My Favorite Job

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

My first job was in Junior High School: Shelving books at my local public library; I guess they figured I knew where all the books were already. Twenty-five cents an hour! And when I got my first Social Security card.

But my first real jobs came after I was ejected from the university — it was the early 70s — and I went to work in the mills. Not dark satanic mills, or metal sheds out in the ‘burbs, but multistory brick factories, in town, with tall windows placed next to the power source of the Atlantic Searboard Fall Line: Mills scattered across New England and the Northeast from Bangor to Augusta, Lowell, Fall River, Providence, Hartford. Though manufacturing then was nothing like it had been, it was also nothing like it is today; you could look in the Want Ads and get a job. Today, those brick mill buildings are condos, or artists’ colonies, or business incubators, or outlet stores, and kids get jobs in retail or fast food. Back then, on minimum wage, I could afford my own apartment, and have money left over for books.

The place manufactured cord, like venetian blind cord, or yacht cord. When I’d walk through the door in the morning, the sound of several hundred machines was like the sound of the waterfall that originally drove the plant: Engulfing, overwhelming white noise. (We were all given cotton to make ear plugs, but who wore them? We needed to talk to each other.) In the winter, coming out of the cold, the noise was reassuring, somehow; of course the machines ran through the night. The machines were braider machines, and here’s a YouTube that shows how they work (from China, of course, in a modern factory). Skip to 1:45:

And here is the principle, as shown in the video:

Braiding machines work by a circular weaving process. They were well suited to be driven by the steam engines of the industrial revolution and were common by the beginning of the 20th century being easily powered by electric motors. Common types of braiding machines work in much the same way as the process of decorating a May-Pole. At the start of decorating a May-Pole an even number of ribbons tied to the top of the pole. A group of people form a ring about the base of the pole and take a ribbon in hand. Half the people then travel clockwise and the other half counter clockwise. When the people pass one another they pass alternately to the right and to the left. This results in a downward forming braid on the pole. As the braid works it’s way down the pole, the ribbons become shorter and the angle of forming changes as the braid works lower on the pole. On a standard braiding machine, the supply lines are a constant angle and at a constant tension and hence the output braided product is uniform.

In a braiding machine, bobbins of thread pass one another to the left and right on pseudo-sinusoidal tracks, a peg at their bases is driven by notches in gears. These gears lie below the track plate that the thread carriers ride on, and an even number of gears must be used as there are always an even number of bobbins. The gears must be driven at multiple points on machines with two or more bobbin sets and cross-shafts are used. On a vertically oriented machine, the braided thread is taken up above the machine and height and diameter of a guide ring determines the characteristics of the braided product to some degree.

My machines, unlike those Chinese machines, didn’t run in sealed boxes, and the frames, gears, tracks, and plates were all made out of cast iron; the bobbin shafts were steel; hence the noise. And as the May-Pole ribbons are only so long, so a bobbin holds only so much yarn, and at some point the yarn would come to an end and go slack. The lack of tension would trigger a ratchet that stopped the machine. Then the “braider tender” (I was a braider tender) would notice the stopped machine, slip the empty bobbin off its shaft, slip a full bobbin on, and restart the machine, letting the machine’s rotation weave the new yarn into the existing braid. 

I enjoyed braider tending very much: For my whole life I’d been a nerd, an “intellectual,” with no physical dexterity at all; the factory work gave me that; it was a pleasure to toss an empty bobbin ten feet into the recycling can that the yarn department would come to pick up at the end of the shift; aiming and hitting was satisfying (I never missed); the thunk was satisfying; and above all it was satisfying to be more productive, since I didn’t waste time walking ten feet down the line. I’d figured that out. It was satisfying to blast my way down a line of dead, silent braider machines and spin them all up.  All for $3.25 an hour to start, a considerable advance on my first factory job. My relation to the means of production, in other words, was in essence the same as that of the young Chinese women in the YouTube video you just saw, except I had to work a lot harder making cheaper cord (cloth, not metal) in far worse conditions. The cotton dust! The oil-stained wood floors! Thank heavens there was never a fire.

