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I Am a Security Guard: The Roads Not Taken

Thanks to dumb luck, the road not taken or closed off has sometimes turned into a blessing in disguise for me. Years ago, I did not hit on a voluptuous neighbor who turned out to be a drug dealer. I did not get a pricey liberal arts graduate degree that's currently unmarketable. And I decided not to move into a more expensive apartment just before getting laid off from my longtime gig.

Recently, my good fortune struck again.

Twice over the last three years, I interviewed with one of the biggest local security companies. I wore a suit, filled the application, and patiently answered the interviewer's questions. Both times, I did not get a rejection letter or even a call back.

During the heat wave over the past summer, I observed the security guards that company sends to CTA train stations. The guards had to work outside in very humid conditions. The sun beat down on them during the day. At night, the temperature did not drop. Sadly, the guards did not have access to air conditioning or fans.

A young man working at one station had beads of sweat pouring down his face. He occasionally swatted at flies buzzing about him. He told me he would turn on the overhead lamp to draw the flies, but that would simply add more heat.

A middle-aged female security guard at a different stop said: "What can you do? You have to live."

I had a great deal of sympathy for them. Yet, I also felt some relief. That could have been me wilting in the heat. Their company did me a favor.

A Taste Of My Own Medicine
On a recent morning after work, I stopped by an art supplies store for the first time to look at sketchbooks. A store clerk, a petite blond, walked by me. A few minutes later, she passed me again. Some time later, she walked by me for a third time. She never carried anything or asked if I needed help. I got the message and soon left the store.

The woman made me mad, but then I cooled off. Perhaps she had simply done her job. I've been in that position. At times, I watch unfamiliar people when they linger at my store. Often my suspicions are unfounded, but I don't want to risk being wrong. Certainly those customers felt the same way I did when the clerk walked by me.

Although I got over my hard feelings, my discomfort remained. I have not returned to the store.

My Big Mouth
On a Friday night, a young couple arrived at the register with soft drinks. I paged the Cool Cashier, who was busy cleaning an aisle.

The man started to pay. During the transaction, he and his date walked away from the register and started joking by the door.

I could have kept quiet, but could not resist calling out the man for his rude behavior.

"Sir," I said.

"There is no one behind me," he said.

"Sir, the cashier has a lot of work to do."

The man walked back to the register and paid for the goods. He mimicked me. "Sir. Sir. You can tell you really love your job."

The couple left.

Afterward, I pondered whether keeping quiet would have been a better option. I concluded no. The man had it coming.

Not My Brother's Keeper
Near the end of another shift, I chatted with the Young Cashier. Around 4 a.m., a short man with a backpack walked into the store. The visitor looked scared. He said a car followed him, and he wanted to call his family to ask for a ride home. He needed to borrow a cell phone.

I said no. I have this fear that a stranger will use my phone to buy drugs, and the cops will cuff me along with him. No sense taking a chance.

The Young Cashier gave him change for the pay phone at a nearby corner. He called. Someone picked him up in a van.

As the vehicle pulled away, I felt a bit awkward about my cynicism. Someone genuinely needed my help. I failed him.

Human Nature
Dixie Carter, star of the classic sitcom Designing Women, recently died at 70. According to an obituary, her father, the owner of a department store, provided a valuable lesson about human nature. When she asked him how he dealt with shoplifting, he told her: "Most people are honest, and if they weren't, you couldn't stay in business, because a thief will find a way to steal."

Although my job has made me more cynical, I thought the comment made sense. Occasionally, I keep it in mind while standing at my post.

Don't Spend It All In One Place
A surprise recently appeared on my paycheck: A raise of 25 cents per hour.

Though I've never gotten a bad review, the raise did not result from merit. Four years ago, Illinois mandated a series of hikes in the minimum hourly rate. The latest - and final - jump pushed the rate to $8.25.

I had mixed feelings about the raise. The extra dough felt good in my pocket. However I believe the market should determine the pay, not the law.

Anyway, the raise won't help me much. It barely covers the recent hike in my rent.

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

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See more tales of security guarding, pizzeria waitressing, barista-ing and office drudgering in our Life at Work collection.




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Posted on November 15, 2010


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - Charter Schools Complicit With Segregation.
SPORTS - USA Gymnastics Bans Illinois Coach.

BOOKS - The Randomness Of Harvard Admissions.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Public Lands Matter.


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