(Some names have been changed —others are just forgotten)
So, my lovely Amy, by now you are asking, “What happened next to ‘80s J?” Either that, or “Why did I marry this boob?” In the case of the former, away we go…
While I guarded a lot of places in the 80’s the Livestock Exchange in South Omaha warrants special mention. Back then the economy was in recession creating a lot of unemployment. I was a college student being supplemented by his loving aunt. I was young, trying to figure out who I was and where I was headed. I imagined my future in writing somehow. Most of my fellow guards seemed to have no future in their own eyes. They lived day to day it seemed to me. Many were cornered by bad decisions made not only by themselves but even by their parents. It was as if one day they woke up to find they had to feed families. 40 years later I can mock these things, but in the early-mid-eighties some guys needed the thin coin this jackass job brought in. For some of them, and let this sink in, this was the best they could do.
The Exchange contract was Jim’s best account, and because I had proven myself by showing up and Taking Care of Business at various shit holes around town, I was promoted to the stockyard. I worked there with my friend Frank, whom I have known since the fourth grade. Security at the Livestock Exchange for SL&B was a weekend job that consisted of working parties held in the building. We were expected to patrol the parking lot, direct traffic, and make sure partygoers didn’t overload the elevators. We spent most of our time on the ballroom doors ready for things to go wrong. A major responsibility was upholding the liquor laws, making sure drinks didn’t leave, that folks had clear access to the bar and that fire codes were observed. Note the irony: Make sure that folks can get to the booze then deal with the consequences when they do. Here we were not dealing with teenagers in parking lots sneaking beer and booty. Teenagers drinking know they are illegal and will often surrender (unless they are captain of some team. Well, sports team, captain of the debate squad was probably home building evidence cards). Adults on booze are different. They believe their right to drink and misbehave is guaranteed in the Bible. Like most sin they don’t see it as such. They are just having fun.
Fun is highly subjective in security work. This became clear to me when I met Jan. Jan was the autocratic caterer who had contracted SL&B (which I just realized reads like the company was a disease). Jan would walk around in sparkling party attire with a large ring of keys commanding everyone in her line of sight whether they worked for her or not. She ran her parties with the same dedication to good times you find in a Supermax prison. Jan had a bi-polar approach to festivity. She would conceive and host lovely celebrations that at some point crossed a threshold only she was privy to, and we would be sent in to strangle the merriment. As near as I can tell, she made up rules by rolling a cup of Yahtzee dice then interpreting the numbers through some demented lens: “Oh, three sixes and a four—-stop the dancing!!!” She was the witch and we were her flying monkeys.
Kissing Jan’s non-trivial expanse of ass was a key factor in managing the stockyards account which kept multiple guards employed on a weekend. Jan wanted to contain costs so, once it became clear that we were not guarding a Hell’s Angels’ human sacrifice Jan would fly in on her broom and order guards to be sent home. The SL&B supervisor had the critical task of keeping as many guys “milking the clock” for as long as possible. When Jim would stop by for an update it was expected the supervisor would say, “Call it six guards till two o’clock.”
Raintree was supervisor when I started. Tree was a gangly 6’ 4”, and always wore a cowboy hat over a doo rag with a dime wedged in his left ear. Yes, the coin. When I asked about it, he looked at me suspiciously saying “In case I need to drop a dime on someone.” That was a euphemism for making a call and sharing information. In fact, a dime in the ear identifies the dimed individual as a drug dealer.
While I suspected Tree shadow trafficked in controlled substances, he was publicly, slavishly enthusiastic about alcohol. Part of our job was to cover for Tree when he vanished. SL&B guards were like Shaolin monks: listened for they could not be heard, looked for they could not be seen, because frequently they weren’t there. Like most addictions his escalated over time. One stockyard Saturday night Tree was super late even for him. From the 10th floor we watched as his station wagon came pinballing down the long drive over the mostly vacant cattle pens. He rolled over concrete parking guides and careened to a stop in a red zone. He literally fell out of the car and after an uncertain struggle to his feet, began a serpentine stagger into the building dragging his gun belt on the pavement. I turned to Frank and summoning my classical education stated, “This seems to me an ill wind.”
Frank and I could not keep Tree’s condition under wraps and Jan fired him from the contract. Jim was brought face-to-face with the greatest shortcoming of SHOWING UP as a baseline for excellence. Tree showed up—but late, barely dressed and incapable of remaining upright. In the plus column his pistol remained unfired, and he mostly made it to the restroom when vomiting. Little victories. Overall, I’d give Tree a “Needs Improvement” rating if SL&B actually evaluated anything.
This made Frank the new supervisor for the site. To Frank’s credit he was very good at making sure his men got fed but his management style was not something I could buy into. Turnover is an issue in security work. Faces of guards went by like pieces of fruit in a blender—always changing—so I got to hear Frank’s speech to all new guards many times. He advised beginners that he was the ultimate authority at this location and anyone who failed to respect that or back his plan of action, would be shot. Then he would swivel his holster at them suggesting they did not even rate him drawing his weapon. “There’s one in here for you,” he warned. I’m no lawyer but I always thought this had to violate OSHA in some fashion. In hindsight, being threatened with execution might have contributed to the high turnover.
