I never thought the “officer” moniker would creep its way into my job title at any point in my life, especially since “moniker” isn’t the appropriate word to use here. And just to clear up any pre-emptive confusion, I am not a cop and I will do everything in my limited power in this role to not be confused as one. However, with my head having been inundated with reveries of working between four walls and under a roof, I sold out in the interview. “I’m strongly considering a career in law enforcement,” he lied through his teeth. I convince myself I was practicing my acting skills in case I ever hit it big on off-Broadway.
So it turns out that this job consists of me walking around incognito throughout various stores while trying to catch people in the act of thievery. I do this by pretending to be a regular shopper while always keeping my eyes out for suspicious characters, easily identifiable by their brown bags complete with double-stroked dollar signs. If I see a shoplift, I am expected to perform a citizen’s arrest, which entails staring at the suspect as (s)he sits in a chair, until a police(wo)man comes to perform an actual arrest. If they run, I shall not chase. If they swing, I shan’t swing back. I am powerless. I am but a simple loss prevention officer.
As you can tell, my job is to identify hopeful criminals, not completely unlike John Anderton in the film “Minority Report” or John Anderton in literature’s “The Minority Report”. I justify my decision to accept the position by repeatedly reiterating that I’m only enforcing a law I actually support. I am not, and will not ever be, stopping people for walking an ugly horse in Wilbur, Washington, or fining them for forgetting to insert coins into a parking meter whose shadow resembles the impaled head of a beloved cartoon mouse. I have decided to protect my company’s clients’ merchandise because it’s the right thing to do, and also because I want to give back. When I was a child of thirteen years, I too was caught stealing a latka from a Jewish bakery I’ve never been to. The on-duty LPO (see last three words of the previous paragraph for acronymizing) took me aside and, with the help of Naughty By Nature, explained to me the importance of respecting other people’s property. He released me without calling for backup, maybe because he believed that I truly recognized the error of my ways, but more likely because it was nearing the end of his shift and he wanted to go home. He had better to do, even if said better involved tinfoiling his house in preparation for Y2K. That failed attempt at a dystopia was disappointing, but understandable, since a 99 becoming a 00 shouldn’t really cause the world to disintegrate. At any rate, I intend to pass on that gift of forgiveness as I hope to catch and release a child shoplifter who will one day replace me in my role as a loss prevention officer. As the world turns, so too do the sands of the hourglass fall.
I am told to act under the assumption that everyone is a thief, but I have an instinctual urge to walk around doing nothing, arresting nobody, and playing sociological experiments until I get fired. Unless, of course, I arrest someone by happenstance and then develop a thirst, rivalled only by Ash, to catch them all. My boss, who appears sporadically to berate me over my unmet quota, revels in the act of catching shoplifters, seeing people vulnerable and afraid. That is an ugly trait, I mused, bemused at the thought of putting those two words together. Stocky and tense, he sports sporty glasses, an army haircut, and a coat that he purchased online after his best friend, whom he hopes to one day marry even though he is well aware that she feels no sexual attraction toward him and sees him only as a harmless crutch to hang out with between boyfriends, mentioned that it made Ryan Reynolds look “even hotter” during his recent Oprah appearance.
I kinda wanna (read: kind of want to) catch a semi-famous person stealing, maybe Allan Hawco. If he comes into a store I’m working at, I’ll probably pretend I saw him take something. I should make the news for that one, like the guy who caught Winona Ryder stealing ze jewels. Sorry, jewelry; the theft would not be occurring pre-Titanic or in some fantastical land. I should just have to say fantastic but that’s taken on a new meaning and so I’ve been forced into this corner. Anyway, as a spy I am supposed to continuously put stuff in my cart to blend in with the non-actors, whom we shall now call “shoppers”, and I have noticed that I usually only pick out sale items for faux-purchase. Frugality in a fictional land. Coincidentally, that’s the title of the only novel that an economist wrote after he re-pursued his dream of penning prose, one he gave up years earlier in order to support an unwanted family. “It’s mostly a piece of crap,” I would say if I were to read the aforementioned book.
The days bleed into one another. Eight hours is a lot longer than it used to be, but luckily when it’s all over I forget the time ever existed, if it did at all. At the end of every shift, when I turn my brain back on, all I have with which to remember my job is sore feet that could easily have come from stomping grapes in a Bordeaux bordello slash vineyard. Boredom is increasing. Not just mine, but the collective boredom of the world. Overhead, the blaring, glaring fluorescent lights above refuse to even flicker, to give me a brief respite from the beams of pre-headache that pierce my eyes. Someone with a multiple-personality disorder should have my job, preferably if the personalities were easily interchangeable, which I assume they’re not.
Eventually, Hallowe’en becomes Christmas, and I become… A comedic gingerbread man, beloved by the owner of one particular store, has left me brinking insanity. I really thought it would be the incessant Christmas music that would cause me to fall apart, but it ended up being this little brown cracker cracking elementary jokes. “Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag” is playing on the radio again, and everybody seems oblivious to the obvious reference to St. Nick’s heroin addiction. My imagination is creatively disintegrating. I wonder if that’s irony. My mind is racing like a pronoun. I always tell people that nobody actually cares what they’re ever doing. But apparently, in this limited role of mine, I do.
The manager of an establishment I’m working in one day takes me aside and tells me to be on the lookout for a guy in a black sweater who’s been lurking around. As you may have just assumed, this person was me. I am now being sent to investigate myself, like Bob Arctor in “A Scanner Darkly” or that double-agent in Russia who was ordered to assassinate himself or something. Either way, I sarcastically thank her for interrupting my alone time and then return to my private investigating. Suddenly, a woman bangs into my cart with her cart. I ask her if we should exchange cart insurance. She laughs. I laugh. It is all imagined. I awake from a dream. You hand me a hamburger, cooked and delivered while riding on top of a dragon. He is driving a 1942 Ford Pinto, discontinued in 1939 to save metal for the future war effort. The dream is over, but it’s just beginning. I return to sleep. I return to work.
Luckily, for a while anyway, I discover a few ways to rage against the dullness of my endless unnumbered days. As I pass the weighing contraption next to the produce, I close my eyes and push down on the scale in order to see how close I can come to exerting five pounds worth of pressure, with “Price is Right” rules, obviously. I began mimicking people and their shopping techniques, but this got boring very quickly, so now my cart is a spaceship and all the cereal boxes are aliens. Among the “songs” I “wrote” at “work”, the ‘turtles in a half shell’ line from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme has become ‘scrubber and a snack pack’, and it’s a hit. I have also begun to quickly and excitedly yell “Merry Christmas” at, not to, shoppers. They get scared, then they feel bad (for being scared of friendship), both feelings I am happy to elicit from others.
While I have found myself to be rather unsuccessful at surveilling thieves, I do pick up on some situational improvements that should help the grocery stores get their operations in order. For some exampling, easily-accessible free water is lacking but shouldn’t be, as is a fish pond in the middle of aisle 5. There should be a garbage bin next to the eggs for broken shells, and all supermarkets should institute a regular “Taste Test Sauce Day”. Also, discount stickers should never be stuck to books, or at least such stickers should have the capacity to be easily peeled off without leaving half of themselves behind. Most importantly, my existence here should be eliminated and replaced by a single sign containing the words “Undercover Security” at the entrance, for similar effectiveness.
I dream of one day leaving this job, as Ibi dreams of pavement in a song I once heard, but I must feed and clothe and bathe myself and those dear to me. I am not qualified for anything more and I lack the ambition necessary to procure the qualifications. I will be here until I die, in this skeleton of a former grocery store, searching for thieves who do not exist.