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I Am A Security Guard: Why I Draw

Around the middle of the shift, when the flow of customers slows to a trickle, I prepare for one of my favorite rituals. I sweep the floor and read newspapers and magazines. Then, I break out a notebook and pencil and draw.

Using basic shapes and different shades, I try to create a picture that reflects one of my interests. One night, it may be a pilgrim dropping his burden and finding hope while gazing toward the sky. Or a guitarist jamming for fans. Or a pitcher firing a strike. Or a golfer pumping a fist while watching a putt roll toward the hole. I've even completed a self-portrait, which included my uniform.

The pastime provides a few obvious benefits. First, it helps me relieve the stress that comes with watching the store's goods and dealing with the general public. Second, I gain some sense of accomplishment. Third, I kill at least 30 minutes with each work.

Yet, there is a deeper reason why I sketch. The memory of an uncle spurs me to create.

That uncle, my father's second-oldest brother, showed much artistic potential during his youth. His pencil sketch of a male classmate, completed in the early 1950s, showcases his skill. The firm mouth, sharp eyes, and wavy hair made the work seem alive. The piece earned a frame and a prime spot in my grandparents' living room. Eventually, my uncle started to paint as well.

He had the talent to pursue art as a profession. Instead, he worked at the post office. While supporting a family, he continued to dabble in drawing and painting.

Sometime in the late 1960s, my uncle's world shattered. My aunt had an affair with a Chicago police officer. My uncle learned about it and confronted her. During the ensuing shouting match in their apartment, he committed a low-class act: he hit her.

My aunt called her boyfriend, who drove to the apartment with two other cops. The officers beat my uncle and tossed him in jail. Afterward, the two lovers drove by my grandparents' house with my uncle's clothes and art supplies. As rain fell, they dumped the goods on the front yard.

My father brought a carton of cigarettes to the jail. During the visit, my uncle bowed his head and said, "I still love her."

That disgusted my father. He said he needed to whisper something and asked my uncle to move closer to the bars. My uncle complied. My father snatched the cigarettes and left. From that moment, my father regarded him as a weakling and a fool.

After the beatdown, my uncle changed into a different man. He and my aunt separated, but he never found another partner. He didn't draw or paint again. Instead, he drank. Eventually, he lost his job and his health deteriorated. The last time I saw him, he had morphed into an emaciated shell with bloodshot eyes, an unshaven face and unkempt hair. Shortly afterward, he died at a relatively young 59.

One incident made my uncle a tragic figure instead of a revered elder. Over the years, I've tried to avoid his example. He's one of the reasons why I pursued my dream career after college and have continued to seek a new passion.

Sometimes my frustration builds. The overwhelming majority of resumes I send do not generate replies. And when I get lucky and complete a job interview, I don't get a response from the recruiter. All the effort to dress in business attire, research a company and travel to an interview goes down the drain. In the meantime, I watch the store's lipstick and contend with rude customers while knowing I can handle challenging tasks.

Drawing has helped me ease the tension. The work, while not as good as my uncle's, reminds me that I can develop new skills. I keep my mind fresh and engaged. I forget about my anguish and focus on the positive.

Ultimately, drawing does more than provide a means to pass the time. It gives me a survival tool. Unlike my uncle, I can't give it up.

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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 the Life at Work collection.



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Posted on April 26, 2010


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BOOKS - Postdictatorship Argentina.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Public Lands Matter.


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