It was a stupid world, and I belonged there. Hookers, hit-men, strippers, drug pushers, and porn actors, all have jobs that imply a certain amount of personal baggage. Being a bouncer kind of implies that something is not right upstairs. No Jewish mother ever proudly announced “This is my son, Morris. He’s a bouncer!” We never had bouncers come to our Career Day in Junior High. I’ve never seen one Grand Marshal a parade.
I loved it. Drinking on the job, while not encouraged, wasn’t enough alone to get you fired. Fighting on the job, while not encouraged, wasn’t enough alone to get you fired. Leaving your post to grind it out with some tramp in the back seat of her car, while not encouraged…
The bartender, Theresa whistled for me. I looked over and she pointed to him. He had his shirt off and was obviously drunk. He was dancing…by himself. Just flexing and grinding like a Chippendale’s whore, and blocking the waitress aisle to boot.
I tried to size him up as I walked over. He seemed to be pretty proud of his physique, and not to sound homo (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but he actually had pretty good reason to be. He was rip shredded, and in the way that made my gut sink a little with dread. After bouncing for a while, you could get a pretty good read about what you were up against by the kind of muscles you were encountering.
These were definitely not gym muscles, which are the least scary, and not the kind from convict calisthenics, which are the most scary, but these were scary enough. These were the kind that came from a lifetime of hard work. Thick ropes and cables stretching every which way. I worked construction with guys like this. Mexican nationals who would run wheelbarrows of wet concrete up a narrow plank ramp, then pour the mud down into the cinder block walls. 130 lbs. soaking wet, and they could pull your head right off your neck.
Man, I hope this doesn’t go wide, I thought. This could be bad.
This was at a place called “Alley Oops.” It was in the basement club of some Ramada or Vagabond motel, I can’t remember which. I started there when they opened as a cornball, 50’s-themed, fun-time family bar or some such bullshit. The waitresses were supposed to wear cheerleader outfits, and the DJ had to wear a jail costume while sitting in his behind-bars DJ cage. Signifying what? “Jailhouse rock, of course.”
What a stretch. What a totally stupid idea. The whole thing.
During my interview for the position they explained what they had envisioned. A fun, happy place for tired travellers to come to and unwind. A place to have some wholesome enjoyment while sipping on a cocktail or beer. This was all the motel manager’s vision. The D.J. could only play music from the 50’s, 60’s, and only up to a certain date in the 70’s. Greg, the DJ, told me later that it was the day this guy’s wife died. I guess that was the day the music died for him. Sad when you think about it. Also kind of a strange thing to enforce as policy. Whatever.
I had just come from working at Chelsea St. Pub, so I figured I was a shoe-in. I also came highly-recommended by my friend Doug, who was going to be one of the bartenders. I have to write some stuff about Doug, someday. He was the first friend I made when I moved to Santa Fe. There’s a lot to write about Doug, and our adventures. I could pad out a lot of blog entries with those stories. Okay, sorry, just thinking out loud.
Anyway, I knew the stupid malt shop motif wouldn’t fly. Not here in the South Side. We were going to get a rough crowd, including a lot of people 86’d from Chelsea St. and Rodeo Nites, and those scumbags were going to be too busy scoring 8-balls to participate in any twist contest. No tourist traveler from the motel upstairs was going to venture down into this den of iniquity. Eventually the 50’s bullshit would fade out, and the club would turn into something entirely different than what this heartbroken widower had hoped for.
That’s what I thought as they were showing me around. And I was so fucking right. Because it has been so rare in my life, I can remember every time that I was. This was one of them. Called this bitch from front door to back.
First, Greg stopped wearing the jail house costume, then he started sneaking in modern tune-age. The waitresses stopped dressing like cheerleaders, and the whole concept just died off. The type of clientele we were getting convinced the manager that his idea was untenable, especially with obstinate employees, unwilling to fully participate. He finally let it drop, and Alley Oops became the fucked up place it was meant to be, the premiere club to score coke and a floozy, and maybe participate in a racially-motivated fist fight.
The only remnant of his stupid policy that remained was that on week-ends, the bouncers had to wear tuxedo shirts, with bow ties and cumber buns. I didn’t like that. It’s hard to look intimidating in a frilly shirt. Every week-end somebody would “forget’ his shirt, and be made to either borrow one or go home to get it. The manager was going to hold his ground here. Lucky us.
