Source: Villanueva Photography (www.flickr.com)
Smoky gray glassy half-balls, like eyes of a giant fly, lined the ceiling in long neat rows. Hidden surveillance cameras followed my movements on the store floor and in the stockrooms of the West Hollywood retail store where I worked. This was a new workplace reality for me, a newbie to the USA. The knowledge that someone was spying on me while I worked made me feel vulnerable.
If the cameras were meant to deter customer theft, they were not doing a good job. Everyday, we found tampered packaging with no product.
I am not a thief. But to Big Brother anyone could be a thief. That thought disturbed me. As an employee, I had to be careful not to behave in any suspicious manner.
“Forget the cameras,” my supervisor told me when I shared my concern with her. “If you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s no need for concern.”
But those cameras bothered me. They were out to get us, I thought.
When I had learned how to pull merchandise from stock, my supervisor sent me to pull handbags from the small stockroom in the rear of the store. I entered the stockroom with an empty shopping cart. I was alone. As some bags were located on the top shelf, close to the low ceiling, I wheeled the ladder to the section. I was perched on top of the ladder when another staff member opened the door.
“Need any help?” he asked, holding the door open.
“No, thanks, I’m almost finished.” With two handbags in one hand, I secured the ladder with my free hand and climbed down to the floor. “Do you need something?”
“No, the Manager was concerned about you climbing the ladder.”
“Really? You can tell him I’m fine.”
He left the stockroom. Perplexed, I glanced at the glassy eye in the far corner of the ceiling. You should be watching the customers in the store, not me, I thought.
On one occasion, Big Brother rescued me from a disgruntled male customer, the size of Hulk. He insisted that I adjust the band of a watch to fit his wrist as thick as the calf of my leg. A security guard appeared at the jewelry counter to find out what the problem was.
In time, I learned to forget the presence of the prying gray eyes and to move about with ease around the store. Then – without warning – I witnessed my first staff arrest. I watched in dismay as a policeman handcuffed a young female staff member and, together with a second policeman, escorted her out of the store.
Did management have to shame her like that, in front of the staff and customers? I asked myself.
“That’s a warning to the rest of us,” my supervisor said, joining me.
I wonder: Who is watching the Men in Suits on Wall Street who are gambling with our lives? Who is watching Big Brother?