It's hard to top a job where you get paid to evaluate strains, so we thought we'd take it the other direction: Here's our team's Worst Day On A Job stories
CHARLES AND THE PHONY .44
By Martin Strazovec
By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.
The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard's eyelid:
A world of bald white days in a shadeless socket.
A vulturous boredom pinned me in this tree.
If he were I, he would do what I did.
- The Hanging Man by Sylvia Plath
Once I determined the course of my life, gentle reader, I required funds to purchase an art school education. I obtained employment as a security guard in a prominent financial district office building in Toronto. Minimum wage, 12-hour night shifts, either sitting behind a desk or patrolling random floors in a Stygian corporate monument with only a few fellow guards for company.
In those days I gobbled up books with all the discrimination of a street pigeon feeding, so I coped relatively well at first. Eventually, however, I too joined my colleagues in succumbing to boredom. Not a benign, fleeting sort of ennui mind you, but a boredom so acute that it began to undergo a freakish psychic cell division, festering night by interminable night into something palpably alive, hungry little eyes glinting in the darkness of a cavernous travertine-clad lobby.
Looking back now, I understand that the group who perpetrated the unholy act that fateful night was under the influence of a presence, a thing. I swear we had no inkling when it began to feed, so natural was its tentacled embrace, at first. Even later, it was more erotic than psychotic. I say this not to deny responsibility for our actions, but in my humble defense I ask you, gentle reader, to consider the isolation, the feral petri dish blooming within that glass and steel cage. Consider also the mandatory security guard attire oddly reminiscent of a schoolboy's uniform forced upon adult men, and you will begin to appreciate my situation as some warped urban version of Sir Golding's oft-rejected firstborn.
Oh, Piggy (not his real name).
Forgive me for what I must relate to you now, as I do so with a heavy heart and the hope that the central figure – no, I must present him with all honesty as the victim– has forgiven me as well.
The individual to whom I refer was named Charles Friendly (not his real name). Charles was a clean-cut young man in his twenties, earnest, honest and well-bred, pursuing a professional degree while working as a security guard to supplement his income. As is often the case, it was his very kindness and lack of guile that made him the target of a foul, ill-considered prank.
Another of our company, one Bruno Nutella (not his real name), was deeply committed to security work as a career and embraced all of its trappings with gusto. He had extensive training in law enforcement tactics, possessed a firearms license, and indulged his gun-collecting passion as budget permitted.
One night, as our small crew chatted idly during a break, Bruno mentioned that he had recently acquired a replica Smith & Wesson Model 29, otherwise known as a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world. It was accurate to the last detail except for a firing mechanism exclusively for blanks.
It pains me to admit that we collectively insisted – if not demanded – that he produce this object for our inspection at the earliest opportunity. We would realize later as we compared notes after the hazy veil of insanity had lifted, that none of us save Bruno had any interest in guns, in fact professing a common distaste for the harm they so frequently caused. Clearly, the ravenous thing was already nibbling softly at our day-sleeping souls.
The next evening, as we gathered in the locker room before the start of our shift, Bruno showed us his "Dirty Harry" replica. Enormous and heavy as a sledge hammer, it was intimidating even within a gym bag, never mind in one's grasp. Time seemed to stand still as the obsidian revolver reclined arrogantly on top of a Soldier of Fortune t-shirt. With a chill, I sensed it had fixated on me in particular.
"I have but one purpose, " it said. "You must help me fulfill it, Johnny (not my real name)."
"Yes sir," I replied, as though in a trance. "Wait, I mean ah, no thank you. I'm flattered and I admire your focus, but my weapon of choice is a paintbrush so –"
"Coward," the .44 replica hissed. "I am a mere simulacrum. If you lack the courage to do my bidding as this sadly disempowered version of my true magnificence, you are indeed a pale shadow of your own true self."
"Oh. Ok," I said. "Good point. Still going to be a no from me, but maybe I can –"
"Yesss...?" the gun purred with sly, slavering anticipation.
"Maybe I can talk to these guys and suggest a way to use you. Sometimes I'm the one that comes up with an idea and it's my friends who actually do it. That has resulted in some really stupid shit over the years, yet I often escape blameless."
"Tell them then," wheedled the gun. "Tell them to do some stupid shit."
"Yeah, I don't know... you look pretty realistic. Maybe we should just–"
"TELL THEM NOW!" the .44 Magnum roared with what suddenly seemed to be two voices, causing the epaulets of my official crisply-ironed short-sleeved shirt to flutter.
"Hey guys," I piped up, "I have an idea..."
And thus the heinous scheme was spawned, gentle reader. We plotted and planned and worked out a grotesque practical joke in which Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson played a starring role. At a designated time our night shift assembled, and it was, as the action heroes say, go time, bitches.
A typical security crew consists of a number of guards at stationary posts, with one guard on roving patrol duty. Everyone has a chunky walkie-talkie and there are constant check-ins, log entries and the like. If something unusual is reported anywhere in the building, it is the duty of the guard on patrol to investigate.
