As most people who’ve met me know: I am a big fan of Taco Bell, I often like to remove my shirt when drunk and I have a Costanza-like rogues gallery of former occupations. Turkey processing plant, U.S. military, Wall Street drone, fast food worker – you get the picture. Many people (or maybe just one) have asked me: which one was the worst? The best? The collapse of the financial markets has left me with a fair bit of time for reflection, introspection and online poker. I’ll also take a walk down memory lane to determine the pros/cons of my various gigs – perhaps I can serve as a cautionary tale for the innocent 18 year old who falls for the line “how would you like to cut turkeys for $5/hour?”
I’ve narrowed it down to 8 major vocations – my earlier days were heavily food-centric whereas my later days are more salesy. Some gigs that i only had for a short time I’ve omitted – but i don’t think they even have “grocery store inventory takers” or “local newspaper subscription collectors” anymore. I also don’t have enough experience yet at my current craft, degenerate layabout, to include it on the list.
So without further ado (wow, i originally typed “adieu” – i might be an idiot)….starting with the worst..I will rate each category below on a scale of 1-10, with 10 reflecting the worst (for example, “jizz mopper” – which is not on my list (yet) – would receive a 10 for Humiliation Factor)…let’s get going…
#8 – Nuclear Submarine Officer
Description: I was on a ballistic missile sub, which meant we had 16 or so missiles that could put a major dent in continent-sized land masses. The upside to being on this type of boat is that there are two crews, so you definitely spend more time at home than your “fast attack” sub counterparts who are almost always underway. You go to close to 2 years training before you even get to your boat – “nuke school” (6 months of arduous book learnin that traditionally has >50% attrition), “prototype” (6 months at some godforesaken location where they don’t mind having a running nuclear reactor ; operational training with shiftwork) and submarine school (a few weeks of learning some very basic crap, somewhat a reward for going through the other 2 phases).
I realized as i progressed through training that i was REALLY going to hate actually being on a boat. I was so miserable that i had probably the lowest scores in the history of submarine school – there were a bunch of failures in the first two phases but they really couldn’t figure out what to do with me (since it was clearly an effort thing). They had me go to an “academic board” – most likely the first and last of its kind for sub school (only real world comparison i can think of would be almost failing out of a “how to use the internet” free seminar. for the elderly. the blind elderly. it was really hard to do poorly at sub school.) My navy legacy is distinguished.
What’s it like being on a sub? Try this – throw away your cellphone, turn off your tv and internet, lock yourself in your closet with a 60 day supply of the greasiest eggrolls you can find and a couple of jugs of water (look for Poland Springs Hint of Diesel Fuel). Look at a particular section of the closet with particular interest for 6 hours. Then for twelve hours pretend that the closet is on fire, or has been infested by velociraptors/zombies/other pretend baddies or that there is an plague or ebola outbreak. Give yourself a 3.5 hour window to sleep, but wake yourself up periodically to sign random paperwork. Every two days smash your head on something really hard (or fall down in a painful manner).
Repeat this for 6 weeks. Then pretend you are in Hawaii for 2 days. Get really drunk in your kitchen. Play a round of golf. Then go back to closet for another 6 weeks and repeat the above. Reasonable simulation (forgot to add: every Saturday morning, clean the closet thoroughly by rubbing a dirty cloth over the same area for 3 consecutive hours. Get up very early for this. Yell that you are about to do this as you wake up).
Score: Easy 10 (As connected as people are used to being today, this should probably be like a 15)
Attire: “Poopy suit” (sweet 1 piece jumpsuit) when underway, various overpriced polyester uniforms when not. And a hat – what other job do you have to wear a hat for? Construction worker? Coal miner? 50’s private detective?
Score: 7 (Poopie suit actually pretty comfortable, that’s probably why you don’t see too many adults sporting onesies)
Prevailing Smell/Aroma: Diesel fuel, masturbation, despair
Score: Solid 10 (requires 2-3 days to dissipate once you are home)
Humiliation Factor: Generally pretty low, but it depended on your location. I was stationed in the Seattle area and the first Tuesday of every month there would be protestors (no nukes! no nukes! etc) at the front gate. In the Seattle social scene you might keep the whole military thing on the dl as you tried to score granola chicks at the Romper Room or J&M.
The funniest “alias” I heard was from this enlisted guy in Charleston, SC. He spent like 2 total years pay on a Toyota Supra, had tons of (illegal) piercings and tats, and told the local girls (undoubtedly at the Barely Legal Mendoza Line, at best) that he worked at Blockbuster.
Score: 7 (This is reflective of the prevailing crunchy vibe in Seattle; if they had submarine bases in like Missouri this would be a couple points lower)
Co-workers/Culture: Basically 2 types of colleagues: dig-it douchebags who are way too into the job and jackass cynics who despise every aspect of it. Guess which camp i was in? Granted, this was in the midst of the Clinton administration, and there was really jack shit going on for global conflict. But back then it seemed pretty unlikely that we were really going to let fly our battery of Trident missiles – was it really necessary to prepare for every humanly imaginable end-of-the-world situation? And prepare for these disasters 24/7? (turns out there was probably some logic to this, but i’ve gotta be honest – it sucked)
Score: 7 (Some really good dudes at the lower ranks (in every almost instance in the cynic camp) but the more senior dudes typically unbearable. Higher score now that i’ve spent time on Wall Street and have adjusted my d-bag scale accordingly)
Authority Figures: I guess i was technically an authority figure myself as a junior officer (JO) but the way the ~200 man crew is structured the junior officers generally get along pretty well with the enlisted men (as the enlisted crew are really the ones teaching you the ropes; they save your ass hundreds of times as you qualify to supervise reactor and overall boat operations). I emphasis a 200 MAN crew, as there are no chicks on subs, except for the occasional navy doctor/dentist on a short ride trip. Sadly, probably 80% of the crew saw these as potential conjugal visits even though these ladies were invariably hideous.
