Category Archives: Memoir

Job Security: Part Three, “There is an A-hole in Everyone”

(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.
 
A lot.
 
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
 

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Job Security Part Two: “Oh, the Places You’ll Guard”

(Some names have been changed ‘cause some of this stuff is embarrassing)

Amy, my love (who isn’t me), as my birthday approaches, it’s time for another covid fueled look back at ‘80s J.

In our last installment your husband-to-be was a college student in the Reagan years freshly hired as private security. Guarding was a temporary gig, a dues-paying layover on the way to glory.

My plan to embrace my future was simple: get my bachelors’, search the want ads, go to the many “Writers job fairs” no one ever hears about, get hired to compose prose and start spending the torrents of cash my words would earn. Swimmin’ pools. Movie stars. Stephen King was looking nervously over his shoulder as I neared graduation.

Yes. You married an idiot. I know that’s not news, but this document is more evidence for your file.

I settled into my new job of taking a bite out of crime by working any location in the metro where trouble was likely to surface. Of course, I wasn’t Batman, my boss, Jim S. negotiated a contract before we were dispatched to protect and secure. Wherever there’s a parking lot, convention center, festival, wedding, alcohol being consumed, wherever there’s a cop beating a guy, look for me ma, I’m probably the cop.

There was little glamor or flash to guarding things, most jobs are like that I suppose. At no time did I ever have to carry Whitney Houston through a concert crowd or away from Bobby Brown. If someone had amassed a mound of feces on a railcar that needed protection from turd burglars, we were likely to be the successful bidders.

Thanks to guarding I’ve been to more wedding receptions than those guys in _Wedding Crashers_.  I was not as accomplished at picking up available women at these events, but it may have had something to do with the fact that my job was suppressing peoples’ fun.  That did not prevent many of my fellow guards from scoring, however.  Is it possible that I was not as handsome? Not as charming? That my night stick was less alluring? I must be careful as I stare into the abyss. But then, how much interest does my wife have in the action I wasn’t getting in my twenties?

Moving on.

In security work you often have to be out in the weather. Murderous heat, meat locker cold, biblical rain, nuclear winter snowfall—-all on the wind-swept Great Plains. Security contracts, like the honey badger, don’t care. Some underpaid chump must occupy a dimly lit place and make rounds to protect other people’s property. Compensation was a major drawback. Working for the lowest bidder in town translates to your income being equivalent to the change that gathers in the cup of a dancing monkey. And the monkey is held in higher esteem.

On the plus side there was no shortage of interesting material for a man who was working on his novel. As I’ve demonstrated, security work treated me to a panorama of characters and situations not offered by stocking at Hy Vee. It was like a circus parade.

There was Malone, an ex-cop who ran call girls out of a bar downtown. Malone taught me that when hitting someone with a pistol try to drive the butt into either side of the head and discharge the weapon upon contact.  “It can blow their ear drum,” he advised. So far, I have been unable to work this tidbit into my life, but tomorrow shines brightly.

Frank (my friend since the 4th grade). Frank took his authority to heart. Once, at the Civic Auditorium, Frank refused to let Tom Petty (yes, THE Tom Petty) into an event without paying admission.  Petty was heartbroken—har! I hope Frank would have made an exception for Springsteen.

Stoop and Poop. Honestly, if I ever knew his real name, I forgot it. He branded himself with this cognomen by making a bold speech at a mandatory team meeting (for which we were never paid) wherein he declared loudly he was ex-service, and “I know how to stoop, and I know how to poop!”  On a hot sticky night guarding the Summer Arts Festival, Frank, the site supervisor, convinced Stoop and Poop that he was too good for such a stupid assignment and he should quit. S&P took Frank’s argument to heart and walked off the job. Jim was furious, because Stoop and Poop pure gold in the showing up department.

Scrap Iron. He didn’t work for SL&B, he was the bouncer at Big Jim’s Bar, a ROUGH establishment on the north side where SL&B guarded the parking lot. One night the manager came out yelling for security to come inside to break up a fight. One guard asked: “Where’s Scrap Iron?” The manager replied: “They threw him out the back door!” When the sound of gun fire began echoing from inside, SL&B’s close out sale merc squad wisely scattered under various parked cars to await the arrival of professionals.

Big Tom (my friend since the 7th grade). Tom was a very good guard, so he was doomed. Tom not only showed up, he took the job seriously, believing people deserved service. The big in Tom was both his heart, and his measurements. Around 300 pounds. Anytime Tom had to lay down security law his opponent would pull the fat card and try to fat shame him.  This will reach critical mass in part four.

