Odd Job: Bouncer
“Really? You?” they said, laughing. This was, overwhelmingly, how my friends reacted when I told them I would be working as a bouncer at a bar. This is fair. I have back problems and stunningly weak shoulders. This blog has documented the many ways that I am not a man’s man. I get tired early. I hate night clubs. When someone is belligerent, I try to pacify them with logic. And the only fight I’ve ever been in was when I got my ass kicked in second grade. But still, it would be nice if people waited until I left the room to laugh.
The week leading up to my shift produced some unseasonably beautiful weather that topped out around 60 degrees. If I had to be outside until 3:00 AM in February, this was the week to do it. Or so it seemed. Friday—the night I was working— was marked by sleet and sub-freezing temperature. Of course.
My friend Gene, who got me the job, told me to arrive around 8:30, which he described as more than enough time for paperwork, getting the lay of the land and training before any sort of crowd formed. On a good night, I get tired around 11. On a bad night even earlier. So, hearing that an 8:30 arrival would leave enough time to do three time-consuming things before anyone showed up was mildly horrifying. Add the fact that I had been working 60 or 70 hour weeks and sleeping even worse than normal, and I was terrified. I just hoped I would get a good night’s sleep before my shift.
I woke up at six that morning.
A giant of a man named Shorty showed me around. Shorty was a real bouncer. Big, intimidating, and eyes stuck in “don’t fuck with me” mode. He even had the ironic nickname.
“Gene picked a hell of a night for you to start,” Shorty grumbled, gazing at the sleet. “Here, grab some coffee,” he said, pointing to the Keurig.
I had already downed a coffee milkshake with two shots of espresso, but I figured it was gonna be a long night, so why not? This was a mistake.
Shorty grabbed a scanner they used to check ID’s. “Here’s how this works,” he said, as my brain leaped into overdrive and my hands trembled. “You just stick the license in here and it tells you if the ID is real and all the person’s info.”
“Come here.” He motioned his head sideways. “What do you think of Asian chicks?”
Huh? “They’re great.”
“Check out that fine bitch at the bar.” No doubt about it, Shorty was more bouncer than I would ever be.
He took me outside, where I quickly realized the awning we would stand under was useless. Besides the sleet coming in sideways, there was a gap in the canvas that let in even more precipitation. “This thing cost 800 dollars.” Shorty said. “Do not get it wet.”
“Okay,” I said, as slush poured down on us.
He looked at me like I was already screwing up, which I took as the cue to wipe off the scanner with my sweatshirt sleeve. Shorty nodded as though I had just passed some test.
Having hosted and waited tables at multiple restaurants, my instinct was to be friendly and welcoming to the guests. This is not the bouncer way. Shorty, who came out of the womb ready to work a nightclub door, would eye you like he didn’t trust you. “ID,” he would say and stick out his hand in a manner that said you had already taken too long. He would nod his head to the door, indicating you should go ahead. Unless, of course, you were a hot girl. Then he would joke around with you.
Between each guest, I would wipe down the scanner, futilely trying to keep it dry. For 800-dollar, don’t-you-dare-break-it equipment, it didn’t work very well. Some cards took three or four insertions before the machine read them. Of course, whenever I struggled, Shorty would take the machine, gently slide the ID in and make it work nine times out of ten. He was the ID scanner whisperer.
All the guests were friendly and laughed at my jokes. At first, I thought it was because of my winning personality. Then I realized it was because I was the guy who decided whether or not they got in the door. Shorty eyed me as I worked.
“You’re doing a good job, man. But here’s what I wanna know.” Shorty got kind of close to me as he spoke. “If shit goes down, have you got my back?” What? Like a knife fight? What kind of shit could go down? I thought we were working the door at a bar, not running a drug bust.
“Yeah man,” I said. I meant it. If something happened, I wasn’t just going to run away. I would stay there and help him navigate the shit. But it was worth noting that if the level of shit going down was such that a mammoth like Shorty couldn’t handle it, I probably wasn’t going to be all that helpful.
