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I didn't know Dana Blake, a/k/a Shazam, the bouncer killed two weeks ago over a cigarette. Don't think I've ever laid eyes on him. But when I went to Guernica's memorial for him last Thursday, it was all I could do not to cry for a person I'd never met. The photos plastered on the club's windows all portrayed a very large man with a large smile that nearly took over his face.
He looked like an amiable guy, someone who was intimidating only because of his size (six foot five, 300 pounds) and not because of his demeanor. DJ Greg Poole, who regularly spins at the club, told me that Shazam was "hardly a hotheaded bouncer. He always dealt with people in a professional, civil manner." Shazam, said Guernica manager Anthony Cipriano, was so good that when the bouncer switched security companies, the bar did too. "When I was reading all these things about the chokehold, I said, 'That's not like Shazam,' " said Cipriano. "He'd put his arm around your shoulder and tell you to leave. He was not an aggressive person, unless he was defending himself."
By all accounts, Shazam was the bighearted teddy-bear type, given to greeting ladies with "What's up, baby girl?" and dishing the dirt with his female colleagues. One co-worker, Shelly Sabel, said they used to pass time playing the "hallway dance party"which found the two bouncing off the walls. "I can only imagine what people thought seeing this girl and this gigantic man giggling and spinning like kids," she remembered.
At the benefit, Richard Allen, a/k/a Suny, a broad man from Shazam's Forte Security companywho, with his flattop, looks like a copchoked up during his speech and wept. A local singer gave an a cappella performance in remembrance of his buddy, and after the speeches, people were encouraged to enjoy the music spun by Mia, Selly, and Reborn, because that's what the big man would have wanted. But as I listened to the crowd hollering "Justice!" during the mini-eulogy given by his best friend Speedy, I thought, I cannot wait to leave. It is just too sad.
The benefit drew an estimated 400 people and raised $20,000 for his family to pay for medical and funeral expenses. The fire department around the corner, Engine 28, Ladder 11, contributed to the cause, giving back to the place that had held a benefit for its lost firefighters after 9-11. It was reassuring to see so many people turn up for someone who was "just" a bouncer. For the past few weeks, I've been making light of the new cigarette law, but Shazam's death should not be made light of. The only peace I get is knowing that the police may have finally nabbed their man, Isaias P. Umali II, a Filipino American who was trained in a street martial-arts form called kali. Umali allegedly stabbed Blake after his friends got into an altercation with the bouncer over a cigarette. Authorities were notified of Umali's possible involvement after he tried to commit suicide upon learning the bouncer's fate. Umali was apprehended on the day Blake was buried.
Perhaps the thing that bothered me most: Blake probably never thought working at Guernica would bring him to his death. The little East Village bar is a slick joint, populated mostly by techno and house heads. It's an easy crowd compared to some of the places that Blake could've been bouncingplaces where patrons pack and guns go off. The worst I've ever seen at Guernica are unruly frat boys who need to be cut off from the bar. Of course, Blake probably wouldn't have thought a cigarette could've sent him to his death, not in this way.
Among the sweetly touching anecdotes posted at the memorial site was an anonymous tribute that read, in part, "I used to like to punch Shazam in the arm as hard as I could, and he enjoyed reminding me of just how noticeable my flying fists really were, turning vaguely in my direction, and asking, 'Did you just say something?' "
Those who were unable to attend last week's memorial-benefit can send contributions, which will be given to the family to help cover expenses, to Shazam Fund, c/o Guernica, 25 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009.