Farewell, Ash Street

For the last 5 months I’ve had the pleasure of working part-time as the door guy at Ash Street. This is the revered rock club that’s located in old town Portland around the corner from Voodoo Doughnuts. It opened on Halloween in 1994 and is closing on New Year’s Day 2018. The most official explanation I’ve found is this: The lease is expiring and the landlords refuse to renew it, and they do not wish to keep it going as a live music venue. So in a few short weeks, another historic downtown music icon will cease to exist after a 24 year run. The staff was told of this exit date over a year ago and announced it to all. So they have had time for a long slow goodbye, and time to plan lots of farewell shows.

I could go into the lunacy of working at Ash Street as a bouncer. I could go into the time where I got to kick out a baby (and the Mother who snuck it in). Or kicking out a musician’s girlfriend for smoking in the venue AND not having any ID on her. Or breaking up fights, physically escorting people out of the bar, grabbing a beer out of somebody’s hand as they tried to drink it illegally, extinguishing a homeless person’s lighter so they can’t smoke heroin, and a psycho felon trying to intimidate me by handing me his prison ID card. But I don’t want that to be the focus of this piece. Perhaps another time when the kids want a good bedtime story.

The Layout and the Playout

Ash Street is a truly odd setup, populated with numerous groups that don’t really commingle. The main space is the bar with some tables and booths. Then there is an open portal to the performance venue with a good size stage, and another small bar with booths and tables. There is a small room with several video poker machines. This room is, strangely, also where the bathrooms are located. There is one Buck Hunter video game, A KISS pinball game, a two person Pac-Man cocktail table game, and a bowling game. Move past the video poker room and you end up in the back patio. There are just concrete building walls back here, with no view at all.  It’s almost like a concrete brick open-air tomb where everybody sits and smokes like chimneys. The sound booth is located up a staircase off to the side of the venue space. So the sound engineers are looking down to the stage at an angle from the side. Then there is also the front patio area were there are picnic tables. Unlike most venues I work in, alcohol is allowed out there. The main problem is the mentally ill homeless population that constantly walks by and sometimes engages or hassles the patrons.

Oh, and the green room. This bastion of music venues is where band members do all the drugs and try to court groupies. The seedy little beer-soaked storage area where bands keep their purses and backpacks. The little back room where you scarf down your greasy burger and slam a Red Bull before the show. Perhaps you’ll scribble out your set list or even warm up and play some scales on your guitar in this room. The Ash Street green room is located up that long flight of stairs next to the sound booth. I don’t know what the architects had in mind, but there is a short brick wall arch that opens into a itty-bitty little room that only has enough room for a short couch. It’s totally a hobbit-hole with pipe-weed being smoked inside. You have to crouch down and duck your head to enter the archway to get into that little nook to sit on the couch. It is indeed like waking into a brick fireplace. I will never sit on this couch. I can only guess how many lost items would be in this tainted couch. Guitar picks, lighters, little nuggets of weed, bullets, desiccated French fries, ripped out pages from the Satanic Bible and The Necronomicon, and probably used condoms full of alien semen. Nothing would surprise me.

Here are the main groups of patrons that I’ve identified:

The regulars. This is a close-knit family of people who hang out here every evening. They’re here every night I’ve ever been here. They eat dinner here, and drink and socialize for hours. They are all very friendly to me and I’ve had both silly and serious conversations with all of them. When they come in people will yell their name like when Norm would walk into Cheers. They keep to themselves and don’t typically ever go into the music venue.

The musicians. Usually we have 3-4 bands playing on a bill. The musicians and their roadies, girlfriends and boyfriends, and their fans will be here solely for the music venue. Shows here are usually only $5, and the guest list is generous. So nobody ever makes a lot of money here, but its super fun and the sound is always fantastic.

The gamblers. These are the pseudo-regulars that are here solely for the video poker machines. I’ve seen people sit in that room (with the bathrooms) for hours and not win anything, and then also seen some win $200-$400. Some sweet homeless folks will come in with change they scavenged from returning bottles and ask the bartenders for dollar bills for the machines. I actually want them to win.

The service industry neighbors. People love coming to Ash Street from nearby establishments. Staff from the downtown original Voodoo Doughnuts location come in all the time. I had to learn all of their faces right away so I wouldn’t card them every single time they came in. Staff from Kells Irish Pub, The Oyster Bar, and Dante’s should have their own reserved seats. They always head to the private back patio. Always.

The tourists. Self-explanatory. People who aren’t from here wander around downtown and want to check everything out. And if they’ve heard that we’re closing soon they really want to come in and get a taste of it before it’s gone. They usually ask me about other places to go on their way out, and I get to play tour guide to downtown Portland for a few minutes.

Like I stated earlier, none of these groups really commingle much. But it works. The space is big enough for all of these groups and people with no shared activity to be there and all still have a good time. And it makes the people-watching exquisitely entertaining. As a Sociology major in college, I still love watching disparate groups of people inhabiting the same space and sometimes reaching out to each other. Watching a clean-cut conservative tourist with a pink box of donuts start a conversation with a middle-aged punk rocker with facial piercings and purple hair gives me endless pleasure. Everybody goes home with a good story to tell their friends.

Is Ash Street the best music venue in Portland? No. But is it a welcoming and accepting dive bar that hosts local and touring bands all the time? Yep. This place has heart. One of the great things about Ash Street is that, let’s be honest, it was a bit easier to get booked there. Bands typically play here early in their career and move up to bigger and better venues if they’re lucky. Or they return here because they love the people and the vibe. So many of my musician friends cut their teeth playing here over the last 23 years. And Ash Street was totally supportive of touring bands. They would even give you dinner if you were on tour from out-of-town, along with drink tickets that all bands get. Ash Street was always a stop for bands on tour.  They would accommodate these touring bands needing specific dates and let them jump on a bill with some local acts. Therefore, you would get some awesome and diverse bills where sometimes the bands didn’t make much sense playing together. And it would always sound good. The sound engineers are awesome. Even now, in the last few months of our existence, nobody has short-timers syndrome. They are still giving it their all, every show, every band. All three sound engineers will come down from the sound booth and stand in the crowd to get the true honest mix from the center of the room.

Honestly, Ash Street has booked some of the worst bands I’ve ever seen . But they got up onstage and did it, which is more than a lot of people can say. And everybody needs those first few gigs, and to be treated like seasoned veterans. Some Portland hipster bars would have people standing with their backs to the performers, scoffing or heckling them. Not here. People will applaud after every song, even if it’s hard to determine when that particular song is actually over.  I’ve watched many amazing bands here that I wish found more success. I’ve seen bands playing to an empty room, or just to the other band members and their girlfriends. I’ve also seen bands play in front of 150-200 people here. I’ve witnessed some of the weirdest, most odd acts Portland has to offer here on this stage. These artists were definitely keeping Portland weird. The majority of the acts here have usually been rock, metal, or punk. But I’ve also seen acoustic shows, industrial acts, spoken word, country, noise, alternative, dream-pop, performance art, adult puppet shows, and solo artists playing 5 instruments simultaneously. The bookers were clearly invested in giving all artists a chance to perform on a good stage with good sound.

Perks

Another nice thing about working as a bouncer at Ash Street is the perks. There’s all the usual stuff like getting paid an hourly rate in cash, getting additional tips from the overall take that night, getting a free meal on shift, and getting a free drink after your shift. Then there’s getting to meet and chat with people all night, and the people-watching. This job totally fulfils my extrovert nature.

