AN ex-banker named Guillermo Benitez swings a sawed-off hockey stick in each fist, bringing both of them down on an old computer keyboard like a furious gorilla locked inside a school supply cupboard. His girlfriend Lorena Dominguez is more methodical, lining up empty wine and beer bottles on a metal rack to smash them one by one with an axe handle. The Ramones are playing loud and dumb over the in-house PA system. Through the bunker-like slit of the observation window, it looks and sounds as if these two are having a wonderful time, and this is the entire point of The Break Club.
In this brick-walled room in a corner of Palermo, half a block from the railway tracks, you are free to vent your rage upon inanimate objects. Well, not free, exactly – the price depends on what you want to break. The current rates are scaled from $120 pesos for 15 bottles to almost $500 for an old-model, heavy-duty, 29-inch TV set. It’s cheaper if you bring your own items to destroy. But either way, one session here is a lot more affordable than a course of psychotherapy, and offers more immediate relief. Before they went into the “rage room” itself, Guillermo and Lorena talked about the various stresses and annoyances they would carry inside with them – general and specific, personal and work-related, societal and universal.
Guillermo had a longer list, which ranged from Buenos Aires weekday traffic, to the popular television presenter Marco Tinelli, to “the people who tell me that I am a little bit fat”. He quit his job at Citibank a couple of years ago because of its negative effects on his physical and mental health, and is now finishing a university degree in public relations. There was one particular professor, he said, who also made him want to smash something. Lorena and another first-time Break Club customer, a professional dancer named Lucia Segal, discussed the maddening way that Argentine women can make each other feel so anxious and self-conscious about their appearance. Lucia said that salsa dancing was not stressful at all – the opposite, in fact. But teaching people to salsa was another matter, and her more demanding clients sometimes gave her thoughts of violence. When they come out of the rage room with nothing left to break, all three look spent and satisfied. “For the first couple of minutes,” says Guillermo, “I was thinking about all those things we talked about.
“But then my mind went kind of blank, and I was just hitting things and listening to The Ramones, and I felt … happy.” Which is, again, the USP of The Break Club. It was founded two years ago by Guido Dodero, a local entrepreneur with a background in advertising, who felt that fellow Argentines would especially benefit from this kind of service. “We have a lot of anger, and we’re almost proud of it,” says Dodero. “It’s something to do with who were are and where we come from. “Italy, Spain, these aggressive Latin cultures. And as Argentines we’re so conflicted and contradictory, and it seems like everyone in Buenos Aires is seeing a shrink. That’s healthy, because you’re trying to deal with it. But maybe you just need a physical outlet … ” If the idea sounds a little gimmicky, the execution is impressively professional. Dodero believes in “the details”, and runs the place like a health spa, or a medical centre.
Break Club clients have to make an appointment, and discuss with Dodero in advance what they want to destroy. His most satisfied customers have included an 8 year-old-boy with an overspill of pint-sized aggression and a 78-year-old woman who took the bus all the way here from Mar Del Plata just to get something out of her system. “I was afraid she would have a stroke or something,” says Dodero. “But she had a lot of fun.” Some people bring their own “very personal items” into the rage room, like photographs or teddy bears, which seems like it would be painful to watch. You can also bring your own weapons, but nothing that might endanger you or anyone else. No swords, no guns, no flame-throwers. And you can, of course, just come as you are. A choice of implements is provided on site, from golf clubs to aluminum baseball bats, though Dodero has found that the latter break surprisingly easily. There is also mandatory safety gear – a boiler suit, work gloves, a hardhat and visor – and a waiver to sign beforehand. For afterward, there is a chill-out room with gentle music and scented candles. Dodero has seen people fall asleep in there.
“It has something to do with the contrast between flying glass and total calm.” And finally there’s the visitor’s book, where people often write down the targets of their ire. Bosses and mothers-in-law are apparently the most common hate figures, though President Cristina Fernandez De Kirchner is also a popular choice. But hatred, says Dodero, is not the objective here. “It’s not like going crazy and killing people. It’s more like an intense workout, or an extreme sport. It’s something that connects your mind and your body, which Freud said is always a good thing.” Freud is also supposed to have said that the Irish are the only people on Earth who remain stubbornly impervious to psychoanalysis.
Well, I come from Dublin, and my friends sometimes tell me I am an angry guy. This annoys me, to be honest, and makes me want to choke them. I don’t, of course, but I’ve been known to go too far with household appliances that displease me. I once kicked an ironing board to death when it half collapsed without warning and caused me to scorch my groin. Arrgh! Stupid board! I still get pretty vexed just thinking about it. I have also compiled a mental list of middle-class peeves specific to Buenos Aires – the frequent blackouts and floods in our neighbourhood, the drivers who won’t stop to let me and my dog cross our own street, the chronic dearth of spicy food, the woefully miscalculated cheese-to-sauce ratio on the pizzas, the outright thievery of pay-as-you go tariffs on the Claro mobile phone network.
And now it is my turn in the rage room. Guido hands me a length of metal gas pipe – “you’ll need that, believe me,” he says – and offers me my choice of music from the files on his iPod. I go for AC/DC’s Back In Black, because it’s a classic and it’ll do in a pinch, but I wanted something faster, madder, and stupider from my adolescence, maybe something by Therapy?, and I am furious with myself for forgetting to bring my own iPod. But once inside the room, I learn that Guillermo was right. With the first swing, and the first exploding bottle, I forget everything I thought I was angry about. Beating an old fax machine to pieces, I start to feel oddly serene. Doing pitiless violence upon outmoded technology turns out to be as relaxing as yoga, or gardening, or reading in a hammock.
Creativity gets all the good press, but I’ve tried that, and it’s stressful. As a vintage boombox detonates beneath my trusty piece of pipe, I find myself almost overjoyed by the sense of peace that comes of destruction.
The Break Club is open every day, Nicaragua 5144, 8am to 8pm. Sessions by appointment only. For more information go to www.thebreakclub.com, or like The Break Club on Facebook. To make a booking contact firstname.lastname@example.org