The blind man and the pariah

Steven Wilson was on tour and playing in Portland at our venue tonight. He is a progressive rock titan with a hugely devoted cult following. He was the lead singer and primary creative force in PORCUPINE TREE, BLACKFIELD, and other bands, and now writes unique and emotional solo records.

I’m a big fan of his, as are many of my friends, so I requested to work the stage for this show. Additionally, I was asked to work load-in, which is where I greet the band, and supervise and assist the band members and tour crew with loading in all of their gear. I give out appropriate wristbands, check IDs and tour laminates, and assist them with anything they need. Depending on the amount of gear in the trucks and stage show requirements, load-in can start at 9am. Obviously this means that I get to meet the musicians and interact with them throughout the entire day. They may even ask me for advice on nearby places to go in Portland for food, snacks, quiet coffee shops, cannabis dispensaries, etc. So I get to play tour guide to famous rockers.

I try not to be a googly-eyed fan boy when any of my musical heroes interact with me, but I have to admit, meeting famous rock idols is a huge perk of this job. Prior to working in music venues, I got to meet a few of my musical heroes like Tori Amos, Henry Rollins, and Rob Halford. But meeting touring musicians at my job means I don’t ask for autographs or photos. I just treat them like any other professional musician playing a show here. Sometimes it takes a lot of willpower not to tell them how much they have personally influenced me, or which album is my favorite, or ask for a photo. But I don’t because I am a professional.

One of my best friends, we will call him ‘John’, is the biggest Steven Wilson fan that I’ve ever met. So I was texting him photos throughout the day of the tour bus, the guitar amps with stickers from previous tours on them, and even the set list once that was put in place. I received happy text squeals of pleasure and anticipation from him after each share. John bought tickets to this show months ago, and I knew that I would see him and some other friends later tonight when the show began.

Knowing I would be stuck at the stage all night (by my request), I went outside to get some fresh air and soak up the last of the sunshine. There was already a huge line down the block for general admission, and the early entry line for VIPs was forming inside the restaurant. A couple walked up to me to ask a question. It was a woman and a man, and the man had a cane for his vision impairment. They asked about early entry for people with disabilities, which is 15 minutes before doors open. They had never been to this venue before, so I described it to them, and told them the options of where they might want to stand for the show. There are staircases to each of the 4 levels, one elevator, a balcony, and all-ages area, a VIP area, and several bars. They agreed that they wanted to be in the all ages portion that is right in front of the stage. Even though the man was blind, he wanted to be front and center for the show. Their names were Colin and Jen, and they were both in their 40’s and were kind and appreciative. I made some radio calls and got permission to bring them in for early entry myself, before anyone else got to enter the venue.

I’ve helped blind patrons at music venues before, and it’s a sweet trusting interaction. They usually grab my elbow and have me lead them around. Somewhat like when a Father walks his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Except I’m constantly describing what’s around us and announcing any obstacles that we need to navigate. Colin was tall and lean and had bright blue eyes, looking ever so slightly like the actor Benedict Cumberbatch. I felt like I was guiding a blind Sherlock Holmes into the venue.

Colin opted to take the stairs instead of the elevator, so we slowly walked up to the third floor where the concert hall is located. We then walked all the way to the front of the venue and I made sure that his hands found the metal barricade. “OK friends, we have arrived at the best spot in the house. The sound here should be perfect. I hope you enjoy the show. I’ll be right on the other side of this barricade during the performance, so if you need anything just wave me over.” They were excited and appreciative, and I took them on as my VIPs to check on throughout the evening.

So now here we are at door opening and the eager crowd streams into the room. The people who have been outside in line for hours move right up to the very front by the barricades, where Colin and Jen already are stationed. They’ve got another hour and a half of chatting, drinking, milling around, and posting photos on social media before showtime. This is the time that I can chat with people, say hello and give hugs to friends, answer questions, explain rules and remind them of the ‘no photography’ policy.

My good friend John shows up and finds me at the stage. We chit-chat about the show and me meeting Steven Wilson numerous times throughout the day. We geeked out on the gear onstage, and the possible encores listed on the set list. He also told me that he met a really cool woman in the crowd who loves Steven Wilson almost as much as he does. He pointed her out and I recognized her from earlier in the day. She was decidedly shorter than John is, and covered in tattoos. She was a die-hard fan who got here really early to get in line for the show. Nothing like meeting like-minded people who love what you love. He then told me that he ex would be here tonight and that will be emotional for him. This will be the first Steven Wilson show that they would both be attending since they broke up two years ago.

I should give a little back story on this scenario. John dated this woman for 6 and a half years and they were engaged to be married. They lived together and both loved the music of Steven Wilson, bonding on his songs and lyrics and live performances. Sadly they broke up amidst some unfortunate deception and hurtfulness. They called off the wedding and she moved out. John was, understandably, devastated. He honestly had planned on spending the rest of his life with her. They had zero contact for a very long time after the split, except for telling each other what social event they were attending, so the other person would know not to be there. John is a very loving and charming person that you remember even if you just met briefly. He leaves a great impression and has a truly caring and warm personality. So seeing him hurt like this and then suffering through the lengthy aftermath of the split was hard on all of us in his inner curls. I let him stay at my house a few night when I wasn’t there just so he could get his head together without being surrounded by reminders of her in his house. The household ghosts of a dead love are insistent and vexing.

I’ve been there too, as most of us have after a bad breakup. A house full of things that you bought or created with the other person is now tainted. Every single item. The art, knickknacks, photos, and decorations that made your house a home now just bring emptiness and tears. You now have to decide who gets to take what with them. Custody battles over throw rugs and photo albums and pets. Every little item in your home reminds you of the person who broke your heart and razed the future you had planned. You look at the empty couch and flash back to a morning where she was reclining on it giving you a flirtatious smile over coffee. No matter how much sage you burn and how well you clean, the house still smells of her perfume. You swear you even hear her voice saying your name when you’re there alone. It can drive you mad and make you consider torching everything in the house so you can start over clear. But you can’t burn some memories away no matter how much you want to.

At this point I was waved over by Colin and Jen, so I left John for a bit to see what they needed. Colin asked me if I could help him get to the restroom before the show started. Strangely, there is no bathroom on this level, so I offered to walk him upstairs to the mezzanine bar bathroom. I came out of the moat between the stage and the barricade and offered my arm to him again. We slowly walked all the way across the venue and went upstairs. We chatted a bit and I learned he was from Canada and had traveled down here after attending the previous Steven Wilson show in Seattle. I also learned that we both have a college background in psychology. I walked him into the bathroom and described very precisely how the urinal was located in front of him. I tapped the porcelain top of it with my metal flashlight so he would hear it and know it’s positioning. I told him the flush handle was up on top of that and stepped back. Had we not communicated very effectively, he could have urinated on the wall.

As Colin was relieving himself, another friend of mine came up to say hello. As I’m standing in the bathroom watching another man pee. I couldn’t think of a more awkward time to try to have a conversation, but that’s how it goes at concerts. I tried to be friendly and greet him, but honestly my mind was on Colin’s pee stream. He asked what I was doing and I said, “Oh I’m just bringing my friend here to the bathroom.” He then saw the white cane and hopefully put together that I was escorting a blind man to the lavatory. I think some other less prudent staff might have just nervously said, “I’m waiting for this blind guy to pee.” I liked my wording better. By calling Colin my friend, you don’t actually know if he and I are friends outside of this venue, or if I’m just being respectful by referring to a patron as ‘my friend.’ And actually we are kind of temporary friends now. He is trusting me completely with his well-being getting him around this venue and through the crowds with me as his eyes.

I said that I’d talk with my friend later, and then helped Colin find the sink, apply soap to his hands, turn the water on, and find the paper towels to dry off. Then we walked back through the crowd. The main room had now filled in, so it was much harder walking through everybody to get back to the front row. If you’ve ever been up close at a concert, you know that people are very territorial about their positions, especially up front on the barricade. That’s prime real estate. Patrons arrive hours early to stand in line so that they can secure the best spot when the doors open. And they’ll be damned if they are gonna give up their spot for some Joe Schmoe who just showed up and thinks that they can push their way up to the front. So as I’m walking Colin through the crowd, the space between bodies is getting smaller and smaller. I’m starting to get glares from people who think that I’m just trying to shoulder my way past them to get in front of them for the show.

I start saying, “Excuse me….excuse me please.” Once people see that I’m security staff with a radio and leading a blind man behind me, they move out of my way and let us through. The closer we get to the front there really isn’t any room as people are crammed in standing shoulder to shoulder. People are not so willing to move out of our way, some even trying to act like they can’t hear me. I start shining my flashlight around to get people’s attention, and tapping everybody on their arms saying, “Security! Coming through. Excuse us. Please move. Security.” That always gets people’s attention and they move out of our way quick. This journey from the upstairs bathroom to the front of the house took longer than it should have. I reunited Colin with Jen at the front center of the barricade and they thanked me profusely.

I returned to my position in the moat by the stage and smiled at Colin and Jen. I saw several of my friends out in the crowd, and sure enough now I see my friend John standing next to his ex. They are smiling and talking jovially. She waved at me to say hello and I waved back. Odd to see them standing together as friends after the last two years of minimal contact. But time heals all wounds. On the other side of John is this new woman who he was so excited about meeting. He’s spending ample time talking to both women. But I’m pretty sure he’s flirting with the short tattooed woman that he just met here tonight. Good for him.

The show starts and it is indeed amazing. The crowd at a Steven Wilson concert isn’t particularly interested in crowd surfing or starting fights, so I don’t have to worry about that at the stage. I actually get to glance over and watch the performance by a musician that I love from ten feet away. The show was a great mix of Porcupine Tree songs and Steven Wilson solo songs. At one point I was standing there with my arms crossed in the typical security staff pose. My face was expressionless, so I probably looked angry. Steven Wilson looked at me from the stage while playing guitar and shook his head at me like he was saying no. But more like he was asking, “Are you not entertained? I remember you from earlier today. Why so angry? Aren’t you having fun?” So of course I smiled big back at him, and then he smiled back and nodded in the affirmative. I laughed and looked out at my friend John, who saw that little interaction and was laughing and smiling pretty big himself. That was my quick little moment with Steven Wilson during the concert.