Naut. Naut was something you send to haunt a house. It would not be out of line to expect Naut to swing out of a bell tower. He was as big as a sofa, and like most sofas just got dirtier, rougher looking over time and for God’s sake never smell it. He carried a revolver with a butt held together with electrical tape and would often set himself on fire. Okay, he let his cigarette ash drop and burn holes in his clothing. I watched it happen and would alert him that hot cinders were eating through his shirt. Sometimes he would brush it off. Sometimes we both just watched it burn. But, and this is key: HE SHOWED UP. Jim’s gold standard baseline of employee performance excellence (which pertains to all jobs):  SHOW UP. My job was to show up to relieve Naut in the mornings before human beings arrived to discover we had shaved a Big Foot and given it a job. Naut was also stunningly inarticulate and could not always be understood. It may have been his lack of teeth, but his sentences often came out sounding like: “Ardy-Ardy-DingDong.”  Big Tom’s young son would announce Naut’s arrival shouting: “Daaaad! Ardy-Ardy-DingDong’s here.”

The fact that he was a real human being that could be conveyed in such fantastic fashion remains incredibly sad to me. I never tried to discover how he became Naut. That is on me.

Salted through this period of my life was my growing appreciation for the loveliness of the night.  Evenings where the stars glittered like glass beads and birdsong and summer flowers seasoned the air. People were mostly sleeping; traffic sounds were far away so it was just me and God. There is something comforting in the isolation of the midnight stretch.

But being a rent-a-cop was about establishing and keeping peace more than savoring it. In the early ‘80s I worked a lot of places where the faces changed but the ugly never let up.

Parking lots. Lots and lots of parking lots. Any parking lot where teenagers would gather to be teen aged (Burger Kings, W.C. Franks, haunted houses) that had an owner with insurance liability had the potential to have me show up and confiscate their beer, interruptus their coitus and generally rain on the fun. I did not enjoy it, but I got very, very good at it. At some point I started to take security work personally.

Apartments. Apartments seem to host a lot of bad human behavior. Probably because people live in them. I walked around various apartment complexes at night watching cars, smelling dinner being prepared, hearing favorite television shows behind closed doors, periodically asking people to turn their music down. I was a force for mundane justice. On the more intimidating end of the dial there was low income housing on the north side. There, when fun went sideways on Fridays and Saturdays people got shot. Other nights too, but I only did apartment search-and-destroy-fun missions on Fridays and Saturdays.

I worked every weekend for eight years.

Salem Baptist Church. Churches are hot beds of sin. It isn’t just teenagers that have sex in cars. Cheating spouses and the horny faithful all chase the backseat boogaloo. One of the dumbest things I ever did (yes, I know how large that list is) was walk into a mob of people having some dispute over race, religion, sex, or some damn thing, and order them to disperse. God was at Salem Baptist Church that night and he kept me alive.

The House of Large Sizes— a clothing store for plus size women. I walked the aisles in uniform preventing full-figured ladies from shoplifting. Nothing I say here will ever be as funny as I think it is, so I’m moving on.

See? I have gotten marginally smarter in 61 years.

The Game Gal-Ry a hugely popular ‘80s video arcade at the bustling Southroads Mall. Teenagers, underage drinking, cocaine, parking lot sex, Donkey Kong. It was all there. I broke up fights and persuaded players not to beat the machines that beat them. I was a parent without the grocery overhead. I so endeared myself to the clientele (One regular named me “The Bald Eagle”) that twice someone loosened the lug nuts on my left rear tire and each time that tire flew off in traffic. Checking my car for sabotage became one more game played at the Gal-Ry.

The Franklin Credit Union (pre-embezzlement, prostitution and devil worship scandals). I worked the lobby during the day and later the night watch. This was pre-Internet or 24-hour television (dinosaurs still roamed the Earth and three channel TV actually went off the air). I had to read books.

Car dealerships. We would often watch car lots at night to prevent vandalism and theft. I would protect vast sprawls of expensive property I could not afford. I would dream over the gleam of vehicles, wrenched from my fantasy at how distant such a purchase was by the stickers in the windows. I came to understand why cars get stolen.

Not every miniscule paycheck involved guarding things. My boss Jim was a licensed private investigator, so I got to follow cheating spouses and collect proof; when we delivered the news to one cuckold, I was sure we were abetting a murder. Instead, the giant husband wept, his heart entirely broken.

