Its a Living

You think your jobs tough? Try being the Ty-D-Bowl Man for Huntington Beach

I note that it's a bit clinical—no natural coming together in a leafy park—and the vet admits that it is. But the options are limited. If you're in some distant land and want the semen of some rare dog, then FedEx, the Internet and modern medicine make it possible to breed across boundaries. It's like an AT&T long-distance commercial for dogs: technology brings them together.

"It's not very interesting," she says. "But it's work."

HOTEL MAID

NAME WITHHELD, IRVINE



What's it like being a hotel maid?

Oh, the guests are very nice. Sometimes I get tips. And my boss is very generous with, you know, my schedule. I have kids, so . . .

Are the guests always very nice?

I shouldn't say, because, you know . . .

So they're not always very nice?

No, not always. Of course not.

What are they like when they're not nice? What do they do?

They make like a lot of demands—ask me to do things I'm not supposed to do.

Like what?

Hang up their clothes. Clean their clothes. Pack their clothes. A lot of that.

What's the worst thing you've been asked to do?

I can't say. One man went to the bathroom in his bed.

He urinated in his bed?

No, he didn't urinate.

[. . .]

I had to clean that up.



PHONE SEX OPERATOR

CASSANDRA, CITY WITHHELD

How do you get into the business?

I did it on a dare. I needed some fast money, and I didn't want to be a stripper. People told me I had such a great voice that I should do phone sex. So I called and arranged an interview, but they'll pretty much hire anyone. The people who stick with it are the ones who get repeat callers.

What's the secret to getting repeat callers?

I think having a good voice is important, but if you don't listen to the client, you're not going to do very well. You need to listen to what they're asking for and create an awesome fantasy. It's all about creating fantasies. I've been everything: a dominatrix for people who want to be controlled, told what to do; those are usually very well-off, rich people who have a lot of power and just want the release of having someone tell them what to do. I did dual calls with another woman so callers could fantasize about two women together. But you have to set limits. I wasn't willing to do calls that involved children or animals. If a client called for that, I'd refer them to someone else.

Can you make pretty good money?

I started when I was in college and did it strictly as a part-time thing. I averaged between $1,000 to $2,000 per month, but there were big swings. When it's tax season, you get fewer calls. When it gets hot, you get less calls. When it gets cold, the calls increase. Guys, for some reason, like to masturbate more when it's cold.

A lot of us have images of phone sex operators from movies and that Aerosmith video—you know, they're actually fat, old, or folding their laundry while they're talking to some guy.

I was a college student when I started, but I was the exception. I'd say that 90 percent of the women were older women who didn't have skills to get a normal job. There were some college students, some young, single mothers. But a lot of the women were in their 40s or older. We had one woman who was in her 80s. I can tell you this: it definitely isn't Girl 6[a Spike Lee film about a phone-sex operator]. I didn't work in some big office. I worked out of my home at my leisure. I told people, "This is a job, not an adventure." And I meant it because most clients' ultimate goal is to meet you. You're this unattainable goal they have created in their minds, and they want you. Clients have sent me all kinds of things to try and convince me to meet them.

What kinds of things?

Flowers, teddy bears, candy, but mostly porno tapes. Yeah, I guess they think I'm going to say, "Porn, ooohh! I want you." The creepy thing is some of them send videotapes of themselves on the phone with me. And when I watched those, I found out that the stuff that I thought was just fantasy roleplaying, they were actually doing. One time, as a dominatrix, I told this guy to shove eight toothbrushes up his ass. I didn't think he was actually doing it. Then I got the video. I told another guy to stick Twinkies up his ass, and I got a videotape. This one guy was describing having sex with fruit when he was on the phone. I thought he was joking. Then, in the mail, here comes the video.

Were you ever tempted to meet someone?

Never. I value my life too much. I've had so many things offered to me. I had a doctor offer me 5,000 bucks to come down and meet him at the hospital. He called me while on a break during heart surgery. I didn't know those guys took breaks, but I found out they did. Anyway, he just wanted me to come down and pick up the envelope. I said no way. I didn't feel like getting killed in the parking lot.

