UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
So there’s a reason why we all called 52, ‘52’, just like there’s a reason we called Freddy
‘Knuckles’ (he broke 3 of his the first time he hit a dude in a bar fight his second night at
work) and the reason we called the coat check girl ‘Mother Mary’ (because she’d have a
straw up her nose at 9.30AM on Sunday morning, but still told us she always made it to
the 12 noon misa, with mami y la abuela, just like a good girl should).
Stevie Jenks, the assistant head security guard, we called him Visa, because he was
everywhere you wanted to be.
Tyrik, the black mound of shit who worked the door, we called him Summer’s Eve,
because he was just a douche bag.
But 52, ‘Fino, short for something Italian, he was a good kid. Eager, ready-to-go, did
whatever you told him to. The Boss liked him from the start, he was a friend of a friend
of a friend of somebody ‘round the way. Back then, we didn’t ask for references or a
resume. I could take a look at a guy and tell you in 15 seconds if he’d work out or not.
And 52 was ok. Looked like you wouldn’t want to fuck with him. Looked you in the
eyes when he talked to you. Shook hands like a man, called you ‘sir’. Had some
condition with his palms, a bit sweaty – you felt like you needed to wipe off your hand
after shaking his. But he was aware of it, and real self-conscious, too. Like a nervous tic.
He was always wiping his hands on his jeans, trying to get them dry. Didn’t do drugs,
hardly drank, true musclehead through-and-through, used to leave here 6AM on a Sunday
and drive his red Camaro down to Seaside Heights to cruise the boardwalk and check out
the T and A on the B and T crowd, though I suppose he was ‘B and T’ down there.
ROTC, he was, missed out on Desert Storm by a few years and was always talking about
how much that bothered him, like the war would’ve ended in 3 days instead of 4 if he’d
have been there. Threw all his money into the car and the gym and not a whole lot else.
One time, we slipped him a bit of powder into the water bottle we gave him, crushed it
right up on a lemon slice, just to see what it would do. One sip, and he spit it right into
the trash next to him. “This water tastes like shit, Mona,” he said to the bartender,
throwing the bottle down like he was spiking a football. “Give me another.” So much for
that. But it was good having a straight guard or two, especially when the rest of us were
using the job as a free ride to get high and a free pass to beat the fuck out of some greaser
once in a while, just for the hell of it.
So this must have been back in late 96, early 97. Before Giuliani fucked everything up
for all of us. Vasquez was tearing the fucking roof off the place every Saturday night. We
had people lined up around the block and down the street by 10PM. They used to say, “if
you can’t get into the Palladium, just kick it outside,” because the scene outside our place
was better than the scene inside almost anywhere else. People bumping car systems and
popping whatever the fuck they wanted right there, in the streets. I used to get lifted
before going in, but then again, most shit never did half to me what it did to the other
motherfuckers around. (They called me 8 Ball, and, seeing as how I’m half Irish, half
Italian, it wasn’t because of my skin color).
Problem is, these parties were attracting all sorts of attention, wanted and not. Hadn’t
had so much attention since back in ’90, when that Spic shot up the place outside. But I
wasn’t here back then. So the Boss started to be worried about the feds. There was a raid
at Limelight, some shit comes up in the newspaper, and the next thing you know, we’re
convinced we’re gonna get shut down the next time some junkie pushes a pill on the
So we implement a strict zero tolerance rule. Now, ‘zero tolerance’ for us normally
meant, we have zero tolerance for people pushing shit on our floors when we ain’t getting
anything out of it. The pushers we knew, we knew – we just told them to keep it on the
super DL, is all. But as for the punks who pushed in the club without our permission, it
was time to sacrifice a few lambs, as they say. Peter, the boss, wanted a bust or two, as
he said to us in a meeting on the main floor one evening before we opened (while
smoking a fucking dust joint, no less) “not because I’m against it,” he assured us, “but
because I don’t need to go to jail so some fucking small-time smack head can make $150
selling Ex Lax on my dance floor. So no bullshit here, guys. Doors close for the night,
you can cover the bar in 2 inches of powder and rub your nose in it like you’re eating out
a snatch, but as long as the public’s here, we gotta do our jobs now.” He was honest that
way. Kept us in line.
