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JV
Posted on Friday, September 26, 2003 - 08:06 pm:   

I've been intermittently recalling some of the very odd experiences I've had working at various jobs over the years, on my blog: http://www.vanderworld.blogspot.com.

Just curious if anyone has any odd jobs or odd job experiences they'd care to share. This could be a lot of fun.

JeffV
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Jay Lake
Posted on Friday, September 26, 2003 - 09:06 pm:   

Um, odd experiences? Loads. I could write a book. Erm...

Odd jobs? Well, I was visa clerk at the American Consulate in Kaduna, Nigeria at the age of 15 if that counts.

My favorite odd job-odd experience story is being a finish painter in Sofia, Bulgaria the summer In turned 18. We could only get oil-based paint locally, so we had to be pretty thoughtful about how long we worked in enclosed spaces, etc.

Well, the Ambassador wanted the bathrooms painted inside the secure area of the embassy. The Bulgarian crew I worked with didn't have clearances for that, so the Ambassador's two sons (17 and 19) were seconded to me for the job. We wound up painting a bathroom on one of the upper floors -- the embassy was in a converted nightclub, btw -- which was built into the stairwell and had no exterior ventilation at all.

Somewhere in the middle of the project we all slipped over the edge into Happy Fumes Land. My senior year in high school (at Choate) we had produced 'Cabaret' as the spring musical, on which I worked in a technical capacity, which meant I'd seen the show about fifty times. I taught the other two guys the words to the Horst Wessel song as it's scored in that play.

There we were in the bathroom in the stairwell bellowing "Zee sun on zee meadow is summery warm, zee stag in zee forest runs free" at the top of our lungs in our best Sergeant Schulz accents. The song echoed up and down the entire building apparently, because my dad (Deputy Chief of Mission) came charging into the bathroom.

Dad (angry): "Do you have any idea what you are singing!"

Jay (happy): "Yeah! The Hitler Youth Hymn!"

Dad: "Well the Chief Inspector for all the embassies in Europe is in the building."

Jay (with chorus of buddies): "Oh, wow."

Dad: "And he's JEWISH!!!"
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Liz
Posted on Saturday, September 27, 2003 - 12:11 am:   

Jay. Oh dearie me...

One of the worst jobs I ever had (cue Pete and Dud sketch) was selling bunches of roses round restaurants and nightclubs. People are not in general happy to be interrupted during their dinner, and the nightclub bit of it was grim. I once had a cigarette stubbed out on my hand. The owner of a big Chinese restaurant backed me against the wall in the (dark) car park and demanded a dozen roses free for his wife's birthday, 'or I'll send someone to break your employer's legs'. And people would visibly and clumsily try to cheat you.

However, it has all gone to make me the tolerant, sunny-natured naif that I am today...
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Liz
Posted on Saturday, September 27, 2003 - 12:15 am:   

I also read tarot on Brighton pier ("Gypsy Rose Liz") and that was really pleasant. The woman who ran the booth was the friend of a friend, and leased it out - I only met her once. She knocked on the door of the little booth and I opened it to see nothing. Then I looked down, and there was an elf with bright green hair. She professed to be half Finnish and half Sioux, which from her appearance, I could actually believe.

And the clients were great, except for one poor woman who stepped through the door and promptly collapsed, wailing "I've got a husband and two small children. I've just been diagnosed with cancer. Should I leave them and go and live with my boyfriend, or stay??"
The cards did, happily, give some kind of pertinent advice...which as those who know the Tarot also know, is not invariably the case.
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JV
Posted on Saturday, September 27, 2003 - 05:24 am:   

These are great! Oh, boy. If the cabinets weren't enough, I can suddenly see another (nonfiction) anthology looming...or at the very least (Luis permittin') an internet survey...

Jeff
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Luís
Posted on Saturday, September 27, 2003 - 06:28 am:   

Holy crap.

Well, the oddest job I had was at a computer store. There's nothing odd about it per se, except that I got to meet a fair share of freaks. Bear in mind I'm not talking about computer illiterate people, I'm talking about Freaks.

They ran from people who broke their cell phones by jumping up and down on them, to a man who came in with a burn mark on his eyebrow after he tried to brand his computer parts with a welder. We suspected he wanted to bring the computer in for an upgrade but was afraid we'd steal stuff. He burnt his face in the dark when the fusebox blew up, aparently the machine was *on* as he was branding it. And then there was this other guy who came round *every day* and hovered by his computer, sometimes past closing time, until it was repaired at last.

Possibly the father and uncle of all freaks was this irritatingly arrogant old man who claimed to descend from the first King of Portugal. He refused to let us touch his computer unsupervised because he worked for the "Portuguese secret service" and the hard disks contained "classified material" we weren't allowed to look at. Everyone thought it was really huge stacks of pornography, but such conjectures remain unconfirmed, as he was constantly onto us and took everything home for the night.

There are more, I met all sorts of strange people during my time there, but I must refresh my memory first.

Best,
Luís
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ben peek
Posted on Saturday, September 27, 2003 - 05:39 pm:   

it's not an odd job, but i worked as a projectionist in movie theatres for about five or so years.

one place i worked at was an old cinema in the middle of sydney, with these intricate fire escapes that worked their way like an insane dictator's escape plan throughout the building until they ended at either doors or thin, rickety ladders to the tiny, dank bio boxes that the projectors were in. anyhow, these passages were fucking awful: they stank of piss and shit and had bottles of cheap wine and the such littered through them, and they were, slowly, becoming their own ecology.

anyhow, the reason for this, was that winos and homeless guys would sneak in through the doors, but what also was happening, was that there was this one middle aged projectionist who, at the start of his night shift around six or so, would begin drinking until he was drunk, and then at about midnight or one, would scurry down through the passages, puking and pissing, and leaving the fire escape doors cracked open so homeless guys could sleep there. there were a couple of times when i'd show up in the morning, and find a greying, faded old homeless guy curled up in the corner of the fire escape with his stuff, sleeping.

also, at this same cinema, on the weekend, they'd have midnight shifts where they would play cult films like 'a clockwork orange' and 'the rocky horror picture show'. mostly you'd get thirty or forty people, but once a month, you could be assured that you would get a big group of people who would show up completely in costume from each film, and, calmly, politely, buy their tickets, line up in their fishnet stockings and in their white suits with bowler hats, and then quietly go in and watch the film without ever an ounce of trouble, before comign out, still likewisely dressed, to enter the streets of sydney and catch public transport home.

