Sidewalk stories – Episode 1

A young and relatively well-dressed couple was wandering down the sidewalk towards me as I was standing outside checking IDs. It was pretty early on a Friday evening, about 8pm or so. Not usually the time for the nonsense I was about to witness. I noticed the woman seemed to be looking for something, and I assumed that she was looking for the bus times on the bus stop kiosk next to her. But then she backed up against the kiosk and began pulling down her pants. She was looking for a place to urinate.

Mind you, this was not some dark obscure nook unseen by others. There was absolutely zero privacy here. In fact, I couldn’t think of a more public and inappropriate spot for her to attempt this. There were numerous pedestrians walking to and fro on the sidewalk, and I was standing outside the front door very visible to everyone as the door guy. Not only was there regular vehicular traffic just feet away from her, but it was a bus stop. The MAX had just pulled up and opened up it’s doors, so there were people boarding and offloading. Homeless people were wandering all around, and I had a small line in front of me waiting for me to process them inside. People on scooters, bicycles, and skateboards were zooming past her, and there was a street musician playing his violin just in front of me. The panoply of the downtown nightlife moved all around her.

I couldn’t believe what I was watching, so I shined my flashlight on her. I wanted her and her fella to know that at least I could see them. Her boyfriend was standing next to her helping stabilize her as she tried this public urination maneuver. They both noticed my light on them and showed the bare minimum of surprise, but not embarrassment. She did abandon her attempt to pee right there. As she attempted to walk, her boyfriend stabilized her with one hand and kept video chatting with his buddy on his phone in the other hand. She was as drunk as an underage sorority girl during pledge week. She could barely walk at all. I was stunned that she didn’t fall down and break her heels. In fact, she had the gait of a show pony that had suffered a brain injury and then drank cheap whisky. Clop, clop.

As I expected, they walked right over to me and pulled out their drivers licenses, expecting me to let them into the venue. I stifled my laugh and told them, “I’m not letting you two in here tonight.”
The boyfriend looked honestly confused by my statement and asked me why.
“Well…because she just tried to pee over there, and she’s so drunk she can barely walk.”
The woman moved in very close to me, put her hands on her hips, and said loudly and defiantly, “BUT DID I PEE, THOUGH?!?! DID I PEE?”

I shook my head and dismissed them saying, “You two have a good night.” I resumed checking the IDs of the sober people who were waiting for me. People who knew how to pee in a bathroom, I imagine.  Do you really think that after showing such terrible decision making, and stumbling over drunk, that I would just let you in to my place of employment? Keeping out people like this is literally why I am here. The drunk woman walked about 20 feet away from me, proceeded to pull down her pants, and sure enough peed right there on the bricks in front of everybody.

A homeless man on a bicycle was stopped right in front of her and dropped some metal case that made a loud noise. This effectively drew even more attention to this grown woman squatted down peeing in the doorway of a business. Anybody who wasn’t already watching her was watching her now. I assumed that the case he dropped was his rig, full of whatever needles, pipes, and paraphernalia he uses to get high. He took a very long time picking up everything that fell out of this book-sized metal tin. I don’t think he even registered the woman peeing two feet in front of him. The harsh light from the streetlight hit the urine at just the correct angle to make the stream glitter on the bricks like liquid mercury. A quicksilver rivulet. Her urine trickled all the way across the sidewalk bricks, going directly under the bicycle and the homeless man. I wondered if the urine got his rig wet, and if he cared.

If I had reason to, I could access the video footage from the security camera outside the door to watch her pee all over again, but I’ve got work to do.

The couple crossed the street and went somewhere in the night to continue their date, hand in hand, romance and weed in the air. The violinist who set up across the sidewalk from me was playing the underwater theme from Super Mario Bros. This waltz made a surreal, yet perfect, soundtrack to this asinine nonsense happening on our sidewalk. He gave me a wink across his violin, as this is a memory that only he and I will share.

Collider Accelerator

Tonight I was driving home after a long night’s work thinking over all the choices that people made, as well as the choices that I made about how to handle them. I was listening to the Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I-IV, which is an instrumental album of dark ambient moody work from Trent Reznor. It’s great atmospheric late-night music for writing or driving. It makes driving home through the Portland cityscape feel even more like a movie than it already does.

On this particular night, around 2am, I was lost in thought driving down a major street called Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. This is a 4-lane major artery that connects North and NE Portland with SE Portland and Milwaukie. It’s a one way street at the section I was traveling. Up ahead a few blocks, I noticed a car pull out into the street against the flow of traffic and start driving towards me, going the wrong way up a one-way street. Portland is full of one-way streets and some people find this confusing and frustrating. A car turning up a one-way street the wrong way is so common that it doesn’t really register much surprise on my end. Usually they notice the error and self-correct with a wave of embarrassment.

This particular car didn’t immediately self-correct, so I did what I always do when this happens at night. I started turning my headlights from regular to high-beam. Their headlights continued towards me and the other cars all traveling south on the street. But they were in my lane, so their lights and their car were aimed directly at me. I then started turning my headlights off and on and switching from high-beams to regular lights, which can appear like a police or emergency vehicle. It’s definitely attention-getting and impossible to miss. Still no response from the wrong-way driver. So now I continue to flash my headlights and start laying on my horn. Continuously, not short spurts of horn. The car continues to drive right at me.

At this point I was almost laughing to myself at how this driver could possibly continue to not notice that they were driving the wrong way up a one-way street. First off, there are no street signs or street lights that are visible to them. They can’t see anything from a street sign to a stop sign to a speed limit sign, because all they see is the silver backs of the signs without any words or symbols on them. Huh, that’s strange. Then, what about how all of the parked cars on both sides of the street aimed right at them? That’s another dead giveaway that the flow of traffic is towards you, and that you are not going the right way. And then there’s the ultimate kicker, the fact that there are cars in every lane driving straight at you. And they are flashing their lights and honking their horns at you. I think even the newest, most inexperienced driver would pick up on that super clue. I started to think that this car was empty, like Christine in the Stephen King movie.

At this point I figured out that whether this was a driver-less car, or the driver was fast asleep, they weren’t going to stop. We were going to have a head-on collision car wreck. I didn’t have any experience of my life flashing before my eyes, but I did think something like, “Oh hell no, this motherfucker is really going to hit me!” There were parked cars to the left of me and another vehicle driving to my right, so I had nowhere to go for evasive maneuvers without causing an accident or involving a third innocent driver. So I smashed on my brakes and tried turning to the right as much as I could without hitting the other truck driving right next to me.

The car smashed into me and my truck stopped moving instantly. Their car somehow kept driving off to my left. Amazingly, my airbag did not deploy and my windshield did not shatter. But my truck was stopped dead as if I hit a brick wall. Looking behind me I saw my wheel rolling down the street behind the car that hit me, as if it were giving chase to the other vehicle. My truck tire had been dismembered. Somehow we hit each other at just the right angle to avoid both cars colliding and suffering impact injuries. My front end was all crumpled up, headlight smashed out, and my front axle broken. My front driver’s tire was perfectly removed from my truck and was rolling down the street.

I bolted into action and jumped out of my truck to give chase to both the other driver and my tire. I had the composure to turn my hazard lights on before exiting my truck, just in case somebody didn’t see my destroyed and abandoned truck in the middle of the road. I considered that this might now be a hit and run accident since they definitely aren’t stopping. Leaving the scene of a crime is bullshit. I pulled out my smartphone while running and began taking photos of the car to at least get the license plate. I must have looked like a crazy person.