In essence the same, except of course I’m a guy, so I also got to do what guys do: Oil the machines, by making the rounds in the morning with an oil can and giving the gears a spritz. Eventually, they made me a mechanic, another thing guys do; the initiation rite was stamping my initials on my pair of pliers. (They also gave me a toolbox; my rival gave me a complement of nuts, bolts, washers, and fasteners, placed in the toolbox in Gerber Baby Food glass jars, which I realized only later was some kind of statement.) Here were even more problems to solve! For example, “a screw loose.” Overnight, a screw loosens, tension slackens on the braid, and the machine stops. Tighten the screw. The same thing happens the next night! (“Doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”) Why does the screw loosen? Well, the mill, and everything in it, is constantly vibrating, from the rotation of the machines, and also from the shafts that transmit power to the machines from the electric motors at the end of each row. So, somehow, the harmonics of the machine with the screw that came loose were out of sync with the building; the screw wasn’t “loose,” or even “coming loose,” but being shaken loose. A shim under one of the machine’s feet solved the problem by removing an extraneous vibration. And so, for my whole life up to that point, I had had a fundamentally unthinking understanding of what the “screw loose” (dead, but now live) metaphor meant!

I loved factory work — though I might not have loved it so much had I ended up in a mine, or a plating shop, or the kind of place where management (looking back on it) didn’t keep giving me new things to learn and do. It never occurred to me that the work wasn’t worth doing, or that that the people who ended up doing it were any different from me — except perhaps that they had chosen to be born into a different family than I had.

What was your favorite job?

NOTE * I’d had experience doing this work at another mill. I was so naive that when the boxes of bobbins ran out, I told my supervisor about it. What I didn’t understand was that there were no more bobbins because we were about to be laid off. So, at the new place, when I applied to be a braider tender again:

BOSS: “That’s a job for women.”

LAMBERT: “The average woman at _____ changes 300 bobbins a night. I do 60 an hour.” Not sure I have the number right; it’s been a long time. There I go, breaking the curve…

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


    1. semiconscious

      far be it from me to disagree with aristotle… however,…

      my favorite job was mt last job: or tech in the surgery dept of a shriners hospital. a dozen+ years assisting skilled craftsman in dramatically improving the quality of life of thousands of oftentimes incredibly courageous & wizened children. all for free…

      & i learned a helluva lot about a number of things :) …

      1. optimader

        Yes, I think a bit of class warfare from someone who’s father was the physician to the King. Would not make the short list of Aristotle’s most insightful observations.

        Best approach is to learn what you can, the actual job task may be quite incidental, and struggle up the foodchain.

  1. Savanarola

    I was a referee for the intramural sports program in college, one of about 4 jobs I had at the time to make ends meet. But it paid really well – especially once I made supervisor. And every time I suited up in my official’s gear and jogged down to the playing fields, I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to watch games in every sport and keep them honest and fun. Getting paid to stand out in the crisp Autumn air and blow the whistle at the end of the play. And work with a bunch of other kids who thought that was absolutely swell. It was a great job.

  2. allcoppedout

    Most of our big firms here were paternalistic and it seemed possible for nice people to succeed and develop a decent work culture. Some of the work was really hard on the body and dangerous. The big firms did a lot of education and had subsidised canteens and recreation clubs. Though it was never quite true you could leave a job on Thursday (our traditional payday) and start somewhere else on Monday, jobs were much easier to get, with much less paperwork and selection fuss.

    We need to get the best of the old days back, remembering automation and productivity have changed a great deal. I don’t think we grok how evil finance and human resource management have become, and the madness of rat-race fossil fuel burning and economic rents.

    Lambert’s memory lane is something we need more of because we were able to have the situation (a little rose-tinted) he tells so well before massive productivity increases. The obvious question is how we could have this then and now have much worse. I worked in Memory Lane Cakes, advertised as hand-crafted by grannies, but made by chumps like me on 12 hour shifts. We stank so much from the heat and stale dough no one would stand near us in the pub. The new factory is mechanised, requires a tenth of the labour and very little of what was our essential brawn in the past.

    Economics doesn’t work. Our higher education is a classic case. There is no real competition on price, lies are told on the qualification relation to the well-paid job market and despite modest productivity increases in delivery, costs to consumers have burgeoned and standards dropped. Growth is still trumpeted as the cure all, when anyone good enough to teach economics must know it cannot be.

  3. kristiina

    Hm, is this some comment on bullshit jobs? I’m still thinkin about it – hugely popular article (this one ), and seems to strike a chord with many. Talked about it with my father, and he remarked that this is one way to rob workers of their basic dignity. Having a really tight-scedule project to move these stones over to that another pile – well, all have their obligation to the gravy train… but even by Yves’ reaction, all know and most have worked in bullshit jobs. It’s valiant to find justification (telemarketing _is_ necessary) but I mean, does anyone ever need to justify/rationalize/explain baking an apple pie?

