Homeless thoughts

I encounter a lot of homeless people in my job as security staff. Some I see so often that I know their names and their basic story, and where they like to sit to ask for money. When possible I’ll bring out some extra pizza that wasn’t purchased and is about to be thrown away. I’ll give it to the homeless people outside. Everybody deserves to eat. It’s truly staggering how much perfectly good food is thrown away every night.

On my way to my truck after I’m off work, I always walk past numerous homeless people sleeping in doorways, or bolstering their bed with blankets, tarps, or cardboard. It’s going to be cold tonight. If they are asleep I usually look and listen long enough to determine signs of life. This would be their exhaled breath in the cold air, snoring, or just their chest moving as they breathe. If they are awake and we make awkward eye contact, I’ll nod at them and smile. I am no threat to you, friend. I recall the scene in THE EXORCIST where the homeless man sits in filth and asks Damien Karras, “Can you help an old altar boy, Father?” If they aren’t already hunkered down in their temporary fort against the elements, they are traveling around like nomads carrying their gear in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Some have a sleeping bag wrapped around them. Others have multiple backpacks and shopping bags hanging from their arms. Some push shopping carts around. Some carry large pieces of wooden pallets or cardboard boxes over their heads to build a sleep structure with. They look like river explorers portaging their canoe over land. Hell, I think I might have seen a homeless person actually carrying part of a broken canoe once.

Using the pallet as a floor, they can sleep on that and not get soaked by the rain. Or, worst case scenario, soaked by spilled cheap beer or vomit. Tarps become walls and roofs. Cardboard boxes become walls, and wind and rain shields. If they can acquire an actual tent, it’s like they’ve won the lottery. Body heat is retained inside, rain and wind is deflected, and you even have a small modicum of privacy. There is definitely safety in numbers, so clumping 5-6 tents together is smart and very common. Some people like to complain about the homeless tent camps blocking sidewalks and being unsightly and unsafe. I’m pretty sure that at 3:30am the people complaining about that are home safe in their beds. I’m the one out walking around at that hour, and I’m happy to step around the tents. These same people are probably also deathly afraid of a raging gang of homeless people crouched together inside these tents, laying in wait to ambush the next pedestrian so that they can rape, kidnap, and murder them. And if this scenario has ever actually happened anywhere, I’ll eat that tarp. Homeless people are trying to stay warm and sleep, not assault a passerby. And until those huge churches that preach ‘love thy brother’ actually open up their doors at night and operate as a homeless shelter, they can all shut their sanctimonious and judgmental pieholes.

I love seeing dogs with homeless people. That might sound odd, but I just love dogs more than I do most people. Also I had it explained to me once how the life of a dog living with a homeless person might not be that bad comparatively. In fact, it could be better if you look at it through this lens. A dog who lives with a homeless person is never without their owner. Our dogs are so domesticated and reliant on us that they really just want to be with their owners all the time. You can walk out your front door, forget something, and come right back in the house and your dog will start wiggling its entire body it is so happy to see you. They greet you like you’ve been gone for two weeks when it’s really only been two minutes. Do any humans react that way each and every time they see you?

Most of us leave the house for long periods for our jobs, school, and other activities. So we aren’t there all day. Our house dogs are either alone for those long stretches, or we have to board them at doggie day care. That can be fun but it’s a lot of canine stimulation, and they still aren’t with their owner. Some dogs get bored and howl and bark all day. Or they destroy things around the house waiting for us to return. Things like shoes, dog kennels, banisters, chess boards, bed frames, doors, piano legs. I might know this from personal experience. A dog living with a homeless person is always with them feeling important and needed. They are keeping their human safe. If I was sleeping in a tent at night alone, I would sleep ten times better with a dog in there with me to growl at any approaching danger. And it is positive touch and companionship.

Further, it reminds me of studies showing that having a pet benefits older people by giving them a reason outside of themselves to get up each morning and feed/exercise the dog. Some other creature is relying on you to get up and take care of them. This can counter apathy, loneliness, and depression. Especially involving empty-nest syndrome when all of the kids and grandkids have left the house. People live longer if they have pets to care for.  The mere act of stroking a dog’s fur has been shown to lower blood pressure and calm anxiety. Homeless people certainly struggle with loneliness, social isolation, depression, and anxiety. Some people probably do not get touched at all for the entire day. They receive no physical human contact like we all take for granted. No handshakes, fist bumps, hi-fives, hugs, holding hands, kisses. I couldn’t even guess how many of these I get daily. Multiple dozens probably. I guarantee that the only touch some of these people ever get is from their dog licking their face.

Some people don’t want to give a homeless person money for fear that they would spend it on drugs or Old English 800 malt liquor. Then some animal lovers carry around dog food in their car for the sole purpose of giving it to dogs that are with homeless humans. Or they’ll run into the store and come out with some dog food and a deli sandwich for them. I never see starving dogs with homeless people. The dogs are sometimes better fed than their 2-legged companions are. Lots of dogs aren’t allowed to sleep in the bedroom, or sometimes even the house. They are relegated to the garage, basement, or even a dog house in the yard. Dogs that live with homeless people are with them all day long, and then as a bonus they get to sleep curled up right next to their humans. No worries about tracking some dirt in from the yard, or getting dog fur on the brand new comforter. So bless these homeless dogs, I’m so happy to see you here with your people.

For a time I volunteered with the Portland Burrito Project. This is a national DIY group that feeds homemade burritos to the homeless population. Any city can start their own branch, as I understand it. In Portland we would collect donated food from Santa Fe Taqueria Mexican restaurant on Sunday morning. We would then take the food to an area Hostel and set up a food assembly line, making 100 veggie burritos. We then wrapped them all up, loaded up our warming bags, and drove downtown. We spent a few hours walking around looking for homeless people to feed. This was a great way to give back to the community and help out the homeless population, who are always struggling to acquire healthy food. I would often bring along some of the kids I worked with as a mentor, teaching them about community service. It would also open up conversations with the older kids about mental illness, running away from sexual abuse, and financial instability. We all got accustomed to scanning the street for homeless people to give food to, and what streets and onramps that they would typically camp near. If we found a homeless person asleep on the sidewalk with their backpack as a pillow, we would just leave a nice warm burrito wrapped in foil by their head. Hopefully they would wake up to the smell of a burrito and enjoy the magical gift of food from a stranger.

Of course, some people present as homeless when they are not. Or their chosen aesthetic of clothing attire resembles the disheveled bundled-up look of a homeless person. If you research the term “Homeless chic” you will see pictures of fashion models actually pushing shopping carts down the runway with oversized bags, wearing bland layered clothing. Highly paid fashion models are dressing like homeless people to sell overpriced clothes. I really don’t have the proper words for that nonsense.

I certainly cannot guess a person’s socio-economic status in the seconds I have while I approach them. Although we were attempting to help feed the homeless, there’s no solid way to actually be sure. There isn’t an ID card that proves you are homeless, nor would we actually refuse to give a person food who wanted some (unless they were aggressive or threatening us in some way). So we defaulted to giving just about anybody a burrito that seemed interested or hungry. A whole lot of people can appear homeless that aren’t.
But in my head I would play the game of ‘Who is about to get a free burrito?’

A) A truly homeless person.
B) A mentally ill person.
C) A street kid.
D) A low-income housing resident.
E) A tweaker actively on drugs.
F) Buskers/musicians/actors.
G) A desperately broke college student.
H) A resident of a treatment/recovery center on a smoke break.
I) People who just intentionally dress like they are homeless.
J) People who think that they are Marilyn Manson, Al Jorgensen, or Rob Zombie.

We quickly learned to avoid those people suffering from mental illness that are cussing to themselves and punching at the air. Same with drunk or high people. Some people would gratefully take the burrito, but then start telling me all of their problems. Or ask me to help them with some money, or a bus ticket to somewhere. I love to help people, but I have firm boundaries. I refuse to get sucked into anybody’s drama when doing this. I’m literally just here to give out burritos and walk away. I would think, “Put this in your mouth and stop talking to me.” And in an effort not to offend anyone that looks homeless who isn’t, we would explain ourselves in a generic way. Instead of saying, “We’re handing out free burritos to the homeless”, we would just say, “We’re delivering free food to anyone who is hungry.” People always asked us if we were a church group. Nope, just altruistic liberal hippie types who don’t want people to go hungry. Food is love.

