Bouncers tell all

Tales from behind the velvet rope
August 22, 2007 2:56:24 PM


Oxbow, "Down a Stair Backwards"

Bounced! Three perspectives on working as a bouncer.

A young man of my acquaintance, a callow pube of a London club-goer, got himself bounced not long ago from an establishment on the King’s Road. Nothing remarkable there: he’s always getting thrown out of places, his manners being of the sort that seem to require continuous correction by the cosmos. The remarkable thing was what happened next. A bantamweight with no fighting skills whatsoever, he stared up at the spiffy Goliath who had just ejected him, trailed a limp hand across the man’s tuxedo’d pectorals, and drawled, “Pretty nice jacket, man — you wouldn’t want me to fuck it up for you, now, would you?” And then he went home. In one piece.

That’s the thing about bouncers: for all their density and predictability, their routine enforcements and worn-smooth one-liners, they are not quite of this world. Reality tilts around them. Disproportions occur. Tiny bouncers are to be feared, while extra-large ones — presenting as they do the affronting spectacle of indomitability — find themselves constantly challenged by smaller men. In ethnographic terms, the bouncer is the big daddy of the liminal realm, the place of thresholds, through which participants in the rite are conducted — moved along, if you like — as they pass from one state of being to another. Jittery clubbers at the door, agitating for entry; the gyre of an out-of-control pit, slewing toward carnage; a drugged or boozed patron sprouting invisible tusks of hostility; the bouncer is there, filling the space, negotiating the transition. Not always skillfully, and not always nicely, but then heavy-handedness is part of his job description. To make something bounce, you have to smack it from time to time.

What, though, of his interior life? Is there an interior life? Or will we find, if we go behind that gum-chewing grimace, only a flickery Terminator-world of threat assessment, one-word commands, and thermal readings of girls’ asses? This is an area not much explored. We have Rowdy Herrington’s Road House (1989), of course: a movie, it turns out, that all bouncers love — a totemic item of bouncer culture. Patrick Swayze, playing the taut minimalist Dalton, struts lethally about under his moussed mantle of ’80s hair. Bullies leer at him and are flattened — in some cases killed. No chucker-out of drunks can watch these scenes without a hot surge of pride. At rest up in his loft, Dalton frowns austerely over a Jim Harrison novel and beds Kelly Lynch: bouncing in its epic aspect.

More nuanced, Martin Amis’s 1996 short story “State of England” gave us Big Mal, “five-feet-nine in all directions,” a pensive lump caught between two women and reconsidering his vocation: “Bouncing was a mop-up operation made necessary by faulty bouncing. The best bouncers never did any bouncing. Only bad bouncers bounced.”

But Herrington and Amis are among the very few who have illuminated the bouncer’s plight. Until now. Thanks to a mini-wave of bouncer/brawler memoirs, we are at last being made privy to the many moods of bouncing. Welcome, gentle reader, to Bouncer Lit.

Rob the Bouncer is a morning person. On his blog there doesn’t seem to be a single entry that isn’t posted after midnight, and most are posted at 4 am.
Beyond the velvet ropes
If Chick Lit is for chicks, and Lad Lit is for lads, then Bouncer Lit is for . . . big lads? Certainly much of it is written for the appreciation, the delectation, of the brotherhood. War stories, tall tales, tips on fighting: the prime texts of Bouncer Lit share that sallow end-of-the-shift feeling captured by London doorman Bill Carson in his 2005 memoir Show No Fear: A Bouncer’s Diary (Athena Press), the feeling of bouncers in the dawn, stale with secondhand smoke and glandular backwash: “John drops Pete and me back at my place. Wife and kids were in bed hours ago, the fridge was stocked before I left that evening, so we chill out with an ice-cold beer and listen to Pink Floyd whilst mulling over the night’s shenanigans.” And in the US, particularly, Bouncer Lit has an instructional bent. Books like Peyton Quinn’s A Bouncer’s Guide to Barroom Brawling and Marc “Animal” MacYoung’s A Professional’s Guide to Ending Violence Quickly (both published by Paladin) give you the grips and the angles, while Mark J. Gadsden’s Memoirs of a Bouncer (Authorhouse) fills you in on the etiquette. “Vulgarity,” writes Gadsden, with the looming primness of a true bouncer, “isn’t a positive behavior pattern.”

The latest and paciest of these books is Rob Fitzgerald’s Clublife: Thugs, Drugs, and Chaos at New York City’s Premier Nightclubs (HarperCollins), which details the author’s three years bouncing in the Red-Bull-and-Grey-Goose-fueled clubs of West Chelsea. Fitzgerald, who built an online following blogging as “Rob the Bouncer” for his Clublife site, is the Jay McInerney of Bouncer Lit. Clublife charts both the rise and fall of a club called Axis (“an amalgam,” he writes in an Author’s Note, “of my experiences and observations in clubs”) and the disenchantment of an apprentice doorman.

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