Tuesday, August 02, 2016


I don’t imagine that there are many jobs out there that don’t come with their share of sheer boredom. I know that I’ve never held one where, at least on occasion, severe ennui hasn’t set in. Sometimes it’s just having nothing to do. Sometimes it’s having something to do, but having something to do that is numbingly repetitive.

In the former category, two jobs I had stick out.

Retail was one of them. As anyone who’s worked a retail job can tell you, there are only so many times you can fluff the merchandise if there are no buyers in the store. I remember furtively taking out a piece of paper and pen and doing things like extracting the square root of my Social Security number, or coming up with as many four-letter words could I could make out of the letters in my name, or out of a sentence like “Working at Jordan Marsh is just brutal.”

I worked at one place where, while we were waiting for a major organization to go down, work  pretty much came to a halt. It was just brutal. Bizarrely, management told us that we should feel free to get together with our colleagues and come up with a design for how our small unit (fewer than 100 people) should be organized. So my buds and I would meet each day for an hour or so, sitting in a conference room with slips of paper with everyone’s name on it, and shifting them around. Sometimes we’d be serious about the task at hand. Other times we’d come up with structures that were totally ridiculous. Or were they? I don’t remember anyone actually collecting our input. If they had, I suspect that they would have gone with the most preposterous scenario we came up with.

When we weren’t playing reorg, I found myself calling around to folks in the field asking if they had anything they’d like me to do for them. The answer was mostly ‘no’. After all, in the face of the major reorg – which would, of course, be accompanied by major layoffs and the end-of-lifing of some products – even the sales people were pretty much shut down.

Anyway, what I mostly remember from this time – and similar times at other jobs when pre-major-organizational lulls occurred – is how excruciatingly boring it is to have nothing to do at work. This was in the pre-Internet world. At least nowadays, you can always go online and putz around.

In terms of REAL BOREDOM, however, nothing in my career beat the couple of weeks I worked as a Kelly Girl at an insurance company in Worcester, where I sat at a manual typewriter all day long and drinking ducktyped the letter B on a line in the upper right hand corner of some sort of claim form. You had to press hard, as you had to make sure you went through all six layers of the form. I felt like Albert the Drinking Duck, bobbing my head into a cup full of water (metaphorically speaking).

Given my own history of boring jobs, I was completely amused by a story I saw on BBC.com that rounded up reader submissions on their boring jobs. There were some completely excellent ones.

I liked the one from the woman who “tested the temperature of frozen peas” for an entire summer. Another reader reported that a sib had a farm job that entailed “throwing small amounts of earth on to trays of organic potatoes” so that, when they showed up in the grocery store produce shelf, they’d look more authentically organic and high-price-worthy.

One guy’s job was testing plastic milk bottles, squeezing them to make sure they didn’t leak.

Thanks to the BBC article, I now know that if you get a frozen pizza wearing a smiley face, it may be because “the conveyor belt broke down” and the workers had time to decorate.

Hard to come up with a job more boring, more ghastly than that of Maria from Sheffield:

Working at a pork scratching factory removing the ones that had been cooked but still had hairs to then be re-cooked, to burn them off. I had 12 hours a day just watching them go past on a conveyor belt. I left after two weeks and have never eaten one since.

Model ships in glass bottles rest on a lacquered wooden base. Someone has to polish those plinths. For two days, Ken from Newcastle answered the call of duty.

One person worked in a vitamin factory, picking broken tablets off of a conveyor belt. Another fellow worked a night shift in a plastics factory, making toy Frankenstein heads. There were a number of other good assembly line jobs, including “threading the string through the holes in the top of bookmarks.”

Most of these factory jobs were summer ones. Been there, done that.

I spent one summer working in a combat boot factory where my job was at the end of the production process, cleaning glue and other gunk off finished boots, and finishing off the raw edges of the boots with polish. While this sounds all sorts of boring, it really wasn’t. Mostly it was terrifying, as the full-time factory workers were always on the lookout for shoddy work on the part of us snotty college students, and were repeatedly ratting us out to the foreman, who would shove a rack of boots back my way, shouting about what a crappy job I’d done. When I wasn’t being terrorized, I was chatting with my friend Kim, who worked at a nearby table “heel podding” – i.e., gluing pieces of leather over a boot heel. (Excellent experience, no doubt, for her career in law. She’s now the partner in a major Boston firm.)

The article had a number of boring office jobs, similar to mine when I was typing all those B’s. But Jon of London had an office job that really didn’t sound all that boring.

I was once employed throughout a summer as "someone to talk to". It was a small architectural company that only had three employees. When I queried why there was so little work to do they told me it was just refreshing to have someone else to talk to and discuss ideas with.

Boring? To me, this sounds pretty appealing. Maybe even appealing enough to get me out of retirement. Any takers?

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