By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Photo by Jack GouldTo be honest, we started out to make fun of really bad jobs. Jobs where you pick up poop, set corpses afire, park cars, remove back hair, pick up golf balls or collect semen from dogs. So we talked to people who do all these things—and found out they didn't think these were bad jobs at all. Most of them, in fact, rather liked their jobs, which made us think that either: (a) people are very happy, well-adapted and therefore adaptable; (b) people are miserable, beaten-down and therefore adaptable; (c) interviewing a phone sex operator over the phone and having her call you "foxy" is sweet; or (d) my head hurts.
The point is all labor is honorable. (Well, most of it. We can't imagine anything honorable that involves nerve gas or, say, Carrot Top.) So read on, workers of the world. What have you got to lose?
Fourteen years. They said it was a job in collections. I thought they meant collecting money; I didn't know they meant crap. We're the ones who clean the sewer lines, you know, get down there and dig that stuff out. It's pretty gross. I was telling my boss it's like taking a big crap and then sticking your hand in the toilet and mixing it all around.But you guys have equipment to protect yourselves, like gloves, right?
I've seen guys try to wear gloves down there, but stuff always ends up getting trapped between the glove and your skin. It's best just to go down there, do what you got to do, and come up and wash your hands.But can't you get sick from, you know, touching that stuff?
I haven't seen anyone get sick. I always laugh at the beach closures. Here we are down there every day riding raw sewage and then, like, 50 gallons of the stuff gets out in the whole ocean, and they close the whole beach down.What about the legend of the sewer gators?
No, I've never seen one. We do find a lot of change down there. We find all kinds of stuff down there. A lot of needles, sunglasses, pagers, phones. I always wonder how that stuff gets down there. You know what we find a lot of is jewelry—rings, necklaces, things like that. We used to get a lot when the Marines were still at Tustin, I think because they'd get pissed at their girlfriends and flush their jewelry down the toilet. The other day, a guy found a diamond that was appraised at $2,000. You know, nobody ever wants to go into the hole, but the day after that, everybody wanted to.Sounds like you like your job.
It's not so bad. I don't really hear many jokes about it or anything. Sometimes people get mad at us because our trucks are blocking traffic or, for some reason, they blame us for the ocean being screwed up. But not a lot of jokes. These kids, one time, threw eggs at us. But eggs are really nothing for what we do, you know?
NAME WITHHELD, FULLERTONSo how'd you get started? Was it a family thing?
My dad is in the mortuary business. So on the Fourth of July, we wouldn't go to Disneyland; we'd go to the mortuary and watch the fireworks from there. Or when my dad worked double shifts, my mom would have to bring him dinner. My brother and I were too young to stay home by ourselves, so we'd go with her and play hide-and-seek, or chicken with the bodies—like if I could run to the fourth body [in the morgue], my brother would have to run to the fifth, and so on.Was it scary?
It was, but then my dad was right there, so it wasn't—you know, when you see your dad, it kind of makes everything okay.So you were pretty well used to dead bodies by the time you started at the crematory? How was your first day? Was it weird?
It was killer! Are you kidding me? It was great—just the smell when you walked in . . . It was a really different experience. I cremated my first body in May 1994 and turned 18 the next month. It's not too often when you get to do something like this—I mean, I had to do something with bodies because I didn't like the paperwork side of things. But when you do something with bodies, it's not even like work. It's fun!How do you think your work meshes with your personality?
I think it goes good—you know, I got a caring side, a lot of understanding.So what kind of equipment do you use?
Fireproof gloves, or latex gloves for dressing people, respirators. . . . We use stoking tools that come with the cremation chamber—they're 13 feet long for sweeping out crematoriums—then we use a vacuum for residue only; a processor that grinds human remains and bone fragments to a sort of sand, if you will. We do approximately five to seven [bodies] per day during an eight-hour shift—for two chambers, that's a full day. You basically heat the chamber up, turn a few knobs to start the preheat cycle—you got to do it once every morning and then every time before a cremation. But the second time around, it takes less time—you know, because it's still warm.Are there any health risks, like, smoke-inhalation risks or anything?