Hindsight. I was young, inexperienced and I brought a kind of black and white view to everything. I would be years learning about shades of grey. SL&B was an education I could not get in college.
As always, the sideshow quality of guard help continued like some massive dam of outrageous characters had burst.
Taylor, who rode around with a live grenade in the front seat as his companion because, “They weren’t going to take him without casualties.” He never specified who “they” were.
Reverend Fletcher. I don’t know if Fletcher was ordained, but he often spoke sincerely of God’s goodness. I deduced that Fletch struggled with the flesh. Fletcher loved too well, too often and definitely not wisely. In offices we guarded at night with assorted phone lines available it was not unusual for him to be talking to a variety of ladies by making use of the hold button. With his deep, Barry White voice, he assured each blinking light of her special place in his heart. As he explored the distaff corners of the universe, he found himself becoming a father fairly frequently because he, “Never fired a blank.” I suppose he was creating future security guards.
Big Dave (my friend since grade school). Ex-Marine Dave had a day job but needed to supplement the piddly income with more piddly income—something SL&B specialized in. Dave was way too smart for security work. Since he wasn’t working on a novel, he could not get past how stupid the job was.
Little Dave. He was very short, very young and dressed like Patton in front of the American flag. He was completely dominated by his girlfriend who brought him to work, picked him up and with whom he appeared to consult about how often to have a bowel movement. He claimed he was an ROTC “red beret” and we teased him that that meant he worked in the cafeteria: We’d sing to him in marching cadence: “Little Dave in the red beret—slap that gravy on a tray!” He was so young he actually looked up to us. Yes, that’s also a short joke.
There are basically two kinds of guards on the spectrum and everyone falls in somewhere on the range. On one end, the guard who thinks _Fuck this, this is a dumb ass job, and I’m gonna go get drunk/high/laid and possibly steal something on my way out the door_. Notice “better job” is not on the list of potential objectives. On the other end is the guard that believes he is the Right Arm of God: _My will be done_. Frank came down on that end of the band.
One night something Jan ate convinced her the musicians were too loud (she may not have been able to hear herself bitch) and dispatched Frank to lower the volume. When the band did not comply, Frank literally began pulling the plug on their equipment. The band went from loud to silent in mid song; the players went to ten on the fury dial, the dancing crowd stopped in mid Dirty Dog, gathered pitch forks and lit torches. Frank and I tell this story differently today. In my version I find some way to erect a fragile peace through a moving oration that has everyone crying, hugging and singing “Give Peace a Chance.” Sometimes when I tell it everyone gets a car. In Frank’s version he hurls the band leader out the 10th floor window with the guy shooting at him as he plunges down the side of Nakatomi Plaza eventually making a “poof cloud” like Wile E. Coyote when he hits the ground. The other performers realize they are fucking with the Right Arm of God and they beg Frank not to murder their families. In some versions every Christmas they send Frank a card thanking him for sparing them that night. The truth is forever lost to history.
When Frank got a better security job (because seriously, who would have a worse one?) with a company that paid a living wage with benefits, I became supervisor. My first act of progressive management was to outlaw shooting the help.
Many revelers noted that this motley troop of guards had substantial fire power on their hips (Vern carried a long barreled .44 in case a Cape buffalo appeared and got out of line). Concerned citizens asked about our qualifications to bring such artillery to family gatherings. Since we literally had no qualifications that would bear up under any scrutiny it was incumbent on us to lie, and I am highly proficient in that capacity so I crafted this for each guard to share: SL&B stood for “Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Bureau” and “on the grounds of the contract we are deputized officers of the law.” Bullshit like that would not survive a Google search today. I miss some parts of the ‘80s.
Fun facts: along with an hourly wage commensurate with the market value of a turd and absolutely no benefits we had to buy our own uniforms. This led to a substantial diversity in each guard’s appearance. A few, like me, dressed like an audition for CHiPs. Others wore whatever they had just mopped the floor with. Claude routinely wore a green polyester leisure suit that he clipped a badge on. When I suggested to Jim that we advise Claude that he was clashing with those of us in blue, Jim reminded me that Claude showed up.
We had bands, but more often we had DJ’s. I honestly do not know how many times I have heard and watched people dance to the “Hokey Pokey.” Some DJ’s were incredible, working brilliantly to get people onto the dance floor and shaking their groove things. The good ones took pride in filling the dance floor and keeping the party pumped. They would also walk the tightrope between revelry and Jan’s unpredictable cycle of fun suppression. One good DJ was a guy I went to high school with. I’ll call him Bob because that’s his name. Bob would ask me what I wanted to hear. I would reply “Bruce Springsteen” and Bob would sigh, play “Born to Run” and watch the dance floor evacuate.
