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10 Jobs You Didn't Hear About On Career Day

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by Laurel Mills

Back in preschool, there were only a handful of sensible options for the career-minded 4-year-old. Had we heard about "sin-eating," we would have eaten more paste and focused a little less on our permanent records.

1. Filibuster

Long before the term "filibuster" came to be associated with elected officials, it was actually associated with violence and trickery. (Wait a second ...) In the 1600s, pirates known to the Dutch as vrijbuiters pillaged the West Indies, and eventually, the word was assimilated into the English language as "filibusters." Between 1850 and 1860, the name was used to refer to the American mercenaries who attempted to revolutionize Central America and the Spanish West Indies. The most famous of these filibusters was William Walker, a U.S. citizen who succeeded in gaining control of Nicaragua in 1856 by overthrowing the nation's administration. Walker became president of Nicaragua, but only until May 1, 1857, when a coalition of Central American states ousted him. Because filibusters of previous centuries strove to interfere with foreign regimes, the term evolved to refer to anyone who attempted to obstruct the government, as our legislators occasionally see fit to do when a particularly troublesome bill comes before them.

2. Lungs

Perhaps the cruelest case of naming irony in history, anyone employed to fan the fire in an alchemist's workshop was known as a "lungs." And because most alchemists were constantly trying to make gold out of lead and other such base metals, you can only imagine what kinds of dangerous materials were floating about in the labs. As a result, the actual lungs on a lungs gave out relatively quickly, leading to a profession with widespread early retirement.

3.Sin-Eater

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No matter how much you loved Grandma and Grandpa, you can probably admit your forebears weren't perfect. So, if you ever had a loved one that passed on before his or her last chance at absolution, it makes sense that you might want to call in reinforcements. Fortunately for the fretful and grieving of yore, there was the town sin-eater. For a small fee, the sin-eater would gladly scarf down a meal (usually bread and ale) that had been placed on the deceased's chest. By letting the food lie atop the dearly departed for a while, it was believed the vittles would absorb the last transgressions. And, once the food was gobbled up by the sin-eater, Grandma or Grandpa could get into heaven without any major roadblocks.

4. Knocker-Up

In British towns of yore, particularly those with a mine or mill as the center of commercial activity, knocker-ups were responsible for going from house to house to wake workers in the mornings. The title, not surprisingly, came from the sound they made rapping on windows. As for the evolution of the term "knocking," it also denoted a collision of sorts, and in the 17th century, it was used in reference to childbirth. Even poet John Keats wrote of "knocking out" children in some of his odes. It wasn't until the 19th century, however, that Americans began using the phrase as slang for getting a woman pregnant.

5. Ratoner

Ain't it grand to live in a world where the Black Death isn't a daily concern? Fortunately, when it was an issue, a ratoner was there to lend a helping hand. A ratoner was a rat catcher, who served a vital role in maintaining the health of the villagers. Those of us accustomed to modern pest control techniques might be a bit surprised to learn about the disposal method employed by a typical Victorian-era ratoner, though. After capturing the rodents, he would set out for the town pub, where dogs made a sport of devouring the day's catch. This earned extra cash for the ratoner and was considered great entertainment by saloon regulars. The most famous ratoner, Jack Black, was appointed Royal Rat Catcher in the mid-19th century and bred some of his more interesting and colorful finds as household pets. In fact, The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter is said to be dedicated to her personal rat, one of Jack Black's progeny.

6. Alnager

In merry olde England, an alnager was a sworn officer of the court who garnered much esteem. He was responsible for ensuring that woolen goods were of the highest quality and that no one was being cheated on the amount of fabric ordered. The job was important not only because the king earned taxes from wool sales, but also because goods approved by the alnager carried the town's seal of approval. But, as the textile trade grew, it became nearly impossible to hold all wool to the same standards of size and density, so the king abolished the position. Today, you might know the alnager's modern incarnation best in sticker form, a.k.a., "Number 6."