A few nights after this speech, must’ve been a Friday, we had Keoki in, which was a
major fucking deal, but I didn’t like his happy house faggot shit that much, to be honest.
Anyway, door line’s around the block by 10.30, and we’re all looking to claim a few
scalps to show we’re doing our jobs. ‘Round midnight, I’m doing my rounds, working
sweeper duty for a while, which basically means pushing yourself past people who are
dancing and sticking your nose in their business just to make sure they’re keeping it
clean. So I’m walking cross the back of the floor in the main room, and I feel a hand on
my shoulder, tougher than it needs to be. I turn around fast, ready to drop somebody,
thinking “Who the fuck would be stupid enough to put their hand on a 6’4” 250 pound
bouncer dressed all in black?” It’s Fino. He’s sweating a bit, but that’s not a surprise,
because it was hot in there, and the Boss liked the heat up, because it made people drink
What was odd, though, was when I looked at him, he didn’t have any of the colored part
in his eyes – the iris, isn’t it? The strobe flashed across his face, and his eyes were like
two big black dots in the middle of his face, like some comic strip character.
“Ball,” he says to me, “Ball, I been looking for you. I’m not feeling so well, and I need
to lie down in the back for a minute, I think. But also, I wanted to give you this, because
I found it on some pusher and I took it away from him.”
And he opens up his hand, and in it is a piece of paper about the size of one of them Post-
It notes, only a little smaller. And his hand, it’s so sweaty, that paper’s damn near stuck
in there. I pull it off his palm, and hold it up to the light. The ink’s run so much you
almost can’t see the design, but I pull up my flashlight and look at the runny faces of a
couple dozen yellow smiley faces. Fucking kid’s been walking around with a sheet of
blotter, clutching it so hard there’s nothing left on the paper.
I shine the flashlight in his face, and he winces like a dog you raise a newspaper to.
“Fino, when did you find this guy?”
He looks at me like I’m speaking fucking Spanish.
I look at him again and say, real slow: “Pino – how – long – ago – did – you – take – this –
paper – off – the – guy?”
Before answering me, he twitches like he just got an electric shock. Looks like a fucking
rag doll somebody’s jerking the strings on. He does this like three times. Possessed, like
the fucking Exorcist. I’m watching, waiting for an answer, and then he says “I don’t
know, Ball, 20 minutes, 30 minutes. I started talking to these chicks for a while
afterwards, I shoulda come and given it to you sooner, pointed the guy out, but Ball, I’m
not feeling so good right now.”
I put my arm on his shoulder, look him in the eyes, and tell him “Don’t worry about it,
Fino, you did good. Just wait here for a minute.” And I turn around, and say into the
walkie talkie, “Listen, I need two guys down, main floor, 6 o’clock, we got a situation.”
Knuckles and Visa are there 20 seconds after I put down the transistor – it’s amazing how
quickly a big guy can make his way through a crowd when he wants to. I hold up the wet
sheet of blotter like my fingers are tweezers, and tell the two of them, “Fino found this on
the floor about 20 minutes ago, and he’s been carrying it around so he could give it to me,
but he ain’t feeling so good right now. I think he needs to lie down for a bit.”
And to the kid, I say, “Fino, we’re gonna take you in the back and lie you down for a bit,
ok?” I tell him.
“What? No, I can walk, I’m fine, Knuck, it’s all good, let me go,” he protests, as they put
their arms on his shoulders.
“Kid,” says Visa, “don’t fight this, alright – you ain’t done nothing wrong, but shut the
We push him through the crowd fast, and all of a sudden, his head rolls back and he starts
staring up at the flashing lights like a fucking vegetable. Visa grabs him just in time to
keep him from hitting the floor, and we fireman’s carry him up a flight of stairs and
throw him down on a chair in the office. One of the bartenders, some new little piece of
ass whose name I never did know, sees us and freaks the fuck out:
“Omigod, is he ok? What happened?”
