The Hard Bounce
Twenty-Three Years Ago
The Boy was eight years old when he learned how to hate.
It’s still difficult, even today, for him to remember the events in their right order. He knows where they should go, but hard as he tries, they drift through his mind like glitterflakes in a snow globe.
The screaming and the blood followed the first explosion. That much he’s sure of. So much blood.
The second explosion. Running at him. Throwing himself at a grown man like a rabid animal unaware that it doesn’t stand a chance. He was big for his age. He still didn’t stand a chance.
Bang. He was gone. Just like that. Tumbling in and out of consciousness with no idea where he was. What time it was. Who or where he is.
Bang. He was back. A priest. He can’t understand him. The inside of an ambulance, feeling it hurtle through the Boston traffic, the doctor unable to control his tears as he tries to stem the tide of blood that won’t stop pouring out of him. The Boy didn’t know there was that much blood inside of him. He knew he would run out soon. He was terrified.
Bang. On a gurney. Lots of people yelling. He bites somebody’s hand. A sharp pinprick in his arm.
Bang. Another priest. He’s saying the same unintelligible words as the first.
Months in a hospital. Pain like an eight-year-old should never know exists in this world. Parades of doctors-first for his ruined body, the second for his damaged mind.
He has an anger management problem, they say.
Anger management. It’s a nice term for people who can afford it.
Psychologists in two-hundred-dollar sweaters and condescending smiles, telling him:
The world is not a beautiful place. Not to The Boy, who’s going to need two more operations before he can piss without a tube and spigot.
They ask him why he’s such an angry person, what he’s so angry at.
I can’t tolerate a bully, even when my job is to be the biggest swinging dick on the block.
Somebody in the booking office for The Cellar thought that all-ages punk shows on the weekends was a bright idea. Maybe it was. Nobody owned up to having the idea though.
The place was crowded, high school kids with rainbow-tinted hairdos making up most of the audience. The rest were uncomfortable parents watching their babies perform in bands with names like Mazeltov Cocktail and No Fat Chicks. As far as crowds go, they were a nice break from the normal regiment of scumbags, skinheads, punks, frat boys, musicians, and wannabes that we had to deal with. Odds were pretty good we wouldn’t be involved in any brawls or dragging overdoses out of the bathroom. All things considered, it should have been a cakewalk day.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
Me and Junior handled the shift ourselves: me watching the door while Junior patrolled the three floors of the club. Between the two of us, we could easily police a few dozen skinny tweens. We were less bouncers than babysitters with a combined weight of 470 pounds (mostly mine) and about ten grand in tattoos (mostly Junior’s). Every parent’s dream.
We’d only been open an hour and we’d already confiscated seventeen bottles of beer, two bottles of vodka, one of rum, three joints, and seven airplane bottles of tequila. The way it was going, Junior and I would be able to stock our own bars by nightfall.
A collective groan floated out from inside the bar as the ninth inning closed at Fenway. I poked my head in to check the score. 9-3 Yankees.
And it just had to be the fucking Yankees, didn’t it?
As I poked my head back out, the first fat droplets of rain spattered on my shoes, as if the angels themselves wept for the poor Sox. I backed under The Cellar’s fluorescent sign, but the wind zigzagged the drizzle all over me.
At least I was in a better place than Junior. The basement didn’t have any ventilation and crowds produced furnace-level temperatures. A hot wind would gust up the stairs when the club got crowded, feeling (and smelling) like Satan farting on your back. If I was hot outside, Junior must have been miserable.
The first wave of baseball fans wandered into Kenmore Square. I could hear chants of “Yankees suck” approaching from the Fenway area.
Two guys broke off from the herd, stumbling in the bar’s direction. The bigger guy wore an old Yaztremski jersey and a mullet that would have embarrassed Billy Ray Cyrus in 1994. His buddy wore a backwards old school Patriots hat and a Muffdiving Instructor T-shirt.