I ended up walking Colin out through the crowd on my arm two more times to use the upstairs bathroom. Each time got more and more difficult to move through the crowd, but I got it done. A tactical flashlight and a strong loud voice comes in handy. I tried to pass the same people each time so they would remember us and be ready to make a path. Each time I walked him by I passed my friend John, his ex, and the new woman. They were about 10 feet back from where Colin was camped on the front of the barricade. I gave them a quick smile or said, “I’m on a mission” as I gently pushed people out of the way. People smiled at me as I made my way back out of the crowd, some even patting me on the shoulder to essentially say, “Thanks for helping the nice blind gentleman get to the bathroom and back without losing his spot at the front.”
I’m here to help.

Steven Wilson had the same opening act for this tour, an extremely talented Israeli woman named Ninet Tayeb. She is not only the powerhouse lead singer of her band, but she is also an actress, a DJ, and model. Ninet and her band were amazing onstage, and she would then come out later to sing several songs with Steven each night. Her voice is strong and powerful, ranging from husky to angelic. She sang a duet with him that I had never heard before tonight. The melody was haunting and plaintive. I was moved by the emotion of the song, and the lyrics that I was hearing for the first time.

Now here’s one of those moments where every single element of the night and the emotions involved coalesced. I was listening to Ninet sing the lyrics of this song, which turned out to be called ‘Pariah.’ The remote-controlled colored light turrets shone purple and blue onto the smiling faces in the crowd. I could spot Colin and Jen in the front row with their eyes and mouths open wide. Ten feet behind them I could see my friend John with his ex on one side of him and the new crush on the other side. Everything slowed down just like those dramatic moments in movies where they use a variable-speed camera to go from real-time to slow motion in the same shot.
I looked up at Ninet as she sang:

So the day will begin again
Take comfort from me
It’s up to you now

You’re still here and you’ll dig in again
That’s comfort to you
It’s up to you now

So pariah you’ll begin again
Take comfort from me
And I will take comfort from you

At 3:15 the song shifts as it reaches its emotional crux. The pretty acoustic arrangement builds up and the band kicks in with distorted guitars and noise swells. Thundering drums that would fit with arena-rock bands drive the sonic apex of the song. This moment froze as I saw Colin at the front sing the lyrics along with Ninet and raising his arms up above his head when the crescendo hit. It was exactly the way a child throws his hands up in the air when riding a roller coaster. The pure joy of a child channeled through a blind adult man hearing his favorite song performed live.

Then I looked behind him and saw one of my best friends also experiencing pure musical bliss while standing between two loves. The past and present. One love that died and is transforming into a new friendship. Evolving into a respect for what is and appreciation for what was. The other new love is just blooming amidst the shared experience of this concert. Those two will always remember this night as the night Steven Wilson’s music brought them together. And I will always think of this vision of all this coming together every time I listen to this song for the rest of my life. John and I have both watched each other date numerous women over the duration of our friendship. It makes me so happy to finally see him happy again. The lyrics about beginning again were the perfect sentiment for someone who is finally getting over their ex and moving forward. The lyrics at times seem like a dialogue between two ex-lovers speaking to each other with advice and encouragement.

I am certain that Colin has felt like a pariah or an outcast due to his blindness. People tend to not talk to blind people like they do sighted people. I didn’t see anybody talk to him tonight besides myself and Jen. And I know that John and his ex considered each other a pariah or a nonperson for the two years after they split up. A persona non grata that your friends learn not to bring up around you, for just hearing their name makes you uncomfortable. These lyrics could not have been more applicable or perfect for this short but powerful moment in time.

I am in awe of the power of music, and how lyrics sung by a complete stranger can resonate so strongly with us. I feel lucky and proud that I was there to share this moment in time with these friends and the musicians onstage. And not one of them knew that I was watching them during this magic moment. Nobody else had the unique viewpoint I did from the corner stage that allowed me to see all of these faces together in a kaleidoscope of joy. Sometimes you are just at the right place at the right time for lyrics of a song to affect your life. Or to sum it up. Or to spur it along to further greatness and forgiveness, healing and acceptance.

If anyone in the audience had looked over at me by the stage looking out at my friends in the crowd, they might have thought that I had tears welling up in my eyes. And on this one particular occasion, they would have been right.

Don’t you worry
Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause nothing really dies
Nothing really ends


And if you want to hear the beautiful song by Steven Wilson and Ninet Tayeb, here it is:

And here are the full lyrics to Pariah:

I’m tired of weakness
Tired of my feet of clay
I’m tired of days to come
I’m tired of yesterday
And all the worn out things that I ever said
Now it’s much too late
The words stay in my head

So the day will begin again
Take comfort from me
It’s up to you now
You’re still here and you’ll dig in again
That’s comfort to you
It’s up to you now
So pariah you’ll begin again
Take comfort from me
And I will take comfort from you

I’m tired of Facebook
Tired of my failing health
I’m tired of everyone
And that includes myself
Well being alone now
It doesn’t bother me
But not knowing if you are
That’s been hell you see

So the day will begin again
Take comfort from me
It’s up to you now
You’re still here
And you’ll dig in again
That’s comfort to you
It’s up to you now
So pariah you’ll being again
Take comfort from me
It will take time
Don’t you worry
Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause nothing really dies
Nothing really ends

Post-script:

In the chaos after the show I wasn’t able to connect with Colin and Jen. I never saw them again. But I did hear that they were singing my praises to my manager on the way out, telling him to thank me for taking such good care of them throughout the show. And my friend John is indeed still dating the tattooed woman that he met at this concert.

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Various accounts of oddities and debauchery

Often the craziest things don’t happen in the music venue, but in the bar itself.

These stories all happened on different nights, but they kind of go together in their surreal weirdness.

One night I was making my way through the crowded bar and encountered a very distinctive smell. One of the sound engineers on break walked towards me and asked, “Do you smell that? What is that smell?”

I replied instantly, “Oh that’s burning hair.”

We both made a face and realized how not normal that was. We looked around us and didn’t see anything unusual. I honestly just assumed that some drunken pyro was putting  a single hair into the candle to watch it burn or something. Then I saw a blonde woman laughing loudly with her girlfriend standing at the bar. She was about 5 foot 3 in heels and probably had a few drinks on an empty stomach. Each time she laughed heartily at her friend’s joke, she flipped her head back and then drooped it forward as she giggled.

I figured out what was happening. When she hung her head down in laughter, the tips of her hairs were dipping into the glass jar candle on the bar. Her hair was getting singed each time she laughed but not catching on fire. She and her friend were so tipsy that somehow they weren’t noticing and weren’t responding to the smell of burning hair.

And then her hair actually did catch on fire. And nobody noticed it. I walked over to her as fast as I could in shock and said, “Sweetheart, your hair is on fire!” I raised my hand like I would swat a fly and kind of slapped her head. This extinguished her burning hair instantly. I seriously expected her to turn around and punch me. But luckily she figured out what I did and why. Everybody in the bar was now watching. Seconds ago, her hair was literally burning and smoking like a firework sputtering to life until I swatted her head with my open hand. I apologized and asked if she was ok. She was so embarrassed that she didn’t really even respond to me verbally. Not even a thank you for smothering her cranial wildfire. She and her friend just kind of resumed their conversation. Almost like having a complete stranger come up and thump your burning dome like Smokey the Bear was a commonplace occurrence. Hell, maybe it is. Her hair was kind of short and choppy.

I started to walk away, but then I reached over and grabbed the candles off of the bar. Nearby patrons smiled at me and nodded in support. Let’s just remove any further fire danger from those ladies. I could be imagining this, but I swear there was a small cloud of smoke above her head after I put her out.

I returned to talking with the sound engineer and quietly laughing about what just happened.
I asked her, “Have you ever seen a person light their hair on fire in a bar and not notice?”
She said, “I love that you just instantly knew that smell was burning hair, and were all nonchalant about it.”
I replied, “Nothing else in the world smells like that.” Which was also me quoting Robert Duvall talking about napalm in Apocalypse Now. However, I really do not love the smell of burning hair in the morning, evening, or ever.

I truly wish that I could watch the security camera footage of me slapping that woman’s burning head. I would keep it running on an endless loop with Ministry’s song “Burning Inside” playing behind it.

 


 

A bartender contacted me and asked me to help deal with two people who were apparently sleeping in an isolate booth. Anytime a patron falls asleep in the bar we ask them to leave. We just can’t have people sleeping or passing out here, for a myriad of reasons.

I get back to the booth and am confronted with Jeff Lebowski and a woman who may be Bunny Lebowski. I am going to assume that you have seen the 1998 Coen Brothers comedy classic, THE BIG LEBOWSKI. If you haven’t, then you haven’t lived and need to fix that problem immediately. But essentially this would be like finding Jeff Bridges and Tara Reid in costume from the movie in your bar. The dude was wearing a tan Terry cloth robe and sunglasses at night. Both people were indeed asleep. They should have been drinking White Russians, but this bar doesn’t serve Caucasians. I turned my tactical flashlight on the most gentle color, green, and gently touched Mister Lebowski on the shoulder to wake him up.

“Hello my friends. You cannot sleep here. It’s time for you both to head home.”
Lebowski, or The Dude, or Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into that whole brevity thing, mumbled something in response but did not get up. Since he had sunglasses on I wasn’t even sure if his eyes were open. I touched his arm more firmly and said again, “Hey you guys have got to head home. I can call you a cab if you want, but you need to head out.”

Now he made my night by playing into his character. He got up from the booth unsteadily and said, “This aggression…will not stand, man.” I grinned from ear to ear and said back to him, “You’re being very undude.” This guy is my most favorite patron this week, but I can’t quite figure out if this is going to go poorly or not. I said, “I’ll walk out with you guys.” He and his special lady friend shuffled through the bar to the front door and I followed them out because it was just too perfect. I would have given anything if the bartender started playing The Eagles right now. I really couldn’t tell if they were acting, or just really drunk and half asleep. But they exited without incident. The Dude abides. For a cinephile like me, this was the greatest thing ever. I could have quoted that movie all damned night.

Its wasn’t Halloween, but there could have been a screening of the movie somewhere nearby at an independent movie theater. Or there actually might have been a Lebowski Festival happening. That’s where a bowling alley screens the movie and serves White Russians and everybody dresses up as characters from the film. But honestly, I don’t think that anything like that was going on. There didn’t need to be, it’s Portland. People might just dress up as Lebowski characters just for fun.

In any case, I get to tell my friends that I kicked The Dude and Bunny Lebowski out of  my bar.

 


 

 

Other times the outlandish events happen just outside the bar on the sidewalk.