(well, i was never sure about the last, but the idea of twenty or thirty people dressed like the people from 'a clockwork orange' climbing onto the bus was always a favourite little fantasy of mine.)
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Minz
Posted on Sunday, September 28, 2003 - 06:50 am:   

Ranging from farmwork (four words of wisdom: Cow farts, shit flies . . . ) to custodial work in old folks home (I'll take the farm any day), from door-to-door canvasser for toxic waste cleanup (during the Reagan years, talk about thankless) to dishwasher in a Chinese fast food joint (ugh) from building inspector to construction--actually it was de-construction (asbestos abatement).

There were a lot of weird moments with the asbestos work (beyond the setting up the containment area, the decontamination chambers, and the various respirators and funny paper suits). The highlights included taking a sledgehammer and sawzall with a diamond-edged blade to the state capitol building of Wisconsin, to crawling in a tunnel on top of pipes because there was live electricity coursing through the water filling the bottom of the tunnel. (I saw a lot of crawlspaces and all of the dark corners and spaces of many buildings--you wouldn't believe the shit's that out there in buildings you walk by/go into every day.) Or walking across six-inch beams along the ceiling of a factory, a good 35 feet above the factory floor (we don't need no stinkin' safety tether). Oh, and the jousting: we occasionally used those self-contained wheeled units that have buckets on the end of hydraulic arms to help us reach those factory ceilings, etc. And at one particular job site, we jousted with the things, with garbage can lids and broomsticks. The things had a top speed of about 15 miles-an-hour. I'm still kind of surprised no one got hurt during that tourney.
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Laura Anne
Posted on Sunday, September 28, 2003 - 11:10 am:   

The oddest job I've ever had/will ever have is my current one. No way I'd ever deal with the, um, range of personalities I do as an editor anywhere else. And that's not even taking into account the wannabees and slush pile writers. Or the folk who come out of the basement only for their local writers' conference...

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John Klima
Posted on Sunday, September 28, 2003 - 05:19 pm:   

Two odd jobs occurred at the same workplace. I worked for Waste Management at a landfill. When I started, I was a temporary employee to take over for a woman on maternity leave. I weighed the trucks as they came in and then out of the landfill (the difference being how much trash they carried in and what they were charged).

They liked me enough that I was hired on full-time, as a sales person. I sold the landfill's special waste disposal services (i.e. asbestos, liquid waste, expired ice cream, mis-labeled teriyaki sauce [the Kikkoman factory was up the road], etc.). I got to blind call all sorts of businesses to try and interest them in special waste disposal.

The coolest/creepiest day with the company was when we went to their local toxic waste disposal plant. We walked around warehouses filled with 50-gallon drums labeled: 'Poison,' 'Corrosive,' 'Explosive,' 'Radioactive,' etc. It was very quiet there. Cool facility to tour (which you couldn't do unless you were an employee) but creepy all the same.

Worked for Wendy's for 9 years through high school and college (went from $3.45/hour fry guy to manager; lots of great stories from this place).

I also cleaned a bar while in college. Nothing like being 20 years old with the keys to a large bar.

JK
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Luís
Posted on Sunday, September 28, 2003 - 05:40 pm:   

There was an article a few weeks ago about the worst jobs in the name of science, and I think it's safe to assume that being a livestock masturbator puts us all to shame re our past/current jobs . . . in a manner of speaking . . .

I'll try to fish the URL for you if I can still find it.
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Luís
Posted on Sunday, September 28, 2003 - 05:43 pm:   

Here it is. You may have to copy and paste the address into your browser to get it to work:

http://www.popsci.com/popsci/science/article/0,12543,484153-1,00.html
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LeslieWhat
Posted on Sunday, September 28, 2003 - 05:48 pm:   

I worked for a health food distributor. My boss lived off of Spirulina, this green seaweed stuff that is supposed to be healthy. He always had green stringy stuff stuck between his teeth.

One of my duties was to clean the bee parts from the bee pollen. The pollen was really expensive and I sat by a small conveyor belt and watched a thin stream pass by. Whenever I saw a bee head or bee butt I used my sucky thing (like a dentist's sucky thing for spit) and sucked up the bee parts. After an hour or two it all started to look like bee parts and they'd pull me off the line and have me go into the warehouse to fill orders.

My boss with the green teeth ate all the bee parts and pollen because it was too expensive to toss out.

I met Dr. Bronner at a health food fair (his booth was across from ours)
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MI Wells
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 04:16 am:   

Hi Folks:

I'm new here. I hope its OK if I join in.

I have had quite a few odd jobs in my life. The major careers include: scientist, voice artist, teacher, audio producer, gov't official, and public health maven in no particular order.

Of the official careers, I think the voice artist was the strangest. Standing in a sound booth and reading the same lines over and over and over, while a producer or two asks for minute changes in vocal inflection.

Imagine what its like to say, "sweet" fifty times in a row, sometimes breathy, sometimes perky, or with a variety of accents ranging from deep south to the Russian far east.

Listening to the playback and watching the producer's decision process always fascinated me as well.

They invariably wanted something "different" - (i.e. other than what I had already done) But over time I learned to humor them and pretended to try something new, that in fact I had already delivered several times.

