I’m off to Dartmouth, to apply for a job as a security “officer.” My friend, Jeff, had a job like this, but he bombed out after assaulting a man who had pulled a pocketknife. I don’t know if I’m cut out for a job where people can pull knives on you and then charge YOU with assault, but then again, I don’t know if I’m cut out for food-bank living, either.
The ad said that they pay above industry standards, and they have an extensive training program for new recruits. I’ve heard that there are training programs out there that teach you to not panic when sprayed in the face with pepper spray. It basically consists of being sprayed over and over until you’re used to it.
I like the idea of being used to pepper spray, I think. It’s kind of glamourous. You’ve got the girlfriend over, and she goes to get her lip chap out of her purse, and accidentally sprays you full-on in the face with her pepper spray.
“My god, I’m so sorry,” she says, her hand going to her mouth in shock. You give a nonchalant little chuckle and say, “Hey baby, I’m used to it.”
Extensive training. The mind boggles, trying to determine what this could be. Are they going to send me through police boot camp? Will I learn how to tell if someone is lying just from their body language? Will I learn to diffuse a bomb while making witty banter with the over sexed leading lady? Will they show me how to look good in day old stubble, and sweat stained clothes? In short, will I become an action hero? Is this my chance?
I keep turning the phrase “Freelance Police” over and over in my head. Freelance Police. Freelance Police. “That’s right, ma’am, I’ve got a license to open an twenty four hour ass-kicking delivery service in your neighbourhood.”
First, and most importantly, they will not be teaching me how to handle being pepper sprayed. I filled out the application to be a security guard and I asked them this right away. The girl behind the counter said “Do you have any questions?” and I said, “Yes.” I said, “Your ad in the paper mentioned that you provide extensive training. What exactly do you mean by that?” She paused, smiled, and launched into the pitch.
This was something I was not expecting. It was a sales pitch for the company. She told me about their dedication to “quality training,” about the company’s “model.” The words came out with a practised ease, and it seemed like she would go on forever. The commitment to the dedication to our ultimate goal of satisfying the customer’s etcetera.
I raised a hand to interrupt and put it as plainly as I could.
“When do I get the pepper-spray training?” I said. She laughed nervously and told me that it wasn’t a part of their training program to deal with pepper spray. I looked past her smiling face at the poster on the wall. Sky divers in a circle, thumbs up, thrilled just to be falling toward the ground, just to be representing integrity, or quality assurance, or some business ethic.
I looked at the little wooden toys that lined her desk, representing customer satisfaction and the company’s business plan, and I began to get that sinking feeling. You know the one. The one that you got when you found out that your dad didn’t really fight crime, he just dressed up sometimes.
Was that all, she wanted to know. No, that wasn’t all, but what could I say? Won’t you train me to fight crime, to take an ass kicking with a smile? Won’t you show me what it’s like to be a man? Won’t you team me up with the spunky loudmouth, so I can avenge his death in the second half? Won’t you give my life meaning?
But I didn’t say that, because I already knew the answer. They wouldn’t. But I didn’t make a scene. I didn’t flip any desks or threaten any lives. I think that’s part of my problem. She said they’d be in touch, and I went home.
They called me later that day. Would I be available for an interview with one of their detectives. “Detectives” she said, my heart fluttering. I told her, You’re damn right I would be available. Would I have been available if she hadn’t used that word, “Detectives”? If I hadn’t been sitting at home watching Die Hard With A Vengeance, memorizing every line of Bruce Willis’ dialogue? I’d like to say no. I’d like to say that if I’d known what was in store for me, I would have quietly hung up the phone. I’d like to say that, but there’s only so much Kraft Dinner a boy can eat.
The interview brought my hopes back up, though. My interview with the detective. He was a barrel of man, really. He had a day’s growth of stubble on his face. A five o’clock shadow, they say in the movies. He showed me his licence, which said quite clearly, “Private investigator and private guard licence.” I was in the presence of everything I held dear. The man sitting across from me might not have the best relationship with his wife (they never do), but he had a licence to imitate Bruce Willis whenever he wanted. I could picture him down at the police station, waving his fists through the air, screaming at the slow-witted police chief. “He’s guilty. You can’t just let him walk on a technicality!”
It brought a smile to my face, seeing the licence, knowing that it wasn’t out of reach, knowing that one day I would be damaging public property in a high-speed chase through downtown. He smiled back, and then he brought out the big guns. “You know, you learn a lot from this job,” he said. I was on the edge of my seat already, but I leaned even farther forward. Was this it? Was this where the music rose, and we cut to a training montage? “You learn how to read a person,” he said, and I was all ears.