What did you like most about the job? Probably the freedom to work when I wanted, to be my own boss. There was no pressure: if you didn't want the call, you didn't have to take it. What didn't you like?What I regretted most was probably that I used my real voice, so that once when I was at a bar, a client recognized me. He kept looking at me, and then he said, "You're Cassandra!" I was with people who didn't know what I did. I took him upstairs and told him, "Yeah, it's me." He was cool. But I told him straight out, "You're cute and really nice, but I don't date clients. Ever." Hey, it's a job, not an adventure. FAST FOOD WORKER Overheard at Japanese Anime Festival at Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Long Beach Dude 1 [snidely]: So, how are you liking working at Burger King, dude? Dude 2: Don't laugh, dude. At least they pay minimum wage. That's better than Knott's. Dude 1: Knott's doesn't pay minimum wage? Dude 2: They get you on this bogus six-month, like, training, thing. You're on probation, they tell you, so they don't have to pay you much. Dude 1: Dude! Dude 2: I know! OPERATING ROOM TECH NAME WITHHELD, HUNTINGTON BEACH So you do liposuctions? Is that gross?Well, all the fat that gets sucked out, I get to handle all that. It's yellow, just like you see on chicken. We put it in canisters because we use the tumescent technique. We inject saline into the fat, and it breaks it up a little bit, gives the patient hydration. So it comes into the canister—being sucked out by a very small canula, like if you look at a No. 2 pencil, maybe half that size. Does anyone ever try and steal it to make soap, like inFight Club? No, no, no—it has to go through certain biohazardous . . . There are certain laws in the state of California you have to adhere to. So we just dispose of it. What's it sound like when you're sucking out fat?It sounds like a motor, like you're inflating a tire, or a vacuum, that's basically what it is. Sure, there's some ugly slurping sounds. But after a lot of times, you get used to it. Do you ever have, like, flashbacks, where you'll be hanging out like at a kid's birthday party and hear one of those inflatable bounce houses being inflated, and all of a sudden, you're back there in the operating room with your arms full of sloshy fat?I can't think of anything offhand that reminds me of things like that, but I am more conscious of what I eat. I cut all the fat off chicken, all the fat off meat—you know, because I deal with it, so it's like, "Ewwww!" Or sometimes, when you burn the hair on the back of your arms when you turn on the stove, sometimes it'll remind me of flesh burning because when we do laser resurfacing, we're basically burning skin and hair, and you get that smell. And I hate that smell! Is the fat, you know, warm?Yeah, sometimes things are warm. When you're handed tissue, it's warm. The worst part of it is when you throw away the fat—during the handling, you'd probably get really grossed out. I can't even think of what it looks like. You know like when you have a milkshake, and after a while, the thick part stays at the top, and there's the water at the bottom—that's basically what it looks like, but it's yellow. Or sometimes it gets a little pink tint because of the blood—yeah, it's pretty morbid, but you know, I enjoy what I do. Anything bad ever happen?The worst experience was when I first started, they did a leg amputation for a diabetic patient because he had no circulation in his leg. And all of a sudden, they say, "Okay, here's the specimen!" and they hand me the whole lower leg! Talk about freaking out. I'm like, "Hello? This is a leg I'm holding here!" And then you have to pass it off—put it in a bag. That was probably one of the worst ones. That was when I was a rookie, when I was in trauma. And then also having to help with open-heart surgeries on babies. Do you ever ponder deeper philosophical issues while you're working? Like think about the true nature of beauty while you're watching little globs of fat get sucked through a tube?Well, beauty of course comes from within, and I feel good helping people, helping them look better and feel better about themselves. I've never had any plastic surgery done, and I've been doing this for 15 years. Maybe I just don't want to have it done. I guess I'm more self-assured than other people, maybe. But cosmetic surgery helps people who have birth defects, too. There's a lot involved in this kind of work.
Consultant to the bereaved
Photo by Jack Gould
FUNERAL CONSULTANT/ADVISER THOMAS OSWALD, THOMAS OSWALD MEMORIALS, WESTMINSTER We sell funeral merchandise—caskets, grave markers, vaults, flowers, you name it, all the funeral merchandise—and we network with certain mortuaries where we help people get funerals at an affordable cost. I sell the merchandise wholesale. We can make suggestions to the family that may be on a budget. There's nobody else doing what we do—we're like insiders in the business, so we can tell them how to get graves and caskets at reduced prices. I used to own three large mortuaries in the San Fernando Valley. My father started three mortuaries in 1947, and I sold them in 1989. For me it's a very rewarding job because we can help people. I grew up in the business, so I see it a certain way. I would think most people walking in off the street and doing what I do would find it depressing, but because I grew up with it, I see it differently. It's a business, and you have to be able to look at it as a business. You have to have some distance, which is hard sometimes, especially if you're dealing with babies. STRIPPER NAME WITHHELD, LONG BEACH

