Two men in their mid-twenties are talking outside a Capitol Hill bar. It's 5:17 p.m. on July 5.
Dirty D: "There's this new guy in town. He's from Philadelphia. He's short, stocky."
Jerry Bronze: "Put him against Butz?"
Dirty D: "Nah, he'll kill him."
Bronze: "What about Crane?"
Dirty D: "Nah, man, this guy from Philadelphia is small. He shouldn't be fighting Crane." Dirty D pauses, pondering the match-up. "But he's kind of built, so I don't know. He may be a crazy motherfucker? If he's quick..." Another pause, as Dirty D pulls on his chin. "I'll call him. He's new to town, so he's got nothing better to do. He's going to be like, 'Man, what is this shit? You putting me in a fight?'"
Jerry Bronze thinks he knows how to get people to fight. More important, he knows how to get people to come and watch people fight.
According to local lore, fighting for fun got its start here about two years ago, pre-Fight Club, in the backyard of a Thornton music/party pad called Eight Houses Down. A guy named Dan got drunk, put on some gloves and challenged a friend to fight. The action proved entertaining -- even if the fighters held back a touch.
Jerry Bronze, the promoter alter ego of a 23-year-old bartender/musician/political science student, moved the idea out of the backyard and into a warehouse this past February. He was late bringing the gloves, so the first two guys went at it bare-knuckles. Dirty D videotaped the fight. It's a bloody, disturbing brawl. The two fighters have no technique, conscience or passion for one another. They simply stand atop six-inch-high wooden loading pallets floored with sheets of plywood and pummel each other; the cheering, fist-pumping onlookers serve as the ropes. After one brawler falls into the crowd, the mob tosses him back in and then pushes back around the ring in a nanosecond. The crowd's liquor-fueled hollering is as unnerving as the sound of fists hitting flesh.
"Man," Bronze says, shaking his head. "I got so many punk-rock points for throwing that show."
Bonus points were tacked on when the cops raided the warehouse just as the fists were getting hot. One officer jumped on stage and grabbed a microphone, calling for Bronze by his real name (which Bronze asked to be kept out of this story). Although most of the attendees knew Bronze by both names, none so much as looked his way as he crawled to the back door. "I grabbed my bartender, grabbed the girl who took me there, and got the fuck out," he remembers.
To plan such an underground extravaganza takes a few weeks. Bronze and his silent partner, Tony Gold, have since thrown several illegal music/entertainment shows, but the one coming up -- Bronze is calling it "The Glory Hole" -- will be just the second time punk-rock pugilists have been hired to kick ass. Between sets by four bands, brawlers will scrap on an eight-foot-by-eight-foot stage. Some fighters will wear gloves, some will not. "It's their prerogative," Bronze says. "They're the ones taking the hits."
The fighting, boozing and rocking is such a can't-miss combination that local promoter Dan Steinberg cribbed Bronze and Gold's concept and turned it into the sold-out "Punk Rock Fight Night" at the Aztlan Theatre two months ago. (Says Bronze, "That guy will steal any idea if it'll make him a dollar.") And in Fort Collins, riding the same violent wave, a local promoter offers "Chicks Fight Night," an evening of female kickboxing.
Bronze insists he's not throwing his gigs for money or fame; he has neither, he says, and is content. Last round, however, Bronze and Gold walked away with $2,300 between them. Nearly three hundred people crammed the warehouse that night, and most of them had paid their fifteen bucks' admission. But the money is never a sure thing; before they start collecting it at the door, Bronze and Gold need to make sure people know where that door will be, sending word deep into the catacombs of a subculture. "We're not doing this to be promoter guys," Bronze says. "We're doing this to be cool to our friends."
The balancing act is a tough one: Bronze has to promote the show enough to get a large crowd, but not so much that he alerts the cops. For the upcoming Glory Hole, he's hired strippers, fire-eaters and regurgitators and told everyone when they'll perform, just not where. Fliers for the event arrived in bars and clubs just days before the show's early-July date; they're left next to stacks of index card-sized notices that promote raves or concerts. As with raves, Bronze's fliers list a phone number for patrons to call the day of the show -- and when they do, they'll hear Bronze's voice giving out the warehouse's address.
