Archives for posts with tag: work

ice richter
Deep Freeze
by Jim Ross

I’d be working indoors, out of the heat, packing food into boxes with two other guys, nothing backbreaking. “Dress for the coldest day you’ve ever seen,” my hirer advises.  It’s summer, unseasonably hot.

When I arrive, he says, “Your clothes’re all wrong.” He takes my gloves and gives me thinner ones. He takes my bulky coat and gives me two sweatshirts, a slicker, a woolen hat.

The thirteen-year-old can’t stand still for ten seconds. The older guy hacks, sometimes uncontrollably, and wheezes like a distant train rolling closer.

“Let’s get to work,” says the old wheezer, opening the freezer door. “We’ll be pickin’ food so each customer gets what they ordered. Look here, see how they checked boxes? That’s what we give ‘em.”

I start picking, but he interrupts, “You read, we’ll pick.”

His words crystallize into snowflakes. Icy stalactites form at both ends of his mustache.  He seems inured to cold. The kid’s teeth don’t chatter if he keeps moving.

“Break time,” the kid says, at ten before every hour.

We leave the deep freeze for ten minutes hourly to stand outside beneath the baking sun.

“On breaks, we get all the ice cream sandwiches we can eat,” says the kid.

Hourly, the kid eats two, I eat one, and the old man eats a half, smokes, and loogies.

“These pissing hot days, it’s a relief going back inside,” says the old wheezer.

“How cold’s it in there, anyway?” I ask.

“You don’t wanna know,” says the old wheezer.

“Yeah, I do.”

“Less’n zero,” says the kid.

“Minus 20,” hacks the old man.

“Holy mackerel,” I say.

“We’re out of it,” he half hacks, half laughs, as he yanks open the freezer door.

IMAGE: “Ice (4)” by Gerhard Richter (1989).

jim ross1

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: What stays with me is the consummate absurdity of our alternating extreme cold with extreme heat, and binging on ice cream sandwiches during our breaks from the deep freeze.  The company sold or rented customers home freezers.  Customers ordered frozen food from a set list.  We boxed their orders, which were kept in a freezer awaiting customer pickup.  This was 53 years ago.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Here I am during the time period of the story.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Ross, after retiring in early 2015 from a career in public health research, jumped back into creative pursuits to resuscitate his long-neglected right brain. He’s since published 45 pieces of nonfiction, several poems, and over 150 photos in more than 50 journals in North America, Europe, and Asia. His nonfiction has been published in such journals as 1966, Friends Journal, Lunch Ticket, Make Literary Magazine, Meat for Tea, Pif Magazine, The Atlantic, and Thin Air. Jim and his wife — parents of two health professionals and grandparents of three toddlers, with a fourth expected imminently — split their time across three U.S. states.  He hopes to move in the direction of long-form nonfiction and pairing story with photos.

paper mill
by Bruce Louis Dodson

Temp job:
Alton Box Board
paper mill
along the Mississippi River
near Sr. Louis.

Paper spurts from great steel-grey machines that press it
into rolls not unlike toilet paper
but humongous
fifteen-foot diameter
twenty-six wide
spins on glittering steel shaft.

Trimmers each end cut off rough edges
take an inch or so from paper still too hot to touch
after a final pressing to desired thickness
stream of white spaghetti paper shavings
drop into a square hole in the concrete floor.

My job below.
There is a moat
a steel canal of flowing paper mush
like oatmeal—bleached
this hot pulp river
flows through whirling bladed shredders
then around to meet them once again.

When trimming starts above
an endless white snake
slithers through the hole
at high speed
piles up fast.
I have to hustle or get buried in it
grabbing armfuls
dropping them into the pulp canal
the strip adheres to the thick primal soup
gets swept way
into the blades
that leave variety of paper cuts behind
impossible to stay untangled from the mess
too hot and humid for long sleeves
eighty degrees
eighty percent humidity.

