Are you flirting with me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How did I become a bouncer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Active shooter scenario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just let me check your ID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Farewell, Ash Street

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

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

The Layout and the Playout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perks

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the family

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

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

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

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

My last performance at Ash Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the end, my beautiful friend

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling the stage

When I work in the venue I’m primarily watching the crowd. I’m watching for specific things. These include clouds of smoke from people smoking, people showing visible signs of intoxication, people trying to go into areas they aren’t supposed to, people touching others inappropriately, and fights. Occasionally there is even barfing.  Honestly it’s like supervising little children on recess. Except they are huge, drunk, and wicked children who are able to actually cause harm. Sometimes I wish I could suggest that certain people utilize nappy-time.

Sometimes I’m just looking for things that don’t fit. Somebody asleep or passed out drunk. Someone showing symptoms of having a seizure. Strobe lights or dehydration have caused some people to drop to the ground, resulting in me calling an ambulance for them. People who don’t seem to be watching the show but are watching a specific person very intently. People looking into an area where valuables might be stored. Someone lingering by the merch booth and looking around nervously as they consider stealing something.

Tonight my attention was drawn to a young blonde woman right at the front of the stage who seemed to be freaking out a little bit. By freaking out I mean she was flopping her upper body over onto the stage and screaming a lot. Then she would lay her torso and arms on the stage and remain there. Prone. Almost like she was hugging the stage floor. She would lightly pound her hands on the stage along with the beat sometimes. All the music venues I work at have a stage that is at hip level. Most people just set their drinks on the stage and watch the performer. This woman was reminding me of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She wasn’t on a bed, but imagine that type of agitated flopping on the stage. Then undulating on the carpeted stage floor for a while, then being still, then standing up and starting over again. And screaming in happiness.

Now I’m perfectly aware that people enjoy concerts in different ways. But I’m also aware that people take drugs and/or get drunk at concerts. Any exaggerated movements or actions like this will get the attention of the security staff. This also just didn’t quite fit the vibe of the performance. The artist was a solo singer-songwriter. He was the lead singer of a pop-punk band in the 90’s, but now is doing a stripped down solo tour with just him and his guitar. This kind of show just doesn’t bring out violent body-flopping on the front of the stage. When she would just lay her chest on the stage and fling her arms out on the stage I worried that she had exhausted herself, injured herself, or passed out. She was like a whirling dervish getting lost in her spiritual spinning. When she was stretched out on the stage she would continue to move around and almost gyrate into the edge of the stage. Her arms would move into different positions and she would push the palms of her hands into the stage floor. Sometimes she would turn her head so that her cheek was mashed against the stage carpet. This carpet has probably had gallons of alcoholic drinks spilled on it over the years. Sane people wouldn’t put their face on it. She would then turn her head so that the other cheek was then mashed against it. Some drugs enhance your sense of touch and cause you to seek repetitive tactile stimulation. This girl could have taken Ecstasy and wanted to make love to the stage.

I watched the people around her to see if they were reacting to her like she was a batshit crazy person. They seemed to be her friends and were supportive of her odd behavior. They weren’t acting like they were irritated by her in the slightest. They would occasionally put their hands on her shoulders and exchange smiles. They weren’t making faces or feeding her water like she was a drunken embarrassment. Situational cues are very helpful in moments like these.

So she wasn’t technically disrupting the performance. She wasn’t screaming over the singer during quiet moments. She wasn’t putting herself at risk of injury. She wasn’t pissing off everyone around her. She wasn’t trying to actually climb onto the stage. She wasn’t stumbling or falling or showing signs of extreme intoxication. This particular woman enjoys the show by flinging her upper body on the stage and striking a prone crucifixion pose. Ok girl, do your thing.

Who am I to tell her how to enjoy this concert? While some people stand planted like statues, others dance like it’s their last day on this planet. Others prefer to document the show on their smart phone or DSLR camera. Others smile wide and cry tears of pleasure, while others sing along with every lyric perfectly. Some people hug their friends or hold their partners close for the shared experience, others stand off by themselves not wanting to be touched by anyone so they can focus on the performance. I observe all of these different takes on being an audience member when I work. It’s so fascinating. My Sociology minor from college still fits me.