At the end of the night the bartenders would leave booze for us. Alcohol was never my thing so the top guard of the night would get mine (showing up was not a criterion in my evaluation). We’d close out the ballrooms then sit in the cavernous, dimly lit room to bullshit about the evening. Sometimes guards from other sites would join us. Sometimes cool bands and DJ’s would hang with us. We were strange blood brothers. The night shift. I would listen as each person told his or her story (yes, SL&B had female guards. Jane and Bobbi often went beyond showing up and earned the extra liquor). I knew that I was experiencing something that was shaping me, forcing me to make choices about who I was and what I wanted to be. Not just as a career, but as a human being.
What did I learn during these first two years I worked as a guard? Well, wearing a uniform creates a perception that you are some kind of authority in the industry you suit up for. You may not know shit about lawn care but show up in a uniform with your aerator and someone will ask you about horticulture like you are George Washington Carver.
Some people have authority issues. Some crave to work with authority while others completely, nakedly, despise authority. This animosity comes out when engaging someone who appears to be in charge. Alcohol will greatly exacerbate this anti-authority mindset, like showing Larry Talbot a full moon.
Another lesson I came away with will come as no surprise to anyone: There is an asshole in everyone. Sometimes being an asshole is lonely, but other times assholes find each other. One night, a completely unknown, drunken asshole found my asshole and hilarity ensued.
During a high school ten-year reunion, the revelers parked illegally— blocking deliveries of livestock. We announced the license plates that needed to move, but several high-end cars got towed. Several high-end drunks got mad. When one of them said he would take this to the Supreme Court I laughed at him. He advised me not to laugh at him. He put his finger in my nose for emphasis. I moved his finger in a direction it was not meant to go. Finger owner punched me in the jaw. I drew my night stick and hilarity ensued.
When Jim walked in during his site rounds this exchange took place.
Drunken asshole: “Your guard broke my finger!!”
Jim: “Yeah? I’da broke your whole fuckin’ arm.”
To his credit, Jim showed up for his guards.
Not all mayhem could be reduced to two assholes colliding. I was exposed to a lot of violence toward women, something I was frankly ignorant of in my upbringing to that point. One vile act occurred when Frank and I observed a woman being choked by her male companion who was also slowly banging her skull against a wall. Frank grabbed the cur and spun him around separating attacker from victim. With blood running down the back of her head the woman pleaded with us: “Don’t hurt him, don’t hurt him, please, I love him.”
Today I understand her thinking a little better. Maybe. It still leaves me feeling empty inside.
On another occasion I watched as one bride tried to convince her groom to please get on the elevator because she wanted to proceed to their honeymoon. Drunken groom insisted that as long as there was beer in the keg he had paid for he would not leave. At closing time, they were the only people left. We advised him that he had to go. As the elevator doors closed, separating us, new husband looked at me, smiled and full out punched new bride in the face for my benefit.
I ran down the many flights of stairs to meet them at the lobby.
They were not there.
I have no idea how they got out but that I did not head them off is probably the best conclusion the scene could have. I still think about the bride and where her life might have gone.
Sex. Security work often involves discouraging sex from occurring. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen because the chemistry is missing. Some of Jan’s servers were very attractive women and Big Dave and I were understandably interested in getting their attention. One curvaceous young lady would pass between Dave and me as we stood on the door and she would blink and smile sweetly at Dave.
Sometimes she’d do a little finger wave thing. Her clear preference of Dave irritated me. The warmest thing she ever did in regard to me was never slap my balls.
Jealousy burned hard and deep in me (Amy, this was before I became the charming Lothario who swept you off your feet via e-mail).
Night after night as the young lady in question continued her relentless grinning wiggle at Dave, my envy and its pressure built slowly. My antipathy festered with each event she worked.
Eventually my inner goodness crumbled, and I focused my greatest power, my imagination, conceiving a terrible plan in the blackest regions of my mind. What if, I postulated, what if, as she passed between us, I faked a conversation with Dave, and I made certain she could clearly hear me. What if in that fake conversation I said, loudly and distinctly:
“Dave, you keep cheating on your wife and she is going to take those kids and leave you.”
Dave had no wife, no children and no clue that his jealous friend considered salting his garden in this poisonous manner. He would look at me with that face of his that thought J. was just goofing around again. But I could imagine her face, her reaction, the color rushing out of her cheeks, I pictured her spurning him for all time. Their love was forever derailed, never to grow, never to be. Perhaps she would feel indebted to me, realize what a catch I was and love me.
Or at minimum give up a hand job. Insert evil, echoing laughter.
On a busy Friday in the endless stream of parties, serving meals, picking up dishes, she came walking again and again. She moved seductively, sensually, making the bringing of a meal and the clean-up an incredibly erotic collection of movements. All for Big Damn Dave.
I burned; my eyes were flame. The toxic words gathered perfectly in the back of my throat. I would strike—a viper envenoming with language. My heart drummed in my chest, anticipation feeding on my jealous resentment for my old friend and the attraction she had for him while remaining blind to me.
At last I knew the power of the Dark Side!
She passed between us, smiling and blinking and licking her lips and shaking her money maker at Big Dave.
And I kept my mouth shut.
There is an asshole in everyone, and we must each learn to manage it.
Next, Job Security Part Four: Take me Someplace Bracing