Discarded sheets of poster board come down as well
sail crazily
short dance on hot air
all goes in
doing my best to keep reduced
fast growing mountain
hot white paper scrap
then suddenly it stops.

Moment of peace
some fifteen minutes
while they put a new roll on the shaft.
I think to sneak a rest
lay down a couple minutes
on the sheets of cardboard on the floor.
There’s no one here but me
no windows
just bare concrete walls
at 3 a.m . . . inside this night shift hell.

Some wise guy throws a bucket full of dye into the hole
I’m now light blue in color
wide awake
looks like a long night
probably my last here.

PHOTO: Paper-making machine and paper mill workers (Canada, 1920).


Bruce Louis Dodson
is an expat living in Borlänge, Sweden, where he writes fiction and poetry. Some of his most recent work has appeared in Foreign & Far Away: Writers Abroad Anthology,  Sleeping Cat Books: Trip of a Lifetime Anthology, Northern Liberties Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Tic Toc and Storm Cycle Anthologies (Kind of a Hurricane Press), Vine Leaves, Cordite Poetry Review, Buffalo Almanac, mgversion2>datura_84 & 89, and Maintenant 11.  His novel, Lost in Seattle, is available at Visit him at


Panda Express
by Meg Eden

The boys from Bowie order Orange Chicken and laugh at me.

Why’s a white girl working at a Chinese restaurant? they ask.

I answer, Free sample?

My Vietnamese friend told me, You are white on the outside but Asian at heart. She took her banana leaf rice cake and gave me half. This was our weekly communion.

When my shift ends, I take the chicken that has been sitting in the glass display, unfit for customers. If I don’t take it, another will throw it away. The meat’s tough and sweet in my mouth.

When I sweep the floors, my boss laughs. He says, Have you ever held a broom? He means: spoiled white girl. I’ve cleaned my father’s workshop, built our back patio with bricks and a pile of sand. But I know that all he sees are my soft hands.

He asks if I know Chinese, and I say, I love you.

He says, Say it again.

I love you, I echo. Wo ai ni. A phrase I learned from pop songs.

He tells me I sound like his daughter, a girl who is many oceans away, and teaches me how to write:

A heart behind two doors is agony;
a mouth behind two doors is a problem.
After twenty gates is an opening,
a window of unsealed happiness.

SOURCE: Previously published in Little Patuxent Review.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, senior year with my Okinawan sanshin.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Meg Eden‘s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, RHINO, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming June 2017 from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Find her online at or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.

lucy chocolate

Chocolate Memories
by Susanna Fussenegger

Just like Lucy, I too worked in a chocolate factory.

For one day.

This was at the famous Lindt Works in Germany. The year was 1965 and I, a student, wanted to earn some spending money. I did not speak German.

No problem, the company desperately needed hands to create bon-bons. Getting hired was a breeze, followed by training which consisted of pointing me to a spot behind a conveyor belt.

Before I even had a chance to blink, there came the super sweet smelling chocolates, fast and furious. Putting pieces in my mouth, just to thin the flow, was impossible because of the scent. It could have brought even the hungriest of giants to the brink of puke.

My job was to wrap little toy soldiers, carved from chocolate, into red foil.

Those soldiers did not march, they sprinted.

As I reached for them, they fell over face down, instantly replaced by a new regiment. The ones I “dressed” ended up with their red uniforms all wrinkled, brown butts showing.

With hands sticky and sweaty, I soldiered on.

Instead of getting the hang of it, though, I made more mistakes.

Embarrassed, I glanced up — and what did I see? Two big supervisor ladies looking at each other, then at me, with utter disbelief on their faces. They started to walk toward me slowly, and I was sure they were going to yell:


That word I knew.

I dropped everything, without looking back, I ran through the door saying:


I was totally flying! Queasy, I prayed that I would see the sign:

00, which in Europe is known as WC .

What a memory! But you know what? I still love chocolate!