As my tire finally started circling to a stop, it made me think of how a quarter will spin around on it’s wide edge faster and faster until it finally lays flat. I looked down and saw something quite strange on the ground behind my truck carcass. There was what appeared to be organic goo all over the ground and the tire, as well as some small limb-like thing laying on the concrete. It wasn’t red like blood though, it was light tan and splotchy. That could be an alien arm or some body-horror object from a David Cronenberg film. Did we somehow also hit and kill a small animal when we collided? Am I hallucinating? Did I actually hit my head during the impact?
Note to self: check that gory-looking business out later after I chase down this car.

I keep running after this vehicle yelling at it to stop and taking blurry photos of the rear end of it when it slows down and turns off on a side road. It pulls over and stops and I run around to the driver’s side. I found a young blonde white girl sitting at the wheel looking scattered and rattled. She rolled down her window almost like I was a cop about to ask her if she knew how fast she was going. But what I wanted to say was, “HOW THE HELL DID YOU NOT SEE ANY OF US BACK THERE AND WHY DID YOU DRIVE INTO ME?!?!” Instead, always the helper, I asked her if she was ok.

My Dad was an insurance agent for decades before he retired, so I was well-versed in what to do when you get in a car wreck. He was an insurance agent from the 60s through the 90s, when you actually knew your agent and went into their office regularly to talk about coverage and plans. I worked in his office as a teenager answering phones and such, so I would see people come in to chat with him all day long. It felt like social hour at his insurance office. It’s too bad he couldn’t serve drinks, because it seemed that casual and fun. All these people who just seemed like good friends coming in and shooting the bull for a while before signing some new coverage paperwork on their way out. Your insurance agent was your friend that you saw a few times a year and was on your Christmas card list. It’s a far cry from today where your insurance agent is just a computer app and you never talk to anyone in person. You just pay your premium online to Geico or Progressive or Allstate and hope you don’t get in an accident.

So my Dad’s voice was in my head saying, “Never admit fault. Never admit fault. Never admit fault.” The first thing the young lady said was, “I’m so sorry, that was all my fault. That was my bad.” And I wanted to answer her, “Well no shit it was.” It’s hard to argue culpability when you were going the wrong way up a one-way street. This accident was 110% percent her fault.

After assessing that she didn’t need any medical attention I called the police. I took a bunch of non-blurry, non-running-man photos of her car and license plates. I then spoke with the young woman and we got out our drivers licenses and insurance information. I was afraid she was going to be an uninsured driver, but sure enough she had coverage under her parent’s insurance. The car was also registered to her Dad and not her. She was freshly 21 and didn’t even appear drunk to me. We took photos on our smart phones of each other’s information, which also was a new thing for me. Technology has changed a lot since I was last in an accident. I haven’t been in a vehicular accident since 1988, a fact that I was very proud of. I’m a very cautious and defensive driver. I’ve avoided dozens of accidents over the years, I just couldn’t avoid this one.

She had absolutely no explanation for how she didn’t see me. No reason for driving up a one-way street the wrong way into oncoming traffic, missing all the situational cues, ignoring the flashing lights and honking, and crashing head-on into me. The police arrived and assessed her, and she was not intoxicated. She just…..fucked up. My theory is that she was looking down at her phone and messaging somebody while driving. It’s gotta be that. I bet she had the stereo up loud so she didn’t hear any honking, and she was in some deep flirty texting conversation or video chat on her phone while she drove. I wanted to classify her as a Millennial, I really did. But based on her age at the time, she was technically a Generation Y. Weeks later she tried adding me as a friend on Facebook. I declined her request.

So after the police cleared us to leave, I walked back to my truck and examined the Area 51 alien leg goo I noticed on my car chase sprint. My adrenaline and imagination got the best of me. It was discolored axle fluid from the broken axle. The little limb that I thought was that of an animal or an alien was part of the axle and wheel attachment. Since my truck had over 330,000 miles on it, the axle fluid was perhaps discolored and created the light tan splotchy goo that was everywhere. It was sticky and thick, like putrified salt water taffy. This whole tableau did have the somber feel of a crime scene carnage to it. I picked up my dismembered tire like I would the body of a deer hit by a truck, and placed it gently in the back of my 4Runner. I also grabbed the axle pieces and laid them on top of the tire like bones on a funeral pyre.

I heard a voice call out to me. It was somebody who said that he heard the incredible crashing noise from upstairs in his apartment. He said he would be happy to be a witness since that was clearly the other driver’s fault. This guy looked familiar and I asked his name. Turns out I knew him as an acquaintance from the bands he had played with here in Portland. Of course we would know each other. Portland is the smallest big city I’ve ever lived in.

I called Triple A and waited for my tow truck to arrive. I sat on the curb under the hyper-bright street lights and watched traffic go by. My wife was out of town with the kids so there was no way I was going to call her or text her about this. But my house was going to be empty except for the dogs. Also, it was Mother’s Day today. I’m certainly not going to text or email my parents about this until it is a reasonable hour. People worry.

The tow truck got me home at about 5am and I was still amped up from the adrenaline rush of being in a car accident. I loved on my dogs and sat out on my back deck, thankful that the accident didn’t injure either of us. As the sun started to come up I went to bed and finally slept.

The aftermath of this was that both vehicles were totaled. My truck was a 1999 Toyota 4Runner. Those things do run forever and it had treated me well. But mine had 330,000 miles on it, and it would cost more than the value of the truck to replace the front end, front axle, and wheel. So it was written off as totaled, as was her little white sedan. Since it was her fault and her parents had good insurance, I was able to get a new (to me) vehicle out of the deal. I got a check for the high-end Blue Book value of the truck and purchased a 2007 Nissan Xterra with low mileage on it. I also had her pay for a rental car for a month while I searched for a new car. And I got about 8 months of chiropractic treatments as well.

I drive past the site of this collision every night coming home from my jobs. It’s a nightly reminder of how any moment can potentially change or end everything. If we had each been driving just a bit faster, that collision would have been far more damaging. Driving takes 100% focus and concentration, and I get angry when I see people looking down at their phones while operating a vehicle.

So after all my worrying about the perils of my job getting me like tweakers, zombie girl, stray bullets, crazy drunk fighters, or angry homeless dirt wizards, it was a young woman texting while driving the wrong way that finally took me out. I hope that she got a good Tinder date out of it all.

Roundhouse

While working a big dance party event, I noticed some people in the back of the room having an intense conversation. It was one man having a really emotional talk with a woman who was probably his girlfriend. They were sitting down near the back of the venue with another woman that seemed like the first woman’s best friend.

It was near the end of the night and I was just wandering around the dance floor ‘floating.’ That is when you’re not posted at a checkpoint so you are available to respond to any radio calls or incidents. You usually check on things like water stations and offer breaks to coworkers. You are also available for patrons having concerns or medical issues, cutting off people who have had too much to drink, breaking up fights, escorting people out, etc.
I think of it as being a roving problem-solver.

