Visible Invisibility

September 4, 2009

So, I’ve been at my new job for a week, and I thought I’d talk a little bit about my initial thoughts on it. Now, anyone who knows what I’ve been up to for the past five-years-plus since finishing my undergrad knows that I’ve been…well, struggling, for the most part, at least from a financial standpoint. Whatever city I’ve been living in, be it Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York, or Myrtle Beach (though you can’t really call that a city), I’ve been doing food service mostly, a little temp work, parking attendant, bouncer, employee for the Pirates, indirectly, at PNC Park, through Levy Restaurants…basically, a lot of low paying, no respect, bottom of the caste system Joe-jobs that anyone could have taken, regardless of educational status. In some respects, the security industry is the same, at least for entry level positions. The only difference is that you do receive some training, at least enough to get the state required security guard license, and, in my case, fire guard license. You don’t even need a high school diploma to get these things, just the money to pay for the classes. But even with that being said, because of the other jobs that I’ve had in the past few years, this seemed, at the time when I was considering whether to pay for the classes, like it would be a step up. Some of these jobs pay decently well, some of them come with benefits packages, and most importantly, at least in the way that I was looking at it, was the fact that I’d be getting out of the food service industry. And I would have done anything for that. I felt that way at the time, and I feel that way now. I’d give my left nut not to ever have to be a fry cook again, or do grill work, or prep work. No offense intended for anyone who makes a living that way. I have all the respect in the world for you, believe me. It’s just that not many other people out there do. I appreciate how hard of a job it is, and how thankless. That’s why I didn’t want to do it anymore.

But anyway, I took the classes, I jumped through the necessary hoops to get my license, and after a series of interviews that took several weeks, I did get a job, a little over a week ago, as I mentioned here on the site. I won’t say the name of the company, but it doesn’t really matter, because, from the limited amount that I’ve seen of the industry so far, most of these companies seem to be sort of interchangeable. Most of the uniforms look pretty similar, most of the hiring policies are about the same, and, at least to start out, it seems like the way the employees are treated is about the same also. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not running down my new employers. I just wanted to mention a couple of observations that I’ve had, in the early going. See, security guards are everywhere. Office buildings, any kind of corporate establishments, construction sites, libraries, museums, marinas, department stores, airports, just about anywhere else you can think of, security is needed for all of those places. People see them, standing there, stiffly, in many cases, projecting the attitude. But you’re not really meant to see them, you’re meant to notice, but not to see. This is something that I’m beginning to understand. I was told in the classes I took that eighty to ninety percent of theft, particularly in retail security, is provided simply through the visibility of the security officers. The very fact that they are standing there, or patrolling the stores, the fact that they seem to have an eye on things, is going to deter most shoplifters, or vandals, or anyone else with bad intentions on their minds. And as far as the people go who are just trying to shop, or go about their business, they are meant to have a kind of impression of the security measures, and the security guards that are in place. You are meant to be there, but not to draw any attention to yourself. You are meant to be visible, yet invisible at the same time. You are faceless, until such time as a situation occurs where you feel you must interject yourself. Then you go from being an idea to actually being a real human being with which the customers, clients, or perpetrators of whatever dastardly act can interface. Sure, as a guy in a sandwich joint, I interfaced with the customers. But they often spoke down to me, because they felt I was inferior to them. The difference between that job and this? Authority. In my first week, I was stationed at a public library in Harlem. I was called up to the second floor because one of the librarians was having trouble with a group of preteen kids. The group of about ten boys and girls were spitting sunflower seeds on the floor, talking loudly and using profanity, generally being disruptive…being ghetto, I’ll just go ahead and say it. We’ve all known kids like that, class clowns. The librarian was yelling at them, and threatening to kick them out, but she didn’t quite have the nerve to pull the trigger. I asked her if she wanted them gone, and she said to give them one more chance. I did, they ignored me and kept on as they had been, and this time, even though the librarian hadn’t specifically asked me to, I picked up on visual indications and took control. I was a little hesitant. This was the first time exercising my new authority, and I was, I have to admit, nervous. But once I’d gotten into it with the little hoodlums, it felt sort of natural, even while the whole time it was happening, I was flashing back to all the times I’d gotten in trouble as a kid or a teenager, and all of my various run-ins with the law. Funny how life goes full circle. I threw them all out, though they did threaten to have their bigger brothers come back and shoot me later. I would have expected no less. They had to save face. I understand the mentality. The fact is, in six years, probably half of them will be gang members, pregnant, or both. It sounds cruel to say, but I call them like I see them. And as for me, I’d survived my first “incident,” exerted my new authority, and no one had gotten hurt. I’d done my job.

That was just in the first week, and I wonder what else I can look forward to, the longer I keep this position. I only have two permanent days as of right now, working at a construction sight. The rest of the week I’m a floater, going wherever they have a use for me. It’s kind of annoying, not knowing where I’m going, but on the other hand, I’m getting to explore different parts of the city and familiarize myself with it more. I didn’t like using the power I had in the situation I described, but I didn’t completely dislike it either. It seems like something I could get used to, and the job seems like something that I might become more comfortable with. In short, this gig seems a lot more tolerable than a lot of the others I’ve had in the past five-and-a-half years. If things stay good, I could see myself keeping it for a while. After all the time and money it took me to get the security and fire guard licenses, it would be a real shame not to. Besides, what else can I do? The only other thing I’ve been trained to do is write, and I want to stress, just because I’m working forty-plus hours a week, that doesn’t mean I’m going to slack off. I’ll still get the writing time in wherever and however I can. Security will not be my sole means of income, and my sole occupation. I haven’t given up. But I could see it as potentially being a way for me to eke out a living here in this most challenging of cities. At least the work is steady; there’s always a need for security guards, as the guy who pitched me on the classes said. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to give me some good ammunition for stories. I guarantee it.

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1 Comment

  • Reply TwennyTwo September 6, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Woot woot. Glad to hear it.

    May you enjoy many fat paychecks and happiness regardless.

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