“Find a job you love,” they tell you.
“Follow your passions and the money will come.”
Which is all great when you’re 25 and trying to figure out a career, but when you’re 16 and just want some cash so that you can pay a 22-year-old with neck tattoos to buy you beer, there is only one factor that really matters: Does it pay? If the answer is “yes” then you’re all set. It will build character, it will enlighten you on the sort of work you want to avoid in the future, and it will get you those fat minimum wage stacks.
There are no judgements when it comes to summer work. Are you shoveling elephant poop at the zoo? You might be a zoologist one day! Folding underwear at Fredrick’s of Hollywood? In five years it’ll show up on your resume as “worked in the fashion industry.” And of course, no matter how humiliating your summer employment is, it will make for a good story when you’re older.
With this in mind, we asked Uproxx writers to talk about their worst summer jobs:
Summer Camp Counselor
#SorryNotSorry but other people’s kids are the worst, especially when you’re a summer camp counselor charged with making sure they stay alive long enough to warrant their no-longer-annoyed parents’ return. Doesn’t matter if you’re working for the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, a performing arts camp, or a facility without a specific focus. Taking care of a bunch of whiny, bratty sh*tholes when you’re a teenager or a college student sucks. The kids usually don’t want to be there, and you’re only there for the money. Even though, of course, the camp doesn’t pay you nearly enough (though the free room and board is nice), and none of the cans of mixed vegetables can actually talk. What a complete crock! — Andrew Husband
My worst summer job was caddying. The money was fine for a kid in the late ’90s, but it didn’t make up for the (multiple) golf clubs thrown at me or for the time that I beaned with a ball right between the shoulder blades when I was distracted while forecaddying. I had an impression of a ball in my skin, dimples and all, for a day. Driving golf carts is still more fun than driving a car, though. I don’t know why, it just is. That’s my big takeaway from that job. — Jason Nawara
I had a friend who ran a duct cleaning business and offered to give me a job at 15 bucks an hour, which was a lot of money for this 22-year-old back in the year 2000. I realized pretty quickly, however, that the job was a nightmare. I wasn’t pushing a Swiffer up through air ducts. I was crawling up under the hoods of industrial restaurant stoves, scraping the rock hard grease and grime off the insides of the exhaust chutes. I was pressure washing pigeon crap off roof vents — a substance so nasty it’s considered hazardous waste. And after the two days of hot, dirty, smelly work, the company would get a $2000 check, $200 of which went to me. I left after two weeks. It took a couple more weeks for the grease stains and smells to leave as well. — Ryan Harkness
Basically, all my jobs other than FilmDrunk have been a nightmare, so in the interests of streamlining I’ll just choose the one with the best story. Summer after high school I worked at my friend’s family’s packing house, and being that I was mostly an unemployable moron at the time, I probably got the leftover jobs no one else wanted. The first task I was assigned there was assisting a forklift driver named Henry with taking all of the racks that hold the pallets out of the grape cold storage and sandblasting them so that they could be repainted. Two things you should know: One, Henry was a Latino dude with lots of tats and a walrus mustache who called me “Vic” for an entire Summer. Two, this was in Fresno County, CA, and the average temperature in the Summer is about 100 degrees. Oh, also, a sandblaster is a machine that shoots sand out of it hard enough to remove paint from things.
Okay, so, now the scene is set. Henry is in the sandblasting suit and goggles, going to town on these massive, unwieldy metal racks that have to be rotated by me and a few other knuckleheads (meaning I’d get my fingers and knuckles smashed between metal things once every few days or so). I need to get Henry’s attention, and the machine is very loud, so I tap him on the shoulder. As he turns around, he turns his head, shoulders, and sandblasting nozzle all together, so that by the time he’s looking at me, he has sandblasted the jeans off of part of my legs. Good times. Stay in school, kids. — Vince Mancini
Telemarketing. As expected, there were a lot of people happy to hang up on you, curse you out, or reenact that Seinfeld scene. I quickly learned that being a jerk with the rookie on the phone won’t change a situation, and that there are indeed people willing to buy crap from a stranger on the phone.