    I do think it is a genuine question: why are we paid only for doing work that is morally degrading? I can think of many things needing able hands and which I enjoy, but nobody pays for them.

  4. charles sereno

    The late ’40’s. HS summers. 99c/hr (at least $20/hr today). Standing in a half inch of pineapple syrup, I oversaw over a million 21/2 cans get lidded through my double seamer machine. As unpredictable as an earthquake, the monster could of a sudden start tearing everything apart. Besides feeding it lids, I was responsible for taming the beast whenever that happened. The clatter overhead of incoming empty cans was so loud, to communicate, you had to cup your hands and shout into someone’s ear. It was fun especially on the night shift.

  5. Skeptic

    I had a mill job one summer in Needham, Mass. It was a mill which made, of all things, Beachballs and balloons. It was located in an old decrepit, brick factory with a mill pond which had previously provided water power. This place was out of Dickens. There was high turnover. I got the job because my brother’s girlfriend was the secretary to the hiring guy (no Human Resources at this place). There were loads of applicants for jobs and their applications were kept in a file in chronological order. She just put my card ahead and job!

    My brother used to work long hours at this place. When they would be on overtime, he would occasionally actually break a machine so they could rest during the time needed to fix it. They still got paid. The beancounters missed this anomaly in their system.

    I worked in the “research” department making molds and helping to do tests. Once a week there would be a beachball or balloon breaking test. The boss, who wore a white lab coat, trying to look like Einstein, would be present with an exec or two. It was always lively if the test was a failure. We would be happy and they would not.

    Here’s more about the owner of that mill, Neil Tillotson:

    I believe Tillotson was merged with Pearson yachts to become Tillotson-Pearson Yachts a big yacht manufacturer based in Rhode Island.

  6. Ep3

    Awesome Lambert.
    My first real job was working in a factory too, running machines. Did it for 7 years. Now I am a CPA.
    I think more needs to be done to document the culture of those who work in factories. I know the jungle documented working conditions. But stories like yours document how the ppl think and feel and their day to day lives.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      “Rivethead,” by Ben Hamper – readers may remember him as the fellow playing basketball in the mental institution with a Beach Boys soundtrack in “Roger and Me” – is an often amusing and informative memoir of factory life at the tail end of the “Golden Age” of unionized auto work in the late ’70’s.

      As the son and grandson of Flint, Michigan GM workers, Hamper refers to himself as a “purebred,” and offers many insights and hilarious anecdotes about factory work at a time of high wages and comparatively low unemployment.

  7. Cameron Hoppe

    I actually enjoyed working in the fast-food drive through in my late teens and very early twenties. If it was possible to make a decent living doing it I’d probably still be there….

  8. Garrett Pace

    Speaking of Social Security cards, I went through a box of doodads my grandmother gave me and in it was my Grandpa’s card. Though 70-odd years old, it’s colorful and vibrant and made of brass – it’ll last for centuries. Quite a contrast to the flimsy paper SS card sitting in my own document hoard.

    A rather fitting symbolism to the strength of the promise of SS to our respective generations.

  9. in the past

    Can’t say it was the most interesting job I’ve had, but in the early 70’s I had a summer job at a Bostich factory spot welding construction staple gun parts. It was piece work and I was fast, so fast that the management told me to slow down because I was outproducing the permanent people and threatening their easy going, relaxed pace.

    Probably the most interesting job I had was in the mid 70’s in upstate NY delivering blood and flowers part time for a delivery service run out of a flower shop. The flower shop had the contract for moving blood between the main Red Cross blood collection center and local and regional hospitals, or between hospitals. Sometimes I would carry both flowers and blood at the same time. Of course the blood was delivered first. I once delivered a very cheerful flower arrangement to a house out at the local Indian Reservation. When I knocked on the door, to my surprise a wake was being held and I was ushered in to pay my respects to a middle-aged dead man laid out in a casket in his living room. His wife and his little children, other family members and his friends were all sitting around chatting. It was a sad moment and sure made an impression on me. I stayed for a little while.

  10. casino implosion

    So Lambert, like Nathaniel Land, was a bobbin boy!

    Awesome essay. As another bookish person who makes his living with his hands, I love reading this kind of thing.

