I hate getting punched in the face.
Makes me angry.
And with respect to the late Bill Bixby; nobody likes me when I am angry.
The stars that light up behind my eyes after a solid strike to the noggin are never fun. Even with only a glancing blow off my left cheekbone from a drunken frat boy caused the Tinkerbell fairy sparks to flicker up and cloud my vision. Immediate swelling. Blood trickled down, mixing with sweat. Stinging in the abrasion on my cheekbone. My neck torqued from the impact.
“Hang on, Joe!”
I shook my head clear and glared death at the entitled punk now being properly held by Mark and David. The ringing in my ears was more likely a result of the relentless bass beat pounding out of the forty-thousand watt speakers as Ke$ha’s latest affront to the music industry got ladies and their boyfriends moving on the dance floor.
The young man in my arms took advantage of my lack of movement post face-punching to thrash and kick, trying to break my grip. Cursing and spitting about “unfair”, “gonna call the police”, and the always popular “my uncle’s a lawyer.”
Too bad about that doorframe. Really did a number on his face.
Don’t judge me. You’ve never done this job.
A few minutes later we got past the packed lineup crammed into the main entrance and out to the street. It was cold for April and snow was still on the ground, though most of it was slush when the sun was out. But that night it was chilly, slick and brutal to be stuck out on Portage and Main without your coat.
So naturally we dumped the troublemakers hard to the sidewalk in the deepest snow piles available.
I reached up and felt at my cheek. The cut didn’t seem bad though it throbbed mightily. Most of the bleeding had stopped. Several of the underdressed and shivering folks waiting in line seemed put off by my blood. I was put off by people willing to risk pneumonia in favor of saving five dollars on a coat check fee.
“How you feel, Joe?” David asked in his deep, gruff voice. Sparing me a glance after dumping his frat boy to the curb.
Seriously, what’s to say?
The two young men scrambled up to their feet, clearly aggravated. The slightly bigger one in his too tight Affliction shirt tried to get in my face, but Mark stepped up and shoved him back into his buddy.
“You fucking bouncers are gonna pay for this!” Buddy yelled after regaining his balance. “Me and my frat brothers come here every weekend. You kick us out and we’ll tell everyone we know to never spend another dime in this shithole.”
I peered over my left shoulder at the hundreds deep line of people waiting to get into the club. It was twelve-thirty. Less than ten percent of those people would get the chance to see the inside of the bar, much less spend money on booze.
“I think we’ll manage without your parents’ tuition fund, boys.” That snide voice was immediately followed by Aaron, the club owner. All five-foot-three of him came strolling out the door looking like the sleaziest sleaze who ever opened a nightclub. Dressed in a six-hundred dollar suit with his fake-n-baked, fresh from the spa face smirking openly at the shit disturbers. “You boys start trouble in Cowboy Shotz and you get escorted out the door.”
“Trouble?” the other kid blustered, his teeth starting to chatter. “We didn’t do anything! These gorillas started it!”
This was the kid who took the cheap shot while I was dragging out his buddy. Successfully trampling down the sudden urge to front kick him into oncoming traffic seemed a moral victory.
Aaron glanced back at the three of us, inspecting each of our faces.
Mark and David looked at each other. Mark shrugged and pointed a thumb at me.
Aaron quirked an eyebrow.
I grunted again, motioning with my head to Affliction boy. “Caught him stealing tips from Shelby’s jar.”
“I told you that never ….”
“Shut it!” Aaron barked. He gave both boys a level look. “You’re barred. Don’t come back or we’ll press charges.”
Then he turned on his heel and stepped back into his club.
I followed. The boys curses and shouts behind me already not worth my time.
Cowboy Shotz was an institution on the Winnipeg nightclub scene. A converted old bank on the fringes of the famed Exchange District right near the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. Literally at the center of town. Cowboy Shotz catered to less of a teeny-bopper, fresh out of high school clientele and leaned more towards a mature post-university crowd of professionals. It basically meant the club had more affluent socialites eager to spend even more money on the same drinks. Plus factoring in the faux-Western theme of the club allowed for a wider variety of clientele as well. Not a hip-hop club. Not a country bar. More than just a rock cabaret. Cowboy Shotz was a full on grown-up establishment that offered a little something for everybody.