I continue to watch this woman lay her chest on the stage and love it for the remainder of the show. Once the show ended the singer put down his guitar and moved up toward the audience to shake people’s hands. I was slightly concerned that she would climb onstage and try to grab the singer, so I moved up closer behind her just in case. She got his attention and she told him, “Thank you! I’m deaf. So I was laying on the stage so I could feel your music. This was the best concert of my life, thank you.”

Deaf. Wow. That explains everything. Don’t I feel kind of stupid for assuming she was high on drugs now? This was a beautiful thing I just witnessed. The singer was very touched as well. They had a sweet conversation about her feeling the guitar chords and the rhythms and the power of his voice through the stage floor into her body. She was absorbing his music into her body by the vibrations through the wooden stage floor. Just six strings and his voice. Into her chest. Into her head. Into her heart.

She saw me and introduced herself, and told me that she was deaf and how much she enjoyed feeling that concert. She asked me if I could take some pictures on her camera of her with the singer. I was happy to. I took a ton of photos for her and her musical idol. He had to be so moved by her experience tonight. He hugged her and they said goodbye ,and she left with her friends. So many smiles.

I’ve seen a lot of great live shows in my life. Pearl Jam, Prince, Tori Amos, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Some of these concerts moved me so much that I achieved an almost spiritual level of pure happiness. I’ve teared up at certain shows. I get tunnel vision and will hyper-focus on the performer, not really remembering where I was or who was around me. The shows can mesmerize me and put me in a trance. The music took me somewhere else and changed me for the better.

But of all the various shows I’ve attended, I don’t think that I enjoyed any of them as much as this young woman enjoyed this show. She literally felt the music reverberate throughout her body. She pushed her face, her breasts, her hands, and her hips against a conductor of the music. I envied her devotion and pure joy in feeling the music of this man. She didn’t even possess the one sense that the rest of us have when attending music concerts, and yet her level of connection and ecstasy was immeasurable. Tonight’s performance may have been the happiest night of her life.

It’s been many months since this concert but I think of her often. Whenever the music is so loud that I feel it through the floor. Sometimes I’ll lay my hand on the stage while a band is performing. I’ll feel the vibrations of the music. I nod to myself and smile.

 

 

Get off the damn stage

On rare nights the band will do something very unusual that is really entertaining and engaging. They will leave the stage. And I don’t mean leave the stage to go back to the green room for congratulatory tequila shots and purple Kush. I mean they leave the stage and move through the crowd, ending up at the back of the venue facing the stage like they are the audience. But they are still playing a song as they do this. Most bands aren’t able to make this happen, but if you have portable acoustic instruments and a wireless mic system (or just a really loud voice), you can pull it off.

The bands that I see do this are usually those big bands with tons of percussion instruments and about 10-12 people onstage. They will start marching off each end of the stage into the crowd while playing and singing. The crowd sings or claps along and slowly turns around to watch the band as they move through the audience and regroup at the back. It’s a really cool moment, and it definitely gets people to look up from their damned smart phones and appreciate the performance. Psychologically and physically it tears down the wall between performer and audience member. People sometimes dance with one of the musicians, clap them on the back, take a quick selfie, etc. It can also be a true ‘fan moment’, when you are suddenly just inches away from one of your musical idols.  I love when bands do this.

Some bands will continue the dance party mood of their stage show and just play a song with their acoustic guitars, a ton of percussion instruments, and loud vocals. Other bands will bring it way down, and purposely sing very quietly so the crowd has to get quieter to hear them. It’s amazing to see a concert venue get super quiet and watch everyone excitedly change their attention level. There are no lights on the performers anymore, and the aren’t amplified or even onstage. It really becomes all about the unaltered sounds of instruments and voices in a room full of people. Like musical performances for Kings and Queens centuries ago in a candlelit castle. Sometimes there is even a jester.

