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I Am A Security Guard: Darkest Before The Dawn

The first half of my overnight shift passes fairly quickly. I check in, get an update, chat with some staffers, and settle at my post. The rush of customers keeps me on my toes. I focus on the store's merchandise, especially the goods in the cosmetics section.

By about 2 a.m., the rush ends and the store gets quiet. The screaming kids and folks with morning jobs have gone to bed.

In theory, the next few hours should be smooth sailing. That's not the case. Instead, I grind through the toughest part of the night.

Some of the difficulty is physical. Because I stand, my left ankle starts to ache. Hunger pains attack my stomach. The air conditioning cuts through my uniform.

But the physical issues pale in comparison to my mental concerns. Self-doubt arises. I start asking hard questions about myself. Will my degree and professional accomplishments ever get me a better job? Did I rub an interviewer the wrong way? Should I have studied accounting instead of liberal arts? Have I fallen to the point where I'm only good for guarding nail polish?

My mood darkens further when bad music seeps out of the speakers. The company apparently thinks cheesy pop will encourage customers to buy its overpriced products. David Soul's "Don't Give Up on Us," Robert Welch's "Sentimental Lady," and John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" should be stricken from the airwaves. Come to think of it, that applies to most of Lionel Richie's post-Commodores output. Seriously, "Ballerina Girl"?

While I'm coping with a bad attitude, many of my least favorite customers arrive. Some are losers who argue with the cashiers or leave home without using soap and water. Some are thieves trying to catch me off-guard. Others are hookers, drunks and drug addicts. A few are lonely people who wander the aisles and finger merchandise without buying anything. They have nothing else to do with their time. On some nights, I have to dig deep for the strength to keep my cool.

Such an occasion took place around 3:40 on a recent Monday morning. The cleaning crew that waxes the floor had nearly completed its work. For that, I was grateful. The two men usually take their sweet time, about four hours. That's quite a spell to sniff fumes and re-direct customers. On this night, they had cut an hour from their usual time.

But my good feeling ended when one of the regular misfits walked in the store. He's a hawk-nose drinker who buys frozen pizza after his binges. I told him wet wax covered the area near the freezer. But a crew member insisted that the floor had dried. The drunk walked toward the freezer.

Of course, the floor had not dried. But the drunk and his wine breath stuck around. The Lazy Cashier asked him how many drinks he had consumed. He did not answer. Instead, the man stood next to me. I moved to the left. He moved to the left. I stepped outside to calm down. He followed me. Luckily, fresh air settled my nerves.

Finally the floor dried. The drunk walked to the freezer. And left without buying anything. Perhaps he had lost his appetite after stalking me.

After he left, I asked the crew member through gritted teeth to be sure about the floor next time.

As always, the rough part of the shift ends. First, a hint of blue appears outside. Then the sky gradually gets lighter. A different set of customers - workers getting newspapers, juice, and snacks - take over the store. They are not thieves or jerks. I begin to relax.

Finally, my shift ends. I have survived yet another night at my crappy job. The pain in my ankle fades. My dark thoughts disappear. Instead, I make plans to re-connect with old contacts and search for jobs on Craigslist. I leave knowing a brighter future awaits me.

-

A very pseudononymous Jerome Haller earns rent money as a security guard for a large, publicly-held retail chain.

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See more tales of security guards, pizzeria waitressing, barista'ing and office drudgery in the Life at Work collection.




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Posted on September 1, 2009


MUSIC - The Week In Chicago Rock.
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BOOKS - Chicago For Dummies.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The Sears Motor Buggy.


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