But also there are perks involving other nearby establishments. All service industry places do this, the little tit for tat of helping each other out. The world-famous Voodoo Doughnuts original location is just around the corner from Ash Street. They are a storefront and a bakery with nowhere to actually hang out. So the Voodoo employees come over to Ash Street all the time. We even let them hang out after we have the patrons leave at closing time. And in return, any Ash Street employee can go over there and get a free donut anytime. I’ve made the mistake of mentioning the free donut perk to my kids. Now when I head off to work they ask if I’m going to Ash Street. And if I am they say, “Be sure to bring me back a donut, Dare!”
Two chocolate Tang donuts, coming right up. When I get home at 3am.

Employees from nearby Alderman’s, Kells Irish Pub, Oyster Bar, and Dante’s visit Ash Street all the time, and we probably have arrangements with them too. I have friends who work as bouncers and DJs at Kit Kat Club, which is indeed a strip club. How does one inquire about a free lap dance perk? One probably doesn’t. Directly across the from Ash Street is a killer Mexican food cart called La Piñata Takos. They don’t have their own restroom to use while they work, and we do. So the arrangement with them is that they can use our bathroom anytime they want, and we can get a free meal from them when we’re on shift. Has there been a night where I’ve collected my free perks from all the places? Have I ordered a Kick my Ash burger with fries from Ash Street, then ordered a chorizo burrito from the food cart, and then collected an Old Dirty Bastard donut from Voodoo Doughnuts? Goddamned right I have. “Nothing exceeds like excess. You should know that, Tony.”

Honestly the greatest perk has been seeing all these shows and meeting all these fellow musicians. I’ve found some great bands and become friends with these people. I’ve talked with them about how they stage their tours, how they load their gear, how they run their merch booth. Networking and studying always. I only work security in music venues because I love it above all else. You still learn a lot from watching a band that you don’t particularly like. And even more from watching bands that you love. Being around musicians all the time is such a rush. The creative energy and pride of doing what you love is infectious. It’s also a shared history. We all know and understand the grind. And we still find it worth it.

Welcome to the family

In the last few months I’ve seen birthday parties held here with the birthday family performing onstage with cake. I’ve seen father and son bands rocking out onstage. Regulars have brought in homemade food to gift to the staff. The family motif keeps returning as I think about it. The entire staff here is a family. The regulars are a family. Bartenders regularly come out from behind the bar smiling as they give someone a big hug. Regulars bring their dogs inside, and they become canine regulars. As a part-time bouncer/door guy just here for the final 5 months of Ash Street, they could have pretty much ignored me. Why bother getting to know a new guy here at the end when we’re all on our way out? Well, everybody has welcomed me in like they would any full-time long-term team member. I’ve gotten to know the bartenders and cooks and sound engineers. I’ve been invited to their birthday parties. We have our inside jokes now. I’ll clock out but remain at the bar shooting the shit with the gang. Typical conversations between us music geeks involve how you can determine what kind of person someone is by which Cure album they cite as their favorite. Comparing stories of best concerts we’ve ever seen. Telling the stories of the strangest shows we’ve seen at Ash Street. The bar even has a little wooden piece of wood with the word COCK written on it. So if you are gonna cock-block somebody you can drop an actual cock block on the bar as you do it.

One night two drunk people started punching each other right in the middle of the bar/restaurant area. I tackled one guy and bear-hugged him out of the venue and onto the sidewalk. I glanced behind me as I was moving the guy out the door and saw that my coworker had done the same with the other guy and was hauling him out behind me. This coworker was off the clock, and not a security staff. He was a bartender and cook. We de-escalated the situation and the two men calmed down and ended up hugging it out. We didn’t need even to call the Police. My coworker later said that he hoped I didn’t mind him involving himself in that situation. But even though he was off the clock, he felt like everybody there is a family and a team and should all jump in to solve a volatile and violent situation no matter what our job description is. Keep everybody safe. I thanked him and told him he could jump in to help me anytime.

Another spin on that family theme is the regulars. These staples of Ash Street often congregate out front on the sidewalk where the picnic tables are, or inside at the tables by the big bay window near the front doors. When Barret hired me, he tried to personally introduce me to each of the regulars and told me that they have a lot of history and pride in this establishment. So much so that they will even police the sidewalk area when problem people start trouble. These regulars have even been known to jump in and help the bouncers break up a fight. So on a Sunday evening when I’m the only bouncer there, if the shit goes down I know that not only will the bartenders and cooks jump in and help, but up to a dozen of the regulars would jump in and help too. I imagine some drunken bro trying to get into it with somebody outside on the sidewalk only to be faced with 15 regulars standing up from the picnic tables. They all surround him like the undead from a John Carpenter movie. Then they beat the living hell out of the guy. The band onstage might actually be playing some pulsing 80’s synth score that perfectly matches this vision. I stand inside with the bartenders with our arms crossed as we watch, smiling like around parents at their kid’s baseball game. Downtown Ash Street Gang.

Some bands decided to reunite after 10-15 years for a one-time show at Ash Street to relive their history here one more time. I’ve watched the sound engineers break into a huge smile and hug each band member as they walked in with their gear. The same way you would greet your brother you haven’t seen in a decade at the Thanksgiving meal. It is literally a reunion every night around here. And also a goodbye. Some bands get drunk onstage and have trouble leaving the stage once their set is over. Because they know it’s the last time up there ever. They howl like banshees at the top of their lungs onstage (with the mic thankfully turned off), mourning the demise of such a musical institution. They want their voices to echo off of these walls forever like in the hall of Valhalla. Every performance is a little death, after all. La petit mort, my good friends. They splash their drinks together and toast the show just completed, and the legacy that they are saying goodbye to.

My last performance at Ash Street

My personal history with Ash Street is pretty much like everybody else’s in Portland. I’ve attended many shows there, and almost every band I’ve been in has performed there as well. In the mid-90’s my first band, Sarcasm, played at Ash Street numerous times. We were based in Eugene, so to us playing at Ash Street was a really special out-of-town gig. My second band, Sleepy Hollow, somehow did not play at Ash Street. My third band, Brother Heathen, played there around 2000-2001. My fourth and current band, The Shrike, has played there 7 times since 2014. We opened for Jennie Vee on her national tour there in 2015. I filled in on drums with my friend’s band When We Met a few times recently. And I was and extra in the crowd shots of a music video shot at Ash Street by my friends in Sugar Tits (Later to change their name to Sugar Tease).

My friends Bryan and Melissa are a couple that makes up the entire band that is When We Met. They typically don’t have a drummer, as they play along with pre-programmed drum tracks onstage. When The Shrike and When We Met would play a show together, they would have me jump onstage with them for their finale song, The Pixies “Where is my Mind?”  Then they started asking me to join them even when my band wasn’t playing a show on that bill. I would just play the drum set from the band that was following them. We learned the PJ Harvey classic, “Rid of Me” and played that together too. For their final show at Ash Street they asked me if I could join them for their entire set and learn all of their originals.

So on November 7th, Election Day, we all played our last show ever on the Ash Street stage. It was definitely a fun, surreal, and melancholy performance. I smiled and sang along with some of the lyrics while playing the drums. But I was also fighting off the sadness and the tears. This was THE LAST TIME that I would ever perform music on this stage.  I was noticing the fog machine kicking out clouds for the colorful rays of light to puncture. I would spot friends’ faces smiling out in the crowd. My fiancé was beaming. I also found it truly fitting that we played two covers from the 80’s and 90’s in this set. Both songs are easy to play on drums, honestly. And they both pretty much encapsulate the quiet/loud quiet/loud pattern that so many songs do. Simple drums just gives me more opportunity to embellish and add different drum parts and fills.