Cleaning Company At Amish Restaurant
My first job ever was working for a cleaning company vacuuming the local massive Amish tourist trap restaurant after hours, between my junior and senior year in high school. I would go in at 10 p.m. and get home around one in the morning. It was awful — I seethed at every piece of chicken and every green bean I had to pick up off the floor because people weren’t decent enough to pick them up while they ate. Plus, I was dating my now-husband at the time and would have to cut our dates short to go to work. I didn’t last more than a month at the job, though: I just stopped going to work one day because I had forgotten to ask off for a reunion I was going to. They didn’t even call me. Turnover was that bad. — Emily Huffman
Like anyone that’s worked at a lot of call centers, my all-consuming life goal is to never return to call center work. It’s like having your soul waterboarded. One of the call center jobs I had was for a company that was a money transfer service for prisoners. If you wanted to send money to someone in prison and needed customer support, you’d talk to me. Or you might have yelled at me because your Moneygram order was f*cked up by a Wal-Mart clerk and your boyfriend is about to be murdered by Aryan thugs. Sometimes the “client” in prison would also be on the line and mutter stuff like “better not f*ck this up, b*tch” at their girlfriend/mom/grandma. I cleaned up cheddar topping popcorn puke and bodily fluid out of carpets at a discount movie theater, but call center work still grosses me out more. — Dan MacRae
Highway Department Seasonal Worker
Some of my tasks included discarding dead roadkill (this could be a separate novella of grossness, particularly the smell when rolling up to the building where you discarded it), spraying weeds with poison, and re-paving roads in 100-degree heat. My grizzled co-workers always made me use the jackhammer to break up the old road because I was so scrawny — my whole upper body would vibrate. This was for about $7 an hour (minimum wage then was $6.25). It also wasn’t so bad when you weren’t actually working. I learned how to piss in the middle of a busy intersection (reverse a wheelbarrow and put it on your shoulders and you’ve got a personal port-a-john) and how to crack and roll a blunt in a jostling truck. I learned how to function getting drunk every night and also picked up how to drive stick because those were the only trucks they had. Also, it taught me how to do remedial manual labor with heavy machinery while still legally drunk from the night before. Both the work and the drinking made what came in college seem like a convent. –Spencer Lund
Porn Shop Cashier
I spent 2 months working as cashier in a seedy porn shop. After being trained on a till I was given an instructional DVD about “Baton Fighting” and told to watch it when it was slow. The reason was, of course, that we had a selection of collapsible batons and a tactical flashlight hidden under the counter. Apparently a previous employee had been stabbed during an overnight and suffered nerve damage so now all new employees had to train to be Gambit. I realized I had to make some serious changes in my life. — Jimmy Andreakos
Cemetery Yard Worker
The summer after my freshman year of college I got a job at the cemetery right next to the house I was living in. It was my task to follow the lawnmower with a weed whacker up and trim the grass around the headstones. In retrospect, it doesn’t sound so bad, but at the time, following around a lawn mower in the bug-infested heat of the summer didn’t seem like an ideal way to earn a little extra money. Very little extra money, it turned out, as the job only paid minimum wage.
Once my first day was over, I went to visit a friend of mine who was working at Blimpie’s, also near the house I was living in (this was a great neighborhood). I learned that he got paid a whole nickel an hour more than I did, not to mention getting to work in air-conditioning. After I got sick from heatstroke in the bathroom, he told me they were hiring and asked if I wanted a job. I quit the cemetery the following day. —Christian Long
Grocery Store Deli Clerk
I have had some real zingers of summer jobs that ranged from being sexually harassed by a 30-something manager at 19 and having bread products hurled at my head on multiple occasions at two completely different jobs (long story, hit me up over drinks sometime). But probably my hands down summer job experience was at a prominent east coast chain grocery store in the deli/seafood department in college.
In addition to the endless sanitary horrors I uncovered during my time there (we were not allowed to throw anything away, ever — not rancid meat, moldy cheese, expired deli salads, or dead shellfish) I had to go to the ER twice in three months due to horrendously unsafe working conditions. Also, one time I had to call 911 when two customers got into a fist fight over who was first in line and a lady actually bit another lady. They did ban the instigator from the store after that so none of us had to deal with her again, so at least that was cool of them. — Stacey Ritzen
Back in ’95, knives — like pocket knives — were displayed in glass cases at outdoor stores. The actual knife was wired to a board with wadded up pieces of paper used to keep its various blades partially open. At the end of a season, big companies sent those boards back for new ones. I worked at a wholesaler called Coast Cutlery and my job was to cut all the wires, take out the wadded pieces of paper, and fold the knives back up. I sliced my fingers literally hundreds of times in a summer. While I worked, the general manager of the company played old tapes from radio shows — The Bickersons was one I remember — which is probably where I fell in love with storytelling.
Eventually, I started asking what happened to all the used display knives. The owner of the company let me take them to gun shows and sell them off. Used knives were a lucrative business and it helped pay for my first year of college, so I guess it doesn’t classify as a bad job at all — except that my fingers will always be covered in scars. — Steve Bramucci
After almost three whole years of screwing around as a front end supervisor at a big box retailer I was promoted (Ha!) to a real job as the Garden Manager where I promptly realized that work is hard and that flowers are assholes that die all the time and that that is my fault. For this job, I got a small raise which took me to $8.50 an hour. One night, I was forced to push 16 pallets of potting soil across the length of the store and the outdoor yard with a pallet jack and my flabby arms because there was no fork lift available. Then I went to a friends house and drank two bottles of Boone’s Farm. I was a God. I also rescued a kitten from under a pallet once and raised him as my own. A gentle God.
One day, in the heat of the summer, my boss yelled at me about patio block dust in the yard around where the patio blocks were sold and then threatened my job for the eleventy-seventh time. I walked across the street on lunch that and got a job as a cashier making $10.00 an hour for another big box retailer. I quit a few days later while in my underwear on the phone in my kitchen (a move I’ve used few times). — Jason Tabrys
So, what’s been your absolute worst summer job?