So my eyes were drawn to this group in the back due to the guy’s intensity and body language. The woman was gesticulating with her hands and speaking to him firmly.  There was certainly some drama happening between these people. The guy was grabbing the young woman around the back of her head to stress whatever point he was making. She wasn’t pulling away or recoiling, so this must just be the physical way that they communicate, especially when out drinking. The guy would even put both hands around her head and speak very seriously to her. Something about his mannerisms and intensity made me pay attention to their interactions. It easily could have been her dumping him and him begging her for one more chance. I never understand why people choose to have the big emotional fight in public. Oh wait, alcohol and insecurity, that’s right.

The man was generic with a capital G. He was white, wearing a plaid flannel shirt and blue jeans, probably in his thirties, and had a bald head. Not bald like he lost his hair early, but bald because he noticed his hair thinning and just gave up the ghost and shaved it down. A good comparison would be the tough guy actor Jason Statham, but shorter and nowhere near as handsome. He honestly looked like every other white dude in Portland. The young ladies were both tiny and wore tight jeans and button up shirts. They both had straight black hair in a similar style. From a distance they could actually pass for sisters.

Suddenly this guy stands up and storms away from the women. He even put his hands up on his head like he had a headache, or was anguished. As one of my friends would say, “Brother was distraught!”  He makes a bee-line for me. I don’t think he had seen me prior, but perhaps he did and didn’t like me eye-balling him or his girl. Or maybe I was just the nearest male staff to him. Whatever the reason, this drama-king wanna-be tough guy tries to roundhouse kick me.

People like Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee are famous for roundhouse kicks in movies. But this dude was neither. In fact, his roundhouse kick was barely executed in an identifiable manner. Alcohol had definitely taken away his balance and ability to connect his strike. It was the slowest, weakest roundhouse kick I’ve ever seen. It was as if he was kicking at me in slow motion, and only got up to my hip level. Most roundhouse kicks aim for the face. He would have kicked my upper thigh, had he succeeded. I’ve seen nerdy 8-year-olds deliver a better roundhouse kick in martial arts class.

Without even thinking, I automatically swatted his leg away and he spun away from me. I felt like I was pushing down a large over-friendly dog that keeps jumping up on me. He recovered from this foiled kick attack that he thought he would lay me out with. I don’t know anything about this guy. Maybe in his (sober) real-life he is a martial arts instructor. Maybe he is a complete badass during the day. But right now, overcome with emotion and alcohol, he was about as threatening to me as an angry child. He needed to go take a nap.

I believe I stifled laughter and said, “The fuck is wrong with you?”
I didn’t even really consider this an assault since it was so laughable and he didn’t even connect with me or hurt me at all. In hindsight, I should have called an emergency code over the radio right there. But I was kind of in shock at the stupidity of this whole nonsense situation.

I put out my hand and made the gesture that means, “Come over here.”  You’ve seen a dozen action stars make this gesture. Most famously would probably be Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves during their kung fu sparring session in THE MATRIX, which is an homage to Bruce Lee, who did this decades prior. I’m not sure exactly why I did this to the guy. Maybe I honestly wanted him to come talk to me so I could tell him I was kicking him out. Or maybe I wanted him to try to roundhouse kick me again so I could take him down. I don’t really know. But he probably saw it as a challenge, like I was ready to take him down on the dance floor in front of his girl and everybody.

Suddenly the two young women were right in front of me making a human barrier between me and this guy. The screened him out and were probably afraid I was about to annihilate him. They were apologizing for him and saying they didn’t know why he did that, and that he never acts this way.  With the young ladies right in front of me I got a much better look at them. They were what I would call ‘club girls.’ They were made up like models to grab the attention of every male in the party. Heavy black eyeliner that would make Siouxsie Sioux proud. Eyelashes so long they almost got tangled in my beard as they talked to me. I suspected that they applied habanero oil lip gloss along with some collagen injections to make their lips all huge and swollen like that. I won’t even comment on how their cleavage was pushed up and out of their shirts, because that doesn’t really do anything to further the story.

The failed roundhouse master wisely decided not to attack me again, and stormed off towards the exit downstairs, leaving the two women there with me. I think he figured I was a super confident kung fu bouncer after I so deftly deflected his Chuck Norris-quality roundhouse kick. I quickly made a radio call that meant “Escalating situation” and gave the location and description of the guy and which way he was headed. I then asked the one that was probably his girlfriend, “Are YOU all right?” I didn’t like the way he was grabbing her during their conversation and wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he was an abuser of women. I thought also that she seemed well-practiced in how to intervene and cover for him. She’s probably seen him pull this drunken tough guy routine many times before. And sadly, she’s probably the one who’s going to pay for all this later. He’ll find a way to blame her for his outburst by saying she was ignoring him or flirting with other men. And then maybe he’ll slap her around in the privacy of their apartment before apologizing and crying and begging her not to leave him.

I told both of them that he would not be welcome here again, and asked if they wanted me to secure a ride home for them. I was assuming that he would be out of the venue soon and they should definitely not go anywhere else with him. I was implying that whatever their relationship was, perhaps it should end tonight and they should go their separate ways. But, of course, they were concerned about his well-being and chased after him around the corner.

I was following to see if there would be any further drama, and kick that asshole out finally, when I heard another radio call about a violent situation. I rounded the corner and saw the two young ladies trying to restrain the man at the top of the stairs. Then they all three ran down the stairs and out the front door. I followed in case he turned on them, and I was ready to put his ass on the concrete if he did. The part that I missed was that when angry guy rounded the corner to go downstairs another patron was coming up the stairs, and he punched him in the face. A complete innocent bystander got punched in the face for absolutely no damned reason. I think the angry guy couldn’t rally the nerve to attack me, so he attacked a random person that was even less involved than I was. Misplaced and unchecked drunken male aggression. Other staff people must have whisked the victim off into the bathroom to see if he needed first aid, because I never even saw the guy. I wanted to check on him and apologize and help him.

I feel like this incident didn’t go like it should and I feel guilty for not handling it faster and better. Sometimes the night just doesn’t go the way it should, and we don’t get the happy ending we want. You can’t try to kick a security staff and then punch a stranger. Everybody deserves to be safe here. The dance event was 10 minutes from ending, I was already in the mode of getting ready to clean up and go home, and I let my defenses down. You always need to be ready for some drunk asshole to roundhouse kick you. But apparently I should have tackled him to the ground right then and there when he spun around trying to kick me. I misjudged him as a credible threat, I suppose.

I hope the girlfriend didn’t get beaten up later that night. Ideally I hope that she broke up with him. But my instincts tell me she’s going to keep tolerating his anger problem and likely suffer some physical abuse herself. This will continue, and if I ever see them again we won’t let them in in the first place. And to the dude who got punched in the face that night, I definitely owe you a couple beers.

 

 

The eyes, Chico

The eyes, Chico.
They never lie.

These lines were spoken by Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s 1983 crime epic Scarface. They apply to every performance ever given by the great Al Pacino, and have special resonance in the film that they made together a decade later, Carlito’s Way.

Al Pacino has always been one of the most revered male actors in American cinema. I grew up watching him on television in the big films like The Godfather, The Godfather part 2, Dog Day Afternoon, and Serpico. Later on, with the convenience of VHS tape rental stores, I went back and found the lesser-known gems like Scarecrow and The Panic in Needle Park. I then saw any film of his that I could in theaters. Pacino can make a poor or mediocre film worth watching, just for his performance. It has been said of his acting that if he is on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him. Some actors just have this gift.

