The guy had come up behind Marcos and clocked him right in the head. He was a bull and had good torque. He smashed Marcos’ glasses right into his face. Marcos was the head bouncer, and now, on his way down. All the other guys on our side had their hands full fighting somebody else. I was the only guy not busy, so it was up to me to deal with this bald, thick-necked side of beef. He looked up at me and narrowed his eyes. I was next. This was one hell of a first night as a bouncer. It was everything I feared, and soon, much more.
Before I go on, let me clarify that Marcos was not my buddy, Marko. That’s why they have different names. If I meant Marko, I would’ve spelled it that way. Marcos was the actual name of the head bouncer at Chelsea Street Pub, the place I had just been hired at, and was now balls-deep in shit at. Marko was probably back at the pad getting drunk. That’s where I would’ve rather been.
Marcos too, now that I think about it.
I didn’t even want the job. I was semi-employed at the time. It was winter and I was doing odd jobs for this temperamental Santa Fe artist. He had just built a huge studio honoring his grandiosity. The paintings were alright. I think they worked because they were so big. Paint anything big enough and it becomes art.
That’s okay, I guess. It’s American, that’s for sure. Big house, big paintings, big studio, big ego, big attitude. An emotional Central European, he would hug me and tell me he loved me like a brother one minute, then yell at me like I was a scrubwoman that knocked over a bucket of shit in his living room the next. I bit my tongue and took it because I needed his money. The small amount was keeping me alive, but what he made me eat to get it was upsetting my stomach.
I lived with my sister, Ina, and our friend Keller at the time, and was having trouble making the full rent. They were spotting me the short and not making a big deal about it, but I felt bad. When I saw the ad for doorman at this small, live music bar at the mall, I had Keller drive me to fill out an application. I didn’t think I would get the job, but I wanted to show them I was trying. On the application, I lied and said that I had worked as a hospital tech at a psych ward. I figured wrestling down enraged 5150’s would be considered good experience and qualify me for this entry-level bouncer job.
I figured right. That would have been good experience to have before starting a job as a bouncer. Except that I hadn’t actually done it. I came home one day from serving my genius overlord, and Keller told me Chelsea Street called saying I got the job. I sank a little. I really didn’t want to keep borrowing money from him and Ina, as they weren’t exactly swimming in it themselves, but being a bouncer seemed kind of gnarly. What if I got my ass kicked in front of a bunch of laughing people? What if I got really hurt? Or really killed?
I grabbed a beer to celebrate my good fortune, and take some of the edge off the terror that was pooling up in my solar plexus.
I wasn’t exactly new to fighting, as my lifestyle choices had assured enough encounters with other drunk angry males equally pissed-off about something. That shit happened and you dealt with it. That was different from coming in, punching a time clock, and waiting for it to come to you. That seemed a little extra asking for it. But then again, if getting into a fight was inevitable either way, why not make a little money in the meantime? Thank God for beer. Drink enough beer and everything becomes clear. My destiny was unfurling before me. I could tell the tortured artist to go fuck himself. I was going to kick ass for a living.
The next night Keller drove me and dropped me off. “Good luck,” he said. “Yeah,” I said back, ” It’s a place at the mall, how bad can it be?”
What an idiot. Chelsea St. was at that time, the premier club for bar brawling, much more so than up the road at Rodeo Nites. (Taking into account fight breakout frequency on a per capita, of course.) It didn’t quite rate a gladiator school, but wasn’t a day care either. People were getting hurt at Chelsea Street.
Parzival the Innocent had just wandered into the dragon’s playground.
They served beer in pitchers and that spelled trouble. I couldn’t see why. If I was going to drink a lot of beer, I was going to do it, regardless of the container it came in. Give me a shell with a hole drilled in it, and I will make your beer disappear. All of it.
Turns out, the pitcher for semi-normal people is dangerous, because they wind up drinking more, faster. Their judgement becomes impaired, inhibitions loosened, and whatever has been troubling their soul gets to find full expression in aggressive bad behavior. Hey, welcome to my world. At least we were all on familiar territory.
If I had realized just how at home I would become in this territory, I wouldn’t have been so scared going in. I walked through the bar and found the manager, Rodney, a buffed-out black dude. Far-out, I thought, it’s good to have a superman soul brother on the team. At least I knew who to hide behind if I cracked in fear. He introduced me to the three other guys working with me.