  11. optimader

    Here Lambert, you might enjoy this. Another link from one of my favorite sites:

    First job? A paper route w/ my siblings, I was maybe 9 yo? Great star gazing on those cold winter mornings.
    Looking back, Lt. Barney Fife would shadow us on those cold mornings,l I remember his glowing cigg. butts. Different day and age — he was quite proud that he never had to withdraw/discharge his kinda worn out looking revolver over his career.

    1. optimader

      My 2nd short lived job was when I was ~15 or 16 at a local Wellcraft boat dealer. That lasted until some dolt turned me loose w/ very general location instructions and a hole saw to install through deck fittings on the bow of a customers boat.

  12. par4

    “When you sell your product, you retain your person,” said a tract published in the 1880s during the Lowell, Mass., mill strikes. “But when you sell your labour, you sell yourself, losing the rights of free men and becoming vassals of mammoth establishments of a monied aristocracy that threatens annihilation to anyone who questions their right to enslave and oppress. Those who work in the mills ought to own them, not have the status of machines ruled by private despots who are entrenching monarchic principles on democratic soil as they drive downwards freedom and rights, civilization, health, morals and intellectuality in the new commercial feudalism.” H/T Chris Hedges

  13. casino implosion

    “I do 60 an hour”

    For exceeding the quarterly production norms we award you this handsome edition of the collected works of Lenin!

    Seriously though, this post gets at what Veblen called “the instinct of workmanship”. Even the most lowly, ill-paid cog ni the machine can’t help but take some pleasure and pride in the efficient, and even innovative, fulfillment of his duties.

  14. JEHR

    My favourite job was a summer job at a motel in a resort in the mountains where I saved money to pay for university tuition. Two of us worked there and we did everything: washed and ironed sheets and pillow cases; made beds; washed dishes and floors; vacuumed, dusted and made beds; bought groceries and planned meals and cooked for 6 or more people three times a day; etc.

    I also liked the free time which we spent swimming in a pool warmed by volcanic rocks and visiting areas that tourists visited. I worked hard enough that I got a bonus at the end of the summer.

  15. Kurt Sperry

    I’ve been self-employed as an artist since I was a teenager, which aside from the extremely modest compensation is pretty much the ideal career. My work can be seen here– I do sometimes feel the lack of being involved in a truly collaborative team effort full-time. There is a certain satisfaction that only comes from being part of a team that sets goals and meets them, a social aspect of working that the artist in his or her studio working alone for the most part doesn’t get to experience.

    I think in a well run shop, factory work can probably actually be a rich and fulfilling experience. Unfortunately well run shops seem to be the exception rather than the rule. I find it a bit odd that workplaces that respect their workers with fair wages and input into decisions that directly affect them are as uncommon as they are because in my anecdotal experience these are the places that perform the best. The hierarchical boss/worker thing seems too often to bring out social pathologies in the management side that are unnecessarily adversarial and are objectively counterproductive in any long term view.

  16. craazyboy

    I’ve come to the conclusion that there can be no such thing as a “favorite job.”

    It’s like discovering Key Lime pie for the first time. You think “This is great. I really like this. I was meant to do this. I bet I could do this all day and night, dream about it too, and who needs a day off or vacation – I would just do more of it…”

    Then your employer informs you that is exactly what they have in mind for you!

    1. jrs

      Yea some jobs are definitely in some ways better than others but they are all bad. My first job was in *THIS* century, I can’t even RELATE to a country in which manufacturing is a real option!!! I also simply can not relate to a world in which jobs are plentiful and most pay enough to live on (though true it’s been less bad than now in this Great REcession).

      OTOH ohter than fast food (which was in many ways better), I’ve only done professional work in an office. Like I said some jobs are better than others, but I hate this work,
      I really hate it. Office jobs are the ultimate soul suck. But they’re the only way I know not to make poverty wages, I don’t care about getting rich, I do care about say having healthcare and paying my rent etc..

      1. susan the other

        I know. If I had to choose my least hated job it would be waitress. Really. That was back in the day when you could live on your tips and you only had to work about 3 hours a day. You had to be nice, clean and efficient, and help our your fellow workers, keep everything in order, cover for them when they got overwhelmed. But it was at least real.

  17. hpschd

    After dropping out of college in the late ’60s, I got a job at Riverside Press on the Charles River in Cambridge MA. A couple of dollars an hour.

    Many of my high school books had come from that mill (with a characteristic, ugly cover art). There were many machines, some from the 19th century, adapted to electric motors. Some of the jobs were very hard, others easier.

