Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Already Been

Back when I needed the money a hell of a lot more, I used to care about the shit that went on at the front door. I’d monitor the whole damned show, comparing – in my head, of course – the cash flow I was raking in with the totals everyone else was posting. Despite all the requisite bouncer lip service about “having each other’s back” and “trusting our teammates,” every door guy worth a shit has, in the recesses of his mind, a preprogrammed spreadsheet that’s ready for trotting out when someone from management calls us on the carpet for financial improprieties.

I was no exception to this rule. In most ways that count, I’m still not. As long as I’m posted at a door – book “celebrity” notwithstanding (as fucking if) – both my internal cash meter and my fellow-door-guy bullshit detector are always running. I’m constantly keeping track, whether the job means anything to me anymore or not, because I’m running on instinct most nights, and my bouncer instincts have always served me well.

What does this mean? It means that if you’re working the door with me, and you try to lowball management with your kickback at the end of the night, I’ll know you’re planning on stealing before you’ll even take so much as a single step in that direction. If you donate too much, I’ll know you’re trying to make me look bad. I know the required percentages and I know what you’ve made, and if you think you’re slipping anything past me at this stage of my door game, you’ll be doing so at your peril.

What else does this mean? It means that if you’re a customer, and you’re trying to get something – admission, let’s say – for less than market value, I’ll know that, too. I’ll know you’re a cheap bastard and I’ll know you’re not to be trusted – not that any of us have ever trusted any of your sorry asses in the first place, mind you. But still.

The way it works is, someone will want to hustle a group of people into the club without waiting in line. Five is a nice round number to use for purposes of illustration here, because at $20 a head – remember, my club is well past its peak – a group of five represents a quick $100 I can put in my pocket to count toward my kickback tally at the end of the night. Customers who choose this road to entry tacitly agree to pay twice – they pay me to save themselves a twenty minute wait, then they go to the cashier’s window and pay the actual cover charge. Some of this line-busting payment goes to me as my reward for soliciting it, and the rest goes to a preordained assortment of management-types. Everybody wins. Even me, for once.

There’s only one group of people who could possibly take such a well-oiled mechanism and gunk up the entire works so it chokes and falters: the customers. Those goddamned, piece-of-shit motherfucking mutants who line my sidewalk and show me, nightly, that it never, ever pays to trust another living soul aside from your mother – and even she can be a little shaky from time to time, right?

So, I’m standing on my side of the barricade, minding mine and everybody else’s business, when this piece of shit from Franklin Square – or some other such nightmarish locale – comes strutting up, asking me if I can “squeeze in” six people.

“I’ll take care of you,” he says.

I tap Freddie on the elbow and jerk my head ever-so-slightly toward the small opening between the barricade and the cheesy faux-balustrade fronting the club’s entryway. Freddie knows exactly what this gesture means, because it’s the same one we’ve been throwing each other every five minutes for years now. He knows it means he’s on his own with the line for a bit while I transact business with the Head Guido and his crew of ne’er-do-wells.

Reaching between the iron spokes of the barricade, I take a wad of bills from his hand. With a practiced motion, my chin at my chest, I deftly flip through the stack with my left hand while the Head Guido turns to direct his group to the opening. A twenty, a ten, and several singles. He’d handed me a grand total of $42: a staggering sum, for all the wrong reasons. I kicked the barricade flush against the concrete rail with an audible snap, closing the opening and barring them entry.

“Dude,” I said, passing the money back through the barricade, “what the fuck is this?”


“Did you think I wasn’t gonna take a look at what you gave me?”

“What?” he said, gracing me with the universal palms-up Guido-playing-dumb gesture that continually sets me on the verge of collapse. “It ain’t enough?”

“Take it back, and have a good night. I think you guys’ll have a better time down the block.”

“Yo, no disrespect, but…”

“Listen,” I interrupted. “There’s plenty of disrespect. It ain’t even about the money. You’re tryin’ to be a scumbag, so don’t even try to pretend you didn’t know how much you had to pay. You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.”

The Head Guido stepped away and conferred with his friends for a minute, after which time he came back to the edge of the barricade and tried to make eye contact with Freddie. Freddie looked over at me.

“Take it,” I said, waving my hand dismissively. “And make sure you count whatever he shows you.”

Freddie leaned his forearms on the top of the barricade, his right hand covering his left, with his right foot wedged between the spokes. This is our cool pose – the one we reserve for important bouncer-customer confabs. He nodded as the Head Guido spoke quietly into his ear. After a while, he reached through the barricade, straightened up, and examined something in his hand. He shook his head, muttered a few words I couldn't quite make out, then handed the item back through the bars and stepped back to the door.

“That guy sends his apologies.”

“What’d he give you?” I asked.

“You ever feel like you’re on Candid Camera when you’re standin’ up here?”

“Every fuckin’ night.”

“I mean,” he said, “it’s gotta be a joke, right?”

“Did he at least throw in another twenty?”

“Nope. He handed me a roll of singles wrapped up in a twenny and said to give you half ‘cause you were mad at him.”

I turned the podium a gentle little half-revolution and checked for donuts. People bring Freddie donuts all the time. Freddie is a man who likes a good cruller at three in the morning. I’ve been dieting lately – you know, “leaning out” for the summer and all that – but this motherfucker made me need something with a reward in the middle. I opened the box. Nothing. Bollocks. “I once thought about goin’ to medical school, you fat fuck, you know that?”

“That a fact?”

“Yeah, man. I really did. No shit.”