So for the PJ Harvey song, Melissa puts her bass down and just sings while Bryan handles all the guitar parts. Barret is the booker/promoter/head of show security at Ash Street. He is a performing musician too, playing with God Bless America as well as solo shows. He saw us do this song in sound check and mentioned something about how it would be fun for him to pick up the bass and join us. We immediately jumped on this idea. So with zero rehearsals together and zero planning, we played “Rid of Me” onstage as a 4 piece. I had never played music with Barret before, and everybody loved having him up there to fill out the sound and change-up the stage performance. When We Met went from a 2 piece band to a 4 piece band for one song on one night.

We finished the rest of their set and ended with the classic Pixies song “Where is My Mind?”  This song has always been special to me, and obviously to Bryan and Melissa also.  There is a melancholy sadness to that song already. Then knowing that this is the last song that I’ll ever perform on this stage got to me. I kept picturing the final scene of Fight Club, where this song plays as all the corporate skyscrapers explode and start collapsing. I truly hope that the Ash Street building isn’t brought down by a wrecking ball and bulldozed to make expensive apartments or a high-end restaurant that nobody can afford to eat at. I wish we projected images of the collapsing buildings from the movie scene behind us as we played.

We leave space at the end of the song to go crazy and do a big rock ending. We gave it all we had tonight. I even hurled my drumsticks high up in the air after I hit my final cymbal crashes, which landed in the crowd somewhere. We moved off the stage and hugged and posed for some photos. Since I was playing somebody else’s drum set, I actually got to just leave the stage and talk with people instead of having to scramble to lug my drums offstage as fast as I can. Somebody returned my drumsticks to me. I felt great and thought this song was perfect for my last song played at Ash Street.

But, in a happy surprise, I was given yet another chance to perform on that stage. Barret Stolte was playing an acoustic set later in the night, and he asked me if I’d want to join him for a cover onstage. Just him and me. Guitar and drums and his voice, doing Echo and the Bunnymen’s 1984 classic “The Killing Moon.” I knew the song well and loved it. So, much like Ash Street itself getting a stay of execution for a year, I got to play one more song onstage with my friend. Again with zero rehearsal time or planning. That just added to the excitement because we didn’t really know if we would nail it or not. That kind of positive anxiety usually makes a musician focus more intensely so they stay together and get everything right. Which, luckily, we did. Remember that Barret hired me and is technically my boss. So there we are, me and my boss onstage playing an 80’s song together. That reads funny, but it didn’t feel like that at all. It was just two musicians and friends playing music together for the first time, and the last time, on this stage. Some friends filmed the song so we have that moment of history preserved. This was truly one of the most fun and exciting and emotional performances of my life. Spontaneous new collaborations onstage, and giving it our best efforts, for it will never happen again.

Too late to beg you or cancel it
Though I know it must be the killing time
Unwillingly mine
Fate
Up against your will
The killing moon
Will come too soon

This is the end, my beautiful friend

As we enter the final week of Ash Street’s existence, there are 6 farewell shows planned. Each of these is very special. The lineups are much larger than regular shows, and each one is a themed farewell to a particular musical genre. Some of these bands have played at Ash Street countless times, while some have reunited after years (or decades) just to perform at this show, on this stage, one final time. There will be amazing musical moments, laughter, tears, and memories. The special shows are Farewell to Dwight Church weekly open mic shows, Farewell to Indie Rock, Farewell to Hip Hop, Farewell to punk rock, Farewell to rock and roll, and Farewell to metal on New Year’s Eve. I get to work two of these goodbye shows and I wish I could work them all.

In 2010 another very famous music venue closed their doors. I’m talking about Satyricon.  It was very similar to Ash Street in that it was a gritty dive bar that everybody wanted to play. Touring bands and local bands always wanted to get booked there. It actually closed in 2003 but reopened as an all-ages venue in 2006. It finally closed for real in 2010 and the building was bulldozed in 2011. But the memories people had of that venue were so strong that they wanted a piece of it. People were actually going to the demolition site and climbing the chain link fence to grab one of the bricks of the old Satyricon building. I am sure that I know people who have a brick from Satyricon’s rubble on their mantle. My understanding is that the Ash Street building is not being torn down. But I wonder what people will try to steal from the venue in the final week.

One night the movie A Princess Bride was playing on the television above the pinball machines. It was a cold, mellow Sunday evening with not too many people there. I was spacing out watching the film while some doom metal band played in the venue. The scene where the two leads are traveling through the dark forest and talking about Rodents of Unusual Size. Westley says, “I don’t think they exist.” BAM! He is immediately attacked by a R.O.U.S. and rolling around fighting for his life. The sound to the TV is off, so the soundtrack was unknowingly being provided by the doom metal band. It matched up perfectly. Similar to how you can watch The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon as a soundtrack. The sync of the Black Sabbath-like music with the imagery of wrestling with a demon-monster, lighting it on fire, and stabbing it with a sword was uncanny. It completely changed the mood of the scene. No more light-hearted romance comedy tale aimed at kids. Now it’s Dungeons and Dragons doom metal by way of William Goldman. Conan the Barbarian with a soundtrack by Cathedral. This silly and brief juxtaposition actually sums of the experience of Ash Street pretty well. Accidentally putting things together that don’t go together and seeing what develops. Creating new mashup art out of old art. Bastardization and mutation. Spontaneous collaborations and bizarre weirdness that you can’t turn away from.

I shall miss you, Ash Street Saloon. This place means so much to me. I’ve been spending quality time there off and on for the last 20 years. My five months working there were amazing and I wish that I had 5 years of stories. Support local music and venues. Start your own band. Go see a show. Go play a show. Make memories.
Buy the ticket, take the ride.

And for the love of all that is holy, please burn that green room couch in a CDC cleanroom. The toxins released from burning that disgusting sponge of nasty anywhere else would kill us all.

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You spin me right round, baby, right round

Most stage set ups are all the same, depending on the particular gear that the band uses. But in general, the drum kit is usually in the back of the stage, and then the amps of the guitarist and bassist are on their left and right. The singer usually is up front in the middle of the stage. Mix and match with additional instruments like keyboards, DJ turntables, the occasional stringed instruments, horns, additional backup singers, etc. The diagram of this that you send to the talent buyer or booker is called the Stage Plot. It helps the sound engineer know what to have ready when you arrive and how to properly set up all of the house equipment for what you are bringing.

The way the musicians hear themselves onstage is through several monitors set up around the front of the stage facing back at the performers. The audience doesn’t particularly hear what comes out of these monitors.  The drummer usually has their own drum monitor at the back by their drums facing them. Unfortunately I have played several venues that, for some logic-defying reason, didn’t have a drum monitor at all. I couldn’t hear shit. Just my drums. I just had to basically know where I was in the song from counting in my head and playing the songs a few hundred times. Muscle memory put to the test. I also watch my band-mates’ body language. I watch for certain lyrics or guitar solos and their accompanying body movements to know where I am in the song. It’s challenging as hell, but sometimes you have to forge ahead even when you can’t really hear the other musicians.

But when you do have monitors, and 99% of the time you do, getting the proper mix can be heavenly, and you can actually hear the songs better than you ever do during practice. Each of these monitors is a powered monitor, meaning that it can be mixed just for the individual musician that it is aiming at, to help them hear what they need to hear onstage while performing. As a drummer, I usually make sure that the vocals are highest in my personal mix, followed by the guitars. I don’t ever need to hear myself (some drummers love to have their own drums high in the mix), but I do need to hear the bass guitar prominently. The bass guitar and the drums make up the rhythm section, after all. People cue off of different things. That’s why you each want your own powered monitor to blast back exactly what you need to hear.

