This is the craziest job I've ever had: For three summers during college I worked for a porn magazine, and what struck me most was that convicts have decent grammar.
Although, that sentence has several exaggerations. The first of which is the phrase "porn magazine." I did work for a pornographic periodical, but it wasn't an operation that hired models or took photos. It was a monthly collection of photos of celebrities being naked. That's a genre of porn magazine and it feels slightly less sleazy because it doesn't produce more pornography but simply gathers existing stuff and organizes it by starlet.


The next exaggeration is the phrase "for," because I didn't really work directly FOR it, but I worked for its financial manager who, as part of his pay, owned all the back issues. My job was to mail the back issues to people who had ordered them. I'd gathered the day's orders (all mailed in, as this was essentially pre-internet), enter them into an ancient computer, put issues into a brown paper envelope and then bring them to a rustic, quaint post office where some otherwise trusting people looked at me sideways as I bought postage for several dozen pounds of obscured filth.
The NEXT exaggeration is "worked" because I was not that disciplined. In fact, rather than focus on my primary responsibility of processing orders of back issues of this magazine, I preferred to work on my secondary responsibility which was answering letters. See, readers of the magazine would occasionally write in with their concerns or requests. I would answer them, signing a fake name which was "Malcolm Light, VP of Customer Service." My predecessor at the job made up the name, but I made up the title because even though I was shoveling recycled porn into brown envelopes, I cared about status.
The letters were fascinating. These were people who had bought a porn magazine and cared enough about it that they took pen to paper. Typical topics were "My issue was damaged. Can I get a replacement?" "I ordered my issue some time ago, when can I expect it?" and "Do you have any photos of Oprah Winfrey's bare feet?" (Answers: "No," "soon" and "no comment").

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Judging by the handwriting, fans of this porn magazine were not frequent letter writers. Sloppy kerning, poor leading, inconsistent sizes made every letter look like a ransom note. HOWEVER, the tone was surprisingly polite. For example, people generally ended the notes with formal sign-offs: "Would love a Bond girls issue. Regards, Stephen" or "Appreciate the nip slip from Michelle Pfeiffer. Sincerely, Mickey."
A generous percentage of these writers were convicts. Convicts like porn magazines. They send money orders and they wait patiently. They pore over every detail of the product. And they were by and large the most polite and careful correspondents. I suppose they were aware the consequences of breaking rules and didn't want to do anything wrong that might delay the delivery of "TV Sluts, Cable Edition."
"Decent" grammar is an exaggeration since when you're requesting photos of butt-cracks, it shouldn't be called decent.
I tried to answer their letters with an equal level of attentiveness and politeness. Frequent writers knew who I was and would address me directly. "Mr. Light, you were very helpful in finding the photo spread of Julie Newmar and also Sade. Are there any S&M themed back issues or else any that feature more behinds?"
Other insane things about this job: the office was at the financial manager's home, and he had two huge German Shepherds who barked every time I got up from my desk. So I had to wait for my boss to come into the room before it was safe for me to leave and go to the bathroom. Looking back, this might have been an actual sweatshop. It definitely broke clauses of the Geneva Convention. I didn't mind, because my boss was a charismatic guy who told great stories about doing drugs with 1970s country and western music stars, and had a metal valve in his aorta which you could hear if your ear was pressed to his chest, which he did to me twice.
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I also got paid under the table and never had to work past five.
This was around 1990. I remember I first heard "Losing My Religion" while at this job. I already had lost mine, but that song was great.
I had almost quit the first day since it was so strange. The dogs barking, the stack of dirty magazines in dusty shrink-wrap, the eccentric boss: it didn't feel welcoming. But before that I had worked in a pretentious British toy store in the mall. There aren't enough interesting things in the world to justify walking out of a place that strange. It was fun; I'm glad I stayed.


Stock photos from shutterstock