The New Guy

mall guardI walk in the door to my local Tesco Express, and there he is. He is wearing all black, has a club of some sort attached to his belt, which he hitches up as I walk in. It’s as though he’s been waiting for me to engage in a Wild West duel.

His chest is extended as far as it will go without snapping his spine in two and he breathes audibly.

“Dobry den,” I say. In return he gives me a long glare as if to say, “You want to steal something, punk, go ahead, dobry my den.”

He is the new security guard.

I have always admired a person who takes their job seriously, no matter how menial it is perceived to be. A woman working hard behind the counter at McDonald’s has my immediate respect and admiration, as do the garbage collectors who clean the ground behind the cans, and the conscientious waiter. But a new security guard is not so much attentive to his task as he is desperately hopeful to turn his job into something he watched on late night cable the day before.

So while his veteran colleagues nod at customers and hold the door for old ladies carting around checkered bags on wheels, the new guy glares at people and searches the old ladies’ bags as he scans their receipts for anomalies. Perhaps the veteran knows that nothing really happens in a Tesco Express behind a police station in Prague 4.

The New Guy is Freud’s wet dream. While he is not allowed to carry a gun, his duty belt holds everything else in the world that a man overcompensating for his lack of position and male endowment can carry. This includes a 12 inch flashlight, a club, and dozen of nylon pouches surely filled with hair gel and power bars. His bulletproof vest is a dangle with gadgets.

He is the New Guy.

Whenever I go into my Tesco Express I know exactly what I am buying. Therefore, I have a strategy in place for shopping efficiency, and I have that store mapped down to the last item in the last aisle. My ultimate goal is to get in and get out before I get trapped behind an old woman trying to understand her credit card or a man with a gin-blossomed nose returning 40 empty beer bottles.

In about 2 minutes, I’ve hit the produce section, the dairy section, and the fish section. It’s when I am standing in the meat aisle ogling sekana (meatloaf) that I realize I am being watched. Half hiding behind an end cap of olive oil is the New Guy. I smile at him, happy to be under the watchful eye of Larry Law should one of the octogenarians in the store decide to club me with her walker. And then I get back to task, I want to beat the inevitable line at check out.

I see the New Guy again in soups and spices, then again in legumes and olives, and then again in cat needs. And then it dawns on me: he’s shadowing me. I wonder what it is that has drawn the New Guy to me. Was it my sweater vest? The glasses? The Les Miserables score I’m humming? Perhaps it’s the fact that the thousand-year old lady has just meandered through the front door (with monumental effort) and there is nobody else to bother. In any event, I decide to make it interesting for both of us.

I start by going back to the produce section and sniffing all of the grapefruit and singing to a bag of peanuts. Then I head off to dairy and bark the (American) national anthem. Then, to balance things out with my adoptive country, I practice the dative case on olive oils and soups. And then it’s time to whisper sweet nothings into the plastic ears of the canned cat food.

By the time I have sung Gallows Pole in Kermit the Frog’s voice to coffee, rearranged the dorts from most Fred Flintstone-like to least Fred Flintstone-like, and paid, the New Guy is sweating. He’s been there with me the whole time. As I walk through the door, I hold my receipt out to him. He scans it and nods me through the door as though he’s letting me out of visiting hours at Cook County Prison.

I walk home and seek a moral. I guess it’s don’t be an asshole. Because I’m better at it.

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