Yes, I had been lied to and duped on my watch as a professional security officer at the Factory.
However, deceptions, evasions, and prevarications, as practiced in the postmodern industrial workplace, did not bother me, because I had a built-in bullshit detector, finely calibrated and sensitive to the tiniest shifts in stance, tone, and gaze, that told me who was true, and who off-kilter.
A little white lie from a true-blue character didn’t faze me, because what really mattered was inside. On the other hand, the truth from a fallen angel might set my bullshit detector on fire.
The first time I saw Brenton Hanover, I knew he was off-kilter.
He was a temp worker who had been placed on one of the beginners’ lines, assembling small hydraulic pumps. As I passed through the cafeteria one day, my eye was caught by the level stare of a young man who sat alone, holding his head high and his spine ramrod straight. He was handsome, with arched cheekbones, icy blue eyes, and a mop of nicely-clipped brown hair.
But the expression on his face was contemptuous as he studied me openly, like a professor examining a bug.
It was a little disconcerting, but for the hundredth time I reminded myself that what people saw when they looked at me was the uniform first, then the blonde ponytail, and finally, if I was lucky, the cool smile I habitually wore. I was used to being scrutinized. I ran my cup of water out of the cafeteria dispenser, and strolled past Hanover as if I didn’t notice his stare.
In reality, I was fully alert in a way that alway happens to me, without reason or language, when I’m in the presence of trouble with a capital T.
An alarm was going ding-ding-ding between my ears.
A few nights later, I was out on patrol in the darkened, deserted administration offices, when I caught sight of a tall, lean figure strolling down the aisle ahead. Even from the back, I recognized the excessively upright posture of Brenton Hanover. Gliding up silently behind him, I said quietly, “What’s up?”
By the jerk of his head, I knew Hanover had heard me, but to my surprise, he merely quickened his pace and did not turn to reply.
“Hey, you. What’s up?”
I strode determinedly after Hanover, and finally he turned around. His lip curled in a sneer as he said dismissively, “Just taking a walk. What’s it to you?”
Float like a butterfly, I reminded myself. Relax; don’t do it . . I had these little mantras running through my head as I kept my jaw loose and my brow smooth. I felt color rise in my cheeks, but I did not move a muscle to betray the emotion I felt. My self-control was hard-won, and zealously guarded.
“I haven’t seen you in this area before,” I said quietly. Very quietly. I spoke so low he had to lean closer to hear what I said. “That’s why I’m asking what’s up with you,” I murmured.
Hanover laughed. “Fine,” he said shortly. And with that, he turned on his heel and walked away.
A few minutes later, I wrote in my report that I’d found a factory worker in the office area. I didn’t know his name yet, but his sneering contempt had burned an image in my mind I wouldn’t soon forget.
Within two days, I found Hanover again in a place he had no business being—the Maintenance Garage, a huge concrete vault full of toxic waste and chemicals stored in drums.
Again, I asked him, “What’s up?”
Hanover laughed in my face. “Have you been a security officer your whole life—Diana?” He bent forward to read my name tag.
“What else have you done?”
“I used to teach English,” I replied.
Hanover didn’t seem impressed. “Do you have a PhD?”
“Well, I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration,” he said in a mysteriously lofty tone. “I graduated with honors and then went to Europe. I know a lot about American and international business. In fact, I’m something of an expert.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
I made my tone sound awed, so that he would identify himself easily. The dinging in my head was so loud I could barely hear myself think. Now this is a kid full of bullshit, I was thinking. He’s a temp worker on the Factory line, wandering around the building for no good reason. Trouble, capital T.
“I’m Brenton Hanover.” He said his name slowly, as if relishing the way the syllables rolled off his tongue.
“Just taking a little walk again, are you?” I asked mildly.
Again, Hanover laughed in my face. “I’m going outside for a minute,” he said, pointing at the raised overhead door at the far end of the building.
I nodded, and as soon as he had strolled out of sight, I took out my little book and wrote down his name.
The next evening, when Hanover passed the Security Office, I saw that he’d been spoken to about his presence in unauthorized areas of the Factory. He came close to the window and glared through it, staring right into my eyes. His seemed glassy with rage, and the alarm in my head started shrilling urgently. Mad, mad, madness, my mantra murmured.
At home, after I got off duty, I entered “Brenton Hanover” into my computer search engine, and sure enough, I found his name on the website of a quasi-radical urban planner whose thesis was that American industry might benefit by the presence of artists in its midst. It was typical academic bullshit to me, the kind of thinking that passes for genius in the rarefied atmosphere of the ivory tower. It had nothing to do with the dirty reality of artists working in the Factory’s screaming cells. Brenton Hanover’s comments on the website were precocious and poorly thought out, like shiny trinkets scattered on a path to fool crows.
I fell asleep that night reflecting on the nature of young men—and women—like Brenton Hanover. I recognized in him some of the same demons I’d tangled with in my own youth: restlessness, overweening self-regard, resistance to authority. But I’d had all the Trouble beaten out of me, and now, on the other side of the age divide, I was authority. It was a deeply ironic position to be in. But I had no sympathy for Hanover. He was about to take his own beating.
The following night, I was in the Security Office when Hanover appeared alone, his lunch bag slung over one arm. It was later than dinner time, so I spoke to him kindly, hoping against hope that he might turn with a friendly, forgiving smile, accepting my authority, so that I could show my respect for his decision.
“Going home early tonight, Brenton?” My tone was genuine, because I wanted no conflict.
He paused at the door with his back turned. “None of your business, Diana,” he spat out, putting heavy emphasis on my name.
Relax, I told myself. I let a moment pass, then another. Then I asked, “Excuse me?”
Hanover turned to face me. Also, he was facing the CCTV camera that was trained on the door, but he was so unobservant, he couldn’t have known he was being watched.
“None of your fucking business,” he spat.
He mouthed the expletive. Too chicken to curse out loud, I was thinking. But I said nothing. I watched him go out the door, and then he began to parade up and down on the grassy strip outside the Security Office. I watched him while I wrote him up on my report.
On the next evening, a short conversation took place between me and Hanover’s supervisor, Bryan, another young man still wet behind the ears. He lamely tried to justify Hanover’s presence in unauthorized areas. I didn’t care. I zeroed in on the real issue.
“Hanover has to show respect for the authority of the Security Officer,” I insisted. “That should go without saying. It should be a given.”
“Yeah,” Bryan agreed glumly. “I see what you mean. Well, there’ve been other problems with him, too. He never really fit in. He didn’t meet my performance measures, and the other team members don’t like him. He always acted like he was better than everyone else.”
“Imagine that,” I responded.
“Well, he’s going to be gone,” Bryan said. “The temp liasion will take care of it. They’ll let him work out his last day tomorrow, then they’ll let him go. You won’t see him again.”
For a day, I rejoiced in Brenton Hanover’s fate. I felt like the Goddess of old, disrespected by a mortal man, and in a killing mood. But ultimately, there was no glory in it. A young man had lost his job, probably the first of many he’d lose in the trajectory from youth to age. The Factory would go on without him. And I had won nothing, because I had nothing to lose. It was sad, but only for a moment.
And then my appetite for joy returned in full force, and I sought out one of the true-blue men who had been in the Factory forever, and when I met up with him on one of my rounds, we passed a couple of gleeful lies between us, like the real devils we were.