Its a Living

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

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?

SEWER WORKER

ROY PARRINO, ORANGE COUNTY SANITATION DISTRICT, HUNTINGTON BEACH

How 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?

CREMATORY MANAGER

NAME WITHHELD, FULLERTON

So 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.

DATA-ENTRY CLERK

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.


'Would you like to see my drawings?'

CANINE-SEMEN COLLECTOR

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."

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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