I was the only female security guard at the private security company. My supervisor was my roommate, a man we’ll call “Bear”. A big, quiet former Marine. We had our own “Jay and Silent Bob” routine. Few people ever heard him speak; he would just look to me to speak on behalf of both of us. There were no women’s guard uniforms, only men’s. My utility belt was the only thing holding my pants up. Once while trying to put myself back together in a tiny bathroom with all my assorted gear, my pager took a dive in the toilet bowl. There were no cell phones back then. I’d get a page with a phone number. Then you find the nearest landline phone and call the number on the pager.
Most of my coworkers were middle-aged, overweight, white men who had once dreamed of being in the military or police but couldn’t pass the psyche tests or fitness evaluations. My roommate and I were the youngest, fittest, and only drop of diversity in the whole company on account of me being female and him being Apache, not that any of them knew he was Apache. Bear was promoted to Supervisor shortly before I joined. He was the only one licensed to carry a firearm on the job. The rest of us had long heavy flashlights and mace.
During training I was with a guard who worked the mall out in the valley. A fight broke out on the mezzanine level between two young women with a somewhat large crowd on young people watching on. The Guard said, “I’m going to deploy my mace.”
“Really?” I asked. “I know it’s only my second day on the job, but why don’t we just pull them apart? You grab one from behind and I’ll grab the other.”
“No, look, I’ve been doing this a long time. We have to be more assertive.” As he pulls out his mace I step into a nearby store where I can watch from behind glass. The Guard muscles his way through the crowd and sprays the girls with the mace, except, you know where I’m going with this right? We’re inside a building with no wind. Of course, the girls get the worst of it with it being sprayed in their faces, but the whole crowd immediately reacts.
People are yelling, screaming, crying and stumbling every which way trying to get out of the pepper spray cloud, including the Guard himself. Fortunately, there was a bathroom nearby. I felt bad for the girls, so I led them to the bathroom to help wash their faces. I learned through sobs and snot that the fight was over a boy and he’d played these two friends. “Alright, well I guess the lesson we learned today is that no guy is worth getting maced in the face.”
By this time the Guard had rinsed his own face and was waiting for us. The girls got a 24-hour trespass notice for the mall and I got lectured about how I needed to respect his authority. Our second day of training was uneventful and then I was on my own for my assignments. There was a streaker at one of the nicest retirement homes in Spokane. Don’t ask me why some guy thinks it’s fun to go running down the halls naked at a senior living facility, but there you have it. He wasn’t a resident and no one was knew which door he would sneak in from. They were all locked except the front door, where the guard spent most of their time. I suspect he was a former employee with a set of keys.
The previous guard assigned to the place was morbidly obese and the streaker apparently was a rather fit fellow running about like he did. The guard could never catch him and couldn’t outsmart him either, I guess. When my roommate handed me this assignment there was an unmistakable twinkle of amusement in his eyes. The Senior Retirement place was one of my favorite places to work. I never got to chase the streaker though. He never showed up on my watch! The residents were lots of fun. It was like college dorm rooms, but no one had to study. They were always having fun! They had an indoor swimming pool, a library, a movie theater, and they went on daily excursions.
My other regular assignment was working out of the Old Flour Mill which had been turned into a cool place for a handful of small shops and restaurants. It was right on the river in the heart of downtown. As a security guard you keep hourly logs to note any activity of interest. Most of the time your log just looks like: “S/O Reynolds – 5:58pm -Nothing to report.” (S/O for Security Officer)
As someone who likes to write, that just seemed like a waste of paper. So, I started working on my descriptive sentence and scene setting. I’d head to a special access point at the top of the Flour Mill so I could describe the sunset. I carried a highlighter in case there was any relevant information I might need to report. One time during a perimeter sweep near the water at dusk I heard splashing, only to discover a large rat pulling a fish as big as it was to the shore. I was impressed. The rat arched it’s back and showed teeth. “I don’t want your fish.” I laughed. Since I didn’t move any closer the rat decided it could eat, but it kept its eyes on me, just in case.