THE GODFATHER (1972)

Pacino can do more with his eyes than most other actors can do with their entire body. Recall the tense scene from the first Godfather film where he sits with Sollozzo and the Police Chief at the restaurant table after grabbing the gun from the bathroom. He was instructed to come out shooting, but instead he sits down and considers/stalls the actual descent into becoming a killer. His eyes dart around nervously and the audience agonizes along with him as he teeters on the edge of the businessman/criminal dichotomy. At this point he could fall back into normalcy or cross the line into murder that can never be uncrossed. This is one of those major character-defining moments. We then watch through all three Godfather films as Michael Corelone embraces the killer’s cold heart while still trying to appear as a businessman.

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The Godfather’s famous climax juxtaposes the images of Michael’s son being baptized with the heads of the other five families being assassinated, all to the soundtrack of some relatively ominous church chamber music. It is a genius scene where Pacino only says things in response to the priest like, “I do.” But his eyes are amazing. While he is trying to be present and participate in one of the milestones of his life, his mind is elsewhere wondering if all five hits are going successfully. As the priest asks him if he renounces Satan and all of his works, Pacino’s eyes look conspiratorial and evil as he affirms the baptismal statements. It’s one of the greatest montages in all cinema. And Pacino’s eyes are the windows into his now-blackened soul.

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The Godfather part 2 ends with a slow zoom in on Pacino’s face after making several decisions that have forever changed him. His hand covers his mouth as he contemplates recent deaths and betrayals, leaving only his eyes visible. I’ve watched this movie probably 30 times, and each time I see a different emotion in his eyes in this scene. Regret, sadness, self-hate, isolation, emptiness, loneliness, stubbornness, justification, shame, and doubt. This powerful ending is where Michael won what he wanted, but completely lost his soul. His eyes contain it all, and show us everything he is thinking as he counts the costs.

The Godfather #9

SCARFACE (1983)

In Scarface, Pacino plays a character whose soul is already gone. Tony Montana is pure violent ambition and machismo, out for financial success whatever the cost. He is an assassin, drug user, thief, and drug dealer. Tony is a narcissist, an egomaniac, selfish, and exceptionally jealous. He is responsible for getting everyone close to him killed, including his sister and his best friend (who he actually kills himself). He achieves everything his wants only to then lose it all, making mistake after mistake and going out in a hail of bullets.

Pacino has said in interviews that of all the characters he has played, Tony Montana was the most fun. Perhaps he wanted the challenge of playing a despicable character in such a way that we still like him and root for him. Most actors enjoy playing the villain more than the good guy, and Tony is pure bad in this one. But let that sink in for a moment. The actor who has played Michael Corleone (Godfather trilogy), Sonny (Dog Day Afternoon), Vincent Hanna (Heat), Lefty (Donnie Brasco), Ricky Roma (Glengarry Glenn Ross) and the Devil himself (Devil’s Advocate) cites Tony Montana (Scarface) as his favorite character of his career. You can see why, as he gets to go batshit crazy. De Palma must have at one point said something like, “Al, I trust you, turn it up to 11 if you want to.”

An infamous scene in Scarface is the chainsaw scene. During a drug deal with Columbian drug dealers in hotel room, the Columbians take Tony and his gang hostage and decide to kill them all with a chainsaw. This is the scene that initially got the film an X rating. Honestly, De Palma doesn’t show you much, and when he does it’s just blood splattering on the shower curtain, the chainsaw, or Pacino’s face. But it’s what your mind imagines with the sound effects and horror of the scene that makes it so unforgettable.

During this scene, the leader of the gang, Hector the Frog, wants Tony to watch as he uses the chainsaw on his friend Angel. He hopes that Tony will tell him where he hid the money. As he begins murdering Angel, Tony understandably tries to turn away from the carnage. Another gang member pushes a gun into Tony’s face and moves his head back to witness the carnage. I feel like this is symbolic of De Palma himself making the audience watch this violent scene. And it’s all about Pacino’s eyes. He is being forced to watch the violence just like De Palma is forcing the audience to watch it in the movie.

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CARLITO’S WAY (1993)

Carlito’s Way is the spiritual sequel to Scarface. I always felt that it was an alternate universe continuation of the Tony Montana character had he somehow survived the events at the finale of Scarface. If you played the Scarface video game (like I did), you remember that was exactly the whole premise. But, unlike in the game, Carlito isn’t trying to gain all of his territories and power back and get revenge, he’s trying to stay straight and retire on a tropical island with his lady.

Made a decade later, the similarities are too many to overlook. Not only do you have the lead actor and director reunited, but the story is quite similar. It involves the character arc of a criminal going after what he wants and inevitably failing. Any crime film with De Palma directing Pacino will feel like a ripple or echo of Scarface. Some lines are even repeated in both films. In Scarface, Pacino memorably calls someone a ‘fucking cock-a-roach.’ While in Carlito’s Way when Pacino says that someone is a friend of his, Frankie says, “He’s a fucking cockroach.’

Two important supporting actors appear in both films. Actor Angel Salazar played Chi Chi, a member of Tony’s gang in Scarface. He also appears in Carlito’s Way as Walberto. Actor Al Israel played Hector the Toad in Scarface. He was the Colombian drug dealer who took a chainsaw to Tony’s friend. He appears in Carlito’s Way as Rolando. Both of these characters died in Scarface, but whether we consciously remember them or not, our unconscious registers their faces. Their return into the life of the Tony/Carlito character feels like ghosts from the past haunting him. This is no random accident of casting. De Palma knew exactly what he was doing by adding them to the cast.

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There is extensive use of mirror images in this film that I won’t get too deep into here. But briefly, there are many shots that are exact mirror images of each other. The close up of Pacino’s face nose to nose juxtaposed with with Benny from the Bronx, the arrogant younger version of himself. A double reflection can symbolize the duality of man, the good and evil, the young and the old. Carlito struggles with his two sides all throughout this film. His criminal past versus his dreams of the future. His old violent ways versus forgiveness. The use of the mirrored sunglasses of the bad guy in the pool hall. He shoots the main villain in front of a mirror. Carlito escapes into the bathroom of the pool hall after the shootout and we see his reflection in the mirror as he taunts the remaining villains outside. It happens of frequently it makes me think of him being haunted by his own ghost. The scene with Carlito and Gail in the mirror, that Pacino ends up smashing in anger, distorting the image of himself just as is happening in the story.

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But his eyes….the great emotive Pacino eyes. Two scenes in particular have always stuck in my head from this film. The first scene is in the pool hall as he realizes something is wrong with the simple pick up that his cousin asked him to come along for. Carlito is leaning back against the red bricks and calculating a way to gain access to a weapon and trying to save his cousin and himself. His eyes dart around again, similar to in The Godfather, as he thinks under pressure of a way to gain control of the situation. No need for narration. His eyes are expressing the fear, panic he is trying to conceal, and a smart criminal mind figuring out a way out. Then he peels himself off of the wall and moves to engage the group and gain control by entertaining them with the distraction of a pool trick.

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The second scene is where Carlito opens the safe in his nightclub and found his money missing. He figures out who likely took it and walks through the club to find and confront him. At this point in the film everything is falling apart, and any character is expendable, so we expect Carlito to murder Ron right in front of a full capacity crowd in the club. Pacino storms out across the floor and De Palma has a hand-held camera right in front of him so we can see his rage building. His anger is palpable in his walk and his glare. Pacino’s eyes are communicating everything, and it’s a scene that you cannot look away from.