Fighting won't be the star of the Glory Hole show, Bronze says, just one particular event inside a large extravaganza of chaos. He's trying to give Denver a good time, a scene; he's not one for wallowing in the "Denver sucks" theory.
Jerry Bronze believes that if your scene sucks, then you suck.
For Glory Hole, Bronze's up-front costs total just over $1,000: four bands, two strippers, two kegs of beer, two cases of gin, and one case each of rum, vodka, whiskey, and Scotch. Is that enough booze? "If it isn't, fuck 'em," he says. "For fifteen dollars, they're getting quite a show."
If the regurgitators and fire-eaters show up, they'll get paid, as will the fighters. And if the cops come?
"Parties are fun," Bronze says coyly, not particularly concerned that all of this is illegal. Selling alcohol without a permit could get him thrown in the clink, as could the sanctioned assaults he's arranging and the ringside gambling that will ensue. "As long as nobody gets hurt and everybody has a good time, parties are fun. The only people that wouldn't have a good time at this party are the people who would want to stop it, and that's the city."
Bronze smiles again. "And they're not invited."
At 9:18 p.m. on July 8, Crane is standing in the middle of the concrete floor of the warehouse. Except for a few dudes setting up their gear on stage, the space is almost empty.
"It's Crane," the 25-year-old says by way of introduction. "Like the bird. The one with a big nose."
Crane is big but not imposing. He's 6'2", 235 pounds, the last ten of which hang around his waist. He's wearing blue jeans and black leather boots with white shoelaces. His T-shirt is blue, with the name of a band stretched across the back: Hatebreed. His portable CD player is tucked into the front of his pants, just behind the belt buckle that's both an American and Texas flag. Through a headset, he listens to a band named Sheer Terror.
Despite all of this -- the boots, the crewcut, the violence-on-a-shirt fashion sense -- what is most apparent about Crane is that he wants to fight. The desire is so palpable that it rises off his flesh. Crane is aware of the rancid perfume. "Key word: want," he says. "Somebody has to want to get his ass kicked."
Crane, who grew up in El Paso, has had his nose broken three times -- the first when he was seven years old. "My old man did it. I got caught stealing caps," he remembers. Although young Crane was allowed to play with BB guns and other toys of mock destruction, it was forbidden to fumble around with explosive devices, such as caps and firecrackers. (Crane's second and third nose-crushings came during fights outside the bloodline.)
Crane wrestled in college and then did some amateur boxing in Dallas and Houston. He doesn't consider himself a bruiser, yet he knows his strengths well. "There are very few people who are willing to fight in this world," he says. "Doesn't matter how powerful you are or how much money you have. If you look at any CEO -- Barry Ebberts or Bill Gates -- I can kick their ass, because I am willing to fight. There's very few people today who can get off on a good fight, and I'm one of them. If somebody hits me, I get a hard-on. It makes me laugh. You meet a Joe Blow at a Dave & Buster's, you go in there, you pick a fight, and it ain't gonna happen. You come here," he says, admiring the warehouse with a flick of his hand, "and you ask any motherfucker, and they're going to help you out. If you want a fight, they're going to oblige you."
Crane has heard that his opponent tonight is a guy named Trip. He's never met or even seen Trip, but he's not scared of anyone. Still, Crane concedes that doubt occasionally enters his mind. "I'm not a cocky bastard, because there's always going to be someone bigger than you," he offers. "If I get my ass kicked, I get my ass kicked. I'll take my licks. If I lose, I lose. Sure, it feels good to win, but if I lose, at least I'll live to do it again.
"Hopefully," he adds, "I'll have a few cuts and scrapes on my face."
By day, Crane works as a data tech for a local telecommunications company, where he dresses business-casual -- Dockers and button-down shirts -- and sits in a cubicle eight hours a day, five days a week. He spends much of that time gazing into a computer monitor and clicking a mouse hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Although he'd really like to be a chef, Crane enjoys the techie money -- nearly $50,000 a year, he says. The parallels between Crane's real-life character -- office boy by day, badass by night -- and the one portrayed by actor Edward Norton in Fight Club do not escape him.