I also once met a guy who called himself “Spider.” He followed me around chatting my ear off for about an hour and then decided to leave. As he’s leaving, he said, “I was gonna rob the cigar shop, but you’re just too cute and I don’t wanna get you in trouble.” Gee, Thanks, buddy. Another time I watched a teenage girl slip a necklace into her pocket at the hippie store. I came up to stand beside her and said, “You can put the necklace back or you can pay for it.” She started to protest, but I looked her in the eyes. She pulled it out of her pocket and put it back. I introduced her to the store owner at the counter. The girl came back and got a job there. A few weeks later she happily skipped up to me and showed me the necklace around her neck and said, “I paid for it.” with glee. It made me happy too.
Here’s what I learned about human nature. People will often try to get away with things like petty theft because they feel invisible. They think no one notices them and the sad fact is, they aren’t wrong. The people I met who tried to steal things weren’t doing it because they wanted to sell it for food or anything, they were lonely, depressed, bitter and sometimes angry.
I worked that job for nearly two years. I never carried the pepper spray. I never threatened anyone with a show of force. The only holds I ever put on anyone were hugs by mutual consent. All the shops owners at the Flour Mill loved me because on my watch there were no thefts, graffiti or fights. The only shopkeeper that didn’t like me was the Cigar Shop owner, because he couldn’t get over the fact that I wasn’t a man and I didn’t walk around like King Kong.
I was 18 when I started. I wasn’t even old enough to drink alcohol in my state. The craziest assignment was three nights of “guarding” a 56,000sqft industrial building. A fired employee threatened to come back and stab everyone. Again, I was the only guard on duty. It was hot, it was August, there were lots of hot, noisy machinery and long thick plastic sheets that separated parts of the manufacturing line. It also had seven huge doors, left open for ventilation. They were so big you could fly a small plane through them.
Fortunately, that guy never showed to fulfill his threat. The line supervisors were rightfully angry that the only protection hired for them was one guard with a pager and an oversized flashlight. My being there was a joke. It was disrespectful to both the employees and myself because the company was too cheap to provide proper security for such a large, loud, wide-open building. “What do we do if we see him?” The supervisors asked. “Call 911, then scream real loud, maybe I’ll hear you.” I said dryly.
I have a history of training in all manner of violence, but I don’t practice violence. I practice empathy, first and always. No one can “make” you a killer. The decision is ultimately always yours to make. I had brief stint in the Marine Corps. I’ve done kickboxing, Mixed Martial Arts, Karate, survival training, hunting, camping, hiking, rock climbing. When I was younger, it was not unlike me to swim across a lake, just because I could.
For me, my only opponents are the goals that I set for myself.
Sometimes I’ll choose the path of chaos, but I’ll rarely choose the path of violence. I remember the last time I did, decades ago. I was in my early twenties walking home in the dark, in downtown Spokane. This man was lurking in some dry bushes under a streetlight, no less. Mister Mugger, Are you afraid of the dark? I could clearly see him squatting there, plotting something. I continued casually walk down the middle of the road to see what he would do. Is he dumb enough to try and mug me? Yes, yes he is. As I approached, I was thinking about what kick I might do. As if on cue, my ancestors being the mischievous assholes that they are, turned out the streetlight above him. He jumped out and said, “Give me —” Boom! He got the Half Moon. My leg swung out and up, dropping my heel onto his clavicle (the bone between your neck and shoulder). He fell like a rock. I sauntered off telling him to “Go get a real job.” The streetlight came back on.
You wouldn’t have known it to look at me. I probably looked arrogant dropping a man and strolling off like I do that sort of thing all the time, but in truth I was angry. Angry that he thought robbing people was a good idea. Angry that its people like him that make other young women afraid to walk alone in the dark. Angry that he mistook for a victim. I am a survivor! An embodiment of the three-legged dog with one good eye and a half-chewed ear that goes by the name of “lucky.” I’ve died more times than most people have lived. Was it the right thing to do? Drop kicking him like that? I don’t know. My power isn’t that I know how to fight back, it’s that I know what I’m capable of, and I’m capable of A LOT.
Greet new people and opportunities with an open mind.
Practice empathy every day.
Know yourself and you’ll know your power.
You don’t have to be afraid of the dark when you’re the scariest thing lurking within it. Bwhahahaha.
What are your capable of? Do you know what your power is?
Note: I’ve just about finished chewing through my reading on “Deep Adaptation” so that will be my next post.