I just started to eke out a living playing music this year. For the 20 years before that, I had to survive on the other limited skills I have. Speaking English and typing are really the only things that come to mind. I've done a lot of crummy jobs, nothing terrible like sitting at that Obama-with-a-Hitler-mustache clipboard table or standing in front of Home Depot hoping to get to dig a ditch, just your typical "white whine" kind of jobs. Here are a few that stand out.
My first job was given to me by my father, a doctor, an ob-gyn to be specific. I was to deal with a large unlabeled stockpile of Betamax tapes with various ultrasounds recorded on them, cataloging the patient name and date. If I remember correctly, I "quit" because I was alarmed when I came across my junior high school teacher's uterus, though it was just an act to cover up the fact that it was boring scrolling through tape after tape staring at that black-and-white cone.
I went to "college" at the Art Institute of Seattle for audio engineering. My first job after graduating was at the Seattle Funplex. A friend who graduated with the same degree as me (and who I later played in the A-Frames with) went to work at Brown Bear Car Wash across the street. You had to tuck your Funplex shirt in, so I was sent home my first day for having a Pabst Blue Ribbon belt buckle. (Recently, when trying to sell a huge bag of clothes full of vintage sweaters and shirts, Italian loafers, and expensive jeans to Buffalo Exchange, the belt buckle was the only thing they wanted.)
The Funplex was next door to a sewage treatment plant. I worked there one uncharacteristically hot summer, and the place reeked like a tangy microwaved diaper. They had to put huge industrial fans at all of the open doors in an effort to air out the smell—the parade of parents and kids cringing when they came in was comical. The first station I worked was the bumper cars: giant inner tubes with cheap go-carts underneath to propel them. These ran on two monster-truck-size car batteries that took 24 hours to fully charge but drained almost instantly. The job consisted of playing hot potato with the batteries. Sometimes, a kid would get in one that wouldn't move at all, and you got to just shrug at him.
Then I worked the Jungle Bouncer, a giant inflatable bouncy jungle with three rooms. The first was the punching bag room, where the punching bags were so beat up and full of holes that the air machine had to be left on all day, creating a deafening airplanelike roar. The next room was a ladder up to a bouncy slide that landed in the "ball room," a netted room with two-and-a-half feet of plastic balls. On slow days, you could bury yourself in them and nap. On bad days, after enough kids had peed their pants in there, you had to bag up the stinking balls and power-wash them out back. Kids would also pee in the climbing maze. The job there consisted of watching kids go in and waiting until you heard some terrified screaming, then taking a roll of paper towels, climbing in, and wiping down whatever damage they had done. The laser tag room was easy enough if you like to breathe fog-machine smoke.
After I gave my notice, the manger, whom I hadn't seen since being sent home the first day, said, "If this is about money, we can offer you a 25 cent raise." I was knee-deep in a Dumpster smashing old pizzas down to make more room. I passed.
A few years later, I got a job with a temp agency. I had signed up to do administrative type work, and my first assignment was in Kirkland at 6 a.m. I only had an address and was confused when I drove back and forth in front of a dark steel mill. This was the place. Here we bent rebar into different shapes for road construction. By "we" I mean that I received orders on an archaic computer that spit out an order on multicolor carbon paper that I tore apart and put into a confusing series of unnumbered boxes. I had a half-day of training from an about-to-burst pregnant lady in a dim, freezing trailer where you could choose if you wanted numb feet or numb fingers by the placement of the sole space heater. Some mistakes were made, and the angry, hulking poor bastards who actually had to bend the stuff in the mill would storm in and threaten to throw me through the window. I am not saying that for comedy—it's true. Numerous times I would drive halfway to work and pull over and call in sick. Once when I couldn't remember a rebar shape from an earlier order, the boss said, "Yer memory's about as long as yer dick, ain't it?" Upon me showing up on time (once), he said, "What happened, shit the bed?"
Until recently, I was working for a company that creates the subtitles for DVD/Blu-ray releases of movies and TV shows. A good friend hooked me up with the job, and honestly I am very, very grateful, as it allowed me to move to Los Angeles and buy groceries (or, more accurately, tacos, sunglasses, and margaritas), so please forgive me as I make fun of it here. The job, "QC," shorthand for quality control, means I sat in a dark room with two giant TVs playing the same movie in every language and subtitle imaginable. For example, your assignment will be Paranormal Activity 2 with French audio and Spanish subtitles on one screen and English subtitles on the other. Since we worked on the same titles for a long time, you got a chance to see the same movie OVER AND OVER AND OVER. I've seen Meet the Fockers so many focking times, I can play the soundtrack on an acoustic guitar while reciting every word of dialogue. I've watched Tron Legacy in 3-D so many times that I once had to pull over on the way home because my eyeballs could no longer decipher the distance of the red sea of brake lights ahead of me on the freeway.
You start to form weird opinions after repeated viewings of the same thing, opinions like Jackass 3-D is just as entertaining as Stanley Kubrick's Lolita. Or Hans Zimmer's score of Megamind is superior to his score of Pirates of the Caribbean 4. It also starts to make you nuts when watching closed-captioned TV with your hearing-impaired father—you find yourself annoyed that there is an ellipsis with four dots instead of three, or you see a "there" when it should be "they're." Useful skills I can't wait to try to apply when I have to come crawling back to the working week when this music thing goes belly-up.
Lars Finberg is the frontman of the Intelligence, which won a 2011 Stranger Genius Award. He also plays in the bands Thee Oh Sees, Wounded Lion, and Puberty.