I was working downtown at a dive bar that books rock bands seven nights a week. I stepped outside to check on the patrons drinking and smoking outside. There’s always some tables to buss, or some people who need to be told to stop smoking pot. There was a couple waiting in line to get in that drew my attention.
One thing that you don’t want to do is draw the attention of the bouncers before you even enter the venue. Things we look for include extremely loud voice tones, manic (read drug-induced) laughter, excessive movements or touching others, repeated dropping of items. These actions will bring us to you for a small conversation. I deny entry quite often just for being a loud, drunk ass in line. If we can stop the problem early at the door by denying entry to a visibly intoxicated person, we diminish the likelihood of having to solve another larger problem later inside. You could call this assholery mitigation.
And that is what happened tonight. I spotted a couple in line that already seemed to be drunk and was pseudo-bickering. I was busy listening to some regulars tell me a story while I bussed tables, but I was also watching this couple and listening as best I could to their interaction. It’s difficult to differentiate between simple happy exuberance at seeing friends at a music event, and sloppy intoxicated liability. I know many people who are very loud and physically affectionate in public. They aren’t intoxicated, that’s just their manner. But I didn’t like how the man was relating to his girlfriend/wife. They were both Caucasian and relatively normal looking, but he was substantially shorter than she was. She had big blond hair, reminiscent of the singer Blondie. I thought I saw him stagger a little bit also, but in the group of people it was hard to be sure. They were both a bit too loud, arguing, and he was pretty touchy with her. By that I mean he kept touching her too often, and usually when he was disagreeing with her. After she would make a comment that he disagreed with he would kind of pat her arm or her hips and say, “Come on now, that’s a load of shit.” From a distance it looked like he was bullying her and being too physical. Repeated slapping or tapping of anybody is going to draw attention, even when done in play or even if the person is accepting of it. It was irritating and disrespectful at the very least and physically abusive at the most. But some people have that kind of relationship in public, sad as that is. I’m going to refer to them as ‘Short Man and Blondie.”
I returned inside to deliver the dishes and intercept this couple at the door. Sometimes a quick conversation with the people will confirm or disprove my query. But the line moved way faster than I thought and my co-worker was already checking their IDs. I got close to him so he would see me in his periphery and know I was assessing someone in line. This couple was still bickering in line and the man kept tapping her in disapproval. He did even trip a little bit on the mat at the door. My coworker looked over at me and I shook my head ‘no’ and made a concerned face. I even made the universal symbol for ‘cut off’ by moving my hand in front of my neck as if I were cutting my throat. He waved me over.
The couple saw me trying to give the door guy these nonverbal cues that he shouldn’t let them in. Short man started saying, “Come on, man. We’re ok.” I leaned over to my coworker and said, “He seems wasted to me, and they’ve been arguing and staggering outside. I wouldn’t let them in.” The door guy was wearing a flannel shirt and baseball cap, not really even looking like security. While I was wearing all black and a hoodie with the word SECURITY on the front and back. I probably looked like I had more authority here, or was the ‘hit-man’ of the night. That’s what I call the guy that comes in to deal with the big problems before disappearing back into the crowd. But in actuality I had only been working there part-time for 6 months, while the door guy of the night had been there full-time for years. He looked at the couple for a moment and told me, “I think I’ll give them a chance and let them in.” He wasn’t pulling a power trip at all. And saying that in front of the couple in question lets them know that they are being given a second chance. Sometimes that’s all it takes. It’s a tactic we all use. I’m happy to be bad cop and he can be good cop tonight. So I deferred to his decision here and we let the couple in.
Each place I’ve worked at is slightly different. Some places would prefer to stop a potential problem outside and just deny the people entry. Other places prefer to deal with any problems after the fact inside the venue. It’s pre-emptive versus reactive. I can pro-actively attempt to stop a problem early, or wait until it happens and react to it then (saying “I called that one” in my head). In this case, it probably also had something to do with wanting to collect the cover charge so the bands get paid. Everybody who works there is also in at least one band. So we all get the grind, and are sympathetic to bands struggling for every dollar. If we tell this couple that they aren’t coming in tonight, that’s $16 that the bands don’t get, and potentially more money that the bar doesn’t get in alcohol and food sales.
So the night went on and the bands played. Patrons rocked out, drank terrible cheap beer, and ate greasy deep-fried bar food. Sure enough, I spot my favorite couple being loud and getting heated by a bar in the middle of the room. I saw plastic cups in their hands, which was bad news since that means they’re drinking hard liquor drinks. Short man was still being loud and rude to Blondie, continuously tapping her with his hands and being too physical. I started moving towards them, putting myself in the vicinity of them so I was ready in case I needed to jump in. Just standing there watching them and listening to them.
