My very first paying job was cleaning [procto]scopes after use (along with all other manner of medical-surgical equipment...the skin graft scraper-thing-ey was by far the worst). Now, whenever I find myself in a round of "who here among us has had the worst job" I nearly always win. It's the job that keeps on paying.Since your Pappy is laid up with the rheumatizz, and since Old Doc Johnson done shot him fulla that crazy-talk nerve-medicine, our usual fiddle-faddlin' around with solvin' the troubles of the world and spittin' baccy-juice in the direction of Town Hall is forthwith suspended until further notice, and Pappy's gonna indulge in a mite o' reminiscing.
No, Nonny (nonny, nonny nonny hey no), although your World's Worst Job bar-bet winner is impressive, and is certain to place you dizzyingly high on the list of history's Suspected Typhoid Marys, for sheer dehumanizing humiliation you'd be hard pressed to top the $2.35/hour number that Your Pal Ned scored himself in the halcyon summer of 1979.
[Breaking News: Wonder Woman just whooped with laughter in the next room. She explained that some airhead on the local evening forecast had had a slip of the tongue: "Katrina victims are starting to return to their homes, and President Bush is back on the golf course -- GULF COAST..."]
Back to the raconte: The son of a US diplomat in Madrid, home on summer holiday from a fairly prestigious US institute of higher learning, it may have been in the cards that your boy needed taking down a peg or two. While I do come from plain Midwestern bourgeois stock, I also have to admit that my Foreign-Service-Brat childhood didn't exactly lack for creature comforts. Yes, it was painful tearing up roots every three or four years, but when the roots are in European and South American capitals, it would be churlish to carp.
But though the Gummint paid for my holiday travel home and my parents' housing and other expenses, it didn't mean that I had an unlimited fund to draw from for beer and cigarettes at school. That sort of thing, it was decided, should be earned through the honest sweat of one's brow rather than just bestowed. So, grumbling, I applied to the Embassy for a summer job. They had a program just for dip-kid punks like me -- keeping us out of trouble on the Mean Streets of Alcalá and Plaza Cibeles, I suppose. So it was that they gave me to the Embassy grounds crew. Here, they said. Find him something to do.
Now, these were very decent guys. Salt-of-the-earth Spaniards they were, chorizo sandwiches, olives and watered wine for lunch. Bicycled to work from the west side of town. Blue coveralls, vivid, filthy vocabularies. It helped with them that I spoke pretty fluent Spanish, and I think they were amused by my Chileno accent and my refusal to use the ceceo (which to my New World ears even now sounds pretty mariconao). My effect on them must have been about like that of a Belgian kid in Manhattan who speaks with a proud Australian accent.
I had two gardener overseers: Don Rodrigo, who possessed ample seniority, and Juan Felipe. Don Rodrigo was nominally JuanFe's boss, and he reserved the more intellectually challenging tasks of gardening to himself -- the bed-planning, the topiary, the budgeting. The younger man had Ambitions and Aspirations, and he plainly chafed at his subordinate position and the more physical jobs he had to do. It was JuanFe's task to find something useful for me to do each day.
This was to prove a problem.
In order to give me tasks, JuanFe had to carve off some of his own duties, his own daily round. And since he resented his lack of seniority, he certainly wasn't inclined to allow me to be seen doing labor that qualified as "skilled" in any way.
So during the first week, he worked out how to foist the most time-consuming and menial jobs onto his charge. Any leaf-sweeping, pool-skimming, or trimmings-raking that JuanFe considered beneath his dignity, became mine. These I did with aplomb, because I knew this, too, would end. Hell, two-thirty-five an hour! That ain't chicken-feed!
In the second week, JuanFe finally worked out how to save his prestige. He told me one morning (we both knew as soon as he said it that it was a baldfaced lie) that the Embassy's one mechanical water sprinkler had broken, and it was time for everybody to step up and pitch in. This, of course, meant that it was time for me to step up, etc. He impressed on me how vitally important it was to achieve even moisture distribution, to carefully gauge the sunlight so the sun wouldn't focus itself through new droplets and burn the grass, to estimate the number of hours it had been since the last watering (hint: you use your watch).
Which is how it came to pass that I became the Official Deputy Assistant Emergency Back-up to the Mechanical Lawn Sprinkler of the United States Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the Spanish Crown in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Nine. JuanFe shook my hand. Enhorabuena, hijo. You've scored one against the machines!
For the next nine weeks, that became the sum total of what I did for a living. Arrive, 9 ante meridiem. Water, by hand, carefully and painstakingly, leaving no spot unmoistened, the three-acre front lawn of the US Embassy until lunch. After lunch, sprinkle the back lawn and the grounds surrounding the US Ambassador's Residence. By hand. Until the whistle blew.
Best lesson in economics I ever had.