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Worst Day-Jobs for Writers

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Before this GalleyCat editor took some family leave last week, we asked our faithful Facebook readers: What’s the worst day-job you ever held to keep writing?

Responses poured in, and we have randomly chosen two winners to receive a giveaway copy of The Financial Lives of the Poets. Read more responses below…

Linda-Allen Anderson was our first lucky winner with this job: “I worked the night shift for a dating/matchmaking service before it was done by computers. Had to go to the homes and apartments of depressed and lonely people who called at 2 in the morning and wanted to find out how to meet a mate. Had to keep calling in to the main office so they knew I hadn’t been ravaged. Never would tell me if they actually had matches for the women. I didn’t interview any men that would have been dateworthy. Quit as soon as I sold a short story.”

Stan Friedman was the second lucky winner with this job: “Selling ‘imported English metal etchings’ skyscraper to skyscraper. My manager advised me to get into the buildings ‘any way you can’ and that the company would pay bail should I get arrested. Never served time, but was personally escorted out of the CBS executive offices.”


Cat Robinson “I once inspected tiny parts for a manufacturing company. It was so boring, I used to imagine they would be assembled into a time machine that would beam me into the future to the day I could quit.”

Jonathan Shipley: “Worked at McDonald’s until I got berated for my poor Big Mac making skills. I then went home and never came back. I still have the uniform a couple decades later.”

Ashley Allene May-Orf: Worst day (and night!) job ever!

Deanna Larson “Scraping out petri dishes full of bacteria, then loading them into the autoclave at a University of Wisconsin science lab. I would still stop at the dairy building across the street for coffee ice cream nearly every day, though! Can’t kill my appetite for sweets.”

Mark A. Rayner: “Singing birthday/anniversary/congratulation tunes to total strangers in a gorilla suit. (The only way it could have been worse was if they’d made me wear the Tarzan loincloth, but I didn’t have the abs for it.)”

Geraldine Evans: “Working in crummy Council offices where I knew from day one that my face didn’t fit and that I would be out on my ear asap. And I was. One month before I’d have completed my six months probation, they gave me the old heave-ho. Just before Christmas, too. B******ds! Hated the bloody job, too, so was glad to leave.”

Jeremy D Brooks: “Janitor for office buildings. Took over a new building one night and learned that the previous janitor had neglected to stock TP in the bathrooms. One unhappy customer took his…um…frustrations out on the cardboard tube and (deep breath)… graffittied the walls of the cubicle with his dissatisfaction. I believe that was the night I decided to go back to school.

Susan Blumberg-Kason: “I worked for a Jewish women’s non-profit for $11/hr right after I divorced my first husband. I’m Jewish and thought it would be nice to bond with the sisterhood. I quickly became friendly with the other admin assistants (which was what I was doing) and learned they weren’t treated very well by the volunteers who ran the organization. I tried to help these new friends stand up for themselves, but then I was let go after a couple of months because the volunteers didn’t think I was a ‘good fit’. I was fired over the phone and was told I was unstable because I was a single mother. So much for the compassion of a religious women’s organization.”

Gail Westerfield: “I’ve had quite a few, but the top contenders would be pulling bug cocoons off of giant pine trees outside of an apartment complex, making cardboard boxes in a freezing cold. filthy warehouse (where as a newly politicized college student I tried to rally the employees in the breakroom to unionize; someone called the temp agency and I was promptly canned), and dressing in a huge velour and plactic suit to be a six foot tall tap-dancing Twinkie the Kid outside of convenience stores. The sight of me routinely made small children cry, and an amazing amoutn of people hit on me.

Paul Andrew Mathers: “For about a week and a half I had a job where I called up people who had been injudicious enough to give their phone number when buying tickets to a theater company. I was to try to sell them season ticket subscriptions. I failed to sell any. I think the worst was, and I still remember this 12 years later, the one phone call where the people were very upset that I’d called because the man had just died within the past few hours. Vomiting in the bathroom in shame. On the last day, holding my finger down on the receiver to pretend like no one was answering. Finally saying to the manager that I just wasn’t coming back and that’s all there was to it.”

Brittany Gates: “I was a bill collector for a financial services company in my town. I called people to bother them for a payment for a 3rd-rate store card. And if I didn’t get enough payments I got ‘coached’ by my lead.”

Lisa Peet: “In college I stuffed envelopes for a guy who ran a semi-scam gay date-by-mail service that turned out to be a front for a bunch of drug dealing. His brother was a white-collar crackhead, and every so often would get really paranoid and wedge his desk against the apartment door so that whoever it was couldn’t get in, but it also meant I had trouble getting out. I had to quite because I was late for too many classes that way.”

Larry Allen: “I worked in a group home for adults with disabilities. My supervisor failed to tell me that one of the clients would eat his own feces when he became upset. The first night there the client went into the bathroom. When I went to check on him he had feces all over his hands and face. I cleaned him up and set him back to bed. A half hour later he was back in the bathroom. When I checked on him a second time, again he had feces all over his face and hands. When I tried to clean him up he started smacking his hands together. He did this two more times that night, and I finally sat by his bedroom door and wouldn’t let him come out until my relief arrived. As soon as my relief walked through the door I reported the client’s behavior and never went back.”

Sarah Pinneo: “I waitressed at a fine dining establishment called ‘Cheddars’ when fajitas were sweeping the nation. I was expected to pour scalding butter on the hot platter, then RUN into the dining room so that the food would still be sizzling when it got to the table. But the restaurant was in Michigan, so everyone ordered the fah-JIIIY-tas. And I smelled like burnt butter from Memorial Day to Labor Day.”

Richard Sanders: “When I was 18 I got a job making deliveries for a textile retailer, a tiny old man in a tiny, tiny old office on 42nd Street and 7th Ave. I lasted a day. I delivered three rolls of textiles all day, then was expected to sit on a stool and wait for the next call. After five minutes of total boredom, I started reading a book. The guy got mad. “I don’t pay you to read–sweep the floor.” The place was like 15×20, so the sweep took another five minutes. After that the guy showed me how to run his textiles rolls through a machine and check for imperfections.”

Amber Rose: “I worked as a nursery worker for an evangelical church in south Louisiana. Draw your own conclusions.”

Dinah Finkelstein: “I did a bunch of brain imaging studies that were worth a quick 50 or hundred bucks in the rough times between other day jobs… nothing like being sternly instructed to lie motionless in a fluorescent tube and not let your mind wander lest it screw up the data on active regions to get the creative juices flowing.”

Maria Schneider: “Working a phone line at a gym. I thought I had been hired to work at the gym, replacing towels, directing people, introducing them to the various trainers and ANSWERING the phone. My first day, we went to the back, and I was shown around the “phone bank” where I had the ‘opportunity’ to cold-call random numbers to try and talk people into signing up for a gym membership. I lasted 2 weeks just so that I could collect at least one paycheck. There is nothing like a cold call offering someone a free trial gym membership only to find out the lady is 91 and you woke her from her early bedtime routine.”

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