Training. Extensive Training.
“Sure, you can get books and videos that teach you this stuff,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. He had thick fingers. A fist like a sack of oranges, if he needed it. I imagined that he needed it. I wanted to believe that he needed it all the time. “But you’ll never make it far on theory alone,” he said. “This job will teach you how to read a person. You’ll do it every day. Your safety will depend on it.” And then he leaned forward, so we were closer, and he said, “You want to know what I can tell about you? Just from your body language?”
I nodded, mute with awe. Could he tell that I’ve never been close with my father? Could he tell that I watched movies to live life the way it should be lived, to jump from train to train with Harrison Ford because I would never have the courage on my own? Could he tell that I’ve never lived anywhere but Halifax, that I’m afraid of cities the way I’m afraid of crowds?
No. He started talking, and as he talked my heart sank, but my smile never faded. I kept on smiling as he fed me line after line. He told me everything he thought I wanted to hear. And it all came crashing down around me. This was all a part of the pitch. Why is there a pitch? That was all I could think, why are they pitching me this job?
I was such an idiot. This was not going to be a job that would tolerate or encourage my loose cannon idea of justice. This wasn’t a job that would nurture and respect my violent, yet tender hearted individuality. This wasn’t home. But I kept smiling, because this was food. Because nobody else had called for an interview. Because I deserved this for believing him. For believing the ad in the paper, and everything it promised. For believing in a dream. He kept talking.
This is how great our company is. This is how great you are. Imagine how great it would be if you wore a uniform and patrolled construction sites at night for our company! Think of the possibilities, Joey! Think of the spiritual enlightenment! And then he offered me the job, still leaning forward, gesturing with those thick, lying fingers. I nodded. I smiled my “I will not be eating at the food bank this week” smile, and I said “Thank you, yes I would like to come to work for you.”
“Great,” he said. “You’ll come in Friday morning for your training.” Training. My heart fluttered against my will.
Today was training. There wasn’t a single bottle of pepper spray to be found. Training to these people means watching instructional videos with fellow new recruit, Bob. Bob has joined up for some part time work, and doesn’t seem like the sharpest tool in the shed. I’m getting the feeling that the shed I’ve stumbled into isn’t even meant for tools. It’s meant to store rocks.
Let me tell you about instructional videos for security officers. Instructional videos for newly recruited security officers are a continuation of the pitch they’ve got going to convince you that you’re making the right choice by coming to work for them. These videos are accompanied by assessment questionnaires. Mostly these are questions like, “Why is this company so great, select all that match,” and then you have to put a check in every box.
Sometimes there are real tests hidden in the questionnaires. The questions in these tests are meant to press your understanding of the subtle moral gradient that is security work. For example: Is it ok to steal from your employers?
About half a second into this questionnaire, I begin to wonder what I’m doing here. I hope I’m not being egomaniacal here, but I could be doing something that actually takes better advantage of my skills. Like working at McDonald’s. Or breaking into the places these people guard.
The material in these videos seems aimed at people trying to find work after suffering a major stroke or head trauma. Every point they make is repeated a dozen times. Stealing from employers is wrong. Yes, even if it’s just a pen. That means it is wrong to steal a pen. What about this blue pen? Yes, stealing the blue pen is wrong, too. Yes, even if you’re poor, and your family needs the blue pen for Christmas dinner.
Later on we’re treated to a dozen or so different “employee testimonies” about how great it is to work with the company. Now, let’s make something clear. It’s not that I don’t believe these are really employees. It’s quite obvious they’re real employees. There is no way in hell anyone would say, “No, let’s not use real employees, let’s hire some professional actors,” and then have the actors pretend to be retarded.
My problem is that I’m not sure that my idea of a great job is the same as, say, someone with an IQ of 60. I don’t mean to say I’m better, just that we have different needs.
I wonder if I should just tell them that I’m taking the job because I am desperate for food and rent money. Maybe they’ll understand and stop feeding me this shit. Maybe they’ll respect my honesty. Unfortunately, I don’t have the balls to do this.
My dreams of spunky sidekicks and dry cool wit in the face of adversity have faded. I am not an action hero, I am a rent-a-cop. Maybe one day an action hero will run past me, and I will be an innocent victim in the shoot-out. This is what’s left.