We repossessed cars. With the title and keys in hand we would legally reclaim the bank’s property when folks fell behind on payments. The pure act of stealing a car and knowing you will get away with it is a big rush.  Frank had a shotgun leveled at him during one escapade and his partner, Bone, advised the defaulted fellow: “You kill him. I kill you.”

Over a car.

On the plus side we were tipped twenty dollars for every car we reclaimed.

One security task prevented folks from stealing cars, in another we stole those cars when folks couldn’t afford them: It’s the circle of life.

Motor vehicle adventures continued with valet parking for the upper crust at swanky parties. Our ever-present companion was the weather. We stood outside in the heat, the rain, the falling, clinging snow watching other people going inside to have a great time. Did you know that the wrong Lincoln Continental key might still start some other guy’s Lincoln Continental? Yes, you will drive up with the horn honking, the lights flashing and the alarm going off, but the wrong car is running and can be driven. There is no tip in such circumstances.

Frank and I painted Jim’s house. When I did the math, I found that we made less money painting than we did guarding shit, so I had to negotiate a pay boost. Jim hated having me around the office because I was always reading his official business communications and correcting his text. Terminating me for insubordination was not on the table, because I was the poster child for showing up.

Why did I keep showing up? One, I’m pretty sure we’ve established I’m a dipshit. Another factor is the whole economy was in a massive recession with an unemployment rate around 10%. Options were not abundant. Also, I was taking the work personally; guarding became in some way about me.  I refused to back down. I would do whatever I was being paid fool’s wages for because I was not going to give in to fear.

Yep, you had children with that guy.

One aspect of security work that resonated– the range and complexity of human situations I met on the clock. While I spent most of my time thinking only of myself (my greatest natural ability), sometimes I got a window into other lives that forced me to pause.

Once, I had to guard a federal prisoner. Before you think I was staring down some tattooed thug with a sharpened toothbrush looking to shank me (and I may change the story later) I was actually watch-dogging a tiny young woman in the hospital who had just given birth to her son via Caesarian section. I was pretty sure I could catch her if she made a break for it. Just watching her try to walk was painful, so I can only imagine how she felt. I have no idea what crime put her behind bars. I don’t know her story and I wasn’t sharp enough, human enough, to ask. On a warm Friday night, I watched her rock her newborn son. From a distance I saw doctors take the infant away. She cried as her bonding time concluded and she surrendered her baby to whatever was ahead. I don’t remember the prisoner’s name.

I don’t know if anyone does.

Next: Part Three, “There is an A-hole in Everyone.”

 

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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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O to 60 in 31,556,952 Minutes: A Story in Constant Revision

“I’ve become aware that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind.” —Jean Luc Picard.

60 years ago, on a Sunday, I came into the world. Lots of other people did too, but I’m only interested in me (my wife will testify to that). Having made it this far, I can’t seem to stop myself from commenting on it. Sorry.

Generally, I do not feel different. I am only vaguely aware that I am not 20 anymore. Mainly I know this when I do something physical with my two sons who are superb athletes and we finally conclude that mysterious wheezing sound is me.  Another clue would be my performance on trivia games. There’s a lot of delay in dredging up information. Watching “Jeopardy” I’m slower to the buzzer. Ironic.  I spend my life amassing knowledge only to have it become increasingly hard to access.

Looking back can be dangerous. It’s easy for me to judge myself harshly.  Building a mental spreadsheet of where I failed or fell short in 60 years is not constructive. Amassing a list of successes is not a great barometer either. My experience has been that successes are subjective. I’ve walked around with a swelled head about something I did only to be surprised that that same event disappointed someone. Life has a curious balance to it. When you win big, often there are big losers. At 60 I continue to learn that what we have accomplished good and bad may never be fully clear to us while we live.

It would be completely dishonest for me to say that I’ve improved the planet in any meaningful way. If I catalog how I’ve given back to Earth and the people I share it with, I don’t score well. Basically, I sort recyclables into the right bins. Can you feel the oceans getting cleaner?

Assembling a list of things I’m good at does not take long.  For the things I can do, I’m passable, but if giant computers ever produce a data mash-up on the best man for some mission, I’m not gonna be at the top of any list. Unless the mission needs a loudmouth with minimal athleticism who can’t easily recall everything he has learned.