In writing this Pacino piece, I realized that each of the major films I discussed have a pretty memorable scene that happens in the bathroom. In The Godfather, Michael goes into the bathroom to get the gun left there for him. The sound of the elevated traincar outside rumbles loudly, intensifying his upcoming moment of murder. In Scarface, Tony and his gang are brought into the bathroom where the chainsaw murder occurs. And in Carlito’s Way he runs into the bathroom and yells out various bluffs, remembering how to be the tough guy he once was, even with an empty gun.

I love Al Pacino and hope that we get to keep looking into his eyes for a long time to come.

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Some favorite Al Pacino films of mine:

THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK
THE GODFATHER
SERPICO
SCARECROW
THE GODFATHER PART 2
DOG DAY AFTERNOON
SCARFACE
SEA OF LOVE
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
CARLITO’S WAY
HEAT
THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE
DONNIE BRASCO
INSOMNIA
THE IRISHMAN

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Crosswalk beatdown

It’s 2am and I’m driving home after work feeling like I’m a decrepit 91 year old. It was a long challenging night at work, and I’m going over things that happened in my head like I usually do on the way home. I’m driving East on Burnside just going through the motions of driving the familiar route. I’m on exhausted autopilot.

My eyes are half closed and my gas gauge is actually below the word EMPTY on my dashboard. Which perfectly summarizes how I feel right now. Drained and running on fumes, wondering where I can get the fuel I need to keep going.

I notice all the people on bikes and scooters going about their business, but I’m more focused on the domestic minutiae of what’s happening inside my truck right now. I’m in that bizarre land where my body is tired beyond measure, while my excessive caffeine intake is keeping my brain wide awake and full of questions. Here is the state of my ADHD brain on the drive home:

My back hurts. How many crowd surfers did I catch tonight? Should I take a shower or a bath when I get home? Both, I think. Where is the CD case so I can put this CD away? Did I bring my car charger for my phone, and where is it? Oh I forgot that I have these bolts and pliers still in my pockets from breaking down the stage barricades. Did I forget to clock out? Holy gods that moon is huge tonight! Pretty sure it is a gibbous moon, which I learned from reading H.P. Lovecraft stories. Shouldn’t we have cars that can drive me home while I take a nap? Or Star Trek teleporters? I forgot to give my boss back the flashlight I borrowed. How many times did I say the phrase, “For fuck’s sake” in my head tonight?

Then, while stopped at a red light on Burnside and Broadway, I am yanked out of my mental whirlpool of nonsense. In my peripheral vision I see a full energy drink can fly out into the crosswalk, spattering the asphalt with sugary green liquid. Then four human bodies also fly out into the crosswalk directly in front of the car next to me. Three of them begin beating the hell out of the other one. I couldn’t ascertain the race or nationality of any of them, but I could tell that they were all male. The three attackers were each using both fists to pummel the victim, who was crouched down in the crosswalk with his hands raised trying to deflect the blows. He was getting hit by a 6-fisted blur of male anger. Relentless and rhythmic, like a propeller of pain.

When you see a fight in reality, it isn’t anything like what you expect. Most of us only see fights on TV shows and movies. There are a lot of acrobatics, big dramatic swings, and punches that land with a certain satisfying dubbed sound effect. People can take a beating in a choreographed fight scene like they are superhuman and impervious to pain. In reality, fights are scrappy, sloppy, and soundless. And they are usually over very quickly.

This guy was taking an epic beating and just didn’t go down. He kept sitting up as the punches landed, and he wasn’t covering his head at all. In a second, I recalled some of the most brutal cinematic scenes I’d ever watched. Robert De Niro boxing in Raging Bull. Jared Leto getting destroyed in Fight Club. Edward Norton curb stomping the thief in American History X. Watching this real-life violence happening mere feet away from me made me very angry.

So here’s what I did.

Nothing.

Nothing at first. But I’ll tell you why.

As much as I’d like to tell you that I flew out of my truck and beat the crap out of those guys, I didn’t. I’m not a superhero. I’m just one man. One exhausted and worn out man that needs to get home to his family. I don’t have body armor like Batman. I don’t carry knives or guns like some do. Hell, I don’t even have a baseball bat in my truck. My life is not Walking Tall, Death Wish, or John Wick. You have to choose your battles, and I’m not choosing this one.

I don’t have a radio on me to call for backup. I don’t have the support team of 5-6 other people who will have my back if I jump into a fight. I don’t have any clothing on that would at least signify some level of authority like I do on shift. I’m alone out here with no advantage. I’m just some random driver in his 40’s daydreaming about his bath at home. If I were to get out of my truck and try to scare them off, I could then become their target. They already have no problem beating the shit out of somebody with witnesses just feet away. Why would they hesitate to attack another person who, in their view, attacked them?

Even if I did have a gun, do I want this scenario? I hypothetically pull a gun and yell at them to stop. They don’t, so I fire a warning shot. They all pull their own guns and start a firefight with me in the street. We then recreate the LA shootout in the movie HEAT except that it’s 2am and I’m outgunned. I might get one of them, but the reality is that I would get shot up and die and some of them would get away. I am not interested in starting a gunfight on Burnside tonight, or any night.

I don’t even know this person, their relationship, or the situation. At least at work I have the noble cause to protect patrons from harassment or physical harm. Who are these men to each other? In fact, there are a few scenarios where the guy getting beaten might actually be the bad guy and deserve it. Maybe he sold them a bad batch of dope and somebody overdosed. Drug deals, stolen goods trafficking, anything involving the potential of ripping someone off. Maybe he raped one of their sisters and this is revenge. Maybe he was trying to masturbate on a stripper at the strip club nearby and was kicked out. He could have sexually harassed one of their girlfriends in the club. I just don’t have any background. There’s no way I am going to risk my health and life over a stranger that I can’t ascertain motives.

Another thought I had later was this. It could also be a gang initiation, with more senior gang members back in the bushes watching to see if their initiates can successfully beat up someone on the street. If I were to involve myself I might then have 3 more people backing up the first 3 and all turning their attention on me. They might be using their fists now, but could easily escalate to pulling knives and pistols.

It didn’t look like a hate crime to me, nor did it look like gay-bashing. I also don’t think that the victim was a homeless person or mentally ill (easy targets). I have no idea what motivated this and never will. I do feel like I have the responsibility to keep everyone as safe as I can and prevent bodily damage, but this situation didn’t feel right to me at all. It’s just a shit-show that I don’t want any part of.

In my 20’s maybe I would have jumped in there, in my naivety and dumb youth. In your 20’s you think you will live forever and are impervious to being hurt. In my 40’s I know better. I’ve lost too many friends to death in the last decade, and I’ve had my share of medical problems. We are mortal and something will eventually kill us. I know I’m not going to live forever, and I’m not Superman, The Crow, or Clint Eastwood. I’m married with kids now. I have a responsibility to get home at night. People rely on me and need me. I don’t want to spend the night in the ER. I don’t want to die tonight. I want to grow old with my wife and send my kids to college. To do that I’ve got to get home. Every night.