Marcos, was a tall hispanic guy, I immediately pegged as a Tae Kwon Do dude. There was Larry, a short and squat black guy, and an Indian biker named Alvin. He’s the ground fighter and that dude is the knife expert, I noted. Seems I was the token white guy in this superhero comic. Greetings gentleman, I hope you won’t judge my entire race by any cowardice you should witness me personally display. I haven’t been issued any superpowers yet, but I’ve been told that I’m a quick study.
Marcos lined out the job. Someone checked ID’s, someone else took the money, and the two other guys roamed around the place scanning for hot spots. Start charging cover at nine. If something happens don’t leave the door, unless the floor guys are getting killed. Don’t let the boss see you drinking. Make sure there’s no chairs in the aisle. If people leave they have to get back in the line, and don’t steal too much money from the door. He actually put it that way. Don’t let the boss see you drinking and don’t steal too much money from the door.
So far the rules made sense. He told me I would start by checking IDs and handed me a plastic flashlight.
“I’d rather use that one, ” I said, pointing to the steel, four battery Maglite he had through a ring around his belt.
“I bet,” he smiled, “The Beast stays with me,” and walked back towards the bar.
I gotta get me one of those. I want a Beast.
I took my post at the door and started checking IDs. I was a little uncomfortable. I could feel all the men in the place sizing me up. I’m sure many of them figured they could take me, and I’m sure many of them could. The trick was to not get to the point where they would try, and that was a mindfuck game. I was pretty comfortable with those. I wasn’t so sure how comfortable I was with getting a beer bottle across the teeth. That would take care of Mr. Mindfuck Magician.
Remember, you used to wrestle down psychotics at your last job, I reminded myself. You can handle this.
It was a busy night, and a few scuffles broke out, but Marcos and Alvin were able to handle them. Each time, I could feel my adrenal glands squeeze huge blobs of heart-attack gel into my system, and then stop. Some guy starts yelling at you because you won’t let his jailbait date slide through, and again the blobs start pumping. Is this going to escalate into a cage match to the death? Is it time to kill or be killed? No, they’re leaving. Chill out. Jesus. I was definitely on edge. The three quarts of beer I drank before coming in had long been evaporated by the stress.
“You look like you could use a beer,” I heard a voice say. I looked up and saw an unlikely angel in the form of a living dead girl, Anna. She was a waitresses bedecked in full death-worshipping punk fetishistic finery: Doc Martins, torn fishnets, arms covered with ghoul-themed tattoos and cutter scars, jeans ripped short above the knees, black Halloween hair sticking out hither and thither, and a pallor rivaling that of any funeral parlor’s showcased corpse. She applied her eye-liner with a switch blade and had live black widow spiders for earrings. She looked over her shoulder, then lowered a Heineken off her tray.
“Drink it in the bathroom.”
You have to know me to know. How much I needed a beer just then. How much I loved Heineken. How much having one delivered to me, in this hour of need, by such a mordantly sexy, punk rock Elvira, free of charge, meant to me. It gave me faith in an all-knowing and loving God.
I gave Larry the flashlight and ducked into the men’s room. It was crowded. The stall was being used. Fuck it. I tilted the bottle in front of everyone and drained it in three. “All righty, back to work,” I announced. I dropped the bottle in the trash and went back out.
There’s a point where it all doesn’t matter. The eviction notice, the search warrant, the bad job, the bad check-up, the lost car keys, the found keys to the lost car, the broken lock, the broken window, the broken heart. They all sort of blend together in a downward spiraling force that holds your head under the water, but after a single beer, shotgunned down as fast as humanly possible, you find the renewed strength to hang on and clog the drain just a little longer. My superpowers were renewed. I could handle this.
When I got back they gave me the money so Larry could take a break. Not too much, I told myself, as I started taking cover. I could feel my shoulders relax. Things are going to be okay.
Shortly after that little affirmation, the shit hit the fan. I’m not really sure how it started, but I looked up from giving a guy his change and saw Marcos get clobbered. Instantly, everybody was kung fu fighting. It was total fucking chaos and I couldn’t figure out who was who.
In the movies, the sword fighting guys go around the battlefield, slicing and sticking their enemies, left, right, up, down, off a horse, on a ladder. They seem to know right away who’s supposed to die, and who to save, even though everyone’s armor looks the same. In real life, it’s a tumble of entwined bodies, friend and foe rotating around a spindle. The punch you meant for some Pirate Pete biker winds up landing on your buddy’s nose. The leg you’re gnawing on turns out to be your own. Nobody’s sitting still for their Sears portrait.