So on this night I noticed an unusual set up at the music venue I was working at. Instead of the guitar amp being behind the guitar played aimed out at the crowd, the amp was lined up along the front of the stage, aimed away from the crowd and directly toward the guitar player himself. He was using his amp as his own powered monitor, and had it mic’d so it would be going through all of the house speakers as well. It also had two little hinged legs to hold it up at a 45 degree angle. Amps are almost always just set level on the ground, and monitors are usually angled or come in a wedge shape so they are aimed up at the ear-level of the musician needing it. This guy was cutting out the middle man and just using his amp as a monitor. Nothing wrong with this, as long as you control any feedback onstage from other microphones that might pick up too much of a signal from his amp. I didn’t see a vocal mic for him, so the potential for ugly feedback was nil. But having the amp at the edge of the stage always seems like a bad idea to me, as the crowd is right there and could accidentally bump it, spill a beer, or worse.

Sure enough, things got weird. About and hour into the show I was standing by the curtain to backstage monitoring the crowd, and I noticed some dude dance his way right up to the front of the stage. It’s sometimes hard to determine if someone is just really enjoying the music, or is actually intoxicated. So I watched him for a few minutes. He was singing along with the lyrics and obviously was a true fan of this band. I didn’t like him dancing that close to the precariously tipped amp, but he wasn’t doing anything that the rest of the crowd wasn’t doing. A member of the opening band walked through the curtain and chatted with me for a second, so my attention strayed from the dancing dude. When I looked back, he was absent-mindedly lightly tapping on the top of the amp, along with a pretty cool drum fill. Dude knew the drum parts too, but he can’t be touching the musical equipment like that.

I walked over to him and lightly tapped him on the shoulder.  “Please don’t touch any of the equipment onstage.”  He gave me a guilty smile and his eyes got wide. He made that gesture that you make when you don’t want any trouble and are sort of apologizing. The one where you raise your hands in a sort of “I surrender” wave. He honestly acted like he was afraid of me. I just said thanks and backed up to where I was standing previously. He continued to enjoy the music.

Until he touched the amp again. I was looking at the struts holding it up at the 45 degree angle. I had no idea how strong they were. I also could see into the back of the amp and noticed the tubes. Some amps are tube amps and require little cathode light bulb looking things to amplify the sound. I won’t get into all the details of how that works, mainly because I can’t, but suffice it to say that these little bulbs are very important to the functionality of the amp. I also remember reading that amplifier circuits, even when unplugged, contain voltages that can kill you. You can see where my worried mind was taking me with this.

This time I used my tactical flashlight to spotlight him. This draws unwanted attention to the person, and also effectively blinds them for just a second. I said more loudly, “Do not touch this amp again or you will have to leave.” He nodded and actually moved away from this area of the stage. I shook my head and returned to my station. I was starting to think that he was indeed drunk, or maybe just stubborn as a mule. It’s a fine line.

Then he was back. This time he actually reached over the amp and attempted to touch the knobs on the front. He could turn the main volume knob all the way off, or all the way up, or even unplug the cable. What in the unholy hell is he thinking? I moved right up to him and as I did I noticed the guitar player onstage also moving towards the guy. The guitar player saw this dude trying to mess with his settings and lunged at the guy with his guitar, as if to skewer him with the neck of it. While playing the song and not missing a note. At that exact moment I reached him and grabbed him firmly by his shoulders. I said very loudly, “YOU ARE LEAVING.” Then I spun him around so he was now facing away from me. I grabbed his shoulders again and started pushing him through the crowd towards the exit. I could have walked him out along the side, but I was pissed off at him and wanted to make a spectacle out of him. I pushed this guy all the way through the crowd towards the door. People moved out of our way making us a path. I felt several pats on my own shoulders as I did this. Other crowd members saw him screwing with the amp and glad I was evicting him from the venue.

We got to the door and we walked through, only to have him collapse to the ground like I tripped him or something. I actually laughed out loud and stepped over him. My two co-workers saw me walk this guy out and started coming towards him to help grab him if necessary. I explained, “He was messing with the guitarist’s amp after multiple warnings to stop. He’s out.” He got up slowly and walked out with me still holding one elbow and my co-workers flanking him on either side in case he made it worse. He just kept acting shocked like he was innocent and I was just some power-tripping security guard. He walked outside complaining and whining. I saw him go to the sidewalk and flip us off. But he didn’t come back.

I walked back into the venue and even more people gave me congratulatory back slaps and shoulder taps as thanks. Everybody was quite happy that I manhandled that drunk idiot out of here after interfering with the musician’s gear during a performance. And I kept thinking, that dude paid money for this concert. He totally loved the band and knew their material. And he then proceeded to do the one thing that you never do at a concert. Screwed with the equipment. And so he got booted out for it. What a fool. I hope he left his jacket here. I hope he left his credit card here and didn’t close out his tab. And I gotta admit, when I got back to my station at the curtain I looked around at the crowd confidently and thought, “Who’s next?” There were absolutely zero problems for the rest of the night.

After the show I had a brief chat with the guitarist. He thanked me for getting that idiot out of the venue. I apologized for not getting him out sooner. I was just kind of shocked that he was actually continuing to do what I specifically warned him not to do. The guitarist was in an international touring band and had a cool accent, possibly from Denmark or Finland. I told him I thought it was amazing that he almost stabbed the guy with his guitar. He laughed heartily. I wonder if that dumbass is actually honored that the guitarist from his favorite band almost skewered him from onstage. That could make quite an album cover.

 

 

Tough guy shit

Two dudes come walking in near closing time.

I ask to see their IDs and warn them that we are about to close, so they might just have time for one drink. They say they understand and get out their IDs. The first guy’s ID isn’t valid, as it expired two years ago. Not two days ago, two weeks ago, or even two months ago. Two years ago. What the hell, man?

Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Sorry, my friend, but this ID expired almost two years ago. You can’t come in here with this.

Dude: But it’s clearly me in the photo!

Me: Right, but we can’t accept any expired ID from anyone. This is basically useless once it’s expired.

Dude: Yeah but look at me, I’m clearly over 21.

Me: Yeah you’re probably over 21, it’s just that you must have a VALID form of ID to even be in here. It’s O.L.C.C. rules.

Dude: OLC-what?

Me: Oregon Liquor Control Commission. There are some other places nearby you can still hit that might not care about the expired ID. Sorry for the hassle. Have a good night.

Dude: I don’t accept this!

I paused. My brow furrowed. This guy definitely gets points for originality. Most people just give up and leave sadly when their ID is rejected. When the bouncer gives you the direct message that you cannot enter the premises, it’s safe to say it’s a done deal. Also, now that I’ve got him talking I can tell he is already drunk. Glassy red eyes, difficulty putting sentences together coherently, etc.

Me: Well, I can’t accept an expired ID, so you can’t come in here tonight. Sorry.

Dude: Is there a manager here? Lemme talk to your manager. This is fucking bullshit.

Me: Look, it’s almost 2 in the morning. There’s no manager here. I’m the security staff on shift now. I’m denying you entry due to an expired ID. Head out.

Dude: I don’t accept this! I’m almost 40 years old!

It had already been a long day, and I’d had enough of rude entitled drunk people. Especially this guy. His buddy finally started putting his arms around him in a meager attempt to pull him back outside the doorway. Or prevent him from swinging at me. I admittedly lost my cool.

Me: I don’t give a fuck if you accept it or not. You’re leaving.
First, you have an ID that expired TWO YEARS AGO. Second, you’re drunk already. Third, you’re arguing with me and giving me shit. That’s THREE reasons why you aren’t coming in here tonight. I only need one. Goodbye.

I glanced to the side to the bartenders who were watching this little interaction. I was just looking at them in exasperation over this jerk’s behavior. I knew we’d be talking about this event later after doors were locked and we were closing down the bar. But, they both walked slowly out from behind the bar to back me up in case this situation went south. They both appeared on either side of me ready to help in case this guy wanted to fight about it. I gotta admit, I felt like Darth Vader in the Death Star trench with a TIE fighter flanking him on either side. “I’m on the leader.”

