Earthbound concerns of an ascendant adult

“Secret Agent Man”

by Patrick Stephenson,
they’ve taken his name and given him a number

SAINT PATRICK // Last week, a liver-spotted man activated the entrance alarm of the bookstore where I’m a security guard. I was, at the time, standing watch, with a walkie talkie at my side. He turned as I walked toward him, surrendering an apparently stolen book. “I need this book,” he said. “I really need it.”

A cashier—this quiet, curly-haired guy whose gait is slow, manner pretentious and voice monotonal—walked up. “This gentleman,” said the cashier, “hasn’t paid for those books.” As he’d walked out, the oldster had been holding two books. The first was the one he’d given to me, the second was from the library. “You need to pay for this,” I said. “I don’t have a check,” he said. “Do you have any other form of payment?” I said. “Well,” he said, Security“I have this.” Smiling, he pulled a checkbook from his shoulder bag. “There,” I said, pointing to a register. “Pay for it, there.”

Yes, I’m a security guard. I don’t, however, eat donuts habitually, and I don’t (yet) have a massive gut. It’s been this way the past month. I earned the position during the bookstore’s Rush Season, when students invade en masse at the beginning of every semester to spend a fortune on textbooks. After Rush ended, the store called me, wondering—because I’m a “good worker,” they said—whether I’d like another job. I said yes, so here I am, confronting red-handed men.

The day after the Case of the Liver-Spotted Thief, I chased another guy up an escalator, and ordered a gesticulating, newspaper-clutching deaf man to leave the store. The former possessed goods he’d purchased that hadn’t been demagnetized. When the latter entered, he shook my hand and gestured toward the Food section of his newspaper. Confused, I tried to understand him until I received a Walkie order to instruct him to leave. That was that.

As a security guard, I have three stations, or duties. Firstly, I patrol the store. This involves Undercover Work, blending in among the Civilian Population. Because I’m not uniformed, this is easy. I hide my walkie behind my shirt and stroll aisles, pretending as I walk to peruse the stock. Secondly, I stand by the store’s front door, ensuring those who activate the alarm as they enter and exit aren’t thieves. Mostly, this involves deactivating backpacks and removing tags from new coats.

Door is the only tedious station. I stand there forever, waiting and often hoping something will happen. A thief, a fight, anything. One time, a kid danced for me, and I was like, “That was an interesting dance.” Sometimes, friends pass the entrance. My friend K. stops by nearly every day to make fun of me, poke me in the stomach, and give me a hug. Her hugging/poking is a salve to my boredom. My friend Keita, a Japanese foreign exchange student, often passes, and I yell to him from the door, “Keita! Kurito-chan!” (In Japanese, “kurito-chan” is clitoris.)

Thirdly, I enter Operations, our advanced Security System, and sail around by camera to ensure no one’s packing. The system is so good that I can zoom into magazine/book pages and read over customers’ shoulders, electronically. I don’t, however, ogle girls. (That’s against the rules!) No thieves yet, but I did see a lady picking her nose, and a fellow guard once spotted young lovers making out in the back aisles. Occasionally, a customer will look from side to side, or at the camera, and I’ll become suspicious. Then, for the next few minutes, I’ll follow Shifty by camera around the store.

Of my three duties, patrolling is the most fun. While on patrol, I’m ordered to watch certain customers. My first suspect, I stood behind a bookshelf in the Sci-Fi section, pretending to read a Philip K. Dick novel as a one-time paper stealer browsed Philosophy. I complemented my hidden walkie with a pulled-up hoodie—to blend in—and glared at him Clint Eastwood-style. Another time, although one section of the store was empty except for me and another suspect, I had to end up in his every aisle.

This all is made weirder by my dissimilarity to your prototypical security guard. I’m not especially burly, or tall. In high school, my Senior Superlative was “The Most Sensitive.” Can you imagine? A sensitive security guard? But I’m stowing my sensitivity in honor of book thieves who try to clock me. They’re going down.


Written by patiomensch

March 4, 2007 at 3:21 am

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