I can see how people freeze up and don’t act.  It’s surprising and surreal when you see violence right in front of you. People always say, “It just happened so fast!” And it’s true. And time does kind of slow down due to your hyper-focus on the situation. It would be easy to just sit in my truck and watch this unfold through the movie screen-shaped windshield. Just like watching a movie at home. That’s what everybody else did. The other drivers just watched dumbfounded as the beatdown happened.

I recall studying the Kitty Genovese case in Sociology classes in college. A woman was attacked and stabbed in an apartment complex courtyard. She called for help and numerous people looked out their windows and saw her or heard her. But they turned back to their TVs and went about their night, not even calling the police or coming to her aid. The attacker returned and she was raped and stabbed additional times. The police were finally called, but she died of her wounds on the way to the hospital. Her case has been studied in Sociology classes ever since. This lack of action has been called the Bystander Effect. It’s the “I just don’t want to get involved” idea, or the “I might get hurt also” theme which prevents people from intervening in a clear situation which requires it. I certainly had these same thoughts tonight. One takeaway is that people’s cowardice in the face of violence resulted in this woman’s preventable death.

So, after a moment of hesitation and shock seeing this beating right in front of me, I did something. I laid into my vehicle’s horn and didn’t let up. I also put my truck in park and revved the engine as loud as possible. I knew that the door guys in Mary’s Club were just feet away, and I suspected that one or all of these men probably just exited from there. The sound of a horn for longer than a second gets everybody’s attention. When somebody hasn’t noticed that the light turned green, the quick pip-pip is how you honk to alert them. The longer honk is for the asshole that just cut you off in traffic or threw some garbage out the window. But when you hold down you horn without any break at all? That’s you announcing that something egregious is happening. Try it sometime. A horn honking longer than 10 seconds is impossible to ignore. You’re going to go look. Same with a revving truck engine. Both of those together might make you think that there was a car crash and that people might need to be pulled out of their car, or ambulances called. That was my hope.

I also wanted the three assailants to think that maybe I was crazy and about to drive straight into them to stop them from beating this man to death. The sound of a revving engine from a nearby truck aimed at you typically makes you rethink the activity that you’re doing. It had to sound like an airplane was about to take off on Burnside Street. Gripping the steering wheel grimacing in shock and anger, I probably looked like a mad driver in a Road Warrior movie.

Like I had hoped, my honking and engine revving got the attention of the door guys at Mary’s strip club and they came right out. The three attackers ran off in three different directions, of course. The two bouncers assisted the victim in getting up and getting to the sidewalk. Seeing him walk on his own with minimal help made me happy. Although I would hope that he gets to a doctor soon in case he needs stitches or has a concussion. But with him safely in the hands of two other guys in my profession, I felt like he was going to be ok. They can call for any additional services he might need.

The whole incident felt like it took 10 minutes but honestly it probably was just seconds. I bet it felt like a lifetime to the guy getting his ass beat. I feel bad for that guy and I’m not honestly sure that I did the right thing in this situation or acted quickly enough. Maybe I should have started filming the incident on my phone instead. Not all of these work stories involve me making a perfect call all the time. Because you just can’t. You just do the best you can in each situation and hope for an 80% success rate. I feel guilty I couldn’t immediately stop the beating or catch those guys and make a citizen’s arrest. They got away with it scot-free. I worried about that guy and wondered why they beat him so mercilessly. I thought about him for a long time afterwards, and had dreams about that random crosswalk beatdown for weeks. Walking around downtown in any major city after hours is fucking dangerous. He probably didn’t do anything to those bastards to deserve what he got. And three against one is chickenshit in my book.

Heal well, stranger.

I got home safe tonight. And it ended up being both a shower and a bath night.

 

 

Two Sides of the Concrete

I worked the stage at a ska show tonight and caught dozens of crowd surfers. I didn’t expect that at a ska show. If it was any type of rock show, metal, punk, industrial, alternative, then sure. Surf away. But tonight’s roster of 90’s ska bands did not particularly make me prepare for the catching of human bodies. I was eagerly awaiting watching the crowd skank and sing along, but my mistaken expectations were blasted by the drunken phalanx of crowd surfers.

I was in the zone tonight. I caught dozens and dozens of people coming over the crowd into the pit. Not one person was dropped or injured themselves (or me). I even waved my stage partner away suggesting I could just catch most of the people by myself. I caught one guy at least 10 times. It was an all-ages show, he looked about 15, and he was having the time of his life, so I allowed it. Usually we might tell a person who keeps coming over that after 3 times, you’re done. If you come over again we will kick you out. But he wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t hurting the people underneath him, and he thanked me each and every time I caught him. And the kid probably weighed about 110 pounds. So I just kept catching him and planting him gently down on the concrete. Gave him a brotherly pat on the shoulder and sent him on his way to surf again. Hell a couple times I caught that kid with one arm, planted him on the ground, and walked triumphantly back to the side of the stage. Sometimes people in the very front row that watch me catch people all night will smile at me or give me a high five. Occasionally when the show ends, people will come over and thank me for working so hard catching people.

Lots of crowd surfers tonight did not approach the pit at the front of the stage. Instead they got passed back to the rear of the room, so I didn’t even have the opportunity to catch them. I wondered if this was a thing at ska shows, passing people to the back instead of the front. All crowds are different. Sometimes a person would climb up and start surfing but the people underneath them weren’t interested in carrying him, or weren’t even packed close enough together to make surfing a reasonable expectation. So they sort of sank back down to the floor, or if they were unlucky, they just fell between the people and landed on the concrete. When I spot this from up front I would usually grimace and say in my head, “Charlie don’t surf!”

When people did crowd surf towards the front, I would wait until they got close enough to the stage barricades, then stand up on the step and grab whatever limb was closest to me. Pouncing like a tiger shark. I would pull them towards me and the crowd would assist by pushing them towards me also. Then I would go for their chest area, grab them securely, and pivot, stepping down from the step and letting their legs dangle. People usually can orient themselves and use their own feet to land. Some inexperienced stage guys will just grab whatever part they can, like their ankles. Then they sort of panic or freeze up and forget to let go of the person’s feet so that they can use them to land. The other stage guy will be going for the chest or shoulders and carry most of the weight. I used to see people grab a person’s feet and then not let go while the other person missed their upper body or dropped them entirely. That happens sometimes, you just can’t catch everybody. But with a staff person stupidly holding the surfer’s feet up, they land on their head and shoulders unnecessarily. That hurts. What you are supposed to do if you end up with the person’s feet is immediately put their feet down on the floor and let go, moving on to catch the next crowd surfer. There were several teachable moments where I yelled to the new staff over the deafening music, “Don’t hold their fucking feet! Put them on the ground! Don’t let their head hit the floor!”

Catching human bodies from a height over my head and putting them safely on the floor is indeed a unique skill set. I’m not even sure how to describe this on my resume. “Extensive experience depositing live sweaty human bodies from the crowd surface to the floor without injury. Background in tackle football, physical restraints, and discrete eye-hand coordination.” With all the intense physicality of this position, I am happily surprised that I haven’t suffered any major injury working the stage besides a jammed finger or two and a bruised back. I could easily suffer broken fingers, torsion injuries, a sprained back, rolled ankle, injured neck, or a concussion. My stage partner had to leave during a show to go to urgent care when he sustained a concussion working the stage with me. While catching a crowd surfer, they inadvertently flailed around in such a way that they kicked him in the skull. Hazards of the job.