I said to the guy’s friend, “Will you please get him out of here for his sake?”
He nodded yes sheepishly. He still had his arms around the rude guy and was trying to back him out of the door ineffectively.

Dude: You’re a fucking asshole!

I smiled at him and nodded.

Me: Don’t come back.

Both guys stumbled backwards out the door and the first guy kept cussing and complaining. He flipped me off as they went out the door. I hope they walk to the next bar and the exact same thing happens to them. I also look forward to reading the one-star Yelp review.

*********

There was a concert in the venue tonight which was seated. This is unusual for this venue, normally it’s standing room only. There were a hundred and fifty chairs set up in the floor area, and numerous tables set up around the sides. And there was some drink special involving whiskey, just to make things more interesting.

I was positioned by the curtain to the green room watching the crowd. With everybody seated it was harder to spot overt drunken behavior. People weren’t staggering around or having trouble maneuvering through people or up steps. They weren’t spilling their drinks or having trouble maintaining their balance while standing or dancing. They were all sitting down drinking hard. It’s harder to tell if somebody is too intoxicated to be here if their drunk ass is sitting on a chair.

I noticed some voices getting really loud near me. Angry loud voices. I saw two groups of people sitting at the two tables nearest me arguing about something. From what I could ascertain in only a few seconds, some dude accidentally bumped the table and a drink spilled on a woman. The woman’s boyfriend got mad and started talking shit to the spiller of said drink. This is the origin of about 90 percent of fights in bars. Some accident happens, a guy has to defend his girl’s honor and exert his macho powers. Two dudes puff up their chests and bark loudly. If an acceptable apology is not achieved, the two males square off to determine who is the alpha male. By punching each other.

I walked over and turned on my flashlight and asked if everything was worked out. Both parties got a little embarrassed and settled down. I then noticed who was in one of the groups. One of the owners of this establishment. He wasn’t the one talking shit, but it was his friends who were. Now this shouldn’t really matter, but it does. I’m not going to go in and physically grab the best friend/brother of the venue owner unless absolutely necessary. It gets political. I’d be right, but I’d still be wrong.

I hadn’t even worked there very long and wasn’t exactly sure of this guy’s role in the establishment. I just recognized him as an owner. Since this could be a delicate situation I radioed my boss and asked him to come down. He had a much longer relationship with the owner and would better know how to de-escalate him and his crew. I told him that the two groups were getting loud and angry over a spilled drink and a woman, but seemed to be calmed down now. I pointed out who was sitting in the middle of the one group. My boss’s eyes got wider.

Now there are two bouncers standing right by two tables of patrons. Me and my boss. The entire place is seated, so our presence is very obvious. Normally a small show of force like that is all people need to simmer down. Most people don’t like being watched by the security staff and having attention drawn to them. Well, most sober people anyway.

The two tables started yelling again, with the two main guys ramping it up calling each other names. One guy started reaching for the other guy. My boss was down in the owner’s face asking him to get his friends to stop. He said, “If you don’t stop them we’re gonna have to.” Based on the increased volume and aggression of the two guys, I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to end smoothly. I then realized the table in front of them had about 10-15 glasses of beer and whiskey on it. Once the inevitable fight breaks out, this table is going to get bumped or flipped, and all those glasses are going to break. In the melee it’s quite likely that we would slip and fall on the spilled booze, and then get all cut up by the broken glass.

So I grabbed the table and slowly slid it out of the way, also allowing us better access to the drunken people arguing on the benches. My boss saw me do this and knew exactly what I was doing. It was about to turn south, and I was getting this potential hazard out of our way. This non-verbal communication between bouncers is key, and keeps us safe and on the same page. It was my way of saying, “This isn’t working and it’s going to erupt in a few seconds.”

Sure enough, one drunk dude called the other drunk dude a ‘faggot’ and reached for his neck. My boss and I each had tactical flashlights out and flashed them right in their eyes. This stuns a sober person pretty well, so spotlighting a drunk person in the dark with a 1000 Lumen tactical flashlight really fucks them up for a few seconds. We moved to the instigator and grabbed him up off the bench and away from his friends.

If you’ve seen the movie Carlito’s Way you probably remember the scene where Al Pacino is sitting at a table in his club eating and defends one of his club girls. John Leguizamo is trying to grab the girl away and Pacino doesn’t let him. Things escalate and all the security guards in suits appear out of nowhere and whisk Leguizamo off to the staircase. Well, that’s essentially what we did here.

We bear-hugged the guy away from the other group and out of the area. Manhandled him out of a side door and released him. Told him he couldn’t come back to the venue, and to get off the property. The venue owner came out and walked out with him, apologizing to us profusely.

I went back in the venue and the other guy was trying to follow us out to fight the guy outside. Still puffing up in front of his lady. I pointed at him and said, “Don’t be the second problem. It’s handled. Sit down.” He did.

The musical act onstage never stopped playing, and didn’t acknowledge the scuffle.
No broken glass. No injuries. No police involvement. I consider this a win.

Damned whiskey and testosterone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m here to help

I always tell people: doing security at the places I work is 90 percent helping people, 5 percent telling people that they can’t do something, and 5 percent ‘tough guy shit’. This blog is going to focus on the 90 percent that is helping people out. The part of the job that I love the most.

My boss at one of the music venues where I work security always says, “You don’t need us until you need us. Then we’re the most important staff there.” It’s true. You often think security people aren’t doing anything, and look bored. That’s why they give us other duties to fulfill throughout the shift. But when something goes down and some situation needs to be dealt with quickly, security staff become the most valued personnel there. Nobody really wants the difficult jobs of breaking up a fight, denying entry to a visibly intoxicated person, denying entry for an expired ID, intervening with sexual harassment, confiscating a fake ID, physically hauling someone outside, 86ing someone from the establishment, detaining someone while the police are called, calling an ambulance for a medical emergency, etc. That all falls on us.

When we’re not doing that ‘tough guy shit’, we are usually given other jobs to pass the time. I more often feel like a host, greeter, or concierge. I answer all of the questions, even the ridiculously stupid ones. It usually feels more like hospitality, rather than ‘bouncing’. We check everyone’s ID in accordance with the O.L.C.C. (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) regulations. Sometimes we check bags, or even pat down or wand people for weapons depending on the venue and the event. Often I end up bussing tables simply because I like to keep moving and help customers. That’s technically a barback and bartender duty. Some venues put us in charge of scanning and processing concert tickets, and assisting at box office. We usually are the ones who change the marquee sign. We answer the telephone. We monitor alcohol use. We guard the venue stage and/or green room. We act as tour guides to out-of-town guests (which I love, since I’ve lived here since 1996 I do know where lots of cool spots are). We help the bands load out their heavy touring gear into their tour bus and trailers. We lock the place down and set the alarm at the end of the night. There are numerous additional duties we take on to help the team and make the night run smoothly. We’re the first and last people you see when you are here, so we must make a good impression.

But, like I said, the most rewarding part is helping people out. That’s what I’ve primarily done for every job I’ve ever worked at since I was 19, if you distill the jobs down to their base function.

Nothing makes me happier than people making comments to me like, “You’re the nicest security guard I’ve ever met.” I hear that every couple of weeks. Or, “You win the award for nicest bouncer ever.” Another memorable one was a woman who said, “You have the most sincere smile of anybody in here.” My philosophy is that if you win people over coming through the door, you’ve got them on your side for the rest of the night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up having to ask a patron to leave, but since they remembered me “being cool” to them earlier, they do what I’m asking them without any hassle. And no punches. Some people even shake my hand as I’m having them leave. It’s a trip.

