The bar was overcrowded, and a thick mist of human perspiration hung limply in stale air. There were a couple of thrash bands playing that night, and I’d gone with a handful of friends to see the show. My buddy Dusty and a couple of his girlfriends hung back in the crowd, opting to avoid the seething belligerence that was mounting amongst that predominantly male audience. I planted myself right at the edge of the mosh pit, from where I could see the bands and assess the chaos. I knew some of the guys dancing. They’d taken off their shirts, and were doing their best to incite all of the audience into a frenzy. Some were too drunk, and the aggressions inspired by violent music were beginning to verge on assault. These guys weren’t my friends, and on the best days they’d barely give me a nod passing me on the street. I was afraid of them. They were rippled sociopaths, with proclivities for steroids and methamphetamines. Adrenaline astir, heart rates accelerated, they metabolized their booze quickly, impairing their judgment in ways they wouldn’t otherwise have anticipated. The guys in the mosh pit were all buddies, and it seemed to me that they were just waiting for an interloper to stumble into their madness. Hands clenched, those fists were starving.
Because the bar was small, the tables and chairs had been pushed as far to the side as possible to accommodate the band and the crowd. Attendants, girls mostly, still attempted to use the tables. They squeezed themselves tightly onto the banquette, and reached frantically for spilled drinks when guys would stumble or fall on the tables in front of them. The crowd was dense behind me, but beside me the tables and chairs encroached onto the dance floor. In one of the chairs sat a pregnant girl. Next to her was a drunk dude, reclining like he was at Club Med, seemingly oblivious of the chaos that was disrupting his comfort. That drunkard seemed out of place at the show. He was wearing a pea coat. He had more hair than half the men there, and less hair than the other half. He just looked too put together to be a part of this crowd.
The moment I saw this guy, lounging there like he owned the place, I knew that he was in trouble, but it wasn’t until he stood up that he really began asking for it. He rose from his seat, arms above his head in a drunken show of toughness, and worked his way into the mosh pit. I watched as he walked right up to the guitar player, got too close for such a show, and began yelling, “Fuck you.” Then he turned a few degrees to his left, where he found himself in similar proximity to the lead singer, lifted his arms again, and continued yelling, “Fuck you.” Then he started to mosh.
A girl had taken his seat, and began talking to the pregnant woman beside her. “Do you know this guy?” I asked them.
“Well sort of,” said the one who’d taken his chair. I got a good look at her and was surprised at how attractive she was at second glance. She was young, seemed almost too young to be in that bar, and I was surprised that she was hanging out with the clean cut drunkard. “We met him earlier tonight,” she said, “He was already drunk, but we’ve been kind of dragging him around this whole time.”
“He’s about to get the shit kicked out of him,” I told her.
She bit her lower lip. It seemed that she was embarrassed to have brought along the guy who was clearly the least welcome man in the bar, and was, nevertheless, concerned for his well being. She’d invested a night in this drunk guy, and didn’t want to see him getting hurt under her watch. “He’s kind of asking for it, isn’t he?” she asked.
“I don’t think he knows what he’s doing,” I told her.
“Is there anything you can do?”
“I think your best bet is to get him out of here,” I said.
The drunk guy was stumbling around the mosh pit, getting knocked all over the place. He’d already become a target, but the swollen men dancing around him had not yet resorted to anything that could be considered overtly violent acts. Nevertheless, they all wanted to. Between songs, the lead singer caught the bartender’s attention. He pointed at the drunk guy, and then swiped his index finger across his throat while he shook his head. The singer was trying to say, get this guy the hell out of here. But the message was never transmitted to the bouncer, and the audience took this gesture as legitimization of their hatred.
When the next song began, the mosh pit wasn’t so much a frenzy as an organized attack of the drunkard, who didn’t quite seem to realize that everybody was ganging up on him, and continued trying to push people away as if it were all a part of the fun. I looked down at the girls and they seemed genuinely terrified.
It was only a matter of time before someone would throw a punch, and I was prepared for such an event. It was someone I knew, and not the man who I expected to initiate violence, for I’d considered Mike a level headed guy up until that moment. Nevertheless, Mike looked tough – full sleeve tattoos, plugs in his earlobes – for all but the light blue of his eyes, which gave him an air of stony serenity incommensurate with thoughtless meanness. The drunk guy was pinned against a wall of people by a group of angry men slamming into him from the other direction, so Mike didn’t have a clear shot when he threw that first punch. He was swinging over the heads of the other attendants, but his reach was impressive and he made contact with the drunkard’s nose. I knew that the guy had been hit hard, and I knew that the second punch would be worse. My best guess, his nose was already broken, but he was still standing, and there was still the opportunity to escape slaughter.
When Mike wound up for blow number two, I jumped through a handful of folks, into the pit, and grabbed his arm from behind. I got him at the crook of his elbow just as he started to put some weight into the punch, and I lurched forward when he tried to swing. I bumped Mike aside, pushed him back into the mosh pit, and stood beside the drunkard for the rest of the song, not protecting him really, but just being another guy at the perimeter of the pit, pushing people away when they got too close.
Once the song ended, I caught Dusty’s eye. I circled a finger in the air, he gave me a nod, gestured with his head toward the door, I gave him the thumbs up, he looked at the girls, they nodded, and it was decided: time to go. When I passed the girls seated by the dance floor, they stood up too. The pregnant girl smiled. “Thanks for your help,” said the other one, though I wasn’t sure if she’d seen me grabbing onto Mike’s arm or not.
“Try to get that dude out of here if you can,” I told them, but they didn’t listen. Having seen the dancers getting so aggressive, the girls were scared, and they shuffled out of the bar without trying to get the attention of their drunken friend.
I caught up with Dusty and the girls, and followed them outside. By the exit, I stopped to talk to the bouncer. “Hey Alex,” I got his attention.
“What up man?”
“There’s a dude in there about to get his ass kicked.”
Alex looked alarmed, “Which one?”
“Dude in the pea coat, with the sideburns,” I pointed into the crowd.
It wasn’t hard for Alex to spot the guy, for the other men had resumed their assault. “Holy shit,” Alex said, as he rushed away from me and into the crowd to restore order.
When I went outside, the two girls were standing on the sidewalk, looking timid. “You gonna wait for your friend?” I asked.
“We want to.”
“He’ll be out soon,” I said.
I turned my attention back to my friends, but the next time I looked over at the girls, the drunkard had rejoined them. The pregnant girl stood to the side while her cute friend delicately touched the drunk man’s nose. He was sweating profusely, and his hair hung onto his forehead in tangles. Sure enough, his nose was broken and already swelling into a square flat plain that jetted from his brow. Because of his intoxication, he did not yet seem to realize that he was injured, nor that someone had intentionally injured him. I imagined him waking up the next morning, naked in the bed of this strange woman who he’d only met the night before, eyes blackened and nose deformed by some mystery assailant, only gray flashes of lucid memory to illuminate the events of the previous evening, and I envied his adventu