He eyed me wearily, like this was the old west and I might still prove myself yellow. “All right.”
As the night went on, I quickly became adept at scanning IDs, keeping the crowd in order, and maintaining the proper flow of traffic in the door. Not bad for my first day. I thought smugly. Then, Calm down buddy, you’re sticking an ID in a machine and telling people to have a nice night.
“Seriously man?” I heard Shorty shout. I spun around.
“She’s 21?!” He said holding the arm of a girl who didn’t seem especially young a few seconds ago. But now, when accompanied by Shorty shouting, “Seriously man?” she suddenly looked like a high schooler out after bedtime. Shorty started grilling her, but we eventually concluded she was over 21.
As the night continued, I experienced a range of drunks. There was the guy too wasted to be admitted. The too-drunk-to-get-in-the-door bar was pretty high, but this guy managed to clear it with room to spare. He didn’t so much walk as he careened around the sidewalk, his legs barely able to support his thin frame. For about forty minutes he flittered from one bar entrance to another, the bouncers communicating with each other that he was to be kept out. When he sat down in one of the patio chairs, I was charged with removing him.
After fifteen seconds of trying to rationalize with the obliterated patron, I picked him up and forcibly carried him off the patio. So take that all you people who said I didn’t have the physique to be a bouncer. If a guy weighs barely anything and is so drunk he can barely resist the wind, let alone a person, I can physically overpower him. Suck it.
He left, but returned 30 minutes later. This time to the entrance manned by one of the managers. What started as a normal conversation suddenly turned into the two of them making out. Fuck, now we have to let him in.
Eventually, they disengaged, and the manager told him he wasn’t allowed in. Now that’s cold.
Then there was the argumentative drunk. As the night ended, we had to make sure no one stood on the patio. They could stand on the sidewalk where it had stopped raining, but no closer. Most people took this in stride. Most people.
“I’m sorry man, you gotta move.” I told the guy entrenched in our patio chair.
“Awwwww maaaan. You’re being such a little bitch.” He shouted.
“Yup, I’m totally being a little bitch. But you still gotta move.”
“Oh come on man, just let me sit here five minutes.”
“I can’t, I’m sorry.”
“Why you gotta be such a little bitch?”
We went back and forth arguing over whether or not he should move and to just what degree this made me a little bitch. We eventually came to an agreeance that a) he would move and b) I was indeed a little bitch.
When the night ended, Shorty told me to take off, seeming to approve of my work. For the first time, I realized it was 3:00 AM and the trains had long stopped running. I hopped in a cab and headed home, watching the running meter slashing my profits for the night.
What a weird life I live. Here I was, working the door into the early morning at a night club I would never normally visit. The next day I would be passing out fliers advertising some website. Sunday I would be hosting a trivia event. Monday I would be working with children at an afterschool program. The next weekend I would be sampling a health beverage in grocery stores.
As the empty nighttime Boston streets flew by in the window, so too did my thoughts of the weeks that had been and the weeks to come. Then I closed my eyes and leaned back in my seat. Ready to rest at the end of another typical day.
-  Latest example: Multiple people have told me I was the first person they thought of when figuring out who would go with them to see “This Means War” (the latest awful-looking Reese Witherspoon rom-com). I may watch it with all of them. Separately. With no regrets. ↩
-  You know you’re not physically imposing when you get beat up at an all-Jewish school. ↩
-  And by we, I mean Shorty while I stood there staring and thought, “Please don’t let her be 14. Please don’t let her be 14.” Incidentally, this is also how Lawrence Taylor spends most of his Friday nights. ↩
-  Fliers that spelled “Appears” with only one P. A mistake my employers did not notice despite the fact that they had passed out hundreds of the fliers themselves, and the word was in giant letters. ↩
In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.
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