I also read tarot for spending money in college and can commiserate with Liz.

Isabelle
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Jay Caselberg
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 06:20 am:   

Let's see...veterinary assistant, potwasher, macrame teacher, newspaper editor, typesetter, electrician's labourer, fry cook, busker, rent boy (kidding), cleaner, fruitpicker.

The vet one was weird. I was actually helping out my old man who was a research pathologist who used to do things like put windows in the sides of sheep. It was very, very strange walking into the freezer room at the vet farm. I never knew what I was going to run into in there.
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Luis
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 08:34 am:   

Fruitpicker. That reminds me of when I was picking fruit for my grandfather one Summer and there were these two very strange old men he hired, who often showed up drunk to work at 7 or 8 am and spent the rest of the day cheerfully insulting each other in the most surreal ways imaginable. They usually had witty-sounding comebacks, but they seldom made any sense.

To this day, I remain ignorant about the significance of the question, "Hmm? Want wool, do you?", all I know is that it came up frequently and never failed to kill their, erm . . . conversation for minutes on end.

Best,
Luís
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Laura Anne
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 09:32 am:   

I have been reminded of a rather odd job I held for a very short period of time.

Cocktail waitress.

Yes, I can do the "Bunny stoop." And yes I can also dig my stilleto heel into the instep of a male who tries to grope me. Like I said -- short-term job.

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MI Wells
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 11:18 am:   

Ahh Laura Anne:


Did you ever learn the "Visine revenge" when you were a waitress?

As payback for a grope or a slap, a few drops of Visine in any man's drink will kill his amorous thoughts - usually for several days. . .

Isabelle
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Minz
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 11:37 am:   

>>>There was an article a few weeks ago about the worst jobs in the name of science, and I think it's safe to assume that being a livestock masturbator puts us all to shame re our past/current jobs . . .


At least you're spreading a little joy . . .
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Luis
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 12:18 pm:   

Doesn't look like that Visine thing works as expected, though:

http://www.snopes2.com/toxins/visine.asp

Cheers,
Luís
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MI Wells
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 01:08 pm:   

Why thank you Luis!

It is possible (nay, probable) that Jane hoodwinked me again!

A remarkable woman: Northern Ireland to the Missippi Delta and back. She swore that it was true.

Ever the skeptic. . .I will note that she said that 3-4 drops into the drink was the key - not a whole bottle (or 3-4 ml).

I will have to do a little case- controlled study (with consenting volunteers of course) and get back to you on this.

Isi
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2003 - 08:48 am:   

Don't know about Visine, but there's a reliably horrible alternative detailed (lovingly) in the short story Eating Out towards the end of Irving Welsh's Trainspotting - waiting staff have power, no doubt about it...

Worst job I ever had was trying to teach English as a Foreign Language to a bunch of spoilt brats from the FSR of Georgia whose parents had shipped them off to London to avoid what looked like a nasty incoming war. Age ranged from fifteen to nineteen and the high point was when two of them fell out over the affections of a Spanish student ten years their senior and went off to stab each other in the school toilets. LOTS of blood.
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jeff ford
Posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2003 - 09:39 pm:   

Jeff:

I’ve had so many different jobs in my life that I can’t really remember now how many. Your topic here started me thinking about some of them, and this one I hadn’t thought of in years floated to the surface.

Lynn and I were living in Binghamton, renting the second floor of an old two story house. The couple below us would get loaded every Saturday night and start brawling, breaking plates, throwing furniture, the works. The old guy next door would hang his underwear on the clothesline and wash it with the hose. Lynn had just gotten a job as a nurse, and I had just lost a job and needed to find one. My friend, Larry the Lude, who eventually became a fighter pilot and wound up marrying an air force colonel and having two sets of twins, came by one day and asked me if I wanted to do some painting. He warned me, “It’s kind of dangerous and the pay sucks.” So I said yes. Every morning we went to this old hotel over in the city on State Street in a really dingy part of town. The name of the place was The Windemere. Our job was to paint the stairwells. The guy who was the boss of the job never came on the site, but gave us orders by phone as to what to do. He didn’t have any ladders, so he told us to use shopping carts with an old door on top of them. We would haul this shopping cart up say four or five stories and turn it over on a small landing and put an old door on it and then get up on it and roll the paint out with long rollers. It was a completely rickety, half-assed, set up and if something slipped we would plummet straight down the stairwell to our deaths if we didn’t land on the steps and break a rib or two. We would always get high before starting as to minimize the fear, except occasionally we would remember what we were doing and the stupidity of it would startle us and we would get tense for a few minutes before our minds wandered off to some other better thoughts. Every afternoon, we’d take an hour for lunch and sit in the lobby with desk and chairs and a table with a lamp, all with about two inches of dust covering everything. From the look of the lobby, you would think the place was abandoned. At noon, every day, this guy would come down from one of the rooms above and pass through the lobby. He was heavy set, black hair, a band aid across the bridge of his nose, and thick glasses. He wore work pants and what looked like a mint green pajama shirt. His name was Edward, but Larry and I called him Dick Tracy, because everyday he told us a different story about when he worked for the CIA. He told us he was on the lam basically and living with his mother, hiding out from enemy agents who were trying to track him down to kill him. We’d talk to him for a while and then he would leave and we would crack. The rest of the lunch hour I spent reading Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg Ohio. We worked there for about two weeks and then the inevitable happened, Larry fell off the door. Luckily he hit the stairs and didn’t break a rib, but got some bad bruises and cracked his head. We quit and told the guy on the phone we wanted our money. The guy said he wasn’t going to pay us, but Larry knew where his office was, and he told the guy we were coming over to get our money one way or the other. We went to the guy’s office with bad attitudes, ready to kick some ass. The guy was there, but he had these two giants in there with him, and it was clear fairly quickly that the only asses that were going to be kicked were ours, so we split. The guy had told us to calm down and that he would send us our money. It goes without saying that we never got paid. About a month later, Larry came over to my place with a newspaper. He said read this story here. There was a picture of Edward/Dick Tracy. The story was about how he drowned his mother in their bathtub at The Windemere. I can still remember the first line of the article. It started, a quote from his sister, “He was always the worst on the days it rained…” My only real regret from the job was that I had left my copy of Winesburg Ohio in the closet at the hotel where we stored the paint and rollers. It was a green Modern Library edition I’d gotten in a yard sale. Then, three years later, I was on a bus going from Port Authority in New York to Long Beach Island to see Lynn at her parent’s beach house. This college age girl across the aisle from me in the bus was reading a green Modern Library book about the size I had remembered Winesburg Ohio to be. Seeing the book reminded me of the gothic decrepitude of The Windemere. I couldn’t believe that when she got up to get off the bus in Tom’s River, she left the book behind on the seat. The second the bus started up, I went across the aisle and took her seat, picking up the book. It was Winesburg Ohio. I read the rest of it that I hadn’t finished before quitting the painting job, and when I got out at Barnegat Light, my stop, it was pouring rain.
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GabrielM
Posted on Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - 12:31 am:   

