The Color of Wild Animals


Robin Crane

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 117 in February, 2009.

The white of our uniform shirts was blinding in contrast to the void of the black of our pants and of the ties we wore. We were security guards, patrolling an expensive Beverly Hills condominium complex in Los Angeles. My co-workers all had skin the light brown of milk chocolate or the tawny brown of a deer. My hair was dyed the color of straw, and in my polyester uniform, my skin was flushed a constant pale pink. Sometimes I earned a smile from one of the building's residents, a flash of teeth the faintly translucent white of opals.

Because I am an only child and therefore terminally lonely, I’ve always instantly loved the co-workers at each of my jobs, as though we were a huge family of siblings on a treacherously long and boring camping trip together. I've loved them and sometimes betrayed them, like siblings do. I’ve always wanted to think of myself and my present group of co-workers as an old-fashioned gang, or a club. There was always a camaraderie between us, we were always all stuck with awful tasks that colored the meaning of life with a gray haze.

I used to type death certificates and burial permits in the basement of a cemetery. When my co-workers and I went out on lunch runs together, strangers often mistook us for stewardesses and we always laughed and thought of the strangers as stupid. We were all women in a gruesome basement office and it was a predominately Hispanic environment, so I quickly picked up the Spanish words for "darling" and for "gossip." Darling, querida. Gossip, chisme. I look back on us as a gang of overworked, hilarious and volatile women, the Darlings of Gossip, Las Queridas de Chisme.

Later, I would work for the county of Los Angeles, and since it was the government, the higher-ups always had to be careful not to do anything that could resemble discrimination; they represented the people of the county and did not want to be sued by them for millions of dollars. Any personnel decisions based on personal appearance could be construed as discrimination. Consequently, my coworkers and I, by and large, dressed like slobs. My best friend there often wore pajama tops to work, and his hands were a collage of homemade tattoos from the 1980’s. The woman who sat at the desk across from me frequently came to work in a bright orange sweat suit, and I found myself putting my shoes on only when I had to show a visitor to the conference room; the seams of every garment I owned were always crooked and I never bothered to fix them. Our club would be called The Society of Salaried Bums.

But when I think of my family of security guards, it’s with no flippancy. This was a job that killed hope. I was just the white slacker recent college graduate of our group, and I would only work there for a few months, deciding one afternoon to drive to the beach instead of to work and never going back, never saying goodbye to any of them, which is an awful fact. The wealthy residents of the building we patrolled were, with almost no exception, cruel. They were verbally abusive and fickle, and thought nothing of changing their directives midday, or spying on us. Some accused us of treating them with too much familiarity, others for not treating them familiarly enough; we were supposed to remember which residents disapproved of their peers smoking in the lobby and which ones insisted on it. We were the people whose well-being nobody considered, and why should they?, we were hired as shields, to be the first one the gun-wielder comes across as he enters the building. We were the stone sentinels that the normally tight-lipped ophthalmologist could say "fuck" or "shit" to when he came home drunk at 1 in the morning. My supervisor was a high school dropout because he had to support his family; still, he asked to take home my book of Rilke's poetry, and still, he loved those poems, but still, rich old women regularly waylaid him with petty complaints almost anytime he made his walk towards his car at the end of his shift. And whenever he'd laughingly reply, "Ma'am, I understand you're upset, but I'm off the clock," they never cared, and he always helped them anyway, because he had dignity and patience.

They treated us like we were tired dogs, but in our hearts and in our imaginations, we were runaway dogs, we were running into the hills and learning the wild abandon of wolves, using our bared teeth to tear off the black and white constraints of our uniforms, revealing our bodies, colored the vivid color of the very core of earth. Yes, you masters who will never know what it feels like to be passionate or just, we are wild animals. We are a closeknit, fierce and unstoppable gang, and we are called The Wild Animals.