We felt stupid wearing them, but took pains to demonstrate to the crowd we still meant business. At any new club, or new position, as a bouncer, you have to give the crowd a little demonstration of your abilities, just to make everybody think twice. Not everyone has to see you wipe the floor with some drunk, because those that do, will tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends.
But until you did, other guys would wonder if you were just a poseur bitch…and not the good kind, either. I watched as the other bouncers took their turns. Some of it was pretty funny. This chubby Indian kid, Alvin, squared off on some guy, in a karate stance. I cringed. No, please don’t go strip mall Tae Kwan Do. He did. He tried to throw one of those Billy Jack spinning wheel kicks, slipped on a cocktail napkin, and landed on his ample ass.
Me and another bouncer grabbed the other guy, dragged him up the stairs, then dumped him in the parking lot. Alvin’s face stayed red all night. It wasn’t the most impressive debut. That fancy karate kick shit gets guys into more trouble than it helps. Someone like Ron knew that.
Ron was a pork-bellied Hispanic dude who did a few tours in ‘Nam. He sort of looked like Wolfman Jack or Sam the Sham. You wouldn’t think he was much of a fighter. I sure didn’t. Then I watched him put in some work, and was totally impressed. His fighting style was minimalist. He did this thing where he just shot out an open hand deep into the guy’s solar plexus. A quick, sharp stab. that would send the poor fucker over a table and into a sea of broken glass and booze.
I had never seen this before. He explained that using a closed fist against someone’s head was just asking to break the small bones in your hand. That is totally true.
I would watch him approach some out-of-control drunk, and just wait. When was the belly-bopper going to strike? It was so quick, and because he would just stand there, and not telegraph it with any body English, it was hard to see it coming. Even when you were waiting for it.
He was also a very dirty fighter. He told me he kept his nails long just for ground fighting. On the floor, under the cover of a cocktail table or somebody else’s body, he could fight like a girl, and win. I tsk-tsked this. I’d slip on a pair of knuckles or use a Maglite or push a salt shaker up someone’s nose, but clawing somebody with my nails didn’t seem very lady-like. –Spoiler alert, irony to this bit of snotty superiority coming up very soon in our tale.
I straightened my cumber bun and walked up to the bumping and grinding construction laborer. “Hey man,” I said conspiratorially out of the side of my mouth,” You may want to put on your shirt before management sees you. I don’t want them to be dicks and ask you to leave. You are a fantastic dancer by the way.”
In personal life, I would have instantly been salting his sinuses. He kind of burned me there. But, I was working, and had to do this little routine, which involved not throwing the first punch. Professional restraint.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I think I’m going to need to ask you to leave now.”
This was always an awkward moment. My first task was to get him out of the club without any fracas, at all. I have to somehow convince, cajole, or connive him to comply, while watching for any sucker punch he might decide to throw. I have to remain polite and professional, when I really want…to sucker punch him, right now, in front of all these legal witnesses.
Just then Big Ron showed up and stood next to him. I must admit, I was glad to see him and his dirty-fighting manicured nails.
“Let’s go,” he says. The dude looks at Ron and decides to comply. See? That’s command presence. I didn’t have that.
We walked him through the crowd and then up the stairs. This is what really sucked about working at Alley Oops, having to throw people out, by throwing them up the stairs. This guy seemed to be resigned to leave quietly. He walked all the way up the stairs, but when he got to the top, he spun around and threw a rear kick at me. What was up with people and their Karatay kicks in this club? I backed away from the first one. Then he tried a second one and I ducked that. Fucker was trying to kick me down a whole flight of stairs!
Ron jumped on him, then I joined, and we all landed on the lobby’s tile floor together. That’s when I realized what we were up against. This guy was strong. Really strong. The two of us could hardly contain him. It was like trying to hold down a PCP overdose. Let’s just say, he didn’t just limit his crazy gyrating to the dance floor.
Ron managed to get him in a head lock, but it was up to me to punish him into submission. I tried my best. First, the old-fashioned way, with punches and kicks, but they were having absolutely no effect. None that I could discern. It was all Ron could do to keep him in a headlock. It was like he was trying to wrangle a steer down. He could not choke him out.