That's pretty good there, Ford. You might want to try your hand at writing some fiction sometime.
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Minz
Posted on Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - 06:55 am:   

I thought it _was_ a piece of fiction . . . (good plot, but it needs fleshing out)
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - 05:14 pm:   

When I was playing in rock bands, I used to work Manpower a lot to supplement my so-called income. One day I got sent to work as a janitor at a power facility in Monroe, Michigan that was undergoing transformation from coal to nuclear. It was supposed to be a choice job, but I had no idea why. We had to go through a couple of security checkpoints to get in, but once inside, the idea of security was a joke. In fact, the job itself was a joke. The place was unionized, and the reason they were hiring temp workers was that the union refused to admit minorities. They had been successfully sued by several organizations, including the NAACP, and the plant had been ordered to hire on two minority union people. They still refused and, as if by way of compensation, they hired on thirty Manpower workers to do the work of two (many of the Manpower workers were minorities, so I guess they saw this as paying at least lip service to the order). There was nothing for us to do, really. My first day, our supervisor came into the dressing room (we all wore jumpsuits) and told us to look busy or keep out of sight. I soon discovered that the facility served essentially as a kind of proletarian theme park, one with many different rides. The coal mills vibrated so heavily they knocked down concrete dust from the ceilings and there were these little vacumm carts you could drive around in. We spent many happy hours seeing who among us could carve the most complicated patterns from the dust using the carts. There were also big hooks suspended from tracks on the ceiling. We would lower the hooks, affix them to the back of our jumpsuits, have another worker hoist us up by punching a button and then, punching another button, they'd send us on thirty-foot high rides the length of the building. Huge coal and water spills lay between the enormous mills and we would have wars, hiding behind the spills of coal and heaving chunks of coal at one another.

Outside was an 800 foot high concrete chimney with doors all up and down the side through which people climbed in to clean the interior. Next to the chimney was a derrick that had attached a wire cage containing a metal bench -- this was used to carry the cleaners up to the doors. It was mostly used, however, for fun and games. Typically, one of old hands would lure a newbie in for a ride and once the cage had been hauled up a couple of
hundred feet, the old hand would begin rocking the cage, swinging it back and forth in ever-widening arcs. This would frequently cause the newbie to lose his lunch. On occasion the men would fight in the cage as it swung wildly about (Vince Macmahon take note), smashing into the chimney and spinning away. Tthose on the ground would not bring the cage down until someone had been subdued.

Inside the plant, you saw dozens of guys walking around with clipboards and timers. I was never certain of their function, but I soon learned that whenever there was big rumble or an extra-heavy vibration, these guys would flee for the exits, while the rest of us just stood there and said, Huh?, and then went on with our games.

Between the fourth and fifth floors was a crawlspace, quite large -- I never came to the end of it. This is where I came to spend most of my days (the job was more-or-less a permanent temporary job). Peering into it, you saw the darkness picked out by lights, and as you crawled deep into it, you found little groups of men, both temporary and union, passing joints and drinking beer and wine, playing cards, some dozing on sleeping bags. My first time back in there, I asked one guy didn't management object to this kind of thing? They don't give a fuck, he said. Hell, man. Christmas we even had some hookers back in here.

The crawlspace was like this oddly seductive troglodyte culture existing within the culture of the plant. I mostly slept, because I was playing music until late at night; but then one day I smuggled in a guitar and would use the time to work on songs. Eventually I got bored and became one of a small cadre who would compete to do actual work. I'm not sure now why I quit. I think I just tired of it. I know when I was working less plesant jobs, like sealing driveways and such, I used to think back longingly to the Monroe plant. I've had some other jobs that were superficially more exotic--bouncer at the Club Amiga in Malaga, working in the black market in the Khan al Khalili bazaar in Cairo--but that janitor gig was by far the strangest of them all.
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JV
Posted on Thursday, October 02, 2003 - 08:16 am:   

Great stories, Jeff and Lucius. This stuff is just fascinating to me.
Jeff
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Laura Anne
Posted on Thursday, October 02, 2003 - 05:18 pm:   

Everyone who thinks Lucius wins, say "aye."

"Aye."
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JV
Posted on Thursday, October 02, 2003 - 05:26 pm:   

Well, I haven't finished recounting my jobs yet. ;) It might be a tie. Although my job stories are all about encounters with bizarre people, not so much the outer facade of the job itself.

There's a piece I want to post, but a magazine is considering it for publication right now--the infamous "pellet" story and my arrest connected with it...{cue: danger music).