Most people live in a false world of perceived security where they think nothing bad is ever going to happen to them. I am acutely aware that I am about two paychecks away from being homeless myself. With a few exceptions, most of my friends and co-workers would also become homeless if their paychecks stopped coming. I have a few friends who make 6 figures, but they are the minority. Most of us don’t have a savings account with anything in it for emergencies. We live from paycheck to paycheck, which still really is the norm. Virtually all of my friends have college degrees. Some have several. But that wouldn’t prevent any of us from becoming homeless if things went South. Once you stop paying your bills and your rent or mortgage, utilities get shut off and you get evicted or foreclosed on. The world owes you no guarantees. None of the people you see on the street planned or expected to be there, either. This sidewalk was not their goal.

If some severe medical injury happens requiring an ambulance or hospital stay, that could be it. A huge bill that you never recover from. Overwhelming debt with no ability to work and no money coming in. The #1 reason people declare bankruptcy in America is medical bills. What other huge life events could push someone into poverty and homelessness? Unemployment, a very bad divorce, gambling, domestic violence, being disowned by parents, rape, a public scandal, PTSD, mental health issues, a family crisis,  substance abuse, not being able to afford your medications, etc. If your paychecks stopped today, how long would it take you to exhaust your savings and any accrued vacation time? What about cashing out your retirement or selling your belongings to get money? Lord knows most of us don’t have jobs that would give us any sort of severance pay. Would I sell my car or plan on living in it? Which friends would let me couch-surf and for how long? These are my thoughts at 3am, walking past dozens of homeless people, wondering what particular sequence of events brought them to this sidewalk.

I’ve worked for social service non-profit organizations, or in the service industry, for the last 25 years. I’ve loved all of the jobs I’ve worked, but they certainly haven’t ever paid me well. Non-profits are funny like that. I am blessed with a robust network of friends and family that would intervene before I actually became homeless. I know that and am very grateful. But the point remains that nobody that I know is immune to the threat. We could all be homeless far quicker than we think. I still worry that I will be the guy in the line for a free meal at the Portland Rescue Mission, and sleeping under cardboard boxes in a doorway wondering why I went to college.

I feel so dejected when I see human beings sleeping outside on a sidewalk. We aren’t meant to sleep outside in the elements on concrete lit up by streetlights. I consider our homeless population to be the true streetlight people that Journey sings about. It makes me so sad and empty that this storefront doorway is actually someone’s bed tonight. It shouldn’t be this way. Mahatma Ghandi said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” And by that metric, we fail miserably. Homeless people are sneered at, feared, ignored. They are the outsider, the non-person, a null value, they do not count. They are ridiculed, terrorized, and beaten. We owe them better than this. And we all could be among them tomorrow.

With my hands shoved deep into the pockets of my hoodie, I walk solemnly by each homeless person and say a silent blessing in my head.
Sleep in safety. Sleep in safety. Sleep in safety.

Each homeless person was once somebody’s baby boy or baby girl, an amazing and unique creation.

Your parents probably had all the hopes and dreams and optimistic expectations for you. They agonized over what to name you. You had your favorite foods and special toys. Physical features that you shared with each parent were pointed out and celebrated. Family members bought you presents and fed you on holidays. Perhaps, like me, you made forts out of cardboard boxes in your living room. Decades later you’re sleeping in a doorway with cardboard boxes for walls. When you were a child, people who loved you sung you to sleep at night to keep the bad dreams away. I wish that I could sing you to sleep tonight.

Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I’m tired and I
I want to go to bed
Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
And then leave me alone
Don’t try to wake me in the morning
‘Cause I will be gone
Don’t feel bad for me
I want you to know
Deep in the cell of my heart
I will feel so glad to go
Sing to me
Sing to me
I don’t want to wake up
On my own anymore
There is another world
There is a better world
Well, there must be
Well, there must be
-The Smiths, “Asleep”

Burnside Street is memory lane

Driving downtown to work on Burnside Street is like a short tour of Portland’s most famous icons. It really does look like it does in the postcards and travel websites. When I drive to work it is still light out, and if I’m lucky the sun might still be shining. The skyline of downtown Portland is impressive. I moved here in 1996 and never thought I would ever work downtown, but here I am.

I head out from SE Portland and drive across the Burnside Bridge. Underneath the bridge is the famous Burnside skatepark, immortalized in the Tony Hawks video game. As I cross the Burnside bridge I see big pink looming ahead of me. This is the tallest building that Portland has to offer so far. It’s 30 stories tall with the equally famous Portland City Grill restaurant on the top floor. It’s called ‘big pink’ because of the pink hue of the panels. It’s like the monolith from 2001 upsized and made of shiny salmon fillet. That beast of building just needs some lemon juice on it, and I’m ready to feast.

Off to the right is the big Portland Oregon White Stag sign. This has been here forever and recently became a historical landmark. There is the outline of the state of Oregon, the words, PORTLAND OREGON OLD TOWN on it, and a white stag. Around Christmastime the white stag gets a glowing red nose. I often see models doing a photo shoot right on the side of the bridge with this sign in the background. The Suicide Girls movement also began right here in Portland, Oregon. So sexy alterna-models seem about as frequent as stop signs. Pale-skinned divas with brightly colored dyed hair prance around the bridges and loading docks with their photographers. Piercings, tattoos, and body modifications are the norm, the de rigueur of downtown. Now you are actually unusual and original if you DON’T have any of these things. I know about labret piercings, nasallang, septum piercings, Marilyn piercings, venom bites and snake bites just becaue I live in Portland. And from a few girlfriends. Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta asks Eric Stoltz which one is his wife?

“Which one’s Trudi? The one with all the shit in her face?”
“No, that’s Jody. That’s my wife.”

Jody totally moved to Portland and invited all of her friends.

I often joke that every single person in Portland is 1) in a band, 2) writing a book, or
3) a stripper. And yes, I know several who are all three. The near-constant rain and gloom here makes all of these trades very understandable and logical. I’m guilty of 2 out of 3 myself. Oh, I almost forgot about being a DJ. EVERYBODY in Portland is a DJ. It doesn’t even need to go on the list because it just is. If I had to add to that list of most common Portland professions I would say 4) barista, 5) tattoo artist, and 6) IT person. Computer technology specialists seems to actually be how people make the big money here, while trying to make those other artistic jobs work. I know that when I was a kid I always dreamed of being a social media influencer. Just about as much as I dreamed of being a bouncer, I suppose.

On the right I drive by the Portland Rescue Mission. This is a soup kitchen that offers free cafeteria-style meals to anyone who shows up. There is always a large group of hangry homeless people congregated outside. And mentally ill people. And junkies. And just hungry people who need a free meal. When I worked as a mentor to at-risk youth, we would take the teenagers here for community service to show them the pride of giving back. We would all be behind the food line serving up portions of hot food to everybody coming through. The best message came from a man in line for food who seemed pretty healthy and normal looking. When he learned that we were mentors and the kids were our mentees he laid this wisdom on us. “Hey kids, be sure that you do what you can to always stay on that side of the food line. I have two masters degrees and I’m here regardless, because sometimes things just fall apart. I never planned on being here. We all need to eat. There are no assurances in life.”

Just a few blocks away is the original Voodoo Doughnuts. I remember when they first opened in 2003. It was pretty much a closet that served doughnuts. Doughnuts with breakfast cereal on them. Doughnuts with a slice of bacon on them. I would sometimes show up in the afternoon to find them closed with a hand-written sign saying, “We ran out of dough. Will reopen tomorrow.” Hard to imagine that ever happening, especially now that they are open 24 hours with lines down the block. They used to have musicians perform up on what I would call a shelf just feet above us. Usually acoustic or electric with a small amp. You waited in line and were literally in danger of a guitarist falling on you. They also did weddings of the small variety. Shelf weddings, if you will. Now they have expanded to several other locations in Oregon and other states. I’m happy for them, but I honestly never thought that they would be anything more than a tiny Portland doughnut shop. Their marketing plan truly helped catapult them to something special. Wooden coffins full of a hundred donuts, coffee mugs, pink boxes, sassy t-shirts, weddings, special memorial doughnuts for famous people who pass away. It’s all helped make them a world-wide phenomenon. I’ve heard stories of the elite flying their personal jet from New York to Portland, grabbing two dozen Voodoo Doughnuts, and flying back to New York. I can’t confirm if this is true, and that sort of behavior seems beyond wasteful, entitled, and just old-fashioned stupid. Again, they are just doughnuts with all kinds of shit on them. Much like Jody with all the shit in her face. Maybe there is a pattern here.

Around the corner from Voodoo is Kit Kat Club. This is one of the better strip clubs in Portland with lots of space and big stages. It used to be an amazing music venue called Berbati’s Pan. I have great memories of going to shows here. The best show I saw at Berbati’s was Queens of the Stone Age in June of 2002, just before they blew up. Dave Grohl was their drummer. Berbati’s probably only held 250 people, and just a few years later QOTSA would be playing the Rose Garden, which has a capacity of 20,000. Stoner rock band Kyuss is my favorite rock band, and QOTSA was the band created by Josh Homme in the ashes of Kyuss’ breakup. I do miss Berbati’s, but Voodoo Doughnuts bought their kitchen space so they were able to expand beyond their closet space. And then the main space of Berbati’s became the Kit Kat Club, so all is well with the world. Grizzled rock musicians now replaced by naked women. You used to be able to drive down Ankeny Street right by these locations. Now the street is permanently blocked off and just open to pedestrians.

Right across the street from Voodoo is Dante’s, one of my favorite live rock clubs. I’ve performed there many times and seen many great national bands there. This is where I first saw Storm Large and the Balls perform. They had a weekly gig there before she made it big. They showed me that you totally can play altered versions of famous cover songs and still be entertaining. She would do lyrical mash-ups of loungy, jazzy versions of famous pop or metal songs. Most people don’t know that prior to becoming Dante’s in 2000, it was a great buffet restaurant called Chang’s Mongolian Grill. I ate there numerous times in the 90’s when I first moved here. Other Chang’s locations still exist, but the one on Burnside was the first one from 1985-1999. You would choose thinly sliced meats and vegetables from the deli line, add noodles and sauces, and give the bowls to the cooks who would dump your food onto a huge griddle to be flash-cooked. The mythology is that ancient Mongols would use a huge metal shield over a fire to cook all sorts of food for their traveling warriors. The griddle represents the warrior’s shield of old. The small fire table in the back corner of Dante’s is a remnant of the griddle that so much food was cooked on back in the day. I am still obsessed with hoisin sauce (plum sauce) from my frequent trips to Chang’s in the 90’s. Every time I go to Dante’s for a live rock show I look back at the fire table and feel wistful. And my mouth waters a little bit.

On the right as I drive through the intersection of 4th and Burnside looms the Chinatown Gate entrance. Two massive concrete Chinese Foo Dogs stand guard on either side. I often look around for Jack Nicholson’s bandaged nose and whisper to myself, “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

Off to the left we have Mary’s Club, which is Portland’s oldest strip club. It’s a family owned place where the dancers choose their own songs from a jukebox onstage. It’s been a popular strip club since the 50’s. It may not be as flashy or fast-paced as some other strip clubs in Portland, but dammit it’s got history and personality. And in a city that can claim to have the most strip clubs per capita than any other city, you definitely want a place with style and charm. This is the club were the dancer will lay down at the edge of the rack and have an actual conversation with you.

Sometimes you will hear the sound of distant bagpipes and see a flicker of fire. Then you hear the unique sound of the Imperial March from Star Wars being played on bagpipes. You look closer and see a man riding a unicycle as he plays this music on his bagpipes. Further, he is wearing a Darth Vader helmet and cape, and has somehow rigged the tenor drones of the bagpipe with a flame unit. So little poofs of fire are actually shooting out of those tubes on the top of the bagpipes. And he is wearing a kilt. This would be the Unipiper, a staple of downtown Portland. He has also appeared on tv shows and made appearances at sporting events. I do love Star Wars and fire. Working the door downtown somewhere I’ll hear the bagpipe music and watch the tourists get all excited and get their cameras ready. I’ve never spoken to the guy but I commend him for taking something so odd and making himself a Portland celebrity out of it. The force is strong with this one.

I remember the clubs that aren’t there anymore as I drive down Burnside Street. The Ash Street Saloon closed while I was working there, after a 24 year run. I wrote a lengthy piece about that called Farewell to Ash Street. The X-Ray Cafe was a successful underground club that allowed all ages. Only around from 1990 to 1994, it left a huge mark on the Portland music community. The small gated entrance is still there, it’s the backstage entrance to the Paris Theater now. Satyricon was also nearby and was a fun, albeit seedy, punk and alternative venue. Everybody from the Northwest played there early in their career. Rumor has it that Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love met there. Satyricon was open from 1984 until 2010. There was an adjacent restaurant called Fellini’s that I frequented a lot. My college band in the early 90’s would drive up from Eugene to play shows at both Satyricon and Ash Street. We even had our cassette release party gig at Satyricon. When Satyricon closed in 2010 people were rightfully devastated. When it was bulldozed to rubble on 2011 people came by to grab a brick from the pile as a souvenir. Music fans want to preserve a piece of musical history, and their experience with it. I’m sure that I have a few friends with a Satyricon brick on their mantle at home. Perhaps they used the brick as a weapon to throw at riot cops during a violent protest downtown. That would actually be a perfectly fitting use of a piece of Satyricon’s punk history. But most people probably just display the Satyricon brick near their vinyl record collection. A person’s relationship with a band, a song, or a just song lyric can be as important and meaningful as a relationship with a person. I can chart important moments on my life’s timeline with the release of certain albums. The songs are permanently burned into my brain. Those albums become totemic markers along the shore of the river of your life.

And, of course, Portland’s most beloved literary attraction is Powell’s Books. This behemoth of a bookstore takes up an entire city block and is four stories tall. I have been coming here since the mid-80’s. I lived in Eugene at the time and would drive up to Portland for concerts. I would stop in early at Powell’s and buy a dozen used books before going to the show. Then I moved here in 1996 and would come hang out at Powell’s on a weekly basis. I’ve attended some pretty amazing author readings here. I have spent hours delving into the graphic novels, memoirs, horror, science-fiction, and fantasy sections. I loved the detective work of researching books on my lists, tracking them down, and buying them here. This was before the internet and Amazon.com existed, so finding obscure or out-of-print books was harder and more fun. More recently I’ve We bring our kids here and I spend time in a section previously never explored…the young readers section. I can only imagine the thousands of dollars I have spent here over the last 30+ years. And it was probably the best money that I’ve ever spent.

If you’ve seen the comedy show Portlandia you probably already know most of these landmarks, and something about Portland. They show some of these in the introduction to the show. The Burnside skatepark, Powell’s Books, Mary’s Club, and even McMenamins Crystal Ballroom and Ringler’s Pub are visible in the intro. I currently work there. The Burnside Bridge drawbridge closing is the final image of the intro. I think it’s hilarious when coffee shops intentionally play the song used in the Portlandia intro. It’s by chillwave artist Washed Out and it’s called “Feel It All Around.” You’ve heard it. It’s like those snarky hipster Portland baristas are being ironic and trying to make you feel like you are in actually an episode of Portlandia. People who have lived here for years have a love-hate relationship with that show. Personally, I found every season to be hilarious and a spot-on parody of some of the silliness that does indeed go on here. But also, I understand how it probably caused a lot of people to move here under exaggerated expectations. Thereby altering our population, straining our infrastructure, and raising rent and increasing real estate prices. Us locals who have called this our home for decades can barely afford to live here now. Between the skyrocketing cost of living, terrible traffic and gridlock, and housing overdevelopment, Portland is becoming Los Angeles. And don’t even get me started on the gentrification of this city. Please everybody, stop moving to Portland. We’re full up here, thanks. And if you are from California and consider yourself a ‘real estate developer’ please just fuck the hell off.

There are definitely many ghosts of the Portland spots no longer with us on my drive to work. It’s just 14 blocks from the Burnside Bridge to the Crystal Ballroom, where I currently work. But lots of memories flash by in those 14 blocks. I do miss the city that I remember from the 90’s. Every big city evolves and changes and grows larger. I just don’t have to like it. Portland often feels like an ex-girlfriend that I still live with because both of us are too lazy to move on. She broke my heart and isn’t the same person anymore, but I kind of like how the house still smells like her.

Times have changed in so many ways since I arrived in Portland. I was in my 20’s when I moved here and was full of optimism and naive expectations. Nobody had cell phones and the internet was a new and mysterious thing that not everybody had. This was before 9/11 so fear and security measures were different. Smoking had not yet been banned in every bar/restaurant/venue, so clubs were a haze of cigarette smoke. Two decades later, 5 rock bands later, 5 jobs later, numerous girlfriends later, 25 more pounds later, quite a few gray hairs in my beard later, here I am. Now I’m happy and settled with a wife and kids and dogs. In the 90’s I went to every live concert I could for fun. Now I go to live concerts for work every night. I miss Portland. I love Portland still. And I still live for music. I’m headed out to a concert tonight as a patron instead of a bouncer.

