This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Ah, summer. 'Tis the season when all the rich kids went to Europe or got to third base at camp, while the rest of us worked long, terrible hours for miserable pay with the goal of "building character." While we can look back and laugh now, these were the worst days of our lives.
Who Knew Garbage Was So Shitty?
My shittiest summer job was literally the shittiest. After working on a city crew maintaining forests and pathways across the east end of Ottawa, which also involved the threat of running over syringes with fuckin' weed whackers and lawn mowers, I had the unpleasant opportunity to work on the back of a garbage truck for two weeks.
Not just on any garbage truck, but one servicing parks. You know what's in park garbage cans? Yeah, neither did I until I did this job. Diapers and dog shit.
So there I was, cruising on the back of the shitmobile snatching pales of feces in all of its glorious forms, wind in my hair, shit in my nostrils.
On my first haul, which was jam packed with brown sludge, plastic bags, and smeared Huggies, I had to do the inaugural compact. As I hit the latch and the poop was being compressed, shit water shot directly onto my face. I yacked. That will always be the moment I consider when I think tapping on a keyboard and being a vampire is actually hard.
Respect to garbage men.
– Ben Makuch, Associate News Editor
Judging Racist Sketches in France
I used to be a corporate stiff, and as most corporate stiffs will admit, they get to that point where they want out and spend most mornings devising creative ways to call in sick, or falsely claim the death of distant relatives so they can sit at home and watch The Office instead. I did that, a lot. Until I decided to quit and move to France to teach the most annoying portion of the French population English. Typical.
The American-themed camp aimed to instill within these young sexually driven teens pastimes, values, and hobbies of the USA. We played baseball and sang folk songs by a campfire. We had talent shows (have you ever had to judge a string of French kids attempting their best Gangnam style?). And of course, I sat through their racist interpretations of the relationship between "cowboys" and "Indians" in few highly offensive sketches. These week-long camp sessions closed with a dance party called "boom," much like the dances we had in high school (minus the MuchMusic sponsorships, unfortunately). I enjoyed these the most, as they were hotbeds for heartache, and dance floor corners were crammed with crying french boys post-slow dance rejection.
I should also mention that these kids did not understand English: maybe a word here or there, but not really. Counsellors were not allowed to speak French either. So I spent most of my day talking and aggressively miming at people that could not understand me. The most depressing part was that we got paid less than minimum wage to work over 11 hour days. When we sat down and did the math (which we tried not to do), we made about two euros an hour. We sat down and calculated how much children were charged to attend said camp, and the difference in figures triggered table-flip-level anger.
– Navi Lamba, social media producer
Stock Car Bouncing > Chicken Slaughterhouse "Kill Room"
When I was maybe 15, I started off the summer working the main gate at a stock car race track just outside of Peterborough, Ontario. I didn't have to deal with the cash at all, just ripped tickets and made sure that nobody was bringing in booze. Yup, a beanpole skinny 15-year-old long-haired kid essentially working as a bouncer, informing half-cut rednecks that they weren't allowed to bring in a cooler full of beers to help them enjoy the carnage while they sat on uncomfortable wooden bleachers that totally exposed them to the elements. Surprisingly, I don't recall ever being physically threatened, but there were more than a few times when I sent ornery race fans back to the ticket booth to plead with the elderly woman who ran shit. If she said "no," people tended to listen. (My understanding was that the no booze policy was a relatively new thing to be enforcing in a massive field close to the middle of nowhere.)
The worst part of the job was the sheer tedium of waiting for it to be late enough that they stopped charging admission, which involved just standing around in nearly complete darkness (the picnic table where I'd occasionally park my ass when the lineups petered out had one light bulb hanging directly over it—a beacon for the mortar-shelling assault of Junebugs). I lasted longer than my brother who, two years my junior, was tasked with selling shitty photocopied programs to the rowdy audience—as if anyone really needed to look up the stats on whatever jagoffs had entered the crash-'em-up derby that week. Occasionally the race got rained out, and I happily took the financial hit that came with losing an evening's work.
I ended up quitting the race track to work full time at a poultry processing plant (aka a chicken slaughterhouse). Having grown up on a farm, I was totally fine with raising chickens, and had no illusions about where they all went at the end of the summer. Plus, I'd already witnessed a few DIY executions—chickens literally running around with theirs heads cut off. But there's a big difference between axing a bird to death and working in a "kill room."
First, it's balls-hot mid-summer and you're in a metal shed surrounded by crates stacked six-feet-high crammed full of dusty meat birds shitting on each other and realizing in their tiny bird brains that something is most definitely up. Wearing gloves and a heavy rubber apron, I'd have to reach into a crate containing four to eight full-sized birds, grab the chickens by their feet and haul them out through a hole usually marginally larger than their bodies (a process that the chickens make difficult by spreading their wings or—naturally—struggling to not be next in line for death).