Yeah, but I do think Lucius wins. Thus far. Please post more of these, folks! It's vastly entertaining.

Jeff
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, October 02, 2003 - 08:42 pm:   

What do I win? :-)

BTW, Jeff. I've been snowed under with work and I churlishly forgot to thank you for the book and the tape. Much appreciated. Seriously...

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JV
Posted on Friday, October 03, 2003 - 05:51 am:   

You win an I Survived the Weirdest Job T-Shirt that Laura is going to make for you.

You're welcome, no worries! I know the feeling re being busy as heck.

Jeff
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graywyvern
Posted on Friday, October 03, 2003 - 07:59 am:   

one temp job sent me picking up cigarette
butts off a sandy parking lot that was
like a huge catbox, crawling on my hands &
knees underneath huge semi trailers. i did
this for eight hours. made up poems in my
head, & when i got a break, i wrote them
down.

m.
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Iain Rowan
Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2003 - 08:50 am:   

I did a whole host of meaningless jobs after I left school and while I was a student. Looking back, I am glad that I did, because although some were good, some were not, they all got me out of the rut of my immediate social circle, and into another world.

My favourite job was working as a temporary postman at Christmas. This was fun for a lot of reasons. Firstly, it was out in the fresh air, in a country village. Secondly, I could do it at my own pace, with no-one watching over my shoulder. I just went in, drank lots of tea, went out, ambled round, smoked, delivered post, went back for more tea. Thirdly, the quantities of tea. Fourthly, as it was Christmas, everyone was glad to see you. I don't think I've ever been so relaxed. I got given an official post office bike, which was made of some kind of rare metal, denser than lead, and which came from a time before the concepts of brakes or gears had been invented. I also got a big coat, and a big sack, both of which I liked, because it made me feel like Santa Claus.

The only things to be cautious of were dogs and Mr S, who I was warned would Invite Me In, with unspecified consequences. I wondered if I accepted his invitation, I would go in and be made a cup of strange tasting tea and then notice a) the locks on the doors and b) a big pile of big coats and big sacks in a corner. Dogs were simpler: if they looked like they were going to give me a hard time, I didn't deliver the post. If you want your Christmas cards, don't have a furry hulking thing full of teeth roaming your property and trying to eat the person bringing them, or your cards end up dropped in a puddle at your front gate. I didn't get bitten, although there were a couple of close moments, one frantic run, and one moment where I found out that a bag full of post swung hard enough is a bit like Thor's hammer. Best dog was the one that was always in the house, but which lurked behind the door at my approach. As soon as I had pushed half an inch of the letters through the letter box, they would be snatched out of my hand, and from what I could see through the frosted glass, torn apart. At least I assume it was a dog. Maybe it was a baby shoggoth.

The worst job I did was door to door salesman. I had to persuade people to sign up to a book club. The target for our first week was something like thirty sales. I made one. And that was to someone who did door to door sales herself and felt sorry for me. What was good about the job was much like the postie's job – I got to wander around in the fresh air, smoking a lot and chatting to lots of different people. Only drawback was, I didn't chat to them about what I was selling, because a) it was crap and b) it was dull and c) trying to persuade someone to buy something I don't care about is just so not me. So I had lots of chats and lots of cigarettes and ended up agreeing with most people that it would be best, really, if they didn't sign up. I got the sack after a week. Worst part of the job was the two days' training I had to do first. Two days in a hotel suite with some earnest oilslick of a man teaching us 'advanced selling methods', and doing role plays. I sometimes wonder if hell is Satan wearing a shiny suit and making people sit in a room and learn about the Ten Ways Of Closing A Sale. But then I think nah, he can't be that bad.

I worked in a hotel, washing dishes for six months. The manager of the hotel was on the fiddle. We used to take delivery of boxes of venison and salmon, which had to be put in the 'special freezer'. The hotel was part of a chain, and all of the restaurants had the same menus. None of which featured venison or salmon. After I left, I heard that he had been arrested. As well as the food scams, for a couple of years he had been 'paying' an employee who didn't exist. The manager pretended that he was mad, and really believed in this non-existent person, even putting adverts in the local paper asking for him to come forward. Tell it to the judge, everyone who had worked for him said, and he did, and the judge said yeah, right.

I learnt some very useful things at the hotel. One, don't bother trying to clean scrambled egg off two-hour old breakfast dishes. Just wrap them in paper towels so no-one can see what you're doing and throw them in the skip. Yes, assistant manager, we are strangely low on bowls. However can that have happened. Two, don't ever, ever be unpleasant to the waiting staff in a restaurant. I have seen what gets done to the food of those who are. Three, I can eat an 8oz steak, in a toilet cubicle, in 45 seconds. Staff were not allowed to eat food on duty. But then we weren't allowed to drink on duty, smoke on duty, sleep on duty, hide prawns in people's hats on duty, drop customer's food on the floor and then pick it up and cook it on duty, or nip up to the bedrooms with waitresses while on duty, all of which happened with great regularity amongst the staff. I was also assaulted twice by the dishwashing machine, and got given a black eye and needed four stitches in my hand, so I suspect it was something of a puritan and disapproved of our ways.

I worked at a cafe on a railway station, serving people with something that could be mistaken for coffee if you were drunk enough. We also sold plastic boxes with cheeseburgers in them. The test with those was to able to take a bite with your eyes shut and guess whether it was burger or box. We had a lot of tourists came through, and that was where I learnt the difference in body language between the average Briton and average American. Brits would shuffle up to the counter, look at anything but me, and mumble that they'd like a cup of tea, or a bun. The Americans would stride up to the counter, fix me straight in the eye and never look away even for a second, and declare that they would like a cup of coffee. They were invariably polite but I felt as if I were being accused of some kind of crime, or that I was a public figure being grilled on TV over a crucial issue. An interesting cultural difference, I thought. There was also a woman who came through the station every morning, with her owl on her arm. It was beautiful. Another regular was a man who wore a suit and commuted to London regularly, but came across as being rather simple. I wondered if he was on some kind of special scheme. I later found out that he was the Conservative MP for the town.