The venue I worked at tonight has a bar, a music venue, and a hotel all commingled together. I started driving home after closing the bar and setting the alarm around 3am. After driving a few blocks I realized that I forgot to clock out, so I turned around and returned to the building. I walked back up to the building and saw a big blue pick up truck parked outside with its engine running. I didn’t think much of it and went inside to clock out of the computer system. I said hello to the overnight cleaners there and headed back out to my truck. That big blue truck was still there but I noticed some movement. Always noticing what people are doing around me, especially late at night, is key. Situational awareness is a most needed trait working in the service industry at night.

The truck was bouncing rhythmically with the engine still on but no passengers visible. Knowing full well what was happening, I sat in my truck for a moment just to see if I was right. Sure enough, a female head with big tousled hair was bobbing up and down on someone’s lap. She rose up from the front seat and pulled her hair out of her face, and a man’s head appeared as well. He had the driver’s seat reclined and this woman was giving him one hell of a blowjob. The truck was moving so noticeably that I thought they were having sex. This wasn’t some delicate loving romantic blowjob. This woman was going for it like a cocaine-powered porn star with the utmost dedication and absolutely zero restraint. She must have been doing push ups with her arms on the front seat as she pleasured this guy to completion. She then got out of the truck and said goodnight to the man and kissed him. He drove off and she skipped back up the stairs giggling to her hotel room.

I didnt’ see any money exchanged, but I wondered if she was a prostitute working out of the hotel. Or was she just a woman having an affair with the man at a late-night rendezvous. Were they both married to other people and cheating in secret? Were their partners at home panicked and worried that their spouse was in the hospital, dead, or cheating on them? Since he did not return to the hotel room with her I think something a bit sordid was happening. Or maybe I’m too pessimistic. Maybe they just meet at the concert tonight and just couldn’t help themselves? But I have seen prostitutes show up at the bar after overhearing a patron make a phone call requesting his preferences in a woman. Sugar Daddies with their stripper ‘girlfriends’, pimps, hookers, and drug dealers probably frequent our establishment under the radar more than we know.

Humans are such interesting, primordial creatures. Especially in the wee hours.
I shook my head, mentally flung any ick out of my thoughts, and drove home.

 


 

After the concert ended and the bar announced last call, dozens of people congregate outside the doors and discuss the concert and either say goodnight or make plans for further adventures. There’s a lot of people looking at their phones tracking the progress of their Uber driver coming to pick them up. And a lot of smoking since there is no smoking anywhere inside our establishment.

I stand outside and assist people with directions and suggestions for other places to go. I make sure no alcohol leaves the front doors. And I remind people not to smoke within 15 feet of the door, and to not smoke pot at all. Often I have to remind people to not be so loud since there are hotel rooms nearby, and oh yes they do make noise complaints. As silly as that is.

Tonight I looked up and saw some people standing by their huge hotel room window which faces out to our entrance and the busy street. I recognized them as patrons who attended our concert tonight. It was a man in his 40’s and two super cute women in their early 20’s. I remember them well because I thought that it was an odd matchup. At first I assumed it was a father with his two daughters taking in a show. But their flirty nature and their physicality with each other confirmed otherwise. The two hippie-styled young women were quite effervescent and attractive, and were all over this guy.

I looked away for a minute or two to help a patron figure out directions to their next destination. When I looked back up at the hotel window I saw that the man was standing there in just his boxers with his arms around the two nubile young ladies. The young ladies both were completely naked and dancing on either side of him. Their naked asses were almost pushed against the window glass. Everybody was smiling huge and perhaps unaware that we could see them, or just didn’t give a shit about it. Or they knew full well that they were putting on a naked show for us. Picture three bouncers standing outside the front door all looking up at what could be a debaucherous scene from a movie. For once, none of us were talking. Just silently taking this scene in with a bit of shock and envy. This could be a cocaine party, a threesome among friends, or a guy who hired two girls to make his night like something out of Studio 54 in the late 70’s. In any case, he’s living the dream up there. And we’re down here watching it uncomfortably. I believe one of us went back inside and told a couple of male bartenders what was happening, so they came out and we all gawked like teenagers looking at their first Playboy. When the hotel partiers finally closed the curtains I was relieved. Relieved that I didn’t have to act like I wasn’t watching their performance anymore.

This week I feel like I am in a Joe Coleman painting. Quaint little Portland, Oregon is really a lurid and obscene carnival of the strange and decadent. Random debauchery, prostitution, hotel orgies, truck blowjobs, drugs, Jeff Lebowski, and burning hair.

So I got in my truck and turned up the album ‘Night Drive’ by Chromatics. Appropriate music for my post-shift journey to my house. This band is also from Portland. Sexy music for a sexy night’s soundtrack. And the lyrics to ‘Accelerator’ are perfect for all of this.

God I’m feeling I got a hunger
I love my soul I’m satisfied
Come on, come on
Hit the accelerator, the accelerator
Come on, come on
Hit the accelerator, the accelerator
Living on to be a sinner
Lord it’s hard to be a saint

 

 

 

Working the stage (with a crowd surfing primer)

Sometimes being a bouncer isn’t always about checking IDs and kicking drunk people out. In the bigger music venues you can split the duties between the various people on shift. So sometimes you get to work the stage. It is substantially different from working the door as a bouncer. As a musician and concert-goer since 1986, I am a person who truly enjoys working at the stage. Being that close to the performers during their set, and feeding off the energy and joy of the crowd is one of the more fun shifts for me. I’ve met some amazing international touring bands working stage. And they put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us do.

I’m sure you’ve been at a concert where there were crowd surfers. But for the uninitiated, that’s when you climb up on somebody’s shoulders and lay across the crowd that holds you up and passes you around the audience. You usually end up being delivered to the front area between the barricades and the front of the stage. There are always staff there to help catch you so you don’t injure yourself or fall on concrete. That’s me when I’m working stage. Catching adult human beings so they don’t break their bones. Always keeping people safe, even from their own recklessness.

Other things we’re watching for would be fights, people smoking pot (because indoor venue), any sexual harassment, tiny concert-goers getting crushed into the front barricades, and medical issues. Many people don’t want to lose their spot at the front of the barricade, so they don’t leave to drink water. People faint or pass out and we have to haul them up over the barricade and then get them medical attention if needed. People take too many drugs and can overdose there in the heat of the crushing horde. Some people just don’t know how to take care of themselves at concerts and don’t bring money for food or drink. I’ll give out waters to people as long as I can, but I only have so much there with me. Some people have heart attacks or strokes and we need to call the ambulance. There’s a lot that can happen at the stage. So when you see a bunch of security people at the front of the stage looking out at the crowd and not at the show, it’s us. We’re scanning for all of these things while you are watching the concert and hopefully not getting hurt or dying out there in the ocean of sweaty bipeds.

Depending on the type of music and the crowd, there may not be any moshing or crowd surfing at all. On nights like that working stage I get to enjoy the performance and just keep my eye on the people in the crowd that might need help. We can often predict the drinking patterns of a concert based on the genre of music, and whether or not the crowd is going to give us problems all night or just stand there and soak in the music. And just to dispel your possible assumptions, it is often NOT the metal or rap crowds that give us the most challenges. Usually those crowds are some of the best, sharing  more of a spirit of brotherhood and helping each other out. I feel better about the people at a metal show taking care of each other and helping each other out than I do at most other types of shows. Just for reference, it’s been the alt country shows and stoner rock shows that surprised me with their violence and asinine behaviors. Testosterone, machismo, aggression, and whisky, my brother. Keep them all separate.

The time before the show starts is a great time for me to build social capital with the people who arrived early to occupy the front of the barricades. I smile a lot and ask them about which band on the bill is their favorite. I sneak in reminders about the photo policy, and tell them to wave me over if they have any problems throughout the night. I keep telling people to drink lots of water and show them where the water station is located. I answer questions about potential meet and greets, autograph signings, set list acquisition, bathroom locations, and all of the other questions people ask. I’ll also be a photographer for people who want shots of them and all their friends in the front row. All of these short little interactions build a good little temporary relationship that will last throughout the show. And if and when any problems occur, things will go easier. Actually I get sometimes get them to do my job for me. I’ve seen people remind others to not use their flash, and to stop taking video after I announced that to them. I love listening to people tell me stories of seeing this band last night in Seattle or another city. I appreciate fans that follow their favorite band on tour for more than one night.

I also love seeing parents there with their kids for a concert. They’ll often tell me that it’s the child’s first concert ever. I vividly remember my first concert experiences. So I always try to be super friendly to the kids and offer them water and look out for them to step in if somebody is getting to rowdy around them. Just asking a kid what album is their favorite one from the touring act goes a long way. I love glancing over and seeing the kid wide-eyed and in a state of reverie seeing their favorite band onstage for the first time. Or singing along with the lyrics just like they lived those words. If a stage hand offers me a set list after the final encore, I’ll try to hand it to the kid. Parents have come to shake my hand and thank me after the show for helping provide them with such a fun first concert for their child. Live music is life.

Ten minutes before the opening band started, I was called over by some teenagers in the front row. Their friend had just dropped to the ground at the front of the barricade and was laying on the venue floor. I immediately called for a medical situation over the radio and climbed up over the barricade and into the crowd. I asked them if he fainted and his friend said, “Well he did take a lot of hallucinogens tonight.” I knelt down by the young man and put my fingers on his neck to check for a pulse. As I started tapping him he woke up and stood up with me. I told him who I was and where he was and asked him what happened. He said he had a ‘crowd induced anxiety situation’ and that he ‘took a bunch of mushrooms’. I offered him some bottled water and he drank it down. I asked if he wanted to walk out to an area where there were fewer people, but he said he was ok. He said he didn’t pass out or faint but he just needed to lay down and gather himself for a minute. At this point there were 5 security people and 3 managers on the other side of the barricade looking over at me speaking with this young man. I gave them all the thumbs up gesture and walked out through the crowd back around to the pit area between the stage and the barricade. I told the kid and his friends that I’d be there all night and would keep an eye on him and check in. Managers agreed to let him stay with my offer to babysit him. So for the remainder of the show I kept watching him to make sure he didn’t drop again. I gave him a bunch of water and would frequently give him the thumbs up gesture, which he would return with a big smile. I was tempted to say things like, “Handle your high, dude.” Or these lyrics from the band SLACK, “You took too much, your brain is toast. BRAIN TOAST.”  But you know what, I was 19 once and I did some stupid shit too. He and his friends ended up having a fantastic time. I’m glad we let him stay. Maybe next time he won’t take as many drugs as he did tonight. I hope he remembers the concert.