7. Badger

Odd as it may sound, badgers were part of the rat race in prior centuries, serving as intermediaries between the producers of goods and the consumer. Most often, they traded in corn and other foodstuffs, buying from farmers and reselling the goods at markets in town. And if you think the salespeople at Macy's are tough, some historians think badgers were so persistent in pushing their products that the term came to be associated with an often annoying and forceful adamance—i.e., "badgering" anyone in sight to buy from you instead of another vendor.

8. Gong Farmer

Not unlike The Gong Show, a gong farmer was far from being the cream of the crop—and even that might be the understatement of the year. In Tudor England, a gong farmer's job was to empty the town toilets. But the job did have its perks. Typically, a gong farmer would "mine" the waste for any items of value that might be found amongst the city's excrement—a penny here, a button there—before it was used as manure or thrown into the river. For a while, it was falsely believed that gong farmers were immune to the plague, but you can't help wonder if that was more of a pity belief, like the whole idea that being hit by bird droppings is good luck.

9. Fuller

Making textiles hasn't always been such a streamlined process. Once upon a time, there were spinners to spin the thread, weavers to weave the cloth, and fullers to finish the goods once they came off the loom. Almost Lucy-and-Ethel style, fullers walked on the back side of the cloth to bind the fibers together and give cohesion to the newly woven fabric. But stomping alone wouldn't accomplish this feat. Instead, fullers soaked the cloth in a mixture of clay ("fuller's earth") and urine while it was being trampled. In fact, medieval housewives often earned extra cash by saving the family's urine and selling it to the fuller, and some schools even had children use one bucket as a toilet for the same purpose.

10. Bullocky

It sounds like Lewis Carroll came up with this word around the same time he was writing "Jabberwocky", but a bullocky was actually a person who drove cattle to market. Yet, the bullocky and the Jabberwock might share something in common—nonsense. According to some historians, to say bullocks swore like sailors would be an insult to sailors. In fact, it was the bullocks' foul mouths that led the term to be associated with bastardized speech. That, combined with the fact that they worked with "bull" (which had the same connotations we know today), could have helped bullocky evolve into a term for ridiculous or dispensable speech.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

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10 Facts About Aspirin
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Aspirin may be one of the world's best-known wonder drugs, able to do everything from cure a headache to reduce a fever, but its powers stretch beyond your medicine cabinet.

1. It's not the same as acetaminophen (used in Tylenol), ibuprofen (used in Advil and Motrin), or naproxen (used in Aleve).

2. There’s more than one way to take an aspirin. Americans swallow their tablets whole. The British dissolve theirs in water. And the French prefer theirs as suppositories.

3. The ancient Egyptians took their painkillers in the form of tree bark. Egyptian doctors used to give their patients willow bark to relieve pain because it contains salicin—the raw ingredient in aspirin.

4. Aspirin broke into the European market in 1763, after British clergyman Edward Stone chewed on some willow bark and felt a renewed vigor. He shared the stuff with his parishioners and relieved 50 cases of rheumatic fever in the process. After Stone reported his discovery to the Royal Society of London, the race was on to package the miracle cure.

5. A century later, French chemist Charles Gerhardt published an article on how to synthesize salicin in the lab, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Nobody paid attention.

6. Forty years after that, in 1897, German scientist Felix Hoffman followed Gerhardt’s process and took credit for inventing aspirin. Hoffman worked for Bayer Industries, which introduced the medicine in 1899 as the first mass-marketed drug.

7. In the mid-1940s, aspirin became a huge hit in Argentina thanks to radio jingles sung by future First Lady Eva Perón. Her country became the biggest per-capita consumer of aspirin in the world.

8. The wonder drug doesn’t just cure headaches; it can also revive a dead car battery. Just drop two tablets into the battery, let the salicylic acid combine with the battery’s sulfuric acid, and you’ve got an instant jump! Just make sure you don’t have any salt on your hands. Adding sodium to the aspirin-and-car-battery combo can cause an explosion.

9. So how does aspirin work? No one knew for sure until the 1970s, when British scientist John Vane discovered that aspirin reduces the body’s production of prostaglandins—fatty acids that cause swelling and pain.

10. Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: When the body gets a healthy dose of the benzoic acid in those foods, it makes its own salicylic acid, or aspirin.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

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Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
How Kiss's Alive! Saved Their Record Label—And Changed the Music Industry
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images

It was late 1974, and Neil Bogart, CEO of Casablanca Records, was falling apart. His wife of nine years had divorced him. Warner Bros., Casablanca’s onetime parent company, had cut the fledgling label loose, saddling Bogart with crippling overhead and advertising costs. The company’s headquarters—a two-story house off the Sunset Strip that Bogart (no relation to Humphrey) decorated to resemble Rick’s Café from the film Casablanca—had devolved into a hedonistic playground awash in cocaine and Quaaludes. A few years earlier, he’d made stars of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack for Super Fly had been an instant hit. Now, at 31, he was watching his career crumble.

But Bogart had a plan. As part of the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca inherited a promising project: a double LP of audio highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It seemed like a sure thing. In 1974, The Tonight Show drew 14 million viewers a night. The year before, as the CEO of Buddah Records, Bogart had sold more than a million copies of a similar compilation titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll. Bogart was so confident in The Tonight Show project that he envisioned the album as the first of four highlight records, stretching back decades.

Before SoundScan existed to track album sales, the recording industry conferred “gold” status to any album that shipped more than 500,000 copies. Bogart shipped 750,000 copies of Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From the Tonight Show. As it turned out, no one wanted to listen to audio clips of a late-night talk show. The album was such a flop that distributors even mailed back their free promotional copies. Industry insiders joked that it had been shipped gold and “returned platinum.” Or as Casablanca cofounder Larry Harris put it, “It hit the floor with a lifeless, echoing thud.”

By the end of 1974, Casablanca was broke. To make payroll, Bogart cashed in his line of credit at a Las Vegas casino. The label seemed doomed. It needed a cheap hit just to survive.

One of the bands on Casablanca’s roster was in similarly rough shape. Kiss, a flamboyant heavy metal outfit from New York City, had released three albums by the spring of 1975. The band had a cult following in the Rust Belt. But the moment Kiss stepped into the studio, they deflated, unable to replicate the raucous energy of their live concerts.

This may have been an impossible task. Since their first gig in 1973, the foursome had performed only in Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes, and towering platform shoes. Onstage, Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born bassist with a 7-inch tongue, spat fire and fake blood at the audience. Blasts of smoke and pyrotechnics punctuated hard-driving songs like “Strutter,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.” At the end of each set, drummer Peter Criss rose 10 feet above the stage atop a hydraulic drum riser. This intimidating stagecraft belied Kiss’s sound: more pop than metal, closer to David Bowie than Black Sabbath on the ’70s rock spectrum. Kiss’s stage show was so over the top that Bogart pitched the band as a headline act before the foursome had a legitimate hit. Queen, Genesis, and Aerosmith all canceled bookings with Kiss because no one wanted to play after the band.

But if Kiss was a circus act, Bogart was its P.T. Barnum. At pitch meetings, he’d unleash fireballs from his hand using magician’s flash paper, declaring “Kiss is magic!” Bogart hounded DJs, TV hosts, critics, and music magazines, pushing the Kiss brand. He even convinced Kiss to record a cover of “Kissin’ Time”—a single by ’60s teen idol Bobby Rydell—as a promotional tie-in for a nationwide kissing contest called “The Great Kiss-Off.”

None of it worked. And Kiss was fed up. The band received a meager $15,000 advance for its first three albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill— and despite Bogart’s fiery efforts, it had yet to see royalties. He’d even produced Dressed to Kill himself because he was unable to afford a professional producer.

Then Bogart had an idea. What if Kiss put out a live album? It’d be less expensive than a studio recording and might preserve some of the band’s incendiary live show. At the time, live records weren’t considered a legitimate product; bands released them mainly to fulfill contracts. But Bogart didn’t care. He knew this was his last chance.