Next, I'd hang up the birds, chests down and asses facing the wall, by sticking their feet through metal racks. The idea is that any panic shit they'd fire off would fly towards the wall, while the neck and jugular would be easily accessible. Which is where John—a stocky 40-ish dude with a manicured beard and a wicked sense of humor—would step in a shock the birds with an electric knife while slicing their throats so all the blood would drain into a stainless steel trough below. Fill up the 10 or so racks each with about four or five blood-draining birds, and it was time to start tossing the corpses into a hot water bath that swished them around and removed most of the feathers. Sometimes one of the hanging birds would flop around and splash my face with horror-film blood; other times, the soapy water would fly across the room and onto my face. It always took a second to figure out which it was.
Four to five hours of this was followed by an afternoon power-washing the shit and feathers out of all the crates, which would have been tolerable if the power washer wasn't so loud that you couldn't listen to music at the same time. (Agony for a young metalhead.) Despite all this, I still enjoy a good barbecued chicken.
– Chris Bilton, VICE Canada deputy editor
I Ruined a Football Career with a Forklift
I spent three months working in a North Montreal shipping warehouse, hauling random boxes in and out of 40-foot containers. I'm not sure if you've ever spent any time in a giant corrugated steel box in 100-degree summer heat, but it really, really sucks. Just to be clear: these aren't the sort of shipping containers that rich, off-the-grid engineers in New Mexico fill with tempered glass and fancy geometric furniture so they can live "alternatively," but the ones where people desperate to escape third world countries are found dead or screaming in some dock.
Sometimes the work wasn't so bad, things would arrive all neatly plastic-wrapped and Jenga-ed up on pallets. You drove the forklift in, and pulled those fuckers out. If you were lucky, one box would "accidentally" fall and the shift boss would rip it open and distribute the spoils amongst the workers, and you'd get a shitty Peruvian backpack, or random off-brand granola bars for your girlfriend.
But most of the time boxes were just randomly tossed into the container by people who clearly didn't give a fuck that their cargo actually had to eventually be dealt with by other humans. At that point the work was grueling, and we'd spend hours deadlifting unwieldy boxes in swamp-crotch Montreal humidity in a seven-foot wide cell where you would literally burn yourself if you touched the walls—it's the kind of sadistic scenario that might eventually become a popular Japanese TV show.
To be honest, it wasn't the worst job ever. But it was tough. Oh, also one time I recklessly ran over my friend's foot with a forklift and ruined his football career.
– Raf Katigbak, VICE Canada senior editor
Bulked Up, Like Drake
One year I got a job at a Bulk Barn. I should've known something was wrong when they hired me on the spot without looking at a résumé, but the job was essentially split into two tasks: carrying awkward items and cleaning up spills. You would think that the "bulk" of the work would come from refilling sour keys or whatever, but you know who uses Bulk Barn the most? Old people. And you know what old people love to buy? Same as not-old people, actually: flour, rice, chocolate chips. However, old people have shaky hands, and having to clean up any incidental spills around a bin only to find it tagged by whole wheat flour hours later is enough to drive anyone to the brink of insanity. Couple that with the fact that you end every shift smelling strongly of either coffee or curry, and you have all the making for a terrible summer commitment.
– Slava Pastuk, Noisey Canada editor
Chemical Valley Coffee House
One summer I worked at a coffee shop in Sarnia, Ontario, which holds the dubious honor of playing host to the pollution-belching cancer hole known as "Chemical Valley," and it was pretty fucked up. Let me begin by explaining that the shop was owned by wealthy family who was devoted to a variant of the Jewish faith that believes Jesus is actually the lord and savior of the Jews, whether they like it or not.
In Sarnia, where a chain restaurant passes as an exciting new dining experience, this shop had shelves imported from Morocco—the kind with fancy sliding ladders—lined with books exposing the government conspiracy behind pasteurized milk, alongside $500 copies of the illustrated Torah. Even the pots came from France. Once, the owner wanted to print shirts emblazoned with a Bible verse about unifying the Jews and gentiles, and the one she had in mind actually contained the word "foreskins." As much as I wanted to own a shirt like that, I had to talk her out of it.
There were also essentially no customers, for whatever reason, which meant that I could read books, drink expensive tea, and stuff my face with rich, delicious pastries all day without anybody bothering me because my boss had no idea how to run a business. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that was my best summer job.
– Jordan Pearson, staff writer, Motherboard Canada
What the Hell Is Lawn Aeration?
For one summer, I decided it would be a great idea to do work for a lawn aeration company. Before you ask, lawn aeration is when you punch small holes into the grass with what looks like a lawn mower to allow air and other nutrients to reach the roots so they can grow and... well, that's all I remember from the sales pamphlet.