On this particular night, a slight problem occurred when two women decided that they could walk up onstage to watch the band performing at the back of the room. As you know, music venues do not allow anyone onstage except the performers and their crew. You’ve undoubtedly seen security guys literally throw people off stage at rock concerts. The reasons that you cannot be onstage are obvious and numerous. Usually I’ll explain that the sound engineers, musicians, and sometimes photographers need the steps clear for access to the stage. You can’t be on the steps, nor can you be onstage. The only time I’ve ever been onstage is when I was performing in a band. Or one time the singer of a band pulled me up onstage to rock out. That was Rob Halford, the lead singer of Judas Priest, when he was touring with his industrial side project called TWO. There were maybe 10 people total at the show, and he pulled us all onstage one by one to be onstage during the final song. That sort of thing is ok. Just wandering up onstage on your own is always completely unacceptable.

So I walk up onstage and turn on my flashlight. I walk across the stage to the woman on the other side of the stage from me. I tell her she needs to get off the stage and she walks down the little stairs back to the floor. I walk back and tell the woman standing onstage on my side of the stage that she needs to get down. She says no. I look at her and my face telegraphed this sentence: Are you fucking kidding me right now?
But what I said was, “You need to leave the stage NOW.” She started giving me the usual bullshit about how she was watching the band, and how she knew the band, how she went to school with the bass player.” All I hear is “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I AM SPECIAL AND RULES DO NOT APPLY TO ME.”

I explained that nobody is ever allowed onstage, and the band is obviously coming back and need the steps clear to return to the stage. Get off the stage. I turned my flashlight on again and leaned one arm up against the wall so she wouldn’t be able to move further out on the stage. Luckily the entire crowd was turned around watching the band play at the back of the room, so they didn’t notice that there was an errant woman onstage refusing to do what security is telling her to do. She acted all offended that my arm was close to her and spouted some crap about not appreciating my strong-arm tactics. I calmly repeated, “You need to leave the stage now. You cannot be up here.”

Now the odd thing about this interaction is how we treat women and men in this situation. Had some drunk dude refused to leave the stage, I would’ve already grabbed him and removed him by now. Afterwards one of my coworkers suggested that I even could have told her that. I surmised that she knew I probably wouldn’t put my hands on her for this. Anytime you put your hands on someone non-consensually you are potentially making a bad situation worse. And of course somebody can film it on their smart phone. And that wouldn’t show the 3 minutes of polite verbal de-escalation, it would just show me manhandling a 50-year-old woman. If anybody gets hurt you can even face a lawsuit in the worst case. I’m justified here, but I felt that it’s still a shady area and could color people’s opinion of our staff and venue. The sound engineer, production manager, and bartenders were all watching how I handled it, and would be potential witnesses for me if it went badly. Again, she and I are literally onstage with the lights on us. We are the secondary performance now, a two person play about power dynamics. Oh the drama.

What I wanted to do was channel Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. “If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor.  So, pretty please… with sugar on top. Get off the fucking stage.” My impatience was spiking and this woman was pissing me off by still refusing to leave the stage. We definitely were having a Mexican standoff. A confrontation amongst two or more parties in which no strategy exists that allows any party to achieve victory. I took the high road. I moved around her and walked down the three steps to the floor. I then looked up at her and held out my hand to help her down the stairs. Just like a gallant gentlemen helping an aristocrat across a puddle. This way I wasn’t towering over her or using my size to intimidate her off the stage. She bought it. She grabbed my hand and walked down the three steps.

And soon after that the band did return to the stage and all walked up the three steps to complete their set. Without some random woman who thinks that she has diplomatic immunity standing in their way. Jesus Christ. If any security staff asks me to stop doing something when I’m at a concert, I gladly do it. Otherwise they kick you out.

So then she felt the need to bond with me and we shook hands. She even gave me her name and asked mine. I assumed she wanted my name so she could call or write an email later complaining about me to management. I almost gave a fake name, but I’m the only white guy with dreads that works here, so it’s not hard to describe who I am. So I gave her my real name and she proceeded to try to tell me the story of her going to school with the bass player. She became way friendlier now that we were offstage. Then I got the feeling that she was flirting with me a little bit. Is she about to ask me out? Good lord, the people I meet at this job. I excused myself from this conversation and went behind the curtain to the green room. Where I just stood and laughed at the insanity.