Later on I worked on a fruit farm, first picking apples (which was great, more fresh air, worked as much as I want, if I wanted to make money, I worked hard, if I didn't, I didn't, we were paid by what we picked so no-one really cared) then sweeping out the huge room-sized walk-in fridges full of imported fruit. This was fantastic, and to this day, I can recall what it was like: blazing hot summer day, then you walk into a cool darkness where every breath is almost overpowered by the smell of lemons, or apples, or melons. Magical. Until we went into one fridge and found a dead dog that one of the owners had put in there, presumably to keep fresh until...well, we never really worked out until what. It was best not to think about it.

I worked in a variety of pubs. One catered mostly to tourists, where as well as serving drinks I learnt to answer questions like 'where is the cathedral?' with grace and good humour, and without resorting to simply pointing out of the window at the ENORMOUS TOWERING MEDIEVAL BUILDING WITH MANY MANY SPIREY BITS OVERSHADOWING THE DAMN PUB and making monkey faces. Sadly the manager, who could have played Mr Toad in any production of Wind in the Willows without prosthetics, decided that I was nicking money out of the till, and our parting was acrimonious, as I wasn't. Strangely enough, the theft continued after I left, and the manager couldn't work out why, and neither could his favourite employee, who spent his entire break times feeding silver into the slot machine and losing.

The bar staff were a great crew: there was me, the thief, a nymphomaniac, a woman in the middle of a doctorate on Byron, if I remember rightly, and two revolutionary communists, both members of the SWP. This led to some very interesting conversations at slack times, where conversation would leap from how capitalism contained within it the seeds of its own destruction to Byron's relationship with Shelley to who M had had the night before in her mum's caravan, via who was going to go down to the cellar and get some more tonic.

The UK used to have demented licensing laws, which meant that pubs could only open on a lunch time and on an evening. It was while I was working there that these were repealed, and all-day opening was introduced. The first few weeks it was all very jolly, as people revealed in their new-found freedom to get slaughtered at four in the afternoon. Then most people went back to drinking at lunchtime, or drinking after work and in the evenings, and the afternoons became a strange twilight world of The Men Along The Bar. The Men Along The Bar were there because they had nowhere else to go, no-one else to talk to, and because they wanted to drink all day, every day, only pausing to tell the barman their life stories (all of which contained the words 'and then she left me' at some point). Every day. Over and over. Again and again.

I went to work in another pub straight after leaving this one, and walked in on my first day to find boards on the windows and construction work going on behind the bar. Are you doing the place up, I asked the landlord. No, he told me. There was a fight in here last night, squaddies (I grew up in a barracks town: my life and health were never put at risk by Russians pouring through the Fulda Gap, but they were by drunken British soldiers rampaging through the town) and locals, and the windows got put out and ashtrays thrown across the bar which shattered all of the windows and broke most of the optics. By the way, welcome, we're sure you'll love it here. Um, right. But in the end, I did.

Ah, they were good days. Well, many of them were rubbish, but there's thirteen years between me and them, so nostalgia brings back the amusing bits and blots out the tedium. For me, at least. For anyone who's read this far, that might be very different.
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MarkFinn
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 12:50 pm:   

Ten years ago, when I was a long-haired punk, I was working at the 7-11 on the corner of Koenig and North Lamar, one of the busiest intersections of North Austin. It was a weird and unusual job, in that I got to interact with a wide variety of people; everyone from bank managers to strippers and all points in between. I saw them all, and they all had a couple of things in common: they needed cigarettes and toilet paper and were all a little grumpy because they were paying more for them. Hey, I never put the gun to their head. For that matter, no one ever put a gun to my head, either. I was pretty lucky.

Working at the 7-11, I divided the customers up into several groups: the regulars (locals from the neighborhood that I saw at least twice a week), people with radios (cops, EMTs and taxi drivers), bums, and the rest of you. My least favorite group was the rest of you. Never saw you before, never will see you again, and nine times out of ten, I wanted to sock your nose over some perceived transgression. My second least favorite group was the bums.

Every 7-11 has them. They attach themselves to every convenience store with an umbilicus of beer and change. There’s always one that can afford a hot dog (that he will overload with chili and cheese, prompting a clean up after he’s left the store), there’s always one that’s chatty or at least has some sort of personality, and there’s always one that’s hairy like Rip Van Winkle. The rest are just drinkers. One can of Busch at a time. One dollar at a time. All they do is drink. It’s a quota, I think, that all convenience stores are honor bound to abide by. Maybe there’s a bum union that regulates these things. More likely, they’re all ex-7-11 management.

The most regular of my bums was a thin (with beer gut) guy that wore glasses, dirty but otherwise neat clothing that fit him well, sneakers, and had a perpetually red face. He always looked like he was smiling because his cheekbones were so pronounced that they made his eyes crinkle up. The ruddy complexion, a combination of booze and sun, made him seem like an emaciated Santa Claus. He never said much. Like most of the bums, he only bought tall boys he paid in change, and he did it every night, four or more times.

It’s because of my 7-11 experience that I don’t give money to the homeless people. I saw what they did with it. I knew where it was going. If they had come in and asked for the old hot dogs to eat, or even a cup of coffee, I would have happily given it to them. I’m not a monster. But they never did. Always beer. Never anything else.

But this guy, he looked like maybe he was a handyman that had fallen on hard times. Two or three of the older bums talked to me and each other about occasional work. Painting houses, carpentry, that kind of thing. I never saw them until after the work was done, when they had spent all the cash and were back to buying singles. I always got the feeling, however, that this guy could’ve had a usable skill or two. It was just something about him that seemed to say he was a little uncomfortable, a little embarrassed, about his current lifestyle.