The movie, of course, assumes that men are propelled by an instinctual need to be violent. For those pansy-asses with soft souls and kind hearts, self-actualization can't be reached until their true nature is realized. In other words, they need to get violent. After that, real men should disavow the spoon-fed consumerism that has suffocated their existence in the capitalist world. Therefore, fight clubs are free, secretive events where men can be true to their intended existence.
That's how it seems in the movies, anyway.
"I know movies aren't really supposed to have that effect on people, but it did on me," Crane says. "The fact that he [Norton's character] gave away all his worldly possessions and said, 'Fuck it'" -- Crane throws his hands up, his cigarette burning between two fingers now -- "I can relate to that. We have no time to live. You work long hours, then you go home. You work, your family works, your friends work, and then they go home. You miss so much of your life sitting behind a computer. Ever since corporate America took over everything, it's all little packages. You get a cube," he says, pointing at a person standing directly across from him. "And you get a cube," he blurts, pointing to another person a few feet away. "And you, and you, and you. And you. It's the death of individuality.
"So, is that a life? It's all prefabbed, single-serving," Crane says with disgust. "Just like in Fight Club."
The fighters tonight, six in all, are supposed to bash it out on a shin-high stage that has been dropped in the middle of a weed-filled backyard. At Crane's suggestion, Bronze purchased thin, lightweight gloves from Gart's earlier in the day; the gloves are just twelve ounces each, so the fist-throwers won't tire from the heavy handwear. Ultimately, if Trip is game, Crane wants to go bare-knuckle.
His strategy is to wear Trip out by playing possum the first few minutes.
"I'll curl up, let him take a few punches and see what's going on," Crane promises. "I'm just a nameless guy with fists in the corner."
Everybody's yelling at me, but I don't care."
Jerry Bronze is the consummate host. It's 10:25 p.m., the sound system is blazing, and about a hundred partygoers have already paid their $15 to get in. But there are no strippers, no fire-eaters, no regurgitators, no boxers -- and the two kegs of beer are too hot to pour.
Bronze squeezes through the noisy crowd carrying a glass mug, carved like a skull, high above his head. He bought the mug on a trip to Los Vegas last weekend; right now it holds only water -- Bronze doesn't drink before he sings. Everyone who greets Bronze -- which is everyone -- gets a quick show of the mug, a bit of oddball conversation. Every other person has a request.
"My drummer thought we were playing third," one says. "He's still on the golf course."
"Do you want people on the roof?"
"What's up with the beer?"
"Strippers called. They say they'll be here in ten minutes?"
Bronze settles each question quickly, then moves on to the next face to meet and greet.
The MC for the fights, James Smith, has arrived. He just got off work as the food and beverage manager at the Brown Palace, so he's still wearing a nice suit and necktie. "Couldn't get my tux," he explains. Smith has already laid some ground rules for the fights: "Sixty seconds per round. If they wear gloves, no kidney shots or below-the-belt shots. If they don't wear gloves, no holds barred. Street fight." Smith, who's accompanied by his equally well-dressed girlfriend, is asked if he'll fight. "No," he says immediately. "Fuck no."
Bronze, who will be performing with one of the bands, also has a quick explanation for why he won't throw fists. "I'm a singer," he says. "That means I'm obviously either gay or a pussy."
Although the room is getting crowded, the action is late -- but being behind schedule is the schedule at the Glory Hole. Bronze is hearing more and more about the hot-beer problem, and then he learns that the door guy can't make change, so the line to get in is beginning to wrap around the warehouse. That's not the way to keep a low profile from wandering patrol cars. So Bronze jumps in his car, drives to the nearest ATM, removes the final $80 from his account and gets change at a liquor store. When he returns, he's greeted by the news that the new guy, the one from Philadelphia, won't be fighting. And there's no sign of Trip, Crane's opponent. But the others who have agreed to fight are on their way, Bronze is told.
On the outside, he's still cheery. "It's all about the skull mug, motherfucker!" he shouts to others carrying skull mugs. But right now, at 10:49 p.m., Bronze is feeling a touch of host anxiety.
He stands outside the warehouse and looks toward LoDo, where the lights of the competing LoDo Music Festival are just visible above warehouse rooftops. Still, a stream of headlights four cars deep is coming right toward him down this deserted road. "Yeah, it's going to be pretty crazy," he predicts. "It's going to be pretty fucking crazy."
"I have bad gas."
