Unleash the amateur drinkers! Watch them crowd up the bars, slow down service, raise the cover charge, and put unreasonable expectations on the evening, along with more cops out on the street. What’s not to love about New Year’s? I am so excited. It’s going to be a new date on the calendar! That rarely happens. Besides, what could ever go wrong when you desperately make too much of a big deal over nothing?
When I worked the door at bars, I knew I was in for it that night. People are under such pressure to have the best night of their lives, they wind up making it their worst. The sudden influx of novice drinkers also insures a fresh supply of punching bags for the already surly and sodden veterans. Imagine boy scouts setting up camp on a penitentiary recreation yard. Nothing good can come of it.
Working a big crowd is a stress fest. Having more women around is as bad as too few. When drunk men see their chances of scoring slip away, they get irritable. Sometimes a jump-up-on-the-pool-table-while-ripping-off-your-shirt-and-trying-to-kick-anybody-that-comes-near-you-in-the-teeth kind of irritable. Whenever I’ve witnessed these animated displays of irritability, my first impulse was never to go over and deal with the person. I would’ve prefered to have found a defendable corner, perhaps barricaded by a tipped-over table, from which I could egg the maniac on, with impunity. Unfortunately, they don’t pay you ten bucks an hour to do that.
It was my second New Year’s Eve at The Catamount Bar and Grille in Santa Fe, NM. That year, T-Bone was working with me, which was good. He was a lovable lug from Boston. He played hockey, knew Aikido, was level-headed, and didn’t have a whole lot to prove. We were friends so I knew he’d have my back. He had never worked a New Year’s Eve before so I warned him.
“They’re going to build a corral out of plywood outside to help control the crowd,” I explained, “but we’re still going to have our hands full trying to keep them from pushing past us, not to mention having to deal with anything that erupts inside. I’m going to wear my big boy underwear that night. I suggest you do, too.”
He nodded, and then I nodded back.
The next night we had a couple of beers and went to work. It was already crowded by eight o’clock. T-Bone reached into his pocket, pulled out two things of pepper spray, and handed one to me. I commended him on his foresight. I never minded an edge. I had used them all: pepper spray, Maglites, high-voltage zappers, brass knuckles, spring-billy batons, whip-chains, lead-shot sap gloves, rubber truncheons, pool cues, salt shakers, door jams, and even other people’s heads. Like in any video game, there are strengths and disadvantages to each weapon. I would soon learn a major disadvantage to the weapon T-Bone had procured for us.
Management had hired a couple of guys to help out. We all knew each other. We had worked together at some places, as well as thrown each other out from others. Ours was a small world. They would be upstairs at the second bar. T-Bone and I would be outside by the door. I would take cover charge and he would check IDs.
That night started memorably enough when a drunk girl threw up on me. She was trying to push past without paying, so I put up my hands to stop her. She looked down and puked on them. Bravo!
“Uh, I don’t think I can let you in,” I told her, “You seem to have had too much to drink.”
“But I feel better now,” she tried to explain. She was a warrior alright. I wiped my hands off on her sleeves and sent her off.
I was even more impressed a half an hour later when she returned, and tried to get in again.
“You think you can still come in after barfing gazpacho on the bouncer’s hands?” I asked. She nodded. “You’re an amazing woman,” I told her, ” And I could see falling in love with someone like you, but tonight you need to go throw up somewhere else.”
There were the usual hassles: no ID, don’t want to pay cover, friend already paid cover, swear they were in before, just want to look for someone, need to use the rest room, forgot my girlfriend, etc., but no major shit storms. Still, my nerves were getting frayed. I was getting irritable, especially as I watched my own chances to score slip away. Ladies don’t respond well to your advances, if they can smell another woman’s vomit on you.
About 11:30 pm I heard yelling. I ducked inside and saw some guy raging at the bartender. He was red-faced and rough. Tough and chewy trucker trash. Shop class hero burns out. His messed up hair and bushy unkempt eye brows made him look like Oscar the Grouch, but more desiccated and raw. This grouch had spent years drinking whiskey and smoking Marlboro Reds in the hot desert sun. Now it appeared that his evening wasn’t unfolding to his complete satisfaction. We all want New Year’s Eve to be special. I would make sure his was.