Anyway, the hours were from 9 AM to 9 PM, commission pay, and the head coordinator made a really passionate speech about how aerating would mold workers into real men or "Tammys" (code word for strong women because equality), so I signed up. On the first day, I was dropped in the middle of a random suburb with a bunch of flyers, a bottle of water, and two houses I was scheduled to aerate. What the company failed to tell me is that May isn't a very busy month for lawn cleaning. So after my pre-booked services were complete, I spent the next ten hours dragging along this wheelbound buzzsaw of death in the dry heat. To make matters worse a storm warning was announced so when the company truck finally retrieved me at the end of my shift I was covered in dust, wet from the rain, and left with a torn shirt from a flying tree branch. Always one to turn a negative into a positive, I found joy in the fact that I was at least a cool hundred dollars richer. So with that in mind I walked to the service lady awaiting my payment for the day, only to be told that my count was off by $20 and be accused of stealing cash from my total. Always one to turn a negative into a positive, I politely disagreed with her sentiments and walked off. With cash in hand.
And never came back.
– Jabbari Weekes, staff writer, Noisey Canada
I Became the Man
At the time, I thought my worst summer job was the best job I had. After years of brain-numbing labor on the family farm, I somehow landed a job working at with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, basically as an intern. I got an unmarked car (which I got up to 105 mph when I took it out at 3 AM one night, knowing there wouldn't be cops on the road in the area) and some cool black boots, and got to shoot at the gun range. I would aim at the target's dick and usually miss. But here's the thing—I totally bought in to the cop mentality. I thought protesters deserved the sweet taste of pepper because I was young, privileged, and didn't understand social justice. In short, I became The Man. And now, no one in the punk scene will respect me. And that's why it was the worst summer job I ever had.
– Josh Visser, managing editor, VICE.com Canada
Fuck You, Pay Me!
My worst summer job? Hmm, there were a few that were less than glamorous. But the one that probably takes the cake was a construction job I worked before my last year of university.
Long days with unfriendly people talking crap to me in languages I couldn't understand wasn't even the worst part—I had to essentially pull teeth in order to get paid. By the time I left to go back to school, I was still owed thousands of dollars and was starting to believe I wouldn't ever see that money. Going to school a couple hours away from where I worked didn't help me any, either, since attempts to track down my boss by phone were largely ignored.
He finally cut me a check after months of hounding him with repeated voicemails and threats of legal action. But the catch was that he never fully paid me out, shortchanging me a couple hundred bucks despite the fact he constantly had new cars and was making extensive renovations to his home. I still want that money!
– Chris Toman, VICE Sports Canada editor
Racism in Several Languages
The year after spending a summer driving a lawn mower at my university, which was actually quite a nice job in retrospect, I decided I couldn't handle another four months of constant allergies and teetering on the brink of sleep while driving a (slow-)moving vehicle. Instead, I spent a month and a half miserably unemployed and mostly alone. When a friend told me about a job one of the regulars at her bar might be able to offer me, I was ecstatic. Following her instructions, I went to a motel on the seedier end of downtown Saskatoon and asked for Alan at the front desk. By the time I had been directed to his room, I was starting to get worried about the details of this job, none of which I knew. Luckily, I was just walking to Alan's room to have him take me to the hotel's owner, manager, and resident scumbag.
The owner sat me down and told me about the job, which was working the front desk and sounded easy enough. He asked what I was studying in school, and when I said history, he launched into an extended speech about how he loves history, and his favorite period of history is when "We expelled the Moors from Portugal." I was desperate enough for a job that I ignored his command to I stand up and turn around for him, after which he claimed I "look just like Marlene Monroe!"
Over the course of my two months on the job I was instructed that in order to entice skeptical customers to stay at what was clearly a third-rate motel, I should offer them a lower room price. On the other hand, we were also expected to intuit when guests could be swindled, and raise prices. The owner was quick to offer freebies to get people to stay at the motel, unless those people weren't white. He was also quick to anger and once chased someone out of the lobby, screaming at him for some offense I was never clued into. I also picked up the Portuguese word for Indian thanks to how often the owner would switch to his first language to make offensive comments about his Indigenous customers.
When I finally found another job and broke the news to him, it was more like breaking up than quitting. Over the course of a half an hour, the owner insisted that I had done this to him, that I didn't care about him or his motel, that he had treated me well, and that he didn't understand why I was doing this. I didn't think he would be receptive to my explanation that it's sexual harassment even when it's disguised as a compliment, or that I felt uncomfortable with my him making cryptic, but clearly racist remarks. So I waited until he tired himself out and then got the hell out of there.
– Tannara Yelland, VICE.com Canada staff writer, content manager