At another concert the crowd surfers were out in full force. Depending on the rider agreement with the touring act, we can either allow this or not allow it. This band wanted us to let the crowd surfers do their thing and not have us kick them out. For a while I counted each crowd surfer that I helped get down safely from the front of the audience. Then I honestly lost track once it got over 20 people. I don’t think I got to turn around and peek at the show at all for this one. People were coming over like salmon jumping out of the water trying to get upstream to spawn. Except that it’s all sweaty shirtless male salmon. Seriously, why it is always the big dudes that have been sweating from the minute they entered the venue that come across the crowd and fling themselves onto us? Can’t we get some tiny person who actually showered and used deodorant that day? The body odor is truly offensive.

You watch the crowd a different way when it’s a crowd surfing kind of show. Because if you miss one and they come flying over the barrier onto you, somebody’s getting hurt. The adrenaline is going, and your peripheral vision awareness is being put to the test. We all point towards the closest crowd surfer we can see so that the other guys on the line will see it coming and not be ambushed. I keep thinking about how I’m a musician and really can’t afford to get a finger jammed or broken by some drunk dipshit who is going to fall on me. If all goes well 2-3 staff will be there to grab you and lower you down to the floor without injury.

Here’s how it usually goes. There is indeed an unspoken protocol. As you get handed towards the stage, you should look at the security guys and let them grab you to stabilize your landing. Don’t flail or fight, we’re trying to help you out. We’ve been doing this for hours, so let us grab you and deliver you as gently as we can. Grab us around our shoulders if you can and let us lower you down while we hold you. Almost like when a husband carries his new bride into their new house. It’s called “Catch and Release” since we catch you, stabilize you, and then return you to the audience to either enjoy the rest of the show, or crowd surf again. Sometimes if we see the same person over and over again we will give them the message that you only have 3 times that you can do this. But don’t try to become part of the performance by getting on the stage or trying to stay in the pit area and head bang. We are going to walk you out. Either gently as an escort to get you to the alley where you can get back into the crowd, or holding your arms you against your will to make sure you get out of the area if you are not following our instructions. Don’t make this interaction a bad one. It should take about 10 seconds and then you’ll be on your way. Usually the people thank us and even clap us on our back for our assistance.

Sometimes the person falls onto you and wraps all four limbs around you. Face to face, groin to groin. It’s an awkward and intimate position for both of us. This is a common position for people having sex, and only when they are having sex. A standing missionary position crowd surfer landing. Since the person is completely wrapped round you, we just call it the Koala bear. I can’t really complain, as this is probably the safest and most gentle way to come out of the crowd. But it’s an odd moment for sure.

Having sweaty 200 pound human beings that aren’t wearing a shirt flying at you from head-level is an unusual occupational hazard indeed. I can’t think of any other job where that might be listed in the job description. Without a shirt on we can’t grab you as well. And skin on skin is slippery. Especially when you are sweating bullets and processing large amounts of shitty frat boy beer. There are also two kinds of crowd surfers. The conscientious ones who do it right, and the assholes. If I see you continuously crowd surfing and thrashing around while you’re up there, accidentally or intentionally kicking people in the head as you go, I’m going to kick you out. I hate those guys that are crowd surfing and then sort of launch themselves over onto another group of unsuspecting people just trying to enjoy the show. You’re landing with your entire body weight on people’s heads. The neck injuries are probably in the dozens. I’ve been in the crowd where the same jerks keep violently crowd surfing and injuring people’s necks and heads. It sucks. If this happens try to communicate with the security people there so they can grab them and not let them back in. That’s what we’re there for.

At a stoner rock show we had dozens and dozens of crowd surfers coming over the crowd into the pit area. We got in a rhythm and just teamed up on each one to help them get down safely. But this one particular dude won the award for assholery. He was crowd surfing and was being handed towards the security staff in the pit. We climbed up on the steps on the barricades to help him get down safely. But once his feet touched the floor he tried to break away from us and climb onto the stage. Myself and two other guys grabbed him and prevented him from climbing up. Then he turned on us and started trying to thrash around aggressively to evade us. I was right there with my hands already on him so I just wrapped him up and pushed into him like a linebacker. More security were coming over once they saw that this guy hadn’t just touched down and walked out with us. I was pushing him towards my coworker who was moving in towards us from the opposite side. But somehow this dude tripped and fell, and since we both had our arms wrapped around each other he took me down with him. With my forward momentum I essentially just fell on him. I hope it didn’t look like I intentionally did a takedown on him like in a wrestling match. I’m pretty sure it did, though. As we fell he was facing me so I was in danger of him kicking or punching me as I got up again. Amazingly, he didn’t.

Aggro dude still kept wanting to get away from us and do something, so the coworker who I was pushing him into grabbed him with me and we dragged him out to the corridor where he can enter the crowd again. We each had him by his arm and shoulder as we brought him out to the release area and let him go. Thankfully he did not turn around and come at us again, but he yelled and made a commotion like we were the bad guys. I walked back to my place in the pit and both coworkers and audience members gave me high fives and smiles for dealing with that. Turns out the band saw this fracas happening right in front of them and actually stopped playing their song. With all the adrenaline and intensity happening I didn’t even notice the absence of any music. The actions of that one crowd surfer interrupted the concert. The singer looked down at me and asked over the mic, “Did that guy do something wrong or something?” I nodded at him and said, “Yeah” and got back in position for the next crowd surfer. They started playing again.

Later in the same show, an audience member gestured to us that he needed out. Understandable with all the heat, sweat, over stimulation, and crushing force happening.  He was a white guy in his 20’s with only camo shorts on. I came over to assist with pulling the guy up over the barricade while the people around him moved back to make room. Got him over the steel barricade and when we put his feet on the ground he just collapsed like his legs didn’t work. I couldn’t tell if he passed out or had an injury or what. I started talking to him encouraging him to walk out with me. He would walk with us for a few steps, then go limp again. Was this guy pranking us? Was he losing consciousness? Was he having a medical incident? The security manager who hired me happened to be floating and came over to assist. We each had one arm and walked/dragged him out of the pit area into the corridor that leads back out into the middle of the audience.

The guy wouldn’t answer us but started making really odd moaning sounds. We had his arms securely and he wasn’t struggling, so we dragged him a short distance and stopped. It looks really bad to have to bouncers dragging a person’s limp body in front of everybody. Might make people think he died and we were dragging out his corpse. We kept trying to talk to him to get him to walk with us. He kind of started half walking with us, so we continued carrying him all the way through the entire venue floor towards the elevator. Then he started doing odd things with his legs. I wasnt sure if he was trying to kick out our feet, or trying to dance. At one point he lifted up his legs and pedaled them in the air like he was riding a bicycle. We had his arms, so why not?  He started shuffling along and moaning again, so I honestly considered the outcome that he was turning into a zombie. We got him in to the elevator but still kept a firm grip on his arms. A few months before I was hired there was a huge fight that moved into this elevator. Apparently numerous staff were punched and hurt in the melee. I couldn’t help but have the ghost of that story bouncing around my head while we held this guy in the elevator. It’s only two stories down to the entrance, but when you’re holding a non-communicative man who is either on drugs or turning into a zombie….that’s a long elevator ride.

We walked him out the front door and gently set him down outside on the sidewalk leaning against the wall. Everybody breathed a sign of relief that he didn’t lose his mind and start attacking us. I stood back and let the security manager lead this. He offered the guy water and asked his name and if we could help him and what happened to him. He was able to mumble something about breathing heavy, which we interpreted as having difficulty breathing. That combined with his nonsensical babbling and yelling lead us to call an ambulance to assess him. Some random person walked by and asked him if he took some bad meth. All of the sudden the guy got a panicked look in his eyes and started screaming and stood up. He was extremely agitated and charged at us so we tackled him to the ground. I got his legs securely and my manager had his torso. This dude started screaming at the top of his lungs and struggled like we were trying to murder him. The staff person on the phone quickly changed the nature of their call from medical to police. While being held on the ground this guy screamed things like, “THEY ARE RAPING ME! THEY ARE RAPING ME!” He howled like a banshee and tried to get up with two 220 pound men laying on him. I thought of those stories of people with extraordinary strength that don’t feel pain when on some drugs. Or mothers able to lift cars off of their child in an emergency. This dude was maybe 150 pounds but he seemed to have the strength of a horse. We all have walkie-talkie on our belts and he would look at each of them and scream, “THAT’S A GUN! THAT’S A GUN!!” Then he would switch between screaming and sobbing. He would get very quiet and say, “I hate myself so much.”

Remember this guy was only wearing some camouflage shorts. So his bare back, arms, and legs are scraping across the concrete as he struggles to get away from us. He’s got almost 450 pounds of bouncers on top of him and he’s squirming around and jerking and kicking. His exposed skin had to be bloodied and raw. His entire body is going to feel like he was in a motorcycle crash when he returns to the real world tomorrow. And this is the violent idiocy of recreational drug use. Dangerous and surreal.

Waiting for the police to arrive while you are holding an out of control person on the ground that doesn’t want you to also feels like an exceptionally long time. He stopped struggling and muttered nonsense to himself. A friend of his from the concert came out and smiled nervously when he saw his friend being held on the concrete by two bouncers. He came over and tried to calm the guy down by touching his chest and telling him it’s ok. The police and ambulance arrived and assisted us in releasing him to them without him ramping up again and charging anybody. They handcuffed him immediately and put him on a stretcher to go in the ambulance. He’s going to get assessed and likely detoxed from whatever he was on. He will either spend the night in Hooper Detox, or stay a night in the hospital on a psych hold depending.

Meth/cocaine/balt salts/rage virus….I guess I’ll never know what that guy was on.

My boss and I went back inside and thoroughly washed our hands and forearms. Apparently as the guy was being put in the ambulance he said, “This was the best concert of my life!”

I took a moment to gather myself and then returned to my place on the barricade. There were more crowd surfers that night, but nothing like those last two.

I remember thinking “Well, this is my Monday night. How crazy will Saturday be?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you flirting with me?

Like a lot of men, I’m not particularly skilled at knowing when a woman is flirting with me. I just write it off to the woman being talkative, or full of questions, or inebriated. I’ve honestly never considered myself that attractive. So throw in a pinch of insecurity and you end up with a guy that needs to be hit over the head with flirtation for it to sink in.

Except now that I work as a bouncer, the flirtations are crystal clear to me. This piece is about the silly flirtatious behavior that I can easily identify, meaningless as it is.

