Labor Day Tales: Blood, Guts, Gift Wrap and Day Care

When asked to name some of my most challenging jobs, I tend to recall employment of my youth, before I turned 30.

I’ll leapfrog over my earliest baby-sitting jobs (at 50 cents an hour), because those don’t really count. And I’ll skip my stint as a teenage motel maid at the Casa Blanca, because it’s universally accepted that a motel maid is among the worst jobs imaginable. I won’t elaborate because you may be eating, but two words should sum the most disgusting aspects quite nicely: bodily fluids.

One of my first grown-up jobs was at the then-brand new J.C. Penney at the equally new Mt. Shasta Mall. I was a 20-year-old newlywed with a Dorothy Hamill haircut. I can’t recall my home address at that time, but I still remember my Penney’s associate number: 305. I felt as if I’d won the lottery when I was placed in the gift-wrapping department, where I knew I’d become a legendary gift-wrapping super star. Dream-job easy.

Enter the customer who made me hate my job and question my gift-wrapping talents. His hairdryer purchase for his new bride ruined everything.  (Note to guys: Hairdryers are not romantic.) The hairdryer came in its own pistol-shaped cardboard box, all sharp angles. Our department lacked larger boxes for me to place the hairdryer in, so the man impatiently told me it was no big deal, just hurry up and wrap the hairdryer box.

I never took geometry in high school, but had I, it would have come in handy when wrapping that eight-sided box. The man glared as I struggled. I eventually wrapped the !*%&# box, but it took about five times longer than a standard shirt-box wrapping job, and it was a mess of patch-worked paper and criss-crossed tape and a big bow to try to distract one’s attention from the crappy wrapping. This was back before God invented gift bags.

I was transferred to the children’s department soon after.

By the next year I’d found a job working for a nice dentist as his front-office receptionist. I was pregnant with my first child, still at the stage when certain smells, like frying bacon, could make my stomach flip. No frying bacon in a dental office, so that wouldn’t be a problem, silly.

All went well until the day the dental assistant went home sick while the doctor was in the middle of doing full-mouth extractions on a man who was getting dentures.

I’d assisted on simple things before, like fillings. For those times, I concentrated on holding that little aspirator tube so the patient’s mouth didn’t fill with saliva. I was pretty good at that. I pretended I was vacuuming a tiny swimming pool.

But I’d never encountered anything that included blood, which was a good thing because I have a fairly weak stomach when it comes to blood and guts stuff (see motel maid, above). In fact, since childhood, my sisters could make me gag by just pretending they were vomiting.

The dentist apologized, but said he had no choice but to ask for my help.

I lasted through about three extractions before I became aware that the patient was sort of moaning … not in pain … just groaning and moving, which reminded me that there was a real person there, not the frozen Foster Farms chicken I’d been imagining to cope with the extractions. Equally sickening was the growing collection of extracted teeth – decayed and discolored – Tooth Fairy rejects – on the tray.  I started seeing spots and hearing a high-pitched buzz. I barely made it to the bathroom.

The dentist was sympathetic, and coaxed me out of the bathroom, where he led me to another room and gave me a little oxygen, just long enough to get my strength up so I could return to assist with the groaning man with the bloody mouth.

We repeated that scene – of me rushing for the bathroom and the dentist coaxing me out with cool cloths and oxygen – a few more times before the appointment was over.  I consider that the official end of my dental assisting career.

Later, as a young mother, I endured one of the most miserable winters of my life when I decided to do day care in my home through a county program that provided child care for mothers on public assistance. After all, I was home with my three kids. How much worse would it be to have three or four additional children under foot?

Worse cubed on steroids.

I felt trapped, because we had just one car and my husband needed it for work. My kids resented my divided attention. The caliber of kids – and parents – was pretty rough. Toddlers often arrived in urine-soaked pajamas that smelled like cigarette smoke, and the kids talked like sailors. I lasted until spring and then quit.

