Professional advice you can take as the gospel


Greg Bean

I never thought I’d come to the point in my life where I had any foolproof professional wisdom for my kids, at least any they’d listen to.

But recently I had a conversation with one of my sons that made me realize there are a few things I’m fairly wise about, after all.

The conversation we were having was about careers, and his indecision about what he wants to do with his life. And at one point, he said, “Well, Pop, it was easier for you. You always knew what you wanted to do for a living.”

All I could do was laugh because he was absolutely wrong. I went down a lot of strange career paths before I found newspapers, and I can say without the shadow of a doubt, they should all be avoided. If that son of mine really wants career advice, I could tell him from personal experience that he shouldn’t be thinking about trying to make a living as a professional:

• Sheep Docker. I spent an entire summer once living in a sheep wagon and helping to do that thing that turns little boy sheep into little neutral sheep. A lot of fine people make a lifetime’s work of sheep docking, but I would tend to discourage it. It’s hard on your back, and even harder on the sheep. Factoid: Rocky Mountain oysters aren’t seafood.

• Cow De-horner. A lot like being a sheep docker, except working at the other end of the beast. Many people don’t realize that even though not all cows have horns when they grow up, most have them when they’re young. They usually get branded the same day, and little boy cows get neutered, which makes it an unpleasant few hours for the cow. Hard work for the humans, too, but not as hard as pregnancy-testing a herd of heifers, which happens later in the year. Who knew heifers were so particular about their privacy?

• Mouse Hole Digger. The mouse hole, and the rat hole, are the two narrower holes you have to sink on the side of the main shaft when you drill for oil. Water is pumped down one, sucked out the other. Unlike drilling for oil, however, mouse and rat hole drilling involves a lot of digging with shovels. You also usually end up working for a guy named Murray, who only has three fingers left per hand and saves his empty beer bottles at the saloon, in case he needs to use them as clubs.

• Door-to-Door Leather Jacket Salesman. In this profession, you wind up working for a man named Big Art, who insists on driving everywhere you go, but lost his license 20 years ago because he’s a lousy driver. You also end up getting yelled at by a lot of people who don’t want to buy a fringed leather jacket at dinnertime, and sometimes by policemen, who suspect Big Art’s inventory fell off a truck.

• Cement Truck Driver. This is especially true if you’ve never driven one before and lie about that fact in order to get the job. The advice goes double if your first long haul includes driving a load of cement down the back side of Rabbit Ears Pass. Corollary advice: Never shift into high gear on a steep downhill grade, carrying cement. Additional corollary: There aren’t enough runaway-truck ramps on Rabbit Ears Pass.

• Greeting Card Salesman. Who knew it would be so hard to unload $400 worth of ugly greeting cards? Who knew the company expected to be paid for the inventory whether you sold the cards or not?

• Cowboy Poet. A career that lasts until your biggest fan observes that “this is really awful. Bull**** on a stick.”

• Rock Band Photographer. “Are our faces supposed to be blue?”

• Tire Rim Spray Painter. In this profession, you wind up working for a guy named J.R., who notes on your first day at Dual-A-Matic that “inhaling paint ain’t so bad, long as you drink plenty of gin first.”

• Fireman for the railroad. A union job, but not as a traditional fireman. Railroad firemen used to shovel coal into steam engines, but on a diesel engine, they have nothing to do. Still, the union (at least 30 years ago) insisted the position be maintained by the company. With no real work to do, each shift was eight hours of abject boredom. Who knew the only thing that would get you fired is sleeping on the job?

• Pool Shark. Those bulges in the pockets of burly guys you see at the pool hall? A lot of them are semiautomatic handguns.

• Night Watchman at the railroad tie plant. In this profession, you go to work at midnight and spend eight hours keeping jackrabbits from stealing gasoline from the company pumps and inhaling fumes from the creosote pressure treaters. J.R., who’s gotten fired from the tire rim painting place and taken a job as a supervisor, informs you that “creosote might cause cancer, but inhaling the fumes ain’t so bad, long as you drink plenty of gin first.” You also learn that there’s nothing that makes a bologna sandwich taste worse than an infusion of creosote.

• Surveyor’s Apprentice. One thing they don’t always tell you going in: Rattlesnakes live in dens that you can step into if you’re holding the surveying pole and not paying attention to your feet. There’s nothing like stepping into a ball of rattlesnakes to make you question a career choice. The other thing they don’t tell you: Rattlesnake really does taste a bit like chicken.

• Fireman at the nuclear power plant. Another union job that required no experience or training. What could possibly go wrong?

• TV Commercial Producer. Four tips. One, never hire a man whose nickname is “Father Time” as your cameraman, unless you want a 30-second commercial that lasts nine minutes. Two, never hire a leading man who reminds your client of a mugger. Three, don’t allow Father Time to edit the commercial so it looks like the leading man is mugging the leading lady. Four, know that auto companies don’t appreciate it when you blow the motor of the truck they’ve loaned you to film a commercial illustrating the toughness of their trucks. Especially if it happens twice.

• Fashion Model Talent Scout. Not much money in this profession, but plenty of … oops, out of space. I’ll save that wisdom for another day.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers.