This past weekend I bounced a guy from a bar. This isn’t something I normally do. When fights erupt, I protect my drink and watch. If the fight is far enough away, I might even cheer. I’m not the jump-in-to-help or the jump-in-to-sucker-punch guy. Avoiding physical confrontation is something I’ve cultivated since childhood. Staying safe in bars for me has always been a matter of being funny and having lots of very large and grumpy friends. My wife L is 1000 times more likely to thump an irritating person in the chest than I am. But on Saturday I did something that the very large and grumpy official bouncer was unable to do. I became the love bouncer. Here’s how it happened.
Jeffy is an older gentleman and a regular at the Widow, a Midwestern dive I have frequented for more than a decade. He’s a regular everywhere in town that serves Bud Lite and will let him in. From what I can tell, his life consists of drinking, laughing at whatever people say to him, speaking unintelligibly, and stumbling home to his apartment at the bottom of the hill, a couple blocks from downtown. If his face were a granite mountain, tourists would flock to see the beautiful canals and canyons carved into it over the years by a steady river of beer. His nose could be featured on an anti-drinking poster. If you judge, then his life is sad. If you don’t, he’s just an interesting feature of the bar, like an antique shuffleboard table with a few dents in it. I personally like him.
He does no one but himself any harm, and generally has a good attitude. I’ll drink with a hundred of him before I drink with one bartender-insulting frat guy. On one occasion, I even understood something he said to me. He had just gotten back from fighting in an amateur cage match. He signed up for the prize money, but was knocked out in 12 seconds. “I trained and everything,” he said. When I asked him how he trained he said he had stopped drinking for two weeks. Maybe that’s why I could understand him. His resolve to get back in the ring was genuine and inspiring to me. Jeffy is either 40 or 100. It’s impossible to tell. But he got in there and fought, and was willing to do it again.
This past Saturday, he was not in boxing shape. He was not laughing. He was stone faced, wobbly, and unable to keep his pants up. A couple of times I looked up from my table and saw him, leaning against the first booth inside the door making a lame attempt to grab the top of his pants which had fallen around his ankles. It looked like a sleeping cat pawing at a mouse he was dreaming about. I noticed it, like I would notice a new blinking beer sign or hat placed on a stuffed deer head–with curiosity, but without any inclination to do anything about it. Who cares? A drunken guy with his pants down gives everyone a story to tell; it harms no one. Ah, Jeffy, I thought. Not a good night for him.
But while we were standing outside to get some air, the bouncer began talking to us about the situation. He was clearly frustrated. The bouncer is a large and serious looking guy I’ve known since he was a large and serious looking baby. “The people at the next table are complaining about Jeffy. They don’t want to see his nasty underwear. Who wants to eat with that guy’s pants on the floor?” I nodded. To me it would be like eating while Impractical Jokers is on the TV screen above me, which it usually is at the bar, but I try to appreciate other points of view. “I tried to get him to leave, but he won’t go. I guess I’ll have to call the police.”
Even the bouncer hated to do that. No reason to call the police on that poor guy. “Maybe someone else can talk to him,” I said. And without any committal, we decided that before any further action was taken, someone else would try to get him to leave. I was thinking Elroy, another regular who was there celebrating his birthday, might be a good choice. Until I walked back into the bar and saw Jeffy slumped over in the first booth, I didn’t know it would be me.
A feeling of confidence and power overtook me. I knew I could do it. The bouncer probably used threats. It is the bouncer’s go-to negotiating strategy. Harsh words and the promises of violence or incarceration are the tools of the trade. Lifting people up and physically throwing them out are normal next steps. I would do something different. The force was with me.
I put my arm around Jeffy and said, “Hey, friend, you have to go home. It’s time to go down the street. We love you, but you can’t stay here tonight. Come back later.” I re-emphasized, “we love you, man.” His glassy eyes met mine, and he got to his feet. With his hand holding up the back of his pants, he staggered out into the night. It was magical. The power of love should be part of the bouncer’s handbook.
A little later, when I saw the bouncer again, he said he would thank me, but he had to wash his hands. Apparently, when Jeffy left the bar he lost what little ability he had to get his pants back on, and the bouncer had to pull them up and latch his belt. “I’m going to wash for a long time,” he said. Even still, I was pleased with the result. No police were called, no violence was needed; just a little love and a lot of hand soap solved the problem.
Patrick Swayze would be proud of me.