On this Labor Day, I give thanks for the jobs I’ve held over the years, and all I’ve learned. Sure, there have been a few bumps here and there, but nothing that my previous training didn’t help me overcome.

In honor of Labor Day, let’s hear it: Your worst jobs.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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19 Responses

  1. Avatar CoachBob says:

    One of the best jobs I ever had–and partly the worst at the same time–was as a tour guide at Shasta Caverns in 1966. The caves were 3 years old (to the public) and meeting people from all over the world was a blast. And, I got to shoot my mouth off through the whole tour! Always a plus.

    However, every so often, the boss would have me dress in grubbies and clean out the porta-potties around the lower chalet by the lakeside. Remember, the only way to get to the caves was by boat. Those porta-potties had to be cleaned by hand.

    That meant a 5-gallon bucket and a 4-quart sauce pan. One scoop at a time. Reach in, scoop, pour into the big bucket, scoop again. Took about half the day to do this to all the potties. I got paid a bonus for this, but still….

    My last day working there was when they hired a new guy to run things and he ordered me to take a tour late in the day…after being in those porta-potties all afternoon…and I was horrified that those poor folks had to put up with my "odor" all the way through the caves.

    There ya go. Kinda sorry you asked now.


    • OK, OK, you win! I'll take my motel maid job ANY day over your porta-potty scooping.

      • Avatar CoachBob says:

        For what it's worth, and not that you need to know this, the women's porta's (and there were "men" and "women" portas) were the very worst. Guess it was 'cause of the volume of paper products. (Sorry)

  2. Avatar Donna Weese says:

    By far, the worst job I ever had was working for Bank of America right out of high school. It was during the height of the disco scene, and I was not exactly a fan. All the ladies I worked with were disco deva's to the extreme. 'Office politics' took on a whole new meaning! I wound up performing duties that were way beyond my job description while they did their nails, hair, makeup etc. every few minutes. Everything I ever wanted to know about disco (which was more than I wanted to know) was in my face 9 to 5. They were relentless when it came to critiquing my hair, makeup etc. and especially my obvious lack of fashion sense. I didn't own a single piece of disco apparel! Since I was very young and the new girl, they tried every female tactic they knew to humiliate me & load me down with work I had not been trained for. Consequently, I was called on the carpet more than I deserved, since the boss was the Disco Queen that reigned over the dept. Even the president at the bank was known to bust out a move at work! Needless to

    say, I'd finally had enough when they started harassing me in the ladies room. The so called 'adults' took peer pressure bullying to a whole other level. I had my final say the next day, showing up to work in my stall mucking overalls and giving them all a hug goodbye as I quit! Nowdays, I actually enjoy a little disco music now & then. It makes me laugh!

  3. Avatar Sandy Tincher says:

    My worst jobs would have been in High School. I lived down in the valley at Delano. I wanted to earn extra money to buy school clothes with as my mother made most of my clothes and I didn't always agree with her style. So I graded potatoes, graded strawberries, picked grapes, but the worst was picking cotton. I only lasted half a day at that. The cotton had spikes that you had to get between to pick out the cotton. I kept sticking my fingers. I only lasted half a day and quit. My other worst was working as a motel maid and I only lasted a couple of days there as I also couldn't take the bodily fluids–ugh. But eventually I became a teacher and loved working with children so it all worked out.

  4. Avatar Cindy Valdez says:

    My worst job did not start out as my worst until 4 years into it. I worked as an LVN and initially started my job with a staff of five LVN/RN's working. Each doing their own assignment. I watched the company gradually get rid of the treatment nurse, desk nurse and charge nurse…leaving two LVN's to do medications and all the previous jobs. When we needed an RN to hang a IV narcotic/antibiotic we were told to wait while they were in meeting for an hour, and that they were not to help us. Since legally only an RN could do that job they had no choice. This went on for quite a while. I even helped out doing all the treatments in the whole wing at times, beings that I was employee of the month the year before I just kept digging deep and working hard. Finally we did get a new RN charge nurse, I helped train and some other people. It just made it more chaotic. When the Administrator told me we were shot one day despite this situation going on for month I told her I quit. The hardest thing was watching four nurses that were there four eventually be threatened to leave or have the licenses on the line in order for the company to save money and hire nurse that were $15 cheaper. Hopefully times will change!