I am reminded of a scene from the Sam Peckinpah western PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID.

“It feels like…times have changed.”

“Times maybe. Not me.”

Short man and Blondie

I was working downtown at a dive bar that books rock bands seven nights a week. I stepped outside to check on the patrons drinking and smoking outside. There’s always some tables to buss, or some people who need to be told to stop smoking pot. There was a couple waiting in line to get in that drew my attention.

One thing that you don’t want to do is draw the attention of the bouncers before you even enter the venue. Things we look for include extremely loud voice tones, manic (read drug-induced) laughter, excessive movements or touching others, repeated dropping of items. These actions will bring us to you for a small conversation. I deny entry quite often just for being a loud, drunk ass in line. If we can stop the problem early at the door by denying entry to a visibly intoxicated person, we diminish the likelihood of having to solve another larger problem later inside. You could call this assholery mitigation.

And that is what happened tonight. I spotted a couple in line that already seemed to be drunk and was pseudo-bickering. I was busy listening to some regulars tell me a story while I bussed tables, but I was also watching this couple and listening as best I could to their interaction. It’s difficult to differentiate between simple happy exuberance at seeing friends at a music event, and sloppy intoxicated liability. I know many people who are very loud and physically affectionate in public. They aren’t intoxicated, that’s just their manner. But I didn’t like how the man was relating to his girlfriend/wife. They were both Caucasian and relatively normal looking, but he was substantially shorter than she was. She had big blond hair, reminiscent of the singer Blondie. I thought I saw him stagger a little bit also, but in the group of people it was hard to be sure. They were both a bit too loud, arguing, and he was pretty touchy with her. By that I mean he kept touching her too often, and usually when he was disagreeing with her.  After she would make a comment that he disagreed with he would kind of pat her arm or her hips and say, “Come on now, that’s a load of shit.” From a distance it looked like he was bullying her and being too physical. Repeated slapping or tapping of anybody is going to draw attention, even when done in play or even if the person is accepting of it. It was irritating and disrespectful at the very least and physically abusive at the most. But some people have that kind of relationship in public, sad as that is. I’m going to refer to them as ‘Short Man and Blondie.”

I returned inside to deliver the dishes and intercept this couple at the door. Sometimes a quick conversation with the people will confirm or disprove my query. But the line moved way faster than I thought and my co-worker was already checking their IDs. I got close to him so he would see me in his periphery and know I was assessing someone in line. This couple was still bickering in line and the man kept tapping her in disapproval. He did even trip a little bit on the mat at the door. My coworker looked over at me and I shook my head ‘no’ and made a concerned face. I even made the universal symbol for ‘cut off’ by moving my hand in front of my neck as if I were cutting my throat. He waved me over.

The couple saw me trying to give the door guy these nonverbal cues that he shouldn’t let them in. Short man started saying, “Come on, man. We’re ok.” I leaned over to my coworker and said, “He seems wasted to me, and they’ve been arguing and staggering outside. I wouldn’t let them in.” The door guy was wearing a flannel shirt and baseball cap, not really even looking like security. While I was wearing all black and a hoodie with the word SECURITY on the front and back. I probably looked like I had more authority here, or was the ‘hit-man’ of the night. That’s what I call the guy that comes in to deal with the big problems before disappearing back into the crowd. But in actuality I had only been working there part-time for 6 months, while the door guy of the night had been there full-time for years. He looked at the couple for a moment and told me, “I think I’ll give them a chance and let them in.” He wasn’t pulling a power trip at all. And saying that in front of the couple in question lets them know that they are being given a second chance. Sometimes that’s all it takes. It’s a tactic we all use. I’m happy to be bad cop and he can be good cop tonight. So I deferred to his decision here and we let the couple in.

Each place I’ve worked at is slightly different. Some places would prefer to stop a potential problem outside and just deny the people entry. Other places prefer to deal with any problems after the fact inside the venue. It’s pre-emptive versus reactive. I can pro-actively attempt to stop a problem early, or wait until it happens and react to it then (saying “I called that one” in my head). In this case, it probably also had something to do with wanting to collect the cover charge so the bands get paid. Everybody who works there is also in at least one band. So we all get the grind, and are sympathetic to bands struggling for every dollar. If we tell this couple that they aren’t coming in tonight, that’s $16 that the bands don’t get, and potentially more money that the bar doesn’t get in alcohol and food sales.

So the night went on and the bands played. Patrons rocked out, drank terrible cheap beer, and ate greasy deep-fried bar food. Sure enough, I spot my favorite couple being loud and getting heated by a bar in the middle of the room. I saw plastic cups in their hands, which was bad news since that means they’re drinking hard liquor drinks. Short man was still being loud and rude to Blondie, continuously tapping her with his hands and being too physical. I started moving towards them, putting myself in the vicinity of them so I was ready in case I needed to jump in. Just standing there watching them and listening to them.

Most bouncers are there to keep everybody safe. Most bouncers also have a particular distaste for men being too physical or abusive to women. Lots of bouncers end up working in strip clubs where they are essentially protecting pretty girls from jerk men. Remember the 1997 movie L.A. Confidential? Russell Crowe plays a detective that has a real problem with men who hurt women. So much so that he will hurt them far worse. He flies off the handle and beats any man that he finds hurting or exploiting a woman. He’s got a penchant for punishing wife-beaters. You can call it the knight in shining armor savior complex. Or you can call it just doing the right thing. I can admit that seeing this type of thing gets me really angry fast as well. I would imagine many guys saw their Moms get screamed at and beaten up by some boyfriend, stepfather, or their own biological Dad. They grow up and want to prevent that scenario from happening to any woman. Psychologically, we’re now talking about transference.

So short man continues to yell at Blondie, and keeps nudging her elbows and goading her. I move slowly closer, as watching this interaction is making me uncomfortable. I’m gently tapping people’s elbows and saying ‘excuse me’ so they will move out of my way as I part the crowd to get in range of this couple. There is a long bar in the middle of the bar portion of the venue. But it’s just a structural divider with some beams going up into the ceiling. There’s no bartender or drinks available at this bar, it’s just for people to lean on and set their drinks and eat their food. I’m on one side of this dividing bar and the couple is on the other side arguing. People around them are starting to cringe and move away from the couple.

As I’m about to interject and speak to the couple about them causing a disturbance, it blows up. Short man loses all patience with Blondie and grabs her shirt collar. She yells, “Let go of me!” and tries to back away from him. He doesn’t let go. This only took a few seconds. That’s it. There is a line that he just crossed by grabbing her in anger. I summon my loudest man-voice and yell, “GET YOUR HANDS OFF HER!” I reach over the bar and grab his arm with both hands and smash it down onto the bar hard. I had squeezed his wrist so hard that his fingers released her shirt instantly. Now the entire length of his arm is pinned to the wooden bar. All three joints were immobilized: wrist, elbow, and shoulder. His head was tilted at an angle just off the bar. His face reminded me of a startled turtle with its head trapped in a baby gate. It happened so fast I don’t really think he put together how his body got aligned with the surface of this wooden bar top. I am certain that he will have bruises tomorrow on his biceps and wrists that are shaped exactly like my fingers. But how about you don’t man-handle a woman in anger in a bar, asshole?

Of course, if you’ve pictured this dividing bar in your head you can see the problem that I have now deeply planted myself in. Because I was compelled to act quickly and blinded by the need to stop him from grabbing her in anger, I put myself in a stupid situation. With his entire arm pinned to the bar, I can’t do anything further or protect myself from anything else. Like the woman trying to defend her man, or even the guy himself from trying to hurt me. His other arm was free, so he could have potentially swung on me with his free arm. Or tried to choke me or gouge my eyes. Or, if he drunkenly thought he was Bruce Lee, he could have tried jumping on or over the bar to where I was. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have gone about it quite this way. But if I can make good decisions in crisis scenarios at least 80% of the time, I’m actually doing pretty good.

I suppose that, had he tried to fight or struggle, I could have raised his arm up to block his other arm. I did have complete control of his arm. Or with my adrenaline raging, and him not being the biggest guy I’ve ever restrained, I probably could have brought him over the bar to my side and put him down on the beer-stained floor. Luckily, I didn’t need to consider any of these options too long. I’m part of a solid team here that is always looking out for each other. My boss saw me grab the guy and was already on his way over. But when I release short man’s arm it’s going to then put my boss at some risk because short man may want to fight him.

My boss came over and grabbed short man’s other arm and wrapped him up as I released his other arm. I was now separated from the situation and couldn’t help until I got around the bar. The crowd was, of course, watching this whole thing go down. I had to get around the bar and through them to help. A one-on-one physical escort is difficult and risky. It’s much safer for everyone if two bouncers each control an arm and walk the guy out together. I moved into the crowd and yelled very loud, “MOVE! MOVE! GET OUT OF THE WAY!” I realized that I had said the exact words spoken by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. I’ve seen that film so damned many times that parts of the dialogue are permanently ingrained into my psyche. When Rick Deckard is chasing replicant Zhora through the bustling crowd of street people he says this line before he shoots her. And whether anybody in that crowd has seen that movie or not, it worked like a charm. People got the hell out of my way and I grabbed short man’s other arm. My boss and I now each had an arm and walked him very quickly and forcefully out the front door.

We released short man on the sidewalk and waited to see if he came at us. Wisely, he did not. We told him he needed to leave the property immediately. Blondie followed us out and started yelling at him for embarrassing her like that. They wandered off down the sidewalk together. I can only imagine the talk they might have on the way home. Or maybe they won’t. Domestic violence patterns often show the victim remaining with, or even covering for, their abuser. If he was that physical with her in public I can only guess how bad he is at home. I can’t think about that anymore tonight though. I’ve got more work to do. All we can do is try to keep people safe while they are here with us. Tomorrow is on you.

As we walked back inside, the door guy waved me over and said, “You were right on that one. I shouldn’t have let them in.”
I smirked at him and nodded and said, “Yup.”


Just trying to get home

Driving home after a long challenging shift can be its own unique experience. Sometimes I won’t even get home until 2-3 hours after I clock out. Not because I’m out drinking with coworkers, because I keep finding situations that need responding to.

Sitting in my truck is usually the first time all night that other people can’t talk to me, ask me for help, or recruit me to solve a problem. It’s my little decompression sanctuary from the night’s lunacy. I’ll usually just sit there and breathe for a long moment before I turn the ignition. I usually reek of a distinctive combo of sweat (my own and other people’s), fog machine juice, cigarette smoke, and beer. All I want to do is get home and take a shower or a bath. But home seems so very far from here. Even though my drive home usually only takes 15 minutes, it can feel like I’m 2,000 light years from home.

Sometimes I’ll listen to music on the drive home, but more often than not I won’t. I’ve already been listening to music at the venue all night and I’m done with it. The silence is a welcome change. I’ll go over events of the night in my head, sometimes even talking to myself a little bit. I’ll think about situations I could have handled better, or just actually handled wrong. Nobody always makes the perfect decision in the heat of a stressful moment, and I’ve made my share of bad calls. I agonize over bad decisions I made more than I should.

Driving home in silence I see the night people of the city on their various missions, skittering around like insomniac bugs. I spot potential drug deals, homeless people moving camps, mentally ill people cussing at people who aren’t there, prostitutes with garish makeup peering into my truck window to see if I’m a customer. And of course the first responders of police, ambulances, and fire trucks always rushing somewhere with their candy-lights glittering in the dark. Red and blue flashes of color are reflected off of my bleary and red eyes every night. There’s always someone in peril or facing death. But with our busy lives and self-centered scope, we become inured to it.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite films, Martin Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver. Robert De Niro plays loner Travis Bickle, driving around in his cab all night long to deal with his insomnia. He sees the worst of people driving graveyard shift in New York City. Disenfranchised, jaded by the filthy humanity he sees, isolated and in his own world of depression he forges ahead. He finds obsession, a cause to champion, and then much violence.

“All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.

“I am God’s lonely man.”


Some nights I can’t even get to my truck before the nonsense-responder mode kicks in. Moments after I clock out and say goodnight to some coworkers I step outside and find two people crouched down leaning against the wall. It’s a man and woman who I recognize from the event upstairs. The woman appeared kind of wobbly and drunk up there and sure enough, now she is vomiting on the sidewalk with her boyfriend taking care of her. Much as I wanted to just keep walking, I ask them if they needed anything. I offer her water and ask if they have a safe way home. Ended up getting them some bottled water and a free slice of pizza from the restaurant inside. Notified a manager that they were outside just in case they needed more help.

Now as I’m about to cross the street to get to my truck, I see a dog starting to run across the busy four-lane street intersection. I am not about to see a dog run over by a car tonight, so I immediately pull out my tactical flashlight and shine it at the approaching cars in front of me and behind me. I jump out in the street and start talking baby-talk to the panicking dog. Somehow over the honking horns and vehicles squealing to a stop, the dog heard me and came running over to me. I walked it over to its owner on the corner of the sidewalk and got a big hug from the woman who owned it. A group of people who saw this or tried to help all gathered about the dog to pet it. I asked her about getting a leash or a rope to prevent this from ever happening again. My heart was beating pretty hard. I rubbed the dog’s fur and we looked in each other’s eyes for a moment. I said goodnight to everybody and walked across the street.

I went to the mini mart nearby to get some necessities. For decades I refused to ever even go inside of a 7-11 or a AM/PM Mini Market. Almost every single thing in there is bad for you and overpriced. But now that I work in bars as a bouncer, what other store is open at 3am? It’s a necessary evil sometimes. Every time I go in there I recall the scene from Taxi Driver where Robert De Niro’s character is in a store buying chocolate milk and Ding-Dongs and somebody comes in with a gun to rob the cashier. He ends up shooting the thief dead. The store owner covers it up by taking DeNiro’s unregistered gun and then bashing the corpse with a pipe. This was long before every mini mart had surveillance cameras.

Tonight I noticed three white teenagers all wearing backpacks grouped together in the corner of the store while the middle-aged woman cashier eyeballed them. I immediately walked over to them and stood right behind them like I wanted to see something in the case in front of them. I said, “Excuse me, fellas” and opened the case to grab some water. They undoubtedly saw my security shirt and earpiece still clipped to my collar. I looked at all of their hands to see if they were trying to shoplift something. The cashier came over and asked the boys to leave since they weren’t buying anything and weren’t supposed to bring in huge backpacks. They left the store quickly and she thanked me for helping out with that potential shoplifting situation.

Minutes later, I’m standing in line with my bag of chips and water, and a mentally ill homeless man comes in. He brought in some fast food and started putting it in the market’s microwave to heat it up. The clerk yells over to him, “Hey you can’t use our microwave. That’s for food that you buy here.” The guy starts yelling and cussing, slamming the microwave door shut and knocking over various items on the counter. Everyone in the place is now staring at this nutball. Acting on autopilot I say to him, “You need to leave NOW.” Then he focuses on me and makes a crazy face while he yells, “You gonna kick my ass with that bag of chips, motherfucker?” I started walking towards him and he runs out of the store, leaving his stale cheeseburgers in the microwave. I return to line to buy my chips and the clerk thanks me again. I said, ‘Crazy night, huh?” She replied, “Oh it’s just an average Thursday.”

As I’m finally driving home thinking about dogs and Travis Bickle, I see a fire on the side of the road. It’s a tent completely engulfed in flames right by the street. It’s part of a makeshift homeless camp in a small park-like area of trees and bushes near an overpass. I pull over immediately and call the police. The operator asks me what my emergency is and I tell them that there is a homeless person’s tent on fire at the location. The flames were reaching up several feet in the air and about to catch the leaves of the tree directly above it on fire. Several trees around that one were touching it and would then also catch fire. He asked me very calmly, “Do you see any bodies in the burning tent?” I answered that it was just the tent and the items inside it burning. Pretty sure I would have mentioned that on the call, after running over to try to pull the bodies out of the tent. Strange conversations at 3am. I was pleased to see 3 other cars pull over behind me to call in the fire as well. One guy was a security patrol driver and he got out and headed towards the burning tent. I yelled to him that I’d called it in and a fire truck was on its way. There is a community of us out there that will always help out in the wee hours.