One particular night I was working the venue and a very sweet older African-American woman was there with her family to watch her daughter perform that night. I’m always appreciative when I see older people/parents attend concerts. My parents have been coming out to see my various bands perform since I was about 19.  I appreciate when the bouncers take extra care with them and help them find seats away from any mayhem or danger. Door guys have offered to walk my parents to a good table, offered them earplugs, and even waived the cover charge.

So on this night, this very kind woman was asking me the usual questions about where she should sit, where would the best view be, what time her daughter’s band was starting and finishing, etc. I helped situate her and her family members at a bench along the side of the room that had great view of the singer. She asked if she could leave to go to her car and get some pillows, since the bench was just hard wood and not that comfortable for long periods of sitting. She did that and returned to her area. I was stationed by the curtain leading back to the green room and backstage area, so I continued to check on her and her family throughout the evening.

She came up to me and asked if there were any other tables in the venue so that she and her family could have somewhere to set their drinks. Some nights there are just a couple of tables, other nights there are zero tables, and some nights there are 10 tables set out with candles on them. I told her that I would see what I could do. I could’ve just told her that I didn’t know where any additional tables were, but that didn’t seem right. I left my post for a minute to look around backstage. No tables. I went outside the venue and looked in the indoor parking garage. Sure enough, there were a few tables out there. The tables are moderately heavy, but I picked one up and walked with it across the parking garage and back into the venue. Through two doors, down some stairs, and through the curtain.

If you’ve seen the 1990 Martin Scorsese mafia movie GOODFELLAS, you remember the nightclub scene. Ray Liotta is trying to impress his new lady, so he takes her to the club that he has partial ownership of. He walks her around the VIP line and through the basement of the building, walking through the kitchen and tipping everybody he sees. They enter the club and a famous comedian is performing. There is nowhere to sit at all, but since he is who he is, the staff brings out a small table and puts it down right in front of the performers. They throw on a tablecloth and silverware and a candle, and set them up in the best spot there is. His girlfriend is duly impressed. And it’s all done in one long continuous shot. I felt like I was bringing in the table for this woman in similar fashion. In I come with a table just for her and her crew. I put the table down right in front of her and held up my finger in the gesture that means, “Hold on a minute.” I then went and got a candle and put it down on the table for her. She clasped her hands together like she was praying and smiled a huge smile at me. Her face was aglow with gratitude.

Later I was out near the front doors saying goodnight to people and this woman found me and thanked me profusely for the special treatment. She gave me a side-hug and put a 5 dollar bill in my shirt pocket. I was so touched. That wasn’t the biggest tip I’ve ever received there, but it may have been the most heartfelt one.

One night we had a blind man with a guide dog come in for the concert. I walked them into the venue and found a logical place for them to enjoy the show where the dog could lay down and not be underfoot. That dog was so chill. I’ve worked with dozens, if not hundreds, of dogs in my life. I used to run a non-profit dog rescue so I’m quite familiar. Most dogs I’ve ever had were agitated by loud noises, in particular fireworks and gunshots and thunder. But a loud rock concert could certainly be included in that group of relatively unpleasant experience for a canine ‘fan’. This dog was right at home watching all the people walk around him and ignoring the raucous rock music. This little guy didn’t even have earplugs.

Later on in the evening a female friend of the blind man asked me to come over. The man was hoping to step outside and get some fresh air and take a break from the concert. We left the dog under the charge of the woman and exited the venue. This man grabbed my shoulder and let me lead him through the crowd and out to the sidewalk. He told me about how he traveled here from Eugene for this show and how much he loves this band and Portland in general. We, of course, talked about how great his service dog was to be so calm in a noisy rock concert. We walked the block several times, with him still gripping my shoulder as I steered him around obstacles and homeless people. Observers would probably think that this man was my Dad.

It’s these little connections that make my job so unique. I spent a good 20 minutes with this man, and I’ll never see him again. But he trusted me completely and we talked and bonded on music and animals and life in general. Later I helped him call a cab and watched him and his service dog hop in the car to go back to their hotel. Everybody knows when you lose one sense, the other ones get stronger. Being a blind man, I guarantee he heard that concert more acutely than I’ve ever heard a concert. I’m actually a bit envious of how he experienced and heard this show. And I really wish I could talk to his dog and ask him what he thought of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am the wristband concierge

Sometimes one of the music venues that I work security at contracts with an outside promoter. This promoter sets up shows with some national touring acts a handful of times throughout the year. These shows are sponsored by an energy drink. This sickeningly sweet beverage perhaps rhymes with the word Dreadful.

The thing about these shows is that everybody on staff hates them because of the terrible way they are set up. I honestly can’t understand why they do it this way. It is always a shit-show. We are left with a ton of unsatisfied people who make the night unpleasant for everyone involved. These dreadful events meet all the criteria for the term ‘clusterfuck’.

Normal ticket prices for concerts at this venue run anywhere from $10 to $30 on a regular night, depending on the acts. We have a 300 person capacity venue, so shows here sell out pretty regularly. For this dreadful event, they pre-sell reservations online for tickets for only $3. This ensures that way too many people will show up than will actually get in. A line will run down the side of our building and around the corner in front of another business. People will stand in this line for hours. They sell more than 300 RSVP tickets to this show, so this is technically intentionally overselling an event.

They hired two sexy women who barely looked 21 to walk around with little sponsor backpacks full of these energy drinks. I carded them even after the first door guy did because I just didn’t think they were 21. Either they actually were 21, or they had immaculate fake IDs. They actually had trouble giving away their little cans of dreadful, so they left a ton of them back in our kitchen area. I think I drank one and took one for another time. I need all the caffeine I can get tonight.

On a normal night, we have 3-4 security staff working the event. One person works the door checking IDs and assessing people for being too intoxicated. Another person scans the concert tickets and stamps your wrists. Another person sits in the venue at the curtain doing crowd control and checking for wristbands granting access to the green room. Another person is the rover, and they check the patio and perimeter and help the other staff as needed.

But on this night, we would have all security staff on shift. Maybe 5-6 people. I was given a brand new job just for this event. My job is to take the wristbands given to each person at the box office and affix them to your wrists as I attempt to explain the batshit crazy way this event works. And monitor admission numbers with the clicker. If you get all the way up to me and get a wristband from the box office, you’ve won. You already paid the measly $3 to reserve your ticket at the box office. And if you got in line hours early, you were one of the first 300 people to get processed. You were then able to pay the remainder of the ticket price to get your actual ticket, which in this case was the all-holy green wristband. Maybe $8-12 more dollars.

You can already see the flaw in this plan, can’t you? If you happen to be behind the 300th person in line, you don’t get a ticket/wristband. Even though you already paid the $3 online to reserve your spot. And after you already waited in that goddammed line for hours. So you lose that $3, you waste hours of your time, and you are extra pissed off because paying the money online sort of convinced you that you got a spot.

There’s an art to affixing those wristbands to 300 people’s wrists. They want one person to do it all so it’s uniform. You want it on the same wrist, not too tight but not too loose. The first few times I did it I sort of fumbled with it and made small talk about which band they were most excited to see. But I quickly got the hang of it and was putting those wristbands on people’s wrists without leaving any exposed sticky parts to pull on their arm hair. I got my technique down and everything. One guy appreciated my helpfulness in answering his questions and getting the wristband on so quickly. He said, “Tonight you are the wristband concierge.” I grinned at him and said, “Indeed I am.”

As my clicker nears the number 300, we walk out to the expectant faces in the line and tell them that we are 20 tickets away from being sold out. We count back 20 people and tell everybody else that they are essentially shit out of luck and should go home. Of course now we have a ton of disappointed angry people who then try to get in the bar to drink their sorrows away, and perhaps try to sneak past all of us to get into the venue. And everybody wants to argue with me about how the system is flawed and they deserve to get in. Some people try to buy their way in by offering me the ticket cost in cash. Some people just linger outside the doorway thinking that we just made that up and that somehow miraculously the venue will expand in size, adding 45 more tickets that we can sell. I’ve been telling people ‘no’ all night, and now my skills of telling people ‘no’ are activated at the highest level. And I’m apologizing for the fracas on behalf of a company that intentionally set this shit-show up this way.