At this point, a crowd had gathered around us. I was getting a little frantic, seeing all my best blows do nothing. Who was this guy? Was this all coke and construction work, or some kind of demonic entity that shacked up in brick worker’s body?
This has gone on for too long, I thought, it was time for the monkey to steal a peach.
When I was 14 years-old, I had ordered from the back of a martial arts magazine, a book called “World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets.” It was supposed to explaining how to destroy your enemy with a simple tap here or there on the body, using Dim Mak; The Poison Hand Technique. It was some sort of ancient Chinese secret, huh, that was rumored to have been used to kill Bruce Lee.
Hell yes, I wanted to learn that. I got my mom to write a check for $5.50. I mailed it off and hoped it wasn’t going to be as bad a disappointment as the X-ray Specs.
What I got was a cheaply printed pamphlet by a certain “Count Dante.” He was, dig this, a beauty salon stylist, as well as a martial arts expert and master of the Poison Hand. They had a photo of him with his hands gently showcasing some 60’s chick’s hairdo. The caption read something like, “Hard to believe hands that could create such beauty could kill.” Yeah, pretty hard to believe, alright. He looked like Wolfman Jack, or Sam the Sham.
There were drawings with all sorts of supposedly lethal accupressure points on the body, and a time table for what time of the day or night to press on them in order to get the desired deadly effect. Forget it, I thought, I could just see me rolling around on the ground with some dude, trying to look through the charts while checking my watch. I got X-ray specked.
But in the back of the book, he had some pictorial instructions for another kind of fighting. It had lots of gouging, and scratching and biting. Really unsportsmanlike conduct. It upset my 14-year-old sensibilities. I still believed fighting should be how it was in the movies. I decided not to adopt Count Dante’s system, but I did manage to remember one technique, because the name cracked me up.
It required grabbing your opponent by the scrotum, giving it a full clock-wise twist, and then a thought-provoking yank. It was called, “Monkey Steals a Peach.”
Somehow, something (maybe the demon that had shacked up in me) reminded me of this move. Oh my God, I haven’t thought about Count Dante and his lethal hair styling hands for years! What was up with the medallion-turtleneck combo he was wearing? Okay, fuck that for now, you need to steal yourself a peach.
If my right arm and right leg weren’t so tired from punching and kicking, I wouldn’t have done it, but this guy’s amazing strength and ability to absorb punishment left me no choice. I grabbed and twisted, but left out the yank. I didn’t need to. You could see the fight drain from his face.
He called me a bad word, but then started to weaken. That’s all Ron needed. He flipped the guy over and proceeded with giving him, what remains to this day, the most brutal smackdown I have ever witnessed. I’ll spare the details. It was human ugliness at it’s worst. Worse than anything in the movies. I still wince a little thinking about it.
Anyway, Ron stopped punching when the dude stopped moving. I thought he killed him. Oh boy.
I was relieved to see that he was still breathing. The police and an ambulance were on their way. I remember Ron and I standing over this unconscious guy, his blood splattered all over our white tuxedo shirts, I looked up and saw some tourists who were checking in. They were staring at us, completely freaked out. I tried to reassure them.
“Hello,” I said, “Welcome to The Vagabond. We hope you enjoy your stay.” Yeah, come downstairs and listen some oldies music.
Cops and paramedics came. The ambulance took away our Chippendale’s dancer, and Ron and I took turns answering the cop’s questions. It was those two first kicks he threw at me, that sealed the deal for them, and they let us go. I went downstairs, and had Doug slip me a shot. I drank it in the back room. I was shaking.
I still don’t know how bad we hurt the guy, but the image of him lying on the floor with his pants twisted up around his knees still haunts me a little.
Wow. That was pretty fucked up. I regret the whole thing now. I know I should have handled it differently, but I was just winging it, and to be honest, pretty scared. All he had to do was put his shirt back on. Not trying to kick me down a flight of stairs would have also been helpful. Oh well.
He really was a strong dude, and as tough as they came. I have to take my hat off to him. I hope that giving him the title of The Toughest Guy I Ever Fought With The Help of Another Guy is at least making some sort of amends. And he really was a good dancer.