In the colder months, some homeless people do die in their tents trying to keep warm. They use sterno cooking fuel to heat the inside of their tents, and to cook food. Some burn hand sanitizer gel in a pop can as a make-shift stove. Sometimes this catches papers, hair, clothing, etc on fire or gets knocked over. It usually isn’t that they are doing drugs or cooking drugs in the tent. A person might fall asleep and accidentally knock over the flame, starting a fire. Some of the cheaper tents obviously are not flame-proof, as evidenced by this maelstrom of a tent fire. This particular tent wasn’t anywhere near the rest of the group of tents on the grass though, it was right on the edge of the street, on the sidewalk. Most people don’t set their tent up that close to traffic or blocking a sidewalk when there was ample space back among the others. Seemed to me that it was placed there intentionally to be done away with. And placing it directly under the leafy tree feel like an intentional act to catch the tree on fire. I wonder if there was some sort of revenge amongst the homeless people and somebody got ousted. Or maybe the owner of that tent passed away or went to prison and their friends burned their stuff in a strange honoring-the-departed ritual. I’ll never know.


I got out of work late tonight after the bar closed. It was quite a night full of kicking out drunk people, taking care of people who had medical incidents, catching crowd surfers during the concert, and babysitting lingering band members. After a minute or two of sitting in my truck to calm down, I headed home. Sure enough, I see a woman laying askew on the sidewalk too close to traffic slowly flailing and reaching up with her hands. I say out loud to myself, “I’m off work.” But then I pull over and park to go investigate.

She was conscious and attempting to stand up after a fall. I asked her if I could help her stand up and get away from the street. She said yes and as I pulled her up I leaned in close to see if I could smell any alcohol on her. I didn’t. A bike pizza delivery guy was nearby and half-assedly trying to talk to her and help. He told me he saw her fall and pulled over but couldn’t get her on her feet. He asked if I could take care of this since he had deliveries to make. I didn’t see any injuries on her, but she was definitely unstable and had other challenges.

She started trying to talk to me and I recognized the all-too-familiar confused speech of someone with Schizophrenia. She was trying to link ideas and words together that didn’t go together, what psychologists call a ‘word-salad,’ She was also very confused about why the busses weren’t running at 3:15am. Typical paranoid fears of things happening to her that aren’t even possible. I tried to get her to tell me if she lived nearby in a residential home or something, or where she was coming from. It was very cold outside and she did fall on the sidewalk according to the pizza delivery bicyclist.

I called the non-emergency police line and told them I was with a woman who seemed to have fallen, but that it might be more of a mental health response needed. An ambulance showed up in moments and they ran her vitals and interviewed her. I hung back and watched for a while out of curiosity. I heard them talk to her about getting somewhere warm tonight, and offered her a ride to Hooper Detox. She was probably off her meds and needed stabilization/medication management. Nothing warranted a psych hold or admitting to a hospital though. The woman refused any rides or help from the EMTs. They offered her a ride to a homeless shelter as well, but she refused. There was nothing any of us could do. I waved to the paramedics as they boarded their van again. And the woman picked up her bags and waddled away down the sidewalk. She looked like she just finished a shopping trip at the mall carrying her department store bags like she was. I silently wished her well, and thanked the EMTs in my head.

Driving home again I see a very odd sight just blocks from where the woman was found. I saw a SWAT truck with riot police troops standing all along the sides of it, ready to deploy. This is an unusual sight any time of the day, but now it’s creeping up on 4am. No political protests happen at 4am. Naturally, I drove around the block again to get another look and see if I could figure out what was about to happen.

Then I realized what was happening as I drove past a particular notorious club. There is a certain club that will remain unnamed that is a magnet for violence and fights. Bro-dude rapists who want to fight are drawn here by the dozens. Worse even than the unsavory clientele is the asinine way they run their business hours. Every bar in Oregon has to stop selling alcohol by 2:30am. So usually clubs announce last call at 2:15 and they don’t serve drinks after that. Then at 2:30 the ugly lights come on and everybody scrambles out to drive home. Or more accurately to see who is sober enough to drive to Taco Bell, and THEN home. This particular club stops serving alcohol at 2:30am, in accordance with the law, but then they remain open as a hang-out spot until 4am. This is a recipe for disaster. This is when drunk people with no reason to leave stay and start trouble. Predatory bottom-feeder dudes looking for the drunkest woman showing the most skin. Women with more fake breasts and lips and makeup than class or sense. In this bizarre gonzo scene they actually deserve each other. I guarantee it’s 90% testosterone and whiskey-fueled macho dick-measuring bullshit. “You looked at my girl too long”, “You knocked into my table”, or “Hey asshole, wanna fight?”

I used to work the door at a club very near this place. It became a regular thing that we would see numerous police cars there every night to respond to fights. The record was 12 police cars all with their lights and sirens on screaming to the club and blocking all lanes of traffic. We were instructed to close and lock the doors of our establishment when that would happen, so any fights or drama wouldn’t move into our bar. The most famous fracas there was when multiple fights broke out between different groups in the bar and security staff, and it spilled out into the street. There were several stabbings. I watched bleeding men being put into ambulances on stretchers, still yelling at their enemy in the other ambulance.

After that they added more bouncers and big metal detectors outside the club. But it still is a sketchy shady place that I wouldn’t ever go to, and no woman should ever go there. Trust me. So I think this was the city’s response to this club’s history for violence. The time between 2:30am and 4am is what I would call ‘bullshit time’ at this club. So they posted an emergency response SWAT team outside in the parking lot all decked out in their tactical gear and armor with mace, tazers, stun grenades, and assault rifles. It’s an effective and intimidating show-of-force tactic. I think if you walk into a club and see that outside, you might consider not acting a fool that night. And if you do start a fight in that club tonight, may your god have mercy on your stupid soul.

Almost home now, I see my tank is empty and decide to fill up tonight rather than deal with it tomorrow before driving back to work. Gas stations with markets are epicenters for ridiculous nonsense in the middle of the night. As I’m waiting for my tank to fill and commiserating with the gas jockey who has to be there until 8am, I see an African-American woman wandering around the parking lot yelling. But she’s not just yelling at people who aren’t there, she’s actually screaming at patrons in their cars. She was screaming at innocent and very tired people about using their phone to call the police to get her kids back. I don’t feed into stuff like this at all, so when she looked at me I just said, “I can’t help you, move on.”

The gas attendant said he already locked the front door to the market and told her to leave the premises. He was here all by himself trying to run the mini mart, pump everybody’s gas, and deal with this crazy woman. So since she has been told to leave and hasn’t, she is now trespassing. Also harassing and borderline menacing customers. I saw her at the window of a car screaming top-volume at a scared-looking young woman inside. This poor woman looked trapped like a dog in the animal control truck. Crazy woman was still harping about using someone’s phone to call the police to get her kids back. She screamed at the woman in the car, “HELP ME, WHITE BITCH!”

At this point the attendant and I both started yelling at her. I called the police and got out of my truck to start moving towards her. I’m way bigger than she was, so as soon as she saw two men moving towards her she moved away from the woman’s car. She did start screaming at us, calling the gas attendance racist and me a thug. She also implied we were somehow involved in her losing her kids. I described the woman to the 911 operator loudly so the woman would hear me describing her to police. The gas jockey said if she didn’t stop screaming and calling us names he was going to punch her in the face. I was ready to drop my phone and tackle this woman to the ground if I had to. Luckily she ended up running away, still screaming about getting her kids back. I told the officer what direction she went and hung up. I waved at the scared woman in the car and she mouthed the words “Thank you.” I shook the gas jockey’s hand and we both rolled our eyes at the insanity, and I drove away homeward.

Back to Taxi Driver wisdom, Peter Boyle’s character Wizard says this:

Look at it this way. A man takes a job, you know? And that job – I mean, like that – That becomes what he is. You know, like – You do a thing and that’s what you are.

This resonates so strongly with me. Since I’ve worked as a bouncer I feel like I’m always a bouncer wherever I am. Does all this nonsense just find me? Or am I seeking it out? Do I see it more than a regular person because I am attuned to it? I feel like I often work a full shift at the venue bar, then I work a second short shift after I clock out just trying to get home. I can’t turn it off. My parents say that I’ve always been a helper since I was a little boy. That’s essentially what I’m doing now as an adult. Helping others. In that way this is a perfect profession for me. No matter how long I actually work in this industry, I’ll always retain this security mindset.

All I want is to enter my house justified

This is a famous quote from the 1962 Sam Peckinpah western, Ride the High Country. I think of this line often when I finally get home and open the door of my house.

I enter the house as quietly as I can and put down my bags. I go to my bedroom first and gently touch my wife’s leg, whispering that I’m home. She usually wakes up just enough to say that she loves me or that she’s glad I’m back home safe. Then I peek into each of the kids rooms to check on them. I usually grab the girl’s glitter-covered foot and say goodnight, and then softly tousle the boy’s shaggy hair. Both dogs are asleep, one snoring pretty loudly. My clan is collected. My family is safe. My tribe is protected.