  5. Avatar Cindy Valdez says:

    * shot=short

  6. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    Maybe it's my dementia kicking in . . or just the Pollyanna side of my character raising it's head, but I honestly don't remember a horror-filled job. Boredom was much more the culprit rather than anything ugly. Have you ever played music for five hours on a Tuesday evening to a an audience that consisted solely of two inebriated salesmen sitting at the bar? My husband would say, "Just pretend they aren't there (because they really weren't) and call it rehearsal!"

    • Avatar Handouts Don't says:

      What a great attitude!

      I don't remember any horror-filled jobs either. Granted, there were people I didn't care to work with and task that weren't enjoyable at times. However, overall it's been great!

      I love what I did for a living and career, and love my part time job now.

      People should be more grateful for the opportunities they have in life – no matter if that's being a motel maid, flipping burgers or whatever. Just be glad you have a job!

    • Avatar CoachBob says:

      No, Adrienne, it's your dementia!

    • I LOVE that "call it a rehearsal" attitude! I'll be using that one.

  7. Avatar Handouts Don't says:

    Thank you Doni for this very refreshing article and discussion.

    Lots of interesting jobs and interesting situations for folks here.

    It just goes to show you with a hard work how you can get ahead. Much better than waiting for a government or social service agency handout, or depending upon someone to take care of you!

  8. Avatar Meredith says:

    Wow, I've had so many jobs and here were some I really didn't like, but I always tried my best to have fun no matter what I was doing.

    My first real job was working the drive-thru at Burger King. They had just opened a new restaurant and a bunch of my friends and I all got jobs. Hanging out the drive-thru window talking to the customers was pretty fun. In high school I had a job at a clothing store and I'll never forget the weekend I started some silly grapefruit diet when I was scheduled to work something like 10-hour shifts for sidewalk sale during a heat-wave (that's what they call it in the Bay Area when the weather hits 90). I kept getting dizzy and fainting and was finally sent home.

    In college at Chico State I had a job I really, really hated working for Dominos delivering pizza in '30 minutes or less or it's free'. Stupid Frat boys would leave me standing on the porch ringing the doorbell until I would be 'late' and had to call in to my manager and explain what happened and had to give them a free pizza. Of course I got no tip. And they never really told you to drive fast to get there but it was understood that you would get fired if too many of your deliveries ended up being free. My car broke down so I showed up to work on my bicycle. I swore I could deliver the pizza as long as it wasn't too far away. I was fired on the spot and couldn't have been happier. I hated their pizza.

    During my summers in college I was a lifeguard at the Fremont Swim Lagoon. What a great job – get a tan (yes, mom I was wearing sunscreen, I swear!), hang out with a great group of coworkers, save a life every now and then, and a paycheck too? Wow! That was one of my favorite jobs but also the worst when I had to do 'cup patrol': get a cup from the snack bar, poke a hole in the bottom of it then wander out into the water to scoop up the floating poop/s that a swimmer left in the water. Ewwww! Fortunately that duty – no pun intended- was left exclusively for the rookies.

    As an adult probably the worst ever has to be Sep. 11, 2001. At that time I was working as a corporate travel agent and had business travelers on the go all over the world. I can't tell you the number of scared, stranded business travelers I talked to that day and into the night that wanted nothing more than to be home with their loved ones and there wasn't a darn thing I could do as the airports shut down for 5+ days. Very frustrating, heart-wrenching, sad day I will never forget. And thanks to that act of terrorism we now have extra fees on airline tickets, delays at airports due to increased security, complaints with airport and airline experiences at an all-time high, and an industry that has yet to rebound from that awful experience and probably never will.

