part. When he shitted them out, he would use his feces to finger paint on walls. The shoelaces gave it an interesting texture. If shoelaces were not available, Ronald would attempt to unravel carpets or his own clothing. I’m not sure what happened to him. I heard he had a gallery in Soho for performance art. I remember those jobs fondly. I spent ten or so years working with individuals for whom toileting was a major developmental milestone. I teach elementary school now. When other teachers complain about the kids, I just smile. It could be a lot shittier!


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