Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bouncer's War Story

I’ll tell you all my best war story… and my only one come to think of it. It’s about my first, last, and only night working as a bouncer. It’s a good story, though it’s not conventional, and doesn’t have a happy ending. Some people find it too hard to believe, so I don’t blame you if you think I’m making this up. I wish I had made it up.

It happened in ’04 when I was attending college in Orlando. I had previously lived the majority of my life in a small town about 100 miles away and was still coping with moving to a big city. I come from a pretty poor family and was living almost entirely on several scholarships I’d wrangled in high school. They all had very high academic requirements, typically negating any possibility of working part time if I wanted to keep my grades up.

One semester my class load was lighter than usual so I thought I could manage taking on a job. The only problem was that Orlando is a very seasonal city, most business dries up during the hot-as-blazes months, which, if you’ve ever been to Florida, you would know last between March and October. I couldn’t find a job anywhere; even Macdonald’s. I guess being a straight A student double majoring in Psychology and English Literature wasn’t enough to qualify me over the gang-banger wannabe who misspelled his name on the application. Oh well.

A roommate of mine who turned out to be my best friend over the years between then and now, happened to “know someone”. You know the type. I personally am a huge hermit who can go for weeks without speaking to anyone with no trouble. He, on the other hand, knows everyone living on this planet and is on a first name basis with all of them. No matter what your problem is, he always “Knows Someone”.

He told me that a friend of his was a bouncer in an adult dance club and could probably get me hired as the club was short on staff. Pay was 10 bucks an hour, almost twice the minimum wage in this miserable state. Four hours a night from 10 PM to 2 AM; perfect for an insomniac like me who had all morning classes.

What I haven’t told you so far is that I’m six and a half feet tall, three and a half feet wide at the shoulders, and weigh close to 300 pounds, at least back then I did. Admittedly I am no longer in the best of shape, I’ve got a bit of a gut and moobs, no stamina whatsoever, but I’m strong enough to rip most small trees out of the earth by the roots and lift the front end of my car (no joke). This combined with an expression grimmer than your average undertaker means most people leave me be. Because of that I’m a pretty gentle guy. I could count the number of fights I’ve been in on one hand and still have fingers left because most people get the impression that starting something with me would be a bad idea. In actual fact, violence is usually the very last thing on my mind.

I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’ve developed a decent martial background, albeit inadvertently. My grandfather started training me in boxing from the age of 9. I’ve got no stamina but most things don’t stand up to any punch I land. Also he showed me a few things to use in a pinch that he’d learned from 22 years of experience as a combat Marine.

Since then I’ve augmented my martial experience by acquainting myself with various forms of martial arts. Living in a small town for most of my life, I never benefitted from real training with a master instructor. Most of what I know I learned from books and training manuals. As a result I developed a good working knowledge of body kinetics and can usually come up with something on the fly.

When most people think of Orlando things like Disney and Universal Studios come to mind. It’s a tourists’ haven for good, wholesome, profitable, family-oriented fun. What most people who haven’t lived there don’t know is that it hosts a ridiculously large number of erotic dance bars and strip clubs that cater to just about every fetish you could name.

So I head out to Orange Blossom Trail for my first night of work, which is a road lined with neon bar and club signs. Thankfully when I got to the address I found it was a normal and pretty nice looking strip club, nothing too weird to me. Though I personally don’t enjoy going to clubs of any sort, working in one was no bother. No smoking inside, a three stage arena with full kitchen and bar, good looking dancers with no obvious track marks. All in all it was above par for my expectations.

I met the head bouncer, a grizzled man in his forties with arms made from corded steel by the name of Joe. He made sure I was wearing plain jeans and combat boots like I’d been instructed. He gave me my SECURITY shirt and the three cent training. Basically it boiled down to issuing two verbal warnings before acting, only touch someone if he looks like he’s going for one of the dancers or has already started a fight, only punch if you’re attacked or if one of the more experienced bouncers attacks first. Seemed straight forward to me.

