Friday, January 7, 2011

Labor of Love - A Work Study

It's long been instilled in me the idea that you've got to earn your lot in life. My parents, grandparents, and teachers have imbued this boot-strap pulling, make-your-own-luck mentality since I was in grade school.

In 6th grade I began a paper route. After a few years, I took on my sisters route as well, soon delivering the Ft. Madison Daily Democrat and Bonny Buyer to half of Donnellson. Although I was only receiving six cents for each paper delivered, My mother diligently guided almost all of that revenue into savings accounts, then high interest certificates so that, when it came time for college, I had enough money to pay for a large portion of college.

I think that this "no such thing as a free lunch" mentality is why I am so incensed by television programs such as The Real Housewives of Orange County. These people haven't had to work a day in their lives! I guess I shouldn't judge, but why does America care about these people? It honestly makes me want to vomit all over my 20" television set.

Aside from the idea that you have to work for your bread, I feel that working gives you an interesting insight into the world, if you're willing to open your eyes to the experience. Because of that, even the most mundane jobs can be fascinating experiences.

Would You Like Fries with That?

In high school, I shrugged the paper route for a slightly more refined career path -- McDonalds. Under the golden arches, I learned how to crack two eggs at the same time as I whipped up die-cut eggs for McMuffins and McHeartburn. I could prepare as many as sixteen paper thin pieces of beef product in approximately seven minutes. After the first day of working at Ronald's place, I never wanted to see another chicken McNugget again.

The people I worked with were interesting. My boss, Tom, bore a striking resemblance to Jessie Ventura, the pro wrestler-turned Minnesota governor. When he was irritated by the inefficiencies of his teenage employees and early 20's dropout managers, a purple vein would pop out of his turtle waxed head. If you dared to look hard enough, you could actually see the visions of rage flow through that vein, rippling torrents of blood traveling back and forth across his barren wasteland of scalp. Tom scared the tar out of me. I avoided contact with him at every turn.

The managers at my McDonald's were all very interesting characters as well. One man, probably in his early 20's, was an emaciated, skulking shell of a human, with sunken eye sockets that were always shrouded by twitching brows. To instill fear and demand respect, he'd often emerge from the break room removing his 5 o'clock shadow with a cheap disposable razor - no water, no shaving cream. The sickening scrape of metal against flesh haunts me to this day. He'd stare you down with his scornful blue retinas daring you to comment on his disgustingly terse behavior.

Another man in his mid 20's was Wally. Wally drove a white 1968 corvette stingray to work everyday. I always made an effort to park my junker next to this beautiful car, in an effort to attract some mechanical juju from this immaculately restored automobile.

Wally was much more of a fun loving manager. He had platinum blonde hair that fell stick straight down to his shoulders, was a bit more portly than the earlier described leader, and enjoyed conducting bizarre research in the workplace. One particularly slow night, I remember experimenting with a variety of viscous restaurant fluids, from ketchup to ice cream to orange juice. We'd fill a rubber glove to its brink, then launch it out the drive through window, measuring for distance, splash diameter, and decibel of explosion.

The results were inconclusive.

What did I learn from my year at McDonald's? Go to college.

They're Called Odd Jobs for a Reason

During my four years of undergraduate academia, my schedule prevented any traditional job off campus. Once I was ineligible for work study after my sophomore year, I was faced with a challenging predicament. How was I to pay for the extraneous expenses associated with college?

The solution, in my opinion, was both ingenious and entertaining. At the beginning of each semester, I'd send an email to the faculty server list. In this correspondence, I'd offer my services for any odd job needed. Childcare, lawn maintenance, Snow removal, basic construction, cooking, cleaning, Animal removal, plant sculpture, and more. If you have a project, let me know and I'll either take the job or find someone who can.

In my two years of odd job's at Monmouth College, I completed the following tasks:

Shoveled snow
Raked leaves
Observed professorial children
Medicated sheep
Trimmed shrubbery
Cut down trees
Supervised cats
Cleaned abandoned houses
Painted houses, both interior and exterior
Acted as a professional chauffeur, errand boy, and lackey

With each job, I'd negotiate the price, at either an hourly rate or a flat fee. Some were one time deals, some lasted for multiple semesters. Many of these jobs were small and uneventful, but a few are worth noting.

Old McMonmouth had a Farm

One of the business professors at Monmouth College is a past National president of the Future Farmers of America. He owned a modest farm outside of town, and solicited my help for a few jobs around the property. At first, it was simple tasks - trimming trees, cleaning up scrap metal, nothing outlandish. The caveat was the time. I would arrive at the professors house at 6am, to complete two hours of work before my 9am course. To the chagrin of my roommates, this meant that I would be awake and traversing the house around 5am, clad in work boots and a complete lack of empathy for their beauty rest. Maybe if they wanted me to be quieter, they'd go to bed before 3am. Just a thought.

One morning, I get to the house, and the professor is in the sheep lot. He calls me over and explains the days task.

"Here's the objective. You grab the ewe, put her in a tight headlock, and I'll administer the medicine. Hold her steady - this stuff isn't cheap."

I proceeded to wrangle disgruntled lamb chops for the next two hours of my life. When we'd finally finished the task, I looked at my watch. the sheep shanking had taken longer than we'd anticipated - it was 8:30am.

I hastily scraped the mud and sheep shit from my boots, jeans, hands, and any other spot it'd latched to, then jumped in my truck, flying towards Austin Hall. I made it to class on time, but was kindly asked, both by teacher and fellow student, to never show up to class smelling like that again. EVER.

There are several other jobs that warrant a tale, but I'll save those for other musings. The odd jobs that lined my pockets during college definitely taught me a few things about professionalism, career paths, and sheep. They were invaluable, not only for financial reasons, but also for life skills. For that, I'll always have fond memories of those jobs.

And they sure make for good stories.

(No children, cats, or sheep were harmed in the making of this blog. A few trees were, but at the bequest of academic officials. I claim no responsibility for their demise.)


  1. i loved your college handyman life. i can't wait for a "musings" post about life as a "professional chauffeur, errand boy, and lackey." perhaps this can include some interviews of your roommates??? :-)

  2. I second the above. I feel as though it warrants a series of posts to completely explain it all.