“Sorry, bro, sorry!” you yell to your buddy, then try to land your next one better, and with extra sauce to make up for the fuck up. It’s a mess. You can’t over think things, just keep hitting. Your eyes dilated like a scared cat’s. Keep hitting. Everything strobing, fast and slow at the same time. Mother of God help me! “Keep hitting.” I am, Mother!
I wasn’t hitting yet. I was frozen, looking at El Toro stand over the collapsed tower of Marcos, his bald head glistening with sweat. When our eyes locked, I knew. This is it, old boy. Time to grow some spine. He started coming towards me and I started backing up. I reached for my novelty paper weight.
I’m not proud of this, but a few months before, through a mail-order catalogue, I had purchased some brass knuckles. The catalogue labeled them a “novelty paperweight” so they could legally sell them. They weren’t even brass, but some cheapo lead alloy that would close up on your fingers after you hit somebody hard, making them difficult to pull off and throw away before the cops showed up. But, I had yet to discover this fault. I reached into my pocket, put them on, and stopped backing up.
It was a dirty advantage, and like I said, I’m not proud of it. I had told myself that in war, the better armed prevails. This was war, and I really wanted to prevail.
As we closed in on each other, I remember seeing he had a Denver Bronco pony tattooed on his shoulder. He’s going to regret that someday. They won’t have Elway forever.
I buried that novelty paperweight in his gut, as hard and many times as possible, my arm pistoning a pneumatic underhand while my other arm squeezed his taurine skull. Fuck the Broncos. He was grabbing at my ears and trying to arch away from the blows, but I kept connecting. He fell and pulled me down over a table with him. The film kind of breaks after that. I can’t remember clearly what happened next.
All I can recollect is a kaleidoscope of images whirling around in no apparent sequence. Marcos waving The Beast over his head and bringing it down on somebody. Rodney dragging a kicking guy out the door. A wet cocktail napkin stuck to someone’s face. Somebody’s fingers over my eyes. A girl’s leather purse streaking by. A sneaker kicking me in the cheek. Alvin screaming. A mug of beer teetering on a table. And, punching-punching-punching. Very Eisenstein.
I do remember that my fortuitous catalogue purchase helped me scythe the field. I had the magic touch. Even my glancing shots were ringing bells. Bing. Ding. Dong! Howdy doody, Rudy. I was putting in a good day’s work. Something out there was keeping me on point, and these ersatz brass knuckles sure add zing to any favorite casserole dish. Next thing I knew it was over. Everyone we were fighting either ran off or were dragged away.
Okay, I understand this is a guy thing, but they will appreciate how fucking sweet moments like those are. You look around and realize, holy shit, we won. We prevailed. We met our enemies and smote their bitch asses! Tables and chairs get put back up, everybody grinning, checking out where we each got nailed. Puffy lips, swollen hands, perhaps a new tooth arrangement, but feeling joyous and triumphant.
The next best part was Anna bringing us a tray of shots from Rodney. I figured it was okay to let him see me drink mine, so I tossed it back. “Ahhhgaah-ha… heeeeze! Sweet nipples of Venus, that tastes good.” Warm glow. Looking around, loving the guys you fought alongside. Knowing they love you, too. Girls asking if you’re okay. The men in the bar acting friendlier. It’s nice.
After work, there were more free “shift drinks.” The entire bar staff sat around drinking and laughing as we retold our version of events, with very few matching up exactly. I don’t know if anybody saw me don the knucks, but nobody said anything. I don’t think they would’ve cared much. I made the team. Marcos was especially appreciative of the vengeance my upper-cuts had delivered to the minotaur. I made his cheap shot a little more expensive. Oh well, that’s just what I do… plant pain and reap sorrow. You know, destroy transgressors and righteously avenge.
Gotta make that rent.
Eventually it was time to go. Marcos told me to be at work the next night, 8:30 sharp. No problem.
I had a long walk up Cerrillos Rd. and it was bitter cold, but I felt really good. I felt like I finally found a job I could hold down, a profession to match my proclivities. I finally had a place in this world, somewhere a guy like me belonged. For the next thirteen years, off and on, I would work as a bouncer. I’d eventually find out that where I belonged was not that great. It was a stupid and brutal world, but for now it was bad ass. Perfect. Hopeful.
So I guess it’s good not to know the future. It’s better not to know what’s lying in wait. It’s better not to spend your life bracing for the sucker punches. They’re going to land regardless, and hurt just as much. You might as well take them standing up instead of curled up and cringing. It sure helps if you’re clueless. I was that night, and that made for a happy walk home. I remember that clearly.