First off, I don’t want this to sound at all like I’m bragging. I’m not. I just find the extent of these drunken flirtatious anecdotes quite amusing. I am literally twice the age of some of the women in here. I know full well that these situations only occur because I am there at a venue or bar in a position of authority. And people are drinking and doing drugs while they are here. Therefore, their boundaries get blurry and their confidence spikes. What a great combination. I don’t consider myself a magnet for anything except talkative drunk people.

But now that I’m a bouncer/door guy at various music venues, things are slightly different. Lord above, things are different. All kinds of extra happy people just love to talk to me, ask me all the questions, and say ridiculous things. Being the bouncer, I’m the first person people interact with and the last person they see at the end of the night. Depending on the set up, people may have just those two interactions, or 10 more little conversations each time they pass me. Or they might come to where I am just to bend my ear and grab my elbow a dozen times while talking about the band playing there. I might end up calling them a cab, or catching them in my arms as they lose the battle with their high heels and vodka tonic. I do give out a lot of hugs.

The number one comment I get is some variation of “I love your dreads!” “Beautiful dreads!” Dudes will say, “Sick dreads, man.” One woman walked up to me and said, “I am obsessed with your dreads.’ I replied, “Obsessed? That’s….quite a word.” She back pedaled and said, “Well, ok obsessed sounds weird. But I just really love them.” I thanked her and smiled. I hear at least one comment about my dreads from a patron every night, and sometimes many more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered. And it usually starts a small conversation. But it’s also the most basic thing you can talk about. It’s the first thing you notice, and the first trait you would use to describe me. I’m a white guy with dreads in Portland, but I’m not a 21-year-old hippie stoner. Many times a patron will reach out to touch them or ask if they can touch my dreads. I’ve gotten used to pulling away and telling people firmly, “You shouldn’t touch people’s hair without asking.”

One dread-locked woman in her 30’s came in and I checked her ID. We had the typical mini-bonding session about dreads where we complimented each other and asked how long the other person has been growing them out. Then she said, “Can I Avatar you?” Luckily I knew what she meant. We each grabbed one of our own dreads and held them out towards each other. Then we touched the tips of our dreads to each other. She smiled and walked away into the venue. Each time we saw each other for the rest of the night we did this little ritual. And this has now happened several times with different people with dreads. (For those of you not in the know, this is from the 2009 James Cameron blockbuster film called AVATAR. The Na’vi have these fiber-optic tendrils that they hold up to each other. The tips of them connect and lock together with little blinky-light tentacles. Then they essentially mind-meld like in Star Trek, making a neural connection and sharing thoughts. The Na’vi connect their queues during mating to create a strong, emotional, and lifelong bond.) I really do appreciate the nerdy sci-fi reference when people do this. My coworkers usually stifle a chuckle when a dread-locked woman asks if she can Avatar me. And I don’t blame them. I laugh too.

Sometimes it’s just the usual drunken flirty comments like, “Are you single?” To which I smile and reply, “Nope. But I appreciate you asking.”  Or a woman puts her arm around me in a very intimate way and says something nice like, “This handsome bouncer right here will make sure that we’re safe all night.” Again, I just smile and say, “Yep.” A woman walking by me outside asked, “Oooooh, what is that cologne you’re wearing?” (It was probably a mixture of sweat and spilled beer, honestly.) One regular patron liked to call me Thor. I’ve been told that I look like the wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. And one rocker dude asked me if I was the lead singer of Morbid Angel, the Florida death metal band. One woman made a b-line to me from across the bar and said with dramatic pause, “What is your name? You……….are just………beautiful.”
Of course I smiled and thanked her. She asked my name and we chatted for a minute. She had enjoyed a few drinks, of course. And she was there with her fella.

That’s another consideration. Some people are trying to make the person that they are there with jealous by flirting with the bouncers. Some women like to see guys fight over them. Some people are just trying to make the big mean bouncers break a smile. Maybe even a bet was involved. “If I can make that bouncer smile in under 30 seconds you buy my next drink.” Some just honestly like teasing bouncers, or are showing off for their friends. I’ve had some people come in and say that their friends advised them that it’s always a good idea to befriend the bouncer on your way into the establishment. And that’s true. If you were nice to me coming in, and you come to me later about a disagreement, or that someone was rude to you, it is likely that I’ll side with you. Human nature. We are there to keep you safe, and kick out anybody that isn’t being safe.

I was outside the front doors on break and a woman who I already carded came back outside to talk to me. It was still daylight, and she had seen the Gonzo tattoo on my forearm from inside the bar. I am a huge fan of the author Hunter S. Thompson, and I have his symbol tattooed on my right arm. The one with the knife blade and the fist clutching a mushroom cap with his nickname “GONZO” as the hilt of the knife. It turns out that she has the same tattoo and wanted to show me, which was on her lower back right above her butt. Some folks call this the ‘tramp stamp’ area. So she turns around and bends over slightly to expose her tattoo. She was in the classic pin-up girl pose, where you bend over from your hips and look behind you. I’m bent over looking at her tattoo, which is indeed the same as mine. Then three coworkers walked outside and saw this strange sight. It probably looked like she was blatantly flirting by wagging her ass at me, with me bent over checking it out, close enough to grab it. They all smirked and quietly laughed at the scene. The woman and I went on to innocently talk about Hunter and which of his books were our favorites. My coworkers were skeptical when I told them that she and I had the same tattoo. Literature, people!

It’s the more specific and unusual compliments that I always remember and appreciate more. I’ve heard variations of this one a lot, “You’re the nicest bouncer here.” One guy said that I won the “Nicest bouncer ever” award. I loved it when a woman told me, “You have the most sincere smile of anybody in here.” I suppose a lot of bouncers don’t smile. I like to smile at people and attempt some sort of connection with everybody coming through that wants to connect. A particularly awesome compliment came from a red-haired woman wearing a willowy green and white dress. We chatted a few times throughout the night when she would pass through my area. I got the distinct feeling that she was Wiccan, or at least into magic and Goddess energy. At the end of the night she asked my name and said, “You have the kindest eyes.” I thanked her and chatted about the concert that just ended. I wished her a good night and she sort of spun circles out the door making her dress flare and said, “If the fates wish us to meet again then we will meet again.” Yes indeed, witchy woman, this is true.  I was tempted to say, “Blessed be,” but I held back.

After working in security in music venues for about a year and a half, I’d thought I’d heard it all. I was proven very wrong. A guy wearing tie-dye and John Lennon glasses walked past me and smiled and asked, “Have you ever done porn?” For once I was speechless. I started to laugh and he smiled. I said, “You got me with that one, buddy. That’s a first.” He walked into the music venue to see the show and I didn’t see him again. I did wonder exactly what he was asking though. Did I look like somebody he’d seen in a porn film? Or was he a porn director fishing for new talent? Was he wondering if I already was a porn actor, or if I would consider being a porn actor? Or was he just trying to embarrass me? I suppose I will never know. But he gave me the best laugh of the night.

Another valuable skill I’ve learned is dodging a kiss. People are just so happy, drunk, high, buzzed on seeing their favorite band, or all of the above that they want to kiss you. I have become adept at turning my body away from them, stabilizing them by holding their waist (side-hug), then moving my face away so they kiss my cheek instead of the intended mouth. I know other bouncers who don’t have this skill (or are single), and have been kissed full-on by a drunken patron. It’s a bit unprofessional as well. I was working a dance party one night and five women walked behind me to the exit. I felt a hand slip around my waist. It was the way you would grab your lover and only your lover, very intimate. This short young woman moved into kiss me and I turned so she only got my cheek. She smiled slyly and said, “I’m from Seattle.” I responded, “Welcome to Portland.” She followed her four friends out of the dance hall onto the next place.

Sometimes women flirt with me because they want something. Something like me overlooking an expired ID, letting them into a show without a ticket, or allowing them into the green room or backstage area without credentials. I can usually tell when it’s about to happen. The big exaggerated smile comes out, she sashays towards me, and pushes her breasts together with her arms. She might get really touchy and put her hands on my leg as she leans in super close to me. Often she pushes her breasts against me and asks me something like, “What would it take for you to let me backstage?” Having a steel will, a stubborn streak, and boundaries as clear as on world maps, I say, “A backstage pass laminate.” Seconds go by. Did she really think I was going to say, “Twenty bucks and a kiss?”  Hoping that I might be the person who can issue those, she says, “So how do I get one of those laminates?”  Like a teacher explaining how erosion works, I answer, “Well, the band members or tour personnel would have issued you a pass earlier today. It’s usually for family members and crew. You can’t purchase them.” She makes the sad pouty face and purses her lips and then slinks away. Lady, it isn’t 1982 at a Motley Crue concert. You don’t just get to go backstage because you’re hot.

One woman intentionally mashed her ample breasts into me while interrupting and asking me for some sort of favor. She didn’t pull away or act like it was an accident. She just kept them pushed against my chest and bicep awkwardly. My brain started playing The Police song “Don’t Stand so Close to Me.”  She’s so close now. This girl is half his age.
I was busy talking to another person and checking their ID or scanning their concert ticket while she did this. I had already been dealing with rude people and putting out fires all night. So I said loudly, “Ma’am could you please get your breasts off of me so I can do my job here?” The other people within earshot made wide-eyed expressions and the breast-masher looked embarrassed and moved away.

Most of these stories are relatively funny (I hope), but imagine if the gender roles were reversed. Imagine a man asking a woman in public if she has done porn? Picture a man making provocative but vague offers to a woman in return for a favor.  Picture a man trying to kiss a woman without consent, or pushing his body parts against a woman intentionally. All of that would be creepy at the very least and sexual harassment or sexual assault at the worst. And if it happened like that I would intervene and physically bounce the guy out of the venue. It gives me pause, and gives me issues to think about during the occasional boring moments at work. Double standards. Male privilege. Becoming numb to people’s drunken behavior and violating my personal bubble. Considering people’s increased awareness and dialogue about respect and consent and sexual harassment, it’s interesting that I brush this off and shake my head for the most part when it happens to me. Perhaps I should be more angry when this happens? I don’t feel like I’m being sexually harassed at the time. But perhaps I am? I certainly have more work to do around this. We all evolve. I know that I would be pissed if a man touched any of my female friends in the ways that some of these women touch me and my co-workers. But as bouncers we sign on for a job in which we know we could be punched, spit on, kicked, attacked, or even stabbed or shot. So I guess we know that we are in harm’s way for violence, or sexual harassment. It’s not right though. It’s an intriguing facet of the job that I will be giving some more thought to.