I dance at a Southern California strip club. I've been doing it for four years. I got into it because I was broke. I used to cut hair, but then I hurt my shoulder so I couldn't do that anymore. Then my landlord raised my rent, and I couldn't really afford that as it was. I was just not making it. Then a guy I knew suggested that I start dancing because he goes to those places. The money is good, but it's not great. I've gone home at night with as little as $40 and as much as $500. Usually I make between $200 and $300. Sometimes it's fun, but for the most part, I don't really enjoy it. When I first started, it was fun, but back then I was at a bikini bar. I thought, "Are these guys idiots? They can see girls like me in bikinis at the beach for free!" But the club where I'm at now is a pretty negative environment. The men who go in there clearly don't respect women—if they did, they wouldn't go in. And the women dancing don't respect men, or else they wouldn't be accepting money from guys just to talk to them. It's good just to do it for a little while, but if you keep going it wears on you. I try to get to work about four in the afternoon. I go into the dressing room and get ready. Other dancers will be there, and we'll carry on typical girl gossip. When I'm dressed in my bikini, I'll go downstairs and look around for guys who look like they have money. This can be tough because you never know what guys to talk to. Sometimes they're disgusting; sometimes they're smart. Some days you meet guys who are polite, who give you money for your time. On those days, you make a lot of money. But some days you meet guys who like to brag about how much money they make—they're the ones who never give you money. And then there are the guys who just seem to hate women and get a sick kick out of wasting our time. Usually I'll work five hours a night. I don't know how I used to work eight hours. I'm only onstage a total of 10 to 15 minutes each night, and I'm only briefly topless during that time. The rest of my time is spent doing lap dances and just sitting down talking to guys. It's very emotionally and physically draining. I can't work for long periods of time because of my back. Before the smoking ban in bars went into effect, I used to go home with migraines. A lot of times I'd cough up black phlegm. I eventually quit for my health, but when they passed the [no-smoking] law, I went back. Half the girls dancing are married with kids. The rest are into partying, drugs, and I'm pretty sure prostitution. Just 10 percent are like me—knowing that this is not a career and certainly not something we can do forever. Instead, the rest live in this fantasy world thinking some guy will come along and take care of them. They think the money will always be there. BUTCHER NAME WITHHELD, IRVINE At first, he was reluctant to kill another living thing, even dumb chickens on the family farm in Morelos, Mexico. Anyone would be. "But you get used to it," he says, "and then you don't think about the killing." You think about the eating. Today, he's as removed from the killing as you are. Never mind the years of technical training and fieldwork, the apprenticeship in Cypress that required him to learn anatomy, sharpen knives, "break beef," create marinades and clean up the sanguinary remains left by his mentors. He's a butcher in name alone, a stock boy with a bleached-white apron whose most powerful tool isn't a knife but a union—the meat cutters local, still capable of carving out big salaries for its members. Based largely on a reputation earned in the days of spats, butchers earn around $20 per hour (plus good benefits) unloading meat already cut into chops, ribs, T-bones, sirloins, rumps, chuck and New Yorks, cryo-vac-wrapped, priced, even marinated by someone making half that in a huge dismembering factory he never sees. His job has been Taylorized, transformed by time managers into the rump-roast equivalent of paper shuffling, complete with pressure to work off the clock—through lunch and before and after scheduled hours—to keep his meat case fresh. And he does so under the critical eye of supervisors driven by the rapidly consolidating grocery business, a field with "more negatives than positives." He misses the cutting, he says, the days "when butchering was butchering, when this was a real art and there might be six cutters working in the meat department. Now there might be two at most working a shift, which obviously limits the manpower and help available to you, the customer." GOLF COURSE GROUNDSKEEPER JOSE TORRES, COSTA MESA GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB
He's got balls
Photo by Vu Nguyen
How many golf balls do you have to pick up each day?There are seven or eight of us here at the club, and we all collect golf balls several times each day. There are thousands and thousands of them, so it takes a long time—especially the driving range. We also have to wash the golf carts, turn on the field lights at night and clean the bathroom. It's not that bad, really. Do you have to walk from ball to ball?No, they let us use a golf cart, so it's actually very easy work. Do the players ever try to hit you guys while you're picking up the golf balls?No—at least not on purpose. Sometimes the balls hit the roof of the golf cart while we're out there, but with the car, we're protected. So nobody's ever been hit on the head by a golf ball?Not yet. How do you like your job?I've been working here for one year, and I really like it. Everybody is really friendly here—the people we work for and the people who use the club. We get to drive the golf carts. It's a good job. PROFESSIONAL PROTESTER NAME WITHHELD, COSTA MESA We don't discuss the labor dispute. You can call the number on the flier if you want. They will tell you everything. We've been holding up the sign [the one that refers to the landowner as a rat] for three months, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. It's a living. Before that, I held a sign on MacArthur [in Newport Beach]. I also had a job in electro-mechanical assembly for 10 years until the plant was closed down. A nice job. This one is no better, just something to do. Some of the doctors are concerned about the way we stand. The ground can get hard on your feet; that's why I put a rug down on the pavement. The sun can be hot. We take turns on the sign, but the umbrella stays with me. The only hard part is if the wind is really blowing. Then we can't hold up the sign. If it rains, we don't work. I don't think there's a bad part about this job. We get to see God's wonderful creations—the birds, grass, trees. We have squirrels that come out and hawks that fly around. We even have a little rat that walks back and forth—two of them, actually. There's a cool breeze that gently blows. Last week in church, we sang "How Great Thou Art," and there were tears in my eyes for all the beauty of God's creations. The birds flying and the flowers and the cars and trees. Most folks are real nice. We rarely get any negative comments. A few folks yell, "Go home!" or, "Get a job!" But only rarely. We are instructed to call the police if we have trouble. This lady came up and asked me what I thought of the labor dispute. So I asked, "What do you think?" She said, "I think it's preposterous." We don't discuss the labor dispute. The best part is I hope it makes a difference. And the smiley lady. She was by earlier—she always gives us a big hug. ANIMAL ADOPTION COUNSELOR BRIGETTE, AAA HUNTINGTON BEACH ANIMAL SHELTER What's your job?We take pets people can't keep anymore—cats, dogs and rabbits—and find them new homes. We get about 250 animals per month here. As long as they are friendly and healthy, they stay here until we find them a home. Who chooses which pets have to be euthanized?We all do. There are three of us here, and we each share the responsibility. Every day, we look at the animals. If their condition is poor, we have to euthanize them. It's really sad. It's like, "Who gets to play God today?" If they're really suffering, we think it's a good thing to do. But if it's a sweet, friendly dog, it's hard to put it away. We probably have to euthanize about 10 to 20 animals each week. Have any of you adopted a pet rather than euthanize it?We've all done that. I've adopted two rabbits and four cats so far. Julie, who also works here, has five cats. What's the toughest part of your job?Honestly, it's dealing with the people. They don't listen. No matter how much advice you give them, they won't take it. A lady came in the other day with a boxful of kittens and just dropped it on the counter. "I have to go to work; take these kittens," she said. The people that come in here can be so disrespectful of life. Do you like doing this kind of work?I love it. BODY WAXER NENA TANAKA, WAX 'N' GO