    Women did piece-work on binding machines, every now and then, someone would pass out from exhaustion. Their bound books were stacked on a moving belt and at the end I would take them off and stack them on pallets – six or eight different tittles. I had a lot of trouble figuring out which was which and if I was too slow, the belt would be overburdened and it would stop – the women would start screaming at me over the noise. and alarm bell would sound, and a couple of guys would run over an help unload the belt and pull at it to get it moving again. That was awful.

    One old guy got his gold watch and died on the way home.

    There was one wonderful side benefit of this job. There was a bookstore that sold seconds. Books with the wrong cover or the cover was upside down or extra or missing leaves. Books of all types – text books, classics, romance, art, etc. 25 cents each!!. I built up a curious library on all subjects from Aristotle to Classical Mechanics, to everything.

    It was worth it.

  18. diptherio

    Overnight baker at Missoula’s storied Bernice’s Bakery. The hours were a little rough, but at the end of the shift I had a whole case full of beautiful muffins and scones, croissants and danishes that I could look at and think, “I did that!” And on nights when I didn’t work I could come in a grab a hot croissant at 3 am–one of the best job-perks ever.

    Working in a local camera store was fun too. I enjoyed explaining the basics of optics/photography to noobs, as well as being surrounded by classic Hasselblads and Lecias. Only problem was I spent a good bit of my pay tricking out my Nikon FM-10 set-up (and the boss haranguing me for “down-selling”). I also learned how to hand-process B&W film and run the printing machine, both of which skills are now totally obsolete. I was working there right when digital was getting big (’99-’00) and it felt like working at the last buggy-whip manufacturer.

  19. Crazy Horse

    If you are a creative person who finds reward in craftsmanship, jobs that satisfy that need have been almost completely eliminated from modern society.

    I can think of a couple of examples from my past.

    Building log homes in the Rocky Mountains. Somehow building a 10 million dollar work of art that is only used by its owners for two weeks over Christmas takes away much of the satisfaction.

    And then there are mega-yachts. Perhaps the last example of a marriage of art and industrial machinery at a scale where it can represent one individual vision. As complex as an airliner, but not the product of a committee and and maze of bureaucratic regulations.

    What is the common thread? Conspicuous consumption and waste for the transitory pleasure of a bored elite who have extracted their wealth from the majority underclass and the natural capital of the ecosystem.

    Bullshit jobs compared to janitor or bobbin stringer, not because of the job but because of who it is for and the values they represent.

    1. craazyboy

      Making a living off conspicuous consumption is not even a sure bet anymore. A buddy of mine in CA told me about a buddy of his who makes custom hand made furniture and cabinetry for rich people. I’ve never seen his stuff, but I’m told he made some custom order stuff for Michael Jackson, so I guess he’s pretty good at his craft. Biz dropped off to nothing during the GR, and he moved into his shop to conserve cash. My buddy was lending him money to pay the shop rent and buy food. Biz never came back and he moved into my buddy’s garage, last I heard.

  20. psychohistorian

    I was removing and replacing radiators in my dad’s shop when I was 14. After a while his employees made him start paying me because I was taking work away from them so I got a SS card….and went on to pay into SS for 45 years.

    My favorite job is/was making my alternative bike saddle for folks that keeps them riding bicycles but I have lost 6 figures plus at that. Now, my favorite job is sharing the breath exercise I developed to heal trauma and PTSD from being hit by a truck. It is another “thankless” job like the bike saddle business but being my passion and knowing it is the right thing makes it worthwhile to me.

    Do you live to work or work to live?

  21. Banger

    Favorite job? Driving a delivery truck. Why? Because the people I worked with and saw regularly were really good people and there was little stress I did what I did and everyone was happy. I ate at diners and if I finished early I read books. I didn’t realize how making more money does not improve the level of human contacts nor decrease stress. I could have had that job for a long-time and made adequate money to live on in those days.

    1. Ulysses

      Working as a delivery driver at UPS was definitely my favorite job. It was great bringing people stuff they wanted and performing a useful service. I also got involved in the Teamsters, and helped push out some corrupt old gangsters in our local. We got a great young militant slate elected who really worked hard for us!

