Days of Decay. Memories of a Scotsman living in LA

John Wight
9 min readFeb 7, 2024
Marina Marketplace, Marina Del Rey

I was delighted, not to mention relieved, when I landed the job as a security guard at the Marina Marketplace Mall in Marina Del Rey. It was mid-February 1992, I was 25, allegedly in my prime, and I’d been in LA five weeks by this point with my funds by now dwindling fast.

With literally just enough money left to pay for my room at the hostel for three more nights before I hit empty, it was fluke luck that I came across Mike on Venice Beach when I did. I must have asked every trader on the boardwalk if there were any jobs going, all to no avail, and so when Mike got up from the blanket he’d been lying on roughly fifteen feet away from me on the beach, looked over and asked me if I had the time, I didn’t hesitate to exploit the opportunity.

“Hey, man, you got an accent,” he said immediately after I opened my mouth. “You from Ireland?”

I told him Scotland.

“Really? A guy who used to work at my job is Scottish. His name’s Andy. You know him?”

I did not know any such Andy and made that known.

“Where do you work?” I said next.

“I work security over at the Marina Marketplace Mall.”

“Any openings there? I need a job.”

“Might be, yeah. Last I heard they were short a couple of guys on the swing shift.”

Two days later found me sitting in Rick McNeil’s office on Venice Boulevard, where the offices of Pro-Active Security were located. Mike at the beach failed to warn me about Rick, but it didn’t take long to understand that the guy possessed the social skills of a plank of wood.

“Who the fuck are you?” was the first thing that came out of his mouth when he walked in and saw me sitting in the office, waiting for him.

I told him my name.

“Oh, you’re the Scottish prick who called yesterday.”

“That’s right. You told me to come in for an interview.”

“Aright, come on — let’s get it over with.”

I followed him up the winding staircase to a corridor one floor up, along which we walked to his office. Entering, a large Stars n Stripes smacked me in the face. It took up almost the entire length of the wall behind his desk. I next took in the pictures of Rick in police uniform in various poses and with various people. Finally, my eyes were drawn to the large bear’s head that was mounted up on the other wall.

“Si down.”

I took up position on the other side of Rick’s desk. He was dressed in a tight black t-shirt, denim jeans and cowboy boots. His hair was thinning and his eyes carried a hollow look synonymous with a man who’d spent too many late nights watching porn and whacking off.

He looked at my application, scanning it quickly, before raising his eyes back up and studying me across the other side of his desk.

“You got experience working security?’


He looked back down at the application, turning it over then back again. As he did, I was conscious of the sound of the air-con whirring gently in the background. My heart was beating fast in anticipation of what I knew was going to be the next question, the one upon which everything would hinge.

“So, you got all your shit — social security number, green card?”

“Yes,” I told him, before going into my wallet and retrieving the fake documents I’d procured for sixty bucks from a Mexican guy who’d been recommended to me by Philippe, the French guy who ran the deli where I ate lunch most days on the boardwalk by the beach.

He examined the documents while I looked at the wall behind him, face frozen in a studied expression of nonchalance. It belied insides that were on full spin with the hope that the documents would pass muster and dread they would not.

“Where did ya get these, Venice Beach?”

“They’re real.”

“Yeah, right — real fucking fakes.”

The gentle rhythmic whir of the air-con at that moment took on the character of a chisel removing the last bricks in the wall of the brave face I’d been struggling to maintain. It was over and there was nothing left to say. As I reached down to retrieve the documents from the desk, I did so as a man who’d ran out of options, averting my eyes from Rick as my face burned with the dejection of defeat.

“You available to start right away?”

Three weeks later and there I am, patrolling the Marina Marketplace Mall, resplendent in blue polo t-shirt with SECURITY emblazoned across the back, a radio, set of handcuffs and a flashlight, for all the world a bogus cop looking for miscreants to punish and malcontents to expose. As for my fellow security guards, they were an odd bunch from various backgrounds and of different nationalities and cultures.

Tyler was an ex-Marine who strutted around in a permanent state of combat readiness. Nico was a young German bodybuilder. He was built like your average brick wall, but with less personality. Oscar was a tall gregarious Brazilian guy who like Nico, myself, and and many others had come to LA to experience the southern Californian lifestyle. I don’t think I’d ever encountered a guy who was so broke and yet at the same time so happy as Oscar. Just being here he was living his dream.

Gold’s Gym in Venice was known throughout the world of this wacky subculture as the Mecca of bodybuilding. It was at the original Gold’s Gym on Pacific Avenue in Venice, just a few blocks from its current incarnation, where Arnold in the 1970s built the giant body that would propel him to a career in Hollywood as an iconic action movie star in the 1980s and 90s. The current Gold’s Gym on Hampton Drive was a place I’d yearned to visit from almost the moment I first picked up a dumbbell at a local sports centre when I was 15, cursed with the physique of your average pipe cleaner and with the self-esteem to match.

