Monday, January 14, 2008

L.A. Stories

I lived and worked in Los Angeles California for about four years. I had moved there from San Diego in the late 90's looking to get into movies. Doing story board work, acting, whatever I could get. In the end what I could get turned out to be very little and since the bills still have to get paid I took a job as a security guard. I was posted to a place in Encino called Encino Terrace Center and charged with keeping an eye on things from midnight to eight in the morning. It turned out to be a pretty cool job. I did have to wear a suit and that was a fucking bummer, but on the whole I was my own boss and rarely did I ever see so much as another living soul.

The job allowed me to draw, paint and work on my portfolio. I was still scrambling to get movie work so whenever that sort of offer came along I would quit and be off to adventures in the screen trade. At the time there was something like 2% unemployment in the San Fernando Valley and it was easy just to quit a job and come back a few weeks later. They would hire you on again as they were so desperate. It wasn't just the unemployment situation that was to blame for this anomaly...the drug scene was a contributing factor as well. To stand a post as a security officer you had to be able to pass a drug test and a lie detector test about your past drug use. I was clean as a whistle when I lived in Burbank. Not from any Reaganesqe commitment to just saying no, but rather, my lack of coin. Most people in LA don't let the lack of money stand in the way of their buzz and as a consequence finding sober people to stand a post is a real challenge for the private security companies.

The place I worked was enormous in scale. Four stories above street level filled with offices and four below for parking. The footprint of the building was an entire city block and to do the rounds could fill close to an hour. That explains why that seldom got done. There were a number of high profile clients who had offices there. Paine Webber had most of the fourth floor and, believe it or not, the production offices of John Travolta were on the third floor. I don't know if they're there still there but if you wanna stop in I'm sure they would love to see you, especially if you express an interest in Scientology. The one time I had to enter that suite (helping some window washers get access) I found the joint filled with books on Scientology and little signs over the books encouraging you to borrow one. The other noticeable aspect of those offices were the enormous life sized photos of Travolta on almost every wall.

Well, what the hell, that sort of thing worked for Mao.

During the day shift the guards were all "in house" security. Some were retired cops and some were younger guys looking to get into the Academy. At any rate, they were serious. The graveyard shift however was outsourced to flunkies like me who really didn't give a damn about security. We were just there so the building owner could make hands on Bible promises to the insurance company that there was "on site" security twenty four hours a day. As my job was to do nothing more than show up with a heartbeat (and believe me the pay reflected this) I never really could get it up for doing anything above and beyond the call. There was an incident that illustrates this point...

I was wrapping up the night shift one morning when there was a call on the emergency line from one of the tenants. I picked up the phone and found that it was the big health insurance company on the third floor. The woman was hysterical saying that they had just canceled the insurance of a client who's son was suffering from cancer. The guy had flipped out on the phone and said that he was three blocks away at the doctor's office. He had had enough of the insurance companies shit and was headed their way with a .357 magnum to quote, "Kill everyone of you crooked fuckers!"

The woman on the phone assured me that this was no joke as the the Doctor's office had called right after the guy left and said he had went to get something from his car and headed down the street toward Encino Terrace Center. I hung up the phone and turned to the day shift guys who were just coming on duty and brought them up to speed on what the lady upstairs had just said. I then smiled and said, "so while you guys deal with that, I'll be across the street at Starbuck's having a coffee and a bun. Good luck men."

As I was hauling my precious ass out the door the head of building security arrived at the desk and was advised of the situation by the guys I had just told. He nodded and then asked where the hell I had gone off to. The guys said that I was headed across the street for a coffee but I had promised to come back just as soon as the coast was clear. To the boss's credit he just chuckled and told one of the guards to radio me and see if I'd score him a mocha Latte. He was smart enough to know that a buck more than minimum wage doesn't buy a lot of courage.

In the end the pissed off guy with the gun was a no show (thank God) but the Latte arrived as ordered.

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