Tonight I left the stage for my 30 minute dinner break. I kept my radio on at the table quietly. I was taking pictures of my dinner to show my wife how healthy I was eating when I heard an unusual radio call. I heard one of my managers talking about how he just called the cops on a patron that just spit in his face. He gave his location which was twenty feet from where I was eating dinner. I immediately left my food at the table and fast-walked through the restaurant and out the door. I found him there with several other staff talking to a couple in their 20’s. I didn’t get the story until later, but I could tell that the man was very intoxicated and they had ejected him from the venue.

My security manager and a bar manager were standing in such a way to prevent the patron from leaving the doorway area. Another manager was in the background on the phone with the police. Yet another manager walked up next to me and we stood there waiting to see what happened. I discreetly took a couple photos of the couple, which always helps later in describing them in our reports. He will also be banned from our property, so having clear photos is key. Spitting in someone’s face falls under simple assault and battery and you can be arrested and charged for it. Which this guy is about to learn.

This guy was attempting to drunkenly argue with the staff about what happened and started filming us with his smart phone asking us our names. When he got to me I told him he didn’t need to know my name. A random citizen walked up to scan the scooter that was right in the doorway, and drunk patron started interrogating him as to why he was being detained and asking him for his name. We all told him that guy is an innocent bystander and doesn’t work with us. He wasn’t wearing a STAFF shirt and he didn’t have a radio, genius. The scooter guy said, “I’m not telling you my name, jerk,” and flipped off his camera. I would love to see this footage from his phone.

Sure enough, drunk guy thought it would be a smart idea to charge and start trying to push past the manager whose face he already spat in. He thought if he could push him out of his way he could run away before the cops arrived, I suppose. And leave his girlfriend there with us? Getting in to a pushing match with the bouncers on the sidewalk mere feet from passing traffic is a terrible idea. And it’s very easy to move from a push to a punch.

This is the point where I clicked into automatic mode from all my previous training. I think I said, “NOPE!” and reached over to grab his arm and pulled him away from the alcove he was in. The staff next to me grabbed his other arm. Drunk patron continued to struggle so instead of putting him up against a wall I decided to put him down on the ground. I’d like to say that I strategically planted my leg in front of his and pulled him along, causing him to essentially tip forward and touchdown on the ground in a prone position. The proverbial “Sweep the leg, Johnny” move. But, in reality, I kicked his foot out from under him and helped him land face-first on the concrete. Then we each held his arm by his wrists and biceps and I dug my shoulder into his back. He kept struggling and yelling so I moved further over his torso and put more of my weight on his back. His girlfriend was screaming in the background. I removed the still-recording smartphone from his hand and handed it to another staff person. At this point I said, “Since we have now put hands on him, could we please call the police again? It’s a bit more urgent now.”
The second phone call was made.

He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and kept trying to wriggle around and push his way up off the ground. This only results in cuts and bruises. He wasn’t feeling it then, but tomorrow morning he is going to feel like he was hit by a truck. If only he knew how many homeless people had urinated on this very spot that he was laying on. I started saying reasonable things like, “Stop struggling. You’re going to have bruises all over tomorrow and I don’t want you to have bruises. Calm down.” Of course never in the history of the world has telling someone to calm down ever done anything but rile them up. I should know better than to say that. Concrete hurts. I was trying to relate to him with some humanity, but you just can’t use reason with drunk people.

Within minutes the police arrived and instructed the drunk guy on the sidewalk with two staff holding him flat to cooperate so he wouldn’t get hurt. The officer came to my side with handcuffs ready and I moved my hand further up his arm so he could be cuffed. I’ve never been arrested, so the sound that the handcuff made was new to me. It was very dramatic and final. The clicking sound reminded me of the sound of the hammer of a revolver being pulled back. There’s really no arguing with handcuffs. I moved his arm to his side and the officer and I put his hand behind his back. Then he handcuffed both of his hands together, pulled him up and put him in the back of the police car. The sense of relief was palpable for everybody.

We talked with the police officers, telling them the story and giving them our information. The manager who was spat on pressed charges so they took our boy to jail. He also thanked me for intervening in that situation. We are a team, and when I heard that one of our team was being spat on, I ran to help. It’s what anybody should do. I want us all safe. I went back inside to wash my hands and look for any cuts on my hands or arms. I took some deep breaths and calmed myself. I finished my dinner, then went back to the stage to continue to catch crowd surfers until the show ended. Tonight is going to be a night for a hot bath with Epsom salts when I get home.

Later, after the concert was long over and we were all writing reports about the incident, somebody looked for the guy’s mugshot on the Multnomah County Jail website. Sure enough there his smug face was, facing pending assault charges.

My job is certainly a strange one with unusual expectations and outcomes. For most of the night my job was to prevent bodies from hitting the concrete by catching crowd surfers in the concert. Then, for a moment, my job was to put someone down on the concrete and hold him there against his will. The exact opposite parameters. People saw both sides of the concrete tonight.

After the concert was over and people were streaming out to head home, I noticed a young blonde girl standing by the door probably waiting for her parents to come drive her home. She was looking at me longer than she should without saying something or smiling. I was definitely sweaty, exhausted, and disheveled at this point in the night. But she stepped forward and said, “Thank you for catching me.” I smiled back at her and said, “You’re welcome. Glad you had fun.” I remembered her now. She came over one time. This may have been her first concert, and it seemed like it was her first time crowd surfing. I remember her floating towards me looking nervous and anxious before I caught her and lowered her down. She had a good landing and walked out of the pit with a huge smile on her face.

“Thank you for catching me.”
That short little interaction of earnest human gratitude made my night.

 

 

Prom Night

 

“Look! There’s a rhythmic ceremonial ritual coming up.”
-Back to the Future

I never went to my high school prom. The party line on that is that my girlfriend and I just broke up unexpectedly a few weeks prior, which we did. The truth is I probably never would have gone anyway. I was a bit of an outsider and that just really wasn’t my social scene. I never was part of any cool inner clique. I never would be remembered as part of the in crowd, the cool kids, or the beautiful people. Rather happily, I was an outlier. On prom night itself I probably had a movie night at my house with my other dateless nerdy friends watching John Carpenter movies and drinking Mountain Dew until the wee hours.

I was the kid that kept to himself and excelled academically. High school was easy for me and I knew I was going straight to college after. I didn’t care in the slightest about fashion or fitting in, as evidenced by any photo of me in high school. I was reading H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker as soon as I finished my assigned classroom reading. I chose solitary activities like radio broadcasting and yearbook staff. So I was either in a room talking to myself over the microphone about music, or in a darkroom by myself developing black and white photos. I did attend lots of high school functions, but as an observer photographing the events and not participating in them. I watched everybody else have fun through a camera lens.

I spent my high school years discovering and delving into music. Playing vinyl records was, to me, attending church. Reading or deciphering song lyrics before the internet existed was like memorizing ancient holy tomes of scripture verses. Becoming an acolyte of the church of Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Judas Priest album by album until I owned their entire discographies brought me spiritual happiness and enlightenment. I also worshipped at the altar of Van Halen, Metallica, Pat Benatar, and early Pretenders. Amen and hallelujah, my big brothers and sisters of rock.

I also started volunteering as a disc jockey on my high school radio station, KRVM 91.9FM. I got to play music I deemed important over the radio for other people to listen to. Going on record-buying trips at The Record Garden in Eugene was such an honor. The radio station would give me a purchase order to buy records for the station and review them. I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world to be entrusted with this duty.