Kiss liked the concept. Within days, Bogart had arranged to record a multicity tour, with stops in Detroit; Wildwood, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Wyoming. Since Bogart couldn’t finance the tour himself, Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s long-suffering manager, put $300,000 of his own money into costumes, expenses, and effects. To oversee the recordings, Bogart roped in Eddie Kramer, a star audio engineer who’d produced albums for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

On May 16, 1975, 12,000 people packed into Detroit’s Cobo Hall—the largest venue in a city many considered the capital of rock ’n’ roll. Bogart and Aucoin went all out on production. To fire up the crowd, a cameraman followed the band from the dressing room to the stage, projecting the shot onto a giant screen overhead. During the song “100,000 Years,” flamethrowers wrapped the band in a curtain of fire. And this time Criss’s drum kit rose to twice its usual height.

The concerts were a massive success, yet the recordings were still mediocre. The energy was there, but the band’s musicianship suffered in its frenzied live performance. In the end, sound engineers recorded over much of the material. Nevertheless, certain core elements remain, including Criss’s drum tracks, lead singer Paul Stanley’s stage banter, and the propulsive fury of early singles “Deuce” and “Strutter,” in which the band’s energy soars in response to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The physical record was an accomplishment of its own. A double album with a gatefold sleeve, it featured handwritten notes from the band, a glossy eight-page booklet, and a centerfold collage of in-concert photos.

Alive! was released on September 10, 1975. Five days later, Aucoin sent Bogart a letter of termination: Kiss was leaving the label. In desperation, Bogart, who’d recently mortgaged his house, cut Aucoin and the band a check for $2 million to retain them. Then everyone sat back and watched the Billboard chart.

The result was unprecedented. Alive! peaked at No. 9 and remained on the charts for the next 110 weeks, becoming the band’s first record to sell more than a million copies. By the end of 1975, major rock bands from Blue Öyster Cult to REO Speedwagon suddenly found themselves opening for Kiss. Today, Alive! has sold more than 9 million copies, making it the biggest selling Kiss album of all time.

Alive! rescued both Kiss and Casablanca from oblivion. The band’s next three albums—Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977)—were all certified platinum. In 1977, Kiss topped a Gallup poll as the most popular act among American teens. The late ’70s saw a superstorm of Kiss merchandise, including Kiss makeup kits, pinball machines, Marvel comic books, and even a made-for-TV movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

But Alive! also changed the music industry. “Shortly after it hit, just about every hard rock band issued live albums,” says Greg Prato, a writer for Rolling Stone and the author of The Eric Carr Story, about Kiss’s short-lived drummer Eric Carr. “Some of those albums were the best live rock recordings of all time: Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, the Ramones’s It’s Alive, Queen’s Live Killers, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Cheap Trick, At Budokan.”

What makes Alive! a masterpiece, though, is how it captures the essence of Kiss—a hard rock band that was meant to be seen, or at least heard, live. “The emphasis on a live album is the experience itself, specifically how close the record translates and interprets the experience of actually attending the show,” says author and Kiss fan Chuck Klosterman. “[Alive!] jumps out of the speakers. It feels like a bootleg of the highest quality.”

Ultimately, Bogart’s excessive spending habits, along with his prodigious cocaine use at Casablanca HQ, led to his ouster from the label in 1980. By that point, he’d become the reigning king of disco, breaking such acts as the Village People and Donna Summer. He died of cancer two years later at age 39, having just created Boardwalk Records and signed the then-unknown rock goddess Joan Jett. In the decades after his death, the iconic metal band he’d helped bring to the top continues to tour, even making an appearance on American Idol in 2009. For 40 years, Kiss has been sending drum kits aloft (albeit with a different drummer), performing in fully painted faces, setting stages on fire, all in an effort to recapture an impossible sound. With Alive!, Bogart had created a chimera. It was a record that could never exist in real life: part raucous energy, part polished studio overdubs, a “live” masterpiece better than the best live act in rock history.

This piece originally ran in Mental Floss magazine.

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