Why is Crane mentioning a bellyache now, at 11 p.m., just before he's supposed to fight? Is it an explanation for a potential dropout or, even worse, a loss? What's the word here? Is it an excuse?
"No," Crane says. "I'm a B 'n' G man, period. I always eat my biscuits 'n' gravy. And I've had the worst gas all night long -- that's why I'm outside. Even when we were at the house watching cartoons, I had gas."
Crane enjoys the Cartoon Network. At the moment, his favorite animated show is Dexter's Lab. His favorite board game is Risk. The person who will man his corner, his buddy Jason, also enjoys Risk. "It's all about Australia," Jason says.
In addition to the gastronomical queasiness, other parts of Crane's body are acting up. And his veins are pumping booze: He polished off the better part of a twelve-pack while watching cartoons at home, and since he arrived, he's dropped in two more cans of beer and a whiskey and Coke. The whiskey is a luxury.
"Normally, I'm not allowed to drink it," Crane says in a hush that is warm with hard alcohol. "My lady doesn't like it. Whiskey whispers bad things into my ear."
The last time Crane drained too many whiskeys, he and his fiancée, Jenelise, found some fast trouble outside a bar in Texas. Jenelise stumbled out of the bar only to spy another man standing over Crane, who was lying cold on the concrete. "It evokes some sort of bad, primitive feelings out of you when you see bad things happen to people you love," Jenelise says. Once those feelings were evoked, she hit Crane's attacker over the head with her purse -- a black metal, Army-issued carrying case dating back to World War I. She hit the bad man several times until he dropped.
"I was surprised that I did that," Jenelise says, then smirks. "I was wearing a skirt and heels."
The night before, she now reveals, she ran into Trip in a bar. Trip didn't know Jenelise and Crane were a couple. Jenelise, testing the size of Trip's mouth, asked about the upcoming fight. To her surprise, Trip didn't talk smack.
Instead, he mentioned a scooter accident he'd had just a few weeks prior, during which he'd suffered a slight concussion. "I'm supposed to fight some big guy from Texas," Trip told Jenelise, without much excitement. "I don't know if I can do it."
At 11:07 p.m., the first of the bands has yet to sound a note. The beer is still too hot to pour without foaming, so those who are drinking are wincing through the stiffest whiskeys served in these parts since the days when disagreements got settled with a pistol. At this minute, with no one to fight, Crane feels "indifferent."
11:13 p.m.: "Is this guy here yet?" Crane calls out to Bronze. Bronze shakes his head. "No?" Crane says. "Okay."
11:30 p.m.:The first band starts and two strippers bounce up on stage. A man in a gorilla suit attacks them. The gorilla tackles one stripper and dry humps the other. The party is on.
11:36 p.m.: Jason, Crane's corner guy and Risk partner, tapes Crane's hands. Crane sits on the edge of the boxing stage and acknowledges that the wrapping is premature, then adds, "This ain't premature provided the faggot shows up."
11:40 p.m.: Bronze finds Crane sitting by the ring. Trip has shown up, but Trip wants to see Crane before deciding if he'll fight him. Bronze whispers this information to Crane and tells him to hide his taped hands, for God's sake. Crane puts his hands behind his back, slouches over and does his best to look like a real dope -- after all, he's looking for a fight.
11:42 p.m.: A friend tells Crane that Trip won't fight.
11:44 p.m.: Trip approaches Crane. He's wearing a white T-shirt advertising TKO Records, with an emblem on the back that's a closed fist aimed right at the viewer, as if the fist is going to punch someone -- maybe you? Although Trip has two inches on Crane, he weighs just 198 pounds, 37 less than Crane. And that, Trip has come to explain, makes all the difference in the world. He holds out his hand and lets loose with a slightly relieved laugh. "We're not fighting tonight," Trip says. "It ain't gonna happen."
Crane: "Ah, c'mon. Let's have a go."
Trip: "Hell no! Bronze himself told me, 'Don't fight that fool. He'll kill you.'"
Crane: "Ah, that's not true. C'mon, let's box."
Trip: "Tonight, it's nice to meet you, but it ain't gonna happen."
Crane: "Whatever." He waves his taped hands in disappointment.
Trip: "All of a sudden, the Texas bacon is a lot bigger than the Colorado bacon, and I'm not going to bite into that." He laughs.
