BAGGING GROCERIES As a Safeway "courtesy clerk" (i.e., "bitch"), be prepared to bag groceries, collect carts, and have no name but "Cleanup, aisle five." To keep from losing your mind faster than a case of beer out the service entrance, here are a few pieces of wisdom:
The mop is your friend.
Use it on floors, walls, toilets, and mirrors. The distance a mop's handle provides helps you remain philosophical about things like tampons stuck to the ceiling and baby vomit.
Managers hate you.
They're fifty-three years old and working at the same place you do. Expect retribution--such as when my manager made me clean all the toilets with Windex, a single paper towel wad, and no gloves.
Know your rights.
If I had read the employee guidelines, I would have known it was against company policy when they fired me for having green hair.
Ride the motorized old-people cart.
If you don't, you'll spend the rest of your life wishing you had. JAMES SUTTER
FLIPPING BURGERS Psychology 101 can be helpful in surviving a job as a grill cook in a Bellevue bowling alley. Remember "positive reinforcement"? When people order complicated, time-intensive menu items--nachos, shakes, club sandwiches--don't provide positive reinforcement by cooking them very well, especially during busy league nights. Your time-management worries will disappear. If the menial humiliations of the job (standing for hours in front of a stove splattering grease) get to you, remember that you're only there transitionally while bettering yourself in school--unlike those poor slobs who go to the lanes every day voluntarily. One more tip: When the state patrol officers come in on Friday to order the fish-and-chips special, stand back from the counter. (Their breath smells like they spent the morning licking the ass of a garbage-eating, incontinent bear.) SCOTT McGEATH
PEDDLING SLURPEES Like dispensing sponge baths in a nursing home, working in a 24-hour convenience store seems to contain an inherent moral worth, a romantic value far beyond the $7.01 an hour you'll receive issuing lottery tickets, swabbing floors, and dodging bullets.
With the right mindset, you can survive a stint as a late-night counter clerk, enjoying the parade of freaks and "learning about REAL LIFE, man" without risking safety, sanity, or dignity--but you must adhere to two rules.
Rule #1: Don't argue with robbers. You're not getting paid enough. Be calm, courteous, and helpful. Offer to help carry stuff out to the van.
Rule #2: Don't steal. By this, I mean don't take home anything you haven't paid for. But feel free to help yourself to whatever you want while you're on the clock. Don't go nuts: no booze, no antifreeze. But eat as many Funyuns as you want, and read all the magazines. DAVID SCHMADER
HAWKING BOOKS The perks and freebies at a gargantuan, overly air-conditioned corporate megabookstore (20 percent discount! cheap chain-store coffee!) come at a cost: You spend most of your days dealing with customers who ask questions like, "I'm looking for a book I saw on Oprah? I think it's green? It was based on the author's life? Can you find that in your system?" If you do sign your life away to Borders or Barnes and Noble, get a midday shift (you'll clean up fewer books and you won't have to come in at 7:00 a.m. or stay up past midnight reconciling the till), wear comfortable shoes, and don't let the customers know you hate them ("You'd like to sit and read wedding books all day without buying any of them? And spill coffee everywhere? And then you'd like me to clean up your mess? Right this way."). Oh, and wear plenty of sweaters--it's cold in there. ERICA C. BARNETT
POPPING POPCORN During the first half of my college experience, I sold popcorn in a wagon in the courtyard area of Seattle's Union Square towers. The wagon was circus-red, and there was very little room inside it. At the time, I had dreadlocks, which by the day's end were thick with the smell of burned oil, butter, and corn. I lost dates (sex) because of that horrible smell. Not even detergent could remove it.
The job also sucked because you had to be sober and attentive while working the popcorn machine, which operated much like a mini hell, turning the dead seeds over and over until they exploded into a ghost of a puff. The moment your mind drifted, the moment you took notice of some pretty career person on her way to work, the neglected machine became a monster, roaring fire and black smoke.
The main customers were fat, rude secretaries who never wanted butter on their popcorn and thin, rude lawyers who liked butter. The job paid nothing and had zero rewards. If you are ever hired for it, make sure to cut off all your hair. CHARLES MUDEDE
PUMPING GAS Of all the soul-sucking jobs I've held, working at gas stations was tops. If you're looking for a minimum-wage way to wile away the hours, get thee to a Chevron and fill out an application immediately. The job sucks in many ways (you carry that gasoline reek all day, customers treat you like you're on America's Most Wanted, and you have to wear heavy polyester pants all summer), but you meet all kinds of (good-looking, sometimes important) people because everyone needs to fill their tank at some point--I hooked up with some choice boys over the Chevron counter. And the change-dispensing conversation can lead in all sorts of career-promoting directions: One chat about wanting to study film led to an invite to a movie set. A word of warning: Do not smoke the mechanics' weed. Just because they can operate heavy machinery under the influence of their stash does not mean you will be able to physically lift your ass off the cement after a toke with them. JENNIFER MAERZ
DEALING DRUGS So here you are, fresh on campus and in need of some ready cash. You're bursting with untapped entrepreneurial spirit. What better way to prepare yourself for your inevitable entry into Harvard's M.B.A. program than by running a collegiate business? And what better collegiate business is there than dealing drugs to those desperate fun seekers euphemistically known as fellow undergraduates?
High margins, low fixed costs, insatiable market demand, big-breasted women of weedy moral fiber who suddenly crave your intimate attentions. Damn, it's a sweet gig. From someone who's been there, some advice:
Don't get greedy. Think small business, not multinational corporation. Develop a dedicated clientele, and then sit tight. Big-time dealers go to jail.
Don't sell weed. Only hippie dipshits smoke weed, and only losers sell it. It's bulky and the margins suck. No coke, either--too many assholes. Ecstasy is best: The profits are big and the girls put out.
Don't dip into your stash. Easier said than done--believe me, it's a slippery slope--but this is absolutely crucial. Drug use can be fun, but it's a dead end. Leave it to the rubes you're exploiting. MR. X