Monday, August 18, 2014

What’s in the bag?

(From Two Guys from Garfield)
July 29, 1980

Power warps people.
It makes an ordinary man think he’s God; a common store clerk, a president.
It makes a frustrated wannabe cop security guard unanswerable to anyone into a small Hitler, having his way with the rest of the staff.
Perhaps I should have ducked out of his way the way most of the others do; but I’m not made like that, and I never duck for cover when something strikes me as wrong.
The guard, who also apparently sees himself as something of a secret agent but not the Nazi I’m talking about, approached me on Friday and demanded to examine the contents of my bag.
He said he had been told to search the green canvas bag I carry everywhere – a bag sagging with notebooks and soft-covered books of poetry and literature I carry everywhere.
I actually liked the guy; and he apparently liked me, but operated on orders from the head of his order – who is the real dictator, and not this poor guy, who is only – as he says – following orders.
He promised not to search the bag if I promised not to bring it into the stock room.
I guess this made sense. Management was obsessed with theft, partly because they paid the staff so little, workers couldn’t resist the temptation to pocket things they couldn’t otherwise afford.
After having watched people like this guy’s boss operate in other jobs – which often involved the firing of innocent people – a few choice words came to mind, such as “pig” or worse, any of which might have set this muscle man off and put me in back alley to duke it out (a fight I would not have won).
Instead of telling him off right then, I did what I rarely do in those situations, I waited and let the long weekend cool things off, and confronted not the poor guard, but his supervisor on Monday, telling him I wanted to speak with the big boss – something that made Rich flush red and ask me why.
This was the guy I hated, a half shaved macho monkey with an inferiority complex he tended to take out on defenseless people. The same words I had held back saying on Friday came to mind, but again I resisted the urge to spout them and repeated my demand to see his boss.
It wasn’t the idea of security that offended me so much as the attitude this guy and his pack of henchmen displayed. They lorded over ordinary workers, part of some superior little clique of power that said they were above the rest of us, and I needed to teach them some manners.
They came for me later during lunch, dragging me out of the break room in front of everybody else, a kind of show of force that said to others: “This could happen to you if you make trouble.”
In the office with the big boss, I said exactly what I thought.
Rich went even redder than he did before and told me if I didn’t like it, we could settle matters outside.
I told him I didn’t like imitation cops doing what he did, but I expected the big boss to curb his guard dogs. People like Rich needed to learn his place, and should have a chain and muzzle.
The boss agreed to curb security’s over zealousness, but warned me to keep my bag out of the stock room.
It was not over – at least from the look on Rich’s face – but I had won a round in a fight I knew would not end until I left to go back to college in September.

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