Security Guard Appreciation Day

Security Guard Appreciation Day August 18, 2012

“When I worked at FRC (2006-2008) I would have happily swapped jobs with almost any other employee – except for Leo.” So writes a man named Joe Carter of Leo Johnson, the security guard at the Family Research Council’s headquarters who took a bullet from gunman Floyd Lee Corkins, wrestled him to the ground, and disarmed him. Of all the tributes Johnson’s gotten, Carter’s is by far the best. Alone, it shows real imaginative sympathy. Carter recognizes Johnson as a man and a brother — a man and a brother who happened, for whatever collection of reasons, to be working in one pain in the ass of a job.

Over at National Review Online, Gina Dalfonzo does her best. A former FRC employee, she was acquainted with Johnson, but only slightly. Other than being “cheerful” and “laid-back,” he doesn’t seem to have left much of an impression. Dalfonzo also says Johnson was well-liked, but I’ll have to suspend my disbelief there. In my experience, if your idea of job satisfaction means winning friends and influencing people, security is not the métier for you.

And I do speak from experience. I’ve been a security guard. The field has its aristocracy, running roughly from Brinks to Blackwater, but I was stuck far down at the bozo end. Lacking any expertise with firearms, I was dispatched with nothing but a badge to a cluster of luxury apartments still under construction. Every evening at 5:00, I clocked in; every morning at 6:00, I clocked out. A couple of times in the course of a shift, I met with a circuit-riding supervisor. Once convinced I was awake, he’d accept a cup of coffee and leave me to my own devices.

There was at first a kind of thrill in making foot patrols across the newly broken ground, around the Port-o-Johns left by the builders, through the halls and unoccupied rooms of the finished units. The smells of fresh paint and new carpeting brought back happy memories of my Dad’s old office in Hackensack, New Jersey. But the novelty soon gave way to tedium. Guards were forbidden to bring laptops to work. The biggest no-no was falling asleep. Most of my two-day training cycle consisted of watching a slide show of guards caught snoozing at their posts and subsequently cashiered in disgrace. As one sprawling figure replaced another on the screen, Paul, the gnomelike trainer, chuckled grimly, like an MVD employee conducting convicted drunk drivers through the city morgue.

Each guard was responsible for keeping a log that reflected how he spent each hour of his shift. I don’t know how closely the higher-ups reviewed them, but I went to great pains to use language that would lend my work as much dignity as possible. For example:

01:00 – 02:00: Foot patrol, buildings 1-3; no sign of disturbance.

02:00 – 03:00: Foot patrol, west perimeter; no sign of disturbance.

03:00 – 04:00: Foot patrol, inner court, levels 1-3; no sign of disturbance.

In fact, a foot patrol took 20 minutes, tops. A more accurate record would have read like this:

01:00 – 02:00: Foot patrol, buildings 1-3; sat on ass in guard shack and read halfway through opening paragraph of Brothers Karamazov.

02:00 – 0:3:00: Foot patrol; west perimeter; sat on ass in guard shack; played Snowball Fight on cell phone; dreamed a world in which penguins and polar bears really threw snowballs hard enough to kill people.

03:00 – 04:00: Foot patrol, inner court, levels 1 – 3; sat on ass in guard shack, listening to senior guard describe encounters with Filipina hookers during Navy hitch in 1970s; made no effort to distinguish truth from nostalgic exaggeration and outright bullshit.

If there was one thing breaking up the monotony, that thing was class resentment. Though most of the completed units remained up for grabs, residents had occupied a few. These residents were the very beautiful people. Taking an apartment over a free-standing house in Scottsdale, Arizona means being the type who has better things to do than hang around at home watching the cacti grow. Rumor had it our charges were rich ASU students, mistresses of Phoenix Suns, and, if I remember correctly, one semi-retired rock singer. All I saw of them were their Lexuses and Escalades as they roared up from the underground parking lot and onto Scottsdale Road, bound for evenings (I was sure) of Ketel One, cocaine and artful copulation.

Would I have taken a bullet for any of these people, as Johnson did for the folks at the Family Research Council? I can’t say for sure, but somehow I doubt I would have. In my defense, our training manager, desperate to strangle any hidden inclinations toward Barney Fifery, made a point of telling us: “YOU ARE NOT COPS. YOU ARE FIRST RESPONDERS.” This meant that our duties in the event of emergency included calling 911 and recording everything in our log books where, presumably, it might serve to incriminate the wrongdoer at trial. (We were given a free hand with whatever rats we found roaming around the Port-o-Johns, however.)

But Johnson’s training manager could well have told him the same thing. The fact that he grappled with Corkins rather than open fire with his own weapon suggests he was no better armed than I’d been, and possibly worse so. (Because I worked the night shift, I got to carry a flashlight heavy enough to have doubled as a lathi in the hand of an Indian Imperial Policeman breaking up some Gandhian act of civil disobedience in the waning days of the Raj.) Nobody’s said as much, but Johnson may actually have gone above and beyond his own call of duty — a thing service members receive Medals of Honor for. If disarming murderous fanatics really does figure into Johnson’s job description, the fact that he did it for — if I may judge by my own firm’s pay scale — barely two figures per hour, still means he committed an act of great devotion and self-sacrifice.

Johnson’s gotten some laurels here and there — the FBI has proclaimed him a hero, for one, and FRC president Tony Perkins has professed his admiration. But it seems like too little. Just a few weeks ago, after James Holmes massacred moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, former Arizona Senator Russell Pearce asked, “Where were the men of Flight 93?” Well, Senator, it seems we’ve got one right here, in the person of Leo Johnson. It might be a good idea to do something nice for him, to encourage the others, so to speak.

It would also be sweet and fitting if Johnson’s fine deed raised the reputation of his entire caste. When you see a guy in a badge and shoulder patch, staring at a monitor, don’t think of him as a hackneyed decorative effect on the order of a potted palm, or as an empowered prole on the order of a castrated harem governor. If you live in an apartment complex, as I do, and are stopped on your way back from Circle K by some over-earnest kid in a GI-style haircut who asks your unit number, break not his balls, gentle reader. Compare him not, silently or aloud, to Farva from Super Troopers. All he wants is to put some color in his gray and dreary log, and you can afford to give it. It was his kind, after all, that spared America yet another mass shooting, and yet another debate on gun control.

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