So I want to talk for a second about what happened last night at the Vol 1. Brooklyn reading at CultureFix, and the fight that ensued, an act shocking at the very least because we are all such sedentary creatures, we book people.
So CultureFix, a bar/gallery space I have never been to before and will never go to again, is presumably a place that is welcoming to people of the arts. There were probably 75 people at this event over the course of the night, all drinking, and being very well-behaved as the five readers before me read. (Honestly, it had been a really lovely and interesting night and it was refreshing to see such an engaged audience.) There had been some noise from the front early in the evening but eventually the bar folks put up a curtain between the front and the back space which helped a lot.
Jason from Vol 1. Brooklyn was hosting the event. Jason is one of the nicest people in the literary scene in New York and supports all of us so much in a million ways, and he was really invested in pulling this night off. Jason is also a Chicago boy and was in the punk scene growing up and he is not a small man. But he’s a big nerd like the rest of us. I do not ever think to myself: Jason’s a fighter.
So when I got up to give my reading one of the bartenders chose that moment to make his way through the room picking up all the empty glasses, clink-clink-clinking away. At one point he walked in front of me while I was reading and I smiled and said in a jokey way, “Hey, what’s up.” I mean it was sort of funny, right? I am totally appreciative of people doing their jobs and have worked in bars before and I’m guessing they were out of glasses up front. But also maybe he could have cleared just some of them as opposed to the entire room, or waited until Jason was introducing people, or something. It was sort of a minor thing, a middle class problem to be sure, but I mention it because his cleaning of the glasses is what set off this chain of events. (Even as I type this I’m thinking how ridiculous that is.)
So after I finished reading, Jason got up to introduce the last reader, and said something like, “Sorry for this place sounding like a piano bar with all the glasses clinking,” and then the bartender said, “If you all would have brought your glasses to the bar,” and then there was some more back and forth, and honestly I wish I could remember exactly what was said because I couldn’t really believe it was happening but I do remember the bartender calling the whole lot of us, “Pretentious.” As we sat at the place where he worked, which was of course called CULTUREFIX. I mean, I’m pretty sure we’re all in this together, no?
More yelling happened. I tend to tune out men arguing although I would definitely have enjoyed it if it had turned into a “Your mother’s so fat” match. The final reader, visiting from Chicago, got up on stage and continued to have a negative exchange with the bartender, and an actress/poet seated on the floor yelled, “Bring me a glass of champagne” at the bartender, which was sort of disgusting, even though I’m pretty sure he didn’t hear it. Anyway, it was no good all around. The bartender left the room, and Jason followed him.
I could hear some yelling from behind the curtain, and then as the final reader started to read his poetry, there was a sound of a scuffle. I looked around but no one was moving, and the poetry continued. Then I got up and went to the front room where Jason and the bartender were engaged in some sort of head/arm lock, and several men were trying to pull them off each other. I yelled something like, “Fucking cut it out.” (Good one! Helpful!) Nick and Toby from Vol 1 arrived and helped separate the men. Jason’s glasses were broken. The bartender had headbutted him. Then the bartender was whisked away somewhere, never to return.
I felt genuine fury that my friend had been injured and, to a lesser extent, that we had all been insulted. I used to be a fighter and now I am not, because I have learned to walk away from conflict. But please do not mess with my people. I will go off. I ripped into the other bartender who was trying to manage the situation. He seemed sincerely shocked that a fight had gone down in his genteel establishment. I realized the one person I wanted to yell at wasn’t there, and I just shut up after a while. Another man said to me, “Haven’t you ever had a bad day at your job and snapped?” And I said, “Not where I headbutted someone, no.”
I don’t think there’s much point to any of this. The bartender went rogue. I suspect his animosity toward us was probably related to how he felt about his past customers, too. Maybe we were a tipping point. Headbutting seems like an extreme response in pretty much any situation but especially this one. A shove maybe? If you have to? If you must?