By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
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?
ROY PARRINO, ORANGE COUNTY SANITATION DISTRICT, HUNTINGTON BEACHHow long have you been doing this?
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?
Well, we use hearing protection—it's pretty loud, like I couldn't make out anything you said if I was in the back on the phone. And you get burned, of course.
VALET PARKING ATTENDANT
MIKE ADLE, VILLA NOVA, NEWPORT BEACH
I got this job because I was going to school and my parents pretty much cut me off. It's got flexible hours, and the pay is good—I make about $500 per week, which pays my rent and bills. I've been doing this for three and a half years. I really like it because I get to drive cars that aren't mine. I really like the newer Benz models. The Lexuses are really nice, too. There's not a lot of room in this lot, so we park them next door or across Pacific Coast Highway. No one's gotten hit yet running across the street—thank God—but it does get scary sometimes.
NAME WITHHELD, ANAHEIM
I'm not one now, but I used to be a data clerk, and it wasn't that bad—as long as you ignored the sore hands and crushing isolation. My days were spent typing nonstop for eight hours a day, five days a week, with only my co-worker for human interaction. People still don't believe I did that for three years. To keep my sanity, I essentially meditated on the clicking of the keyboard and the flashing icon that served as proof of where I was. You can't distract yourself with things as trivial as life; if you think about anything other than typing, you'll turn crazy. My friend took over for me after I quit. He lasted only a month. He said the job was crushing his soul.
DOCTOR'S NAME WITHHELD
They don't even dim the lights, these people, when they lead in a bitch wearing a pair of denim shorts—bitches' britches, they call them. They put her in a headlock, remove her pants and leave her bare ass exposed under the throbbing fluorescent lights. She stands on industrial, rubber-backed carpet, her ass wiggling around, her tail "flagging," i.e., waving side to side like a wiper blade, a signal, apparently, that she's in heat, and then—boom-thunka-boom-thunka-boom—the male comes clattering in, his nails scratching madly across the linoleum, his black muzzle like the hand of Adam in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, reaching for the bitch's keister.
"He was in a cage on the way over," one of the owners tells me, and she—the brindle bitch—was wandering around the very same car, spreading her scent like an intoxicating perfume, smelling up the joint like a ham.
He is primed. He yearns, he leans, he tugs for her ass. He is like a road sign indicating Intercourse. His pecker is only the size of a small man's thumb—until his searching nose and groping tongue hit her butt, and then the thing telescopes. It's like a bratwurst, a yardarm, a human phallus. He's a Great Dane, an immense hound—and so is she—and he's suddenly got a cock bigger than a man's, something about one-fifth his body length. Where does he store such a thing?
And he's on her. The brindle's face is buried in her master's lap like a scene from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale; his snout is rooting around in her ass like the hand of a blindfolded kid under a broken piñata. And that dick! That purple-and-red, swollen, blue-veined, slick, raging hard-on he's driving toward her haunches! Here it comes like a flesh zeppelin! The bitch is going to get it!
And then—no!—it's in the deft hand of the vet. She reaches under the dog's belly, grabs his wanker and slips it smoothly into a kind of Baggie, if Baggies were shaped like cones and attached to test tubes. And now she's jerking off the Baggied dog with such dexterity that he doesn't seem to know he's not inside the bitch—"bitch" being a word the vet throws around like she's Eminem. He's pumping against the doctor's hand like an exotic dancer, his forelegs on the bitch's back, his hips moving faster than humanly possible, as if there's a coiled spring in his butt unwinding at warp speed. While one dog owner holds the bitch and the other tries to leash in the thrusting male, the vet is working him, but it's a little like whacking off a muscular 80-pound ferret because this dog is positively mad with love.
"My job is to sweat," the vet says, and she is doing her job, and I'm wondering, "Is it hot in here?" Her right arm—her working arm—is larger than her left arm, she notes, "and not because of baseball."
She jokes easily, and even laughs a little—especially when she sees the look of horror frozen on my face as she bends the male's cock backward between his legs like an udder, a second tail, so that his head is pointing north and his dick is thumbing a ride south.
Semen collection is physical work. "I've got a death grip on his penis," the vet says, and she needs it; the job is like milking a cow on the run. She manipulates the dog and substitutes one test tube for another seven times in quick succession. She doesn't want the first shot, heavy with prostatic fluid, just the sperm-rich seminal fluid that comes after.