For someone who has spent his entire life admiring super heroes I did not become one. It seems highly unlikely that I’m going to mature (and my wife will tell you the sentence should stop there) into Batman. There are several key shortfalls here: My parents’ deaths in my youth left me barely a “thousandaire,” and if there was a giant cave under my home I’m pretty sure the house would collapse into it. Some folks have a life which is a remarkable story. Many of those have a hardship component and the strength of character that grew from overcoming those hurdles. I can’t say that at all. I’ve had a few rough breaks, but overall, I’ve been loved, cared for, and encountered the good will of some truly fine people which I probably have not earned.

When I look around I often feel a profound sense of gratitude. I am aware that a large number of people born on May 17, or any other day of any year anywhere else on the globe, lead lives with challenges that would crush me. My sixty years have been swell. Good fortune, fate, God, the Force, whatever name you give it has always found me and treated me well. I could resent the fact that I’m not a superstar in some field but that would be a profound act of ingratitude for everything good that has found its way into my life. That goodness would include many of the folks reading this.

This philosophic tone suggests that I have some life lessons to impart, information and observations I should share.  Ha! Yes, I have learned a lot, but none of it so rich that you won’t do fine without it. When I try to articulate my wisdom into digestible chunks it lays down on a fortune cookie sheet the size of a window shade.   I’ve noted my failure at brevity as I’ve been assembling my memoirs (Working title: Lowering the Bar of Excellence: The J. D. Rummel Story). Failure at Brevity is a pretty good title as well.

After sixty years my life appears to be about the connections I make. I connect best via stories. Either by listening to others or, God help the listener, the ones I tell.  I did not choose that path, it appears to have chosen me.

The greatest constant in my life, besides my fascination with me, is the parade of stories that fill the streets of my mind. From early on in my 60 years I’ve told tales. Before I knew how to tell my own I told other peoples’. Once, in the ‘70s outside the Omaha theater as we waited for the doors to open I drew a small crowd by repeating Flip Wilson routines that I had committed to memory. At work, I will easily get caught in recounting some event either recent or from the distant past. I’m not saying people enjoy hearing them, but I can’t seem to not tell them. I have to work very hard at keeping my mouth shut. Once, in court, as I was testifying the opposing counsel declared: “Objection! This is becoming a narrative.”

Which is how I see it. Life, or at least my life, is a vast collection of narratives. Like in _The Matrix_ when reality is seen as streaming zeros and ones.  Stories are everywhere, like incompetence and corruption in the Trump administration. I’ve learned to see the world as a sprawling play. Sometimes I direct my role in that play by writing my own script. I truly believe I can alter reality by the words I choose and the order in which I release them.

I am aware that many (most?) of my chronicles are special only to me.  My yarns of City News and Book, security guard reports, growing up in the church, working at the Merchant of Venus, the escapades of the Mighty Avengers Bowling Team and Movie Club, a love life only slightly less disastrous than Carrie White’s prom, 29 years of showing up at Creighton University (using the word, “working” might be unfair to actual workers), the Adventures of Married Man, and the befuddled observations of J. Rummel: C Grade Parent are mostly warm places only for me. Despite this lack of any need for folks to hear these stories I keep telling them.

As I kick-off my 60th year (not to be confused with kicking off _in_ my 60th year) I’d like to promise you all that I will be a better person, that my remaining time will be spent in the service of the Greater Good, but we all know that’s crap. I’ll continue my half-ass path in my undertakings. I’ll go on being a so-so father, husband, friend, family member, citizen, neighbor, employee, co-worker and boss. The only thing I’m totally confident of?

The stories, long and short, meaningful and pointless will continue.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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BFF

Dear John,
This is me being selfish, one of my many flaws that you overlooked.

It was twenty years ago today, March 7, in 1996. The plane crash. The flames. The awfulness of going in the way you said was the worst possible death.

Nah, can’t go that route. First, it sounds like the opening to Sgt. Pepper. Worse, while it’s true you died in flames, writing about it doesn’t make for the kind of read your life deserves. So I’ll start again.

Dear John,
March is your birthday month. At 57 would your body, that slim, low cholesterol, always-in-motion frame of yours be any different? Would you be bald? That’d fix your ass. I think you’d be silver at least. Would you ache just a little? Probably not. The idea of you being old and fat is like having a young Santa who runs triathlons.

