No Dogs Allowed, Even If They Say They Know The Owner

Everybody wears a uniform. Your uniform is just the things you want people to think about you, when they first lay eyes on you; so if you wear a cop uniform or a work shirt, people think they know you as soon as they meet you. It lets them put you in a neat little slot in their head; it doesn’t tell them all about who you are, but it gives them a place to start.

The doorman at your bar wears a uniform, even if it doesn’t have the name of the bar on it. It’s partly in his clothes, and its partly in his size; you don’t see many small doormen. It changes over time, but I find that a slick leather jacket — the kind that comes about halfway down your thighs, the kind that’d make people think you were a loan shark if you weren’t standing outside the door of the bar — does the trick; add a Paddy cap and cross your arms and Shazam, you’re a doorman; from there it’s all in the attitude.

I don’t recommend doorman as a profession; you stand outside in the cold while everybody else is inside having a good time, and you get in fights a lot, and it’s just not incredibly remunerative, in terms of the outlay of time and effort. However, if you can pull off the uniform, if you’ve got the physique and the attitude and a leather jacket, you never have to be without drinking money.

The graft goes like this: pick a bar that’s hopping, people coming in and out a lot, but that’s only got the bartender for staff; a roving waitress or a hostess will tumble you right away. You set up outside — all you really gotta do is walk up and stand there; if there are people coming in when you do, just pretend like you stepped away for a smoke or something. Then you start asking people for a cover.

Make it something small, a couple of bucks; five at most. Most people will drop a cover easily enough on their night out, it’s expected, right? So the bartender’s too busy to tell you to fuck off, the patrons aren’t going to do it, especially on a weekend, ‘cause the crowd’s full of not-quite-regulars who don’t know for sure what’s up. So you can stand there for an hour or two, being the doorman, collect a nice little wad of cash, and then slip away into the night without nobody knowing the difference.

Slick, right? There’s only one catch: sometimes, you actually have to keep the door.

See, part of why people don’t mind shelling out that couple of bucks is that they’re happy you’re there to keep the riffraff out. If you don’t do it, you make people discontent; discontent people complain to the bartender, and that leads to your having to leg it; so the easiest thing to do is just to keep turning trouble away, right?

Weirdest night out I ever had was doing exactly this graft. I was walking along downtown, wearing the jacket, looking for something to get up to — my usual spots were full a fucking hipsters, and besides, I was broke. I try not to graft in the places I come back to a lot, so that meant going out and finding someplace else to drink — or else find some money.

So this bar I had never seen before. The weird thing is that I never seen the door before; it was in the stretch of street that just didn’t have any doors — some kind a bank building, right? Just a whole long block a blank wall. I don’t know if it’s well known or anything, but I noticed it from time to time, ‘cause you don’t see that many blocks downtown with just no doors and no windows.

Except this one Friday night, I’m walking along the main drag, crossing this block with no doors, and I see one of them folding signs pointing down the street; all it’s got on it is a drawing of a pint with a good head on it, and an arrow pointing down the block: Beer, thattaway. Clever sign. Halfway down the block, I can see people milling around outside on the sidewalk, like they don’t know what to do.

Of course, I think to myself: That is a spot that needs somebody to impose some order. So just like I meant to, I take the corner and down the sidewalk and there I am at this door in the wall — it’s weird, right, they cut a door just to put a bar in? I guess it’s valuable real estate, so maybe it pays for the trouble? I don’t know. Didn’t do to well, since last time I went by it was gone, like it was never there; they took that door back out when the bar closed, like pretending it never happened at all.

Anyhow, I get down there and there’s a bunch of people standing outside the front door, smoking, which is illegal: you got to be at least, what, fifty feet from the entrance to the establishment? So right away here’s a chance for me to lay down some authority: I send the smokers down the block to puff, which clears the doorway, establishes me as being in charge, and gives me a place to stand, all at the same time.

I poke my head inside; just what I thought, the place is the next thing to full and there’s just the bartender, slinging drinks as fast as he can. There’s a sign that says there’s a back exit and some bathrooms back there, there’s the bar, there’s some dart boards and a great big funny-shaped fireplace. Good stuff; nice place, I remember thinking maybe I’d come back.

So the nice thing about that big stretch of nice wall was that there was no shortage of places to put my back. I let my shoulder blades find their spot on the cement and crossed my arms.

A nice couple came walking up the street, looking for somewhere to be; they stopped for me without even my asking.

“Five bucks,” I said, “each, and I need to see your ID.”

Easy money.