Excited friend of Trip's: "Is it going to happen?"
Friend: "C'mon, Trip. Fight him." He says this with a look that not only says, "You're such a puss," but also "You're such a puss for saying you'd fight and then not fighting," and "Now you're making me look like a puss."
Trip: "No way."
But by now, the booze has loosened up the party, turning many men into potential fighters. It's loud everywhere. The whooping and yelling inside the warehouse for the bands and strippers is a blustery noise, the conversations outside on the crowded porch, beneath the glare of a floodlight, are carried out in drunken shouts and laughs. And then it happens: A fight breaks out.
Just beyond the reach of the floodlight, in a dark corner of the backyard, a women is splashing around in a kid's wading pool that several men have been using as a urinal. Presumably unaware of this, she takes off her clothes and continues to flop around the pool as a male friend, still clothed, joins her. Then another guy jumps into the pool, but he's punch-drunk and falls hard. The drunkard gets up and tackles the naked woman several times. And then, from behind the crowd that has circled the pool, another man pushes through and starts punching the drunkard's face with machine-gun frequency. The blam-blam-blam, rat-tat-tat is over quick, and the puncher gets hauled away by his own friends. The naked woman slips back into her wet clothes and continues rolling around in the pool.
Crane stomps through the crowd, looking for opponents. To a guy with beefy arms and a crewcut, he says, "You wanna box?" The guy says he would, but points out that Crane has a height advantage of three inches. All told, Crane asks five guys, and each of them turns him down.
Another friend of Crane's says she knows someone who might fight him, but she needs a phone. "Jen!" Crane calls out. "Show this woman a phone." As the woman dials Jenelise's cell phone, Crane dictates in her ear. "Tell him to come down here. Tell him, 'Let's box. Let's beat the shit out of each other.' Tell him I'd buy him a beer."
The guy answers, but he says he's "dead tired" and won't come out tonight.
Crane's anger gets redirected toward Trip: "Tell that big faggot to come down here and fight me!"
Another fight breaks out on the crowded porch. It's between two, maybe three guys; no one can see who's doing what, but it's over in a few seconds. The crowd settles down, sharing some verbal replays of the quickie.
At 1:45 a.m., with the party hitting its zenith, no one will touch Crane -- especially not Trip.
"He'll fucking kill me," Trip explains, tiring of the razzing he's taken. "He'll tear my head off. We're not even in the same weight class. If it came down to a street thing, where I was backing up my friends, I'd do it. But I'm not going to fight him one-on-one here. He's a monster. Crane would stick my ass. Even on his worst day and on my best day, we're not boxing."
She looks inside the warehouse, where Bronze is crashing around the stage, singing through his band's set. The two strippers are shaking, gyrating, bending over for a raucous crowd. "How can people care about tits when there's violence to be had?" Jenelise asks. "Especially when they're fake tits, at that."
Just after 3 a.m., Crane is drunk on beer and whiskey. He's also sad.
"Ain't nobody wants to fight me," he whines. "I've asked about six guys if they want to fight, and nobody wants to fight me. What, do I look like an asshole?"
For several reasons, no one answers.
A little later, Jerry Bronze stands at the front door. The last drop of booze was sucked up an hour ago. The evening's crowd estimate ranges between 250 to 300, yet Bronze insists that he and Gold only broke even. But despite the lack of fights -- no one complained; it's a put-up-or-shut-up kind of thing to bitch about -- Bronze knows he threw another good one.
"Everybody have a good time?" Bronze shouts to a bunch of stragglers working their way out the front door.
"Yeahhhhhh," they cheer back at him.
"What more can I do?" he asks.
In the backyard, where a few punkers are still hanging around and a few more are crashed out in the dead weeds, Crane has waited as long as he can.
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"Fuck it -- they can all probably kick my ass now," he says, melancholy dripping from his liquored voice. "But nobody wants to fight me."
Crane pulls the tape off his hands. "I blew off time and a half tonight to come here. I lost a handful of cash, and I didn't get to fight," he grouses. "In Texas, I could fight any night of the week. Colorado? Full of dirty, stinking hippies.
"Go smoke your pot," he says to no one, really. "Fuck this town. Nobody wants to get hurt."