Commerce House

During the period from 1982 to 1985, I was unemployed and underemployed.  For over a year, I worked as a security guard at a ten-storey office building downtown.  Technically, I didn’t.  I had applied for work with a cleaning service.  They had the contract for the owners’ common areas, as well as several of the clients located in the building.

Building management wanted someone to answer the phone and watch the front lobby and underground parking area, keep the wrong ones out, let the right ones in and out, from when the building officially closed at 5 PM, till it reopened at 7 AM.  Only licensed Security Guard companies may legally do that, so I was on the books as a cleaner.  The only *cleaning* I ever did, was take the power buffer to the marble floor of the entranceway, and use paper towels and vinegar to remove handprints from the glass doors, left by people too stunned or lazy to use the push-bars.

At first I worked from 5 to 11 PM, but that didn’t give enough hours to support the family.  The old guy who did the eight-hour midnight shift was on Workman’s Compensation.  They guaranteed him a given sum each week, and topped up his earnings, to reach that figure.  I convinced him to take the six-hour evening shift and sleep with his wife, while I stayed awake all night.

The building sat sideways into a hill.  There were ten steps up to a landing, then ten more up to the front door.  The entrance to the underground garage was even further down, and invisible from the lobby.  Authorised parkers had swipe cards which would roll up the gate.  Unless you were listening carefully, you weren’t aware of folks entering or leaving that way.

People came into the building at the oddest times.  I was shocked several times making a walk through the three underground levels at four in the morning, and suddenly running into someone.  There was a group of six or eight teenagers who used to hang around the church property directly across the street.  If someone used their card to enter, it was easy to dash across the street and get in before the door rolled back down.

The old guy told me that he had found some of them a few times, drinking, smoking dope and screwing downstairs.  He carried a two-foot length of lead pipe and suggested I do the same.  He was older than me and lead piping had been outlawed, so I got 20 inches off the top of a broken, solid ash, rake handle.  I still have that little billy-club at the house, *just in case*.

There was a bank on one half of the main floor, and the Employment Office on the other.  Even working the midnight shift, I got to meet some interesting people.  The Employment Office didn’t open till nine, but there was one lady who came in before I left at seven.  Other than getting the coffee started, I’m not sure what she did for those two hours.

We often talked, and I got to know about her husband and teenage daughter.  One day she told me, “I bought a horse, and didn’t tell my husband.”  You what?!  Her daughter loved to ride, so, instead of paying rental fees, she bought a damned horse.  Where are you going to keep it, in your garage?  Oh no, she had a stable all picked out.  All she had to do was pay the monthly stall fee without the husband noticing.

My son was still going to high school.  A couple of times he accompanied me for a Friday night shift, to have some father/son time.  The first time he did, he found that staying up 24 hours was a bit much.  At about six-thirty AM, he curled up on the marble floor behind the guard’s desk, and went to sleep.  It was on one of these nights that he *won* a radio DJ’s contest, and got to meet him in person for breakfast.

A ten-storey building, at the top of one of the higher hills in town gave a grand view from the roof.  We used to go up in the middle of the night and look around.  You could see almost five miles in all directions.  We used to watch all the little people, the drunks going home from the clubs, and the taxis, police cars, ambulances and fire trucks.  A clear day would bring a magnificent dawn, first the false dawn, as the sky began to brighten.  Then the sun would peek over the eastern horizon and wash everything with a lush golden glow.

If you’ve read my *water guns and pony bikes* story, you already know I’m still just a big kid.  We had to know what happens when you drop stuff from over a hundred feet up.  We didn’t want a safety hazard, so no glass.  An empty plastic water bottle just whirls away in the inevitable wind currents.  A full one splits and spews rewardingly.  A pop can, filled with water and carefully dropped vertically, crushes the bottom a bit and just sits there.

One time, we found a ball of string.  The building is sealed.  None of the windows open.  We filled a Coke can with water, threaded the string through the tab, and lowered it on a big loop, down to the eighth floor.  There was about a two-inch ledge outside the windows.  We carefully swung it in and dropped it on the ledge, and even more carefully pulled the loop of string back though the tab.  Let the office workers figure how a Coke can got outside their office, eight stories up.  Eventually the water would evaporate, and the can blow away.  Ah, the cerebral adventures.

Since I’ve had this post in my drafts file for a while, I’d just like to add a wish for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the lovely people who have visited, followed, read and commented on my site in the last year.

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