I was put out on one of the minor stages near the far wall from the bar, where Joe habitually propped himself to watch the crowd. Around one o’clock a group of day laborers started to get a bit rowdy. They’d been steadily drinking most of the night but had stayed quiet until then. They were sitting at the edge of the dance floor I was supposed to cover. There’s a law that requires the dancers to be a full five feet from paying customers, so between the seated patrons and the stage there’s a half step the dancers can use to get down from the front of the stage instead of going around the back if they need to.

One of the men got up on the half step in order to reach for the dancer doing her pole routine. I looked over to Joe and got the nod to step in.

I got to the side to be within his peripheral vision, though he didn’t seem to notice me as he was staring at the girl. I asked him to come down in a clear voice. When he didn’t respond I commanded him to come down. Realizing his friends were speaking to him in Spanish I repeated my request and then gave the command version in Spanish. Linguistics is not my forte but I took four years of it in high school and was taking a refresher course at the time, so I was at my peak and could usually be understood. He still ignored me.

He was swaying only slightly, though his eyes were clear. I was guessing that if he was beyond the legal limit, it was only just. His friends were calling to him and telling him to come down, but he wasn’t listening. His friends weren’t touching him though, which I should’ve noticed. Too bad my attention was on him. By then he was pawing at the girl’s ankle. The dancers usually know what they’re doing though. They don’t pull back as that might anger the man, and they don’t lean in as that would encourage him. They just stay calm and neutral.

I got another nod from Joe to put hands on the man. So I reached up, grabbed his left arm, and pulled him down and back from the step. As he spun around to face me I heard a click and saw a flash. That was my only warning.

A switchblade was in his right hand and he drove it straight for my heart without hesitation. Upon later thought I realized that in order for him to have been that fast he would’ve had to have the knife in his hands before I touched him, meaning he might’ve used it on the dancer.

I got lucky and reacted correctly. I brought my left arm up in an inward curving half circle. I was a bit too quick though. Instead of forearm blocking the man’s wrist out to the side, I caught the blade directly against the back of my lower arm. It cut a gash six inches wide and a half inch deep before I was able to push the blade out of the way of my chest.

It’s at that point that there’s a gap in my memory. The last thing I remember is registering that I’d been stabbed. Then there’s a big blank spot. I came back to the moment when one of the other bouncers tackled me to the floor.

After I’d gotten up off the floor the bouncer apologized to me and gestured to the wreck on the floor that had once been human by way of explanation. Police arrived in about five minutes with an ambulance in tow. The man was placed on a gurney and handcuffed to it. He was unconscious but the police intended to stick him with assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder when he was well enough to be tried. I’ve got to admit at the time I was still a bit mystified with what happened; apparently someone had beaten him up pretty badly. An EMT patched me up and I was taken into the back room by the head bouncer once the cops had left, the club had to be closed early after the hubbub died down.

I asked Joe what happened. He gave me an odd look and asked me what the last thing I remembered was. When I told him, he went over to the camera surveillance system, popped out a tape, and placed it in a VCR in the corner, directing me to a TV set.

I saw myself just before the fight. I saw myself getting stabbed. Then I saw myself grab the man’s wrist and twist it. I flattened his nose with an open palmed thrust. Then I grabbed his pinky finger and bent it backward until it snapped. He dropped the knife at that point, but I wasn’t done. I bent his wrist inward until it snapped in half. I stepped past him, carrying his arm backward as I did so, until his arm was almost horizontal with the ground, pointing backward. I fit my right shoulder underneath his inverted bicep. He was much shorter than I and I had to bend at the knees and waist to do so. I then stood up, driving hard down with my legs to force my body upward, while jerking his arm up and back. It popped his arm clean from the socket at the shoulder and hung at a sickening angle.

