Terrible Jobs I've Had: Detasseling

What the hell is that? If you did not grow up in a fairly specific part of the rural Midwest you’ve probably never even heard of detasseling; you are lucky.

Basically, when you plant seed corn, that is, corn grown specifically for seed kernels to grow other types of corn, you want only the “male” corn to pollinate the “female” so that your specific hybrid doesn't get fucked up. So, you plant four “female” rows and then one “male” row. The four “female” rows have to have their tassels removed so they don't pollinate each other.

The way you do this is by paying child labor (12-16 year olds) minimum wage to walk up and down row after row of corn for 6-10 hours a day removing tassels by hand in the middle of fucking July. With 3 or 4 adults, let’s call them, “overseers” yelling at them.

Holy shit, what year is this? Don't they have a machine for this? Why yes! In fact they have a machine called a wheel puller, it looks like this:

Terrible Jobs I've Had: Detasseling

The only problem is a wheel puller does a piss poor job of removing tassels, generally only about 60% (and that’s for corn that is standing straight up and of uniform height, if it’s blown over or a short spot you’re fucked). I think usually they want like 95% of tassels gone before they’ll release the field.

Release the field?

Oh, you went through that field with your army of other middle-schoolers once and thought you were done? Fuck and no you weren't. Some dick from the seed company will let your boss know that you guys did a shitty job after you've left so you’re back in the same field for round two, or three, or more. I was once through a field 6 times before it was cleared of enough tassels. The extra great part is that your boss is getting paid by the field so they’re extra pissed every time you go back more than once, and you’ll definitely go back at least once.

Jesus, that does sound horrible…can you describe just how horrible?

Let me run you through a typical day. You have to get up by 530 so you can meet your crew at some designated place where you are loaded onto a school bus by 6. That bus will take you to your first field. They want to get you in there early to avoid the hottest part of the day. As such, the plants are still super wet with dew and the ground is mud. You’ll wear a rain poncho (read: greenhouse) for this first part of the day so that your clothes don’t get soaked. Did I mention it’s already 85 degrees? Did I also mention that you're wearing a long sleeve shirt and long pants because otherwise the corn leaves will cut you to shit and give you “corn rash”?

Terrible Jobs I've Had: Detasseling

Anyway, you and your crew of 5 people (one person on each row and a crew leader who is supposed the get the stuff that the other kids miss) go up and down the field for hours. Up one set and rows and back one set of rows. Oh, and you have no ipod, no disc man, no walkman, nothing to do but walk though a fucking sea of green for hours at a time, pulling the still green tassels out of corn plant vaginas with your gloved hands, all the while getting berated by the “overseers” for not doing a good enough job.

Do this for 5-10 hours a day. Get home, shower all the mud off you, lay on the couch for a few hours because you’re tired as shit, go to sleep. Repeat every day for 2 and half to 3 weeks. Take home approximately $300 total after taxes.

Anything else that sucks?

Oh, so much more! Ever seen a corn spider? You will. Ever been tackled full speed by someone with no way of knowing they were coming? You will. Ever get poked in the eye repeatedly by razor thin corn leaves? You will.

Terrible Jobs I've Had: Detasseling

Is there anything good about it?

Fuck no. Did you even read this thing? It is without question the worst job still legal in the United States. It’s as close to plantation-work as we have at this point in history.

My parents specifically made me get this job just so that every other job on earth would seem palatable by comparison. I guess that counts for something?