Stephen King got a teaching certificate at the College of Education at the University of Maine, but couldn’t land a teaching gig. Hard up for cash, King wound up shoving used motel sheets into an industrial laundry machine at New Franklin Laundry and picking up a second shift at Dunkin’ Donuts. He would write on his lunch break at the laundry and after work.
“I suppose that sounds almost impossibly Abe Lincoln, but it was no big deal—I was having fun,” he wrote in his instructional 2000 memoir On Writing. Among his many odd jobs—gas pump attendant, time spent at a weaving mill—was one sweeping floors as a janitor “for part of one summer” at Brunswick High School when he was 19 or 20.
“I got paired with a guy named Harry, who wore green fatigues, a big keychain, and walked with a limp,” he wrote. “One day he and I were supposed to scrub the rust-stains off the walls in the girls’ shower. I looked around the locker room […] and there were two extra metal boxes on the tile walls—unmarked, and the wrong size for paper towels. I asked what was in them.” Harry told King they housed sanitary pads.
“This memory came back to me one day while I was working at the laundry, and I started seeing the opening scene of a story: girls showering in a locker room where there were no U-rings, pink plastic curtains, or privacy. And this one girl starts to have her period.”
Sound familiar? King’s brief episode cleaning out the women’s locker room became the unlikely foundation for his hit novel Carrie, which was published in 1974 and has since been adapted into two films and a Broadway play. You never know what low-paying job might lead to the next bestseller!