My partner and my friend James and I were assigned to bag-check. In the briefing from a representative of New Breed Security, a company that serves the Big Day Out in smart, neon polos, it was explained that we were searching for booze, canned items, and potential weaponry. We weren’t to ever touch the bags, because if we were to then find drugs, for example, it was possible that someone could photograph us and claim that we had placed the drugs ourselves. Another New Breed Security man was stationed at our bench. “I’ll be confiscating condoms,” he joked to the man who’d explained the procedure. “Can’t see you finding a use for them,” the man replied; he reminded his friend that he shouldn’t ever touch the bags. “I’ll just hover my dick in them, make them put it on,” he said. He mimed the action over the bench.
People began to stream down the hill at ten, and then were trammeled at another barrier. Several among them were screaming. We had been warned that if people weren’t forthcoming with their bags, we should direct them to a security professional, or else away from the event. But as the people reached us, they were fine with the procedure. I was the first checker they met, and my partner the second; we fumbled the first few, our workflow causing them to bump each other. But we soon fell into a deep, clear rhythm.
When my partner asked one lone young man to open his bag for inspection, the young man’s hands shook so terribly that he dropped it on the table. Pitying him, my partner’s inspection was cursory. I had one young lady who, once I’d waved through her small, shell-shaped handbag, said, “There could be drugs in there. You don’t know; you’re not even trying.” I said, “No, I am definitely trying.” She stared at me in the face and said, “I have drugs.” I said, “Empty your bag onto the table.” She said, “No, I don’t have drugs.” I said, “I believe you.” She showed me her ass, where sticking from a pocket was a spray bottle of sunscreen. “Look at it. Confiscate it,” she said. I said, “No.”
I had people empty their bags if they’d clunked on the table. Usually, they were just concealing cans of V or Red Bull. “You can’t take those in,” I said, “but you could always scull them now.” One man, round from gym routine, drained a V in seven seconds. “That was really great,” I said. “It was easy,” he growled. A group of goths came through the bag-check accidentally; there was another, quicker gate for people who lacked bags. “No bags?” I said. They shook their heads. While her friends were having their tickets scanned ahead of us for entry, one goth ducked back to me and said, “Only the emotional kind.” She blushed and dashed in. “I didn’t say baggage,” I said. “No one has emotional bags.”
As we cleared those people who’d lined up before the gates were open, newer ones began to come in waves, in modulations. Sometimes, now, we had short calms, and were able to see them coming; when a lady approached us with a gorgeous parasol, we negotiated who would do the rotten confiscation. The work lost rhythm, the time wore forth. I began to check more thoroughly. “And just under the grey jumper, if that’s okay.”
“Just sealed Gatorade there,” the man said.
“Yes, I can see the sealed Gatorade, that’s fine. But just actually under the jumper.” He moved it half-aside. He mumbled something that I heard as “fingers, that’s just fingers.” He saw that I had seen a pop-bottle of juice. He whispered, “Nah, you got me, man.” He drew the bottle out for me; it was the amber of apple juice, and I would have let it through. I said, “Let me take that for you.” He looked grateful and passed. My partner popped the bottle’s lip, sniffed it, and dry-retched.
In the last, lazy hour, the others began to inspect much more casually. “I could do this for a living,” I said. I love people’s things. I have a challenge for myself when I enter a vehicle where I try to stop myself from opening the glove compartment and so on. At restaurants, I have the mindless habit of touching my friends’ water glasses, poking my partner’s food. By the end of the shift, I found myself saying explicitly, “Could you open your bag so I can look at all your things?” I was forgetting that I wasn’t meant to ever touch the bags; it felt electric to draw them back, see lipstick after lipstick.
The shift ended, we all signed off, and crammed into the Boiler Room. One song into Die Antwoord, I decided to leave. The three o’clock sun, the shirtless mass were instantly too much for me; I’d drunk three cans of long-crashed V that I had had to confiscate. “The human stink of this tent. It smells like an abattoir,” I said.
“It definitely doesn’t smell like an abattoir,” my partner said.
“It smells like an empty abattoir that everyone is dancing in. I’m sorry, dude. Please just have a really amazing day.”
The train home only took me thirty, and I’d realized on exiting that my staff wristband gave me pass-out privileges. So I drank some Coke in my back yard and organized some work for Monday, and then returned on dusk in time for LCD Soundsystem. Deep in the Boiler Room’s front-right quarter, I buttered myself in the sweat of others, all the long day’s slip slop slop. I was bordering, in the crowd, one of those accidental columns that person after person after person knows to walk through; when a girl who’d been beside me moved into the column, I danced into the space she’d left behind. I grew aware that I’d cut her off from several of her friends. I continued dancing for a time, looking past her pleading face; one of her friends reached in for her, “accidentally” jostling me. I was startled by the ease with which I kept the girl from happiness. When we’d been assigned to bag-check, my friend James had said, “I’d rather scan tickets, I think. I’d rather be a ‘yes’ guy than a ‘no’ guy.”