All week, to celebrate Facts & Arguments' 20th anniversary, we'll be publishing past editors' favourite essays. Printed Feb. 24, 1993, this piece was selected by the first F&A editor, Philip Jackman, who says of it now: "I loved this article because it was so damn funny. Here's an unemployed actor telling us his experiences as a nightclub bouncer. He wasn't ideally suited to the job, however, being 5 feet 6 and weighing 135 pounds, and being more accustomed to treading the boards in tights and spouting Elizabethan English than dealing with large, obnoxious drunks."
My early amatory pursuits were often cut short when the object of my desires would roll her eyes skyward and squeak, "Buzz off, creep. Like, I'm a real good friend of the bouncer." Whereupon, with negligent hauteur, she would indicate a homicidal troglodyte balefully observing my incompetent attempts at courtship, a sight that invariably caused me to beat a quick retreat.
I hasten to add that I was never rude or suggestive, just short, which ranks right up there with child murder and leaving the toilet seat up in the feminine catalogue of the unforgivable.
But those experiences left me with a profound respect for the enormous men who acted as doormen and security guards in bars: their size, their self-confidence, the casual ease with which they tore malefactors limb from limb. The thought that I would join this violent pantheon never entered my mind.
Yet I did. I am 5 feet 6 and weigh 135 pounds. I am also a nightclub bouncer. Oddly, I'm still alive. And underemployed. Having trained at England's prestigious Bristol Old Vic school, and having worked in mainstream British theatre for almost 10 years ( sans visa) before being deported, means that my job skills are limited to an excellent command of Elizabethan English, an awesome facility with rapier and dagger, and the ability to cut a fine figure in tights. Oddly enough, after years of applications, I've never been invited to audition for either the Stratford or Shaw Festivals, but one must make do. So, I'm a bouncer.
Aside from my build, I do look the part. My head is shaved, my eyes are deep-set, my brows black and jutting. This conceals my natural cowardice splendidly when I need to switch into Menacing Mode.
My mentor in the profession was Jamie, 6 feet 2 and 280 pounds of steroided hostility complicated by a degree in art history. We worked together for several months at a gothic alternative bar on Toronto's Queen Street West called Club Noir, which was intensely fashionable for about two weeks and is now defunct.
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Jamie's instructions in the art and science of being "pacification consultants," as we dubbed ourselves, were lucid and sensible. I learned to ignore verbal abuse, to keep calm and to kick kneecaps. I learned how to cajole a troublemaker's friends into calming him down for me, and to always double up when a man had to be ejected, politely explaining to him that he was outnumbered and need not feel any shame for backing down and not fighting us. A good doorman, Jamie told me, should never have to throw a punch.
"Of course, sometimes you do have a fight," said Jamie, with a faraway expression suggesting a mystic having a vision of paradise. "There's a painting in the National Gallery of Britain called A Dragon Devouring Two of Cadmus's Followers. It's sort of like that." Indeed, once I saw him bashing some troublesome drunk's head against the wall in underemployed frustration, screaming, "You probably don't even know the difference between Manet and Monet, you Philistine!"
But "alternative" bar patrons, for all their panoply of chains and black leather, are essentially non-violent. This is because their ghoulish appearance conceals a basically timorous nature. When ejected for disagreeable behaviour, these self-conscious, insecure, vampire wannabes do not return with large friends and walk about on your face. No, they dash off to their next class at the Ontario College of Art and make you the subject of a terribly unflattering sculpture. I find this bearable.
Nevertheless, although a bouncer's job is 95-per-cent boredom, consisting of a slow patrol of dance floor and washrooms, wearing an impassive expression and walking in a slow, purposeful manner that evokes the implacable progress of a glacier, altercations do occur.