Due to the over-capacity crowd in the venue, and the massive crowd of disgruntled people trying to get in the bar/restaurant section, we did something I haven’t done before at this venue. We stopped letting people in all together. We stood at the doors and told people that we are over capacity in both the venue and the bar, so nobody can come in right now. People just don’t compute that. They try to beg, bribe, and argue their way in. Some entitled assholes just act like they can’t hear me and try to walk around me. I put my hand on their arm and speak again directly to them in my loudest angry voice. “We are over-capacity and not letting anyone in. At all. You need to go somewhere else.”

I continue to tell people various forms of ‘no’. I don’t think I’ve ever told people ‘no’ so many times in one night.

“No there are no more tickets to the show.”

“No there is no guest list with your name on it.”

“No you can’t buy a ticket from me.”

“No you can’t come in to use the bathroom.”

“No you can’t come in the bar.”

“No you can’t come in if one person leaves.”

“No you can’t just go look in the venue.”

“No you can’t order food, the kitchen has dozens of active food orders.”

“No you can’t talk to a manager right now.”

One very attractive young woman was trying her best to flutter her eyelashes and stand really close to me and sweet-talk her way in to the show with her two friends. Numerous polite but firm ‘nos’ were given to her. She left for a while and then came back with a ripped up green wristband on her wrist. She talked somebody who was leaving the concert into removing their wristband and giving it to her. This is ticket-clipping, done by snowboarders and festival goers since the dawn of time. What this woman didn’t know was that I was the wristband concierge, and had personally attached all 300 of the wristbands to everybody here tonight. Also, the wristband was barely staying together on her wrist, as it had been cut. She was trying to hold it together under her coat sleeve. I told her I knew exactly what she just did and that I did not put that wristband on her. And that now she needed to leave.

The stupidity continues even in the venue. The energy drink sponsor set up a drink special where their product is used as the main ingredient/mixer. Bartenders were instructed not to pour the entire can into the drink and then recycle it, like they would normally. They were supposed to pour most of the can into the drink, add the hard liquor, and then give the drink cup and the little can of dreadful to the customer. The can only had a few ounces of sugary caffeinated liquid left in it. I later found out the strategy behind this. They wanted every photo taken to have a huge crowd of people with every single person holding a can of dreadful. Product placement at it’s finest.

The problem was, people don’t like to carry around a drink in both hands for very long. Double-fisting gets old fast. So they would primarily just leave the can of dreadful somewhere. On the side of the stage, the tables, guard rails, the floor. These cans get knocked over or fall off their perch, and the sticky yellow liquid gets all over the concrete floor. All night long. After hundreds of drinks being served like this, and several hours of this happening, the floor was universally covered in a sticky film of sugar, taurine,  and B-vitamin juice. If caffeine had a smell, the place would have been a hotbox of dreadful stank. When your shoes stick to the concrete floor with every step, it makes dancing and walking around distracting and troublesome.

And just when I thought this entire thing couldn’t get any worse….
The headlining band shot off a bunch of confetti at the end of their set. This confetti all inevitably landed on the floor. The floor that was covered in a centimeter of yellow energy drink paste and alcohol. Now we have thousands of little bits of paper landing in the sticky swamp. Genius. Maybe this is how you make napalm. And maybe that’s the solution tonight. I’m just glad that mopping up the venue floor does not fall under my job description. After tonight I need a drink. However I don’t think I want to drink a little can of dreadful ever again.

 

 

 

 

 

Zombie Girl

There’s this young woman outside our front doors who looks lost. It’s a cold and windy fall evening outside our venue, and I’ve noticed her standing around for a while now. I would use the word waif to describe her. Slight, short, skinny, but dressed well. She definitely seems to be buffeted by the wind and has backed herself into a corner to keep warm.

Lots of people wait around outside our doors for their Uber or Lyft car to pick them up. Cabs pull up outside all the time, and people checking in to the nearby hotel. Or they linger outside for a quick smoke. But this girl was just standing in a dark corner outside our doors with her arms wrapped around herself. Remember in the movie Blade Runner when Pris is standing around with her raccoon eyes trying to find somewhere safe? She pulls a bunch of newspapers and debris over her to sleep in an alleyway. She had a feral, vulnerable and paranoid look on her face. This girl had that same demeanor.

I stepped outside and asked her if she wanted to wait inside to get out of the cold and wind. She sheepishly came inside and thanked me in a quiet voice. Now that she was under some better light I could see that she was indeed very skinny, and also had braces. In the weird yellow lighting in the entryway she looked very odd, and her braces just made her look like she had terrible teeth. She also had somewhat hooded eyes. Her natural complexion gave her dark bags under her eyes and her prominent eyebrows ridged her deep eye sockets. She was also chewing gum, which kind of reminded me of the nervous teeth grinding that meth users will do.  I was trying to figure out if she had some problem besides just presenting a bit strangely. Like drugs or a mental illness.

I tried to engage her in some conversation to see if I could help her with anything. I asked if she was waiting for a ride, or if she was lost. She just sort of nodded her head no and kept chewing. She also was rocking from side to side a little bit and making other employees wonder about what she was doing. I let her be for a little bit. I told some coworkers that I invited her in to get out of the bad weather, but to keep an eye on her.

The concert was about to let out, so I warned her that she may not want to stand there when the crowd starts pouring out. She looked at me like I told her aliens abducted her as a young girl and planted a tracker device inside of her. I’m starting to get the idea that she doesn’t know anything about this establishment. We are a restaurant, bar, and music venue. Not a bus stop with a nosy security staff.

She moved to walk into the bar and I asked to see her ID. Her hooded eyes looked up at me like my goal in life was to irritate her. I had to reiterate that she was walking into a bar that serves alcohol, so she needed to show her ID for entry. She brought out her purse and fumbled around inside of it for a long time. I looked around at some of the bartenders and caught them smirking at me having to deal with a potentially problematic and weird situation. I smirked back.

She pulls out a card and hands it to me. It isn’t any kind of Oregon drivers license at all. It’s some sort of card with just her name and photo on it. It struck me as an ID card for a residential treatment center. The facility name sounded familiar, but handing this to a door guy is the equivalent of handing them a library card. I now had a better understanding of what I’m dealing with here. She probably lives at some kind of adult care facility. She got a furlough pass from the treatment center and decided to wander around Portland creeping people out. I informed her that this wouldn’t work. She needed to have a drivers license or a passport to get in. She got frustrated and grimaced at me before returning to her post of rocking back and forth, chewing her gum, and glaring at people.

Without a proper ID she really has no justification to be here. She can’t legally enter the doors and is now only on premises because I was being nice and invited her inside the foyer. She can’t tell me how she got here, she can’t tell me where she’s going, and she can’t tell me what she plans to do after she leaves. Now the concert finished and the crowd is coming out the doors, right towards our favorite anti-social lady. She doesn’t move to get out of their way, she just stands there arms crossed looking at people as the stream around her. I start to hear people asking her if she’s ok. A few women even ask her why she’s mad. Our friend isn’t answering people but she’s standing there making people uncomfortable as hell. Somebody asks her why she’s making that face. She gets angry and starts yelling at that woman.

I ask her to come to the side where she will be out of the way of the crowd trying to get around her. I again ask her if she needs me to call her a cab to get home, because she can’t stay here any longer. I stated clearly that I am security here and that she is going to need to leave. She can’t be here without a valid ID. She gets mad at me and starts telling me that I invited her in here. I reminded her that was me being nice, and before I knew that she had no ID and no business here. Now that she’s aggravating customers and essentially refusing to leave, it escalates.