Most bouncers are there to keep everybody safe. Most bouncers also have a particular distaste for men being too physical or abusive to women. Lots of bouncers end up working in strip clubs where they are essentially protecting pretty girls from jerk men. Remember the 1997 movie L.A. Confidential? Russell Crowe plays a detective that has a real problem with men who hurt women. So much so that he will hurt them far worse. He flies off the handle and beats any man that he finds hurting or exploiting a woman. He’s got a penchant for punishing wife-beaters. You can call it the knight in shining armor savior complex. Or you can call it just doing the right thing. I can admit that seeing this type of thing gets me really angry fast as well. I would imagine many guys saw their Moms get screamed at and beaten up by some boyfriend, stepfather, or their own biological Dad. They grow up and want to prevent that scenario from happening to any woman. Psychologically, we’re now talking about transference.
So short man continues to yell at Blondie, and keeps nudging her elbows and goading her. I move slowly closer, as watching this interaction is making me uncomfortable. I’m gently tapping people’s elbows and saying ‘excuse me’ so they will move out of my way as I part the crowd to get in range of this couple. There is a long bar in the middle of the bar portion of the venue. But it’s just a structural divider with some beams going up into the ceiling. There’s no bartender or drinks available at this bar, it’s just for people to lean on and set their drinks and eat their food. I’m on one side of this dividing bar and the couple is on the other side arguing. People around them are starting to cringe and move away from the couple.
As I’m about to interject and speak to the couple about them causing a disturbance, it blows up. Short man loses all patience with Blondie and grabs her shirt collar. She yells, “Let go of me!” and tries to back away from him. He doesn’t let go. This only took a few seconds. That’s it. There is a line that he just crossed by grabbing her in anger. I summon my loudest man-voice and yell, “GET YOUR HANDS OFF HER!” I reach over the bar and grab his arm with both hands and smash it down onto the bar hard. I had squeezed his wrist so hard that his fingers released her shirt instantly. Now the entire length of his arm is pinned to the wooden bar. All three joints were immobilized: wrist, elbow, and shoulder. His head was tilted at an angle just off the bar. His face reminded me of a startled turtle with its head trapped in a baby gate. It happened so fast I don’t really think he put together how his body got aligned with the surface of this wooden bar top. I am certain that he will have bruises tomorrow on his biceps and wrists that are shaped exactly like my fingers. But how about you don’t man-handle a woman in anger in a bar, asshole?
Of course, if you’ve pictured this dividing bar in your head you can see the problem that I have now deeply planted myself in. Because I was compelled to act quickly and blinded by the need to stop him from grabbing her in anger, I put myself in a stupid situation. With his entire arm pinned to the bar, I can’t do anything further or protect myself from anything else. Like the woman trying to defend her man, or even the guy himself from trying to hurt me. His other arm was free, so he could have potentially swung on me with his free arm. Or tried to choke me or gouge my eyes. Or, if he drunkenly thought he was Bruce Lee, he could have tried jumping on or over the bar to where I was. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have gone about it quite this way. But if I can make good decisions in crisis scenarios at least 80% of the time, I’m actually doing pretty good.
I suppose that, had he tried to fight or struggle, I could have raised his arm up to block his other arm. I did have complete control of his arm. Or with my adrenaline raging, and him not being the biggest guy I’ve ever restrained, I probably could have brought him over the bar to my side and put him down on the beer-stained floor. Luckily, I didn’t need to consider any of these options too long. I’m part of a solid team here that is always looking out for each other. My boss saw me grab the guy and was already on his way over. But when I release short man’s arm it’s going to then put my boss at some risk because short man may want to fight him.
My boss came over and grabbed short man’s other arm and wrapped him up as I released his other arm. I was now separated from the situation and couldn’t help until I got around the bar. The crowd was, of course, watching this whole thing go down. I had to get around the bar and through them to help. A one-on-one physical escort is difficult and risky. It’s much safer for everyone if two bouncers each control an arm and walk the guy out together. I moved into the crowd and yelled very loud, “MOVE! MOVE! GET OUT OF THE WAY!” I realized that I had said the exact words spoken by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. I’ve seen that film so damned many times that parts of the dialogue are permanently ingrained into my psyche. When Rick Deckard is chasing replicant Zhora through the bustling crowd of street people he says this line before he shoots her. And whether anybody in that crowd has seen that movie or not, it worked like a charm. People got the hell out of my way and I grabbed short man’s other arm. My boss and I now each had an arm and walked him very quickly and forcefully out the front door.
We released short man on the sidewalk and waited to see if he came at us. Wisely, he did not. We told him he needed to leave the property immediately. Blondie followed us out and started yelling at him for embarrassing her like that. They wandered off down the sidewalk together. I can only imagine the talk they might have on the way home. Or maybe they won’t. Domestic violence patterns often show the victim remaining with, or even covering for, their abuser. If he was that physical with her in public I can only guess how bad he is at home. I can’t think about that anymore tonight though. I’ve got more work to do. All we can do is try to keep people safe while they are here with us. Tomorrow is on you.
As we walked back inside, the door guy waved me over and said, “You were right on that one. I shouldn’t have let them in.”
I smirked at him and nodded and said, “Yup.”