  9. Avatar Sally says:

    Only writing this Doni because my first paying job was in high school at a toy store wrapping gifts that parents, grandparents or friends purchased for a young one. Together with ironing, wrapping a gift was not one of my God given talents, for sure. However, because I was young and the customer usually was grateful for any ideas for an appropriate gift, I ended up on the sales part instead of the wrapping part. Thank goodness!! Unfortunately my ironing skills have not improved though there is not much ironing required these days…and my gifts, as hard as I try, are surely nothing to brag about as far as the wrapping is concerned.

  10. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Doni, You didn't mention your job at the R/S, did you? Maybe that's a no-no. My worst job couldn't compare to the others I just reads about. Could be the worst job at times was putting up with the manager of the bank where I worked — too bad, I quit before she was fired.

    • No, I didn't mention that job, or working for Quality Digest magazine, or the job selling Princess House Crystal, or working as a counselor at Camp Woodhill, or working at Shasta Natural Science Association/Turtle Bay, or working as an aide at Monte Vista School, or teaching kids cooking for Redding Parks and Rec, or working with friend Darcie teaching job seeking skills to workers comp clients. I'm probably forgetting some. 🙂

  11. Avatar NIKKI says:

    When we were kids in the late 50's the pear packing plant in our small town would hire many of us. It was great as we managed to make enough for new school clothes. My job was a pear sorter. Now that was boring. The good pears went on by to the packers. Deformed ones went down a shoot at one side for canning and bad ones went down the other shoot to become baby food. Yes they did. I think we tossed a few up also to go somewhere else. The bosses walked on catwalks above us and we were absolutely not allowed to talk to each other. One of them carried a yardstick with her. We did get really good at talking out of the corner of our mouths. I knew all the verses to Little Orphant Annie and would recite it in my mind over and over. It took 5 minutes at a time. I passed the time. At some point they promoted me to resorter where the pears went by me at 50MPH and you were supposed to find all the dregs that about 10 sorters had missed. These all had to be tossed up. I lasted about 2 days. My shoulders ached sooo bad and I was embarrased as there were older gals who did just fine at it. They must have been at least 40 years old!!!

    In my later years, after retirement, I went to work for a contractor who had laundrys, showers, and equipment that was hired mostly on forest fires. The shifts were 12 hours at a time. Imagine the weight loss. It was great and I went places and saw sights in several different states that would not have ever happened to me if not for the job . The best and the worst of it was going to New Orleans for four months after Katrina. An experience that is almost impossible to relate. It was amazing to be there and then, end up right in the middle of another hurricane, Rita. We did live through it, but had to talk to someone at home the next morning to find out what had actually happened during the night.

    The devastation from Katrina was just mind boggling. I was stunned at the open amount of predjudice. There was no law and order. It was comparable to the wild west in my mind. I saw two guys draw their guns on each other out in the road. At least they did not shoot. I always wanted to see the Mississippi River and then we were living on it in a small cruise ship from South America. Our cabin, my brother and our niece if you can imagine that living arrangement, was three stories down under water and we were right next to the crews quarters. They were supposed to have their own bathrooms-showers, but every now and then when you least expected it, use your imagination here, one or another of them would show up in the facilities when we were using them. They did leave, although grudgingly. My brother would indulge a wee bit after hours and expound on his political, religious, etc., etc., views. I was told to quiet him down a little. Hahahaha. He was sure going to listen to his older sis. I expected all of us to be thrown overboard and and up in the bottom of the Mississippi.

    You can imagine how wonderful it was to be home to my dogs and family. (cat too) I have always valued the experience and I wish I could write about it the way it should be written.

    There were a couple of other miserable jobs way back along the way and some really great ones also.

    I have no regrets.

  12. Avatar pmarshall says:

    You have been a very busy lady, Doni. I believe your forte is in the written word at which you are very good. Love reading all your articles.