Problems Worse than Mine (1140 words)

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by Paul Briggs

I first met Halley the first week I started working as a bouncer, not long after I moved to the L.A. area.

We didn’t really have a chance to talk, though. Being a bouncer is not a job I’d recommend for anybody who enjoys mingling and socializing. It’s like being a lifeguard, only more so. You can’t get distracted, and you can’t get too friendly with anybody in case you have to show them the door later.

So you’re always at the party, but not really in the party. You’re always a little bit removed from the action. Even more so if you’re the bouncer at a lesbian nightclub and you yourself are not a lesbian. Of course, when something goes wrong or there’s a fight, then everybody will be looking at you and expecting you to deal with it. In other words, it was just like my life, only I was getting paid for it.

Even so, I made sure to dress the part. Black turtleneck, black slacks, black shoes and socks, and my work gloves — all made by me, of course. And whenever I was on duty, I did my level best to look imposing and self-assured and professional and not even the slightest bit like a girl fresh out of high school who just moved here from a small town in Wisconsin and didn’t have a clue what she was doing and was trying to pass herself off as an authority figure and desperately hoping it worked.

Anyway, I was talking about Halley. Her ID said she was 21, but looking back, I think she must have been closer to my age — and even though she was a lesbian, from the way she looked around she was obviously every bit as new to the whole West Hollywood scene as I was. She was very short and pudgy and wore glasses.

I never really got to interact with Halley until one Saturday night when she got really drunk and I had to take away her keys and call a cab. She was very cooperative. I’d left my cell phone in the manager’s office, so I took her back there. There was a dropped ceiling in there, and I managed to knock one of the panels out of the ceiling with the top of my head.

While I was putting it back, Halley said, “You poor thing.”

So, I said, “Hey, I didn’t hurt myself.”

She said “I didn’t mean that, I meant… everything. How do you stand it?”

As I said, she was very drunk. I’d already seen worse — it seemed to happen whenever a kid who’d never gotten hold of anything stronger than beer suddenly had access to things like tequila and vodka.

All the same, I don’t like to be pitied. I don’t think anybody does. All it does is remind you of your problems without actually being any help with them. And if your problems are not that big of a deal, it’s worse — it means somebody thinks you can’t handle what you know you can. But it doesn’t feel right to get mad at them for it when they don’t mean any harm. Especially when they only come up to your belly button and they’re two drinks away from the floor.

So I just said, “Actually, I’m doing pretty good. I just have to watch my head sometimes.”

I didn’t think anything of it until a night a few weeks later. I was standing in the doorway, it was a little after ten, Halley had just left… and suddenly I heard this woman screaming somewhere around the corner.

Technically, this was outside my jurisdiction, but I didn’t think about that at the time — I just went to see what was happening. I actually got up to a dead run for a few paces before I had to start slowing down again.

It was Halley. Two guys were attacking her — a younger one, who was holding her arms behind her back, and an older one, maybe in his fifties, who was hitting her with a belt.

This didn’t exactly look like a mugging. I wasn’t sure what it did look like. But I already knew what to do. Step 1 – stop the violence. Step 2 – call the police. Step 3 – try to figure out what’s going on.

By the time I got there, the two men had seen me coming, and were… staring frozen in disbelief. I get that a lot.

So I grabbed the older man by his shirt and used him to pin the younger one against the side of the nearest car. Then I pulled his wife-beater up over his head and used it to tie his arms behind his back. I think he was trying to put up a fight, but he wasn’t all that strong. He kicked me in the shin, so I tied his ankles together with his belt.

Then I looked at the younger one and… that actually was all I needed to do. He was just a scared little teenager. I couldn’t figure out how he’d gotten into this, but he wasn’t going to make any trouble on his own initiative.

Especially since a decent-sized crowd of onlookers had already gathered. Bear in mind, this was right out on the street in the middle of West Hollywood. If you’re going to beat up on gay people, this is not the neighborhood to do it. They weren’t violent yet, but they were showing definite signs of hostility towards these two guys.

So I got out my cell phone, which I had on me this time, and called 911. I reported it as an assault, and when they asked if anybody needed medical attention, I looked down at Halley to see if she was hurt. She was looking at the older man, who was sort of curled up on the sidewalk, and she was saying… “Are you all right, Daddy?”

I did not see that coming. But, being the person in charge until the police got here, I had to act like I knew it all along.

Halley was bruised, but that was about it. She was more upset that I had to call the police. All I could think of to say was, “I don’t normally step into other peoples’ family arguments, but when they reach this stage I don’t really have a choice.”

She didn’t argue, but I could see she wasn’t happy. I thought about my own parents, who by now had pretty much had it with each other but still both completely accepted me. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have people like Halley's family to come home to.

And finally I said, “Halley… I can’t believe you feel sorry for me.”
"I don’t like to be pitied. I don’t think anybody does. All it does is remind you of your problems without actually being any help with them… But it doesn’t feel right to get mad at them for it when they don’t mean any harm. Especially when they only come up to your belly button and they’re two drinks away from the floor."
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