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One college summer I worked as a janitor at my old junior high, which felt like going backward and also brought risks of shoulder dislocation (those industrial buffers all but wrench your arms out of their sockets when you first try to use them). One colleague told me way too much about his life (hairs between the teeth were a problem), while the other — whose wife had left him for a man who lived down the hall in their boardinghouse — put us under intense pressure to gawk and whistle whenever something prepubescent and female strolled through the playground. Not a pretty scene.

Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer


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In 1977, when I was a struggling freelancer with a pregnant wife in Vancouver, B.C., I worked for a master bricklayer who was about 6 feet 4 inches tall, German and used to having professional help. That wasn’t me. “More mud!” he would shout, as I frantically mixed mortar, which he spread expertly with a large trowel between concrete blocks that seemed to climb skyward like Legos. To keep him in bricks, I had to march up a ladder to the scaffolding with a block in each hand, then climb down to mix more “mud.” Months after that unfortunate gig, the meniscus under my right knee finally gave up the ghost. If you’re ever in Burnaby, B.C., (hometown of Michael J. Fox), give a nod to the McDonald’s at Kingsway and Hall. I sacrificed my knee to it.

Paul de Barros, Seattle Times arts critic

File clerk

Nothing destroys your faith in humanity like a stint in the corrections system, which I did for a summer as a clerk in my local county parole and probation department. Filing prescriptions for Antabuse, photocopying depositions (complete with photos) and listening to parole officers give a new definition to “repeat offender” wasn’t exactly a party. The grumpy office manager who made me sign confidentiality agreements, convinced I was memorizing all the files and repeating (selling?) the salacious details was the corker. Lady, I tried to forget everything that happened in that office every day at 5 o’clock.

Melissa Davis, NWArts&Life editor

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