By then I was staring at the TV with eyes wide as saucers, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought it was over, but it wasn’t. I reached back behind myself to the right to fit his throat in the crook of my elbow. I stuck one foot against the back of his heels and swung my arm forward, brutally flooring him. I then proceeded to jump up and down on his chest. I didn’t stop until one of the bouncers tackled me, the rest of which you know.

I just stared at Joe, open mouthed, dumbfounded. Joe was very kind to me, apparently realizing I’d had a bit of a shock. He said he’d seen it before. Apparently some people have something he called “red outs”. Other people call it going berserk, red rage, blackouts, it’s all the same thing.

Sometimes when someone is hurt in some way their conscious mind goes away for a time while their fight or flight instincts are firmly set on “fight”. I’ve gotten my degree in psychology since then and have found a number of case studies which proposed it is the base reptilian mind which takes over in times of extremis where maximum aggression is the best course of action. The best example of this is the Viking Berserker of legend.

Joe gave me a hundred bucks for my trouble and sent me on my way. He’d seen a couple people like me in the past and knew they wouldn’t make good bouncers. He said he couldn’t hire me. “Son, you’d do a helluva lot more damage than you’d prevent,” were his exact words.

After reading some serious horror stories written by people defending themselves in much less brutal and gruesome manners I’m glad for once that I live in the South. Invariably the defender in an assault case is favored and is typically not even cuffed or arrested by the police at the scene of the fight. The police didn’t even give me a second look and I’ve not heard from them since. After five years, I don’t think I’m about to.

Despite my apparent enthusiasm I was soon left feeling shaky and sick after the adrenaline rush wore off. When my roommate noticed the bandage on my arm the next day, he asked about it. I was dumb enough to tell him the whole story. He relayed it to his friends and always mentioned it at parties as if it were something to be proud of. The funny thing is that he’s more dangerous than I am. He’s a crack shot, survivalist, Eagle Scout, with a black belt in Kung Fu and seven years experience as captain of his wrestling team in both middle school and high school. Oh, he also grew up in the inner city area of Philadelphia. He’s significantly stronger than I’ll ever be to boot. Soon everyone I knew in Orlando knew the story and treated me a little differently because of it.

In any case it’s been five years and the whole experience haunts me still. It’s ok to be confident in one’s ability to defend oneself or those one loves as the situation may dictate. To do that requires control. I had no control whatsoever. I’m a danger to everyone I know, simply by being near them I might go off again and hurt someone. God forbid I should turn on my own mother or brother.

As a result I have: a nasty scar on my left arm, a lingering fear of being in public places or around loved ones in case I should go nuts and hurt someone without realizing it, as well as recurring nightmares where that fear comes true.

In the time between then and now I’ve worked as a sales rep in several department stores and a customer service rep for the local electrical company. I’ve run into some pretty nasty people, but after getting stabbed, all their anger and insults doesn’t phase me in the least anymore. That guy, whose name I never did learn, was the worst customer in existence.

The End

PS. I told you this wasn’t a conventional story with a happy ending. See? I was hoping that it might impart some sense of a moral lesson, perhaps regarding the importance of self control over power. I leave its interpretation up to you.

PPS. A good trick I’ve learned to get most people who are becoming hostile to back down when you are on the clock is to stare intently at their jugular vein on the side of the neck when you speak to them. It makes them think of all their vulnerable points should they be attacked and results in them involuntarily backing down for reasons they can’t exactly explain. My degree in Psychology finally saw some use.


Joilene said...

Just wanted to let you know that I read this, the night you posted it. It is ripening in my mind, and I'll have more to say by and by - but now is too soon.

Joilene said...

You know, I never have figured out what to say in response to this. But I told you I'd say something, so here goes:

I, too, worked as a bouncer once, for several months actually. The catch is that it was for a children's church..."three strikes and you're out" was the policy. I didn't send anybody to the hospital, though one girl received carpet burns while being returned to her parents, who were, no doubt, sitting in the church service upstairs waiting for catastrophe to strike. It usually did, wherever the girl went.

I enjoyed my job. :-)