  22. Jess

    My first job was at age 11, digging foundation ditches for three homes being built a few blocks from where I lived. I was walking by, the guys were taking a break, like a typical wise-ass kid I asked if they were tired. One of them said, “Hell, yeah. You try it, you’d be tired, too” or something to that effect. I asked how much they’d pay me, guy said 50 cents an hour, I said, “Gimme a shovel”. Worked the rest of the day, went home, my dad was so proud. I went back every day for about a week, maybe a little more, until the job was finished.

    Later I had a job chipping the cement off used bricks at a building supply yard. (That was back when manufactured fuax used bricks were just coming on the market but lots of folks still wanted the real thing.) Got paid a penny a brick, but you had to be careful chipping the old mortar off. If he hit the brick wrong you could break it, and you did not get paid for broken bricks. Could do about 60 an hour or 60 cents an hour.

    Then there was the busboy dishwasher job at the crappy local BBQ place. Big money, $1/hr, but I didn’t get paid for the time it took after the place closed to finish cleaning the kitchen and the cooking pots and pans.

    Taught me the value of physical labor and to cherish the various forms of white collar work since then.

  23. Emma

    “What was your favorite job?”
    No favorite, just a couple of fun ones amongst the shitty ones….
    First ever job was definitely fun. I was 14 or 15 and worked at a newsagent’s and tobacconist shop in a small English village on Sundays. It was hilarious as the pubs were closed whilst the churches were not, and the newsagent shop became a magnet for the male residents of the town….many of whom were devout defectors of a certain age and thought that “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet” smoked outside talking cricket!
    Another fun job was working my way through Uni partially as a tourist guide in a stately old castle. The best bit about it was when either a group of American or Japanese tourists turned up……their questions were always priceless!
    The least favorite job I ever had was in the country des 35 heures……..what a joke!

  24. craazyman

    I’m surprised we haven’t heard from any gynecologists.

    boowhahah ahhahah ahahahaha! sorry, just had to crack myself up like a moron.

    Pumping Gas was the best. It was mostly sitting around in the station wearing a green jacket with the station’s name and a matching green hat with the Texaco star. it was me and one dude my dad’s age. I was 18. It was the night shift and we took turns when ever a car came. He was a hard man, sad, worn and tired and he would tell me stories I can’t now remember but they were hard, sad stories of struggle and failure against impossible odds. Then he’d light up a cigarette and we’d be silent for a while. I didn’t feel bad for him or pity him. He was simply a fact of a life I had no way of understanding. And he showed me a respect that his years did not require. He could have made me go out into the cold (it was winter) and pump most of the cars, without giving me a reason why. I would have done that, without thinking about it, as if it was a natural state of mankind, until I had to conclude my apprenticeship at the service station and go back to the university when classes resumed. But he didn’t. And for that, wherever you are now, sir, thank you. It was one of the best lessons I ever had.

  25. skylark

    Some of my favorite jobs were in the Great State of Maine. A summer job in a bean factory outside Portland, sewing sails in a sail loft, and my very favorite: several summers spent waitressing on the late night shift at the Seagull Diner in Kittery. When the bars emptied out, the place would transform into an insane whirlwind of drunks, country music wannabees, old-timers, truckers, hippies, fishermen, drifters, cops, and tourists. For a compulsive people-watcher, it was nirvana, and everyone had a story.

    I learned something from every job I had—even if it was — never take a job like this again. All my skills and knowledge from all of these jobs helps me now in my latest, and perhaps last job. For my mid-life adventure, I went back to school and got my teaching certification at age 52. I am now doing the job that makes me the happiest of all (and also the most exhausted, craziest, challenged, rewarded, and broke of all!).

  26. just_kate

    I’ve had lots of types of jobs in my life so far at different levels and in various industries – so a good range to choose from. The ony one I really enjoyed was a part time gig during college in a small video store chain that also sold home electronics. This was the late 80’s in SoCal and the business was owned by a few guys from NY and populated with a really neat mix of people. Looking back its hard to believe how many adults were able to make a living working there. Like the one guy who repaired broken cassettes and handled the inventory or the driver who visited the 3 locations to pick up /drop off returns all day long – both those guys made a decent living and even the part timers were paid pretty well.

  27. Murky

    “What was your favorite job”

    Well, none of my previous jobs is anything to write about, but my current job definitely qualifies as ‘favorite’. I work as an independent archivist in a university library. I am ‘independent’ in that I am no longer employed by this university; I lost my job when they cut 15% of all staff in response to the 2008 financial crisis. So I went into business for myself, and it seems to be working suprisingly well. It’s true that I no longer have medical benefits or a 403b retirement plan, but I don’t have to put up with the BS of organizational politics or anybody pushing me around. I am my own boss, and I get to choose my clients and my own terms of business.

