Working a shitty summer job as a teenager or college student is a proud American tradition, like eating hot dogs or voting for a bigoted politician. We asked people to recount their worst job experiences, which included blowing the mold off of wind chimes, serving rich people beer out of a golf cart, and folding towels at the pool at Trump Tower.
Marketing an Avian Flu Survival Guide
An independently wealthy woman employed me during my sophomore year of college. She believed in a coming avian flu pandemic and civilization collapse, so she wrote a survival guide, complete with a guide to home burials and body disposal for when your family members started dropping dead. She hired me to help market the book.
The job was easy enough—collect contacts, find writers on the topic send press releases, and package promo copies—but my boss wore on me because she would rant to me about the dangerous times we lived in. She pretty much only ate acai-based superfoods to prepare her immune system for the avian flu apocalypse, constantly told me to "get prepared," and regularly forwarded me articles about cases of avian flu in China. "Guys, this is really scary. You should get ready," was a common refrain.
Soon, I found myself having regular nightmares around avian flu and getting anxiety attacks in public places. Two months into the job, I ghosted on her out of stress.
Blowing Air at Wind Chimes
I spent one summer at a warehouse blowing compressed air at wind chimes. The company imported bamboo chimes (of varying size and gaudiness) from Bali that were blanketed in a layer of Polynesian mold. My job consisted of standing outside, alone, blowing highly-compressed air at maximum velocity at these fucking things, essentially power-scrubbing the mold off them. I still wince every time I hear a wind chime clamoring in the breeze of a beachside home or antique dealer.
Working as a Pool Boy at Trump Tower
One summer during college, I worked for a company that had contracts with pools located in fancy condos and apartment buildings throughout New York City. They managed their pools, staffing them with lifeguards. My dad was in a coma and I had no money to pay rent, so I answered their Craigslist ad. They employed me as a lifeguard, but I never saved anyone—all I did was fold towels, clean windows, check chlorine, and talk to rich people about their problems as they pretended to swim laps. I was really a pool boy.
The company forced us to take a class on how to "create a moment of magic." Our instructor said there are three moments in life: "moments of misery," "moments of realism," and "moments of magic." At work, we could only create moments of magic.
I mostly worked at a condo on the west side and a wannabe bourgie hotel in downtown Brooklyn, but a few times they shipped me out to Trump Tower. The hotel looked like a pink Ancient Greek temple. I only remember one rich Asian woman swimming (I mostly saw rich foreigners, contrary to Trump's views on immigrants), and I spent most of the time folding towels and handing them to people who came to the pool deck to sit on decadent chairs.
After my coworker at the hotel wrote "faggot" all over my timecard because her boyfriend cheated on her with a dude, I quit.
Selling Beer at a Country Club
"I could watch her ass all day long," said my Ralph-Lauren draped boss to my male co-worker. I was working as a beer cart girl at a country club golf course in Virginia, so life was hell. I had just graduated college and applied to every New York writing and TV gig I could find to no avail. My life consisted of country club men slipping me fivers and calling me a "good girl" as they adjusted their khaki-lade crotches. The only chill part of the job was driving around a golf cart with a beer cooler attached to its rear; it was easy to steal beer and drink on the job. My boss kept mentioning my ass. I complained, but nothing happened to him. Everything worked out, though. He's still working to ensure old-money families in Virginia have an enjoyable golfing experience, and I weaseled my way to New York to write.
Canvassing for an Environmental Non-Profit
I worked for one day as a canvasser for one of those environmental organizations that seems more like a pyramid scheme. Each week, you would get back a certain percentage of the money you raised over $400, so it seemed like a great deal, but it was probably a scam. It made everyone really hungry to raise money any way they could. Instead of dropping us off to annoy people on a city sidewalk, the group had us go door to door in an extremely remote and wealthy neighborhood.
A woman named Jen had trained me. She was an old pro who loved the job; she wore enormous khaki shorts like she was going on safari. She stopped at a house that was marked as having previously donated. A tired older woman opened the door.
"Hi, we're from an environmental group. Is Alice here?" Jen asked. "She's donated in the past."
The woman took a deep breath. "Alice was my sister. She just died and I'm packing up her things," she said.
"Well, I know she donated years before and it was meaningful to her, so I'm sure she would have wanted you to donate too," Jen said.
The woman looked at us exhaustedly and fished out her wallet. As we walked away, Jen used this as teachable moment. "See what I did there?" she asked. We could have lost a donation but I thought on my feet and tugged on the heartstrings. Learn from that!" I called and quit on my train ride home.
Serving Ice Cream at a Franchise
When I was in college, I worked at an ice cream franchise for exactly one week. An oppressively cheerful ice cream manager/dictator ruled over this location. "Having fun on the job" was mandatory, which posed a serious problem because working there was about as fun as a North Korean labor camp. I hated the ice cream, my co-workers were idiots, and "fun and informative" propaganda videos subjected us to daily corporate propaganda.
The franchise paid laughably low, which meant that staffers relied on meager tips to supplement our income. The company required the entire staff to sing if a customer put money in the tip jar. Yes, literally sing a song to thank someone for putting 50 cents in a fucking jar. Our musical gratitude often shocked patrons, confused why their meager donation merited such a bombastic response.
Regardless of the customer's reaction, our manager would eye us warily during each tip song performance, gauging if we were really having the requisite amount of mandatory fun while singing. One day, I just couldn't muster the strength to belt out "Walking On Sunshine" while holding an ice cream scoop, so I threw down my apron and left.
Cooking Fries on Coney Island
In between assisting fashion set designers, I worked as a fry cook for a bourgie french fry restaurant. One day, they asked if I wanted to work at their pop-up shop on Coney Island. I thought I'd feel like a non-rapey Woody Allen in a big budget movie, but the job was actually low-budget and low-concept.
Some days, we sold almost no fries. I'd daydream about smelling like some other other than hot grease. I commuted for three hours per day, and I spent much of the commute explaining that I didn't work at Pomme Frites, the french fry joint that had exploded in the East Village.
I only started to love the job when I developed a crush on a boy who worked at another restaurant. At work, I only thought about making out with him in the Coney Island porta-potty or dying with him on the janky Cyclone ride.
Neither happened, and before I knew it, the summer was over, and I went from serving french fries to helping out on set for French Vogue.