The bartender motioned to him, made the throat-slitting sign, then pointed to the door. Oscar was cut off. I went over to him and politely inquired as to the reason for his distress. He went on about not being served, how the place was full of uptight bitches, and there were no more seat liners for the men’s toilet. I acted like I couldn’t hear him. I apologized and leaned in. The deaf doorman bit has two purposes. You can use it to get in closer range for the sucker punch, or as an excuse for needing to talk outside. He didn’t seem to warrant a cheap shot yet, so I asked him to follow me out to where I could hear. Get them outside first, then deal.
He didn’t fall for it. I asked him again, but he just snarled. I noted major tartar build-up on the teeth he had left. His swaying was making me seasick, so I reached out to steady him. He smacked my hand off his shoulder, and then suggested I do something to my mother. That was it. I grabbed him around the neck and dragged him towards the exit. I made sure to bang his head against The Pillar of Shame on our way out. “That’s from my Mom,” I told him.
T-Bone and I each grabbed an arm. We carried him out into the street and tossed him. He caught some good air before landing in a crumpled pile of worthlessness. He got up slowly, straightened his cheap, foam cap, and disappeared. “I hope he’s not going to get a gun,” I said, but T-Bone was already back to checking ID’s. I went over to my post and started taking money again.
A scarlet blur shot up from behind the plywood fence. Holy Shit! It scared the piss out of me. Oscar was back. He looked like a demon as he tried to scramble over the barricade. T-Bone and I kept pushing him back, but God bless that mad muppet, he kept coming. Because he was on the other side of the plywood fence, we couldn’t get a good hold of him. Ah, the pepper spray. What an ideal time to give this bastard a little Binaca blast. While T-Bone grappled with him, I pulled out my can. I took aim, and from very close range, shot our assailant in the face. I gassed out every drop of that canister into his stupid eyes and mouth. He got the full experience. Napalm aromatherapy.
Man, if I thought his face was red before. One night I had slipped a bunch of niacin to my friends, telling them it was a new designer drug. A cruel hoax, perhaps, but it made them all look like boiled pigs, and that was worth some solid laughs. Anyway, that’s what this guy looked like now, a parboiled little piggy, except with streaming mucus, saliva, and tears. He stumbled around holding his face, then bolted off into the night, trailing body fluids. “Happy New Year!” I yelled after him, and that was that, I thought. I went back to taking cover charge.
A few moments later I noticed some people inside the bar coughing.
The windows were cracked an inch for ventilation. The pepper spray cloud had drifted into the bar. A guy tried to explain something about thermal currents to me, but I didn’t care at that point. I just looked on in horror as more and more people started hacking and crying. It was like watching the outbreak of an epidemic. I quickly opened the doors, but that made the gas blow deeper into the bar. Now the band started coughing, the waitresses, and even the cooks. People were groping for the exits. I directed some of the victims to our bar upstairs, but a lot of people were just leaving. Happy New Year! Come back soon!
It was a disaster. Who was responsible for this? Nevermind that, it was up to me to save New Year’s Eve. It was fifteen minutes before midnight. I had to refill the place fast, before the owners, Anthony and Tom, came downstairs. I dropped the cover and told T-Bone to bag checking IDs. We drove them in like cattle. I even helped hand out party hats and horns. Champagne was opened and passed around. Finally, at one minute to midnight, the band retook the stage. Thanks to the residual effects of the chemical agent, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place when they struck up Auld Lang Syne. It was a moving scene to witness, and I was glad to have played a part in making it happen.
Here’s what really happens on New Year’s Eve: The illusion of time is perpetuated. That’s it. It’s done by making one arbitrarily chosen point on a looping continuum more significant than the others. This moment is special, and now it’s gone. Nobody blows horns at 7:32 am on New Year’s Day (for valid reasons), but should any moment be less worthy? Why not really blow-up the party bell and make every tick of the second hand as joy-injected as the one that strikes midnight? If that’s what you propose, dear friend, I’m down. I may not drink that way anymore, but I’m more than willing to get joyously excited over what is essentially nothing. As long as I get time in for a nap, I’m fine. Besides, I don’t have anything better to do on New Year’s Eve, or ever. Happy Eternity, fellow creatures. Celebrate safely.