But in the meantime, I’ll keep writing down the funny shit people say to me. And by the way, I’ve never been single while I’ve worked in security. I’ve happily been with the same woman since 2015, and we got married in early 2018. So all this silly flirting is for naught, these women are barking up the wrong tree.
But if you have dreads, come by and maybe we can Avatar each other.

How did I become a bouncer?

This is a really good question. On difficult nights I’ll ask myself this question repeatedly. Sometimes out loud.

I never had any aspirations of becoming a bouncer. As a kid I didn’t daydream about throwing aggressive drunk people out of a bar. Nor did I fantasize about breaking up fights. I don’t think many people do. It just happens. Hell, as a kid I was so scrawny and little and shy that this would have been the last possibility for me.

I did, at various points in my life, daydream about becoming an architect, a psychologist, a movie director, and a musician. I tried the first two, never tried the third option, and am honestly still trying to make that musician thing work.

A lot of huge guys are drawn to working security or being a bouncer. And I say guys because it is an inherently sexist field. Not as many women choose it, or continue at it long due to the sexist bullshit inherent within. I’m lucky in that I work at several venues that do employ women security guards. And they rock. I have so much respect for them. But let’s be honest, 9 out of 10 bouncers are dudes, and big ones at that.

I’m honestly not that big of a guy. I’m about 210 pounds and maybe 6 foot tall wearing my work boots. I am, however, what people would refer to as ‘stocky’. And I have muscular drummer arms from playing drums in numerous bands over the years. But when I’m working an event with other dudes that weigh in at 300 pounds and resemble a 7 foot tall Viking, I do sometimes feel like the Ewok to their Wookie.

I went to college for a Psychology degree and focused on abnormal psych and child development. All of my full-time jobs were working with youth. And they were all non-profit agencies that were trying to actually make a difference. I worked at numerous locked psychiatric residential treatment centers. There are the facilities that youth are placed in by the state to receive treatment, stabilize after a crime, await their trial date, learn skills to transition into a new home, etc. Most kids there had a dual diagnosis, which is both a mental illness and an alcohol/drug addiction. It’s very hard to separate the two and treat them effectively. I even worked in Juvenile Detention and other treatment centers where I staffed the sex offender unit. Working with sex offenders is a discrete skill that not everyone has. Or wants.

I started working in locked residential treatment for adolescents in 1992. Various job titles that I held over the years were Residential Treatment Counselor, Custody Services Specialist, Adolescent Mentor, Group Life Residential Advisor. And as you can imagine, a large part of working in these facilities is doing physical interventions and holds with aggressive or suicidal clients. Most of these places have ‘Quiet rooms’, which are padded rooms with nothing inside them. If a client is suicidal or assaultive they are physically restrained until calm enough to move into this quiet room, where they are then left to calm down. Or, in some extreme cases, if they continue to try credible self-harm in the room, the staff would re-enter and hold them to prevent serious injury. Lots of kids lose their shit even more during these holds. Often kids who were sexually abused or raped will actually re-live the rape during this hold. Having four adult men holding down a teenager is less than ideal for everyone’s mental health.

But to work in these places and do what they call therapeutic physical holds, you must be  officially trained by the state. The two trainings that I received over and over again for all my different jobs were PART and OIS. This is along with the mandatory CPR/First Aid certification and the federal background check and fingerprinting. PART stands for Professional Assault Response Training. OIS stands for Oregon Intervention Systems. Both of these trainings are for safe hand-on methods of intervening with a violent person. These do not ever involve pain-compliance holds like law enforcement uses. It’s mainly immobilization of the joints. It also involve defensive techniques, verbal de-escalation techniques, and things like escorts, floor holds, wall holds, and quiet room holds. It’s intense and stressful. But responding to physically assaultive youth was sometimes a daily occurrence in these jobs. And I have to admit, I loved the adrenaline rush of it all. And the unpredictability and variety of each day. You never knew what the shift was going to offer you, and you truly never knew what was going to happen. While some of my friends complained of being bored working in a coffee shop, I would complain of wrestling two teenagers who were as big as I was to the ground.

In 2003 I started attending the Burning Man event in the desert. Over 80,000 people attend this bizarre art, music, dance, and counterculture event in Nevada every year. It’s extreme camping under harsh conditions, and the largest leave no trace event that I know of. And essentially no supplies are available there, so it’s pack it in pack it out. After a few years attending I started volunteering as a Black Rock Ranger. Those are volunteer non-confrontational community mediators. We try to solve all the problems without involving law enforcement if possible. If not we interface with law enforcement and assist.

At the end of the event there is a gargantuan effigy burn of ‘The Man’. This is a controlled burn of a massive wooden structure. The following night there is another burn of The Temple. This is the wooden art structure that you can interact with by leaving memorials or things you want to say goodbye to. The structure begins blank, but by the end of the week it is covered in memorials to people and pets who have passed away. People write letters to their abuser and nail them to the structure. People attach entire wedding albums from a marriage that ended in divorce. People make photo tributes to those who have died. Some just grab a sharpie and write something on the wood itself. You basically leave anything you want to say goodbye to. Pain, insecurity, guilt, regrets, past relationships, and the dead. It’s an amazing and very emotional experience to see this Temple burn with thousands of people watching silently and crying. Over the 14 years I attended Burning Man, the Sunday night Temple Burn became one of the main reasons I went. It is the spiritual keystone of the entire event.

I gave you the background on that so you would understand the need for a subdivision of Rangers called ‘Sandmen.’ This is a reference to the 1976 sci-fi film LOGAN’S RUN. “Sandmen catch runners.” I volunteered as a Sandman for many years out there. Our job was to patrol the inner perimeter of both of those burns and prevent anyone from running into the fire. This is the one scenario where we are allowed to put hands on a participant non-consensually. If someone is attempting to run into the fire they have already made it past several waves of rangers and other staff. So, in an effort to save their life, we will spot them and vector in on them. Then tackle them to the ground. We then speak with them and have them make a verbal contract to walk out with us to law enforcement. We release them to law enforcement and get back in the perimeter to stop further runners. People are often under the influence of lots of alcohol and/or drugs. So they truly don’t understand the dangers of running near the largest fire they’ve ever seen. They really can and will self-immolate if they get inside that fire. Or, in some cases, they understand that very well and they are actually trying to commit suicide. Especially on Sunday night for the emotional Temple Burn. Either way, this is the worst case scenario and we’re there to get them on the ground in any way possible to save their life. I’ve done it a few times. Sadly, even with our protocols in place, a runner has gotten through twice and died.

I never thought that I would be able to legitimately list anything from Burning Man on a resume. But I surely did for my first few security jobs and it worked. Anything where you’re responding to an urgent crisis situation and using physical force against someone is relevant. It’s like I was the bouncer at a burn perimeter in the desert. I’m trying to ensure that everybody has a good time until they’re not. Then I will make you leave. “You are showing visible signs of intoxication. You’re trespassing. And you’re behaving in a way that is a grave danger to yourself. That fire behind me will end your life. Your night has been concluded. Get the hell outta here.”

I don’t have any military experience, nor am I a martial arts competitor, boxer, or football player. That’s not necessarily what you need. In my case it’s a strong background in therapeutic physical holds, working with risky populations, a wee bit of Tai Kwon Do, tackling hippies at Burning Man, extensive verbal de-escalation skills, being comfortable with physicality, and the confidence to do it. Oh, and firm boundaries. I tell people ‘No’ all night long every night.

You take a two-day DPSST certification course where you learn legalities and how to spot fake IDs. You pay for the certification card, take a test, wait for your background check, and you’re in. Honestly it’s about people’s perceptions of you. Once you put on a shirt that says SECURITY on it, and wear a walkie-talkie and an earpiece, you have become that person of authority. You can put your hands on people and make them leave the establishment. That’s the way simplified version. But honestly that’s what that is.

There are several scenes in four of my favorite films that summarize my life as a bouncer.

First, the quick little scene from Michael Mann’s 1995 epic crime drama HEAT. During the opening credits Val Kilmer is purchasing explosives and he shows his ID to the seller. The guy looks at his ID very closely but passes inspection (Or he was paid off and knew full well it was a fake ID). He sells him the explosives.

Second, the scene in James Cameron’ 1984 film THE TERMINATOR. When Arnold goes inside the dance club Tech Noir hunting for Sarah Connor. The way he moves through the crowd looking for his prey is sometimes how I feel when looking for someone who we need to kick out. Sometimes we get a report of a person selling drugs or harassing someone on premises and we just have their basic physical description from the bartender.

Third is the 1995 Martin Scorsese film CASINO. Robert DeNiro’s character figures out that two customers are cheating. He notifies security and 5-6 security staff literally just emerge from the crowd to position themselves around the two customers. Scorsese keeps them in the darkness of the crowd and them brightens them up to highlight them as they get ready.

The fourth scene is from the 1993 Brian De Palma film CARLITO’S WAY. There is a scene where Al Pacino is eating dinner at the club and defends a female employee that John Leguizamo’s character is harassing. Threats are made and a fight breaks out. Within seconds a bunch of bouncers are involved, grabbing all of the thugs and hauling them away and out of the club. They were reading the body language and raised voice tones early on and made their way over to the table before anything had happened. When it did happen, they were already there to respond immediately.

I should put these four scenes on a loop. Checking IDs, searching for people in a crowd, coordinating proper placement when you have a situation, and busting up a fight and bouncing them out of the club. That’s my work life sometimes, over and over.

I do have to add that I had worked in the non-profit sector with at-risk kids for 25 years. I had been at the same job for 16 years as a youth mentor. As rewarding as those jobs were, I was definitely burned out. I needed a change. Sweet baby Jesus I needed a change. Some of those jobs were so emotionally and physically taxing. And those jobs never really ended. I took the work home with me. And I was always essentially on-call. I could get a crisis call at any time from families, counselors, therapists, police officers, correction workers, medical personnel, or the youth themselves. Then the endless detailed documentation and paperwork. I’m so relieved to now have a job that I clock in, clock out, and don’t think about it again. Except, of course, when writing a blog about it.

My friends tease me that even as a bouncer I am essentially still working with kids. Just bigger, older, drunk kids making terrible choices. I suppose they’re not wrong.