This letter should tell some John stories. God knows there are plenty of them. I’ve written about our trip to the sex mall, “Boystown” in Nuevo Laredo. I’ve talked about your love of the sky. But there’s lots of subjects I’ve never covered. I never wrote about you and the opposite sex. I’ve never written about your trip around the world in a World War II bomber, I’ve never written about your wedding or your funeral. I’ve never written about Drama class or the plays we were in. Same for you taking dares that challenged your ability to do something. I’ve never written about how you died and I’m not starting now.

So where do I start?

If this were a song I’d start it like “The River.”

“Me and John we met in high school, when we were both seventeen.”

In first period Theater class to be exact. God that was so much fun. You, me, Russ, Dave, John Johnson, Don and Vince. We did a few plays together that year. Remember when Mr. Hatch quit his job to go write in Hollywood and we all showed up unannounced at his apartment to say good bye? I met your brother Andy in final period. _My god, _ I thought, _there are two of them! _ You and Andy shared the same boundless energy. Looking back I remember you two brothers competing, fighting, collaborating on some things, but mostly fighting. Looking around my living room at two boys I helped make I still don’t get it: The fierce heat that some brothers make.

Have you done anything stupid or dangerous lately? One stupid thing you did was trying to get condoms to prepare for your First Time with Robin. You went from bar to bar, drinking one beer then checking for a rubber dispenser in the men’s room. You hit many bars that night looking for rubbers and showed up at Robin’s too drunk to do anything. I don’t care if that embarrasses you today. I dare you to come back and do something about it.

If you came back we’d talk about our kids, I’m sure. You had families you joined in progress. First Sharon then Elizabeth. And you were pretty good at being a dad as I recall. I did not understand what you were taking on then, my kids came later. After. I’d love to talk to you about my boys. There’s another story in that meeting. I’d brag about them and complain about how they fight all the time. I know you understand fighting brothers better than I do.

A lot of our stupid stuff involved your aggressive driving. Not about how you would out run the police on your unlicensed motorcycle, or the outrageous insurance premiums you had to pay because of your driving record. No, I’m thinking about how other drivers must have hated you. Once, in Council Bluffs you were driving my car and some guy in the truck next to you hung a shotgun out the window at you. Later, you asked me who hated me enough that they recognized my car and would want to shoot me. I’m pretty sure you pissed off someone in traffic, buddy. Remember that guy on a motorcycle you passed leaving Glenwood? He so resented being passed by you that he sped past you, then actually shot at you.

For a long period I worked nights and you were on call, so we’d hang out during the day just being friends and sometimes stupid. It was the ‘80s and I could not get a decent job. It frustrated and infuriated me then. Today, I am so grateful for not getting a real job then. It gave us time to build memories that keep me warm. I don’t think a week goes by I don’t reflect on those days. There were long walks on the railroad tracks. I’m sure we walked in the cold but all those memories are sunny. We’d eat fruit and wander for miles, sometimes we’d take Wren the dog with us. You and me and Wren. There’s a whole essay right there. We’d explore abandoned buildings, rail cars, the woods, some of the walks took us to the river. We walked a lot. Like the Friday night we had no money for gas so we just walked 5 miles to the Southroads Mall and then back.

When there was gas money we did road trips. Our first expedition was when we were 18 and took off after a blizzard to drive to Norfolk NE to visit John Johnson. Snow piled high, roads were crap. At one point we were sliding sideways in your mom’s car on the highway entrance ramp. Driving with you was like a carnival ride without the safety bar. That first trip is where the talks began. We talked about everything. Job concerns, triumphs and tragedies, girl troubles. We’d walk and talk, drive and talk, drink tea and talk. We’d talk. You only got one long distance conversation with Amy the girl I married. You once said, “I can’t imagine the girl that would marry you, J. It’d have to be somebody pretty special.” I agreed and still do.

Yeah, there should be road stories. We hit the road a lot over the years. Fireworks runs to Missouri, amusement park trips to Kansas or the Willie Nelson Picnic (the one where I mouthed off and that giant woman almost beat me to death). The trip to Ames, Iowa to try to buy Wren a little more time despite the cancer. We widened our travels to Oklahoma, Texas, Idaho, Utah. Sometimes we went to weddings, sometimes to funerals. You locked the cruise control at 100 miles an hour in that rental car. On another trip you found out that the cruise control would not lock in at 100 in Dave Austin’s Trans AM. We always managed to have fun, eating at good places, strange places. You taught me to drive a stick. We parachuted and bungee jumped, we swam in quarries, public pools, the Gulf of Mexico and double dated. We went to a lot of movies, a few concerts, played a lot of pool, did many stupid things, like trying to confiscate all the inventory from your employer when they filed bankruptcy and stiffed you on your last check. I’d tell my boys that what we did was stealing but I was helping my friend. Both our moms died when we were kind of young. We lost rudders in some ways, so some of the stupid was us feeling our way in the dark, not knowing stuff that adults might have told us.