The first hour, it’s easily the least friction graft I ever worked. Everybody seemed just a little bit surprised about the cover, but nobody gave me any kind of static about it, just easy. I thought I was going to fall asleep standing outside that door.

About ten-thirty pee em, the first bit of trouble showed up.

The guy came shuffling up like he was sleep walking. And yeah, at first I thought he was wearing pajamas: teal and blotchy, and a cap like maybe he didn’t want to get his hair wet in the shower, and these slipper things on his feet; but when he gets closer, I realize he’s wearing doctor gear, what do you call them, scrubs. And not just that: they’re covered in a splatter of what can only be blood. And not new blood; it looked like whatever happened to this guy, it happened a couple of hours ago, because the blood is all brown, like it gets when its sat for a while.

“Hey,” I said. It had just occurred to me that his was going to be easy. “I need to see ID, and I need five dollars for the cover…”

The guy looks back over his shoulder, down the direction he came. “I… I don’t have my wallet,” he says.

That’s what I meant by easy: I don’t even have to mention the blood all over the guy’s clothes. I just deny him entry for the lack of ID, and we’re all back to having a Friday night, and he can go drink to forget someplace else.

“Listen,” the guy says, “I could really use a drink. I have just had maybe the worst day of my life…”

I was already crossing my arms over my chest, getting my hooded-eye stare on. I can see his shoulders slump a bit in resignation, but he rallies.

“I really, really need to go in there,” he says. “Don’t ask me why, I couldn’t tell you, but… look, I’ve had just an appalling day, I really need to go in…” He waved helplessly at the door to the bar. I look the way he’s waving; the bar’s still hopping, though it’s less busy than it was when I got here. People are mostly clustered around in what looks like a couple of big conversations, one around the bar and another one at a bunch of tables that’ve been all pushed together by the dart boards.

One of the guys that’s been smoking calls out to the guy in scrubs. “Hey, Doc,” he said, “Come on over here, I got a smoke for you.” He holds up a small hand-rolled; it’s not tobacco they’ve been smoking over there.

The guy gives me one last baleful look and then goes over to stand with the smokers. I can hear him start in on some tearjerker, and the potheads are eating it up; it’s half an hour of back pats and gentle touches before they work up a delegation to get me to let the dude in.

So at that point I didn’t give a shit, right? I was an hour into this graft, I had a hundred bucks in my pocket, which was enough to get a good meal and a place to sleep for the night, and I just didn’t need the hassle, but somehow I’d gotten into the role and was committed to standing there at the stupid door making life difficult for people.

Besides which, if I wasn’t there, what, you want some depressed guy covered in blood drinking in a bar with you? I mean, seriously.

“Hell of a night, huh?” It’s one of the smokers, peeled off from the group to come chat me up. I pegged him for a regular right away, but he looked more regular than a bar that just opened on the middle of a downtown block could usually muster, if you see what I’m saying.

Regulars asking what the hell you think you’re doing is the single thing that blows this graft most; when it turns out you don’t know the name of the owner or the bartender, they get this funny look on their face and go inside and then it’s time to leg it.

I find that the best course of action is to just be surly. People sort of expect it from the doorman anyway, and it saves you from saying anything stupid if all you do is grunt.

I grunted.

“Yeah, I know how that goes,” said the guy. He smiled a friendly smile. “So usually, this is the kind of bar where you show up when bad shit has happened, and you get a little repair work down, you see what I’m saying?”

I didn’t see what he was saying. I mean, everybody thinks their bar is someplace special, it’s the place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came, but that’s just alcoholism plus time, right? You get the same bunch of rummies showing up to the same spot telling each other that everything is perfectly normal…

The guy in the scrubs was down on his knees on the sidewalk, sobbing; all the smokers were sort of gathered around him laying hands on him and shit. Just for a second, I thought maybe I had actually stumbled into some sort of cult thing, you know, sharing the power of the spirit or whatever. Hah, spirit, get it?

But whatever it was, after that one glowing street light halo moment everything just looked like rummies smoking pot on a sidewalk again: the guy in the scrubs fell over to one side and just lay there, sobbing, while everybody else looked awkward, except the one guy who was talking to him, who sat down next to him and just kept his hand on the dude’s shoulders.

I felt a little bad, because the guy obviously really had had a bad night, but shit, man, is a bar really the right place to go?

The whole scene went on for way too long. Me and the guy who’d come up and talked to me watched it for a while; I looked away after a minute, looking up and down the block. This kind of thing would affect the door if it went on too long, nobody wants to go in a bar with this kind of shit going on outside.