    Just what’s so great about my work? Well, I get to dig through the papers of historians, economists, diplomats, military generals and the like. Mostly I just photograph documents for my clients, and I’ve become rather good at this. Order a couple hundred documents today, and have nice clear photo reproductions delivered by tomorrow via the file sharing service Dropbox. I don’t usually have time to read the documents I photograph, but occasionally I come across quality content and browse at my leisure. Sometimes my clients want me to read a pile of documents and summarize content for them. That’s the choicest part of my work, as I learn a lot of history and get to polish my writing skills. The downsides to my job are just two. I have to work with microfilm, which is vastly inferior to paper documentation, clunky to work with, causes eyestrain, and image quality sucks. The other downside is my rather humble earnings. I live in a very high rent district ($1800 / month for a 1 bedroom apt.), and my income just barely matches my expenses. But at least I am happy.

  28. Alexa

    After a lifetime of preparation, switched from musical career to another profession.

    So, easily my “favorite job”, which could never be classified as real work, has been those isolated occasions when I did play (piano) for monetary remuneration, for pure enjoyment. ;-)

  29. citizendave

    I got my first real job after getting out of the Army. I visited Portland, Maine to hang out with friends, and took up residence there for a few years, starting in ’72. Despite my long hair I was hired to work in a chain book store at the Maine Mall in South Portland. I remember being thrilled to get a five cent raise — to $2.15 per hour. For a 40 hour week that meant almost $2 extra per week, which mostly upped the quality of the intoxicants.

    What I remember most was the interaction with the customers. The old-timers were my favorites. I would try to get them to lapse from Broadcast English into their native pace and Down East dialect. I tried to learn to talk like them, and back in those days I was fairly fluent.

    The assistant manager was an older Maine woman, of dignified bearing, who was always friendly, and who shared her intellect and outlook generously. When she and I were working together in the store, reality became much more civilized than normal.

    I went back to Portland for a year in ’80-’81, and used the last of my GI Bill to take my first computer classes at a now defunct business college. Back home in Wisconsin years later I earned associate degrees in electronics and computers, and made my living solving IT problems in a corporate environment. After my employer lost a major customer in ’09, as an NC commenter put it recently, I donated my job to a younger co-worker and “retired” at age 61.

    I’ve learned so much here at NC over the past 3+ years, it’s like going to school — the kind of school you like and look forward to the classes. If I had not worked in the corporate world for so many years I think I would not be able to understand or appreciate as much of what is written here at NC.

    Maybe my favorite job lies ahead in the future.

  30. dugs

    I have enjoyed reading these accounts; quite a number of them describe an America that no longer exists, or at least not in as rich a form (in terms of acquiring experience in the real world, and getting PAID for it). My own favorite job was also my first, a summer gig with the Forest Service in the mountains of Colorado. It entailed my first solo trainride ever, west from suburban Maryland to Denver (passing, in the middle of the night, through the festival of fire that Pittsburgh used to be, when it made steel round the clock). Being the only dude Easterner on a nine-man summer crew, I ended up somewhat ingloriously on the campground-cleanup detail, swabbing open-hole crappers, cleaning out fire grates, and picking up trash. These were 2-man crews, motoring from campground to campground in a government pickup packed with pine-sol, garbage bags, and toilet brushes, through some of the most beautiful, fragrant, fresh-air country I’d ever been in. My bunkmates in the barracks were mostly midwestern farm kids, plus a pair of brothers from Tucson who liked to shoot holes in the barracks ceiling when they got likkered up. At our barracks doorstep the California Zephyr roared through twice a day, and on a distant mountainside you could just make out the remnants of a long-abandoned rail route over the Continental Divide that cost too many lives, at below-zero blizzard conditions, to keep running. Quite a change from the comfortable suburban East.