IMAGE:  Ethel (left, Vivian Vance) and Lucy (Lucille Ball) have trouble keeping up while working in a chocolate factory (I Love Lucy, “Job Switching,” 1952).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this story thinking of all the talk about people working in countries other than their own. A first job is always a humbling experience. Multiply that with the anxiety of the unknown.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susanna Fussenegger is an educator and counselor, and has been a naturalized American citizen since 1972. She is an avid reader. Since childhood she has always known that people enjoyed listening to her stories and hopes to leave special tales behind for her grandchildren or anyone who cares to read them.

Light Housekeeping
by Tricia Marcella Cimera

My first job at 13:
Light housekeeping
for the little old lady
across the street.
One day she told me:
My first husband
was a brute;
so rough, you know,
down there.
I shivered and
vacuumed on,
hid my red face
behind my hair.
Her second husband
sat on the sofa
with nothing to say,
politely mute.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I worked for Mrs. Hamilton (the “little old lady across the street”) for a year and in that time, she had lots to say.  Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and begged my mother to let me quit, which she did because she never forced me to take that job in the first place.  Even then, I was misguidedly responsible and stoic.  I’m trying to change that.


Tricia Marcella Cimera
is a Midwestern poet with a worldview. Look for her work in these diverse places (some forthcoming): Anti-Heroin Chic, Buddhist Poetry Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Failed Haiku, I Am Not A Silent Poet, Mad Swirl, Silver Birch Press, The Bees are Dead, Wild Plum, and elsewhere.  Her poem “The Stag” recently won first place honor in College of DuPage’s Writers Read: Emerging Voices contest.  Tricia believes there’s no place like her own backyard and has traveled the world (including Graceland).  She lives with her husband and family of animals in Illinois / in a town called St. Charles / by a river named Fox and keeps a Poetry Box in her front yard.  Her dream job is taking care of baby goats.

by Vern Fein

No one told me you could get paid for fun.
No one told me 11 year-old-boys could get exploited.
No one told me the 19 silver dollars the old lady boss paid me
was a rip off for the three twelve hour shifts I worked.
I just knew it was all right to not care about those things
to bark from sunup till dark,
exult in the glory of the neighborhood carnival.
A shy boy, an alter ego
flew out of my mouth
as I transformed to a carnie,
this diminutive kid loudly accosting
passersby to play, take a shot,
hurl a baseball at the Kewpie dolls,
knock down their ugly faces like the boogie men
who didn’t exist in my room any more.
The old woman who hired me paid the silver dollars,
kept in a rainbow striped sock.
It slept in my drawer for years
until I had a son and deposited them in his name.
Maybe one day he will live
my carnival magic.

PHOTO: Kewpie Doll–Boogie Man.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Don’t have a picture of me back then, but graphically remember this job because I was so thrilled to work in at an exciting venue. Not included in the poem is that fact that I was hit in the shoulder by one of the baseballs and was told the man who threw it had had a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds. I was lucky that I lived through that experience. Also, silver dollars no longer exist, the ones I deposited for my son, who is now 40, were some of the last. But I remember taking the shiny coins from that sock and clinking them together a lot because I loved the sound and the way they flashed in the light. Finally, the picture I chose was of the kind of scary Kewpie doll that the people had to knock over to win.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vern Fein has published one poem in *82 Review, two poems in The Literary Nest, two poems in Silver Birch Press, a poem in Rat’s Ass Review, two poems in Bindweed Magazine, another in Gyroscope Review, a haiku, one in Spillwords, several in VerseWrights, a poem in VietNam War Poetry, another in 1947 Journal, another in Ibis Head Review, and has a short story in the the online magazine Duende from Goddard College.


Fancy Goods
by Clive Collins

Sixteen, in need of clothes and the occasional night out on which to wear them, I took a job for lousy pay in a fancy goods shop working Friday nights and all day Saturdays.

Nights, I swept the shop and its frontage. Mornings, I washed the shop and its frontage.  I dusted the stock – carefully.  There was a lot of expensive china displayed.  Mostly though, I sold paraffin and went home reeking of the stuff, but a pound better off.

