Why you should care

Because we’re only going to tell you once.

Standing in the doorway of a club in Nottingham, England, I watch the bouncer. He shifts from foot to foot. I can’t tell if he’s just a barbell boy or trains in martial arts as well. But I study bouncers. Having been one is like having owned a certain type of car: You’re forever on notice when you see it. I sidle up to him, eliciting some small amount of suspicion and professional cool until he hears me speak and pegs me for an American.

We start talking about bouncing and I ask him how things are there if you make your money keeping the people the club has kept drinking from hurting themselves. Or anyone else. He tells me that they’re licensed there, have classes, tests, sort of like a union. He asks about the States. I laugh.

You see, there’s nothing like that at all in the U.S. Or maybe I just mean there was nothing like that in the club I bounced in. Paradise Beach, by name and design, represented the best of a certain kind of California club culture. Fake palm trees, real sand and lifeguard chairs where the bouncers sat. Some worked the floor. Some worked the doors. The front door was the prestige spot, where you likely got tipped by those for whom line-waiting was not something they were going to do. But more specifically, you were the first-line visual cue for what kind of a night people were going to have.

The backdoor? The exact opposite. The only people who saw the backdoor were the hard cases, the intransigent. What happened back there was “secret,” even if every business has one. It’s the door you were going out if you were irredeemably in need of “work.” The kind we were paid to stop.

“You still working as a doorman?” I notice his correction. When you have a license? You’re a doorman. When you’re what I was? A bouncer.

“No,” I say with some small trace of regret. “I think it was bad for my health.”

The evening was uneventful, until the witching hour, when guys who came to get laid finally figured out that they weren’t going to and their drunk-guy default option was fighting.

I tell him specifically about my last night there. It was a Saturday. A Saturday after a Friday that had been particularly difficult.

“He’s got a knife, Clean. To your right.” The floor manager was a 275-pound Pacific Islander. Tough but calm. I slid out of the chair and made my way to the guy who was dancing alone, drink in his left hand, right hand in his pocket.

“Can I talk to you for a second?” I stood very close to his pocketed hand.

“Sure.”

After getting him to the side, I told him, “I’m going to have to pat your pockets. Are you OK with this?”

“This is bullshit, but go ahead.” I pat his pants pockets, his jacket pockets, nothing.

“Have a nice night, sir.”

But then, a fight. A guy had asked a woman to dance. She’d said no. He hit her. The backdoor was meant for guys like this.

I lifted him off his feet by his neck and hustled him toward the double doors, a few of his friends protesting, but by the time I tossed him out the back, there was only one other one there. They taunted me from the other side of the door while I tried to get the door shut. When I stepped across the threshold to get the door-holder off the door, his brother, who’d been hiding behind the door, hit me. A solid hit.

I turned to him and the brother I turned away from then hit me. I turned back to him and got hit by the first brother. You’ve seen this before. In a Three Stooges skit, but this was not funny. Our scuffle was blocking the other backdoor bouncer from getting out to help, so it was just me until I figured out first things first and choked the woman-slapping guy out. His brother was hitting me all the while. The police finally got there, asking if I wanted to press charges. “No.”

I asked the floor manager’s boss if he could spring for some X-rays. My jaw felt broken. “Go chew some gum,” he said.

This stuck with me and the next night, Saturday, while it turned out my jaw was not broken, it still throbbed an angry throb. As did I. The evening was uneventful, until the witching hour, when guys who came to get laid finally figured out that they weren’t going to and their drunk-guy default option was fighting.

“Clean!”

I found three guys facing down two guys. I stepped in front of the two guys facing the larger number.

“We could all go home happy and…” Before I finished my sentence, one of the three facing me decided to swing at the guy behind me. But that was what nowadays we call “a trigger.” I attacked the three. Lifelong martial artist and 265-pound weightlifter that I was, it made for quick work. Tossing them around like rag dolls, I was in the grips of what felt like a righteous fury, a festival of fists, knees and stomps. And then I noticed a rising chorus of voices, and they were all singing, “Eugene, STOP! STOP, EUGENE!”

So I stopped. “OK. You fellas have a nice night. The exit’s there …” I said, pointing to the backdoor that they gathered themselves to before limping out into the dark of the back parking lot. “Anyone want any gum?”

Outside of some freelancing here and there, I never worked as a bouncer again. Or rather, I was never asked to work as a bouncer again. But I’d be telling a lie if I told you I didn’t miss it. Just a little bit.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.