It’s the middle of the night and I’m wide awake in a house full of sleepers.
I’ve got nobody to tell all these stories to, except maybe you.

If I were a smoker I would have a cigarette. If I were a drinker I would crack open a beer.
Instead I go out on my back porch and sit on the deck. I can feel the moisture in the air and see it sparkling on the grass. The sky is starting its transition from black as night to a familiar blue glow. The stars start to fade away as the sky lightens. It has just changed from night to morning. It’s not my time anymore, I need to get to sleep like a vampire prior to daybreak.

But I guess I’ll just sit here alone and watch the sun rise.

Dance, little sister, dance

We had a themed dance event in the venue tonight. No bands playing live music, but instead a DJ playing music curated from a particular decade. These weekly events are quite popular and the floor is usually always full of happy dancers. I wasn’t posted at a particular location or checking IDs for this shift. Tonight I was working as a floater. Which is fun because I get to rove all around the venue and be active. I respond to problems over the radio that other spot and call in. I’m the guy who might just appear behind you and tap you on the shoulder. Then ask you to exit the venue with me due to extreme drunkenness or harassing female patrons. I get to work all the other positions for a little while when I give breaks to those staff people who are posted at a certain spot. I’m like a mobile troubleshooter.

And tonight I found some trouble. Relatively harmless trouble, but still.

Right in the middle of the dance floor was a small group of people who were discreetly smoking something out of a small vape pen. No smoking of any kind is allowed in this venue, so this is something that should be addressed. I just saw the puff of smoke and did not see who exhaled it. So I did a preemptive measure of just slowly striding through the group of people and looking at each person as I moved between them. They all moved back a bit as I moved through them. It’s obvious that I’m security due to my radio and earpiece and shirt that says STAFF. Usually my intentionally walking through people reminds them that security staff are present, and to keep their shit in check.

This perfectly fitting song from David Bowie played as I walked past them. Synchronicity wins again. I actually looked up towards the ceiling speakers thinking that one of my musical heroes was perfectly providing the soundtrack to this moment of my life.
Like he has done so many times before.

Let’s sway
While color lights up your face
Let’s sway
Sway through the crowd to an empty space

I ended up over by the DJ and checked in with him. We commented on how two young women in the group that I just buzzed seemed really young. Perhaps too young. They had to have their ID’s checked as they came through the door and passed through the metal detectors. But damn, maybe they flirt-charmed a male door guy and got through.

The others in that groups weren’t with these two women and sort of faded off to other areas of the dance floor. The two young women remained dancing like mad.

These two young ladies were very attractive and attention-getting. They were, in the parlance of our times, ‘smoking hot.’ One of the women had red hair and a black lacy halter top. This halter top was working overtime trying to contain her ever-bouncing breasts. The other woman was blond and shorter and was rocking the sexy hippie look. They both had beaming huge smiles, very tan skin, were dressed very fashionably, and bouncing all over the dance floor. They were so exuberant with their bouncing that it seemed like they’ve never been in a dance club before. Perhaps because they hadn’t and weren’t old enough to be here.

I waited and watched their behavior. They didn’t seem drunk, but did seem really happy and having the time of their lives. Then I spotted it. The blond hippie girl put her hand up to her mouth and inhaled on a small vape pen, then exhaled a cloud over her head. Got her!

I immediately thought of the Devo song called “Girl U Want” with these lyrics:

She sends out an aroma of undefined love
It drips on down in a mist from above

She’s just the girl, she’s just the girl
The girl you want

Personally I like Soundgarden’s version of this a lot better than the Devo version.
But regardless, imagine someone pogo-dancing to this fast-paced song.
That’s how these cherubic women looked while they were dancing.

So I walked over to these two and got in their line of sight. I said, “Hey, you cannot smoke anything in this venue. I’ve seen you blow out smoke twice now. If you do that again we will have to kick you out.”
The blond hippie-girl says, “Oh okay, fair enough, sorry.”
I’m thinking to myself, “Have you seen anyone else in this place smoking anything here all night? Did you not see any of the signs that say NO SMOKING all over this place? When you are the only person in a huge crowd doing a thing, might that make you wonder if doing that thing is not allowed?”

Now that we were all up close and personal I could look at their faces more closely. For the love of all that is holy, these two looked about 16 years old to me. They could easily be babysitters to my two kids making some extra money for their high school prom. Some people just have naturally young-looking faces. Good genetics, slow development, a youthful glow, whatever. I myself looked way younger than I was for many years. So I get it. I got carded into my 40’s. But I looked like a baby into my 20’s. There’s no way I would have been able to get into a club without being 21.

So now I said, “Hey do you have stamps?” They eagerly pushed out their hands showing me the stamps on the inside of their wrists. Now I went in for the kill.
“Can I please see your IDs?”

They produced IDs for me and I examined them with the scrutiny of a jeweler. If I had a monocle I would have put it on. Remember now that the three of us are directly in the middle of the dance floor. I purposely did not have them come over to the side for this. I wanted to card them smack dab in the middle of everything. The lights, the crowd, the bartenders. I wanted everybody to see me carding them again on the dance floor. That is pretty unusual. I wanted them to sweat a little. I brought out my tactical flashlight and turned it on so I could get a good look at their IDs. I was so hoping that the date was going to be after today’s date in 1997, making them minors and giving me reason to kick them out.

If venues that sell alcohol allow minors inside, they can be heavily fined and even risk losing their liquor license. And any venue that can’t sell alcohol isn’t going to last long. So we treat it with the importance it deserves. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission demands it, and they send agents through often.

Possession of a fake ID can result in pretty hefty fines and even prison time depending. But that can be more for people using fake IDs for identity theft. Minors with fake IDs for the purpose of buying tobacco or alcohol would not typically face charges on the extreme end of that spectrum. But it certainly means police involvement as I would confiscate the ID. You can’t get the ID back until a police officer arrives and checks everything out on their database and examines the ID. Most people just bail when you tell them that, abandoning the fake ID to avoid having the Police interview them. Some places give cash rewards to bouncers for each fake ID that they catch and confiscate.

Their photos checked out, their birthdays checked out, and the expiration dates were even good. I’ve seen a lot of fake IDs in my time as a bouncer. These looked legitimate. Still, I kept looking at the IDs. I even started switching the color of my flashlight shining on them. A blacklight flashlight shows the holograms in the card itself. Usually the Oregon IDs have the words OREGON embedded all over the ID that you can only see under UV light. Sometimes it’s the state logo, or a second photo of the holder, or other symbols or writing. These are very difficult to fake. These IDs has the holograms on them. I cycled the flashlight through other colors including red and green. The girls wouldn’t know that those colors don’t show anything special. I was just taking my sweet time and seeing what they would do with the entire place watching this interaction go down. They had stopped dancing, of course, so the three of us are the only people standing perfectly still in the bulls-eye center of this crowd.

There are two options of what just happened here. One is that these were the best fakes that I’ve ever seen working as a bouncer (unlikely). Or, these IDs belonged to the slightly older sisters of these bouncy dancing-girls that looked exactly like them (very likely). Because there is no way in burning unholy hell that these two were 21 years old. I could have pushed it further by asking them their middle names, address, birthday, etc. But I felt like I took this far enough. So I returned their IDs to them and just said, “Have a good night.” I walked back to the DJ and told him what happened. He laughed. We crossed our arms and shook our heads like old men on their porch laughing at the youngsters these days.

Then we saw the two young women exit the dance floor and grab their jackets and leave. Aha! I think my spot-checking their IDs on the dance floor spooked them and they got the hell out of there. Or, it just embarrassed them and pissed them off so they left. Or they thought when I said, “Have a good night” that meant “Please leave.” Maybe they thought that I did think that they were fake (or belonged to somebody else), but was just saving them the embarrassment and police involvement.

In any case, they hightailed it out of there quick. I went downstairs and asked the guy checking the IDs about those two and he agreed that they looked super young but their IDs checked out. I told him that I checked their IDs again in the middle of the dance floor and he laughed hard. I peeked outside the door and saw the two ladies scurrying away down the sidewalk looking back over their shoulders. Like they thought we would come after them and make a citizen’s arrest for a fake ID or something. They were still kind of bouncing and skipping away and into the night.