My boss was Sidney Bach, a grey pudgy man with dandruff who disliked me.

I worked for the clothes.  Christmas Week I was in every day. Christmas Eve a pretty woman was in the shop when I got there. “Mrs Sidney,” Sidney wheezed.  “Sylvia,” she said.

Lunchtimes, I walked into town.  Not that day though.  A green Mini with Sylvia driving stopped alongside me.  “Get in,” she said. Mistletoe hung from the rearview mirror.


I nodded.

She took me to the town’s only French restaurant, leaving the Mini on a double yellow.  At the table we bumped knees while she fed me food the like of which I’d never tasted.  Wine was taken.  I watched my watch, surreptitiously.

“What about Sidney?” I said.

“Oh, bugger Sidney!”

Afterwards, getting out of the car, she caught hold of me, kissed me full on the mouth.  “Happy Christmas, sweetheart,” she said.  “Working New Year?”

Parked where we were, I could see Sidney watching us through the shop window.  That afternoon I sold a full set of Royal Albert china.

When Sidney made up my money at night, Sylvia snorted, re-opened the till and pressed paper into my hand. A fiver, I thought. At home again, I found it had a twin.  Supposed to go back after the holiday, I knew I wouldn’t.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me in the suit the paraffin paid for.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Dichten = Condensare” was what Pound said made poetry.  This piece is a very condensed version of a much longer tale, and though I have enjoyed the discipline of cutting things down to the bone, it still isn’t poetry.  I would also add that Sidney and Sylvia Bach are aliases.


Born in Leicester, England, Clive Collins has spent the greater part of his life working as a teacher in Ireland, Sierra Leone, and Japan. He is the author of two novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars) and Sachiko’s Wedding (Marion Boyars/ Penguin Books). Misunderstandings, a collection of short stories, was joint-winner of the Macmillan Silver PEN Award in 1994. More recently his work has appeared in online journals such as Penny, Cecile’s Writers, The Story Shack, and He was a short-listed finalist in the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. A chapbook of his short stories is to be published by Red Bird Chapbooks in 2017.

First Job—J.C. Penneys
by Joan Colby

Sherry, Joanne, Donna and Sandy
Below in the heart of commerce peddling
Perfumes and underwear. Directing ladies
To dressing rooms. Finding the right size
Of flannel shirt for an old rancher.
Stacking the Pendleton blankets that the
Indians come in for. Whirling the cash and
Sales slips up to me in my locked chamber
Where I sit like Rapunzel bereft
Of company, making change and impaling
Those slips on a prong, then sending
The remainder down in a vacuum whoosh
Like the Chinook winds that surge the weather
Fifty degrees in an hour.
There are bars on the cage I’m in,
Sequestered as a maiden in a tale
While my girlfriends gossip and steal
Lipsticks and eye shadow. End of the shift, I’m
Freed to get in on the plans for the evening
Which mostly involve cruising Broadway
To end up at the Big Boy Burger
Or on the rimrocks making out
Above the lights of the glittering city.
They think you’re smart and can be trusted
Sherry envies the five cents more per hour
I earn for being jailed and lonesome. No wonder
Duane can induce me to the roadhouse where
We drink whiskey and dance to a cowboy band
With our hands stamped purple.

SOURCE: First published in Homestead Review.

PHOTO: The author, around the time of her first job.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, Gargoyle, Pinyon, Little Patuxent Review, Spillway, Midwestern Gothic, and others. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She has published 17 books including Selected Poems from FutureCycle Press which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage from Glass Lyre Press which has been awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Three of her poems have been featured on Verse Daily and another is among the winners of the 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. Her newest book, Carnival, was published by FutureCycle Press in 2016. She has another forthcoming from Kelsay Press in 2017 titled The Seven Heavenly Virtues. She is a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Kentucky Review. Visit her at or on Facebook or Twitter.