Plus, hot girls in Daisy Dukes and cut off tops serving booze never hurt either.
The sound and light equipment was reportedly state of the art. I was a bit out of touch on what the cost and specs for a lighting grid and soundstage were going for, so I took the bar manager Aasif at his word. All I ever noticed was a constant static hum every time I passed a speaker. Odds are someone botched the wiring or something.
Money well spent.
It was a spacious old building. Very high ceilinged with a full service bar along one whole wall. A small spiral staircase behind the main bar led to a small office directly above and to the right of the live stage where some local flunkies were destroying my favorite Bon Jovi track. A barely private VIP section was tucked away near the front entrance, complete with high-def TV’s a champagne bar and those fancy rope things to keep the plebes at bay.
After nodding to Aaron and the boys I threaded my way through the over-capacity dance floor. Sweaty, gyrating bodies of all different shapes and sizes made that a more difficult task than you’d think. While I’ve obviously never witnessed a Greek Bacchanal in person I’ve often assumed that it would resemble something like that dance floor.
Only with fewer spray tans and more fucking.
Making my way to the front steps I nodded to the girls at coat check and waved off their concern over my face. The old bank’s original staircase was a thing of beauty if you’re into turn of the century architecture. I’m not, but this is what I’ve been told. Over fifty steps to the private upper levels where Aaron hosted exclusive parties for important dignitaries or sports stars looking to get away from the crowds.
I was neither, so I hung a left around the corner and took the other steps to the basement.
There were a few smaller lounge areas downstairs in the cubbies where vaults had been once upon a time. It was fractionally less noisy down there as the speakers weren’t quite as top of the line and the incredibly thick stone walls and flooring muffled a lot of sound. Though the neon running lights and random-motion spotlights weren’t annoying in the least. No matter which way I turned they always seemed to be flickering right in my eyes when I passed.
Sliding past two lipstick lesbians trying to score free liquor out of the gawking young businessmen cheering them on, I made it to the men’s room.
Ignoring the putrid combination of vomit, urine and various hard liquors permeating the air was a challenge. I managed and stepped past the people in my way, bellying up to the sinks to inspect the eventual new scar on my face.
Wasn’t bad all things considered. Less than an inch long and just under my cheekbone. Barely swollen at all. Fat, fleshy cheeks were good for something other than turning off women. If it wasn’t for the blood the cut wouldn’t look so bad.
Sadly head and face cuts are bleeders so there was enough of the red stuff to trail down my unshaven face, onto my double chin and down my neck.
“No black eye. That’s something,” I muttered to myself while unbuttoning my long-sleeved black security shirt.
Cold water was all there was in the men’s room. Not too surprising, really. None of the drunks populating the stalls would notice. Though given the lack of cleanliness on display a bit of hot water for sterilization would’ve been nice.
An operating room this wasn’t.
Soaking one of the shirttails in cold water I scrunched it up into a ball and used it to carefully scrub at my face while ignoring the looks and gestures from the other men in the room.
I’m not normally self-conscious about my size. Like most big men I tend to revel in it to a degree. But standing in a filthy men’s room, tending to a fight-induced cut with a dirty shirt while stripped to my stained white undershirt as my belly showed itself to the world isn’t a good look for anyone.
Aggravating. Given the amount of time I spend walking around tensing my abs to hold my gut in you’d think I’d have a King Leonidas style six-pack. Alas, eating like a thirteen year old trumps constant abdominal tension. No matter what the late night infomercials try to sell you.
Still, when you’re well over six feet and hovering at the three hundred pound mark you tend to get a lot of looks at the best of times. This example, not being one of them.
Course’ it tends to bother a guy who spends as many hours in the gym as I do to get stronger and fitter to get looks from skinny dudes who don’t know how hard it is to change a body that’s built to be big.
Abs are for losers.
Yeah, keep telling yourself that.
I finished cleaning the cut as best I could and attempted to make myself presentable. I completely failed but “A” for effort. I scrubbed my thick fingers through sweaty, starting to gray curls and settled the long sleeve shirt back in place. I nodded politely to the recent African immigrant working as a bathroom attendant and made my way back into the cacophony.
