OF MICE AND DOORMEN
It was on a recent trip to the polish food store Mleczko that I noticed the doorman. He quietly nodded as I entered the shop front, exuding an almost serene calmness in his tailored grey suit with matching cufflinks. You could barely hear him as he glided around the shop floor with the dedication of the world’s best secret keeper, sticking out elegantly among the red fleeces and matching sun visors worn by the rest of the staff. He was different from the security guards I had known; mainly on clumsy exits from Tesco’s with an inexplicably beeping coat on, or in raging encounters on nightclub steps at the end of messy nights out.
Mleczko is one of the few public spaces in England where Polish strangers can gather to talk to each other in their first language, or buy the kinds of foods they grew up eating. Where neither their distinct accents or the xenophobic prejudices of certain neighbours will get in the way of day-to-day chit chat. A place that, following Brexit and falling migration, is in danger of fading with declining customers and rising import prices. It struck me that the Mleczko warden might not only be guarding the property from shoplifting teenagers and rowdy troublemakers, but protecting something so sacred to a culture and identity that an attentive approach was crucial.
My dad always hated the people on the door. “All bouncers are bullies” he’d say, recalling a harrowing story of a man he knew from our home town who was hit so hard by one that his brain twisted in his skull and he lived the rest of his days in a vegetative state. Tales of undeserved demonization and justified hero worship were told through “tell-all” books of life on the door, but this 90s craze did nothing to sway his opinion. The tattooed letters on his knuckles used to read A C A B, but you could just as easily have swapped the C for Coppers with B for Bouncers: All Bouncers Are Bastards.
Strangely, he himself used to work on the door. He would talk of letting people get past, not making a fuss, going against the iron will of the other bouncer – who was a stickler for the rules. “He let a whole group of girls in once, all except one,” he’d say, “and this one girl who was maybe unlucky enough to look a bit younger than the rest gets singled out and they all have to leave so she’s not on her own. Bastard!” His run as a doorman would disappear as quickly as A C A B did once his hands were sent to the lasers after months of me and my kid sisters asking again and again what the letters on daddy’s knuckles stood for.
Since the 1800s, newspapers have described doorkeepers as the English “chucker out”. These chucker outs have followed innocent shoppers around Bacardi-clad aisles, kicked the wrong girl out of the club, tackled and restrained and pushed around a lifetime of Sheffield United fans, punched a man so hard in the head that he was never the same again. But there are those watchpersons who go against the stereotype of by-the-book brute. My best friend protecting me from a swarm of hair-pulling drunk girls by holding up her hands, a whole street of people uniting to fend off the bailiffs from a neighbour’s home, the bodyguards who worked for the late Amy Winehouse, who “would have taken a bullet for her”, coming together to hold her ashes.
Whilst it was clear that the sturdy figure standing guard by the red plastic carriers at the Mleczko Polish food store would have no trouble chucking anyone out, you got the feeling that he would sooner talk to you than bounce you. That’s the thing we forget about the people on the door - they don’t just chuck people out, they let them in.