Follow the Bouncing Drunk

Santa Fe, 1994.

I like action and adventure, which is strange given the fact that I’m a craven coward.  Then again, I’m nothing but a walking-talking contradiction.  I find war documentaries soothing.  I want romantic devotion, but fear commitment.  I like being alone, but need people.  I couldn’t stop drinking because I couldn’t handle the life my drinking had created.  On and on.

Any shrink worth a $600 correspondence course degree could see that this need for action and adventure was compensation for the fact that even ordinary life scared the shit out of me.  I kept getting myself involved in scary situations with the belief that I would somehow use up all my scaredness.  After dodging threats to life and limb, I would somehow be able to walk out to the mailbox and face the bills head on.

Working as a bouncer seemed like a perfect job for me, not to mention ironic.  Many nights I had to throw people out for being drunk, knowing full well that I was even drunker.  Ah well, it was no use fretting over such small inconsistencies.  I had many bigger things to loathe about myself.  Besides, The Constitution gives bouncers the right to drink on the job.  It is referred to as the Amber Waves of Brave Amendment.  It was ratified around 1927.

If you’ve seen the movie “Roadhouse,” with Patrick Swayze, I feel sorry for you.  Terrible movie.  It’s also a howler when it comes to its depiction of what being a bouncer is all about.  “Be nice,” Swayze’s character pontificates, “…until it’s time not to be nice.”  Heavy shit, Master.  You mean pretend to be nice until you can set up the cheap shot, or until the cops finally show up.  Here was this dude throwing down martial arts moves on the dance floor, CHONG-HOW!  KUNG-POW!  In reality, you’re beating someone’s head in with a salt shaker while they bite into your groin.  Swayze throws fuckers all over the place, but never into an innocent girl who twists her leg and chips her tooth on the bar rail.  Real bar fighting is rarely trading punches.  It’s rolling around on the floor trying to push an ashtray into someone’s nose while getting your eyes scratched.  It’s messy and ugly, and the fun only starts when someone gets hurt.

I was okay at fighting.  Years of getting picked on had desensitized me to the whole concept.  A few years studying some practical techniques under the mighty Flores Brothers of Oxnard, CA, helped me become a little more pro-active.  Unfortunately, I was never able to delude myself into thinking I was the best.  I knew there were lots of guys out there better at fighting than me.  Would I run into them tonight?  For thirteen years I went to work with that dread.  Thank God for beer.  It does the trick whenever self-delusion is called for.  I can’t get hurt and humiliated tonight, because Zulu War Gods are guiding my every move.  I…am… Iron Boy!  So what if now and then Iron Boy brings his Maglite down on the wrong guy’s skull, or a stiletto heel kicked in his crotch takes away all his super powers?

Besides a few strip clubs in Los Angeles, most of my jobs were in Santa Fe. I worked a lot of different places, with various threat-levels.  Strangely, the scariest place was a tiny little sports lounge at a Ramada Inn. My only shift was Sunday night from 5pm to midnight.  Sounds kind of cozy, no?  Seems like a good starter bar for an apprentice bouncer.  How bad could it be?

The sacking of Rome seemed tranquil compared to the average Sunday night there.  First there was the fact that they featured One Dollar Draft Beers.  Ok, that was pretty much it.  Selling beer for a buck will turn any bar into a gladiator arena.  But, you also couldn’t buy alcohol at the store in New Mexico on Sundays back then, so any low-life that ran out would flock to where they could swill their slosh on the cheap.  Hell, that was why I was there when they offered me the job.

Bikers, drug-dealers, drunks, thugs, sleazoids, gang-bangers, and whores all flocked to the reasonable prices and good-natured sports rivalry we provided.  Occasionally a tourist would wander in from the hotel, look around, put a hand on his wallet or camera, and bolt.  By the time my shift started the natives had been drinking and getting torqued on football since 11am.  I was the only bouncer, and didn’t trust too many of the patrons to back me up.  I would sometimes pay my friend, Marko, in dollar draft beers to come in and sit for a few hours.

I remember one night two guys trying to kill each other by hurling billiard balls.  I don’t know if they both had played Little League or what, but they fast-balled those things at each other with anti-tank velocity.  Balls were slamming into glasses, bouncing off the cigarette machine, chipping out the tile floor, sending shrapnel everywhere.  I remember crouching by a table waiting for the thunder to stop.  Shit was breaking everywhere.  People were screaming and yelling.  I looked over and saw this guy I mentally referred to as “Mexican Harpo” crawling on his elbows and knees like he was on Omaha Beach, except he was smiling, and had two beers in his hands.  Fucker was using the commotion to cover him while he stole beers.  Curly black hair, grinning gold teeth, just giddy with delight, he raised his eyebrows at me as if to say, “Hey! Neat deal, huh?”

Usually I’d agree.  Mayhem delights me, except when by some strange twist of fate, I’m the one in charge of restoring order. I finally grabbed a large cardboard cut-out stand of some Bud-Lite Girls in bikinis, and used it as a shield.  (I didn’t want a nine ball in my right corner pocket)  I approached the two maniacs while barking commands, in my best SWAT Team voice, for them to cease and desist.  The fact that I was hiding behind paper booby girls surely reduced my Command Presence, but I was able to get to a pool cue.  Now with a shield and a lance, I was able to corral one of the dudes out the door. The other guy ran out after him, followed by all their friends.  I cleared the bar out, using the commotion to steal a few beers.

One day as I was getting ready to go to work my sister came up to me and begged me not to go.  She said she had a really bad feeling.  She would even pay for whatever I lost by calling in sick.  I’d been doing this shit for years by then, and she never been like that.  She smelled some kind of bad mojo. That was all I needed and called off.  The next morning on the bus to my day job, I ran into a cook from that bar.  He said I missed a wild night with two knife fights, and later a drive-by shooting.  When I came home later that evening  and walked past the place, I could see two bullet holes through the glass door, right by where I used to stand and check IDs.

There were a lot of close calls, and if Zulu War Gods weren’t exactly guiding my every move, something was looking out for me.  I feel bad that I pushed it.  I’m sorry I put my family through the worry.  I also imagine a very frantic Guardian Angel, all stressed-out about his gig–having to look out after my ass.  But, if I didn’t push it back then, I couldn’t let it all go now.  Now I can just be nice.  Besides, there are better ways to prove you’re a man, like going out to the mail box and facing the bills head on.

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5 responses to “Follow the Bouncing Drunk

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