Let’s get something cleared up before we go any further. Being a nightclub bouncer sucks. But when you’re my size and in need of a part-time gig it’s the kind of job that’s always there for you. Especially if you’re good at it.
Seriously, I’d suck in a retail job.
Being a good bouncer is more about being a psychological people-reader than a head thumper, though of course that is bound to happen. Given enough time and experience you get a read on a crowd and can feel it’s pulse like a hum of electricity. Determining hotspots and anticipating danger. Do your job right and you’ll never have to throw a single punch.
Back on the main floor, Skippy McGee and the Local Flunkies had vacated the main stage after running out of songs to butcher for one night so I resumed my usual perch; front and center stage. Lights flashed and strobed behind me while the crowd ebbed and flowed before me.
It was quite a rush at times. All of that energy and enthusiasm from people thrashing and gyrating in a big mash of humanity. Sending heat and that musk of sweat and endorphins up into the air. From a high vantage it got heady at times. Really made a guy feel alive.
Which is why this perch was mine instead of one of the younger boys.
You see, bouncers get into the game for a wide variety of reasons. But once you get past the miscellany you can usually boil it down to two main points.
Cash and pussy.
Young guys fresh outta high school are always looking for a way to capitalize on all that piss and vinegar still in their systems. Since they know that they’re no longer football stars or going to be scouted by the NHL they need an outlet for all that built up testosterone. No better place to continue to feel like the Big Man on Campus then by working in nightclubs. Hell, when I was eighteen I started pitching drunks outta clubs for the same reason.
Since I was gonna end up at the bars anyways, I figured I might as well get paid to be there.
Plus, you got to meet girls in various states of inebriation and loosened morals. That girl whose friends ditched her when she was drunk and lost in the bathroom? I bet she could use a ride home, right boys? Or that aging hottie in the red dress lounging against the speakers all by herself? Once the hockey player she’s giving fuck-me-eyes to blows her off in favour of a younger model she’ll be easy pickings for a handsome young man willing to bolster her rejected morale.
Bouncers do a lot of bolstering.
Just don’t ask most of them to spell it.
But if you stay in the nightclub game long enough, you learn a lesson that no young man will believe and few my age will admit to.
Chicks won’t pay your bills. Ever.
You also learn fairly quickly that nightclub owners are more than happy to take advantage of the seemingly endless horde of dumb young men who are more interested in getting their dicks wet than their palms greased. Hello minimum wage to confront drunken hooligans looking to fight and potentially put you in the hospital.
Seriously, it’s a bad deal.
So why continue to do it?
Not a weekly check that you have to pay taxes on. Straight up money-in-my-hand cash. Untraceable and completely spendable.
Any bouncer worth his salt has a cash deal with the club. Aaron’s known me for years and is quite generous with his nightly cut to me and a few others. Plus if you’re good at making things easier for the bartenders (like catching tip thieves for example) they’re usually good to you at the end of their night with a cut of their earnings.
Don’t get the wrong idea. No one gets rich bouncing at clubs in Winnipeg. But a few hundred dollars in cash every weekend goes a long way to keeping a guys’ apartment from having bright yellow eviction notices pinned to the door.
Which is why I spent my weekends breathing in the heady and frankly sour aroma wafting up from the dance floor.
It was a good perch. With most of the lights behind me all the glare was good for spotting trouble. Like over in the VIP section where off-duty Officers Parise and Miller were surrounded by a group of people who – given the clear gang tattoos visible on some of their necks – shouldn’t have even been allowed into the club. Another negative to young bouncers, they’ll let anyone in if they’re given enough cash at the door. A quick glance to Mark over at his perch near the main bar and a quick pantomime to the trouble area sent him and two others to investigate. At almost the same time I waved down David and gestured thattaway to the front entrance where cold and restless people who’d been waiting in line all night were trying to force the door. Three more bodies shored up the breach with little fuss.
Overall, a pretty average Friday night.
