Tackling Gruesome Jobs

I open the cabin bathroom door after it had been closed up for two weeks and see hundreds of dead ants. Their black bodies litter the floor, bathtub, and float in the toilet. My husband had sprayed before we left and the contact spray had worked. I needed to tackle the dirty job of cleaning the bathroom, but all I wanted to do was flee. 

I’ve had to tackle several gruesome jobs in my lifetime, and I imagine you have too. My gross tasks don’t compare to those Mike Rowe, star of the hit TV series Dirty Jobs and Somebody’s Gotta Do It, takes on, though. Viewing his shows gives a person a deep appreciation for the men and women who have to perform gruesome chores every day. These jobs could include castrating sheep, trapping leaches to sell as bait, and working on farms that raise maggots. On his show, Mike Rowe crawls into a bat cave to collect guano (poop) which is prized as a rich fertilizer. He also works with professionals who remove road-killed animals, and he assists sewer inspectors after a Brooklyn toilet explodes from a backup. 

Some of the jobs Mike Rowe takes on are dangerous. How would you like the job of testing out shark suits? After putting on the suit, you jump in the ocean, create a bloodbath of chum, and wait for the sharks to arrive and bite you. If they don’t penetrate the suit, you live. If not, well, you would wish you’d stayed home and cleaned up dead ants. 

I gather spray cleaner, paper towels, rubber gloves, and a hand vacuum. I tell myself this isn’t as bad as a job my husband had as a 15-year-old. Frank worked for a farmer who fattened pigs right before shipping then for slaughter. The farmer mixed up corn, hay and grain. The combination gave the pigs diarrhea, which they wallowed in. It was Frank’s job to shovel out the pen. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, the messy pigpen was also dangerous. The farmer told Frank to use a hot shot and piece of fencing to direct a 300-pound sow. When Frank held the hot shot on her flank, she rose up on her hind legs, did a 180° turn, crashed down on the fence, and knocked Frank down in the manure. With the fence and sow on top of him, Frank was trapped. The angry sow was intent on doing more damage until the farmer, pitchfork in hand, jumped in. 

Have you had to work at a dangerous or dreadful job? At the age of 18, my brother, needing money, stood in a lineup while a supervisor handpicked workers. Strong and tall, my brother was picked to shovel out sludge from the inside of a crude oil tank. This was over 40 years ago and safety regulations were minimal. Imagine having to stand in oil up to your shins, breath in the intense fumes, and have sludge permeate any exposed skin. And he only got minimum wage. 

Stephanie Land, author of the bracing nonfiction book entitled Maid, describes her need as a single mom to clean people’s houses for minimum wage. She describes considering quitting when confronted with the grossest toilet she’d ever seen. Then she thought of her responsibilities to her daughter. She rolled up her sleeves, held her breath, and bent over the toilet. 

Sometimes in life we just need to suck it up and get the job done. I roll up my own sleeves, grab the vacuum, and get to work.

2 Replies to “Tackling Gruesome Jobs”


Mine was when sewer backed up in bathroom . It filled bathtub, overflowed toilet and filled the floor. What a black, sticky, smelly mess. It took days of scrubbing, plus plumber to root out tree stump under bathroom floor.


Oh, yuck! I can imagine how smelly that was. I bet a shower felt good after that job was done.

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