By Jesse Berman
BALTIMORE — In ’90s cult classic “Office Space,” three disgruntled software engineers steal a company printer after two of them have been fired.
With the song “Still” by the Geto Boys playing in the background, the characters proceed to punch, kick, pummel, assault, bludgeon, manhandle and otherwise improperly treat the printer, with the nerdiest of the trio having to be physically dragged away from the hated machine by his compatriots.
One YouTube video of this scene has more than 2 1/2 million views. It has embedded itself not only in the zeitgeist, but in tangible form at one of Baltimore’s newest and quirkiest attractions: the WRECK Room.
Located in the neighborhood of Hampden, the WRECK Room offers what it calls “DESTRUCTOtherapy,” allowing customers the opportunity to smash to their hearts’ content junk, refuse and rubbish. The facility is operated by Aaron Polun, who was particularly proud of the stylized painting of that scene from “Office Space” that he keeps on the premises.
The facility also features plates, beer bottles, martini glasses and an assortment of other objects that customers are encouraged to obliterate using one of the tools at their disposal including a baseball bat, a golf club and a sledgehammer.
Visitors also can purchase figurines of several political figures. (I was told that, with every purchase of a Donald Trump bust, a donation would be made to the ACLU).
Oh, and also printers — lots and lots and lots of printers.
While all this may seem hard to believe, apparently businesses like the WRECK Room have been around for some time.
“Rage rooms or smash rooms are not new,” Polun said. “They’ve been around since, I think, the late ’90s.”
Polun’s clientele is an interesting bunch. They include teachers, couples on dates, office workers on company excursions, divorcees looking to annihilate framed photographs of their exes and Orthodox Jewish men and women, whom he was glad to see didn’t have any objections to his business venture. Polun also mentioned that, in partnership with Chai Lifeline, child cancer patients are allowed to participate, often free of charge.
Polun believes that the draw of his enterprise involves its tactile nature: “There’s so much screens and technology, that it seems like people are craving more experiential entertainment rather than going into a movie and looking at a screen. They want to do something more tactile…that’s why you see escape rooms are popular, axe throwing is popular…This is sort of in the same vein of something that’s more physical.”
Curious to see what all the hullabaloo was about, I volunteered to step up to the plate myself. I began by adorning myself in a small battalion’s worth of safety equipment. First, a type of white, full-body pajama-like outfit (imagine Walter White in his hooded lab suit). Over this went a black vest, a helmet, a pair of goggles, some sort of plastic welding mask, a pair of gloves, and a pair of latex gloves. I was told that, while no one has ever been injured, safety is nonetheless taken seriously.
Thus armored for battle, I entered, as Aaron Burr might have said, the room where it happens.
Polun asked if I wanted a song playing in the background; I settled on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child!” (later, Polun would put on his own track, which included a type of death metal interpretation of Toto’s “Africa”). After a few instructions, I threw a beer bottle against a purple wall. Then I tossed several plates like Frisbees. I took a golf club to a piece of porcelain. And, of course, a bashed a printer with a baseball bat.
I have to admit: I’ve spent a lot of my life surrounded by items I knew a responsible person doesn’t go around wantonly breaking. And if they accidentally do, they either have the honor to pay for it or the good sense to lie about it. Being able to do away with the normal restrictions of polite society, if only for a moment, turned out to be surprisingly invigorating.
Jesse Berman is a staff writer for Baltimore Jewish Times, an affiliated publication of WJW.