“Look,” said the guy who was still hanging around trying to have a conversation with me, “You ever seen this door here before? You seen this bar before? It’s kind of a, a special…”

Yes, I thought, special. It’s where they keep your secret sauce. I just kept giving him the hooded eyes, waiting for him to run out of steam, but he took a turn out into the deep end, talking about inter-dimensional portals and the balance of grief or some insane bullshit. To be honest, I tried hard to stop listening, but it was so crazy I kept hearing it anyway, like when you can’t look away from something really bloody and awful. Eventually he clapped me on the shoulder in a way that was equal parts manly and emotionally demonstrative.

I just kept giving him the eye; he smiled sadly and went to join the circle around the guy in scrubs.

I grew up in one of those churches where you have to act crazy to fit in, dancing around and speaking gibberish and whatnot. My mom was way into it, chief gibberish speaker on Wednesday nights or whatever; my dad sighed and went along with it. One of the features of Church, especially on Wednesday night was confession time: Somebody from the congregation would stand up in the front and confess to something they’d done that brought them short of the glory of whatever, and then everybody’d clap and the preacher’d lay hands on the poor sinner and give a long blowhard prayer about resisting temptation, but mostly about validating this poor bastard’s recent life choices, e.g. the choice to have joined our little cult.

Then we’d all break up into small groups, and we’d sit in a circle and everybody’d have to confess to something, like so we all reaffirmed we were all sinners together; and it got really lurid, everybody taking a lot of pleasure in coming up with something.

And of course I always made something up, because I was a kid and I never had really done anything, but it was okay because the point wasn’t really having sinned, the point was having confessed to this little group of people so we could all have a little guilty circle-jerk together.

That’s what that group of guys standing around taking to our man in scrubs made me think of. Just like it.

I was still standing there watching when the guy with the dog showed up. He was big and fit looking, almost as big as me and more muscular with it, t-shirt tucked neatly into his trim-waisted, faded jeans and a waist-length jacket just meeting up with his belt line; he looked like he was probably a member of a climbing gym. Anyway, he had this dog on a leash, big shaggy German Shepherd looking thing; the guy seemed preoccupied, like something happened that he couldn’t stop thinking about, and he wasn’t meeting anybody’s eyes; the dog, on the other hand, was looking straight at me, like he was waiting for me to try something.

“Sorry,” I said, “No dogs.”

The guy looked surprised; he looked down at the dog and back at me. “But I thought… I…” He looked away. “That’s too bad,” he said. He turned to move down the side walk, but the dog just sat there, staring. When the guy reached the end of his leash, he said, “Hey, let’s go.”

The dog glanced at him, then looked back at me. He cocked his head over to one side.

“Putz,” said the dog, then stood up and followed his owner.

I swear to God, the dog called me a putz. I mean, obviously it was just some dog sound that sounded to me like… But at the time, it was just… I don’t know, man, I don’t have to take that kind of shit from a dog.

“The fuck you say to me?” It was out of my mouth before I really thought about it. See, the thing about inhabiting a role is, you have to inhabit it, believe it, if you want to be able to pull it off, if you want other people to believe in it; so sometimes you end up rolling with the reflexive actions of the role, rather than the ones you’d have chosen for yourself, maybe. Sometimes it operates, like, sideways from the filter that makes it so you don’t say the shit that makes you sound crazy.

Anyway, this guy stiffened, and his face went red; I could tell he was thinking hard about how he didn’t want to punch me, not really. Finally he turned and said, gently, “I didn’t say anything to you.” He looked down. “I think the dog farted.”

The dog looked smug.

The guy shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I am having a rough night. Tybalt,” he gestured at the dog, “Tybalt is a PTSD detection dog, he can tell when people have PTSD symptoms before they get to the point where they’re obvious, so we, you know, spend time with cops and paramedics and ER docs and whatnot, but today we’re on the subway and he triggered on a little kid; the kid was with his family, who were obviously having a bad day, and the more I watched them the more obvious it was they were heading for, you know, some kind of crazy shit when they got home, and there’s nothing I can do about it…”

“Aw geez,” said the dog, “I’m sorry, Larry. I know it upsets you, I just… it’s reflex, you know?”

“Yeah,” said Larry, “I know, I mean, I know, but…”

“Let’s go home, okay?” The dog was in, like, “good boy sit” pose, watching Larry, but he kept glancing at me, like he was worried I might say something that upset Larry.