Off-category aside: one of the JOs on our crew happened to be dating a dentist who was onboard for a ride along. Another guy, after taking a look at these ladies, presumed that the guy’s girlfriend wasn’t on this trip as they were both extremely hurting in the looks department. He greeted the other guy with “So which one is your girlfriend? The ugly one or the old one?” Awkward silence ensued.
The 3 most senior guys on the ship are the captain (CO) and the executive officer (XO) and the Engineer. The Captain is more of the fatherly figure who oversees and is responsible for everything; the XO carries the discipinary hammer and is oversees daily operations; the Engineer is responsible for the friggin reactor and everything associated with it (note: this job REALLY sucks). I don’t have too many distinct memories of set-tos with the CO or XO – but getting your ass reamed by the Engineer was a daily occurence. You spend about 75% of your time on a submarine practicing for the aforementioned pretend disasters via intense drills. When you first get to your ship you have to earn your stripes to be the engineroom supervisor overseeing reactor plant operations. This regularly included putting hoods over your head to simulate a fire/smoke – pretty sweet hearing “what is fucking happening with Steam Generator #2!!!” gently screamed in your ear as you try to ensure you aren’t going to fall down some fucking stairs while wearning a fucking backward hood.
Score: 8 (For still having nightmare flashbacks of being reamed during flooding drills and sense of dread when having to tell any of these guys anything that could in any way be interpreted as bad/disappointing news)
Noteworthy Events: I was NOT a great naval officer – that’s a pretty well-documented fact. I knew from day one that i was getting out (in fact i believe i was one of the first Lieutenants to ever opt out of “Engineer’s School” which was a prereq to move on in the military. I was the Rosa Parks of saying “no thanks” to further exposure to reactor dynamics theory). Each 10-12 week patrol ends in a kind of major inspection (senior navy jackasses come and document how well you can navigate the engineroom with a backward hood over your head during one of 15 simulated fires; generally lots of pretending/ass-kissing involved). For still-unknown reasons, one patrol i opted to serve as one of three “ORSE EOOWs,” who supervise these highly scrutinized engineroom/reactor drills. We spent 2 months preparing by spending an even larger proportion of our time than usual with hood-obstructed vision and the engineer cooing “you are a fucking idiot” sweet nothings.
Like the protagonist in a lame sports movie, i put in considerable effort to actually do a good job on this (as the consequences for fucking up were pretty terrible, even if you didn’t want to be in the Nav you could ruin someone else’s shit). I was like Eye of the Tigering that shit and ultimately won a spot as the #2 EOOW responsible for the dreaded “Single Loop Recovery” (don’t ask – because i couldn’t begin to explain it at this point). I even got a pep talk from the coach (CO) the night before the inspection (big game).
Game day came…and, predictably, I fucked up….majorly (apparently “brittle fracture” is a big deal!) No careers were ruined, but we got some pretty bad marks largely due to my foulups. It was a pointed lesson for me: never actually try very hard, or you risk actually being disappointed. As long as you don’t put in a serious effort, you can always take a look at your results relative to your Type A colleagues (who busted their asses) and just assume you’d have done better if you really tried.
(I should have known this would happen, the EXACT same thing happened to me in 3rd of 4th grade: I spent 2 months fielding golf balls bounced off my garage door and running the ‘hood like Rocky Balboa to earn the coveted starting third base gig. First game, first inning as starter i take a smoked line drive off my left wrist and cant feel my arm for like 3 hours. Beginning of the end of my baseball career)
Typical Hours Worked: 80-100 when underway
Score: 10 (Probably close to the first couple of years of investment banking, but guess what? YOU CAN’T FUCKING GO HOME!)
Education Required: Bachelor’s and aforementioned shit ton of training.
Score: 5 (Training is a pain in the ass but keeps the riff raff out)
Screaming Obscenities at Top of Lungs Acceptable? Yes, and encouraged (assuming chain of command was followed)
Score: 0 (I do like to be able to yell and curse)
Stress Level: Uber-high. Fucking something up could actually result in someone dying. Even doing legitimately simple shit posed a level of risk you don’t have while you’re cold calling fish at Prudential.
Score: 10 (Death potential? Uncool)
Ridiculous Travel Required? Uh yeah. You smell so bad when you get back that it takes a few days to wash that shit off of you. Almost no communication with the outside world – 40 character “family grams” don’t convey much beyond “Grandma dead send money bnging yr brother.” Patrols routinely scheduled to start just before major holidays. Horrid.
Score: 10 (Infinity was unavailable)
What Kind of Dough was Involved? I think like $40k back in the day. Some tax benefits. These days maybe it’s $100k plus for department heads (ie a level above where i was)? Definitely NOT worth it, imho.
Score: 8 (Money wasn’t that bad for experience/education, but in context of what you gave up, it sucked)
Summary: Being a submarine officer sucked, you literally give away years of your life and, at the time, there wasn’t a palpable sense of contributing to a common good. That aspect is probably better now given how the world is changed. There were a couple of cool things: driving on the surface in hawaii or on a clear night, the extreme highs of arriving back from patrol (more than countered though by the almost immediate dread of the next departure), some lifelong friends made. But I still rank this as number LAST with a bullet.