Eventually the noise stopped blaring and we began the fun process of escorting people out the door. Younger bouncers started collecting numbers from the ladies of lowered expectations, while I started ignoring simple requests for leniency in departing. “But I know the owner” means precious little if you aren’t hanging with him in the VIP section or being led upstairs with his friends at the end of the night.
Mark trotted over to me and assisted in the passive wall technique for ushering people out the door. Just stand in the direction they want to go and refuse to let them pass.
“Not a bad night, eh?” he said while eyeballing the crowd.
I grunted non-committedly and handed him my radio and earpiece. I rubbed a finger in my ear to clear the ringing that had begun in the relative silence.
Mark shook his head as he collected the equipment. “Tell me you didn’t break this one too. Aasif is going to freak on me if it’s shot.”
“I can’t hear a thing with that,” I grumbled while giving a level stare at the dwindling crowd in front of me. “Tell Aasif whatever you want. But I can’t use those things. Never work for me.”
“Man that’s messed up.”
“How’s the face?”
“How’s it look?”
“No worse than usual.”
The passive wall was soon joined by David and several of the younger boys. Getting near the front entrance I saw a local radio personality being led towards the marble staircase for an after party by a couple of impeccably dressed young ladies I didn’t recognize. Officers Miller and Parise joined us at the front door and kept an eye on the crowd we were ushering out. They were good guys I supposed, friends of Aaron’s who spent a lot of their off-duty hours in the club. Part owners or something was the whispered rumour amongst the staff. Not that I cared. They always treated me well and that’s not common between bouncers and cops.
“You’re in tomorrow?” David asked in his deep-chested voice. “Gonna be a crazy night. Penguins are in town to take on the Jets. Some of the players are expected to show up after the game.”
“So long as they show up to play on the ice, I’ll be happy,” I muttered.
“I’ll be here. Don’t worry.”
“Never said I was worried,” David continued as we followed the last of the stragglers to the front steps. The cold air refreshed my tired, sweat soaked body. “Gonna be a big night. Don’t wanna miss out on the fun.”
“Yay. Fun.” I muttered.
Once all the patrons were safely (and occasionally not-so-safely) escorted outside the usual closing rituals began. The younger bouncers started bragging in wild exaggerated tones about the size of some chicks’ breasts, or the manner in which they “showed that guy who’s boss”. Bartenders and waitresses frantically went over their liquor counts and cash receipts, overages were almost as bad as shortages at the end of the night. Small groups of young ladies flirted with a few of the men left in the VIP section near the front, the one section never ushered out the door. Aaron and the off-duty officers hovered in that area, laughing amongst themselves and sharing a few drinks.
I ignored them all. I pulled out a stool off to the side and sat down to wait.
Mark sauntered over twenty minutes later, leaning against the wall next to me. “So,” he muttered so only I could hear. “What do you think?”
I shrugged slightly and inclined my chin to the main bar. A number of the younger bouncers were talking loudly and pestering the bartenders for free drinks while they were trying to finish their counts.
“Which one of them was on the VIP Door?”
Mark pulled a notebook out of his back pocket and examined it. “The blond kid. Danny.”
“He’s gotta go.”
“That crew of Native Posse thugs I pointed out to you never got in the main entrance. Cameras and metal detectors woulda stopped them.”
“Shit.” Mark shook his head. “Nothing actually happened man. We can tell Aasif, have him warn the kid.”
I shrugged. “Aaron doesn’t want trouble in here. Gangs are trouble. The kid went into business for himself and it coulda got someone shot.” I looked Mark hard in the eye. “You getting paid enough to get shot?”
“Then the kid’s gotta go.”
Mark was silent for a bit, the noises of the club shutting down for the night slowly petering out. One of the gentlemen in VIP in a fancy suit was being led up the staircase by two young ladies with big smiles and sensual promises on their lips. Aaron trotted behind the champagne bar and grabbed a bottle before following them up.
“How’s your mom?” Mark asked.
“Anything I can do?”
I yawned hugely, my jaws creaking.
Eventually Aasif came down from the bar office with a packed envelope in one hand and motioned us over to the VIP section. In no particular hurry I heaved my tired ass off the stool and let Mark, David, Big Mike and a few others get in line before me.
Ten minutes later I was out the door, cash in my pocket and hustling home.