Wednesday, September 8, 2004

When I Was a Security Guard

Once upon a time, due in large part to a nasty virus that was threatening to overtake my city (snicker) and destroy the industry in which I worked, I couldn't get a job. Nearly six months later, desperate, and almost at the end of my government-funded vacation, I did what any other able-bodied, hopelessly unemployed person would do: I became a security guard.

Sounds flip, I know. Like I just sort of became one. In truth, it was just that easy. One day I'm playing Doom in my pajamas, guzzling coffee, and eating boxes of saltine crackers, and the next day I'm being issued a maglight, notebook, ill-fitting blazer, and, most importantly, a clip-on tie.

A couple of days later, after some token training sessions, I was put out into the wacky world of corporate security. (The incredibly useful training sessions came complete with American training videos from the 80s, with all the stereotypes you could ask for: the tough, white, mustachioed, hulk-like security guards in their neatly pressed uniforms - epauletts glistening. The slight, black, too-fly B-boys, recklessly hanging around a mall with their crazy, crazy rhymes. The flashy, Mexican pimp with his hoe-slappin' hand at the ready, getting all rowdy-like in a clinic waiting room. With those characters crammed into my head, along with all of the completely surreal situations they found themselves in, how could I go wrong?)

So prepared was I, that soon after this most enlightening experience I was dispatched to guard a multi-billion dollar piece of property - all one million square feet of it - housing two of Canada's largest companies and one obscenely large American financial company. Well, so it wasn't like I was alone or anything - there was another guy there too. That's only what, 500,000 square feet apiece?

Was I overwhelmed? No. Funnily enough I wasn't. To be overwhelmed, one would have to take the situation seriously. One would have to feel that there were consequences for one's actions. One would have to actually be a security guard, heart and soul.

I wasn't - I was the night shift.

I was just one of three who worked those hours. (By choice even. You see I thought that I'd be able to get a lot of writing done at work. I didn't take into account just how uninspiring being a security guard would be.) There's something different about night shift security guards: they do not care. Remember that. Think that tired-looking guy sitting at the desk in the lobby of your apartment building cares about your well-being? He doesn't; he's just there because he couldn't find a job in his field. Does that jaundiced guy who sits in the booth in the underground parking garage all night make you feel safe? He shouldn't; he's just there for the pay-cheque.

I know what you're thinking: But that guy who sits at the desk in the lobby of my office building sure looks like he cares about his job. When I leave late at night, positively aglow with the magic of Cubical-land, I even see him patrolling the outside of the building! Now, I hate to disappoint, but that guy is most likely either (a) trying to stay awake (and you should thank him for even making the effort), or (b) it's his turn to get the coffee. In fact, I'm willing to guarantee that if there is a fire in your building, that guy is not going to waste his time trying to remember the procedures for properly evactuating certain floors in a way that best minimizes property damage. No, not that guy. You'll be lucky if that guy stops to put the building into general alarm before becoming the first one out the door.

As my good fortune would have it, I wasn't sitting at a desk in my office building. No, I had the luxury of working in an enclosed room we called the Control Centre. It's a place kind of like the room on that Las Vegas TV show. Only without all the action. And the good-looking people. And the fun. None of that stuff, no - just a bank of computer monitors, out-dated CCTV monitors (all the radiation we could ask for!), and a few panels filled with lights for alarms that we were supposed to understand. But we never really did understand. Or care.

Most nights were spent in conversation with my partner, usually plotting against the day shift, laughing about hypothetical situations, and otherwise shirking our responsibilities. If we weren't engaged in idle chat (which rule #131, in section 2.7 of the Standing Orders forbids. Which reminds me - I'm not even going to get into the outrageous, Kafkaesque bureaucracy of that job. Let me just say, though: forms for filling out forms. Oh yes) we were sleeping, or hacking the satellite to watch movies. Yes, it was quite the job. And what's worse is that I did it for almost a year.

All of that ended about 5 months ago when I took this job, and it's taken this long for me to even write about it. And while my current set-up is mind-blowingly boring, and I should seriously look into whether or not Worker's Compensation covers you if your job triggers a mental illness, the pay is markedly better, and, most importantly I can say: At least I'm not a security guard.


My current gig is up next month and I'll be unemployed once again. Who knows where I'll end up.

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