I loved Gold’s back then. The cornucopia of wild humanity which filled its gargantuan space lit you up as soon as you walked through the door. Life in those days was simple and happy. I was living just around the corner on Vernon Avenue, sharing a one-bedroom apartment with a fellow security guard at the Marina Marketplace named Josef. Josef was an ex-Mr World from Hungary who’d moved to LA hoping to replicate Arnold’s success but who instead, 20 years later, was driving a broken-down car and working as a security guard for a pittance. He worked the day shift 8am to 4pm, while I worked the swing shift from 4pm to midnight. Josef slept on the couch in the living room and I took the bedroom, renting it from him for 400 bucks a month.

Josef was that most toxic combination of gun freak and racist. Working for Pro Active Security at the mall were both unarmed and armed security guards. Josef was one of the armed ones and it never ceased to amaze me that somebody like him could ever have qualified for a gun license. On the few occasions when we were in the apartment at the same time, I’d regularly enter the bathroom from the bedroom and catch a glimpse of him on the couch cleaning his guns. He’d be talking to the TV in response to the news — specifically in response to news items on gang activity or crimes involving black people.

“Niggers,” I’d hear him say. “You’re just niggers. I kill you. Kill you all.”

It was scary stuff.

The Marina Marketplace Mall was spread over a large area on Maxella Avenue in, as mentioned, the prosperous district of Marina Del Rey. It contained an abundance of retail stores of every stripe, plus a cineplex and various eateries, coffee shops and an amusement arcade. Wearing a t-shirt and jacket with the word SECURITY stamped on the back in large letters provided you with the kind of security the company hadn’t bargained for. It allowed you to breeze around the place with the insouciance of an invisible man. This was especially the case when it came to Vons supermarket, from where I soon began obtaining my groceries compliments of the management.

Allow me to explain.

Deciding that I could no longer survive in LA without transport, I took ownership of a tin can on wheels for 400 bucks. Having a car at my disposal life instantly became easier and more convenient. An hour before my shift two of three times a week, I’d drive over to the Marina Marketplace and head to Vons. I’d park in the lot adjacent, walk in with my security jacket on, fill up a trolley with groceries — steak, chicken, fruit, whatever took my fancy — and promptly walk out the door again. I’d take the trolley over to the car, fill up the boot with the goods, then drive over to the security office, park and punch in for work. After just a few weeks it felt as if I was being sponsored by Vons, entitled to take whatever I wanted without paying. This I did without a moment’s hesitation, convinced I was on a mission of mercy in pursuit of the noble cause of me, myself and I.

Looking back it couldn’t last, and sure enough it didn’t.

One evening, halfway through my shift, the call came through on the radio from the swing shift supervisor, John Lokie, that a Code-20 was in process at Sav-On, a drugstore located in the mall. Code-20 meant that a guard required assistance, which was the signal for everyone to converge on the location as fast as possible. I got there within a minute to find Lokie at the entrance waiting for back-up. Lokie, it should be noted, was a 6’4” tobacco-chewing Missouri redneck of a type well known whose ambition was to become a cop. I was first to arrive on the scene and when the others got there after me, Lokie dismissed them, saying that one guy would be enough, with that one guy being yours truly.

As we headed through the store towards the back, he explained that they’d caught a guy trying to steal some milk and bread and now had him in cuffs in the back. We got there to find a pitiful wretch of a human being sitting on an upturned crate with his hands cuffed behind his back. Standing guard over him was Nico. He, the guy sitting on the crate, had to have been the most dishevelled person I’d ever laid eyes on, which in LA is truly saying something. He looked as if he hadn’t washed in weeks; he was unkempt and had fear stamped across his face as if branded there permanently. He was obviously from some god forsaken place south of the border and hardly spoke a word of English. Desperate doesn’t come close to describing his plight.

Lokie informed me that the cops had been called and were on their way over. In the meantime, waiting for their arrival, he began to taunt his captive.

“You’re going to jail,” he told him with relish.

“No. No jail,” the guy wailed in response.

“Yeah, you’re going to jail. Long time.”

“No jail. No jail.”

After a few minutes, Lokie got word that a black and white had pulled up outside.

“Okay, Nico you come with me.” Then, to me: “Here’s the key. We’ll be right back.”

With that, he left the storeroom with Nico to go and meet the cops at the front. The key he’d just handed me was the key to the handcuffs. California law stated that a suspect in handcuffs must be attended at all times by someone with a key in case of seizure, heart attack, or any other kind of issue that might require that the cuffs be removed in order to administer assistance.

I studied the young guy sitting on the upturned crate in front of me again, trying to imagine the hardship he’d endured in a life truncated by poverty and despair, destined by birth and background to a life of struggle. There was no doubting that he was in the US illegally, one of the army of illegal migrants who were in the country. I was also illegal, but unlike him I had white skin. Thus there I was, standing guard over someone I had for more in common with than not, whose plight could well have been my own but for nothing more than luck.

I stepped forward, unlocked and removed his cuffs, before signalling for him to follow me over to the emergency exit door. Our eyes met, we nodded at one another, after which I opened the door and let him out.


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John Wight

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