Many of us demand a living wage. Others demand health insurance. At least one of us demands some dress-code wiggle room. (I for one am sick of wearing black.) We all demand hazard pay on New Year’s Eve and Saint Paddy’s Day and the night before Thanksgiving. We demand set schedules. Reimbursement for our protein powders our gym memberships. An emergency fund for those stabbed on the job. We are the doormen of the city. The guardians against Nightworld. Yet the nightclub owners they reject our demands every one of them.
My doorman brothers are angry. They want to strike. I want us to remain the calm professionals that we are. We are meeting at the gym our usual spot. My doorman brothers boo and hiss when I suggest from the dumbbell rack that real doormen would never abandon their doors. He does know we’re bouncers doesn’t he? one of my brothers shouts over the noise. I try to explain that we are men who work the doors so are therefore doormen in every sense and furthermore the b-word serves only to cheapen our profession but my brothers cut me short by calling for a vote. The vote is 210–1. Do I like it no I do not. But here is something I have learned on the doors: no doorman can succeed alone. We are a team my brothers and I. And our team has voted. Saturday at midnight we will walk off the doors. That means all of us.
Saturday Night Talent
Working the Saturday night doors at Splash is a privilege not a right. The past eight years I have earned the privilege weekly. The most talented doorman in the city is what Niko calls me and I like to believe that Niko is right. Niko is the night manager at Splash. I am the doorman who has never allowed a counterfeit license or concealed blade to pass beyond his red velvet rope not once. The inebriated the underdressed the fakely identified? I cast them all away. For the belligerent I have the no-mess sleeper hold that Niko taught me ages ago when we worked the doors together. I am proficient.
My line tonight is thirty deep and growing. A very good line in fact one of my finest. I cannot imagine leaving it. And yet as midnight approaches there is no sudden announcement that the nightclub owners have acceded to our demands. There is no call from my doorman brothers to back down. There is nothing to do but focus on the job of making my line perfect and soon it is: cologned and high-heeled the boys and girls stand two abreast as I ask. Identification ready for inspection. Arms outstretched for frisking. Tasteful compliments for my socks. I remind the boys and girls to keep an eye on their drinks. To memorize the exits. To abide by the rules. Discipline for safety: an agreement that humankind has affirmed nightly for thousands of years maybe millions. Why because it works.
Most boys and girls who regularly patronize Splash know to look for my socks when I sit on my stool and my pants hike up above my ankles. Flying toasters dragonflies helicopters. Even the most talented doorman in the city must wear black but Niko lets me go crazy with the socks go buck wild he says so I do. I organize them by color in my drawers one whole dresser for my socks nothing else. Last Halloween a group of three young teachers who regularly patronize Splash gifted me a pair of witches on broomsticks. I guess I like things that fly. But could I accept their socks no I could not. Less scrupulous doormen you may have heard are sometimes susceptible to bribery. A black eye on the profession. The three young teachers had to wait in my line like everybody else.
Tonight when the three young teachers reach the front of my line they are not three but four. I make small talk to gauge intoxication which is a trick Niko taught me back when we worked the doors as a team. How are the kiddos? I ask. Counting the days till summer vacation? Who’s your new friend here? Their new friend I learn is a classroom aide. A late-year hire. She is tall and wearing feathery black angel wings and people say that vodka is not detectable on the breath but people are wrong. Before her friends can stop her the classroom aide squeezes my biceps looks me up and down says nifty socks Mr. Bouncer Man you lift much or what?
I don’t need to tell you that such conduct is unacceptable in my line. But just as I am respectfully correcting her language and denying her entry my watch chirps midnight. All across the city my doorman brothers are doing the unthinkable and so I must too. Like I am dreaming the worst sort of dream I unclip my velvet rope. I walk away. There is a pause then a clatter of heels a stampede toward the entrance. Boys and girls desperate for Nightworld to devour them and I fear it will. Against the tide Niko stumbles outside first ordering me back to the doors then begging as a friend which he is. We are. But I do not turn back. The sight of my gorgeous line collapsing I cannot bear it.
Set Schedules at Last
The nightclub owners fire us all. If my doorman brothers and I are hurt (and I’m not saying that some of us aren’t) we are too busy to show it. Our picket lines are perfect ovals that rotate between clubs on the precise half hour so you never get stuck on one sidewalk for too long. My schedule marches me before Splash at ten each night. Niko and I do not meet eyes. He may be angry or he may be embarrassed or he may be envious or he may be some mixture of angry and embarrassed and envious which is how I feel seeing him work the doors alone his line in shameful disarray. He has been a manager for too long. The man has lost a step.
At ten thirty my schedule permits a thirty-minute break. I patronize the diner on the corner where the staff supports our cause and appreciates my socks. Niko was the one who introduced me to the diner but now of course I eat alone. The diner is known for its peach smoothies so that’s what I order. The waiters won’t take my money not even a tip. Fortified I return to Splash. Each time the picket line circles by Niko I wave my sign higher and chant my chants louder: Support your local doormen dance and drink at home!
What Do We Want? When Do We Want It?
When the barbacks announce a sympathy strike nobody is surprised because supporting others is what barbacks do. More surprising are the hostesses the DJs the go-go dancers. They walk out wanting to join us and who are we to say no? Greater numbers on the picket lines however mean shorter shifts. My one peach smoothie at the diner becomes two three four. Still the waiters refuse my tips. I ask my doorman brothers when the strike will end. They say it will end soon if we stick together. But then the subway operators strike followed immediately by the solar technicians the opera singers the bicycle mechanics and I begin to doubt my doorman brothers. I begin to think that a long time may pass before we will return to the doors. While I am thinking this thought the crossing guards strike then the meter maids the roasted-peanut vendors. TV crews point cameras and microphones asking what people want. Everyone says the same thing: We want something different. We want it now.