“I’ve been more than nice with you, and I’ve offered you all sorts of help tonight. But now you’re being asked to leave. If you don’t leave now, this will be considered trespassing and we will call the police.”

The crowd has finally flowed around her and left the building. She’s still here arguing with me. Over refusing to leave a place that she didn’t want to be in the first place. Sometimes it isn’t the big burly dudes that swing on you and start spitting…it’s the tiny women. I really have no idea what this girl is capable of now that she’s turned on me and is being rude and yelling at me. And nobody wants to see a male security guard manhandling a tiny woman by herself. I have no interest in putting my hands on her, especially in this situation. So I kick it sideways.

I thought that a different security staff might be helpful here, a female security staff in particular. Nothing I say to this woman is helping, and she’s in hate with me right now. I found my female coworker and quickly gave her the short version of why this woman needs to leave the premises. She walks out into the foyer with me, and our unwanted guest sees her and immediately walks out the front door. Damn, I should’ve involved her 20 minutes ago.

We stand around for a few minutes and joke about how weird that woman was, and how after battling with me all it took was my female coworker to walk out and it was over.

Then I look across the bar through the crowd and I see her again. She had walked all the way around the building and was standing at the back door. There is a large glass window the size of a door and she’s standing right there looking into the bar. She can’t get in, but what the hell is she even doing there? She’s still shuffling around, rocking from side to side looking inside the bar like a zombie. That’s it. She’s a zombie.  If she would just raise her hands and moan a little she would be exactly like an extra on The Walking Dead. There are strange green and yellow lights near that exit, which only add to making her look sickly and affected. Her scowling grimace is exactly what all zombies do in the movies. Standing by the glass but not being able to get in is a trope of most zombie movies. We can see zombie girl and she can see us, but she can’t get in.  “Brains…..”

The ridiculousness of this situation got to me and I went outside to go tell her to leave the premises one last time. I leave through the front door to circle around to that back door to intercept zombie girl. Starting to feel like this is the moment I get jumped and bitten by this zombie. Never go anywhere alone. I, of all people, should know better. I imagine her biting me and then I become one of them. I wander back into the venue, where I order a rare burger before biting a coworker’s neck.

I approach that back door alcove to find her gone. Poof. Vanished. I don’t know where she could’ve gone that fast from when I spotted her. She’s nowhere. Zombie girl has escaped me. This time.

But I’m pretty sure I can find a crossbow around here somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

Let me stamp your wrist

I’m a security guard at several music venues around Portland, Oregon. It’s probably one of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few. You come in to a music venue to see a band or a DJ perform. To dance all night, drink, flirt, and tell loud stories. To make bad decisions and have great stories to tell the next day.

I’m the guy at the door checking IDs. We are going to have a brief little moment together. Usually polite, usually friendly, almost always pretty surfacy. Our special interaction takes anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. In that time I’m trying to do several relatively simple things.

I’m trying to be friendly and welcome you to the venue. Then I’m engaging you in small talk, looking at your eyes and your gait to assess if you are already too drunk or high to allow into the club. I’m checking your ID to be sure that you are actually the person on the ID. I’m making sure that you were born before this date on 1995, and if your ID has expired. I’m examining the ID to see if it looks fake in general. I’m also trying to keep an eye on people in my peripheral vision that might be trying to sneak past while I’m engaged with you. Then, depending on the event or venue, I’m also scanning your concert ticket and giving you stamps on your wrists. Usually you get one stamp for having a valid ID and being of age, and then you get a different stamp for having a valid ticket to the concert.

I’m also the guy who escorts people out if they’re fighting, or simply are too intoxicated to be there. I answer a lot of questions. The most common things I end up saying besides the usual include, “Yes, there is re-entry. The bathroom is over there. No we don’t have a coat check. You can’t take your drinks outside. The ATM is just outside by the door. The box office is just over there. Yes the show is sold out. No there aren’t any more tickets available.”

Depending on the venue, and my specific duties that night, it is possible that I will have anywhere from 150 to 600 small interactions with patrons of the venue. We’re  going to handle all of these things as quickly as possible, and I’ll try to not ask the same questions several hundred times.

Since I’ve lived in Portland for 20 years, it is a rare night that I don’t see at least one person that I know from my various circles of friends and acquaintances while working the door.

When I ask to give you a stamp on your wrist, we have a strange little physical interaction where a complete stranger is touching your wrist and putting a little ink mark on you. It’s actually sort of intimate. I’m cradling your hand in mine with one hand, then stamping your wrist with my other hand. We’re close and looking in each other’s eyes. It’s almost the way you would cradle your lover’s hand if you were proposing. Sometimes you have to remove gloves, move bracelets, or switch your phone or beer to your other hand. Very often you have wrist tattoos that make it difficult to find a good visible place to put the stamp. And sometimes you have a scar on your wrist.

This happens far more than you would think. I look at the scar on your wrist and sometimes I know it’s from a suicide attempt. Or that you are or were a cutter. If you and I ever had a personal talk you’d probably tell me it was from a car crash. I’d probably smile and agree with you. But cuts from windshield safety glass can look like cuts from your broken wine glass in the bathtub. Or a straight-razor. If the scars go across the wrist like where your wristwatch band would be, maybe you weren’t that serious. If the scars go up the length of the forearm, you were more dedicated. If there were numerous scars of differing healing patterns, colors, and scar tissue, you might have tried a few times.

I think about all of this in the few seconds before I stamp your wrist. Occasionally I have a debate in my mind deciding if I should put the ink stamp off to the side of your scar, or directly on top of it. Some people must wonder, “Why did that door guy just stamp my scar?”  It’s a strange little moment we have where neither of us acknowledges it or says anything, but we both know what just happened. Two complete strangers now sort of share a secret. When I stamp you on your scar I think of it as a protective seal. It is a magical binding. Don’t open this again. It’s me placing my sigil of safety over your wound.

It is a sobering thought to imagine that every person who has a scar on their wrist may have been so depressed and dejected that they tried to end their life at one point. I hope I’m wrong about this. Because I see a bunch of them each night. But here you are, out and about trying to have fun. Not staying home in your apartment where the darkness can take too strong a hold of you. Don’t paint it black.

Maybe someday you’ll try to take your own life again and succeed. Maybe you’ll never try it again. Maybe that was a specific dark time in your life. Or maybe you have to fight off suicidal thoughts every day. You may be here because music is the only thing in your life that keeps you going. Or you’re here meeting the one person that you’ve met that understands you and gives you reason to keep going.

I’m just glad that you are here. And I want to see you here again. Music heals.
Maybe tomorrow morning you’ll wake up and wash the stamp off of your wrist and remember what a great night it was. And maybe you’ll think again about how that scar got there in the first place.

Maybe I’m overthinking all this and I’m just a guy putting a stamp on your wrist.

But I don’t think so.

I’ve been having this dream where dozens of people are stumbling into the venue holding their bleeding wrists out towards me. I’m supposed to suture everybody’s cuts shut but there’s too many of them and I can’t close the wounds fast enough. They all are asking me to help them and pulling up their sleeves to show me their wrists. The crowd starts pushing past me into the venue. Both wrists of every single person have been slashed open and they won’t stop bleeding.

Everybody streams past me into the venue and I hear the music start. Then a figure slowly strides through the doors and stands in front of me. This tall robed figure gently lifts up my wrist and pours candle wax on it. This doesn’t hurt. Then he stamps a sign into the wax, just like Kings in ancient times would do after sealing a private letter. I look up to see his face and I just see light. And then I wake up.