In my last post, I wrote about an episode of Little House on the Prairie where Pa has to take a crap job. Refresher:
Note that his job is to hold the drill while somebody else swings the sledge hammer. This would have made a great arcade game – Whack-A-Pa.
I have never had a sledge hammer whizzing by my head, but I do have some cred when it comes to undesirable jobs. I worked in a plastics factory where my job was to get burned by plastic cups coming down the line. I have cleaned up excrement left behind by strangers. I have hauled rocks on a makeshift sled while cows stared at me. I worked at McDonalds during the Beanie Baby Happy Meal craze, where it was not uncommon to witness adult customers descending into grief and madness upon learning that the monkey beanie was all sold out and all we had left was the crab.
But the worst job of all, the job out of all the others that I hated the most, the job where if you told me that I had to go back and work it, I would be so displeased I would probably toss you in a vat of acid so that I could pretend our conversation had never happened, that job would be….
Chester Cheetah. That’s right, the cool-guy cheetah and mascot of cheese-flavored puffed corn snacks. My fate crossed paths with Chester’s when I was hired to be him for the grand opening of the Super Walmart in my hometown. My job description:
- Wear Chester Cheetah costume
- Dance around, greet customers, and promote an atmosphere of celebration
- Hand out free mini-bags of Cheetos to any children who weren’t scared of me
Based on those details, it’s a total dream job. However. That costume was hot as balls. I had to wear a furry, long-sleeved, footed-pajama getup, clown shoes, gloves, and a headpiece that fully engulfed my own head. This was in August in Kansas, where it gets so hot and muggy, the heat waves are sweating. Right now it’s August and here is what noaa.gov has to say about today:
Sure, I was inside the Walmart, but I was stationed in the entryway where the outside’s 100-degree heat billowed in every time the automatic doors opened, which happened all day long. Grand opening of Super Walmart in a small town = endless stream of shoppers. The air conditioning didn’t stand a chance against those odds. There was a little fan inside the Cheetah’s headpiece, but it conked out early on.
Gumby was also there that day, and the guy inside that costume mentioned a few times how his fan was working just fine. Jerk.
No fan, weak AC, and having to dance around meant that I was wretchedly hot all day long. I have never sweat that much in my life. My hair was soaked, my clothes were drenched. There were smells coming off my body that I didn’t recognize; possibly…it was the stench of human flesh being steamed alive. It seemed the day would never end and I lamented the fact that I wasn’t overheated to the point of feeling ill. Heat exhaustion would give me a legitimate reason to hang up the Chester head early.
Then an idea occurred to me. I could feign heat exhaustion and pretend to faint! I nixed the thought immediately, though. You are not the kind of person who fake-faints, I scolded myself. I had to agree with myself; I had more pride than that. But heat and sweat and an excruciating stream of Adult Contemporary music on the loudspeaker can break a person. As time failed to wear on, I started plotting out the Big Swoon. I’d wait until there were enough people around to see me drop, but not so crowded that nobody would notice. I would wave at a group of shoppers, do a dance move like the Mashed Potato or perhaps the Walk Like an Egyptian. Once I had their attention, I’d pause, raise one costume-bound wrist to my forehead, and then collapse. I figured that the inherent cushioning of the outfit would allow me to fall realistically and safely. The shoppers would rush towards me, pry the Chester head off me, and I’d pretend to regain consciousness. “Water,” I would whisper. Somebody would help me stand up and the crowd would break into applause. I’d wave at them as I was escorted to the back room, where I’d be honorably discharged from the costume and maybe even given a popsicle to help me cool down. The hypothetical popsicle might have been what pushed me over the edge. I decided to carry out the plan.
The first time a good moment to faint presented itself, I chickened out and afterward decreed that that was just a practice round and that the next time, the next time, I would really go through with it. To make it easier, I decided to skip the theatrics and go straight for the swoon.
Tensed and ready for action, I watched and waited for the right moment in the same way a batter holds for the perfect pitch. My home-run opportunity eventually came. The store was experiencing a lull and there were cashiers and cart wranglers standing around, and a small group of people had just come through the door. It was a ripe opportunity that had to be timed just right – the customers had to be close enough to see me, but if I waited too long and they passed me, all would be lost.
My heart pounding, I lurched forward, bent my knees, and…froze. I stared at the floor tiles and urged myself, “Now, go, do it! Fall, you chicken, fall!” It’s a strange moment, when you find yourself giving yourself a motivational talk in order to fake-faint. I looked at the shoppers coming toward me, nondescript people who just wanted to see the new Super Walmart and who were oblivious to the Chester Cheetah mini-drama that was about to transpire right in front of them. I just couldn’t do it. With a sigh, I straightened my legs, did a Michael Jackson twirl, and gave them their free Cheetos.
Nice thing was, all that scheming made time go by a teensy bit faster and my shift finally ended. And even though it was a one-day job, to this day it feels like I was there for 40 years. I would love to know, what is the worst job you have ever worked? Can you top Chester?