“Honey, do us a favor, ok,” I scream at her. “Go down to the bar and bring us ice, lots
“How much? Why?” she says, half-hysterical. “Did somebody hit him?”
“Don’t you give a fuck about the why, ok sweetie? Get one of the busboys to bring up a
few buckets, now. And don’t go flapping around telling everybody about this, alright?
It’s not going to help anyone.”
Looks like the kid got to me just in time. In the office, in an armchair, he starts rubbing
both his hands over his head, his face. His shirt, you could fucking wring it out and fill a
pint glass, he’s so sweaty. His legs, they’re both tapping up and down like a hyperactive
six-year old. Looks like he’s ready to fucking take off.
“Guys, guys?” he starts saying. He’s looking right the fuck at me but he can’t even see
me. “Ball? Ball? Where the hell are you, Ball? Where the fuck am I, Ball? I can’t see
so – a –“ but his sentence is cut off by a fire hydrant of projectile puke that shoots out of
his mouth and across the floor almost to the door just as Summer’s Eve opens it.
“Fuck, son! What the hell?” Tyrik shouts, jumping back.
“Tyrik, why the fuck are you here? Who’s outside now?” I shout at him.
“Cain’t a nigga take a break? ‘Bone’s out there, with Desmond,” he tells me, “What the
fuck’s wrong with Fino?”
“Bad trip, man, bad luck, just go downstairs and get a busboy up here quick, alright?”
Scratching his cornrows, he asks “Trip on what, Ball?”
“Don’t you fucking worry about it, Summer – just get the fuck back downstairs now and
get somebody to clean this shit up and bring us some ice, alright?”
Tyrik turns around, and somehow this brings Fino back to reality, almost.
“Ball,” he says, not even looking at me, “What am I tripping on? What did you say to
Tyrik? Was that Tyrik?” he asks.
“Fino,” I say, going over to put my hand on his shoulder, which shocks him because he
doesn’t even see me coming, “that piece of paper you gave me? It was blotter.”
Still looking off at the wall with a confused gaze, he asks me “What’s blotter?”
Poor fucking kid.
“It’s acid, Fino, LSD, you’re fucking tripping now, but –“
He grabs for my arm, “How much did I fucking take, Ball?”
“Enough, kid, enough. But you’re gonna be fi-“
He jumps up, starts screaming, “my god, my god, my god, what the fuck, what the fuck,
what the fuck?” and me and Knuckles have to grab him and throw him back down.
Fucking busboy comes in, one of them Mexicans who hardly spoke English, with a
fucking champagne bucket half full of ice, like he’s gonna mix some cocktails for us.
“That’s not gonna be enough, man,” I tell him, “that’s not even gonna get us started.”
He looks at me, uncomprehending.
“Mas, jefe! We need mas, like mucho fucking mas, alright?” I grab the bucket out of his
hand and turn to dump it down Fino’s shirt. The Mexican is still fucking standing there.
“What the fuck are you looking at, ese? I need like 6 more of these, now!” I hold the
empty bucket upside down hoping he’ll understand I need it filled again.
Then it gets ugly. We’re standing there sliding around in a fucking puke slick trying to
hold the kid down, Visa fucking slips and falls and this would be funny, except it isn’t.
And the busboy comes back with a friend and more ice, and I throw this down Fino’s
pants, and we’re still holding him down and now he’s looking up at the ceiling and the
light like it’s god himself calling down to him, and he’s close to hyperventilating, his
chest heaving up and down, and all I can think is how fucking miserable it’s going to be
for all of us when we have a fucking bouncer dying of an overdose on a Friday night, on
my watch, nonetheless. I’m thinking about the headlines in the Post, and the News, and
what it’s gonna mean to have to find a new job, and maybe end up doing fucking time for
all this, and there’s no fucking way I’m going Upstate again. And I can’t call an
ambulance, and I can’t calm the kid down, and he starts screaming about the stars and the
colors, and then he’s laughing, fucking laughing like a maniac and his face slick with spit
and puke and sweat and me and Knuckles and Visa, the three of us together, can’t hardly
hold him down anymore and then suddenly Knuckles lets go and steps back, and just as
I’m ready to say “What the fuck, Knuck?” he looks at the kid, says “I’m sorry, Fino,” and
just fucking cold cocks him, one fucking shot, right in the chin, just drops him, and the
kid’s neck snaps back and now there’s blood in the spray too, and I shit you not, but I get
hit in the fucking cheek with a tooth.