Dance the night away, ladies.
I don’t imagine that I’ll ever see you here again with your older sisters though.




The Dead Next Door

Sometimes the most intense situations don’t happen inside the venue. It’s often the incidents outside the front doors that turn out to be the most memorable. Things like fights, medical incidents, ambulances and police vehicles arriving, vandalism, drug deals, etc. On this particular night I was presented with the possibility of finding a dead person.

While hanging around outside the front doors of the venue chatting with my coworkers, a woman came up to me asking for help. She informed me that she thought she just saw a dead woman in a car in the parking lot up the street. She described her as lifeless, creepy, and that she was totally non-responsive. She said there was vomit on the ground outside her car and that she suspected that the woman overdosed on drugs. She described this woman’s lips as blue and her eyes sunken. Since this is downtown Portland, it wouldn’t be too outlandish for this situation to happen. Most of the rehab drug treatment centers are located here, as well as residential centers and easy access to drugs.

This patron had done her due diligence by showing me a photo on her smart phone of the car’s license plates. She gave me the location of the parked car up the block and the make and model. I thanked her for getting this information to us and connected her with a manager who was already calling an ambulance. She had been in our venue for a show and went to her car when she saw the other woman. She then took a photo and came back to tell us about it.

People react strangely around death. Some people panic and freeze. Some do anything they can to avoid it. Some don’t even want to talk about it. Why the woman didn’t call the police herself I don’t know. So while everybody was milling around trying to help and respond in some way, I decided to walk up the street to find the woman in the car. It was a long, surreal walk full of many thoughts.

I’ve probably had less experience with human death than most people. My parents are still alive, and attending my grandparent’s funerals as a young man was my first experience ever actually looking at a dead person. I do remember grabbing my Grandfather’s hand in the casket and feeling like I was grabbing onto a piece of an ancient tree, or heavy granite. It was immovable. There was a complete absence of any pliancy. There was absolutely no life left inside. His personality, love, and soul had of course left his body. What was left was just the empty vessel that housed those special things during his life. He wasn’t there at all, and we were just left with an artificially preserved body with skin-colored makeup.

It’s strange because, in a way, I have always been drawn to death. Or at least fascinated by it. I’m a loving and happy person with much enthusiasm and light. But my artistic tastes certainly lean towards the darkness. From a young age I was infatuated, even obsessed, with scary death-oriented things. I embraced Halloween, the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, the Grim Reaper, and haunted houses. Growing older I fell in love with horror films and horror books. I quickly graduated from Stephen King and Bram Stoker to Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft. My favorite horror film is still The Exorcist. I can list the horror films of John Carpenter, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci in order. In college I read books written by forensic psychologists, crime scene investigators, and people who studied serial killers. Fantasy author Madeleine L’Engle said, “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.”

I still don’t understand how I never actually went through a goth phase, wearing black clothes and eyeliner and acting like a sad vampire. Because my musical tastes and lyrical topics certainly always focused on death. Dark wave, goth, metal, and industrial music have been my go-to genres for decades now. I’ve always loved listening to the ethereal music of Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and Cocteau Twins played at night by flickering candlelight. 80’s goth titans Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, and Bauhaus never leave my playlist. The aggressive, sometimes Satanic intensity of Slayer, Death Angel, and Testament still get me in precisely the right mood when it’s time for that mood. And can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I spent with headphones on listening to Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and Android Lust. Music is life. Even when it evokes death.

But here I am walking up the street alone to be the first responder to a report of a potential corpse in a car. If the woman has indeed died I would just direct the ambulance to the correct vehicle with my flashlight. Or I might find her alive and needing medical attention so I’ll perform CPR. I’ve had the CPR and First Aid training probably more times in my life than most people due to all my various jobs. But I’ve never had to actually perform it on a real person. As I walk up the sidewalk I’m recalling the mantra from the CPR class that I just recently completed. “Ah, ah, ah, ah, staying alive, staying alive.” That’s the speed in which you are supposed to be giving compressions. 30….2….30….2. That’s the pattern of chest compressions and rescue breaths. If you’ve had the training or actually performed CPR you know that you are actually going to be breaking ribs, cartilage, or the sternum. But having broken ribs is obviously a tolerable side effect when compared to dying.

As I approached the parking lot where the woman was reported things slowed down cinematically, like they always do. The Billy Idol song, ‘The Dead Next Door” started playing on the soundtrack in my head. I know the song is about the threat of nuclear war, but I can’t help what 80’s gem pops into my head at moments like these. I was thinking to myself, “This might be it. This might be the night that I find a dead person.” The classic 1986 movies River’s Edge and Stand By Me also flickered awake in my memories. My night could change so very drastically based on what happens in the next 60 seconds. Another dark thought I had was, “This could be the night that a person dies in my arms.” I’ve owned many dogs in my life and have held them as the pentobarbital gently sends them to the rainbow bridge. Each time this happens I am devastated and part of my soul blackens and dies off. But I can’t imagine the experience of having a human being looking into your eyes and talking to you as they pass on to wherever it is that they go. Is there a death rattle? A squeezing of my hand? Do their pupils enlarge? Will I feel the weight of their body change or feel their essence leave it? As much as most of my life has been focused or interested in death, now all I can think is, “Please don’t let this woman die. I do not want to find a dead or dying person. I do not want this.”

Knowing that every second counts and I need to find this person quickly, I was fast-walking into the parking lot with the description of the car. I found it and walked over to it with trepidation. Sure enough there was a puddle of vomit outside the driver’s door, and a woman inside. She was splayed across the front seat like a doll dropped from a substantial height. I looked for any needles or other drug gear on the front seat but saw nothing. I was considering what I would use to break the window if she didn’t respond and the doors were locked. I walked around to the passenger door so I could see her face and shined my flashlight through the window. This woman indeed looked dead. Her clothes were disheveled and she did not look well. Her eyes were red and watery and did look sunken with dark bags around them. Her face was gaunt and very pale. She was laying in a way that no normal person would lay. Her lips were the wrong color and her hair was all ratted out. In a word, she was haggard.

I tapped the handle of my flashlight on the window and I saw her move. I tapped it again and tried the door but it was locked. She looked up at me with a very confused look on her face. I shined my flashlight on my own face so she could see I was smiling at her and had a security shirt on. I made the gesture asking her to roll down her window and she did. I told her that I was security at the venue and wanted to know if she was ok or needed help. She nodded that she was ok. I told her that someone saw her in her car and was concerned for her health. I asked her what her plan was for getting home. She said that her friends were still in the venue watching the show. She told me she had way too much to drink at the show tonight. So she came out to nap in her car to wait for her friends to drive her home after the concert. And that she barfed outside the car window. I wanted to tell her that we all thought she was dead. I wanted to hug her I was so happy that she was among the living. I was ecstatic for this stranger who now has the rest of her life to lead.

I called back to my supervisor on my radio and told them that the woman was conscious and responsive and could answer questions. I heard cheers of relief and happiness over the radio. Just then the ambulance rolled up and I signaled them over to her car. I told her that the paramedics were called when we didn’t know if she was ok, so they were still going to make sure that she didn’t need any medical attention. This woman was more embarrassed at this point, but she was understanding and cooperative with the EMTs. They spoke with her and took her vitals and released her without any further treatment. A couple of my managers came out to the parking lot and I filled them in on her story. This was the best possible outcome for this situation. Utter relief.

Two months later I was working a dance night at the same venue when I saw a familiar face. The woman we thought was dead in the car was here again tonight dancing her ass off. I looked closer at her and noticed that she looked the same as she did the night we thought she was dead. No difference at all. She had the same purple eye shadow. She was naturally a very skinny person with a gaunt face and noticeable cheekbones. Her hair was intentionally styled to looked matted and unkempt. She wears purple-blue lipstick whenever she goes out, and her fashion choice is that of homeless zombie chic. That night I found her in the parking lot it wasn’t just the odd hue of the arc-sodium parking lot lights through car windows that made her look dead. That’s just her regular everyday aesthetic choice. She puts in the extra effort to intentionally look like that. Like the Ministry song says, “Every day is Halloween.”

She glanced at me a couple of times and I wondered if she even remembered that night, or remembered me talking to her. Probably not. She’s probably just wondering why I’m staring at her. Part of me was tempted to greet her and tell her how glad I was to see her here dancing. And alive. But I just smiled at her and moved on to another area. In my head I said, “I’m glad you’re alive and here living your life. I hope you drink more water tonight than alcohol. Enjoy the dance, living dead girl.”





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


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.