When I left 7-11, it was with the greatest, most profound sense of relief. Really. That job was a character building experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who feels they need a little motivation in their life. Specifically, the motivation to never, ever work in a 7-11 ever again.

I don’t think much about those days. I left them behind for a good reason. As a job went, it sucked. It wasn’t flipping burgers, but in some ways, it was worse.

The coda to this story is that I actually saw that bum a couple of years ago. He had turned into one of the Rip Van Winkle types, all beard and Howard Hughes-esque fingernails. And he was still drinking a can of Busch. It's amazing, really, what the human body can endure.
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Deborah
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 10:10 pm:   

Convenience stores are truly where all the worlds intersect, aren't they?

When I 18 I lived in Columbus and while attending a Tech College, I worked part time at King Kwik Minute Market in a rough neighborhood (I didn't know it was rough, I had just climbed off the turnip truck)...we had some great regulars. I liked pulling Saturday night graveyard because I got 8 of my week's 24 hours in one shift, plus I could stay stoned the whole time and who was gonna know? I had moments of clarity at 4 a.m. there that are as yet unequaled in my experience. :-)

One of the regulars was a woman in her 70s who carried an enormous handbag that was empty except for her money. She'd come in twice a week and buy three bottles of Apple Mad Dog and have me loosen the caps -- "they're a little rough on my hands, dear..." We'd bag 'em and tuck them into the handbag and off she'd go.

We were supposed to do "suggestive selling" so like if someone bought chips, you were supposed to ask if they wanted to buy dip...my rommate and I raised it to an art form. Someone would buy beer and we'd say, Would you like some band-aids to go with that? That kind of thing. Well, we were young and stoned, so it seemed funny to us.

The other half of the building was a Domino's Pizza and one of the drivers was the area's best hash supplier. You could call and order a pizza and ask for "Dave" and get hash delivered to your door. It was convenient.

There was no security against robbery, it was all security against the employees stealing things...we had a four-foot metal pole about 3/4 inch in diameter behind the counter which the manager told us to brandish if we were being robbed...yeah, good idea. I told him if we were being robbed I'd offer to carry the robbers' (free) beer out to the getaway car for them...

Ah, the days...
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steve redwood
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 05:44 am:   

A few decades back my job was to nip round to the slaughter house, wheel back some barrels of offal (it's a knack, wheeling barrels) take out the warm intestines, and literally squeeze all the worms out of them. Pigs' intestines especially were rock solid with them. I'd end up with a couple of barrels of worms.
No one ever sat by me on the bus going home.
Ah yes, I forgot: the de-wormed guts were used for sausage skins.
Enjoy your hot dawgs, folks!
This board has certainly taught me a lot about the american way of life!
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Jeffv
Posted on Sunday, March 07, 2004 - 06:20 pm:   

I've posted a couple of new odd job entries on my blog:

http://vanderworld.blogspot.com/

Jeff
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 04:31 am:   

I once worked the night shift at an Almacs in the produce department (Almacs being a now defunct chain of Supermarkets in the RI/Mass area) wherein I experienced the following story:

Came in at 11 pm, went in back and got ready to restock. Headed out to see what was what with the various fruits and vegetables. There was a reddish slick on the floor under one of the stands, so I decided to check it out. I saw a watermelon that looked odd, so got closer and saw that the side of the thing had been really smashed and crushed up, just totally mashed to red, sticky pulp. This happens from time to time, some jerks decides to make work for us and make something impossible to sell, so I grabbed the devastated fruit and prepared to toss it out.

This is when I noticed there was a condom inside it. A spent condom, if you understand my meaning.

So, in a public supermarket, which was open to the public at the time, someone somehow got aroused enough by a watermelon to gain an erection, put a condom on, fornicate with said watermelon, reach orgasm and depart with the condom still within his pulpy mate. And apparently no one saw this. Even after I went and fetched my supervisor and we stood around the raped watermelon, and he went and fetched the store manager, no headway could be made on the solving of this mystery. (Checking the store's video camera...even back in 1989, they had cameras for this kind of thing...revealed that the produce department had some unfortunate blind spots that our fruit rapist seemed to know about. No one covered in red, sticky stains was caught leaving the store. I don't understand how this is possible.)

I stayed on another three months, until the night a man came into the store reeking of what smelled like lighter fluid, asked to speak to the deli manager, and when informed that the deli was closed at night (it was an 11 pm to 7 am shift, I seem to recall) this man howled in rage and leapt onto the display counter, pumping his hips furiously and yelling incoherently. That was enough for me, and I quit after watching the shift superior attempt to restrain said man and get the full horny terrier treatment from him.

There are more, but this should suffice for now.
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Liz
Posted on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 08:14 am:   

There was a nasty case in a bank in (I think) Kazakhstan some years ago, in which a man was refused credit. He stormed out, returning later with a gun and a melon, marched the manager out of the office, and forced him to fuck the melon at gunpoint. Since these are not circumstances conducive to amorous encounters with fruit, I have no idea whether the manager was able to comply. I suspect not. Anyway, fortunately the guy left without actually killing anyone.

I have absolutely no idea whether this was true or not, or whether it's some particularly manic form of urban legend, but I did not make it up: it was in the paper. And it is entirely probable given the sort of things that go on in C Asia.
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Matthew
Posted on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 08:32 am:   

The really baffling thing about Matthew Rossi's melon experience is what exactly did the guy need a condom for? Was he worried he might get it pregnant? Or that he might get something nasty from it?
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Liz
Posted on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 11:55 am:   

Maybe Matthew only thought it was a melon. Maybe it was a melon-shaped alien life form.
Maybe the guy had no choice and was trying to protect himself.
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Canute
Posted on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 12:03 pm:   

This sounds like a classic erotic/allergic situation. Perhaps our fair fruitophile had an allergy to the object of his affection and required the hypo-allergenic protection to prevent breaking out in a hidden, but undoubtedly uncomfortable, hive-y rash.