Know something weird? Sometimes I will smell a fart and I will think of you. Hey, I said it was weird. You had distinctive gas, John. Playing Foosball you’d let out some aroma from your unusual diet (Salad with no dressing? Who does that?) and everyone would complain.

You told me one night driving over the old Martha Street Bridge that you didn’t think you’d live long.

Yeah.

We did things that were great stories because we didn’t die.

Can one brief letter capture 20 years of life? Certainly no single document can contain you my friend.

20 years of life, now, today, 20 years gone.

I need to go now, brother, I’m super busy these days. I don’t seem to have the free time you and I had in our twenties. Before I head out, I wanted to explain. This essay is entitled “BFF” which is slang for Best Friends Forever. That acronym came around after your exit.

Maybe this isn’t the kind of read your life deserves either. Maybe you resent me calling us stupid in this narrative, but I’ll just say, “Fuck you, John, come back and do something about it.”

I dare you.

I would love to have you back for one more day. But that wouldn’t be enough. You know how selfish I am. But I know you’d overlook that.

I’ll close with the words of Mr. Spock from _The Wrath of Khan_
“I have been and always shall be—your friend.”

Blue Skies and Tail Winds.
J.

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I Was Spock

Today, I’m reflecting on something big that is suddenly gone.

Like so many I got into Star Trek when it went into syndication. Sometime around the summer of ’70 or ’71, one of our three TV channel pipelines to the world began running it at 6:00. I started watching it every day. I’d seen episodes of the third season when it ran on prime time but in reruns I was captured forever. From that run I watched every episode many times and many times since. I’ve viewed and enjoyed the other Trek offerings, but Trek classic, the original series, is hosted in me today. I know that of the 79 episodes only a handful are really good. But I still watch the beautifully remastered reruns on Saturday nights now. Yes, I know the episode titles, who wrote many of them and how they have been surgically damaged, editing “disposable” scenes and lines in order to cram in a few more ads for siding and car insurance.

Yesterday, Feb 27th 2015, Leonard Nimoy passed away. Mr. Nimoy was many things. He was an actor, poet, director, photographer, husband, father, but mainly to me he was Mr. Spock.

Mr. Spock. I don’t have to tell anybody who that is. That is a testament to the cultural footprint of Star Trek. The details on Mr. Spock can get foggy for some. We know the pointy ears, a smaller but still quite large contingent know he was the alien who claimed to have no emotions but in reality he managed the same ones we all have.

I so admired his mind, the cool, cerebral approach to things. I don’t know how Spock would have been developed by another actor because Mr. Nimoy was the artist granted the privilege of breathing life into the fiction. Spock has taken his place alongside all the great characters of human stories. In my eyes he changed the world with his portrayal. Well, my world.

My world. In my RIP message on Facebook I thanked Mr. Nimoy for Mr. Spock, because that is what I felt: gratitude. While the character was a gift to the world of fiction, it was also something special that he gave to me, that I could cling to growing up, trying to find my way. I loved when he would calculate quickly when presented with a need to know the percentages on some issue facing the crew of the Enterprise. I quickly learned I could not do that. When the weekly crisis presented itself he met it with a raised eyebrow and a refusal to just react without thought. He insisted on engaging his mind in stressful situations. I have managed over the years to get better at that. His relationship with Kirk was my relationship with my own emerging personality traits, my ego, my temper my emotional side, the 360 degrees of my humanity. I was very emotional growing up, crying “too much,” or raging around. I had only a few good friends in my grade school and middle school years. On some level when I was an angry or hormonal young man I used Mr. Spock as an approach to manage my emotions and reactions to the world. I used my vocabulary and brain to build a place I could survive like a primitive might use a cave. Before I found my own place in most interactions I used Mr. Spock as a way to cope with being different on a ship full of humans. Spock helped me deal with my alien side. I now know that we are all aliens in some way, that all of us feel like an outsider at times regardless of who loves us or how good a life we have.

So, thank you again Mr. Nimoy for Mr. Spock. Like so many things I did not realize how big you were until you were missing.

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