In an iconic scene from the ’90s cult classic film “Office Space,” the principle protagonists, three disgruntled software engineers, steal a company printer after two of them have been fired. The printer in question, like their former jobs, has caused them no end of aggravation; so, it is not to the audience’s surprise when they unceremoniously dump the offending piece of office equipment in the middle of a grassy open field to the side of a highway.
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 aforementioned printer, with the nerdiest of the trio having to be physically dragged away from the hated inanimate object by his compatriots.
As of the writing of this article, one YouTube video of this scene has more than two and a half million views. It has embedded itself not only in our culture’s 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 all manner of junk, refuse and rubbish. The facility is operated by Aaron Polun, a financial planner and member of Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community, who was particularly proud of the stylized painting of the previously mentioned scene from “Office Space” that he keeps on the premises.
In addition, 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 that I wish I could say I could swing effectively. Visitors also can purchase a number of figurines of several different controversial 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.”
Admittedly 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.