I recognized their tribe immediately, the type of townies who will go to their graves believing they could do a better job than the pros did-if only they hadn’t knocked up Mary Lou Dropdrawers senior year.
Mullet looked over, his eyes wide as he saw the crew of punk kids in front of The Cellar. His smile was filled with a bully’s joy. He grabbed Buddy’s collar and pointed his attention toward the kids.
“Nice hairdo,” the townie called out to the kids milling outside. “What are you, some kinda faggot?”
I closed my eyes and sighed.
Away we go…
Buddy laughed with a mocking hilarity, pointing a finger and looking to the rest of the crowd for an approval he wasn’t getting.
A skinny kid, head shaved close and dyed in a leopard skin pattern, turned. “Why? You looking for some ass, sailor?” the kid yelled back, smacking his bony behind for emphasis. He got some approving chuckles from the passersby and hoots of laughter from the other kids.
Buddy looked pissed off that the kid got the laughs from the crowd that he hadn’t.
“What did you say to me, bitch?” said Mullet, quickstepping toward the bar.
The kid flipped the guy off with both hands and ran back into the club.
When Mullet got a couple of feet from the entrance, I stepped halfway across the doorway. He stopped short and we stood there, shoulder to shoulder.
“What’s your problem?” Mullet asked, puffing out his chest.
“No problem,” I said, blowing cigarette smoke out my nose, moving my face closer to his. “It’s just not happening for you here. Not today.”
“I wanna get a beer.” His breath reeked of soft pretzels and a few too many overpriced Fenway Miller Lites.
“Not here you’re not. Get one down the street if you’re thirsty.”
Buddy suddenly found his shoes real fascinating. Mullet and I kept giving each other the hairy eyeball. “It’s a free country, asshole.”
“And a wonderful free country it is. This bar isn’t, though. Not for you. Not today.” I took another long pull from my cigarette and fought the urge to blow the smoke into his face.
“Who’s gonna stop me, you?”
“Yup.” There it was. The frog was dropped. Let’s see if it jumped. I balled my fist around the medium-point Sharpie in my pocket. Bouncer’s best friend. Won’t kill anybody, but hurts like a bitch when jammed between a couple of ribs.
I stood at the long end of his best intimidating stare, which frankly, wasn’t. Mullet decided to give it one last shot.
“What are you? Some kind of tough guy?”
“Well, gee golly Hoss, I haven’t started any fights with twelve-year-olds lately, so I’m not sure.” I moved my face right into his. One more inch and my cigarette was going up his nose. I removed my hand from my pocket and held it low at my side.
Buddy grabbed Mullet’s arm, and Mullet twitched like he’d been shocked.
“C’mon, man. Let’s go.” Buddy’s voice cracked like he’d just been kicked in the nuts. Now I know why he’d minded his own. Hard to talk a tough line when you sound like Minnie Mouse.
“Yeah. Fine. This bar’s full of faggots anyway,” Mullet muttered as he walked off.
“Fuck you very much, gentlemen. Have a good one.” I clipped a sharp one-fingered salute at them as they retreated.
The kids applauded and cheered as the two walked off. I shut them up quick with a glower. I made a hundred bucks a shift, plus a tip-out from the bar. Not enough money to be anybody’s pal.
More noise pollution began thumping from the basement. The group quickly ground out their smokes on the wet cement as they filtered back inside.
A girl with brightly dyed red hair lingered outside longer than the rest. I could feel her stare on the side of my neck like a sun lamp. I glanced over and she gave me a little smile. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen, but behind the smile was something older. Something that made me uncomfortable.
As she passed me going into the club, she brushed her tiny body against me, tiptoed up, and kissed me on the cheek. “My hero,” she whispered softly into my ear and went inside.
I shuddered with Nabokovian creeps and shifted my attention back to the crowd. (And yes, fuck you, I know who Nabokov is. I’m a bouncer, not a retard.)
I kept my thousand-yard stare front and center on the passing crowd, keeping my peripheral sharp for any run-up sucker punches. It happens. I was alert to every degree of my environment exce ...