Sometimes, while sitting in a cubicle in a tall office building with re-circulated air and fluorescent lighting, it is fun to imagine the jobs of others, whose day-to-day encompasses the challenging, the arduous, the unsavory, and the random. These jobs make you happy to be in a cubicle.
If parachuting near the heart of a burning fire doesn’t sound challenging enough, smokejumpers, who combat wild fires in remote locations, must traverse over mountainous terrain, carry supplies on their backs, and be self-sufficient for multiple days. Job requirements include a high level of fitness, mental stability, and extensive safety and technical training. Long, unpredictable hours are offset by rewarding manual labor in awesome settings. Median income for firefighters is $40,000 but varies widely based on location, experience, and overtime.
Lynne Cox’s job is to test the limits of endurance and temperature by swimming long distances in cold water. She was first person to swim across the Strait of Magellan (42° F) and the eight miles around the Cape of Good Hope. Most recently, she defied the limits of human physiology by swimming 1.2 miles in the 32° Antarctic water, wearing only a swimsuit. In addition to a Tyr sponsorship and participation in numerous scientific experiments, she has also written two books about her adventures. Swimming for a living would be fun—but glaciers, polar bears, jellyfish, and heart stopping water temperatures make this a job most mortals couldn’t hack.
Dairy Cow Midwife
Midwifes don’t just assist insemination, they actually do it. An entire arm is shoved inside a cow to drop off semen. Of course, that semen had to come from somewhere, leading to another unsavory bovine job—the bull masturbator.
Full Time Guinea Pig
For human guinea pigs, being paid to participate in a clinical trial isn’t just a one-time source of funds, it’s a career. Sleep deprivation, tubes up your nose and lungs, altered diets, poop examinations, and frequent blood draws are some on-the-job threats, not to mention long-term consequences of potentially dangerous drugs. And as more and more clinical trials are outsourced to private companies, ethical standards are sometimes questionable. However, lengthy trials can pay in the thousands; industrious guinea pigs have reported making upwards of $80,000 a year.
Podiatrist for the Indigent
Podiatrists make good money—averaging $108,220 in 2006 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—but it is a job few people can stomach: treating toenails gone wrong, banishing plantar warts, cutting off bunions, and dealing with problem feet, all day, every day. There is one population of clientele who categorically have the most troubled feet of all: the homeless. Substance abuse problems coupled with chronic disease (like diabetes) and lack of proper (or any) footwear can lead to unchecked infections, tinea eating away at the flesh between toes, and other oozing, pussing maladies. The podiatrists treating this population often volunteer their time at free clinics, making their commitment to dealing with troubled tootsies all that more admirable.
Oil Patch Roughneck
A roughneck, the lowest person on the oilrig totem pole, is the person tasked to deal with the general grunt work of oil drilling—connecting pipes, fixing rigs, and heavy labor. The job is dirty, loud, and demanding, requiring long hours in difficult conditions. According to Salary.com roughnecks can make around $47,000 and because they often must go to remote places to drill, room and board is often included. Plus, once you’ve served your time (and learned new skills), there is nowhere to go but up.
When defining the worst job in the world, dealing with sewage and human fecal matter seems like a requirement. Plumbers, sewer inspectors, and sanitation consultants all have to do it, but there’s something about cleaning a port-a-potty, which most people tried to avoid having to use in the first place, that ranks it the worst of the worst. But, according to CareerBuilder.com, they are compensated fairly well—annual wages are around $50,000.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics rates fishing—in particular crab fishing in Alaska—as the most dangerous job in America. But that’s only counting legal jobs. Being a member of a drug dealing gang, for instance, is much, much more dangerous. According to a research paper by the economists Steven Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, the per person likelihood of death in the gang under study was 1 to 2 percent a month; gang members active year round had a one in four chance of being killed. This is far higher than the rate for the commercial fishers, which is 1.42 for every 1,000 people. And risk doesn’t always confer reward. In both professions, rank and bounty largely determine earnings. The average hourly wage for gang members was $11, ranging from $7 for foot soldiers to $97 for the leaders. Fishers make an average of $19,000 a year, but can reap up to $60,000 in a few months for a big crab haul.
Breath Odor Evaluator
While some people with good senses of smell become sommeliers or perfume testers, others take their noses to the extremes by becoming bad odor arbiters. To test the efficacy of mouthwashes or breath mints, they have to smell bad breath before and after treatment with the supposed neutralizer.
This is just the short list for odd jobs; the long list would obviously include prostitutes, mink farmers, porn stars, bounty hunters, and psychics. And while few kids grow up wanting to be condom manufacturers or crime scene cleaners, it’s nice to know there’s a job out there for everyone.