Back in September I wrote about when I worked as a security guard at the Shores some 30 years ago. Other than when I discovered a tenant’s dead body (yikes!), I confess that I spent more time writing my novel than I did any security work.
The truly frightening thing is that, as horrible as I was as a security guard, I wasn’t the worst. That distinction belonged to a chain-smoking Egyptian in his late 50s. Fahmy was 5-foot-3 (in elevator shoes), had a pockmarked face and a shaved head. The combination made him look comical and menacing at the same time.
I worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. Fahmy was my relief and he always showed up with a bottle of scotch and a gun. (Not a comforting combination.)
Fahmy wore a leather jacket with sergeant stripes he insisted he earned from a prior security job but I suspected he bought the stripes at an Army-Navy store. Another Fahmy “quirk” was that shortly after showing up to work he would change into his pajamas.
Instead of the security office, Fahmy would move to the comfy leather couch in the adjoining rental office. He’d set his gun and scotch on the table and proceed to catch up on his ZZZs. Unfortunately, I found the situation ripe for a practical joke.
For emergencies, a phone in the elevator was connected to the security office. Every few months, I would get on the phone to Fahmy, and disguise my voice. (I could do an Asian, African-American, an old Jew, and my favorite, an East Indian named “Ravi.”)
In the accent of the night, I would excitedly report a fire, or flood, or a theft in progress. Alarmed out of a deep asleep, Fahmy would burst out of the security office wearing his leather jacket with the sergeant’s stripes and pajama bottoms. Hidden from his view, I would burst into laughter.
Much like Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show,” Fahmy’s lifelong dream was to catch a bad guy in the act. (I don’t know how he’d have explained the pajamas.)
My practical jokes seemed harmless enough until one night they backfired. Big time. And, even though I didn’t work weekends, I almost got fired.
One Saturday night a retired doctor was visiting a friend in the building and got trapped in the elevator when it got stuck between floors. Naturally, Fahmy was on duty. By this time, he had wised up to my elevator phone pranks and, as a result, I had stopped doing them.
But, when the doctor called the security office to report that he was trapped in the elevator, Fahmy, assuming it was me, proceeded to hang up on him. (Adding expletives in the process, which must have only enhanced the elderly man’s anxiety.)
The desperate phoning and hanging up went on for 45 minutes. The security log read, “At one point the doctor pleaded, ‘I don’t know who Jack is, but I swear I’m not him! Please help, I’m having trouble breathing.’” Yikes!
Eventually it penetrated Fahmy’s scotch-soaked brain, that possibly it wasn’t me on the elevator phone. To set your mind at ease, no one was injured. That said, when it was all over, and the man was extricated from the elevator by the Santa Monica Fire Department, there was one furious retired doctor.
When I came to work the following Monday I had no idea the trouble I was in. I was summoned by the building managers, Bernie and Kay. (They often wore matching outfits.) I remember that as Bernie gave me the sternest of lectures, Kay silently nodded in agreement.
“But I wasn’t even on duty,” I pleaded. (I was tempted to rat out Fahmy and his pajama practice, but I didn’t.)
Finally, we reached a compromise. I could keep my job but no more voices from the elevator. (Which I had given up anyway.) In return I had to call the doctor and apologize, which didn’t seem too difficult. I was mistaken.
When I called that evening the doctor wasn’t in a forgiving mood and this was 48 hours later. He had been trapped in the elevator for 45 minutes, which is how long I had to listen to him describe his ordeal.
Months later, I got my first paid writing job. It was a screenplay about a Montana cowboy who rescues a Playmate of the year from his hometown from the sins of Hollywood, only she doesn’t want to be rescued.
Soon after, I was walking down Neilson Way when Fahmy pulled up and offered me a lift. Sadly, he looked frail. Tubes were in his nose from a bottle of oxygen and yet he was still smoking. For fear it would blow up, I couldn’t wait to get out of the car.
As I wished him good luck and closed the car door, I remember thinking, that closed the chapter of my life as a security guard.
Jack can be reached at Jnsmdp@aol.com.