Gut Check

Wake up. Spend ten minutes in bed quieting my mind. Start at my toes and move my way up, cataloging every single ache and pain along the way. Back muscles, near my belt line, are tighter than hell. Left latissimus dorsi, too. Fingers are a bit stiff. I take a huge breath and feel a slight pain in my sternum. That was from the headbutt. Face and head feel fine. I sit up as slowly as I can, taking another deep breath to anchor me in the now. My toes touch the cold wooden floor. Might as well get this over with, so I put both feet firmly on the icy floor of my bedroom. I stand and my body sounds like Rice Krispies on steroids. Snaps and crackles and pops coming from all points, loud as hell, too. I stand there, on the cold floor, running scenarios in my head. I normally wouldn’t go off on a fancy, but last night was a bad night. One of the worst nights we’ve had. 

One minute it was under control. We talked both sides down. We handed out drink tickets and told them to come back on the weekend. As we walked to the exit, I heard a crash. When I turned around, all I saw was Hetchy holding a dude over his head. At about six-five and weighing around three-thirty, he made it look effortless. Hetchy slammed dude on the ground and it was on. I didn’t remember too much. What I did recall came to me like a flip book of Polaroids—snapshots with little to no connective tissue. 

I remember shoving Hetchy before he stomped the dude, after already slamming him. Dude was not moving. I dragged him behind the bar. I felt a bottle whiz by my face. I cleared the bar only to catch a headbutt to the chest. All of my air left my body and I was lightheaded. The little Milli Vanilli looking dude who smashed my chest caught a knee then an elbow. I saw Lian going nuts on a giant dude with her maglite. Her face was emotionless, and she was beating this mass of a man like he was the world’s most stubborn nail. As soon as he collapsed, she stopped and went after another one. I was off balance. 

I didn’t have my radio. Lost it somewhere. We were on our own. The three of us: me, Hetchy, and Lian, versus God only knows. And as if things weren’t bad enough, some asshole threw up Vice Lord. Gang shit? Goddamit. As soon as this punk threw up Vice Lord, shit got worse. It was no longer drunk dudes going at each other. No longer fragile male ego and bullshit masculine posturing, bumping into each other like bull elks on the Nature Channel. This was turf and reputation and loss of face. A brawl, a bad one, but still only a brawl. Now fools were trying to kill each other. I was still off balance. Something that rarely happened to me. I couldn’t get my bearings. Did I get hit, other than the headbutt? Was I, God forbid, afraid?

We were buried. The three of us linked up and tried to form a wall between the warring parties. Some distant part of my mind repeatedly wondered if this other group of folks were Gangster Disciples. Vice Lords and GDs were mortal enemies. If this were the case, we might have to shut the club down for a few days to let it all blow over and away from us. I finally became aware. Fully aware. I became more focused on getting my people out of there than fighting these idiots. From a distance, I heard Kyle’s whistle. Loud and sharp. 

Kyle was one of the best bouncers I’ve seen or worked with. He had that white boy charm, more southern gentleman than Eddie Haskell. He had hands, and could throw with anyone. And he was absolutely fearless. His whistle was closer and I felt the rapid triple shoulder tap that let me know that one of the squad had joined us. All I saw were Kyle’s tattooed arms snatch fools and toss then around. He gave us some much needed breathing room. 

Blinding hi-beams. I saw three cops, flashlights on us, guns drawn approach. Thank the lord it was our regulars. Derik, one of the managers, whispered to them and slid them each a little knot of money. Couldn’t have the news of this fight escape the club and endanger the liquor license. I never faulted the cops who made extra-vocational money. Shit was rough. Money eased it. Couldn’t imagine a worse job. 

We identified the shit-stirrers and the cops took them away. We then basked in the glow of Derik complimenting us on how we held it down and handled our business. I was disgusted. I was shift-lead and this happened when I was supposed to be in charge. Not good. No one blamed me. Not a bit. But I couldn’t let it go. It was my job to make sure that stuff like this never jumped off. If it did, it was meant to be smothered as soon as possible. I was in charge of two entities: customers and profits. A fight breaks out, folks get scared. Folks get scared, they don’t buy drinks. They don’t buy drinks, the club loses money, waitresses get no tips, bartenders get no tips, and the waitresses and bartenders don’t tip out the bar backs. Not to mention the shadow economies of drugs and prostitution are also affected. Major disturbances in the club disrupt and entire financial ecosystem. 

I reflected on all this as I flexed my swollen hands. My knuckles were puffy and tender and felt separate from the rest of me, like they were on loan from someone who didn’t care whether or not they would ever use their hands for anything delicate or loving. I forced myself to make fists and shifted into my fighting stance. As per usual, I shadowboxed for fifteen minutes, forcing myself to feel every part of my body in use. I then went through my vocal exercises. Projecting my voice, whispering, modulating it. A bouncer’s primary tool is their voice. Well, their voice coupled with a quick wit, friendly demeanor, and humor. Most potentially violent or otherwise disruptive situations could be nipped if your mouthpiece was strong enough. 

I practiced jokes and commands to stop. I said the names of all the club regulars I knew, putting a different twist on each of them. When my body and voice felt optimum, I hopped in the shower. It had to be run for two to three minutes to get warm, but I didn’t care. I stepped under the icy torrent and felt my breath catch and my heart speed up. Maybe I was punishing myself for letting things go pear-shaped the night before. I ate the cold. I deserved the cold. I vowed that the previous night would be the last night like that. It didn’t matter if I were shift-lead or not. A fight that big meant a loss of control, a loss of control negatively impacted people’s wallets and purses. We all had to eat.

Shower done I haphazardly dried myself and stared at the clock. Eight hours until the start of my shift. I ate a few bowls of Apple Jacks and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That’s what passed for groceries in my house. I read almost the entirety of Harry Harrison’s A Stainless Steel Ratis born. I dialed my ex and hung up on her several times. Had to resist the booty call urge. Pretty sure she knew it was me. As the sun went down, I felt more awake, aware, and alive.

After knocking out a hundred push-ups, I got dressed. Black pants, black short-sleeved button-up, black blazer, black Dr. Martens. The only splash of color was my purple paisley socks. I breathed into myself and tried to shake the feeling of failure. Tonight will be a good night. I repeated this over and over. Everyone will be safe. Everyone will make money. Everyone go home happy. As I exited, I looked indifferently back into my apartment. My stuff was in there, but it was just a box with windows, In about ninety-minutes, I would be in the only home that truly mattered to me. And I wouldn’t let a one of them down.