I was freaking out a little bit. I used to know a guy said he could talk to dogs, but really he was just fucking crazy; he’d talk to his dogs and then pose like he was listening and then respond like the dog had said something, usually in a wubby-bubby voice like you use for talking to babies. I always felt bad for the dogs.

The last thing I wanted was to find myself talking to dogs or, worse, listening to them talk. I looked at Larry with an expression that might have caused his dog to trigger on me, and Larry raised is hands in mock surrender and they walked off down the street, past the laying-on of hands still in progress around the bloody doctor, still obviously talking to each other in low voices.

At this point I was ready to call it a night; I had made enough money to occupy a bar stool the rest of the night, and to get me some breakfast in the morning, so I was seriously considering knocking off. More than an hour of this gag is pushing your luck anyway, and the talking dog made me feel hairy in the brain.

Of course, that’s where trouble finds you, right? When you’re tired and fuzzy and ready to just be done. I think about if problems happen then because God is a comedian or if it’s just some combination of, like, you’re not paying attention enough to see shit coming and other people making bad decisions because they’re just as tired as you; so you don’t see the set of the guy’s shoulders until he’s too close to you, you don’t see the bulge under his armpit until he’s right there.

So yeah, I probably could have seen the guy coming, if it was earlier on, and there wasn’t a talking dog, and… I mean, I was stressed out because the job is kind of stressful and it wasn’t made any better by the fact that I was doing it freelance, so to speak; and frankly, this bar was weird.

Anyway, I didn’t even notice the guy until he was trying to walk through the door past me without breaking stride, all hunched over and hands in his jacket pockets and collar up; I reached out and blocked his path with one arm.

“I need to see your ID,” I said, “And there’s a five-dollar cover.”

The thing about the ID check at the door is, nobody that’s about to rob a place wants to give you their ID. It don’t matter that I’ve seen a coupla hundred IDs that night and I don’t remember one from the other, the guy about to commit a felony is going to be hinky about showing you the little government card that tells you exactly who he is, right before he does it.

So this guy, of course, looks up at me with that “I’m not nervous, who me?” sort of look, and he mumbles, “I just gotta use the bathroom.”

Yeah, of course. Except one of the reasons you have a doorman is so the place ain’t full of jokers that are just there to use the facilities and not pay for anything.

“Listen,” I said, “I don’t make the rules.” Which was, sure, OK, a blatant lie when you’re running this con, but it’s a good line anyhow; it turns him and me into a pair of fellow-cogs, just sympathetically helping each other limp along through somebody else’s world.

This time, he got that hard look on his face that says, “I know you’re manipulating me and I ain’t gonna take it anymore,” which is a dangerous look, especially from a small, skinny guy like that, the kind of guy that spends his whole life just taking it, ‘cause when he finally decides to turn and bite you, he’s already worked himself through whatever fear he has, so he ain’t gonna stop just because you’re big and might beat the hell out of him.

So when he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Yeah, Okay, sure,” and reached into his jacket, like he kept is wallet in the inside pocket of his work jacket, that’s when I noticed the bulge under his jacket; so before he managed to pull the pistol out, I grabbed him by the front of the jacket and pushed him back against the wall, controlling his pistol-hand and whacking him up against the wall.

“Gun,” I yelled, “Gun, this guy’s got a gun,” which at least made the smokers look up from their weird little prayer circle, but it didn’t exactly spur them to action; they just stood there watching to see what happened.

So I’m whacking the guy up against the concrete wall and at the same time I’m trying to pull his hand out of his jacket so I can address the grip on the pistol but at the same time I’m trying to keep control of the damn thing; so there’s a complicated set of problems to be thought through, and at the same time I’m, you know, exerting physical strength.

So when the gun went off, it scared the shit out of both of us; he actually did that cringey little dance you see in old movies sometimes, like he’s totally lost control of his limbs and they’re all going every which way, and he dropped the gun and I caught it.

Looking where I thought the shot went, I could see a big chunk out of the wall, and nobody was screaming, so I assumed that the ricochet hadn’t hit anybody to bad.

I looked down at the little would-be armed robber, who was leaning up against the wall sobbing something about his mother. I carefully uncocked the revolver, raised it high, and whacked him upside the head with it; and down he went, out like a light.

“What’d you hit him for?”

It was the guy from the smoking group again, the guy who’d been babbling about trans-dimensional portals or whatever before. He was standing right next to me and a little bit behind me; it gave me the willies that I hadn’t noticed him walk up, and I was already pretty well stocked on willies.

