Smash rooms to fight the gloom

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A room at Smash House.// Photo by Zach Bauman

I am not a person who is prone to physical manifestations of anger. The rage I feel is a writer’s rage—the simmering, impotent rage that comes from having very small triceps and the shapeless body of an eel. 

And yet I felt drawn—like an eel to a crayfish(?)—to Smash House, a collection of “rage rooms” in the West Bottoms. At Smash House, you can pay a stranger to break small appliances with a baseball bat. I found something intoxicating about the idea that for once, I could ruin things on purpose.

Plus, the paper would pay for it. [Editor’s note: She did not run this expense by us, but by nature of being published in The Pitch, this statement is now unquestionably true. Well played.]

Here are some facts about Smash House: It opened in December in the basement of the Hy-Vee Arena. It has concrete floors and the acoustics of a trash compactor. Its logo features an enormous bare foot hadouken-ing through some drywall. 

You are not allowed to visit Smash House with bare feet. 

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Bats, hard hats, and shirts at Smash House.// Photo by Zach Bauman

The business is the brainchild of Tim Hayes, Jr., pastor at the 24 Hour Faith Training Center. The connections between worship and whaling on a washing machine weren’t obvious to me, but Hayes makes them sound inevitable. He believes in the power of prayer, saying “I understand that there are times in life when we need physical therapy and not just spiritual therapy.” 

I thought about that while I watched a dog that looked like Beethoven take a massive shit in the Smash House parking lot. It seemed like a good omen. I was waiting for my friend Taylor, who hasn’t yet learned to ignore my texts. I booked us a 15-minute couple’s appointment (“We are TWO mad,” the confirmation email read) for 6 p.m. on a Friday.

This turned out to be a popular time: We entered Smash House to a slapstick soundtrack of broken glass and aluminum rage. The cavernous space amplified every bat strike into a hollow scream. It was the aural equivalent of living inside a Ripple Glass bin.

This did not feel therapeutic. I asked the cashier how she managed. “It does get a little overwhelming,” she admitted, then handed me and Taylor each a clipboard.

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Liz and Taylor after their Smash House experience.// Photo by Smash House

We signed a multi-page health and safety waiver (Hayes tells me finding an insurer for the business was “very challenging”), and then an enthusiastic woman handed us aluminum baseball bats and screwed hard hats onto our heads. We put on work gloves. We put on safety glasses. We put on murder aprons. We were told a couple of rules that I couldn’t hear over the din but interpreted as “don’t hit people with bats.”

By that point, Taylor and I had begun communicating entirely through charades. Taylor gestured toward a sign above the entrance to the actual rooms that labeled it a “construction zone.” She was saying: this seems imprecise. 

We entered the inner sanctum together and clinked our baseball bats like champagne glasses. 

Reader, we smashed. 

The overall vibe was less “rage room” than “field hospital in the Pacific Theater.” The “room” was an ethereal suggestion, delineated by black plastic sheeting draped over tension rods. But we weren’t there for the aesthetics; we were there to wreck them. The room was filled with all kinds of appealing victims: a crumpled microwave, a washer drum, a large wooden box that might have once contained gardening supplies. Wine bottles and home VHS tapes polka-dotted the floor. 

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Photo by Zach Bauman

My primary reservation was that everything was on one level. Because I am an eel with back problems, I tried tossing a bottle into the air and hitting it with my bat like a baseball. 

A large shard of glass careened past my cheek like an errant satellite. I did not do this again. 

Despite the safety gear, nothing about Smash House feels especially safe. That’s partly what makes it so fun. For 15 minutes, I got to crunch over a field of mulched glass, studding my sneaker soles with shards. I got to pry a screw-studded board loose with my bat and send it spiraling across the room, inches from Taylor. I got to perform a gong solo on a washing machine; I got to be the ache in someone else’s skull. 

At first, I kept looking over my shoulder, waiting for an RA to come in and break up the party. When no one came, the cortisol drained from my body. It was replaced by the mischief hormone, which has the tiny, gleeful voice of a goblin. The voice whooped: “NO ONE IS STOPPING YOU, SOMEHOW.”

I ground the butt of my bat into a VHS tape until it ralphed onto the floor. The tape was surprisingly fun to unmake, but it still seemed like an odd inclusion—more so when I nudged its intestines apart with my shoe and noticed the hand-drawn label.

I began to wonder if I was engaging in “physical therapy” or just destroying evidence. I paused to inspect the videocassettes while Taylor disemboweled a microwave. Most of them were scrawled with something sports-related: “OKC vs Miami Heat” or “NBA All-Star.” But there were some weird ones, too: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). Django Unchained (2012). 

Hayes tells me he inherited “crates” of the VHS tapes from a relative. He’d only wanted the crates; taking the tapes was a concession.

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Some of the “inherited” VHS tapes.// Photo by Zach Bauman

A couple employees periodically slid into the “room” armed with more bottles and bootleg tapes for our deconstruction. They did this so quietly, I was terrified I was going to accidentally bean them with the business end of a bat. Neither of them seemed concerned. Everyone at Smash House is chill, presumably because they spend so much time at Smash House.

When I first made the appointment, I had wondered how Taylor and I were going to spend 15 minutes just hitting things. Inside the tarps, the time flew. I don’t know that I’d spend $90 on the experience again, but it was more fun than I’d imagined. I didn’t feel especially soothed by the end of it, but I did feel like I’d had a pretty good workout. My only injuries were self-inflected: blisters from where I’d gripped the baseball bat too tight. 

Smash House has cheaper sessions for the rage-curious. The one-off appointments range from “I’m Mad” (5 minutes; $20) to “I’m on the Edge” (30 minutes; $100). Repeat patients can save money by going with a monthly package. The most expensive of these is $400 a month (covering two “I’m on the Edge” sessions a week, plus swag) and is ominously subtitled “For anyone who is trying to take their life back.” Hayes tells me he hasn’t sold any of those yet—“we’re really not expecting that kind of clientele until post-pandemic.”

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Photo by Zach Bauman

As jaw-dropping as that expense might seem, there’s a logic to it. Trash is free, but transporting it (and disposing of it responsibly) isn’t. Plus, the fun stuff—the appliances, the electronics—can be tough to find. Smash House depends heavily on donations. If you’ve been waiting to jettison an old tube TV, you can call them up and skip the disposal fee.

Smash House isn’t asking for more videotapes, but I think you should throw some in if you’ve got ‘em. At some point, Hayes is going to run out. His uncle has a DVR now.

Categories: Culture