Nothing sleepier, nothing dreamier than a lazy afternoon in a suburban mall. This is where aimlessness is an art form, idle reflection passes for mental gymnastics and forgetting about the outside world is a God-given right.
By all outer appearances, that's how it was Thursday afternoon at The City Shopping Center in Orange.
And yet, it is still in the air. It would be too melodramatic to call it fear. This isn't one of those "Terror in the Mall" dramas. You probably can't even call it despair. No, it's more just a sense that here's one more place that you can't absolutely, positively guarantee will be free from violence.
It was just last Sunday night that 23-year-old Dagoberto Carrero was gunned down inside the Century City Center Theatres. The theater complex is outside the mall, and Carrero was working as a private security guard--a job that is supposed to be no more complicated than controlling crowds and keeping loiterers away.
It's a job that paid him seven bucks an hour. Seven bucks an hour and he died over it.
Police think they have the man who shot him. The cops say the killing was in retaliation for something Carrero said or did to the guy a few weeks earlier at the theater.
A shooting inside a movie lobby isn't the way we like to picture our world.
David is a ticket-taker at the theater. He says that although some employees still are shaken by Carrero's death, things are getting back to normal.
But normalcy has a new definition from now on. "I've been here five years and the worst thing we've ever had is somebody threw a rock through the window," David says. "Now it's gone from throwing a rock to somebody getting shot."
I mention that Carrero died for not much more than minimum wage. "My thing is that he lost his life over a dollar-fifty," David says, referring to ticket prices. "What it was, (Carrero) probably threw the guy out and asked him to leave. For a buck-fifty, this is sad."
In another part of the mall Thursday, security guards Tim Elder and John Garzone talked about the changing nature of their job. "You just can't trust anybody anymore," Elder says. "It seems like everybody wants revenge."
Garzone said the days when mall security could take the safety of their jobs for granted is gone. "Sometimes when you go up to people, you've got to wonder what's going to happen," he says. "It makes me think twice because you just don't know what's going to happen."
The guards at The City are unarmed, which is how Elder wants it. He says he would probably quit if the job required him to carry a gun.
By any measure, the Orange mall is relatively trouble-free, they say. The biggest concerns are with shoplifters or the occasional rowdy youngsters. It used to be that just seeing their security guard uniform would be enough to thwart troublemakers; now, unarmed guards like Elder and Garzone have to make snap judgments on whether to force the issue with someone or not.
Bill Bancroft, who owns the Patrol One security firm that employed Carrero, recognizes that dilemma, too. Since Carrero's death, he says, he has retained a psychologist to help his employees with techniques to keep troublemakers from turning a situation into a personal vendetta.
"Does that make a difference with one guy with a gun?" Bancroft asks. "I doubt it."
It's not lost on Bancroft that his employees have additional burdens in today's social climate. "They look like authority figures (with the uniforms), like a police officer. Therefore, they're a target for people of the mentality of the guy who shot Carrero. And yet, they're unarmed--for their protection and the public's. They are target status but with no defense to it."
Bancroft says his firm has logged 5 million hours of guard work in the last 20 years "and there's been nothing even resembling this (Carrero's shooting). The slaying, he says, is "statistically insignificant, but personally and humanly very significant."
I think Bancroft put his finger on the mood we all have nowadays.
Intellectually, we know theaters and malls and restaurants and churches and schools are safe. Statistically, that is.
But while we know crime doesn't occur \o7 everyplace\f7 , it can occur \o7 anyplace.\f7 It doesn't happen \o7 all the time\f7 but it can happen \o7 any time\f7 .
And that's what makes us nervous.
It's what makes Carrero's death all the more maddening. By any rational yardstick, it should never have happened. But can any of us can say we're shocked that it did?
We're left with the sad-but-true summation of David the young ticket-taker at Century City, as he reflects on the shooting: "It'll probably never happen again," he says.
\o7 Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.\f7