This is how I don’t like spending Friday nights.
But Fino stops fighting.
“Damn, Knuck,” says Visa, “you ain’t got to kill the boy.”
“Bullshit, man,” Knuckles answers, rubbing his punching hand with the other one. “Ain’
no way he’s gonna come out of that for a good 12 hours, and I ain’t got time or strength
to struggle with a motherfucker for that long. He’ll wake up just fine tomorrow.”
The busboy comes back up with a third round of ice just as I slump into the couch
running along the office wall.
“Too late, jefe,” I tell him. He stares at me, uncomprehending. “Get a mop, and clean
this shit up, alright?”
This shit musta happened on a Friday, like I said, because I remember when Fino finally
woke up, it was a Sunday afternoon, and I was watching the Jets get beaten around again
on the TV in the living room. Lilly, the girl I was living with at the time, called out to me
from the bedroom, “Get in here, babe, I think he’s waking up!”
And it wasn’t a pretty picture when he did. One lost tooth, another cracked, no stitches,
though, and no recollection past a few minutes after showing up for work two days earlier –
that’s what the kid was left with. He was angry at first, but who the fuck was he gonna
be angry with? It was his dumb ass that got into trouble in the first place.
“If Knuck hadn’t knocked you the fuck out, you’da jumped out a 10th floor window,
Fino, so you’d best not be holding any grudges here, specially not if you see yourself
coming back to work anytime soon,” I told him, all paternal-like. He was a good kid.
“Ball, how much did I take?” he asked me, fear in his eyes.
“I thought you might ask that,” I told him, reaching for the table beside the bed, “so I
kept it for you.” By now, the paper was dry and crumpled up, didn’t look like much of
anything. A white gum stick wrapper. A business card put through a washing machine.
Nothing deadly. “Looks like we got ourselves 5 rows here, 10 across, plus a couple
hangin’ on the end. ‘Bout 52, I’d say.”
It didn’t really sink in to him, I could tell. “How much are you supposed to take, Ball?”
I laughed hard at this. “Well, kid, most people just take one. I took 3 or 4 a couple of
times, but it was way too much for me, I couldn’t handle it, I wigged out.”
“Jesus,” he said, shaking his head.
“Well, him or somebody close to him, I’d say – somebody was looking out for your ass,
‘cause that shoulda turned out a whole lot worse for you.”
“So I’m not fired then?”
“Hell no, kid. You were just doing your job. In fact,” I told him, reaching into my
pocket for my wallet, “Peter felt real bad about what happened to you. He told me to
give you this when you woke up, and tell you to take a week off and get that tooth fixed.”
I pulled out five hundreds and dropped them on the bed next to him. “But me and the
little lady would appreciate it if you go home to sleep in your own bed now, as soon as
you feel up to it, of course.”
So the kid packed up, went down the shore for a few days, came back with a new tooth
and a tan. But something else, too – first night back on the job, I see him chatting with
the girls on the floor, and he pulls up his sleeve to show off the new tattoo he’s got on his
right bicep. In thick, black numbers, he put the number ‘52’. Hell of a fucking thing to
commemorate, right? Fucking kid and his fucking 52. I think he started wearing gloves
on the floor after that. Can’t really blame him for that, now can you?
Bryan Fox is a pedagogue and freelance writer living happily in a neglected corner of Brooklyn.
He is currently spending the summer walking across Spain, to see how that feels.
© 2007 Underground Voices