I never played any sports in high school. None at all. Instead I started taking drum lessons when I was 16. Any hand-eye coordination or athletic prowess I had was only showcased when playing drums. I found playing drums to be a mathematical exercise in ambidextrous rhythm making. A workout for the body and brain requiring stamina, control, and precise calculation of patterns and timing. And yeah, I liked hitting things with sticks.

But back to prom. I had gone to a couple high school dances with my girlfriend before splitting up. I remember walking through the crowd with our arms around each other while Guns N’ Roses (of all things) was playing in the cafeteria. We hung out for a few songs and then left so we could go make out. Notoriously, we once got kicked out of an arcade for kissing and making a spectacle out of ourselves. That’s a badge of honor I wear proudly to this day.

Now, decades later, I find myself working security at a high school prom at the music venue where I work full time. Many groups rent out our venue when we don’t have a famous touring band playing there. So I’m familiar with staffing fundraisers, weddings, anniversaries, work parties, and even high school proms. The proms provide their own Police officer on premises, so our job becomes less security and more dance chaperone.

I couldn’t help it, but I was looking up in the rafters for a bucket of blood to be dropped on Carrie White. I would have been like the Amy Irving character trying to stop the slow-motion humiliation of Sissy Spacek. In my revisionist daydreaming of the movie, I also would have gotten to kick John Travolta’s ass. Luckily, there wasn’t even any crowning of the prom king and queen like in the Brian De Palma film. No popularity contest rating of the most popular echelon of high school representatives.

My high school prom (that I didn’t go to) was many years ago. Watching all these kids tonight pushed a lot of memories and feelings out to the surface. I haven’t gone to any high school reunions at all. I believe I found most of my cohorts and chosen family in college, not high school. I do retain a handful of good friends from back then, but I just didn’t bond as strongly with people until college. I barely stayed in contact with anyone from high school after graduation. I think I wanted to compartmentalize that period of my life and put it behind me. It wasn’t particularly a bad time, it was just….high school.

The kids tonight are having the time of their life. Or they want it to look that way. Everybody is taking selfies and uploading SnapChats of them dancing with their friends. There is so much pressure for this night to be all things to everyone. I am stricken with how grown up these kids look. Times have changed, indeed. The young men in my graduating class didn’t have full beards or tattoos. I don’t recall them being so tall or filled out either. And the young women here tonight wearing shiny dresses and makeup could pass for 26-year-old businesswomen. Absolutely nobody in my class was this physically mature or developed. Some of these young ladies look like glamorous sexed-out actresses or models. And there was so much booty shaking and twerking I thought I was at a strip club. I had to remind myself that everybody here is about 17 or 18 years old. Exactly how old to you have to be to get a boob job in Oregon anyway?

There was a mass exodus of attendees leaving the prom about an hour and a half in. They had other better things to do that likely involved drinking alcohol and having sex. Hotel parties and homes where the parents are away are calling them. Some coworkers and I would joke quietly, “Somebody’s getting pregnant tonight.” Although I remember being 17 and not knowing nearly  as much as I thought I did. Sadly, the late hours of prom night are most likely to just bring fumblings in the dark, bad sex, and disappointment.

At one point the crowd got so animated that one guy was able to get up on top of everyone and crowd surf. This was definitely something that I had never seen before. Crowd surfing at a high school prom. I thought some of the young women would be angry with him for potentially ruining their expensive hairdo or damaging their corsage. Not so, everybody held him up as he fist-pumped along to the song. I was moving towards them to stop him when the DJ lowered the music and said, “No crowd surfing, no crowd surfing. Gotta keep it safe, everybody.” Thanks for doing my job for me, friend.

I was so interested in people watching and figuring out who was who. I could see the hyper-popular people that everyone wanted to take a photo with. I smiled when I saw the nerdy academic types clumping together. I loved the people who didn’t go along with the norm and wore exactly what they wanted to wear. They had their own quirky fashion style and didn’t care about fitting in. Nobody was being a wallflower either. Everybody was out on the floor in some way. I nodded with recognition when I saw the yearbook photographers doing the exact thing that I used to to. Documenting the event without participating in it. But with a valid excuse and something to keep their hands occupied. Their classmates are going to look at these prom photos for the rest of their lives.

I see so much fresh-faced optimism and innocence here tonight, along with some awkward naiveté. For most of us, the age of 18 is when we are at the peak of our beauty, health, and attractiveness. We haven’t been burdened with the grind of life yet. We haven’t been worn down by failures, tanked relationships, or lost jobs. With some exceptions, we usually haven’t been tied down with early pregnancies, major deaths in our families, or debilitating health issues of our own. We haven’t yet suffered crippling credit card debt, divorce and alimony, student loans we never pay off, a foreclosed home, or medical bills that bankrupt us. We aren’t jaded and cranky yet, and the future still seems like a wonderful dream. At 18 the world is still your oyster, and the world hasn’t broken you yet.

I couldn’t help but think about how for most of these kids, this is going to be one of the milestones of their lives. This night, no matter what happens, is the night that everybody remembers and talks about for years to come. They might even tell their kids about it. Your parents might display a framed photo of you and your prom date for a long time after you wish that they would take it down. Some of these people you will never see again. Some of these friends will later end their friendship with you, disappear, or die prematurely.

But during the dance, you assume that you will always be such good friends with these people. Not accounting for moving far away, getting married and having kids, traveling for your job, or just losing the shared history together. Or simply growing up and growing apart. For many this signifies the end of high school, and therefore the end of childhood. It’s the beginning of adulthood; moving out on your own, starting college, taking time off to travel, or joining the military. Whatever your calling is, wherever the winds of adulthood set you down. And there is no going back. It’s becoming a memory as we speak.

I realized that to these kids, I’m just some middle-aged guy sitting at an access point looking bored. And I guess I am. But I’m remembering where I was and who I was those decades ago. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. It is certainly a surreal experience to watch this prom decades after my own prom. It’s no wonder that my favorite music and movies all come from the 80s. I’m also realizing how bad most of the music that they love really is (it’s fucking terrible honestly.) Pop music has honestly devolved since I was in high school. I hated all of the songs they played until the very end. Music today just doesn’t energize and inspire me like it did when I was younger. Music was better and more innovative in my day. Lyrics were like poetry and actually meant something. Get offa my lawn, kids. I took satisfaction that for the final big songs, the DJ played classics from my era and the crowd went wild. The crown danced to those old classics from Journey, Bon Jovi, and David Bowie.

Mainly I’m watching them with envy and happiness. I’m happy that this night went off without any problems and that they all had so much fun. One of my favorite moments was when one of the nerdiest, goofiest kids there who had been dancing like a fool for most of the night started a conga line. All the other students joined in. The jocks, nerds, goths, miscreants, trust fund kids, and the beautiful elite. They all were part of this spontaneous moment of unity and brotherhood. They will never again in their lives all be joined together in equality and solidarity like that. Celebrating their graduation from high school and the beginning of their adult lives.

To be young and optimistic again. To be young enough where all of your accomplishments and greatest moments are still ahead of you, not behind you.

Back to the future, indeed. Hug each other longer than you think you need to. Tell your friends that you love them. Kiss them on the cheek. You will never be here again.

Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away
-RUSH, Time Stand Still