Monday, May 22, 2006

Liquid Courage

I could be tougher, but I always let up before it's too late. I could be quicker to fights, but sometimes I stop to think before I run. I could be brutal, but I'm busy being human. Things, they happen, and when something in you is still clinging for all it's worth to the whole "grand scheme" philosophy -- a job is a job is a job, you know -- the wheels turn before the fists are raised, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

The deal is, I don't drink on the job. Never have. I stay sober because I want to keep my advantage. I stay sober because I don't want to be drunk in the middle of New York while I'm wearing a "uniform" and presenting myself as a target. I stay sober because I prefer driving to work. And I stay sober because I don't want to hurt anyone.

"You see that motherfucker over there? I'd fucking kill that kid."

I still do that. Assess people, you know? Take a long look-see at the physical potential of other guys, just to imagine what would happen. The same way you look at women to figure out whether it'd be worth the effort. When tension levels rise, you check things out just in case. I don't do this so much at work, because when something happens, I have to go. I don't have a choice if I want to keep the fucking job, so I go, and I figure things out when I get there.

But you don't find a home within violence unless you learn some violence first. You can be some lucksack of a bouncer who finds a little good fortune through putting thoughts into words, but not even getting carried away with your literary ambitions can curb certain tastes you've cultivated in a lifetime surrounded by things from which the civilized look away.

"Dude, I would love for that kid to fucking say something. How much would you give me to snap his arm off?"

You get called to a fight, and you maintain it. You take the guy outside, and you maintain it. He's up in your face, spitting and shouting and calling your mother a whore, and still you maintain it. You look around, you worry about losing face with your squad, but you maintain it, and you keep maintaining it, because you've hit your mark and gotten this asshole out the door.

I work this way because I stay sober. I stay sober because I can be dangerous when I'm not.

When I'm drinking, I'll hit you first, and I know how to hit you very hard because I've been taught how to do this by people who know how. And unless you really know what you're doing, you won't be able to hit me back. When I'm drinking, I'll take you to the floor and choke you blue, because I've been taught how to do this by people who've been to Brazil. And if I'm drinking at work, and you call my mother a whore, I can't make the distinction between a job and a fight, and that's a problem for us both.

This isn't about being tough. I'm not the toughest kid on the block. I'm not the best fighter. I don't take the best punch. But I'm good, and unless you've trained, I'm probably better than you. And when I'm drinking, I don't maintain it. I can't, and unless you can find a way to get past it, you're going to have to put a bullet in me -- something, anything -- if you want to make it out walking. Because when you've learned violence, there's a place for it in you, somewhere, and drinking dusts it off and takes it off the shelf. You can dress it up, call it an author, and give it a girl who looks incredible in glasses, but it is what it is.

This works both ways. You keep it up, and one day you will find that bullet. Or the guy who'll laugh at your best and roll you up the way you said you'd do to him.

When I'm sober, you're customers. When I'm drinking, your heads are sitting on tees, and I'm looking to swing away. So is any bouncer who's working on the sauce. I get involved sometimes, and the level of aggression I see from some bouncers is shocking even to me. When I'm sober, that is. Which is always.

But I understand why bouncers drink. To kill the time. To kill off the trepidation. To stop all the thinking. I go out with my friends on a Friday night, like I did last Friday night, and I look around the bar and I'm not afraid of a damned thing. That kid probably was an asshole. And if he stepped up, the smart money was on me. And when you're getting drunk, you think about bouncing, and the idea at the time is that it's worth considering trying it the other way. You know, to kill off all the shitty little thoughts that come when some asshole from Staten Island turns around on you with everyone watching.

I drink, I move. I don't, I go back inside, get my pay and go home, same way I've doing for two years now. I drink, I hurt. Or get hurt. I don't, I measure the risks, find the reward lacking and go home. To my home. My pillow. My bed.

And that's enough.