As they say, forbidden fruit is twice as sweet. Especially when it is in season. And on sale.

Or more simply, the latex could have been intended as a preventive barrier from painful urethral ingress of a pesky seed during a vigorous coupling session.

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Anne S
Posted on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 03:57 pm:   

These peculiar sexual encounters remind me of a time when I worked in a book store and managed the children's books section.

Most evenings, around 5.00pm a guy would come in and go immediately to the children's books section and choose a Noddy book.

Opening the book he would proceed to get very excited, gnawing his knuckles, eyes transfixed by the book, panting.

My fellow workers and I found him most amusing and would speculate on which character in the Noddy books actually drove him into the frenzy. Big Ears?
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JV
Posted on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 06:16 pm:   

When I worked in a bookstore, someone used to tape condoms into the back of all the young adult romance novels. That discovery pales in comparison with these last two.

JeffV
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Luís
Posted on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 09:04 pm:   

Makes me wonder why Almacs is now defunct . . .

Luís
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 01:56 am:   

I've never, ever understood the condom myself, although all of the following explanations made as much sense as the one I concocted that he was attempting to ritualistically couple with some sort of natural daemon or fertility spirit, yet wanted to retain a barrier of some sort... creating an inversion of the classic tale of Blake's meeting with the tulip spirit, a sort of forced marriage in the sterile environs of the grocery store, rich with nature that had been severed from the earth. It was just another layer of seperation in the metaphoric rape of the earth mother. That's what I made up, because the idea that someone just plain likes doing it with fruit but wants to be careful was a bit more than I wanted to accept. The great thing about imagination is how well it can insulate us from reality: the man who goes mad is the man who has not been raised to delude himself willingly. It's like armor against the true insanity of life.

I tell myself this every time I pick up newspaper. Oh, and Luis: Almacs went out of business in part due to a banking crisis in Rhode Island... a man embezzeled so much money from a RI Savings and Loan that the RI Savings and Loan Deposit Indemnity Corporation went belly up, putting a lot of strain on the local economy. Also, the place just plain sucked. Like a vacuum cleaner being dragged into a black hole, it sucked. If it were a pair of lips it would have left embarrassingly huge welts on your neck.

For a slightly less interesting tale of employment madness, I'll relate the tale of my job at a now defunct bookstore in Takoma Park, Maryland. (Yes, there is a theme of defunctness in those places that employ me.) I was working behind the counter at the time that the second Harry Potter book had just been released, and we were already sold out. It had sold out the day it had arrived. One morning, I opened the store for the girl who normally did it, let the manager know I was up front and settled in to a long day of telling children that there was no way I could possibly know if there was a charizard in their pokemon decks before they opened them, for I simply have not figured out how to activate my kryptonian heritage as yet. So distracted at the idea, I almost didn't see her until she appeared in front of me.

A woman came into the store, her eyes wide and bloodshot, her hair in a state I can only describe as Picasso-esque. She fixed that ten thousand yard stare on me.

"I need to buy the Harry Potter book. That one." She pointed to pre-paid copy in a case behind my head.

"Well, ma'am, you see, that copy was pre-ordered and I can't..."

"I'll pay double for it."

"The difficulty is, the book has already been paid for and..."

"I'll pay fifty dollars for it."

"Honestly, I can't..."

"A hundred dollars." Her right eye, a watery blue, began to twitch at this point and she kept fidgeting with her purse. I swallowed, feeling how dry my throat was, painfully aware that Dave wouldn't be able to hear me if I yelled for help.

"It's not that I don't want to sell it to you. Believe me, I would, but it's already the property of the person who ordered it... we already took the money, so..."

"Two hundred dollars."

"I can't. Really."

"Four hundred dollars." Now my eye was beginning to twitch. Four hundred dollars was easily a month's salary at that job. The hair on the back of my neck was waving in a wind that wasn't there as the evil and good sides of my personality both felt themselves summoned to do battle for my soul. First, the evil angel, the rebel cast forth from heaven alongside the son of the morning himself appeared, a brazen image of red metal and terrible fangs and claws, a set of huge brassy horns jutting menacingly from his head. Take the money, he bellowed from his fanged maw, you can replace the book on the next shipment. Then rose from within my fevered mind the gleaming golden armor and glorious white wings of the angelic avatar of my good side. Fucking yeah, take the goddamn money if she's that stupid! $400! That's half our fucking rent, man!

Okay, well, the part with the devil and the angel didn't actually happen, but I was afraid this thing was getting boring.

Anyway, I forced myself to stay calm.

"Please understand what I'm saying. The book belongs to someone else. It would be stealing if I gave it to you."

"A thousand dollars."

Before I could say show me the money you crazy bitch because you just bought yourself a book, my manager appeared next to me.

"Is there a problem, Matt?"

"Well, this woman has just offered me a thousand dollars for that Harry Potter book," I pointed at the case with a hand less steady then the hero of a Poe story with a dead man in the floorboards. "Otherwise, everything's fine."

Dave's eyebrow went up so far it could see his house from there. He ushered the woman into the back of the store, and while I have no idea what he said to her, half an hour later he walked her out, told me he was going to take her home, and left the store with her. He was back in about half an hour, and told me her husband had put her to bed. It seems she'd told the kids she'd get them the book if they did all their chores and got A's in school... and then they went and did it, and so she was forced to pay up. Apparently it doesn't pay to gamble on your kids' inherent laziness when there's a prize at the end of the ride.

For me, the rest of the day was filled with me explaining that no, I didn't know if Nidorino was in that pack or not.

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