And now the dog's hips are slowing. There are three dime-sized drops of blood on the linoleum and a spot of what looks like seminal fluid, though that could be human sweat. He backs off the bitch, panting and quivering. He's 11, and this may be his last romance. He's already too old to mount such an expedition on his own, his owner says; he can't catch the fillies and keep them down, not even with the aid of a peculiar evolutionary adaptation present in all males of the species: the bulbous glandus, a doughnut-shaped protuberance at the base of the shaft that, once inside the bitch's vagina, cannot be withdrawn without serious, appendage-wrecking ramifications.
No, this boy needs a doctor's help. Hence this vet (who asked to be nameless), who specializes in collecting canine semen for multitudinous purposes—shipment to far-off customers in need of exotic, high-level sperm, for instance, or assistance in such gerontological situations as this one.
The old guy is led off to the car outside, to wait there while the procedure is completed. The bitch has more coming to her.
The doctor examines the dog's semen for motility and fertility—quality and quantity—and then has three options: fresh thawed, fresh express or fresh breeding. She can freeze the stuff in liquid nitrogen (where it can survive for approximately 10,000 years) for delivery to a certified canine sperm bank, or ship it around the world in dry ice; she can chill it for overnight delivery anywhere in the U.S. for use in artificial insemination—the only real A.I.—for up to 48 hours; or it can be used right here, right now, to impregnate the fertile, ovulating brindle bitch now panting at my feet.
"He didn't give us very good stuff this time," the vet says. She's looking through a microscope. There aren't many sperm, she observes, and some are dead.
"He's disintegrating faster than we knew," the owner says sadly.
But—hey!—why the glum faces? There's enough to proceed. The vet is mixing up the good sperm—the happy, can't-wait-to-fulfill-their-sole-biological-purpose spermatozoa—with a patented, top-secret serum. She will insert this into the bitch. Not even the vet knows precisely what's in the serum. (I can tell you it is green, comes in a pharmacological-looking glass bottle and reportedly makes sperm more assertive.) She dumps the contents of the best of the seven vials along with the green stuff into a single syringe and attaches a "pipette"—a long flexible tube. This, as you can guess, will go up the bitch's vagina.
An assistant places a metal folding chair on the industrial carpet, and the owner sits, locking the bitch's head in her lap again. The vet loads up the syringe and aims it at the bitch's backside. The procedure has all the subtlety of a porn shoot—bright lights overhead, industrial sex below, crowd gathered round the talent—and here comes Doc with one gloved hand (remember Chekhov's rule that a gun appearing in Act One must be fired in Act Three) and the syringe and pipette. Two assistants grab the bitch's legs, and the vet slips the pipette in fast, smooth and far, like a sword to the hilt. The bitch quivers, whimpers and lets out a weak yelp. The owner holds on to the bitch's head like she's roping a calf.
"Okay," the vet says, swiftly removing the pipette. "Lift."
And then we are in the Twilight Zone. With the bitch's head still firmly in her owner's lap, the two assistants lift her back legs like the handles of a wheelbarrow. I don't need to ask if they're using gravity to help speed the flow of the now amped-up spermatozoa. The bitch is about 40 degrees above level, and I imagine the effervescent, champagne sound of millions of aggressive sperm sprint-swimming for eggs, Woody Allen as a cell in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), and the bitch out of her mind with vertigo.
The doctor now reveals the reason for the rubber glove: she inserts two fingers of her gloved, lubricated hand into the bitch's black-plum vagina and piston-fires in and out.
"I do this for the breeders," she tells me. By "breeders," she means to say this: breeders—like the ladies in this room—are often medieval in their thinking and believe any number of old wives' tales, including the one that says you've got pump the vagina to get the uterus to contract and help speed the sperm. The doctor says it's nonsense, but it keeps her customers happy.
"In my first few inseminations, I swabbed with a Q-tip this long, way up inside the bitches, and I got nothing," she says. "Nothing!" She seems as amazed as I: the sperm were gone within seconds—vanished, scrammed—and the bitches' vaginas were as quiet and empty as the starting line of a road race five minutes after the gun has gone off. Nothing but empty Gatorade cups, the snapping of banners and the sound of wind.
The upside-down brindle bitch doesn't seem to mind much, right now; the vet is revving up her nether parts. She's quivering and bucking just a little. They wheelbarrow her like this for five minutes—a little cooking timer on a nearby table says so—and then she's lowered back to the horizon line, walked to the car, prohibited from peeing, and caged for one hour. In about two months, chances are very, very good she'll deliver a litter of Great Dane puppies.
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."
NAME WITHHELD, IRVINE
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 WITHHELDHow 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.