Thinking about it, hitting the guy was a good move for all sorts of reasons, not least was that he was a dangerous, unpredictable lunatic, and I didn’t have any handcuffs; this neatly sorted out the problem of having to sit on him until the cops got here.

If I was honest, though, I hit him because I wanted to hit him; I wanted to hit somebody, anyway, and he was hittable, both in the sense that he was right there in front of me within arm’s reach and in the sense that we were engaged in a life-or-death struggle and thus he was fair game, more or less.

“Hey,” I said, “You got a phone? Call the cops, would you?”

The last thing I wanted was the cops showing up and talking to the witnesses and sorting things out, because I was, when you come right down to it, something they’d enjoy sorting out; so my plan was to duck out, now that the guy was down, up a couple a hundred dollars and a handgun that had nothing officially to do with me, which ain’t nothin’. And among the other things I didn’t want was a 911 log that had my phone number in it.

It’s a burner, I bought it and some minutes from a 7–11 and set it up with somebody else’s info and credit card, but still, you don’t want to go leaving a trail like that and actually burning a burner is expensive and time-consuming.

“Hey, Doc,” said the guy, looking back at the crowd of smokers, “I think this guy might have a concussion.”

The surgeon, with the blood of his last patient still staining his scrubs, came over and squatted down next to the guy. “Well, he’s unconscious but breathing; it’s a good bet he’s going to have a concussion.” He looked up at me. “Next time you pistol whip someone, try not to hit them with the sight, you cut the shit out of his head…”

Next time I pistol whip someone. Sure, doc.

People were coming out of the bar now, and there was something of a crowd gathering, gawking and getting in the way. Nobody had produced a cell phone, which was fine by me, really; I didn’t want the cops involved — but it seemed a little irresponsible, I mean, shots fired, unconscious guy… you sort of expect that kind of scene to be a prelude to ambulances with blankets and good drugs and a bunch of cops bulling around demanding to know what’s going on.

Instead, they got the kid up in the sloppiest multi-person fireman’s carry I’ve ever seen and dragged him in to the bar and laid him down on a couch against one wall. The surgeon borrowed a flashlight from someone, and another guy who said he was a nurse was taking the dude’s pulse.

I was standing there watching the unfolding medical drama, and looking around suspiciously and wondering why nobody was still calling 911, when I noticed someone standing next to me, really close. It was the bar tender.

“So,” he said, casually, “You’re the palooka that’s been minding the door.”

Actually, I don’t know what the fuck a ‘palooka’ is, except, like, people use it to mean a big dumb guy. I looked down at him with my doorman’s stare and didn’t say anything.

“Hey, I got no problem with you being there,” he said. “You got yourself paid and you stopped trouble from coming in, in my book that’s the ideal doorman. I just wanted to know if you wanted to make it, like, a regular thing.”

“A regular thing.” I wasn’t sure if I liked that idea or not. I mean, on the one hand, I could probably use a job; I wasn’t exactly rolling in money. On the other hand, something about having it be my actual job made standing at the door of a bar seem a lot less interesting. And, honestly… well, it was a weird place.

“You keep the door take,” the guy was saying, “And you get free drinks. Only thing is, we actually do allow dogs.”

“Oh,” I said. “My mistake.”

He sighed. “Listen, if you want this gig, you should know that this ain’t, like, regular kind of place. You…” He looked around, seeming to gather his thoughts. “This is like, if you have a real problem, if you’re at a turning point in your life, you end up here and we help you work through it, right? Not like, psychiatry or anything, but… I don’t know, it kind of works.

“So we get all kinds of people in here, with all kinds of problems, right? Guys finding out they’re, like, accidentally serial killing maniacs when they think they’re asleep, kind of thing.”

“Talking dogs,” I said.

The guy was nodding. “All the time, actually,” he said. “They’re pretty common, most of them don’t even know it, they all think they’re the only one.”

“You’re serious, you get like… aliens and monsters and shit. In the bar. As, like, patrons.”

The bartender was nodding. “Sure,” he said. “And two bit conmen, too.”

I looked around. The back of my neck was tingling, that “cops are coming, time to go” feeling that has never let me down.

“Thanks,” I said, “But no thanks. I got places to be and things to do.”

The guy looked a little disappointed, but all he did was shrug. “Suit yourself,” he said. “Come back when you need to.”

I took one last look around, and then out the door I went, and I didn’t look back.

Crazy fuckin’ way to run a bar. Next time I walked past, it wasn’t even there anymore, just blank wall, like it had never been.

Letting dogs in. For Christ’s sake.