Nena Tanaka never lies to her clients. She always tells them this is going to hurt. "Oh, absolutely," she says. "Always." Nena body waxes you in the comfort of your home, expertly applying a thin coat of warm wax to portions of your body bespoiled by hair and then—deftly, quickly and painfully—ripping it off your body, taking away both hair and breath. "I was trained by this woman in Germany who was kind of harsh," she says. "She taught us the tighter the skin, the faster you rip, the better the result. So what I do with a new client is I start with a small area and I watch their face to see how high their tolerance is. Some people can take a little, some people can take a lot. And some people actually—I don't know how to put this—seem to enjoy it. A lot." She estimates that nearly 85 percent of her clients are males. They want hair on their backs, chests and bikini areas removed to appear more attractive to women, to improve their sex lives, or to improve their livelihoods—she does a lot of male exotic dancers and bodybuilders. Perhaps the men are too shy to be seen in a salon, or perhaps they need a bit of courage, say a glass of wine and the soothing voice of Tanaka, who knows how to ease someone into and out of the experience. "Immediately after I rip it off, I lay my hand on the area and apply oil and massage the area. I'll even blow on it. Actually, the whole feeling is rather wonderful, like the feeling you had as a baby after you were cleaned and powdered. They love it." And Tanaka says she loves her job—loves what her clients look like afterward, loves that they tell her they wished they had done this years ago, loves that wives thank her profusely. What she doesn't care much for is lugging her 30-pound table around on her back, especially when she has to go upstairs. That's a workout. And so is the pulling. She says that the pulling really makes her work up a sweat and tires her out. But it's a good, clean, hairless kind of tired, she says, as she excuses herself from the conversation. A client has just shown up, a male exotic dancer who stopped by for a quick cleanup before a job as the featured performer for 80 women at an Anaheim Hills pool party. DRIVING INSTRUCTOR BERNIE WIESEL, ANAHEIM
Not afraid of nothin'
Photo by Jack Gould
"Sometimes I'll be sitting in the front seat, next to a driver who, let's say, is about to make a left turn against oncoming traffic—and fails to yield," says Bernie Wiesel, instructor at the Orange County Driving Academy. Wiesel relates this predicament in a voice so gushing with melody and diplomacy that you suspect it's a spring-loaded defense mechanism. But no. Wiesel really talks this way—even when he's talking about nearly getting killed because of a bad decision by one of his unskilled driving students. "Oh, it's not as hair-raising as all that," he says. "Occasionally, if somebody makes a big mistake, I have to make an intervention. We instructors have our own brake and accelerator. And we're a mini-second away from the steering wheel. If someone is making a mistake, we stop it. "For example, if someone is turning left into oncoming traffic, I'm on that brake. And then I make the proper corrective comment—in this case, 'You need to yield to oncoming traffic.' I make it firmly but not hysterically. It really isn't a problem, much." After a long career as a teacher in elementary schools and special education—not to mention a pretty long life—the 74-year-old Wiesel can put a problem like a death-defying left turn into some sort of perspective. "By this time, when I get into a car with a new driving student, I am predisposed to be patient," he says. "And that's good: you really cannot have this job without substantial patience. That's true of all teaching, which is something I have always loved. Teaching has been my personal connection to human beings, to trying to improve the world." With the state of traffic today, the driving instructor ought to be rising in the ranks of noble professions. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Whereas driver's training used to be ensconced in the high school curriculum, state funding for it has dwindled drastically. Students need only six hours of behind-the-wheel training—and a passing grade on the written test—to get their driver's licenses before age 18. Wiesel bemoans the lack of public investment in driver training, but he remains impressed with the attitude of the aspiring young drivers he encounters. "They are mostly 16 or 17 years old, but their attitude is great," he says. "They are enthusiastic and respectful. They want to be good at this." Still, climbing inside a car with them for the first time is bound to make you . . . "Nervous?" Wiesel asks. "No, like them, I have to be enthusiastic and respectful. I don't see how you can do this job well and be a nervous guy. I have to be aware—not only of the traffic, but also I have to recognize their feelings. I have to be intuitive and smart and safe." The eight years that Wiesel has been a driving instructor have improved his driving skills at a time when they might have risked deterioration. "Absolutely!" he says. "I was pretty good anyway, but now I do all the little things more conscientiously. I make a full stop when I'm turning right on red. I use my signals. I am more aware of problems, such as oncoming traffic. I am better all the way around. Without question!" UNEMPLOYED GUY DANNY EVANS, ORANGE You know the pop-psych mantra about what to do when life gives you lemons? Well, on behalf of the thousands of Orange Countians who have been laid off this year, I have a minor modification: "When life gives you lemons, cut a little hole in each one, plug the hole with a rock, and throw it at the ungrateful bastard who laid you off. Aim for his nuts." Actually, I was one of the lucky ones. I learned a few weeks before my termination that the move was imminent, giving me time to prepare. I talked to people about it (looking for sympathy mostly), and a completely unexpected pattern developed: almost everyone who'd been laid off before told me it was a blessing in disguise. A blessing in disguise? Interesting. "Maybe this won't be so catastrophic," I thought, recalculating my outlook. "It'll be a gut check. An awakening. The professional equivalent of a high colonic." This was clearly a misreading of the peril I was about to confront. Today, five months after receiving a pink slip and what could loosely be interpreted as severance pay, I'm still waiting for the "blessing" to materialize. There are, however, a few hidden virtues to being laid off. Since I have nothing else to do, I will enumerate them for you now. Unemployment breeds efficiency. Not having to be at work has enabled me to spend hours on end watching CNBC, thanking my lucky stars that I'm not making any money. If I was, I might have invested it, and I would have lost all of that money on Wall Street anyway. So I'm in the same financial doldrums, but with less effort. I'm okay; you're a mess. I've met loads of people in the Monster.com chat rooms who are significantly more pathetic than I am. Seems I'm only marginally pathetic—nothing compared with the goobers who spend all day wallowing in self-pity. Oh, wait . . . Creating order where none exists. I have used my surplus of spare time to rank in descending order the stupidest clichés of all time. "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" ranks eighth, just ahead of "You don't have to be a rocket scientist" but not quite as lame as "Don't count your chickens before they hatch." Finding ways to profit from the misery of others. I've written a business plan for an as-yet-unnamed venture in which as part of the severance package for the employees being laid off, employers will hand them a basket containing lemons, a juicer and a lovely card that reads, "Thanks for everything, Bob. Think of it as a blessing." I'm currently seeking venture capital. Contributors: Gustavo Arellano, Danny Evans, Steve Lowery, R. Scott Moxley, Anthony Pignataro, Alison M. Rosen, Nick Schou, Will Swaim, Ken Widmann, Dave Wielenga, Chris Ziegler
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