I do love music. I’ve been attending live concerts since 1986. I’ve performed in bands of my own off and on since about 1990. I love to listen to music and create music and write lyrics. And man do I love beating on my drums. Strangely, I had never seriously considered working in music venues until I started my career in security in 2016.
I’ve created a fun little niche for myself of working as security solely at music venues. The list includes Bossanova Ballroom, The Analog Theater, Doug Fir Lounge, Kell’s Irish Pub, Ash Street Saloon, The Crystal Ballroom, The White Eagle, and The Mission Theater. The road here was circuitous for sure. But here I am. Making up for lost time. Seeing all the concerts and ensuring people have fun and stay safe while they are with us. And I have a pocket full of earplugs. Rock on. And please be nice to your bouncers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Active shooter scenario

What is the worst thing that you worry about at your job?

I just attended a training today for work called Active Shooter Scenario. It was a sobering and depressing topic to cover, especially in such a business-like way. It is the worst case scenario for anyone working in any security role. It is on the absolute far end of the continuum of possible situations we will have to deal with. I truly hope that I never need to use what I learned in this training.

I am very sad and sickened with American culture that this training is even a necessity. I resent and hate the gun-obsessed American white men that are so frequently bringing assault weapons to murder groups of people in public settings. Not only are large gatherings and festivals and concerts being chosen for these shootings, but now even churches and schools. The last two places that you would ever think would me made to suffer these tragedies. And American culture just sort of nonchalantly shrugs its shoulders about this epidemic of murder and flips the channel on the tv.

The first major shooting that I can recall is the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. This was a few years after the Oklahoma bombing in 1995. But since then these events have ramped up and happen more and more. It’s so frequent now that I can’t even keep track of them. It feels like there is a shooting at a school, a mall, a movie theater, a church, a night club, a concert, or a sporting event, every damned month. Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, The Batman movie theater shooting in Colorado, the Charleston Church massacre, the Capital Hill Massacre in Seattle, the Clackamas Town Center shooting in Portland, the gay club shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, the shooting at the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris. People hesitate to call these terrorist acts, but they 100% are. And every shooting of this nature involved an AR-15 Assault rifle, or a similar weapon.

This piece could easily turn into a tirade about gun control in America. But I’m going to stay focused on the thoughts about the active shooter training for the jobs that I work security at. You can read between the lines and determine my opinion on assault rifles. But that hot topic is best dealt with in another blog.

The unspoken subtext of this is that my role may put me in direct contact with a shooter in the music venue that I work in. As a DPSST certified Security/Bouncer/Event Staff, I would definitely be in a position of direct contact. And it’s my job to try to help. We have about a 1500 person capacity with the potential for a few hundred more in a smaller bar downstairs. This would, sadly, be a ripe target for someone trying to murder a large group of people in a huge open room. 1500 people standing around paying attention to a concert is a great potential body count for them. And since the venue is upstairs, a team of shooters could position people outside the main doors downstairs to mow down people as they stream out. So even if I’m directing people towards the exits to escape, I may be inadvertently sending them to their death.

We actually do have metal detectors and a bunch of staff at the front door. But what I fear is somebody thinking that they are Keanu Reeves from The Matrix. Walking through the detector and setting it off, then opening his jacket and pulling out assault rifles. Or, more realistically, just having a team and charging through the metal detectors and taking us out so that they can get upstairs into the venue where the true crop of victims awaits. It’s all a very realistic and scary possibility.

In an event like this, there are various things I could do to attempt to help people. The initial main things include communicating with managers on the radio, contacting law enforcement, guiding people to exits, helping people escape, assisting trampled people, interfacing with medical responders, providing basic medical care or comfort to the wounded, taking a photo/video of the shooter, etc. But all of those responses are passive reactions trying to help the aftermath of the situation.

My role could indeed have a different potentiality. A much more pro-active one.
I could have a unique opportunity to distract the shooter, delay the shooter, or even disarm the shooter. I could disable the gun or remove the gun from him. I could use a fire extinguisher on him. Either as a bludgeoning weapon, or spray it as a distraction and to obscure his vision so he can’t see what he’s firing at. I could tackle said murderous asshole and detain him. I could get my arms around his neck and choke the motherfucker until he is dead.  I could do lots of things. In that very particular deadly moment. To prevent him from mowing down dozens more innocent people with an assault weapon. I could intervene. I’m right there.

I could also be one of the first victims. Or one of the last victims. It’s real. Security staff often die in these situations because they’re the first responders and are actually trying to mitigate the situation. We aren’t allowed to carry guns, so we would be trying to tackle the shooters and take their guns away from them.

People always have this idea that being a hero is being like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Being some indestructible embodiment of machismo and never-say-die determination. I am certain that these situations never happen like they do in the movies. You probably never get that magical opening where the enemy cannot see you approach. I would guarantee that there are lots of people who try to be the hero in that moment by charging the shooter, and they just end up on the list of victims after the bodies are identified. We never know their story of courage and bravery.  But in that time did they pull the shooter’s attention away long enough so that 4 or 5 people made it out of the room and out of harm’s way?

I’ve never forgotten the 2004 shooting death of Pantera/Damageplan’s guitarist Dimebag Darrell. Darrell was onstage in Ohio with his new band, Damageplan. A gunman got up onstage and shot him in the head. His brother, Vinnie Paul, was the drummer and watched Darrell get shot to death in front of him. The head of security was killed tackling the gunman, along with another venue employee. An audience member trying to perform CPR on them was also shot and killed. The drum tech tried to disarm the gunman and was shot three times and then taken hostage. Police officers arrived quickly and one was able to get behind the gunman and shoot him in the head with a shotgun, ending the situation. These men were all heroes. I wish that I could thank them for what they did.

What makes a hero? Am I more of a hero if I charge somebody who is wielding an AR-15? Or am I more of a hero if I help others get out of the range of his gun? Or am I more of a hero if I get myself out alive so I can continue to me there for my family? I used to think I was indestructible and that nothing bad would ever happen to me. That was in my 20’s. Now that I’m decidedly older, I know that bad things can indeed happen to me. And my life has substantially changed recently. I’m not some single guy who wouldn’t mind sacrificing myself to save others anymore. I’m now a husband and a stepdad to two amazing kids. Kids who I don’t want to have to grow up without me. Kids who I want to see go to college. And a wife that I want to grow old with.

I think about these possible scenarios a lot. What exactly would I do when faced with hell? Crouched down behind a bar, glass breaking all around me, bloody bodies on the floor, bullets hitting the wood, ears ringing from the gunfire but still able to hear the screams of people being shot. What would I do? Would I freeze, or would I take one of the aforementioned hero paths? This is the question that plagues me. I hope that I don’t ever have to make this decision. But I know that I might have to.

“Once more into the fray.
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and die on this day.
Live and die on this day.”

Just let me check your ID

I truly don’t understand why it’s so difficult for so many people to navigate this quick little formality. It’s a transaction that, if done smartly and successfully, might take 10 seconds and a smile. As a door guy/bouncer at music venues and bars, a major component of my job is to check the ID of every arriving patron. We need to do this in accordance with the guidelines given to us by the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission). Depending on what venue I’m working at, I might check anywhere from 200-800 IDs per night. It’s not rocket science. And it shouldn’t take very long.

You walk up to the venue door to find me smiling and greeting you. I’ll ask to see your ID and you’ll hand it to me. I examine it quickly and hand it back to you, then usually give you a stamp of some kind as we make small talk. I might answer questions you have at that point, but basically our little interaction is over. Unless you become a problem later in the night and I need to exit you from the establishment, you probably won’t even see me again until the end of the show when you go home. That really doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?

Sadly, this ideal scenario is not how it usually goes.

I’ve given this whole thing some serious thought. Especially when I’m frustrated with how badly a recent interaction went down. I try my best to be direct and clear when asking questions or explaining rules. I speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Sometimes I have to dumb it down for someone due to a language barrier, or more often due to a stupidity barrier.

I’m interested and invested in helping all of you with this challenging situation. I really am. Let me talk you through some points that will help you succeed. I might make an instructional video of this that you can watch outside while you’re waiting in line.

And perhaps I should elaborate on exactly what I am looking for when I check IDs. Just so you don’t rush me or think that I’m taking too long. I’m not just looking for your birthdate. I’m first looking at the photo and comparing it to your actual face. Then I’m checking the birthdate and making sure that it happened before this date in 1997. Then I’m checking the expiration date, because an expired license or passport is a useless artifact. I’m also feeling the card for thickness or irregularities. Fake IDs often don’t get the card thickness or firmness right. Also lamination problems can mean a fake ID. Then I’m also flipping it over and looking at the back of it. Lots of fake IDs just make the front and the back is completely blank. So that’s 6 things I’m assessing in a few seconds of your valuable entertainment time. Just let me check them all without any hassle.

First off, don’t just try to blow past me and act like the rules don’t apply to you. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Unless you have a white beard, ride up on a horse named Shadowfax, and answer to the name Gandalf, I’m gonna need to see your I.D. When I enter a bar or music venue, I expect the staff to card me and give me some sort of stamp. Even if I don’t know how it works I am capable of reading the environmental cues around me. Like the 2-3 security staff standing around with radios checking IDs? That’s a pretty clear sign that you also need to do that. When I see a group or a line of people waiting to interface with the door staff holding their drivers licenses out, I can infer that this is an ID check. I don’t just try to walk around everybody and get inside. But you do, and then you get embarrassed because we have to stop you verbally or even physically and get you back in the line.

The most common statement offered as a justification for this behavior is, “Oh, I’m just going into the bar.” That’s right. The bar. Where they serve beer, wine, cider, and hard liquor. Exactly, you street-smart genius bar-hopping drunkard. You have literally answered the question of why I’m asking to see your ID. It’s like these people have never been out drinking in a bar before. Why are you somehow surprised that I want to see your ID? That’s literally how that works. To go into a bar where liquor is served, you need to have a valid ID and show it to the staff first. Because you have to be 21 to legally drink alcohol.  I’m not just carding people for fun, or to go into a different part of the business. It’s one stop shopping. I card you as you come in, then you can go anywhere inside that you want. I’ve had to hook people in the crook of their arm to stop them after they’ve gotten past the first two security staff and say, “Hey, they need to get your ID first.”
“Oh, just to go to the bar?”
“Yeah, especially to go to the bar.”

Next, take your driver’s license out of your damned wallet. The leather edge of the ID holder almost always blocks out the expiration date on Oregon licenses. And besides that, I need to hold the ID in my hand and flip it over to look at the back. I’m checking to see if the ID is fake, and several other bits of info on the license. You see all the people in front of you who have their licenses out in their hand? Yeah, copy them.

