Job Security Part One: “It’s a Living”

Amy, while sheltering in place I have been doing some looking back, (yes, I do that pretty much every day pandemic or no but try to focus here). Previously I have shared some things with you about my past, telling you that before we met, I was an international banker, secret agent, porn star and dog groomer.

Over time you’ve come to your own conclusions about my capacity in each of those skill sets.

The truth, or at least what I’m going to say here is, I spent the majority of the 80’s working as a security guard. You know the kind in the movies, the private cops, mavericks that the system could not contain, that are ex-Navy seals, are smarter than everyone around them, collect exorbitant fees and are usually played by handsome, fit actors who can kickbox?

Not that kind.

We were rent-a-cops, those guys you see in malls, whose uniforms don’t fit, have unusual body shapes and lack real authority, but because this is America often have guns. That was me.  I wore a uniform (that fit), carried a firearm, and generally worked a reverse schedule for the majority of the Me Decade. Like Dracula, or many summer teenagers, I slept all day and prowled other people’s property all night.

My first security job was in Texas, where in the summer of ’81 I guarded a foundry. I worked a 12-14-hour night shift guarding Caterpillar engine blocks and glowing white pools of liquid metal. The foundry patrol area was on average 118-degrees (I know because foundries pay particular attention to the temperature). I sweated rivers and I stank. Security consisted of walking around at night with a giant clock on a strap punching keys into the clock proving I had made my rounds once every hour, preventing anyone from slipping multi-ton engine blocks or molten metal into their pockets. As an only child the hours, the solitude, suited me and my desire to read and write. J’s summer of ’81 is another Facebook post entirely.

Eventually I returned to Omaha and in ’82 I got a job working for SL&B security. S, L and B were the initials of the guys who started the company. It was easy to get a job with SL&B. My friend Ed saw the variety of suspect characters employed there and concluded that the standards were low if they existed at all. He said, “I’m pretty sure if you show up with a shine on your shoes, you gotta job.” This was true. The employee roster was a wild cocktail of under achievers, ex-cons, drop-outs and recovering (or not) addicts out of some improbable fiction.

Our friend Frank, his shoes gleaming, got hired. After a few months on duty his opinion was that SL&B really stood for “slow, lazy and blind” and he suggested I apply.  We are still friends despite this.  At the time I was busy cramming four years of college into seven and I needed some way to pay my aunt Evie room and board. So, I shined my shoes…

The interview was long, maybe because I was pretty green. Academically speaking I looked great, and I had experience guarding for a major company in the south, but Jim S. the S in SL&B, wanted to take my measure. It’s possible that having someone who had a high school diploma, no addictions nor criminal record was something he was not accustomed to dealing with. I’m not saying I was better than anyone, but I was very different than Jim’s generally derelict applicants. I take comfort in believing that, anyway. I’m pretty sure I was his first nerd hire

Jim’s big concern was that I “show up.” As I got to know Jim’s management philosophy, I found that “showing up” was the bedrock of being a world-class security guard.

Jim had me show up at the Godfather’s pizza on south 24th street. High schoolers would raise hell there on Friday and Saturday nights, so security was brought in to fight for Truth, Justice and calm dining. Paying real off duty police has a hefty price tag, so enter SL&B. Jim found a demand for marked down protection. Our unspoken motto: “Can’t afford the best? SL&B!” Here was his formula: offer the lowest price in town to companies that needed security, hire a buncha guys who could never pass a background check, pay them dick, and build a reputation for excellence. It is simple math if you are simple to the point of deficiency: 2 + 2 =$220,000,000.

My first partner in crime fighting was Perry, a compulsive philanderer who was primarily interested in afterhours clubs, gambling and sex. Lots of sex that he talked about. Lots. He projected his own infidelity back on his wife. Perry was positive his wife was screwing their dog (“Think about it man, who the dog gonna tell?”).

One night Perry didn’t show up, violating Jim’s prime directive of successful guarding.  Jim sent Tate to be my partner. Tate was a four foot something septuagenarian who resembled an ancient hobbit who had been in a horrific car accident. Tate had one glass eye that was always looking somewhere else, and a Gandalf walking stick to help balance his gnarled left leg which was visibly shorter than the right. Tate was presented to me as my “back-up” if I had to stop a fight between amped-up high school troublemakers. Visions of having the snot beat out of me flashed before my eyes.

There were many, many others in this “bonded and insured” roadside attraction of misfits. Over the next eight years I would work with many of them and I would be challenged and change in ways I could not begin to imagine. Like many people in their twenties I had a lot to learn. The one thing I was confident of? I had job security—-all I had to do was show up.

End part one

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Filed under Essay, Memoir

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