The building – which by now had become more like a glowing, veiny, spasmodic bladder of evil with an elevator bank – was still partially under construction. The 11th Floor was unoccupied, drywall panels and other materials stored in a vast, dimly lit concrete expanse. The boredom creature waited there, keening in its filthy den.
First, one member of our motley crew, Bambi LaMoore (not his real name), waited until the clock struck 2 am, then pressed the talk button on his Motorola MX300 and reported a suspicious person on the 11th Floor.
On this night, it fell to security patrol Charles Friendly to respond.
With a spirit straight and true, Charles radioed in a 10-4 and proceeded promptly to have a look-see. I must note here that "suspicious persons" always turned out to be either custodial staff mistakenly reported by other employees in the building, or building employees mistakenly reported by custodial staff, or employees mistakenly reported by other employees, or custodial staff mistakenly reported by other custodial staff.
As a matter of fact, nothing reported as unusual to a security guard in this accursed edifice was ever a threat, an emergency, or anything remotely interesting or actionable. We performed our duties with the firm belief that nothing would happen, complacent as rats in a rat food factory. It was this profound lack of stimulus that allowed the boredom to manifest and temporarily unravel the fabric of our reality.
As Charles rode the elevator to the 11th Floor, I, along with Bruno Nutella and Türd Anderssen (not his real name), lay in wait. We had taken up our positions a half-hour earlier. Though the entire affair is grossly inexcusable, I will state for the record that upon instigating the repugnant prank, my role thereafter, and Türd's role as well, was merely that of observer.
Nutella on the other hand, embraced his role of intruder with a disconcertingly vigorous enthusiasm.He changed into an all-black outfit including a wind-breaker and leather gloves. And a balaclava. He held the phony .44 at his side, loaded with blanks. They promised to be as loud as the gun was ugly.
Concealed behind some drywall panels, we heard the telltale dingof the elevator arriving on the floor. The doors slid open with a spill of light and we heard Charles walking across the floor. Then we saw the beam of his flashlight. If he kept on his current trajectory, he would walk right by us in a matter of seconds.
As the unsuspecting Charles Friendly walked past our hiding place, softly whistling a popular hymn if I recall correctly, Bruno Nutella took his cue, stepped out of the shadows to block his path, and raised the gun.
Poor innocent lamb that he was, Charles froze and let out a "Baa!"
At this juncture, I beg only the slightest modicum of mercy on your part, gentle reader, for as Charles began to sink to his knees with both hands raised in a futile defence if the gun pointed at him had been real, Nutella, who had planned to discharge a blank at Charles for full shock value, instead observed the naked human pathos before him and slowly lowered the fake weapon.
"I can't do it," said Nutella quietly, the hint of a question in his voice.
Removing the balaclava, he revealed his identity to the cowering Charles, who stared in disbelief as he processed the moment. Türd and I showed ourselves as well, each wearing an identical awkward grin that said it all.
"Hey-buddy-funny-joke-you-think-its-funny-right-we-hope-you're-going-to-laugh-any-second-now-even though-it's-utterly-clear-that-we-didn't-think-this-through-and-you-likely-suffered-a-life-altering-trauma-at-our-hands-but-you-gotta-admit-we-went-to-ridiculous-lengths-to-scramble-your-brains-and-that-means-we-care-about-you-and-we-think-you're-an-awesome-guy-right-buddy-ha-ha-ha?" our frozen expressions said.
Charles broke form from his typically polite demeanour and encouraged us to indulge in self-fornication, metaphorically likened us to body parts associated with the digestive system, disparaged our maternal relationships, and proposed multiple homicide as a part of next steps, including a tactical breakdown involving evisceration and dismemberment.
Instantly chastened as though snapping awake from a dream, we apologized and tried desperately to make amends. In that instant, I believe the boredom entity departed, utterly sated. We had exceeded it's expectations in a spectacular manner and it lumbered away with a full belly, looking back over its shoulder with lingering disbelief coupled with a dash of hubris. It had acquired a taste for pignus praesidio a very long time ago, but I suspect we may have set a new standard that night.
Although Charles never actually stated that he forgave us for that awful night, he returned to his usual civil self the next day and demonstrated that he was without a doubt the better man among us.
In less than a year, I bid goodbye to the security guard crew, hung up my boy-man uniform and enrolled in an educational institution that would have me. I don't know what became of Charles Friendly, but I wish him the very best, wherever he may be. Perhaps you are disappointed that the phony .44 was not fired. I assure you if that had occurred, Charles would have been irrevocably changed. Even the steely-eyed Nutella knew when a line was about to be crossed. Well, really super extra crossed.
Composing this haunted confession, I pondered (perhaps along with you, gentle reader): would Charles have brought up that very incident had he been asked to document his worst day on a job? Absolutely, positively, fuck, yeah, I concluded. There's no way anything worse ever happened to that dude at work. How was your day, Charles? Not too bad. I did experience the absolute certainty that I was about to lose my life, so that was a tad stressy, but otherwise, you know, good. Very good. Mhm. Say, is the liquor store still open?