Chain Store Hell
by Jennifer Lagier

Thirty-year-old male supervisors
wore white shirts, black ties.
Possessing high school diplomas,
they earned lofty salaries,
passed themselves off
as the privileged elite.

We were “girls,”
chain store cashiers
paid minimum wage,
without benefits,
unwitting stars
of their erotic fantasies.

As we hurried from check stand
to break room, through
backroom warehouse gauntlet,
groping hands reached
over Kotex and toilet paper cartons
to detain and harass.

When their wives arrived
with crammed shopping carts,
we were cautioned not to act
too friendly or speak without adding
a respectful “Mr.”
in front of their names.

Powerless, we punched
price keys with a vengeance,
slammed merchandise
across abrasive counters,
wondered what would happen
if the tables were turned.

PHOTO: The author in her work uniform, April 1968.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I started working for a large chain drug store when I was 17. Most of the other female cashiers were high school dropouts, single moms, who couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t quit college to work full time for minimum wage in a chain store as a permanent career. The male managers (there were NO women in management roles) considered any decent-looking cashier as just one more job perk—playthings who had to go along if they wanted to remain employed.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Lagier has published 13 books, taught with California Poets in the Schools, co-edits the Homestead Review, and helps coordinate Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium readings. Her newest books are Scene of the Crime (Evening Street Press), Harbingers (Blue Light Press), and Camille Abroad (FutureCycle). Forthcoming: Like a B Movie (FutureCycle Press, 2018). Visit her at and on Facebook.

Author photo by Laura Bayless. 

bean fields

Winning the Golden Kiwi
by Mercedes Webb-Pullman

At 14, I was too young for the traditional school holiday jobs; on the line at Rothman’s cigarette factory or Watties canneries, so I went bean picking — we all did, my younger brothers and sisters, Mum and I.

Mum chose the paddock we’d work in; close to us and a strip pick were best. Though it paid less than a first pick, we picked every bean, no decisions to make. It was hard work, hot and tiring in full sun.

I worked next to Mrs. Kingi, who came to work each Thursday in her best clothes,
a pink polyester pants suit. I asked her why.

“When I win the Golden Kiwi lottery,” she said, “and the press comes to take my picture, I don’t want them to see my old clothes. That would be a shame.”

We teased Mrs. Kingi on Thursdays. We’d call out “Is that the press?” and she’d look around, patting her hair, then realize we were being smart. She really believed she was going to win.

I felt bad about teasing when I saw her eyes. Like a kid you don’t want to tell about Santa Claus, then one day you do out of spite, and you hate yourself for their broken-hearted look.

One Wednesday, when she was wearing old clothes like us, she fell. The ambulance came right to her row, siren blaring. All I could see was Mrs. Kingi’s foot. Her shoe had fallen off; her sole showed pink through a hole in the heel of her sock. The siren was silent when they left.

We all dressed in good clothes to go to work next day. Somehow it wasn’t surprising that lots of pickers had dressed up for Mrs. Kingi.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: These are the New Zealand fields I worked in — Napier, my home town, in the distance.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My first jobs were in the fields and orchards of Hawkes Bay, picking vegetables and fruit for the local canneries. I picked potatoes, beans, tomatoes, beetroot, asparagus, strawberries, apples, pears, and peaches each summer weekend and for the six-week school holidays, for years. It was hard, hot work. Nothing in life since has ever tasted as good as the hokey pokey ice cream cones from the Meeanee dairy on the way home.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mercedes Webb-Pullman started writing in 2007. She gained her Diploma in Creative Writing from Whitireia, 2009, and graduated from IIML Victoria University with MA in Creative Writing 2011. Her work has appeared in Turbine, 4th Floor, Swamp, Reconfigurations, The Electronic Bridge, Otoliths, Connotations, The Red Room, Typewriter, and Silver Birch Press, among others, and in her books. She lives on the Kapiti Coast, New Zealand.