Look I know it’s slightly weird to hand your ID to a complete stranger. I’ve tried to put myself in your shoes to see why so many people get awkward or even offended when I ask to see their ID. I suppose you don’t like handing me all of your personal information. I suppose it might be odd that I could read your ID and get your age, your weight, your full name, and your full address. I suppose that could be weird. Except that I honestly have no reason to ever look at your weight or your name or your address. I don’t care. I’m looking for your birthday and the expiration date. I’m not memorizing your personal data and then planning to stop by your house with flowers tomorrow. I might examine 300 driver’s licenses and passports tonight. I’m certainly not memorizing any details about anything. The most I’ll ever do regarding something I see on your ID is wish you a happy birthday if your birthday is today. And most people like that. Sometimes if the ID is expiring in the next few weeks, I’ll inform them of that as I hand it back to them. Almost every time the person had no idea and thanks me profusely for helping them out.

More tips on how to behave during the ID check. Don’t make small talk or ask me questions. This is often a distraction technique when people know that something is wrong with their ID. In fact, the more you make jokes or ask questions or flirt with me, the more closely I’m going to look at your ID because I’m wise to your schemes. I’ve actually had to ask a woman to please get her breasts off of me so I can do my job. She thought she was cute and could flirt her way around an expired license. In general, just let the door guy lead the conversation. If I don’t ask you any questions, just wait for me to look at the ID and return it to you. If I do ask you questions, it may be to assess your current level of intoxication. I’m not flirting with you, I’m asking you questions so I can hear your speech patterns. I’m listening for slurred words and incoherent drunken answers.

Don’t be talking on your phone while you come in. Hang up the phone and be an active participant in this interaction. You can call the person back. I probably need to ask you some questions anyway. Actually, I’m going to go around you and check IDs of all the other people in the entryway or the line. I’ll wait for you to hang up your phone before I even start this process with you. Basic respect and common sense, but apparently it needs to be said.

Don’t purposely cover your photo with your finger and hold it up to me like you’re a detective flashing me his badge. That’s not going to work. You’re not cute. That’s not helpful at all, and it will make our time together longer than either of us want. If you make me say out loud, “I need to actually see the photo” this isn’t going to go well for you. Don’t cover your photo. Hand me the card, don’t make me take it out of your hand.
Conversely, I actually love it when people hand me the McLovin ID from the movie Superbad. This always makes me laugh heartily, and then they immediately hand me their actual ID. I know some door guys don’t like this, but I think it’s hilarious. It breaks the tension. Hell, people might look at the bouncers as they come in and decide to use the funny fake ID just in an attempt to make us laugh because we look grumpy.
Bring it on.

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Oh and don’t say something like, “You need to see my ID? Really? I’m old as dirt.”
Then when I look at your ID you are actually much younger than me. So you just inadvertently insulted me without knowing it. People actually say to me, “See? I’m old, right?” And I never agree with them. I always say age is just a number, or age is how you feel. Or I’ve even said, “I know better than to ever agree or disagree with a person’s assessment of how old or young they are. I’ve had training.” That usually gets a laugh. Most commonly I just smile and answer, “No, not at all.”
One guy was surprised I was carding him and he said, “I’m old enough to be your Dad.”
I looked at his birthday, leaned forward conspiratorially and whispered, “Not unless you had me when you were 4 years old.”
One particularly grumpy man was offended that I was even asking for his ID. He blustered loudly about how he was here for his daughter’s wedding and he is obviously over 21 and his passport is buried in his suitcases. I then intentionally checked his ID very slowly and returned it saying, “Most people your age are flattered when I ask for their ID. You should try that.”

Look at me. Do I really need to say this? Don’t have your face turned all the way to the side talking to your fiends, or turn around to talk to your friends behind you. Don’t keep your face covered by scarves or a hoodie or a balaclava. Part of what I’m doing is comparing the photo on your ID to your actual face. Of course we have to account for minor changes over time. Hair length, style, and color can change. Skin tone can change. Glasses might be on or off, or beards or mustaches have come and gone. Hell, my ID looks nothing like me because it was issued to me 8 years ago. I didn’t have dreads or a beard or the most recent 25 pounds on me in the photo. So then we’re looking at facial structure and basic features that don’t change. People often try to pass off an ID of their older sibling or even friend who looks similar to them.

These concerns are certainly not your problem. You haven’t chosen to be a bouncer at a bar like I have. But this is my job. I take pride in it. Most of the time I actually think it’s fun. But if somebody gets in here with a fake ID or is underage, there are repercussions. Not only could I get reprimanded and lose my job, but the establishment itself will get heavy fines. I’ve seen some of the checks written out to pay these fines, and they aren’t small numbers. It’s the cost of doing business I imagine, but too many of those fines can easily bankrupt an establishment. Worst case scenario is that the bar or venue actually loses their liquor license due to numerous violations of this kind. And any bar or venue that can’t sell liquor is going to fail. So just play along and show us your ID, please.

One of the most common reasons that I deny people entry to a venue is not that they are already too drunk. You would think that, but no. It’s that their ID or passport is expired. That makes it invalid. If people hand me an ID that expired a few days ago, or even a few weeks ago, I can somewhat understand. You still can’t come in, but I empathize. Life gets away from you, you hate the DMV, you procrastinate. I hear ya. But people hand me passports or IDs that expired 6 years ago. I usually make a point to say, “Your ID is expired. Like REALLY expired. 6 years ago expired.”
What in the hell have you been doing for the last 6 years?!

But at least they had something on them and attempted to pass it off to me. What really confounds me are the people who come up and tell me that they don’t have any ID at all. They ask if a Visa card works. For identification. How in the hell do you not have any ID on you at all? Did you drive here? Because if so you just broke the law. I hope you get pulled over and a cop makes you feel like an unprepared child. Maybe you always ride your bike or Uber around. Sure, but don’t you purchase things and the clerks ask to see your ID to verify the debit card purchase? Do you never go to any establishment that severe liquor? Or have you just been going to the same neighborhood bar for years and they know you and yell out “NORM!” whenever you walk in?

Then they inevitably say things like, “Well I’m clearly over 21. Look at me! I’m 34 years old!” I often say, “Well, you legally need ID to prove that.” Or I might say, “It’s not that I don’t think that you’re 21, but you must have a valid form of ID on you just to be in here.” If I’m feeling particularly confrontational I might say, “How do you get along in your daily life with no ID?” I got my drivers’ license at age 16, so I’ve been managing and renewing it for decades now. And I can’t recall one time that I didn’t have that driver’s license in my wallet in my back pocket. I’ve never lost it, never misplaced it, never had it stolen, and never not had it on me. I’m always ready. But damn, some of these people haven’t had a valid ID for 6 years and act like I’m the jerk for being surprised and not letting them in.

Then there’s the people who try to distract me because they know that their ID isn’t valid. They’ll start asking me all kinds of questions about the bands playing tonight, or which stamp means what on which hand. Some people try to flirt with me. Or the one I get the most is, “How long have you been growing your dreads?” Like I said earlier, this makes me focus more on the ID. Sure enough, the person isn’t 21 or the ID expired already. Then they feign shock when I inform them that they can’t come in.
This is my favorite anecdote of this sort:
A male handed me his passport and was all bubbly and talkative. He tried to distract me by being condescending. Apparently he thought I was looking at his passport too long, so he points at it and says, “Oh, the birth date is printed right up here.” He tapped the passport with his finger on the birth date. Like I can’t find it. Like this isn’t my job and I haven’t been trained to examine IDs. Like I’m incompetent and stupid. Like I don’t do this ALL NIGHT LONG. I was looking at it longer than normal because I did notice something wrong with it. I wanted to be sure, and make him sweat a little. My response was, “Yeah. The birth date is right there. But the part that tells me that this expired 3 years ago is right HERE.” I tapped the passport on the expiration date he was hoping I wouldn’t notice. I handed it back to him and said, “You can’t come in here with an expired passport. Bye.”

And if you don’t have your ID or passport, do not try to show me a photo of it on your phone. That asinine bullshit doesn’t even make sense. My 10-year-old kid could Photoshop their photo onto a template faster than it would take you to drive home and get your damned ID. There is no establishment anywhere that will accept a photo of a passport or driver’s license. Think a minute. Can I pay for my dinner with a photo of a 20 dollar bill? The actual state-issued driver’s license or government-issued passport needs to exist in our hands to be examined. Good lord.

Here’s the last observation. There are grown adults out there that don’t know their left from their right. Many of them. Legion. Once we approve your ID we give you a stamp on a particular wrist. If you pay for the show then we may give you a different stamp on your other wrist. I always make sure to say this clearly and slowly, while looking at your eyes and even pointing at the particular wrist. “I need to stamp your LEFT WRIST.” Without fail, 75 percent of the time the person juts out the wrong wrist. Don’t we usually learn our left and right in kindergarten? Dumbfounded and saddened at the state of humanity’s declining intelligence, I usually say, “That’s your RIGHT wrist, I need your LEFT wrist. THAT one.” They get embarrassed, I shake my head.
What I want to say comes from the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket.
“I know you are dumb, Private Pyle, but do you expect me to believe that you do not know your left from your right?!”
“Sir, no sir!”
“Then you did that on purpose. You want to be different.”
“Sir, no sir!”
I punch you hard in the face.
“What side was that, private Pyle?”
But that’s just a movie.

I’m actually a pretty friendly bouncer. Some people have called me the friendliest door guy they’ve ever met. But I know that is the exception. And even I get flustered sometimes. A lot of bouncers and door guys are gruff at best, and downright unpleasant at worst. But you have to understand why. Any problem that occurs gets passed to us. We deal with every problem, from mildly irritating to hostile and dangerous. As with many customer service jobs, you deal with stupidity and assholery on the regular. Add alcohol to that recipe and you have our job. People are dumb enough as it is, but add too much alcohol and it becomes the proverbial shit-show. And entitlement, insecurity, and testosterone don’t help either. So night after night, we deal with the stupid. And the belligerent drunks. And you simply can’t reason with drunk people. Sometimes you just have to physically remove them from the premises. So yeah, door guys are often grumpy. Our patience has already been tried for hours before your arrival. We have to have a high tolerance for idiocy. Please give us a break and try to be compliant and friendly when you deal with us. I want to help you have a good evening. Just let me do that. Just let me check your ID.

I’ll end this with this classic joke told to me by another bouncer:
     What’s the difference between a bouncer and a toilet?
     A toilet only has to deal with one asshole at a time.