  31. Seal

    My fav was working for 6 or7 summers as a caddie – usually on a VERY hilly golf course in Westchester, Whippoorwill. No carts here at least back then. I was outside, out of the house and walking a lot. Made good money and was in good shape carrying two golf bags but I blew it on drinking even as a teenager.
    My father, a club member and an executive with Time Inc. got me a job for two summers as a copy boy at Time Magazine – say 1959 and 1960. Met some of the top writers and interesting people of the time – Henry Grunwald, John McPhee, Jason McManus, Joyce Haber was a researcher [women couldn’t be writers then], John Dunne, and I seem to remember Joan Dideon there for a while, lots of REALLY smart people. Haber and Grunwald would go out to dinner almost every night to Café Louis 14th then Grunwald would come back and feverishly re-write most people’s copy using yellow #2 pencils which we copy boys had to have bunches of sharpened at all times. He wasn’t too hard on us as he had started as a copy boy himself.

  32. skippy

    Favorite Jobs… zilch.

    Favorite timeline… grandfathers old school farm.

    A veritable micro ecosystem – with space for not only the wide range of domesticated animals – but, also the local wildlife – equally respected – revered.

    Rotational crops and fields left fallow, as much forest as tillable land, half acre garden with you name it – zero chemical treatments. Always a stopping point from house to barn – sheds – the hundreds of acres to be explored by inquisitive young mind. Fresh whatever rinsed off at near by deep bore well tap – for an explosion of taste.

    Trees of giving planted by earlier inhabitants 100+ years, pears, cherry’s, apples, black walnuts, pecans, persimmons, sarsaparilla, abundant wild herbs and roots – and acre of blackberry’s (pain and pleasure~).

    A place where just under the dirt one could find remnants of the drive west, wagon wheel ruts in stony out cropping, foundations to way stations, arrow heads, hand dug wells, the settlers from the 1800s house w/bark still on the attic beams, dirt cellar, foundation of hand mixed cement decorated with bits of colored glass, trunks of photos and documents from people that had passed on, some whom were buried right out at the front of the driveway… not 50M from the new farm house.

    Where one was not paid a wage – but, attempted to garner respect, out of ones ability and acts. You could only use a tool, when you showed the proper respect for it and the possible consequences of its usage, harm to the tool, to self and most importantly too others. A screw driver, knife, farm machinery (belt driven 22″ circular saws anyone?), a veritable plethora of pointy sharp crushing spinning metal on the move over bumpy ground and lastly… guns. On the gun thingy… the old man hated BB guns with a passion, said the only purpose they were designed for… was damaging and breaking stuff… glass magnets he called them. He would rather hand me a Winchester Model 1897 12 gauge shotgun (bloody external hammer!!!) to a scrawny kid, as its lethality was extremely evident. Same for British Lee-Enfield .303, Belgium Browning .22/410 over under w/hexagonal barrels, one massive 30” goose neck Damascus twist steel Dbl barreled 10 gauge shot gun (field artillery really), and one old .38 Army service revolver that never was allowed. In fact… never came out of storage – EVER – as its only implied function… was to murder people and as an old timey quiet Iowan w/beliefs, who was he to make that judgment, when there were so many other alternatives.

    Anywho… miss use was grounds for revoking “the privilege afforded” in ***command*** of said tools, until such times efforts warranted a second go. This was not pleaded for… being keen is another matter… until the offer is tabled.

    This ethos was unwritten amongst these sort of men and women. Like giving unto others meant personal time and effort, some times at the drop of a hat. Yet for those that showed a persistence in putting themselves in a rough spot, a simple and dry – no – would be uttered without hard feelings and there would always be hope… hope some would come good in the end, not torture themselves. No only for themselves but, for the betterment of all those around them. It was not perfect, it should not be romanticized, but, it had something about it you could live with, work with, evolve in, be a part of, in isolation or community.

    skippy… agriculture, animal husbandry, carpentry – joinery, electrical and mechanical engineering, naturalist, historian, hunter, fisher, and with a parcel of books on physics – Sci Fi, read upon an old deer stand in the middle of this place… with… such solitude… red tail hawk peeking from above… and every other creature unafraid – taking no notice of me… I wonder… when its scheduled to be fracked…

    PS. Ohh… too run with the deer… again… through the landscape… in the day and night… the night part takes some getting used too… but whence that fear is reconciled… no words can express… that place… sigh~~~

    1. kristiina

      Yes, life with dignity. It is possible.

      Mysteriously, at least in Europe, even the farmers are made slaves through the system of EU subsidies – to rob the dignity from the most obviously dignified field of work one can think of. The same goes for most of professions that people may feel a calling to – they are now set up in such a way that it is impossible to do them well, to get the inner/ínherent satisfaction that goes with a job well done. Worthy work made into whoring, quick and dirty.

      To bring back the dignity to work, here and now…

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