Common to all works of Bouncer Lit, fixed in the genre’s DNA, is a severe professional interest in the moment — the now — the ravening second in which it becomes clear that a large man is going to have a swing at you, or a small man is about to go mad as a mongoose. To a professional, this moment is luminous with possibility — not a crisis at all. Chin strike? Knee in the balls? Or is it time to de-escalate, time to become, like Rob the Bouncer, “the Guido Whisperer”? The options rotate in a slow-motion sphere-dance. “A major difference between a pro and an amateur,” writes “Animal” MacYoung, trenchant in the authentic Bouncer Lit manner, “is what the pro has cued up and waiting on the other side of the decision to become violent.”
The standout guide to this “other side” is Fight: Or, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ass-Kicking but Were Afraid You’d Get Your Ass Kicked for Asking, due this fall from HarperCollins, by the extraordinary Eugene S. Robinson — ex-bouncer, frontman for the bronto-blues/art-metal outfit Oxbow, journalist, street fighter, and all-round swinging dick. Sort of a unified theory of unarmed combat, Fight pulls off the nifty trick of being thorough to the point of compendiousness while maintaining a core of bristling idiosyncrasy. Robinson quizzes gangsters (including South Boston’s own Kevin Weeks), wrestlers, and Ultimate Fighters, but the real story is the author’s bruising quest for his own limits, which are discovered at the hands (and feet) of the fighters he periodically challenges. A bout with the kickboxer Cung Le, for example, puts him in the hospital with a ruptured quadriceps tendon. (“The last guy I saw with an injury like this,” murmurs the doctor, “had been kicked by a horse.”) Wrestler Rico Chiapparelli smilingly forces him into submission with an ankle lock. Brazilian arch-grappler Daniel Gracie takes him to pieces: “I was watching the world’s smallest horror movie AND I was starring in it.” Robinson is Bouncer Lit’s Norman Mailer. And occasionally, in the time-warped, Finnegans Wake seconds before someone chokes him out, its James Joyce.
Lights out. Or lights on. If you’re still standing at clearing-out time, the bouncer will supervise a different kind of mental shift: the reverse transmutation of the end of the night. “At the flick of a switch,” reflects Big Mal in “State of England,” “you went from opulence to poverty — all the lacquer, glamour, sex, privilege, empire, wiped out, in a rush of electricity.” Outside, cold terraces of morning oppress the clubber’s brain. The drugs don’t work. His ears are ringing. Take him home. But the bouncer. . . The bouncer abides. He’s not going anywhere. Poke him and prod him, vain creatures of the dawn. Expend yourself upon his iron breast. If you’re lucky, he might write you up.